Anyway, I had to write and deliver a conference paper, so off I went and stood up and gave the paper and answered questions.
It’s funny that I can sit down in the quiet of this study overflowing with dogs, books, rain spiders and geckos, and write bold, brave stuff on paper, but so dread going out and standing up and reading my words and immediately hearing all the faults, mistakes and flawedness. But I got through it and answered questions in my schoolgirl French and so-so isiXhosa, then we all sat out in the autumn sunshine and talked about the death of Marie Colvin and Remi Ochlik in Homs, the tragedy and waste. Delegates from Lagos, Bogota, Maputo, Mumbai and Caracas all talked about what it feels like to live and work for change where they come from, all about making poetry and revolution and raising children and feeding the homeless and dealing with water shortages and ending the violence. No matter where we come from the commonality is stringer than the differences. We dream the same dreams, we suffer the same waking nightmares.
If you never read Marie Colvin’s reportage, you might want to read this American Journalism Review profile, to underline who she was and the immensity of that loss.
So then I came home and my beloved dogs all ran to welcome me because I am the heart and centre of their world, their special human.
A message left on my phone, bad news: somebody I met for coffee last year when she was just seven weeks sober died this last weekend. She took her new sleeping meds and got into bed with a bottle of vodka to wash them down and ease her into the longed-for unconsciousness. She didn’t wake up.
The grief will smack me down later but for now I wish I could go back to that coffee break and grip her by the shoulders, shake her and tell her to fight harder, get more help, stick closer to those of us who have been there. But it probably wouldn’t have made any difference. It is no good saying we lose control of our lives in addiction, that we are powerless, that alcohol has taken over, unless there is a part of us that wants to live, that wants to believe it can get better, able to trust that fickle, improbable hope is waiting for us on the other side of the darkness.
Light frost burning off the fields, the mountains hazy and purple. I must cook chicken necks for dog suppers, do something interesting with oyster mushrooms and a big dish of baby spinach leaves picked at dawn. In the middle of the grooved pine kitchen table there sits a large solid green cabbage, saying ‘Don’t boil me, for mercy’s sake.’