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.