My husband the photo bomber. #family #siblings #father #bloodgood
L-R - My sister Jolynn, our bio dad JB, me, my sister Chris, my brother Patrick, and my husband photo bombing our cute family photo. 8/15
I had heard nothing good about my birth father. I knew his first name, knew that he was Swedish, but in all honesty, that was all the information I had that wasn't laced with some sort of anger and pain. He and my birth mother had three children together and kept one - my biological brother, P.
My birth mother, J, had said she wanted to keep my sister but asked me, over the phone, in tears, if I had ever seen or read "Sophie's Choice", and that was why my sister had been adopted. The story she told was devastating. My birth father, J.B, had threatened to throw my brother off a bridge if she didn't give up the new baby.
One night nearly two years ago, I was finally able to summon the energy to give him a phone call. My sister had sent me his phone number in a Facebook IM with a simple message that said, essentially, that he would like to get to know me too, when I was ready.
A girl's first love is supposed to be her father. My relationship with my dad has always been fraught with conflict. He's a realist, I'm a dreamer. He is a far right conservative Christian who proudly voted for Trump and loves Fox News. He is a complete neat freak who wants things just so.
That's not me. I'm a liberal Christian who followed my proudly Democratic maternal grandmother's footsteps. I live in a constant state of chaos and clutter, avoid cable news like the plague, and consider Donald Trump to be a festering sore on America's rear end that we'll be stuck dealing with for at least the next four years.
The only thing we have in common is our faith and our taste in music. I cut my teeth on Dad's LPs of Simon and Garfunkel, CCR, and BS&T.
When I reached out to J.B that cold night in late January of 2015, I was scared to death. I left a rambling, disjointed message saying who I was, leaving my number so that he could call me back, ending with "go Seahawks!" because I had no idea what else to say.
I wanted to have that kind of father-daughter connection with him that I didn't have with my own dad.
I wanted him to be patient and understanding.
I wanted him not to be the kind of person who bragged about his sons when bumping into a high school friend at a pizza parlor but completely ignored his daughter.
I wanted him not to be the kind of person who talked loudly over the phone about my "FLIPPED FINGERS", an OBVIOUS sign of the MILD CEREBRAL PALSY I'd been born with.
I wanted him not to be the kind of person who would threaten to put me into a group home because my apartment wasn't clean enough for his specific standards.
I wanted him to think that I was amazing and wonderful despite the fact I'd been broken time and time again by a well meaning but domineering and condescending father, glued together by my mother's soft words until my father broke me again. And again. And again.
And with all those thoughts bouncing around in my brain like popcorn kernels in a hot pan, I drove to Trader Joe's and bought a cookie butter cheesecake.
And I texted a friend from the Trader Joe's parking lot. "OMG I just called my bio-dad and I am freaking out right now."
When I got home, the voice mail icon was on my phone screen and I knew that he'd called me back. Hysterically, I hurried into the house, frantically put away my groceries, shoved the cheesecake I'd just bought into the freezer, babbled some nonsense to my husband, and listened to the voice message.
He sounded nice. Kind. Not at all like the red-eyed cartoon monster I had envisioned due to J's dramatic story about my brother and the bridge.
I called him back. We talked like old friends for half an hour, and he told me about his life - three kids with J, an older daughter, twice married, once divorced. He'd retired from the mill at Pend Oreille and when he got bored, began working on cars. Chevys. He told me a delightful story about his older sister from Arizona tearing around town in a red convertible he'd fixed up.
"Just like the little old lady from Pasadena," I laughed in delight. I couldn't wait to meet that aunt. She sounded like a fireball, full of piss and vinegar.
We met on March 1st in Washington State. I'd flown in for my best friend's wedding - I was maid of honor. He was exactly the way I hoped he would be - kind-hearted, funny, caring. Over the loudly raucous dinner table at Tomato Street, he shared stories with us about the only time he called out of work, and the time he did what is now known affectionately in family lore as "pulling a JB" on a broken fridge Sears was replacing.
I was scared to death that he wouldn't want to be a part of my life, because of my own baggage of self doubt and insecurity. I wanted him to accept me for who I was.
And he did.
And that night, as my parents waited in the parking lot of the restaurant, listening to music in their car, he thanked them for doing such a wonderful job raising me.
All my quirks and flaws didn't matter. The only thing that mattered at that moment in time is that not only had I accepted him, he had accepted me.
I wasn't afraid anymore.
April is my least favorite month. Some people love it...Flowers are starting to come out, there are cute baby animals around. But for me it's the beginning of my spring depressive cycle. And I know that for the next thirty-one days, it's going to be harder and harder to do the things I love to do.
Instead of wanting to hit up the St. Vincent's thrift shop down the street for ridiculously cheap books and retro kitschy knick-knacks, I have to push myself out of bed every single day.
Instead of wanting to immerse myself in the kitchen cooking delicious food, comforting myself with the rituals of chopping garlic and onions, marinating chicken in buttermilk, and blending shallots, herbs, olive oil and vinegar to make dressing, I subsist off the McDonald's dollar menu, eating foods that don't even taste good because it's easier.
People think self care should be fun. Go get a mani-pedi! Go shopping. Karaoke with your friends!
But in fact, it's not glamorous and it's not fun.
It means that you have to wash your hair when it's so greasy it looks like you washed it in canola oil.
It means that you need to wash the pile of dishes that have accumulated in the sink that you don't feel emotionally equipped to deal with.
It means you need to wear real clothes, not those Old Navy pajama pants, sock monkey slippers and the stinky, sweaty t-shirt you've been living in the past few days because getting dressed takes more energy than you possess.
By the time the middle of March rolls around, I have prepared myself for the upcoming crash. I have to plan for what I know will happen sooner rather than later.
The depressive phase, for me, is best explained by referencing that episode of "Duck Tales" where Magicka McQuack casts a spell to cast a dark cloud is over Scrooge no matter what he does, says, or where he goes. Scrooge carries the umbrella with him because even if the sun is shining everywhere else, it will be storming over his head.
All I can do is get ready for it to show up, so I grab my virtual umbrella on March 31st, make sure my night table is full of books and things to read, and that, with any luck, the pantry is stocked with Spaghetti-Os and Chunky soup so I don't go to McDonald's every day.
I hate it.
I don't think there's a person in this world who enjoys being depressed. But in a way, I'm lucky that I know when it's coming, so I can plan for it and let the people I love know that it's coming.
And if I find it hard to take care of myself during that window, I am thankful that I have someone who can.
I am thankful that I have him to run me a hot bath and a cup of tea, to take out the garbage or to pick up something to eat, or to cook for me, even if it's just a frozen flatbread pizza.
In the mental air hockey game I play throughout March, he and I both know where to go as we wait for the heavy weighted puck of sadness, sorrow, depression and crippling self-doubt to come around.
When it does, we are ready.
I'm not a nice person. I never said that I was, and if I did, that would make me a liar. And I might be a lot of things, but I'm sure as hell not a liar.
I call 'em as I see 'em. That's the way that I am. You don't like it, then you can kiss my ass. I don't give a good GD what you think about that, either. And I sure as shit don't want to listen to all your caterwauling and bellyaching about it either.
I told my wife to look for the girl she adopted out in the 80s. It was a long ass time before she and I even got together, either. She's a good woman. Probably better than what I deserve. So she did. Wrote a letter to the people in charge, said she was interested in meeting her.
I call it as I see it. When she said she wanted to find her birth father, I called her a piece of garbage. Because that's what he is, a piece of trash. Sometimes, because we live in the same damn town, I see his sorry ass at the grocery store. I want to punch him in the face when I see him, want to rip that mustache off his upper lip.
I don't much cotton to people who associate with trash. I told the girl as much. I don't wanna have to deal with that son of a bitch and his pigshit redheaded asshole daughter. And she went ahead and contacted him anyway even after we told her who he really is.
I like me some women who stay in their place. My wife doesn't talk back or sass me. She's damn near ten years older than me and she recognizes that I'm the ruler of the roost and the head of the household. Her girl doesn't do that.
We had the same problem with my wife's niece and her kids. She doesn't know when to stay in her place, or when to shut the eff up. It's my way or the highway here. And the sooner you realize that, the better.
My wife's other daughter found her on the internet. Guess she got her original birth certificate or some shit like that and found her. I looked at her page online. She seems like she's the kind willing to grin and bear it and stay in her place.
That's the way it's supposed to be.
"You have to see this scrapbook that the MIL group and I made," burbles my mother. I've been going through the worst year of my life, but I'll take a few minutes to look at her scrapbook.
The MIL group is made up of Mom and a group of her other church friends with married children. The MIL, of course, stands for "mother in law", but because they're clever, it's also an abbreviation for "mothers interceding lovingly". More like an excuse to meddle in the lives of your children, particularly the one whose life you still want to control.
My life is hell.
My husband is in prison. I spend every Sunday going to visit him and come home emotionally exhausted. During our visits, if I'm with his mother, she dominates the conversation with talk about her job, his other brothers, and his nieces and nephews - including the one who put him in here.
The woman herself is emotionally manipulative and has been using me as a meal ticket for years. I give her $300 of my SSI check, then another $50 for the phone bill (since when Michael calls collect it gets expensive, she informs me, seated in her pedestal, dressed in a ratty purple sweatshirt and the kind of knit pants that fat old ladies seem to favor.)
The past year for me has consisted of a domestic violence incident, my ex-husband's trial and subsequent incarceration, and having my purse stolen when I was walking home with my friend on a Friday night. I do my best to put up a good front, and since I don't want to be weak, I plaster a smile on my face and rattle off some cliche quote about how God won't give you anything you can't handle.
"And this is when we did a spa day for A!" Mom exclaims, showing me a picture of her friend H's daughter in law, her eyes covered in cucumber slices on one photo, a green facial mask on in another one, photos of C's daughters getting in on the fun.
At this precise moment, my heart hurts so bad I can barely take it. A recently had a hysterectomy, which is why they did the spa day. And I realize that the amount of mental pain I've been in doesn't really matter. Because physical pain gets you a cucumber eye mask and a mani-pedi, but mental pain doesn't matter.
I could have used that. I need someone to take care of me, to rub my feet and put cucumbers on my eyes and rub some kind of cream all over my face and treat me like a princess. Because I feel like nothing, a big zero. I get plenty of prayers, but God doesn't seem to be anywhere around right now. I don't think He's listening.
"Looks like fun," I say, plastering a smile on my face even though I want to cry for a month. I dont deserve good things. I deserve to be living with people who manipulate me and take whatever they can. Good things happen to people like A, who has two adorable little boys and a worshipful husband. She deserves good things. I do not. It's so clear to me now. Like staring right at the sun, it hurts.
Quickly I turn the page. If I don't get away from the sorrow I'm feeling right now, it's going to break me. And if I break right now, I'll never be able to be put back together.
And that's the last thing I need to happen right now.
It was 2008.
Life had changed dramatically for me in the past several years. After figuring I would spend my whole life in Washington, I was in Arizona. After always swearing I would never live in sin , I was happily shacking up with my fiance. My ex-husband was out of prison now.
He had been released in April of that same year. It's weird for me to think it's been almost 10 years. I've been divorced from him longer than we were even married.
I would have happily ignored the fact he was out of prison, but the problem was that everyone and their dog felt the need to keep telling me that they'd seen him downtown waiting for a bus, and I wouldn't have been surprised at all if he'd asked about me.
I usually say that I kept most of our friends in the divorce. To be honest, that's mostly true. The few friends that were willing to reconcile with him weren't really people I wanted or needed in my life anyway.
And it was kind of funny to me, the way that most of our mutual friends had been his friends first. Now they had dismissed him from their lives. It was completely understandable that most people weren't really interested in associating with a convicted child molester. Not that I could blame them.
I've been friends with Chris since late '97. He had also originally been one of my ex-husband's friends. Not to mention, he'd also been a groomsman at our wedding. I tried in vain to set him up with one of my friends, but she wasn't at all interested.
Chris was also the first person that I told when my cousin's rapist was found innocent. The two of us could talk on the phone for hours, discussing music, movies, or even tea. If you could only have one friend of the opposite sex in the world, he'd conceivably be the one I would choose.
But now it's 2008. And Chris is working at First Presbyterian Church, where my ex-husband and I had sporadically attended an evening service the summer before we got married.
The chat window on Yahoo messenger popped up. "Guess who came to visit me at work today?" Chris asked me.
Instinctively I knew without him really needing to tell me.
"Apparently, he's looking for a job. And I guess he thought that I'd be willing to help him out. I told him that after the way he treated you, I'm not interested in him being a part of my life."
He knew what I'd gone through after the incarceration. Living in the House of Repression, being a victim of domestic violence, being gaslighted by my ex's harpy of a mother...he had been there through all of it.
We had gone to Cucina Cucina together one night for dinner (they had a phenomenal pasta dish I loved with goat cheese,
broccoli and pine nuts) then to watch "Seabiscuit" afterwards - even though I know he really wanted to see "Pirates of the Caribbean".
That was the night he gave me the words I needed to hear but didn't know. And that was "Everything will be all right." And in the long run, it was.
I haven't seen him in almost ten years now. He's remarried and lives in Montana - his marriage to his hometown high school sweetheart fell apart a year or so before my ex's conviction. I haven't met his new wife, but as long as she treats him well and makes him happy, nothing else really matters in the long run.
When I flew out to Arizona in November of 2006 to meet the man who would become my husband, he picked me up at 5:30 in the morning in exchange for breakfast at Molly's. As I flew alone for the first time, he got an IM from Mike, asking if I had gotten to the airport all right and thanking him.
"Please don't hurt her," Chris told him. "She's already been through so much."
If people come into your life for a reason, a season or a lifetime, Chris is of the "lifetime" group.
And if I was able to sit on the front porch with God, I'd thank Him for lending Chris to me.
Chris, Daphyn and I at my going away party - 2/07
I have a white board in the kitchen that I ordered off Amazon on the pretense to keep me on top of household chores. It's a nice white board. It came with markers with magnets attached to the back and tiny erasers on the lids, of course in a variety of colors. Blue, black, green, and red.
The white board is as useful to me as soup on a stick. Usually it has some sort of snarky communication between myself and my husband on it. More often than not, the communication involves the proper spelling of the mop-like tool with detachable pads used to clean the tile kitchen floor. He adds a "t" where the second "f" is. I correct him still, more out of habit than anything else.
I have ADD. A few years ago, I was officially diagnosed after hearing all kinds of speculations on what exactly was wrong with me - from cerebral palsy to autistic tendencies to Aspergers, to my father's vague label of a "staying on task disorder", which basically is what ADD is. But no, he doesn't like that diagnosis. And apparently, in his mind, people with ADD can't like to read. So obviously, the psychologist who gave the diagnosis was wrong.
I'm great at starting things. I can say that I'm going to straighten up the living room, which usually looks like a tornado blew through. I grab trash bags and get to work.
There are clear plastic cups from Dunkin Donuts that once held cold brew coffee, empty bottles of America's Choice fruit flavored sparkling water from Walmart. Coffee cups and books litter the side table. The recliner, where the dog likes to sleep, is crowded with books, the overnight bag I packed when we house sat for my in laws last weekend is still there where I dropped it on Sunday when we got home.
I think I'll watch some TV while I work in here, I think to myself. I click on the remote, select one of the DVR'd episodes of "Match Game" I'm addicted to. Patti Deutsch, of the droll wit and hilarious but irrelevant answers, is one of my favorites.
Patti sits in the "dummy seat", bottom row, far right. The spot is sometimes occupied by Betty White, Fannie Flagg (one of my favorite authors, but wait, with the ADD I shouldn't like to read!) or the adorable Joyce Bulifant, ex-daughter in law of Helen Hayes and ex-mother in law of the repugnant Jenny McCarthy.
I wonder what Patti is doing now. I take my phone off the side table and look her up on Wikipedia. She has a son! I wonder what he does. His name is Max. I Google him, too. And then I wonder about the other panelists.
Help me, Obi-Wan Wikipedia, you're my only hope!
Fannie Flagg was in a relationship with Rita Mae Brown!
Betty White was married two or three times before marrying Allen Ludden in 1963.
Brett Somers was married to Robert Klein (not THAT Robert Klein) before she married Jack Klugman.
Nipsey Russell never got married.
Charles Nelson Reilly was almost killed in a circus fire when he was a little kid.
Wikipedia leads me on bunny trails. I bounce from one hyperlink to another for hours, my elbow resting on a pillow I've placed on the armrest of the couch.
And meanwhile, the open mouth of the black trash bag I've set in front of me yawns accusingly, because it's still empty. I have done absolutely nothing I set out to do. But on the up side, I now know random trivia about every Match Game panelist. You don't get to be the reigning family Trivial Pursuit champion by doing housework!
The truth is, if my house was perfectly clean and I had a husband without executive function disorder, who gets overwhelmed when he sees all the things I was going to do but didn't, I don't think I'd feel alive.
So, we live our lives in constant chaos. The dog gets into the trash in the middle of the night and I wake up every morning at seven to feed her, discovering the results of her nighttime scavenging on the couch. I can't be mad. She's just being a dog.
I look at the note on the white board that says "buy new swiffer pads" and notice the second "f" has been turned into a "t", yet again. I sigh to myself, turn it back into an f, and start the day over with grand plans I likely won't achieve.
If I lived in a perfectly clean house without spots on the beige tile floors and a sink full of dishes and a side table full of coffee cups and books, I'd think I was in heaven. But living in constant shades of chaos reminds me that overall, I'm a flawed human...and that in turn, reminds me that I'm alive.
The two of them signed their rights away.
She told the nurse to tell the new parents they had a daughter. When they rushed to the hospital, their dreams fulfilled after over six years of marriage, the biological mother of their new daughter walked to the nursery. Somehow she knew those people were her daughter's new parents.
Two and a half years later, a baby boy joins the family. Six months after that, a baby boy is born on the day before Halloween. And then, almost four years after that, two weeks to the day after her seventh birthday, another baby boy is born.
She has always known she's adopted. As she gets older, people ask what being adopted is like. It's like asking what it feels like to be alive. How can you explain what something is like when you've never known anything other than it?
She grows up.
She internally battles sadness and insecurity, and hopes the bullies will leave her alone if she keeps to herself.
She loves animals and books.
She tolerates her brothers.
She longs for a sister.
She has trouble following directions and can't figure out why. Her father calls it a "staying on task disorder", but years later refuses to accept the official diagnosis of ADD.
She overhears her father tell someone on the phone that she has cerebral palsy. Because her fingers flip up at the tips. He didn't mean for her to overhear but he doesn't know how to be quiet.
Her tread is heavy. She sounds like an elephant when she walks.
She is painfully shy. Her lazy eye, her overbite, the way she has to go to the resource room at school for extra help with math. The resource room teacher is not very nice to her. So as usual, she crawls inside her shell because it's easier not to create waves.
During her formative years, she deals with crippling loneliness and sadness. She doesn't know how to deal with it. She keeps a journal but never writes anything super secret in it because she doesn't trust her parents not to read it.
The aching pain of loneliness and feeling unloved burns inside her chest but she keeps it bottled up. And she withdraws. She stays home from the sports games her brothers participate in because being alone is preferable.
At nineteen she meets someone. He asks her to marry him. She says yes, in retrospect not because she loves him but because she doesn't expect to be able to do any better. He commits an ugly crime and lies about it. He goes to prison. And finally, summoning the courage that she never knew she had, she files for divorce.
Gradually she begins to think for herself. Her parents still want to control her life. Her father threatens to put her in a group home because he doesn't think the apartment is clean enough. This is the same man who had meltdowns over popcorn kernels on the living room floor. Nothing is ever good enough for him.
She is a walking example of the double bind. They don't expect her to be good at anything, but make sure to make her feel terrible every time she fails at something. Why bother? she wonders, when they storm in and complain that there are dishes in the sink or the kitchen floor isn't spotless. It will never be good enough anyway.
One night she can't sleep and gets online. She meets someone. They begin to talk. They like each other. He flies her out to meet him. Her parents find out and beg her not to go. She is in her late twenties and they still treat her like she's twelve.
She will not let love pass her by a second time. She flies out to meet him for the best weekend of her life and throws caution to the wind. She will take control of her own life now.
They fall in love; she moves to Arizona. They live in sin. She's rebelling and sowing her wild oats ten years later than everyone else. They get married. He believes in her the way no one else ever has. They fit together perfectly.
Washington State opens adoption records a few years later. She swallows her fear and sends in a request. On January 12th, 2015 it comes in the mail. The nameless, faceless woman who gave birth to her has a name. And she gave her a name too. Joy Olivia.
She has a brother, a sister, a half sister, three "bonus sisters". She meets her birth mother for first time on March 1st, the day after her best friend gets married.
She is still becoming her own person. She loves her sisters and brothers, her fraught relationship with her father is all right because of the thousand miles separating them. She babysits two little boys, she and her husband mentor two others who are older.
She loves to cook, her sense of humor is in turns corny and sarcastic. She crochets in church, is addicted to cold brew coffee and her baked potato soup has a cult following. She crunches ice like candy, and everyone wants her on their team when they play Trivial Pursuit. Her mind is like a bear trap, full of music trivia and movie quotes. The neighborhood dogs love her.
She is me.
I am her.
During my nearly four years at the Big Blue Call Center, I talked to all different kinds of people. Some were happy when they finished talking to me, some were irate, some were apathetic, and some were downright cruel. But this time, as I expected a reaming, I got a warm Southern accent and a drawn-out saga about a shed.
"Well, see what happened is that I'm moving down to Miami for a catering job and my uncle was supposed to help me build this here shed. He got busy and I ain't got the time to put it together myself, so I'm just telling my friends that if they buy me a case of beer then they can take my stuff. I just gave my buddy here my bedroom set in exchange for a case of beer."
I couldn't help but laugh. I liked him already and I appreciated his honesty.
"So I'm not gonna be able to build this thing, and I just need to take it back and see if I can get a refund. I don't even care if they charge me a restocking fee, because business is business. I don't even care if I gotta haul it back to the Sears store as long as I can take it back."
I pulled up the order in my system and noticed he had just purchased it and picked it up a day or so earlier. I advised him I couldn't guarantee that there wouldn't be a restocking fee, but I'd notate the account to request to have it removed because of the situation. CX MOVING TO FL NEEDS TO RETURN SHED CANNOT PUT TOGETHER WAIVE RESTOCKING FEE I/P THX, I noted.
After I did my best to assure him that I'd do everything within my power to avoid a restocking fee, the subject turned to one of my favorite topics of all time. Food. Food is my truest passion, moreso than words or books, moreso than yarn, dog ownership, faith or feminism.
"Girl," he tells me over the phone, "If you love food the way I do, then you need to get your ass - pardon me - to culinary school. The last thing that I promised my mom before she died was that I would follow my dreams and I did. I'm telling you, your husband will love you for it and you should be following your dreams too."
The conversation continued, the shed forgotten. We talked about EVOO, he mentioned his beloved dog (who barked in the background) as Jason told me that the only thing he was taking with him to Florida was Spec, his best buddy. "He's the one thing that keeps me going sometimes," I hear him say. "Me & him, we go everywhere together. He's my boy. You know I'm talking 'bout you, dontcha, Spec?" he says, as the dog barks again.
"You know what," he says, after two hours have passed. This man, who was a stranger two hours ago now feels like one of my oldest and dearest friends. "If you're into food as much as I am, you should add me on Facebook. I don't post there a lot, but I reckon I'll post some recipes and you can give 'em a shot, what do you say?"
Adding a customer on Facebook was a mortal sin at the Big Blue Call Center. I was fully aware of this. However, I pulled out a piece of scratch paper out from my purse and scribbled the email address he gave me down on it. "I'll do that when I get home," I assured him.
"You do that!" he tells me. "And you'd better think about going to cooking school, because I'll tell ya, your man will just go crazy for your cooking, and it sounds like he does that already."
Reluctantly, I ended the conversation as he told me he had some more packing to do, and wanted to make sure that I didn't get in trouble for being on the phone so long. I told him that it didn't matter as long as the customer was happy, and he assured me that he was.
That night, I did what I promised and sent him a friend request. Dark glasses, chef's whites, a devious half-smile made me think he was up to something.
What began as an interaction between customer and sales rep grew into a friendship. I shared a recipe for pulled pork with a Jack Daniels & Coke bbq sauce, which he said would probably be all right, but he didn't like whiskey in his sauce. The Coke sounded good, though. You're also supposed to use pork butt for BBQ, I learned. It's full of flavor. (I read the same thing in an Emeril cookbook a few months after that. This is the truest of all true facts.)
I followed his career with Cobblestoned Catering in Florida, his work at the VFW, and loved reading about how much he loved his job. I have a link saved to the history on my Kindle describing how "Chef Jason is the stock master", including a recipe for a slow-cooked roasted beef stock with red wine that makes my mouth water every time I revisit it.
I watched as life began to spiral uncontrollably. He was no longer in Florida, he'd gone back home to Tennessee. Spec had died, and Jason had done what Vivi in "Divine Secrets of The Ya-Ya Sisterhood" described as "dropping my bucket". He was falling apart. I was completely helpless, broke, out of a job with not a single prospect in sight.
He deleted his Facebook, undeleted his Facebook, changed his Facebook name to something different, and then something different yet again. As I am a worrier, I thought about him constantly and desperately hoped that maybe I could fix his situation. It had gotten desperate and heartbreaking. My friend, who had inspired me so fully to pursue my dreams, was falling apart and self-destructing.
Cryptic Facebook messages that hinted of suicidal thoughts began to show up. I was terrified. I didn't want to lose him, and there wasn't that much that I could do from thousands of miles away. But after a series of despondent and frightening texts, I made a Facebook post saying that I was worried my friend was suicidal. I called the Nashville police department for a welfare check.
We talked on the phone for over an hour that night. He confessed he had been resorting to dining and dashing in order to eat, had tried unsuccessfully to rebuild his relationship with his father, and had alienated most of his friends and family members. I was his rainbow warrior, he told me. I was the one person who hadn't given up on him. He thought he had a brain tumor. During the conversation, he cried more than he talked and went off into spiraling, disjointed jags. I told him I'd be here if he needed me, day or night. I didn't care if he had to call me in the middle of the night, I would be there. Because we're friends, I told him, and that's what friends do.
My heart felt like it weighed ten thousands pounds and hung heavy in my chest as I disconnected the phone call that night.
A week later, he told me he'd gone to Vanderbilt Hospital and tried to admit himself to the psych ward. Instead, he was treated like a common criminal, handcuffed and abused. "I don't have anything left to keep going for," he confessed to me over text. "Thanks for always being my rainbow warrior. On September 8th, I'm gone. Don't try to find me because you won't be able to. It's time for me to end it. Doc says it's a tumor. Same kind my mom had, she was gone a week later."
On the morning of September 8th, I sent one single text back to him. "Goodbye, friend."
I had come to believe I was living in a world without my dear friend. I looked for signs - a chef named Jason chatting in at my new job, the sun streaking through the clouds radiantly in the shape of a wooden spoon or a toque. I Googled obituaries to see if anyone by his name had been found, or even more morbidly, if there were any unidentified bodies found in the Nashville area. Nothing.
My husband and I were eating out one night when I got a text from a number I thought I would never see again. "I just wanted to let you know that I'm okay," I read. "In the hospital, getting some help. They ain't treating me like a common criminal this time. I just wanted to thank you again and let you know that I'll be okay. Thanks for always being my rainbow warrior. You'll never know how much you helped me these past few months."
I'm not sure if my friendship and continued faith in him is what stopped him from ending his life a few months ago, but knowing that he's still out there, now on the slow path to recovery as he rebuilds his life fills me with joy.
I've been lots of things in my life - wife, daughter, friend, customer service rep, Christian, foodie, feminist. One of the best things I've ever been called is a rainbow warrior. I'm still not completely sure what a rainbow warrior is, but I don't want to be anything but.
It was right after Katrina, and I had heard all kinds of stories about people who were not willing to leave New Orleans, because it was the only home they knew.
When I walked across the carpet in my dream, I could hear it squish underfoot from the water. I couldn't see the water, but I knew it was there.
"You need to get out here," friends encouraged me. Yet I was content. Why should I leave?
That morning, I woke with my heart racing and my head spinning.
I called my mother to look at apartments.
It was time to get out of this house.
The apartment was perfect, and once I saw it, I knew it was where I wanted to live. The walls were painted a bluish-gray that I loved, the ceilings were high, the floors were hardwood, and the kitchen was just the right size. I would never have to worry about someone flipping the circuit breaker on me if I decided to use something other than the microwave when I made lunch.
I signed the lease that afternoon.
That night, I went home with my parents, not wanting to return the House of Repression that night or its metaphorically flooded dingy blue floors.
"You should call Colleen and tell her you're moving out," my mother says gently. We are sitting on the couch together, and I am working on my crocheting. She works on her needlepoint; a Christmas stocking for my brother's fiance.
I cannot think of anything I want less to do. My mother in law is not a good person. She enables, she cannot take accountability for her own bad parenting, she has blamed everyone but herself for her own bad decisions and most frustrating of all, maxed out my Sears card to buy a chest freezer even though there's a perfectly good - and larger - freezer in the basement. She has accused me of being "selfish" if I want to take a Sunday off from visiting her son at prison, and worse if I miss a call.
"I'm moving out," I tell her, apropos of nothing, when she picks up the phone. I hear the sounds of "CSI" in the background. She has a crush on Grissom.
"How am I going to pay my bills?" she asks.
That's it. How am I going to pay my bills?
"You could have M. start paying rent," I snap, unable to control the vitriol in my voice.
"He does pay rent," she says to me. I know that's a load of crap. He has not held a steady job in months, wasted his settlement from McDonalds on a crappy drum set and a Corvette that he restored and cannot sell. He is unable to see his daughter because he essentially kidnapped her, then refuses to work because his ex wife wants too much in child support. He is the worst kind of deadbeat dad. "Not that you would ever notice anything good he does, anyway."
I am distraught, disgusted and furious. I am determined not to let my emotions get the better of me, because if they do, she wins. I am not going to let her win.
I let her win when she told me not to call the police when her son slammed my foot in the door.
I let her win every Sunday she drags me to Coyote Ridge and dominates the conversation in the cramped visiting room.
I let her win when she told me that "nobody needs to know the truth about what Michael did."
I let her win when she charged that damn chest freezer on my credit card, then said she would hold onto it "for safekeeping" unless she feels the need to send something to her son. Then it's okay to be used, but only then and only when she approves of the purchase.
I let her win for all those months I have handed over my SSI check to her, and didn't think twice about all the expenditures that kept coming up that I suddenly owed her money for.
I will not let her win.
I thrust the phone at my mother, fighting to maintain my composure at least until I'm out of the living room, and then, after filling the tub and sinking into the hottest water I can stand, I am able to let go.
My mother tells me that she called Colleen out on idly sitting by when her son beat me up. "She antagonizes him," she defends her son.
The same way that a cat defends itself against a dog who has it backed into a corner. The cat lashes out and strikes a paw across the dog's snout. The dog is unhurt, but the cat is terrified.
It does not matter to her that I have been afraid of him since April 19th, 2003. That I am terrified that if I tripped on the stairs and lost my balance carrying a basket of laundry, he would kick me in the head as I lay there at the bottom of the stairs with my brain split open like a melon.
My mother tells her that how she pays her bills is not my responsibility. It is not my duty to keep a roof over her head.
Shortly after that, I pack my things and take only what I need. I leave behind most of my Harry Chapin records, jewelry, my old dresser, the thrifted hurricane lamp I love, my vintage coat with the fur collar that makes me feel like a movie star from the 1940's. I throw my ex-husband's yearbook and high school diploma in the Goodwill box, intentionally. It is malicious but it feels good.
I spend that night on a hide-a-bed in my new apartment. I sleep better than I have in the past several years, even on the lumpy old mattress covered with a thin wool blanket. I wake up and look around at the blue-gray walls, the hardwood floors polished to a beautiful rich brown and I know I am home.
The sun rising over Corbin Park fills me with a sense of peace I am unfamiliar with, and then as I lay there, on the lumpy hide-a-bed mattress, covered with the thin wool blanket, I realize what it is.
At long last, I am free.