Hell on Wings, Part Two, Parigi (Paris…)

Once we landed at Charles de Gaulle, and I was rid of my two extremely annoying row-mates. Each gave me a cordial good-bye and growled at each other.

I exited the plane to see a young man holding a wheel-chair while the mink-clad Nonna sat down in it. “Are you my savior?” she said to him in heavily accented English, accented with Italian. Her fifty+ years living in Las Vegas with the man who’d fallen in love with her after the war, an Army boy liberating Genova, hadn’t smoothed a bit of that away. “And you! Goethe! Dove vai?” I’d met her on the flight from St. Louis to New York. I carried a large biography of Goethe. She’d greeted me on that flight with, “Goethe LOVED Italy!!!” and we had become traveling friends…


“Oh that’s RIGHT! Andiamo insieme!” She took my hand and somehow I felt privileged (do not ask me why — I couldn’t begin to answer that question).

“Can you carry this for me?”

“Sure.” I took her brown-paper wrapped package, and only later wondered why, as she was on wheels, she didn’t just set it in her lap.

“It’s jelly.” Like hell it was jelly. It was a mink jacket.

The good thing about accompanying one’s Italian grandma as she is whisked through an airport in a wheelchair is that you are whisked through, too. We were taken directly to the Alitalia desk. “You talk to them. You’re young, and I’m not sure I can communicate well.”

Again, mysteriously, I felt honored. I didn’t think, “Whoa, you’re the native speaker. I’ve just learned a bit of Italian from friends in Switzerland and a CD rom!” Completely confident, I went to the desk and explained our situation. I was answered in Italian and all went fine. Finally our ordeal was over…but not really. We had not gone through customs. We did not appear to be international travelers, in spite of our American passports. Our marginal but adequate French, her flawless and my adequate Italian, our appearance (mother and daughter?) provoked no questions. We appeared to be just another bi-national family returning to the home country. Later we would pay for these moments of fluidity and ease, but for now? We got nice seats on the next plane out.

All the seats on the small Alitalia flight over the Alps were equipped with what I’d call “mandatory” entertainment. We had to watch Mr. Bean whether we wanted to or not. By then La Nonna and I had been traveling for 22 hours. We were hungry and dehydrated and had reached a higher plane of human understanding by that point — or much lower. Hard to say. “Non me piace. What ever happened to peace and quiet?” La Nonna grabbed the steward and said, “Si prega di spegnere la nostra televisione.” (Please turn off the television)

Mi dispiace, signora. Non posso. Lei vuole qualcosa di bere?” (I’m sorry, Missus. I can’t. Do you want something to drink?”)

Si, si. Grazie tanti.” She thanked him but with an edge in her voice that said clearly, “You cannot pacify me with wine or Coca Cola.”

We flew over Mont Blanc — it was amazing — and then over Monte Rossa. The plane soon began its descent into Malpensa. We got off the plane and walked across the concrete (no wheelchair for La Nonna this time; she was strengthened by the air of her home land). “See, Goethe? La terra di Garibaldi! The air of liberty!”

Who was “La Nonna” you are no doubt asking, and what happened then?


Sometimes you go out for a walk only because your big white dog is yammering at you from the back yard yelling, “Human! It’s time! It’s time!” You agree, it is time, but the winds are gusting at 40 mph (64 kph) and it’s not all that warm. Not all that cold, either, but combine the wind with the 36 F (2 C) degree temps and it’s not Key West.

So you put on your fancy new wool and fleece mid-layer and your ultra-light semi-puffy jacket. You grab your new Buff, because, dammit, the wind in your face walking north isn’t going to be fun OR healthy. Your little fleece hat is in the pocket of your ultra-light jacket.

Things go OK until you get out in the open and you and your dog are blasted sideways, but you walked to school uphill both ways (actually, it’s true…) in the snow in Nebraska as a kid and this is NOTHING.

The wind has scoured the air and the clouds are low, bringing the sky within reach. Only a couple of undaunted ravens attempt to surf this wind. Un-trapped dead leaves dance past your feet. The patches of snow have not so much melted as evaporated.

You hope to see “your” herd of deer. You regret saying to them that you’re not friends. You’ve thought about it in the meantime and you think you might be. You hope you’ll see them, but the usual place is a mile straight into the wind the whole way. It doesn’t sound at all like fun, so you turn, resolving to take a Bear walk which is slow, rambling, lacking direction but revelatory of animal visits to your dog, anyway.

The fierce wind blocks out all sounds except the cry of a surprised raven. You stop while Bear does a thorough examination of the ground around a cottonwood. You look toward the train cars to see if your deer are anywhere around, but they aren’t. The walk continues when suddenly you notice someone has tagged the tank cars with the word, “Wild.” You love it.

You go on with no destination, stopping often for your dog to examine the ground. The sun has gone behind a small cloud, and the wind and light have brought a mountain close. The world has emptied of humanity and nothing remains but you and your dog, the immense Wild! beyond the train cars, the light and the mountain. In the strange solitude of this “ordinary” walk, you remember what you love and that it loves you.

For the Birds

When I’m not working on a novel, I have had a project, a piece of “creative nonfiction” though when I started it in 1978 or so I don’t think the term existed. It’s autobiographical fiction or fictionalized autobiography or autobiography about learning to writer fiction. Maybe it — like one of the protagonists — defies labels. 

It’s a strange piece. The speaker (it’s a first person story) is at that moment in life where she doesn’t know what to do, who she is. She has a lot of abilities but no direction. She’s poised for flight but doesn’t know if she has wings.

So I ended up titling it “Fledging.” It’s had several titles in its long evolution, but from this promontory, looking at it from the distance of forty years and knowing how the stories turned out, I can see what she was doing. And writing this book was part of her attempt to take wing. Who and what was she? Painter? Writer? World-traveler? Wife? No clue…

I don’t think it’ll ever be for sale. Maybe it’s just a thing I had to finish for myself. It’s got lots of bad writing — which makes sense because it’s about a person learning to write and only starting to discover her voice and understand the importance of refining skills.

I wrote it with a typewriter, retyped it innumerable times on my original Smith/Corona and then on my Smith/Corona correcting typewriter (replete with a small memory card), retyped it on my Amiga and then again on my Mac Classic and again on my MacBook Pro. This one? The one before? The one before that? I don’t know. 

Anyway, I love it and I’m proud of it — and her. That girl survived, endured and kept writing thanks to her plasticity and resilience. If she hadn’t, I wouldn’t be here in Heaven on this gorgeous blue and powdered-sugar snow day. 


Mom’s Illogical Demands

“We spent all that money on raincoats for you two! You didn’t even take them to school!”

“We didn’t know it was going to rain.” Wasn’t that HER job, to say, “Take your rain coats it looks like rain”?

“Get in here. You’re drenched. Get in the tub.”

“Me first,” says your brother, knowing there are cartoons.

OK now that made sense. Come home from school with your little brother, you’re both soaked from the rain storm and she tells you to get in the bathtub.

“Why?” you ask.

“You’ll catch your death. NOW!!!!”

You both run to your rooms. You wonder what you’re supposed to do while your brother is in the tub avoiding death.

“Get out of your wet clothes!!” yells your mom. “Throw them down the basement stairs!”

You take off your school clothes and run through the house in your underwear, open the basement door and throw your dress, slip, and socks down the basement stairs. Now you’re more or less naked in wet panties. This is madness.

“Billy! Get out of the tub, dry off good! It’s your sister’s turn!”

You hear the water begin its journey down down the drain.

“Dry off good! Maureen, get in there.”

Dry off and then get wet. You’re cold now, but you were fine before. Shivering, you go into the bathroom, turn on the water and get into the tub. “Can I have bubblebath?” you yell.

“I don’t care!” she yells back. “Just get into that tub.”

Your brother passes by the bathroom door in his pajamas. His red-blond hair spikey from being dried with the towel. He makes a face at you as he goes by.

“Stop looking at me!” you yell.

After a while your mother yells again, “Get out of there and get dried off. I need you to set the table.”

Life is an unsupportable burden. First you’re in trouble for getting wet in the rain you couldn’t predict or prevent. Then you’re yelled at for not getting into the bathtub already peopled by your brother. Then you’re yelled at for being IN the bathtub. You heave a sigh reflecting deep world-weariness as you let the water out of the tub. You drag your legs over the side, take your leaden towel from the rack and endure the effort of drying off your skin.

“I’m coming,” you yell back.




I’ve been watching the film Longitude because, well, I like it and second to get a better sense of the 18th century. I can see me watching Mutiny on the Bounty next.

The story in Longitude is about John Harrison who was a carpenter who loved clocks. He devised four different (the first one was immense!) clocks that could be used to determine longitude at sea. This was a very big deal because there was no way to do this. Harrison’s clocks worked, but did not turn out to be the tools that would ultimately be used onboard ships.

It became Harrison’s obsession to develop this clock — for several reasons not the least of which was the prize of 20,000 pounds. It was also because ships were lost at sea and people died AND such a tool would give the British fleet a competitive advantage.

This must have made a huge impression on me because, last night, I dreamed I was in a car with my friend L and we were lost. In the dream I looked down at the place where I often put my cell phone. There was Harrison’s clock. “Siri,” I said, “Whedahfukahwee?”


What’s funny about that is that I have never talked to Siri. Where I live — the uncharted waste of Southern Colorado — I have no data. I set sail into the the immense emptiness of the San Luis Valley with a paper map and  written directions.


A Walk to the Water by Daniel Graham


A Walk to the Water
by Daniel Graham, SilverWood Books, 2015, 302 pages

I like to hike, and I’ve enjoyed Daniel Graham’s WordPress blog, “Scuffed Boots,” so when I learned of his book, A Walk to the Water, I immediately ordered it. I communicate a bit with Graham through our blogs; we’ve exchanged the titles of books we’ve enjoyed, commented on each others walking stories, so I was very optimistic that I’d enjoy his book — I did.

Essentially, this is the story of a looonnnggg walk taken by Graham and his brother, Jake, from their home in Bristol, England (yes, it begins at their front door) to Menton on the French Riviera culminating in a jubilant dip into the Mediterranean Sea. At the end of the book, Graham does the math — 3000 km/1800 miles in six million steps over the course of four months mostly over the Grande Randonnée 5. When the moment comes that they must leave the G5 for a sub-route, the G5-2, Graham writes, “…we felt sad to be leaving the highs and lows of the foot-wide abrasion that had been our home for more than a quarter of a year.”

For the most part, the brothers spend their days and nights on the trail, pitching their tent — Ted — wherever they’re able to find level ground. The brothers endure the expected agonies — blisters, hunger, digestive problems. Throughout the journey, the reader meets friendly, helpful people Graham calls “Trail Angels,” endures slug infested boots, observes the hunting and gathering methods of ants, meets fellow wanderers such as “Tim,” “Spiritual” and “The Friendly Eyed-Scot.” Graham seems to view human beings with the same curious, well-humored perspective he turns to the insects he names.

Graham writes about being “addicted” to walking, something I’m pretty well acquainted with. While there is (no question) a chemical component to that, there is also something elegant and liberating about a trail. It conveys a certainty that normal meandering through daily life doesn’t. As the brothers confront their journey’s final days, Daniel asks his brother if he’s excited about finishing the hike, and Jake responds, “Yes and no. I’m a bit scared.” Graham himself wonders, “How would we survive without the small comforts that we had come to love from the path, and with that the grandeur of the animals and trees, the water and the rocks? It was going to be hard to adjust, and, like Jake, I, too, was scared.”

I enjoyed the book very much. Graham’s writing is clean and clear, in rhythm something like a walk on a trail, each moment deserving attention. He skillfully balances the emotional challenges — missing family and girlfriends, for example — with the wonderment the brothers feel, and share, at their adventure and nature’s small and large revelations. Graham is an observant hiker, and the book is filled with luminous descriptions of  “ordinary” things, for example, “…the route dropped into great meadows, where cattle-trodden terraces bloomed with sleepy buttercups, whilst huddles of gossiping mushrooms whispered beneath the shade of their golden caps.”

Love’s Lottery or The Last Straw

“Fucker could at least buy gas. God I’m sick of this.”
“What’s the matter, sweet cheeks?”
“Whenever we stop for gas, you vanish. I buy, and I pump the gas, you come back with some story about…”
“I got us a lottery ticket.”
“Yeah, that one. So that’s a buck, right? A buck you DON’T pay for rent or put toward food or gas or anything. I’m tired of this. It’s not fair. It’s wrong.” She thinks. She does not say.
“This could win us enough money so we never have to think about money again. I’m going to make it big. You want to go to the casino later? Two for one steak dinners.”
“Not really.” If he won? He’d keep all the money even though it was — ultimately — her dollar. She hated herself. All she’d gotten out of this relationship was fat. She knew it had to end but how would it end? She felt guilty — he had no job, no place to go, could she just THROW him out? What had he done other than LIVE OFF HER? Wasn’t that ENOUGH?

He drove her car everywhere — and when he got a short-term job (they were all short term, but well paid. None of that ever went toward their “joint” life) it was always in another city and it was HER car he took. “My tags are expired,” he’d say, but that wasn’t half of it. Three quarters of it was that he’d moved in with her because she lived in the country where the repo man would NEVER look for a Lexus. She’d had to RENT a car to get to her own job, the one that supported them. Finally, she’d bought a second car and gone into debt for it.

On the way home that afternoon, the decision made NOT to go to the casino, he said, “So we’re getting cable this fall, right? I mean, so I can watch the games.”
“No we’re not. Where did you get that idea?” She couldn’t possibly handle another bill. She was hard-pressed to handle the ones she had already.
“You said. We talked about it.”
“In your dreams. I need to pick up a prescription.” Anti-depressants but it suddenly occurred to her that the cure for her depression was an empty driver’s seat in THIS car. Or the car and driver could go away together. That would work, too. Yes. She’d GIVE him a paid for two year old car just to get RID of him.
“I’ll go get it for you,” he said.
“OK,” she replied, fighting the urge to drive away without him the minute she saw him walk in the door. But she didn’t. It seemed wrong. She puzzled over her absurd sense of justice. She would NOT violate it no matter what he did, not yet… “It’s coming,” she thought. “I wish it were now, but it isn’t. His days are numbered.”

Two weeks later, as she held the flashlight over the toilet tank so he could repair a disengaged part, he yelled at her. “Hold that goddamned thing where it’ll do some good.” A switch flipped in her brain and she set the flashlight down.

“Get out of here,” she said. “Get the fuck out of my house. I hate you. I wish you were dead.”
“You don’t mean that.”
She turned and walked outside to the patio, climbed up the stone retaining wall and went to her flower bed. There she occupied herself in trimming dead heads from tiny petunias. She felt a cool rush of peace, one of those Zennish moments.

The day went on and he didn’t leave. She let in the man who was going to hook up the new stove (more debt and the old stove worked fine). She did more work in the yard. She took a nap. He came to her and said, “I’m sorry for whatever I’ve done. I’ll make it up to you.”

She thought, “You’re going to make up three years of disintegrating finances and psychological abuse? How?” She said, “Get out of my house.”

Before she left that afternoon to see her therapist, she said, “You’d better be gone when I get back.”

He was, but he came back. She was ready. Her therapist had advised her, “If he leaves, he’ll come back. If he comes back, you leave. Give him a time limit and tell him if he’s still there when you get back, you’re calling the cops.” This she did. It pleased her.

The next day she found herself faced with a house filled with his stuff. He called. She said, “Your stuff will be in the yard. You have an hour to get it out of here. You must come between 10 and 10:30. If you don’t, I’m taking all of it to the Goodwill.”

She sold the semi-stolen Lexus for $500. It was something, some help, that the guy she sold it to would have to deal with the car’s very marginal status. That night, on her way to the toilet, she stepped on a scorpion. She found its dead little carapace the next morning. She reflected on the irony that the most recent ex’s astrological sign was Scorpio.

A week later, as she scrubbed out his room from top to bottom, she found a lottery ticket. A scratcher. So far only four of the numbers had been scratched off — 11 08 20 15. One left. “What if?” she wondered feeling around in her jeans pocket for a coin, then she looked at the date.

The ticket was four months old. “He never finished anything,” she thought. “Fucker.”

Dostoyevsky Said this about a Good Memory from Childhood

One good memory from childhood could save a man’s soul… I think he was right. Judy Dykstra Brown invited me to write on the subject of childhood memories and list ten good memories from my childhood so…

1. “The best pancakes in the world are at the depot,” said dad, waking up his sleeping kids. “You can wear your pajamas. Come on!” And it was THIS station and who knows? It could’ve been THIS day!

Union Station, Denver CO 1957

Union Station, Denver CO 1957

2. “Let’s go mail letters, MAK. Get your bike.” I got my bike (I was six) and my dad got his and we rode our bikes to the mailbox.

3. “Here’s your new brother. You must take care of him.” Suddenly there was a baby on my lap. I wasn’t much more than a baby myself, only 22 months older than the sleeping bundle wrapped in yellow blankets.

4. “The good Lord knows who should have girls and who shouldn’t,” said my grandmother combing the tangles out from my long hair in the back where I could neither reach nor see. “Your Aunt Jo has two boys and that’s as it should be.” She braided my hair. “You come down every day and I’ll fix your hair, Martha Ann.”

5. I ran across the field of golden grass, a big brown paper supermarket bag open behind me. When I stopped at the big oak tree, to collect some of its golden leaves for a school project, I saw the bag was filled with seeds it had harvested as I ran.

6. “Martha Ann, do you want to come out with me and get the eggs?” I rubbed the sleep from my eyes. It was still dark and cold in the living room of my grandma’s house where I was sleeping on two easy chairs pushed together. Of course I wanted to. I’d do anything with this woman whom I’ve grown up to resemble, who gave me her white, white hair. “Come on. Put on your coat and boots.” And out we went into the December Montana morning.

7. “Sometimes we have bad days, honey, and people are mean to us. Your cousins were mean to you today. They shouldn’t have taken your doll. They don’t understand that you love your doll.”

“Am I really a sissy, Aunt Jo?”

“No, honey. You’re a brave little girl. Here’s what I do when people are mean to me and I have a bad day. I go by myself and count my blessings.”

“What’s that?”

“You count all the things you are happy about, all the good things and things you’re grateful for. I’ll start. I’m grateful that you are here spending the summer with us. I never had a little girl and now you’re my little girl until your mom and dad come home. Your turn.”


Here’s my doll today. She lives with my step-grand-daughter. In this picture, my step-grand-daughter had just had a meltdown and went to tell my doll all about it. Another blessing for me to count!

 8. My dad was ill and not getting better. I knew he would not get better. I went to the VA hospital with him one afternoon and I know he got bad news from what he told me. When I got home, I had to get ready for my softball game. I lived for baseball, but this was the best we had because we were girls. I played center field. Most of the other girls couldn’t play very well so no one ever hit the ball out where I was. I stood in the sunlight sucking on my glove. Then I saw my mom and dad had come to the game. They were setting up a chair under a tree for my dad. My team was up. I hit one home run after another — six in all — just in that one inning because my dad was there and he was watching the game. The pitcher started rolling the ball over the plate, trying to walk me, the only way they’d ever get up to bat again. When we were finally out and I went back out to field nothing, my mom and dad left.

9. “Those are the mountains, MAK.” I looked over my dad’s ear at the far away blue shapes on the horizon and never forgot.

10. “Let’s go play catch, MAK, as soon as you’re done with the dishes.” I would give almost anything to have that chance again.

Best Preteen Memories

Rainbow Girls — Going to Billings with Hank, Mom and Kirk

It’s a summer night in 1957 and I lie on the back seat of the 55 Ford with my three year old brother. Together we about fill it with our sleeping bodies. The car has stopped. I wake up. “Where are we, mom?”

“Wheatland, honey.”

My Uncle Hank says, “I’ll go see if he’ll open up and sell me gas. The store lights are on. He can’t have been closed long.” The green neon Sinclair dinosaur in the window lights the parking stalls in front of the station. Pink and white neon lines the roof-line.

Once the car has stopped I sit up look out the window at the Wyoming night. Beyond the gas station, the city park, soft, summer darkness, out across the plains forever.

Suddenly there is a burst of girls in long frothy dresses, running and laughing. They run past us, their dresses lit momentarily by the neon of the gas station lights.

“Rainbow girls,” says my mom, thoughtfully. “The Lodge must be nearby.”

“What are rainbow girls?” I ask.

“It’s a club for teenage girls, honey. Your Aunt Dickie was a member.”

“They’re wearing long dresses!” I am five and in love with long dresses.


“Formals. They wear formals at their meetings.”

Uncle Hank comes back with the service station owner who unlocks the pumps and fills the tank. We’ll make it to Billings. My grandfather has died and my dad flew up that morning to be with his mother. I’m sure my uncle explained all this to the man.

Life prophesies itself.

1965, Bellevue, Nebraska. My dad has become a Mason and I am about to become a Rainbow Girl. My mom and I go to a Rainbow Installation of new officers. Installations are open to the public. I like the ceremony. I’m surrounded by girls in long dresses. I haven’t forgotten the night in Wheatland.

“An international Masonic organization for girls of teen age,” says the booklet I take home with me that gives me information about the group.

The Installation is beautiful. Each color of the rainbow represents a quality of life and of the spirit. Red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo and violet are the names of the first seven offices and then there are three more that are white — the color made by all the colors together in the light spectrum.  Red = love, orange = religion, yellow = nature, green = immortality, blue = fidelity, indigo = patriotism, violet = service. The white ones? Faith, Hope and Charity.

I hold two offices before I move away. I am yellow, nature, and violet, service. Oddly enough, the qualities represented by those two colors will describe my life as it turns out to be. My frothy dresses? I only have two. I sew one of them during my Gone With the Wind phase. It is white dotted Swiss with a big skirt and a sash. My mom makes the other, white lace fused on pale green backing. Very early 60s.

I loved it. I loved the pageantry and the colors and the ritual — and I learned something about music. The processional march we used was the March from Aida. Years and years later, at the Arena in Verona, I saw Aida and when the march began I was, for a moment, a girl in Bellevue, Nebraska watching the officers enter the room in their long dresses while a record played.


Advice — If You Need It, Take It…I Hope You Don’t. St. V’s Calls Me Daily to Tell Me about Kirk and to Tell Me Not to Come To Billings

“Is this Martha Ann?”


“Oh good. You’re hard to reach!”

“Yeah, I’m teaching all the time.”

“I’m Donna Rausch. I’m the social worker up here at St. V’s Hospital in Billings.”

“Hi.” My god, what had happened to my brother?

“I want to talk to you about your brother, William.”

Oh no, another person blaming me for neglecting him up there in Montana. I’ve already tried over and over to let him live with me until he got on his feet. It never worked. It… I think of him throwing lighter fluid on the walls of my apartment and then tossing lit matches at it. I think of many other things.

“OK. Uh, we call him Kirk.”

“OK. We’ll do that. I’m making a note. Martha Ann, you know your brother is an alcoholic, right?”

“Oh yeah.”

“Many family members of alcoholics don’t know. They just won’t see it. For YEARS they just don’t look at it straight on. Half my battle is getting the family to see it for what it is. I’m glad you already know about your brother and I don’t have to give you the news.”

I could imagine the rage this woman must have had to deal with trying to persuade families in denial that their loved one was a drunk. This woman had courage.

“The main reason I’m calling is to tell you NOT to come up here. Don’t come up here and get him. I know you want to. I know you want to take him down there to San Diego and help him, am I right?”

“Honestly, I have mixed feelings about that. I’ve done that before. More than once. I feel like I should come and get him, but I don’t want to.”

“So you know how well it works?”

I could swear she was chuckling ruefully on the other end. If she WERE, well, she wasn’t going to blame me. “It doesn’t work.” I was about to cry.

“No. Here’s what we’re doing. We’re keeping him here in the hospital until we’re able to collect from the state for his care. That will be about a month.”

I wondered what I would have to pay for this. I didn’t ask, but I wondered. I was sure that I would find that out. In the end, it was nothing, that time. “He’ll check himself out,” I said.

“He can’t. We’ve taken his clothes. Unless he wants to walk around Billings with his bare bottom, he’ll stay.”

“His friends will bring him clothes.”

“No visitors. We allowed him visitors at first, but two very seedy Indians came by. Later they came back and sneaked him a bottle of vodka. No visitors. Does he have any money?”

“He should, but I don’t know. Our mom died in March, and we got our inheritance last month. Last I heard he took his out of the bank and put it under his mattress.”

“Well, that’ll be gone. I have a hunch your brother sent them to his place to get money for booze.”

“He would do that.”

“That’s water under the bridge. If they took it, they took it. Do you have any family up here?”

“My aunts.”

“You might tell them about the money. They could go have a look. It would help us out a bit if he could pay for part of his care. I don’t expect that, though.”

I did not know if I wanted to do that — but I did. They offered to go to his place and look and I told them to go ahead if they thought it was a good idea. I was so beaten, I thought $20k was irrelevant. They must have thought I was nuts or careless. Or both, actually. In fact, I thought the last thing my brother should ever have was money. The second thing he should never have was a car. My mom had left him both.

“We have to get him sober and healthy and then we’ll see. It’s likely we’ll be sending him up to Havre to a good rehab facility.”

“HAVRE??? In December?”

“Yeah. Your brother’s timing wasn’t the best.” She WAS chuckling. “I’m going to call you every day until this is over to make sure you’re all right and that you don’t come up, OK?”

“I won’t come up.” I did not yet know the pressure I would get from family to do just that. When I told them about the social worker at the hospital and her calls, they thought I was lying. I was in for a couple of hard months and painful phone calls. My brother’s “situation” would divide the family.

“Your family is going to make it hard for you to stay there,” she said. “You have to stand your ground. You cannot help your brother. You have not succeeded in the past and you will not succeed now if you come up here. If you really want to help him, you’ll leave him where he is. We’ll do our best. I’ll call you tomorrow — is this a good time to reach you?” (This was in the 90s, before I had a cell phone, thank god. I only had to worry about this when I was in my actual house. I could not be molested by my brother’s stuff if I was not home.)

“Yes. I’m usually home until 10 am your time and now, except on Wednesdays. I have a night class.”

“OK, I’ll call you tomorrow around 5 your time. I’m here from noon till eight, so if later is better. You can call me back, too, if you’re not home. I just want to be sure I speak with you every day. You need an ally right now and that’s what I’m here for.”

By then, I was crying. “OK,” I said.

“It’s going to be OK, honey. But remember. This is not your fault. It is not your responsibility. Live your life and I’ll stay in touch with you until your brother is on his way to Havre, OK?” I nodded, a pretty useless response in a phone conversation, but I think she heard me. “Take care of yourself, Martha Ann. And remember; don’t come up here. You’re important, too. I’ll talk to you tomorrow.”