Monday, February 2, 2009

A Red Line of Yarn Across a Flat Face

O God, that men should put an enemy in their mouths to steal away their brains! That we should, with joy, pleasance, revel, and applause, transform ourselves into beasts.
--William Shakespeare,
The Tempest
I have come to realize that a very real part of motherhood is based on lies. It's okay, sweetie, everything is fine, you are safe, I am here, there are no monsters, have a treat, watch a Dora, sshhhh... and we pat the backs of our children while making promises we cannot keep. Things happen in life that mothers cannot prevent or fix and this, the greatest tragedy of parenting, is matter of fact, indifferent. It simply is.
I am reading a book--Beautiful Boy: A Father's Journey Through his Son's Addiction. I read it at night under the covers with cold hands, much like I read the story of The Patchwork Monkey as a child. Because "Beautiful Boy" scares the fuck out of me, a memoir of an involved father watching his son battle meth addiction. It all seems so arbitrary, a crapshoot, which children survive the dangerous ribbon of adolescence and which do not.
He started toward her, his smile growing wider and thinner until it was a red line of yarn across a flat face. He laughed in a silly falsetto that wasn't Jason's laugh at all. "I'm not fooling," the monkey said.
--The Patchwork Monkey
I come from an illustrious long line of alcoholics and addicts, some highly functioning, some not so much. My father got sober when I was 20ish, but before that my house was full of pot seeds and smoke, bottles of cognac, days and nights without time and full of secrets. My mother, on the other hand, has never been a drinker. When we moved I found a cache of her old calendars, 1975 through 1988. She was meticulous about writing in them: Darryl to vet's, Andy asthma appointment, block party. Sometime in 1977 the entries grew comically topical: Susannah sleepover @ Margaret's, hot tub @ the Swanson's, Quaaludes. Over time, Quaaludes was shortened to 'ludes, and then the hot tub grew cold, and the 'ludes disappeared by 1980. My mother was not cut out for drinking and drugs, prone to keeping time on her calendars by the telephone.
Tomorrow I have an appointment at the DMV. I like writing things down. I have tried my fair share of drinking and drugs but here I am at 36 and I know what I have to do this week. I don't know how or why but my brother and I seem to have escaped addiction relatively unscathed. Based on our family history, we should not have. But here we are; we drink Vitamin Water, eat hot tamales, the few bottles of wine on our countertops bought by our spouses or received as gifts. Mmm, it's got a fruity taste, blackberries, maybe, with a smoky afternote... I let the spoonful of Ben & Jerry's melt on my palette fine.
In high school we had parties at The Ridge, The Meadows, The Shooting Range, word of mouth gatherings of foggy nights huddled around a keg in the middle of nowhere, dark save the red plastic cups and quick puffs of teen breath in the cold. We drove cars fast up winding mountain roads, fast on slick wet curves, fast past deer staring straight into the headlights like a flashback. I saw one boy die right in front of me, the blood dripping from his ear, bloated chest, a car crash quick, a few others I did not see but they died nonetheless. I would creep into my house at curfew and clean the kitchen. This was my chore and I was a good kid. Sometimes my mother would come out to say hello, climb out of her warm bed where she had been reading, and I would talk into the Cascade steam of the dishwasher so she could not smell the wine coolers on my breath.
I will talk to Zoey about drugs. She is not yet three so I don't know yet what I will say, or if it will matter. But I will talk to her about self-medicating, about self-esteem, about birds and bees and budgets and I will tell her to remember to bring a pair of flip flops when she gets a pedicure. I will talk and I will listen and I will pray, but in the end I have to know that she will live or die with or without me, and that is the most terrifying fact of them all. Sshhh, it's okay, I am here, you are fine. I say these things to her, addicted as I am to platitudes, the words a mantra, in some ways meaningless, consonants and the empty vibration of vowels echoing, in other ways quite possibly capable of transformation, if not of purpose, then at least of promise, however true.
*I should probably mention that the boys in that photo are in no way related to me. I just love the pic for the sheer abitrariness of genetics. I imagine they are brothers home for the holidays. Click on image for source.

12 comments:

suzanne said...

girl--i tortured myself by reading that book WHILE raising a teenage son who was teetering on the edge of screwing up his whole life w/his rebellion....thankfully he came out of it before he went too far down a path his genetics had paved for him. That book was so moving to me because i could so easily feel his pain. having children is brave...no doubt about it.

the girL said...

I've read the book but not being a parent yet, I was actually more moved by the son's book, Tweak. Both amazing accounts of addiction though.

Daisy said...

It sounds like a riveting yet frightening book. And for you, with addiction in the family...it must be terrifying to read at times.

Petunia said...

I shook when I read that book. It could have been me but I got lucky and dodged that bullet. The disease of addiction is a beast. I escaped the substance part of it but was addicted to danger and mean men. My other siblings caught different forms of the disease as well. Your little girl is growing up in a time when mothers can talk to them about all of these things. My parents wouldn't or couldn't and probably didn't even know what to say because they didn't know that anything was wrong. It was just more of the same that they knew to do. They still seem to look sideways at the few of us in programs that give us relief from whatever is ailing us. Thank goodness your eyes are open and you know what to do with what you know. I lost 6 friends in a drag race the night of graduation from HS. Drinking, drugs, fast cars all seemed so much fun one minute then not so much the next. I wish someone had told me sooner that I was living in some state of insanity and that there was a way out. You are a great mother to that little girl.

Patois said...

I will tell all, bit by bit, as they age. And I will pray, every single day, that they are spared as I was inexplicably spared.

MJ said...

All I can think of is....that poor mother of the two sons in the photograph attached to the blog. Poor poor woman.

I'm scared to be a parent. I don't know how you do it. You are a wonderful mother! All I hope for is a relationship with my children where I can be an honest good mother and give them hope and protect them at the same time and god forbid they ever tattoo their faces....I will be pissed off!

And for when Zoey and you get in arguments and might disagree on things and she becomes a raging hormonal maniac in her teens, you can always send her to her Auntie. And don't worry you'll probably be getting our kids too. I honestly don't know how the hell I turned out to be semi normal. Growing up is tough and parenting is even tougher. I'm scared.

PS. Save that book for me for my christmas present for next year. THANKS! :)

Rosalie said...

Guess what I heard the new 'teen' thrill is from my dad who lives next to a few? Standing on a sidewalk along a busy road and pushing your friends in to the on coming traffic. Jeezz. If I don't have enough worry keeping me up at night...
Xo
Ro

jen said...

I worry about all that too but figure I'm ahead of the parent game if I don't smoke pot WITH my kids like my dad did.

Yikes.

Trenches of Mommyhood said...

You must also read Tweak. It's the book written by the son.
(I actually liked it better than Beautiful Boy.)

Tess said...

Oh girl. This is a great post.

ME TOO ME TOO ME TOO. I have a RAGING family history of various and sundry addictions.

And I am TERRIFIED of that Beautiful Boy book.

Stefanie said...

I think you should have the talk with your daughter NOW. Seriously. Okay, not seriously. But it would be kind of funny. In a NOT FUNNY way. But at least you could feel good that you already warned her.

kevinburns55 said...

If I learned one thing from Narconon Vistabay it was to be entirely honest and tell it how it is when it comes to drug and alcohol addiction. I have come clean with everything I did so others will know the path less traveled isn't always worth the effort to stay afloat. Please show you new child the hores that can occur rather than sugar coat it for there protection. I know you will think you are putting to much on there mind to worry about. But the unknown is what drives us to discover. Let them know the WHOLE story so there is no questions about that grey area of existence of drug addiction.