Thursday, December 29, 2005

The oldest one

I walk in the door from work -- it's late, 7:30 at night, and go right to check on the cat. The vet said to call him tomorrow if she's not better. She's not.

She's lying on her side, half-in and half-out of her bed, as if she fell over while trying to move and couldn't get back up. Her mouth is shut, eyes open, and she's breathing rapidly -- short, shallow breaths. I lean closer and see that the white fur on her legs is wet -- she's leaking some mucousy fluid from her nose.

"Oh, Kitty." I lean over her to stroke her forehead and she raises her head, snarling at me, no recognition in her glassy eyes.

I call my oldest, who picked out this kitty as his own when he was seven years old. "Joe, the cat's dying."

His voice cracks: "Okay, I'll come right home."

When he arrives, red-eyed, we place her on his lap and he sits on the laundry room floor with her, stroking her long fur. I give them some time alone, sure she'll be gone within an hour, maybe two.

We move around the house quietly, stilted. Joe's so broken up; it seems rude to talk, to cook, to eat. Eventually he moves to the couch, and my husband suggests we watch a movie to ease the silent grief. March of the Penguins: perfect. We all hustle into our chairs as if it's the most important thing we could be doing at that moment. And maybe it is.

We make small talk during the movie as the cat continues to lie on Joe's lap, motionless, and he continues to stroke her fur as he always does, always has. The movie is fascinating, as we've heard it is, and the hours slowly ease by.

When the movie ends and Joe stands to take the cat downstairs to his room, my heart breaks. The image will stay with me for some time: him, a big, strapping 20-some-year-old, standing there at the top of the stairs with his beloved cat in his arms. The cat is on a blanket in a shallow box, and he's holding her in front of him gingerly, as if she's on a tray. He's carrying her down to his room to die during the night. He's crying, and I hug him a long time before he goes downstairs with her. It seems so cruel: sending him to his room with her to die. But that's what he wants, and he's a big boy now.

Neither my husband nor I sleep much. When I do, I'm dreaming bad dreams. My youngest is kidnapped while he's at camp. They don't tell me about it for three weeks. I arrive, furious, and go to find him. I do, and it turns out to be a former friend of my husbands. We chase the guy, and my husband leaps from the car to beat him up. I flee with my youngest. That dream mercifully ends, but the next one is bloody, and the one after that full of gravesites. Every time I wake up, I wonder if she's died yet, if my son is lying in the dark stroking the fur of a dead pet.

Morning comes and she's still alive. We agree to take her to the vet to be euthanized.

It's an awful drive, and though I haven't cried yet over the kitty, I do now. Hard. Very hard. I'm almost sobbing in the vet's office, and Joe and I hold one another. It's over quickly, and we drive home with her, with the stench of death in the small car. He wants to bury her on our property.

I know pets get into our hearts and claim a small portion of them, and we don't realize until times like these how deeply entwined they are. But I also wonder how many of my tears and sobs -- Joe's, too -- are unrelated to the cat. How many of them are just leaking out of that vast well of sadness that sits just under the surface now? You can't cry over your addicted child, because hey, he's doing well now. You hope. But you can cry over the cat, and so you do: you sob, you feel the agony. And you wonder what the source of the agony really is.

Joe is out at our property right now, digging a deep hole in the frozen soil, handling his pain in a way that may ease it, attacking the frozen ground with a pick axe. The pain is so intense; you know it can't be just from a cat, wonderful as she was. You look into your kid's red-rimmed eyes, and he looks into yours, and you think about this day exactly one year ago, when your other son was in the hospital and you were making plans to take him, sick and huddled under a blanket, across the country to gawd only knows what future. At that time you also looked into this son's red eyes, and you felt the pain together then, too. And you love this oldest son, oh, how you love him as you prepare to bury his beloved cat.


Wednesday, December 28, 2005

The cat

Looks like our beloved cat of 15 years may be dying. Just got back from the vet's (again), where he's now gently suggesting she may need to be put to sleep if she doesn't get better before the weekend.

Whew. A bit hard to take, you know?


Monday, December 26, 2005

Out of kilter

Today, tonight, right about now, one year ago exactly. That was when my oldest came and sat on this very couch to tell me about his brother's heroin addiction. God almighty. One year.

This week, the week between Christmas and New Years, is always emotionally significant for me. My birthday falls in this week, so between the two holidays, my birthday, and the kids being home from school, it's always like a week removed from my real life. Some years I've taken this week to go on writing retreats. So in general this week is always very emotional for me, a time of change and a feeling of huge import.

Last year it was the week my world shattered.

This year I just feel displaced. Like soemthing is supposed to be happening...but what? To be honest I'd just about give my bottom dollar to be able to leave work and stay home and write. I'm also hungry, hungry for my son in Cali -- not for him, per se, but to be WITH him. I was in Cali with him last year at New Years, settling him into rehab and living on the razor-sharp edge of fear for his life. It just seems wrong, now, to be sitting here on this couch looking at a Chirstmas tree devoid of gifts and not be DOING something to effect change of some sort. Good Gawd, could I please just DO something? Something big, something major? My husband hinted the other day that he might be transferred to another state for work and my heart nearly leapt out of my chest with glee: YES, let's pack up and move! Let's do something radical. Please, please, can we do something radical?

But of course we won't. I will wake up tomorrow and put on nice slacks and a blazer and drive to my office and return phone calls and write safety training articles and life will resume its normal kilter. But now, tonight, oh, how displaced I feel.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

A fresh snow

He hugs me for a long moment. "Bye, Mommy." His name for me when he's being affectionate. He hugs so long I wonder if he's fallen asleep on my shoulder.

I kiss his stubbled cheek. "Call me when you get back to Cali."

My husband waits, the truck running. We're at the opening pages of a major snowstorm, and he's eager to get started on the hour-long drive to the airport.

It's 5:30 am. I'm in my bathrobe; they're dressed and ready to leave. The feeble hall light falls around us as Logan hesitates, not quite ready to leave.

Something transpired during this brief trip. I'm not sure what, but something did. There's some easiness to this, some trust. I let him go out last night. He thanked me. He came back when he said he would. He woke his own self up this morning at 5:15. That's all different, very different.

I don't feel panicky, teary. Something in his hug this time is very sincere.

"Where's that new kitty?" He looks around. "I have to say goodbye." He finds the stray we adopted, rubs its head. Turns to the dog, his little dog of 14 years. "Bye, Molly." Rubs her ears, looks into her cataract-filmed eyes. "I love you too."

He hugs me one last time and climbs into the truck with my husband, goodbying me again and again as he does, in a tender sort of way.

I stand with the cat melted into my arms and wave goodbye as they pull into the snow. No tears. No need, somehow.

I just feel...proud. And somehow hope-filled, maybe more than ever since we first found out about his addiction almost a year ago. I don't know why,'s just there. He's doing it; he's getting -- and staying -- sober.

I couldn't be more content, standing there at 5:30 in the morning in a snowstorm, my arms full of cat and my heart full of hope.


Monday, December 12, 2005

Pins and needles

Rapid developments here in Drama City, folks.

Last Thursday I got word that Logan's trial is being postponed until January. Otherwise it would have been held today. That was a hard one to swallow, since it seems like so much is on hold until the decision. On one hand I'm happy he has another month before judgement day; on another, I fear the holding pattern may be draining him. But there's nothing I can do about it, so...breathe, Frankie, breathe.

His dad had bought him a plane ticket home for the trial. I assumed he'd reschedule the ticket for January. Not. Friday night I learned Logan would be coming home the next day.

Well, then. Blink, blink. So this is Christmas? With one day's notice I, who have not yet started shopping, am supposed to throw an early Christmas? He won't be home again after this until the trial.

So Saturday night he came in. His flight was canceled out of Chicago due to snow, and he had to take a bus home to the city. He didn't arrive until after midnight. Hub and I drove downtown in a soft snow, enjoying the chill of the night, the late-night bustle of the city, the side of it we never see because we're not,like, 20 any more, you know. It felt so Christmas-y -- people standing under snowy streetlights, him clambering off a midnight bus, making his way through fat flakes and into my open arms. "Merry Christmas, Mama."

It's been an interesting two days since. Kindof up, kindof down. Like life, I guess.

I held off on getting the tree on Saturday, waiting for him so we could do the family tree-getting thing like we've done every year for the past 20. Of course he'd want to go with us, right? Wrong. The day was a bust, and very strange. No one wanted to "do" Christmas. I almost had a hissy fit in the middle of it, when one too many people sighed at the mention of putting the tree up, but I managed to stay cool. We bought a dinky little tree at a lot, just three of us, not a family event at all. Ah well, flexibility is everything, you know.

We saw a movie together, all of us. He ran into an old buddy in the line for popcorn, and immediately disappeared outside. My panic level shot up: what is he doing? Is that kid a dealer? Did he freaking ARRANGE to meet him here?

Oldest kiddo Joe actually went and looked out the window, then returned to my side. "Apparently Logan now smokes." Oh god. I knew that would happen. Everyone in rehab smokes. Deep breath, it's better he smokes than shoots heroin.

And now, now. Now he is seeing his old girlfriend, the one barely pregnant with someone else's kid, the one he completely ignored when he was here for Thanksgiving. I'm the one who encouraged him, when he was waffling about it, to go see her. Closure, if nothing else. Help you figure out how you feel about her, kiddo. You're strong, you can do this. Just be kind, and don't say things you'll later regret.

Ah, but that's not what I'm worried about. What I'm worried about is he'll fall for her all over again, and confuse the hell out of himself.

But it's done now, and I can't take it back. All I have to do is deal with the pins and needles, sitting here home alone now and wondering if I gave him the wrong advice. Well, he's a man now, and men have to learn to deal with the hard things in life. So I guess I'm not sorry. No, not sorry at all.

Stay tuned.


Update: He just got in. Looks blue. Went right to the garage to smoke a cigarette. Said, of his girlfriend, that she was "all flirty, but whatever." All righty, then. It's 8:30 at night, but, uh, hey, let's go shopping. Anything for a diversion.


Update #2: We went shopping. It was actually very nice. He morphed into a good mood, and we had light, easy conversation and actual, deep ones, too. It was good, folks. Very, very good.

Feeling happy.


Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Eyes forward

I'm driving home from work, squinting through the windshield dirty from this morning's snow. It's freaking cold, hovering near zero, and I'm hunched over, shivering. It's a ten minute ride home from work, but the car never warms up.

I won't call, I won't call, I won't call. Jeezus, I'm muttering to myself. Logan hasn't seen his counselor since he first started getting bad news -- girfriend pregnant, friend dead, police curiosity into his involvement. Not seeing the counselor is bad news. Relapse behavior, they call it. That dreaded word.

I spoke to him, after a day of horrible feeling about him topped with bad news from the attorney, last Friday night. He's hard to reach. "PROMISE me you'll call Marie for an appointment. You need to be able to talk to someone about this stuff. PROMISE ME." He promised.

I've no sooner left the frigid car and walked into the warmth of the house when the youngest is yelling from the other room. "MOM! Phone call!"

"Jeez," I mutter, "Let a mama get her gloves off. Coming, coming!" I trip-trap across the wood floor in my still-cold heels, into the office where the phone is.

It's Logan. "Hey, Mom."

"Hey, Kiddo! How ARE you?"

"I'm fine. I'm at Marie's office right now, and--"

"Oh, Logan, good. I'm SO glad." Happy cells flood my body.

"Yeah. And she wants me to let you know I'm not suicidal."

There is a great big, giant STOP -- like a movie grinding to a halt in a freeze-frame -- while the word SUICIDAL flings itself around the empty cavity that is my head. After about a 150 blinks I say, "Well, I, uh, I didn't think you were, Logan."

"Yeah, well, she wanted me to tell you that. Here, talk to her."

I talk to her for a minute, still in sticker-shock over the use of the word I wasn't prepared to hear, wasn't thinking, wasn't worried about. She tells me he looks good, not to worry, he plans to go register at the college in a couple days and that he'll be back to see her next week. I listen and nod and thank her for reassuring me.

Then I hang up, feeling anything but reassured. Suicidal? Why did she feel it necessary to let me know he's not? Is he sometimes? Is suicide par for the course with heroin users? Last year when he was first in rehab they told me not to worry about suicide: heroin addicts usually don't try to kill themselves. They relapse, they O.D. But they usually don't deliberately try to end their lives. That piece of info was a nice, solid firewall: kept all the worry of that particular ilk far, far away.

"Hey, Mom," says the youngest, not aware that I can't breathe. "Let's go to the store now. I gotta get a binder for school."

A binder for school. Such a small thing. The glue of life.

We get into the car, both of us shivering immediately. I glance at him as I look behind me to back out the driveway. He's getting a binder. For the future. He's thinking about getting his learners permit. He's looking forward, he's living.

My kid in Cali? He's signing up for school. That's looking forward, too.


Friday, December 02, 2005

Australian boy hanged

I'm ignoring the horrifying story about the Australian boy who was hanged in Singapore yesterday for selling heroin. I can't think about it, can't think about it. It's too much pain -- pain that I can't take on without implosion. Thinking of his face, thinking of his mother, thinking of how they must've locked eyes in that last moment. Thinking of his brother, for whom he supposedly sold the drugs to raise money. This is where denial becomes such a precious and life-enabling thing. I don't think my kid ever sold or even thought about selling heroin, but he sure as hell was dependent on it, and I'm aware that he got it from his friends from time to time. Should they be hanged? My god, no. They're trapped, all of them, in a desperate web.

I hate this story. It makes me panicky for my son. It makes me cry. It makes me crazy.

I might not even have the details right. Every time I hear about it my head involuntarily swivels as if slapped, and I try not to absorb the details. I try.


Thursday, December 01, 2005

Work is a beautiful thing

Okay, the truth is I've been ignoring blogging lately because I'm absolutely scared shitless over my child's upcoming trial, and I guess I'm pretending it all won't happen.

He came home for Thanksgiving, blew in one cold night on a late flight. My family was all here; he was the last to arrive. His big brother and his cousin went to pick him up. We all waited up, hanging around the ping-pong table and draped over couches. I'd fallen asleep in a curl on the couch before he finally arrived. I woke up to "Frankie, he's here," and the sight of him being hugged by family, that adorable crooked grin on his face and his heavy Cali glasses drawing teasing by cousins.

Over the next two days he flowed right into the family, never asking to go see friends. Everyone kept saying how GREAT he looked.

I thought he seemed depressed.

But the thing I cherish from his visit is how much he played with his younger brother: the brother for whom he never had anything but disdain. Used to be the youngest and oldest would wrestle and play and poke and tease and laugh and one haul the other around on his shoulders, upside down, like kids will do, me shouting, CAREFUL, DON'T HURT YOUR BROTHER as they did, and Logan would walk past it all and never join in, never crack a smile. I don't think I've seen him play with his little brother once in the last five years. Used to worry me sick.

But this time they played and wrestled and hooted and hollered. We were riding home from a late-night bonfire in the back of my brother-in-law's huge SUV, five of us in the front and middle, and those two in the back. They started wrestling and laughing and I'm sure my relatives were irritated that I didn't tell them to shush, to settle down. I couldn't. I was lost in a happy bubble, hearing them laugh and interact.

Anyway, he left two days later, on an early flight while it was still dark outside, and I didn't even cry: yay me. Although I did go to the top of the airport stairs and watch him through security. Typical him, he didn't notice me standing there on the other side of the glass as he walked past after clearing security. I was waving, but he didn't notice. I turned around and some lady said, agony on her face, "He didn't even look up and see you!" Think she's a mom, too? I do.

Three days later, day before yesterday, my mom and sister left. Shit, I cried harder then than when Logan left. We stood in a parking lot to say our goodbyes, the wind whipping around us. We hadn't cried until then, but as I hugged my brother-in-law goodbye and thanked him for being good to Logan earlier this year, my floodgates opened. I turned to my mom next, suddenly seeing the sagging skin around her beautiful eyes go red with impending tears — as red as the raw scars on her cheeks from her recent case of shingles. I know I may not see her again. She's 84 and lives a 12-hour plane ride away. We hugged hard. My sister turned her back into the wind, hiding her face and tears as my mother and I hugged and Mom told me in a broken voice that everything will be okay with Logan. I'm a mother, I'm a daughter.

I could barely stand the pain in my throat as they pulled onto the highway. To work, to work, I told myself. Go to work and don't think about it. And so I did.

Logan never once called his pregnant girlfriend while he was home. But she was heavy on his mind: I could see it all over his face. I talked to him about it, but it broke my heart he didn't at least call her and tell her he wasn't coming to see her.

And the final, painful thing I can't even write much about is that I learned while he was home that he was with the boy who died on the night he died. Not when it happened, he says, but earlier. The implications are too much for me to think about. Too much, too much. Maybe I'll go to work now.

To work, to work.