When he drank his first glass of whiskey, and the amber liquid swirled down his throat, he felt such a state of expansive well-being, for once free of anxiety, he had to prolong that glow. He drank another, then another and many more. In those reckless moments of spontaneous mutation, his future was cast in stone as surely as if his feet had been set in cement shoes by the Alcoholic Mafia and he was thrown into a swift-moving river. Some might call it a Mystic River but most thought of it as a Mystifying River, a wayward current that never failed to stupefy and obfuscate.
This mutation occurred at the end of an unpredictable autumn when flurries and squalls of an insurgent wind blasted dying leaves, like hopes, from trees. The fall from grace precipitated a winter so bleak, so extreme that his previous existence seemed to have been a perpetual summer. His winter of discontent resembled a synoptic weather chart of the North Atlantic, characterized by a never-ending series of cold fronts, swirls of depression and lots of cloud cover. His winter storms rivalled the gaseous red-eye eruptions on Jupiter in their sustained fury. If he had known the magical elixir would throw him into such a dense black hole, would he ever have started?
Conversation # 869
She said: Take your bed to the pub and sleep there. Then you won’t have to drive home drunk.
He said: You drive me to drink. You and your expectations.
She said: This is outrageous. Our expectations are no more than the average family.
He said: You think you can do better? Go and earn the money. See what it’s like out there.
She said: We agreed when the children were born that you would be the breadwinner, I would be a stay-at-home mom. Now you want to renege?
He said: I have to entertain clients. If you don’t like it, earn the money.
She said: I don’t have your earning power. I will never have your earning capacity.
He said: Then shut up and let me do my job.
Tuesday 5 September 1987
Shock, terror. Can’t think. Rats scurry in my brain. How’d he get so crazy? Mikey said Dad school fees are due tomorrow. Screaming frenzy. Stormed out. Revved car. Squealing tyres down road. What now? Sat in the dark waiting, shaking. He came home 2am. Evil face. Garbled garbage. Police laid charges of assault against him. Fought drunk monsters. He loves my fear. Stokes it. Gloats. I’m in deep trouble, he says. Later, phoned H.S. at William Slater in panic. He says I’m between devil and deep blue sea. Tell me something I don’t know. H.S. says could be onset of paranoia, could have him committed. God! Somebody? Can I go now? Can I be excused from this life?
As a righteous manifesto, her journal was an accurate rendition. Every drunken incident, every crisis and misdemeanour was recorded in meticulous detail. A predictable pattern emerged of his growing dependence on alcohol and her corresponding slide into despair and loneliness. As she often wrote in her black, ring-bound book – ‘I am a close friend of mental anguish’.
The hidden picture wasn’t recorded – the shadowy graph of two people growing apart then coming together again, of two characters being tempered in the fire, stronger because of an addiction that seemed so mind-blowingly meaningless. He discovered his true self, the man who didn’t need alcohol to numb fear; she learnt there was freedom in relinquishing control, then came the gift of compassion as she witnessed his physical and moral disintegration and subsequent recovery.