Without a Guide

Despite his alcoholism, my father was a brilliant man. He was in the Army Intelligence, so he had to be smart. It was that part of him I patiently waited to come out day after day. Walking home from the school bus, I used to wonder, What I am I coming home to today?

He wasn’t abusive, it’s not that. He did tend to have depression and would sometimes accuse us of things we did not do or complain about things we did not do enough of. The thing is, the alcoholism was a mask that went between what was an amazing person and the rest of the world. He would turn into this obnoxious and embarrassing person. Sober, he was a quiet and pensive man with an endless amount of patience.

That was when I had a real father. He had worked all over the world and knew so much about so many different cultures. I was fascinated with this. Still am. He was the sort of person to step off the trail or go past the “end of road” sign and explore The Beyond without a guide. He especially liked seeking out nomads in the deserts of North Africa and in the jungles of South America. I greatly admired his fearlessness with regards to the world and The Unknown.

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This is a photo someone took of my dad in Tunis

At home however, the things he did know caught up with and devoured him. Too much time to think about them, I guess.

One trip he never talked about was that two year hitch in Korea. The War. We always thought that was the thing that made him drink.

If my father was working Stateside, he was extremely unhappy and restless. He was always mumbling, “I want to work overseas.” That was his mantra. But we never thought he was trying to outrun us. He wasn’t.

One time, he tried to take us with him. When I was fifteen, we were inches from moving to Spain. Everything was lined up, he had a place there, and the details sorted out. He was working in Libya at the time and the plan was for him to meet up with us in Spain during his off days. At the last minute something happened between the US and Libya and the entire thing was called off. Americans were forced to leave Libya, so he lost that job.

So I never did get to travel abroad with my father. Not physically. Through his stories and thousands of photographs, I did. I also inherited his restless spirit, that need to explore new places, new people, to get the flock outta here.

After I became a nurse, when I’d get new issues of my nursing mags, I’d skip all the way to the back, to the ads about traveling nurses. I looked at all the different places I could go and daydreamed. There’s been a worldwide nursing shortage for a long time and I worked with a lot of nurses who did this thing.

All I could do was dream though, Blane always had the higher paying job, so his career plans trumped mine and eventually I stayed at home to raise the kids and quit nursing.

This I want to go overseas thing became my mantra, but not until after my father died. I didn’t need to have a job abroad to travel. We could just go there. And we did, many times. Always took the kids with us, too.

I can’t say I took them to all these places because that is what I wish my father had done with me. I don’t wish I had a childhood like them.

I’m glad I didn’t go until I was an adult and wanted to explore all these new places. It is very different when someone takes you somewhere versus you taking them along.

I still have these daydreams about being a traveling nurse. I haven’t worked in the field in years, but you know where I see myself one day? On a medical sailboat (it exists) that travels the world giving immunizations to people in remote locations.

Not all of my dreams are nomadic in nature. I also fantasize about sitting at a typewriter in a cottage somewhere in the English countryside writing a novel. About what, I don’t know, but the image is in my head along with one of me in a wooden house near the French Quarter doing the same thing.

None of my “visions” have me here where I sit writing this blog post. Not one.

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That is a a photo one of the girls took of me on this trip.

Shopping Basket-Case

I’m really good at hiding my emotions. Maybe I learned it while growing up, always trying to hide the fact that my father was an alcoholic. These days people can talk about that openly, and it’s healthy to do so. But it wasn’t like that when I was a kid. We talked about it at home, just not in public.

In high school I was showing off a purse my dad had brought back from a recent work trip in North Africa. A friend of mine who had known me since first grade exclaimed, “Your father? I never knew you had one!”

Not only did I have one, he lived with us.

It wasn’t just that I didn’t talk about him. My dad did not really exist socially in our town. He’d go to the bar rooms in another town, was friends with everyone there. He worked overseas, so even professionally he didn’t exist where we lived.

Don’t jump the gun and think I’m repressive. I’m not, I deal with my shit as it comes. It’s just that there are partitions. On my very worst day I can “act” like my normal self. This is a skill polished while working in the hospitals. We had to have these emotional divides, leave our personal messes at home and the hospital messes at the hospital. It is the only way to survive, for medical professionals as well as the patients.

Yesterday though. I was about a hair off from having to be taken out of the grocery store in a straight jacket. I can almost always see something coming. I’ve been in so many different situations that have tested my nerves beyond the normal.

It was a three-year old that almost took me out. In the grocery store. Not my kid or anyone I knew. I was just looking for a pound of coffee and this shopping cart bumped into my backside.

I take a look back and see in the cart, a little girl who looked exactly like Candace at that age. I hurry and look away, feel a tsunami of ache. All I can think is to look at this kid again, maybe pretend for a second that she is really still alive. For just a moment. It might keep me from breaking down in the store.

So I did, I looked again. It wasn’t pleasant. It felt like a ninja star was slicing up the inside of my chest. I walked away, stopped by the hot sauce and tried to intellectualize the situation. I had grieved the loss of my 19-year old niece, the adult. I had never grieved the loss of the child she she had been for most of her short life.

That was something that even on my most creative day I could not have imagined would happen.

Memorial Day…

It was a little scary driving my mom home this Memorial Day weekend. I’m wondering if there is some sort of curse on us with all that is going on, you know. While there I drove out to the cemetery to clean my father’s grave. I don’t know if it is tradition to clean graves for Memorial Day, for me, it was just coincidence. Just time for Mom to go back and since I was in town and knew it needed to be cleaned, I had to get that done.

While driving out there, on the highway shoulder was a man dragging this huge wooden cross and about 30 people following him. I don’t know who these people are or why they do it, but they are really begging to have an accident.

I wondered if these people are suffering. Or recruiting. It seemed a bit blasphemous. Strange. Especially on that day.

Anyway. The cemetery is in Grand Coteau, Louisiana. It is behind St. Charles Catholic Church which was built in the late 1800’s.

It is not the town where we grew up, just a nearby town. In my town the graveyard was full and there was no more room for any new graves, so we had to find another place. My husband’s family being in the funeral business suggested this place, it is where their family members are, so they must know something, right?

It is a gated community. No worries about grave vandalism as with the cemetery my dad was in (we moved him recently).

There are moss covered treed pathways. A peaceful place.

And see, they do bury people above ground in Louisiana. Some of them. They do this because the water table is high in South Louisiana. Dig a hole, you hit water quickly.

That is the older part of the cemetery.

My family is in the new section. It looks pretty empty, but most of these plots are sold. The owners just haven’t died yet. It is too soon.

Way way too soon. Candace and Shane are on the right with the taller headstone (two in one vault), my dad in the middle, and Lorne (Pumpkin) in the yet unmarked grave. All four of them should still be alive. Should.

I don’t write this stuff for sympathy, in case you are wondering. I don’t like that, sympathy. Or pity. I pack light, remember?

I do pity those who abuse alcohol or drugs. And those who live with them. It is a miserable existence. I am blessed I do not have this disease.

The reason I am writing this is because three of these deaths were related to alcohol or substance abuse. (Some would count Candace, too, although she did not have drugs or alcohol in her blood, she was partying most of the night before her accident).

You use, you lose. All of it. And the people who love you also lose. Because once you check into this place, you are not coming back.

A Million Kinds of Crazy

Yes it is true, there has been another accidental death in the family. That makes three in seven months. My brother Lorne died on Friday and although we don’t have the results of his bloodwork, word on the street is he took too many muscle relaxers. This is the exact same thing that happened to Shane, my other brother who died last October. That was the word on the street for him too.

Louisiana is broke and is not doing autopsies as they should. They did not autopsy either of my brothers and I hear Soma (muscle relaxer) does not show up on drug screens. What comes back on these death certificates is “probable heart attack.”

So we have to rely on “word on the street.” I don’t like having to interview and interrogate friends and family, a good chunk of them addicts for information to figure out how my brother died.

I have another brother (still living) who is strung out on drugs. At the funeral home, there were stories circulating that he had gone to my mother’s house and ransacked it looking for money to buy drugs. First, the story was he had torn my mother’s room apart. As the day and evening progressed, people were saying he had turned the entire house upside down. It kept getting worse and worse, this story. We didn’t tell my mother any of this, got a hotel room for the night and kept her there.

After the burial services I brought my mom home but told her to stay in the car while I checked the house. Now, I didn’t really believe those stories, and I’m not afraid of much. But. When I opened the front door, I smelled a horrible odor, like something dead was in that house. It was dark and very still. I got this feeling that maybe my strung brother or one of his friends had gone in there and died, and I tell you my knees were knocking. My heart raced as I turned every doorknob and flicked on each light.

Much of my adult life has been like this regarding my brothers. If you’ve had alcoholic or substance abusers in your family, you know that feeling, that late night phone call or knock at the door, the shit that races through your mind. You never fucking get used to it. And when you do get that dreaded call, the nightmare come to life thing, it’s a sorry ass feeling. A fucked-up one. On the one hand you are devastated about the loss, on the other, you don’t have to worry about getting that call again. Unless you have other substance abusers in the family.

About my mom’s house and that rotten smell, I didn’t find a damn thing. No dead body, no ransacking, no nothing. Unless Snow White came by and cleaned that house. Turns out my mom had left some food out and since she was in a hotel for two days, it went bad. So much for word on the street.

About my brother Lorne, he didn’t use drugs all the time, wasn’t strung out on them. I never really thought I’d get a call like that about him. I thought for sure it would be my other brother who is out walking the streets right now doing his thing. Trying to get him into rehab is like trying to keep water cupped in my hands.

Etch-A-Sketch Mentality

The tv commercials are pumping up the New Year’s resolution thing like mad. Nicotine patches and gums, health clubs, exercise machine thingys, all that stuff to make you feel the guilt and hop on the band wagon.

I always hated it when someone would ask what is my New Year’s resolution, “What, do I look like I need one?” The truth is, I have never made one. Sure there is always something in my life that could use some change, and it would be nice to roll with everyone else in the world who is making a major correction at the same time. It just doesn’t work like that for me.

My father was a raging alcoholic. My mom, who never ever drank started going to Al Anon meetings early on. They taught her a lot of things which she’d in turn teach us. One of my favorites was her alcoholic translator. If my dad would say something mean or stupid, she’d say, “That’s the alcohol talking.” She’d often talk about “One day at a time,” also.

Somehow that stuff and my Catholic upbringing turned into this Etch-A-Sketch mentality where yesterdays are shaken and today starts out with a clean new board.

Any day is a good day for a resolution. Speaking of, time to hit the treadmill.


From Google images