I banished the wedding gifts into a dark cabinet corner—just a few, the ones that held grief. Seventeen years ago, we used these objects for their intended purposes but when alcohol left a bad taste in my mouth because of my husband’s drinking I removed the symbols. Empty cocktail glasses and the silver carafe pushed deep into a cabinet like my husband hiding his vodka bottles. The material possessions were champagne promises, toasting all happy times together. Looking in the sideboard for the good china for a child’s birthday dinner, I would see the silver carafe crammed in the cupboard, a beacon announcing my life had bounced alarmingly off course—no cocktail hour, no champagne dinners, no dinner parties—but instead forgotten dinner conversations and absence from dinner altogether. The carafe lay tarnishing on its side, losing its luster. Hiding the symbols as if it could hide the problem. Remove the articles and maybe the drinking would just go away and the promise of my marriage would return. We would at least look sober. Each house, a move every two years, each time, these items went deeper into dark places.
Five years ago, we built the house to take our kids through all their years in school. Nestled in a high mowing in small town Vermont, we created our home and barn, planted gardens and fenced pastures and cleared trails. I polished up the silver carafe and dropped a plant into it and moved the cocktail glasses into our glass-fronted kitchen cupboard. They were really just glasses after all. We are an open floor plan in a post-and-beam house with glass doors, dogs on the sofas, wooden blocks and Legos© in the middle of the living area, books on every surface, a large kitchen table, and horses out the window. We were not dinner parties and cocktail hours but sledding parties with soup and cookies and potlucks with mugs and paper cups.
Each day I pass the glass in my cupboard. Their presence reminds me how far we have traveled from promise to addiction to sobriety in this marriage. I quench my fears by putting them on display. The tarnished carafe was the fear, and the planter is now the abundance. A cocktail glass is now an everyday glass. At first I wanted to get rid of the objects, the remnants of alcohol and the reminders we no longer live a normal life, that we would not be grown-up in the way I imagined when I opened these wedding gifts seventeen years ago, but now I see the beauty of these everyday objects—as gifts transformed to the life we live.
Will I again be hiding these glasses and looking for hidden bottles, looking for lost conversations, and an absent spouse? Will the drinking, the disappearances, and the hiding creep back? Will I miss its arrival and will it again swallow me? I can’t know the answers. I can make my fear transparent. Now we take the time to sit down and talk. We learn to serve up our emotions, to let them spill over, and not worry that they are messy. I talk about conflicts at work and unmet sales goals, children at school and hay bales in the loft. “Is there more?” we ask each other now, an invitation, we are no longer holding in; we reveal what ails us. I trust that the glass only contains tonic. “You can’t change how you feel,” says my husband.
The glasses I have been able to redefine, my own sense of self still struggles. I hold onto the pain and memory of an alcoholic life: why can’t I put down the fear, like the glass? My glass is now empty of water. I look up at the dog on the sofa, another behind the woodstove. I look at the village of Lego around the planters. I look out my wall of glass and see the horses eating from piles of hay on a snowy field. I take a deep breath and fill myself with gratitude for all I see around me: this inspiring reflection of the life we are living. Time to move into my day: I rinse and dry the glass and put it away. It sits empty, upside-down in the cabinet, unable to hold anything, and this, as it turns out, is the power of the glass. It can’t hold what I don’t put in it.
Annie Penfield received her MFA in Creative Writing from VCFA in July 2011. She has been published in Fourth Genre, Hunger Mountain, and her essay “The Half Life” was named a “Notable Essay” by Best American Essays 2014. She has completed a memoir about her days working on a sheep farm in Australia. She lives in Vermont with her family and horses, and is a part-owner of Strafford Saddlery (and writes a lot of copy for their new mail-order catalog).
Read an interview with Annie here.