Monday, July 28, 2014

Don't Trip...

My name is Mary.  I am an alcoholic and an addict in recovery.  I am diligent about my sobriety, and I have managed to put together thirteen years.  I go to meetings. I talk to other addicts.  I read the Big Book.  I pray.  I have yet to relapse.  My disease doesn't care about any of these details.  Addiction will always be angling for an opportunity to get back in the house.

It doesn't matter how long it's been since I last poured myself a drink or skied something up my nose.  Every once in awhile, a thought will arrive from out of nowhere and take me by surprise.  I'm amazed at the ease with which my junkie brain continues to suggest the most ridiculous shit.


David Killian is a computer programmer, and he works from home.  He travels infrequently, and he likes it that way.  Once a year, his employer hosts a team-building conference at the company's headquarters in St. Louis, Missouri.  Despite the appeal of this exotic location and the enthusiastic activities planned for its operatives, he remains determined to do his job.  My husband is all about the production and delivery of the high-quality product.

I can't imagine not looking forward to this event, given all the fun and friendliness in the air.  I don't know a soul at Express Scripts.  Still, I wish I could go.  Functions like this are right up my alley.  Bonding is my favorite thing to do.  Not to mention anything involving bumper cars and an endless taco station.

Dave Killian, on the other hand, would rather stick both hands in a fan and code with his nose.


A few days before we initiate the drop-off at the airport, my sons and I start planning what we'll do in their dad's absence.  They seem to enjoy being Men of the House.  This evening, we're looking forward to dinner at Red Lobster. Tomorrow is haircuts and swimming at the Y.  Wednesday afternoon, if they play their cards right, we might just find ourselves at their beloved comic book store. And at night, we eagerly anticipate the premiere of Sharknado II.

Teasing David about his annual sojourn is very entertaining, and he's a good sport. Just this morning, I reminded him to pack his roller skates and save enough room in his suitcase for any prizes he may win.  I hear the Potato Sack Race trophy is a big one!

Hey, wait a minute.  Did you say Dave's gone for a couple of days?  Hear me out. We could totally get loaded.  He never has to know.  It could be our secret.

And that's how it happens.  I seldom see it coming.
Motherfucker's foot is in the door.


I believe I have strong sobriety.  A good part of that strength comes from being truthful with myself.  Of course, I think about getting high.  But I don't feel the same way as I did when I was using.  These thoughts are like scars, I guess.  It's not the end of the world to acknowledge that they exist.  I don't need to chop off my leg just because I have a cut on my foot.  That's stupid.  And so is picking up at this stage of the game.

When I first got clean, I wanted the heaviness lifted from my shoulders. Everything, all at once - Gone.  All better.  I longed for a safe place where I didn't have to get drunk to feel normal.  But recovery isn't a destination.  It truly is more like a journey.  I have to keep moving and learning new ways to cope.  For me, that's how I can not only survive, but also enjoy the trip.

I prefer to tell people where I'm at and how I manage to get around.  It helps keep me honest.  I feel like it's okay that you know.  And I sure do appreciate that.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Make A Chain

David mentioned something recently that made me feel a little sad.
"Remember when the boys used to hold hands?" he asked.  "They don't do that anymore."
I stopped for a minute and gave it some thought.

Quite some time had passed since I'd seen one brother grab reflexively for the other's soft, sweaty paw.  Dave was right.
Really?  Is it over? I wondered to myself.  I wasn't ready.

I remember the last time it happened, actually.  We were in the parking lot of the Best Buy, here in town.  It was February of 2012, and we were purchasing a new TV for the Living Room.  I saw the little guy extend his hand, and the big one took it. My heart fluttered, and I fumbled through my pocketbook for the phone.  I must have suspected we were nearing the end of something noteworthy.  But then, they let go.  The exchange was over before I could take the picture.

The snapshot I failed to capture became a memory.  Just like the last time they scrutinized toys for the bathtub or crawled into David's lap to read together.  Back then, I just wanted them to hurry up so we could watch one program that wasn't a cartoon before we went to bed.  I didn't realize these tender moments would fill me with such longing.

If they were holding hands through the neighborhood at this stage of the game, I'd probably suggest they knock it off.  It would be weird.  Still, I wish I could see it once more.

When Desmond and Rory were toddlers, they were always cooperative with my hand-holding initiative.  Crossing a busy street or maneuvering through a crowded shopping mall.  Two darling lads in matching shoes and complementary outfits, I can see these early versions of my sons so clearly in my mind.

"Make a chain," I would say as they got older.  This request sounded much more grown-up than "Let's hold hands."  In a way, I wanted to get as much mileage from this sweet little gesture as I could.

Both children hold my hand unselfconsciously.  I love it, but I don't insist. Desmond's hand still seems small, but he is nearly my size.  I am stunned by what a magnificent specimen he is becoming.  Sometimes, he'll catch me looking at him.
"What?" he'll ask.
"Nothing," I'll say.  "I'm just admiring you."  It's the truth.
"Okay."  He doesn't seem to mind yet, and I'm glad.

Bro's hands are always clammy, but he is adorable and well worth the discomfort.  It's like adjusting to the temperature in the pool; you get used to it after a few minutes.  But instead of refreshing, it just feels gross.  His fingers are like little Vienna Sausages, pudgy and dripping with moisture.  They smell like processed meat.

But the sight of these boys reaching reflexively for one another... That was very different.  Seeing them hold hands made me feel like I'd accomplished something wonderful.  Among the tedious lessons they were often reluctant to embrace, I had taught them to value and protect the relationship.  To feel safe with family.  To somehow stay together.

And it always looked so precious.

"C'mon now, make a chain."

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Letter #11: The Wealth of Stealth

July 20, 2014

Mr. David Sedaris
Little, Brown and Company
237 Park Avenue
New York, NY  10017

Dear Mr. Sedaris:

I recently uncovered an interesting coincidence.  My husband is a David Raymond, just like you.  I hope this information doesn't freak you out.  It shouldn't, really.  I think it's curious and kind of neat.  I'm quite fond of you both.

I met Dave seventeen years ago this past March, and we have a nice marriage. When I reflect on the actual amount of time we've been together, it blows my mind.  I can't believe it's been seventeen years.  In fairness, it feels more like three to five.  I guess that's mostly a good sign.  He is fun to be with, an interesting friend and satisfactory companion.

To a large extent, I think my husband is a much more decent human being than I am.  The first few times we were together, I stole money from his wallet when he was in the shower.  Not a lot, just a few dollars.  But still, it wasn't right.

Now that we're married, the rules are different.  I swipe money from him regularly, guilt-free.  He knows the pilfering occurs, and I have no intention of stopping.  I enjoy skimming a little off the top, here and there. It's not really theft, per se.  It's more like money laundering, only much simpler.  I am the financial sector.

These days, I'm on the lookout for loose change, mostly.  Quarters are my favorite, but I'll scoop up any combination of coins I come across.  It all adds up.  Singles come in handy.  I like fives, too.  Bigger bills are more difficult to confiscate without raising some eyebrows.  But if there's a wallet left on the kitchen counter and no one's around, I'll certainly give it a go!

I have this small canister in my bathroom drawer.  It came with a Chinese moon cake in it, which is a dessert that behaves like a side dish.  I think it's the bean paste that throws everything off.  It tastes weird but is delicious.  Anyway, this container is officially known as the Stealing Fund.  That's where the money goes first, right after I swipe it.  The Stealing Fund is like an ATM - quick cash, fast. Only it's located here in the house, and I control all economic activity.  When the cash starts adding up to more substantial sums, I make transfers to a flowerpot that I keep on a high shelf in the china closet.

Occasionally, I'll refer to my private account to take us out to dinner.  But not often.  My husband has his own dough, and I prefer we use that.  Once I stole almost enough money to buy us a big, white dog.  The kind of puppy we wanted cost $900, so I embezzled vigorously for six months.  When I got to $655, Dave chipped in the rest.  I told you he was decent.  We had Daisy Dog for a good long time.  She was truly a darling beast.
My husband will occasionally drum up the nerve to approach me for a loan.  He likes to leave a reasonable tip when we go to restaurants.  These requests come at a hefty price.  Borrow ten and pay back twenty.  That's the going rate.  Hey, a girl's gotta eat.  And just this morning, the kids and I were discussing the possibility of getting another dog.

Hope you are enjoying your Summer.

Affectionately yours,

Mary Killian

Monday, July 14, 2014

On the Road to Shambala

Gene Dall has always been quiet.  He's not one for small talk.  He doesn't ask questions.  My father has no use for details.  There was a time that he might know something about you.  Take, for instance, if you owed him money.  He may not catch your name, but guaranteed, he knew where you lived.  That was just his way. Quiet, yet effective.

My father was gone from the house all day.  We hardly ever did anything together. He was more of a peripheral presence, like a cat you leave food for on the porch.  It keeps coming back, but you never know when.  And you probably shouldn't get too close.  When I was little, I wished I had a special characteristic or ability that would make me more interesting to him.  I longed for some kind of connection. Sometimes, I wanted to be a boy.  At least then, we'd have that in common.

Saturday evenings in early Summer, I sat on the stoop making gum wrapper chains and staring into space.  I don't remember having many hobbies.
"C'mon, take a ride," Dad mumbled.  I could barely make out what he said.  A part of me wondered if he hoped I hadn't heard him.  Then, he wouldn't have to bring me along.  The screen door slammed behind him.  My mother hollered from the house as he left.
"Listen, you.  Be back in an hour," she yelled.  "And go easy with that kid in the car!"

Gene Dall never seemed like he was comfortable being a father.  He was awkward and ill-suited for the job.  It was as if he never quite got the hang of what was expected of him.  Engaging my father in conversation was impossible.  Words left his mouth with a price tag, and each sentence cost him a small fortune.  He was not deliberately negligent in the way he behaved.  Just indifferent, preoccupied with other pursuits that required his attention.  Cop shit, making money, securing a meal every so often and getting some sleep.  That's pretty much it.

After watching Dad in action for all these years, I realize now that every interpersonal exchange was more than he bargained for - it wasn't just me.  But I didn't know that when I was eleven years old.  I saw him as secretive and withholding.  His privacy was impenetrable.  I longed for more, and he refused. This wasn't true, but it's how I interpreted things.  The seeds of want grow best from less.

At that point, my usefulness was unclear to Gene Dall.  I thought if I could just get his attention, he'd recognize my value.  We could have a special… I don't know - something.  I didn't care what we did or where we went.  Spending time with my old man happened so infrequently, anywhere was good.

I hopped in the car like a Dalmation on a fire truck, and I tried to slide next to him in the front seat.
"You're gonna need to move over," he said.
"But I wanna sit with you," I told him.
"Plenty of room."  I scooted toward the other side and leaned my face out the window.  I kept my eyes shut tight so I wouldn't cry.  As he pulled onto the avenue, the breeze bounced my head around and tumbled my thoughts.  My feelings were replaced by the weird wind in my ears.

My father was not one for human contact.  He didn't reach for my hand when we crossed the street.  I can't remember ever crawling into his lap.  He only became affectionate when he was drunk, which made those episodes even more confusing.

The late afternoon sun was blinding as we drove along East Tremont Avenue toward the Parkchester beer distributor.  Dad employed the visor on his side of the windshield.  When I reached for mine, a bunch of paperwork spilled into my lap - church bulletins, maps and parking tickets.  I gathered them up and tried unsuccessfully to reinstate them.

"Give them here."  My father pointed to the space between us, as if he almost wanted to guarantee I'd keep my distance.  I handed him the pile of pamphlets and other junk.  I couldn't understand what I did wrong.  In general, my father's reactions made me feel gross about myself.

Gene Dall whistled through his teeth, and so did I.  He sang along with the radio.  I memorized the words to the songs he liked so when I heard them, we could both sing.  I'd explain the lyrics with as much authority as I could muster.  But mostly, I fabricated the details.

Rocket Man came on right after Shambala.
"You can turn that up," my father suggested.
"Did you know that Elton John used to be an astronaut in England?" I asked.
He shrugged his shoulders.
"What a voice.  He's the best," I said.
Dad didn't say anything.
"Whadda you think?" I asked.
"He's okay."
"Yeah," I agreed.  "He ain't so great."

The young men at the beer distributor were sweethearts.  There were a couple of favorites, but I had crushes on almost all of them.  They couldn't have been more than 17 and 18 years old.  Almost grown, but still smooth-skinned and approachable.  They made me wish that I could have a boyfriend.

I watched them swing from the doors of the soda truck like monkeys.  They jumped clear of the loading dock, stumbling and landing dramatically in their heavy leather boots.  They moved with lumbering ease, stocking cases and kegs of beer onto shelves and into the backs of station wagons and vans all day long.

Beer boys wore tank tops and denim vests with no shirts underneath.  They nurtured indefensible mustaches.  Keys dangled from the waistbands of their jeans and rattled musically when they walked.  They roostered about, alternately shrugging and tugging at themselves.  Transactions were sealed with a firm handshake, as male customers tucked dollar bills into their sweaty palms.  They smoked cigarettes.  Some drank the product while they worked.  These guys were rock-n-roll.

Gene Dall switched out the empties and hoisted two fresh cases of longnecks into the back of the car, as well as four six-packs of Schaefer shorties.  He handed me an empty cardboard palette.
"Go fill this," he said.
I wandered through the various towers of soda flavors.  I chose orange, black cherry, lemon lime and grape.  Ginger ale was for grown-ups and when you were sick.  I picked up the completed case and carried it across the driveway.  It was heavy, but I wanted my dad to see how strong I was.  He didn't notice, but one of the beer boys did.
"You got some muscles, girl!"
"Thanks," I said.  I was embarrassed by the attention, but it felt good.

I returned to the front of the store while my father settled up.  Two young ladies walked in behind me.  They were dressed almost identically in halter tops and cut-off shorts.
"Is Tommy here?" one of them asked the older dude at the counter.  He was eating an orange, and the juice dripped down his chin and neck.  His shirt was covered in so many stains, it looked like part of a big, greasy design.
"He's making deliveries," he said as he opened the register.
"Will he be back soon?"  This question seemed more insistent than the last.
"Honey, Tom's got work to do."
"It's just that he said I should come by..." Her voice drifted off with disappointment.
Older dude stared over the top of his glasses and directly at her breasts.
"Ain't nobody else here can help you?"  He coughed and sucked some snot back down his throat.  He wiped his cheeks and the corners of his mouth with his sleeve.  Something was different about his hand.  He was missing a thumb.
"We should go."  The girl grabbed her friend by the arm, and they left.

The door jingled as it closed behind them.  A dirty Christmas elf hung from the entryway, two red bells swinging from his groin area.  His little outfit was filthy, and he wore a shit-eating grin on his dirty face.  From the look of him, he'd never even been to the North Pole.  He probably worked at the beer distributor his whole life.  Lucky.


"Your mother wants you to go to confession," Gene Dall told me when we stopped at the light.
"But I haven't committed any sins," I argued.
"You'll think of something."
"Will you come in with me?"
"Nope," he replied.  "See if you can find me the opener."  He gestured toward the glove box.

Dad pulled up in front of St. Raymond's.  He reached into the back seat and retrieved two warm bottles of Bud.
"Take your time," he said.
I walked down the stairs and into the chapel.  I enjoyed being down there.  What a different mood from the church, where everything was fancy and traditional.  The whole vibe of the space was cool, modern and conducive to revealing secrets you might only share in somebody's basement.

When it was my turn, I entered the booth and kneeled at the opening in the little window.  I leaned my nose against the mesh that separated me from God's trusted servant.  I could see his outline through the screen, but I didn't recognize him or his voice.  And I guessed he didn't know me, either.

"Bless me, Father, for I have sinned.  It's been two weeks since my last confession," I started.  "I didn't come to church last Saturday.  Nobody could bring me."
"Well, God certainly appreciates that you're here right now." the priest said.
"I didn't go to school a few days this week, either," I told him.
"Go on."
"My dad's a doctor," I whispered.
"Well, that's an important job."
"And he drinks," I said.  "Sometimes I have to go to work with him and help deliver the babies."

I don't know why I lied.  It wasn't necessary.  But my false admission immediately put me in a different place.  I felt important and exciting.  I liked that.
The priest didn't say anything, so I proceeded to run through my standard list of offenses.
     - I talked back to my mother.
     - I practiced cursing.
     - I pinched my sister really hard.
     - I stole money from the bowl in the kitchen.
"I'm sorry for these and all my sins."

My confessor prescribed one Our Father and ten Hail Mary's as my penance.  A small price to pay for ushering children into the world with no formal training.

When I got upstairs, Gene Dall was hustling across Castle Hill Avenue, coming from the corner of the apartment house on the other side of the street.  He adjusted his pants as he approached our vehicle.  It didn't matter where he was or who was watching, my father could find a place to piss.

We both got in the car at the same time.  I could smell the tang of stale beer on his breath.  He can't be too bad, I thought to myself.  I wasn't gone that long.  But his face looked softer, rubbery.  Like a Halloween mask.

"Can I sit next to you?"  It couldn't hurt to try again.
"I don't see why not," Dad replied.
I slid the pile of papers on the floor beneath my feet and smiled.

"You need another one?" I asked.
"That'd be nice," my old man said.
I reached behind me and pulled a full bottle from the box.

Hey, I took what I could get.
The seeds of want grow best from less.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Letter #10: Greetings From Paramus!

July 7, 2014

Mr. David Sedaris

Little, Brown and Company
237 Park Avenue
New York, NY  10017

Dear Mr. Sedaris:

I thought about you quite a bit when I was away last week.  I went home to New York for a couple of days - to attend my high school reunion and visit with some friends.  Traveling isn't easy.  Quite frankly, I don't know how you do it.

It's not that I don't enjoy being on tour.  I really do.  I think it's loads of fun.  I like to check out old and new places, to spend time with people I care about.  I appreciate when folks miss me - whether it's the ones I briefly leave behind or those I come to see.

I try to stay calm when I open my eyes in the morning and I'm not in my bed.  I just say to myself, "Don't panic.  It's okay.  You're in Paramus."  The mention of New Jersey doesn't necessarily make me think of tranquil things.  If that were the case, I'd probably say "Aloha.  You're in Hawaii."  I have never been to Hawaii, but I bet it's peaceful.  I am generally in Paramus because there are no hotels in the Bronx. And I rather enjoy Bergen County.  For all I know, it could be exactly like Honolulu. Perhaps I don't get out as much as I should.

After a few days though, I start feeling the need to return to HQ.  I miss the team-building and pep talks that originate from the corporate office.  I get homesick easy.  Perhaps that's a good sign.  I hope it means I am comfortable with the choices I make.  I get sad when someone's on vacation and they say, "I wish I didn't have to go back."  I wonder what's so wrong at the house that starting a new life in Budapest or Iceland seems like a good idea.  If you ask me, Budapest sounds really annoying, and I bet it's freezing in Iceland.  Unlike Paramus and Hawaii, some names tell you everything you need to know before you even start filling a suitcase.

When I'm in a hotel, once that door shuts, there's nothing to distract me except the things that can be accomplished in the room.  I unpack and assign places for all of my hats, scarves and pocketbooks.  I try to bring lively outfits for my excellent adventures.  I don't dress like this all the time.  But while I'm away, I like to pretend I'm in Aerosmith.  Costume changes are a crucial part of the entertainment.  Running water and electricity are available, so I wash myself and use the blow dryer several times a day.

I watch the Weather Channel to try and familiarize myself with the exotic climate of the TriState area.  I establish creases in my pants with the iron they keep in the closet.  I set up the sodas in my little fridge.  I secure enough ice from the machine by the elevator for a weekend at sea.  No matter the circumstance, an ice bucket always makes it a party.

I wish I had enough time to get to know the other travelers on my floor, but there's seldom anyone in the hallway to casually bump into and strike up a conversation with.  The cleaning staff is very nice, but they have work to do.  The Courtyard by Marriott is big with business people.  Everybody's probably in their rooms, pressing clothes for meetings and preparing for the inconsistent state of the atmosphere.

I usually listen to music whenever I am alone on long drives.  Sometimes, I talk into a little tape recorder so I can write my thoughts down later, after I've forgotten them.  For this trip to New York, I purchased your most recent offering - Let's Explore Diabetes with Owls  on cd.  I'd never listened to a book this way before.  It was such a wonderful experience.  I enjoyed the sound of your voice as much as the stories.  I felt like I had such great company along for the ride.

Mr. Sedaris, I make a conscious effort to not gush whenever I write to you.  I wish only to come across as a stable individual who appreciates the opportunity to enjoy relationships with lots of folks, and not just you.  I try and make like I'm slick.  But I do love the way you put words together and layer each detail so skillfully.  Your observations make me feel like I'm part of something very clever and intimate.  I only hope my writing reflects this unique ability.

Admittedly, I think I may have hit a snag in my momentum with regard to presenting myself for consideration as high-quality friendship material.  I spent some time wondering whether I actually wanted to meet you or be you.

I've decided that I'm just fine with being me.  But it was a weird thought.


Mary Killian