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Either We Break Up Or We Become Alcoholics

  • 7 min read

About an unceasing and tragic family lament next door

Early on in the pandemic last spring, our next-door neighbor told me in the hallway that she thought she and her husband were either going to divorce or become alcoholics. My neighbor is a mom of two. She has two daughters. One was about two years old at that time. The big one was six. A school-age child and a very young child who went to the crèche.

Four people in a small apartment

It had just been announced in the media that children were a particularly high risk and could be asymptomatic carriers of the virus. It was recommended to refrain from contact with grandparents. In addition, children should be cared for at home, a home that had quickly turned into a makeshift office.

That was the context in which I met my neighbor in the hallway last spring. She was totally exhausted after just one week. She usually traveled around Germany or flew abroad for work. Now she was stuck. For the first time, she had to stay the whole day at home without the ‘day care’ of her parents, who had always picked up the kids from school and from the crèche. In addition, there was her husband. He normally worked five days a week in a company two hours away. Now he was also at home, trying to carve out his own office. Four people in their small apartment.

Next door things seemed to be going haywire

But at the time, she had no idea that this was a situation that would go on for months.

The pandemic had barely begun, yet she had already assessed the domestic situation to be bad enough to end in divorce or alcoholism.

I laughed sheepishly when she told me the two options. I told my husband later, and he also took it rather casually. That was in our pre-baby life, when my son was still subletting my belly and making no attempts to move out. We enjoyed the togetherness. The peace and quiet in the seclusion of our apartment. I put my feet up and let my husband massage me. And next door? Things seemed to be going haywire there.

Again and again, we heard screaming through the walls. Orders were being given.

  • Someone didn’t want to clean her room.
  • Someone didn’t want to eat.
  • Someone had woken up too early.

We heard tantrum after tantrum from the little one

While we heard very little from the older daughter, we heard tantrum after tantrum from the little one. At least once when she woke up and again in the evening, when she should be going to bed. Over time, there was also screaming at noon.

At some point, I could no longer distinguish the individual sequences. It had become one long lament.

When I met our neighbor again by chance, by now equipped with mask, disposable gloves, and disinfectant in my bag, her eyes and cheeks looked sunken. But she wanted to be artificially strong, it seemed to me. She told me more about work than about the family situation, laughed, and tried to be awkwardly funny. She told me she was as unproductive as she had ever been. While her husband had to work very little from home and could take leave, she actually had to continue working full time. But that was impossible with two children and husband in the home. During conference calls, someone would suddenly call out in the background and she’d miss a whole discussion. Projects would lie idle because she had to change poopy diapers and help with homework. Previously, these would have been tasks primarily done by the grandparents. It had always seemed to me that she had her full-time job in an international company and saw little of her children during the week. It was the same with her husband, who was usually updated about the progress of his children by phone during the week until Friday, when he came back home.

The wailing from next door had become louder. Now it was from the parents too.

Then, when our little one finally came two weeks past his due date, she wrote me a Whatsapp to congratulate us and I sent her pictures. At this point, there was no more meeting in the hallway. We avoided each other, because Covid was lurking around every corner. By Whatsapp she asked me about my well-being and said that she hoped the screaming at 5 o’clock in the morning from her little one had not woken us. I was able to answer at that time that we had been up half the night anyway and had not heard anything. She had nothing to worry about.

Months later, we heard it. The wailing from next door had become louder. And now it wasn’t just from the children. Now it was from the parents too.

Now I even heard her and her husband arguing in the bathroom while brushing their teeth, when both children were asleep. I got an unpleasant, sinking feeling in my stomach. Everything was cramping up.

I took a deep breath, it reminded me too much of the eternal quarrels of my parents in my younger years.

That first meeting in the hallway had been an apocalyptic horseman

Either We Break Up Or We Become Alcoholics; Kristina God; Wedding photo created by freepik

I now realise that that first meeting in the hallway had been an apocalyptic horseman, showing that the relationship was really tarnished. I remembered her words again: either we break up or we become alcoholics. I had not sent photos to my neighbor for a long time. So I sent a new one of our son and asked if she wanted a bottle of Bacardi from us, because we got too many. The closet was overflowing and we wanted to vent. I hadn’t drunk a drop since pregnancy and my husband only drank non-alcoholic beer to keep a clear head with our small baby. We were sleep-deprived anyway due to the sleep deficit and staggered our way through the day. My neighbor replied that she had enough of that beverage and would also pour herself a glass of wine every evening when she could finally put her feet up on the couch.

This time I understood her a thousand times better than during our first conversation. The days with the baby were hard. What must it be like with two kids who want your full attention all day?

It’s one unceasing, tragic family lament

Weeks later, we saw her husband outside with the kids on the weekend. In the past, they had always spent weekends together. Maybe now she’s catching up on projects she can’t manage during the week, I pondered. Her husband, who was usually talkative, just greeted us briefly and then went on his way. Coronavirus? Or didn’t he want to talk to us about their family life?

We can still hear them arguing next door. They shout at each other; the children call out every now and then too. It’s one unceasing lament. A tragic family lament.

Will they get divorced or become alcoholics, I wonder? Which option is better?

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