The pain is not less

My tear ducts have been to the gym. 

Let me explain. I am 65 and in the process of taking things out of storage. I’m going through boxes and large (sometimes clear, sometimes not) garbage bags. The bags are filled with soft items that mostly turn out to be curtains, fleece blankets, stuffed animals, clothes. Old t-shirts of mine that when held out full, look shockingly small. 

I’m clearly not half the man I used to be.

And then I emptied the contents of a pale cotton bag, maybe a pillow case and a half in size. Out fell a dozen or so neatly folded washcloths,  colors faded, pinks, yellows. Two hand towels. 

I couldn’t place them. 

And then, the coin dropped. They were my mother’s. She committed suicide August 12, 1992. Today is January 17, 2019. No, the pain is not less.

My tear ducts have been to the gym.

Where are you?!

Where are you?

On this, the twenty-third anniversary of the day you committed suicide, I ask, where are you?

You are missed by many (me!) beyond words, beyond the reach of creativity, beyond the reach of thought and emotion. It is your being, you, that we miss. You were and are loved, more than you knew, because, as you said, you did not believe anyone loved you. You were as mistaken and as flatly wrong in that believe as those who believed, with every honorable fiber of their being, that the world was flat.

I have slept a great deal today. When awake I find myself remembering the day you left this world, and I am immobilized. I remember being on the phone with someone and hearing my poor sister – your daughter! – in the background, wailing in agony. My little sister shattered. I could not rescue her.  And, God forgive me, I could not rescue you.

In our hours and hours of magical conversation those last ten years I told you once that the day you died would be one of the biggest blows of my life. You were utterly baffled. “Why?” you asked.  And in that moment I knew that you really didn’t understand, believe, how much I loved you and how much my sister and her children and my daughter loved you. How much your brother’s wife and children loved you. How much so many people loved you. Love for you was a foreign language you’d never learned. It was, I believe, your undoing.

Your son and daughter are doing better than anyone expected. You would be deeply proud of your daughter. I am. And we both know you loved us. And while I can’t speak for my sister, I think it safe to say we both wished you’d been able to not just believe, but fully know, that no son and daughter ever loved their mother more than we loved you – and still love you.

I miss you, Mommy.

Where are you?

A word on friendship & honesty

Yesterday I had the chance – and very real pleasure – to talk with a woman that used to be my girlfriend and is, I am very happy to say, my friend. It had been awhile since we’d talked because, as happens between friends from time to time, honest misunderstandings stumbled us up a bit. There are certain indelible truths about this woman that anyone who meets her would be wise to make note of. She is intensely courageous. I’ve seen the courage she brings to life’s challenges up close. The specifics of those challenges have no place in this missive because it is not my place to talk about them and, she is my friend, which means I won’t tell you.

It nearly always makes me shake my head with sadness when I see people trying to manage their lives by spinning webs of misinformation (or telling outright lies) rather than staying on the path of honesty. Yes, this latter is not always easy, but I can tell you from firsthand experience that honesty is a powerful ally. As one who lives a sober life, it is an ally I have no intention of betraying. The woman I spoke with yesterday is cut from the same cloth. She is courageous, honest, and, it must be said, the kind of mother to her two daughters that every child deserves.

Those managing their lives with dishonesty often attack and villainize the ones who love them the most because the ones who love them the most hold them accountable for their choices. Those who love them are wise not to lash back in kind. Pray for the person you love and hold them accountable.  Stay out of the poisonous web of deceit. It is not healthy for you. Equally important, it is not healthy for the person you love who may genuinely no realize honesty is one of his or her best allies.  The most painful experience for those of us who love someone who manages life with methods short of rigorous honesty is we  oftentimes need to disengage from them.  And loss, even when necessary, is painful.

Thankfully, none of this holds true with my friendship with the woman I spoke with yesterday. Talking with her was a breath of fresh air, it usually is.

If you love a person who is caught up in an unhealthy lifestyle like this, leave the door open. People truly can change. It is hard work, not easy, and takes courage. But if you love them, they deserve a second chance. People gave me a second chance (and then some) after I got sober.

Dialogue on a threatened friendship

– Good to see you.

– It’s nice to be seen.

– So, we’re here to talk about recent developments with a friend of yours.

– We are.

– Still friends with this person?

– That depends entirely on this person.

– Their name?

– We’ll use a fictitious one.  Jane.

– Okay,  Jane. (checking notes) The two of you used to be in a relationship up until about a year ago and then became friends. It’s been about a year since you’ve seen each other but throughout the year you’ve talked on the phone quite a bit. You went out with a couple of women you did tell Jane. What was that like?

– I was worried. You always wonder if a friendship that used to be a romantic relationship  will hold-up when one or both begin to explore other romantic possibilities . But it was alright when I told her.

– Why worried?

– I think two things are tied for first and foremost. I didn’t want to hurt her and I didn’t want to lose the friendship. But it never occurred to me to be anything but honest with her. While honesty is not always easy and dealing with the ramifications of being honest are not always easy, it’s always easier than dishonesty and dealing with the ramifications of that. You start misleading someone about who you are or what you are doing in life, especially those who love you, one misrepresentation gets built on another and the story never ends happily.

– So, what’s happened lately that’s caused you to lock the door on her?

– Not lock the door. Protect myself. Door’s not locked. I blocked phone and social media for now. Hopefully not for always. Email is open.

– Okay, you’re protecting yourself.  What was the turning point?

– When you know someone well you learn their patterns in life. Their habits. When patterns of behavior change it means something. It doesn’t necessarily mean something bad or negative, but changes in someone’s regular pattern of behaviors mean something. So I noticed changes. Historically Jane is a very active user of Facebook, throughout the week, though with her current job, less so, and on the weekend. So I began to notice that were blocks of time on Facebook for example, on the weekends, where there was no activity. On top of that there were times she would say she’d call and simply didn’t. Another change in pattern. I began to think she was dating or getting involved with someone so when I asked about this, she reacted with anger.

– Would it have made you angry if she’d been dating?

– Not at all.

– And this last weekend there’s been a visit planned?

– She had said she was going to visit this last weekend but in the week prior it became clear she was looking for a way out. She wasn’t saying this directly, but she was looking for a way out. She also sent an email she later acknowledged was abusive. When someone, anyone, starts writing me things in anger like “because not everyone’s an asshole like those other mo fo’s” or “fuck you” I disengage. I’ve got two choices in that moment, fire back or pull back. I’d rather pull back. She was furious that I’d sent an email  saying I was concerned she wasn’t being entirely honest about what was happening in her life which, as it turns out, happened to be exactly the case. She finally said she’d been on Match, which is fine. Said she’d met a nice man but sent him on his way because she realized she wasn’t ready to get into a relationship. Also fine. Then,  a day or two later she wrote to tell me she’s decided to enter into a relationship with a former boyfriend.

– She sounds over the place when it comes to relationships.

– Not necessarily so at all. It may very well be she was all over the place when it came to being up front with me.  I’m hoping that’s the case. I’d much rather her relationship with this man turns out wonderfully for both of them and that the problem was being up front with a friend. Having said all that, I’m not going to accept dishonesty or verbal abuse from anyone as a matter of course. But I’d rather reject the behavior first and give the person some slack than cut them off completely.

– Now, I’ve known you a long time.

– Longer than anyone.

– And I know Jane crossed a line when it came to the subject of suicide. You’d told her knowing that option was there was comforting for you, and she accused you of trying to make her feel guilty which I know was not the case.

– The subject of ending one’s life, suicide, with me, is kind of like the subject of war with Michael.

– Your closest friend.

– Michael was a Marine. Lost his legs in Vietnam. Saw shit people who haven’t been there can’t even imaging. Unless you’ve been to war, you’ve got no business bring up the subject with someone whose been there with anything but respect. I’ve lost a brother, mother and birth-mother to suicide, a childhood friend, and a guy I used to work with. I won’t tolerate anyone walking into that subject with me with anything but respect. She knows better, or she should.  The very fact I talked about it with her was testimony the level of closeness and safety I felt with her.

– Why are you open to continuing this friendship?

– Rarely does anyone deserve to be defined by a few weeks of behavior in their life, a series of unhealthy choices. Certainly not Jane. I’ve known her for awhile and know a lot about her life, her history. She is a remarkable person in many ways. But right now the ball’s in her court. She steps up to the plate and makes amends like we all should do when we misstep or lose our cool, we’re fine. All is well. I look forward to meeting her new boyfriend. She doesn’t or can’t, there’s nothing I can do about that. She’ll either figure out it was safe to be honest and open with me or she won’t. My responsibility is to be honest, try to make the healthiest choices on the table, knowing that by doing so they’ll be easier to live with down the road.

– What if she does nothing now but down the road reaches out to you?

– Door’s open. Honesty, amends, taking responsibility is the way to go for all of us.  Now, having said that, there is this possibility. If life badly wounds her or someone she loves and I can help, I will. But friendship won’t resume at that point absent the honesty and amends. But there is no way I wouldn’t help her or one of her daughters or anyone she loves if I could.

– It sounds like in your core you’re still her friend.

– You’re right. I am. But whether it can ever be an active friendship again is not up to me.

– Sitting down for this dialogue was an act of friendship, wasn’t it?

– You do what you can for those you love.

A Sober August

For me, August is a month of right-sizing, clarity-producing memories, some glorious, some not.

My daughter, Jennifer, was born this day in 1977. The day she was born, the moment I saw her for the first time, well, life doesn’t give us any moments more glorious. 

Tomorrow, August 11, marks three years to the day that Charley came into my life. Non-animal lovers, the poor sods, won’t get this, but animals are family too and Charley is wonderful, and often wide awake given his inexplicable love for eating coffee beans.

And then there are the other memories: my mother’s suicide on August 12, 1992, my father’s death on August 16, 1969, and the day I was shot on August 24, 1984.

Before I got sober the latter three dates drove me into the ground every August. They don’t do that any more. There is no doubt that August 12 and August 16 mark perhaps the worst days of my life. I’d go through the shooting a dozen times if doing so would turn back the clock and spare my parents their end.

In sobriety the days that mark their death and the one that marks the shooting bring me to a place of quiet, gentle, pensiveness. I know they are near me, I can feel them. I am proud to be their son, and I am unflinchingly grateful for the time we had together. And, I know, that while death takes the person from the world, it never takes them from our hearts.