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Las Vegas, Nevada, United States
"No, really!"

My Favorite Bit of Paper Cup Philosophy

The Way I See It #76

The irony of commitment is that it's deeply liberating - in work, in play, in love. The act frees you from the tyranny of your internal critic, from the fear that likes to dress itself up and parade around as rational hesitation. To commit is to remove your head as the barrier to your life.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Learn From Yesterday

I'm dreamy-like. Kind of moony. In my head a lot. I am focused more on the past, both good and bad, than present. Perhaps this is because I've been actively working on "what's next" in my life. Having the past to retreat to is soft and gentle, or at least familiar, when I need that. I don't feel completely capable of moving myself along.

Apropos of absolutely nothing:
"You aren't very demanding. You don't ask for much."
She didn't reveal she'd given that up in vain long ago.

Last night we went out for Chinese food, a treat because I've had no one with which to share that particular cuisine in awhile. It was good food and I loaded up my plate like a greedy pig. I can only plead, "Yeah, but this will feed me four meals for the cost of one moderately priced dinner." We sat as far as possible across the restaurant from the family with the, ummm . . . , energetic young children, none of whom will have to worry about being heard if they ever have to holler for help in an emergency. As we sat dining, I got rather dreamy, viewing snippets from a past life, and I'm not sure what triggered that. The tastes?  The smells? What, doesn't everyone go into a reverie with the fragrance of Beijing Beef?

Amber was 2 1/2 that summer. We'd learned in the previous February that Ex had ruined himself with drink. He wasn't expected to live until Christmas. He lived, dying, for 18 more years.  There weren't very many pleasant moments during that time for him. I had the job that defied every description - time commitment, stress, pay, health benefits, travel, fulfillment of every sort. Now I was afraid to go to that job. What if Ex fell ill while driving Amber to daycare or passed out while taking care of her at home?  I sometimes left at 5:00 a.m. and didn't get home until midnight. Who would know if they were in trouble?

The finest case of employee representation I ever delivered was spent in getting Ex removed from his job as a union organizer. Oh, I wasn't fighting cruel monsters, even though labor unions can be notoriously evil employers. No, I was still going to work there, and we were valued. They weren't out to cut him off at the knees. When he became so ill he couldn't walk to the car any more, I basically had to quit for him. He couldn't throw in the towel himself, verbally. He was 90 days from being vested in his pension.  The union kept him on the books for 91 days, paying him all salary and benefits, giving us time to apply for state and social security disability. And get him to doctors for tests and medication and heart monitors. He was 38 years old.

I'd always been convinced Ex would ruin us by killing someone in a drunk driving incident or in a round of fisticuffs over the pool table at the bar or that he'd cripple himself and I'd be required to push him around in a wheelchair. Because I'd given up hoping for a child in our lives, I'd never contemplated him getting ill and leaving me alone with that child. In all of my life, through everything, I have never before or since been as sad and frightened as I was that summer. Amber deserved to have 2 parents. I was not capable of taking proper care of her, giving her a good life, taking care of Ex and being the breadwinner. I had other burdens, as well, not yet written about for publication, but soon to come. I began therapy, Ex took his medications, both of us deeply depressed.

Surprise! This post is not going to go down the path of what a great savior I was. I "god-damned" Ex so many times each day, he may have thought that was his name. I was terrified and hugely angry at him. "I told you Budweiser was going to take us down."  "And now we have this beautiful baby who needs every good thing we can give her and I don't have everything it takes to give her by myself." It didn't take me long to lose a little of my edge on the job. I had an enormous early mobile phone that rarely had signal and I listened with one ear constantly for it to ring with the bad news. I was as harsh and unkind as a person can be toward another person. He mostly was not harsh or unkind. It took him 7 years to learn to do something with his time and little stores of energy.  For that first 7, he sat a lot. Watched TV. Visited doctors. Once he got up from the recliner, he was fairly admirable for awhile, taking our little dogs to visit shut-ins, volunteering for sedentary activities.

That summer I allowed something to happen many times over that shames me still. I allowed Amber to get a little bit lost in the shuffle. I hope to god I never said, "Leave Mommy alone." I don't believe I did. But when she fell in love with The Jungle Book video, I just let her go with it. Though she'd never been one to sit for hours in front of the TV, now she did, Mowgli and Baloo and Bagheera and Kaa playing over and over again. She'd nap and snack and call me over to see the best parts, which I tried to do with great cheer. No, she didn't miss bathing or meals. I just couldn't push hard enough to get myself and her up from the damned Jungle Book. It is painful and one of my lowest sins, to have diverted my attention from her or to have allowed Disney to care for her for great blocks of time.

I turned 40 that August. After Labor Day, I bought winter clothes for all of us and my work schedule picked back up because school had started and all my union members were back at work. Ex had fallen into a slow, quiet, predictable daily schedule and wasn't exhibiting any signs of imminent death. It wasn't too soon to start shopping for Christmas gifts. One day, I snapped off The Jungle Book and Little Black Eyes looked at me. "No more, Mommy?"  "Uh-uh. Let's go find something to do.  Maybe Daddy would like to take a ride with us."

So why is this gray little slice of life popping up now? Because I am undertaking change again. I do not care for change, even good change. I do not feel strong or capable in many ways. I think I am reviewing times when I had to take difficult steps, about which I did not feel secure. Oh, in a life as long as mine, there are plenty of face-plant episodes, but there are some glowing successes, too. The little child was not ruined by her summer of The Jungle Book. It gave me time to regroup and devise a new "normal". And then I went on.

We went to a different library branch, larger and farther away. I've pretty much read my local branch dry, at least the books that interest me. I don't love the Library of Congress Cataloging System, mostly because each branch puts up a poster describing it, but one can't find the books in the right places from one location to the next. Finally, I hit a treasure trove, spinning me from a Virginia Woolf study on the effect of her sexual abuse on her writing, to a Tennessee Williams bio, a Violet Trefusis study and Nigel Nicolson's autobiography "Long Life". Not sleeping more than an hour or two, I am holed up with books, dreaming and doing little else. My version of The Jungle Book for just a little while so I can think things through.


  1. You didn't say what ailed your husband. If it was chirrosis of the liver, isn't 38 kind of young even for a heavy drinker? Did you ever find out what it was that made your husband want to drink so much? Very sorry you had to go through all that.

    Whenever I hear "The Jungle Book" I think of Baloo, the voice of Phil Harris singing "The Bare Necessities" R+B for the grade school set. It's right up there with the jive crows in Dumbo.

    I've been pelted with all kinds of changes in the last 5 years. Thought they were all over and done with when I got pelted with some more. Even if things end up turning out all right, I'm not sure if makes up for all the sleepless nights. Good luck, Leslie.

  2. @ Kirk ~ Thank you. I don't sign up for trouble any longer, but I've had some. We all do. And we all go after it in our funny (funny as a heart attack) human ways. Because of my own self-doubt, I have to revisit tough times when I came through all right. I believe this will be a lifelong thing for me. I nearly always think "I can't" but then I "just do". Sometimes a face-plant, sometimes smelling like a rose.

    Let's see ~ Ex. He was full blooded native American. They have a terrifically high incidence of alcoholism. It is both physical/mental malady and custom. But now that I know about alcoholism more personally, I'd just say "that's what he was". Mental obsession/physical allergy. They say we do it so we won't have to feel what we are feeling. I buy that.

    He blew out his heart, Kirk. When I just looked this up on Wiki, it made me feel badly that it's so cut and dry, black and white. The description doesn't fit the misery watched in person. Sorry I didn't make it a link. Dumb. Going too fast.


    Jungle Book came out, I believe in 1967. Do you recall the flock of vultures who spoke in Cockney accents and were clearly a Beatles ripoff? Amber would say "Mommy's Beatles!" having no clue what that was all about, but she paid attention.

  3. I just clicked on the vultures singing on YouTube. When they sing they sound more like a barbershops quartet than the Beatles. So I clicked on Wikipedia. Seems Brian Epstein made an agreement with Disney that the Beatles would play the vultures, but when John Lennon found out he nixed the idea. So they came up with Faux Beatles instead. Originally they were going to sing Beatles-style, but Disney was afraid that would date the movie, so it was switched to barbershop quartet style.

  4. @ Kirk ~ Yep, that's the whole story, I believe. I think I actually knew some part of that once long ago.

  5. The perils of aging is our memories of what could have been, and what was..., and what is...

  6. @ the Badger ~ how's this?

    When I can look Life in the eyes,
    Grown calm and very coldly wise,
    Life will have given me the Truth,
    And taken in exchange - my youth.
    ~Sara Teasdale

  7. i have gladly traded my youth for the truth. our memories of the past are tainted and twisted. the present is work enough.

  8. @ Rraine ~ Youth is highly overrated, I'm afraid. Along with "the past" whether we gild it or demolish it in the retelling. However, I VALUE the past, even the worst experiences, because it forms a frame of reference for me. I guess I am one who needs the entire array of experience to draw from.

    In AA there is a recital that is read at every meeting which says, in short part, " . . we will not regret the past nor wish to shut the door on it . . " When I was a newcomer, I thought, "Yeah, well, I'd slam that door hard and loud!" No more. It is a deep well full of good and bad. All part of my story.

  9. I haven't shut the door on the past - only the people from it!

    I'm sorry you had to go through what you have without support, but if going through it has made you the humble person that I like, respect and admire, then so be it. SO long as we learn, eh?
    Watched "The Hours" for the first time night before last - was thinking of you and VW...
    recharge, look after yourself and the rest will follow x

  10. @ Rachel ~ Yes, I've shut the door on more people than events, I suppose. That's rather sad, but sometimes necessary.

    I'm not admirable in any way, Rae, but I am the product of all that has happened whether TO me or DUE TO me. We just keep learning, hopefully right up to the end.

    The Hours! I need to see it again.

  11. @ CramCake ~ The WORST, as we've been discussing so recently. Something I have learned at AA: mostly change is hard because we don't really WANT to change. Yet. It is wearying.

  12. Well, then that makes sense. Who is gonna do anything they don't really want to do?

  13. @ CramCake ~ Well, certainly not an alcoholic unless she has "hit her bottom". Insider's term meaning "nothing left to burn and nothing left to lose". :~{