There are so many ways to die. It seems only the real death gets acknowledged but there are so many
other deaths. That happen inside.
Like the death when you love an addict. The not being able to live.
The death of hope. That death when you are sick with hope, and it keeps killing you .
Everyone is still alive… but there are many deaths. Even though you are all still breathing.
You live with death.
It is in every cavity. Your nose, your throat, your chest.
But there are no flowers, no music. The neighbors say, “Hi.”
No one knows about the death that day, and the day before.
But it is death.
People don’t know that you
don’t even know where your son is. That he is poor and homeless and
sick and scary.
That you had to tell him not to call you.
You cannot help him.
But there are no flowers, no music, no floor, no place to put the grief.
Because the pain is wildly alive and
the addict is immortal.
It is an open anguish. An abyss where nothing lives except the
sick of death.
You die over and over again as a mother when you wonder where he is,
how he is. How? Why? You remember holding his shape,
and washing him. Drying him with a towel and putting lotion on him.
Brushing back his wet hair.
You took such good care of him.
Now he prowls the streets and hurts himself over and over again.
He puts needles in his body.
That perfect precious body you took such good care of.
That precious little face.
You feel as if you are drowning.
I tell myself “He is strong and resourceful. He has to figure this out
himself.” But at night I wonder where he sleeps? What he does? Where he is?
I have no phone number for him and no address. He is a grown man, almost 30,
and he is 6′ 5″. He is super tall, imposing, and I have been afraid of him for a while.
He has a big physical presence and a beautiful face. A magazine beautiful face.
I wonder if he still has that face? That smile? I wonder is he still has that smile?
I always called my sons, the masterpieces. Communicating with them how much
I loved and respected them, and hoping they would feel that way about themselves
as well. To love themselves.
He was innocent for about 14 years, and
then the rampage started.
He tattooed his beautiful body starting at age 14. The anger I felt over that first tattoo is indescribable.
I even called the police.
How was it possible for an underage child to get someone to tattoo him?
He was 6 feet tall at the time but he wasn’t even old enough to have a driver’s license. How did
this happen?? And in Massachusetts where, at the time, tattooing wasn’t legal either.
I was going to tear the whole world apart until I got to the bottom of this.
I am going to scrape the skin off his body and then off mine. I am going to go
crazy. But he was unstoppable.
He wouldn’t come home when he was supposed to. He defied us at every turn.
It was like living with a Tyrannosaurus Rex.
But he just seemed big and wild and wonderful so we were not discouraged.
Every teacher, every coach, every friend and relative, every girl and woman, everyone…
reached out to Martin. Uncles, cousins, his brother.
“He is a walking mass of human potential,” one teacher said.
We felt sure he would be okay.
He was the home run king in little league. He was on the All Star Team.
He was in the high school play, The Sound of Music. He could play the guitar, and sing.
He was a great tennis player. He spent summers poking around the harbor,
fishing, peering into tidal pools.
He had an enormous enormous physical stamina. As a toddler he could walk for
hours and hours, no matter the weather. Always wanting to be outside, walking the
beach, walking down to Hathaways Pond. Walking across the marsh.
“Walkies.” His face chapped and maybe one foot frozen wet from a puddle and one
glove off and his hand bright red, but he did not want to go in.
“Are you cold?” “Are you tired?” “Let’s go back and rest.”
But he was not bothered by those things and never ever fussed.
We would take him back. Feed him, bathe him, read to him, put him to bed.
He would sleep 12 hours.
School was never good and it kept getting worse. Why was he so tall? He was young for kindergarten
with his September birthday. All the other kids were 5 and some were already 6.
He was 4 turning 5. But he was the tallest by far, and with his handsome, developed
face… he looked 7. He had the carriage and poise of a much older person. But I think
he was very confused. We should have waited. The teachers kept assuring us that
he was fine. There were no signs to hold him back and wait. He could do all the tasks,
and he was a good reader, followed directions. He was cooperative and agreeable but he
always seemed, to me, a little lost, in a traditional setting.
He had a little brother, a dog, two decent parents. Lots of cousins. Cool
uncles and aunts. A close grandmother.
He played basketball, tennis, did some sailing and lots of fishing.
Fishing was a big occupation and he was good at it.
Standing Masai-like with his fishing pole. On the beach, or in
a boat. His big hands super delicate with marine life and
I always like watching the way he handled the living creatures.
He had access to sailboats and dingys and the family boston whaler
long before he could drive. He was an excellent waterman and we trusted
him. Along with his father and uncles, he was a founding member of the self-annointed
Back Bay Crab Club, where on weekends they would go to a local creek and wade for
blue crabs. It was very physical, very challenging and required a great deal
of skill and endurance.
You stalked the crabs in hip deep water and then grabbed them with a net like a lacrosse player
along the murky bottom in fast moving tidal water.
He had a floating clam basket tied to his waist and he would hold his own for hours.
He was an expert from age 5.
He was afraid of nothing, would go anywhere, taste anything,
He was mysterious, too. I so often wondered “What is he thinking? What goes on in his head?”
He seemed different in some way.
“The Secret Life of Martin Mitty,” one of his Uncles would say.
He had an un-fillable center, for experiences.
It was wonderful, and it was nurtured. He never was ready to come in, never the first to stop.
He would throw the ball until there was no light and then keep going until someone
stopped. He could last and last and last.
When we would go on vacation he would be out on the water and on the beach all day long and into the evening and then
he would want to fish at night. He was so strong.
He was the furthest thing in the world from hyper.
He was Zen, from what we could see.
Calm, a very relaxed physique and demeanour.
Restful hands, restful countenance, restful body.
But he was insatiable.
And later, with drugs, and the drug life style, I would say, “He has no off switch.”
But when he was younger it was just that he could always always last the longest.
Still, he slept really well. Ate a lot. Did not crave or seek out junk food. He was a great
eater and fun to have around for food. He liked real food. Good food. He liked sushi,
clams, crabs, soups, bagels, pasta, garlic, oatmeal. Lots and lots of good things.
Bacon and eggs. Pancakes.
He taught himself early on to make grilled cheese sandwiches.
“Good for any time of day or night,” he would say.
He could make them on the stove in a frying pan until we got a
George Forman Grill and he would make them for himself, his brother,
his Grandmother, friends. His capable hands relaxed. The sandwiches
delicious. He was charismatic and beautiful.
Fourteen was awful. He was bigger than most full grown men,
and he had that amazing face. People were so drawn to him.
Especially girls. And grown women.
One day on the beach in Florida a woman I was chatting with
was watching Martin approach from the water.
“That is your son?” she said . “I thought he was your boyfriend.”
He had this grace and people wanted to be around him.
He seemed so refined and sensitive with his natural charm and
aristocratic face, but he loved Rap Music from an early age with
the words of hate and rape and killing. One of our earliest
battles was the awful awful music he wanted to listen to with his
nine year old little brother exposed to the horrific lyrics.
I always thought of us a really open – minded parents. Having
grown up with rock and roll. Suddenly we felt like Tipper and Al
Gore making rules about what kind of music was okay and what wasn’t.
It was such uncharted territory.
He was difficult. He would just simply refuse to do something.
Not even refuse, just not do it. Not care.
I had never encountered this before in my life.
Being a very agreeable and reasonable person myself, I just couldn’t even imagine the absolute
NO of it all. Just NO. Not for you, and not for himself.
Often to his own detriment. Especially in school. He simply would NOT complete an assignment.
Even when it meant losing basketball, tennis. Or flunking. Detentions. Groundings.
Teachers wheedled and begged and offered every good and
positive solution. As did we. He just simply wouldn’t.
“An inverse achievement,” my father said.
It was maddening.
He liked to disappear with friends. He liked being up at night,
going to each other’s houses or just out. It made no sense. How could a
young teenager who couldn’t even drive yet have so much freedom.
He took a plane once to D. C. to visit a girlfriend who was 3 years older.
He was 15. She was 18. She was in college and paid for his ticket. We didn’t even know
he had gone. He had a passport and he used that as I. D.
We could barely keep him in school. His friends would pick him up and then
they would all disappear. So we started driving him to school. We tried public and
private school. He was embraced by the private academy and given a partial
scholarship. He had so much to offer… soccer, tennis, basketball, music, personality.
out the red carpet for him. The staff was excited, the girls where thrilled, the
guys were psyched. We thought it would work. It turned into a war zone.
Teachers calling. Parents callings. Meetings. Strategies.
We took him to Boston to one of the premier practitioners in
adolescent psychology to see if we were missing something,
doing something wrong. When he was done with his evaluation
the Dr. met with my husband and me and said, “Well, the good news
is you son does not have a psychiatric disorder. ” He then proceeded
to tell us that it was most likely developmental, he gave us some
new strategies, and some medicines to try.
We put out best feet forward and gave our all. It was discouraging
to find out that Martin was not only not taking the medicine as prescribed,
but that he was trying to get some kind of misguided bang out of it
and he and his friends were grinding it up and snorting it. It had zero
recreational value and it was such a waste. On so many levels.
We simply could not connect with him, and we turned ourselves inside out
trying to do so.
He became very powerful. Once he started driving and his circles became larger
we were all increasingly lost.
And our home was a police state. I never knew what rule was in place.
What he had done or not done.
Paradox paradox paradox.
a poets soul. nonchalant. calm. languid. indifferent. entitled. rebellious.
Vital and restless.
Apathetic and driven.
Elegant and feral.
The only thing I could count on was that he would let us down.
He would deconstruct.
We knew he was smoking pot a lot and drinking some, but alcohol was not
really the draw. Pills, total freedom, no borders, no boundaries.
Ecstasy and other pills started to show up around 17. At this point he had repeated
a grade so he was no longer one of the youngest in his grades, but one of the oldest.
He was a legend of good looks, good manners, and complete under achievement.
He had no after school job or summer job, no structure, and a Grade Point Average of
1.75. We were at our wits end.
He had no real sense of time, and we started to lose all sense of “normal”.
A matrix of disconnected events, hopes, happenings.
We had to pull him out of other people’s houses during high school years
at all times of day and night.
Chase him down.
He would leave for school but go elsewhere.
I would track him down, go to someone’s house.
Usually they were all crashed out, girls and boys, the place a mess.
Someone’s house. No idea who.
I know that they were using Xanax recreationally. Xanax bars, they would call them.
Huge amounts of Xanax in a rectangular pill.
“Why?” “Why?” I wanted to know. “To feel trashed?” “To fall asleep?”
“Mix with alcohol and not even be able to move?” “Possibly die?”
It seemed CRAZY.
Sometimes I thought this would pass, and sometimes I thought it would never ever end.
It consumed us all.
He barely graduated from high school but managed to walk with his class
looking like a million dollars and receive his diploma.
A few random low paying jobs here and there, a trial stint with a friend in Fort Lauderdale
whose parents had a condo there, and then finally… when he was totally broke and out of options,
he decided to join the Navy.
At first this went very very well. He was a star. Tested in the top percentiles going in, performed
in the top percent in boot camp. Got recognition and promotions.
He was fastidious about his appearance and used as an example on how to present oneself
in uniform. His fellow boot campers started paying him to iron their uniforms.
With his height and bearing, good looks and superb manners, he was often chosen
for special tasks and was welcomed into the higher ranks as a courier or
some other function that brought closer to the inner circles.
He was proud of his accomplishments and it seemed he had found his niche.
He spent several months in Chicago after boot camp in various schools and he
had money in his pocket for the first time and some building blocks.
He was assigned to a ship and transferred to San Diego for more training
while he awaited his orders.
While on base in San Diego he was often asked to drive higher ups to their appointments or
pick people up from the airport. It seemed he was being groomed for
some plum spots and we were thrilled. He was working out, taking care of himself.
At 11:00 pm one night we were woken up with a phone call and a very rambling explanation
from Martin that he was being kicked out of the Navy.
It was true that he was being kicked out of the Navy. That part was true.
everything else was a lie. An enormous complicated lie. And we fell for it.
It took us weeks to understand and accept the extent of the lie.
I had never thought of Martin as a liar. Certainly not of this caliber.
But as we sifted through this matrix it showed his true lack of consciousness
and awareness. I understand that he was scared and ashamed. But the lack of
honesty was the biggest hit of all.
He said that he had failed a drug test and that it was because of some work out
supplement he was taken. He was so convincing about this that we hired a lawyer.
Calling in several favors and kindnesses from family members to get a prominent
military lawyer in California to go to the base in San Diego and assist Martin in
his righteous pursuit of fairness. It was so humiliating to hear from this
seasoned gentleman that Martin and 3 equally valued enlisted men with promising
careers, had tested positive for cocaine use and that there had been incidents of partying
at the local universities, which had led to the “surprise” drug test to begin with. All four of
them were released from the Navy. It takes several weeks for this to actually transpire and so
Martin was on severe restriction on base while the process took place. We were so
shocked and hurt with feelings of overwhelming helplessness. The lawyer told us that Martin
would not get a dishonorable discharge because of his good record, and that he would avoid a
felony conviction, but he had to agree to the charges and successfully complete the
separation process without incident. They would give him a one way bus ticket to Florida and that
was that. It seemed surreal. We told him to make plans, find a place to go, and get a job.
He was 20 years old. And we were furious and exhausted. He went to Orlando and bunked with friends,
worked at a Pepsi plant, getting by somehow.
On his 21st birthday he got a settlement from a car accident. He had been hit by
a car when he was about 12 years old and the funds came to him at 21. It was
not a little bit and not a lot. It was $20,000. He knew it was coming and sadly,
he did nothing worthwhile with it, and it was gone in a few months.
Unsavory friends, crazy living situations, fighting with girlfriends.
Some odd jobs. A trip to New Orleans to find work after Katrina.
You could chart the downslide.
Beginnings beginnings beginnings.
And more endings.
The endings always worse. The “new beginnings” (are there old ones?)
always more wobbly.
And the hard drugs were starting to rage.
And the lies became all pervasive.
Pain pills, cocaine. Oxycontin. And then on the crack pipe and
then to the needle.
Multiple attempts to get him back on his feet, rehabs, clinics,
shelters. Two arrests, two stints in jail, more attempts to get him on his feet,
probations, violations of probations,disappearances.
“Is he dead?” “Has he been murdered?”
Calls from jail. Calls from parking lots.
Living nine lives and digging a thousand graves. We just never know
Everyone says I am doing so well. That I am so brave. And sometimes that is true and sometimes
I just feel as if I stagger from one nightmare to the next.
It is heavy heavy. But I cannot live the deaths so I care for my own life.
“You cannot contact me, Martin. Until you have a consecutive year of
sober adult living do not contact me. I love you. I have always loved you. You have never known
anything but love from me.”
Was that the right thing to do? There seems never ever to
be a “good” choice. The value has been stripped away.
I am bare.
Al anon meetings are strengthening. That is what I feel. Strength.
And the wonderful faces of the people there. You would think that
people sit around and talk about their nightmare lives but that is not so.
We are there to be well. To heal. Not to dwell. We work to be well.
One lady said, “Sometimes I can’t tell the difference whether it was
something I dreamed, or something that happened, or something I
imagined would happen.”
We talked about projecting “awfullism” with our thoughts. A progression of
horrors that grow and grow. The rabbit hole. And how best to deal with that.
How to be well. How to take care of one self.
One lady said she tries to imagine good things happening. I have
done that and I die over and over, and that sense of death fills
my every pore like a seasickness that you cannot escape.
For me, neutral is best.
I have to want so little at this point, that it is humiliating.
What you crave is the truth, no matter how awful it might be.
You want the truth as badly as the addict wants the drug.
You would do anything to get the truth. And you have to be
careful. This empty search, will make you sick.
The hallmark of an active addict is that they have nothing.
No address, no driver’s license, no phone, no true friends, no job.
Nothing. And they are insatiable on every level and will
vaporize anything you give them.
If given one or two tools to build on, they will take it all apart.
My son sold his passport, his clothes, his guitar, CDs, toiletries.
EVERYTHING he could possibly get his hands on.
So you have to stop giving them things. He called me once from
a shelter and asked me to send him a blanket, “I’m cold.” and some
money for food. I had to say No. I cannot describe what it is like
to tell your child no to food, clothing, and shelter. But I had learned
that they know that, they say, “I’m cold, I’m hungry.” because they
know that will destabilize you completely. And they are back in.
Even if just for a moment. If they can score drugs, cigarettes, and
alcohol… they can find food, clothing and shelter. Plus you never know
if what they are saying is true.
It strips you to the core.
What you want, the one thing you really want, is the truth.
It is never available, and you think you will go insane searching for it.
But, what can survive is the love. The real love, the healthy love.
Safe in your heart, safe despite the blighted landscape.
It stays safe. It is alive.
It is there.
It cannot die.
It is where I live.