The Titanic

I keep hearing the oldsummer camp song “The Titanic” in my head this morning.

O, they built the ship Titanic to sail the ocean blue
And the people said that the water’d never come through
So they had a big surprise when the water rushed inside
It was sad when the great ship went down.
(Hit the bottom)
It was sad. (So sad.)
It was sad. (Too bad.)
It was sad when the great ship went downto the bottom of the
sea/Husbands and wives, little children lost their lives
It was sad when the great ship went down.

My family of origin is that ship. Mom and Dad did it all so right. They worked hard, loved hard, did the next right things, and parented well. For decades. It was a beautiful ship. And yet, here I am watching the family ship sink.

My only brother is an addict of the worst variety and has been since 1999, at least. His body is imploding, medically speaking. And his mind? Remember the old TV commercial- “This is your brain. This is your brain on drugs. See the difference?” He has now gone completely crazy, clinically speaking.

But only my parents, three family members, and I know. They are “being strong” and doing the best they can. He is a physical danger to them and himself. He lives with them and holds them physically and mentally hostage. In trying to care for and love their sick son (addiction is a disease aftre all), they have enabled his mental deterioration and now live all day, every day, in fear and shame. They are exhausted. Their bodies and minds are failing them. They love their son and are trying to keep him safe, at their own risk.

The iceberg? Alcohol, then drugs, then mental illness. Just like the giant floating chunks of ice in cartoons, it seemed treatable enough, at first. But there was so much hidden beneath the roiling waves. It got bigger and bigger and badder and badderr. Fathoms beneath the surface is the insanity of what was a beautiful little boy. And here we are with a sinking ship and not enough life boats.

I, and my little family, are safe enough on one of those rescue crafts. But it sucks watching the ship go down, with your parents on deck crying and waving good bye. And it sucks even more to know your brother drove that boat straight into that iceberg, in spite of all the warnings and assistance he was offered. It even sucks to be the one who survived- so far.

The more I write this, the more apt the metaphor feels. I don’t honestly know if my little life boat with my husband and children on board will make it safely to shore. While witness and prayer instruct our navigation to safety, there is just no guarantee we’ll all make it back in one piece. What happened to those carefree days of singing by the campfire that cautionary tale of hubris and terror? So blithely I belted out those lyrics, hardly suspecting that very story would be replayed in my own life.

I am sad. I am angry. Despair washes over me again and again like the tumultuous crests of the North Atlantic. I am scared. But fear, I’ve heard, is the very thing we feel as we summon the courage to accept the things we cannot change, change the things we can, and learn the difference between them.

I am trying to be brave.

The Imaginary Boyfriend

Dear Jake from Connecticut,

I doubt you’ll remember me. I never actually met you at Hampton Beach during the summer of ’85. I just pretended I did. You were probably the boy throwing a football around with your friends while I lay all lotioned up as seductively as I could the year I turned thirteen. I prayed that you would notice me and make an excuse to introduce yourself and fall madly in love with me so we could write to each other all year and reconnect each summer at the beach until you were old enough to marry me, when we would live happily ever after. That’s what I believed at that tender young age would be the very thing that would make me “normal” and afford me the security I’d needed to live out the rest of my adolescence . But it was just my imagination, fueled by a few too many afternoons watching “Days of Our Lives” and “Santa Barbara” and wishing my nights away by moonlight. Thank God I learned about feminism!

I remember sitting at my desk in my room, the very heart shaped stationary I used, to write you love notes, telling you my deepest secrets. And I remember the plain old lined paper I used with my very best left-handed penmanship to craft your sweet, cool, tender but hunky responses. The letters I’d leave sitting on my nightstand or peeking out of my school bag so some curious, jealous friend could snoop and see what a lucky tween I had become. Oh how entirely embarrassing and somewhat normal!

Now I hear stories of my girlfriends’ children writing soft porn in middle school and inventing their very own “Mr. Wonderfuls”. Perhaps it is naturaldevelopmentally ? I’ve reassured them that their daughters aren’t whores, that it is probably a temporary hormone-driven transition from imaginary friends, and that, yes, I did it too. Fantasy and imagination are powerful God- given gifts and will, in time, evolve and transform into beauty and wisdom. At least I think mine have!

So, Jake, wherever you are in an alternate universe, please know that I am grateful to you for letting my hormonal imagination run wild and for never telling anyone what a fake I really was! Besides, I eventually did find the person I wanted you to be and he was definitely worth the wait!

Yours forever (in my adolescent daydreams),

Our Magic School Bus

September 9, 2019

Dear Byron, Joe, and Jose (in that order),

With the arrival of a new school year, I listen to the squeak and rev of the yellow busses as they rumble down my street this morning. I reminisce at the days and years gone by since you sheparded my boys to and from Seton Catholic School on Bus 944. How I miss those days and the reliability and competence of your work!

I just wanted to take a minute to tell you how much we really a ppreciated all that you did. As I cannot drive and my husband was often out of town, we entirely relied on our bus service to get our children to and from school each day. I never had a doubt that you would arrive- on time and smiling. I loved your little horn toots and genuine”good afternoon!” shout outs! I knew that the boys were safe with you and that you ran a strict ship.

My boys LOVED riding the bus. It was a punishment for them to have to be driven to school in the mornings, which, unfortunately, did happen from time to time! They might have missed out on some hijinks or your review of the previous night’s Yankees game. Your job was tremendous: scheduler, navigator, driver, disciplinarianEMT, , and memory-tickler. The responsibility is enormous and I’m afraid you were very underappreciated. I just don’t know how you did it and with such aplomb!

And somehow, over the years of daily minimal contact, I learned that your hart is weak, you love Dogtown and the driving range, send money back to your family in Puerto Rico, and that you take your chihuahuas to Cornell for medical care, among other things. It broke our hearts when you decided to retire to somewhere warmer after decades of service to our children and our community. You were the first and the best bus driver we ever had. And so on this Hallmark occasion when I doubt many people have taken the time to tell you or their own bus drivers what you doing your job meant to us, I want to thank you so very much from each of us on Bus 944!

Have a great week, wherever you are!

Love, Kirstyn, the blind lady who tried to throw water balloons at her kids when they got home each day