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.

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Brakes on, still falling

I am a body in free fall. I am like Wile E Coyote in those first deluded moments, treading the air like it was earth, unaware of the chasm beneath me. This is the point I was at a few days ago – stage 1 of the fall. Call it bliss.

But now that I’m officially halfway through my holiday, I’ve entered stage 2 – realisation. I know that this suspension of woe is temporary. In a few weeks, Rosie and I will return to our home in London, back to our tiny flat on the western bank of a dual carriageway, back to school for her and work for me. Back to a whole cauldron full of trouble.

You see, now that Ben is in detox, I have enough head space to devote to the other major worry in my life. In a few months, I am going to be made redundant. This might not have been such a big deal if times had been less straitened. But this is no time to be losing my job. I am the sole earner in our household – I’ve got a mortgage to pay, mouths to feed, bodies to clothe. If I think too much about the disaster awaiting me, I go into paralysis. I claw my way back up to that first airborne moment. I cloak myself in delusion. And when that doesn’t work, I panic.

The truth is, each time I pass a homeless person on the street, I think, that will be me in a few months. I know I’m prone to melodrama, but who amongst us isn’t a few steps removed from a cardboard box? Few of us are so financially secure that we can comfortably weather a few months without an income.

I know I have options. In fact, I probably have quite a few. But right now, they seem rather fantastical and foolish. I’m not one for believing in fate and luck, but I keep telling myself that something has to change for the better – at some point, something good, and I mean really good, has to happen.

Perhaps I need to look at my impending joblessness as a sign (even though I don’t really believe in those either). Maybe it’s telling me that my time in London is over, that it’s time to move on and make a home somewhere else.

The world is big – really big. And somewhere in it is the right place for Rosie and me. I just hope it doesn’t take too much longer to find it.