I shake the principal’s hand but clam up and don’t introduce myself, starstruck I guess, and then file in behind others to the auditorium and a seat comfortably in the back. A couple comes in at the very end and takes the two seats in front of me. He is waiting for her to sit down and she is waiting for him to read her mind and take the water bottle and papers from her hand so she can remove her jacket. My jacket is still on, buttoned up and everything. The first speaker has a gravelly, high pitched voice and the second speaker is smooth baritone, but peppered with uhs and ums. The third speaker is just right, but implies our children should be taking Advanced Placement Calculus and Physics. He must be talking to the raven-haired mom two rows ahead, who nods vigorously. I drift off and count gray heads in the crowd. Two gray ladies, just like me, one stylishly cut with cute glasses and the other with long straight hair and ruddy cheeks of a young girl that somehow makes me think ‘older woman’. I spot a man I remember from AA meetings a million years ago. His hair isn’t really gray and he wouldn’t remember me. I imagine plucking these three from their seats so we could meet afterwards and I would say what was all that nonsense about AP Calculus, hm?
This is something I wrote in the spirit of Homework for Life, which I mentioned late last year. It has failed to freeze time like it does in movies so that I can run around and tweak the noses of people I do not care for, but I am enjoying the practice. Every morning when I journal, I take something from the day before and turn it into a mini story or byte. We literally have stories all over the place and it helps me to stay present by looking for the details there. Like, in the above sequence, I not only remember the woman who couldn’t sit down because she was holding a water bottle and wearing a jacket, but I also remember how sheepish her husband looked when he finally did read her mind. I remember he was wearing a belt holster for his phone like it was 1999. He had a fuzzy haircut like a baby chick. I remember another woman three rows up who was chewing gum so distractingly I decided maybe I shouldn’t chew gum at all.
Right now my homework for life tends to be snarky, and this worries me a little. Snarkiness is fear-based, and maybe I should have chosen Fear as my word-of-the-year because I am able to poke at it with a stick through exercises like this. Time and Fear wait for no man, and so they are hard to slow down to get a really good look. I like being able to go back and get a closer look in these tiny, frozen snapshots.
My first recorded words were: My name is Kristen Deacon. I am a little girl.
My brother had received a tape recorder for his 5th birthday and took it for a test spin. He played my profound words back and I asked who the little boy in the recording was and a lifelong hatred of the sound of my voice was born!
Unfortunately it never stopped me from talking. Bonus feature on tape: my great-grandmother saying “Happy Birthday to YOU, Jepprey.” That’s how she pronounced Jeffrey. She was totally adorable, a 4ft 2 inch angel in cork wedge heels who kept her own stash of chocolates by her bed because they “help me to sleep”. Here is photographic proof of her adorableness and possibly my favorite picture of us.
This is all a long-winded introduction to Paul’s podcast on recovery, which I was honored/humbled/thrilled to be on last night.
You may remember Paul from such classics as Message In a Bottle, his recovery blog, which I came to know early in recovery and loved for many years. And still do love because it’s still up for others to peruse and love while he is off taking the podcast world by storm.
We leave a half hour earlier than planned and I stop the car in the middle of a road to take pictures of a horse farm. We finally get apple cider donuts at the place I’ve been telling the girls we’ll stop at, someday.
Because we are still early when we get closer to my grandmother’s house, I decide we’ll take a 5 minute detour and drive past my other grandparents’ old house. You know, see if it’s still there, look for the big rock I used to sit and think on, the same one featured in the 11 o’clock news after a bus filled with mentally disabled adults lost control and rolled over in my grandparents’ front yard. (I don’t think anyone died, but the internet wasn’t around then.)
As we’re sailing down the exit ramp, a voice whispers what about Hamilton?
Hamilton is where my still-living grandmother used to live long ago. It’s close enough to Baltimore that you can see the skyline from the front of the church she used to drag us to on Sundays. I didn’t mind the holy incense, but unfortunately it didn’t have any of the scary-garish sculptures like the bigger church downtown. Screw hat-counting for entertainment when you can gape at bleeding stigmatas.
I went the way google maps told me to drive to Hamilton, which was not the same way Dad used to go. I used the time to wax philosophical with my oldest daughter.
Remember that house we drove past in summer, the one where we talked to the old neighbors? That was the house where Amom had a lot, and they were going to build their own house right next door. Can you imagine that…growing up literally next door to your grandparents?
I still could not, though I tried to imagine for years how life would have been different if my mom hadn’t died of cancer when I was still a baby.
Usually I would have been popular and had better clothes in these fantasies, and somehow turned out more attractive. It sounds superficial because I was, but maybe also I couldn’t imagine what power having a real mother might yield…I didn’t recognize the unconditional love I already had.
Google maps dumped us in Hamilton behind the school with the funky 70s sculpture, which frankly I was surprised was still there. My grandmother and many others like her – working class immigrants – fled to the suburbs 30 years ago.
I was surprised by how well-kept the homes looked in her old neighborhood, at the trim yards and Christmas decorations. Time may have passed through this way, but it kept going. We drove past my grandmother’s old house with the front porch with the springy give and tar smell, or maybe it was old oiled wood.
Next door on one side was her mother’s old house, where I used to skip over for honey tea and cookies at a tin side table by the sunny window. I could wave to my grandmother from there, and did so many times.
Next door on the other side was where Porky lived. Porky was a scruffy terrier I used to feed rolls of salami, chunks of bread, and sometimes carrots and grapes through the chainlink fence while his owner, a specter I never saw through anything but sheer kitchen curtains, glared or just watched, I could never really tell.
I miss Porky and my great-grandmother, who are long gone, but it struck me that I was also nostalgic for someone I could still spend actual time with. My grandmother is still alive and well for 89.
At first I wasn’t going to tell her we drove past her old house in Hamilton. Although my kids and husband are used to these spur-of-the-moment side trips, my extended family must find it strange and a little insulting that I’d rather take time away from a visit. Still, the past doesn’t just belong to me.
“We were early,” I said, “so I drove past your old house on Birchwood. It looks pretty good.”
“Oh yeah? Did you go to Holy Redeemer Cemetery and see your great-grandmother?” my grandmother asked.
I spend my time trolling past houses where relatives haven’t lived in years, possibly creeping out the folks who live there now. My grandmother spends her time in cemeteries. We’re a regular modern day Addams Family.
She probably knew I didn’t go when she asked, but she set us up to drive to a different, closer cemetery where my mother is buried. My daughters have been before, but the novelty is still new and interesting, possibly a little tragic.
I am disproportionately proud that I still mostly know the way through the intricate veins of the cemetery road system. There is literally no one around and I think this is what creeps me out most about cemeteries. They seem like a great place to get yourself murdered.
A biting wind yanks our car doors open and we scramble out to straighten the Christmas greenery she put out last month. Everything is knocked down, including a heavy iron urn on my grandfather’s modest unmarked plot across the way. I can’t remember why he wasn’t buried with the rest of my family, but he’s probably happier over there, smoking hand-rolled cigarettes and drinking warm cans of Budweiser if I know him.
We pause for a picture because I already told my daughters I want a selfie with all four of us. There’s a generation missing and you can’t really tell where we are, but we snap a cemetery selfie before rushing back to the car for shelter and warmth and the beep beep beep the car makes when my grandmother refuses to buckle her seat belt.
The playlist is up to its old tricks and Que Sera Sera comes on and my grandmother says “Oh Doris Day. Is she still alive?” It doesn’t seem likely, but what do I know. I feel my mother’s presence in the car.
If my mother were still alive, my parents would still live in that old house, my grandmother right next door. I might have been wrong about the more attractive thing, but I am positive of this.
If we’d never moved to a completely different part of the state when I was little, I wouldn’t have met my best friend, who introduced me to my college roommate, who got me a job at the pool where I met my husband, who gave me two beautiful, very specific human beings. Great loss brought angels to watch over us in another lifetime.
Patience has hair the color of honey and favors flowing skirts and a surprising amount of makeup. She’s thick around the middle and gets much less worked up about it than I do. She always wears this stupid easy smile that I envy so much.
This time last year, I wanted to be Patience, just wanted an ounce of what she had…that quiet reassurance and calm that everything would work out as long as I was, well, patient.
Patience was my Word of the Year last year. It helped me through the grueling process of finding a new job and settling in quite nicely, even if it took some time. For awhile, I questioned the longer commute and my ability to learn complicated new tasks and systems and had to keep reminding myself patience, patience, patience.
Patience helped when I stopped dyeing my hair about a year ago. Five inches of gray root is not for everyone, but I love it because it is mine.
Patience helped each time I felt frustrated with others’ actions or inaction or, more to the point, my tendency to make it about me. It helped when I fell off the wagon time and again with my old foe, Sugar.
Patience became a one-word mantra that made 2015 pretty sweet.
For the past couple of weeks, I’ve been thinking about a new WOTY for 2016, alternating between trying some on and thinking I would skip it this year. The other words I considered were good things for me to work on, but none felt quite right. And then yesterday, while driving to work, which, incidentally has replaced the shower and trails as my number one place for good ideas, the word Time popped in and I knew.
A wise sober friend once said that we have to learn how to fill our time again when we quit drinking. For years, many of us simply drank. We didn’t drink to cope with bad news, except of course when we had bad news (and this happened disproportionately more, we now notice). Because truth is we also drank when we had good news or no news at all. Dare I say, boredom and learning how to fill the time is the biggest challenge in sobriety and life.
If Patience is a honey, homey mom-type, Time is a wizened character with white hair (ahem), but otherwise a blank sort of slate.
We all have the same 24 hours in a day. I can fill mine with mindless activities, such as internet rabbit holes, or I can spend face to face time with the faces I love. I can read a good book or irritating status updates of irritating people. My choice.
I can eat the junk or go for something greener. I can walk or sit and it’s all the same to me except that it’s not. It does matter, very much, how I pass the time.
Time is also a natural extension of Patience in that when I’m feeling poorly about progress or a complete lack thereof on account of being human, I can remind myself I have plenty of it.
As with Patience, Time is perfect for someone who suffers from anxiety and perfectionism with a healthy side of lackadaisy. We never know how much time we have left, so wallow in it sometimes, sure, but above all make it count.
Happy 2016 to all and because my exclamation mark key appears to be broken, I’ll end this post calmly, like we have all the Time in the world.