The Hillhouse

The Journey of a Mother and Son

Lost August 6, 2013

Kid’s been gone over two weeks. Maybe it’s three by now. You’d think I’d know, but I don’t. Been busy, busy, busy, trying to get all the things done that I simply can’t during the year. I suppose now that he’s ten it’ll become easier for me to do things. He can get himself something to eat or entertain himself easily enough. It’s just that I always feel badly about digging into solitary projects like filing, organizing teaching materials or other time-consuming stuff when he’s home. Which is why I’m hitting it so hard now. But today I feel stopped. The sun is shining and the day is bright, yet I can’t shake this feeling that the world is passing me by. I’m here in my windowless basement office, going through boxes and files and papers that just never seem to end. And I wonder, as I have so many times before, how on earth do working people deal with all this crap? There’s never an end to things that need tending to, never an end to the drawings and schoolwork that needs to find a home, there’s never an end to the personal correspondence, the filing, the bills, the paper…. And yet, at the end of the day, when someone asks me “what do you do all day?”, I’m hard-pressed to properly explain myself. Which leads me to this very moment. Right now, I’m feeling tetherless and lost.

In going through my music closet, and in finally opening great manila envelopes marked “to look at and file”, my past spills out onto my lap in old set lists, cocktail napkins scrawled over with chords, laminates and other small, useless items that only break my heart today. I remember the feeling of hope that went along with that time in my life. Our lives seemed all yet ahead of us then. Yes, I can say that I knew I was enjoying a good time in my life, and I did enjoy myself. I loved doing what I did, and I never took it for granted. But there was always another show coming up, another project, another seed of hope… I was always swimming with a fast-moving current. There was never anything static about that time in my life. But my life now is very different. Aside from my beloved son, I have to admit to myself, there’s very little of that sort of hope inside me today. There just doesn’t seem to be any forward pull. Yes, I have my writing, I suppose. Dear friends and readers who check in to bear witness to our tiny adventures, but is that in of itself a destination? What, I wonder, as I hold the evidence of a life once fully lived and enjoyed, just what the hell is my ‘thing’ now? Mom? Part-time accompanist at my kids’ school? Goddam recess monitor? Man. So much hope, so much forward-looking energy in these old scraps of paper. Yet where did they land me? I haven’t touched my Wurlitzer in ages. I haven’t played in a band since I left Evanston. It’s been two years since I’ve sung a proper show. And I miss it all like crazy. I fully admit to flat-out jealousy when I see the Facebook updates of my friends who are still making music. How lucky they are to be playing. To be doing what they love. I do know that I’m lucky to be here, and to have this new chapter from which to learn and grow, but still….

I can’t make much progress as I feel right now. I have no food left in the house, and I’m hungry. My hunger is no doubt helping to make my mood even darker, and I’m trying to muster the resolve to do something about it. It takes some gas and time to get into town, and I just can’t find it in me to go. I’m almost out of cash now too, cuz kids don’t take piano lessons in the summer (I sure never did), but that doesn’t stop bills from coming. August is always something of a financial challenge, and especially now in the wake of our July trip and some small home improvements. I know this has been a great summer, and I was so blessed to have visited Chicago (and to have eaten all that gorgeous food!), but it seems the spark has worn off. I know things aren’t bad by any means. I do. And I’m doing better than I was a year ago. I know it. Plus I’m home, surrounded by things I love, by nature, by a beautiful summer day. Even so, in this moment I’m still not quite sure where I am.

 

Blow Up May 25, 2013

father and sonit started out so sweetly…

The last item I remember on the table for consideration regarding ‘possible scenarios for this coming summer’ was that Fareed, his girlfriend and their two young boys were making tentative plans about driving out here for a visit at the Hillhouse (yes, you heard right) in the RV on their way to visit his extended family in Montreal. It would likely be the end of July. Wow – that was sooner than I could wrap my brain around. I’d always figured this would come one day, I guess I just didn’t figure on that day being so soon. Man, did that get me thinking. How would I deal with this? How should I deal with this? Need I even deal with this at all? This little bomb had me stopped in my tracks. Yes, we’ve all managed ok so far, but then again that was probably because we never saw each other. We knew about each other’s life to some extent, but that was it. Wait, was he honestly serious? Did he really feel comfortable with all of them driving here in that megalith, dropping anchor, plugging in… Having his girlfriend and their two small boys jump out and be cheerfully invited into our modest home for a casual visit? As in a ‘come on in, have some tea and see what we’ve done with the place oh look how well the boys all play together’ kind of thing? Really? Wow. Where to start? Really, where? I told him I wasn’t really comfortable with the idea. But I didn’t say no. Told him I’d have to think on it. And so I began to work on it…

Some four years ago I did in fact have short visions of welcoming Jill here… I realized that there would one day come a time when Charlie would be old enough to want to see for himself where exactly his half brother came from – and maybe even, become slightly curious as to who his brother’s mother was. And by ‘that time’ the mother of Elihu’s half brothers and I would have become somehow able to greet each other properly, civilly. In that first strange year after their son was born – some of you may gasp at this admission – I even had envisioned opening my arms to embrace her, and through that gesture letting her know that I no longer wished to hold all these bad feelings about what had happened… After all, didn’t we both know what it was to love – and live with – the same man? Were not our children siblings? I’m fairly sure that it was the antidepressants that enabled me to function in those early years, but more to the point the drugs were tempering my thoughts and making it possible for me to actually envision positive scenes like that unfolding so naturally… (They also helped with the mundane stuff too, like just plain getting out of bed.) It’s probably why I can no longer retrieve that same visualization these days; I weaned myself off of the medicine a couple of years ago. I’ve made attempts at reviving those first benevolent visions, but without the help of the antidepressants, I just can’t get there again. In fact just trying to makes me feel rather weak and ill. And sometimes quite angry, too.

I remember attending baby Charlie’s baptism, my five year old son sitting a pew ahead of me, next to his father, who sat beside his young girlfriend. I was in a heavy, heartbroken daze that day, but had decided to go to the service in order to show my son that all was ok. Yeah, right. I began sobbing within minutes, sitting there in that foreign church, knowing no one there save my in-laws (who have never shown me any compassion throughout this ordeal and continue to have a strangely ‘Stepford wives’ air about them) and staring with absolute disbelief at the back of my husband’s head. I saw him take his girlfriend’s hand and give it a squeeze. He put an arm around Elihu. Jill’s own mother must have seen this too, for strange as it might seem, at that moment she turned around and handed me a tissue. This tiny gesture told me a lot. She knew what torture this was for me. She got it. But her daughter seemed light years away from any similar comprehension. My tears fell uncontrollably throughout the ceremony. My son returned briefly to my side afterward, but then trotted off to be with the celebrating family. Not mine. Not his either, really. Or was it? Who the hell knew anything? For God’s sake her parents were our peers! Nothing felt right at all. In the church lobby, Jill’s dad agreed with me that he’d be up for breaking away for a sanity-restoring cigarette outside. Only time I’d ever spoken to him. But as kind a gesture as it was, it didn’t end up happening. Like his wife’s offering of a tissue – his loose invitation for a smoke also told me that he too got it. That he felt bad for me, for the situation. For the way things ended up. I remember both of us agreeing, as we looked towards our shoes and shook our heads, that it certainly wasn’t the baby’s fault, but still, just so not the way any of use would have wanted things to be.

Fast forward to now. I had just spent several weeks in deep contemplation of the proposed visit by my ex’s ‘other family’. I’d been greatly stressed by it, greatly at odds. I spent morning quiet time thinking it over from all sides, trying to get myself into that moment when I finally saw her… and of all places on the planet…here. Why was it just so, hard? Why? I was just about to post something about the process itself, when I learned that it would turn out to be worry wasted: At dinner last night, Fareed casually said those plans were now not happening. Instead, he would be taking Elihu on a nearly six week (and nearly ten thousand mile!) tour in the middle of his summer – a trip that would take the local county fair off the summer’s list (a top priority item, year after year, but missed each year on account of dad’s plans). Things, once again, have changed radically – from the already radical plans they’d originally been. Without so much as a heads up. Or email. Or phone call.

So, imagine what’s going on inside me. First, I’m pissed that he posed this incredibly awkward possibility, had me agonize over it for a while, then just drops it. Granted, HUGE relief. But then instead, he has his time with his child occuring on a hippie jam band tour? Late nights, long boring drives, unknown babysitters, not to mention the partying that takes place along the line…. I’ve dealt with this culture since my son was 5, so it does not freak me out for the many and obvious reasons it might another mom… and at the age of 10 he’s certainly much more able to handle himself safely. But six weeks in a friggin RV with grown men? That’ll get old soon enough. I do get that he’s old enough to play music with them – he’s been doing that all his life, and that’s an amazing experience that will be with him always – but there’s a down side to this too: he misses summer vacation at home with his friends, his farm, his free time. The past three summers have ended in tears because Elihu felt he did not have enough time at home just to do nothing. Just to be a kid, agenda-free. And his days just to be a kid are fast coming to a close! Three times now he’s missed the county fair. (Tears always result.) His dad says to suck it up – and reminds me that the court says he should have two whole months with his father. What to do? Fareed tours much of summer. So if Elihu should visit his dad at his home, that will be interrupted by absences here and there – and they certainly won’t get two months of visiting in. And from what I understand, Jill doesn’t feel comfortable taking care of Elihu when his father’s gone. (Why, after five years and two sons of her own, she should feel this way – I don’t really understand. But as Elihu says, ‘she’s family, but she’s not family’.) So, in order for father and son to be together, the ‘best’ way to accomplish that is pack the kid on the bus and join the tour. Sigh.

I will admit that I should have researched the dates of the county fair and sent them to dad long before today’s conversation. I know Fareed’s priorities, and I should have carved out ours months ago and put them in black and white. Fareed is crazy busy, and I know he can’t just keep dates and overall objectives in his mind with all that’s going on in his world. He needs them on paper. I get that. But I will not retract my opinion that the way Fareed handled the summer plans sucked. Abruptly announcing the current plans have simply changed, and that they have been replaced by another new and challenging scenario is supremely lame and selfish. Look, I’m so much more sympathetic to his side of this than most can understand. I cannot imagine the heartbreak Fareed lives with, and while he may not know it (but my friends all do and think I’m crazy for it) I worry about him still. (As I write this I fret that he’s not sleeping well or isn’t comfortable enough on the train ride back.) I don’t want him separated from his son anymore than possible. It positively grieves me to know how deeply he misses Elihu, it does! But not to give any consideration to his son’s expectations of the summer, to think only of getting in his ‘court appointed time’ against all odds – that is a lame and selfish approach. I wish Fareed could try and imagine summer vacation from his son’s perspective: un-planned days on the farm, long days spent with friends… empty, sunny days expanding into the future… I know Fareed’s busy, I realize he misses his son terribly and that we must all make this work, but I just wish Fareed would think of his son before he thinks of himself. But that’s not the way he rolls.

Not sure how it happened, but I’m guessing the wine and beer musta helped loosen me up (don’t drink much these days). Cuz I was fuming. Fuming that he should once again just Lord His Way over us. Tell us the plan without any input from Elihu beforehand. I have been through enough tears from this child over summers in which he feels he has NO control, and NO audience with his dad. I have had it. Plus, I’ve had it with Fareed acting like this is all life as usual for a normal family. Acting as if nothing is wrong. Or different. He has never apologized to me for any of this new life – nor has Jill for that matter (as an olive branch of sorts I once emailed her to say thank you for taking good care of Elihu. Heard nothing back. Fareed said she was scared of me. Geez.). Only recently did Fareed offer a letter of apology to Elihu – and that was only in response to having read a blog post here! Instantly, things begin to tumble around in my head. In my mind I replay his words just before we married: “Remember, no matter WHAT happens, divorce is NOT an option”. I remember that so well. So well. They were words of true and lifelong committment and I took them seriously. I think of this and it makes me madder. Now my head is buzzing. I am livid and still gaining. In this moment I remember too my miscarriage, and how he’d knocked up his girlfriend shortly after… I remember that he did her on the same couch where I had once nursed our baby… I remember that he does voice and guitar duo gigs with her now too, the very sacred thing that he and I had shared for so many years… I remember that he pays his lawn guys the same money he pays in support… I thought of our days without heat, mixing powdered milk with water while his kids ate pricey gluten-free crap… All of this and more swirled about in my head in one hot, horrible, raging mess and as he left the room I screamed at him just to go home to his slut and her illegitimate kids and leave us alone. Although I’m sure there were moments before that had come close, I cannot remember feeling such acute betrayal and rage as I did in that moment. I walked outside looking for an outlet for my rage, but nothing felt right. I needed to keep busy. I was spinning. Inside the house again, I sunk my hands into the dishwater; at least I could use this surge of white-hot energy to get the stupid dishes done. I picked up a knife and paused; for an instant, I could see how good it would feel…. And I understood much better how crimes of passion come to be. I finished the dishes, and as my anger subsided I began to feel sick about what I’d said. Sick. God damn it – this whole fucking thing was sick. I so wish I could just escape from it, but there’s nothing to do but take a breath, exhale, then keep going.

Shortly before we dropped Fareed off at the train station tonite, we stopped in a little Indian restaurant because I’d had a taste for some gulab jamun. The owner had a small rack of kurtas there, and I made a beeline to them. After perusing the options, I settled on a turquoise blue choice, and Elihu found a handsome one in black – just his size and right for wearing on stage. Yeah, it was all pretty perfect. Then Fareed spied a gorgeous deep red kurta, one I too had thought of taking – but not wanting to be greedy had left it be… He looked it over once, then rolled it up. “I’ll take this one too” he said. It was bagged separately. Walking back to the station I laughed to myself. It just didn’t ever seem to end. He asked me what I was laughing about. I told him. “She gets to have the second baby, she does the duo gigs with you now, plus she gets a kurta.” I paused. Wasn’t sure if I should continue, but hey, he asked… “She’s got bigger boobs and she’s younger too – she’ll last you a lot longer. Yeah, you’ve done a good job in replacing me. You got yourself a pretty good deal.” Really, I was smiling. It just seemed so crazy. Scripted, almost. Kinda like Reba’s show, only not. Kinda, but… While he has a good sense of humor and will sometimes join me in acknowledging how insane this all is, he wasn’t joining me this time. In fact, I think he probably thought it was too much. Too insensitive or sarcastic maybe. Oh well. Still seems kinda funny to me. Hey, if I don’t laugh about it, I’ll cry. And when I cry, there’s a good chance I might just blow up.

sadbut it ended with a bang.