On Addicts, and Addiction

(There are big picture Nurse Jackie spoilers below.)

Frank and I recently binge-watched Nurse Jackie. I have to be honest; I thought it was a hospital dramedy, and had no idea it centered around opiate addiction. I’m not sure I’d have started watching it if I had. But I did, and it was a really great show. Heartbreaking, but great. Because when she lied, manipulated. when the drugs were more important to her than her kids, her husband, her job, my reaction was what most have. I hated her. I saw her as a horrible person.

I saw my son.

Edie Falco is beyond amazing. She managed to be sympathetic and hateful, selfless and selfish at the same time. Like Chris. Nurse Jackie made me truly understand how the world outside my mother-heart saw my precious son. And how I, even in my deepest brain, saw him too.

When I mention Nurse Jackie in company, those who’ve seen the show say something along the lines of, “She’s a terrible person. I hate her.” Much like I did. But somewhere along the way, and because of my experiences, I saw the other side of the character. Jackie wasn’t a bad person. She was actually a good person with a terrible monkey on her back. A misunderstood one. A disease the world at large views as the weak character of a flawed person. Because her daughter suffers from extreme anxiety, the connection to Jackie’s inherent anxiety is made clear. She also has chronic back pain, as a result of her years of nursing, and relies on the very real excuse of that pain to use.

Much like Chris.

Jackie heals, gives hope, breaks rules to aid those who are being harmed by them. She shows her character, her core, even in the depths of her worst binges. (For those who’ve seen the show–the accident on her way to the airport. Enough said.) She also lies, cheats, steals, throws others under the bus–not to save herself, but to allow her addiction to continue unhindered. She gets clean, relapses, gets clean again, relapses again. This is the life of an addict.

This was Chris’ life.

In the throes of his worst days, he was still looking out for the misfits, for the disenfranchised. Helping them at the gym, befriending them when no one else would. All the while he was tearing his family’s hearts to shreds. I watched Nurse Jackie, watched Edie Falco deliver her lines and saw the mastery with which my son lulled me into believing him. He made things sound so rational. Addiction backed into a corner is smarter, savvier than the addict. In a person as brilliant as Chris was, I didn’t stand a chance. None of us did. Like the characters in Jackie’s life, I wanted to believe. I couldn’t  prove his lies. Not until he crashed yet again, and I was breathing life into him.

The cycle was vicious. For me. For those who loved him. And for him. Because Chris was a good person, and the addict was not. The addict did things the young man screaming and buried in opiates hated too. There is a picture he drew, packed away with his things, of what his addiction felt like. Veins inside a body, and the blood droplets screaming in agony, the needle big and plunging by an unseen hand. It’s chilling. It’s real. It breaks my heart to think about it.

When Frank and I binge-watch, we binge-watch. We finished all seven seasons of Nurse Jackie in about three weeks. It was three weeks of bad dreams for me, of old memories surfacing, but it was also enlightening in a way I might never have otherwise understood. I’m glad we watched it. I’m grateful for this insight into the world outside my mother-heart, and into my own mind. It was all there, maybe buried under the years, maybe kindly quiet. But there.

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Discomfuddled

I’m feeling a bit unsettled today,

Like there’s something I must do;

the storm inside me rages, so

I’ll write my way to you.

brainstorm

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Leather-bound

I dreamed I had a library book. It was
old and leather-bound. The pages
were thick, maybe vellum, and
it was beautiful.
When I opened it, the pages
were full of holes. All the beautiful lettering
pocked and obscured. The gold edges
flaking.
In my sleep, I was annoyed
I wouldn’t get to read the book.
It made me sad. Who would destroy something
so magnificent?
Dreams fade; this one didn’t. Hours after
going back to sleep, getting up,
having breakfast and doing chores and
writing some, I still see the book the
holes, the ruin. I still feel annoyed, and sad
so clearly, I clicked out of my manuscript to
write it out here. Maybe get it 
out of my head.

He’s gone nearly four years. My beautiful book.

His story full of holes, unreadable,
but beautiful.

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Momentary Glimpse Forward

I saw myself–clearly, so clearly–as
an old woman, sitting
in a chair. In
the sunshine. My hair white. My face
to the sun. I was tired,
exhausted really, of life, in that way
one has after a tremendous effort. Over
and done. Energy spent. No regrets.
The good and
the bad. The joy and
the sorrow. I was smiling.
“You are such a joyful spirit,” a stranger recently stopped me to say.
“Truly, a joyful spirit.” How is that so
when I heft the singularity of
a black hole in my core?
A beloved friend, true and seldom seen, told me
I shine. Of all the compliments paid, the insults made, that
has stuck with me the most. The beach, friends that would become
sisters, words and words and so many words.
“You shine, honey! You shine!” spoken at that exclamation point in
my life, the week of weeks when I broke free of
everything that ever held me back. When I became
the me I’ve always been, have always wanted to be.
I shine.
I’m a joyful spirit who carries inside
a black hole of more sorrows than the obvious ones. Sorrows
that will never dim my light.
I was an old woman, looking back. The
only way to look when one is old. Always
past. Looking forward to the fading years is
the same as it has always been.
Exciting.
Frightening.
The way is shadow and light. Back
I looked, the sun in my face, on my
hair still touched with long-ago pink
abandoned to the white.

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When Words Fail…

…other artists speak for me.

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Don’t tell me the moon is shining…

…show me the glint of light on Daenerys Stormborn’s hair.

There’s this saying in writing–show, don’t tell, and that’s what was wrong with the last couple of all-important episodes of Game Of Thrones.

It’s all over the internet today, how Weiss/Benioff demolished a whole lot of character arcs in their rush to the finish. Maybe they went overboard making sure EVERY fan prediction for the characters didn’t happen. Maybe they are just that clueless. Bottom line, they told us things rather than showed us, and that’s just unacceptable.

The writers, whichever were at the helm for each particular episode, have been dragging along the Targaryen family curse from day one. They tapped it every now and again, but Daenerys has been the champion of the oppressed, the savior of the innocent, blah, blah, blah all along. Right up through the Battle for Winterfell, she has held that role. Two episodes later, she’s burning every man, woman and child–including her own soldiers!–in King’s Landing while her true enemy (Cersei) watches from the Red Keep, untouched. She’s in the god-damned window! For now, you see, Dany is mad. Gasp.

Driven mad by the fact Jon has more of a claim to the throne, by virtue of his noble penis. Driven mad by learning she’s her lover’s aunt, which is no-nevermind to a Targaryen, but is a no-go for a Stark. Driven mad by the fact that while he’s beloved all over Westeros, she will never be. Driven mad by the quick betrayal of one of her staunchest supporters, the loss of her most devoted and beloved Ser Jorah, the death of both her dragonchildren. She’s a woman, you see, and her emotions have gotten the better of her. Oy. Sure, all that could drive most people mad–but in two episodes? Really, not even two, because it was set up in the largely non-eventful episode #4.

There was time to make that all happen and, while I’d have hated it for reasons I’ll expand upon in a moment, I’d have lived with the disappointment, maybe even have found reason to be okay with it. But considering the writers TOLD us–through other characters, mind you–all about Dany’s descent into madness but never showed it to us (outside of a few well-acted moments on Emilia Clark’s part, so kudos to her) and then stripped her of her entire character arc, I just can’t accept it.

And now for at least as big an issue as the writing itself–It’s not just Dany. ALL the women in the story are stripped of everything they are. Everything.

This story evolved from “a clash of kings” to “a clash of queens.” Two women, brutal, ambitious, determined, strong, decisive even when it hurts women, battled for the Iron Throne. One gets a soap-opera ending (? I’m not convinced Cersei is dead) while the other is stripped of everything she was. And then there was Sansa, to a lesser degree, as she fought for Winterfell. Setting aside the, “Without the insert horrific abuse here, I’d still be a little bird,” line (which I obviously have not), in the actual battle, where was she? In the crypt, accepting the fact that, “The bravest thing we can do is be honest.” Bullshit. But ok. I’ll accept that as part of her arc. She’s not a warrior in that respect. But then she swears to her brother (Jon gets to be all kinds of stupid and naïve without ever losing his power, mind you) that she won’t tell his secret, and five seconds later, she’s telling Tyrion.

And then there’s Brienne. Freaking Brienne of Tarth, after her huge, beautiful moment of becoming Ser Brienne of Tarth, gets reduced to a weeping wreck, wrapped in a Stark-style robe, begging Jaime not to leave her. What the actual fuck? One romp in the furs with the magical dick of gold and she’s no longer who she was? LOVE DOES NOT, SHOULD NOT DO THAT TO ANY WOMAN, least of all Brienne. And certainly not in the span of moments! It was ridiculous.

In today’s social and political climate, the women of the story losing the throne, losing their minds, losing their dignity, LOSING EVERYTHING THEY FOUGHT AND SACRIFICED FOR so that the Dude Who Doesn’t Really Want It can have it all stings so hard. And make no mistake, with the burning of King’s Landing, Dany will NEVER sit the Iron Throne. Never. So when she unleashed dragonfire down upon the city, we all knew it was the end for her. A couple of weeks ago, when the women saved Winterfell, we were given a token. As usual. What the men giveth, the men can taketh away. And it’s total bullshit.

Cersei, Dany, Sansa, Brienne, Arya–they all fought as hard, harder, than any man in the show. For their loved ones. For power. For their birthrights. For their honor. And now, with a pale bit of writing, they’re reduced to the same ineffectual female characters too often found in fantasy fiction.

All hail the power of the penis mightier (than the sword–get it? I stole it from Saturday Night Live. Jeopardy parody. Hey, it’s appropriate, in this context.) Maybe Arya (who rode out of Kings Landing on a white horse, no less) will be the one to save the day. Maybe she’ll sit the Iron Throne. Maybe Sansa will come down from Winterfell and do it. Maybe Cersei isn’t dead after all, will rise out of the rubble and reclaim Westeros. Anything is better, at this point, than Jon. (A character I’ve actually liked all along.)

And, to be honest, had all the stripping and demolishing of characters not happened, I’d have been ok with Jon on the Iron Throne. It’s where HIS arc has been going all along. And that’s the thing–all the male arcs have been built, remained consistent, and have–thus far–been believable. Yes, terrible things happen to the men too, so don’t even go there. Seriously, don’t. I remember Theon/Reek.

The old woman’s prophecy said Dany would attain the throne, and turn away from it. But the old gypsy said Cersei would die at the hand of her younger brother (another tidbit that got bandied about for apparently no reason) and that didn’t pan out, so prophecies come to pass as apparently randomly as they do in real life. Red herrings to throw us off the one Arya got from Melissandre, about her closing brown eyes (Walder Frey), blue eyes (Night King,) and green eyes (Dany? Cersei?) being real? Who knows? At this point, a lot has to happen in the final episode, but nothing is going to take the sting out of the way things have gone down these last two weeks.

Being the brutal optimist, I’m still crossing my fingers that a satisfactory ending is in hand, that the writers aren’t flubbing it completely, and have us all up in arms to make that BIG ENDING all the better.

We shall see.

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An Abundance of Spoons

(Thank you, Jen McConnell)

Spoon Theory: A disability metaphor and neologism used to explain the reduced amount of energy available for activities of living and productive tasks that may result from disability or chronic illness.

I typically have an abundance of spoons. Even through the worst of the worst in my life, I’ve always had spoons to spare, spoons to hand out to others. It’s just who I am. But once in a while, my subconscious tells me when I’m running low, that maybe I should just stop. Rest. Be kind to myself. I’m not always savvy enough to heed, and then my subconscious gets serious.

Those of you who know me have probably guessed that when my spoons are running low, I go quiet. I pull away from here, from friends, even from family. It’s not necessarily that I don’t want to worry anyone (though there is a bit of that in there) and more that I just can’t deal with “it” (whatever “it” is) taking up any more of my energy. But going quiet is the opposite of who I am, and it only works for so long.

We’ve been dealing with a lot here, chez DeFino. Frank’s consulting gig ended, and we are once again on that precipice. My uterus tried to kill me again. Let me tell you, losing that much blood over the course of four weeks takes its toll on body and mind.

And it was Christofer’s 29th birthday last week.

“Everything’s fine.” My stock phrase. I know, logically, that just because others have it worse than I do, suffered more, have less, struggle with issues far beyond my white, middle class world, doesn’t mean my experience isn’t valid. It doesn’t mean I have to smile through it all and thank my lucky stars. Here, my friends, there be dragons. And not the fun kind.

Everything is fine. Until it’s not fine.

I had a dream last week. Kind of. It was a memory, tossed out and clear as the moment it happened in striking, horrible detail. One that has blared through my brain, danced behind my eyes ever since. I suppose it’s my own form of PTSD, this flashback. It’s one that comes to me when I’m at my lowest in the spoon department, because it takes a whole fuck-ton of spoons to keep this demon at bay.

Eleven o’clock, and Chris still isn’t up. We have an appointment with the guy who makes the braces for his leg. I finish up an email and go to his door.

Knock, knock. “Hey, buddy, we have to go soon.”

No answer. He usually at least groans.

Knock, knock. “Hey, you alive in there?”

I take the “key” we keep over his door (he’s slept with it locked since he was a little kid, to keep the monsters and night-time robbers from getting him) and pop the lock.

The light is the first thing I see. That god-damn-fucking light. My heart bucks. He’s on his back, feet on the floor. There’s a needle on the bed beside him.

No. No, no, no, no, no.

I detach from myself. He’s cold. There is foam on his lips. The smell…sulphury. His skin feels greasy. I’m screaming. I don’t hear the screams. They’re out there, someplace, still echoing off those walls. I’m alone. Just me and my dead son.

I call 911. I’m still screaming. Into the phone. My son is dead! My son is dead!

“I’m so sorry,” she says. “I went through the same thing last year. I’m so sorry.”

These are the first words I remember. I must have given her the address, because the police officers are already at the door.

Since “dreaming” this last week, when my spoons were so low and I was still giving them out to others, this demon has come back to me and back to me. When I’m cooking. When I’m in the car. When I’m in the movie theater. Just creeps up on me, smacks me in the head and dances off. It leaves me shaky and teary, and I’ve been pushing it down and pushing it down. I don’t want anyone to see me cry. I don’t want anyone to know. Frank has it hard enough, right now. I don’t want my kids to worry, to know this demon lives in my head. Even now, as I write this, I’ve already texted them all to say, “Don’t read today’s blog post.” But they will.

So here it is. I don’t write this here so you’ll feel bad for me, or to make you cry. My demons are masochistic, and require a stage before they’ll leave me the fuck alone. I acknowledge this, because this is the consequence of going silent. I should know this by now. Maybe next time I’ll remember before my spoons run out.
th

 

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Some Days

Memory tumbles me
down.
Gnaws at my pit.
Chews me up from the
inside.
Grinds me into indigestible bits
spits me out, an owl pellet.
Bones and hair and teeth.
A mass of nothing useful.
Tangled moments and
disjointed pieces of
days and months and
years no longer viable in singular
Only as a continuous every.
*
I want to go where
the wild things are, where
memories get parceled out,
tied with red ribbon and
S.W.A.K.
Wherever it is the bad doesn’t
rob the good, doesn’t
taint everything it touches,
a splash of ink, of blood, in water.
TLD

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Future, Tense

Churning, something’s churning. Is that you,

Future, come to call? Knocking

at my door? Tickling

the glass? Let me in, let

me in. I’ve no hair on my chinny, chin, chin to

deny you entrance. You frighten me.

You’ve brought good, and

not so good. Horrendous, really.

That churning feels excited. It promises

something new, something

grand. But you’ve tricked me before,

fool me twice, and all that jazz.

You’ll get in, one way or another. I can

open the door, welcoming, give you

a plate of pasta, or some broccoli rabe.

I could try to bar the way, kick you and beat you back

but you’ll get in. You will, and then you’ll be vexed.

Are you set in stone? Or do I have some power

over you? A question Ages old, unanswerable. And yet–

eternally asked.

*

There is only Future. Present already

has one foot in the grave the moment

it comes to be, and there it goes,

Already gone, that present at the start of this page. In

the Past, past, always the past. Memorable, not

relivable. Gone. Out of reach. So, come on at me

I open the door. Welcome! Welcome!

Have some pasta!

Give it all you got. Maybe we’ll even be friends. And

if we’re not, it’s on you; I tried.

I even made you broccoli rabe.

jester

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Why A Kitten?

Grace visited over Christmas, and she brought her little one-eyed kitty, Pippin, with her. They were here for almost a week. When it was time for her to go back to Brooklyn, we were all sad to see them go, especially Toulouse, our five-year-old tabby.

He and Gyro play, but Gyro is a stately gentleman now, and isn’t much given to frolicking. Toulouse and Pippin played and played. When we got home from taking Grace and her kitty back to Brooklyn, our boy looked for his pal. And looked for him. It was really sad.

Frank and I started looking for a playmate for him, preferably around his age. We really didn’t want a kitten. Kittens always get adopted. Better to give an adult cat a home. So we looked. And looked. And worried about our ancient Roxie with any cat that came in as a stray, or from a hoarding situation. She is sixteen, and hasn’t had shots in a really long time. Not only is she impossible to catch, but–being as old and skinny as she is–she can’t really have shots safely anymore. As our cats are all indoor beasties, she’s fine.

We found a cat that had been in a home, and her owner died. Good compromise. We went to see her. She was not a good fit. She wouldn’t have been a pal for Toulouse, and that was our biggest reason for wanting another cat. (Though my kids will tell you it’s just my excuse…and they could be a little bit right, but not entirely.)

While we were at the AWS shelter in New Milford, we saw so many good kitties. So many. None of them, though, seemed like the right fit. I did want a cat, but only the RIGHT cat. Our balance is a good one, and I didn’t want to tip it.

And then we saw this little girl…

coralinekitten

Coraline the Kitten

 

 

It’s not just that Coraline (yes, named for the Neil Gaiman character–she was born Halloween, so we needed something appropriate) is adorable, she just FIT. Sweet disposition, passed all her vet exams, had all her shots, not old enough to have picked up something that would harm ancient Roxie. AND–this was the clincher–the people who were supposed to take her had JUST THAT MOMENT decided not to. Black cats really do have a hard time getting adopted, and isn’t that just the silliest thing you’ve ever heard?

But a KITTEN??? I haven’t had a kitten this young in about thirty years. I’ve had four month old kittens, but not ten week old kittens. Not since beloved Sassafras, kitty of wonder, have I had one this small.

And that’s exactly why. Considering my Roxie is 16, Gyro is 9 and Toulouse is 5, and considering Frank and I are 68 and 54 respectively, this is in all likelihood our last shot at having a kitten. We’re committing to ten (if we’re not so lucky) to twenty years. If not now, when?

It’s only been a little more than 24 hours, but already she’s part of the pride. Toulouse LOVES her. They play and play, but he’s so gentle. Gyro is a bit of a grumpy grandpa, but he went nose to nose with her (and she licked his nose!) and he didn’t even hiss. He lets her know what he’ll tolerate and what he won’t, while Toulouse lets her do whatever the hell she wants. It’s adorable. Big daddy. He’s so sweet.

As for Roxie, well, of course, we’ve not seen a little grey whisker of her, but that’s not really news. We rarely do. I don’t think she’s happy about the kitten, but she’s generally not happy about much. Darling girl. I do love my Roxie-cat. She’ll come around.

So, here we go. A new adventure to go with all the other new adventures the last months have seen. Fingers crossed it’s yet another good one.

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