diez y seis

Ralph & His Son

Today Ralph and I have been together sixteen years. What is there to say about this time together – of growth, of quarrels, of many laughs, shared tears, anger, confusion, solidarity and strife? The kinds of sorrows that bring one to near collapse. An elation between two human beings who stick by each other – no matter what. Two children who’ve chosen to walk this very scary path through the dark forest together.

I guess what I want to say is, intimacy is worth it. And you might as well go for it anyway because you will crave it the way my dog craves a giant sandwich. You will come to hunger for it so deeply, if you try to eschew that drive.

And don’t be so shamed if you’ve tried and failed before. Shit, we’re all human.

Out On The Lake

 

Ralph & Phee

awake at 6 am but then back to sleep

 
Today as soon as my son woke up, he cried out asking for us to swim together. Very recently it occurred to him we could both swim in the large, “adult” lap pool and he wanted this more than anything, today. Enough that he sprang out of bed, dressed immediately, packed his swim gear, walked the dog, and hopped in the car.

We swam; we dove. Backstroke, breast-stroke, dolphin kick, crawl. He pretended to be a merman. He showed me his many new swimming lesson skills. If he wasn’t under water smiling, he was popping his head up and bubbling words at me faster than I could track. He wanted me to swim with him, “free”. I flipped somersaults and dove to touch the deep end’s floor. I taught him the art of slowly releasing an exhale while submerged. He brought us kickboards and fins. My first time using flippers.

There was only one other person in the entire pool and they left us be. It was just Nels and I for yards of water. A small paradise.

My son is thinking of joining his sister in school (“I will try one day and see if I like it); if he does, I will miss our idyllic days together – years of memories, years slipping by. I know that either or both my children might join school, then quit, then re-join and by no means do I have a plan or agenda. I just also know the kids don’t mourn the passage of time so their changes are experienced in pure joy. Yet this bit of sadness is something I seem to have learned along the way.

Tonight: home cooking – for ourselves, and for friends. Patiently frying chicken in a clean kitchen; baking biscuits. Corn on the cob; country music all lonesome.

My husband has been kind to me. He can tell I am upset, and preoccupied at times, and worn a little thin. A setback here; a friend or two in trouble there. Kidney pains. Mis-steps. And when he puts his arms around me he really means it. He had kind words for me on my sobriety birthday. He has been my companion now for sixteen years. He has seem me through good and ill and I have done the same. This is a very precious thing and grows no less so as days rise and fall.

Tonight he finishes the dishes; I type a few words; my dog Hutch slumbers at my feet which he never fails to do when I am doing any seated work. Our children finish up their own housework efforts and run hot water for their baths.

I light a candle. I am thinking of a friend. I am thinking of our checking account. I am thinking of the summer nights upon us; evenings that stay light, later. I am feeling gladness. I am feeling somber.

I want a heart of Kindness.

well, I’m a weak and lonely sort / though I’m not sailing just for sport

My father wrote it in his journal when he knew he was dying, the month before he was dying: “disappointed”. I’ve got a strong visceral reaction to that word. I don’t like it, I don’t like being there. Like self-pity; it’s fundamentally a dishonest place, really. The word reminds me of a friend telling me of her own upbringing, and how she never wanted to be “The Disappointed One”. Like, it was a role members of the family played at by turns. I didn’t find out more about what she meant but I think I have an inkling.

I don’t enjoy feeling Disappointed. Sometimes, it happens. Today is like that. So today I remind myself nothing is Bad News, it’s just News. Or like the story of the farmer and “Maybe” – a story I first heard, again – from my father. I don’t understand what is happening or why – so why get too troubled about any of it?

Errands, in the meantime.

Work found me. The washer died today – only a few days after the dryer did. By day’s end I manage to secure a washer but the parties responsible to deliver the dryer, do not. I’m shorter on cash than I’d hoped. Life Happens.

Paying bills. Picking up a prescription; groceries (coffee filters milk baking chocolate wax paper mint carrots rice noodles). Special garbage liners, two mailings at the UPS store, a deposit into my aunt’s account, securing rent, setting up bank accounts, arranging a volunteer commitment, buying Phee’s special hair dye, returning vases to the florist. Stopping at the (new-to-us) used record store; finding a Crosby, Stils, Nash & Young for $3 and putting that on tonight just before 11 o’clock when it’s time to fold my body into some yoga.

Tonight, asking for help. It took some guts. I’m waiting, now. To see.

The day brought other kinds of News. News that soothes my heart. A letter from someone dear. My own mother’s empathetic response to our laundry troubles (which, with one income, four humans, and five pets, is a bit of a pickle). The florist gifting my family five rather special carnations. A meal with family and a friend. The smell of my son’s hair as he walks alongside me, our arms around one another’s waist. My daughter’s laugh at something I said. Someone holding my hand in this really wonderfully firm way. My husband asking, more than once, “How can I help?”

Gifts.

 
No one can say he doesn’t pay attention.

tell yourself it’s all you know / you should know me better than that

Tonight my work at the treatment center was less than stellar. Every now and then there is this tension and there are less-than-civil interactions… a hostility, specifically directed at me or at least what I’m saying. I find myself frustrated at times because addicts and alcoholics in early recovery (or even several years into recovery!) go from being desperate and willing to seek help – to being easily-offended, egocentric, selfish, myopic, and stubborn. (I am in no way claiming immunity to these emotional relapses!)

Oddly though even when I’ve spoken words that weren’t well received (which when I lead meetings is my prerogative to ensure everyone in the group gets a chance to speak, and is respected while speaking), the oddest thing has happened every time. When I return a couple days later, these same individuals who flashed in anger and sarcastic under-the-breath remarks see me and they simply light up. I don’t even mean a guarded smile, I mean they smile genuinely and instantly upon recognizing me. Any bad feeling that may have existed, seems to have vanished entirely.

The first time this happened I was taken aback, but it has happened enough times in the last couple years it is, so far, the absolute rule. I’ve thought a lot about this odd (seeming) turnabout, and concluded a few things. A., that they might think I’ve got some relevant experience to share, after all – since so many non-addicts do not understand, B. that my kindness and compassion comes through regardless of our verbal exchange, and C., most importantly:

that for any alcoholic or addict, no matter where they are at and if they’re going to die drunk and never get sober, there is this part of them gut-deep that recognizes sobriety and they respond to me like a flinted spark. I will tell you that the miracle of sobriety is so instantly-recognized that there isn’t even room for envy, and that is saying something! In that sense it doesn’t matter too much what I do or say, the important thing is they see me sober, see me coming back to help (if I can), and see me with a smile in my face and love in my heart. And so far, I too have that love in my heart when I return. Because no matter how rude someone has treated me I don’t hold a grudge. I have a love for people that recovers despite, well, despite all sorts of insults, big or small. And I have a willingness to live without a resentment, a willingness that has served me well.

It blows my mind, though. No matter how deep these addicts are and even when they’re absolutely detoxing they recognize the miracle of sobriety. This is incredible!

This hope, this reality, is something I’ve come to believe, at least at this stage in my life.

My irritation tonight is not so much perceived personal insults: it’s from spending some time in the resultant ugliness within the disease of addiction. It’s an ugly disease in a way that many diseases can’t compete with. Usually I feel pretty fine, but some days? I’m a little down.

***

Last night I ask my husband, “Do you know, I have a tendency to hold on to something, even if it is broken or worthless?”

“I’ve come to count on it!” he says, and gives an embarrassed laugh. I realize he’s talking about himself, or maybe the harder years of our marriage. And I laugh. Surprised even after this time he thinks of himself that way. He’s not broken or worthless, he’s my life’s companion and he’s a treasure to me.

But I’m thinking: I will hang on to things, a half-glass of iced tea, rags, canning jars that might serve a use, things other people regard as trash. I have a bag full of squeezed lemon halves in my fridge! It isn’t just that I might find a use for the seemingly-defunct, but I hate to discard something entirely as it seems wasteful. Especially given that, in so many ways, I have relied on others’ cast-offs (my entire sewing room is furnished with equipment that has been gifted me – this last week for example, a seam roll and a sleeve board).

I am relatively thorough when it comes to moving something on. I have gone through lengths to get those scraps of fabric, or the older bed frame, or the half-consumed bag of flour we’re not using, or the compost from our composter when we move, to someone who can use it. This frugality and this desire for ethical consumption (which means weighing the entire life of the thing we bring into the home), is an asset – as long as I don’t take it too far – don’t grasp and cling, or get too worried about any of it.

Today Ralph and I performed music on the street. I sang, even, with a microphone and everything! It was only in front of a small group, and many of them were friends or at least known to me, but I had a few compliments on my singing – and one on my bravery. My friend M. says to me, “You’ve got balls. I could never sing unless I had a few drinks in me.” I smile and tell her, “I never sang until I got sober.”

I don’t have to be perfect, I just have to be Me. That’s a pretty do-able vocation these days.

lead into gold, weariness into ecstasy, bodies into souls, the darkness into God

Today was my husband’s 36th birthday. I was thinking this afternoon that our marriage is an extraordinary one. You know those vows, “in sickness and in health”? I realized today Ralph and I have spent almost all our fifteen years together in sickness. With my recent reflections on my kidney illness, it doesn’t look like any time soon we’ll be in a “health” phase, either.

But our relationship has matured into something quite wonderful and very strong, and something I treasure very much. Respect is easy to promise or even to give when you’ve not gone through Hell together. Respect, love and devotion after we’ve been through is the most precious alchemy.

Today the four of us drive to Montesano for lunch at one of our favorite restaurants. Nels complains about a gift winging its way to him in the mail, and I give into my irritation with his ingratitude. “With that bad attitude, you’ll probably make bad things happen to you,” I tell him tartly. He replies serenely, “That concept is called ‘karma’. Which doesn’t really exist.”

And I calmly turn my head and looked out the passenger-side window and laugh silently. He won that argument, although no matter what he believes I’m not sure if there’s anything I have more respect for than karma.

Something changes in the car and soon we are all restored to good spirits. We discuss names and name-changes, and Nels announces his plans for a new name. When he clarifies the spelling I am quite impressed: Aqua Sun – as in, Aqua Sun Hogaboom. Which suits him, if you know him. Now I don’t think he is serious about the name change – unlike his sister three years ago – but I do think I love that name so much, and I love the thought of the responses I’d get calling him that in public.

As I write, this same child is singing to his father and brings him some homemade sweets. “That’s a lot of jam,” I hear my husband observe mildly. Nels proudly brings me this impressive concoction in a bifurcated cupcake dish: a ripe plum sliced perfectly into a Pac Man presentation, a cloth napkin and fork, and a “jam cake” garnished with fruit and a large swath of glitter-frosting. By “jam cake” I do not mean something baked, it is literally what looks like a quarter-cup of preserves. (“It’s only one scoop!” he says cheerfully after his father demurral).

Nels likes to cook.

36

Today was my thirty-sixth birthday. The family and I took a roadtrip to Olympia and picked up a sewing supply, some bra and panties for yours truly (a long overdue purchase, and after we left the shop I told Ralph, “It’s expensive to have goodies,” and he responded, “As someone who was a woman the other day, I can say it’s worth it!”), and a creamy lemon-yellow faux leather coat, what I am now calling my Birthday Coat. The only thing that would make that coat cooler is if it was real leather. I still feel kind of sleek and sophisticated in it even though I am wearing plastic. That almost calms me down more, even, it feels nice and junky in this beautiful way that fits me. On our way home we stopped at an awesome barbecue restaurant and ordered whatever we felt like.

Our cars are both in a bit of trouble and if we don’t do something about them we will soon be without. The truth is life is (I choose to view it as anyway) a delicate dance alternatively weighing say, a muffler for Ralph’s car or a fuel distribution fix for mine (or my door seals, driver’s side door handle, and window and lock switches), versus groceries versus gifts for birthdays (both the kids’ are coming up) versus birthday parties versus a scholarship for another family versus a vacation for us this year (to be realistic: unlikely at this point) versus the orthodontist services now recommended for my son versus my daughter’s desire to enroll in martial arts versus the theramin I’ve wanted to buy Ralph 4EVER versus (back to being practical:) much-needed clothing for the four of us versus vet visits for the pets (we recently healed Hamilton’s neck bite using a homemade version of a “cone”, antibacterial cream, and vigilance – there’s $80, saved) versus fabric for my sewing ventures versus day trips or eating out for the family and then there are the things that aren’t options at the moment given our current survival-mode, like college fund and house downpayment and “nest eggs” or “six months’ living expenses” saved up.  Anyway our car trouble and this little juggle of this or that is nothing unique, nothing new, and nothing I’m complaining about – just something I’m documenting.

Yet I have to be very careful at this juncture to represent myself correctly. I patently refuse to let that above stuff, and the bits I’m forgetting right now, make me start to get panicky and obsess about what we “should” have, what I want, what I want for the kids – and thereby stop helping others. For one thing: a few years ago I opened my blog up for donations and my readers have responded with so much generosity there is Absolutely. No. Cause for me to complain. Ever. No matter what happens here on out.

But also there’s this bit about how, my life circumstances are similar as they’ve been since having children, but I am different. And that’s something I’d like to try to articulate, here and now. For years I spent a great deal of time feeling angry or frustrated at what seemed like Scarcity and unfairness. It was a big mess and you’ll excuse me if right now, at almost 11 o’clock in the evening after a lovely day, I don’t want to go down memory lane to remember how much stress, shame, blame, guilt, and resentment I used to swim in, and mostly how it left very little for me to GENUINELY give to others. No, what I was thinking is when I wrote the paragraph about our family’s needs and wants, well cars and car troubles are like groceries or like the kids growing bigger and needing new clothes or like vet bills or unforseen dramas: they will never be “fixed” and there will never be a lack of work to keep sucking air and keeping warm, or put another way:

there will never be a lack of opportunity to experience gratitude.

I have a little shrine in my home  and daily I make offerings and say prayers. Every single day I try to help people with no regard for return, and that means no regard for payback, status, love, people liking or esteeming me, et cetera. I only reveal it here so that if anyone ever wonders how I live and how I’ve lived through so much drama they can know that a steady, non-exciting, daily, ritualistic, footwork practice of altruism and prayer has done more for me than anything else. ‘Nuff said.

Helping people with no regard for return, and yes making the time and money and resources to do this even with the so-called difficulties posted above (and sometimes more besides), even if I go without (no problem!) or the kids go without (now that can be hard), well the funny thing about this practice is it builds a Person in a way that no scrambling-after can, and one day I look and I see that I like the person I am and I like living with me, and I also see deeply how the Universe provides abundance.

I had a wonderful day with my family, in my plastic jacket and forty-year old car that makes so much noise people glare, and my kids with the many hugs and kisses they give me, and my husband with his strong hard hands and I hold his hand in the car,

and I’d like every day to be a little more like today, if possible.