Four Years Gone: July 24, 2015

258950721_53d1abfced_zThe call came in the dim, grey light before dawn. She fumbled for her phone in the dark, and saw the number; her stomach dropped and adrenaline and dread flooded her body, suddenly both wide awake and numb. The aging voice was fragile over the line, as she tried to make sense of the confusing jumble of words. Hospital. Collapse. David. Ambulance. Intubated. Heart failure. Non-responsive. Half-formed questions bubbled to her lips, interrupted by shock-formed half-answers from the other end. “Wait…? what…? how…? is there a nurse…someone I can talk to…?” she pleaded into the phone.

She was in Utah for the summer, nestled near Cache Valley and the northern peaks of the breathtaking Wasatch Mountains. Her children were all still asleep in various beds around her new in-laws’ house. They’d been playing outside the night before, getting to know cousins and grandparents again, and overjoyed with the deep azure sky, the pasture, the chickens, the enormous dog, and the sheep named Maverick.

She motioned for her husband to close the door- she didn’t want the children to hear any part of this phone call. Six years before, they had seen their father overdose. They had seen him, during the divorce, seizing and convulsing on the floor of his mother’s house, where she had taken the kids for a supervised visitation. She had screamed for her mother-in-law to keep the kids in the front room, to not let them see, as she rushed to call 911, but they saw anyway. They had seen the paramedics pounding on his chest, had seen the firemen rushing into their grandmother’s genteel living room, had seen the mad, brutal rush to save his life. They were too young, but she could not protect them from it.

He survived that day. She had gone in the ambulance at the paramedics’ insistence, while protesting that she wasn’t his wife anymore. She couldn’t make any decisions for him. Her head swam as she tried to answer the doctor’s questions in the ER. How many times? How much? Of what? He’d been in and out of rehab half a dozen times in the previous three years, before she finally filed for divorce. “If he does this again, he will die.” Yes. She knew.

He knew it, too. And over the next few years, he got help. He followed a program. He stayed sober. It was hard. Every day. There is a reason 12-step plans use the phrase “One day at a time”. For an addict, it’s often broken down into one hour, or one minute at a time. A day seems to large a hurdle. But a minute? A minute can be done. Until someday, for some reason, it cannot.

Less than a year earlier, she had had him fly out to stay with them on the east coast. She had invited him many times, but he was finally feeling strong enough, and he came for almost two weeks. He stayed in their home, met her new husband and her step-children, and immersed himself in his own children. It had been a singular joy watching the harmony between loved ones, and see the kids bask in that light. It had been a beautiful visit, and they had spoken about repeating it again this coming fall.

They talked frequently. She valued him- not only as the father of her children, but as a constant for more than twenty-five years. They had met when she was still a girl. He was her ex-husband, but prior to, and after that, he was also her friend.

Now the phone call she had feared for years had come. Waiting on a call-back from a nurse, her heart was leaden. He had been doing so well… But she knew the frailty of that protest. She knew how it could go, and how fast it could go.

Her husband joined her outside in the gathering dawn. His parents, out for their morning walk, were silhouetted against the rising sun as they approached. The cat had joined them and their giant dog on their walk- they made a peculiar and oddly beautiful quartet. Strange, the things you remember when the world is shifting.

It was Pioneer Day in Utah. July. It would be hot, and the roses were opening in ridiculous color and bloom, despite the early hour. She remembers noticing that, too, along with a stray chicken wandering in and out of the roses. The phone rang.

He was gone.

There are moments in life that transcend time, where everything stops, the birds hold their song, and the enormity of the silence is deafening in it’s vastness. There are moments where a person can, ever so briefly, see the curving arc of the horizon and can feel the curling crest of the wave of time under their feet. Thank God those moments are fleeting, because our earthly hearts really cannot breathe in that paralyzing enormity for long. In that moment, she understood why people fall to their knees before angels.

Before her lies the task of waking her children this beautiful summer morning, and telling them their father is dead. She cannot protect them from the paralyzing unfairness of life, or from the unforgiving hardness of the devastating reality of addiction. She wants to cry out for someone to shield them, someone more adequately prepared than her, someone who knows better than she how to shepherd children through a valley no child should walk. But there is no answer. So she will do it.

She can see the house over her husband’s shoulder, backlit by the rising sun, where her children are asleep, safe and happy, surrounded by family, summer roses, giant dogs, chickens, cousins and a sheep named Maverick.

She takes a deep breath, and tries to rub away her endless tears, and moves towards the sunrise and what she must do.

__________

It takes extraordinary courage and strength to seek help, both for the addict and for the families and friends of those who love them. There are many who triumph over their demons; while recovery and finding a way to a happy and healthy life is possible, not everyone survives the night. When faced with addiction, it is not just the addict who needs support, but their families as well. Be kind. Err on the side of love.

 

Class of 2019

 

Have you ever considered that the distance between kindergarten and walking in your cap and gown to fulfill a kid’s compulsory education as an adult is thirteen years? I have jeans I’ve had for longer than that, and I bet you do, too. It’s a lifetime for our children, but it’s really just a blink and a turnaround for us.

I know a whole lot happened in my thirteen year window. And I know it was all already seismically shifting even with the advent of Kindergarten for Jeffrey, but it still stops my breath when I realize how very very short the time is when they are small.

So on Saturday night, we all gathered at the George Mason arena to watch the sweet copper-headed boy who cried in my lap for Charlotte a.Cavatica only yesterday walk across the stage and move into the next phase of his life. He was so easy to spot–taller than everyone around him, a bright yellow sun painted on his mortarboard, and a copper-penny beard on his smiling face.

He graduated young, with a 3.71 gpa and was accepted into Utah State University and will start next summer, when he’s 18. All three of his parents are so proud of him.

 

Foxglove

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Bee on foxglove CREDIT: ALAMY

Late yesterday afternoon I sat myself gently down on my porch steps, and contemplated life. The sun was sinking low over the deep green cypress columns lining my neighbor’s yard, and a fat, furry carpenter bee was disappearing in and out of the foxglove in my flower beds. It was mesmerizing watching its furry little body, heavy with pollen, dip in and out of the pale purple blossoms.

We’re on the cusp of so many changes, it feels overwhelming some days, and I have to be quiet for a spell just to get the world to stop spinning and get my head set correct. Jeffrey graduated two weeks ago, Kelsey is right behind Jeff, Bean is fully mainstreamed for the first time in his life, and Abby is starting high school. I start law school in August. Everything is about to shift in a way it never has before, and maybe that’s true every minute of every day, but some moments feel bigger than others.

Jon sat himself down next to me on the steps and we stared out into our lush green yard, leaning towards each other but not speaking. As much as I complain about Virginia, it does the color green very well. It still floors me, forever a westerner at heart, that things just grow here without sprinklers or irrigation of any kind. Our yard is a lush paradise–velvety green grass under two giant shade trees, lined with hostas, lilacs, azaleas, foxglove, roses and lobelia. I have never watered or fertilized a damn thing. There were peonies, coming up for their third summer, but there was also an incident with Jon and an overzealous weed-wacker of which I cannot yet speak without weeping.

Anyway, we sat on the steps, two tired parents staring into the mid-distance at our little patch of Eden. Jon’s elbows on his knees, his hands relaxed. I break the comfortable silence. I’ve been thinking about the passage of time, and how incredibly short that time can be. I’ve been thinking about how rich and nuanced and complicated our ancestors lives must have been, and how they are reduced to being just names now, people who we know very little about, and I come back around to why I write. Losing David so young really affected me in ways I am still unraveling and piecing together.

Jon listened to me quietly, giving me the space to sort out thing with words because he knows this is what I need. I worry aloud about forthcoming challenges for our children, and he sits with me in this space too, a calm rock on which my cyclonic energy can tire itself out and finally come to rest. This is what he does for me and my eternally churning mind: He offers me a safe harbor.

When he speaks, it’s not much, but it’s also everything—a window into what I am worrying, behind all the words. “You know,” he pauses for a couple of heartbeats. “You know…you can forgive yourself for wanting to do something just for you. It’s okay.” He knows that under all of my swirling, is the fact that I’m struggling mightily with shifting my role in our family. The last two decades of my life have been about caring for, saving, protecting, defending, and building up my family. I am a part something beautiful, with remarkable humans, and I value this creation more than anything in the world.

I’ve never willingly stepped back from something I love this much. Jon reminds me that I am just going to school, and they do have two parents, and we laugh at how hard it still is for me to remember that he’s a very capable man and a very good dad. Yeah, I’m just going to school but I have no roadmap for the life I am imagining for myself. I have no roadmap for an engaged and loving dad taking over more of the parenting. I have no roadmap for co-parenting with an equal partner. I have no roadmap for being a parent in graduate school. I have no roadmap for what life looks like next.

He stares at me, a bit of mirth in his eyes. It takes me half a beat.

Oh. Right. I’ve never had a roadmap. And I’ve done it anyway.

****

Happy Father’s Day to those of you who celebrate such things. As always, it’s a complicated thing for our family—though to be honest, my kids don’t have the visceral flinching they once did. It’s amazing what a few years of love and support will do for tender hearts. I wish every one of you this kind of love.

We still skip church though. Platitudes really aren’t helpful to anyone, are they?

Lacrosse

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So last night was the awards banquet for Lacrosse at the high school. We all went, enjoyed a pot luck dinner, and then received a nice surprise when the head coach (who is also Bean’s SpEd teacher) made a little speech and presentation about him. I filmed it on my phone, but it’s garbled, so I transcribed it here, because it’s really cool.

This kid…he tried out for my other sport first. He came out, and kind of only lasted a day. He really didn’t like the [football] atmosphere, but I still had him in my class. He sat back in his corner, did his thing, had his backpack with rainbows and lights… I asked him once if he had anything other than tie-dye. Nope. So we talked and talked. And one day, he says, “Hey Coach!” —and that struck me, because he usually called me Mr. C—this day he said “Hey Coach. I’m looking to try a sport and I’m thinking about Lacrosse or Crew.” I told him “Well, Crew costs a lot, so why dont you try Lacrosse? It’s not like football, we’re a different group, more of a family.” He told me he didn’t know what he was doing, and I assured him that we’d teach him. So he comes out the first day of practice, and you can see him going a mile a minute, trying to figure this sport out.

So as this is all going on, lo and behold, he’s also our local celebrity—he decides to tweet at Lidl about some peanut butter [laughter & applause cheers start of Bean! Bean! and the coach invites him to the front] And so he does all this and becomes a celebrity. Everyone knows who he is, knows his name, he’s giving away peanut butter everywhere [garbled in cheers and more shouts of “Bean!”] and then I get this hair-brained idea, two weeks before I decided to do it, “Hey! Lets do our charity game for autism! Bean, lets do something for autism!” Alright cool! He picked out the tie-dye, he picked out the slogan, he picked out the logo—everything! (me, off camera, “he didn’t tell us any of that!”) So we decided that’s what we’re going to do. And that’s something that, in talking to your mom—don’t make her cry!—I learned that this is the first time you have truly felt like you were part of a team. This is a very special group, and these guys loved having you as part of their team. We loved seeing you get the peanut butter [garbled, lots of laughter, more shouts of BEAN!] 

So this was his first year, and I’d go out before the games and I would have to tell the refs “Hey, I have a kid on the spectrum, so be aware, he’s going to get upset and say some things really, really loud [laughter, “Bean!”]—so don’t worry about it, let him be. So then the refs started knowing him and asking who the kid is who always wears the tie-dyes? The refs all knew about Bean, and they were impressed to see how much you’d grown from the start of the season to the end. I have seen you grow tremendously. You can go out and say “hi” to people now! You can interact with people you have no clue about, and now you’re standing here in front of everyone! [applause and cheering and BEAN!] We’re proud of you, Bean!

Coach hands him an award and they all shake his hand. He’s smiling and wiggling back and forth. It was really a lovely moment, and a testament to the power of Special Ed teachers and the work they do. Thanks, Coach C.

Ruminations on Affecting Change

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I don’t think this is going to turn into a law school blog, but the truth is my writing has always been personally experiential. Narrative is what I do, and when the story of my life shifts, writing is how I process it. Everyone’s story is always shifting—that is literally life. Stasis is illusory. Change is constant.

I’m starting to gather the things I’m going to need this fall. Like any new endeavor, there’s a lot of contradictory advice for people starting law school. Understandably, most of it’s geared towards twenty-three year olds. I’m literally going to be double the age of the majority of my classmates. I’ve chosen a boutique law school with a reputation for non-traditional representation, so I’m not the oldest student ever… but I’m definitely an outlier on the curve. Jon thinks a concerning possibility is my classmates potentially turning to me as a supportive mother-figure, and that I need to watch for that sapping my time/energy, since it’s a role I am know well. It’s highly likely I’ll be the only one currently raising four teenagers while attending law school. Am I crazy? Hang out with me and see!

I’m reading a book on understanding legal terms and vocabulary, and I’m listening to Serial Season 3, about the day-to-day goings-on in one American justice department (highly recommended, even if you’re not interested in lawyer-ing). I’ve got myself a heavy-duty, not-pretty but highly-functional backpack. I’ve got a planner. I’ve got a schedule tentatively worked out with full knowledge it will likely require immediate, on-going revisions to accommodate my family’s needs and the demands school places on my time.

I have a mentor. I have several, as a matter of fact—I’m super lucky to have friends who are lawyers, who are not only cheering me on, but offering support and advice about structure, time management, and stress.

It’s possible my kids are more excited about this than I am. They have spent their lives watching me jump into situations where advocacy and knowledge was a necessary tool. They each seem to have an impression of me that is certainly more fierce than I feel. Maybe all kids think their mom is a hero? They’re prepared, they say, to have me be less accessible than I have been for years. There are two things I believe about going back to school: It will be both harder, and very different than last time.

It’s going to be harder because it’s law school, not my undergrad. Of course it’s going to be harder—the subject matter dictates that it’s necessarily harder. For some reason I cannot quite understand, I feel compelled to do something really hard, at a time in my life when I could just relax and do not much. As my kids grow up and head off to college, I cannot fathom wandering around the slowly emptying house, content with lunches and shopping. I have spent the majority of my life doing what is required under pressure and in crisis; reacting rather than being proactive. Yes, I have done good and accomplished things, but often I have done so out of necessity, rather than exerting influence in a chosen direction. This is different.

It’s also going to be different because I have a present, engaged and highly functional co-parent and partner. Last time, it was all me, all the time. My kids witnessed first-hand what it took for me to graduate cum laude in 3 years. We were also concurrently experiencing ongoing trauma and loss coupled with the pressing drive for me to solely support us. This time, they have a stable home, they are older and moving towards their own lives, they are somewhat independent in some areas, and—God wiling and the creek don’t rise—we most likely won’t have to choose between keeping the heat on and buying food. We’re incredibly fortunate.

In a nutshell, I think this is maybe why I am so compelled to reach forward, to do something difficult but potentially valuable, to contribute to more than just my tiny sphere.

Todays legal word:

Appellate: /əˈpelət/ adjective
1. (especially of a court) concerned with or dealing with applications for decisions to be reversed. Specifically : having the power to review the judgment of another tribunal.

We Cannot Walk Away

Turn the Page

Screen Shot 2019-05-17 at 11.04.22 AM.pngIt was 2005 when I started really writing. Prior to that, I would write longhand on yellow legal pads. That writing was more frustrating than cathartic as the words spilling out jammed and piled up in a lahar behind the damming slowness of my hand pulling pen across paper.

My children were babies still—Jeffrey was three years old, and Bean was one. Abby was yet unimagined. Not even the wildest fortune teller would have dared predict what was waiting, what choices would lay before me, what terrifyingly rapid rivers of agency, loss, sorrow, and change would need to be forged. There is mercy in not knowing.

Is it that way for everyone? Does anyone get the life they planned? I look around and I see people who seem to wrestle something that looks like control–but it also looks like it comes at a steep cost. David told me once that life simply is pain. We enter the world with pain, and every step of our lives, things must die for us to live–our food, our homes, our plans, each time we make a choice, one petal has to fall for another to bloom. We look away, because it’s almost too much to bear. But the truth remains. He meant it as a comfort, that we shouldn’t be afraid, that we can lean into it, as the kids say. I’m still trying to work that one out.

For almost two decades, the heavy matter at the center of my universe has been raising the children entrusted to me. Everything else radiated out in giant spiral arms from the gravitational pull of my personal galaxy, around which I built my entire adult life. Even in the midst of the dismantling years, the solo years, I was fortunate enough that I was able to maintain that core of stability around which all else revolved.

 This reality formed the core of my identity. (that’s big stuff)

Like the words that couldn’t flow freely onto the page because of my manuscript pen, I noticed a store of potential talents and desires quietly incubating and growing. I felt my need quietly rising to find an outlet as I’ve watched my children begin to build their own worlds, exert their will on their lives, and to forge ahead as their own competent people. It’s exactly perfect.

It’s also pain.

Because of course it is. Parenting is one of the things that if you do it successfully, you make yourself obsolete. Oh, of course my kids will still need me, but not in the same intense way. The boundaries of those relationships are fluid and we are moving from a parent/child dynamic towards an entirely different adult relationship.

This is why my starting law school this fall is such a big deal. I am willingly leaving the sphere I have so carefully protected and cultivated for most of my adult life. I am stepping back just a bit, and just a bit before I have to, in order to pursue something really big. I sought this out, studied, prepared, and pursued it—I am choosing this.

We made this decision as a family. Each of our kids has been involved in the process, and frankly, it’s been me who has been the most reluctant. Why? Because it’s change. It’s big. It’s scary. It’s allowing myself to trust that Jon and the teenagers have got this, and that they will function just fine without me at the center of the universe. It’s trusting that our family doing things differently will be okay, and that I will still have value, even as I let go of some of the boundaries that defined me for the last two decades. It’s imagining a future for myself that is wildly different than I ever considered before. It’s believing I am smart enough. It’s trusting that there is truth and beauty and value amid the pain of growth, as I gently set down one mantle to pick up another.

When I was agonizing over this decision, Jeffrey looked at me with a wry smile on his face, and said, “Mom? Stop it. We’ve got this. You’ve done a good job, and we’re ready.” He grinned bigger, “Besides, you’d kick my ass if I turned down an offer like you have. How is it any different for you?” He had me. Jon stood next to him, arms folded, nodding and smiling.

So. There it is. My own family holding up a mirror for me to see myself. They’re right. I’m sure it will be wilder, messier and, ultimately, better than anything I can imagine. It always is. Come along with me on a new ride?