That guy at the bar keeps looking at you, Lisa said. We were at a long table, three couples, all with our children, eating overpriced pizza. Everyone drinking beer except me and the kids. I turned my head to see who she was talking about and after a second or two I realized it was Jimmy. He was staring right at me, with a goofy grin on his face. I turned back to the table and sighed. I would have to go say hello.
It had been years since I’d seen him. Probably pre-children, pre-marriage. Pre-a lot of things. A goddamned lifetime ago, really. I met Jimmy the summer I was 19. He had been so charming. A lithe, tanned, skater dude with dark hair and light eyes. His crooked grin back then had made him adorable. He told me I had a smart mouth and liked me immediately.
I couldn’t handle real relationships at 19. I wanted to be with him, but I wanted to be with everyone. We had great chemistry, which was a new concept to me at that age. His best friend was close with my best friend and the four of us spent the whole summer drinking, smoking pot and having a genuinely great time with each other. Whenever I stayed over his house he would cook me dinner and make me breakfast. He was vegan and he would put rice milk in my coffee. He kept his room very tidy and he washed his laundry so often we all started calling him “Jimmy Laundry.” He liked to pamper me and I wasn’t used to it. It was nice.
One night he got too drunk while we were out and he displayed aggressive jealousy. And that was that. I was done. We were done. I’ve never been able to play that game. I refuse to participate. I was sad about it, but I moved on pretty quickly.
I left my family and friends at the table and walked over to the bar where he sat nursing a pint glass. Hey Jimmy, I hugged him. We did the thing. We caught up. Well, he caught up, rather. He started talking and didn’t stop for the next several minutes. While he spoke about crappy jobs, and lack of money, and drinking too much, I just listened and looked at his face. He looked so old. His crooked grin no longer charming, now just a sign of poor hygiene and lots of wear and tear. His skin looked rough and wrinkled. He was still skinny, but it seemed like a result of malnourishment. His skateboard sat under the bar in front of his stool.
I hardly remember what he talked about and whether or not he asked me anything about myself. I let it go on for a bit before I finally cut him off. It was really nice to see you, Jimmy. I have to get back to my table. I hugged him again. I went and sat down, facing away from the bar so that I didn’t have to think about whether or not he was still there watching me. My friends asked me who he was and I just said he was an old friend.
I saw Modest Mouse play for the third or fourth time on September 10, 2001. It was at the Warfield on Market Street in San Francisco. They played “Night on the Sun” as an encore.
“There’s one thing to know about this earth
We’re put here just to make more dirt
And that’s okay.”
I was twenty-one. Hopeless. More than a little bit lost. I had attended the show with my boss at the time who I was certain was insane. We’d hung out a few times before and I had observed a pattern of extremely heavy drinking combined with belligerent behavior. It seemed she was on some sort of prescription medication that, when combined with alcohol, turned her physically violent toward strangers. She was a handful. She made me uneasy. She was about fifteen years older than I was so I felt oddly compelled to comply with her. I was also afraid of her. But we liked the same music and she asked me to go with her to the show so I did. After the show was over we made it back to her apartment, wasted and tired. I barely remember passing out in her bed.
The next morning we awoke to her roommate knocking on her bedroom door, telling us to put the TV on and there it was. As soon as I saw the news coverage of what had happened in New York, I got my clothes on and took off for home. Home for me wasn’t my shitty apartment in Oakland. Home for me was in my hometown, in the house I had escaped to from my own as a teenager. I wanted to be with my best friend and her brother. I wanted to be in that house, in that yard. A place that had provided a sense of comfort I had never been able to achieve in any of the places I’d lived with my mother. They were there waiting for me. We sat in front of the TV for hours, tears falling nonstop. We stared quietly at the screen as it looped the footage over and over.
By the morning of September 12th we couldn’t cry anymore. We didn’t know what to do. We had dumb retail and restaurant jobs so we told our bosses we wouldn’t be in for a couple days. No one was upset because no one in the entire country wanted to go to work. Seemingly, we were expected to do nothing but stare at the TV and feel bad.
We packed up tents and sleeping bags, beer and food, drugs, cigarettes, and all the mix tapes we could find and we headed into the Santa Cruz mountains to the Big Basin State Park. It was place we had all been many times before. The drive was surreal. No one was around. No traffic to get there. No one at the campsite save for the park ranger who was decidedly and understandably sullen. We had two tents for five people. I shared a tent with my best friend’s brother and his girlfriend. My best friend and her boyfriend took the other one. We cooked easy food, we burned lots of wood. We smoked weed and drank beer late into the night. The next day we woke up and decided it would be a fine day to take ecstasy with a little bit of mushrooms. A “hippy flip” is what we called it. I had a mixtape that was full of sun shiny songs like “She’s a Rainbow” and Built to Spill’s “You Are” and Badly Drawn Boy’s “The Shining.” Everything made sense, song after song. Nothing felt wrong. Both the weather and company felt perfect and comfortable.
We spent the whole day together, surrounded by redwood trees. We felt full of love and understanding and as the drugs wore off toward the evening we wrapped ourselves in blankets and laughed around the fire.
The next morning we packed up the campsite and drove from the woods to the coast. I remember a John Zorn track I’d never heard playing as I sat in the backseat and stared out the open window, watching the light flicker through the trees. The song was chaotic and beautiful and it soothed my mind. We made it to Half Moon Bay, rolled up our pants and played in the sand and the shockingly cold ocean water. On our way home we stopped at a roadside food stand and stuffed ourselves with fish and chips. We made it back to the house by the early evening and we all hugged before we tearily parted ways. I felt sad and scared but comforted by the safety I’d felt in the woods with people I was so close to. People I didn’t have to explain myself to. People who loved me. People who would have been sad if I’d died.
I know lots of other things happened that week but honestly this is all I remember.
There has been a recent dissolution of a friendship in my life. A lifelong friend. I’m in the middle of processing the loss. I am confused, angry and hurt. This dissolution began roughly one year ago with an email she wrote to me listing off my many flaws as a friend. Since then I have spent quite a bit of time reflecting on the nature of friendship. What is it? What does it mean to me? What do I value the most in a friend?
I’ve looked closely at my current friendships and seen how some of them have grown and thrived in the last five years of sobriety and trying to get my shit together. Other friendships, in this time, have essentially died on the vine.
I have a big part in that. I know this. The truth is, I spent a few years retreating from the people close to me. I quit drinking and spent the first year feeling small and weak and scared. I went to parties and left after five minutes. I struggled to find out how to be social without getting fucked up. I found solace in other sober people. After I started to learn how to be sober, I then had to learn how to just be myself. I realized I didn’t know who the fuck that was.
I felt alienated from a lot of people who I had been close to, including my husband. I began hiding. I wasn’t drinking, but I was feeling like doing anything else that would distract me from my life, from my problems. I stopped sharing things with people and all I wanted to project was that I was fine so that they wouldn’t ask me anything deeper about how I was doing.
This friendship that has just fallen apart has done so for many reasons. I see what I have done to contribute. I also see clearly how her attitude, behavior and perception of me has destroyed her love for me. She doesn’t know me anymore because I stopped telling her. And instead of trying to dig deeper and find out who I’ve become or what I’ve gone through she has decided to write me off.
It’s a strange way to look at friendship. The people whom I love the most, that I feel the closest to, the thing I value the most with all of them is knowing that I don’t ever have to be scared of what they think of me. The nature of friendship is that someone loves you at your worst. They forgive your indiscretions. They acknowledge your flaws but still hold you close. If you’re spending your time keeping the score and judging how someone lives their lives then I would question how much you value that person in your life.
I have made so many mistakes in my life. With love, with friends, with myself. I have lost friends in the past because I was too busy thinking about how I thought they should be, instead of loving them for how they are. If nothing else, in the last five years, I have learned that loving people unconditionally is the best way to love them. I am so grateful for the people I have in my life at this time who have seen all my ugly shit and still want to know me.
I feel dejected and shitty about losing someone I loved for so long. I feel indignant that I haven’t been given a proper chance to redeem myself or work any of it out. Seems she does not want that. I also feel bad about other friendships that have fallen to the wayside and faded over time. But that is how things go. I guess the truth is if you want to be in someone’s life then you are.
I am mourning the loss of this friend and the loss of others who I am no longer close with. But as someone getting near the age of forty, I know all of this is inevitable. You look at the pictures over the last twenty years of your life and try to count how many of those people you still talk to on a regular basis. And I don’t mean some lame Facebook comments or “likes” on pictures. I mean, really talk to them. I bet it’s not that many.
Maybe I’m wrong. I don’t know. God, is this what getting old is going to be like? Constant reflection on love and loss? I don’t know if I am prepared for this level of introspection.
Sometimes five years seems like a lot. Sometimes it seems like not much at all, in the grand scheme of things.
Here’s what I know. Being sober is better than not. I made a lot of mistakes when I was drunk. I have also made a lot of mistakes as a sober person. The difference is that now when I screw up, I feel bad and I want to fix it. I want to apologize. I want to try not to do it again.
Sometimes I still act like an asshole. And sometimes I am still a selfish fuck. Sometimes I don’t feel like being honest. And often I really wish I had it in me to not care about anything.
But I do. I care deeply. About my kids. My husband. About the tiny handful of close friends who give a shit about my life. The ones who know how much I’ve changed. Who listen to me when I complain, when I vent, when I cry. Sure, there are some people I love very much who don’t seem to be interested in my personal journey. It bums me out. It’s also just the way life is. I am not mad at anyone about it.
Getting sober does not automatically make one a better person. Being a better person is about the last thing that comes naturally to me, but I’m trying. I am sober and I don’t want to be any other way. My mom seems to struggle with the way I practice my sobriety because I no longer participate in AA. She made some remarks a couple weeks ago about how she doesn’t know how I stay sober without it. To her, AA is how she stays sober and it’s very important to her. To me, it isn’t about going to meetings. It’s about being a better mom and wife, going back to school, staying fit, having goals, and being present. If I was drinking I wouldn’t be able to do any of the things I’m currently doing.
When I look back at 2012, I don’t feel like the same person as I was then. People have made remarks about how I’ve changed. Usually positive, but I have also been lovingly mocked for “always changing my mind” about things. But who the fuck wants to stay the same? Stagnation is death. Fluidity is essential. At this point, I can’t comfortably live my life if I’m expected to stay the same as I’ve always been.
Things are not perfect nor will they ever be. I know I could make more space for certain people. I could try harder. I could be nicer. Softer. I am working on it. I am doing the best I can do at this time.
The grass is greener where you water it. Things grow when you nurture them. The grass can be relationships. The grass can be yourself. The grass can be your life.
At eighteen I was living in Hayward, the place I grew up in. I had a job at Walgreens as a photo clerk (I will have to post a blog someday about my collection of weird pictures I found at that job). I worked there for a little over a year and had spent most of that year trying to quit doing hard drugs and still go to raves. I’m not sure what I was thinking with having that as an achievable goal in life. I guess I had different priorities than your average eighteen year old. Going to a real college and trying to pick a solid path in life seemed like such an abstract, elusive idea to me. Hardly anyone in my circle was interested in such things. My friends were basically still a bunch of burnouts that liked to party and hang out at various people’s houses around Hayward. I always had a nagging feeling that I should want more out of life, but I didn’t have any motivation to figure out what it was. Have you ever seen the movie SubUrbia? Not the 1983 film of the same name about punk rock, but the one from 1996, directed by Richard Linklater, about a bunch of aimless friends who live in a suburban wasteland. We were all kind of like that.
While working at Walgreens I met a girl named Dino (pronounced Dee-no). She was a big girl, with dyed black hair and lots of weird, vaguely rockabilly tattoos like dice and flaming hearts. She had a son and lived in a trailer park with him and her mom. Dino liked me and seemed nice enough at first. I would later learn of her mental instability. She told me that I should apply at the thrift store down the road because it would be way cooler than Walgreens. I agreed. Getting hired at a thrift store wasn’t a difficult task, as you can imagine, and within a couple of weeks I started my new job.
My mom had taught me the way of the thrift. I grew up going to all the Goodwills and Salvation Armies Hayward and the surrounding area had to offer. As a young person there were few things I loved more than to spend hours sifting through other people’s discarded clothes and junk. There was so much joy in that moment when I found something rare and strange that no one else owned! How excited I was to be at the front line, able to sift through all the treasures before the public could get their hands on them.
It wasn’t long before I was promoted to a “pricer.” This meant I got to work in the back of the store, away from the public, and decide how much each piece of used clothing was worth. I worked with two other women and each morning we would set up our racks of clothing, make the giant pot of coffee for the backroom employees, and then settle into gossiping while pricing clothes all day. I truly loved this job. During the fourteen months that I worked there I felt vaguely like I was getting my shit together. I had what seemed like a good job for a nineteen year old. I had actually enrolled in some film production classes at a community college in San Francisco. Drugs weren’t a huge part of my life and things were fun.
Every thrift store has a slew of regular customers. Most of these people come in every day. It’s like a job to them. A lot of them are harmless eccentrics, in my experience. A handful of them are creeps and weirdos who have probably been featured on that Hoarders show by now. I quickly got to know who the good and bad regulars were. It’s funny because now my mom works in a thrift store. She has become extremely familiar with the exact kind of customer I’m talking about. The harmless weirdos are fine, it’s the wingnuts who want to haggle over the already low price of literal garbage that used to freak me out.
One of the many customers I saw every day was a man named Ron. He was a very tall, slim fifty-nine year old dude who kind of reminded me of the Marlboro man. He always wore jeans and snap button shirts and a cowboy hat. He typically had a real tough, serious way about him when he was walking around the store but as soon as I started chatting with him I found him to be hilarious. He had a sharp wit and was sarcastic in a way that made me jealous. After a few conversations with him I decided he was pretty dang handsome as well. I spent a lot of time pretending to work out on the floor, following him around, and talking to him about all kinds of things. He was curious about me. He laughed at my jokes. Naturally, I grew to have a crush on Ron.
Of course he was married and there was an age gap between us of FORTY YEARS. The relationship could never actually go anywhere. I knew that. I don’t think I could ever even visualize what that would look like anyway. My brain wouldn’t allow the fantasy. But he sure was a treat to hang out with at the store. He liked me too. For my twentieth birthday he brought me flowers and one of those silly, oversized birthday cards.
I worked at the thrift store in Hayward until the end of 1999. I had been offered a job at a fancier thrift store in San Francisco and would start there just after the new year. I would soon be moving out of my hometown and hopefully beginning some adventures in the city. My BFF and I prepped ourselves for the upcoming apocalypse of Y2K. I remember hoping so much that it wouldn’t be the end because I really wanted to move and start my life. At that time it felt like good things might finally start to happen.
I never saw Ron again after I left that store. I like to think he’s still around in Hayward somewhere. Maybe I could even run into him someday. I still have that birthday card tucked away in a box. I’m sappy like that.
My inspiration to write about myself completely drained out of me for a while there. I’m back and it’s deep into fall. It’s my favorite time of year and good writing weather. I’ve been having a hard time getting myself started. I am hoping a gross story about cockroaches will get the motor running again.
In my last Apartment Life story I was on my way to a new, happier chapter in my life. I do want to tell you the story of what happened after I moved out of the darkest studio and I will. First though I want to go back and tell you one more story of my time with Fuckhead, or FH for short. Why? Well, because as I’ve mentioned before it is therapeutic for me to purge these stories. Writing about my past and the uglier parts of my life has helped me move on from a lot of shame and anger I feel about those times. It has also been a great way to exercise my writing muscle.
So let’s go back to spring of 2002. FH and I had been living in a very small studio for about six months when a one bedroom apartment opened up on the second floor. Like most of my decisions back then, not much thought or foresight went into this one. I wanted a bigger place, so did FH. It would still be cheap to live there and easy to move so I didn’t see any reason not to do it. The fact that living with FH up until then had been rocky at best meant nothing to me.
Despite how strange the previous six months of our relationship had been, FH and I were excited to move into this place together. The other apartment had been mine and he lived in it. But now here we were, doing this together. Arranging the furniture, putting up posters, and organizing our toiletries in a harmonious way. It wasn’t so bad at first. I had visions of doing the place up in style. I imagined us buying real couches and rugs and maybe making things look pretty. I made a few attempts at buying curtains and new bedding, but we never did end up trading in our ratty futon and second hand sofa for anything better. The previous tenants had painted the apartment walls purple. My landlord, in her typical half-assed fashion, had painted them back to white but you could still see quite a bit of color seeping through, leaving the walls looking like they were sweating violet. It was slightly off-putting, but we weren’t picky. The apartment was quite large with a spacious living room, bedroom and giant walk in closet. I was willing to overlook the flaws.
FH had made some efforts to act like a normal human being at that time. From what I remember he did do less drugs, but he still drank heavily. He also made it clear that having more space meant that he could have more people over. He saw having a bigger apartment as an opportunity to invite his friends to live with us for short periods of time. So we did and I didn’t complain about it. I didn’t feel I could. Also the guys that ended up staying there were nice. One of them was a guy named Chris who ended up overdosing and dying two years after he lived with us. He was a real sweetheart. He often smelled of body odor and piss, due to his heavy drinking and mostly homeless living, but he was fun to be around. Surprisingly he was easy to live with and respectful of our space. I was very sad when he passed away and I still think of him fondly.
The other friend of FH’s who lived with us briefly was Scott. I quickly developed a soft spot for him. He was a misguided geek. He was very smart, witty and fun to hang out with. I enjoyed ribbing him about his bad fashion sense as he often wore a windbreaker with jeans and dress shoes, making him seem well older than his 24 years. He was interested in making movies for a living and had actually graduated college and gotten a job in the field. Most people I grew up with did not achieve such goals so I was impressed. I admired his drive and dedication. It was something both FH and I obviously lacked in life. I also liked Scott because he seemed to appreciate me in ways that FH never could. He was always very grateful to me whenever I did anything nice for him. He was appreciative of my cooking and once told me that my vegetarian lasagna should be served in restaurants. Even though he never said anything, I could tell that it made him uncomfortable when FH would get drunk and treat me poorly. I sometimes wondered if he ever tried to talk to FH about it. Not that it would have changed anything, but Scott seemed liked the type of guy who might do that.
What this story is really supposed to be about though is cockroaches. Yep. After battling mice in the first studio I’d rented downstairs, I now had to contend with cockroaches on the second floor. At first it didn’t appear to be a huge problem. I remember seeing them around here and there, but it didn’t seem like a big deal. Of course I wasn’t happy about it, but what was I going to do? My standards of living were quite low at this time. I was just content to have a roof over my head (although we did have to deal with a big leakage problem in this place too at some point) and a place to keep my stuff. Who was I to get picky about things like disease spreading insects? Don’t be so uptight, I told myself, they’re just bugs. It’s not like I was a stranger to cockroaches. The apartment I’d shared with my mom when I was in high school had them. I’d survived many a stoned evening fighting off bugs in my kitchen. They were always trying to harsh my buzz. All I wanted to do was heat up my frozen pizza, man.
At least the cockroaches at my mom’s apartment had some common decency. They’d kept themselves confined to the kitchen. I soon learned that my apartment with FH had a much bigger problem than I’d realized. I started noticing that when I’d come into the kitchen at night, as soon as I turned the light on, there was an awful lot of scurrying. The cupboards seemed to have an alarming amount of black specks of what I’d come to learn was cockroach poop. It was vile. I had to keep everything either sealed very tight or put it in the fridge. I talked to my landlord. With her now familiar disinterest she told me she’d have an exterminator come by. She also explained to me as casually as possible that the roaches never really leave, they just move from apartment to apartment, but she’d make that call to the bug guy, no problem.
One night I was lying on the couch watching television. FH was out and I had the place all to myself which was not a common occurrence. I was probably watching some MTV reality show like the Road Rules/Real World challenge. I was cozy and enjoying my alone time when a cockroach decided to crawl up the couch and onto me. I’m not sure how long it had been on me, but it made it almost all the way to my face! I leapt up, screaming and smacking myself. I was shaken. It was way worse than the mouse fiasco. I could handle these things being in my darkened kitchen, but once they started messing with my leisure time that was it! After that incident I was always super alert and looking around for bugs. Before I could get into bed or into the shower, I always had to give the place a thorough scouring with my eyeballs. I’ve never been a good sleeper, but I had an even harder time when I started thinking about what might be crawling on me while I slept. Ever seen the movie Creepshow? Yeah, that’s what I pictured.
Even FH was affected by the roaches. I’d kind of thought of him as unflappable. I mean, he’d been a hobo/gutterpunk/scuzzball for so long, I figured he was used to having disgusting things in his living space. But he was bothered by them. Sometimes I’d catch him in the kitchen,in his boxers, looking under the fridge with a flashlight. He was in awe of how many of them there were living in our apartment. He wanted to be rid of them too. He’d become more twitchy since they’d started showing up outside the kitchen.
During our time in the roach hotel I didn’t drink or do drugs very much. I was thinking about why this was and it’s clear to me now that for those first two years of our relationship he essentially became my drug of choice. I stopped doing anything else outside of worrying about him, taking care of him, trying to be what he wanted me to be. My journals from that time are nearly blank. I did nothing creative at all. My entire focus in life became trying to stay in this completely shitty relationship. So when in September of 2003 FH told me he didn’t want to live with me anymore it came as a huge shock.
We were lying in bed with the lights out when he quietly admitted to me that he wanted to get his own place. It was as if he’d kicked me in my stomach. I remember sitting up and tears exploding. I cried so hard I couldn’t speak. He held me and he said he was sorry. I was so confused and hurt. At that point I had given him almost two years of my life. I had stuck so much misery out with him and what was I getting in return? He didn’t want to come home to me at night? He didn’t want to sleep next to me? He didn’t want me to take care of him anymore? It didn’t make any sense to me. All I wanted was to make him happy and he couldn’t wait to get away from me.
After that night I tried to keep it together. I tried to believe that he didn’t want to break up with me, he only wanted to have some personal space. I attempted to wrap my brain around the idea that he didn’t need me to cook or clean for him. He didn’t need me to take care of him when he was hungover or make sure he had clean clothes. I worked on finding myself a new apartment and packing up my stuff. My friends asked me what was going on with us and I’d tell them “Oh, we’re not breaking up.” They’d look at me quizzically and then sort of nod sympathetically, knowing I was trying to convince myself of this as much as I was them.
On the day we were officially moved out I took a day off from work to clean the empty apartment. FH didn’t help me. He’d shuffled the majority of his things off to storage and planned on couch surfing until he found a place of his own. I’d spent my first night in my new studio, drinking and crying, feeling utterly alone. I thought I’d gotten it all out, but when I was done scrubbing and mopping I sat down in our now empty bedroom and lost it one more time. Who was I kidding about this whole not breaking up nonsense? It felt like the beginning of the end to me. In hindsight though, the beginning of the end was at the start, because this relationship was doomed.
Something happened to my heart that day. Something very dark started to grow inside of me, like a cancer. I finished cleaning up, gathered up my supplies and bid farewell to my insect roommates. I trudged back to my new place, feeling heavy and uncertain. I thought having cockroaches crawl on me and my boyfriend basically dumping me was the pinnacle of horribleness in my life, but I had no idea how nasty things were about to get.
To find out what happened after the roach hotel read this. To find out what happened when my life stopped sucking, stay tuned!
The black and white photos in this post were taken by my BFF, Shona Taylor. She’s awesome. Check out her website.
I’ll leave you with this classic little piece of cinema from one of my favorite films. He’s really eating that. Just in case you’re wondering, no, I’ve never eaten a cockroach (that I know of).
I recently went to a storytelling party where the theme was “Summer Lovin'” I didn’t tell the story I’m about to tell here because I had already told a version of it several months ago and since most of the same people were in attendance I assumed they’d be tired of my sappy shit. My blog readers, on the other hand, haven’t had to endure very much sappy shit. You guys have endured plenty of grossness, depression, and drug abuse and for that I thank you. I thought we’d try something a little bit more warm hearted this time around.
As a child I was a bit of a “schoolie”, a term my husband likes to use. I was placed in the Gifted and Talented Education program at the start of third grade. There were two teachers for the program at our school, one who taught a third/fourth grade class and one who taught a fifth/sixth. It was kind of cool to have the same kids in my class for all those four years. I became tight with a few of the girls, one of whom I am still very close friends with to this day. Our fifth grade teacher, Ms. J, was hated by many of the other teachers but we loved her. We were singled out as being the nerd class and we got picked on a lot by kids in the “normal” classes. I think other teachers resented Ms. J because she was actually trying. She worked so hard and even now stands out as the best teacher I ever had.
Fifth grade was a good school year. Life outside of school was not. My mom and stepdad had been married over four years but things had disintegrated. I had developed some sleeping problems sometime during the fourth grade and they had worsened to point that I literally wouldn’t sleep until 2 or 3 in the morning, which was the time when my stepdad would get home from his work shift. My mom didn’t work the whole time she was married to him and her drug and alcohol use had exploded. When my stepdad wasn’t at work, there were always people over our house, buying and using drugs and drinking. When he was home, they were usually fighting. I spent a lot of my time at home in my room with the door closed or zoned out on the couch watching television.
It turned out that one of my classmates, Brandon, was having a crappy year outside of school as well. Sometime in the spring of 1990, near the end of the school year, his mom brought him over to my house. She’d arranged with my mom to have him stay for the weekend. It seemed she was going through a rough time. I didn’t know what the details of everything were. All I knew was this boy I didn’t know all that well was about to stay the night at my house. I’d known him since the second grade but we weren’t close friends. Before he showed up at my house my only thoughts of him were that he was smart and nice.
When he got dropped off at my house that weekend he had a bad attitude about it. He was probably mad at his mom, but he tried to take it out on me. He was pouting. He was sitting like a lump on my couch so I began to make some suggestions about things we could do. He acted like he didn’t want to do anything with me. I typically wanted to get out of my house whenever I could and had recently taken up biking and rollerskating around my neighborhood. I lived across the street from what once was a high school campus (it later became an adult school) and there were plenty of areas to explore. I don’t remember exactly how I enticed him off my couch and got him to lighten up, I just know that I did. By the night of his first stay, we were up giggling into the wee hours, me on my daybed and him on my trundle.
I have a ton of memories from that spring and summer. They all sort of blend together, much like a montage in an 80’s movie. Feel free to imagine the late 80’s/early 90’s song of your choice playing over it (I’d suggest this classic, it was popular that summer). We did a lot of bike riding. We watched many movies and lots of MTV together. We played a ton of Nintendo, specifically Jaws and Mario Brothers. We also did odd things like shoot squirt guns at pages ripped out of Teen Beat and Heart Throb magazines. We took pictures of ourselves next to pictures of Johnny Depp. Once we tried to have a weenie roast in my backyard and almost set my house on fire. Sometimes we would stay over at his grandma’s house. We were left on our own most of the time. It was a special time. That summer is full of some of the fondest memories of my childhood.
There are two conversations I vividly remember having with Brandon. One happened in my garage. My garage was a clubhouse of sorts. I hung out in there a lot. The backyard was too small to do anything in and in the garage I had chairs, junk to dig through, and my cassette player. We were sitting around shooting the shit and somehow the subject of our parents came up. I don’t know if we’d talked about it much before then. I think we both avoided the topic because we both knew our parents were not doing a good job at that time. It was the whole reason we were together all the time; our moms were partying instead of taking care of us. I’m not sure who said it first, but we both told each other that our parents did drugs. For me it felt like a big deal. I had never discussed it with anyone before. I don’t think I’d even admitted it to myself in those terms. I’d had my suspicions about it for years and had seen a lot of substances laying around my house, here and there. Mirrors with white residue, little plastic baggies, etc. But the idea of drugs was still abstract to me. Also we’d started our D.A.R.E. program at school so I know I must have had some inner conflict going on about that. Was I supposed to turn my parents in? Or just keep lying to everyone about it? It was confusing. Sharing that information with Brandon was a relief. I felt bonded to him in a way that I’d never felt with any other friends. We were both only children and I think that finally having someone to commiserate with made the burden much less heavy to carry.
The other conversation that sticks out in my mind makes me cringe a bit. We were sitting on my mom’s bed, playing Nintendo. It was the evening. Brandon was going to be leaving for Denver to go visit his dad for a couple weeks before school started. He had something he wanted to tell me before he left. He wanted to tell me that he liked me. He wanted to go out with me. He wanted to be my boyfriend. It’s hard to imagine what I was thinking back then. Maybe we were too close. Maybe I felt more sisterly towards him. Or maybe I was just an idiot who even back then couldn’t see a good thing for what it was. I told him that I was sorry, I didn’t feel the same way. We carried on with our video games. If he was broken hearted, he never let it on. He took off to Colorado and I saw him when school started. We both went back to being friends as if we’d never had that conversation.
During the next school year, we were still good friends, but we spent less time with each other. I vaguely remember trying to get Brandon together with Melissa, my bestie at the time. He wasn’t into it. I’ve been told he only had eyes for me. We graduated sixth grade and we both moved on to different junior highs. I invited him to my birthday party a few months into seventh grade. He showed up and I proceeded to ignore him the entire time. He sat on my couch, completely miserable while I giggled and gossiped with my girlfriends. To add insult to injury, I had invited a ninth grade boy I had a huge crush on and was preoccupied with that most of the time. I barely noticed when Brandon’s mom came to pick him up because I was too busy wondering if Aaron, my big freshman almost boyfriend, was going to kiss me that night. It still hurts my heart thinking about how I made Brandon feel that night. What a fucking jerk I was.
I try not to let that night mar what a beautiful time we’d shared that one summer. Even though I didn’t want to date him then, I did love him. I knew that. He was one of the best friends I ever had and held a special place in my heart for the rest of my adolescence. I always regretted how I’d treated him and often hoped we would run into each other. I clung to the memories of that summer and hoped that he wouldn’t forget me.
Roughly fourteen years after that birthday party I would make contact with Brandon. I’m saving that story for another time.
My mom celebrated fourteen years of sobriety on September 5. She spent the night at my house the night before and woke up to her grandchildren climbing all over her. I made pancakes and sausage. We watched some cartoons and then we went to her house and spent the day together. We went to the park, had lunch, and went swimming. It was truly an amazing day. A gift. That evening I went home and was overwhelmed with joy that I get to have my mom in my life and that she is sober. People in AA talk a lot about miracles. I’m not sure what I really believe about miracles, but if there ever was one, it is that my mom doesn’t drink anymore and that we have an awesome relationship.
It wasn’t always this way. My mom didn’t quit drinking until I was almost 19 years old. I had moved out over a year before because I couldn’t take it anymore. We’d shared a small one bedroom apartment for three years and things had gotten ugly. Those were my mom’s worst years, in my opinion. Maybe she’d had worse times than that with drugs and alcohol, but for me, things were downright tragic during that time. I had warned her I was going to move out if things didn’t change, but she didn’t believe me. One weekend, while she was at work, I packed up the majority of my stuff and I moved out. After I left, for the next year or so that she was still drinking I didn’t have much to do with her. I don’t remember hanging out with her, and if I did, I’m sure we did not get along.
Even after she quit drinking I didn’t have much desire to spend time with her. I was so angry at her. I remember her trying to talk to me about her sobriety and “making amends” and I did not want to hear about it. I even went with her to a meeting back in her early days of sobriety and all I remember is being uncomfortable and wanting to leave. Slowly, over the next few years, I let my mom in. We became friends. It has been a rough road to where I am now with my mom. Without getting into all the details, I will say that the warmth and affection I feel for her now took a very long time to develop. Of course, I have always loved my mom, but have I liked her as a person? At many points in my life I have not. To be honest, until this last year, I still looked at my mom and saw all of her flaws glaring at me. It was hard to get past them. Why couldn’t she just be what I wanted her to be and do what I wanted her to do?
My expectations were so high and she disappointed me. Resentments I’ve been carrying around basically my entire life reared their heads after I had kids. I wanted her to be the grandmother that I had. I wanted her to do things for me without being asked. I felt like she owed me something after all the shit she put me through as a kid. The more I clung on to these feelings, the harder it was to get along with her.
Then I let go. I stopped having those expectations. I stopped holding on to all that anger. I thought about how my mom is instead of what I wanted her to be. I made my needs clear to her instead of expecting her to magically guess what they were. She started spending more time with me and my kids. We became good friends again.
Almost four months ago I went out on a Tuesday night and drank. I drank a lot. I was falling down drunk. I was sloppy. I cried at some point. Then I got in my car and drove home. I woke up the next day and was completely unable to be a parent. I called my mom. She came straight over, no questions asked. She took care of my kids for me the majority of that day. She never once said anything judgmental to me about the fact that I had been completely irresponsible.
Two weeks later I decided to give up alcohol. At the time I wasn’t committing to never drinking again. All I wanted to do was see how it felt to not drink. I had no idea whether it would be easy or hard or how it would make me feel. Three weeks into being sober I decided to go to an AA meeting. I didn’t say anything to my mom. I wasn’t ready to discuss it with her yet.
When I finally told my mom about not drinking and going to meetings she was so quietly supportive about it. If you knew my mom, you would know that she isn’t quiet about much. She talks a lot and she’s kind of loud. She laughs easily. She has a lot of nervous energy. But when I told her that I felt like maybe I had a drinking problem and I wanted to do something about it, she just looked at me warmly and told me she thought I was doing the right thing and that she was proud of me. She didn’t go through the line of questioning that can be involved when you tell people you don’t drink anymore. She didn’t tell me that it was okay to drink sometimes and maybe I should just try to control myself more. She didn’t say oh, don’t worry about it, you’re not a real alcoholic.
My mom knows that you don’t have to lose everything in order to have a drinking problem. People have an idea of what alcoholism looks like. They think it has to mean that you get DUI’s, go to jail, lose your spouse, get your kids taken away, and wind up in the gutter with nothing. Or maybe you have to get sick and have a doctor tell you to stop. Or maybe you have to get in a car wreck and kill someone. That would definitely qualify you as someone with a a drinking problem right?
But here’s the thing: being an alcoholic means that when you start drinking you don’t stop. It means that once you have that first drink, you are likely to have many, many more even when you shouldn’t. It means that when you drink, you act like someone else, someone you probably wouldn’t like when you’re sober. At least that’s what it means to me. I didn’t need to ruin my whole life before figuring out that I needed to quit drinking. I woke up and saw that I have an incredible husband and two beautiful kids and that I could not spend any more time not being present for my life. Getting through a tough day just so I could go out and drink is not how I want to live. Waking up hungover and trying to pretend I’m fine and that I can manage is not okay with me. I want to be in the moment and I want to be clear headed and healthy. The only way I can do this is by being sober.
Sobriety makes people uncomfortable. It’s taken me the last three months to understand that and also to come to the realization that I don’t care. How other people feel about me not drinking isn’t my concern. They’re not me. They don’t know the ins and outs of my brain. They don’t know the things I’ve done, the ways I have felt. And that’s totally fine. As long as they’re not actively trying to get me to take a drink, then they can have any opinion about it they want.
Tonight I am going to celebrate my mom’s fourteen years of being sober. I am also going to celebrate my own three months of sobriety. I feel so lucky to have my mom by my side in this journey. I feel proud of her and proud of myself. I look forward to many more months and years of being happy, healthy and sober.
If you made it through all of this, thanks for reading. I truly appreciate it.
The other day my son jumped off a play structure and hit himself in his own face with his knee. It hurt and he was upset. When he recovered and stopped crying a few minutes later I decided to tell him a story that might cheer him up. I told him the tale of how Auntie Melissa once busted her own face in a trampoline accident. Here is the adult version of the story.
Melissa and I were house sitting for a friend who had a big trampoline in their backyard. We were 18 or 19 years old. We were a little drunk. It was late at night and there was some high bouncing going on. Melissa got a bit overzealous and somehow flung her leg up and kneed herself right in the face. She was injured. Her face began to swell up and we both freaked out and thought she might have a concussion. It looked like there would certainly be a black eye in her near future. I drove her to the hospital. It was late, probably around midnight or just past it. We sat in the emergency room for a long time. While we waited to be seen by a doctor we were both interviewed by a nurse. She took Melissa aside. She interrogated her about how this had happened to her face. She asked Melissa if someone, a boyfriend maybe, had done this to her. Melissa laughed it off. She told her the truth. The nurse was not convinced. She pulled me aside and was all serious like “look, if a guy did this to her don’t be afraid to tell me.” I told her “lady, it was a trampoline accident, seriously.” I remember how reluctant she was to believe us. Obviously I understand that domestic abuse is not to be taken lightly, but back then were both so young, we couldn’t quite wrap our brains around the idea that someone would make up a story like that to cover up for some asshole who beat them up. Besides, didn’t you just tell everyone “I fell down some stairs”?
In the end they gave up trying to get the truth out of us, not realizing they already had it. We went home. It was late and we weren’t tipsy anymore, just tired. Melissa wanted to get out of there and stop feeling like the victim of a crime that hadn’t been committed. I couldn’t wait to tell everyone the story.
When I told this story to my son he was absolutely riveted. He ate it up. He asked me to repeat it to him four times! Of course his version only included the trampoline and the injury. That was enough to tickle him. Oh, and the picture.