Category Archives: Life’s honest moments

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. 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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Two quotes, and a new day

“I think it might be a law of physics that the depth of our sorrow is determined by the height of our joy.” Karin Gastreich

“Suppressed grief suffocates, it rages within the breast, and is forced to multiply its strength.” Ovid

The former came to me within a comment on my Meandering post the other day; the latter I picked up, partially, in a book I just finished reading (The Last Bookaneer by Matthew Pearl. Fabulous read) and looked up the entirety of later. Both spoke to me, to the me who wrote Meandering, and so many of the conflicted bits and pieces that make it to the page, or get trapped inside my head. Simple words. Profound.

Words, spoken, written or only imagined, are one of humanity’s greatest accomplishments. Of course I would say that, being a writer, and all. I wonder, sometimes, if words limit us, or set us free. I’m sure arguments can be made from both sides.

It’s a new day. My carousel horse is in the “up” position. It was hovering around the middle spot until reading the Ovid quote while drinking my coffee this morning, and started to rise. After reading Karin’s message, it rose higher, highest, and has stayed there. I like the view from up here.

Thank you, all.

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Meandering

These pages have been strangely silent. For many reasons. I’m tired, for one. Tired of the despair following the election. Tired of the underlying sorrow no matter how happy the upper levels. I’m just…tired.

But the better reason is that Scottie was home for a week. I have no words sufficient to express that joy. We spent a lot of time together. I taught him how to make sauce. We played games, chatted. Thanksgiving down in NJ with my entire family, always fun. Noisy, but fun. And I remembered why it was a really good thing he was a country away during the election. Whew!

And yet the whole time he was here, I knew my hourglass was losing sand, and he’d be gone again, back to his life. Where he belongs. Where he is happy. I might see him next summer, or maybe next holiday season. Until then, there are texts and phone calls and the occasional Facetime chat. It’s hardest when first he leaves, but I’ll be fine, really. Knowing he’s happy, out in the world and doing his thing, is what I want most for him. And for me. It’s a good feeling. A proud one. I don’t want my kids bound to my side any more than I want to be bound to my own mother’s. I’ll still miss him so much, it’ll hurt sometimes.

Scott misses his brother out there in Portland, but he misses him more when he’s here and expecting him to be sitting on the couch with his vape and a grin, or coming in the door, sweaty from the gym. I know how he feels. After a year and a half, I still watch for Chris’ car to turn into the driveway sometimes.

And even as I write this, the joys of my life tap my shoulder. “Don’t forget us.” A week with my son. Thanksgiving with my family. Christmas and New Year’s to come. My amazing daughters. My adorable grands. In a couple of weeks, I have a friend coming from KC for a Christmas visit. We’re meeting a few other friends in NYC to see the tree and have some fun. My day-to-day life is good, full. A fabulous chat with Beloved Agent Janna about Entangled (formerly known as Undeclared) not only pulled the elements of that story together, but gave me insight into Heroically Lost. I’m ridiculously thrilled to start revisions on Entangled–as soon as I have Heroically Lost in a place I feel comfortable leaving it for a couple weeks.

And then there’s Europe in March. Virginia Beach in May. The Jersey Shore with the kids and grands in August; September, too, with friends. Myrtle Beach in October. Maybe I’ll even squeak in a trip out to Portland in April.

I feel like a jerk for being sad when I have it so good. Yet, sometimes happiness feels so horribly wrong. I miss my son. Difficult as Chris’ life was, as his life was for all of us, I just want him back, and that feels wrong too. Wishing him back wishes back his pain, his struggles he’s now free from. But should I be glad he’s gone and free, after all? How wrong is that? I want Scottie to stay in Portland where he’s happy. And I want him closer by. But I don’t! Because…because…because–egads, it keeps going around and around. All the conflict constantly churning in me is what has me so exhausted.

As Jamie said to me this morning: God mom, you and all your stupid and totally valid complex emotions! SO ANNOYING (with a smiley face, because this is how we best relate in my family, with playful derision that dulls the sharp edges.)

I responded: Simple has never been my forte.

For now, I got these things out of my head and onto a page, where they do me the most good. Now, an hour later than usual, it’s time to get to writing.

fxzo5dd

Peace.

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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)

sweet-dreams-dreaming-of-snow-white-and-the-seven-dwarves

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

(Truncated)

…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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In the Most Uncanny Places

I started writing this post several times over the last couple of months, but it seemed too strange, even for me. How to express this…comfort kept eluding me. I took a picture of this comfort, cropped it down, saved it, thinking it would help me settle my thoughts. But then I lost the pic somewhere in my stellar lack of computer skills. Ok, cosmos, thought I. Not time to write this yet.

And then I read a beautiful piece, written by a woman who lost her son, shared by another woman who’d lost her son, in part about the comforts we take that many won’t understand without having experienced the loss of a child. Cosmos, I get you.

img_1769 See? I told you it was strange. What the heck is it, right? I actually have no idea other than Chris did it years ago, when he and a friend were doing constant chemical experiments in our basement. He’d been cleaning up and, somehow, this got on the pedestal of the sink in his bathroom. He tried to get it off. I tried to get it off. It. Would. Not. Come. Off. It was annoying, then. Now, it comforts me in that uncanny way I’m having a hard time understanding.

I have pictures, writings, clothes, his backpack, wallet, school books. So many tangible things he touched, he created. But I see this mysterious smear of whatever chemical they’d been playing with whenever I go into his bathroom, and it makes me smile. It says, “I was here!” It comes with a specific memory of a time he was really happy. What used to annoy me now brings me comfort, because that whole incident would have been forgotten had I been able to clean it away.

It’s a strange thing to take comfort in, when I have so many other things at my disposal. My kids teased me, years ago, because I wouldn’t clean my grandson’s baby handprint from the sliding glass door. For months, it stayed there. It made me happy to see it. An automatic welling of adoration for that little pipsqueak hit me every time I spotted it. And now it’s the same with that smear on the sink pedestal.

And it’s not just the smear. It’s the sticker in Gracie’s room, the one she put on the wall when she wasn’t supposed to. It’s the circular marks on the hardwood floor in Scott’s room, from the coins that had been on the floor when he spilled something and never cleaned it up. It’s the wedding gown Jamie left here after she and Josh got married, still hanging in the closet. Annoyances turned into comfort. Proof that there was a time when simple, silly things like this actually mattered enough to vex me.

Peace.

 

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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.

*

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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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.

medytacja14

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Always Singing

Dad asked where your ukulele was. I told him Scott has it, out in Portland. He showed me a catalog he got in the mail, really cool ukuleles, and wondered if Scott would want a new one. I told him the one he has is kind of crappy, but it means the world to him.

I heard you singing, after that. The same song…

I roll the window down.  Close my eyes and breathe in. 

…over and over. You did your own rendition, slightly different from the way Ben Gibbard wrote it. Maybe you didn’t know all the notes, or the right words.

Then looking upwards, I strain my eyes and try to see the difference between shooting stars and satellites...

Maybe you just liked your way better. I understand those tiny, subtle changes. I wonder if you did. Such a quiet song. Happy, really, and melancholy. Like you. Relieved.

“Do they collide?” I ask and you smile. With my feet on the dash the world doesn’t matter.

You tried playing your ukulele, those few weeks you were home, before the end. I remember watching you, listening, without you knowing. You got to the end of a song, and the ukulele kind of just fell away, your face falling too. The music wasn’t helping.

When you feel embarrassed, I’ll be your pride. When you need directions, I’ll be the guide…

Your voice always cracked at the high note, not because you couldn’t reach it, but because you liked it better that way. It’s more beautiful that way, you told me. Perfection isn’t beautiful.

...For all time. For all time.

 

As bits and pieces hit me, I emailed notes to myself on my cell, hoping it would be enough. Hoping if it wasn’t, I’d have the start of something. But I still heard you singing all night, in my dreams. All morning, as I went about my chores. I see your smile, right now. My goofy kid. My sad, sorry, hurting kid. Now it’s all here, on this page, in my words, and I’m hoping you’ll go away for a little bit. Forgive me for that, but there you have it.

(Passenger Seat, Death Cab for Cutie)

 

 

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Circus in my head

Once again, I almost made this a private post, but I (apparently) stuck to my pact. Now it’s out there in all its glory. It makes me feel better to let it loose, but you are under no obligation to read it, no matter how much you love me. K?

Know what a calliope sounds like? (If you don’t, go here.) That joyful, slightly creepy, always manic music is how my brain feels.

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I’m happy. I have a good life, a wonderful husband, good kids, adorable grandkids, a nice home. Lots of friends and family who love me. I’ve another book coming out in October. A fabulous literary agent shopping my masterpiece to publishers. I’m going to Europe in March with my parents and brothers. Day-to-day existence is full of writing and lunches with friends, floating in the pool. And laundry. I joke around on FB. I sparkle and shine and laugh. I seem fine. Like I’m adjusting. Processing. Living. And I am.

I know I’m obsessed with Stranger Things lately, but there is an Upside Down to the happiness. A world where all the light is dark, all the pure is tainted; a world where the monsters lurk. It squishes me, wrings every ounce of light out of me. It makes me feel like a fraud, because how in the hell can I, in any stretch of the imagination, even consider being happy when my son is gone? When I failed him so utterly? When he had it so hard and then died all alone? When he won’t get married and have children, a career. Such simple wants, my son had. It doesn’t matter if the choices I made, the things I did helped him to survive a few years more; it was all the things I did wrong that cost us him in the end.

My logical brain knows that’s all bullshit. It tells me I did all I could, his choices were on him, I fought harder for him than he did for himself. There isn’t a platitude I haven’t consoled myself with. It’s just when the Upside Down gets me, it gets me, and no amount of logic or love can set me free. Because no one knows how I feel. No one. Because I’m the one who who never gave up. I’m the one who took him to doctors and meetings and physical therapy sessions. I’m the one who brought him home again when the darkness fell so hard he couldn’t see. I’m the one who stood outside his door that morning, playful and hoping to make him smile, asking if he was alive in there. I’m the one who opened the door and found him. Me. Alone. I can’t unsee him lying there. I can’t unfeel that “NO!” ripped from my throat. The panicked 911. My son is dead. My son is dead. How did I miss the signs? How didn’t I know this was a possibility? I let down my guard. I got comfortable. “I got this. No problem. We’ve weathered worse.” There is nothing worse. Nothing.

And then there’s the no-feeling. That’s the worst of all. I’m happy, I guess. I’m sad, I guess. It all seems to have happened to someone else. “Oh, that’s a shame. Really sad.” It almost feels as if he was never here to begin with, as if he’s fading away and nothing I do can alter that. I can’t even cry. What am I crying for? I feel nothing.

These things hit me and sometimes last a moment, sometimes days. I’m exhausted. And really, that fucking calliope needs to shut the hell up, already.

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