A Story About My Brother

Six years ago, my brother Isaac was an alcoholic just starting to get sober. He had almost died, almost let the drink do the job of killing him.

He’d almost given up on his life.

Today is his birthday and I am miles away in LA. When I called him on FaceTime this morning, he was working at the gym he owns with his wife. He was wearing a polo with the logo embroidered on it. He was ribbing me for putting my name on the gift my other brother gave him.

When you almost lose a person once, twice, more times than any of us like to remember, that person’s birthday is a little more special. It’s a celebration not just of the life born that day, but the life reclaimed away from destruction. It’s a reminder that this person didn’t just come into the world, he chose to fight to stay in the world.

Isaac won’t mind me telling you this: he was a shithead when he drank. It nearly destroyed not just his own life, but so many parts of all of ours. When he was drinking, for a long time, he stared down the barrel of a gun pointed on himself. Not a literal gun with bullets made of lead, but a bottle crafted into a weapon he could turn inward, and sometimes, turn out toward one of us.

There was a time when Isaac’s next birthday wasn’t a certain thing. When we didn’t know if he was going to dig his way out of his pit and find his way back into the light. There was a time when the fog of addiction shrouded his future in a foul, dense mist. When, Isaac will tell you even now, he didn’t care to see the next morning or minute.

When he decided to get sober, everyday for him became an act of defiance — against himself, the alcohol, the feeling of oblivion it brought him. That daily battle transformed him. It transformed many of us to watch him, to walk with him while he did it, to everyday get further away from control, closer to freedom.

Four years ago this week, Isaac, my mom and I traveled to Hawaii for his wedding. He poked fun at my very real and fresh adoration for mai tai’s, but not once did I wonder if secretly he wanted one too. Because Isaac had found something else to live for.

Isaac had discovered he was here for a reason.

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We all are.

ike and sam

Years ago, I moved my family to New York City. Isaac was newly sober, still carrying that six month medallion in his pocket, and he didn’t particularly want me to go. So, to make sure I thought about him all the way in Brooklyn, he wrote me a song.

He sat me down outside my uncle’s house after dark on the night before we left, strapped his guitar around his body, and started to play. Eventually, he would record that song and put it on an EP. I would carry it around on my phone and listen to it whenever I felt alone out there. When I got ready to move to LA, Isaac grumbled from his rocking chair, holding his new baby son on his lap, that I wasn’t getting a song for leaving this time, but he loved me anyway. He always would, no matter how far away I went.

Earlier this week, he texted me a recording he’d done of the song “Be Like That”. Acoustic and breathy, it was a promise, his way of being here for me while I take a giant leap.

Today, as I sit in my new living room in LA listening to my song and thinking about the brother I almost lost, I am thankful for the journey he took. All of it. No one should have to go through what he did, but no one is more thankful for his life than him. He lives with a purpose. He loves his sons and his wife with ferocity. He knows what it’s like to feel ugly and pointless and wasted, and he lives as an example that you can come out of it. You can be more than addiction.

Today, I am thankful he was born, but even more, I am thankful he chose to fight for his life.

Happy birthday little-big brother.

 

Post-its to Somewhere

My house is covered in post-its.

Not because I’m mapping out a new story or making notes on a revision, not for the purpose of tracking plot lines or marking pages in a well-worn manual.

In less than thirty-days, I am moving. Those post-its, colored pink and green and orange are a map to the belongings staying behind, going to family, friends, the donation pile, or, the pink ones, scrawled messy with the word Cali — those are going with me

In less than thirty-days, I am moving to California.

The first time I ran away from home I was nine-years-old, armed with a pink and purple Caboodles box and a few peanut butter sandwiches. I was running to Hollywood, seeking fortune and fame and a producer for my screenplay handwritten in a composition notebook. I walked down our gravel drive to a busy road and turned left— West, I thought. Traipsing ankle deep through bluebonnets, jelly sandals stuck with stickers, sunglasses slipping down my already pink, freckled nose, I imagined hitching a ride on a bus across the American Southwest. These were the dreams of a Full House fan with a Pollyanna heart.

I made it to the corner before my older brother caught me. He hauled me back up the drive, his grip tight around my scrawny arm, berating me the whole way, but nevertheless promising just this once that he wasn’t gonna tell Mom. He also informed me that I wasn’t walking toward California, but was actually headed Southeast, which he proved by flipping open his compass and flashing it at me in the late evening light.

I never promised not to run away again. I just promised I’d be better at it when I did.

In twenty-two days I will get in the car before daylight, snuggle my son against his pillow and secure the dogs in their seats. I’ll pull up the map on my phone, a modern compass complete with step-by-step vocal instruction, and my husband will put the car into drive. We’ll traipse across open desert and through National Forests. We’ll stay in hotels friendly to dogs with pools favorable to a kid who’s part fish. We will be grouchy and scared shitless and together.

When I was fourteen, I planned an escape. My family was living in Colorado and every Sunday I drove by an interstate bus stop on my way to church. I had it worked out. I was going to board a bus bound for California, or Vegas, the Grand Canyon or Yosemite. I was older and had figured out which way was West, knew a few routes, could pass for eighteen and get jobs along the way. When I was fifteen we moved back to Texas and suddenly there were too many states in between, hurdles, and daydreams and the cute boy in the band.

But I never gave up, even when I forgot what I’d wanted.

Now I’m not nine, I’m not fifteen, and I’m not running at all.

I am chasing.

I’m a woman in hot pursuit of the illusive yet very real thing.

My caboodles box is a red and white POD and all my most useful belongings are post-it marked Cali. My bus is a black Jeep Patriot. My companions are a little boy with big dreams, two dogs with wagging tails, and a husband who’s happy to drive.

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A Broken Bone Does Heal

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Two weeks ago, I broke my left kneecap. Right after it happened, I refused to acknowledge the pain, the promise of a longer recovery than an afternoon propped up in bed reading, because how could I be confined so completely, restricted so unkindly? I had life to live and plans that week and everyday my household, my husband, my son, my friends, my family needed me.

But I’d done it. It was broken and nothing would change that.

Anger lit me up inside. I stewed over my sudden and complete inability to function as I had grown used to functioning. And the frustrating thing was, I didn’t even know who to blame, but I wanted to blame something, someone. I wanted to blame myself for not wiping my feet on the doormat before I stepped on wet tile with wet shoes. I wanted to blame the circumstance for presenting itself. I wanted to blame the chaos going on in my life for distracting me enough to misstep.

I wanted to heal fast. Sure, the Doctor said it should take four weeks, but I wanted to take two. I wanted to bend my knee. I wanted to speed this up. I’d had enough rest. I didn’t want to watch TV or sit and stare out the window with tears in my eyes. Those romantic images from movies where the girl languishes in a wheelchair in the garden, embroidered afghan over her legs, convalescing with a cup of tea: not my idea of a well-spent afternoon.

I didn’t want to be confined to the downstairs guest room of my house, or the back porch in a wheelchair. To be swollen and bruised, in pain with nothing to do but feel it. I wanted to get up and walk. To clean the kitchen and make myself a snack. To run errands. To walk the dogs. Basic things I usually never even paid attention to, I longed for the freedom to do them. For the right to grumble about them.

It has been days of scrabbling on the tips of fingers up the side of a deep dark hole of feelings. Thoughts my normal speed allows me to ignore. Questions I prefer not to seek an answer to.

But this confinement did have an expiration date. Four weeks. And the fact that I was still spiraling, not coping great, stuck inside me like a thorn. I have friends that exist on the razor edge of chronic pain. They live with disabilities well beyond my comprehension, they triumph and create, all with a daily battle that has no end in sight. What right did I have to complain? How dare I? This is not the way a brave girl responds. This feels like crumbling. Tipping over a ledge I didn’t realize had gotten so close.

If honesty is still a virtue, here is another nugget:

Being forced into a narrow boundary casts everything outside that boundary into a harsh and brutal light.

In the end, these were the things that survived the bright light.

My husband is a glorious knight of raven headed kindness. My son is a true and solid friend, with the ability to cope and comfort well beyond his seven-years.

Writing and reading create a life-raft.

The people that truly love you emerge in the midst of crisis.

Grace is a gift we are given, but it is also one we must extend even when we are thoroughly pissed off.

Don’t be afraid to go dark for a while. That may be the only way to chart your course.

Two weeks down. Hump-day for the broken-boned. Today I feel better, but not mended. I feel more hopeful, but not sure what that actually means. Not sure, at all, what the other side of this will feel like.

Sure, only, that it can’t belike it was before.

Road Trip Wednesday: #163 Goals Anyone?

rtwRoad Trip Wednesday is a ‘Blog Carnival,’ where YA Highway’s contributors post a weekly writing- or reading-related question that begs to be answered. We ,the bloggers who love YA Highway, post our response and then link it in the comments of the YA Highway site. Pretty fun!

This Weeks Topic: What are your goals for the new year—for reading, writing, or other?

I am going to attack this question in the three parts it’s broken up by — reading, writing, other.

I am not really a goal-setter. I discussed this in my New Year post, you can see that here. To briefly reiterate, I do not like to fail. I do like to have a plan though, and that plan does leave room for me to fail.

So…whatever.

Reading:

I have set a reading goal on Goodreads this year. First year I think I have ever done that. You can see my little tracker over in the sidebar. I’ve read one book so far. My goal is 75. We will see. I would like to try to read in genres or sub-genres I don’t usually read in for at least 30% of my reading. For example) Literary Fiction, Contemporary YA, Nonfiction or Memoir.

Writing:

The biggest goal I have here should be obvious: get the manuscript to a sale-able place. For those of you who are agented, you will understand how very little power you have in reaching this goal. It comes down to absorbing the notes on your work, interpreting it through the eyes of your characters and your voice and your story, then making that happen in the writing. That’s what I’m doing now.

Beyond that, ideally the book will sell. I’m an holding my breath for that. Holding my breath, praying, crossing fingers, dotting “i’s”. It’s happening this year. I would also like to consistently blog, tweet, and build my presence on the interwebs. And, if my manuscript is out in the world of publishing, I’d like to begin work on the sequel.

Somewhere in there I will sleep and potty-train my three year old son.

Other:

Potty training is happening. Sometime between now and when he turns four. My husband and I joke about this, and other more challenging aspects of parenting, in order to remain sane in the midst of chaos. He says, sometime between now and when Sam’s eighteen he’ll be able to sleep through the night (use the big boy potty, eat his vegetables, dress himself, etc., you get the idea), so no pressure.

I’d like to find time to sew, which I haven’t done since moving to New York.

I want be more settled this year. This is more of a feeling, something I will know when I get to it, but not necessarily know how to get to. I’d also like to be more flexible. Last year, I was learning how to be a mom and a writer. I’m still learning, but I hope this year, I’ll be better at the dance.

Those are my current goals. I find goals evolve, like all living things, and goals should be alive. They are a part of who we are. As you journey towards something the end result you were hoping for usually matures. Sometimes it changes entirely. By the end of the year, I may not meet any of my goals, but I may still feel I’ve accomplished everything I set out to. (This is a mentality I am developing in order to counter my need to win compulsion. So far, it’s working.)