Evermore

Story in progress.

My mailboxes are full.
I hardly ever clean the toilet.
And I can’t tell you the last time I changed the sheets on my bed.

Now ask me if I care.

I don’t.

It’s all just busy work anyway.  Unimportant habits to keep you from living.  It doesn’t matter.  None of it does.  At least not in the grand scheme.  You think Jesus or Mohammed or freaking what’s his name…Adam…gave a flying crap about emptying the dishwasher?  He didn’t.  Trust me.

I have my own way of dealing with life and it’s working for me.  When the trash gets too full, I light a harmony candle or two (it smells like fresh linen!) to hide any unsavory scents, the dog licks up spills and my pillow still works just fine even if the sham peeled off weeks ago.  I’ll get to it eventually but in the meantime, enjoy the fresh scent of line dried cotton (on your way out!).

It’s not that I don’t see what’s all around me. Who could miss seeing all those yellow-orange streaks in the bowl?  I see the circulars trying to break free of the cramped mailbox too. I watch my dog shit on unmowed grass.  I see it.  I see everything. I just don’t actually give a flying fuck.

Honestly, in my situation, who would?

You’d have to be crazy to care about dirt and dishes and fresh fruit when you’ve been evicted from your life.

I’m not sure why I suddenly feel defensive.  I really have no reason to be. I’m not disgusting.  I’m just unkempt. I suppose.  That could be the appropriate descriptor for me. Unkempt and unplucked and unshaved and undyed.  I do pick up after myself.  Sometimes.  And I do clean.  Sometimes.  Just not often enough for the average housewife’s standards.  And I’ve never been an average housewife. Or had very high standards.  Which is probably the root cause of all my problems.

I’m fine living like I do.  Really.  Mind your business.  Don’t you have a pot to scrub or something?

Yes, that’s my coffee cup on the end table. The take out tins, plastic forks, packets of saltine crackers, chewable antacids, prescription pills, notebooks, dirty napkins, old magazines and all that other stuff sitting on the carpet is mine too.  I like my mess.  It suits me.

If I ever do start worrying about these things, it’s probably time someone else starts worrying as well.  Or maybe time to take a note at the very least. Because I guess, that would be a sign that I’m getting better.  And it would be about goddamn time for that.

If my mind is filed with thoughts about dish sponges and laundry soaps instead of what lingers there now, it’s probably a good day. Right?

Or hell has frozen over.

Or worse yet, the world as we know it has ended and we’re in a post-apocalyptic landscape where despite world-wide obliteration, cleanliness is still next to godliness.

But for now, it’s sunny and a comfortable 79 degrees here in Southern California and my rented million dollar manse that the realtor has the audacity to call a cottage looks more like a dorm room or a lonely writer’s garret than one of Harold Itzel’s fabulous flips.  And that is just the way I like it.

While everyone around me is living the dream, I’m reliving a nightmare via bi-weekly group therapy with a gaggle of lunatics and spending all my other free time on pointless one on one sessions with Dr. Francois E. Dunn.  A cycle of “healing” that never ends.  And I’m over it.  Completely and utterly over it. All of it.

——————————————————-

Maybe you’ve got a hunch that I wasn’t always like this.  You’d win the pot if you bet on it. Because it all started on a Tuesday afternoon, not all that long ago.  One moment that life, and in the next:  this.

I remember the day of the week distinctly because for years I taught a music classes in a little studio right next door to the Honest Cafe and I used to spend my breaks eyeing the mid-day dates that would slide in and out of the sidewalk tables.  Iced Coffee or tea in hand.  Smiles and frowns.  Laughter and awkwardness.  People watching at its finest.  I’d probably watched 50 first dates in my tenure at Music Shakers.  The only non-lactating adults I’d see most days.

So one particular Tuesday, I, for obvious reasons, thought a little cafe au lait at the Honest Cafe would be the perfect ice breaker for my own first date (which also just so happened to be a blind date) with him.   A hop, skip and a convenient jump from one adventure to the next.

Unfortunately for me, that particular Tuesday’s last class was the type of class that puts the ‘terrible’ in terrible twos.  All of my students were uncooperative and in desperate need of a nap (and a diaper change) and it put me in a foul mood.  The last thing I wanted to do after that disaster was have a first date.  I had a ruthless headache from the chaos and I still had a dozen tiny maracas and mini-tamborines and play drums to put away.  I needed to go home, take an obscenely long shower and put Tuesday behind me. There’d be other first dates….other hims.

But…and here’s the fun part.  As I was just about to break the news to his answering machine (I know, bad form. But I had a bad headache!), I saw him arrive early at the cafe next door and I watched while he carefully selected the best outdoor table on the sidewalk (making sure it didn’t wiggle, nor did the chairs and that the sun wouldn’t be in either of our eyes) and then smile brightly and warmly at the waitress when she asked if that table would do or if he’d like another.  I was people watching and not phone dialing.

I was starting to feel better already.  He was adorable and paid great attention to detail. The type of details I love paying attention to.  I was smitten. And I vividly remember, and probably always will, that I knew I would fall in love with him before I even officially met him. Watching him sit there with such a content smile on his face, waiting for me, felt like this moment was predestined. Like what happened next was out of my control.

Oh, dear friend…what I didn’t know then…that I really needed to have known…I could cry.

Still, in that moment, it was kismet and I, like all girls do when they meet a boy who makes them daydream, spent the majority of our date silently planning our future.  While he described his goals and dreams, I picked out our first house (we’d stay in the city), how many children we’d have (two…maybe three) and decided we were most definitely dog, not cat people.  Big dogs – Labradors.  One chocolate and one yellow. And somewhere in between daydreaming and actually listening to his monologue here and there, I learned that he fit.  Perfectly.  I’d have no problem sliding him inside the mold I built of the perfect boyfriend and thus, stretching and squeezing him in to husband form would be a breeze.

It always happens that quick. My fantasies about forever. I think it does for most girls. Women have a built in checklist men must clear in the first 5 minutes of any first date or all that’s left to do that night is make a really really bad call (which might explain why you dated whats his face for so long) or go home feeling like you wasted a good outfit on a bad time.

There are very few men that can clear a checklist (which varies according to the personalities of the parties involved) but losers shouldn’t feel too sad about that, you need not clear a checklist to get laid.  Win/Win.

But back to him … Yes, his wire and wit wiggled under my skin and took root that Tuesday. And he made my soul his home. Like he was a disease. Coursing through my veins.  Infesting my every cell.  A parasitic infatuation.  Love sick.  It was a fabulous time in my life…all the Tuesdays that came after (and the Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays too….).  And I don’t mean that sarcastically.  Our love affair, courtship and eventual nuptials were fucking fabulous.

At first, low key and slow moving in all the ways a relationship needs to be for you to feel safe and trust in it. With a realistic momentum that none of my other relationships in the past have ever had.  (It’s a sign!) A true friendship and a sturdy foundation forged and goddammit, good times.  Lots of good times.  From the Honest Cafe to happily ever after.

I fucking fell deep.

And I was happy there.

At the top of the world.

For quite some time. Two peas in a perfectly positioned pod.

And then….I went nuts…..

——–

…And he used that against me. Because, that’s what you do when someone you love loses it. Right? You calculate and scheme the best way to undermine a person at rockbottom. Isn’t that what all people do? All opportunists with a keen eye on what is right and what is wrong? Of course not.  No loving man would do such a thing.

But he did.  And he still does.

Now he has the upper hand and I have a therapist who makes house calls and an entire pharmacy’s worth of pills to take every 12 hours.  Because that’s what the doctor ordered and I’m obviously too sick to be heard lest I say too much.  Otherwise I’d be at home, 2000 miles away, taking my twins to preschool instead of sitting here on the lawn, drooling all over myself at a subpar aftercare facility.

I’d be anywhere but here, that’s for sure.

It happened quite quickly and slickly if I remember correctly.  There one day and here the next.  Left behind was my life in shambles and the new me, living a new life, in shackles.  Figuratively, of course.  I wasn’t literally tethered or bound to anything.  Well, not at first, anyway.

And it’s not that I didn’t have an advocate or have a clue what was really going on. I haven’t been bamboozled and hoodwinked by a rich man who wanted out of his marriage and knew no other way but to sell his crazy wife down the river. At least, I didn’t think so at the time.

After all, I did have an advocate. An independent liaison. Someone who was supposed to protect my best interests while we negotiated what needed negotiating. She just wasn’t very good at her job (or at least the job I thought she was hired for) but she made me feel like she was. It’s only in hindsight that I see the cracks in the crazy she spoon-fed me.

Get better then worry about the kids, the house, the car...The children will be looked after by your mother-in-law while you are away.  You like her. More than your own somedays.  It will be ok.  She will take good care of the twins, for you.  

This is such a short time in their lives.  They’re little.  They wont remember this. But your sickness could change who they are inside. Get better for the twins.

Don’t you want to feel better?

Yes! Yes I do!

After a few hours of being confused then schmoozed, at the intervention, it was easy to believe that I was sick.  That what I was feeling inside was the result of something awry inside my head instead of inside my marriage.  I clearly was the one who needed to change. Because everyone was telling me I was the problem. Everyone else collectively agreed: I’m sick.  And I felt sick right then. Sick to my core. I’d have said yes to just about anything.  Just to make it all stop. To make everyone, including myself, feel better.

Even if I wanted to, frankly speaking, I couldn’t argue with what they were saying because it had a ring of truth to it. I hadn’t felt like myself at all since the twins were born.  I had been depressed. Everything was off kilter. Perpetually…wrong. It wasn’t too far fetched to consider that maybe it was me causing it.  I felt sick.  All of the time. I was tired and I was angry. And disappointed in him.  He who could do no wrong.  He who had done no wrong.

When I looked in the mirror at myself, someone else was starring back. I wore a ton of makeup.  Heavy cartoonish crap. I had aged and I was having a hard time disguising that fact. The black circles under my eyes never went away.  I couldn’t stand up straight from the weight of my own feelings. And he was doing just fine.  He never looked better.  At least on the outside.

At that time, I’m sure I looked more like his mother than his wife. A curmudgeon.  A shell.  If I fixed me…If I got better then everything else would be…better…thats what they said.  And that’s what I chose to believe.  It was ALL me. And I could control me.  He was still perfect.  And soon, I would be again.  The promise of a return to me, was unquestionably attractive.

So I agreed to get help with my advocate by my side. I would submit to all of this. I would agree there was something inside me that needed fixing. And agree to inpatient care because a change to my environment would speed up the healing process.

I’d naively acknowledge in writing how badly I needed an in-patient program and that perhaps I might harm myself someday if somehow this something got out of control (I was told to write that just so insurance would approve the expense) and I’d swear via my signature that my home life is a hindrance to my healing process. And it would be all about the process for the next few weeks. Just a short period of rest and healing and then I would be all better. And everyone else would feel better and life would BE better because I was finally better.

And in the middle of all that head nodding, I let that niggling feeling deep down inside me that screamed WHY THE HELL ARE YOU AGREEING TO THIS be labeled as fear of the unknown instead of a red flag.  A first step in the process.  Instead of something I should run screaming away from.

Because, after all, I got to pick the place where I would rehabilitate my broken brain.  So I was most definitely in control of this.  Nothing was happening to me, I was agreeing to it all! So go away feelings of dread.  Stop waving those red flags.  Stuff yourself deep down inside me again.  I’m in control … look … see …

I decided, and everyone else eagerly agreed, that if I’m going to a mental hospital (I could never think of it as anything but), I didn’t want to encounter too many actual crazy people. But I didn’t know a thing about what qualified an institution as an actual nut house or a sanctuary or a rest home or a spa. The list of acceptable facilities provided by insurance meant zip to all of us. The only people I ever heard of going “away” for rehabilitation of any sort were the people in the pages of People magazine and US Weekly. So I did what any normal American would do – I took the advice of a celebrity in crisis and headed west.

I didn’t demand Promises or Betty Ford, but I did have a list of criteria that my funny farm must meet (nothing earth shattering).  I needed to go somewhere warm, the winter always depressed me, and somewhere upscale, I wanted to feel safe.  I needed the therapy to be spiritual, but if someone mentioned Jesus to me one fucking time I was out.  But I craved the earth. Somewhere fancy but not a resort.  Remote but not a horror movie in the making type remote.  If they could give me those things, make a facility with that criteria come to fruition, I’d happily go onward and get better.  I didn’t demand that the doctors have a certain level of education.  I didn’t ask what type of therapy they promote.  I didn’t ask for qualifications or testimonials.  I asked for fresh paint and a view.

A few days later, in the formal living room at the front of our house, a room we had professionally decorated eight years ago but never once sat in, we all gathered around and glared at a pile of brochures the advocate brought over.  These were the places our insurance company approved.  These were my options.  West coast (check!), warm weather (check!), family therapy (check!) …. (check!)(check!)(check!).

I hand picked the Bergdorf Goodman of mental institutions, a place called Evermore located in Northwest Tucson, Arizona and I was quite happy about it. Excited even. While the idea of going away somewhere, to be analyzed and prescribed and revived was scary, it wasn’t a negative prospect at all.  I was going to get better at this place. There were experts there waiting to cure me.  Nice people with soft voices and prescription pads.  I would BE better soon.  Real soon.  Sooner than soon.

And that is how I came to find myself on the other side of the country living out of a suitcase filled with brand new clothes for what should have been…at max…45 days but was now somewhere in the neighborhood of 411 days.  Because I needed to get better on the other side of the goddamn country … and I put that shit in writing.

I had no idea how exhausting getting better would be.  It was beyond draining day in and day out. So much talking. Even more crying.  Being inpatient made sense right away. There’s no way you could live a normal life while digging up the ghost.

Basically treatment is a total mental realignment.  And to get to a healthier mindset you have to talk yourselves through it all. Talk and listen. And write too.  Lots of introspection. Learning from others. It takes a lot but you get a lot.  I was damaged goods when I got to Evermore and it took a lot of group sessions, journaling, workbook exercises, poem crafting, and individual therapy to understand why I am … me.

Who knew how much the bullshit of childhood shaped the personality you carry through adulthood. It’s kind of frightening. Isn’t it? That your mother, the person who is supposed to love you most in this world, could be the one that damages you down to your core.  Scary shit.

In the end, though, I’m not sure how much I agree with blaming our parents for everything, they’re human too.  Flawed.  Damaged.  And usually, just trying to do their best at a task that only gives answers in retrospect. But it certainly makes sense that what you know is who you become.  That everything that happens around you, effects you.

This process, is a process, thats for sure. I need a vacation! But believe it or not, it worked. It bloody well worked.  All of the fruity and freaky and sometimes embarrassing exercises did something for me.  It changed me.

I started to feel better relatively quickly.  After getting in to the groove. Getting to know everyone else, hearing their stories, feeling less alone … I felt like a human being again.  Someone going through some shit, but definitely a person who mattered.

There was a strange peace inside Evermore that I wasn’t expecting.  We, the nuts inside this nuthouse, were normal people deep down.  Really normal and very nice.  Kindhearted.  Tender.  Broken, that goes without saying, and most definitely sick, but besides that, we were just everyday people.  Sad.  Lonely. Unwell. Funny as all get out.  Generous.  Gifted.  Very creative and genuine. People.  With histories and families and a need to get better.

With the help of new friends.  A comforting routine.  Medications (which took minimal adjusting, apparently I’m just like 90% of the population when it comes to my mental illnesses).  And guided therapy.  I got better. It all worked.

Exhale.

When I look back at my 90 days at Evermore, and I never thought I’d be able to say this, I find myself remembering my time as a patient fondly. I sort of came in to my own at that home away from home.  Probably the same way most girls do at college.

Going straight to work right out of high school made me miss some phase of adolescence, I suppose.  But at Evermore, I bonded with my dormies, played pranks, snuck food, stayed out past curfew … then had group therapy and confronted one another for bad behavior and learned conflict resolution, went horseback riding, found our voices, made pottery, went rock climbing, confided in one another about rape and domestic abuse and self-mutilation, read passages from self-help books to one another like bible verse, sat kiva, journaled, hugged one another (there was a shit ton of that) and ate cereal we snuck out of the cafeteria with the doors closed and a lookout posted like we were mainlining heroin.

**

I was thankful and I was strong the morning I was scheduled to go home. My brother was picking me up, he wanted to see Arizona … the Grand Canyon, and then we were going to fly home together. I felt strangely relieved that he volunteered to bring me back instead of my husband.

We talked about it in group (There was nothing wrong with my brother coming, but there was something wrong with my husband not).  The group thought that it was better this way, and that I should file for divorce the second I’m on my feet.  I was hurt that he wasn’t chomping at the bit to see me, to bring me home himself, but I digress.

In the mirror, an hour before my brother’s arrival, I painstakingly applied makeup for the first time in 45 days.  Creams, foundation, powder, blush, eyeshadows, liners, mascara, lip stick, a gloss, finishing powder. And I looked just like the old me. I curled my hair.  And I looked just like the old me. When I realized I was wearing the outfit I arrived in (which was now two sizes too big) I began crying and I couldn’t stop.  Benji, Dawn and Arlee came running in to my en suite (told ya this place was top notch) and squeezed me tight in a group hug.  Peppering me with platitudes though they meant no condescension.  None of us knew what to do.  The best road forward for all of us, when we were being truly honest, was to never go back to the place where this all began.  The best future for all of us involved occupation of the same quiet commune where we’d live out our day high on prescribed meds, thriving in a sun kissed desert. Unburdened and well rested.  Filled with gratitude and a 5 star chef’s hand plated meals.  But we can’t live our lives like that.  We have jobs, kids, obligations and responsibilities.  So we fill our heads with phrases that will anchor us to these good feelings and give us a new outlook on our old lives.

So I took a Xanax.  And talked with my friends for a while.  While waiting in the lobby with my bags packed for my brother to arrive.  And after the medication started working, I was fine.  Ready to begin again.  Ready to go home.  But when my brother got to the lobby of Evermore, we didn’t leave right away, instead my psychiatrist (who I didn’t see much) materialized and we were invited to join her in her office.  My group leader and a friend were already inside.  It immediately felt like, looked like and was like another goddamn intervention.  Of a different sort.

“You have done amazing work here.”

“We are proud of you.”

“But you’re not done.”

“And we don’t want you to regress.”

“And he isn’t ready for you to come home.”

“We love you.”

“Don’t worry.  You will be going home…eventually…just not today.”

“We want you to spend a little time at a halfway house.”

“What the fuck?”  That was me.  All I said.  All I could say because everyone was talking at once.

“Its just for a little while longer.  Somewhere safe, low stress, so that you can take what you learned here at Evermore and apply it to real life.  You’ll get a job…an apartment…”

“What about my children?”

“We’re focusing on you right now.”

“What if I don’t want to …”

“It’s court ordered.”

Unlike when I went out to Arizona, I wasn’t able to cherry pick aftercare (that’s what they call it when you finish a program at one therapeutic facility and continue elsewhere).  I had to just go with the flow.  And along with what the court ordered.

Aftercare was tiered.  Tier one felt like day one at Evermore.  No privileges what-so-ever.  It felt degrading and I began to regress.  But the job helped (tier three).  I walked dogs.  Learned how to cook.  And I lived in that shared house in a suburb of Los Angeles for 14 1/2 months.  I saw the children twice.  And I processed out and went to live in the hills alone, except for my rescue dog someone else had named Chip.

And my second day, in my new house on Wonderland Avenue, I met Jared.

 

At first, I hardly recognized him.  Then something clicked and his name popped in to my head.  Then a few of his movie titles…I liked that one where he had the terrible English accent and that one that was sort of confusing but beautiful the second and third time you watched it.  And of course American Psycho and Requiem for a Dream and well, the one he won the Oscar for.  Why would he be parked on my street?  Why is he walking this way?

“Hi!” he shouted up to me. Caught. My perch on the porch is apparently not as obscured as I thought it was.  Too bad for my neighbors I am only just learning this now.  And I’m in my goddamn pajamas.

“Hi?” I called back as I watched him walk up my driveway.

“We keep getting mail for your address … I didn’t know anyone had moved in yet.  There’s a pretty big pile over there.”  he pointed his thumb towards the house next door.

“I’m not new.” I said “But I’m sorry about the mail.”

“Oh well now I’m sorry.  I travel a lot so I didn’t know … I’ll have someone bring it over in a few.  Ok?”

“Ok.” I said then added “Thanks.”

“No problem.” he said and he walked down my driveway and up the alley that ran between our two homes.  I heard his metal gate screech then close heavily.

Jared is quite the cutie.  A little taller than I thought, he looked small on the red carpet Oscar night, but he is definitely not much taller than me.  And his hair is short.  And it looks like someone bleached all the color out. I couldn’t tell exactly since he was wearing a big goofy hat. Maybe it’s just a light blond.  Either way, he looks entirely different than he did that Oscar night with long brown hair…the hippie Jesus look.  Now he’s more like an old art professor or something equally random.

It’s time to change out of my pajamas.  Being that it’s almost 1pm.  I left the front door wide open (but the screen door latched).  I like the warmth of the summer air.  People have become such slaves to air conditioning, they’re not sweating their toxins out anymore.  I think that’s why everyone is so mad all the time.  That and they haven’t had a sixteenth of the amount of therapy I’ve had.

I switched in to my bathing suit like I do just about everyday around this time.  Sliced up a cucumber, tomato and red onion and mixed them in a bowl with a light vinaigrette and took the bowl and my towel out by the pool.  I was sitting on the edge of the pool with my feet inside the water and a forkful of cuke in my hand when I heard someone calling out through the house.  I couldn’t make out what name he was calling but it definitely sounded like it was Jared again.

My stomach jumped a little bit.  That was awfully nice of him to bring the mail over personally but it was also hella unnecessary.  I’m not entirely overjoyed by the concept of visitors.  Truthfully I’m completely overwhelmed at just the idea of it.  I weighed my options and figured that likely, if I didn’t answer, he’d just leave the mail on the porch.  And go the hell away.  He should definitely have something else to do being a movie star and all that.

“Hey?” I heard him shout real loud.  “You ok in there?”

Fuck.

I stood up fast, forgetting I had a bowl of cucumbers in my lap.  They tumbled, fork and all, in to the pool.  “Goddammit!” I shouted louder than I wished.  And I heard the bushes to my left separate and watched Jared slip in to my yard from the alley that separates our two houses.

Really dude?

“You ok?” he asked, eyes on my floating lunch.

I grumbled then replied snarkily “I was.”

“What’s your problem?” he asked in a tone that made it sound like he thought he had a right to know the answer to that question.  Some sort of entitlement he sure as fuck hadn’t earned yet.

“You don’t have the mail with you.” I observed.

“I left…its…” Jared stuttered then regained his composure. “I put it on the chair, on the front porch, the one you were sitting on earlier.”

“Ok.” I said and I bent down on my knees and scooped my lunch from the pool.  A few cucumbers were out of reach so I sighed loudly and then slipped in to the water and grabbed them.

I’m not sure why Jared was still standing there.  We weren’t speaking. I was kind of swimming.  But for some reason he remained. I’d say he was overstaying his welcome, but he hadn’t actually been welcomed in the first place.

When I resurfaced from swimming underwater all the way to the deep end a few minutes later, he was gone.  Back through the bushes.  And I couldn’t help but smile.  What a cutie.

 

 

There was mainly junk in the pile of mail Jared left on the front porch along with a few pieces of actual mail.  I saved a few catalogs that might be worth flipping through someday but pretty much everything else went in to the recycling bin.

What I did nearly toss, that I will be forever grateful Jared saved, was a big brown envelope from the twin’s preschool. The envelope held a impassioned letter from a woman I have never met and a years worth of my children’s preschool projects and memories. I have probably read the letter at least a half dozen times already.  It began with the writer explaining who she is and her connection to the children and then went on to explain why she felt like she needed to send me this package.

Her name is Samantha and based on what she said in the note, she has basically been a surrogate mother to the twins in my absence.  In charge of them from 7am – 6:30pm Monday through Friday and bringing them home with her more than once or twice a week when the Nanny (or my husband) fails to show at the end of the day. The children have become so much more than just her students, they’re her heart (so she says).  It sounds quite messy back home. And Samantha has been trying her best not to judge.  Saying she understands mental illness, having a mother who has been in and out of hospitals most of her life, but that she doesn’t understand abandonment.

The stamp from the post office is from nearly 5 months ago.  All this time Samantha must have been waiting for a response from me.  She should have given up by now.  Assuming she even still cares for the kids.  If he ever got wind that she contacted me, well that’d be that right quick.  But I suspect she was smart about covering her tracks.  It’s no secret how he feels about me.

I’m not sure if I should respond but I sort of feel obliged to.  But, what do I say?  Would anyone believe my explanation for a lack of response thus far: “hey…you…sorry your very thoughtful package was sent to my neighbor’s instead of mine and we only just met today when he returned from a movie set and realized my mail was collecting in his office … and I go to group daily at the out patient ward, take all of my prescribed medications as directed and hope someday to be strong enough to mother those children you care for who probably wouldn’t recognize me in passing on the street… ” or is it easier to just let those people believe what he’s been telling the courts in my absence this selfish bitch just doesn’t care about her kids?  Easier isn’t usually better, I’ve learned that much.

I fanned the kids artwork out on the kitchen table and lit a cigarette.  A christmas tree made of green pom-pom balls glued to a paper plate, squished from being in the package but extra soft to the touch, caught my eye.  I ran my pointer finger over the poms. Tried to imagine little fingers holding each pom down while the glue set in. Then reaching for another. Probably from a styrofoam bowl filled to the edges with colorful poms. Bypassing the reds, yellows and blues to find another green. Sticky fingers, with jagged finger nails.  Tiny knuckles. Minuscule wrists.  Maybe?

I have forgotten what their hands look like.

I set the christmas tree back down very quickly.  Stubbed out my cigarette. Tried not to vomit.

I sorted through the pile: a thumbprint turkey, a bunny made from a dixie cup and felt, a self-portrait. Pages from coloring books haphazardly filled in. Dittos for beginning writers.  The letters G, Q and Z. Then, mixed in between everything else, was a small rubber banded stack of pictures.  The twins. Fifteen pictures or more.  They were hardly happy. Unsmiling in most. Withdrawn in group shots. Faking it for the camera in costumes. They looked very sad. And my heart, felt nothing.  I stared at the photographs with less empathy than a person half watching the news.

These children aren’t mine.  They belong to someone else.  Someone else who died long before I ever set foot inside Evermore.  They’re carbon copies of him.  And bare no resemblance to me.  I don’t know them anymore, if I ever did.  They’re practically grown.  Gone are the pudgy cheeks I used to nuzzle. The big baby bellies I used to tickle. Their hair is straight and mussed.  No strawberry blond spit curls. I don’t recognize that shirt.  Or those pants.  Or that belt.  Or that shirt either.  Or the shorts.  Definitely not those shoes. What do they eat?  Do they like milk?  Are they right handed or left?  Do they have a lisp?  Or speak clearly.  Do they laugh at all?  Are they kind?  Have they ever said my name aloud?

I took my arm and swung it low across the pile on the table.  My arm acted like a snow plow coming for that pile of memories, pushing it forward off the edge of the table so it would scatter across the floor.

I side stepped the artwork like it was feces and ran out my front door. Letting the screen door slam behind me.  I stomped down my front porch steps, across my lawn and down the driveway to the very edge of my property and kept on walking all the way up Wonderland.  I was determined to get as far away from those memories as I possibly could.  I was feeling something inside I have been avoiding for way too long.  I had faces to accompany my fears. And I felt like I was going to vomit up my internal organs.

Samantha’s package was likely sent with the best of intentions. I am sure of that.  But it has awoken a beast inside me. Something untamed and rabid. Too bad I’ve been declawed.

I had my lawyer on the phone and I was screaming.  She was trying to counsel me but I wouldn’t stop screaming.

“How did she get my goddamn address?  Who knows where I am?  Who did you tell?  Then how did she know where to send the goddamn package?”

And I have no fucking clue what her answers were to any of my questions.  It doesn’t matter what she had to say really, I wasn’t being very rational and I needed to vent or I was going to do something drastic. All of my therapy has taught me to get it out, don’t keep it in.  So there I was, following doctor’s orders.  Venting.  Loudly down the telephone line.  While the meter was running.  $495 a hour.

“I will make sure that never happens again.” my lawyer said in a reassuring tone.

“I just don’t think it’s very good for the healing process to be blindsided like that!” I shared “I should feel safe to open my mail. And now my neighbor … he’s getting the mail instead of me.  I feel very vulnerable.”

“What does your therapist suggest?”

“I haven’t told him.”

She was quiet for a moment, then let out an audible sigh before continuing in a monotone. “Well. I suggest you talk to him about it.”

“This is a distraction from what I’m supposed to be focusing on.  I’m really disappointed that I’ve been exposed like this…”

“As I said before, I don’t know how Miss Samantha got your address but I will make sure she does not attempt to contact you again.”

I said nothing.

“Ok?”

“Yes.  Ok.  Fine.” I acquiesced.

The day was heating up and my body was sore from stress and guilt and the complete sense of panic that seized me when I looked at the contents of the package.  I needed to regroup.  Get out of my head and in to a better mental space.  The best way to do that, I’ve found, is by neatly packing a joint and enjoying it out by the pool.  The higher I get, the more my mind relaxes and I’m able to keep my emotions in check.  When I’m high, I’m mellow, no surprise there, and I need to be mellow.  I need to maintain balance.  And the weed is medicinal grade so I get just high enough, not stoned.

So I was smoking in peace, rocking back and forth in a hammock the owners of this house left behind when I heard someone tinkering on a guitar nearby. Barely. I was a tiny bit faded at this point so I sat up to try and hear more clearly.  Definitely guitar. Acoustic.  And then I heard singing.  No actual words – just jibberish.  But it sounded pretty good. And I’m pretty sure it was coming from Jared’s residence.

Emboldened by the confidence weed bestows upon me for whatever reason, I slunk through the trees separating my property from Jared’s and walked up the drive between our two houses so I could hear better.  Part of his house sits high above the drive, built against the hill, but up against the road, looking down on my house. I think he was in the room just above where I stood.

I’m not the biggest Thirty Seconds to Mars fan, I know the band exists but that’s about it.  That’s not an insult to him or his fans, I just haven’t heard much about them (I’ve been busy) but I was liking what I was hearing from my spot in the yard.

I can appreciate a unique voice and his attempt at controlling it.  He has a nice sound.  Nothing flashy.  But definitely catchy.  I listened to him play on. It sounded like he was writing a new piece.  Trying out a tempo.  A story. Making a melody.  It was enjoyable, listening to his process for a little while. Undetected.

I finished my joint while leaning up against a concrete wall below an open window but I didn’t leave.  I kept listening to him play.  I sat down for awhile.  Almost begging to be caught.  But I was mellow and unafraid.  Relaxed and distracted.  I think I might be able to write a song someday. Or maybe just lyrics. I was writing them in my head as I listened to Jared play.  But I doubt I’d remember how to play guitar, though I did it every Sunday for the church well in to my twenties. I should pick that back up.  Maybe. It’s good to have plans.  Someday.

Eventually Jared stopped playing and I slunk back to my house feeling a lot better about everything.  The music felt like a gift.  My own private concert.  And I needed that … badly.

It might sound like a dream, having everything you need at your fingertips or just a phone call away. Not participating in the nine to five.  Or having to worry about bank account balances. Cutting checks.  Reading email.  Going grocery shopping.  Putting gas in the car.  All the mundane tasks that we do as members of this society day in and day out.  But it’s not really a dream. Because when you remove all the minutiae from life, all that’s left is living. And what kind of living am I really doing when everything is being done for me?

Not much.

There’s a line that I crossed, somewhere in the early days of my therapy, that I feel I can’t uncross.  I don’t know where it is anymore.  Or how to get back there. I keep moving forward and further away from my real life and who I am supposed to be.  I have become a perpetual patient.  Incapable of doing anything without analyzing it to death.  There is no meaning in what I do, but I spend countless hours with very high paid professionals looking for depth in the simplicity of what I have become.  Significance in the inconsequential. And it’s not there.  It never was.

I need to stop looking.

My insurance company or perhaps even my soon to be ex-husband, who knows, has paid these people over two million dollars for all of this and I’m still sad.  I’m still sick.  What did that two million dollars get me … us?  I’m probably worse now than I ever was if I’m really honest. At least I was still participating in life sixteen months ago, even if I was constantly fantasizing about my death.  I got up in the morning and I made tea.  I changed diapers. And I switched on the television.  I read the news.  I cared about things. Other people.  My children.

What do I do now?  Who do I care about?  Do I care at all?

I have all the pills money can buy.  All the therapy a human mind can sustain. All the peaceful surroundings one could ever need to get back on track.  But it’s not working. And there’s no end date in sight.

My prison has a claw foot tub and hard-wood floors.  A pool and a small guest house.  A gate at the end of the driveway that I operate.  And famous neighbors.  And I’m sick of it.

I told them today.  What I’ve been needing to say for months now.  It sent everyone in to panic mode and it didn’t exactly yield the results I was hoping for.  But … at least I finally spoke up on my own behalf.

“I need an exit strategy.”  I said.  “A plan.”

“A plan for what?” my therapist asked half-heartedly.

“I need to start doing whatever it is I need to do, so that I can go home.”

He sat up straight. “Well I don’t know if you’re ready …”

“I’m ready. The only thing holding me back is you.”

My group members shifted in their chairs and tried to focus their stoned eyes on me, but no one spoke up. Lifeless like the room we joined in week after week.  They likely felt the same as me but hadn’t yet had an epiphany like mine. They were medicated in to mush.  Riding a ride they were never going to get off.

I was immediately chastised by the expert on what’s right and what’s wrong with me: Dr Andrew Dunn.  “That’s not very nice to say and also quite inaccurate.” he said as he scribbled copious notes on the yellow pad on his lap.  A gesture that usually increased my anxiety and sent me in to panic mode. But not today.  No, not today.  I’m not going to hyper focus on the flicks of his wrist.  I’m not going to bathe in paranoia or try and peek at what he wrote down.  I’m going to accomplish something in group today goddammit.

So I continued to speak:

“But it’s true. I think I’ve learned all I’m going to learn from you. And I want to go home. It’s not healthy to wallow for this amount of time. The disconnect has gone on long enough.”

“You feel ‘disconnected?’” he asked.

“Jesus Christ.” I sighed.  “Of course I feel ‘disconnected!’  I am disconnected.  I want to RE-CONNECT! And I can’t do that here.  Not anymore.”

“You sound very angry.”

“I’m not angry.  I just have a new clarity.  And I’d like to know when I can go home.”

“You can leave whenever you want.” he added quite nonchalantly.

“I can?”

“Yes.  Of course you can.”

“I thought I … I thought I had to stay … until, you know, you said I was better.”

“It would be against my advice, as a medical professional. But this is a free country. You are welcome to leave at any time.”

“You’re patronizing me!  Stop patronizing me!”  I stood up.

“Relax.  Take a deep breath.”

“I am fucking relaxed.  I am.”  Tears started falling from my eyes involuntarily.  I didn’t feel strong anymore. I sat back down.

All of the emotions I was fighting hard against rose to the surface, I felt weak and pathetic and needy and this talk was most definitely not going according to plan. I was supposed to be assertive and confident. Not confrontational and flighty. I looked around the room, surely someone else would agree with me.  Point out my successes, how far I’ve come since we started here.  Someone had to be an ally.  Someone?  Anyone?

No one spoke up.  And I wanted to crawl under my chair and burrow my way out of here.  I couldn’t look my therapist in the eye.  Too afraid of what I might see. I couldn’t look at my fellow group members, too betrayed by their silence.

What was I thinking?  I’m never going home. I’ll never be labeled “well” as long as that dipshit is in charge. I am stuck here.  Stuck here for good.

“Does anyone else have anything they would like to share this afternoon?”

Ugh.

A lot of time has passed since my argument with Dr Dunn and I’ve had my share of ups and downs, like being hospitalized for six months after a bottle of pills I took, didn’t take.

I wasn’t trying to kill myself and I resent that he calls it a failed suicide attempt. I just was so sick of living, I didn’t know what else to do.  If I had other options, I’d have done something different.  I’m sure of that.

One morning I asked myself the age old question: Should I kill myself or have a cup of coffee? And this time, I was all out of coffee. The whole thing was an embarrassment and a misunderstanding.

I don’t want to say too much more about it. It needed to happen.  I guess. Because here I am, feeling serendipitous about it all.  And that’s progress.

It took a long time to get my meds right after that, I fucked up my chemistry permanently it seems, but eventually I was released and allowed to move back to my home on Wonderland (though I’m no longer allowed to live alone) and surprisingly enough, when I walked through my front door again, it felt like I had come home.  Wonderland is my safe place to land.

I don’t have room in my heart for anger anymore.  I let go of the frustration I felt towards Dr Dunn and him for leading me down a path where I thought there was no future for me.  That I would have been better off dead than cut of from my children.  And I felt lighter inside.  As long as I could get out of the hospital, I’d say yes to all of their rules once again and for good.  That made them happy, and I was as close to happy as they’d let me get.

You have to understand, my old life was taken away without my consent a long time ago. It’s neither here nor there at this point what I really think. But something about Wonderland makes me feel ok with the permanency of this arrangement.  Finally.

He bought the house, put it in my name. It’s mine now. And in some really strange way, it feels like mine. And I’m resigned to life without my twins. They’re getting older.  Their idea of home has been redefined too. And, like me, they’re probably comfortable in the arrangement.  It would be selfish for me to go back there now. So I’m going to stay.

My roommate is nice but she’s not the one who is gonna save me from myself if it ever came down to that again. She can barely keep her own head upright.  But it’s nice to have someone to share the hammock with while we listen to Jared write his next album. There’s something energizing about creating neatness for the sake of others. Order and routines.  She brings me tea when she’s made herself a cup.  I don’t leave wet towels on the floor.  We split the groceries.  It’s ok.  Really.  It’s ok.

I’ve come to accept that I’m not going anywhere, any time soon (or ever).  But I am looking up. Most days.  Like good old Sisyphus, I keep pushing my big boulder up the hill and when it starts to roll back down, I cry, like everyone else would do.  And I let it land where it wants to land.  And I mourn for what was.  But I also, march my ass right back down the bottom, assess the damage and within a day or two, I start pushing that goddamn boulder back up the hill. Because that’s what needs to be done.  And I need to get it done.  Once and for all.

 

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