Sunday, October 11, 2009

Blood and Water: Part Two

Water Goes With the Flow

I don't know how I did it, but I managed to amass a great group of friends. They come from all backgrounds, are young and old, male and female, conservative and liberal, loud and shy, tall and short, Yankees and Southerners. In some cases, the only thing they have in common is me. Some I haven't actually seen in years, but they reach out through Facebook, e-mail or the phone to let me know they are thinking of me. I am always a little amazed that I have any friends at all, let alone such a core group of really awesome people because over the last nine years as this thing enveloped us, I have been less than awesome in return. Yet, I have a faithful group who have patiently put up with my long silences, my standing them up for events, and being distracted when I am around. They have not only stuck with me through everything, I believe most sincerely I am still mostly sane and functioning because of them. Granted, some people I have known over the years have gradually faded out of my life, or vice-versa. Whatever drew us together gradually evaporated in some cases, in others, life just pulled us in different directions, but the door is open for us to pick up where we left off some day perhaps. I can only think of one real Drama Queen break where someone let me know in no uncertain terms that I had let her down as a friend, which, given the particular circumstances at the time made me upset, but also resigned to simply watching her not only shut the door, but slamming it. But, that's the beauty of friendship. You can do that. Maybe that sounds cold, but allow me to explain. All relationships are trial and error. Feeling the other person out to find out their likes and dislikes, their limits and what the penalties of crossing those limits are. For family, it's really not that much different, maybe just done more naturally and gradually. But couples certainly go through it. And sometimes you don't mesh. Then there's the messy breakup. Maybe your life changes, and the thing that brought you together; your job, your kids, your football team, isn't pertinent any longer for the two of you. So you stop e-mailing and calling. That's it. No lawyers, no tears. You'll chat casually if you run into the person at the grocery store, but life goes on. But, for me, I'm lucky that, of the ebbs and flows of my friendships, many, many of them have stayed with me through everything.

The other beautiful thing about friendships is you do choose one another. Even poor Mother who actually did pick me didn't really have any say. She adopted a bouncing baby girl who looked a lot like her and her husband, but she had no idea what kind of person I would become. If she had (or did) find out that it wasn't to her liking, that's too bad, she was stuck for life. For Greg's family, they just got handed me when we married. They had no choice. Along I came with all my baggage. I would say the reverse is true, but Mom adores Greg.

The other thing that has occurred to me from time to time over the last few years is that your friends know you better. Granted, in any thing I say on the subject, my realm of experience is limited to my memories of my father and the dynamic I've had with Mother over the years and therefore not a wide sampling, but I can tell you without a doubt that sometimes, even before she was in her current health condition and began thinking my name is Cheyenne, she didn't really have a clue what I was all about. What she knew is what she wanted me to be. She would make a comment about something that made me happy or that I liked that couldn't be further from the truth, and Greg and I would look at one another over top her head and smile and shrug. She also liked to project her own likes and dislikes onto me, which is why I have a cabinet full of glass bells in my dining room. The Damn Bells, as I lovingly refer to them, are a story in and of themselves that I will have to share someday. For now, suffice it to say, she was the one who actually wanted them, but convinced herself that I would just love them and that they were perfect for me. But, that's really a different pathology. What I see happening a lot with parents and their adult children is that the parents sometimes have a hard time accepting that the child ages and therefore evolves, and their tastes and convictions change, but we tend to have them captured like some Polaroid at an earlier time. I find myself struggling not to be that way with Marissa. During these college years, she'll probably be like clay, constantly being molded by the new ideas and concepts she is exposed to, so I have to be careful to keep up with what she's doing and thinking so I can effectively stay in touch. Otherwise she'll be making faces and shrugging over my head someday soon.

The variance between the two camps was made abundantly clear two years ago when we whisked Marissa off to Alldredge Academy. If you've been reading for a while, you know a bit about it, although it's hard to explain briefly. But, if you've heard of wilderness programs for troubled teens, then you know roughly what the first phase of the program is. And, generally speaking, the enrollees are not there by choice, so the program is designed with rapid intake in mind. I spoke to the director on a Sunday night, and he was trying to get her in the following Wednesday. We didn't make it that quickly, but we were in West Virginia the week after, following a frantic week of shopping for specific clothing and toiletry items we were instructed to bring. Marissa was actively participating in the decision to go there, so she was an exception to the rule, but it still went very quickly, and it was not an easy time. What had led up to the decision was a very dramatic and frightening couple of collapses where she wasn't breathing and we couldn't revive her. I took my first ride in the front seat of an ambulance accompanying her to the hospital, and literally began to recognize the emergency room staff. This was long after Sister Dorothea, and we had done everything she had told us to do, but finally Marissa admitted she wasn't going to get past her addiction on her own and asked for the help. To say I was distracted and not really thinking about anyone outside of our little circle was probably an understatement. In retrospect, since Marissa was a willing participant, we probably should have called a family meeting and explained what was going on, but we didn't. One day I just showed back up without her, and then we explained to everyone what was going on.

Not everyone on Greg's side of the family took it well, but most did, or at least didn't make too big a fuss over it. Greg's mom was quietly supportive. I tend to think she may have had her doubts, but she was careful just to ask about Marissa and not really express anything. She remained calm, and I really appreciated that. Mother? Well, Mother went nuts. She was livid. Livid is actually much too mild a term for it. She was murderously angry with me. Marissa was clearly her favorite Veldman, so taking her away without a word was just inexcusable. To make matters worse, no one could have contact with Marissa for the first month. Her father and I had very limited contact with the counselor, and we were allowed to exchange one letter that was fairly well controlled in terms of content. For me, having developed a highly refined sense of co-dependency on Marissa since The Epiphany, it was not a good time. Mother calling me at all hours to berate me was not helping. Suddenly, everything about me set her off. She began making crazy accusations and threatened to move. She told my mother-in-law she had written me out of her will and left everything to Marissa. I have no idea what she was telling everybody else, but given the tone of a message my uncle left for me one night when he couldn't locate Mom, my guess is it wasn't good. (I refused to call him back.) Of course, now I realize that the dementia she is now diagnosed with probably had a lot to do with her reaction. That level of anger is common, I'm told. I don't know if it would have made it easier to know that or not, since I don't find her much easier to deal with now, but I at least could have not taken it so personally. And, once she got it in her head that she was angry with me, she stubbornly hung onto it. Even after Marissa came home, healthy and ready to resume a life nearly lost, Mother kept it up. I cannot describe succinctly the weight of it. My comment in the last post to family members at least not making it worse? Now you know its genesis. In trying to handle a hard situation, Mother's raving only made it so much worse. And then there was no getting away from it. One cannot divorce one's mother, particularly when she's elderly and truthfully needs your involvement.

My friends pulled me through. Notably my friends Val and Diane, although they were joined with an entire team of supporters. They picked me up, dusted me off, told me I was right to do what I did and were never flinching in their support. I don't even remember how Val learned of it. She is one of the friends whom I haven't actually seen in a long, long while. But, she was typically self-assured. Things are presented in a very black and white manner with Val, and she doesn't suffer fools gladly. She radiates that in her correspondence, buoying you up and convincing you that you've done the absolutely right thing, how could you doubt it? Diane's support is quieter. She is also dealing with the care of an aging mother, so she brings a lot of commiseration to the table. Where Val was the rock, Diane was the soft shoulder. My other friends kept the candles burning, if you will. No one chastised me for ignoring them. No one wrote me off their lists. And, around that time, I began to think that blood may be thicker than water, but one cannot survive without water.

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