The Crazy Train

I need to find some way of unclogging words. Words used to flow from my fingertips. No longer. I sit down to write and nothing comes out. Oh, I have ideas, but I don’t have the time to write them. I’m too over-scheduled with nothing. It’s all like yesterday, driving and driving. I drive to work, then drive to here to get a check, then drive to the bank, then drive back here, then drive to the pool, then drive here, then drive to the ice skating rink, and anytime I stop here in the middle I collapse on my bed. My poor children. They’re only going to know me horizontally.

My mom had a stroke on Sunday. Such a weird thing to have happen. Not so much I suppose, but I spent 2 days saying the words out loud to try and make them sink in. Really? She had a stroke? My mom is officially old. It sneaks up on you, this aging thing.

The stroke has brought enormous stresses because my parents are dysfunctional in the extreme, particularly my step-father. He brings criminals and misfits home to live with them because of some delusional, misguided fantasy of recreating his delusional, misguided childhood. He does not ask my mother. He is like an addict in his behavior, filling up on drama. He used to drink, but quit during my teens, trading the booze for chaos. I will get drunk on that instead, his mind seems to say.

My mother is the long-suffering wife who is not asked permission and does not insist on it. She has stayed in this misbegotten union, the first excuse being that she stayed for the sake of my brother when he was growing up, the second being that she did not want to give up their beautiful land. Neither is a valid excuse or a real one. Both are destroyed as a result of this hapless pairing. No two people are more ill-suited to one another than these two and together only bad things happen.

These two people (ages 68 and 69) are also raising my brother’s child, a 6 year old girl, taken from her drug addict, ex-con mother after she was abused violently as a toddler while my brother was in prison. My niece is better off with my parents than she would be with her mother, but that is not saying much. They are too old and neither has strong parenting skills. Even without the crazy criminal running around, I have been gunning in the background for a change for her. I think the best option at this point is for her to live with my sister. My sister may be a fundamentalist Christian who raises her children to smile even when they feel sad, but this is far preferable to the situation the child is in now.

My parents live on a farm. They have cows. A month and a half ago, a cow who was protecting her calf gored my step-father in the stomach. (Yes, cows have horns. It seems to be the first thing everyone says, that they thought only bulls had horns.) It was the most bizarre situation. The horn did not break the skin, not one bit. Yet after the goring, there was clearly damage. He was taken to the hospital where exploratory surgery revealed that the horn had split the muscles lining his gut like a scalpel. The 8 inch slice went clear through, and his intestines were poking out. Yet the skin was fully intact. The doctors had never seen anything like it. They cut the skin open, poked the intestines back in, and sewed him back up. The point of this story, here in the middle of all this other chaos? The cow has chased my father again. She is dangerous, pure and simple.

And finally, the latest ex-con, drug addict my step-father dragged home has been stealing from them and has threatened their safety. My dad has been parking his car at the end of their driveway (the fabled driveway I walked down as a child in rain or snow or sleet), sleeping in it with a gun to protect his precious stuff from the lunatic. I have to wonder whether the label has not been comprehensively applied.

Toss into this salad of insanity a stroke. I have little doubt the stroke was induced by the stress of bull goring, the out-of-control 6 year old, and the crazy criminal drug addict causing all sorts of drama and disharmony.

Tests revealed that my mother’s carotid artery was filled with plaque. For as long as I can remember, my mother has worried about her cholesterol. She is one of those people for whom eating is a chore because she is counting calories and examining labels and worrying and fretting over this cholesterol level. It always seemed to me if she would just eat actual food, stuff that grew out of the ground or walked on the earth, and then tossed in a bit of exercise, she would be fine. But it hasn’t been as simple as that for my mom. She still eats things that have an ingredients list, always tries to fit in substitutes for real food, and does not exercise at all.

Because of the plaque, Mom’s brain has not been getting enough oxygen, which explains her increasing confusion. Because of the stroke, she got surgery to remove this plaque, and will get medicine to keep it at bay. Her brain is now filled with the blood it was so desperately lacking. The doctors can’t do anything about the enormous stress, however. That change is up to her. And us, I imagine.

At the hospital the day before surgery, my sister and I staged an intervention of sorts. We brought in hospital staff to help us explain to my mother that she and our niece are are first priority and that neither can go back to the insanity that has been their life. It cannot happen.  There is too much risk, the obviousness of which cannot be overstated.

Someone asked me the other day if I date. I laughed. Right. When? When would that happen? And who? If I had time, which I don’t. If I had interest, which I don’t. And I would be almost embarrassed to have to explain my family to a normal person. I do not participate much in the drama train. I moved away a looong time ago. I get most of my information about these situations second-hand. Whenever I visit, it’s enough to keep me away for months again at a time. It frightens me. It frustrates me. I don’t want my children exposed to it. My children have such a different experience than I had that they are confused by the chaos there. I have not been able to change it; that’s their job. Growing up, I was the black sheep Cassandra who spoke out against it and was punished for it. I’ve come to terms with this, grieved it, accepted it, forgiven it, and moved on. How else could I ensure that I did not pass the insanity on to my own children? I decided long ago, long before a child should ever have to make such a decision, that my children would experience a different reality.

Yet here it is again, the crazy train. I guess I’m glad that I don’t bring my own emotional upheaval to the mix in trying to deal with it. If I were still angry, if I had not worked through all those old feelings, I don’t know how I would have reacted to all this. But it’s weird. Every time we think we’ve escaped, it seeps back into our lives. You can never completely get away.

This is why the words don’t come. My attention is directed in too many directions. I have so little time. I only managed this because I can’t sleep in the light, even if it’s light peeking around light-blocking shades, and I can’t sleep after I have risen, even if it’s at 5:34 a.m. My bladder wakes up with the sun and forces me out of bed, and I can’t go back to sleep. So today I got up, picked up the computer, and wrote this. Sleep would have been more satisfying for me, but oh well. Maybe someday life will free itself and the words will come again. I genuinely hope so.

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Caffeine

I weaned myself off caffeine. Then gradually, I would have a tea here, a tea there, to the point where I’m addicted to the crap again.  It isn’t as bad as it could be; I don’t drink it every day.  Yet I have gotten to the point that on the days I don’t drink it I feel like a rundown engine, like I’m in fourth gear heading up a hill, my parts clanking.

Today I haven’t had any, and while I have had a few uninterrupted hours while Isabel sleeps, I have not had the energy or spark to perform any of my creative tasks at all.  I picked up the cello and played a bit.  Blah.  I sat down here to write.  Nothing to say.  I need to finish my taxes, which really won’t be difficult, but oh, so exhausting.  I just want to lie around and watch a movie.  It’s pathetic.  I did manage a run this morning, and it’s a good thing I did it then, because I wouldn’t do it now.

Caffeine is insidious.  It’s a drug, for sure.  I’m debating just drinking some just to get over the hump. I need to work on my book.  Baby is occupied.  This is as good a time as any.  But if I do, I’m just keeping the cycle going.  When would ever be a good time? I just don’t know.

This post is about as blah as I feel in my caffeine-deprived state.

A Million Little Thoughts

I was thinking about the book A Million Little Pieces by James Frey.  I found the book to be an entertaining read. James got into a lot of trouble for embellishing some of the book and not admitting it up front. I wonder what he was afraid of that he didn’t just put in some disclaimer saying as much when he wrote it.  I doubt anyone would have cared. Unfortunately, the fallout was huge, and he’s still brought up as some sort of failure of a journalistic standard or whatever.  It all was way too overboard though. I mean seriously people.  Get a grip.  What I find ironic is that people managed to get so up in arms about it considering he called himself a liar several times in the book, and also he seemed the sort who liked to make a story big.  And the stuff he embellished was the stuff that made the story big.  Plus if he manages to offer some other solution to addicts besides various anonymous, then more power to him.  And he was honest about calling himself an addict and a criminal, which he was, at least the addict part.

I don’t know that I like the word criminal.  Yeah, someone did a crime and maybe at that point they were a criminal, but if they repent does that make them a criminal forever? Kind of like an adulterer or murderer.  But if we’re going to label someone something like that forever, then if they had been honest and hardworking then committed a crime then were honest and hardworking again, aren’t they still honest and hardworking?  And are all crimes necessarily dishonest?  I have known more than one person who had an affair while married or in another sort of long term relationship who did not repeat their behavior in other relationships.  Does that still make them an adulterer?  I guess you couldn’t get over murderer though. Once a murderer, always one I suppose.  Funny how we choose certain labels that can be added or subtracted depending on the circumstances, but the bad ones certainly seem to stick around longer.  Okay.  I can’t say anything anymore.  It all becomes some damn theoretical debate in my head, all this trying to get at the truth of something that may just be limited by language

As I may have mentioned before, my brother is staying with me at the moment.  I have been paying close attention to him, and I have noticed one consistent aspect to his behavior, and that is his absolute inability to delay gratification.  I know studies show that inability to delay gratification in early life can be a predictor for addictive behavior later in life.  And Derek just can’t.  It’s nuts.  He wants something, he wants it now, and he is basically obsessed about it until he gets it.  On occasion I have been able to explain him out of his desire for the thing, but often it will come up again several times with me reminding him again of the reason out of the desire until it finally sinks in or another thing rises to take its place.  For instance, I am minimally employed at the moment, so money is tight.  This means I do my best to keep from squandering it on things I don’t need.  Derek, however, has no job at the moment and has about $700 left.  He wanted a new external dvd drive, so he ordered it.  I asked him why and he said he wanted it.  I told him he might need the money for food or something later, and he just kind of shrugged.  I think on some level he must recognize his inability to keep from spending money if he has it because he gave me $500 to hold onto for him.  It also serves as a kind of monetary deposit should he fail to get another job and pay me for the space he sleeps in my basement.

I wonder if this inability to delay gratification is the key behavioral component that makes an addict an addict.  I’m sure all humans at some point or another have moments of unwillingness to wait for something.  I know I have paced and waited and stared at the phone hoping that new guy will call, biting my thumbnail to the quick, jumping like a startled rabbit when it finally does.  Or not even waiting, but picking up and calling him, then kicking myself in the ass afterwards wondering why didn’t I wait, damn it!  And credit cards are evidence alone that many, many people want stuff before they can afford it.  But I wonder if addicts choose to act more often than not.  A food addict wants food and eats.  A sex addict wants sex and goes to find it, regardless of the consequences.  An alcoholic wants alcohol and drinks, again regardless of the consequences.  Curious.  There is probably a body of theory and study out there in addiction medicine all about this, I’m just not in the know about such things.

Well, I can no longer delay my desire to eat.  I’m hungry.  So I’m going to go and make food.  The desire to write has been overridden by my body’s need for something in its empty stomach.

Derek

So today handed me my first how well can you deal with this new mentality of living in the moment when the moment is shit event.  I knew all along that the real test whether I got it with the living here and now and watching the thoughts but not acting on them would be when something really shitty happened.  So now something shitty has happened and my brain would really like to revert back to its old tricks of getting depressed and worried that life will be fucked up forever.  So I pick up my dog and nuzzle the fur in the back of his neck with my lips and feel its warmth and realize I’m here and right now, this moment I’m okay.  So maybe it will work if I don’t worry how long I have to keep doing it, knowing I’m just staving off the thoughts for now.  I don’t know, it isn’t tested.  But I don’t know what is going to happen the other way either, it just feels worse.

My brother, my baby brother who isn’t a baby anymore, but young enough I remember holding him and carrying him as an infant, I remember my mom’s entire pregnancy, started getting in trouble with drugs when he was a teenager.  He would get in trouble then my dad would pay to fix it and he’d be fine for a while then go back to my parent’s house then get in trouble again then dad would pay to fix it and he’d be fine for a while then he’d get in trouble again and on and on and on ad nauseum.  He’s been to treatment about five times.  He never really gets into it.  It started to be obvious that the key to Derek getting into trouble was going back to my parent’s house.  He’d get in a fight with my dad who likes keeping Derek the bad guy because that’s the only role he’s comfortable with.  Then Derek would use that as an excuse to go find his local idiot druggie friends and go do something stupid and he would get in trouble.

He was so smart as a little boy.  He built a robot from scratch when he was like four years old.  It walked and had blinking eyes.  He made a little motor and hooked it up to the legos and made it move.  But he had Tourette’s and the teachers were annoyed by him and he hated school.  I think he was genuinely ADHD too, but this was before that was the popular label for any kid who didn’t fit.  Luckily the Tourette’s faded by high school.

Anyway, Derek was the kid all the other kids worshiped.  They followed him around like he was the Pied Piper or something.  He is the sensitive sort, but he doesn’t want anyone to know it.  He loves animals like they are babies.  And loves babies.  But he acted tough around all his friends.  They thought he was God.  And he had one special friend, one who looked up to him, a friend he adored.  They were best buddies.  They worked on the farm of this man who was a teacher in Derek’s school, Mr. K.  Mr. K was a kind man and good for Derek because he made him act responsibly.  By the time Derek was 17, he was a foreman in the summer working on Mr. K’s farm.  But Derek had started smoking pot and would get into trouble.  Mr. K would try to guide Derek and get him to make better decisions, but Mr. K was too late on the scene.  Since Derek came along ten years after the rest of us he was handed anything and everything he ever wanted. This meant that when Derek wrecked a car, he got another one.  When he wrecked that one, he got yet another one (I wasn’t even allowed to use my parent’s cars, let alone get my own).  Anyway, so this is how it was.  Derek dropped out of school and passed the GED.  He worked on Mr. K’s farm.  And him and his best buddy Brad were the kings of the dipshits who followed them around like they were gods.

Then one morning Derek spent the night at his girlfriend’s house.  The clock radio woke him up and he was lying there listening.  The DJ told the story of a boy who had been four-wheeling outside town on one of the logging roads.  The logging company had put up a cable across the road up the hill to keep four-wheelers out of there, but neglected to put ribbons on the cables.  A local boy had been riding up the hill and was killed the day before by one of these cables.  Then they said his name and it was Brad, Derek’s best friend in the world.  This news destroyed Derek.  He was never the same after that.  It was like a sadness settled in and became a part of who he was.

Derek told me a story.  He went to the funeral home.  They were not having an open casket.  Brad’s head had been nearly removed by the cable.  The funeral director let Derek go in to be with his body after the funeral.  He told Derek he could open the end with Brad’s feet if he wanted to.  Derek did, but he opened the wrong end of the casket.  He said Brad’s eyes were open and he was crudely stitched together.  He said the image is a part of his brain.  I can’t even imagine.

So after this, Derek kept going to work, but he was darker.  He wasn’t the happy kid anymore.  He got arrested for a DUI and had meth in his truck.  Plead guilty, got his probabtion.  Then about 10 months later, Mr. K was going through the drive thru at McDonald’s and had a heart attack, his car hit a tree, and he died.  They didn’t know if the heart attack or tree killed him.  Derek seemed to quit caring after that.  He quit going to work and started always using drugs.  Of course, my parents would not admit he was using.  He would sleep for days then turn mean then leave.  On and on and on and on.  Then he’d get caught.  Then he’d get ordered treatment.  Then he’d be fine.  Then back on.  In between he married a woman he met online and had a couple of kids.  This came with its usual drama.  Somewhere in there Derek went to jail for the first time.  Then again.

The last couple of years Derek has really seemed to want to stay off drugs.  He took himself to Central City Concern, a treatment program here in Portland, and was doing well, got a job, then went back to my parent’s (there is a whole dynamic there too where my dad asks Derek to “come work for him” that helps keep this going on), then he used drugs again.

Finally, after the last episode, his PO told him he couldn’t go to Marion County.  That was the only place Derek had ever gotten into trouble, and that’s where my parent’s house is.  I allowed Derek to move into my basement until he found his own place, something he planned to do this weekend.  He got a job.  He did not go anywhere near my parent’s house.  The DA wanted to throw him in prison for six months.  The judge gave him probation with a zero tolerance order.  This meant he could not touch any intoxicant.  He could not go where intoxicants were served.  He had to stay in treatment.  He had to keep a job.  Derek was doing all of these things.  He was doing remarkably well.  He would help me with my house and play Clue with my daughter.  His girlfriend annoyed me, but not in any major dysfunctional way, she just isn’t very bright and gets on my nerves sometimes.  He worked graveyard and would come home in the middle of the night and sleep until he had to go to work again.

Then this morning, I woke up and was in the kitchen making tea and noticed the light blinking on my house phone indicating a message.  I did not have my glasses on or contacts in so I could not see the caller id to find out who had left the message, so I just dialed in.  It was a recorded message trying to get me to choose whether or not to accept a collect call.  I felt the flutter in my stomach.  I got my glasses and looked at my phone.  It said Inmate Phone.  I went to the front window and looked out.  Both Derek’s cars were parked there.  I walked down to the basement.  Derek was not in bed.  I called my Dad.  What is going on?  Oh, I just got up.  Not much.  No. What is going on with Derek?  Nothing I know of.  Well there is a call on my phone that says Inmate Phone.  Shit.  No.  My dad told me to call Sarah, so I did.

Man, she’s dumb.  That is the thing about her that annoys me more than anything is how damn dumb she is.  I’m trying to practice compassion, to accept each person as they are.  To love everyone, even if I don’t want to.  She is my biggest practice case.  I just can’t stand it because I don’t think she’s really that stupid, I think she is just used to people doing everything for her when she acts like she can’t do anything, and I don’t think she’s as dumb as she pretends to be.  So when she acts like she’s stupid, it drives me crazy.  And it’s not fair to her.  She can’t help it if she’s been treated like a baby her whole life so she doesn’t do much herself.  And I wouldn’t dislike a dog because it was dumb.  Hell, my dog Edna is dumber than a fence post, but I love her to death.  So anyway, this morning Sarah was as blase’ as ever, Oh Derek got arrested.  Why?  Drinking.  Why was he drinking?  Well we went to Gabe’s after he got off work and he had a beer.  Well the police wouldn’t just come up and arrest Derek for drinking a beer.  They would need some reason to know he had drank a beer.  It wouldn’t just come out of nowhere.  Oh well I was driving us home and I got a ticket and they smelled the beer and arrested him.  Fuck.

So I called my parents back and told them and the rest I guess will be whatever it is.  I don’t even know.  I’m trying not to be angry with Sarah for driving like she’s blind because she does and it’s annoying.  Hell, she totaled her car the day before while driving alone in the middle of the night.  More than likely she was sending Derek a text message.  I’ve seen her text while driving on too many occasions.  I won’t let her hold her phone when she’s driving with me in the car.  But the truth is it doesn’t damn matter how Sarah was driving because if Derek hadn’t been drinking, he wouldn’t have gotten arrested.  I told my dad this.  He wanted to be irritated at Sarah for how she drives and irritated at Gabe for drinking.  I told him none of their actions would have mattered if Derek hadn’t been drinking.  My parents would love for all this to be someone else’s fault, like laying blame will alleviate any of the pain.  It won’t.

I’m trying not to wonder how Derek could be so hopeless to get himself in this mess.  I keep reminding myself that he knew his limits, but he really has this “It won’t happen to me” mentality.  I know that in the journey that is Derek’s life there are many, many choices he could have made differently that would likely have resulted in something else.  I have known for a very long time that I cannot control this and that he is ultimately responsible for what happens to him.  And at the same time it breaks my heart.  I’m so sad that this is his path.  I wish he would choose something different.  It hurts to watch someone you love make choices that hurt them.

Two days ago Derek was sleeping.  I went down and gave him a big hug.  He asked me if everything was okay.  I said everything was fine, I just love him.  I’m so glad I did that.