How we lie

Here, an image we all aspire to in one way or another as Christmas approaches. Back then, Norman Rockwell was trying to capture an America that was overlooked. Ironically today, his paintings have become an ideal which people around the world now seek to emulate.

This, despite all the complications that Christmas brings. And by this I mean the clotting together of family, the pooling of genes around minced pies and brandy, roast fowl and sprouts.

After years of sporadic calls from my dad, in which he would drop the non-committal promise of a visit (“Yah, most probably I’ll come that way in December”) my father has done the unthinkable and turned up. Continue reading

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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.