The Absence

I started reading Leslie Jamison’s The Recovery and got to page 18 and put it down. All I know about the author so far is that she had attended a graduate writing program in Iowa, that she had felt she needed to make stories to tell and so she used drinking as her vehicle, and that she had rehearsed her first confession at an AA meeting. Within those 18 pages, she included other bits about adolescent insecurity turned adult insecurity and the usual stuff that alcoholics and probably everybody else has experienced in the middle class world. I could keep reading with an open mind. Maybe tomorrow, though, not tonight. At the moment, I just don’t care about this particular woman’s recovery story or about what she has unearthed on the subject through research. Alcoholism, as a topic of research or conversation or reflection, as a personal struggle and a source of embarrassment, is beginning to bore me. Tonight, I am as bored with myself as I am by other alcoholics.

My addiction counselor asked me to journal about my habits. The purpose of the exercise was to determine what triggers a binge. Since I already know my triggers, a week of journals went like this:

April 4

Drank beer. It was a nice day.

April 5

Extra beer lying around. Drank that.

April 6

Another nice day. Drank more beer to celebrate our tax return.

April 7

Drank wine.

April 8

Brunch with J and Bloody Marys.

April 9

Met a new shrink. She prescribed Naltrexone. H went on a work trip. Drank the leftover beer. Bought more. Drank that. Bought 2 bottles of wine. Drank half of one.

April 10

Came home from work by 1:30. H still gone. Finished off the wine. Passed out. Woke up at 7:22 and thought it was morning. Made coffee, fed the dogs and went to my 8:00 am appointment with Dr. M. Didn’t realize until I got there and knocked on the door and waited around that it wasn’t morning. A new low.

Triggers? Well, where do we begin. This rhorshock splash of a journaling attempt ended two days later when I used the book to plan out a speech for my mother’s official memorial. The next morning, when the pastor asked me if I had brought a book for attendees to sign, I tore out those first few pages of scribbles and opened the diary to the first unripped page and set it on the podium. Got 44 signatures, but there were at least double that in attendance.

So, yeah, it was my mom’s memorial this weekend, six months after her death. I ended up ad libbing that speech since I couldn’t find a quiet corner of the hotel to write it out the night before. I would go to our room, and I’d find a bunch of kids in there. I’d go outside to smoke, and people would join me. I’d go into the lobby, and the front desk attendant would be watching news about the Syria bombing. So I inferred that my mom didn’t want me to go up there and read off of a piece of paper, so I didn’t. My speech began where the pastor left off.

I’ve written eulogies before. I wrote one for my grandmother, even started it before she died. I wrote one for my uncle who died shortly before my mother did. Somewhere in my files is an unfinished benediction for my father. But I couldn’t write one for Mom. I had a whole week before her service to do not much more than think about what to say when I got there, and the inarticulate scribblings above pretty much sum up how I spent that time. I thought about her a lot, but those thoughts usually ended in drunken blubbering and a long nap on the couch in my clothes with all the lights still on.

I still contend that Mom wanted my speech to be spontaneous. How do you say in five to ten minutes who and what your mother meant to you, and to everybody else? How do you defend and honor the direction of her whole life? You really can’t. The young pastor had it easy because he was new to the church when Mom got sick, and he only had one poignant memory of her. I had a lifetime. But I managed. It came to me.

Then my brother, my shy, soft-spoken brother, decided to say something. And he took a different approach. He didn’t try to sum her up or tell people something that perhaps they didn’t know. He just talked about little things that are no longer there, like dinner at 5:00. My mother’s day revolved around dinner time, and my father put it out there for her. If you showed up at their house any time between 4 and 6, you’d see the table set, smell food cooking. All the lights would be on. Dad would be busy in the kitchen, and Mom would be warm in a chair stalking people on Facebook or watching HGTV or All My Children. Since then, Dad has stopped thinking about dinner. I had to throw something together for him on Sunday when I realized that it was 6:30, and the kitchen was dark. That kind of absence is a real kick in the ass. It’s even worse than the little objects lying around in memoriam, like a beat-up pair of slides she used for gardening still sitting on the back porch or the little glass and ceramic things she collected, arranged meticulously in a display cabinet. It’s less a reminder as it is a void. A big question. What goes here now?

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