Tonight I carefully slice into a red bell pepper, then a green one, and finally a cheerful purple onion. I cut a quarter wedge from each of these and slice as thinly as my patience will allow. I am exhausted, and I am trying to prepare a new dish. So I move slowly; but I do move. I heat up two types of tortillas (microwave under a damp cloth napkin) and wrap them in heavy foil packets into the warmed oven. Having pickled a jalapeño (while the others roast in oil and salt), I dice it finely and add to the marinade hosting thick tempeh slices. I halve cherry tomatoes into a bowl and gently combine them with a little oil, salt, sugar: set aside. I fry up the seitan chick’n strips – having pre-baked them dry and chewy in the oven – and add the peppers and onions and more pickled jalapeño. The kitchen warms brilliantly with the fragrance of peppers and onions and the family cheers a little. Finally: I slice avocado, bring out the lime cashew cream, and the purple slaw, my husband prepared earlier. We don’t set the table as my work is spilled across it, but join one another convivially on the couch to watch a quaint baking show before we go our separate ways again for the evening.
The weather may be dipping into fall but it’s still plenty warm out, the sun is still hot on my skin and the heat catches and holds in my pigtails as my sponsor and I step out of the grocery store – carrying small packets from the deli and in my case, a quaint salad roll of basil, avocado, and cucumber – and travel to her car. She’s a far-parker, like my late father. It feels delicious outside.
For the winter!
This project was a teensy bit challenging – but when has that stopped me? My friend wanted a princess-seamed vest in outerwear fabrics – not too shiny, with rainbow motifs and a vintage feel. For the shell I chose a water-resistant nylon packcloth from the lovely RockyWoods, and underlined with two layers – a polyfleece, and a high-loft winter underlining medium.
The collar has only a one underlining fabric in fleece, to keep bulk down. Facings around hem, neckline, and front placket.
The rainbow section of the vest was first carefully pressed (pressing a nylon fabric isn’t super fun), then crackstitched to a muslin underlay, before applying to the rest of the garment. If I hadn’t put this underlay in, you’d be able to see some of the seam allowances too starkly.
I’m a big fan of an underlap. You can make it from something cute if you like – a contrast fabric or even a pieced rainbow placket. Whatever you like. Here, I chose the burgundy for underlap, inner collar, hem facings, and placket facings.
My son and I sit in the car. Ralph is off visiting a friend; our daughter is inside the house.
Nels is upset. Today three people in the neighborhood were rude to him; uncharacteristic, a bit rough today. The first: the parent of a neighborhood bully. This parent yelled at my son not to pet their dog; retaliation for Nels’ boundary-setting with this child, the latter having defaced our property. The second: two kids in the neighborhood, taunting Nels for being vegan – caprice and cowardice, as these young people mind their p’s and q’s when an adult is around. “I’m in the dead pig club. I love to eat dead pigs!” they shout at one another, smirking his way.
My son takes this stuff to heart. He doesn’t know what to do. I feel him on this. It’s the confusion and hurt when someone is cruel, vindictive. Even knowing why people are like this – it can hurt.
So we talk about those incidents, but briefly. In both cases, my son did not respond in kind. I am quite impressed with him for that. And I tell him. It’s character that matters here. You can have all the feelings you want. I get it. But character is important. You can’t retaliate in kind. If something has to be done, we have to be thoughtful about it. We can’t lash out, just because someone was rude. Cruel. Spiteful.
But then – we talk about other things. A catch-up, on how he’s been this week. He’s feeling the influence of the pack of boys he plays with. They cuss (when not around adults, that is), and this last week he’s cussed a few times. He is teary-eyed. “I feel like I let you down,” he tells me now, his voice breaking. I remind him that although I love it that Nels doesn’t curse; his sister does (like a sailor!). “You don’t think I judge her, do you?” I ask. He calms in a moment, then says, No. I hold him close in the front seat, smelling his straw-sweet hair.
We talk about harder times, and what he learned from those times. And what he’s learned to leave behind.
When we’ve talked it all through he is much more cheerful.
I remember when my children were very small, and I felt overwhelmed and exhausted. Their physical needs seemed constant; I had so little help, and my resources were less than they are today. And I remember thinking that older kids, kids who could clean up after themselves and shower and dress and do housework and feed themselves, how surely that must be easier.
But I think it never gets easier to have a child. It is incredible though, to watch them become strong, to navigate emotional maturity. These teenage years, there is so much treachery! Their father and I are good influences, but we aren’t their only influences.
Sometimes I feel as if I’ve folded a sweet little paper boat, and set it on a windy lake. It sails off but totters and with it, my heart in my throat.
I’m holding a little tin chip in my hand. “6 months”. A little green coin, a trinket. I have it sequestered for a new friend, who’s asked I sponsor her in her sobriety. When the time comes for announcements in the group I introduce myself, say her name, stand up to bestow this little chip on her. Her face pulls down and she is crying, gratitude. We meet halfway and I hold her close and give her a hug because she is precious. I am honored she shares with me. I am delighted to see her.
Somehow this love was installed in my body and it flows without end every single day. My heart lights up when I see people. I am less angry. I find myself searching the hardened faces at the grocery store. I find my heart cracked into a million little fragments, and light flows through.
Yet there have always been impediments to the experience of love and lately those seem to be financial. My dog is ill and needs a $950 operation. My own medical bills have piled up with, what looks like some degree of mishandling from my urologist. Our home needs some proactive work (re-sealing the deck, repainting, and moss cleanup on the roof), and I’d hoped to fix an attic space into a livable one to better outfit my daughter with a study space for her colelge year. In trying to work a bit more, I’ve had the work of teaching the children how to run the household. Despite their willingness and general competence, this is taking a little time. I’ve had an influx of jobs lately, and I’m behind. I’m not angry about this, just surprised how much I’m struggling with the changes.
And when I set those worries aside I can take a few steps and enjoy the goodness I have. I can hold my daughter’s hand in mine. I can laugh at the kitty clawing at my window screen and gently remove her, instead of feeling angry. I can move on from conversations full of hate and misunderstanding. I am starting to speak up a little more. A little more directness.
Tonight my friend, my “6 months” friend, is in my heart. She has shown more vulnerability and sweetness – and smarts – than so many I’ve et. And I’m thinking of how the world is full of scorn and derision for those addicted. But those who are addicted have a bravery that few people can grasp.
Suddenly my work life has ramped up. I have sewing work for clients; I have three freelance writing assignments. I have started developing a pattern line. I have officially been given my first web design project.
It’s funny. I entered the workforce in a semi-serious way under a year ago; now, if I’m not careful, it could swallow me whole!
But: I am careful. Today besides my work, I take the time off of the “me” stuff. I make several hours’ worth of time available for volunteer commitments. If I can’t put aside what I’m worried about, and focus on what someone else might want or need – I am lost indeed.
I stand outside a rain-soggy building for a bit. My husband has bogarted my keys and I can’t let anyone in. People need to come in, need to talk, need to get services. I am friendly enough but I refuse to worry much about the delay. I did my best today and today? I don’t have a key.
Today at noon my husband and eldest were already out of town, on a trip to do their own volunteer work. My son, asleep. His current best friend, a lanky boy of eleven who lives up the street, stopped over to pick Nels up for a swim date. I ask him if he can wait a moment; he smiles and twists his body and says “Sure.” I climb the stairs, open the door, and ask my still-sleeping son into wakefulness. Then I ask him – does he want to jump out of bed and accompany his buddy, to go swimming right now. And of course: he does. He pulls on a long-sleeved shirt I sewed him last month. He brushes his teeth, he asks me to pack his towel. My son is now a young man. He has a phone, he texts me. He mans his own schedule with deference to ours.
It all happened so fast. He was a baby when I started this journal!
It’s late. From my bed, buried in blankets – this selfsame boy. Not too old to forgo cuddling, holding me close, calling me his Little Mama, his Little Beak. No one can speak to me the way my children do. I am unsure if anything smells as sweet as my son’s hair, as his warm and brown little neck. He is still so thrillingly beautiful to me, and I couldn’t have invented it, couldn’t have made it happen on my own thoughts or dreams.
I’ve been very sick for two and a half days – a cold that has me wrecked. Dizzy, coughing, sneezing, congested, the lot. Yesterday the cold conspired with a nasty kidney stone and I was shaking and sweating in my bedroom, listening to my mother in the other room talking cheerfully while devouring a fresh bowl of pancit made by my husband. I didn’t precisely want no company, but I wasn’t fit to entertain either.
Rather incredible how, when being confined to bedrest, the world instantly seems smaller and more daunting.
I’ve caught up on television and film; I watched The Big Clock (1948), Carol (2015), Tangerine (2015) – epic!, and finished off “Penny Dreadful” with a girlfriend’s company (via Twitter). I tried to watch “The Man in the High Castle” (I probably don’t have the U.S. history chops to understand much), and even gave “Daredevil” another spin, as well as the new(ish) season of “Whitechapel”.
Sound like a lot of telly? Well for me, it absolutely is, because while I like watching television just fine I don’t tend to watch it daily, and especially not all day.
No, life right now consists of me shuffling from bed to bathroom (to pee, or shower), back to bed. Getting popsicle and water deliveries from my family. Getting just a few hours of sleep per night. Steadfastedly not worrying about earnings I can’t make, appointments I must cancel, and an upcoming trip I need to prepare for.
No, today life is about the practice of patience.
Easy to talk about it. Not so easy to practice it.
Five years ago today I got sober. It wasn’t quite like that, of course. I’ve written about it here, more than once. One of the biggest days in my life. The very biggest, so far? I don’t know.
It is quite something to sit today in a meeting. And to have a guy, I remember him from when I first got sober. He had two years on me and at the time that seemed immense. He’s shy as hell and always has been but he looks right at me and says to me across the room, “I’m proud of you, girl.” There are like three men ever who get to call me “girl” but he has earned it. I thank him and look at my hands because I don’t want to cry because I think I might lose it big time.
And then my friend M. She gives me a card. We talk a bit. When I get home, I sit down. The card reads inside: “After all we’ve been through together I believe I can call you my sister.” No one’s ever adopted me as a sister before. I am deeply moved. She calls me later in the evening. We both laugh about how we basically had to bolt so we wouldn’t cry today. We couldn’t hug, not then anyway. We hug all the time, usually. Not today. It would have been too much.
And my sponsor. She texts me. She, too, has given me a card. I open it and find a memento from her five years.
We’ve walked through the flames of hell together.
Tonight a woman looked right at me and said, “I remember when – “. She’d tried to get sober, came in a couple weeks before I did. I remember her so well, as I’d jumped right on her real quick-like and bummed rides (and offered rides, when my car worked) and invested myself in this woman. Even with only a couple more weeks on me, back then I believed with all my heart she was tougher, and smarter. She had the secret. Because she had a few more days. It’s hard to explain unless you’ve given into an addiction, really felt it in your bones and got honest about it. The most slender bit of hope, if it seems real enough, looms huge.
She tells me how she used to try to race me through recovery. I remember this a little. And I remember soon after we met she drank again, then tried to get sober, then drank and I didn’t see her for all this time, except once in her car on a summer night. “And now you have five years,” she says. Her eyes are swimming with hot tears but they are gorgeous, huge and liquid brown, her most stunning feature really.
You can imagine how glad I am to see her back. It’s like we were in a shipwreck and separated off the lifeboats and here we are years later, and she’s still alive and our friendship is as real and keen as it was back when our lives were in that kind of peril.
I’m thinking about medicine, too. See three years ago yesterday was my last cigarette – I wrote it down, May 17th, because I somehow knew it might be the day. With that sort of thing I’m never sure, it’s like a growing excitement. I don’t remember that particular last cigarette and after the first year or so, the cravings passed and I rarely thought about smoking. Smoking’s not that big a deal maybe but nevertheless I am glad. I remember what it felt like to want a cigarette. It’s like fun for a while (years!) then one day you don’t want to want it because it’s starting to be a need, and at that point things have changed.
Of course human beings love to lie to themselves about dependency. The truth is, we have many. All of us. Some dependencies are healthy, some less so. I remember my first mentor telling me: “If you came up behind me and put your hand around my nose and mouth I could act hip, slick and cool for a bit.” She leans back in her chair, folding her arms and feigning nonchalance. “Maybe a whole couple minutes. Then if you keep cutting off my air supply I’m going to start to get uncomfortable. And then pretty soon I’m in a panic and I’ll do anything it takes to get that gasp of air!”
I never forgot this. I never forgot that I’m not so independent, not so very powerful after all. I’m lying to myself if I say I am.
The smoking is gone. The drinking, the drugs. All of these things have fallen away, all of these “bad habits”, these distractions, these little obsessions. The need to be esteemed in work or avocation. The need to gorge, the need to starve, the need to be liked by any particular person. The need for certain things not to go wrong for my kids. (That’s the biggest one of all, I think!) So it’s all falling away and sometimes I get this prescient sense it’s about to happen and that is like a tingling feeling. Who knows? One dares not to hope or to grasp. But maybe I’m changing from within!
I had a big change recently so right now, I’m just stepping along. I’m the little girl with her feet along the narrow curb, looking down to walk in that line. Taking a bit of focus but not taking it too seriously right now.
Because the sun’s out and it’s a beautiful day and I’ve got somewhere I’m stepping to.
Today my lithotripsy procedure was moved up a few hours. As it worked out, the family and friend who’d planned to accompany me – to give me moral support and to drive me home – weren’t able to be there. I got to check in alone, fill out paperwork alone, receive my IV alone, and be wheeled into general anesthesia without saying goodbye to anyone.
It suited me, to be honest.
Illness, accident, and then death: they come for us all. When I arrived at the hospital I parked my car in the sunshine and looked out over my beloved Aberdeen. Any time could be one’s last; I suppose when heading off for a drug-induced near-death sleep, it’s as good a time as any to appreciate these sorts of experiences. I wouldn’t want anything different. I am happy with what I have.
But of course – I woke again, and lived to see another day.
And now that I’m home, and the house is quiet, I’m thinking on how quickly life changes. We have yet another mama kitty here in our home, with her five (thankfully healthy) little two-week old kittens. My children are navigating teen- and preteen-life and there have been a few surprises: some pleasant, and some less so. My halftime job is heading into a period of intensity: Friday, a man screamed at me on the phone, for no other reason than he is a very unhappy human being and he thinks abusing a woman in the clerical field will make him feel better.
A friend of mine passed, suddenly, on April 27th. My heart still hurts over this one. Thanks to the internet, and a passionate community of friends, I have been able to trade stories, to see old photos, and to process the grief. It is a welcome experience. I need people. Maybe on the terms that suit me best, but I need them all the same.
Then home. And housework, laundry, filing papers, paying bills. And kitten handling and maintenance. Life’s a full time job!