Thursday, June 26, 2008

Snow in the City

Snow. New stuff this. Crunchy, not soft. Grey, not white. But cold. Jake stopped on the sidewalk to take it in. He bent down to scrape up some snow, this wondrous new substance for an eight-year old, but not for long. Mama's walking.

Her old habits return quickly, for the city is hardly unfamiliar to her. For a moment, she forgets about the boy. Her head is tuned to the past and not the crunching snow underfoot. The boy may not even exist. But he does, catching her held back hand, reflexively. The cold surprises her and she stops.

What's this?

Snow!

It's dirty. Don't play with it.

But it's snow!

When we get to the park. Then you can play with it.

She wipes his hand, then grasps it firmly, fairly pulling him along. The world rushes by. Crunching in the snow, everywhere there is motion. Heads down, look out. Mama's walking. The boy tucks into her coat as they reach the bus stop.

Waiting, snow begins to fall. Tugging, twisting, eager to see more, to catch a flake, he turns away and sees the dog.

For the boy, street level has real meaning. Tethered to an adult, he knows he is secure, but the world below the waist has a turmoil all it's own. Legs whipping by, umbrellas and bags to dodge, the view is chaotic. The dog is at the boy's height, in his world and in trouble.

Around the dog's neck there is a choke chain, and it is tight. The dog is small and lithe, certainly no match for the chain. Already it cinches up the fur around his neck as he is dragged along. No look from above returns the plea for release. The dog tugs and pulls, but the motion is seen as rebellious, not plaintive, and the return is tighter and tighter still.

The boy watches as they approach. The snow is falling hard now, and the bus is pulling up. He tugs at his mother's arm but the response is to pull him closer as they edge toward the curb. He fights and twists to look back.

He can see the man with the leash now, a filthy and disheveled creature with an open coat and wild hair. He is openly fighting with the dog now, wrenching it up into the air as it yelps and struggles. No one stops. No one looks. Just the boy.

The man moves toward a store now, dragging the dog behind him. People step out of the way. A woman leaves the store head down and swerves to avoid tripping on the dog, but does not stop. No one stops. The bus is coming.

The boy can see the dog's tongue now, long and red, it droops loosely from his mouth. The struggles are diminished now, reduced to quivers and involuntary spasms, but the torture is not finished. The man cannot drag the body of the dog through the closing door. The shopkeeper emerges to prevent him from entering. No sounds The wild gestures say it all.

No effort is made to to save the dog, only to remove the offender from the store. In this, the shopkeeper is successful, but by the time the man has been forced back onto the street, he is dragging a corpse. The long red tongue makes a soft wet trail in the falling snow as it disappears into the forest of motion.

The bus is here.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Portland Progress

Well, we have arrived at a point long coming but ever so hard to imagine, especially because I have thought about it for what seems like a lifetime.

In fact, it has been a lifetime. As I held Madelaine in my arms I would of course wonder what she would sound like, how she would talk and walk. I never thought about what she would 'do', in so far as a career, mostly because it was so far away, and because I was content to wait and see what see brought me.

Consequently, I never imagined her working in a kitchen until she brought it up, but as soon as she made it her ambition, I could see why it makes sense, and now I think it is fair to say that I share that ambition with her. I will certainly do whatever I can to help her, but I can see my time for doing this is growing short.

She attended Orientation at the Culinary Institute yesterday and received her uniforms after touring the kitchens, meeting the chefs and getting a first taste of 'the rules'.

Of these, which are many, the most important is to be in class on time and in uniform. For students, the uniform, is well, the same: Black steel-toed lace-up shoes, black and white checkered chefs pants, a crispt white double-breasted chefs coat with the WCI seal embroidered over the heart and a name tag (correctly spelled!) on the opposite side. Around the neck goes a hand-tied cravat (basically a white napkin, which is what chefs actually use) and atop the head (above the beaming smile) is what is called a 'commis' hat. It looks like a white skullcap, and it covers most of the hair. Students are required to be in a clean, pressed uniform at the beginning of every class, which means that if it gets dirty they have to go get a clean one from their locker.

Fortunately for Maddie, her apartment has a washer and dryer right in the unit, so she can keep her uniforms--they gave her five sets, along with the shoes--clean and pressed without having to make a trek to the laundromat.

The apartment is quite nice. It is a two-bedroom, 1 1/3 bath (which means that Maddie has a sink in her bedroom) apartment. Maddie got the larger bedroom because she was the one to find the apartment. We met her roommate Brittany (also a student at WCI) at the apartment shortly after we arrived last week, and (luckily)the two girls hit it off right away. Actually, it isn't surprising that they would at least seem compatible, since, after all, they have a good deal in common; Brittany is also in the Patissiere and Baking program with Maddie, they will have the same school schedule: 4pm to 9pm.

The apartment is actually in Beaverton, which is across the Willamette river about twenty minutes away by MAX, which is the light rail line that runs every ten minutes or so into the Portland city center, just a block from the WCI. The train is well-lit and very safe, and it runs well after nine pm, so she'll have no trouble or danger getting home at night. The walk from the MAX station to the apartment is about two, well-lit and public blocks.

Yesterday, we went to IKEA to shop for furnishings--specifically, a bed and desk--for the new apartment, and found it to be quite interesting. I say it that way because it was actually our first trip ever to this Swedish style sensation, even though I have perused their catalog from time to time. We went there thanks to Chris and Colleen, who provided a nice gift card to get Maddie started in the world the right way. In spite of misgivings--the parking lot is full of SUVs--I found the products to have the allure of the simple and the satisfaction of being inexpensive. Not cheap, in the more conventional wallymart way, but in a way that derives from simply being simple. If that makes sense.

But for some things, IKEA is simply over the top, or at least far too out of the way, so Madelaine also received a wonderful gift card to Target from Alexandra, which will help outfit the new place with all the little details that make it a livable home. Like sheets and pillowcases and towels, and silverware and pots and pans and shower curtains. Oeuf! What fun!

I certainly never anticipated just how much pleasure I would derive from this process. Today we will soon go over to Maddie's apartment (what a delight it is to say that) and get the bed, desk and chair set up and go shopping yet again! Ok, so maybe I am not all that thrilled about all the shopping, but know this: I am again truly happy, if only for this moment, and the pride I feel, if unanticipated, is not undeserved.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Separation Anxiety

Although I've been looking forward to Maddie's transition to living away, the one part of the experience that was unanticipated was the separation anxiety.

Ironcially, I dismissed, or a least did not take as seriously as I might have, the anxiety the children felt as I left them alone in their room to sleep and now, as Maddie prepares to do the same to me, I am not ready.

Oh, yes I am, but there is a part of me, a very physical part, as the mind has come to terms with this event long ago-after all, we have been planning for this for nearly a year--but it is the body that refuses to let go without a struggle. This shouldn't surprise me, as I am quite familiar with the experience, lately, of being in physical pain when I have not a cut or bruise on my outer body to show for it.

Yet, the day approaches and I am not ready. Maddie is ready. I should be ready. I can be, but not tonite. Even though we are no longer at home, and the fact is that in less than a week I will return home without my daughter for the first time in eighteen years. Please, do not tell me that she has been away before. Of course I know that, but always to return home. It is the view from the side of the nest, as we stare unbelievingly into the distance that will bear up our offspring in the next, last moment of our lives that all mammals--and perhaps some birds--share. A part of us dies in that moment, and another part lives on, outside of us and all control we will ever have.

There is no secret to immortality. There is none. It's a cliche, of course, as are all self evident truths which we forget so frequently and with such regularity that we have to make up oft-repeated aphorisms and bits of wisdom, so often, in fact that they become cliche by virtue of their fundamental worth, and, perhaps by extension, of our ability to forget them.

So it is with immortality. Artists will tell you that it is art alone that achieves this state, but they, in their self-satisfied certainty that comes with talent, fail to recall that even art is subject to the inevitable decay that is the nature of matter itself. Even be they parents, it is easy for artists to value the art over the genetics because of their higher calling, but those of us who are merely parents can tell you that if there be anything to approach immortality, it would be procreation. It makes sense to me that the act of sex should be so supremely enjoyable to primates, since we have, I believe, in our genes the intent, if not the means, to immortality. It is our reason for being here. Being here.

So, as I watch Maddie move out into the very same world--and let no one tell you that it has changed, for the basics are unchanged since we first split into two tribes--it is her ability to cope and fare well through obstacles both merely irritating and potentially deadly to which I have entrusted my shot at immortality. All that stands in the way now is a few hours and the bittersweet separation anxiety of the last moment.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Elephant Man

In my efforts to cope with Pierre's death, I have struggled with metaphors for the thoughts and emotions that I have and feel. Last night I found this analogy and have found the strength to write about it, even if this subject may make readers uncomfortable on this Father's Day. Take some comfort in the fact that I have never taken this day seriously, nor will I allow it now to become a symbol of something it never was. So, on this day, I'll manifest a bit more than the usual sanguinity, if you will. I ask your indulgence or suggest you wait for a more delicate post should this be upsetting.

I feel mutilated, as if a major part of me has suddenly been lopped off.

I have always had a secret fear of mutilation, of losing a finger or an arm, especially in the restaurant business, with so many 'built-in' dangers. I have had some serious cuts, but fortunately, all extremities are still intact. One of the manifestations of fear is to exaggerate the danger to heighten awareness so the threat is overwhelmed. Often this leads mistakes that favor the attacker.

Sometimes I cannot believe that the mutilation is not visible to others. Often I will imagine that it is, and that others are staring at it, or trying not to, looking furtively only when they think I am not looking. But the wound is so sensitive that it can feel the touch of a single eye passing across its brined and twisted surface. This disfiguration is ashamed of itself and seeks to shun the pitiful gaze of the onlooker, if only be cause it knows, as only the horribly ugly can ever know, that others are secretly delighted by the sight.

The horror they think they feel is actually a secret pleasure that begins somewhere in the deep and ancient self-consciousness as a survival mechanism but is, in today's cerebral map, now connected directly with the pleasure centers that are tickled by car wrecks, airplane crashes and other bits of modern devastation that make us say, mentally, 'Thank God that's not me!' I guess to survive we obviously need to avoid mutilation but to know what not to do, we have become fascinated with horrible, unthinkable injury.

And so it is with the death of a child. At least this is how it feels for me. I suppose, when I am able to expand my vision to include those who have suffered a similar loss, I'll begin to express these feelings as somehow universal, but for now, I feel them so intensely as personal that I shall not shrink from expressing them as if I am the first, and only person to go though this sort of unexpected change to my psychic (for want of a better word) self.

Truly, I am closer to the goal than even this suggests, but we are now only in the fourth month since Pierre died, and each time I look in the mirror (ie, these notes and comments) I see that it has indeed healed considerably and is not so horribly disfiguring as I imagined.

One of the things I have thought about for many years has been how I would deal with a disfiguring accident that resulted in the loss of an limb or worse. How would I deal with being in a wheelchair for the rest of my life?
Oh, in this easy world of imaginings, I saw myself as the gracious sort, the one about whom others would say, 'Oh he is so gracious! Even though he's in a wheelchair, he has such a positive attitude!'

Right. I have, of course, spent zero time in a wheelchair, and now feel as if I might be one of those other sorts, who is bitter and resentful of his injury, and scorns the looks and shuns the aid of others who would look or dare to try and help.

Actually I can't imagine being at that end of the spectrum either, so it is likely that I'll manifest some attributes of both these styles, if you will, creating yet another incarnation of myself. Interestingly, though the shape be different, I can't help but feel the same in more ways than I feel changed, causing me to wonder if this injury is not so great as I first thought.

And so it is. I know yet I do not. I feel yet I do not. Each day is new and each has some of the same. Knowing that I am part of the larger cycle is probably the greatest single impact that Pierre's death has had on me.

Oh, I have for many years paid lip-service to this larger whole, but now, as I grow older and with the keen introspection that has come with grief, it actually means something. No longer am I able to turn from it. I must turn toward the light, as it were, and with serious effort, discern what it is illuminating in me.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Portland Bound!

Suddenly I am keenly ware that this is Madelaine's last week at home. The idea, the thought itself is nothing new. We have, after all, been planning for this for sometime. The pieces are all starting to fall into place.

First of all, she graduated! We have the diploma and the final set of grades, which were remarkably good. She made all A's and B's in her last semester and passed all of her final exams! She's legit!

Next, we have gotten an apartment for her in Beaverton, which is a suburb of Portland. It is just about ten minutes from downtown via the MAX, which is their fast, clean and inexpensive light rail system. And from the MAX stop in Beaverton, her apartment is a two-minute, well-lit walk, so it should be very convenient for her.

We may have arranged for a roommate as well. Maddie's been in touch with a young woman named Brittany who will, like her, be starting the Patisserie and Baking program out of high school. I say 'may' because the school put the two girls together and I haven't been in the loop. We will meet her next week when we go to to apartment complex to sign on the dotted line.

I have a good feeling that it will all work out, but even though we haven't got it all firmed up, so to speak, we are going ahead with the plan to put her in this two-bedroom apartment. Then, if the roommate falls through and we can't find another, we can move her to a one-bedroom apartment in the same complex.

The apartment will be available to move in on the 27th, so hopefully by the time I leave on the 24th (I can only stay a week), we will have worked out all the details and it will be up to Valery to help her get settled in. Valery will stay in Portland till July 8, just to keep an eye on Miss M.

Now, I think there's a good chance that she'll just be in the way as the girls get to know one another and settle into a routine. I think she will thus have some time to explore Portland on her own. At the very least, Valery will spend a couple of days in Powell's Bookstore, I am sure.

The only other thing we have 'hanging' now is the job. Maddie will be expected to work part-time while she is in school. This is for two reasons. First, it prepares the student for life in the 'real-world' by exposing them to the work environment even as they are learning the skills to compete. It's a chicken-egg dilemma where one simply does and learns by doing so you can say you know how to do it. There is a lot of trial-and-error and a lot of hidden-mentoring that goes on at this level. She must, as we say, 'pay her dues' just to get in the club. So, the school works with local employers and pretty much guarantees that the student can get some kind of job, even if it is not directly related to their program. Thus, Maddie may not work in a bakery, though that's what we are hoping for.

The job and school will mean that she has very little free time. There is a washer/dryer in the apartment so she can keep her uniforms clean and pressed, and we're getting her a laptop with which to stay connected (email & Skype) and do her homework when needed. The school provides internet access in the library, and that may be the extent of it. I don't plan on paying for internet access at her apartment, nor, get ready for it, TV! This will be a long nine months for Miss M, but I am ever more convinced that she will do it and with flying colors!

Thursday, June 12, 2008

The Bus Ride

The first half hour is as frenetic as it ever was. Get up. Get dressed. Water on to boil. Grind the coffee. Prepare the snacks, get the pen, the wallet, the glasses (both pairs?). Whew. Not yet. Shave, get phone, keys, cap. Wait paperwork for today? Ok, almost out the door. Coffee? Change? Cap? keys. Oh yeah I have them already.

Then the drive. O so short, just up the hill I don't want to tackle at 8am and off to the parking lot across from the bus stop. 8:03. Bail. Cross the street. Breathe.

Taking the bus is a commitment. Since it only runs every half hour, I have to plan it carefully, but the effort is worth it. It is worth it, not just in savings on gasoline/money, which, these days, at $4+ a gallon, is a good motivation for parking the truck and riding the bus. It is worth the effort because it is something I actually enjoy and even look forward to. I am certainly not doing it to 'go green', although the happy coincidence is that is does all of the above.

The ride starts with a half-filled bus already. The riders are the same as they've ever been, on every bus I've ever ridden to work, here, in England and France. Blue collar workers and college students. These days, and in this place, this means Hispanic women and the rather dark but clean looking community college students. I suppose that even though I am technically in a white collar job, I have always considered myself to be a member of the working class, and have always taken some pride in that.

The bus winds its way down Westgate Boulevard after I get on, past the rows of duplexes and low rent apartment complexes that line the road up to the intersection with Lamar Boulevard. Today the road was also line with families waiting for a lost or very late school bus. Moms and grandmoms and uncles and aunts stood patienetly with their toddlers and grade schoolers as our bus roared by. By the time we reach Lamar, the bus is full and one person is standing.

Lamar is almost like a time warp as I watch it roll by the big windows. Some of the businesses have been here since before I got here in 1969. Like the Broken Spoke, which, with it's dirt parking lot and ramshackle assembly of weather worn buildings and, of course, the Lone Star bus, is literally an Austin icon. Then there is the Martinez brothers Taxidermist at Oltorf, right next to the XXX bookstore, and across the street from the old Phillips 66 station that has been, for the past twenty years, a State Inspection Station well know for it's rather laid-back approach to the art of car inspecting. I took my decrepit and barely-running VWs there for many years and kept them on the road thanks to the old Lebanese fellow who still runs the shop. I see him out side, puffing on a cigarette, examining the latest rust heap to roll into his bay.

Up comes the Party Pig, which is next to Lone Star Grill and Propane. Both have been there for ten, maybe twenty years. there is the discount tire place, no more than a cinderblock bunker that spills out it's tires to the street every morning. I don't but somebody must be buying tires from these guys. Someone is buy tacos at Maria's Taco Xpress, which, thanks to Walgreen's, is not set back just enough that traffic no longer spills out onto Lamar and blocks our progress. Progress is Lamar. On past the Southwood center with the Alamo Draft House and Maudie's Cafe.

Next, the Rising Sun Automotive shop and the taco stand in behind it. There is Aamco transmission, then Uchi restaurant, Doc Holliday's Pawn, Austin Reprographics and the Bicycle Sport Shop as we roll down to Barton Springs. Ah McDonald's. And across the street, Jack in the Box.

Tucked in behind the Taco Cabana and the new apartment complex that now takes up most of the stretch between here and Town Lake is the nine-hole, par three city-run golf course know as Butler Park Pitch-n-Putt, but you have to look quickly to see it any more. Across the street, the old Binswanger Glass company has been torn down and another condo complex is rising in it's place. Next door to that is the Schlotszkys, with at least has the feel of having been here a while but it too is only about ten years young.

Next up we cross Town Lake. The construction here is frenetic these days. There are at least three thirty-story condominium complexes being built along the lake today, and much more reorganization of the lake front at Lamar is under way. Today there were no fewer than six cranes gathered at that corner, preparing the ground for yet another skyscraper. It's more than symbolic, though it is that for sure.

As soon as we emerge on the other side of the lake, we see the Whole Foods Complex, with brightly colored waving flags and a cool city chicness that is the opposite of the small town flavor of South Lamar. Now we are on North Lamar, roaring past the Lone Star Saloon, then the old/newly renovated Tavern at twelfth street, then winding our way up towards the hill on which the UT Tower is perched. I can see it, of course as we pass the Texas Medical Association headquarters and the miniature Eiffel Tower that marks the Antique Store across he intersection with Martin Luther King Boulevard.

We have entered the campus area now, and my stop approaches, at 24th, just past the old Eisley School building (still pink!) and finally the Caswell Tennis courts, where I descend from the bus and begin my walk to work.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

City Boy

The old doctor squinted at me as I examined his sun beaten face for traces of the boy I'd known.

"I hated it."

The foolishness of this errand flooded my brain as the hot blood made it pound. Not since I arrived at school in second grade wearing the clown's outfit I was supposed to wear in the play later that day have I been so mortified. I wanted to run. Escape without another word, but his gaze had me fixed. I knew I had to take it.

"What?"

"Everything." He paused, turned and spit. The brown juice lingered a moment in the dry yellow clay, then vanished as the earth absorbed the precious liquid and left the remains for the ants.

Even the dirt is the same, I thought. How much else is unchanged? I looked past my old friend for a moment to take in the house. The same house. Is that possible?

"I hated my old man. I hated this house. I hated this dirt."

"Me too?"

"Nah. I don't remember much 'bout you, tell the truth."

Now that hurt. I have long ago ceased to hide my emotions as they cross my face, so lean it is that there is no room for deception, so if he was looking, he'd have seen that.

He wasn't looking. I wasn't prepared for this. The blow is always harder than you anticipate and always easier to recover from than you believe at the time. I caught my breath. I could feel the heat. Same goddam heat. It made the moment that much more awkward. Fueled by the heat and the doctor's bluntness, the false hopes that brought me here were incinerated. Yet, I could not move.

"But you remember, right? All those weekends?"

"Some of 'em. I know you got hurt a lot. You were a city boy. Look like you still are." If he had a smile, that was it.

I laughed. Truly, I was, or had been, in his eyes, a city boy. But Abilene in 1962 was still like living on the frontier. Whether we actually lived in the country or in town, ours was place in a time when we were only a generation or two removed from the original settlers of the land. It seemed to me that only the strips of asphalt that had been cut crudely into the dry West Texas landscape were evidence that this wasn't a hundred years earlier.

After all, we had only to duck under a 'bob-wire' fence and head out into the mesquite and cactus to tread upon land that may not have ever seen a human footprint. There are city boys who've never seen prickly pear cactus or a mesquite tree, but today I was again on the other side of the divide. It had been so long, I'd forgotten it even existed, yet in instant, it all came back to me.

I have, embracing the false fantasy of my youth, simply imagined that I was once a country boy. It seems that convincing myself of the fictions of the past is far easier than fulfilling what fantasies of the future still remain.

Monday, June 9, 2008

A Stage in the Kitchen

So, the journey has already begun. This past Saturday, I arranged for Kelly to take Madelaine into the kitchen at Hudson's for what is know as a stage. This is part of the now centuries-old apprenticeship tradition of the kitchen. Aspiring chefs who want to work for another older and more established chef, will, to prove their worth and interest in the job, work for a day or at most a week for free. During this time, the aspirants are likely fed, but receive little else.

The purpose of the stage is more than just an offer of free labor in exchange for a chance at a job. It is a submission to the reality of the system that requires that new entrants to any kitchen be tested as thoroughly as possible before they are put on the line.

This is strictly self-preservation. No one wants to put someone on the line who will not be able to measure up, as this will just increase the burden on the chefs who can produce, and most likely on a night when no one can take on any more. Thus the system tests for weakness early and even though it's not foolproof, it does at least weed out those individuals who merely thought they had the stamina to last twelve hours on your feet in a hot, cramped kitchen.

Fortunately, I think Madelaine did well in her stage. She helped to prepare the bread, cutting and weighing out the loaves. She peeled and chopped and sliced vegetables and carried dirty dishes to the dish station and generally tried to stay out of the way when it got busy.

Even though Maddie was a complete rookie and a mere guest in the kitchen, Kelly was most gracious and helped her find things to do, and even didn't fuss at her when she got tired. She did in fact stay on her feet nearly the entire twelve hours, from noon to midnite, and complained only of sore feet at the very end. She was, after her shift, still bright and active and even hungry. We stopped off at an all-nite diner to have breakfast at one in the morning. Now there is a tradition for those of us in the business!

I was of course proud of Maddie for graduating from High School earlier this week, but the pride I felt as I watched her work was immeasurably greater! I hate to look too far into the future, so let's just say that the chef's jacket suited her perfectly, and I can see her in it for a lifetime of creative challenges. We've a long way to go, and this is just the first step.

Next...Portland!

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Graduation: II!

At long last, we had our day! Yesterday was Maddie's graduation ceremony. In spite of the fact that it was held in the cavernous Erwin Center, which meant that the best view we had of Madelaine as she got her diploma came on the big screen above the stage. Fortunately, they have a photographer on hand to record the moment, so whatever blurry images I managed to capture will not be the only record of the event.

But pictures weren't the object of the exercise. I have come to understand the value of a public ceremony as a way of marking a significant event, but never in such a practical way as I felt yesterday.

Just being in the auditorium with all the other proud parents and family members gave me an unexpected sense of pride. Unexpected because we put so much effort into the final six weeks that I had not yet allowed myself to consider what all the work was for.

Now, this may seem short-sighted, but in the end, we knew that if Maddie didn't pass all her classes, it would derail her plans for Culinary School, which begins in about three weeks. Nonetheless, all the worry was likely exaggerated since she didn't just pass, but actually finished the last six weeks with some pretty good grades. Interesting, since grades are no longer a concern, after so many years, it seems comical that we even cared!
Maddie was delighted, to say the least. She said that she felt as though a great weight had been lifted from her shoulders, and I think we all understand that feeling. For me, I think the sense of accomplishment is critically important because this is a feeling we need to experience in order to build on it. Even if the exercise is a seemingly artificial one, the result has practical value.

Knowing that she can finish something is just part of it; the fact that she has finished it made apparent in her diploma, proof to the world that she has done something difficult.

Maddie, I am very proud of you!

Monday, June 2, 2008

Graduation: I!

Ok, this is it. The last week of High School for Madelaine!

It is hard to believe, after all these years, but here we are. Friday, June 6, 2008 is Graduation Day!

Well, this is almost it. We still have one agonizing week--four days, actually-- of final exams, two of which are 'must pass' for Miss M., if you know what I mean. I am feeling guilty now because we are at the end and i feel that the closeness of the finish is a reflection on my ability to prepare her, and, given that inadequacy, we don't even want to go into my doubts and fears about the WCI and Portland.

Fear is a paralytic thing. If you just let a little creep in, it begins to take over. Suddenly, things about which you were formerly confident don't seem like such 'no-brainers' anymore. Hesitation is death in the natural world, and I sense that being marked by death can result in that sort of paralytic fear. I have resolved, here and elsewhere, with my family and friends, not to allow this fear to paralyze me, and, if I can, prevent my doubts from spilling out and infecting or affecting others, especially Maddie.

So, the watchword for this week is patience. This mountain is large one and every time I think I'm doing well, I'll hit any icy patch. Fortunately, I'm tied off to Valery, who, even though she doesn't realize it all the time, is actually leading the way. When your 'regular' sense have been dulled or injured, as have mine, you must rely on the sixth sense of your natural guides, and in this case, that is Valery. I see her up above me, leading the way, laughing and crying as she explores the unknown even before she reveals it to me.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Amends

An interesting consequence of the particular circumstances of Pierre's death has been my exposure to a phenomenon called 'Amends'.

Now, I am sure, to many this will seem like an observation a long time in coming, especially given the fact that Pierre was a known drug abuser and died as a result of injudicious drug use and a failure to understand the consequences of that abuse, both for himself and those who loved him.

I mean, realistically, we might have been introduced to the '12 Steps' in a formal way long before B. came to use us to obtain his 9th level merit badge or coin or whatever they reward the 'Steppers' with these days. No, the truth of it is, I have known about the 12 Step program, as many people do, apocryphally, in stories that others have told me about AA and the quasi-religious 12 step program that is at its core.

So, though I have 'friends' who are in AA, not only do I not have an alcoholic 'in recovery' in my immediate life, I have never actually known anyone well who is, or has made known to me, a 'Stepper'.

This is telling, since it is proof that we never induced Pierre to enter such a program, though he did go through a drug rehabilitation program that required certain elements of the Steps to be observed, or at least acknowledged, like connecting the actions of an abuser with the feeling of the loved ones who are hurt by the abuse, but the specifically Christian elements of the program he rejected out of hand, and, I confess I did nothing to reverse.

Nor do I, at this moment, think that I might have been able to influence him in that way, as if the fatal die had been cast long before the drugs actually entered his life. That is another story. Nonetheless, I see that I had an opportunity to explore the 12 Steps and perhaps let it slip away.

Or did I? It turns out that the steps came looking for me. When B. called Valery to ask if he could meet with us to make 'amends', my open skepticism and pre-judgment disappointed Valery considerably, and she counseled me, wisely, not just to 'reserve judgment'--my term, which obviously implies a final judgment--but not to judge at all. 'It's his show,' she said, and quite rightly. Now it was her turn to be skeptical as I agreed with her and promised not only to be nice, but to remain open to B. and his pain and allow him to grow through whatever phase it was he was going through. After all, it it seemed a simple task to meet with him and listen.

Interestingly, the first day he was supposed to call us at noon, to set the time and place to meet, but at twelve there was no call. Then one, then two o'clock came and he finally called to say that he had been delayed but could meet now. Valery told him that the day was not good for us, but honestly she was protecting him from what she sensed might have been the very reaction I had promised not to have. It isn't as if she didn't trust me. It happens that, these days, we do not trust ourselves with the very deepest and rawest of emotions. We are healing around the edges, and we must, for now, leave the center open and tender while we shrink the wound. Her instinct was right, and we left till the following day our encounter with 'Amends'.

Now I should say that to me, the delay was merely a bit of evidence that the old abuser habits--not respecting others people's space and time--had not left young B. I still feel the same way, now that I've been 'amended' so to speak. I think it a simple matter to call when you say you will call and show up when and where you say you will show up. It's one of the most basic courtesies we offer one another. Or don't.

Not wasting someone's time and resources can often be as sensitive a gift as not giving one something that is essentially unwanted. Like, say, a matching pen and pencil set or, an 'amend', perhaps. Courtesy for others is the most basic building block of adulthood. Frankly, we all know people who have have undertaken yet failed at this very challenge, and live their entire lives as though they are one-character plays, the rest of us be dammed. These are the abusers, and even if it is only our time they can abuse, they will indeed do that. If we let them.

Not to exaggerate, though, as this sort of 'abuse' is not only at a very low level, but it is also a common discourtesy that we share in this modern era. Nonetheless, I find that I do not, for anyone's sake, have to be abused, even in the smallest way. I may choose to avoid those people who would waste my time and energy or worse. And if I do, can anyone blame me?

Now I'll not start a crusade against drugs, nor will I harangue innocent youth for the failures I too have faced. No, it's more a matter of resignation, a recognition that the time and energy I have left is best dedicated to those who will use and appreciate them wisely. For reasons of self-preservation, I shall keep those resources to myself and resolve to spend them on Valery, Madelaine, and, for example, for Pierre's best friend, Sean, who has proved in almost every way to be the opposite of our potential penitent. Even before he met us, B had yet to actually demonstrate that the hour or two we were about to give him would even be worth it.

If it sounds as if I had my doubts on meeting the boy at a local restaurant with Valery and Maddie, I'll admit, I had a few. I did my best to remain open and neutral, even as I felt my heart sink on seeing him. The first thing I saw, honestly, was the silver crucifix he had dangling out mid-chest and this gave me pause. Understand that I have no particular feelings about the crucifix either way. I am not put off by it, but the public display that a crucifix represents is, or at least was in this situation, disappointing, because it made me wonder who the intended audience is for the public affirmation achieved by wearing the Cross(or Star of David, or any religious symbol). Fortunately, he made no mention of religion, and my discomfort on that count was for naught, though on other counts it quickly became clear that we were faced with someone who was, as Valery had so presciently observed, working on his own 'show' and was not, in the end, verily interested in our feelings at all.

For one thing, one of the first things he told us was that after Pierre died, after the wake, and all the words of hope that were offered and promises made to change lives, B. went and not only binged on a cocktail of drugs and alcohol, but managed to nearly kill himself the way Pierre had. Hmmm. After being released from the hospital, he went to rehab for the seventh time.

It didn't take.

He fought with another inmate on the first day and was expelled. He justified this by explaining that he'd exacted, in this lovely moment of violence, a debt owed Pierre by some low-life dealer now in rehab himself, vainly trying to salvage his own miserable existence. That meant nothing to me. I don't want revenge. I want Pierre.

So after that, another binge and another, count it, eight, trip to rehab! My impression? Here's a guy who really likes rehab! Addicted to the 12 steps? Yep.

Eight is, apparently, not enough.

I say this not to put him down, which is why I haven't named him, but I can be honest here. Nothing in his eyes, or in the movement of his hands seemed to support his words. He made his 'Amends', and asked what he could do to 'make things right'. He went though the motions, and we allowed it.

And why not? What were we supposed to say to this? Do I even want to have any more to do with a pathetic creature like this? No. I had one of my own, and would now, do almost anything to have him back, but it shall not be.

So, in the end, we gave the young man the blessing he had come for, though, I confess, Valery's spirit was and is always so much truer than mine. She always knows the right path through these moments. I left her hand on the tiller, so to speak, as we maneuvered through the perilous waters of making 'Amends'. The relief in his frame when we asked nothing of him was most visible. The conversation, though it focused on him and his hopes and plans, gradually steered towards the door.

There was little to say after that, and though I heard him recite his plans, it was just a recitation, honed in many hours of 'group' and long nights laying awake, plotting escape. In fact, I fear that B will never escape. Honestly, after we said goodbye on that bright Memorial Day afternoon, I do not expect to see him again.