Sea monkey SOS

Folks, this post is slightly off-piste, but it’s a situation that has been preying on my mind of late. 

Around Christmas time, Rosie received a gift from her Australian cousins: a little aquarium, three sachets of powder, a set of wordless instructions, and some very misleading images of what you should expect at the end of your endeavours.

So misleading, in fact, that I assumed it was all a joke. I remember the ads for sea monkeys at the back of my Mad magazines when I was a kid. Even then, we assumed it was a scam.

But no. Within a few days, there were dozens of microscopic creatures darting about in the water. Quite a few of them perished in the intervening weeks. Three months later and there are three tiny white prawns (they’re brine shrimp) swimming about in the mucky water, ploughing through the sediment at the bottom of the mini tank, and spending days – yes days – mating at the top. Ugh.

I want to feel something that isn’t revulsion when I look at them. I mean, they’re harmless, really. Poor tiny things. They didn’t ask to be sold as novelty pets that, in most cases, probably end their lives down a toilet.

Rosie keeps looking at them and telling me I’m starving them to death. This is not true. It’s just that I forget to feed them from time to time. For a while, they were a healthy pink. Now they’re a ghostly white. Two of them have what might be egg cases attached to their nether regions. I think there is one male in there. Just typing about them is making my skin crawl.

Why the aversion? I don’t know. There’s something about the way they move, their translucent bodies and delicate bones. I want to give them away to a pet shop or aquarium enthusiast, but Ben has told me I’m being ridiculous. I know I’m not caring for them properly, but I can’t find any proper instructions on what to do if your sea monkeys actually live… for several months.

I’ve read they can survive for up to two years. This makes the hairs on my arms stand up. The problem is this: I am now responsible for these little lives. I can’t wilfully neglect them. I can’t flush them down the toilet, because they’re alive, they’re as alive as anyone else and deserve to live. But what kind of life is this?

Believe it or not, I was a little reluctant to write this post, fearing the good people at PETA might fire-bomb my home, or unleash a troll on my site. But if they really cared, they’d tell me what to do. What do I do? Do I put the little critters out of their misery now? Is there a home for sea monkeys that isn’t my toilet? Help!

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“You are the glue”

Taken in isolation, hardly a compliment. But this is what Ben wrote in my birthday card a few weeks back. You are the glue that keeps this family together. I can’t remember everything he wrote – I think I skimmed the card because I was too embarrassed to read it properly.

Why embarrassed? Probably because we say so little of substance to one another these days. We’re very good at managing domestic and parenting issues. It’s just us that draws a ringing silence, followed by embarrassment should one of us dare to break it.

So, I sort of scanned the card, saw all the words, but managed to forget most of them, apart from the first sentence. And rather than feeling happy to read these words of – admit it – appreciation; I find myself becoming irritated at the thought of them.

What do they mean, really? Why am I the glue? I never asked to be in this place, holding everything and everyone together. I don’t mind being that person from time to time. I don’t even mind being that person often. But why must it always be me?

Instead of appreciating Ben’s appreciation, I find myself second-guessing it. Is he saying this because he admires this quality in me, or because he feels sorry for himself? Is he passing the buck by saying, you’re so much better at this than I could ever be. In other words, is he somehow absolving himself of responsibility?

Perhaps I am being uncharitable. He’s been through a lot, and as my therapist said today, he’s actually doing pretty well, all things considered. She reminds me, time and again, that it is still very early in the process, that it has only been a few months since he came out of rehab.

Easy to forget

It’s easy to forget sometimes. True, I find myself back in the panic room when he adopts a familiar pose or walks with a certain gait. Sometimes, I can’t see him as he is now, because the memory of what he was (a sad, shuffling drunk) rears up and superimposes itself over him. As for what he was before all of that – that is the archival Ben, the Ben in wedding photos and photos of us as graduate students. And that person is unrecognisable. He has become someone other.

But the panic and the shadows are gradually withering. Ben is responsible and loving with Rosie. He’s helping more and more around the flat, when he comes. He does some of what he says he plans to do (like calling in the council to check on a potential rat infestation in the garden – yech). He doesn’t do things the way I would do them, but that doesn’t matter. All in all, Rosie is safe and happy, and I’m not carrying quite as heavy a burden as I have been of late.

So, it’s easy to forget. But just scrolling through a list of my posts clears my mind, much as my weekly visits to my therapist do. She is based at the local drug and alcohol service, and I often sit in the waiting room with several addicts.

I hate it. It smells of beer and body odour. It reminds me so acutely of my recent past, that I can feel last year rising at the back of my throat. As I sit there, I tell myself to listen, observe, find the humour in the situation. But all I can do is narrow my nostrils and bury myself in my smart phone, aimlessly swiping the screen just to distinguish myself from them. 

And then I’m back home, in my familiar life, and things have improved in ways I hadn’t anticipated, and yet, I’m still the lynch pin, still the glue binding our small family together. I should feel proud of this, but really, I’m just tired.

Home invasion

For weeks, I’d been having the same racing semi-conscious thoughts. A gang is breaking into my flat. What do I need to do to make sure Rosie is safe from harm? One, make sure my mobile phone is by the bed. Two, have some warm clothes nearby, too. Three, keep the key to the window within reach so we can open it and escape onto the roof of the extension to the flat below us.

Over and over, I played these stages in my mind, refining them, re-ordering them, until I had the perfect exit plan.

When the “home invasion” finally happened, I had no such fall back. I had no list to pluck from my tired brain. Just my rage which, like that ever present destination “just ’round the corner”, is never far from reach.

Before I raise your expectations too high, I should say right now that no one physically broke into my home. No one has tried to assault us – not in the usual way, anyway.

You see, on Friday – which also happened to be my birthday – a new set of neighbours moved in to the flat downstairs. The flat had been empty for weeks. Before that, it had been occupied by a group of benign students whose worst habit was leaving the front door open from time to time. Annoying, but … well, not dreadful, I suppose.

My new neighbours might have been equally benign except for one thing. They’re smokers. Smokers who smoke inside.

Let me explain. We live in an old English 1930s building. There are gaps everywhere. And where there are gaps, there is smoke. So now, there is smoke pretty much all over the flat. Rosie and I are asthmatics. I’d put a sign outside for the estate agent to see – so he or she might think twice about renting the property to a smoker. No such luck.

It’s well below zero outside, but I am sitting here with the windows open. I’ve taped up the area beneath the bathtub to minimise smoke entering the bathroom. Ben spent the whole weekend meticulously sealing the living room and bedroom. But the stairwell is the worst – it needs industrial sealing – and Ben isn’t here to do it.

We’ve tried speaking to them – tried explaining the situation to them – but they are students who don’t speak any English. They don’t or won’t understand what we are saying.

I’ve been coughing since they arrived. Rosie is, too. My nose is leaking, my throat is itchy. It will only get worse. If I could sell this flat and leave tomorrow, I would. But it doesn’t work that way here. Selling and moving can take six months to a year. And there is the small problem of money – I’m about to lose my job.

We’re trapped.

 

 

 

Photographic memories

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So, the first thing you should know is that the ‘b’ on my keyboard is missing. I look down and I swear I’m using a Hill Billy‘s teeth to write this post (no offence intended). It still functions, but it’s playing havoc with my touch-typing. Thank goodness I’ve got another computer on the way.

This laptop has served me well (even if it is a PC). I’ve had it since Rosie was born – about four years now. I guess that’s – what? – 10 in computer years? And 10, as we all know, might as well be 100.

A few hours ago, Rosie and I were looking at some old video footage of her from when she was a baby. Lots of funny shots of her drinking – practically chewing – water, or tripping out to a musical star-shaped light. In among them were shots of Ben and Rosie. Ben looking normal around the time Rosie was born, then slowly deteriorating as the years scud by.

This is the problem with looking at Rosie’s baby pictures. I look at them, and no sooner do I smile than I’m looking away, not wanting to see the other thing growing: Ben’s disease, his depression, despair and alcoholism… his barely-there-ness.

It really only struck me today how much Rosie has been through, how much she has lost. How much we all lost. The pictures and videos tell a skewed story. Ben looks ok in many of them,  I’m actually smiling or laughing, Rosie appears oblivious. It is the lie – the fallacy of a happy family – that will assert itself when strangers view this footage somewhere far in the future. Rosie may even decide to create a new narrative of her childhood based on it, one that does not have a shouty mummy and drunk daddy.

As for me, I can’t reconstruct anything from those images but the memory of what it was. This makes me doubly sad, because Rosie’s baby pictures are forever tainted by Ben’s alcoholism. What a lot she has been through. What a lot we have all been through.

It isn’t over, of course. I will  not allow myself to become too comfortable with Ben as he is now. I want him to succeed and stay clean, but I know the odds are against him. It has only been seven months. That is no time at all to undo a habit of a life time.

In the mean time, I hug Rosie as hard as I can, as if that can make it all better – not just for her, but me, too. Wrapped up in everything is guilt, my guilt at not managing my anger better (something I struggle with every day). If only, I keep telling myself.

If only I had a calmer demeanour. If only I reached out before instead of shutting down. If only I had appreciated things when they were good, instead of looking for the bad all the time. If only I had opened my heart to Rosie right away, from the day she was born, instead of spending weeks worrying there was something wrong with her. If only I could stop obsessing about all the things we should be doing, and concentrate on what we are doing. If only, if only, if only.

Pictures and their thousand words. For us, a thousand memories, like subatomic particles, zooming about, triggering all sorts of unexpected reactions. I suppose, there is loss and then there is gain. Right now, things are ok. Tomorrow, they will be better. The day after that… it doesn’t matter.

What matters is now.