In the middle of the night, I read Cindy House’s memoir Mother Noise. House struggled with a heroin addiction. Eventually, I turned off the light and lay awake, listening to the cricket song through the open window. It was the deepest, loneliest part of the night, somewhere in the stretch from midnight to four a.m. Four a.m. is the hour that seems reasonable to rise and get the coffee brewing. For years, I dreaded this time of night. One of the great pleasures of sobriety is that the nether world of dreaming has returned to me.
For days, the trifecta of my daughter’s 17th birthday, her junior prom, and the anniversary date I was married 28 years ago has soured my mood. Here’s the thing about being a solo parent: you’re forever cut in half, wondering why the hell the other parenting half of the children is attending a party elsewhere.
But in those hours, thinking of Cindy Noise, I began wondering about what else might have happened rather than the story I keep telling myself of a father still parenting his daughters. The thing is, my life — like anyone’s — might have turned out entirely differently. I became sober. But I could have become a heroin addict. Given a different set of circumstances, sure, why not? I loved inebriation, as long as it was good. For the first time, the real possibility of this looms before me.
The crickets chirp on. I begin to sense my life shifting, just a little, just the smallest way out of sour.
Later that afternoon, I’m driving with my daughter. She parks at an empty storefront beside the run-down laundromat in town. On the granite steps of that former bank building, a little girl, about five or so, is sitting beside a large stuffed giraffe. The giraffe is hard-worn, well-loved. The little girl holds a picture book between the two of them, her lips moving. She stops when she sees me standing on the sidewalk. I glance down at her pink sandals, her purse open with a memo notebook inside. Then I nod and hurry along, leaving this child to what she’s doing.
Oh, sweet world. So much harshness. So much to cherish.