It is time, Louise knows, to tell Douglas about Jessie. She spends the afternoon at her journal, tracing out their history for herself, so that she can explain it to her husband in some kind of coherent way.
“Coherent” is precisely what Louise was not, for a long segment of her life. Alcoholism stole her ability to find the through line, to organize herself. She ricocheted from experience to experience, bruised by each, trying to step outside her own mind, and failing over and over again.
Jessie was born during those years. The only good thing to come of them, Louise used to say, and yet even then she knew differently.
Much good was getting ready to emerge, and that knowledge terrified the alcoholic Louise.
Addiction does not take away the capacity to imagine ourselves living a beautiful life. It demolishes our confidence that we will sustain such a life. It replaces optimism with terror and guilt. In the throes of addiction, anything good becomes something new to lose.
Louise traces her own history through the story of her daughter’s conception (no details there, too sad) and early life (such joy, such hope), and the catastrophe of relapse (and overwhelming guilt), to tentative, delicate reconnection.
When she shares these stories with Douglas, he weeps along with her. He knows the sadness of recognizing one’s failures as a parent. He feels deeply grateful that David has forgiven him.
He wants the same for Louise.
He says all this, and yet, underneath, she recognizes a shade of judgment that does not surprise her. How can anyone refrain from judging her actions, her lack of action, letting her daughter be taken from her? And weren’t they correct, those who did so, for hadn’t she failed, miserably, to provide a safe and happy home?
No one judges Louise more harshly than she judges herself.
Can anyone surpass the harshness we turn on ourselves for our own failures? And, likewise, can the forgiveness of any other person surpass the forgiveness we can give ourselves?
Heading into another autumn, Louise is determined to bring her daughter back into her life, to try once again to be the mother Jessie deserves.