The doctor tells me your treatment is finished and you'll probably be back home in a couple of days. I've told the children, though of course they don't really know why you are in hospital. "Rest and recuperation," you told them. Rest from alcohol is what they weren't told.
Hiding the truth about your addiction from them has always been a job for me. Covering up comes naturally to an addict; for the rest of us it's an emotional effort that takes its toll.
So, although I've lived the life of a single parent, the past week has been easier in many ways. No half-empty bottles to stumble over and whisk away, no stale odours to cover up, no adult tantrums to explain away to the children in the wake of a hangover. The ongoing struggle to make ends meet aside, in your absence we've been a bit like a normal happy family.
"A happy family" - what a twee expression, the cynic, who walks hand-in-hand with the alcoholic in you, would say. And usually I'd feel obliged to excuse my mindlessly conventional thoughts, but this has been a defining week and, you must understand, I won't any more. Together for 26 years, parents for 14 and you a "problem drinker" for most of that.
We didn't notice as students, did we? It took me a decade or more to realise that your continued drinking, well after the last dot was put to your doctorate, wasn't a childish refusal to outgrow our student habits, but a proper adult addiction.
Do you remember, through the time of my miscarriages, how I suggested that, like me, perhaps you should stop drinking while we tried to conceive again? And how the intellectual in you would explain that it made no difference as you were supplying a genetic code, no more? But even if (although science now suggests otherwise) the three children came through conception and birth unaffected physically by your drinking, its effects on our life as a family are incontestable.
Why do you think that while I attempt to cover the tracks of your unemployment by working round the clock at home, they sit and watch TV, put down other people and express a pessimism so at variance with childhood? Perhaps the cynicism of popular youth culture; perhaps a reflection of your alcohol-induced depression.
Like most relationships, ours has evolved insidiously. From students we made the transition via the career ladder to metropolitan home ownership and eventually, as the script dictates, to parenthood in the leafy suburbs.
Our ways of dealing with the inevitable stresses en route couldn't have been more different. For me, exercise and meditation. For you, drink. And then another.
As our habits polarised - you increasingly irritated by what you saw as my puritanism, me by your self-neglect and emotional volatility - conflict grew. And the casualty? Much of our children's faith in people and their ability to make things work, I believe.
The incident that led to me telling our GP about your addiction wasn't, as you seem to believe, a way of getting the authorities to sort out a problem I had disowned. It was as much a search for a solution as a cry for help. I had no idea that social services would follow it up - although it was me, as ever, who ended up having to explain that to teachers, neighbours and the children.
Shuffling the pieces around in a continual attempt to make our disjointed jigsaw fit that happy family picture has become my maternal metier. I'll need to reshuffle them with skill in preparation for your return. For I don't know who will be coming back from hospital. The devoted father determined to give his children the love and attention he never got as a child? The intellectual who finds the practicalities of family life insufferably inane? Or the ex-alcoholic all prepped up for a new life in which family, rather than the next fix, comes first?
I've been warned that you will need to be managed. I signed up to be a lover, mother, spouse, wage-earner ... but never a carer. We both know you hate that too, and the hatred eats away at you. Dependency sits so uneasily with the man in you, doesn't it? I don't know how long you expect me to go on being dependable. And if rehab doesn't work, I have no ideas for the next step. Do you?
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