But have you made a plan yet? Day 4-5 Winter Sabbatical

I go to family support meetings. They have saved me from losing my mind. I sit in those rooms and listen to the stories and I learn to breathe again. The meetings in Los Angeles are so big you have to raise your hand to talk. In Alabama, they often go around the room one after another and share. I talk more in Alabama than I do in Los Angeles because I’m afraid to raise my hand. I’m also afraid I’ll start crying. When I start crying it’s hopeless and ugly and it doesn’t end, but if I know my turn is coming, then I can think of what to say and stay in control, which is not the point at all.

That isn’t how it’s supposed to be in these meetings. You’re just supposed to share without rehearsing.

Actually, you’re not supposed to do anything. You’re just allowed to be and encouraged to keep the focus on yourself.

So I went to a wonderful meeting today for parents with kids and adult children struggling with addiction, and it’s a room where you feel tremendous love and support, but after the meeting ended I got ambushed by a guy I’d never met before but Kiffen knew. This guy – let’s call him, Arnold. Well, Arnold  wanted to know what plans we had in place.

He had a steady barrage of questions that we had no answers for or any that he found satisfactory.

So do you have a treatment place lined up?

Do you have an Uber account ready so you don’t have to drive?

You don’t have it? A treatment place or Uber account or neither?

Don’t you think you should have a plan? 

I mean….Just in case because you won’t be able to make it all happen in a heartbeat.

I mean what are you going to do?

Yeah, I have people to call too, five or six, but if your plans aren’t in place then you can’t make it happen. 

* * *

I could feel my heart racing with each question posed by Arnold (and I’ve listed about a third of questions he asked). Then I took a breath and realized I could stop trying to answer them.

I could just stop.

Because he wasn’t going to.


Because at first I did try to answer – and the more we answered the more questions he had, and it’s none of our business anyway, so I told him, “It’s none of my business. I can’t control any of that.”

Then Ralph said, “Oh. I’m not there yet.”

Then he apologized. A lot.

I thought but did not say – well, I am there – so back off.

But I am from the South, so I only said, “No apologies needed. I understand.”

And I did and I do understand. We want to fix everything, but this can’t be fixed. The disease doesn’t care about Uber or a treatment place or sober living or how many letters you write to everybody you know to beg them to help you save your kid.

It doesn’t give a shit.

Then we asked Ralph about his Christmas and he gave us the long version, which was sad and I felt bad for him, but then I just needed to get away.

So we went to Starbucks and Trader Joe’s with our gift cards, and I said to Kiffen, “Who was the guy?”

He said, “I know, I know.”

But I have a husband who listens and is kind to people. I am kind too but he has a much higher threshold of patience than I do.

“You sure can pick them,” I said.

“I know.”

* * *

But back to my winter sabbatical. Yesterday, we saw CAROL and loved it. The movies I have loved this year are: BROOKLYN, SPOTLIGHT, and CAROL and SISTERS (HOORAY PAULA PELL!!!). I did not like JOY or YOUTH. I can’t remember what else I saw, but I want see 45 YEARS, LADY IN A VAN, GRANDMA and others.

I also got up early yesterday and wrote and submitted a story. It’s a much better story than it was on Tuesday when I opened the file after two years and really edited that sucker, renamed and slimmed it down to a lean 6500 words – (the word limit to the contest.)

As I’ve mentioned in earlier posts, it’s called “Welcome Home Daddy Mc and Glo-Glo,” and although I think it still needs something, I decided to be brave and get it out into the world again (even when the rejections roll in and they will. I could take a picture of my Submittable Account and every single line is “Rejected.”)

I’ll spare us.

This is the contest, STILL: THE JOURNAL, and you have until January 10th.


That is tomorrow.

And tomorrow I will work Vulcan and Hop the Pond.

But here is something from a long time ago that captures the seeds of the insanity that I don’t try to solve anymore.

The Night the Raccoons Came

There was a party. Another party. A boy named Alex was staying with us along with his thin girlfriend, Julie. Where are Alex and Julie today? I don’t know. Alex could play the piano. As I recall he played a lot of Joplin. He also lounged on our couch a lot. He stayed eight days. I think I have eight days in my head. Why did we allow it? It was sometime during our son’s college career. He came home and brought friends with him. Most were great. But for some reason, I couldn’t stand Alex.

I don’t have any animosity toward him now.

But I don’t want to talk about Alex, and I have changed his name anyway. I want to tell you about the night of the raccoons. There was a party. There was always a party. This party ended badly, so I was summoned to pick up the houseguest, Alex, and other kids who needed a ride home, including our daughter and her best friend. It was on the west side. It was a long drive there and back. There were tears and drama. I played the boring martyr in the van – that’s all you need to know.

The houseguest, Alex, got into the van with his girlfriend Julie – skinny Olive-Oil Julie – also a houseguest by then too. I drove them all home. I drove quietly through the streets of Los Angeles at two in the morning, some of the kids crying in the car, including my daughter and her friend. I was crying too.

I pulled into the driveway, and then Alex climbed out of the van and vomited in the driveway. Skinny Julie helped him inside. My daughter and her friend went to bed. Then Kiffen pulled in the driveway too – that’s right – because we had to get the other car away from the drinking kid – crazy. It was all so long ago.

It was always a big exhausting production. Why did it have to be like that? It wasn’t always, but as the disease worsened we all got dragged with it, but we couldn’t see it. But I remember thinking I won’t be laughing about this.

This was no longer somebody sowing his oats.

Back to the raccoons and it being the middle of the night. I began thinking of how it was going to be Sunday morning soon. Very soon. And sweet parents with their fat and happy babies would be out walking – taking sunny strolls. The old lady on our street would be rising soon too. She never slept much anymore. And I thought of them all walking toward Alex’s vomit. Yuck. The pool of vomit on the sidewalk from Alex the houseguest who wouldn’t leave, who wouldn’t clean up after himself, who wouldn’t stay thank you, who was so oblivious, and instead of me saying, “You gotta go,” I seethed.

Dumb seething me.

Dumb seething martyr me.

So this is what I did. I boiled water like an old peasant woman and carried it outside and poured on the sidewalk, washing the vomit away. And while I was pouring the water, I was looked up through the steam and mist, and I saw three raccoons rise up on their haunches from across the street, their little hand-like claws folded in contemplation as if to say, “Hmmmm. What have we here?” They looked like dark figures from a Miyazaki dream. And I poured and poured and poured until the water was empty and the sidewalk was clean.

The raccoons watched.

Then I crawled into bed and slept but I could sleep because both cars were in the driveway, even if only two out of three kids were home.


The tree in our backyard in Alabama that haunts me


Branwell Bronte – the brother of Bronte sisters who haunts me. He was an addict who spent a lot of time at the Black Bull Pub in Howarth. He was the brother who broke hearts right and left.



The transportation to one of my school visits in Monroe County, Alabama to Monroe Intermediate in Lower Peachtree, AL.







10 thoughts on “But have you made a plan yet? Day 4-5 Winter Sabbatical

  1. kerry, your writing sings –thanks for sharing especially about alex who reminded me of joe who overstayed at our house eating and watching TV and slogging about and when I had to go to a meeting one evening, I told the kids, “I’ve gotta take you because I really don’t trust joe and I don’t want to leave you with him.” They balked and said, “TEL HIM TO LEAVE.” “What?” I can say that? My kids, 9 and 11, taught me that I could go face to face with joe and tell him he had 5 minutes to leave. That he could return in the morning for 30 minutes with a friend to clear out all his belongings (oh yes,he’d built a cosy den out of my son’s bedroom.) And I did, and he left and my lightness of being returned. Thank you


  2. Thank you for sharing my life in words. We’ve had three boys at different times that came and stayed off and on for years. It took a long time to say go…I’m a soft spot and I thought I could save them along with my own child. I understand the foolishness of this idea. I’ve woken to sirens, and counted bodies in my house to make sure all my people were still contained. I have gone on searches in the middle of the night. I lost him for a weekend and was sure he was gone forever. Never has a parent been so happy to get a call from jail. Yes, he’s alive ! Jail I can manage.
    My son is healing, as are we all, as he continues in his sobriety, almost two years now. But it feels so fragile, I wonder if the fear ever leaves you.


  3. The racoons, the racoons – nature watching over humanity, wryly observing. And the planet turns. Alex… we all know Alex. The story about Kiffen’s ‘lame duck’ acquaintance/friend that preceded all this in my email. Do you call them ‘lame ducks’ in the US? I’ve known a few ‘lame ducks’ in my time.


  4. I read this when you first posted it, and ever since, I keep thinking how wise these words are: “It’s none of my business. I can’t control any of that.”

    Hard to live by, but oh so wise.


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