The Stucco Angel

Back in the late 90s, my brother — an incorrigible drunk — was picked up by the cops, taken to a hospital, dried out for four weeks (at the government’s expense because he was indigent), sent to rehab, brought back from rehab, put in a motel with a few bucks to get him started. Naturally, he got drunk. At that point he realized that he had no place to live. His landlord had evicted him from his apartment. All the money left him by my mom through the sale of her house was gone, apparently stolen from under his mattress by his drinking buddies. In short, he was up shit crick without a paddle.

I’d been given strict instructions from his social worker not to help him, not to send him money, to do what I could to push him into sobriety. He had already told me how little sobriety interested him, but…

So one late afternoon the phone rang. “Martha Ann? This is Kirk. Your brother.” I only ever had the one but this is what he always said when he called. “I just want you to know I’m OK. I’m living at the Montana Rescue Mission. It’s nice and they’re giving me a job.”

My brother was living at a rescue mission. I didn’t know what that meant, how to take it, nothing. I was numb inside from two years of trauma in my family — my mom dying, my brother self-destructing all while trying, in my own life, to patch things up and hold them together.

While I was on the phone, there was a knock at my front door. “Someone’s at the door. You want to call me back?” He said he’d call me the next day.

A neat and clean, poorly dressed man about 40 stood there with a stenographer’s notebook and a bag over his shoulder holding flyers.

“I’m here to invite you to a Thanksgiving Dinner.”

“Where?”

“At the San Diego Rescue Mission. It’s $2.50 a ticket.”

I felt very strange hearing that. “I’ll take two tickets.” I thought one for me, one for Kirk. “Do you live there?” I asked him.

“Yes.”

“Can you tell me what it’s like living at a rescue mission? I just talked to my brother on the phone and he’s living at a rescue mission now. He’s an alcoholic.”

“I can tell you.”

So we sat down on the stoop and he told me all about himself. His name was John and he’d been a drunk and a druggy, he said. Lost everything to his habits but he really wanted to be sober this time. He was a soft-spoken man, without the inexplicable charisma a lot of users have. “God will help your brother, if he lets Him.”

I didn’t doubt that.

“It will be good for your brother. He’ll be with a lot of people like him who are trying to do better. It’ll be easier for him without the pressure of all the people outside who judge and aren’t fighting that demon.”

I could see the logic there. We talked for nearly an hour and then he said, “I have to invite more people. What’s your brother’s name? This is my prayer list.” He showed me the steno notebook. “These are the people I pray for every day. I’ll add your brother’s name.”

“Kirk Kennedy.”

So my brother’s name went into that book and John was on his way with $5 for the dinner. I set my two tickets on the table and went out back to be with my dogs, never thinking I’d ever see John again, but I was wrong. He came by two weeks later to check on me.

“How’s your brother?”

“He’s doing all right.”

“So far,” said John. “Always remember, ‘so far’.”

“Yeah,” I laughed.

And John came back nearly every month just to be sure that I was doing all right. Then he disappeared. “Oh well,” I thought, “so far.” A year passed and I didn’t see John. Meanwhile, my brother had given up on the Rescue Mission, gone to Colorado, got a job with a friend, and seemed to be doing well. I went to Colorado and visited him. During the visit he did something that showed me that if there was a wagon, he’d fallen off and the wagon was long gone. That was the last time I saw my brother alive.

More time passed — four years? My brother headed back down that chute, though this time in Arizona. I was working four jobs, one of which was supporting him in rehab. Housing prices went up and I decided to move out of the “barrio” and up to the mountains if I could find a place. I did. There was work that needed to be done on my house before the deal could close. I was working frantically to get it done, but I was out of money. There remained a 12 inch bit of wall all around an enclosed veranda that needed to be stuccoed. My real estate agent was going to do it, but had a heart attack instead. I was given 10 days to patch that bit. On Friday, home from school early, I decided to try it myself. After all, I’d textured a lot of walls and I was a painter, but I quickly leraned that troweling stucco above my head was impossible. It was too heavy. As I was standing on the step ladder, giving up on the stucco, there was a knock at my front door and the dogs went wild.

You know what’s coming.

It was John.

“I haven’t seen you in a long time,” I said. “Are you OK?”

“I messed up and had to leave the mission, but I’m back.”

“I’m glad,” I said.

“How are you? How’s your brother?”

“My brother’s in rehab again and I’m OK. I sold my house.”

“THIS house? How could you sell it?”

“I want to move up to the mountains.”

“That’ll be nice.”

I thought for a minute, guys like John… “Hey John, in all your work, did you ever do stucco?”

“Yeah. That was my trade. Why?”

I told him my stucco problem. He laughed and said, “Where is it?”

And he did a beautiful stucco job for me.

“I want to pay you,” I said.

“No,” he said. “You can’t pay me. We’re friends. You’ve always been here when I’ve knocked on your door. You never judged me. Your brother costs you enough and I know you work hard. Let’s go get a pizza sometime. You can buy.”

I gave him my cell phone number so he could call me about the pizza, and he left. A few weeks later I moved up to the mountains and five weeks after that came the Cedar Fire, the worst fire in California history. I was evacuated from my new house, scared and all the emotions that come from finding oneself living in a place surrounded by flames.

I was driving down the freeway toward a friend’s house where I would wait out the fire with my dogs when my cell phone rang. “Hello?”

“Martha? This is John. I just want to know that you’re all right.”

“I’m all right. We’ve been evacuated, but I’m fine.”

“Are the dogs fine?”

“We’re all fine.”

“Thank God,” he said. “Well I gotta’ go. I’m on the mission’s phone. No personal calls.”

I never heard from John again.

You can’t create stories like this. Life writes them.

https://dailypost.wordpress.com/prompts/create/

Shade or Sun?

For the last few weeks, weird guys have been walking up and down my street. Living in a small town you know who does and doesn’t belong on your sidewalk, and these guys don’t. We have neighborhood watch and I told my neighborhood captains that something’s fishy, that I think someone is selling drugs to the west of me. And the drugs they’re selling — as this is Colorado — are not pot.

So on our walk last evening, Bear and I met up with one of the Neighborhood Watch Captains who told me he’d talked to one of the scuzzy looking characters and told him he should take another route.

I said, “That’s fine. It’s his addiction.” This led to a conversation about addiction. Those lead to sad personal stories. Luckily his wife came outside and interrupted us.

I’m an addict, but not the kind that anyone would say, “Oh, she’s an addict.” I’m addicted to addicts. I grew up with an addict and my brother was an addict and my grandfather — my dad’s dad — was an addict. There is a network in addiction and everyone in the family has a role to play.

My role is the role of “good kid” and what I do is make life easy for the addict. It makes me INCREDIBLY HAPPY to do this. I think my dad might have had that role in his family, too, because his sister became an addict, but not his mom. I think my dad may have had the job of defusing my grandfather’s drunken rages and taking care of his mother.

In this role the person gets good feelings from enabling. We are every con artist’s dream, we are the ultimate patsy. It’s very hard to explain this, but my therapist said it, “It feels like home. You feel comfortable around those people.”

I am afraid I fell into the trap yesterday. A normal person would hire a handyman based on recommendations, look for his license, all the concrete things that show “this is a guy to be trusted.” I didn’t do that. I hired him based on price, the fact that we ‘hit it off’ (somewhat important since he’ll be in my space for a while) and something else I cannot define.

Yesterday when he came with the contract, there were red flags that I didn’t notice right away. He talked openly about previous drug use, told me about his family, his hopes for the future and none of this brought up any red flags — but it should have. The contract was a boiler-plate contract from the internet which, again, should have seemed strange but didn’t. It didn’t spell out the work he is going to do and the costs involved. I didn’t pick up on that at the time, either.

Later in the evening, something gnawed at me, “Check out the Facebook page you hired him from” and I did. I looked at his recommendations — ONE, clearly fake leading to a fake page with photos of the kid he’d brought along as his assistant. The kid was cleaned up and “Christianized,” but it was him. I thought, “Shady.”

At three in the morning, though, I woke up fearing I’d been played — again. All the things I should have looked for and didn’t went through my mind. I saw the pattern and I saw that there’s probably no way in the world that I will ever fully escape it. Now I have to deal with this.

He has a small deposit. He’s supposed to show up Monday morning. If he does show up when he says he will, then…the other side of it is MAYBE HE’S TELLING ME THE TRUTH and he is a young dad trying to start a life in a new state. That’s the other side of this. Knowing what I know about myself I find it very, very, very hard to trust my own judgment.

There’s also the fact that back when I lived in “the hood” and was really poor, if I needed home repairs, I pretty much hired any itinerant workman who showed up at my door. It always worked out.

https://dailypost.wordpress.com/prompts/paragon/

First Time Free, Baby (but Afterwards, It Costs a Lot)

In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “Wicked Witch.” Write about evil: how you understand it (or don’t), what you think it means, or a way it’s manifested, either in the world at large or in your life.

For a large part of my life I did not believe in Evil. I believed it was an idea made up to further enrich the self-images of those who believed themselves to be the elect, sort of a Biblical “Ni-ner-ni-ner.” I confused the metaphors used in the Bible to explain evil with evil. It took me a long time to understand why God was so hard on Eve. In fact, he was just telling her that it’s a lot easier to follow instructions and live in bliss than to surrender to temptation and reap the consequences. I always stood up for Eve in Sunday school, but the fact is, I didn’t get it.

Now I know that the metaphors are universal and evil is real. It is as concrete and palpable as Good and there is a fine line between the two. Evil is everything it’s cracked up to be, and the road there is familiar to everyone who’s read or heard any of the Earth’s mythologies. Each one offers a map and the maps are nearly identical.

I learned about the existence of Evil from the choices my brother made. He started out pretty much like every kid in a middle class American family with educated parents, but he had a glitch from the very beginning. I don’t know where it came from and I don’t know what it was. It can and has been blamed on our unhappy family situation, my dad’s MS, the times in which we were teenagers (the late 60s/early 70s), whatEVER.

Toward the end of his life — when I had backed off from attempting to save him from his choice to drink — I began to see the metaphor was no metaphor. At some point, he gave in to the temptation of alcohol. He was really tempted. Not everyone is. I wasn’t — I tried it, got blasted, got sick, hallucinated, alienated friends and lost my glasses (all in one night, my 19 year old experiment with vodka). It wasn’t fun. The euphoric moment lasted only a little while and then it was misery (and shame). I ended up like many people, drinking occasionally and usually not drinking at all. It was no temptation for me ever.

But my brother was really tempted. And whatever high I got from booze, I think my brother’s was much higher. I also believe that being a goofy drunk guy absolved my brother from the responsibility of being a talented artist and a father. He was tempted by that, too. I imagine the road of his life as one crossroads after another in which the choice was always the same; “Drink” and “Don’t Drink.” The road goes down hill, into a ravine, but at first the sides are gentle and it seems easy to turn around. Over time, the sides of the ravine became ever steeper, and, anyway, life sober was filled with responsibilities to himself and others. Tempting, always, to turn away from that. Who would expect a guy lying face down in a pool of vomit to do anything, right?

I always imagined that if he got help and if he got sober and if he were cared for he’d do what I would have done. He was in full-on rehab twice, both times in the hospital, where he was cared for and then in rehab facilities that were — according to him — very, very nice. Both times he was given structure and routine, counseling, clothes, care. He always sounded like my brother when he called me from these places and my heart always soared in hope. I always thought, “Now he’ll see how great life is and how great he is and he will stop drinking!” That is, by the way, the choice made by every recovering alcoholic I had known, a choice based on THAT revelation. My brother’s actual response to these attempts by others to effect his salvation? “You don’t understand, Martha Ann. I like to drink.”

My brother was very far down that ravine when he was pulled up and put in rehab. It was too hard to make the climb OR (and I think this is most likely) he just didn’t want to. It was much, much easier (and more pleasant) to drink. Over time, I truly believe, evil had won and there was no longer any chance for him to climb out of the hole even if he’d wanted to. After a while, even his physical misery was nothing compared to the escape he got from a bottle.

I know that there are people who say “alcoholism is a disease” — and I agree, but it is a disease of the soul. And it is a disease — all addiction is this disease — that can only be cured by the patient. It’s difficult because surrendering to temptation is easier in the moment than fighting the demons within. Deep down in the ravine, it’s almost impossible to see the sky and it’s much easier not to look.

When my brother died, he was working on a painting of St. George in a battle with Satan.

I had to fight a correlative temptation, the tempting illusion that my actions would change what my brother chose. Deep inside I saw it as a battle between good and evil (I was the force for good; booze was the force for evil). It was very, very hard for me to abandon my (prideful? hubristic? loving?) illusion of power and accept that this was my brother’s battle in which the only part I could play — if I remained engaged — was that of enabler. I could only contribute to the evil I wanted to fight if I stayed embroiled in the situation, sending him money, offering moral support and sympathy.

It made me reassess the meaning of compassion. It was difficult to see that I had to care for myself, or I would not exist any more just as my brother’s existence was ever more tenuous. I had to abandon the idea that even after I walked away from him, I would be standing on top of the ravine as a beacon of inspiration and light toward which he would ultimately climb. I had to let go completely.

So in the matter of good and evil, most wise, most clear, is what is written in the I-Ching in Hexagram 43, “Break Through.”  “…the best way to fight evil is to make resolute progress in the good.” 

***

A Cure for Self-Inflicted Misery

Daily Prompt Placebo Effect If you could create a painless, inexpensive cure for a single ailment, what would you cure and why?

Self-inflicted misery is one of the most prevalent ailments. I’d create a cure for that. A cure already exists, but it’s not painless and is not always inexpensive. My cure would allow patients to see things as they really are and to find the power to make choices that would allow them to escape the misery.

Why do I believe this is important? Life brings with it enough misery, miseries over which we have no control and with which we must contend. Adding self-inflicted misery to the misery already existent in life is just, uh, well, masochistic?

Many people who suffer from self-inflicted misery have no idea that they have created their misery culture themselves and are making it worse by identifying with their own suffering. It’s very difficult for these patients to see anything else, another life, other possibilities. They often use friends and loved ones for moments of pain relief and catharsis before they turn around and crawl back to the hell-hole they’re digging for themselves. Sooner or later, friends and loved ones give up, seeing there’s not going to be any improvement and that the patient seems to LIKE hurting themselves.

For example — a young woman is in an emotionally abusive relationship with a boyfriend she’s been with for a decade. She thinks, “Wow, every evening, when he’s about to come home, I get terrible anxiety. What do I do wrong? How can I fix it so he doesn’t get upset with me? I know he loves me and he always calms down after he smokes a bowl. I’ll just do better. Then it will be OK.”

If she had my remedy, she’d think, “Wow, every evening, when he’s about to come home, I get terrible anxiety. Why? OH it’s because he goes apeshit when he gets here, says mean and hurtful things, yells at me, and then he smokes a bowl and calms down. That’s a crappy way to live. He’s either mean or wasted. This is not a relationship. I don’t want to be in this situation any more.”

My cure would make the patient see that — for whatever reason (which doesn’t actually matter) — the guy is an asshole to her. My cure would help her realize that she can find a life without him. My cure would give everyone suffering from  self-inflicted misery the ability to understand that the past is the past, and their life is in the future.

It would cure the incorrigible drunk; instead of thinking, “Oh man, I gotta’ get a drink. I feel awful,” the drunk would think, “Whoa, this shit is killing me. No wonder I feel awful.” The junkie, the meth head and other substance abusers would experience similar epiphanies.

My remedy would be not only a cure but a diagnostic tool. It could be administered to a miserable person and if they suddenly began to seen objective reality as it is, and begin preparing to take action, it would be clear that their ailment is self-inflicted misery.

My cure would save millions of dollars. It would repair broken families. It would empower pain addicts to transcend their solipsistic preoccupations by showing them that suffering is an absurd way for them to define themselves and is no more real than joy, enthusiasm, happiness, peace, generosity or kindness.

“Most people are about as happy as they make up their minds to be.” Abraham Lincoln.

P.S. WordPress, a placebo is not a cure. It’s the illusion of a cure. I hope you know that, but just in case…

https://dailypost.wordpress.com/dp_prompt/placebo-effect/

Reincarnation Cont. Dude & Lamont

Daily Prompt Forgive and Forget? Share a story where it was very difficult for you to forgive the perpetrator for wronging you, but you did it — you forgave them.

“At least in each of our lives we’ve been someone — or something — different, right Dude? I mean, has it ever happened before that we were both people?”

“Hmmm, let me think. I don’t know. Probably, right? I mean this old planet has been around the block a time or two and we’ve always been here, as long as there have been microorganisms.”

“The SUN, Dude, it’s been around the SUN.”

“You wrote this prompt before. It was one of your first ones.”

“Believe me, I remember. I wrote about my brother. I don’t want to write about that any more.”

“You’ve had other stuff to forgive and forget. You could write about the Evil X.”

“I have neither forgiven nor forgotten that. I won’t. It was an object lesson in something. I could have done without it but it’s all a learning experience.”

“How about that time you chased me down and ate me?”

“WHICH time, Dude? That’s happened a lot. I mean, it’s all kill or be killed out here in the evolutionary fun run. You got me plenty of times.”

“Probably evens out.”

“Yeah, but who’s keeping score?”

 

https://marthakennedy.wordpress.com/wp-admin/post-new.php

Tyger

Daily Prompt Fearful Symmetry Pick a letter, any letter. Now, write a story, poem, or post in which every line starts with that letter.

William Blake wrote a poem about tygers. In that poem he described tygers as having a “fearful symmetry.” Knowing the poem is about a tyger, a reader can see, in just that description, the movement and beauty of a tyger about to attack.

More than once I’ve been described as a tyger. The first time was my therapist, a great French woman I started seeing for help dealing with the guilt and fear I felt when I realized I had to cut off contact with my brother. I had a list of therapists given me by the insurance company. I called the closest four, two returned my calls. One of them had a French accent. I was immersed in French films at the time so I picked her. There was something in the films that “fit” me and I decided anyone from a culture that produced those movies might be good for me. She was. It just so happened that her area of expertise was helping the families of addicts. That first day, after listening to me, she said, “Ze alcohol is ze worst, Maretha. Heroin? Yes, it is a bad sing, but ze heroin addict dies quickly. Wis ze alcohol ze person can live a long time and ruin more people’s lives before zey die.”

French. Worked for me. The same dark thread of truth that ran through the films.

On my first visit she gave me homework. I was supposed to “be nice” to myself. I went home determined to do that or else… 😉 So… I took myself shopping. I didn’t know where to start with this, so that’s what I did. Never mind I don’t like shopping. I decided to buy something nice for myself. As I walked across the parking lot to Macy’s in Mission Valley I thought, “This isn’t easy.”

Other things I was supposed to do to be nice to myself included forgiving myself for the choice I’d made to stop talking to my brother until he decided to stop drinking. My brother was an incorrigible drunk, and I had been working an extra job to put him through rehab (for the third time). He’d gone through rehab and had been given housing as long as he remained sober. I’d learned that he’d leapt eagerly “off the wagon” and was again going to be homeless. I didn’t think I could handle this whole thing again. I was exhausted, demoralized and felt like a failure. Every time I picked up the phone and heard my brother’s voice, I felt an abyss open inside me. “I need money.” I’d finally reached a point where I couldn’t do it any more, but I didn’t know what else to do. Support and advice from people who loved me convinced me to cut him off. “Call me when you’ve stopped drinking, OK?” I said and hung up. I cried for hours afterward.

That’s why I was in therapy. I wanted to kill myself. Actually “want” is too strong a word. I was afraid I would kill myself. I didn’t want to. There were just times when the guilt and fear for my brother were so strong they were nearly unbearable.

“Did you do your homework?”

“Yes.”

“How were you good to yourself?”

“I took myself shopping.”

“Did you buy yourself something.”

“Cologne.”

“Good. When you smell it, you should sink, ‘zis is ze smell of my freedom’.”

Wow. I got homework after our second session. I had to learn not to punish myself for letting down people who were not even there, my mom, my brother.

“Ze super-ego is very strong in you, Maretha.”

“What’s that? I never studied psychology.”

“It is ze parent. Ze voice zat says ‘Maretha, you should do zis, you should do zat, you aren’t good enough’.”

“Oh.”

“Ze super-ego is a good sing, too, but it is not everysing. Zere is a little girl inside you, too. Were you ever a little girl? I sink not so much. You had a big job to do in your family. You had to care for your parents. Your dad, he was sick. Your muzzer, I sink she was an alcoholic, no?”

I started to cry. France handed me a tissue.

“It is normal. You can see how that little girl had a job too big for her. How can a little girl do zat job? But you needed a family, you were dependent, you needed zem, so you did what you could to keep zem functioning. You could not succeed. You see yourself as a failure, but what you are is a survivor.”

“Wow,” I said. “I never saw that.”

“No. We cannot see so well in ze middle of sings.”

“What’s my homework this week?”

“I don’t have to give you homework any more,” said France. ‘You are figuring zat out for yourself. Ze fact is, Maretha, you are a tyger. You see what you need and you go after it. Nussing can stop you. You are very fierce, actually a little scary.”

“Is it a bad thing?”

“No. Tygers, zey are beautiful. If you were not a tyger, you would not be here now. I sink only a tyger could survive your childhood.”

A tyger? Her explanation gave me so much to think about. I left and persisted in trying to be nice to myself. It helped to remind myself that it was impossible for me to save my brother from what he had chosen to do with his life. His life was his job, not mine. I gave myself the homework to understand that he had the right to make his choices, even bad choices, even sad ones. He had the right to make choices that would take him away from me. As France’ words penetrated more deeply into my mind, I began to see the entire dynamic of my family in a new way. Yes. I’d always been determined to be “normal” and to function and to survive. I’d fought back. I also saw that was why I was sober and had held my life together.

Later that day I reread Blake’s poem and saw how Blake’s tyger was formed in fire of hard elements, of darkness and night’s pinpoints of light. Roar.

The Tyger, written and illustrated by William Blake

A really good song and an even better (cuter) video. You’ll enjoy it! I promise!

https://dailypost.wordpress.com/dp_prompt/fearful-symmetry/

Reprise…

Daily Prompt Hindsight Now that you’ve got some blogging experience under your belt, re-write your very first post.

If it’s all the same to you, Daily Prompt, I do not want to rewrite that first post. It was a very good prompt, though. Not easy to write and not obvious. It was not a yes/no question and it had some complexity. Here is that post, by the way. Anyone who reads it will quickly understand why I might not want to rewrite it. It deals with addiction, loss and other very cheery topics.

P.S. I get your stragedy here, WordPress Daily Prompt Mavens. Your idea is that a person who stays with this for a short time will see they can write better now than they did back THEN. That is not a relevant stragedy for someone like me or any of the other experienced writers who turn to the daily prompt for their varied reasons (entertainment being one — that used to be mine). If I’m going to rewrite something — and I have rewritten some of my posts to improve their structure and various other things with an eye to submitting them for real publication — it will be something I’ve chosen. Not because I’ve got “blogging experience” “under my belt.”  If you ever READ anything we write you might see it differently and take your job more seriously. I don’t know exactly WHAT you do but it can’t be that much work that you can’t do better by this one aspect of WordPress which certainly brings you business. Or maybe you don’t need the business? Maybe you only need a bunch of random people to start up and go for six months and bail (as fully a third of the blogs I follow have done).

https://dailypost.wordpress.com/dp_prompt/hindsight/

Wake Me Up

Fall semester 2013 I was already conscious that I was nearing the end of my life as a teacher. Though I hadn’t “set” a target date or anything like that, I felt it “in my bones.” I say that as if intuition were something special, but in my case it’s only my mind working things out on my behalf without allowing my consciousness to mess things up.

I had two classes in a building apart from campus in classrooms over Starbucks. Both classes were great and I was sure that they were great partly because we all felt a little less like we were at school. Both classes were alive and active and brave. In one of the classes was a student who was very attractive to me — no, no, no don’t get the wrong idea. Not that way.

As I got to know the kid I learned he’d been a junky. I learned the circumstances of that and how he’d pulled himself out of it. As with many addicts he was way more alive than most people. I sometimes think that some addicts begin using booze or drugs as a way to dampen themselves, to tone down their energy or intelligence, something just so they can fit in. Sure, lots of people use drugs or booze to have more fun, but I think others use them as a way to have LESS fun, if that makes any sense. This kid was one of those. So here he was, 33, back in school. He quickly fell in love/lust with a classmate, a hot and smart Russian girl who cheated on exams.

Driving to school one afternoon I heard this song by Avicii and I thought, “Wow that’s about the kid” and hearing it more often I thought, “Wow, that’s about me.” I heard the song often and eventually bought it. I was thinking a lot about addiction and intelligence teaching this kid. As the semester went on, I realized how much he looked like my brother,  another explanation for the instant rapport and fascination. “Look,” I said one day, pointing my laptop screen in his direction.

“Who’s that?”
“My brother.”
“Wow. That’s weird.”
“I know.”
“It’s like looking in a mirror.”
“Yeah.”

I walked to my car that night the song in my head, thinking, “But I am older.”
“You’re still not awake,” answered that random other side of my mind. “If you were you’d see things as they are.”
I began to wonder what I wasn’t seeing and I started to look for it. Finally I did see it. I had to. It wasn’t fun to look at; it was disappointing. It made me sad and frustrated but it set me on the path I had to take.

People have often asked me how is it that I’m sober when my brother was an alcoholic and my mom, too. Why? Well, seeing that would be enough to sober up anyone, but I also don’t think I am sober. I learned a long time ago that work away from home could give me independence financially and personally. It got me out of the house and helped me move my life forward. Teaching always gave me an incredible high — that is until 2010 when a student physically assaulted me over an A-. At that moment, part of me began waking up. Was teaching my calling or was it a drug? What would I have done in these 35 years if I had not been a teacher? My brief stint as a free lance writer taught me that I didn’t want to be a “pen for hire.” The expense of being a painter was one thing that kept me from being a painter. I think. Or maybe deep in my soul I knew (or simply dreaded?) that I was not good enough. One thing about addiction is that it lets the addict off the hook. The direction is clear. Get more stuff. One imperative. An addict can succeed at the one thing the addict cares about — the stuff to which he/she is addicted. In addiction an addict hides from the failure they fear.  I saw that while I might love teaching (I did) I was also afraid of other dreams. The imperative to earn a living is real, and I never stopped writing and painting, regardless how many classes I was teaching. That should have shown me something but I was not awake to it.

“I’ve really enjoyed being in your class, Martha,” he said. Most students called me Professor Kennedy, but coming from him, that sounded weird. He had sensed this and didn’t use it.
Usually when we talked the conversation went off in the same kinds of crazy directions my conversations with my brother had gone. I really liked this kid. I knew he had been in my class to teach me just as much the other way around. “Thanks. I’ve enjoyed knowing you, too.”
“I’m sorry I won’t see you any more and we can’t talk any more.”
Unlike the kid, I’d been through this thousands of times. A teacher is an important figure in a student’s life for a term, or a year, or a few years, very occasionally forever. “Me too., but you know, I don’t make friends with students any more. I used to, when I was younger, sometimes, but I haven’t for a long time.”
“I can understand,” he said. “You’d have a shitload of friends!”
“Yeah. I don’t even connect with most students on Linkedin.”
“You’d have what, like a billion connections?”
We laughed.
“Here’s my real email.” I wrote it on a piece of paper that I was sure he would lose. “We can meet up next semester for a coffee or something.” Beginning to end it was a gesture. He put it behind his drivers license in his wallet. In that moment I made the break. I took the first step out of the world in which I had hidden for 35 years.

I walked through the parking structure that night knowing that I would be teaching only a few months longer. I didn’t want to live in a world any more in which I was a role and a function. I woke up. A little. So here I am in the summer of 2014, cleaning, painting, repairing and packing, hoping to be able to quickly shed the chrysalis.

http://dailypost.wordpress.com/dp_prompt/musical-marker/

Kindness of the Gods

Writing Challenge Honey versus Vinegar Small moments of kindness peaek through our everyday lives, from your neighbors’ “Good morning!” to a surprise “I’ll take care of that for you” at the office. This week, we want you to explore what that kindness means to you, and share it with others. 

 

In 2010 my brother — a hardcore alcoholic — died. None of his friends or family knew about it until five months afterward. I was devastated, naturally. I’d “cut off” my brother six years earlier when his constant demands for money and his absolute lack of awareness about anything in my life or his daughter’s life was too much. I always hoped that he would want us enough after a while to stop drinking. I have known people who made that choice — family vs. booze. My brother chose booze. And, right now I do not want to hear anything about “it’s a disease; they can’t choose” because the reality is that yes, addiction is a disease BUT the only cure lies in the hands/mind/heart of the addict. There is NO OTHER cure. Simple cure, horrendously difficult to accomplish. If you believe otherwise, you’ve bought into the addict’s con and my prayers go out to you.

When I learned of his death, I contacted one of his friends. We did work to confirm it. I was left, then with finding his body. After some effort it was delivered to me — ashes — by my sweet, friendly and dog-loving postal worker. She had no idea what she was handing me over the fence, but there was my brother.

My brother was my best friend. I loved him with all my heart and soul. So, as it happened, did many others. When the news got out I made a Facebook group for his friends. My brother was an artist and soon photos of his works began to appear on the page. Memories and stories appeared, also. Then, one of his friends from high school held a wake for him. I couldn’t go (it was in Colorado and I’m in California). They filmed it as it was going on and I watched it on Facebook and commented — as if, almost, I was there. I saw my brother’s friends, all of whom were from his teens and twenties. I felt I had met them and knew them and loved them.

Three years later I went to Colorado to give a paper. By then I’d made Facebook relationships with some of my brother’s friends. We planned a small “service” for him and a dispersal of some of his ashes which I shipped ahead in case TSA didn’t like the stuff that looked exactly like gunpowder. I met some of these people for the first time. Others for the first time in more than 40 years. My friend, LM, and her husband cooked a brunch for everyone who would be coming. We sat in her living room and talked about my brother and about addiction and about each other and where life had brought us all. When the time was right, we took my brother’s ashes up to a place we had all loved as young people, to rocks on which my brother and I used to climb. I put some ashes between a cedar tree and a juniper tree, and one of my brother’s friends tossed some of my brother into the air.

I did not know these people. Many had not seen my brother in decades. ALL of them — all of us — had had some terrible experience with him. They were there to memorialize my brother, but they were also there for me. Never in my life have I experienced anything like that. I felt as if my brother — now in some place where he’s no longer tormented by the demons that pursued him — brought me to his friends. Perhaps he was finally able to see how golden they are. Perhaps  he knew I would love them. In any case, out of it and their kindness, have come friendships that I treasure with all my heart. I almost cannot believe my good fortune awakening from the sorrow and darkness of my brother’s life and my life with him into such a circle of kindness.

 

http://dailypost.wordpress.com/dp_writing_challenge/honey-versus-vinegar/

Con Artists Are Everywhere

Daily Prompt: Brilliant Disguise: by Krista on March 14, 2014 Tell us about a time when someone had you completely fooled, where the wool was pulled right over your eyes and you got hoodwinked, but good. Was it a humorous experience or one you’d rather forget? What was the outcome?

Ha.

“Quit being so gullible, Martha Ann. People will take advantage of you. If someone offered to sell you the Brooklyn Bridge, you’d buy it.”
“What’s the Brooklyn Bridge?”
“That’s beside the point.”
“Is someone going to sell me a bridge?”

I heard this as a very small child and over and over and over and over again. I’m easily conned and I’ve been conned royally all my life. Conned to the extent that I want to punch the Daily Prompt for even implying it can be funny to be “hoodwinked.” My life has been an extended and sometimes sadistic April Fools joke.

My mom was (as I’ve written before) a secret alcoholic. THAT was a con job. My brother grew up to be, also, an addict. Addicts are cons. They have to be because if they were WHO THEY ARE in front of their marks, the mark would never “help” them by giving them money, a place to live, etc. etc. etc. Addicts need the peace, freedom and safety with which to pursue their career choice. The dynamics of a family in which there is a drunk in charge are pretty standard; these families require a patsy. In my family, I was the patsy, the fool who held their lives together, believed things would change, believed what they said, believed I was at fault, and, paradoxically, believed I was the only one who could fix our broken world. (I will add that I’m also the last man standing, so maybe not such a patsy after all! 😉 )

My mom was right. My gullibility might have served her ends, but it has made it easy for people to take advantage of me. An even MORE interesting phenomenon is that I seem to emit “patsy” pheromones. Cons can spot (smell?) me MILES away. This strange quality led to the descent (as in predator onto prey) of the Evil X whom I ejected from my life with violent verbiage in 2008. I listened to this song over and over bringing Mr. iPod into the sacred automotive precincts of Mohammed’s Radio:

http://dailypost.wordpress.com/2014/03/14/daily-prompt-brilliant-disguise/

Victims or Perpetrators? 🙂

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  6. Daily Prompt: Brilliant Disguise | The Road Less Travelled By
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  8. Boundaries and Abuse | ALIEN AURA’S BlOG: IT’LL BLOW YOUR MIND!
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  10. DP Daily Prompt: Brilliant Disguise | Sabethville
  11. Day 73: The Body Is A Brilliant Disguise | The Sacred Architecture of Here and Now
  12. The Dancer | My Little Avalon
  13. Surprise! | meanderedwanderings
  14. Daily Prompt: Brilliant Disguise | seikaiha’s blah-blah-blah
  15. The Jokester | Lisa’s Kansa Muse
  16. Daily Prompt: Brilliant Disguise « Mama Bear Musings
  17. The Prankster gets Punked | The Ravenously Disappearing Woman
  18. Hoodwinked
  19. A genetic whatsit containing a pretty low gullibility factor | thoughtsofrkh
  20. Daily Prompt: Brilliant Disguise-Psychiatryc Side of Ego and Foolishness | Journeyman
  21. There’s No Foolin Me! | Musings | WANGSGARD
  22. Daily Prompt: Brilliant Disguise | imagination