Which way is up?

Source: wild-life-adventures.blogspot.com

I am standing, staring into the sea’s maw, powerless against the wall of water surging breathlessly towards me. Someone says jump, so I do. My eyes are closed. My ears are roaring. My body turns round and round.

When I open my eyes again, I am sitting, legs pressed into sand, wondering where the water is, then realise it’s behind me.

This momentary disorientation plays out in crushing consistency over the weekend. It starts on Friday, when Ben and I attend our first two-to-two. Before we go in, Ben tells me he thinks it’s best he goes into sheltered accommodation – that I’m probably not good for his recovery, nor is he for mine.

He repeats this when we are in the session, towards the end, after we’ve had a chance to talk about the various ways in which we have let each other down. I’m not surprised by this declaration. It’s not so different from my own, made some months back, after I returned from Canada.

In fact, I’m relieved when he says this. I leave the session eager for more sessions, thinking we have much more to say to each other, and happy that we are meeting again on Saturday.


We meet at Rosie’s gymnastics class. It runs for two hours. Normally, we sit and we watch her, taking time out now and again to chat. This Saturday, Ben says little to me. He pulls out a paper and reads. This is not how I imagined our Saturday. I expect him to ask me what I thought of Friday’s session, tell me whether he had any further thoughts about it. Nothing.

Nothing at all.

Cue destructive pattern no. 1: I sulk. I pull out my smart phone and start reading the Guardian. I ignore him. I think, the man has no sense. Who am I kidding? He is never going to bloody change. 

This sets off pattern no. 2: I confront him. I ask him why he’s doing this. Why he’s being so silent. Why he is ignoring me.

He gets pissed off and defensive. He says he is in pain (from last week’s injury) and that he’s just trying to distract himself. He accuses me of not listening to him. I say, hmmph. Which, translated, means: so I’m not enough of a distraction for you? I don’t actually say this. I just think it. Loudly.

Anyway, he decides to leave. He limps off before Rosie’s class ends and I am left trying to explain why her father left without saying goodbye. And yet, something inside me compels me to run after him. Yes run after him, pulling Rosie along, trying to convince her and me that it is a game and that it would be a good thing for her to have a chance to at least say bye to him.

His leg is so bad that we actually catch up with him, overtake him while I decide whether we should just carry on without him, then ask (beg?) him to come to the flat and spend some time with Rosie. But am I really doing this for Rosie? Or me? All the while, I hate myself for doing this – for running after him, for apologising and trying to make things right, when he is ready to walk away thinking he has every right to. And I am pissed off.

We go to the flat and I say nothing. Rosie and Ben play games. I stare out the window, at the leaves splaying in the wind. I roast a chicken. Ben makes chips. At some point, Ben comes into the kitchen and hugs me, saying: See how much we stress each other out? as if justifying his assertion that it is better that we live apart, that we are no good together, that we are bad for each other’s recovery.

Except, I don’t need justification. And the whole thing feels like he – unconsciously, I’m sure – has engineered the whole altercation just to prove a point.



Lantern festival, Chiang Mai (source: demilked.com)

In the end, it works out ok. We decide to light the paper lantern Ben had brought some weeks back and send it up, with a message, to the Moon Fairy. Rosie draws some flowers and asks me to write down her wish (“a princess dress and shoes”). Ben wishes for a happy Rosie. And I wish for a smile.

We walk to the park in the wind and drizzle and struggle with the crepe lantern, sure it will tear or catch fire before it is even airborne (like my first paper lantern did in Chiang Mai many years before). But by luck, the fuel block finally lights up, the lantern puffs out, hangs at chest height for a moment, then soars up and up and up, until it is a star piercing the clouds overhead.

Our Jack-o-Lantern

On Sunday, Ben comes over again. We go out to buy a small pumpkin which I carve into a Jack-o-Lantern. It’s Rosie’s first, and we are all enthralled by it. We sit in silence, staring at its glowing, grinning mouth. Ben is the most moved by it.

It was a good weekend, he says to Rosie. He hugs me before he goes and asks me if I’m ok. I nod, but really, I’m wondering where the water is, thinking it’s probably behind me, and preparing myself to jump.



9 thoughts on “Which way is up?

  1. It’s been a long time since he has been a person with opinions and plans that aren’t clouded by alcohol. Plans that you have to ignore because you know it won’t happen because it’s just a drunken fairy tale.
    Although the transition from wife/partner/friend to caregiver went unnoticed, this transition back will feel more awkward. You cleaned up after him and made sure he was safe because you loved him. You took on all of the responsibility because it needed to be done.
    His role back into a functioning partner in the relationship is also probably awkward for him. He probably feels like he has to justify his opinions because he is accustomed to people discounting his drunken opinions in the past. Why would she trust my judgment?
    In many ways, I am envious that you have this opportunity to find each other all over again. In another way, I am fearful for you. There are memories of who he once was and memories of the drunken person that he became and they are competing with the person that he is trying to become, which won’t be either of those.
    Lost trust…the hardest thing to find. I wish you all of the best – peace and happiness.

    • You are absolutely right – particularly when you say that who he is trying to become will be neither one thing nor the other, and that each competes with the other. How hard this is all going to be. Every day, I think I can’t do it. I don’t feel I’m in an enviable position right now. Each step is fraught with difficulties. But it’s so much better than what it was. Thank you.

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