I come from many places. From County Cavan in Ireland to a midwestern address identified by the coordinates just south of town, there are traces of love, heartache, pride and devastation in equal measure in the lives of the people I resemble. Those generations old whose noses I wear and whose mouths mine smiles in the shape of.
Last fall, my great uncle celebrated his 90th birthday with stories of what it is to be Irish in rural Wisconsin. As a mason named Kevin sung The Fields of Athenry and Danny Boy, I learned that a real Irish jig is unlike any other, and that my great grandfather jigged best; that sidewalks should be green like pastures; and that every family needs a brother named Clare. In the tenses of the teller rested both sides of our family’s story and both shores of our ocean. And before the sun set behind the Baraboo river, Ireland beckoned.
Somewhere, though, between that late fall afternoon and the time just before my family boarded a flight to Dublin, the two sides of Swenny’s and my story became more distinct. More divisive.
So among the sites and sounds of Dublin, Howth, and Cork, as wind moved the waves beneath the Cliffs of Moher and cows watched us slip along paths drenched by rain, I minded the gap. Ever more ashamed for my part in its widening.
Disarmed by the subtlety yet increasing persistence of Swenny’s drinking of late, I have weaponized his alcoholism to gain the edge previously found in hidden bottles, clear drunkenness, and his willingness to do as I asked. To seek treatment, including options that would move him from our home. Now, without evidence and with conversations about sobriety that end abruptly, I’ve taken to attacking him with the disease that he will not fight. I question his sobriety when I know he hasn’t been drinking, I threaten to leave in the middle of conversations about the future and embellish stories he can’t remember in order to make a point.
In the uninterrupted days we spent together as a family in Ireland, I saw the impact of my bad behavior. Of my inaction and of my anger as it manifested in the attitudes of our children and of Swenny and me. Sarcasm has replaced appreciation; discouragement has taken the place of hope; and self of family.
Considering this while searching for clovers along pathways winding an ocean shore I had never before visited, I uncovered my biggest regret: sitting idly by waiting for our story to arrive at the only conclusion I believed possible. A happy-ever-after in which the bottles are put away for good. As it continued to elude, I added chapters to make sense of the increasingly distinct sides of the life we shared. But with passive phrasing too weak to thread them together.
So it’s not surprising that I deplaned to what I left: an unfilled request of Swenny that he develop a recovery plan that includes at least ninety sober days away from home. His plan instead is to simply stop drinking, leaving about two weeks before the current state sobriety is replaced by drinking. And idleness by action.