Forgiveness

 

I have spent a fair bit of time in the last week thinking about what forgiveness means to me and how much better my life has been since I decided a few years back to start forgiving folks for my own good. I wasn’t particularly concerned with how it made them feel, and in most cases, they aren’t even aware that they were forgiven for their trespasses against me.

I wrote a few months back about a horrific accident that occurred here in the country that I call home and my own survivor’s perspective of the aftermath of these sort of events. I was focused mostly on the hope that all the support the boys and their families had following the accident, would continue through the years to come.

This past week it was announced that the driver of the semi that struck the bus has been charged with 16 counts of dangerous operation of a motor vehicle causing death. The general consensus seems to be that he blew through a stop sign. He will have his day in court, or many, and based on the comments I have read (don’t ever read the comments section!) he will likely be far safer in jail or prison than he will ever be out on the streets again, unless he changes his appearance drastically. That saddened me. Really saddened me and brought up feelings I have long held onto related to my own “accident”.

Prison will not be the worst punishment he endures- not even close.

While I was never charged with anything following mine, my passenger in the car with me died that afternoon. She was very young- only 20. So, I am in the unique position of actually somewhat understanding what is going through that man’s head right now- and none of it is good. The only reason I didn’t receive criminal charges was because it was a known trouble spot of an intersection, and following my crash, the transportation safety board removed that particular vehicle crossing and made a new entrance. Here, it takes so many accidents/deaths by number, before they will make changes like that.

I was sued twice following – once by the step-father of my passenger, and once by the train conductor- each request was for a million dollars. I had been warned it would likely happen, as in the case of family members who lose a loved one, it is pretty standard practice. In my relative naivety, until the insurance company contacted me, I thought I was personally responsible for paying those millions, as I received my copy of the first letter prior to the insurance company receiving theirs.

I was still recuperating physically and hadn’t even begun the work on my psychological wounds when I received the letter from the step-father. I was in a pretty dark place and only dealing with those things that were absolutely necessary, like finding someone to drive to grocery store with my bank card to buy food for my kids, and doing my best to wake up alive every morning.

Every night/morning for over a year, I would jerk awake sometime between 1 and 3 hearing the horns and the screams and tasting the blood and smelling the gasoline, and feeling the weight of April’s body slamming into mine as that train hit us. Every single sense I had, wide awake and stabbing at me like unforgiving needles.

Not one inch of my body or mind was spared on those nights.

I would lay there and look up at the ceiling after the terrors and wonder if this was why I had been spared death, and not her. I wondered about suffering and retribution and about heaven and hell and how we all pay the piper in our own ways and in our own time.

I would try to understand the why’s.

Why her? Because she was pure and full of light and love and her journey here was over. She had done everything she was sent here to do. She had taught and learned the lessons and fulfilled her contracts with others.

Why not me? Because I deserved to suffer and be in pain. I had run and dodged and slipped my way through every dangerous event and place I had allowed myself to be a part of. Now I had taken a life. I had murdered a young girl with my stupidity and inattention to my surroundings. Only the good died young, as my mother used to say, so I was pretty damn sure I was left here with the purpose to feel this pain for the rest of my days. 

I worked with a psychologist who specialized in PTSD, and slowly started to heal. She utilized EMDR therapy on me, which was exhausting emotionally, but was extremely successful with my psychological trauma. It was the first and only time in my life that I went in search of help of that kind, having been brought up in a home where we kept our private problems in-house, and not to be shared with outsiders. During my time with Robin, other things came out that I had long forgotten, so it turned into much, much more than it had originally been meant to be. I saw her until my extended health benefits dried up. She had provided me with the tools I needed to take my first steps onto the path of actually living again.

Not surviving, not healing, not enduring- actually wanting to move forward and live again, for my sons and even for myself.

I will always hold a special place in my heart for her help in showing me the way through it all to the other side. At the end of our last session, she gave me a big hug and told me I needed to truly forgive myself or I would never recover fully.

5 years after my accident, I received a letter from a psychologist that was treating the mother of my passenger. He asked me if I would allow him to send me numbered questions from his patient, who was struggling to move forward with her own life following the loss of her daughter. He was working with her on forgiveness. On forgiving herself for past events during the time she was raising her daughter, and on forgiving me, in order to let go of the hate she held in her heart.

I sat on a chair in my kitchen for over an hour, holding that letter in my hand.

I traced my fingertip over and over the stamp edging, round and round, while my mind wandered to how I was going to deal with this request. In the days following, I asked my son, and my mother for their advice on what they thought I should do.

They both told me to not respond at all; their concern was for me and the progress I had made, and they worried that I would slide back if I had to relive any of it again.

What neither of them knew, was that I had never stopped living it. Not for one moment of the time since it had occurred. It was so entrenched in every part of me, it was now cellular.

Like the blood flowing through my heart, or the oxygen moving through my lungs.

I wore it like a branding on my soul and always would.

I ended up answering her questions and sent them back to the psychologist. I was more concerned with her healing than I was with my own. Some of them were very difficult to answer.

I lied on the ones that I thought would only hurt her more. Questions about her relationship with her stepfather. Questions about why she left home. Questions about if she had ever shared information with me about her mother’s decision to side with her stepfather, rather than with her. I lied about her forgiving her mother for that. I lied and said she told me only a day earlier that she loved and missed her mother very much.

I answered truthfully on the questions that related to the accident itself.

She was dead instantly- she didn’t linger or suffer- she didn’t cry out in pain.

In the moments leading up to the impact, she was laughing and singing and excited and full of life and love.

I licked the envelope when I was done answering her questions, and walked the letter to the nearest mailbox.

I remember sitting on a rock after and looking at the clouds in the sky, through teary eyes, watching them slowly move and morph in shape as they drifted lazily above me. The sun was in the exact position it was in on that day in June, casting the same warmth, blinding me with the same dazzling rays, but this time I was alone.

While I was sitting there, a white butterfly caught my eye, and I watched as it fluttered and danced and flew closer and closer to me. From blade of grass to tree branch, to post, eventually landing on the top of my hand.

Its wings were transparent in the sunlight and I slowed my breathing and sat perfectly still, watching it settle in on my hand, twitching its wings softly on my skin. Seeing the flesh of my hand through its wings- watching in wonder as it sat there on my warm hand.

It stayed with me for as long as I needed it to and then flew away up towards the clouds in the blue sky.

I watched it until it disappeared from my sight and then got up and headed home to my children.

 

Advertisements

A Feast of Friends

“I should’ve died in my 20s. I became successful in my 40s. I became a dad in my 50s. I feel like I’ve stolen a car –a really nice car– and I keep looking in the rearview mirror for flashing lights. But there’s been nothing yet.” Anthony Bourdain

 

Today is always a hard day for me. A day to be endured and survived.

Lived through.

When I awoke and saw the horrible news that Anthony Bourdain had taken his life, and on this particular date, I was slammed by so many feelings at once.

I know many are mocked when they grieve a public person in a personal way, but the ignorance in that sentiment is that these people have been in our homes. Sometimes daily.

We spend time with them when we can’t face the thought of being with our own people and trying to explain why we hurt. We hope they take our minds off our own shit and we feel not so alone in the world when they are with us.

Sometimes it is just their voice on the television, during our self-imposed disconnection to space and time – on our couches or in our beds, that keeps us tethered by a delicate strand to the rest of the world.

June 8 2002 is the day I had a horrific accident in my car with a freight train.

My passenger, a beautiful young girl, died on top of me in the car. (Official version to keep questions to a minimum.)

In reality, her head was severed from her body and was in my lap.

I was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder following that accident, and had no control over the thoughts that appeared in my head forever after that.

Over the years, I have gathered many tools in my toolbox, and am pretty happy with my ability to quickly pull them out as needed. It is exhausting, but I always quickly remind myself that the alternative to surviving and being left in this state is not and has never been an option for me.

I am fortunate in that I have not ever suffered with depression as so many others do. My thing is crippling anxiety and panic attacks, and as long as I can get myself to my safe place internally, all is good.

Following my discharge from the hospital all those years ago, I spent many, many days at home on my couch, watching Anthony on A Cook’s Tour, and would drift in and out of my opiate dreams to the sound of his voice. I could fall asleep on a tour of Tokyo, and awaken in Cambodia with Tony, traveling the narrow aisles of the market, joking with the locals and joyously taking in the beautiful tastes and culture of the places we traveled together.

I just knew his was a soul I connected to. He had the same absolute enjoyment, interest and fascination with other cultures and their ways of living that I have always had. The intuitive respect and understanding that the differences are what brings us closer together.

His was a wandering spirit, as is mine. I know he was not always in the same place his physical body was in, and that his mind went even more places than he ever showed us on his many programs.

And to be superficial but honest? He was so hot.

Most recently, his passionate support for the #metoo movement made me love and admire him even more. For a man of his age and generation, to stand beside and sometimes in front of women that were being brutally crucified on social media, showed me his heart and what a wonderful human being he was at the core.

To have someone like Tony as an ally for this movement, firing shots at misogynists on Twitter and in the press, made me so incredibly happy.

Years ago, after recuperating from my physical injuries and in a good place with the mental ones, I thought of writing him and thanking him for “being there” for me during my recovery. I wanted him to know that he played such a huge part daily in my healing. And then I scoffed at myself that someone as famous as him likely receives so much mail, that he couldn’t possibly have time to read it all.

Hearing that he took his life today makes me wish I had reached out to him back then. Just on the off-chance that he did see that letter.

So he would know in those places inside him that hurt, that he had healed another person just by being himself and sharing his life and experiences with us all.

That he had made a difference in my life and at a time when I was most vulnerable and alone, he provided me with something more important than a culinary masterpiece – he gave me hope that if I could survive one more day, I could perhaps travel with him from my home to the next exotic place.

Rest in Peace Anthony – what a life and legacy you leave behind.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Last of the Bad Boys

What door have you closed in your life, and why?
Will you ever open it again?

I almost recall writing something for a prompt like this one time, and should go see what I responded then, but in reality, it was likely something completely different, and that would make perfect sense to me at this point in my journey.

I have been in 3 relationships in my life that I would classify as serious.

One I married and two I didn’t. To add to the confusion, I am still legally married to the 1st and likely will be for the rest of my life, as I took a stand and refused to pay the paltry $ 230.00 to file for the divorce, insisting he do it, and I am rather afraid that after years of towing the line with that stubborn man, I decided that refusing to suck it up and pay would be my hill to die on – my last hurrah- my middle finger adios to that man.

That first relationship started when I was 17 and ended when I was 34. In all honesty, it likely should have ended 10 years before that, but there were children to feed, and thoughts that boys needed their father, and a definite dread of the unknown. My wings had not even started to bud yet, so stay I did.

For awhile. Physically.

The second , who we will refer to as Rebound – began when I was still tied up in the first and the third – let’s call him Broken Billy – began while I was untangling, not so graciously from the second.

I understand my part in the breakdown of these relationship and take full responsibility for my lack of communication in at least two of them. There is only one of them that I allowed to see the whole me – the saviour, the sinner, the grotesque, and the reprehensible.

Broken Billy is my last relationship, which took place from 35-52, and in the most literal sense, almost finished me, in every way possible.

I really should back up a bit, though, and talk about Rebound for at least a paragraph. He was an American that I met through work. He had a contract with the software company I worked for and used to frequently be at my office for weeks at a time. Due to the sad state I was in at the end of my marriage, it was so easy for my eyes to see him as my knight on a white horse. He was handsome, charming, very witty, and so, so smooth, compared to what I was used to in men. He was educated. He dressed really well and smelled even better. We had a mutual love of music, which I had never experienced during my marriage. Anytime I put on music, my ex husband would yell to turn it off. I know this sounds crazy, but if you are a music lover, you will understand this on such a deep level.

So, as these things usually go, I allowed myself to be swept up by Rebound and when he wasn’t in Canada, I was down in California with him. I must have known he was only with me for a season, as my children never met him, and he asked me many times to arrange that. I will always be eternally thankful to him for building me back up, after the years of wilting on the vine I had done with my husband. He made me feel beautiful and desirable and pampered me in ways I wasn’t aware were even possible. He was very financially secure and took me to restaurants and bought me clothing and flowers and it was like living in a dream state. He eventually wanted me to move to California and live with him, but I couldn’t take my sons so far away from their Dad, so sadly, I ended it with him. Not in a nice clean way, either.

In the way I always do.

Drift, drift, drift away until I have disappeared without you even knowing I am gone.

Don’t feel badly for him – he is married now and retired to Phoenix and apparently raising his wife’s granddaughters with her, which is nice, as he never had children of his own.

During the time I was with Rebound, I saw a well-known psychic in California and not one of the hucksters. One that was very successful for many years and built quite the empire with books, media, and appearances. I asked her one question and it was if Rebound loved me. She looked me right in the eyes and said ” yes, he loves you, but the next one will love you more than anyone ever has or ever will for the rest of your life.”

Broken Billy showed up in my life thanks to my ex husband. We used to laugh about how he introduced us, actually. How ironic life could be sometimes. I think about that sometimes now, looking back and it makes even more sense now that, of course he showed up that way.

My brother was couch surfing at my place at the time, and had left my phone number with BB, as the last time he saw him, he didn’t know where he would be, but his sister would always know, so gave him my phone number at the house I no longer lived at- hubby refused to leave, so I moved out with the kids.

So, BB shows up at my place, looking for my brother, and finds him. I just happened to be having friends over that evening, and he stayed, as he hadn’t seen my brother in a year or so. It was a beautiful summer night, and some of us were outside and some of us inside, and at one point I walked back inside to refill a drink or grab more chips for the bowl and came upon the sight of BB sitting with my older son, who was about 13, in a corner, looking through his sketchbook with him. My son looked so happy to have the attention and I felt a profound overwhelming love in my heart, that he dragged that sketchbook everywhere with him, and someone was showing interest in his talent. His own Dad had shown little of that, and it hurt us both.

I had just sort of bookmarked BB into the “brother’s friends” category, and they were mostly a motley crew, so I was surprised to see one of them choosing to spend time talking with a teenager at a party where there were plenty of adults to socialize with. It saddens me now, that I would be struck so deeply at the time by a simple act of kindness towards my child.

It made me look at him differently.

I had always been with big men, tall men, loud men.

BB was only an inch or so taller than me. Soft spoken. Slight.

He almost looked like an accountant, which is hilarious if you knew the types of men I usually go for.

He made no sense to my friends and even less sense to me, but he was persistent!

I now know that a lot of what occurred should have been red flags , but I was too stupid and naïve to see any of them.

He moved in with me 2 months later. It made sense. He was there all the time anyway and when he wasn’t there, he was on the phone to me constantly. Checking up on me and the kids.

Asking if I needed anything.

Making himself indispensable.

Weaving himself seamlessly into my life.

He shared so many secrets with me about his childhood. Horrific tales of insane, abusive stepfathers, and molestation and neglect. I held him while he cried, and my maternal, nurturing, codependent self just inhaled all that pain and suffering like it was oxygen and I needed it to survive. I engulfed his agony in all its glory and made it my own.

He checked himself into Casa Shannon and totally absorbed me in every way.

I asked him one pitch black night to just go slowly. I begged him to not make me fall in love with him. I was terrified. I had never experienced a symbiotic relationship like this before and must have had some precognition that I would not survive it if I allowed myself to fall.

The highs were so high with him….oh, but those lows…they were absolutely death-defying in every way.

Broken Billy had found his parasitic twin soul in me, with my dysfunctional childhood and lack of attention my entire life. Grown up in chaos and unpredictability and now madly pin-wheeling backwards right into the womb of uncertainty and danger with a partner by my side.

He will always be the love of my life and I don’t have the energy to tell that entire tale today, but it wasn’t pretty and it ended very, very, very badly.

Hurt people hurt people.

Broken people reach for things that will numb them from the memories that will not give them a moment’s peace, playing over and over and over again in their minds.

They steal goodness, and hope, and dreams and love, and they feed and they feed and they feed over and over like piranhas on anything pure and honest and full of light, trying to fill themselves in all the places they are empty.

Even when you give them everything you have, and are, and eventually turn into someone you don’t even recognize.

When you disappear totally from the inside out and fear you will never find yourself again.

They never let go.

Not because they love you more than anyone ever has or ever will, but because you are their last branch to hold onto when the river is rising and it is human instinct to pull someone under to drown with you, even when they are trying to keep you alive.

The door that is closing for me and never opening again is loving anyone more than I love myself.

Hey Mom

Hey Mom,

It’s such a beautiful day today and I know how much you love warm sunny days and taking every opportunity to spend your time outside during them.

One of my earliest memories is sitting on the back step watching you with clothespins in your mouth, carefully hanging all our whites out in the sun so they would be dry by noon, and the line ready for all the heavier clothes to dry in afternoon heat.

You always seemed so much happier outdoors. It was like the sun soothed you, and the fresh air somehow carried your many worries away with the breeze. You would find any excuse to be outside the house, whether that was coaching baseball, spontaneously deciding the house needed repainting, or just sitting in a lawn chair in the evenings, having coffee with the neighbours or my friends as we grew old enough to take part in adult conversations.

While going through your things, I spent a lot of time picking through pictures in a box- snapshots in time of you as a child, and teenager. Formal shots lined up in front of Grampa’s stunning flower beds, and silly shots of you being at the lake with your Mom.

Those pictures made my heart ache for some reason. I never knew that carefree you, with the ear to ear grin. I wondered at what point in your life that apparent sass left you and the more somber, reserved you appeared.

Was it Dad and the price you paid for loving  a broken man like him?

Was it the weight of carrying all the responsibility for keeping us all alive, as the only adult in the room?

I so wish I could have magically traveled through time just to spend one day with you back when your smile was like that and your eyes sparkled with fun and mischief. If we could have somehow been contemporaries, living in the same time and place- would we have been friends? I think we may have been, you know. I see traces of myself in those pictures of you. I had that same trust in my eyes looking at you, as you had looking at your Mom. Not crystal-clear and evident in a quick glance, but there if you spent the time analyzing the snapshots closely.

Definitely there, Mom.

We always struggled, you and I, but always came back together, after a time out- a cooling off period. You would just suddenly call like nothing had ever happened, and I would respond back in the same vein, our problems buried instead of resolved.

You never apologized once for any disagreements or arguments we had. I felt so overpowered by your opinions and beliefs that I could feel myself shrinking in your presence, fumbling, stuttering for the words that I could never seem to find in order to  defend myself or my choices, or my actions.

You were right in the end about oh so many things, Mom, and I should have listened to you and followed your advice. I certainly became the queen of cutting off my nose, to spite my face, now, didn’t I? I can hear you laughing right now at me dusting off that old gem. I still use “gallivanting” and “jack of all trades, master of none” on at least a monthly basis, though, so your words didn’t totally fall on deaf ears. I heard you even when I was pretending not to.

My boys adore you, Mom, and did from the first time they looked into your eyes as infants and felt your overwhelming love for them. Your most uninhibited and loving moments were your moments with my boys. Mark and I would laugh about how you transformed into a woman we didn’t know at all with them. The woman who would give potato chips on the side rather than vegetables with a sandwich. The woman who actually cut the crusts off the bread for the picky eater, or who suddenly thought Popsicles and Freezies were suitable main courses for that same picky eater, while simultaneously coaxing Flintstones vitamins into him.

Watching you with my children thawed something inside of me, Mom, and made our relationship better than it had ever been in the past; closer, more authentic and honest. I would frequently ask your advice and heed it, knowing you knew better than I did and had raised children to adulthood, while I was still a novice. It was suddenly me, rather than you, coordinating time with each other. It was me calling you you crying and scared about how high a fever could go before it was an emergency, and it was your calm, soothing voice I clung to for dear life, as you explained all the times you had sat up yourself with feverish babies and children during the night hours.

Showing up at my door after working all day and insisting I hand the colicky, screaming baby over to you so you could walk with him, which allowed me to take a shower and get out of my pajamas at 5 P.M. Reassuring me that he hadn’t stopped crying for you because I was a horrible mother, but had just cried himself tired and that he sensed my fear, so kept reacting to it. Then you told me to grab my purse and go for a walk or a drive- to go away for an hour or two and leave you with him and his brother. God, if you only knew how much that hour provided me with the strength to come home and start it all over again. I cannot even remember if I thanked you properly for that or not and that dismays me now. Thank you, Mom- your help made me such a better mother than I could have ever been on my own without your sage advice and counsel.

You have always, always, been there for me, along every stage of my life and I know I have hurt you over the years, as our children always do.

I remember the way your face fell the day I looked at you incredulously when you commented that we were best friends, and I let a lifetime of feeling oppressed by you colour my response to your perception of our relationship.

I remember your trying to comfort me following Dad’s death, and my pulling away from you, and suggesting in my grief that I would be just fine and that your attention and comfort would be better received by Mark, your favourite. What an utterly bitchy, mean thing for me to say to someone reaching out to care for me.

I know you understood and forgave more for it. But I also know I had a part in taking some of your shine away that day forever.

Every December 20th for 42 years, the first thing I heard was your not so great voice singing happy birthday to me either in person or over the phone line. That makes me smile and feel so loved and wanted, Mom, and always will.

In the time since 2006, I now have to purchase purses, pillows and my own underwear, which has turned out to be a colossal pain in my ass. I know that makes you laugh, as well, and I am sitting here laughing with you.

It provides me with so much comfort that you and Mark can talk daily now, as you were always so close, but makes me sad that I only have this one day in the sunshine with you.

Sitting in the sunshine here with you now, I see you raise your face up towards the sky and close your eyes, much like you did another time we were sitting together outside towards the end of your life.

I watch the worry lines fading from your face, and suddenly you are once again that sassy, beautiful young girl outside and away from the walls that surrounded you most of your life.

I reach over and take your hand in mine, put a soft kiss on your cheek, and whisper to you that in spite of the many times you doubted it, I always loved you best and realize now that I would not be where or who I am without you as my guide.

XOXO

 

 

 

 

 

 

Love

Love

At 4: Falling asleep in a random place and magically waking up in your bed, all covered up and somehow still feeling the kiss placed gently on your cheek by someone who cared.

At 7: Curled into your mother on the couch, being told secrets and stories to calm you down, frozen bag of peas on your lips- shuddered breathing, after violently losing both your front teeth during a fall from the top bunk, whilst amusing your brother with your gymnastic prowess.

At 11: First kiss behind the barn in the sweltering heat of July, feeling that rush of awareness that the boy you peeked at from around doorways and behind trees, noticed you in spite of your shyness and naivety.

At 14: The feeling of your best friend’s hand taking your shaking hand and leading you out of the school and to home when the mean girls came to call in middle school.

At 17: The bluest eyes you had ever fallen into, looking straight into yours and smiling the widest, happiest smile and feeling that click in your heart – knowing the path in the road had been decided for you.

At 21: Feeling the first kick and inside you and not knowing how it would end.

At 23: Holding your second miracle in your arms and staring into his eyes in awe, in the silence of the night, your heart and your soul making silent promises, feeling like there is only the two of you in the entire universe awake at that moment in time.

At 25: The sight of that same wee one suddenly seeming so large and holding your third and last miracle in his arms, looking down at his new brother with that same serious gaze he analyzes the world around him with… and then quietly weeping in gratitude as he reaches ever so gently to touch his lips to the top of his brother’s head.

At 36: Nurses asking you how many sisters you have, as every one of your far-away friends has figured out the rules, and  calls the trauma unit identifying as a sister, in order to get news on your condition.

At 37: Riding 20 hours on a greyhound bus in a neck brace and walking into your mother’s house to prove to her that you are in one piece. That first careful hug and feeling her hot tears running down your back when she won’t let you go.

At 38: Laying on the couch with his hands stroking your hair while you whisper, “please don’t make me love you- I’m too broken and scared.” His promises and assurances that he will never leave.

At 48: Your brother telling you for the last time how strong and smart and capable you are. Letting you know you never once let him down or left him alone.

At 53: Loving yourself wholly and completely and allowing that love to flow freely and to be accepted freely, by the same little girl who woke up in places she didn’t fall asleep in.

The girl who can sometimes still feel the kisses and the stroking of her hair by the people who loved her before she could love herself.

 

images (1)

 

1977

We had been parked out at the camping spot outside our town for almost a week with our Dad in charge. The summers usually consisted of them taking turns with their holidays, her one week, him the next, back and forth like that, usually culminating in 2 weeks all of us together at the end. This plan was likely made with the idea of constant supervision during the summer break, and also with the intent to minimize the need to pay someone to watch us.

We always looked forward to the weeks with Dad, as he never bothered or nagged us, and by 4 in the afternoons, it was doubtful he even remembered he had 2 kids out rambling through the wooded areas and down by the river. By that time, he was well into his cups, and either snoozing off his uninterrupted day-drunk, or listening to his Johnny Cash 8-tracks and hazily formulating supper ideas.  He was never the kind of drunk who forgot to eat, or skipped eating in order to leave more room for the rye.

All the successful professional alcoholics I have known during my life have always taken the time to eat. In their minds, it keeps them within the “normal” zone on the barometer of boozology. Dinner may be rock hard from warming in the oven, or burnt to a crisp from idling in the frying pan too long, or even served at 11 at night, but they made dinner, didn’t they?

My mother, the warden, usually kept a pretty close eye on my pops, for good reason. We loved him to death, but his irresponsibility scared her to death. He never said no to us, but always deferred to my mother if she was present, and just wanted us to be happy and free. One of my jobs was to do dishes and clean the kitchen up after dinner every night, but if it ran late, my friends would already be ringing the doorbell wanting me to go out with them. My dad would sneak down to the kitchen, and grab the towel or broom from me and whisper “go- go- be with your friends, I can finish this up for you-shhhhh.”

I am sure, looking back, that he had been doing that with me since I was a very young child. He was always so affectionate with me, always pinching my cheeks softly between his second and third fingers. Always brushing my hair out of my eyes when I was reading, and he would notice it falling forward. Always such affection and adoration from my Dad. It made me love him so much and want to “cover” for him with my mom.

I’m pretty sure that is how it started- my covering up for him and his negligence with us. My doing my damnedest to make sure anything she left for him to complete, was completed by me if he was too drunk to do it. Everything from subbing in and taking my brother for his haircuts, while my dad drank at the bar, to stealing his own wallet from him to ensure he came home with the amount of money for bills she had asked him to bring home. He was always thankful for my interventions and assistance, and loved me even more, if that was possible.

He had a pretty good system going. My mother told him what to do, or what she expected from him and he let me take care of all the pesky details and also the worry.

More time to drink.

The only phone out at the campground was by the little store- a payphone.

People didn’t need to be in constant contact back then, so it wasn’t strange to go the entire 5 day work week without talking to my mother. She knew where we were and unless we called her from the payphone, everything was assumed to be fine.

I was standing in line for a slushie with some of my friends when the man who ran the joint said to me ” Call home, kid.” I was confused, as i didn’t know he even knew who I was. I asked him if he was sure he had the right person, and he nodded, his smoke hanging off his bottom lip, and said ” yup- your mom described you perfectly, right down to the bathing suit. Call home.”

I left the line and walked toward the payphone, already feeling a twisting in my gut. I pulled a dime out of my sneaker (where all smart summer kids kept their change), and dropped it into the slot of the phone.

My mom answered immediately and told me my Uncle George had died and we needed to get home immediately.

Now, this is where this story takes a humorous turn of sorts, in spite of the spectre of death hanging over it.

I had two Uncle Georges.

One was married to my mom’s sister, and was my favourite man in the world after my Dad.

The second was married to my Mom’s best friend, my godmother.

I didn’t think to ask which one died before my mother hung up the phone.

So, off I ran to the tent trailer to tell my Dad that we had orders to get home as fast as we could, as George had died and my mom wanted us home.

As I approached the camp spot, I could hear the train whistles and Johnny Cash – Orange Blossom Special, and knew my mission might take a bad turn. The louder the music, the drunker he likely was – of that you could always be certain. I was still 4 camp spots away when i heard the music, and felt even sicker….slowed my running to a walk. I tried to calculate how many hours he had been left alone by us. It was about 4:30, and we had taken off to go swimming around 9. Even allowing him an hour for coffee, he had likely been smashing it hard since 10 A.M, secure in the thought that it was going to just be one more lazy, hazy day camping, and we wouldn’t need anything until at least 6 or 7, as we packed bologna sandwiches with us when we left.

I saw him sitting in his lawn chair, with his head slightly forward, nodding along a bit to his music. As I approached him from the trees, I could literally see him try to focus his eyes on who was walking toward him. His eyes were bleary-looking and he blinked a couple times before he smiled at me and said ” Hey shishhhhhowshh yer day going?”

I told him we had to go home and it was like it didn’t even register. Nothing.

Once again, I explained that “George” had died and that we were told to get home as soon as possible, and he looked up at me with a child’s eyes, and shook his head a bit, muttering, “can’t, can’t drive”.

We were 20 miles from home, with direct orders from the warden to get our asses home, there’s been a death, and he was sitting there, like an errant toddler, shaking his head back and forth and telling me “can’t.”

It took me about 4 minutes to assess what would be our worst case scenario – my little brother and myself dying in the car on the way home cus he was seeing double already, or dealing with my mother, who gave us a direct order.

I chose death for all of us, and quickly rounded up my brother, packed anything outside the trailer into the trailer, turned off Johnny, and threw water on the campfire he had been half-assed playing with all day. All while he sat in the lawn chair blearily watching me. He almost looked like he was pouting- sulky. Like I was also pouring water all over HIS party by making us leave.

I got my brother to help me drag our father to the station wagon on his wobbly legs and stuff him inside the driver’s door. I remember my brother giggling during all of it. He thought it was like a game- an adventure- something that plopped itself into a boring summer day that ran into all the other boring endless summer days. The idea of his sister “bossing” his dad around seemed to really amuse him a lot, in retrospect.

I got myself and my brother into the car and we sat there. Sat there for what seemed like years, waiting for him to focus- to come back to his senses- to open his eyes to the fact that  he was behind the wheel of his car, us waiting for him to turn the key in the ignition.

He didn’t move a muscle, just slumped back in his seat and started snoring quietly- he was sleeping. Passed out. Blotto.

I suddenly felt more anger than I had ever felt in my life up to that point. My chest felt like it was going to explode and blow my heart right out the windshield and into the trees beyond the car. My head hurt, my chest hurt, I was seeing stars.

I jerked my door open and ran around to his side of the car and opened the door. Then I started hitting him in the shoulders and chest and yelling at him to wake up. He jerked awake and looked so startled and then sad that his little angel, his little girl, his little co-conspirator was striking him and yelling at him.

I told him to shove over to the passenger side of the car and then grabbed my mom’s little pillow she kept in the back for when she was driving and put it on the driver’s seat.

I slid in and shut the door. With my brother’s help, I got the car started and adjusted the rear view mirror. He talked me through finding the lever to pull the seat forward and even helped by pushing with his little legs from the back seat. It was a good thing he had paid attention to how the car worked, as I never had. I must have been secure in my belief that there would always be an adult around to take care of that sort of thing.

In that way, my brother was much more of a survivor than I was. His eyes and ears never missed a thing, whereas I was always doing my best to not see or hear most of what was going on around me.

As I attempted backing out of the narrow parking spot, I nicked a corner of a tree. I remember twisting the wheel back and forth, as I didn’t understand how to move it to reverse in a different direction, so it took us some time to get the nose pointed in the direction we needed to be in. In fairness to my young self, I highly doubt after driving almost 40 years, I could reverse that big old countrysquire station wagon out of that narrow spot!

As we drove along the bumpy gravel road towards the exit, I remember panicking a bit about the directions, as I never paid any attention in a car. I had my nose in an Archie comic, waiting for the car to stop at my destination. Luckily, my brother knew where we needed to turn and how to get us out of the country and back to town.

I remember driving us, my dad snoring beside me in the passenger seat, my brother leaning into the front seat in the center, telling me when to turn left or right, when to slow down, where the “coppers” hid in the trees to nail the speeders. I told myself that if I saw any “coppers” I would just run us all to our deaths straight into the nearest tree, as that would be better than them showing up to embarrass my mother at our home. (The neighbours!!!!!)

Someone was watching over my brother and I that day and it most certainly was not either of our parents. After what seemed like forever, I turned that big old car into our driveway at home, took the keys out and threw them in my father’s lap.

My brother and I went into the house and met our mother in the kitchen, where she was waiting. I remember falling into her arms and sobbing. She believed it was from grief, I suppose. She never asked me why, just held me while I cried and shook.

She asked where my dad was, and I told her he was still  in the car, but that was all. I had already sworn my brother to secrecy on the way home, promising him all the money I had saved and also any candy I had stashed in my bedroom.

I don’t know if she ever went out to the car and figured out what had  happened.

More likely, he just woke up and came inside and nothing came of it, as there was a funeral to attend, and people coming and going, which gave her no time to question any of it, and he certainly wasn’t going to open that Pandora’s box on his own.

I remember when I finally found out which George it was that died, I felt very guilty as there was a sense of relief it wasn’t my favourite Uncle George. The guilt came because the George who DID die, had a daughter the same age as me, and was a drinker like my dad.

I remember feeling so confused about my anger towards my dad, all mixed up with a sudden fear that HE could die, too. It all became very real to me that people can die any day, from any number of ways.

Kids could wake up on a lazy summer Tuesday with a dad and by the time they went to bed at night, he could be gone.

Cold and dead and maybe the last thing his daughter said to him was “I hate you!”

Or perhaps she really let loose and uttered her first curse word directly at him…something like ” you fucking DRUNK, give me those fucking keys, RIGHT NOW!”

It could happen. ( It wouldn’t for a few more years, but not many.)

So better to just shove it deep down inside and forget about it.

I was 12.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Balance & The Art of Letting Go

Balance to me, at this point in my life, is about the art of letting go.

For the first 50 years of my existence, I was gathering and taking and acquiring all manner of things: money, homes, friends, partners, loyalty, favours, safety, peace and most of all –  love.

Around the time of my 50th, I had an epiphany of sorts, and the thought popped into my head that I really didn’t know shit about anything. Who was I to be counseling loved ones and friends when they came to me for advice? How could I possibly give anyone direction when I had always blown around like a leaf in the wind most of my life, accepting and constantly adjusting my sails, according to the ferocity of the storms and tragedies? I had done a fair bit of living, so possibly I was helpful in that I could relate to many things, and provide tips or life “hacks”. But in truth, I did most of them a disservice even attempting to direct them on the right path.

In the last few years, it has been all about letting it all go for me.

I have let go of trying to control anyone I love and have become quieter and more attentive to their physical cues. Everyone knows I am still here for them, but that maybe it is just to sit with them in silence, or give them some home made soup, or a hug if that is what their bodies seem to be signaling to me.

I am no longer throwing on my cape and dashing to rescue every loved one anymore. They need to learn their own lessons, after all- we all do, even if sometimes those lessons leave scars.

I am relying on my instincts and my body more then I ever did in my past.

I am not holding on to toxic partners, for fear of being alone, because I have come to realize that I actually love my own company and look forward to whole days where I can do what I want, eat what and when I want, and do what feels perfectly right for me.

It felt a bit selfish in the beginning, but now it is feeling mighty fine.

I am also letting go of material things I have hauled around with me from home to home for years. Holding onto items that mean nothing to me anymore. Downsizing, is what they call it, I guess.

I am also downsizing on resentments, anger, bitterness, grief, and unrealistic expectations of how others should treat me. It’s up to me to set those boundaries and rules.

I want to minimize on the material and maximize on the experiences and the moments.

I recently was in Mexico with my sons for my bonus daughter’s wedding.( Ain’t no steps in THIS house except the ones leading up the stairs!) As many my age have experienced, getting all the “kids” together in one place once they have grown up and moved on is a feat in itself.

Well, I had them all close by for a whole 8 days and it was a series of the absolute best moments of my entire life.

Most of the wedding attendees were younger than me, with the exception of the groom’s Mother. And yet- it seemed my hotel door was constantly swinging open and shut with the arrival of one of them or the other.

They came to sit with me and watch the sunrises and we all came together at the end of those long, hot days to watch the sunsets together at the ocean.

They popped in to invite me for dinner with their families, in the event I was dining alone.

The one family had a little one that I would just take by the hand and walk slowly with through the glorious landscaping and along the beach. Or just sit with…play with his baby-fine hair as it blew softly across his cheek from the ocean breeze.

I sat the morning of the wedding on my patio, watching the sun rise and closed my eyes and said a prayer for the first time in many years.

I thanked God/Creator/Buddha/Mohammed- all of them.

Thanked them for the beauty and the warmth and the opportunity to watch my strong, healthy, handsome sons playing in the ocean and laughing- oh my GOD, so much laughter!

Asked that they bless the marriage we were about to witness later that day, and keep that young love alive for the rest of their lives.

I took a straw hat of my mother’s and a bandana that my brother wore so often you could see through it. Packed them in my suitcase on a whim.

My brother’s bandana is tied around a little palm tree trunk- a thin little trunk that must indicate it has years of growing and stretching to the sun before it.

My mother’s straw hat I filled with all the pesos I had left in my purse, some chocolates, as well as the boldest and most fragrant of the beautiful tropical flowers that made up my corsage.

And a note, (that I likely incurred $20 in internet charges for) in order to write it in Spanish for my housekeepers that week. I thanked them for their graciousness and their hard work.

That is my balance- the holding on and cherishing of the moments that matter, but also at the same time, letting go of that which I no longer need to carry with me.