Category Archives: friendship

The Snuffing Out of Light

candle

Two days ago I learned of the death of one of my first clients as a substance abuse counselor at an all-male halfway house.  As is often the case I hear about these deaths from a former resident and their biggest concern is how I will receive the news.  My husband has gotten too used to me getting a phone call or reading messages on my phone and having me crumble into a mass of sobs.   He will gently ask me, “Who?” and on this past Tuesday night, just as we were molding our bodies into our respective tv watching positions, I answered with the name of someone he knew I cared deeply about and one of a handful of guys that he and my daughter had actually met.

“T” was an exceptional young man.  When I first met him I was stunned to learn that he was almost 30.  He could easily pass for 19.  He had the words “Sick Boy” tattooed on the nape of his neck, the name of a character from the book and movie “Trainspotting,” and when I, a 50-yr old woman told him that it was one of my favorite movies, he instantly adored me.  He smiled his broad and welcoming smile, and I immediately saw the incandescent light that had to have been trademarked as his somewhere along the line.

“T” was open and out as a gay man among a house filled with brawny and toughened guys and he was adored by every single one.  Some of the guys let him color their hair pink and green, file their nails, and rub their shoulders.  He was the “pet” without EVER being condescended to.  He was the one who got up early to write famous and inspirational quotes on the white board in the kitchen, every single day for six months.  One day he picked flowers for me straight from Boston’s Public Garden which I had to tell him he could have been arrested for.  After that, every time he went home on the weekend he would snip a flower or two from his mother’s garden like he did below:

travisflower.jpg

When he met my then 14-yr old daughter for the first and only time, he had a flower ready for her too.  When I told her he had died, she hugged me longer and harder than she ever has.

I spoke at the AA meeting where he received his one-year chip.  He beamed at me, and I at him, assuming that he had reached the end of his struggle with addiction.  He was ten months into a job that he loved and where he was adored, like he was everywhere.  When I learned four months ago that he had relapsed and essentially lost everything he had worked so hard for, I was devastated for him.  I reached out to him and got a text back that said, “Hi my love, things are pretty rough these days.  I just don’t know what to do.”  I answered back that he DID know what to do, that he had done it so triumphantly before, and that was the last I heard from him.

Every single Facebook post that started to unfurl on his page as people learned of his death uses the word “light.”  It is a somewhat overused descriptor, but with “T” it’s really the one word that can sum up his beautiful soul perfectly.

It makes sense for me to cite a Smiths song here, since “T” was a huge fan of the melancholy and angst in music.    In this case Morrissey got it all wrong when he writes “There’s A Light That Never Goes Out.”  “T” took his light with him and those that remember it, and him, will try so desperately to hold on to it, to bask in it, for as long as we possibly can.


This post was originally published on gaylesaks.com.

 

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Band of Brothers

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When I began my job as a substance abuse counselor in an all-male residential program, the group of men were a pretty hardened bunch.  Their flesh peaked out from under tattooed murals on their arms, legs, chests and backs.  They were pumped up with six-pack abs and chiseled muscled arms that they teasingly showed off every once in a while, to each other and to staff.

The program is a revolving door of 30-men, some who make it through the 6-months and some who relapse within a week.  When I started here there were mini-reunions of friends who had shared needles on the streets and alleys, guys who had served time together, others who had detoxed and been in endless other amounts of programs together.  These are their trenches, drugs their landmines.

I love it when a guy comes through the door to discover old friends sitting in the kitchen or watching tv in the living room.  They greet each other in the way that men do, those quick hugs with double fist thumps on the back.  They begin to unravel their recent set-backs, catch up on mutual friends, and launch into the “did you hear about so-and-so?  He overdosed last week.”  Woven into these catch-ups are the “Fuck, I’m so pumped to see you, dude.”

My first few weeks in the house these seasoned bunch of guys were a bit skeptical of my presence.  They tested me in group, stopped talking when I was around and when I had to take three of their passes away for a particular incident, they ignored me for weeks.  Some other guys, the newer and still somewhat innocent ones told me that they were talking about me to the other guys.  Of those three, one is now dead and the other two have both relapsed and detoxed 5 times between them.

They have become numb to the frequent deaths of their friends and acquaintances.  Most of the time they learn about these deaths on Facebook, seeing in their feeds “RIP” with a familiar face and name.  They’ve told me endlessly that Facebook is their obituary.  They have also told me that they can tell when a friend is high by the times they are posting.  “What the fuck was he doing posting random shit at 3 in the morning?”

There are certain deaths that hit them harder than others.  You can tell by the length of their pauses, the moment of processing.  I attended my first funeral with a bunch of these core guys, the warriors on the front lines.  This one was a really hard death for them.  They hovered in the background vaping and smoking until the priest started speaking the generic, scripted words in front of him.  The guys inched forward, taking it all in, watching his mother and father weeping.  After this very brief, insultingly brief in my opinion, they shuffled back to the cars that they came in as they contemplated the dwindling of the friends that made up their shared history.

The stream of new guys coming into the house are often novices at this life.  They are younger and needier and look to me and to my other female co-worker as mother figures.  They aren’t tattooed or pumped up.  Their egos are more easily bruised when a girl isn’t interested in them.  Their focus tends to be spent on everything but their recovery.

One of the toughest of the original group lives in a sober house around the corner.  He comes around almost every day and the new guys follow him around, like the Pied Piper as he shows them how to get to certain places around the city.  He tells it like it is to them, never mincing words about how real the certainty of death is if they go out and inject the new poisonous strain of heroin.  They hang on his every word.

The numbers of the naive will continue to grow, while the tougher die off, one by one.  These newer guys may or not form a new core group, going through programs and jail together, maybe relapsing together.  Maybe they’ll get the joys of sobriety sooner, find the girls who won’t break their hearts and start living a “normal” life.  It’s a stretch but I’d love to believe that it’s possible for them and for those hardened ones who remain standing.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lunch With A Friend

I saw him before he saw me, sitting at an outside table at a strip mall restaurant, wearing sunglasses and drinking a beer.  I stuck my hand through my open sunroof as I parked my car and waved enthusiastically.  He stood up to welcome me and we gave each other a warm hug.  Less than a year ago, this innocent gesture, let alone calling him by his first name, would have gotten me fired from my job.

For two years I worked as a life skills instructor at 4 different reentry programs, the in-between step between prison and the “real” world.  I worked with men and women, some who had served relatively short stints behind bars in county jails and some much longer, up to 20 years in federal prisons.  I truly liked and respected the vast majority but there were a handful who the thought of never seeing again truly broke my heart.  Bob, (not his real name) was one of those.

Bob was a man who from the get go was someone who I immediately wondered “What the hell did HE do to be here?”  He dressed in khakis and nice polo shirts.   He was a computer whiz, sat with the men and women who had been incarcerated for so long that they had never had e-mail let alone used the internet to search for a job.  He had ENDLESS amounts of patience with them, never getting visibly frustrated.  He never judged, complained, or bad-mouthed staff.  He was resigned and humbled about doing whatever it was he had to do to get through his time there.

Before I learned his crime I learned that he was a pioneer of the computer boom traveling around the country to teach companies how to use the most famous and recognizable software of the time.  I later learned that he was making more than I ever have while in his mid-twenties  (he’s now in his late forties).

I eventually  learned that his was a white(ish) collar crime.  He served 5 years in a minimum(ish) security prison doing what was expected of him.  To come out and have to start all over again, making an hourly pittance, humbled him completely.   He’s grateful to HAVE a job, one that no matter how junior, allows him to use the skills that he worked so hard to develop.

Sitting across from him at lunch, having drinks and lunch was so normal, so natural.  We talked about a recent relationship of his that had trickled to an end.  We laughed about one of the other residents who happened to be his best friend in prison, one he still sees, and one who I miss terribly.  He asked me about my husband’s new job, we talked about his mother and all the typical things that two friends, having lunch, talk about.

I remember very early on in my job my boss saying to me “These people are not your friends.”  While employed there I did adhere to the professional boundaries that were expected of me but I’m only human.  These people, and by my calculation I interacted pretty closely with at least a thousand of them over two years, were funny, intelligent, compassionate, curious and resigned to the fact that they would have to start over again.  They made me laugh out loud, made me cry, made me evaluate my own view of the world, tested my personal ethical code and in general made me feel alive.   In my opinion, those are all the qualities I could possibly dream of in a friend.

A couple of months ago I asked Bob to write me a reference that I could use in a job search in the future.  What he wrote was touching and meaningful beyond words.  This is the last sentence:

“While I was working with Ms. Saks I didn’t just succeed with employment and integration back into society. I also met a wonderful woman I am proud to call my friend.”

40 Years in 4 Hours

No, no, no, this was NOT my 40th high-school reunion.  I might not admit when that one comes around.  It was my 30th, making me sound old enough.  I remember, when I was younger, hearing people wistfully mention such high numbers and I just assumed they’d be dead soon.

As I’ve mentioned in other posts, I was unexpectedly whisked away in the middle of my first year of high school ( for those who never knew why, see my below post):

http://mylifeinthemiddleages.blogspot.com/2011/12/how-snoopy-ended-up-in-oven.html

I spent my childhood on a nice, upper-middle-class street from kindergarten and followed the trajectory of elementary school through junior high with friends I adored. I rode my bike until it got dark when kids still did that, playing with my neighbors before parents checked with other parents that we’d be supervised.  I liked my life, I fit in, (despite always being the tallest and the biggest in elementary school).  When I was forced to move to Los Angeles at 16, I lost touch with all of my Long Island friends.

The beauty of Facebook (and to me, it has been miraculous in bringing back that part of my life) has re-introduced me to people I barely knew, those who moved in different circles.  It has also been responsible for reconnecting me with those whose houses I slept over and spoke to on the phone for hours at night.

In many ways, I felt like an interloper at the reunion, since I missed those awkward and fraught high school years with those who were there.  To me, in my day, I looked at life as there were the Jews and then there was everyone else.  (Read the below post about my 30th boarding school reunion, where I spent my last two years of high school, one among a smattering of Jews.):
http://mylifeinthemiddleages.blogspot.com/2012/05/three-reunions.html

I felt slightly disappointed not knowing the football players who looked at my face registering not a bit of recognition and moved right past me. Everyone had meshed and merged in those two years and I had missed that part.

I felt most rooted reconnecting with my elementary school friends, those who appeared in the school photos I had uncovered and brought with me.  There were three who lived on my street in houses I have memories of pretending we were the Partridge Family.  We took the school bus together, a short distance, but memorable just the same.  Seeing these boys who had turned into men, had me hugging them the hardest, staring at their faces and marveling at who they’ve become.  I’ve become particularly close with one who lived around the corner, all through Facebook and words.

There was the smallest boy in the class who actually let me put my finger into one of his dimples (well, I never asked if I could), what I remember him for.  I heard stories about lunging to kiss a boy in first grade only to have him throw me off in a panic.  I learned that a sweet boy gave me a coin from his collection and that my mother, thinking I had stolen it, called his mother and forced me to return it.  I learned that one of the nicest boys laughed at me when I stepped in dog poop and he’s felt guilty about it for all these years.  I learned that I always had a nice “aura” in junior high.

I drank wine and laughed with a woman who I had totally confused with someone else, another Facebook friend who I never really knew.  We have shared written quips and laughter, found many things in common, and I breezed into her hotel room as if we were best friends.  Another connection who I barely knew has turned into masked mush over his incredible work with urban kids.  We stole away for a few minutes having discovered so much about each other through my writing and constant Facebook posts.  He’s wonderful and I hope he never has to compromise his love and passion for the lives he changes.  And of course, there were a couple of my very dear friends who I would occasionally whisk past during the night and whisper to them and move on, confident just knowing that they were in the same room with me.

There were many people there who I know read my blog and many others I had no idea did.  Throughout the night I was sought out, hearing praise for my writing that was unexpected and beyond flattering.  A man made it a point to come over to me to compliment me and on the teeniest, tiniest, itty-bittiest scale,  I felt like a real writer.  As I was leaving a lovely woman who hasn’t aged one second said “You better write about this,” and well, here it is, my homage to my roots and the lovely people I had to leave behind.

Jews Gone Mild

I will start by saying that I’m totally projecting.  I’M the Jew who went slightly “mild,” AND, “mild” rhymes nicely with “wild” of the posts from two summers ago, “Jews Gone Wild Parts I and II.”  I can’t have a bunch of hysterical and defensive Jews on my hand.  Not with this hangover.

In all actuality, I wasn’t all THAT mild.  I did begin drinking (wine in stadium size cups) at noon.  Less than 2 hours later, I was asking around for a menthol cigarette with a slight tinge of desperation.  Like so many others, camp is the ONLY place I smoke, every two years.  I swore up and down that I wouldn’t this year and well, I found myself buying my first pack of cigarettes in two years ($9.45??????  I remember when they were 75 cents.  I say this with full knowledge that I’m dating myself.)  I ordered the most non-cigarette of cigarettes, the “un”-cigarette-Virgina Slims Ultra Lights, words that have never come out of my mouth.  A young gay man standing behind me who I hadn’t noticed, whispered in my ear “Those are girly cigarettes” and I said “OOOH, GURL, SNAP” and we sashayed out of the gas station like RuPaul.  Okay the sashaying part didn’t happen.  Maybe in Provincetown but certainly not in Winsted, Connecticut.

I have said this before and I will say it again–there is NOTHING like being at a place where I spent 15 summers of my life.  Being with these people is like being at Woodstock without the acid and tents, and no one is naked, at least in public.  It’s bear hugs and lip kisses and rotating one-on-one time, bringing each other up-to-speed on the things that have happened during the two years since we’ve all been together.  With the women, it’s talking about the onset of menopause and how we pee when we sneeze and laugh.  I’m not exactly sure what the men talk about.

For reasons I don’t quite understand, my dear friend Beth was hawking Tootsie Pop Drops like a secret plant from the company.  They’ve been around since the ’70s and I’m not quite sure how she didn’t know this.  She developed a sales pitch and offered them to everybody.  Nothing buffered her enthusiasm more than when one of the guys said “They’re like Tootsie Pops but you don’t have to fuck with the stick.”

We watched from the bleachers as middle-aged men played 1/2 court basketball.  They wheezed and sweat but didn’t let-up for a second.  Like years before, one of them ended up injured and Beth and I watched in awe as our camp mate chiropractor worked with great patience and care on the what seemed like a very painful injury.  I offered up the (prescribed) painkillers I travel with and within seconds our resident anesthesiologist was looking it up on a drug reference app to make sure he could take it with alcohol.

The success of some of these people is accompanied by a humility I’ve never seen before. The publisher of one of the most successful magazines today and the owner of the most famous bakery in New York City who kicked-off our country’s obsession with cupcakes are experiencing the weekend like the rest of us.  They sleep in the bunks with their friends and have beers in their hands, putting their busy lives behind them without a thought.  There are attorneys, hedge fund managers, professors, great parents and butchers and bakers and candlestick makers.  I’m collecting unemployment but people came up to me all weekend saying “I love your blog posts about prison,” or “I loved your post about your best friend,” and I had NO idea they even read my work.  Based on Facebook comments everyone said how happy they were for me that I had found my true love, and based on my husband’s comments knew that he is a great guy.

I shared a hotel room with my friend Beth who is pretty sure she was bitten by bed bugs all over her arms.  Judging by the MANY burn holes in our blankets it is entirely possible.  She knows me VERY well and got my full-on rules about how she needed to conduct herself in our room as to indulge my well-known high-maintenance need for sleep.  On the first night when she was reading a library book with a very crinkly book jacket I got slightly hysterical.  On the second night when she barreled into our room at 3:30 in the morning I considered getting up and driving home.  The following morning when she woke up making sounds like an old man in a nursing home I resolved to get my own room next time.  We laughed with each other all weekend.  Her Brooklyn girl appeared for 48  hours.  There’s nothing quite like the Brooklyn girl in Beth.

Sadly, we have gotten to the age where we are starting to experience the death of many people we have known from summers past.  There are those who died in their twenties and those who have died in their ’70s.  We held a very touching candlelight memorial in their honor, floating lit candles, personal words written on paper plates, and floated them in the lake.  We used to do this on the last night of camp, writing memories of the summer just ending, so this time took on a very different meaning.  It moved us all as we thought silently of these significant losses.

We spent our last night at the same bar we had spent the night before, the hours ticking down until we had to re-enter our routines back home.  It’s a bizarro universe we’re in for 48 hours where full-on breakfasts for 5 people ends up under $40, and shots of tequila are served in little medicine cups.  Not only did I have my king-sized Tempur-Pedic beckoning me but I found myself really missing my husband, my daughter and even my lunatic dog.  With my head in his lap I showed my husband pictures and videos of the weekend on Facebook and I’m waiting for the onslaught that will appear today.  I will yell at my friends for posting bad pictures of me and force them to take them down.  I will get wistful for those lovely, smiling pictures of people whose faces haven’t changed in over 30 years.  It’s entirely possible that we will be doing this well into our 60s when we will still always feel like teenagers.

What Makes a Friend "Real?"

A man’s growth is seen in the successive choirs of his friends.
–Ralph Waldo Emerson

Lately, when certain people have noticed that I was getting close to having 700 facebook friends they would say things like “Those aren’t real friends,” or “You can’t possibly know all those people.” What does it mean to know someone? What defines a person as being a “real” friend?

I’ve had many opportunities in my life to gather friends. I lived in the same school district until 10th grade and then went to boarding school for 2 years. When you live and eat with people who are 16-18, away from home, you certainly form very tight friendships. I went to the same sleep-away camp for 15 summers, two months at a time, which equals 2 ½ years of my life. Camp offers a certain kind of genuine, stripped-down friendship and I’ve known some of these people since I was 5 years old. I can say, without question, that I can rely on my camp friends, in good and bad, for just about anything. Unless you’ve lived it, it’s impossible to understand, but, we will always have each other’s backs, like family, and sometimes, even more so.

I have my college friends who are the only people who still have nicknames for me and friends from the 15 or so different 9-5 and volunteer jobs that I’ve had over the years. I’ve learned, that despite how much you think that you’ll be friends FOREVER with the people you bond with at work, that maybe you hold onto one, two if you’re lucky, as you move through life.

I am an extraordinarily (freakishly?) social person. I love people in general, until you give me a reason not to. I have done equal parts of seeking out those on facebook who I’ve lost touch with as those who have clamored to find me. I am always so honored when someone has chosen to look for me and have been known to cry happy tears when a long-lost friend emerges out of nowhere. I’m not randomly seeking people out just to “grow my list.”

The biggest surprises have been those people from way back in my past who, because of the ranks we keep closest as children and teens, I barely knew. Some were just faces and names I struggled to remember from class pictures who now, have become part of my daily life. They laugh with me, read my blog, give me advice and ask for my opinion. They are parents with impressive jobs, great senses of humor and different political and religious views. We are no longer judging each other for being a “burnout” or a “loser,” but who we’ve grown into as adults.

Yes, I will admit that there are about 25 or so facebook friends that I have never actually met face-to-face. They are fellow bloggers, artists of one sort or another whose work I’ve bought, and friends of friends who were told that we’d get along. There are about 30 names and faces that I would have a hard time placing from elementary school, but again, these are all just people at something akin to a virtual party.

I have MANY, MANY people who I refer to as “one of my best friends.” I have one in particular who I always call “my best friend” (I had two, one of each gender, but one decided to end our friendship which devastated me in inexplicable ways.) I have my husband who is in a category all his own. I have friends who I love so much that I couldn’t picture my life without who make me laugh until I cry and who I can count on for ANYTHING. And of course, I have had those who have disappointed me and not come through. They are not among the almost 700.

The two quotes below sum up friendship perfectly. The use of “she” in the Toni Morrison quote can certainly be “he,” as has been proven many times in my life. I am an incredibly blessed human being to have so many people who do what is stated so perfectly below:

In everyone’s life, at some time, our inner fire goes out. It is then burst into flame by an encounter with another human being. We should all be thankful for those people who rekindle the inner spirit.
Albert Schweitzer

She is a friend of mind. She gather me, man. The pieces I am, she gather them and give them back to me in all the right order. It’s good, you know, when you got a woman who is a friend of your mind.
Toni Morrison

"My Angel From God"

When I first started my not-profit fundraising career I worked for an agency that served homeless women and their children. These were women living in homeless shelters, often with multiple children from infancy on. The mothers were mostly teens into their early 20s with so few choices and obstacles that it’s impossible for me to fathom.

When I was there, about 14 years ago, the agency was in its infancy but with funding from some of Boston’s wealthiest supporters it has grown exponentially. The concept is amazing–provide quality daycare to pre-schoolers while their mothers can focus on getting their GED, finding work and essentially do what they can to secure permanent housing.

Whenever I needed a break from my work, to clear my head and remind myself what I was raising money for, I would go down to the infant/toddler room. It’s impossible to explain how instantly that place put things into perspective for me. They were gorgeous kids, just like kids anywhere, loved, happy, stimulated, silly, all with personalities of their own. Seeing them at naptime, on their mats or cribs, was ridiculously perfect, and even though my daughter is now 10, there is still something in watching her sleep that makes my heart melt.

For reasons that only the gods know, a little boy, still not yet walking or talking, was plunked down into my life, not by a stork or anything, but by the kind of fate for which there is no explanation. Kids have always been drawn to me because I pay attention to them, but F__ and I had a “connection,” a certain invisible line that attached us together. I’d watch him doing his thing through the glass door to his room, and when he would spot me he’d come running over with his arms reaching for me to pick him up. I’d often come down at nap time to settle him down when his teachers couldn’t. I watched him move through the stages of walking and talking.

Throughout this time, I got to know  F’s mother, C__ , who would often defer to me when F__ would get unruly or cranky. She was at a loss sometimes for how to handle F__ and his older brother G__ who was about 4 at the time. She was just 18.

C__ was quiet and walked around covering her mouth because she was embarrassed by her teeth. She often wore a scarf around her head because she hadn’t had time to do her hair. The boys always looked great, hair done, sometimes in donated clothes that were a bit too big. I used to think that she was ashamed to be around me but now I know, after all these years, that she was just grateful.

After I left this particular job, I stayed in touch with C__ and the boys. My ex-husband and I would take them trick-or-treating in the fancy neighborhood where we lived, both left cradling a sleeping child in our arms before putting them to bed on our living room couch. We felt great sadness driving them home, to what is called “scattered site housing” in one of the worst neighborhoods in Boston. The kitchen ceiling was falling down, a cat with fleas went in and out and the stairs to the basement were about to fall apart. One time someone called the police when they saw my husband trying to wrangle F__ from running around a Friendly’s parking lot because they thought he was abducting him.

C__ and I became pregnant at around the same time. It was my first child and her third. She had met a seemingly wonderful man who had become the male role model the boys had never had, and he was thrilled that he was going to be a father. During her pregnancy there were some health issues that came up that she didn’t quite understand and she asked if I could be the contact for her doctors, something called a medical proxy. I followed her through her pregnancy, as I was monitoring my own, and she had a beautiful baby girl, 2 weeks before mine. I was the one and only visitor she had in the hospital.

My ex and I went to visit at the holidays, bearing gifts for everyone. As we were leaving one year C__ pulled out beautifully wrapped gifts for the three of us–a glass chess set for my husband, a bubbling rock fountain for me, and a doll for my daughter. This from a woman who barely had anything.

Within the year, we had lost touch. Phones were disconnected, the Dept of Children and Family Services wouldn’t give me any information but I was able to confirm that F__ was attending the middle school in the neighborhood where they used to live. I asked the administration to give my phone number to C__ which she never received. And then, one day, 5 or so years after losing touch, I checked to see if G__ was on facebook, and he was. I e-mailed him and that night, I got this message from C__:

“…you have been a big part of my life and i never for got about you. i talk about you to everybody cuz you were there when i need you and when i had nothin and nobody. im a much stronger women now thanks to you. from this day on i want us to never part again.

you have have been my angel from god . you have been though everything with me and the things i tell you my mother will never know cuz you care and have a better understanding. i thank you i know you have your life with your family.

now when thing get the best of me and i can’t handle it no more i know you will be there. i now i don’t have much but when ever you need us we are here for you to.”

When I visited them for the first time after so many years, I cried seeing how big and beautiful the boys had become. F__, now 15, and I just stared at each other and smiled. My daughter and R__, C__’s little girl went upstairs to play while I sat on the couch with C__, the boys right next to me, listening and grinning.

She seemed empowered and after being on a waiting list for ELEVEN years, received a Section 8 certificate so she could find a better place to live closer to Boston. My daughter is already planning on what Bratz doll she’s going to buy R__ because she remembers how much she loved them.

C__’s words are some of the most meaningful I’ve ever received in any context. I’m not motivated by the need to be recognized or praised. In this case, I was lucky enough to have been captivated by a child who brought me into a world I never would have entered in any other context. Pay attention to the things that compel you for you never know what places they may take you.

How Would YOU Answer This Question?

“Give me 10 reasons why I should live?”

This is my BEST friend of over 25 years, in a crystal meth haze, over the phone, from Los Angeles. This is my BEST friend who after 10 years of sobriety has kept the secret from his closest friends that he’s been snorting and shooting meth for ONE YEAR. People he sits next to at work every day and the multitude of incredible friends he has met over the years through AA had absolutely NO CLUE that this was happening right in front of their eyes. He told them in June and asked them not to tell me because my life was “too happy right now.”
So what do you say when you’re asked that question and you feel like the answers will either make him live, or push him further over the edge? There are so many cliches, of course like “A million people love you,” etc., and I found myself getting stuck after #3. It was like a game show (and NOONE loves a game show more than he does) and the clock was ticking. I was a total failure.
Of course he knows that my mother killed herself and after 25 years without her, I could easily come up with a much bigger list than just 10. But, the question left me stammering, and it was like the needle of the record had just been screeched across the vinyl.
He’s always had a flair for the dramatic. I know what song he wants played at his funeral. I really pushed back hard on him, not coddling him, even making him laugh at himself a little bit. However, in some moments of what seemed like complete lucidity, and I swear that he seemed like his normal self, he would start talking about the people who were following him, the ones who were tapping his phone and controlling his life.
I found this out late in the game and when I reached out to his good friend in LA voicing concern that I hadn’t heard from him, he had the very rough job of filling me in on the total downward spiral that occurred within the year. The words were coming out but I just couldn’t make the connection that this was happening to my BEST FRIEND. He was sleeping in CRACK HOUSES? He was SHOOTING UP? When I saw him at my wedding in January and again on Memorial Day he was HIGH ON METH?
It’s now been 48 hours of constant texts and phone calls between a group of about 10 or so of us who are making up his “village.” The time difference is a bit frustrating for me, being one of the only ones on the East Coast, and everyone keeps forgetting who told what to who. It’s fucking exhausting. We’re all professionals, some of us are parents, who have now put aside everything to get him into rehab. Loyalty is a remarkable thing. I’m in awe of what has become nothing short of heroism in his friends who are sitting with him, dealing with insurance companies, leaving work to check up on him, talking to doctors, all in the name of saving the life of someone who is loved by everyone he meets.

Forgiveness

I have had the idea of writing about disappointment and forgiveness for several weeks. This morning, I started to google quotes to lead off this post that would reflect its content, but had to cut the search short to teach my bi-weekly writing workshop to female inmates at a Boston prison.

At the end of each class, I ask the women if they are willing to hand in what they have written. They always do. Today, only 2 hours after I began my internet search for quotes, I discovered this written in the margins of a young woman’s exercise: “Please God help me to forgive myself.”

I have no idea what this woman has done to make her turn to her God to absolve her of her guilt. Perhaps her transgression was not far off from one of the things I’ve felt guilty of in my life–shoplifting a candy bar in junior high school, not playing enough with my daughter, spinning a lie so complex that you can’t even remember where it started. Clearly, the very obvious difference is that she is incarcerated, and according to another margin note, “in pain.”

I have recently gone through a series of disappointing others and of being disappointed. I’ve always felt that the older I get, the harder it is to repair damage in a relationship. In my 20s and 30s, what were considered arguments, as life gets a bit more complicated, turn into a “falling out(s),” and those, well, in my experience, never quite mend completely. Wrapped-up in these disappointments is the question of forgiveness–can we forgive the other, will they forgive us, and most importantly, perhaps, can we forgive ourselves?

When I was in 6th grade, I mercilessly bullied one of my classmates, a socially awkward girl who tried desperately hard to befriend me. My best friend and I hurled insults at her on the playground. We called her “Dog Face.” As an adult I look back on this and am mortified by my behavior. It is not in my nature to behave like this. I envisioned an episode of Oprah, before bullying became a national topic, bullies and those they bullied, coming together to facilitate an apology for what the bully had done. This fantasy opportunity pre-dated facebook by about 20 years, and then, one random day, I received a friend request from her.

I panicked. I called a former classmate to ask his advice. Was she going to seek revenge in some way? Tell me I had ruined her life? On the other hand, the opportunity to apologize had just been handed to me, and I hit “accept.” She quickly sent me a short message that began like this:

“It has been a very long time. Hope life has treated you well”

I took my time to construct a response that would convey the shame I carried for so many years over what I had done to her. I told her that I didn’t recognize myself in that person who could’ve treated anyone that way. This was her response:

“Don’t sweat it. Life is too short to worry about the past. Too many other things to keep you up at night. I don’t hold grudges, especially for 30 years. But I truly appreciate you taking the time to apologize.

I always tell my girls to be nice to everyone, you never know what will be in the future and you don’t want to burn any bridges.”

I responded by telling her how much grace she showed in her response. I was forgiven, but, I don’t think I will ever forgive myself.

Ironically, it’s been facebook that has led to some of my recent disappointments. Nuances in posts and comments are often misconstrued. They can trigger unexpected responses, interpretations, and push buttons (Incidentally, it’s been the lack of comments and acknowledgement from some very dear friends,at a really exciting time in my life, that has disappointed me.) Both people are put in the position of wanting to be heard and oftentimes, no satisfying resolution is reached. You wait and wonder if the relationship is in fact now irreparable, or if time will be the healer it’s supposed to be. My tendency, after I’ve apologized or told my side of things, is to retreat, and see if the other person eventually works their way back into my life. If they don’t, as painful as it always is, I assume that the damage has been too deep and that that person has chosen to exit my life.

Few things are more painful than watching my nine-year-old daughter be disappointed. Yes, the source of those growing pains may be as simple as having a playdate cancelled or missing a favorite tv show, but I envy her the simplicity of those snags. It is so hard when I know that I’ve let someone down, surprised them with an action completely unintended, but it happens, and certainly will continue throughout my life.

I did find the below quote in my quick search and believe in it wholeheartedly:

“Forgiveness is the economy of the heart… forgiveness saves the expense of anger, the cost of hatred, the waste of spirits.”
Hannah More

Heckling at The Matzo Ball With Cocoa Butter Mark



To the best of my knowlege, my friend Mark doesn’t use cocoa butter nor does he have a deep tan. This name was given to him by my daughter to distinguish him from my BROTHER Mark who I also assume doesn’t use cocoa butter and really is more likely to burn than tan.

The origins are this: about 4 years ago, not-brother-Mark gave my daughter a Barbie Doll for her birthday, whose special feature was smelling of cocoa butter, Malibu Barbie for the new millennium. I think, 4 years later, she still does.

Throughout our 17 years or so of knowing each other, Mark and I have been on many priceless adventures. The first one I remember is being very stoned and finding an open, rusty gate to an urban garden hidden behind brick walls that I used to see from my apartment. Literally, a la The Secret Garden, it seemed as if the gate had been left open just for us to entertain us while high (I remember being in disguise, sunglasses, trenchcoat and a hat, but, I think this might be a false memory.) Incidentally, ten years later, I got married in what will always be known as The Secret Garden. However, I don’t think I was high.

Every Christmas Eve, Boston (and probably cities all across the country) have something called The Matzo Ball to entertain us single Jews, post-Chinese and a movie. For YEARS I have been appalled yet slightly intrigued by a throng of lonely Jewish people looking for love, to later have to tell people that they met their future spouse at something called The Matzo Ball. But, really, who am I to judge? I’m a 45-yr old, single Jewish woman, looking for love.

Anyway, after watching a movie released for Oscar consideration just in the nick of time, and eating and drinking at the bar of P.F. Changs (yes, despite being at the gateway to Chinatown we ate at P.F. Changs–so sue us!), we decided to check out the Matzo Ball.

The door was being staffed by a rather large bouncer (not Jewish, I’m thinking) and the cover charge was too much for us to fork over despite our burning curiosity. Instead, we decided to lurk outside, a few yards from the entrance and just observe. Mark can cut a rather imposing and threatening figure, so with me leaning into him, God knows what people were thinking about what the hell two middle-aged people like us were doing hanging around the entrance to the Matzo Ball.

Activity was rather slow. Occasionally, a pair of giggling women in boots and too-short skirts would be deposited by taxi, or a single man, hands in pockets and head down, would pay the cover and go inside. Every once in a while we would comment on the “Jewishness” of someone’s look (we’re allowed to do that, because you know, we’re Jews)or imagine what a certain guy would be like in bed (oh, right, Mark is gay and we were a teeny bit tipsy.)

Much to our glee, just as things were getting a little dull, a group of 5 or 6 20-something guys got out of a cab, all button down shirts and white teeth, “dude” and backslaps.

“Exuse me,” some odd force grabs hold of me. “Can I take your picture?”

The snarky and apparent alpha male of the pack says without missing a beat “What, have you never seen Jews before?”

“Um HELLO, I was bar mitzvahed in Israel,” Mark quickly says back, suddenly sounding VERY gay.

“I’m writing an article on The Matzo Ball,” I say, “and would just love to have a picture.” So, clearly, ruining and slowing down their Matzo Ball momentum, they posed for the picture above. They quickly de-pose, we say thanks, and they re-puff themselves up and go inside.

“Wow, Jewish boys didn’t look like THAT when I was their age,” Mark says.

After about a 1/2 hour and feeling satisfied that our craving for Matzo Ball knowlege had been satisfied, we walk to the subway, all giggly and amused. I comment that the night has risen to the top of Mark and Gayle adventures (little did I know that less than 6 months later, it might have just been outdone, or at least matched, by our attendance at a fireman’s bachelor auction–more on that another time.)

It might not have been long after that that Mark and I, over the phone, decided to simulatenously, join JDate. He had always wondered if there were gay Jews on the site, so in solidarity, we both clicked away at our keyboards, answering questions about what we were looking for. I gave up when I got to the “do you keep Kosher question.”

Mark coined 2009 “The Year of the Jewish Husband” for both of us. Well, it’s looking like that moniker has been carried over to 2010. Christmas Eve is only 7 months away, giving us plenty of time to put money aside for the cover charge, iron button downs and whiten-up our teeth.