The Hillhouse

The Journey of a Mother and Son

Rough Road August 5, 2014

It’s stressful driving at the moment. The countryside is changing rapidly from familiar to foriegn, the road is getting trickier to navigate, and there have been more than a few unanticipated detours along the way. But on I drive, hopeful that there’ll be a light in the window and food on the stove when I finally reach my destination. For now, that’s still a way off, so I need to stay awake and alert. I need my eyes on the road and a firm grip on the wheel.

The week hasn’t gotten off the best start possible, as there was a minor incident on Facebook last night between my ex and me, but hopefully my private email to him made better of it. The date of Elihu’s arrival home has changed a handful of times since we began to make plans months ago, and I expressed my frustration at it. I’d thought nothing of it in fact – it was tossed off as an FB shout out in the manner of any other mundane affair of everyday life… Most recently he had moved his return up a day. He says it’s been on the books for a couple of weeks (it’s one man’s word against the other; my date book tells me otherwise). Secondly, he took a last-minute job on Friday which precluded his staying here with Elihu and me for a couple of days, something our son had dearly hoped for. I didn’t even learn it from my ex himself – but rather from the woman with whom Elihu was staying as a guest for a couple of days (while dad had a gig out of town). My ex felt it a low jab that I expressed my disappointment on Facebook, and vehemently asserted that it did not accurately reflect the truth.

And so here we are, about to see each other in person for the first time in many moons, and bitterness hangs in the air. Nothing to do but be as civil as possible – sadly it won’t be the happy reunion of a family I’d hoped for, but there it is. He’s not happy with my blog because he feels that I air our private affairs here. (Kind of ironic, as it’s been quite a while since I’ve had much to say about him, and today it’s the very topic that kicks off a post.) My ex cites my previous mentions of him in this blog as inflammatory – as well as an example of bad parenting, because he points out that Elihu will one day be free to read all of it for himself. Yes, I agree, he will. And I have no problem with that; I don’t see that as bad parenting. I have never once asserted that my ex doesn’t love his son – nor have I proclaimed him to be a bad father. I have, however, expressed my experience of this divided family as I have seen it from my own perspective. He’s welcome to start his own blog on the subject if he feels so motivated. (If it means he spends less time scrutinizing this blog for perceived attacks, I’m all for it!) Now, back to life here at the Hillhouse… Plenty of nail-biting scenes here, no extra drama necessary…

At this moment, we’re all poised in a bizarre holding pattern as we wait to learn more about a planned intervention for my alcoholic brother. One childless day left in which to strike, and a narrow window in which to pull it off successfully. This eruption of anger from my ex at this particularly delicate and stressful moment in my life has succeeded in raising the already high-alert level of stress around here. I’ve tried to shake it off as best I can so that I can turn my attention back to this critical moment in my own inner circle.

It seems the stars have aligned themselves almost flawlessly in our favor; the motor in the minivan that Andrew drives is shot on account of having run dry of oil. It doesn’t seem it was Andrew’s fault – the car was old and leaked oil badly. Now it’s no more than scrap. Thankfully that leaves him without the ability to kill someone in a drunken, late-night drive back from Martha’s. In the past his routine has been to assist her with her nightly routine and to see her safely in bed, after which he hits her liquor cabinet and then drives home. I’ve long been sounding the alarm, but with no one else to take care of Martha, and mom having ownership of the vehicle and not wanting to make waves, I’ve been virtually powerless to stop the situation. Every day that’s gone by without incident has been, in my opinion, a minor miracle. This past week I spoke up on the subject once again, heeding that persistent internal nagging that had begun to grow louder in my head of late. Thankfully, this time it ended differently than it had in the past; in addition to the van becoming undriveable, my new friend and retired state trooper threw his hat into the ring and offered a sobering perspective on the potentially ruinous legal implications of a drunk-driving related incident. This tipped the scales – it got mom’s attention, and I immediately contacted a local hospital and began familiarizing myself with the process of detox and rehabilitation. Talk about timing. Everything seemed to be falling into place.

Introduced to me by a mutual friend on Facebook, Ken and I first met over a sandwich and coffee just about a week ago – and then proceeded to spend the next three days together. There’s no reading between the lines to be done, we’re simply friends and there’s been no romantic interlude taking place (despite the potential that might have to drive an exciting new story line. !) Rather, Ken and I have become as comfortable with each other as if we’d been friends since ‘back in the day’. Just a year apart in age, that alone gives us a lot in common. We’re both parents (each with an eleven year old son), both living in the wake of a long-term relationship which has come to an end. And the potential for humor in many a situation isn’t lost on either of us – the sight of a large, bald black man and me – a woman who doesn’t really keep company with anyone save her chickens – might be cause for a double-take or two in this neck of the woods. Yeah, ordinary situations have the potential to become comedic acts with my new friend hanging around. And thankfully, in addition to a good sense of humor, he comes with some experience in law enforcement, and he kindly offered his assistance in our plan to get Andrew help.

As Ken and I studied the situation and began to consider the many different ways in which to handle an intervention with Andrew, he cautioned me that his major concern was safety. He wondered if Andrew might have any weapons in his home, and went on to posit some possible scenarios that might unfold. I hadn’t really considered all the many ways in which things might escalate. But my brother is full of rage, and if anything threatened to push things to a head, this was it. When Andrew was at a doctor’s appointment a few days ago we decided to do a little reconnaissance on the matter of weapons – but learned that he’d kept his door locked. As serendipity would have it, I suddenly remembered a key I’d saved – not because I thought it was of any use, but because it was attached to a tag on which my father had written something. I’d tossed it in the junk drawer as a matter of sentiment, but when we tried it on the remaining door – it worked! (Thank you, dad.) Inside my brother’s house was a sight so decrepit that even this seasoned vet admitted to having seen few homes worse off.

How to explain it? If you’ve ever seen some of the currently popular shows on hoarding you may have some idea – but truly, it’s not possible to convey the filth, the state of decomposition of things organic, the layers upon layers of paper underfoot everywhere, the lack of space, the claustrophobic feel of tiny rooms cramped with piles upon piles… The walls were coated in sheets of cobwebs, each darkened with years of dust, black mold crept up over the walls, the air itself was more than oppressive, it was caustic, and Ken couldn’t remain in the place any longer than necessary, as his eyes began to tear and he soon became congested. We took a couple of photographs in case we needed evidence of some sort, he satisfied his concern for hidden weapons (of which there were none), and we retreated the way we’d come in.

As I write this, the events of tomorrow are uncertain, and the situation continues to change. Enter Chris, a man about my age who’s been friends with my family – and Martha too – since his childhood. A longtime member of AA and potential mentor for Andrew, I contacted him for advice on the situation. He graciously stepped up and reached out to Andrew just this evening, resulting in a near two-hour long conversation with my brother. There were tears shed, and thankfully, at the end of it all Chris felt there was a hint of hope. He said he’d seen a ‘light’ in Andrew’s eyes… Although we’d planned on an intervention the following morning, Chris urgently asked me to trust him – to give him a week with my brother. He insisted that Andrew had agreed on going to an AA meeting each night this week, and Chris felt this would create a better platform from which to appeal for Andrew’s participation in rehab. While I put my faith in him and gave him my approval for the week’s plan, my heart began to sink a little when Chris went on to say that Andrew ‘might not even need intervention after all’. Good Lord. Was Chris himself fooled by Andrew too? I know unquestionably – more than 100% so – that Andrew cannot live successfully on his own. Had Chris himself not warned me of the phenomenon known in AA circles as ‘the Pink Cloud’? (The point at which a recovering alcoholic mistakenly thinks he or she ‘has it’ and can now live without any help or back up because they feel so good again, so normal.) Had we not had that discussion? My ex husband and I had hosted Andrew in our home for a year and seen him recover, only to tank even more profoundly when he stopped taking his meds. Shit. It seemed we were gaining a toe hold here, I prayed we could continue the progress.

No news is good news sometimes. Guess that’s what I’m to take away from the lack of communication from mom this evening. As things stood a half hour ago, we were hoping that Andrew was going to an AA meeting with Chris this evening. Andrew must be driven to Martha’s, and as of this moment in time, he hasn’t shown up at mom’s in need of a ride. Mom will end up tending to Martha if Andrew goes to the meeting; no matter what, we’re both on the ready for whatever needs to be done… So as I sit here writing, I have no idea whether Andrew has gone to AA, or drunk himself into a stupor inside his shithole of a house. I’m gonna guess the former, but honestly I can count on nothing. As a relatively intelligent person I’m often tempted to think that I know what’s going on around me, but clearly I’ve missed that boat before. Lived for years thinking I knew what was going on in my marriage when in fact I hadn’t a clue. I’d like to think Andrew’s introducing himself to a room of fellow alcoholics as I write this now, but Lord knows things could’ve just as easily swung the other way. For the time being, I know nothing.

Still, I continue to hope for the best in spite of what history has shown thus far. There’s a lot more road ahead, and I mean to drive right on through this next challenging stretch – and then watch it disappear in my rear view window. There’s just gotta be a reason we’re all on this confounded, circuitous path, and I won’t pull over til we get there, goddamit, cuz I’m still convinced that the destination will actually be worth this crazy, unpredictable ride on this long and rough road.

 

Curve Ahead July 31, 2014

Where to start? The cast of characters is growing, from Log Cabin Joe to Hillbilly Al and a handful in between, and the sub-plots are multiplying. A house is being built to the great heartbreak of all who live nearby, another beloved house which we all had hoped might stand is going to be torn down, people will be moving in, and people will be moving away. A ghostly visage was spotted, serendipity threw in a few hard turns, neighbors popped by unannounced and set to framing out a new step in front of my house (because I’d asked to borrow some scrap lumber to do so for myself), and a potential blind date turned into a new and interesting friendship. Neighbor Chad, a former professional speed skater and dad to those cutie boys Ryan and Brandon, faces surgery to repair a torn ligament he got from falling out of a tree while deer hunting last year, my new met-on-an-almost-blind-date-but-not-quite friend must wear a heart monitor for another week and remain in the company of people at all times, lest he pass out while alone, with no one to call for help (hence his staying on as my house guest.) A couple more art classes to go at the Studio, some concrete being poured and set, a wall going up in the basement, the lawn to be cut and a coop door yet to be hung, the various comings-and-goings that all of this activity entails, including the requisite gear; earth movers, spinning concrete trucks, tractors, trimmers, boxes of tile, great, heavy balls of clay, five gallon buckets and rags to clean up… All of this is chugging along, plus a small group of family and friends is planning for an intervention with my brother at the beginning of next week. A few days later, Elihu comes home. Whew!

The past three days have seemed almost like a week with all the chaos and activity. My guest, Ken, erupted in laughter at it all (as I casually pulled a dead mouse out of a drawer, dumped it into the trash and continued to start the morning coffee without missing a beat), just imagining the highly entertaining cable series he absolutely insists my life should be. “I’m just wondering where we should put the camera” he’d said, smiling, shaking his head… I’ts not often that friends get a view from the inside here at the Hillhouse. Yeah, I’ve had guests before, but somehow life here has never been quite as animated and unpredictable as it has of late.

Night before last, as Ken and I sat on the couch enjoying a rather deep, existential discussion, I saw behind him, approaching from the kitchen and through the short hallway, a rather healthy-sized bat. Living in the country as I do, you might think this has happened before. And indeed it has happened in every other place I’ve lived – but not here. Until the other night, that is. I was watching with great concern that the poor beast not knock over some precious breakable as she continued to encircle the room, but soon realized that this creature was deftly missing – with room to spare – every obstacle in her path. I was impressed! My friend, himself a pilot, must surely have been sharing my amazement… maybe…. I glanced over at the couch. Ken was clearly not bearing respectful witness to the miracle of flight taking place right before our eyes… Humor me if you will; picture a black Mr. Clean; tall, built; a take-no-prisoners kind of physique that lends itself well to the military and police work (he’s retired from some twenty years of exactly that) – and now picture that same gentleman covering his face with my over-sized pink velvet throw pillow, ducking down and shrieking like a girl every time the bat made another pass around the room. One had to laugh. Thankfully, he had to laugh too. We both did. I admit, that lil creature was movin fast, and to us it felt like a random, unpredictable flight that might easily have ended up in someone’s face. I was finally able to catch her by trapping her in between two frog nets, but then she hooked her way out, and flew off to the mudroom. The door to the mudroom remained closed, while the backdoor to the outside stayed wide open. My second house guest eventually left and did not return. So far as we know.

And there was the apparition. And the change in my route. Why had I chosen to double-back and take Locust Grove instead of 9N as I’d intended? Having just given Ken a brief history of my folks and the Baroque festival, I figured I’d use my mistake as an opportunity to point out soprano Ruth Lakeway’s empty house. When we crested the hill and I indicated the house, Ken told me he saw a woman in the porch. I gave him a look. “White hair, lavender colored, long sleeved top” he said. “Wait, you’re not shitting me?” I asked, in almost a panic. He insisted that as an officer of the law – not to mention an artist who painted and drew landscapes, people and animals, he was trained in observation. He knew what he’d seen. That was enough for me; I turned around and made my way back to the house.

There were in fact people at the house. They emerged from the garage – on the other side of the house – when we pulled in. Still, none fit the description. It didn’t matter at this point, and it was soon forgotten as I re-acquainted myself with the new owners, who were in the middle of a project. They were removing items from the house, preparing it. I kinda knew what was coming next. It was known that the house had done nothing but take on water since Ruthie’s death eight years ago, and that the mildew and moisture had finally won. Although the woman who now owned it had known and loved Ruth as I had, and had herself dreamed of one day living in the sweet house, it would never come to be. The house now had to be torn down. I looked at Karen to see if this was the truth, and her eyes teared up. She insisted they’d had every manner of professional opinion on the matter. It was coming down. I made no attempt to be stoic… I began to cry. It was clear that she was just as heartbroken as I was. Thankfully, I wasn’t alone in my grief.

In her day Ruthie had created a wide sphere of influence through her loving presence in the community and her unique, gentle demeanor. With no husband or children of her own, she had given her time and energy to her church, her voice students and so many more. This house was for me a sacred place, as it was to many others as well. I marveled over our being there, in that moment. Over the circumstances. Had I not made the ‘mistake’ of driving down her road, had Ken not spotted that visage in the porch – I wouldn’t have known this was happening. I wouldn’t have been able to take the lamp from her back porch so that I might use it in mine, I wouldn’t have been able to remove Ruth’s windchimes and then hang them on my own porch in remembrance of her. Did Ken see Ruth? Yes, I believe so. I believe she was helping as best she could to gather me into this event of closure. As we all stood on the front lawn, talking and comparing stories, Ken told them what he’d seen earlier. The consensus seemed to be that this was all meant to be, we had all found our ways there in order for this to happen. There were tears, hugs, prayers and goodbyes. And for me, there was gratitude.

From the insane to the mundane, the silly to the serious, it’s been a crazy mix of life here lately, and yet the next week may hold still more… Mom has finally come around to understanding that Andrew will never, ever get better on his own (yes, we’ve been here before, but I feel this time it’s different) and she can begin to see that he has only good things to gain by taking part in a detox and rehab program, and he has only potential danger and harm if he doesn’t. Plus this heaven-sent former cop of a friend has brought to our attention how devastating it could be should a civil case ever be made against Andrew in the event of an alcohol-related death. This is some serious shit, and although I’ve been making my case for several years now, it’s taken this financial threat to bring it home. That, and a little magical aligning of the stars. We’ve got a great family drama scene on deck, and I’m eager to finally see it through to its conclusion. Which will in of itself be but a beginning to a whole new chapter…

I checked in with Waldorf today, and it seems I’m just about off the hook. They’ve covered nearly every class except for a day or two of the high school. There’s a slight chance they might need me to cover for a bit, but it doesn’t appear that it’ll pose a conflict with my new work at the Studio. This is beyond my wildest dreams, and the feeling of freedom and possibility has me a little giddy. It’s almost like I have too much oxegyn, too much space, too many options, too much opportunity. My unexpected house guest and the little surprise detours of late have stalled my progress for the time being, but it doesn’t worry me. We’re approaching a Great Change. Middle School for Elihu, and with it all the changes of pre-teen life. A new situation for my mom and brother, a new career for me, a new house in the neighborhood, two new families moving in, one moving out. A parking lot going in the woods for the Studio along with a network of roads into the forest, a new heating system and myriad other upgrades. Networking, meeting people and growing programs, seeing plans become real…. I’m at the cusp of a whole new chapter in my life. I’ve been riding it out on a long, slow straightaway for the past few years, and finally now I see a big curve up ahead.

Breathe in, hands at ten and two… I’ll give it just a little more gas, and we’ll be taking that turn before we know it.