Category Archives: Family

A Surprise Visit

I used to dream of my late husband, Brian, on a regular basis, like a standing date kept. It always happened in the same setting–Goffle Brook Park in Hawthorne, NJ. We’d sit at a picnic table there, and catch up. He’d ask about the kids, about me, the family. Chit-chat, always pleasant.

Three years of dreaming him back into my world; and then I met Frank. I still dreamed him, but less often. Still the same, pleasant visit. Every time. And then I became pregnant with Christofer.

We met in Goffle Brook Park that last time, as always. I felt, more than saw, someone standing behind him. Brian was slightly uncomfortable. He looked at me, a little sheepish, and said, “Are you good now?”

“I am.” I remember smiling, and taking his hand across the table. “What about you?” I asked. “Are you good?”

He nodded and, one hand holding mine, he reached out the other and brought forth a young lady. All I remember about her was she had long, dark hair. Like his mom’s. Like Jamie’s. Whoever she was, she brought him happiness, and peace.

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Memory is a funny thing. Unreliable, but absolute. This dream is as clear to me now as it was years and years ago, but who’s to say how accurate, how many embellishments or subtractions have been made over time? It’s what I remember. At the end of it all, it’s the content, not the detail, that matters most. He came to me, made sure I was finally okay, and moved on.

I miss him every. Single. Day.

I am not one for Heaven and Hell. Though I’m not arrogant enough to state any absolutes concerning what there is, or isn’t, after Death, I’m not a believer in one Almighty Being. Death is as big a mystery as Life, and I don’t have the mental capacity to unravel that mystery. I know what I know. I feel what I feel. And whether Brian used to visit me in some ethereal form or it was my brain pulling him back to that picnic table in Hawthorne, I felt him. He was there.

It has been 28 years since the last time I dreamed that so-real presence of him. Though I’m not 100% sold on any form of Afterlife, my leanings bend towards that karmic notion of learning lessons, moving on, coming back to learn those lessons still left. And now I have a new ghost visiting me in dreams. So imagine how surprised I was to find myself sitting across the table from Brian again, the other night, in a dream still so clear I can see his smile.

It wasn’t Goffle Brook Park this time, but the Train Station in New Milford, where I have held book signings, birthday parties, and baby showers. He flopped into the chair opposite me, slightly out of breath.

“What are you doing here?” I hugged him across the table. The happiness, it fills me even now.

I don’t remember his response, but it led to me saying, “Wow, I thought you were already back. It’s been so long. I’ve looked for you.”

“Nah,” Brian said. “I’m just not ready yet.”

There are dreams, and then there are visitations. There’s no denying which one is which. Not all dreams of Brian were visits from him, just like all dreams of Chris aren’t. But when they are there–conjured from my brain or in some ethereal form–they are THERE. Brian was with me, the other night, and knowing he is where Chris is makes me happy in ways I can’t quite articulate.

I had to immortalize my dream, here on this page, though I don’t imagine I’ll forget it any more than I’ve forgotten that one 28 years ago. Maybe, when I’m old and memories jumble, I’ll remember these dream-memories as awake-events. They’ll wend and weave around one another, bringing together those who could not have otherwise met. I like that idea, quite a lot, actually. All my beloved-beyonds are stored in the same place, why not let them dance?

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Happy Birthday To Me

What a great birthday. I saw both my girls, their lovely men, my grandbabies. I spoke to my son out in Portland, my parents, my siblings. Frankie D and I went to NYC with dear friends. Dinner was had–oh, my, was it had. I got to see Beauty and the Beast, and enjoyed it completely. LaFou (Josh Gad) was my favorite character, though Daniel Evans (DAVID!!! for those who watch Legion) and Emma Watson were fabulous. The whole cast was. Nice little changes made it new.

And then there were all the amazing, lovely, deeply appreciated messages on Facebook. I read every one, and hopefully responded to them all. You do me the honor, I can do no less than thank you.

There were also tears, for the one always missing, of course. There are always tears. They don’t ruin the good times, though. I’m learning to let them co-exist.

So thank you, everyone, for not just making my birthday fabulous, but my everything. Some lament social media, cyberworld, claiming it’s cold and dangerous and insincere. It can be, sure, but it is what you make it, what you allow it to be. For me, it’s just grand.

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Home again, home again! Jiggity-jig!

That nursery rhyme has been bumping about my head since touching down in Newark Airport yesterday. It was an amazing trip. I got to spend a lot of time with my younger brother and his wife (something I’ve never done) as well as my parents, older brother, and his husband, Jon (who I spend way more time with throughout the year.) Spain, France, Italy–it was beyond fabulous, a bit of a whirlwind, and unforgettable.

Viking does it right. The ship was gorgeous, lots to do without being all glitzy and “Las Vegas.”First class all the way. I highly recommend the line, and will take another cruise with them in a heartbeat. Food–A.M.A.Z.I.N.G. And plentiful.

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I’m not going to recount day by day in great detail, just in recap. Barcelona is a gorgeous city I wish I’d had more time in. I saw some Gaudi, though not the Sagrada Familia Cathedral (I know, I know–insane!) As will become apparent as I recap, there’s only so much one can do in a day, timewise and energywise.

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This is where Picasso hung out with his pals.

Toulon’s hightlight was actually a side trip to the little seaside village of Cassis. During the summer, it hops with tourists of all kinds, but this is pre-season and we got to walk around without the mobs. What a beautiful little city!

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We went to a wine tasting (the area is known for its whites,) had coffee at a sidewalk cafe, ate candy, and then went on a scenic boat tour through the Calanques. Kind of like fjiords.

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Corsica was like nothing I anticipated. As I learned, it’s actually part of the Alps, and until about 1936, the people lived up in the mountains like any other alpine community. The sea brought bad things like invaders and illness, so they kept to the interior. I wish we’d gotten to see some of that way of life, but the coast was gorgeous.

 

 

 

Firenze (how can I ever think of it as Florence again??) how I wish I’d had more time! But this was about getting the flavor, not the whole mouthful. Just being there was so…immersive. I felt the antiquity, the culture. Of course, there is David, but there are also many more masterpieces the Medici family left to the city of Firenze, under the condition they not only stay in the city, but remain visible to all. (Seen below: Rape of the Sabine Women, Perseus, and Hercules.)

 

Pisa, I was told, is the leaning tower and nothing more. WRONG! I could have stayed there many hours. We did the obligatory, “Hold up the tower!” pic.

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Dad and Frankie D.

Rome–it’s nothing like New York City, and everything like it. Busy, busy, busy. Shopping. People of all nations everywhere you look. Yet ancient. Wow. There’s no way to quite describe it. You’ve seen my pics, along with a gazillion pics of the Coloseum, the Forum, etc. Instead, I’ll tell you about the last night Frank and I had, alone, in Rome. Magical, actually, but we said so many times, “I wish they were here!” We had dinner in (supposedly) the birthplace of fetuccini Alfredo, and spent a few hours just meandering the almost catacomb-like streets of shops and shops and shops. A good way to spend our last night in Italy.

 

 

It’s out of order, but I saved Villefranche for last because it was my favorite stop, and totally NOT on the itinerary. When we got to Monaco, the high winds wouldn’t allow us to dock on that side of the peninsula, so we went around back and docked outside of Villefranche, France. I could have spent a week in this little seaside village with tons of history, a few little shops, and a pebbled beach. THIS is my speed. I appreciate the big cities for their culture and importance, but give me “little” any day. It’s just as old, and feels way more “real.”

We had lunch in a great place overlooking the Mediterranean, saw the Old City, walked along the seaside, sat on the beach, and drank coffee sitting on a couch set up on the sea wall. I had Viennese coffee. Mmmm….It was a magical day. (Mark and Elaine did get to Monaco. It was an option I decided not to take, and am very glad.)

 

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Thus ends my European adventure. We had so much fun sightseeing and playing blackjack at the electronic tables during happy hour. Food and food and food. I hope we do this again, one day. Europe twice in a year is a bit much (first world problems, I know–poor me.) Spending time with Michael and Jon, Mark and Elaine, Mom and Dad was the best part of all.

And, of course, my Frankie D.

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Hello, it’s been a while

I’m usually much more present in this space. A lot has been happening; a lot more is due to happen soon, and ongoing. The novel currently going by, The Pen was picked up by Rachel Kahan at William Morrow (an imprint of HarperCollins.) I’m ridiculously happy and a little starstruck. I’ve been around the block a few times, but this is a new block with new people, and I imagine a new experience. Time will tell, and then I’ll tell you.

In a couple of weeks, I’m off to Europe with my parents, my brothers and their spouses. And Frankie D, of course. When I get home, edits from my editor will be waiting for me, so that’s actually something to look forward to leaving Rome for. Heroically Lost is nearly finished, first draft. Beloved Agent Janna will be sending feedback on our second round for Entangled soonish, and another new story with another new set of characters is already banging at my brain-doors. As my daughter, Jamie, has said–I poop books. (Not commentary on their quality,  I assure you.) I hope that’s always so.

And today is Christofer’s birthday.

Thunk, right in the middle of all the excitement, there it is. Of course, it’s no surprise. It didn’t sneak up on me. As it usually happens, there was a week of threatened rumbling on my horizon, but nothing to fear. Just a storm. Another storm. It would pass.

The anticipatory tension was worse than the event, to be honest. I’ve been okay. Not without tears, but okay. He was born today. Eleven hours of labor. The only time I gave birth without surgical intervention. And then I got to keep him for twenty-five years. A loaner. Part of me always knew he would be. I’d been telling myself from day one, with Chris, once he was gone, he was going to be gone. I never thought it would be quite so literal, but, there you have it.

Today marks one of the happiest days of my life; the day my second son was born. He was the linking piece in two families blended into one. He was loved. So loved. He still is. How, then, can I lament this day in any way?

I can’t say happy birthday. It just doesn’t feel right. Instead, I’ll offer him a smile instead of tears, and tell him his Turtle loves him so much.

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Sadly Appropriate

When Christofer was born, Frank brought home a little pine tree in what looked like a cigar tube. Someone at work gave it to him, some promo or other. We planted it at the house on Apollo Drive (NJ) and dubbed it, “the Chris tree.” A few years later, when the tree was about two feet high, we moved to Connecticut. I couldn’t leave that tree, so I took the chance and uprooted it to plant at the house on Country Farm Lane.

I never thought we’d leave there, but we did, after ten years. The silly politics that go on in a neighborhood just got to be too much. Leaving behind Scottie’s crab apple, Grace’s rose bush, Jamie’s pin oak was hard enough, but they’d all been planted years into living on Country Farm Lane. Chris’ baby tree was different. They’d been born at the same time. By then, it was just too big to uproot without killing it, so we left it to move to the other side of the river.

We watched all their trees grow over the next few years. I always worried a little more about Chris’ tree. The others had been appropriately planted in beneficial spots. I didn’t worry they’d be chopped down. But his (gads, how symbolism actually happens in real life!) had been planted in a precarious place. I didn’t realize it at the time. I was new to gardening, and didn’t think about how big it would grow, how it would overshadow everything around it.

After Chris’ accident, I became a bit obsessed with the health and well-being of his tree. Any sign of disease, fear of it becoming too big and being chopped down, had me worrying. Through the years of his struggle with heroin, I’d drive over to the old neighborhood, just to make sure the tree was okay. As long as the tree was still standing strong, so would he.

Three years, heroin-free. I stopped obsessing over the tree. I didn’t check on it unless I happened to be in the neighborhood. Then Chris died. I was afraid to go see his baby tree. But I did. And still it stood. Too big. A little scraggly. But there.

Last time I was in the neighborhood, it was dark. I squinted in the darkness for the hulk of that tree, and it wasn’t there. Maybe I’d been driving by too fast. Maybe it was a trick of moonlight and starshine. I tried not to think about it.

This morning, at breakfast, Frank said, “Did you see they took Chris’ tree down?”

My heart sank a little. I’d known, but I hadn’t acknowledged. “Yes. I did.”

And that’s all we said. What else was necessary? It was almost…right. Chris is gone, and so is his baby tree. Had it come down any time before his death, I’d have freaked out. Now? It’s sadly appropriate.

I wish I had a piece of it. I’d hang it on one of the beams in my house. Maybe there’s a stick left in the rock wall. Or maybe it’s firewood stacked in the yard. I’m not sure I want to go ask, because I’m not positive what answer I hope to receive.

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Thoughts, upon waking

I do not in darkness dwell, when daylight holds its sway; but, in the darkness, I do dwell, on all day holds at bay. (~TLD)

Strange words to wake to, but I did. I don’t have to wonder why, though. I dream, and I remember my dreams for the most part. There are few nights I don’t go to sleep with Chris on my mind, and wake up to the same. He tends to fill in the space between.

I believe it’s because I do my best not to let the sorrow overwhelm me during the day. That’s not to say it doesn’t hit me, but I’m able to push it gently away, tell it, “Not now.” Then comes the night and pushing it away feels as wrong as it would to push him away. He needs his time on my mind, just like he needed time in my arms, when he was a baby who didn’t like to sleep on his own; or a young man who needed me to make sure he kept breathing through the night.

Day is for missing Scottie, for cherishing the broken ties he needed broken so badly. It’s for feeling Gracie’s excitement in finding her place in the world. It’s to experience Jamie’s babies, her dream career, through her eyes. Day belongs to them. And so, night belongs to Chris.

My newest work-in-progress, Heroically Lost*, is largely about knowing the difference between making choices, and letting the choices get made for us. I’m not sure if I made the choice to let Chris have the night, but I honestly don’t think I could unchoose it either. It’s just the way it happens, and I’m okay with that.

*Heroically Lost comes from a Yeats poem, A Crazed Girl

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…Her soul in division from itself
Climbing, falling She knew not where,
Hiding amid the cargo of a steamship,
Her knee-cap broken, that girl I declare
A beautiful lofty thing, or a thing
Heroically lost, heroically found…

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The unexpected kindness of social media

One impetus for going into Christofer’s phone myself was to access his Facebook account. I figured he’d have stored the password. At least, I hoped. Facebook policy is that they won’t release the log in and password under any circumstances without a court order. They’d be happy to suspend or even delete his account, but I couldn’t get in there.

I had many reasons for wanting to get into it, the primary reason, believe it or not, being to change his profile pic. He looked so sad. A selfie snapped when he was feeling trapped and abandoned and, to be brutally honest, like a failure. He’d gotten his dream job, moved away from home, started life on his own, and it wasn’t working out. In fact, it was crumbling completely. Why couldn’t he hold on to happiness? he asked. He told me once, it was kind of like drowning. Every once in a while he’d get his head out of water long enough to gulp at the air, then he was flailing underwater again, terrified he wouldn’t be able to kick back to the surface.

When I remember conversations like that, part of me (forgive me, sweetheart) is grateful he’s no longer flailing. It sinks me under, where he was. The difference is, my time under water is like his on the surface–fleeting.

I accessed his Facebook account, changed the password, took control. Today, I changed that profile picture. I also found beautiful messages left by friends after he was gone, and a video of him during the school play, back when he was eighteen (one of the golden years) that made me laugh and cry. It’s so good to have one of those times above water, immortalized in a blurry video. He was happy. He was goofy, and well liked. Loved. I have the proof when remembering the sad stuff tugs at my legs.

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Years ago, when Jamie and Scottie were teens and Chris and Grace tweens, a friend with very small children said to me, “I want to have the same relationship  with my kids that you have with yours.” I felt so proud, so happy. I always had a great relationship with my kids. I was over-protective at times (Jamie even wrote an article recently, extolling my brand of crazy mom) but my kids didn’t just love me, they liked me. They were never embarrassed to hug me in public, to introduce me to friends, to tell me they love me, which they did/do often. I was never a “not MY child” mother, and they knew it. Just like they knew I’d never go an eye for an eye even if and when they were wronged. It was hard, when I wanted to rip someone’s head off for saying/doing/accusing something wrongfully. Sinking to another’s level is, in my opinion, giving them the victory no matter what the overt outcome. I always knew in my bones I was a good mother. And yet, having my friend say that about wanting the same relationship with her kids was the kind of validation I never knew meant anything to me, but it did. It meant so much.

Since Chris’ death, that beautiful comment has haunted me.

Then, just the other day, another friend left a comment for me on Facebook, in response to A Hurdle Crossed: “You inspire me in so many ways. I’m so glad the universe saw fit to draw a thread between our lives. You are the type of mom I strive to be.”

I burst into tears.

That someone I love, admire, and respect still feels that way about me hit me like that first compliment from the other dear friend all those years ago–I didn’t know it was validation I ever wanted, needed. Desperately needed.

 

This is, without question, the hardest, most heartbreaking stretch of road on my life’s journey. I’m weathering it better than the last stretch of darkest dark, strangely enough. That experience taught me things I’m using now to survive this, mentally intact. I don’t even want to know what this stretch is preparing me for, but I’m taking notes. I think you might be reading one right now.

Peace.

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A hurdle crossed

I didn’t leap over it. I kind of crawled under it. But it’s done. Behind me.

I went through Christofer’s phone.

We got it back from the police station a few months ago. Cases had been tried, and sentenced. They were finally finished with it. I put it away, unable to look at it. I didn’t want to see what was in there. I couldn’t handle it. I promised it to Scottie, but figured it could wait. He had a newish phone, and he understood. Then he lost his phone. It was silly to buy a new one when I have this beautiful machine sitting here, waiting. That’s when it started, this need to see what was in there.

Scott found his phone, said he could wait on his brother’s. I told him, no–I wasn’t ready to see what was in there, but a guy at Dad’s work could back it all up, wipe it and I’d send it to him. That was supposed to happen yesterday. It didn’t.

So I did it this morning.

Frank went to play golf. It had been nudging me, to be honest. I wanted to be able to get at his Facebook; I knew he’d saved the password on his phone. Honestly, I wanted to see those last conversations, with my own eyes, today. And it just…happened.

I didn’t learn anything I didn’t already know. My suspicions about the timeline of events was correct, as was my assumption of the conversation that led to my boy’s death. Assumptions of things going on in his life, with other people, came as no surprise. It broke my heart, and it made me happy. I saw what I already knew, in my head, in my heart. The only difference now is that I’m not supposing, but sure.

I deleted what needed deleting, saved what needed to be saved. There’s only one thing I need Frank’s computer guy to do for me–save the photos and video. I’m sure it’s a simple thing, but I couldn’t figure it out. I did delete a few, for reasons that shall go unmentioned. If you’re reading this and suspect it’s you, know all is well.

It’s done. I feel like I’ve been moving rocks. Big ones. Uphill. Sisyphean imagery intended. Because no matter what task I complete where this subject is concerned, it never changes anything, really. I’m still going to be happy, and sad. I’m still going to rage, and find peace. I’m still going to love him and miss him and be furious with him and understand him. I will still have questions that, even when answered, are not enough.

Peace.

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And now, you’re five

“What do you want to be when you grow up, Will?”

“I know! An inventioneer.”

You’re still so brand new, only five years on the planet as the boy named William. You have light hair–not brown, not blond–and bluish green eyes. Your cheeks are round and you’ve a spattering of freckles across your nose. You are happy, and sometimes sad. You get overwhelmed, and sometimes cross. Your joy lights the world in a way only little boy joy can. Has there ever been such a perfect, magical little boy? Well, yes. I’ve had two of them, myself. But you are uniquely you, perfect and magical in a way only you can be.

And now, you’re five. Five. No longer a baby, or a toddler. You’re off into a world you have no clue about beyond the safe, nurturing, loving and limited boundaries of home. Mommy and Daddy. Gioiabean. You’re going to spread your magic, and make the world better. Teachers, new friends, lunch ladies and crossing guards and bus drivers will see your smile, feel your magic, and be changed. You’ll learn. The things you will learn! How numbers work together. How letters become words become stories you’ll be able to read and write all on your own. You’ll learn about the life cycle of butterflies, and how a seed becomes a flower, a carrot, a tree. You’ll begin learning how to navigate in the world so much bigger than you ever imagined in your baby brain.

And you’ll learn things aren’t fair, that might is sometimes right even when it’s not. You’ll learn that, just like you’re an individual who has not-blonde-not-brown hair who sometimes gets overwhelmed and cross, there are others just like you, and others very different. You’ll learn that some kids are kind and some are mean; some are happy and fun while others always want to be the boss. You’ll learn about fire drills and stranger danger and come to understand that, sometimes, our beautiful world is a dangerous place. You’ll learn that though you’re always a part of your family, you are, in fact, apart.

Now you’re five, Sweet William. Babyhood is behind you; you knock on childhood’s door and it swings wide in welcome. There will be smiles and there will be tears, frustrations and triumphs, so many lessons to learn. My not-blond-not-brown-haired, bluish green eyed boy, joy of my heart, magical child who is as willful as he is willing, my curious, loving, unique little grandson, I can’t wait to see all the things you will do, all the places you will go, how the world will be changed by you, and change you.

Happy birthday.

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Sometimes, the dark wins

Yesterday was International Overdose Awareness Day. A candlelight vigil had been planned, here in New Milford, to honor those who didn’t make it. I thought it might be something good to do, a solidarity kind of thing. As it turned out, it just pissed me off. There was no honoring the dead, except for a moment of silence. It was yet another version of Al-anon, people scrambling to do everything by the 12 steps that are going to save their child, their loved one. Platitudes and stories of recovery after heroin addiction. Heartfelt and desperate and relief sharpened to an edge so sharp it glistened.

Can you tell I’m bitter?

A young man got up and spoke. He’s been clean almost two years. I wanted to say, “Oh, child. It’s not over yet.” Then came the mother and her daughter. Mom spoke tearfully. Our experiences were similar. I heard myself, my life in her words. Then Daughter spoke, and she could have been Chris. She was actually the same age. They probably knew one another in High School. She’s been clean almost three years, and again I wanted to say, “Oh, child. It’s not over yet.”

Because heroin is the symptom, not the disease.

Chris battled and won his fight, too. Three years, heroin free. I won’t claim he didn’t do other stupid things in his never-ending attempt to quiet his demons, but heroin? No. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it every day of my life–He fought for happiness. Every. Single. Day. It’s not as if he spent every day of his life in abject misery. It was simply that the that darkness was always waiting in the wings, and he knew it.

I understand that these groups mean well, that they help some people hold it together, let them know they’re not alone. What bugs the shit out of me is that they do the same things, over and over, as if one of those times it’s going to take. And sometimes it does. Those who make it are the shining examples, the hope for us all, the proof we cling to that YES, this really works! And it makes families like mine failures. The pitiful ones who didn’t stick to the rules, and because they didn’t, failed. It breeds a mentality that allows the falls to keep happening.

Because heroin is the symptom, not the disease. 

I watched these people last night, I listened to their stories, and know down to my bones that their stories aren’t done. In the three years between Chris’ last roll with addiction to the day I found him on his bed, a needle on the mattress beside him, I thought we were one of those families who walked the dark road, and came out into the light. I smugly decried rehabs and AA, because we took the scientific path, and our way worked!

But, sometimes, the darkness wins anyway, no matter what path you take. It’ll keep winning until we stop rehashing the same platitudes and the “solutions,” convincing ourselves that our loved one will be the one in three (according to AA’s statistics) or one in fifteen (according to most other statistics) who will make it through.

We tread a different path, and didn’t save Chris. I’m fully aware. But it was a new path, one that bears exploring. A path that doesn’t treat addiction as the disease, but the symptom of something far more insidious, more deeply embedded; something that keeps taking the people we love because it has no name, no identity. A bogeyman no one wants to believe in. Because it’s the harder path, one with lots of monsters hiding in the fringes. Because there is no one answer that’s going to solve it all no matter how hard we cling to the desperate hope that it is.

Peace.

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