Category Archives: Life’s honest moments

Now I’ll Tell You the Real Story

A couple of weeks ago, I told you the story about a car, my kids, and the parking lot hill they rolled down. It’s true, every word. I did pull the car to a stop–and remember, it was a 1965 Mercury Comet Caliente, not your average light model of today. I was indeed a beast. I’m not proud of the situation that called forth my inner Hulk, but I am very proud of the fact that she appeared as needed. That, however, is not the real reason for the tattoo I got just a few days ago.

tattoo

I left it big so you could read it

While the first part of the poem speaks to me as a woman, and as a gentle human, it was the second half of it that set off gongs in my head when first I read it. It’s taken me about a year of contemplation before getting this tattoo, because it recalls one of the most heartbreaking days of my life.

When Chris dove headfirst into drugs, it never lasted long. It would be about a month in total, but a solid two weeks of horrificness once, sometimes twice a year. We didn’t know if he’d vanish or die or both. He wasn’t Chris, the sweet, gentle, kind, and brilliant giant of a man. Loving son. Beautiful boy. He was the opposite in every way. He was desperate and scared and out of control. Outside of those horrific weeks, he fought so hard.

One summer day (he was always worst in the summer, a pattern we learned to anticipate) when he was at the end of an especially horrific period, he came home with enough heroin to kill himself. That wasn’t the plan, he said. He just wanted to “use it up” and then he was quitting.

If you know anything about addicts, they don’t tell you they’re going to use. They do everything they can to hide it so you can’t stop them. Chris told us. He was that desperate for us to stop him. But the other Chris, the opposite Chris, wasn’t going down without a fight.

That was the day I unleashed every dragon, every wolf, every monster sleeping inside me. Forty-eight-year old me chased my 22 year old son through the woods, leaping over fallen trees, barreling through bramble, scrabbling over rock and rubble. I wrestled all 6’2″, 230 lbs of him to the ground. Twice. I held closed a lift-up garage door against his body-builder muscles. I ripped his jeans off his body to get the drugs and paraphernalia from his pockets. All to keep him from using. All because I knew it’s what he needed me, wanted me to do, even if he fought me. Because every time he got away, he came back.

When Opposite-Chris finally seemed to give up the fight, I went to clean myself up. We should never, ever have trusted Opposite-Chris. He got into the upstairs bathroom with his drugs. Alone. I was furious. I flew up the stairs, bashed down the bathroom door and mommy-swooped the bags of heroin from his mouth (he’d just shoved it all in) and flushed them. Then 911 was called, because there was no way to know how much he’d actually ingested.

But the calm. My god, the calm in him afterward. When it was all done. When the drugs were gone and the EMTs were taking him to the ER to feed him charcoal and dose him with Narcan. It wasn’t the drugs. I honestly don’t think he got much of it into his system. Chris was grateful. Tearful. We battled, me and Chris against Opposite-Chris, and we won.

It wasn’t the only battle I waged with him. For him. There were many. But the poem…the poem spoke to me of this battle. Again, I’m not proud of the situation that called up my inner-beast, but I’m ridiculously proud to know that dragons, wolves and monsters sleep inside this otherwise gentle human, ready to burst free when needed.

 

 

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A Gentle Human

When my two eldest children were babies, I left them in the car while I ran into the pharmacy to drop off a prescription. Scott was sick, and asleep in his car seat. Jamie was playing with her toys. It was a matter of running in, dropping it off, and running out. Thirty seconds, maybe forty-five, tops.

What an idiot.

Somehow, Scott woke up, managed to get out of his carseat, take off the emergency brake (which entailed intricate maneuvers no two-year-old should have been able to accomplish) and put the car (1965 Mercury Comet Caliente) into neutral. I came rushing out of the pharmacy to find my car no longer in the space right there at the door, but rolling downhill through the parking lot, and toward the Cedar Hill exit ramp of Route 208.

I ran after the car, yelling to the kids, “Get on the floor!” Somehow, I managed to grab the driver’s side door handle, and I started pulling. “Pleasepleaseplease.” I can still feel those words crunching in my mouth. I pulled and I hauled and I planted my feet on the asphalt and pulled even harder. Just as the car’s nose rolled into that exit ramp, I managed to pull it to a halt. Cars honked. Drivers cursed at me. My pants were around my knees because they’d fallen down while I did my impression of the Incredible Hulk, but I yanked open the door, and pulled my babies into my arms, and I sobbed.

I am a woman, born in 1964. I’ve been undervalued, overlooked, and marginalized my entire life. I didn’t march in protests. I didn’t climb a corporate ladder and crash through any glass ceilings. But I did raise four amazing humans in a society that didn’t necessarily value motherhood, even if it pretended to. I fought for, and earned my literary dreams. I overcame my own demons to adopt my motto, “Modesty is for suckers.” I survived losing a husband, a son, and still I am everything I ever wanted to be, and then some.

I am a gentle human, but I am fierce. More than fierce. I’m a beast.

 

Remember

Fire, by Nikita Gills, from her book of poetry, Wild Embers.

 

 

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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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When Words Fail…

…other artists speak for me.

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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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I can’t seem to let it go

I’ve started this entry three times now, and can’t seem to get the words right, so I’ll just get to the heart of it–Myrtle Beach is one of my favorite places to be. It’s the location of countless good times with loved ones, days on the beach, seashells and sand and shopping and delicious food I don’t have to cook. And it pulls out my sorrow like no other place on earth.

It’s the last place I actually spent time with Chris, before his brutal fall into depression. He was happy. On top of the world. He’d just moved out on his own, was working his dream job, and was generally looking forward with confidence. Or so I thought. I don’t think Chris ever fooled himself, even if he fooled everyone else. It was always there, waiting, and he knew it. But that’s not what I’m here for.

We had a great week, that April of 2015. The weather kind of sucked, but we sat on the beach anyway, went to the hot tubs, the pool. We took him to the aquarium, not realizing it was kind of for little kids. It was ridiculously fun anyway. When the week was done, we took him home. Little more than a month later, he’d crashed completely. He quit his job, left his apartment, and came home. And then he was gone.

Myrtle Beach is a bittersweet place for me now. I always have fun. I always look forward to it. It’s still one of my favorite places to be. Yet I don’t get through a day without memory falling and grief slapping me across the face so hard my eyes tear. The billboard for the aquarium, a chilly day at the beach, the New Balance store at the outlet mall–kapow.

I had Gracie all to myself for a whole week this time, for the first time since…I can’t even say, and it was amazing beyond words. She makes things better, my girl. And yet I couldn’t help being sad sometimes. I tried not to show it, but she always knew.

One night, at the tail end of the week, I dreamed of Chris. We were in town for some big event, lots of people all around, and I spotted him getting a drink at a water fountain. My mouth dropped open. I called his name. He turned, smiled and came my way. There was an air of impatience about him, but he pulled me into those massive arms and held me so tight. Chris had this thing, he’d hug tighter, a beat longer than anticipated. This time, I held him just as long, just as tight. “I knew you couldn’t leave me,” I told him. He only smiled, let me go, and headed back off into the crowd.

He knew I was sad. He knew why. And even though he’s off on  his bear-dreaming adventures, he came back to hug me. His turtle.

I write this with tears in my eyes and the weight of his hug still lingering across my shoulders. I wasn’t going to record it here, but like my sorrow called him back from his travels, his hug led me here until I wrote it all down. I guess he wanted credit for his long trip back.

That’s my boy.

Myrtle Beach

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A Dream, On Waking

This house feels like home

Like it’s where I’ve been all along. All

these years, all this life.

Passing strange, the log house and

all that happened there was

a dream I’m just waking from. Like, “Whew! I’m so glad it wasn’t real!

But it was.

Of course it was.

Yet that feeling has me in thrall right now, and

I’m not entirely sure

I want to disabuse it.

It feels a bit like betrayal,

on so many levels,

My dream. My home. My son’s painful life, and oblivious death.

A dream, a dream, a dream. And now,

I’m awake. Now,

it’s a bit of solace

I’d like to hold onto. I need

to hold onto.

*

All the curtains are hung, pictures,

in place, word art, (Q: What is a wall without a quote on it? A: A blank page!)

stuck to walls. My magic. My sparkle. My home.

The dream wasn’t all good, or

all bad. It simply was, and now it’s in the past. I don’t

long for it; how could I long for such sorrow?

Like a dream, let it fade into something less frightening, less

rending. Let the joy rise up and out, let it

follow me home.

BRAIN-BENEFITS-OF-DREAMING

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I Can Be Happy Here

Years ago, when Frank and I weren’t quite empty-nesters yet, we pulled into Oak Meadows on a lark, just to see what it was like. Frank fell in love instantly. I didn’t. I make NO judgement call on communities of cookie-cutter houses with vinyl siding! It just wasn’t me. I lived in a log house on the river, in the mountains, nothing but coyotes and deer and bear and great blue heron for neighbors. I tucked gardens here and there; the lawn was like green velvet; autumn blazed in the red/orange/amber of maples in New England. Inside, vast, multi-colored (burgundy, amber, yellow, blue, scarlet, pink, mauve) walls covered in murals and word art, dinosaur prints and fairies. Tucked into every nook and cranny, something new to see. My log house was the kind of place you could come to a dozen times and find something new, something fun or funny, adorable or kind of creepy. It was always Halloween, always Christmas. Somewhere.

It was a LOT of work. In the end, too much work. For those and a myriad of other reasons, it was time to move on.

We checked out Oak Meadows again. When we pulled in, my instant reaction was, “Nope, nope, nope! Can’t do it!” A week or so later, Frank said, “Let’s just go into the model and see.”

I walked into the model. It was warm, inviting, and obviously EASY. Beige walls. BEIGE! Not a color on my spectrum. But a switch flipped in me. I didn’t want “different and super-cool,” because “different and super-cool” needed to be maintained. I wanted smaller. House. Gardens. Rooms. No more high ceilings we needed a 30 foot ladder to clean twice a year. No more log walls that collected dust. No more rooms (and rooms and rooms and rooms) that went unused. I wanted efficiency. I wanted easy. I wanted it to look nice without me having to work so hard at it.

There’s no lawn for Frank to mow, only common ground that gets mowed for us. The pool is just down the hill, and we don’t have to maintain it. My garden–that will be taken care of for me, should I so choose–is all of about 9 x 9. I can have the profusion of flowers I love without it requiring days of planting, weeding, watering on a weekly basis.

I wanted Oak Meadows.

I didn’t think I could ever be happy in a community of cookie-cutter, vinyl sided homes. Never in a million years. But I am. I love this place, top to bottom. I love the lifestyle it affords us, the freedom.

I miss the woods, the river, the trees and the wildlife, but I got to have it. I had the showplace house people came into and stood in awe. The reality of upkeep made leaving it do-able. That dream was had, skewed, and given up for good. As a wise young man once told me, when I felt terrible about giving up my Jeep Wrangler, a vehicle I’d dreamed of having all my life, “Dreams change, Mom.”

Some people dream and never attain their aspirations. I’ve never been one of those people. I’m lucky, I know, but I work hard for the dreams I’ve made come to pass. Yet, sometimes, the dream changes. Sometimes, it’s changed for me. Leaving the house on the river for this townhouse in the woods was a little of both.

I can be happy here. I am happy here. A year ago, I’d never have believed it should anyone have told me where I’d be right now, and glad to be so.

“Dreams change, Mom.”

Yes, they do.

Oak Meadows (model shown, not mine.)

download

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Some other beginning’s end

Know what happened on moving day? As the guys were loading the truck? Our bear, the one I’ve never seen but Frank has on several occasions, came wallumping out of the woods behind the house, down the driveway, and across the street.
A bear.
If that wasn’t Chris sending us off on this leg of life’s adventure, I don’t know what it was.
 
I teetered on the brink of breaking down in the days prior to and just after the move. When I felt the sorrow welling, I pushed it down. Not now. Nope. Can’t do it. And I didn’t. It made me feel guilty, but I couldn’t leave that house if I let it overwhelm me. So I didn’t.
 
The house stopped being mine when my stuff was packed away. I detached from it, couldn’t wait for moving day. I’m so ready for a different lifestyle, simple, less work. Neighbors for the first time in nearly sixteen years. When I left, I thought I was going back to pick up a few things (like my cat) so I didn’t say good-bye. I didn’t walk room to room, remembering. Making peace. I just drove away. And I didn’t go back. That upset me, at first, but I’ve since come to realize it was better not to leave that house with that kind of emotional cloud hanging over me.
 
Leaving behind my log house on the river, in the back of beyond, didn’t quite suffice to convince my heart to tag along. It’s still there in the bricks and the boards, in the gardens no longer mine. In Jamie’s magnolia, Gracie’s cherry tree, Chris and Scott’s apple trees. Mixed into the roots of the tree where we buried Chris’ ashes. Not all of it, but a piece of it. I suppose that’s the way of such things; when you’ve lived and loved and lost so much in a place, you can’t just close the door and be done. It’s never done, and I’m okay with that. I really am.

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A Moment to Reflect

Life has been coming at me super-fast these days. Only two weeks left until we move from our log home on the river, to the townhouse in the woods. I went up to Framingham (Boston area) for a signing, was interviewed for an article, agreed to a whole bunch of writerly events from local book clubs to a library in Maine. The rest of August, September and October are almost completely booked by trips to the beach, appearances, and moving.

And then there are the grands who love to come over and swim.

I’ve had very little time to reflect on all the changes in my life since June saw The Bar Harbor Retirement Home for Famous Writers (and Their Muses) release into the world, and the sale of our home. This quiet Sunday morning, I sat with my coffee, reflecting.

I thought I’d be okay staying here if the house didn’t sell, but I was wrong. I didn’t know that until today. I’m so ready. To go. To leave behind this house, let go this dream, and step into the next phase of my life. Staying here isn’t going to change the fact that life here didn’t work out as we anticipated. It won’t bring my son back. It doesn’t even keep him close to me. It’s time, and I can’t even be sad about that.

It’s going to be hard to close the door that last time. Knowing I can’t go back inside, see the rooms we lived in as a family, the roof over the walkout that Chris built with a shattered ankle, from a wheelchair; all my word art; the mural I painted when we first moved in; the gardens I planted; the trees grown so tall; the table where we all played Loaded Questions, laughing so hard over the bawdy and bawdier answers we came up with; the kitchen where fifteen years of Christmas cookies have been baked with Jamie and her friends–a tradition that goes back to her junior year in high school; the “grow room” Chris and Scott worked in together; the turtle WWF sticker on the wall in Grace’s room that I’ve never had the heart to scrape off; the fireplace that kept us warm when the power was out for over a week.

My writing loft.

So much happiness here. So much sorrow. A piece of life lived, and now, let go.

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