There is mist thickening in the valley, a thin gruel of grey-whitish mist. The Canine Biscuit Mafia are out in force, doggie eyes boring into me and imploring just another one, tails thumping on the kitchen floor, the odd imperious yap. The writing has dwindled to a limp, narrative gone flat and unreadable. The tea caddy is empty.
Not good. But here is Sarah Hepola with a sharp-eyed description of the relapse process and suddenly I sit up shaking away the spectre of a an old nightmare, figure a mug of cocoa would be fine and thank God I’m not still back there:
Anyway, I had spent about three months locked in this formal effort to stop drinking, but my success was middling at best. I would last two weeks, and slip. I’d scrawl an oath in blood, last another two weeks and then think, you know, it wouldn’t be that hard to get two weeks again. Why not drink? It got to where I was pretty much drinking every two weeks, which was its own management plan. Twice a month: That ain’t so bad.
Except it was, because the shame of saying one thing and doing another is a dark and bitter brew. I had lost faith in myself and any promises I made whatsoever. I would lay down rules at 7:30 a.m. and dismantle them by lunch. It was meaningless, play-pretend, like depositing an envelope of very generous checks into my account, each of them written on cocktail napkins.
“Every morning I tell myself I’m going to stop drinking,” I said to a woman on the phone one night, hating the sound of my own pathetic voice.
“But then 5 o’clock comes,” she said, completing my thought. “And the jungle drums start to pound.”
We have all met the Beast in the Jungle at some point. I wish I had the courage to write more about this, that I could distance myself enough from the memory and dread to tackle it. But not today.
Life’s hoop spinning along, turning and quickening. My friend Char may have sold her house in the country town she so detests. I hope she returns here to be my neighbour for ever. Proximity means more and more to me as the years pass. How can I grow old along with you if you won’t live next door? I say querelously and unrealistically. If I could have my way, all my friends would ceremoniously (or unceremoniously, if I know my friends) gather around the kitchen table each Saturday night for soup and roast chicken and bottomless bowls of salad while we argued and laughed and admired one another.
But that is just a daydream. An old lover of mine, looking like a frail sleepy Mephistopheles I see sadly from the photo he sent me (men are so rarely vain and have no qualms about sending out passport-like photographs of themselves looking like dim-witted doddery farts), has been given many academic plaudits and is now a professor and head of department at Zurich, may be nominated for a Nobel research prize one of these years, is known as a brilliant scientific theorist. Damn him. Reading his wistfully nostalgic and unboastful letter, I get a pang of displaced envy and curiosity. I wouldn’t want to be his wife and have no regrets for refusing his badly timed if sincere marriage proposal, but how I would like to study in those libraries and walk through atriums and alongside botanical gardens, observing that other life, doing that demanding research, making a difference. Another daydream of course. He has a wife who will practise her Swiss-German in an old wood-panelled apartment high above the lakes. Children, surely, although he doesn’t mention them and may have forgotten they exist. The absent-minded professor. And of course I wish him well, cannot quite bring myself to tell him I may not be the charming, willful young woman who forced him to sit through a season of Brecht plays and Fassbinder movies and then derided his opinions of them. Kindness overtakes us as we age, as we sense the Beast in the Jungle pacing around the cage where we .sit numbering our days and imagining we are free as birds.