I’m Not Ready Yet (continued)

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I’m Not Ready Yet (continued)

It was brought to my attention there are plenty of parents who would give anything to be in my shoes, watch their healthy child grow up, send ’em off to school in a safe neighborhood, get to participate in an active relationship as they thrive in life. That sentence alone is loaded with blessing after blessing I for granted, I’m afraid. It almost makes me feel silly, spoiled even, to blubber and pine away for the “good ol’ days” I was fortunate enough to experience the first time around. It’s not like I’m preparing a eulogy for a funeral. I don’t mean to sound like I take him, all of the privileges and day-to-day living for granted. That’s just it- I DON’T!Screenshot 2017-08-16 at 11.40.46 AM

When I got clean, it’s so cliche to say, I know, but it was like I was reborn. Everything was new and seen in a completely different manner.  Immense gratitude, relief, appreciation, and earnest perception are a few things that fill my heart to the point of bursting. What also fills my heart, mind, and soul to the brink of overload is unbearable guilt, incessant shame, and an aching so great, so palpable because I had it ALL. And traded it all to the devil. Watching friends, other users, drop around me like flies never persuaded me to stop. Talking with hard-core criminals, who had done serious jail time, who started just like me, didn’t convince me to seek help. Losing houses, family members, long-time, cherished friends, threats of going to jail, fear of overdose didn’t keep me from ingested thirty pills at a time or shake me “straight”, these things didn’t stand in the way of my next fix. Broken, penniless, helpless, hopeless, homeless, and emotional and spiritual dishevelment didn’t snap me to attention. Not even the fear of death itself. Screenshot 2017-08-16 at 11.49.48 AMWhat did? The moment I looked into my son’s eyes: he was no longer a trusting, carefree boy, looking up to his Mommy as if she were his superhero. He knewNo more hiding, lies, excuses, or wild, far-fetched stories kept his innocence at bay. He knewIt was in his eyes, his look of disapproval and shame, fear…And in that moment, I knew I was one “hit” away from losing him. Forever. In forty years, NOTHING has EVER had a direct channel to my heart like that boy. And it was that boy who shook me to my core, shook me straight. Of ALL the things I’ve lost or disregarded like a wadded gum wrapper, my son, my relationship with him, I KNEW was not someone I’d ever get over disposing of. When I looked into that little face, I knew it was time. If I couldn’t, wouldn’t get clean, I would miss out on the greatest, most priceless gift I have ever received. To me, that punishment would be so irreversibly damaging and cruel…a constant torture and relentless torment I, as a mother, could never bear. screenshot-2017-08-16-at-11-41-13-am.png

Each day and every second filling them, I practice focusing on the multitude of blessings in my life. Filling my heart and mind with the joys of piecing together a once extremely broken person. Reminding myself to appreciate the gift of the present, while reflecting on my past for self-inventory or perspective. To emphasize that getting to where I am today was not my doing alone. It’s nothing short of a miracle, really. In fact, look around me! The mere fact I have a single person, place, or thing in my life- right now- is NOTHING BUT a pure miracle. I try not to think of what “could’ve been” too often. It never turns out well. The focal point in my life is my son and the relationship I am beyond blessed to share with him.

Screenshot 2017-08-16 at 11.42.17 AM  I came across some old school pictures and snapshots recently. Once I got through a brief “weepy-weepy” session and some sweet recollections, I took a hard look at the man he is now, the man he is becoming. And I tell you, it blows anything and everything else I was greedily spending my life on completely out of the water. Level-headed, articulate, kind-hearted, thoughtful, talented, and then some. He’s slow to anger and is meticulously careful with his tongue. He is a young man, with wisdom well beyond his years. With wicked humor and equally sharpened wit, he keeps me either laughing or scratching my head- if it didn’t go OVER my head, that is. He is engaging and respectful, knowing when and where to express his thoughts or concerns. Ya know, he’s simply a fantastic kid and I could go on and on and on, like any proud parent. Because he makes me PROUD in so many ways. Britt is like me in the tiniest of ways, but NOTHING LIKE ME in areas of fault, negative character, or self-punishment. I pray that continues….With that said, I think he’ll do just fine his Senior Year.

Screenshot 2017-08-16 at 11.46.47 AMI want him to go farther in life than I ever dreamed of going. To seize opportunities and never give up. To set the bar high and then use it as a foot stool. To find love in life’s most unexpected places and never lose his curiosity. I want him to be safe and secure. Secure in himself and those he holds close, to be the one who stands up in the face of evil and rejects ALL ideas or plots of inhumanity. MOST of all, I want him to know how much he is loved. By me. How I never gave up on my role as his mom, how I never stop fighting. And all of that comes from a place of true love. I reckon that’s most parents’ wishes, huh? I’m really not unique in this. But this fella’s MINE! And to watch him finish up this last year of high school, reach his biggest milestone to date, I couldn’t be more proud. And I don’t want to take up another moment- not another SECOND!- on wasting one more precious breath on backsliding away, risking it ALL. I want the limelight to be on my son, his glory, achievements, and dreams as he wraps up his high school history. I just wish to be present, cheer him on from the sidelines. This year, it’s ALL ABOUT BRITTON! So, Son, I say to you, “Go get ’em! You EARNED your right to be here!”…And with a hint of irony, I guess, so did I. Ready or not so ready, we’re gonna do this. Together.

 

I’m Not Ready Yet

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I’m Not Ready Yet

It’s true. The older you get, the quicker time passes. It does this to all of us. And you better be paying attention, absorbing ALL of it: the good, not so good, even the mundane. Take pictures. Lots and lots of pictures. Keep a daily journal, detailing every instance- both big and insignificant- and breathe deeply every second life blesses you with. Because every second that ticks by are nothing more than precious memories to be added to the “storage bank” of what makes up our lives. The older we get, we tend to do a lot of time rummaging in this bank, grasping for the simplest glimpses of cherished times…For some, it’s a happy task to do, flipping through photos and memories, shots capturing life at its fullest. For others, it’s bittersweet, painful, even…

I hear the heavy footfalls of my son upstairs. Heading straight to the refrigerator. I assume our dog- his dog- makes her entrance in the kitchen, as he stops what he’s doing to kneel down, love on her and speak ever-so sweetly to her in only a voice that a seventeen-year-old boy can do. He looks at her adoringly, I’m sure, squeezing her little jowls. I hear a second set of footsteps. A buddy, no doubt. Yep, straight to the fridge. A can of soda is opened. The laughing, jabbing, and excitement begins. Over what? I think. They just saw each other last night! And every night of the Summer before that! I must intercept any plans they’re concocting. Today was to be the day I spend with my boy! Some good, quality mother-son family time! I head upstairs…”Hey, buddy!” I say smiling at my son, watching them dote over his “pup”. He doesn’t look up. In fact, he doesn’t even stop talking when I enter the room, let alone acknowledge my presence. I try again, “Listen, you have a copy of your vaccine record that needs to be taken-” But he interrupts me, cooly, “I did already.” His friend stands in the doorway, his keys swinging on a finger. He’s waiting, obviously. “So, um, I was thinkin’…lunch today or maybe, maybe we can go to Lone Elk later? Ya know when it cools down? Or there’s a really fun-” I stop talking. He’s now looking at his friend with a blatant smirk on his face. This annoys me. “Can’t. Plans today,” he says flatly.  “Oh?” Since when does this kid make plans without consulting me? Maybe I HAVE PLANS with him? He ever think about THAT? I grasp for straws, “Well, um, I don’t think you’ll be doing too much today. Your room needs cleaning, lawn mowed, oh, and-” “Already cleaned my room and I’ll mow later when I get home.” His friend makes his way to the door, presuming my son will follow. Flustered, I continue,  “But, Ya know, there’s-” “Quick, Mom! Think of something!” he laughs. I’m hurt. Because I can’t think of any reason for him to not go with his friend other than I want him for myself. Today. Right now. A snapshot of ten years ago flashes in my mind- a lil’ boy in a Ninja t-shirt, messy hair, milk-mustache, looking up at me with so much adoration and anticipation…”What are we going to do today, Ma?” he asks in his pre-pubescent voice. I imagine myself feeling unsteady and sick from withdrawals, barely able to look down at him, shaking my head and saying in a barely audible voice, “Huh? I don’t know.” I shake the image from my head as I stand before my son, a nearly grown man, as he towers over me, waiting half-heartedly to hear me pull an urgent to-do list outta thin air. “What’s that?” he cups his hand to his ear, “It’s the last couple days of Summer Break?…Mom, come on,” he smiles, messing up the top of my head, giving me a look that’s too grown up for his face. Then I see it! In his face! Those eyes! Yes! They are the very same eyes that once looked so lovingly in my direction, pleading for attention and connection! Those eyes…now so much older and astute. “Have fun,” I manage to say, feeling defeated. Yet again. Giving a tepid smile, I wave him off. Maybe later, I assure myself, passively. “Later” rarely happens. And when it does, it’s few and far between but even more inestimable.

Senior Year begins in a few days. I’m not ready for this. I want to jump under the covers and lull myself to eight, ten, five years ago. Even last year! Heck, I’ll even take May of this year! But not the end of Summer. I’m. Not. Ready. There are rocks to skip, forts to make, hiking trails to conquer! Nerf-gun wars to be had! Movie-nights and breakfasts at our favorite pancake house!…The wave of guilt washes over my head, relentlessly. And there you have it: why I’m not ready. I’m not satisfied that I was the “best” mom, the mother he deserved, the parent that ate up every second, snapping discreet pictures along the way…capturing the very essence of the gift that doesn’t last: childhood. I’m too guilty, too disgusted by my disregard of time to even cry. I’m ashamed. Ashamed I didn’t relish in the day-to-day joy of it all. The pure bliss and enraptured chaos, the wonder and liveliness that being a parent bring. Screenshot 2017-08-12 at 5.23.13 PMLike a dagger, memory after broken memory twists deeper into my gut as I remorsefully admit I let it all slip away, like opening my fist full of sand and watching helplessly, knowingly, as grain by insignificant grain blows into the wind, and my hand is empty. The “old” me would dive head-first under the covers and sleep it all away. “She” would’ve punished herself emotionally and tunnel deeper into the dark world of self-destruction. With scraggly, brittle claws, “she” would’ve scratched a hole in which to hide away from the world, while her brain and soul are dulled from substances, numb and tingly from using…Well, I am no longer the “old me”. My senses and wits are more on point than ever. I offer myself permission to feel. The favorable and the not-so-favorable. ALL of it. However, I do NOT allow myself to pile up under life’s covers and hide away from my qualms or fears. So today, there will be no pity-party, no “boo-hoo” beat-up sessions for this Momma. I head into the kitchen to make a cup of coffee. Screenshot 2017-08-12 at 5.25.59 PMA stack of college brochures is sprawled out on the kitchen island, beckoning my son to come see Illinois, Ohio, and Texas. A letter with “Lindbergh High School ” stamped in green on the corner, addressed to “the Parent(s) of Britton Montroy” lay glaringly on top of glossy college invitations. My phone “beeps”, alerting me of an email from the school, something about Senior Year this and that. Suddenly, I think about his class pictures- the standard one for the yearbook has been done, but what about the really fun, creative ones? Like, at a local park, with autumn-colored leaves in the background? There’s gotta be a name for this particular Senior picture…Maybe I can bribe him into wearing flannel with some rugged jeans? Some worn hiking boots? Ah, that’s pushin’ it…Did he ever get his parking pass? What about his schedule? I know he took his ACT’s, what about the SAT’s? When are college application deadlines due? Oh, my gosh! And he hardly did ANY volunteer service this Summer! Oh, and basketball season is right around the corner…I can’t believe we’re actually FIGHTING over him playing SPORTS! Maybe I can use some leverage, get him to play. I mean, really, it’s only for his own good. He’ll thank me later! Clothes! Supplies! Darn it, we missed “tax-free” weekend in Missouri. Of COURSE…I’m overwhelmed. I can only imagine what’s going through his lil’ mind. People always meaning well when (constantly) asking, “So, whatcha doin’ after high school, kiddo?” or “What are your immediate plans for next Summer’s endeavors?” or “What are you planning to major in college?”…He usually answers the same: a shy smile, head slightly bowed as he politely answers, “Not sure yet.”

I’m sure not ready but I know what must be done. When the “first day” arrives, I will wrap my baby up, kiss his forehead, hand him his bag, and send him off into the world. Standing back, I will watch him do what he does best: Himself. I’ll cheer him on from the sidelines (and hopefully from the gym bleachers!) but I will NOT be anything other than the adoring and supportive mother he deserves…

My phone beeps from a text: “We can get dinner? If ya want. Love you.”…My undeserving heart melts. Senior Year is a few days away. I gotta let him go. I’m just not ready quite yet.Screenshot 2017-08-12 at 5.24.29 PM

*to be continued…

The Looong Way Home

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The Looong Way Home

Our Home: The place where we find security, comfort. The place where we have our own individual definitions of “normal” but we’re accepted nonetheless. A gathering spot shared with loved ones or refuge from the harsh world. It’s our solitude. Where milestones are reached, lessons taught and learned. It’s a place where no matter the time of day or night, you’re always welcome. Laughter or crying, snuggling or fighting, the home is the site of every emotion at any given time. Whether tranquil or rowdy, it is our home base on the planet, where we belongour slight space in the vast universe. Home is where we grow, learn, bicker, rest, work, love, and have heated arguments, yet make the most of our fondest memories. It’s the central point of our lives beginning from our first days. Eventually, we leave…Hopefully, we return.

Like many teens, I was no different in that I couldn’t wait to “grow up” and be on my own. The sense of freedom was quite alluring. So, like the fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants- kinda girl I am, one morning it was (hastily) decided: I was moving to Kirksville. Not to go to the university or because I was offered some well-paying job on a dairy farm. No, it was because my best friend lived in a house in the “campus ghetto”, needed a roommate asap, so…why not? Throwing some treasured items into boxes, I loaded up and hit the road…Six months later, I returned.

Round #2– In 1999, I moved into a darling, shabby but quaint “shotgun” flat on a quiet side street. My landlord owned the row of flats, about six altogether. The best part was several of my girlfriends lived in this particular row of flats, also. It made life considerably fun! Soon after moving in, life did what it does best and blew my plans to smithereens. I hastily married the love of my life in a whirlwind romance and quickly received news we were expecting. (Well, not in that order.) Life was getting bigger and better than I could’ve dreamed! Be it surprises or setbacks, we were happy– I was happy. And if this was living the unplanned domestic dream, fine by me! Practically dancing and fluttering through each day, bursting at the seams with joy, I thought maybe, just maybe, my life is gonna turn out just fine after all. Maybe I finally “made it”?

Like any newly-wedded, new-parents, we were itching to find the ideal spot to hang our hats, put in our roots to provide our baby with an impeccable starting point- his home. For so long, everything was bliss, going as hoped, as expected. Until an uninvited “guest” overstayed its welcome. Addiction. It disrupted, devoured, or destroyed every aspect of my world, my life. Distrust, lies, secrets, resentment, and shame silenced our once joyous abode. It was no longer a safe and love-filled haven but merely a dark hole in the crumbling wall of miserable existence. After the decision was made to separate- as man and wife-, my toddler son and I moved back in with my folks. Where else could we go on such unforgivably short notice?

I tried to get help, to get clean. And I did, for a while. Thinking that was the “magic ticket” to get back into the “Jubilant Land of Marriage Elation” (or something like that), I proudly and desperately tried to piece together the shattered fragments that had become my life. It took quite some time to come to terms with the fact that my marriage was, indeed, broken beyond any hopes of repair, but I did. And it was time to move on.

My new life as a single mother was terrifying on many different levels, it helped that I fancied adventures and uncharted territories. The daily business of being a mom combined with the frenzy of everyday life was a valued distraction. It provided an easy escape of the heavy burdens of divorce and all the drama it entails. Life was getting better, it was getting good again. Pushing myself each day to MOVE FORWARD and allow my heart and mind to HEAL, I focused on my son and my relationship with him. Frantically working to strengthen my resolve in rebuilding our life after divorce, to flex my “I GOT THIS” muscles, to provide a safe and cheerful home for my son, to be the optimum mother, I neglected one tiny, yet major detail: help myself. Amidst the routine bustle and hustle, the obstacles distracted me, and totally unaware, I “invited” the devil into our home.

Inevitably, the dreaded day came when we had to leave our house. Again. I couldn’t help but feel utterly defeated and hopeless and helpless and bitter and like I wanted to chain myself to my giant budding hydrangeas, refusing to budge. I had no choice. Where to NOWI didn’t know. My ideas were spent. Ambition, diminished. Why do I ALWAYS sabotage myself? I didn’t know. Now what? Moving into my parents’ house was out of the question. Impossible. After weighing a few immediate options: the park, Larry Rice’s Shelter, or…my folks’ house and after much deliberation and heated debate, we all agreed- FOR ONLY A COUPLE OF MONTHS!- to go with the latter. It was a decision made firm in its obligations, expectations, and boundaries. It was clearly understood this was a very temporary arrangement, allowing me (yet another) opportunity to get clean. Once and for all. The hesitated decision of welcoming me into their home saved my life.

Fast-forward about five years to the present. Well, we’re still here. Sure, ever-so often, my “adult points” get deducted when others find out I live with my parents. Yes, I tend to lower my voice or give a brief follow-up explanation as to why that’s the case, or try convincing people it happens to be a very European way of living. If I’m really feeling zany, I spice it up with creative (albeit fictional, but who cares?) scenarios. Of course, I wish, pray, and daydream of a house, a big yard to garden and play. For now- TODAY- we live in a healthy, loving, and perfectly flawed home. And I’m beyond grateful.

In recovery, we learn to take each day, each moment as it comes. To find purpose and meaning in them. To inhale the present, becoming one with it. To choose to find the light and seek out its source and embrace it. Today, I search for the positives of circumstance and consequence, hoping to grow stronger and live honestly, with myself and others. I choose to seize the very heart of NOW. Maybe this domestic situation has helped to mend old grievances from years passed. Maybe it’s a chance to cultivate new, deeper bonds, allowing them to flourish. A consequence, perhaps? A lesson? A punishment that’s become easy or lazy? I’m not sure, possibly all of these things. But the absolute GREATEST influences this living-arrangement has on my life is: I NOW know what a HOME is. The daily functions of my family are so intertwined and connected that our respect and love for one another is stronger than it’s ever been. I’ve learned patience, tolerance, to laugh at myself, and appreciate what’s important, what we are blessed with. To be courteous and kind, slow to anger, even when I can’t hear my favorite show on TV or when I’ve discovered we’re outta milk after I’ve poured my cereal…To be quiet and listen. This has been a perfect opportunity- ideal if you will- to see and respect my parents in a way I never had before. Sometimes doors slam or tempers flare.  Flashbacks of high school days infringe on my strive for being independent. Dinners are shared, back rubs exchanged. Toes stepped on or feelings hurt. “Goodnight’s” before bed and “Love ya’s” spontaneously spoken. The good, bad, ugly, and in-between- it’s our home, where I belong…It’s not a “forever” arrangement or an easy opportunity to “squat” and take advantage- quite the contrary! More so an experience allowed to happen, to attend with the unfinished business of my past. Yet another chance at forming deeper, more meaningful relationships.

There’s a plan laid out for my future, goals set in place. Places to go, people to meet, ideas to hatch, dreams to fulfill…it’s ALL on my timeline, the near-future to-do list. For now, I will live this moment with sincere gratitude and a humble heart, learning as I go, being mindful not to sabotage myself along the way. In time, I am confident it will all come together…It took a significantly looong time to get here, but I believe I’ve finally arrived. I’m where I belong. I’m HOME.Screenshot 2017-08-06 at 4.31.45 PM

 

Forever Young

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Forever Young

My parents cringe at the thought, let alone when it’s recollected out loud, but there’s no getting around it- I was a pretty wild teenager and young adult. I’m sure that surprises you, too. Like a small child running willy-nilly in a candy store, that was how I conducted myself in the world. My world. Surrounded by as many friends as I could squeeze in, flying by the seat of my shredded, baggy jeans, I fluttered from place to place, person to unsuspecting person, haphazardly bouncing from one adventure to the next. Reggae music or Grateful Dead playing as the soundtrack encouraged me each carefree step of the way. I threw caution to the wind as it whipped through my stringy hair. My thoughts weren’t focused on much more than hacky-sacking at the park and the cool kids joining me. Well, and of course the small bag of California’s finest carefully stashed deep in my tattered pocket. Life was pretty “dope”.

Moshing at punk shows, unabashedly dancing at raves, spinning like a sunflower princess on music festival grounds…I was up for anything and down with everything. No rules applied to me! In my eyes, rules were little more than somebody else’s self-righteous attempts to carve boundaries. Rules were a means to control and dictate. One by one- snap!- I broke them all without a second thought or care of consequence. Aaahh…in my teensy, tiny, adorably pathetic little brain, I probably thought I’d just be young forever!…Oh, how I believed that.

Looking back at the buffoonery, the ridiculous decisions and situations I inadvertently allowed to shape my impressionable mind kinda make me cringe, too. Today, when my teenage son creeps to his bedroom fifteen minutes past curfew, I pretend to be annoyed, giving him that sideways look that says, Young man, you pushed it tonight. You’re LATE! We’ll discuss this further in the morning. In actuality? I’m thanking God he’s not out carousing the town, passing out in the car in some abandoned park’s lot. That he’s not secretly driving to Chicago to meet up with traveling hippies who trade sheets of LSD for spicy veggie burritos…He’s fifteen minutes late! I couldn’t be more thankful! He peeks in my bedroom to whisper in his low, sorta too-cool-for-school voice, “Love you,” before heading to bed. I sigh with sweet relief that he’s exactly who he is- trustworthy, honorable, wise, sound in his judgment…nothing like my teenage self. Thank you, LORD!

When I recall the days, nights, and wee-morning hours of my youth, I want to grab my be-boppin’ self by the throat and tell her, “Wake UP, dumbass! The party’s gotta end SOMETIME!”… And that’s precisely it: I NEVER wanted the party- any party, ANYTHING– to end. Ever! I’m a “just one more” kinda girl. I don’t do farewells and endings very “adult-like”. Never have…They seem to leave a haunting emptiness in my spirit, causing me to feel deflated and alone. For as long as I can remember, I was forever seeking out ways to extend the good times, bridge them all together. Avoiding all things “final” and dodging any emotional let-downs. I wanted to be high. To stay high. It isn’t lost on me, either, how this parallels my life as a drug addict. If ever there were cards arranged on a table to see the future as clear as a sparkling glass of premium vodka…Mine were laid out, no doubt about it.

With mild concern, I watched my son as he and his buddies raid the food pantry, digging around until they find something appetizing. At least they aren’t scavaging for an impromptu road trip. Destination: some hippied-out love (aka drug) fest. I’m able to breathe more naturally, silently sighing with relief. My thoughts turn to me when I was his age. How my body stunk with sweaty patchouli and stale cigarettes. How, one time, my large Rottweiler chewed through the bib-pocket of my overalls after sniffing out an ounce of rare cannabis. An ounce that was purchased (with my friends’ money) on a recent trip to Chicago. The dog ate every last crumb, seed, and stem, leaving nothing but a half-shredded zip lock baggie. She was utterly stoned off her ass, passed out on the cool bathroom tile, drooling, and eyes glassy, red slits. I swear she said, “Not bad, man.”  My son’s friend scores an unopened bag of ChexMix while my son chomps on a handful of almonds, contemplating if they’re too stale to eat or not. Eat however much of whatever your lil’ hearts’ desire! I wish to bear-hug each one of them. If for no other reason except for being just who and how they are.

Like anything that has an end, saying “goodbye” to Summer also leaves me weepy and hallowed. In fact, my mourning and heartache begin each year, right after the Fourth of July. Since before I can remember, the first sight of school supplies prompts me to go runnin’ for the hills, screaming in protest. My soul grieves at the thought of losing daylight and turning back clocks. I’d rather not see the brilliant Autumn shades. To me, it signals “goodbye”. And I dislike those. This season? My boy begins Senior Year. We’ll- I mean-HE’LL be saying “goodbye” on many levels. Closing the page to his chapter. The new season calls us all, like a chill in the air sneaking up on sun-kissed Summertime skin, beckoning us that it’s time to move on…I’m not ready to do so quite yet. Pretending to mind my own business but really eavesdropping and assessing the situation (oh, like you don’t do it!, I sit quietly, indirectly being brought up to speed on “who’s dating so-n-so”, “who’s grounded for leaving their pop’s car on ’empty”, “who got into what college”, etc…the latest (teenage) news punctuated with bodily noises, terrible wannabe British accents, and obnoxiously-loud laughter…That laughter. It’s music to my ears. It’s what gets me through every single Summer ending, every relentlessly bitter Winter’s day. It pains my soul to think about, so I often don’t, but I know one day this room will be void and silenced of such beloved sounds.

My son drapes his arm around my shoulder, “What’s up?” he asks, slyly. I narrow my eyes in suspicion, “You tell me?” Taking a deep breath, he spits out rapidly, “Well, some of the boys were goin’ down to Black River for, like, four days, campin’, fishin’, chillin’…?” He bats his eyes in pleading…IMG_2364Aaah, Black RiverSummer 1997? A group of like-minded vagabonds-I mean, buddies-and I piled into a sputtering, go-kart-sounding jalopy, where the backseat had a hole in the floor (depending on the speed, this could be somewhat dangerous), and wipers didn’t work. Whoever rode “shotgun” had windshield duty. Whoever rode in the back? Well, it was their job not to FALL OUT…Arriving at our destination dazed, confuzed, and buzzed, but in “one piece”, nonetheless, we blended right in with the music festival scene playing out on the river. Mingling, dancing, stumbling, wailing on instruments, smells of campfires and homemade brews. Thousands of folks sprawled out or meandered aimlessly around the grounds. Music and singing echoed through those hills, friendly smiles welcoming at every turn…At the time, I thought that night embodied everything I ever wanted in life. It was where I belonged...Closing my eyes, I can still see it, smell it, taste it, hear it even…But alas, like many an ending in my life, my thoughts turn to how this particular night unfolded…Now, it’s MY TURN to cringe. After a fun-filled, action-packed, celebratory music festival event on the river, there’s the inevitable “morning after”. On my morning after, I was crashed out on a rock bed at the river’s edge. In front of a billion people. No bedding. No pillow. Just me. Snoring like a semi barrelling down the interstate. So I’m told. My friend still laughs about it, thinking about how multitudes of festival-goers had to step over my unconscious body that was lying in the middle of the rocky path. Some stopped to take pics while others poked me with their walking sticks to make sure I was alive. So I’m told.

“Can I?” my son asks, bringing me to the present. I reply with the vague, dreaded phrase I swore would never be used under my parental watch, “We’ll see.” Like the easy kiddo he is, that answer suits him just fine. For now. And for now, it’s an answer that still holds a little bit of power and meaning. But just like the seasons, it too will find its end.

 

Call Me “Jack”…I’m a Woman of Many Trades.

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Call Me “Jack”…I’m a Woman of Many Trades.

Baker’s apprentice. Candle expert-in-training. TV camera-woman for KTVO news (Kirskville/Ottumwa.) Real estate consultant. Bartender. Sous chef. Preschool teacher at a Pentecostal school (really.) Veterinary technician/assistant. Freelance artist. Saleswoman. Pet Stylist. Grooming manager/instructor. Secretary at a nursing home. Chinese food delivery driver. Waitress. Culinary student. Art teacher. Kitchen manager. Entrepreneur. Receptionist. Tanning salon manager. Personal assistant. TV/VCR repair apprentice. Weight-lift consultant at local community rec center…Hmmm…seems like I’m forgetting some…Yep, this is my work history in a nutshell. Of course, I’m leaving out the (many) ones that didn’t work out after a few days- Ansel Adams picture sales, dingy pizza parlor cook, traveling makeup/photo session consultant (think GlamorShots), and a fun, zany array of other positions that I could write a (self-help) book about. Oh, the myriad of endless employment opportunities (or lack of) and adventures (to say the least) that help to build my chunky and spotted, if not creative and thought-provoking, resume. Solid? Well, it certainly depends on how ya look at it. Or what your definition of “solid” might be. Professional? Um, well? Perhaps? Innovative? YES! Exciting? YES! Empowering? Abso-freaking-lutely. While my job history may not have built me a cushy lil’ nest for retirement (yet), it unquestionably built character and confidence. When a prospective employer dutifully asks, “So, Ms. Montroy, what experience do you have?” I say, “Get comfy, lil’ lady.” Do I have experienceLet’s just say, I am the Jimi Hendrix of “experience”.

This time last year I panicked. As the clock ticked towards Feb. 3rd, I dug my well-pedicured bare feet firmly into the hourglass sands. NOOOOOO!!!! I’m NOT READY! I don’t want to be 40 yet! My story isn’t prepared for this chapter! Screenshot 2017-07-29 at 4.46.38 PMI’m supposed to be living (quite comfortably) with a husband who insists I only work from our luxurious home (part-time) but only if I really, really want to! A home that’s supposed to be nestled in a romantic and inspiring setting (preferably by the beach!) where it doubles as a state-of-the-art animal and wildlife refuge/sanctuary! Screenshot 2017-07-29 at 4.45.57 PMI’m supposed to be holidaying on “girls only” tropical get-aways and then blogging about how to juggle the “joys of being a perfect parent” with being the “treasure” wife/daughter/friend/mother and CEO of our highly successful businesses! Wine-tasting in the country, volunteering at my children’s prestigious schools, Christmases in Aspen..I’m to be a highly sought-after career woman, adored wife by my (handsome) doting husband. With business meetings in Tokyo, weekend rendezvous in Bora Bora…Shiny cars. Accomplished, driven, and aspiring offspring who excel in every aspect of their lives…Oh, yeah! Wait! I think I wanted more kids, too! I think to myself as clips of my “real” life flash in my mind. By a sudden and quite loud belch, I am disrupted of anxiety-ridden daydreams and brought back to reality as my eyes meet the source of the crude noise. My six-feet-something son stands with the refrigerator door gaping wide open, two-liter Coke in one fist, as he rummages around in the “cheese” drawer. Another fizzy belch. “Can you make me an egg sandwich with your balsamic dressing? Oh, and Julian, Lucas, Riley, Mike, and Alfie are here, too. Thanks, Mom. You da best.” he says as he shuffles back to his room to rejoin his posse, enjoying these last few moments of summer vacation. My phone has 15 new voicemails. Emails from various insurance companies or bill collectors need to be checked. A couple grooming jobs this afternoon should buy us some groceries.IMG_0692 My thoughts turn to my sweet boy and his most anticipated year yet- he’ll be a senior. And all of a sudden, I needed time to slow itself down for a much different reason…

One could say my checkered-past is irresponsible and unsurprisingly typical. It might say a lot of my ethics. Or lack thereof. Of course, I kick myself for not getting that degree or not sticking with that “one career”. Or for not going out and getting what I want, or needed to want. What was it I was even going after? Did I not have the potential? The guts? The focus? The drive? Am I supposed to be embarrassed about these half-assed, minuscule jobs that decorate my resume? About how none of them “panned out” or went according to “plan”? I have no idea. But I do know it helped shape me and gave me (tons) of character and experiences…and some pretty entertaining stories. And if nothing else, makes for great conversation or knowledge in a dire pinch. And the PEOPLE I’ve met…that’s another book itself.

Feb. 3rd came and left with no fanfare. I didn’t have any “last hoorahs” to spare anyway. (Thankfully) I didn’t suddenly sprout any gray hairs or throw out my back when bending over to collect the mound of laundry that’s piled up next to dusty, blank journals and women’s magazines promoting home remedies, healthy recipes, and promising I, too, can maintain my youthful glow and physique…if I get off my rickety ass. And yes, those magazines are rather dusty as well. Yep, my 40th birthday came and went not unlike any other day of the year. Examining myself in the mirror for any unwanted lines or pesky drooping, I patted my unstructured self on the back. You did it! Sitting on the bathroom sink among strewn personal products, ya know, teeth-whitening strips, “magic” face creams and serums, skin-firming lotions, foot scrubs, energy-enhancing vitamins, and a half-chewed mouth guard, thanks to my pup…the essentials, I looked deep into my eyes. Flexing my arms, checkin’ out my tush, and sucking in to flatten my tummy, I whispered like a badass, “You got this.”

What do I have again? Oh, yeah. Not a solar-powered house with views of the bay. Not a gaggle of wee prodigies keeping me busy with recitals and honors class academic achievements. Not a big, strong husband to send me oodles of flowers at my office, where “underneaths” clamor to schmooze me. Not people falling all over me for my latest accomplishments. Heck! I don’t even have a college education! Add that to my list of have-nots! Although I did attend culinary school for a couple years, like most things in my forty years, I get impatient, lose interest, or change my mind…The question was- what do I have again. Not what I don’t…Just then, as I’m on the verge of a middle-aged pity party, I hear a teenager’s heavy footsteps approaching…”You didn’t start those sandwiches, did ya?” my son asks fidgeting with his phone. I shake my old, ADHD inflicted head and say, “Nope. Not yet.” He pulls up a seat. “The guys are goin’ home in a few,” I could’ve done cartwheels right there upon hearing that news. Well, if it weren’t for my arthritic knees. “So…ya wanna just go grab some lunch or somethin’?” he asks looking up from his phone. “Just us?”….Screw it. I’m doing cartwheels!

Ever need culinary advice? Say, some know-how on killer caramelized salmon with a fresh, cilantro-y-jalapeno/mango salsa? Call me. You’d like an original mural done for your drab classroom? I’m your girl, call me. If KSDK ever needs a “stand-in” during their 5pm session- lora.montroy@gmail.com- hit me up, Kay Quin! And ya never know when you need that dusty, rusty VCR worked on. Hey, who woulda thought we’d see cassette tapes makin’ a huge comeback? And when that happens, call me. One might even say I’m just the “Jack of all trades”…that’s catchy….But as I look out at the boy waiting in my carriage- I mean car- as he gussies up his bed-head, while checkin’ himself in the mirror. “Come ON!” he hollers, rolling his eyes, but not without a sneaky side-smile. Right there. Sitting in that car. I have MORE than I could’ve ever asked for. Makin’ it to 40 is a BLESSING. Sharing it with this fella? PRICELESS…I wouldn’t trade it for ANYTHING. img_0699.jpg

Somehow, life works itself out. Many folks find fault with my blase mentality. Can’t blame ’em, really. I say I’m spontaneous. Audacious. Adventuresome. Risky? Well, yes! Worth it? We’ll see…Maybe I’ll spend these next 40 years preparing and planning, getting some things in order. Maybe I’ll “buckle down” and conform to society’s rules and expectations of what it means to be a responsible, successful adult. God, I hope not. Not when I can saddle the wind and see where it takes me. Not when I can make money doing what I love- whatever that may be at the time…Not when I can “taste” the freedom of traveling unexpected paths! Speaking of “taste”, if you ever get a hankerin’ for a TO DIE FOR salted-caramel-triple-dark-chocolate brownie with homemade custard…call me! And for a small fee, I’ll even clean up and organize your kitchen while I’m at it.

 

 

The Big H for “Amy”…(final)

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Oh, the many different stories I could tell about heroin that in a perfect world, I would know absolutely nothing about. The taste, colors, consistencies, prices, the quantities and how much (I think) my body can tolerate, where to find it….I shouldn’t know any of these things. Just another reminder of how easily and sneakily this substance can slink its way into a life. It’s a reminder of how skating close to the edges with prescription pills can ever so nonchalantly trip one up when judgment is anything but sound.

Oh, the many different people I’ve spoken with- grieving, disbelieving, shocked, and indefinitely saddened, forever changed- have shared their remarkable, yet similar stories of ultimate horror and untimely losses. It never fails to rattle my soul or send shivers to my toes because our tales of suffering run eerily parallel but our endings are different. My ending was different. Was it pure luck? Did God just decide it wasn’t my “time” or route of death? Was He answering favorably to my family’s prayers while dismissing other families’ pleads? Was it in my stars? Why? How? These questions flood my mind from time to time and they’re questions that’ll never be satisfied until I meet my Maker. So I try not to trip myself up on over-thinking things and just honor my life and my fate in the best way that I know how- living on purpose, with purpose. 

It never ceases to amaze me, when chatting with families who have lost loved ones to the merciless killer- heroin. I’ve never felt that they look at me with envy or judgment, like, “Why are YOU here and my precious (fill in the blank) is gone?” Quite the opposite, really. For the most part, they have been gracious, understanding, and nothing but LOVING when sharing with me. They speak so highly and with great pride when reflecting on their sweet, long-lost loved ones. Fighting back impossible tears that burn their eyes or trying to swallow that pesky lump stuck in their throats, they tenderly recall the remarkable beauty, brilliant vibrancy, and at times, quirky, peculiar, yet extraordinary light their precious children (briefly) sowed in this world. These parents’ battles are united with the same desperate phrases- Had we’d only known, What we would do differently!, I tried everything I knew, What we wouldn’t give…And they all echo the same conclusion- Gone too soon…

Slightly embarrassed wearing my new neon shirt exclaiming- STOP HEROIN NOW!-I’d rather NOT be the “survivor” among these heartbroken parents. I mean, I’m the guilty one, just didn’t get “caught”, so to speak. WE did this to ourselves, I think to myself as we march the 5 miles, demonstrating to the world that we want heroin to go to hell. Somehow, when I heard the stories of those “fallen” to this monster, although completely and thoroughly identical to my own story, I looked at these victims like innocent children, swallowed by the “dragon”- loves lost far too soon. And for what? What will their legacies be? How will they be remembered? How can we use their fate as to shed light on this issue that’s plaguing our cities and infiltrating our countrysides? Do we simply keep the death toll a’goin’ as we shake our heads and sigh in disgust? Do we learn from it and demand that we, as a civilized nation, collectively DEMAND that RIGHT HERE, RIGHT NOW, HEROIN IS TO STOP KILLING OUR FAMILY MEMBERS AND LOVED ONES! That we, as the people, MUST STOP HEROIN? As we boldly display on our brightly colored T-shirts…I, for one, want it to stop. But if we’ve learned anything over time, we know that wanting is, and will never be, enough.

“Amy” was a 19-year-old student at a prestigious university here in the Midwest. “Amy” had 2 younger brothers who adored and looked up to her. She was an accomplished athlete, earned scholarships and was getting ready to finish up her second semester but was home for the holidays. “Amy” and her family had just returned from a trip to the beach, enjoying Christmastime with extended family. But “Amy’s” family had another reason to celebrate- she had been clean from heroin and other opioids for nearly a year! Her family had just arrived at the point where they were ALL able to breathe and sleep a lil’ more soundly and assured. Their misplaced confidence that her few years as a heroin addict was simply a “phase” or teenage-experimenting gone too far or amok was ringing “true” to them as they saw their “old Amy” back in the game. She looked fantastic and appeared to be stronger than ever before! Laughing, teasing her brothers, throwing her arms around her parents only comforted them in the fact that, YES, this family had “defeated” heroin! It was a blip in the road but they were all moving forward and seemed to have survived the trials and consequences and were now carrying on with their lives. Trust, respect, dignity…all were regained and repaired. Life was so good. One glance at their family photo that Christmas, standing ankle-deep in the waves, arms draped over one another, “Dad” wearing a Santa hat and tickling the youngest…”Mom” looking on at “Amy” as she looked to be enjoying the time of her life. A new leaf had been turned. You could visibly see the excitement on the unknowing faces of this family- they loved each other and were relishing in the moment, full of anticipation of the upcoming year…

Just before New Year’s Eve, a day after “Amy’s” family returned from their trip, “Amy” had been in her room all afternoon and her mother decided to check on her. She unfolded the covers that “Amy” was bundled in and found her dead. Beyond any hopes of reviving. But they tried, oh, did they try….What? How? WHEN??? These questions still torment this broken family today as they flip through pictures of their most blessed and sacred holiday vacation…”Amy” had run into a few “old” friends, from back in her drug days…In a weakened moment, she gave in and it cost her her life. “Amy” was only 19-years-old….This story haunts me often when I speak about addiction. I’ve said it before many times- Addiction has no prejudices. It’s not picky. It just wants you, me, our families…our souls.

screenshot-2017-07-24-at-10-34-27-am.pngHeroin is a major international issue. It’s even become an embarrassing problem for several countries. Afghanistan and Pakistan in particular. Many don’t know but part of the “war on terrorism” plays a massive role in the drug dilemma. To get the warlords to cooperate with US intel, the United States turns a blind eye to the poppy farming, processing, and drug-running in many countries, allowing them to freely provide heroin to the world. All in exchange for intel and cooperation. For instance, in Pakistan, poppy farming has been done for centuries and is all many of these poor farmers know, although most don’t even know what becomes of the poppy once harvested. Terrorism and heroin go hand in hand. It’s a gigantic criminal organization. The United States pick the “lesser” of those two evils.It’s rather fascinating, too! But I’ll save that for another story. Promise.

It’s mind-blowing, to me, that an innocent, beautiful flower can wipe out so many. It certainly did “Amy” and millions of “Amy’s” all over the world. I am not lying when I tell you that each day, “Amy’s” family blinks across my mind. Or other families that I know who have been forever altered because of this tragic epidemic. It chills me to imagine my own family could have joined their “ranks”. But I’m here. For some reason. I’ve been granted another shot at this life. I’ll never know the answers as to the “why’s” or “how’s” but I will always be grateful and try to honor that blessing. After speaking to so many parents who have been affected by this, this is precisely what they need me to do.

The Disgruntled Officer

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“What would you do if this was your daughter?” my mother asked through desperate tears to the police officer that had arrested me. She was shaking, fearful, humiliated, and borderline hysterical- I did this to my mom. And I hated myself for it. But the officer wasted no time in bellowing his reply, “My daughter would NEVER BE IN THIS SITUATION!” To say he looked down his nose and sneered while he spoke would be an understatement. His disgust with “people like me” had reached its limit. “People like me” had NO BUSINESS being in his neighborhoods. He told me so. In fact, he told me many things that will stay with me for the rest of my life. How I was below any sort of human worth, a maggot. How I would be doing this world a service by just OD’ing and “getting it over with”. Yes, this “hero”, this “protector of our community” wasn’t playing “tough ball” or “layin’ it on thick” as to open my poor, ignorant eyes. No. He hated my guts because to him, I was little more than a representation of the “filth” and “trash” that infiltrates “his” suburban neighborhoods. He wouldn’t “waste his Narcan on me!” And, NOhis daughter would NEVER  DREAM about living a fraction of the life I led. She would and could never fall “victim” to the harrowing world of drug addicts and the crime, debauchery, and scum that surrounds them. This man had HAD IT with folks like me and had ZERO PATIENCE for one more second of my shenanigans.

I wanted to tell him how my mom was the sweetest, most loving and giving woman on the planet. How she worked as a youth leader at our city church for 30 years. How she traveled across the United States and Mexico to serve those in dire need. How she spent each day from the time we were babies, making sure my sister and I felt loved and valued. How she poured every ounce of her heart and soul into being the most fun-loving, adventurous mom. How she taught us patience and the virtues of kindness and thoughtfulness. Her gentle, selfless spirit ALWAYS putting us first. Now, she focused on my son and spent all of her energy in being the most devoted and greatest grandmother. How it broke her heart into millions of unrepairable pieces that I, her first-born, the one she endlessly encouraged and fought for, was killing herself with battling addiction. I wanted to tell the officer just this! But there was no use. I couldn’t even glance in his direction without his voice trembling as he roared at me, insulting the scars on my arms or the sweat on my brow. There was no explaining this to him.

Maybe I could tell him about my dad? My father who is a deacon at our church and loves the Lord, patterning his life’s steps as those of who he follows. He owns and runs a business in the deep North City, employing the less fortunate and downtrodden. How he gets up at 4:30 every morning to make the journey to his “headquarters” so his employees have hot coffee when they get there. He works HARD and provides his family nearly anything they could ask for. And does it without complaints. He’s thoughtful and generous. He’s a man of his word, respectable in every single aspect of his life, a real “stand up” fellow. He’s completely in love with my mom after 45 years of marriage, dedicated to his children and even more so with his grandsons. Teaching my son everything he knows in sports, he never misses a game or practice. And they go over the footage or plays after games to critique any missteps. His role as a grandfather suits him quite well. He didn’t have a clue as to the “why’s”, “how’s”, or “when’s” of my addiction or the ruckus that ensues. But it didn’t stop him from loving me or fighting for me, even when I couldn’t get any lower. Maybe the cop would listen about him?

I sat in the back of the police car sweating profusely. It was blistering hot, plus I was nervous and withdrawing at that point. Thoughts raced over the top of one another in my head. Shame. Confusion. Desperation. Anger. Willing to give my right arm for my fix…Oh, what I wouldn’t DO! Or maybe it’s what I would do that’s the problem here. The agony. The sheer disbelief I was sitting in the back of a patrol car, hearing the static and brief reports squawking on the car radio, watching the officers discuss me, bystanders walking to their cars, nearly tripping as they stare at us. WHAAAAT? THIS ISN’T ACCEPTABLE!!!!! It was like I was snapped to reality from some kinda bad dream. How did THIS HAPPEN?…

“Ya know, you’re a piece of shit. To think that scumrot like YOU have me out here sweating on a hot July afternoon really pisses me off! DON’T EVEN LOOK AT MEEE!!! You filthy beast!” The cop came within an inch from my face. I could feel his spit hit my cheeks but I dare not move. My eyes lowered to the pavement. What if I told him about myself? What would I even say? That I suffered from anxiety and depression my whole life, self-medicating with alcohol when I was younger? After a foot and back fracture, I got hooked on pain meds? A quack Dr kept insisting I take more Vicodin? After years of being hooked on pain meds, I reluctantly “graduated” to heroin because my Dr cut me off?  I didn’t normally behave like this. Would I tell him that I do have a heart? Hopes and dreams like anyone else? That I’m an artist, a gourmet cook, and animal welfare enthusiast? That I (try) to take my son to church every Sunday? That I am incredibly close to him and am trying SO HARD to get better so I can be the “best mom in the world”? What if I let him know that I was raised “right” and if he’d met me on any other day, he just might like me? Respect me, even? He snarled at me from where he was standing. I chose not to tell him.

Our police officers are exhausted and at their limits dealing with the likes of people like me. Their patience and empathy are nearly depleted much of the time, what with all the drug-related crime in our city, putting us at the top for “Most Dangerous City in America. In 2016 (on record), there were 286 overdose fatalities in St. Louis and over 1,900 times Narcan was administered to (successfully) reverse the effects of opioid overdose (basically the “magic cure” for one who is taking their last breaths as they go into cardiac arrest or respiratory failure.) “Senseless” crime is on the up and up in this city, leaving our officers overwhelmed and our community leaders perplexed and anxious. Carjackings, hostage-held ATM muggings, murders, bank robberies (to name a few), are taking place at any hour of the day, on any one of St. Louis’ prized and secure finest streets. Yet, people are failing to connect the dots! There is current, very REAL and SERIOUS drug epidemic going on here. You can’t address the crime and find a solid, sensible solution without first acknowledging the drug problems and putting suitable solutions into place. Trust me, in my throes of addiction, I did things out of pure desperation that I never in a billion years would consider doing. DRUG ADDICTION desecrates every fiber of morale you possess. The lines of definite “rights” and blatant “wrongs” become so blurred or intertwined when the urges to use control every aspect and angle of rational thinking. Those lines are crossed without hesitation, if not fade altogether. So, it becomes infuriating to many when addicts claim, “we have a disease,” or (the shooter) was just “high” or “needing a fix”. Folks don’t want to hear it. They’ve had enough. Can ya blame ’em? Their city’s under siege by a bunch of drug-fueled zombies, wreaking havoc on innocent citizens and severely infringing upon their rights! One of the things separating “me” from “them” is nothing more than opportunity.  Maybe if addiction hadn’t plagued my life, I wouldn’t want to understand or care about drug addicts’ wounded points of views. Maybe I would find it best to lock ’em all up and throw the keys to the bottom of the Mississippi. But if my experience has given me a few, random little blessings, it’s that of insight and a true, deep understanding of what the DISEASE of addiction can and will do to one’s soul, conscience, and principles- how far it will take you.

As I sit watching this officer, I know that nothing I ever say will sway his opinions or perspective of “what” I am. Oh, he made that clear! But maybe, just maybe, it will be how I live out my life from here, how I take this terrible situation, learn from it, give it purpose, and dig my heels in to rise above. Down the road, maybe I’ll even find it necessary to pay him a visit at the station, to look him in the eyes and allow him to see that not ALL addicts are a hopeless cause. We can- and DO- have the capacity within ourselves to turn things around. Also, (for good measure) I hope and pray his daughter is doing well and never has to experience this nightmare. He should be thanking God and his lucky stars that she hasn’t.