Tonight, to ground myself, I head to a Recovery meeting. A break from packing: dismantling my home, my workspace – my refuge. Cleaning out cabinets. Finding new homes for posessions that need to move on. Potting.
The meeting has only a handful of people: about seven in all. Incredibly, I am the “old timer” in the group – with almost five years’ clean and sober, I have seen everyone here come. Some have gone back out, then returned.
And then there are those that left, that I will never see again. There are these little patches of paint, little wall tributes in the hall I’m sitting in. As I rest, my eyes wander over names… five names. Four of them, friends who died in this last year. This sinks in – again. Just sitting there for a bit and not being needed – phone off, family on errands, as the words of the meeting chair wash over me – my heart hurts. It’s incredible I can lose so many dear friends and still be okay. I miss them so. I’m not the same without them.
The sun is washing the newly-painted walls in a beatific light. The woman chairing the meeting seems down, disgruntled. I feel at peace. Moving isn’t easy, and even with my practice of patience, my Buddhism, I am weary of this latest journey. I want a substantial meal. I want a hot bath. I want a day to myself.
It’s enough, today, to know I need these things. They will come. A little longer, meanwhile feeling a great deal of gratitude for the change we’re able to make.
My son tells me, upon waking, he thinks he may have developed a case of mycelia. “It’s a state, often observed in ants or other insects, where a fungus uproots the function of the brain.” He is very serious, very sedate as he shares this horrific thought with me – before breakfast, even. Then, he adds thoughtfully: “It’s either that or a highly emotional fever.”
I am amazed I can get up to a body of work – both professionally, artistically – with the kids in the house. Yesterday while I tried to sew I couldn’t get five minutes without an interruption; on days their friends visit it can be even worse. Feeding extra kids is Extra. I don’t mind, but I also have to give myself credit for how much I do get done.
“Do you work from home?” a child asked me today. I got to tell her. Maybe she will stay less ignorant than so many Grown-Ups.
But today, “working from home” took us on the road, as it often does. We spent the better part of the sunshine on a little highway and back again: delivering a child to a counseling session. It was hot out, and my car – clocking over 200,000 miles – has a busted A/C long since fallow. The windows down, and the air roaring through, it’s good enough. Tying my hair up into a couple buns and wrapping with a headscarf and still by the end of the day I feel wilted. Hot shower and into pajamas a little early, methinks.
The children and I enjoy a late-night walk with the dog, most nights. And every time we do at least one of our cats – and sometimes up to four of them! – follow us. Our little tuxedo Herbert Pocket races alongside, flashes of her white grabbers at the end of sleek black legs. She waits in a dusty lane for us, and I know coyotes or even a mountain lion could meet her there – it’s remote enough. Life is scary!
We’ve always had the highest quality air here, but this summer has had some wonderful, beachy breezes. I’m aware as we walk that we are approaching the end of our turn in this neighborhood: off to a new house, a new adventure soon. I make my preparations: sewing a quilt, selling bits of furniture, putting together a wishlist, going through our clothing:
My children’s first year at school together, come and gone. Not much fanfare after all; I brought out some homemade food on the last day of class – simply to be relevant, to impress upon the children there that their time is honored, that we do indeed see them and love them. And yes, I am glad to be there if only for this brief hour. The food in hand: deviled eggs and pretzel sticks, the eggs created in my kitchen only the half hour before. I carry the parcel to a few other classrooms, teachers. My footfalls are weary but I’m glad to ghost about the hall and experience the privacy of my thoughts.
The edifice, the institution, the classroom, is as it always has been now that I’m an adult: a bit dirty, small-minded, housing implausibly-cheerful young citizens and adults paid a wage for honorable work. My throat constricts and my heart thunders with hope, and despair. My children are happy – everyone seems to be! – but I am ambivalent, an experience that will follow me the rest of the day.
And I am distracted. Our grocery reserves are limited to a bit of folding money in my pocket, and we are paid Thursday next. But even this is familiar, an adventure. Only distressing if I decide it is. Instead: it just means on our last school roadtrip I text my husband to send me coupons for take-and-bake pizza; I think of what we have in the fridge, and of when in the next week or so I can reasonably set up something special for the kids. They have, after all, completed a year on their own steam.
Driving home I know the car full of children – four in all – are feeling joy, and sadness, and a since of pulsing life. Even now today’s memories are blooming in their chest, to be touched upon lightly in years to come. Music and singing, the wind through our hair, the sunshine painting the winding road flanking the Wishkah river. They can afford to let the moment come and pass, while it lives wretched and sublime through my body, manifested in my fingers resting on the steering wheel, tapping out a rhythm more cheerful than I feel.
Summer, then. And already my son is half-feral: he has plans to do his banking – he packs his stamped-leather piggy bank in my car and is querulous I don’t make the time to stop at his branch. He tells me he will stay a week at a friends’, someone he hardly knows. His summer tan returns seemingly overnight, his hair lightens from honey into an earnest, bedeviled blonde. He is outside and running the neighborhood as much as we let him; home, he cooks meals at late hours, and tries to take a bowl of soup to eat in his bed, although perhaps I have scolded the children for this kind of thing hundreds of times. He painstakingly arranges his most treasured effects in the many small wooden boxes and metal-clasped receptacles he’s squirreled away over the years. In one such repository: miniature Lego pieces, a geode, a key, foreign currency, fossilized sharks’ teeth, and nondescript rocks imbuing a meaning known only to he. “I wish I could keep your heart inside,” he says – then, with a quick glance lest I misunderstand, amends his statement to mean my soul, my spirit, not my anatomical heart.
He tells me he will forgo school next year – but who can tell? This time last year, we had no hint he’d want to attend, and we wouldn’t have predicted how that would go in any case.
I have a leadership role in my household. This is evident to anyone who knows our family. This is something we four know. Yet in so many ways I am blind and striking out, making way in hostile, confusing terrain so the family can grow into themselves. They thrive in confidence in this shadow, lush and verdant greenery twining in the loamy darkness, growing strong. They fall asleep easily while at night I am prone to anxiety.
And tonight – as evening falls, sitting on our couch with my legs folded underneath my body – I talk with my husband. I speak of the disappointment and sadness I feel to watch so many I know, falter in their spiritual path. I speak of Doubt, which is so much harder for me than Fear. A mirage of illusion. “There are a small number of people I have found to be faithful,” I tell him. “You’re one of those people -” I say, and turn my head strategically for just a beat, to let this pass, before I complete my thought.
I am glad of their faith because, if I cannot always be happy, be sure, they are still the best thing to have come along, to awaken me to something beyond my own machinations and limited understanding.
And of course, I’ve packed a couple other storebought items that are still in good shape.
It feels good to take a little extra time to get garments to homes that will really love them. Sometimes I mail these off; sometimes I drive them to friends (like today). When I mail them, most people Paypal me shipping or a little extra. But of course, mostly, I am trying to get some loved hand-me-downs to some great kids out there!
“I don’t understand why everyone acts like Florida is so special,” my son says to me cheerfully – easing the shopping cart through the aisles and every now and then slyly tapping at something in the midway.
It’s a little after 11 PM on a Saturday and even Walmart is fairly empty. I’d had these visions of getting an oil-radiant heater for our freezing little attic bedroom, and am quickly realizing they don’t have anything like that in stock. I’m tired – tired in a way my schedule, and my waking hours, don’t quite explain.
The last few days the sun and balmy skies have given way to rain – vicious, cold, angry rain. “Sidways rain – it gets up your nose!” a cashier in the grocery store cheerfully says to me, yesterday. You’d think, living here as long as I have, I’d be used to it. That my friends and neighbors, and the grocery store clerk, would be too. But we kind of hunch up, retreat; our conversation taciturn, skin roughened by the cold. Grab at hot cups of coffee and stay inside.
And then there’s the bills to pay. A stack of a few more, since my daughter’s sudden illness (she’s feeling better, by the way – responding to medications). And I’d just knocked down our medical debt to within sights of zero. And now – back up again!
I realize my son is still talking – gloriously denouncing The Sunshine State’s undeserved reputation: “… not as if it’s a land of gold and riches or something!” he finishes with a flourish.
His energy is unflagging. Until nighttime when he strips down to sleepwear and tries anything to climb in bed with us. I will miss these days when they’re gone and there is nothing I can do about that.
Last night the friend of a friend ran into trouble; her husband was chasing her around the house. Berating her. She texted a friend and the friend texted me and I did what I could. And tonight I’m wondering how many women I know have those troubles, locked up inside their hearts, in the memory of their bodies. I’m glad my home is a safe one, a pleasant one. Even if right now I’m walking about in the garish lights, asking help from retail workers with red-rimmed eyes and knowing it’s a long cold drive home with a busted heater in the car. I got a home and it’s a good one.
My child has a standing group-counseling event miles away once a week; this means I drive even more than normal to pick the child up, early, from a rural school. As well this week I am running back and forth for a sporting season (basketball: Nels). I am logging hours on a backwoods road which regularly yields heron, bald eagles, elk, and the occasional owl – but rarely-to-never deer or hawks, more often seen alongside the thoroughfare highways.
I have not yet adjusted to having the children out of the home during daylight hours. I have been working on sleeping more – discovering, half a year ago, that even when I did not need to rise at a particular time, I could only sleep six hours at a stretch. (Thanks to practice, patience, and some supplements – calcium, magnesium, wild lettuce, and melatonin – I’m up to nine!)
With more sleep comes a (seemingly) less productive schedule. Made (seemingly) less-productive still by my practices of meditation, volunteerism – and resting while I recover from a deep cough.
My son wants me to take a job at his school: his idea of paradise is to play kickball (or this week’s fad: sproutball), selectively partake in hot lunch, play with friends, and get cuddles from his teacher/playground-aide mama. His simple demands for childlike needs tug at my heart. My son is remarked upon by strangers often for his advanced vocabulary and speech patterns, his good manners, his dress – but at the same time, his younger nature. While other boys have followed suit of their peers and the television programs in their home, Nels is still childish in some ways. He dresses his own style; he is quick to cry publicly. Gentle at heart with animals and small children. As excited today as he was years ago – at a common snail or dun-brown snake:
My daughter has developments in her personal life as well; her age, and the increasing sophistication of interaction between boys and girls in her peer group, require that I am less forthcoming in sharing them here. You can imagine, reader, how honored I am she shares with me, privately – that I am her confidant.
By way of illustration: each child, on separate whims, affixed a valentine above their bed in a position of honor. Nels elected the cheerfully silly card I made him (“You’re The Shark To My Tornado!”) – while Phoenix displays a folded handmade heart, with words handwritten in a cribbed boys’ hand. The children are two years apart, and as close as siblings can be. But as ever, they have their own separate worlds.
Is it special, when you’re lonely? Will you spend your whole life In a studio apartment With a cat for a wife?
On my mind today is a sense of illness – it steals upon me during a perfectly sunny walk in the woods this afternoon, and creeps through my belly, blooms in my chest. My head swims a bit. I want nothing more than to rest, to lie down. Instead I get to drive and haul children, a dog, a friend or two.I get to do the minimum amount of housework at home so we can visit a new family with a new – brand-new, as in born today – baby!
My children’s interests, activities, appetite, and clothing consumption seem to have escalated here, in their pre-teen years. Their needs for scheduling, and for talking out peer issues, and our plans for their upcoming birthday celebrations, do not make for idle time. Tonight I sit on bleachers in the rural school’s immaculate gym – splashed everywhere with the school colors of black, orange and white – and watch my son and other boys dribble basketballs, run pass-drills, and work on shooting form. I feel a softness in my chest for these boys – the little boys, and the “boy” coaching as well. I stand up and pocket my phone at four as Nels proudly hauls his backpack up his shoulder – before asking if I’ll carry it. My son puts his arm around me when we leave; he is growing so tall, so fast. His neck is flushed and his body elastic and warm from practice.
Today’s exertions have left my cough a little deeper than it was this morning; my neck and head ache. My body feels ill-used, and misses the weekend-night cuddles of my children, who go to bed before I do on school nights.
But tonight I am grateful to have once again discharged the day’s duties; to have remained true to the purpose. To have walked the dog and pet the cats and helped the children and held hands with my husband and looked into his eyes deeply and when he asked me how I was, to tell him, “I love you.”
Life is a gift and today although my bones are cold and brittle I’m grateful to get the chance for another 24. Breathing in, breathing out.
Now and then the cloud of depression lifts. It is such an obvious difference – like clouds parting for sunshine. I am wise enough to really appreciate my good-mental-health days fully – to savor them. Who knows how I will feel tomorrow!
Today I started sewing after a long hiatus. I have an ambitious project I’m debuting in spring, and I’m making the preparations now. Winter was a little rough – first, the tail-end of my busy season, then an unsavory experience or two.
One good thing about getting older – for me, anyway – is having a bit of perspective. I don’t take my time, talents, or resources for granted. I’m glad to have had a chance to put in some time designing and sewing tonight.
Today was my 38th birthday. I took a picture first thing: before shower, before makeup, before dressing – before my first cup of coffee, even.
I had a wonderful day out with family and friends. I woke to a few gifts in the post – a large parcel of treats, and a package of yummy socks. My good friend E. picked me up and we headed to Olympia for this and that. While there, Nels and I each got a haircut – he made quite a change!
We shopped, ate food, picked up a few things, and headed back to town to reunite with the family.
After we got into town, I ran off to the yoga studio and sweated it up pretty profusely on the mat – nursing my injured shoulder all the while, of course.
Dinner at the local Rediviva – where the chef made me something special. More flowers, and a few moments with friends and my mother.
My mom made a homemade cake – a white cake with fresh berries. She made separate cupcakes for the restaurant workers too. Because that’s how she rolls.
I don’t have a picture of this – but Ralph found and paid a violinist to serenade me with “Happy Birthday”. Every year my husband finds a way to surprise me, and every time it’s something very special. It occurs to me now that he is providing a wonderful example for our children. I hope I am doing the same.
Home again – finally – and I snap a picture of Phoenix, who researched how to tie a sarong, so she could dress up for me this evening. Of all the wonderful, amazing gestures and gifts today this was the most unexpected. She is a lovely lass and as you can see – I am very grateful.
Flowers from a friend, flowers from my husband, gifts in the post: chocolate and clothing and candy and sweets.
My house is full of gifts, and warmth.
My body, tired from this evening’s yoga. My cough is a bit deeper and I look forward to rest.
I am, as always, quite grateful for the love I receive on my birthday. The loving generosity of family and friends is always humbling, and always wonderful.
Today I braved the rain out early and sat through a lunchtime meeting of recovered (and trying-to-recover, and forced-to-be-there-by-legal-authorities) alcoholics. As always I was reminded of how hard it is to get a respite from these compulsions, these addictions. Many of us never even try, in a serious way, to sober up. And of those who do, most drink again – to their astonishment. Then try to sober up, then drink again. Lather, rinse, repeat. Maybe die young. Or maybe just live a long son-of-a-bitching life of misery.
At going-on-four-years I’m a medical miracle and anomaly. It’s easy to forget it until I hang out with those who are trying to do something about the problem.
At the family party last week I was offered alcohol and drugs several times. One aunt had, at her hand, either a margarita blender or a bottle of champagne, offering liquid hospitality to all. A 90-year-old friend of the family drank bourbon in a glass, drink after drink, and shook his ice cubes when empty – prompting the women in my family to rush over to fill it.
I hope when I’m an Elder I’m not an ass. I really, really do hope.
But today I’m thinking not of my family so much but of another Elder, my friend D. He got sober (finally!) in the treatment center I volunteered at. He remembered me about half a year later- this was a few years ago – when we next crossed paths. He told me I’d helped him, and as is usual in these cases I wondered what it was I said, or how I’d acted, that invoked some hope.
D.’s story was unique in that shortly after he sobered up, he found himself ill with, incredibly, double lymphoma. He handled this setback, as far as I could tell, with courage and humor. I remember listening to him talk about his struggles and thinking that, well, sometimes we sober to some incredibly unpleasant realities. That’s Life, no? We drink, or drug, or chase something – money, reputation, material things, usually – all to blot out the pain of our own awareness. Cancer’s an extreme example but is one of those obvious, slap-in-the-face kinds of illness we are ready to recognize and discuss publicly.
And this cancer is what I presume that is what took his life six days ago. He’s in my heart, today. He was a courageous, beautiful man. The last time I saw him we greeted one another with a great deal of warmth. It’s funny, maybe spooky, how often I get that memory of the last goodbye. A blessing, really.
Tonight Nels hands me a picture he’s painstakingly constructed on a piece of paper – his “dream house”:
stained diamond glass oak dock mahogany wood interior birtch door thatch
(maybe someone’s interested in different kinds of wood all of a sudden?)
My daughter seeks my help, in the evening: social troubles between a group of close friends. Misunderstandings via text. Hurt feelings and harsh words.
My heart feels that pang because of course I re-live all my past painful episodes in this vein: all of mistakes, all the ways I was hurt or hurt others. It would be easy to let those experiences overwhelm me, and inform my response to my daughter in an unhelpful way. But those things happened then, and they aren’t all happening to her right this minute. I have a chance for my past to help make a better Right Now, a better future. I talk to my daughter. One of the girls in question privately texts me, in duress. I am grateful these young women are involving a grownup they trust. I am glad to be there and be a soft place, a kind place.
Home from California a few days, and we’re in for rains again – record-level rains if the predictions are correct. It is cold, and desolate, and foggy. Winter has not passed us by just yet.
It’s cold, and wet. But inside maybe it’s a little safe. Maybe things can be okay after all.