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.

 

Relief October 16, 2013

Much of today I’ve spent fuming at being told just this morning – by an email I might well have missed (as it’s not something I check more that once a day when I’m super busy) – telling me that Elihu was to be on a plane to Chicago at 6:30 am the next morning. Now I realize that my ex’s dad has been terribly sick lately, and we ourselves have all been sick with worry about him, and I realize this visit is important, but with so little notice it was a major logistic monkey wrench in the week, and it’ll take another month to get back on course. Braces being put in, important lessons in school, butchering rescheduled yet again, a skipped bass lesson, not to mention a classmate’s birthday party missed as well. I’m not cold to the importance of the visit, and I don’t want to appear selfish, but I feel like there should have been a mutual acceptance of said plans first. I knew the idea was out there – but Fareed had said his dad was in ICU where children weren’t allowed, and then he said the fares were too insane to purchase one. Lastly, he said he’d get back. Ok, so he did. With twenty four hours to go before the flight. Not a lot of opportunity for me to say no, not at least without becoming the bad guy. !

First, I should take a breath and at least acknowledge the great relief that washed over me when I heard for myself Riaz’s voice on the phone recently, after so many post-surgery days of respirator, infections and fever. I kinda knew he’d make it, but a tinier voice continued to whisper to me “this is how they all go… admitted for one thing, they end up catching pneumonia and dying of it in the end…” We’ve all heard that story so many times that it’s hard to pretend we haven’t. So to know that he’s keeping alive on his own steam – and improving no less – is great news, and it positively lifts my heart. For as much as my former father-in-law may never see things from my side, he is still that beloved, goofy man I’ve known for so many years. The man with whom I’ve traveled around the world, the man from whom I’ve learned to cook Pakistani food, the man from whom I’ve learned so many things I can’t begin to recount them. A man who’s had a huge role in my life, regardless of the other, less fortunate crap that ended up happening with us all.

When things were dire for him over the past weeks, I began an emergency re-evaluation of how our lives would feel without him. First, I’m just not ready to see my ex experience that kind of heartbreak. I know he’s not my husband anymore, but nonetheless it will be very hard for me to witness his grief when that time comes. While it would be very hard on my son to be sure, my ex husband will be a profoundly changed man when his dad dies. They are two of the same cloth, and I’m sure it will feel like part of himself is gone. And speaking purely about the nuts and bolts of the family businesses, Riaz is the patriarch in charge. So upon his death one day, things will change in a big way. And I myself was not quite up to this big of a change – quite yet. (But is one ever really ready??) To know that Elihu is going to see his grandfather again allows my whole body to relax again. This is a great relief indeed.

So for the next four days Elihu will be with his father and his grandfather. All afternoon he was silly and bouncy, in a cheery mood just to know that soon he’d be with Daddy. And how happy I am for him. What doesn’t make me so happy are the cold starts and immediate goodbyes – the instant change with no time for emotional preparation. Here today, there in a few hours. Oops, sorry I didn’t confirm it with you, but you’ll roll with it, won’t you?... I always do. Friends tell me I’m a doormat to my ex. I say I’m only trying to maintain some feeling of love in the family. It’s not often a two-way street, however. I myself have had so little love or respect from my ex that sometimes I really do feel like being a bitch and just saying ‘no’. But if I back off, take a breath and re-assess things, although it still might piss me off, I’m able to handle the rescheduling and the added stress. Cuz I love my son, and want things to be the best for him.  I know that whatever shit goes down all around, the bottom line is that a child needs his parent, and the parent needs his child. There is no greater feeling of relief than to hold your child firmly within your arms after a long absence. It’s a gift I never want to refrain from giving, no matter how angry I might be. And just as it gives my mother’s heart relief to hold Elihu close, so it also gives my heart relief to know that father and son will be in each other’s arms again soon.