It is a glorious day all buttery and golden with sunshine. I spent a few troubled hours yesterday plucking and degutting a fat young goose and am roasting it with green apples for lunch. I hope the damn thing is edible — if not, the guests will have a medley of roast winter vegetables. In sobriety no challenge is too daunting.
The housemate’s knee is healing but she will not rest. She has been forbidden to drive but tears out to give insulin injections, driving across bumpy farm rads with only one foot on the pedals. I detach with love and gritted teeth.
I value the mundane in my life, the sameness, the ordinary. My sister sends me another photo of a tiny yowling baby, my great-nephew Noah. She tells me my alcoholic brother has been jailed twice for threatening his ex-wife. He is adamant that his drinking has nothing to do with his current status as unemployed public nuisance. I admire the tiny yowling baby and grieve over my brother. The poinsettias in the garden are audacious and brilliant this year. There are new luxurious winter sheets on the bed. The origanum and thyme are flourishing in the herb garden.
What was it Auden said? ‘Life remains a blessing/although you cannot bless.’ For years I watched life from the other side of an invisible glass wall, frozen and stuck. Life was what would happen next week or next year or whenever I stopped drinking. I had a life that did not become.
So I write back to my sister, who is distressed by my brother’s conflicting accounts of his unmanageable life. Dishonesty becomes so habitual that it is as natural to the active alcoholic as breathing. Drunks are always more sinned against than sinning. We identify as victims, there is a series of melodramas, infernal soap operas, in which we are always the misunderstood aggrieved party. We are never at fault. It is always another’s fault and we devote great inner resources to the unsubtle art of blaming.
I love the brother I recall from my childhood — but after two and a half years sober myself, I have no sympathy for his alcoholism. My brother has vanished and in his place there is just the suffering alcoholic trapped in delusion. And oompassion is wasted on anyone who has a life story constructed around sef-pity and resentment.
So I core green apples and listen to the wagtails singing and whistling in the garden. I want to do a painting of a mysterious griffn for my tiny great-nephew, a wild bold painting that might hang in his bedroom. The griffin whirling in the Sahara desert with cloud castles and a pitiless sun, the griffin surrounded by camels and serpents and wonderful talking parrots. In the background there is a ship with full-bellied sails and tall masts and a pirate crew, a sailing ship that soars over the dunes. The painting will be called Noah’s Ark.