The Shepherd – New Nonfiction by Ali Schofield

Joint Winner of The Letter Review Prize for Nonfiction

I squint at the contents of my closet in the dim morning light. What does one wear to their boyfriend’s intervention? I’ve thought about this intermittently all week, and yet here I am, morning of, and I still don’t know. Bright colours don’t seem appropriate, and I don’t want him to have a bad association with an article of clothing I really love. It should be casual, comfortable. An outfit that he won’t remember.

I’ve spent weeks preparing for today. The rehab centre’s website provided a good list of things to do and buy. Each evening after work I’ve checked something off. I bought him new toiletries because all liquids are required to arrive with the seal still intact. I made packing lists of the clothes he would want now and the things he will need as the weather gets cooler. I’ve deep-cleaned the bathroom and scrubbed the floors to prepare for our guests. I even bought fresh flowers yesterday as if they might somehow soften the blow of our deception, brighten the atmosphere of our ambush. Or maybe I bought them to demonstrate to his parents, his siblings, and the interventionists Janice and Darren, that we have a nice home even though addiction lives here too.

It is awful knowing something so important about his life before he does. On Tuesday night I looked over at him, completely relaxed watching a Seinfeld rerun. He looked back at me, smiling. “What?” I forced a smile and brushed the hair off his forehead. His face was happy and soft, more contented than I’d seen him in a while. “Nothing,” I lied. “I just love you.” We kissed. As I pulled away, I looked into his eyes, guilt rising in my chest.

“I know it feels like you’re leading a lamb to slaughter,” Janice said on our call Wednesday afternoon. “But this is the right thing. He deserves this chance to make a real change. You deserve that too.”

I scuffed my toe against the metal leg of my rolling chair. “If there is a higher power,” I said in a low voice, not wanting the thin walls of my office to share this conversation with the nosy executive next door, “this is what it must feel like when they know something hard is coming towards us. I don’t like it.” I rolled a damp tissue between my fingers, Janice holding space for me on the other end of the line. “You know, we’re having a good week. He hasn’t had anything to drink since Sunday. I can’t remember the last time he was sober four days in a row—”

“His alcoholism is dangerous,” Janice’s tone was kind but firm. “He’s been trying to stop on his own and the withdrawals he’s gone through could have been life-threatening. He could die if it happens again while he’s home alone or even with you.” In that moment I get a flash of him shaking and mumbling on the couch, on the verge of tears. Janice interrupts the replay, “He may not be in that stage right now, but you’ve been through this cycle many times before. You know it’s just a matter of time. You are doing the right thing.”

I took a deep breath, feeling a little defensive. “I know, I’m just saying it’s strange timing for him to actually be sober.”

“You have to trust that it’s a fluke. He needs professional in-patient support.”

“I know.” I pressed my lips together.

“Do you have a ruse for Friday?” I can’t help a smirk at her use of the word ‘ruse’. That’s what I’ve been calling it for the last couple weeks, though the term feels trivial. I tried to think of another word, but nothing really felt right: trick, deception, sham. A lie. That’s what it is.

“I asked him if he has a busy day Friday and he said no. I told him I was planning to take the day off and maybe we could do something together in the afternoon.”

“Okay, that’s good. So, we’ll have our pre-intervention meeting that morning at his parents’ house. It will be kind of like a rehearsal. Darren and I will answer any last-minute questions and we’ll decide the order the letters should be read in. Do you think you’ll be able to get away for the morning without him suspecting anything?”

“I think so. I can just leave before he gets up, say I have to go into the office.” Tears swelled under my eyes. “This is really hard, Janice.”

“I know. It’s just a couple days more.” Her voice was warm and calm. “You can do this.”

I run my fingers over the stack of pants on the shelf. Something comfortable, forgettable. Behind me, Ben breathes heavily in his sleep, whistling like a strong wind against a windowpane in winter. I choose a pair of soft green cotton pants and toss them onto the bench at the end of the bed. I pluck my grey cardigan from its hanger and drape it over my arm, freeing my hands to rummage through my t-shirt drawer looking for a plain white one. I dress in the half-darkness of the bedroom, daylight seeping in around the curtains.

I walk down the hall to our full-length mirror. I look like I could be heading to the farmer’s market. Like Meg Ryan walking the springtime streets of New York in You’ve Got Mail.

At my desk I open my laptop and click on the file saved simply as “Letter”. Standing next to the printer I watch as my words emerge upside-down:

First, I want to say how much I love you. I love you completely. I support you and want what’s best for you, which is why this is…

I fold the letter in half and put it next to my purse by the front door. At the end of the hall the clock on the stove reads 8:20. Ten minutes until I have to catch the subway. I cross to the bathroom. My reflection is alert but exhausted; the bags under my eyes are particularly blue this morning. A little mascara should be okay. I try to keep my hand steady as I move the wand through my lashes.

I pause at the threshold of the bedroom. The mound under the duvet rises and falls steadily in the muted darkness. I watch for a moment, trying to match his breathing. In two three, out two three. I creep over to the bed and sit down next to him. He stirs, curling his legs into my back. I gently comb my fingers through his hair until he inhales deeply and scrunches his face.

“I have to run into the office for a couple hours this morning after all,” I deliver my lie in a soft voice. “But I’ll be home by noon.”

“Okay,” he exhales, smiling. He rolls onto his back and stretches his arms overhead, fingertips grazing the headboard. When he relaxes, I put my hands on either side of his face. “I love you.” I kiss him, fighting back tears.

“I love you, too.” He smiles, his eyes still closed. He puckers his lips cartoonishly, waiting for another kiss. I can’t help but smile a little as I lean in once more. Satisfied, he rolls back onto his side.

“I’ll see you around noon. I’ll bring home lunch.”

“Sounds good.” He yawns.

“Have a good morning,” I whisper.

“You too, babe.”

I start towards the door, pausing to look at him one more time. Our relationship will never be the same as it is in this moment. I have to keep reminding myself that’s a good thing.

Ali Schofield is an emerging writer of creative non-fiction. She is gradually pursuing a Certificate in Creative Writing from the University of Toronto. She lives in Toronto, Canada with her fiancé.