Searching for: My Brother

*Disclaimer: I would not have posted it if things continued now to be the way they were, nor if my brother has not publicly written about this himself.*

 

I wrote this… during a rougher time.

Substance abuse and addiction have had a negative affect on my life in many ways, including the loss of family members and friends. When my brother began using in a way that was dangerous, that radically altered his previously loving personality, and isolated him from our family and trustworthy friends, I began a debilitating struggle with constant nightmares and high levels of anxiety for several months straight. The lack of sleep exacerbated my feelings of confusion, sadness, anger, fear, and despair.

My brother is my heart- although ultimately I learned it is important to accept that sometimes there is only so much you can do to maintain a relationship that is healthy without the participation of the other person. On your own, you must go on with your life, regardless of what others choose to do. As a practicing therapist, this is advice I often give to my clients. This experience gave me a renewed appreciation of the challenges my clients experience when trying to utilize this advice.

This experience made that advice sound trite, when coming from others and directed at me.

This is an experiance which humbles as person, no matter how sophisticated, how loving, how intelligent, how committed- loving someone who struggles with substance abuse can bring one, anyone, to their knees. I have written this piece about that precise moment.

Some people experience the moment as panic attacks during the day, but for me it almost always came at night. In fact, I welcomed being awake and at work, because I love my work and would become so immersed in it that I was able to forget my own situation. Gandhi was right, the best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.

But at night I would toss and turn, often eventually conceding that getting up was the only way to escape the nightmares, some of which inspired the piece below.

Not sure if my brother will ever read this, as our relationship is still on it’s way back and he is not as present in my life as I would wish. But I maintain hope that we are on our way back to the closeness and honesty that we have historically had.

If you are reading this, brother, know that I love you.

I’ve missed you.

I believe in you.

I need you.

And I am always here for you.

 

 Searching for Sleep

For weeks now the sleep comes in sharp

Twenty minute shards.

When I wake up, I try

Picking pieces from my mind

Sometimes I fall back to sleep

despite splinters

 

This night, most nights, I can’t.

 

I’ve tiptoed, but now

I prefer the lesser of two evils,

The sound

Of eggshells cracking, under my

feet against my fists bang

my forehead against them

 

The latest dream came sweltering and you were small

A tired child and needing.

Coming back from dream errands, I carried you up

the steps towards our cool apartment

To rest,

to rest, to rest

 

The smoke met us in the hall

Then the double doors that lead to home

Burst open

 

And you, as you are now,

Tall, too thin, with your face turned away,

raced down them, raced past us.

 

I tried to call you, then to grab you,

I tried to ask you

Where’s the smoke coming from?

 

(And I can hear my voice rising.

I can feel the weight of the child in my arms

I can sense the shell

cracking and

I hate,

I hate, I hate

The terror and panic I hear in

myself,

the raw

and the honesty-

I know you hear it too

I know you hate it too.)

 

You smile that smile that says you’re done

And you say “Sister, there’s no fire.”

 

***

 

No rest for the worried, egg on my face

In waking life-

In anger-

I’ll say,

“I’ll stop trying!

I accept your running away,

and I won’t ask anymore.”

 

In dreams though, I know,

My mind, my heart (without my permission)

will still seek

all dark corners.

 

Will ceaselessly stretch out to search

For the whole of you. For the whole of me.

 

For eyes meeting,

Words true,

Sleep clean.

 

But back in reality

it’s four am.

And again, like grey light, 

like smoke I can’t hold

I sense now:

We got broken. We got burned.

We are lost.

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Searching for: Acceptance

Z and I finally convinced ourselves to go for a walk together, after a week of travelling, having company, working, viewing houses, and just generally overextending ourselves. Part of us just wanted to sit on the couch, watching another mindless sitcom, to “unwind”. Luckily we got our exhausted selves outside!

A friend had told me that the rose garden was in full bloom at the Arboretum, the community park and garden only a couple blocks from our apartment. It is the same place where three years ago, Z proposed to me.

So we went for a stroll. As we began the walk, we laughed as a young mother attempted to photograph her toddler against the backdrop of the rose bushes. His hair was carefully slicked to the side with gel. His gold bracelet glowed against his plump brown wrist. It was clear the mom had put a lot of effort into getting him ready for this photo. But when she set him down and stepped back to take the photograph, he cried and wobbled towards her, hands outstretched. She would drop the camera, come forward again, and comfort him. After a moment of snuggling, she’d set him by the rosebush to try the shot again.

And again, he would shriek. The mother just couldn’t get the shot, because she could not be behind the camera and in front of the camera at the same time.

Z and I couldn’t help laughing a little, and as we laughed he took my hand. We are excited about having our own little ones someday; every time we see a child, we sort of look at each other with dreamy eyes. “Someday soon,” our looks say, and we feel connected about the future. As we rounded a corner, we reminisced about the past. Different stages of our relationship, the different people we’d been through the years. We hadn’t talked like that in weeks. A further way down the path, on a whim, I suggested we start running. To my surprise Z agreed.

We raced through the trails. I could feel the path under my pumping feet, the moisture in the air gathering on my hot skin. My lungs were working, as was my mind, on the action of running. In fact, there was nothing else at all on my mind. Sometimes people passed us. Other times we passed them. When we became tired, we walked again.

Finally we came to the end of our little constitutional. Coming up the other side of the rose garden, between two full bushes, I spied the young mother and her toddler again. It seemed she had given up on the perfect photo she’d had in mind.

Instead, she was lying in the grass, her short arms and legs outstretched. Her child came to her, climbing across her broad tummy, shimmying down her full hips. He would dance away for a moment, then return. They were both laughing.

On the way home, and for the rest of the evening, I couldn’t get the happy little family out of my mind- I didn’t want to. The mom was not able to get her predetermined picture. She did not execute her plans. But instead, she created a beautiful memory.

How many times do we ignore the beauty of the present, because of our concerns about the future or the past? How often do we let these moments slip through our fingers, unnoticed, because we are focused on forcing the impossible? How much of our lives do we spend “being in two places at once”, our bodies present but our minds and energies elsewhere, instead of wholly committing to the ongoing, if imperfect, experience?

Because it will go by so quickly. And none of us, regardless of the money we make or the perfect pictures we take, can get any of our time back.

The next time I am struggling with my inability to be in two places at once, literally or figuratively, I will call to mind this mother: a woman who is able to let go of her own expectations, to accept her own limitations, and to genuinely appreciate her life for exactly what it is in the present moment- no more, but certainly no less.

Searching for: Home

My husband and I are looking to buy our first home in Louisville this summer, and the pressure is on to find the perfect (but affordable) house. For two weeks, I had scoured the recesses of the internet, searching for that elusive ideal home.

Louisville is a large city, and there are many different neighborhoods to choose from. It all felt a bit overwhelming, so we started asking around. Most of the people we asked recommended one of two neighborhoods- the Highlands and Old Louisville. So this weekend, we finally went searching in person!

The Highlands had been recommended to us by many different people, as an eclectic and exciting neighborhood perfect for the young professional couple. And it was! Everywhere I looked, I was surrounded by art and interesting people.

Bryan Patrick Todd (graphic designer) and Kirby Stafford (sign painter)

Unfortunately, the house I’d found on craigslist in the Highlands turned out to be a bust. The realtor refused to show us the downstairs (!), and the upstairs had a dip in the floor and a microscopic, isolated kitchen. Despite that disappointment, I was so intrigued by the surrounding area that I will continue searching for my perfect home there.

Zach and I do not have children yet, but are planning for a family in a few short years. With it’s amazing bars, shops, and restaurants, the Highlands would be the perfect place to revel in our last moments of childlessness.

Zach and I, sans children.

I am also fascinated by the Old Louisville area, because of its Victorian architecture and the incongruous urban vibe. According to Wikipedia, Old Louisville actually had the highest concentration of houses with stained glass in windows in the United States.

Example of Old Louisville stained glass from http://www.thecolumbine.com/index.htm

On the other hand, wiki also says, “The area is now one of the most ethnically and economically diverse in Louisville… Crime is becoming less of a problem.”“Less” of a problem? Hmmm. Yet, strolling down the wide sidewalks, shaded from the hot sun by one hundred year old trees and towering Victorians- I felt like I was home. The gargoyles winked at me from their perches, wishing me success on my search.

If any of my dear readers have lived in Louisville, your input would be very much appreciated! Where should I live? What shows, events, or festivals can’t be missed? Where should I eat, shop, or write? Thank you!

Post-Graduation Desperation

I only went to graduation because my mother insisted upon it. I didn’t go to my undergraduate ceremony, so I guess she felt ripped off. Luckily for her, this year I was invited to two graduation ceremonies- the general commencement at Rupp Arena (which every graduate attends) and a special diversity celebration called the Harambee ceremony. This means I had to stand up on stage twice. For those of you who don’t know me, that’s TWO opportunities to fall across the stage. TWO chances to accidentally speak into the microphone while murmuring inappropriate things, like:

“This is what I spent sixty-five grand for?”

or

“Fuck these shoes.”

I had a lot of anxiety about the actual graduation ceremonies, particularly because I hate being the center of attention.

Us, after 14,000 “different” poses.

I’m afraid I’ll take up too much time, or someone will think I expected too much. Maybe my hair could frizz out, or my body could bloat. Pimples will bloom all over my face from the anxiety, the way flowers do from sunshine, and my overall appearance will be offensive and disgusting. People will say, “Huh, she used to be a decent person- before graduate school.”My fears may stem from living in a family where women’s actions and appearances were critiqued at every opportunity. Too much makeup, not enough makeup, or an extra ten pounds were deemed fatal errors that would most likely result in a girl being alone forever.

Wait… That was your family too?

That explains a lot- about both of us.

Yet somehow, I walked across the stage twice, without any faceplants or booing, or booze. I shook the dean’s hand and reached for degree folder, and he didn’t snatch it at the last moment like I’d suspected he might. Somehow I managed not to shame my family while graduating. The ceremonies ended, with the promise that the actual diploma would be mailed to my apartment, which I found very suspicious.

My family wandered out of the arena and into the crowded streets, where we took thousands of photographs. The hot sun was beating down on my polyester robes as I was arranged alongside members of my family in slightly different, virtually indistinguishable arrangements. We were in front of fountains at Triangle Park.

Across the street from Triangle Park was the Hilton hotel, the place where my husband and I stayed for our wedding night. So many wonderful things had already happened to me while I was in college, but now I had the sinking sense that it was all over. Where would life take me next? I gripped my empty degree folder tighter with sweaty, anxious palms, and wondered if I could get a job as a maid at the Hilton.