Tuesday, May 23, 2006


James is dead. Ghostwriting the girls’ on-line condolence/tribute was not easy. “Can’t say we didn’t see this coming” is too true. Not the words of comfort a family would want to read, if they even made it past the internet censor who approves them for content. (Copyrighted material, too, is forbidden. The censor did not realize or care that our heartfelt prayer was cobbled together from some basic Catholic prayers plus good intentions.) Everyone saw it coming. So what point is there in mentioning it.

I have no idea what his family may have used for a nickname. But I respect the way, despite his life’s vagaries, he maintained a dignified name. Would you call it pretense? Or a last of vestige of hope... to be James, and not “Crack Head Bob” or “Sh***er?” Formalities aside, he died an ignominious death. Not the first young person of my daughters’ peer group to meet a tragic end...but this time I feel that my heart has been ripped open. Why so different this time?

Bridget nixed any mention of James “living on in our hearts and memories.” In all honesty, I was thinking of the moments when I saw James as a sweet young man. There weren’t a lot of them. But I didn’t have to try too hard to think of good things to say. Young men who would notice a woman toting a diaper pail down two flights of stairs and offer to help will be remembered. Young men who compliment a woman on a simple quiche Lorraine will be remembered. Those of us who are products of early sixties’ TV might describe this as “Eddie Haskell-like” behavior. So be it. Some days a latter-day June Cleaver needs to hear what Eddie has to say.

But James’ family might think about the time he dragged Bridget across the room by her hair. Or his brass knuckles that Fran was kind enough to hide in her bodice during a chance encounter with law enforcement. Or maybe that last meeting in the county courthouse when James was simultaneously tried in two courtrooms on (1) domestic violence and (2)
whatever the exact charges were for the night when he drove to our house in an intoxicant exacerbated rage and threatened to kill Bridget. That’s a lot of history. Considering he was just a friend of a friend of Fran and the brother of Bridget’s first high school boyfriend.

We spoke of James from time to time. His life was such a bollixed mess that the pall of impending tragedy surrounding him couldn’t keep us from some rueful laughter at this exploits. (Every laugh has its contrapuntal tragic memory. Yes, we laughed when we heard he had been arrested for stealing a rental car. A car that his father rented when visiting him at college. But it’s a cheap laugh when compared with the look of exhaustion, but no surprise, on his mother’s face the day that we found that he had hidden his gym bag in the shrubbery of our back yard. It looked like a gym bag. Inside it looked like something a Fuller Brush man would carry. If he sold ganja, bongs, papers. And carried his dirty sweat socks in his sales kit.)

He went away to school. None too successfully. He came back to the area. Bridget felt a little safer when he was sentenced to several years in prison for holding up a liquor store. Twice. in the same night. Though she no longer dated his brother, he would occasionally show up in our neighborhood.

“Don’t forget to lock the door tonight. I heard James is out of prison.” Maybe he was that much of a loose cannon. Or did Bridget flatter herself that James might still carry a grudge against her for coming between him and the brother whom she no longer saw?

This is the place where we can all interject the verity that James was in prison for a long time. The prison of whatever started him on the road to self medication right through to his probable-overdose death. What a crappy thing for him to do right before Mother’s Day. She probably saw it coming. But a mother doesn’t want to see it coming. A mother’s specialty is hope. As the mother of the-brass-knuckles-in-the-bodice girl, I can attest that not every problem child is a lost cause. Far from it. But until you’re out of the woods...you’re still in the woods. This is the forest primeval. An extremely sinister forest.

Fran, who was so accomodating to help with the brass knuckles - Fran the daughter who too many times to mention looked to be the cause of my eventual derangement or death - is now my friend, defender and earthly salvation. She is the woman I had hoped she would be. And perhaps a bit more. During one of the lowest times of my life she has come to my rescue. Little wonder I should weep. I am blessed. And it is more amazing grace than maternal machination. Mothers try. We do our best. I did my best. James’ mother did her best. And some of the outcomes must only be called mystery.

So I spent an unusual amount of Mother’s Day week-end crying. For James. For his mother. In search of as much seclusion as possible, not wanting to freak out the family with me new lachrymose personna. Recusing myself from comments and sanctimonious questions. There was little I could do at the time but pray. Pray, cry, sleep and offer up the pain I was feeling from ending a 6 month plus narcotic habit. Offer up my pain to mitigate the slightest bit of another mother’s pain. It’s a bitch, but there is a hope in the pain I have. There will be gain from my pain. Just grit my teeth. I knew it wouldn’t be easy. Can’t say we didn’t see this coming.

I entered into my little deal with the devil, the doctor and the pharmacist knowing that the day would come when I would have to pay. Can’t say we didn’t see this coming. I had to do it to keep working until the time would come when I could have my leg fixed. I did what I had to do. I didn’t do it for fun. But it would most insincere to intimate that I didn’t enjoy the warm euphoria that enveloped me. The euphoria that made life bearable. Life with all its anxieties, money worries, petty irritations, resentment for having this drag on so long - all underscored by the constant not-quite-contained pain of bone grating on bone. There was the inkling of the ordeal to come when I had to taper off the drugs so that I could receive effective pain relief after surgery. (And I only got along by finding a way to get enough Tylenol-3 to ease the discomfort of no Norco or Oxycontin. ) The morphine etc. afterward made that worthwhile. Admittedly enjoyable. Go ahead. Cut a 14 inch slice in my leg. Pull out the cruddy bone and hammer in some replacement parts. Catheterize me. Velcro my legs together when I (try to) sleep. March me up and down the hall and have me assume theraputic yet distinctly undignified positions. What do I care? I feel great...

But I knew the price would be paid. Can’t say we didn’t see this coming. It hurts. It hurts. Sonofabitch I hurt. About a week or so of flu-like symptoms. Yeah. Flu-like symptoms that one doesn’t wish to mention to the children. Or too many other people for that matter. (There are maladies that elicit sympathy and support. Opiate habituation in a middle-aged church secretary is not one of them.) And the next person who says they can’t understand why someone would snort/inject/ swallow opiates might just get....well, at least a piece of my mind.

So I’m feeling vulnerable right now. Just a little too empathetic. With James. With his mother. Empathetic. Sympathetic. Pathetic. It hurts. It all just hurts. (And if someone showed up with a syringe filled with relief, would I say no? Sure. Right. Of course. I hope. Pray for me, James.)

And yet, with the pain there is an a joy too intense to articulate. To enumerate accomplishments has the sublety of slapping an honor student bumper sticker on the back of the family car. I think some tears are from a happiness so rarefied as to be perceived as pain. My daughter is good, well and knows love in the finest sense. Dare I rejoice as another mother grieves?

Can I give this a rest? Yes, if I trust in God’s providential love. For James. For Fran. For us all.

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