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Crossroads, Chapter 2

On July 2, 2017, I made the decision to stop drinking. I wanted to share the story of how I came to this decision. In order to do that, I needed to go back to the beginning. If you missed those posts, you can catch up here:

Chapter 1        

 

Chapter 2

My brother began chemo and radiation treatments shortly after he was diagnosed with leukemia.

He would go into remission only to relapse a short time later. This happened more than once.

Eventually he  reached the point where the chemo wasn’t working at all, and there was one final option left.

A bone marrow transplant.

It was a Hail Mary.

If it worked, it would save his life.

If it didn’t, he would die.

At the time, I was a sophomore in high school. The bone marrow transplant would be done  across the country in Seattle, Washington.

We lived in a really wealthy town in Fairfield County, Connecticut.  The two acres my parents built our house on was a gift from my great grandparents. My great grandfather had a farm back in the day, and the property he gave my mom and dad was part of what  had once been the apple orchard.

So for $30,000, my dad built our house from a kit with the help of my uncles in 1974. It was a small, three bedroom, 1  1/2 bath house.

My mom was a stay-at-home mom, and my dad was a mechanic.

It was next to impossible to afford to live in the town I grew up in on my father’s salary.

But my parents were frugal and good with their money, and with the generous  gift from my great grandparents, they managed to make it work.

But they did not have the money to go to Seattle for my brother’s bone marrow transplant.

He’d need to be there for about four months. My mom, understandably, did not want to go across the country alone with my brother.  But there was no way my dad could afford to stop working for four months.

Nowadays, a GoFundMe campaign would have been started. But back in 1984, there was no GoFundMe.

There wasn’t even an internet yet.

That didn’t stop my parents’ friends and family. They rallied together and organized a fundraiser for my brother. It would be a night of fun. Dinner. Raffles. Auctions.  They were gonna do everything they could to raise enough money for both of my parents to be able to make the trip to Seattle together.

It was kind of a big deal for my family. I was fifteen at the time. My younger brother was thirteen. I remember being so excited.

Until my parents told me they weren’t letting us go to the fundraiser.

My younger brother and I would stay home and babysit my baby brother.

Thirty-five years later, I am not knocking my parents. I know they had their reasons for not allowing me to go. And who knows what the fuck I would do if I were in their shoes. I can’t even imagine.

But I was crushed. I was sad.

And I was really fucking mad.

All of my relatives would be there. My cousin, who was one of my best friends and only two years older than I am would be there with her boyfriend.

I did not understand why I couldn’t be there. Why I couldn’t be a part of it. Why I wasn’t included.

My great grandmother lived right through the woods behind our house on part of what used to be the farm she and my great grandfather had. It was probably 100 yards from our back door to her front door.

A few months earlier, she had gone into a nursing home. Her house was up for sale, but nobody had made any offers yet.

And so, on the night of the fundraiser, as soon as my parents left the house, I did what any level-headed kid would do.

I had a party at my great grandmother’s house.

 

I’m not sure how I managed to make it happen, but my friends bought food and beer and we got drunk at great grandms’s. We smoked on the front porch and riddled her yard with cigarette butts.  

I left my thirteen-year-old brother at home with my baby brother with instructions to come up to Nanny’s house if anything should happen.

At one point my baby brother woke up. His name was Christopher.

My younger brother, Eric, got a hold of me.

I ran home through the woods.

I got Christopher out of his crib, sat in the rocking chair with him, and rocked him until he fell back asleep.

I don’t remember most of the things that happened during this time in my life, but I remember those thirty minutes as clear as day.

Once I got Christopher back into bed, I hurried back to Nanny’s house. The rest of the night is fuzzy except for a couple moments.

I remember dancing to Rick James’s Superfreak on the flagstone floor in the breezeway.

And I remember ending up in the driveway in the back of a Jeep making out with Sam, the same guy who had given me my first completely unromantic kiss in the leaves behind a stone wall a few weeks earlier.

And while we were out there, out of nowhere, two people in fancy clothes banged on the window and scared the crap out of us.

Holy shit. My parents!

Sam and I bolted straight up and then he hesitantly opened the door of the Jeep.

It was late and dark out so we couldn’t really see much.

But boy were we relieved when we realized it was my cousin and her boyfriend standing there. They had left the fundraiser a little early.

And they were pretty impressed with my ballsiness. (Is that a word?)

I won’t lie.

Being the bad girl, the rebel, the hey-mom-and-dad-I’ll-teach-you-to-leave-me-stuck-at-home-kid was a major rush.

My dumbfounded but impressed cousin and her boyfriend helped me to get the party cleaned up as my parents were going to be home before too long.

We got everybody out and got the place cleaned up, and I was in my bed before my parents got home.

They never knew anything.

At least I thought they didn’t.

It would be a couple weeks later when I would retroactively get busted for having a rager at my great grandmother’s house.

But it didn’t really matter.

I had discovered alcohol, for the first time ever I officially had a boyfriend and I was no longer a good girl.

All this helped me forget what was going on with my brother, and it helped me give a big finger to my parents.

And I didn’t have plans to stop doing any of it any time soon.

 

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It’s Time To Mourn

Sometimes you need a few whacks in the head before something really starts to sink in.

You know how  Facebook’s “on this day” reminds you of all the  things you commented on and shared every year before on that date?

Two years ago exactly, I wrote a post about how I was struggling —

“…My head is pounding. Constantly.

Like it feels like my brain is too big to fit in my skull.

And I’m extremely emotional.

It takes nothing more than a slight breeze for me to burst into tears.

For the past three days I have been intermittently crying.

And not just crying.

Sobbing…”

Three years ago around this time of year, I wrote a similar post. Again.

Every year it seems, the same thing happens.

So it might have taken me four years to pick up on it.

But thank you, Universe.

Now I get it. I see the light.

Today is my youngest brother’s birthday.

He would be thirty-four today.

But he died just two weeks after his third birthday.

Here I am, thirty-one years later, struggling, and finally putting two and two together.

Duh.

Every fucking year it’s the same thing.

Hello, McFly!

But it’s been thirty-one years! I have should have a grip on this by now! It should not still be laying me out like this.

Right?

Wrong.

Looking back, it’s pretty clear.

This current bout of depression… I should have anticipated it. I can see that now.

Sure, there are other factors contributing.

I once had a therapist suggest I have seasonal affective disorder. He may have been right.

The less time in the sun and the shorter and colder days don’t help.

Depression and other mental illnesses run in my family.

That’s part of it, too.

I’ve always been sensitive and emotional. Ever since I was a kid.

But the root of the problem, I think, is that when my brother died, so did a piece of me.

And I’ve never dealt with it. I never really mourned. I never felt.

I’ve been sitting here doing a lot of thinking the last couple days.

Not just thinking.

Feeling.

I’ve been trying to allow myself to feel. To feel the bad stuff without trying to numb it.

When my brother died I was in high school. I was sixteen, and my body and brain went into survival mode.

I felt nothing. I showed almost no emotion. And I don’t remember a lot of those first few years after his death.

Then in my twenties, things really started bubbling to the surface.

It was brutal.

And rather than feel it, I did everything in my power to shove that shit back down.

I used men and sex and drugs and alcohol, sometimes separately and sometimes siimultaneously to stop the feelings from coming.

Then I became a mom.

And then things got even harder.

The death of any loved one is shattering.

But one of your own children?

How would I survive if one of them were to get sick?

It was simple.

I wouldn’t. It would simply be unbearable.

Living with the irrational fear that something could randomly, at any time, steal a literal piece of you when you are least expecting it is no fun. It’s debilitating.

This is part of my problem.

And then recently Number 7 failed her hearing tests at school. And then she failed them at the pediatrician.

We discovered she had an ear infection that could have slightly affected the results, but the uninfected ear still failed the test, too. So she was put on antibiotics to clear it up, and when she finished those, I needed to take her to a specialist.

It was looking like she would need tubes put in her ears to correct the problem.

Nothing major, and a quick fix.

But that was how it started with my brother.

One morning he went to the hospital to have tubes put his ears, and later that day he came home without tubes, and with a diagnosis of leukemia.

Whoah.

And a year and a half after that he was gone.

Needless to say, I still haven’t made that appointment for Number 7 with the specialist.

I know it’s irrational. I  know the chances of her coming home with a cancer diagnosis and eighteen months to live are basically nonexistent.

The memories were stirred up, the bees are going crazy around the hive, and my brain has been gradually descending into panic/denial/survival mode.

Thirty-one years later, the memories are still brutal.

And then, the other thing I’m realizing is I have guilt.

I have tremendous guilt.

Not that I could have done something.

But that I got to keep going.

And he didn’t.

Why me? Why didn’t I get sick? Why am I the one who got to be healthy?

And am I doing enough?

Should I be doing more?

Am I making him proud? Am I honoring his memory?

Shouldn’t I have my shit together more since he never really even had the opportunity to get his together at all?

I know. My rational brain is saying to me What the fuck, Woman! Take it easy on yourself!

But my irrational brain speaks much more loudly than the rational one.

Much. More. Loudly.

That’s where my issues lie, I think. I have not located the volume controls. I need to turn that irrational knob way down.

I don’t really know what the solution is except I think I need to, as they say, feel all the feels.

I don’t like to feel all the feels. I only like to feel the good ones.

It’s why I make jokes. It’s why I’m sometimes over the top. It’s why I’m loud.

Because that’s the only way I know how to drown out that irrational voice.

So I guess it’s time to find a way to turn down the volume on that irrational voice rather than cranking up the volume on the other one.

Because having two different stations blaring at full volume is just pure chaos.

How do I turn down the irrational volume and allow myself to work through the pain?

I have no fucking idea.

But it’s not by numbing myself.

And it’s not by overscheduling myself and taking on way too many things in an effort to fill my brain with so much stuff that the sadness can’t find a way in.

It’s going to take some time to figure this out and get through it. And I know there isn’t a quick fix.

It’s going to be hard. And sad. And really really uncomfortable.

But you know how I feel about moving out of my comfort zone.

It’s the only way to grow.

And it’s time.

I owe that to my brother, I owe it to my family, and I owe it to myself.

 

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Twenty Movies From the 80’s Your Teenage Daughter Needs To Watch

A couple days ago a friend of mine asked for old school movie recommendations for his teenage daughter.

And while I’m still a few years away from Number 4 being a teenager, I thought about what movies I watched when I was that age. What movies I still remember quotes to. What movies I watched over and over and over again until I had pretty much memorized them. What movies I want to watch with her when she hits the teen years.

And here are my Top Twenty. All from the 80’s. Put ’em in your Netflix queue this weekend.

20. All the Right Moves

Steel Town.

Football.

Tom Cruise.

19. Officer and a Gentleman

Mayo-naise.

I’ve got nowhere else to go!

And who doesn’t dream of being carried out of a factory by a young, hot Richard Gere in a uniform?

18. Stand By Me

Because everyone should have total recall of that puking scene in their heads for all of eternity.

And I miss River Phoenix.

17. Red Dawn.

I watched that movie with my brother about a thousand times.

WOLVERINES!!!!

16. The Princess Bride

My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.

15. Uncle Buck

Didn’t we all want an uncle like that?

14. Ferris Bueller’s Day Off

“Oh, he’s very popular Ed. The sportos, the motorheads, geeks, sluts, bloods, wasteoids, dweebs, dickheads – they all adore him. They think he’s a righteous dude.”

13. Real Genius

Val Kilmer was the hottest and coolest smart guy ever.

12.  Weird Science

You’re out of shape, Al. I’ll kick your ahhhssss.

How about a nice, greezy pork sandwich served in a dirty ashtray?

And a super young Robert Downey Jr.

11. Some Kind of Wonderful

Cause the tomboy who can fix cars wins.

10. Top Gun

Take My Breath Away and Highway to the Danger Zone

And who didn’t want a dude to serenade them with You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling after that?

9. Say Anything

John Cusack.

And I’m still waiting for a guy to hold a boom box over his head for me.

8. Dirty Dancing

Long rolled up jean shorts and Keds.

That little move Baby does when she messes up at the dance contest.

And Nobody puts baby in the corner.

7. Flashdance

I’m still trying to perfect my sexy lobster eating.

6. Risky Business

Joel, STEP AWAY FROM THE BABYSITTER.

And Sometimes you just gotta say, what the fuck. 

5. Better off Dead

Ricky!

Chriiissmaaaaaassss.

I WANT MY TWO DOLLARS.

And more John Cusack.

4. Footloose

When we left that movie my cousin said, “Kevin Bacon looks like he’s a good kisser.”

I had no idea what she meant by that or how she would even know that.

But now I bet she’s right.

3. Pretty in Pink

I still feel bad for Ducky.

I still wish I could sew like Andie.

And James Spader plays such a good dick.

2. The Breakfast Club

Don’t you, forget about me.

Don’t.

Don’t.

Don’t.

Don’t.

1. Sixteen Candles

A super young and super dorky John Cusack.

Because we can all relate to Molly Ringwald and Anthony Michael Hall.

Because we’ve all said “No more yankie my wankie, the Donger need food!”

And because we all still dream about Jake Ryan.

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