First off, Wacky Ken’s charitable adventures across America continue. He’s gone ’round the bend in Mississippi and checked into a B&B with little toilet paper roses on the roll and he’s considering DeSalvo’s pickled pork lips for dinner. Go visit his blog: it’s a comic mess over there but he’s managed to raise enough money to pay for two children to attend school for a year- tuition, books, uniforms- and I thank all my friends who have had a hand in that. Thank you.
Towards the end of the time that I was practicing as a psychotherapist in Ann Arbor, I had two exceedingly painful and difficult situations arise. The first was a referral from one of the county judges I had worked with over the years in various custody cases. He seemed to respect me and called upon me as an expert from time to time. He sent me three teenagers whose father had killed their mother and then himself while they hid in another bedroom. The father and mother were separated and there was a restraining order in place because the father’s hurt was coming out as that miserable stalking anger that sometimes happens. The father had recently been released from the hospital following major open heart surgery and he was a physical and emotional tsunami. No one at the hospital inquired about his family situation and no one monitored his psychological state despite all the things that contribute to depression around such a procedure- anesthesia, pain meds, etc. Because they lived in a sort of rural area where hunting and guns were routine he had a lot of hardware. Two weeks earlier he had walked into the small local police station and asked them to keep his shotguns and handguns and ammunition because he was afraid of what he might do. Then, on this day, he went in and asked for his guns and ammo back, announcing somewhat manically that he “had some hunting to do.” They gave him all his weapons and he went to the house, broke through a window, shot his wife and then shot himself. The oldest child huddled with the two younger ones during the yelling and screaming and shots and then ran barefoot through the snow to the neighbor’s house for help. For some reason the local police had to wait for the county sheriff’s department as the first responders and it took them close to 40 minutes to get through bad weather to the house. All of this was in the local newspapers. What the children went through for the next years was not.
I had been working with those youngsters about 8 months when I met Rich. I had been single for over a dozen years, happy working in my practice, raising the kids as a single parent (with their dad doing the same not too far away) and taking care of home and garden and pets. In my spare moments I got together with the women of BCMA (Book Club My Ass) and went out to Wit’s End, my little vinyl clad shack of a cottage. I was very happy but I was also very tired.
I didn’t realize how tired I was until I began working with a young bright professional woman with a new baby and a history of binge drinking alcoholism. She came to me because she had had several episodes of binge drinking during her pregnancy and she wanted someone to help monitor her baby’s growth and development and support her sobriety. I liked her a lot and I looked forward to my sessions with her and her beautiful baby. Sadly, she was in a really abusive and addictive relationship; her husband was one of those people who send shivers up the spines of therapists, a true well-spoken white color sociopath. I won’t go into all the convoluted details of that situation but they were separated and it ended with the baby being smothered to death during a visit with the father. Everybody knew it, there was a coroner’s inquest, but in the end there was just not quite enough evidence. I testified, along with the pediatrician, that the baby was healthy and strong and beyond any of the parameters of sudden infant death. Alcohol, cocaine and another woman were involved. The county prosecutor, with many misgivings, decided not to press charges.
Rich and I had been together for just a few months but we were each at that point in our lives and our love that we knew we were serious about one another. I asked him if he would go with me to the baby’s funeral and he did. That night he stayed over but he slept and I didn’t. I went down to my office and ended up all curled up in that totally regressed and miserable ball of hopelessness and wept. After 30 years I believed I could not continue for another hour doing what I had been doing.
I won’t go so far as to say that Rich was my lifeboat but he was certainly a port in the storm and I was truly floundering and we got married. I continued to see that sad childless mother until she moved away to live in another state with her parents (and she has gone on to lead a better, healthier life). Dan graduated from U-M School of Music and has gone on to become a successful and gifted musician. Abby stopped smoking pot, did a bit of jello wrestling and is now a married young woman starting on her PhD. All of our children make the world a better place for lots of people.
Although we have traveled a lot, where I have joined Rich on nicer business trips we have never officially gone on a “honeymoon.” He is not big on holidays and what started with a proclamation that Valentine’s Day was something trumped up by Hallmark and I’m not HIS mother on Mother’s Day has now spread to birthdays, Christmas and anniversaries. This incredibly kind and generous man is holiday challenged and one friend even offered to send him to gift-giving camp.
Where were we? Oh, yes, at the Fourth Street Shrimp Store for lunch today. Rich has been busy, busy, busy with work as he most always is and he had been away for his Myrtle Beach guy golf come-to-Jesus thing he does each year. I was in Asheville the week before that. We’ve barely seen each other and at night, when we’re together, I consider hitting him with a fat book because he snores loudly from a deviated septum. Instead I recorded it on my Blackberry so at least he can’t keep denying it. So, we went to lunch. And I said, “Listen, I know you said something all vague about me not making any plans the last week of October this year (I will turn 60) but we need to talk about that. That is the week of the WNC Animal Fiber Fair and this is a big deal in my life. I have several fiber artist friends who would like to come to the new house then and I would like to sign up to teach and take workshops and so forth and so on. What’s up?”
Rich said that he had originally been thinking of inviting all my friends to come for my birthday. He believes that he is a romantic and I am not but be that as it may and I’ll get back to that in a moment, I planned on inviting them all myself in any case. He went on to say that he had rethought that and he now has another plan which is probably best not delivered as a last minute surprise. He said that he was thinking we could take a private tour through rural Italy, through wine and cheese country and would I like that? I cried in my flounder sandwich.
Rich doesn’t like to travel that much since he has to on business and the one time I talked him into going to Mexico he had diarrhea for a month. I used to travel a lot but now, between airports, cattle-class and more persnickety sleep patterns, I’ve lost a bit of my enthusiasm. Plus, it’s not so much fun if you have to bully and manipulate your partner into going. Back at lunch, Rich handed me a napkin and shared some of what he had been thinking about since his week at the beach, where he and the guys sit around and, presumably, grouse about their wives and then count their blessings, the way women often do. He said he had been thinking that in the beginning he was afraid of how openly emotionally expressive I was. He had never met anyone who just opened her mouth and let it rip, the way I do. (Instead he comes from people who are all bottled up and nicey-nice and then misbehave badly at times.) And he’s right. I do tend to say, for better and often worse, how I feel. I’ve called him terrible, vile names and said many mean and awful and sometimes true things that lots of people wouldn’t say. I’ve tried to get that under control, incidentally, and have quite successfully now that we’re getting to be old hat with each other and I’ve made safe passage through menopause, the death of my mother, and various and sundry other inevitable losses that come with age. So, in the beginning, Rich was afraid of me and it was my good fortune that he was more in love with me. He said now he is not and he has come to value my outbursts. He started to say more and then he teared up so we just went silent and he paid the bill. In the car he said he values my emotional charge because it has opened him up to his own feelings. He said that any and all negative energy that I put into words is not only balanced but far outweighed by the positive energy that I live. He said other nice things. He said he has never ever ever known me to hold on to anger for more than the minutes when I am expressing it and I never hold a grudge, ever. That is true. I forgive everybody everything because God knows, I need forgiveness and it’s only fair. And I’m fair. I say mean things about his children and I say mean things about my children and I love them all insanely. (Really, it probably is a little crazy how much I love them. Bordering on disturbed.) And he said that when I am sneaky, like hiding money or manipulative, rearranging the furniture of life in secret, it is only because I am a little bit insecure and also it is always for the good of us, rather than just the good of me. (Except for the internet wool purchases. We’re not talking about those here.) And that’s true. I’d rather secretly break the budget on a lovely artisanal cheese to share than something for me. Oh, and then he said he thinks he’s very romantic but I’m not and I believe he was suggesting that I’ve squelched his romantic nature. This is probably true because although I rant and rave in the privacy of our own home I am extremely self-conscious and uncomfortable with displays. Anything that calls attention such as him singing to me out in public, which he did once and I shushed him. That was really unkind and one of those things I still wish, 7 years later, that I could take back. On further reflection, I’m sobered by how I sometimes behave.
So, I don’t know where I was going with this except to say that it seems as though Rich has squirreled away some funds of his own and he’s going to take me to Tuscany this fall but not during the fiber fair, either just before or just after and who knows? He might try singing to me again. And all of my attributes were articulated at lunch and in the car and this day has left me sort of speechless, which should be obvious from this little journal entry. Soon it will be our anniversary and then we move to Asheville until it gets uncomfortably cold and then we can come back here whenever we want. My life is so much richer than I deserve. Don’t think I don’t know that it can all change in a second, but for now-well, I know where I stand.
(Oh! Oh- NOW I remember where this started. Today, waiting until the eleventh hour, I went online, filled out the form, paid my fee and it is now, officially, my 35th year as a licensed certified psychotherapist.)