The Beautiful and Tragic Life of Anne Burke: Happily Ever After (I)

Late Summer, 1986

After all of the long planning and fussing, Anne’s reception was underway. She and Tom had stood before God and more fear-inspiringly, their families, to say their vows and be married. The bride had been kissed, the rings exchanged, and the contract signed — they plighted their troths. Mrs Anne Burke.

Truly, it was as if a whirlwind had brought Anne here to her father’s country club, where her parents hosted the reception. As was usual for any Irish-American family of means in New York, it was an open bar with no expense spared. Both Anne and Tom’s families took full advantage.

Anne’s father had admonished her that Tom was a very heavy drinker, as well as pointing out that his family was no better. She brushed if off. He was fine, had it under control, and just liked to enjoy himself when he wasn’t on the job. Tom was a detective in New York City. The City was a hellhole these days, but the benefits were too good to resist. Anne hated the idea of her fiancée’s — no, her husband’s — occupation. This wasn’t the time to think of that.

It was time to celebrate. First of course were the dances with her husband followed by cocktails and dinner. Afterwards, Anne danced to an Irish song “Streets of New York” with her Uncle Ned during the family dances. She never forgot that, as he wasn’t a particularly sentimental old fellow. Some hilarity ensued when the dancefloor was opened up.

By this time, the drinks had been flowing for hours, and neither side exercised particular restraint. Tom’s youngest brother Greg was a particularly noted lush in the family. He danced like a man possessed before passing out drunk towards the end of the night. Such is the domain of twenty-year olds on the lash.

It’s a wonder that the marriage could be consummated.

A few days later, they left for their honeymoon. Having decided on a sand-and-sun getaway, Anne and Tom elected to go to St Thomas, which caused some amusement. Anne jokingly asked Tom how many husbands had the privilege to honeymoon on their namesake island. Tom favored Anne’s quip with a thin smile that never reached his eyes.

The journey to the island went well. The end of summer was a low season for the Caribbean, after all. In later years, Anne would marvel at the ease of travel in that era. Security was practically a non-issue of a formality in those years before September 11. Coach was still a humane method of travel. No one cared that Tom “had a few” before getting on the plane and followed up a few more from the beverage cart on board.

Still, the wedding planning had been mostly Anne’s doing. Tom just showed up for the bar. Even after check-in, Anne decided on a quiet pool day, and Tom decided on an island cocktail. At least he is not having beer, for a change. After the last great push getting to the airport with their bags and documents, Anne needed an afternoon of not caring.

The next morning brought her back to reality. The morning light now came strongly through the window, but that was not what had woken up Anne. She felt the slight seismic shift in the bed known to all who share a bed. Tom was moving. It wasn’t that though which brought Anne out of that sweet border country between consciousness and the nocturnal semi-death that is slumber.

It was the clink of the minibar being opened. Tom was getting something. She saw him search for something. But what? He pulled two small bottles of vodka, each one holding about 2 shots, and necked them straight. It wasn’t even eight yet.

Like a lightning bolt in the night, the chilling truth dawned on her mind: she had married an alcoholic.

Tom didn’t even look at her after his refreshment. No, he desperately needed a cigarette and promptly repaired to the balcony. For the remainder of the day, Anne was left in a persistent daze. They sat on the beach. She waved away the beach boy asking if she’s like food or drinks. Tom’s requests kept a steady flow of beers coming to their lounge chairs. Her frustration waxed as Tom’s sobriety waned.

When they arrived home to New York, she needed to talk to someone. Her mother would be no comfort, and she couldn’t take even the gentlest, round-about iteration of “We told you so” from her father. As soon as Tom was out of the house for a time, she called her sister and wept into the receiver.

“I made a mistake.”

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James McCormack

Earl Grey’s home boy, digital nomad, writer, foreign affairs junkie.