Tuesday, July 31, 2007

A Matter of Convenience

You might do it to save money. Or to claim, "It just makes more sense" because you sleep together every night anyway. The nights you are apart happen because you are both lazy, and no one wants to make the trip to the other's bed. At the beginning of things, though, this doesn't happen. At the beginning, no one is lazy or speaks of the other taking things for granted. One finds the other over more because of a matter of convenience - a pet, a better TV, more space. I often find Rosa over here more often than I am at her house. She will call me to let me know she is up and ready and I will drive over to pick her up. She revels in the fact that I have cable and she can watch her favorite channel, Court TV. I am also the cook of the bunch. Simple country breakfasts are prepared and eaten upon my kitchen table as we talk of how we slept, or about our dreams. It is a pleasant arrangement.

My first serious relationship in college was with a girl torn between two worlds. She was an ardent Christian, almost orthodox, disdaining sleeping together or staying over. Yet, every night, she would call me and I would crawl through the window of her ground-floor dorm room. We would make love on a comforter upon the floor as we laughed and talked until regret hit. "I can believe I keep doing this," she would say as the weight of her perceived sins bore down on her. "I can't believe I keep sinning." It always perplexed me how something so natural and pleasurable could bring about such regret and negative emotion. We would drift apart as she grew closer to God and I became a better heathen.

My second girlfriend was also waiting for marriage to commit the most pleasurable of deeds. "I'm saving myself for the right man," she would say. It would become a game to see how far I could get in our make-out sessions. "How far did you get tonight?" my roommate would ask like the crass and crude young college males we were. "Second base," I would often reply. "She just doesn't want to commit." Her name was Sally and I now realize she was a wonderful woman and would have made a good wife. Me and Sally had the kind of relationship where we shared everything. Our clothes, cars, and lives were intermingled. Yet, we didn't make love, but would often sleep over. I will never forget when we broke up seeing all her hair care products in my bathroom for months. Little stalwart reminders of what was and what could have been. I finally threw them away when I decided I was over her.

I have thought long and hard of asking Rosa to move in with me. The house she rents is in poor shape with a lackluster landlord. Rosa begrudgingly calls him the "slum lord." I catch myself having to pull back on the reigns to slow down and take things a step at a time. I have always been impetuous and want to rush forward, head first, with great zeal and ambition. She would say yes I am sure, but would it complicate matters? How will we handle things when our lives become intrinsically intermingled? They say love can cause us to turn a blind eye to our mate's foibles. I know all of Rosa's foibles. Her terrible taste in style and clothes. Her propensity to bite her fingernails out of nervousness. Her complete lack of any modesty what-so-ever. The thousand myriad questions she will ask after a hard day. I am well prepared for what's to come. But I am going to wait. I still haven't even told her I love her and I am making grand plans on how we will spend our lives together. Impetuous, I tell you.

Pages of Glossy Goodness

I'm religious about my Model Railroader magazine. There is no greater joy than checking my mailbox to find this month's issue within. I'll curl up on the couch as the pages take me to the homes of hardcore modelers trying to relive the memories and railroads of their youth. I especially like the grand steam engines from the heyday of railroading. I've had the good fortune of riding behind one of those mechanical beasts as a birthday present in my childhood. The chuff chuff of the engine as seen on old newsreels still excites me to this day. Today, on the couch, I curled up amidst that familiar ritual as I turned the pages and drank my coffee. I read an article about an American themed layout in Australia. The modeler had captured the detail of the American Southwest down to the tumbleweeds on the highways. I realized I was looking at contemporary art.

George always chided me about my trains and the love I had for them. "Go play with your little model toys," he would say in between beers, playfully. I would huff in protest and exclaim that it was as legitimate a hobby as any. Just like Annabel likes to make Rosaries, I like to assemble kits, paint them, and weather them as if they have been in service on a railroad for decades. My grand dreams of transforming a room in my home into a miniature rendition of the Chattahoochee Valley Railway live on undaunted. George's words would make me want to sneer when his hobby was consuming Milwaukee's Best Ice beer as he drove around and dodged the police.

HO scale. O scale. N scale. Big Boys. Reticulated. Union Pacific. Santa Fe. Roundhouse. I could go on and on with words that excite me and stir the dreams within. And that is the most fun part of model railroading to me, the grand dreams I have upstairs in my head of railroads to be and projects to complete. I think I am starting to feel better after a blah, missing Rosa, morning. Extravagant and artistic magazines seem to help. Excuse me while I escape to my workbench to weather with my airbrush that hopper car that has been sitting neglected for over a week after a coat of paint.

She Didn't Mean It. She was Ill

"I hate you! I wish you were never born!" my mother would often tell me. "I hate you, too!" I would exclaim back, "I wish you were never my mother!" That is a terrible thing for a mother to say to her child, isn't it? It was a terrible thing for me to say as well, but it was a commonplace fight for me and my mother during my adolescence. "Your mother argues with you all like she is your sibling," my father would say, exasperated. My mother had schizophrenia and never grew up just like her mother before her and her mother's mother. It is hard to believe she managed to be a school teacher until retirement. My father would have to become president of the school board for her to keep her job and the subsequent retirement in those last years of her illness.

Me and my mother have a wonderful relationship these days. Mom came over yesterday just to sit upon my porch with me and talk. She brought me a care package of my favorite foods. We spoke of weight watchers. Her nightly jaunt to a friend's house for finger sandwiches. Just the characteristic small talk between a mother and son. Long gone are the days that we would fight like cowboys and Indians. My mother still is like a small child in many ways, but I show a kindness and understanding that I didn't have within me as a young adult and child.

"I would just leave my kids and go wandering out into the neighborhood around the school," my mother told me of her symptoms. "I can't believe I would do that."

"You were sick," I replied with an understanding.

"The principal would drive around until he found me and would send me home for the day. That is when I started sleeping all the time."

Mom's hands started shaking, talking and reminiscing about the last hard days of trying to hold it together.

"Do you think I was a terrible mother?" she then asked.

"I think you and I both did the best we could under the circumstances," I replied. "We didn't ask for this disease. We inherited it."

My mother seemed to take great comfort in my words and soon left to go home. For so many years, our illnesses were secrets in the family that just festered and served to sever family bonds and relationships. Nerves and ties would become frayed under the great burden of us trying to go about our natural lives despite almost insurmountable odds. Now we freely talk about it and are open with each other. I don't know when this great sea change occurred, but I like it. It was time to let those skeletons out of the closet so to speak. Our lives have changed immeasurably for the better because of it.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Hard and Wonderful

I'm worried about you. You sounded shaky on the phone. Nerve's frayed. Tension in your voice. You kept saying how much you would love to be on my porch with me. We could eat supper and drive out to the lake to watch the last of the afternoon thunderstorms on the horizon. I told you that and you sighed longingly. "I don't know if I can put up with this shit for another week," you said. I gave you a pep talk. "Think of your daughter. Think of all the years you didn't know her. Think of what can be now." It is so easy to say, but so hard to do. I know I wouldn't want my routines turned upside down. Leaving my comfortable home and the privacy it imparts for two weeks of a feeling of imposing and insecurity. That is what you said. You felt like you were intruding on their lives. "They asked you to come, remember?" I replied.

I came so close to blurting out, "I love you," before we said goodbye. I wanted to give you something to look forward to in eleven days. I have dreamed everyday of you finally knowing. No more games. No more enticing moments of flirtation. You will want to make love like you have for months. I have gone over and over it in my mind. Can I perform? Will my medications hinder me? There are so many ways I can pleasure you without doing the main deed, sex. We will jump that hurdle when the need arises.

We had a hard time getting off the phone. "Are you coming to get me if I call and need you?" "I can be there in an hour," I replied. There was a quiet moment as I felt you wanted to ask that very question. "Come and get me," was on the tip of your tongue. We both said goodbye with a sigh and I already miss you terribly. It's hard being in love and wonderful at the same time.

Addiction Knows No Bounds

It's cold in this room. I have a window open with a box fan blowing. The cool, early morning air wafts in and chills my very bones. I always was so cold natured. My father often remarks how warm I keep my house. "You're not running a fever, are you?" he asked me last night. I let him feel my forehead to reassure him that I am well. My grandmother was like that. She would have the heat on in July which always alarmed me as a child. It just seemed so odd, but I now know how she felt as I am about to turn the heat on to eighty degrees to warm it up in here.

Me and my father took a ride to Fat Albert's together late last night. I needed some cigars and diet cokes. He wanted to get several copies of the local newspaper that has a write up about my overly ambitious sister. He had just spent four hours at a birthday party for Charlie's son. Randall turned 36, a year older than me. He was very tired.

"You could have been a doctor as well," he said as we spoke of my sister's latest achievements.

"No I couldn't," I replied. "I would be writing myself prescriptions and taking controlled substances."

My father chuckled and said, "I didn't think about that. That is what killed Bucky Etherton, the dentist. He overdosed on nitrous and pain pills writing himself prescriptions."

I remember Bucky well. He was a likable fellow and an incredible dentist. I didn't know he had died in such a way.

"Oh yeah," my father then said. "It was a big scandal and shocked everyone. It turned out, he was writing everyone frivolous prescriptions for pain medications. I saw them all the time in the pharmacy."

Addiction knows no bounds or social class and standing, I thought. It can touch anyone of us. Bucky needed someone like my father to step in and help. His family turned a blind eye not wanting to face his demons. It killed him. That's the hard thing about intervention as it can almost be as painful for the addict and the family as the addiction itself. But time heals wounds and breeds a new vigor for life and relationships.

"I would be exactly like Bucky," I told my father as we pulled into my driveway. "You would find me dead, hooked up to the laughing gas, from overdose."

My father shuddered.

"Just stick to being a writer," he said as we said our goodbyes.

I smiled, shook his hand, and told him I was going to make Stephen King envious one day. It is good to have grand dreams. Hell, it is just good to have a dream, period. For the longest time I wandered aimlessly through life.

The Better of Medicines

I always believed the best medicines hurt. My mother would pour that brown bottle of peroxide on my scrapes and it would fizz and burn. It felt like it was working - killing all those nasty germs. Getting sober can be the same. First comes terrible boredom as you spent all your time drinking. There is this huge void in your life you now have to fill. Then comes the incessant urges to drink. "One drink will not kill you," you try and tell yourself. Us alcoholics can't have just one drink as they always lead to more. Finally, it hurts to write or talk about it and to admit I was that way. You want to forget that chapter of your life, but to forget is to repeat. God knows. I don't want to repeat the pits of despair that was once my homeless, alcoholic life. The best medicines hurt and you learn and grow from the pain.

I've noticed a pattern to my writings lately. When I am happy, I write of Maggie, relationships, cooking, and food. All joys in my life at the moment. I think this pisses some people off when reading the snide anonymous comments I get. It is easy because of my schizophrenia to get paranoid about those comments, but I have long since learned to ignore them. All the popular or well read blogs get them. There are people that would love to tear you down - to disparage your writings and your life because they have little else to do. And yet they still read. I did the same with The Homeless Guy after he threatened to sue me. I never liked him again, but would still read his blog like some sick attachment I couldn't let go of. He finally quit writing anything interesting and I quit reading as well.

I've just come from a very early breakfast at the Waffle House. I quietly sat in the restaurant eating my omelet and toast as I sipped piping hot coffee and thought of things lately. That is when I came to the revelation about my writing and how I write when I am happy. I am at my most vulnerable moment where I am sharing my most intimate thoughts and desires. That is when the detractors step in like wolves in a wolfpack over a carrion carcass to tear apart the muscle, sinew, and bone that are the blogs of my life. My point is that this is all a learning experience and the best medicines hurt. I can allow others to take away one of my greatest joys of writing and sharing it, or I can continue to share my life everyday with those that have grown to care about me and have become my blogging friends. I think I shall choose the latter. To hell with the detractors.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Grilled to Perfection

Tonight I am making a frisse (curly leaf lettuce) with sliced scallions, chopped bell pepper, diced celery, and fresh garden grown tomatoes. Yes, it is a crunchy and crisp salad. This will be topped by a homemade buttermilk ranch dressing, grilled chicken, and a sprinkle of chow mein noodles. I have been marinating the chicken all afternoon in a light soy sauce and then shall grill it up to perfection before the storms hit. Yes, I said storms and you can already hear the thunder on the horizon. They are drifting to the east just north of us. I am also grilling some skewers of vegetables. Kind of a poor man's kebab. I can already taste those caramelized and sweet grilled onions now. I had thought of grilling some steaks tonight. Big. Juicy. Bloody. Burnt. Steaks. My wallet protested though when I was shopping.

I got a phone call from my brother and he spoke of my father's grill sessions and juicy ribeyes grilled medium-well upon a hot flame. This got me in this train of grilling thought, the compulsive man that I am. "I could kill for one of dad's steaks and potatoes," he said. My brother has really been lamenting the frou frou food they find in San Diego Restaurants. "There just isn't any down home southern charm here." I asked my brother what he eats for lunch everyday at the hospital. "Half a ham or turkey sandwich with a box of raisins."

"Everyday?!"

"I eat that everyday without fail," my brother replied.

"Oh God. I would just starve to death and would probably eat the furniture."

My brother laughed.

"You would have loved my supper last night," I then said.

I told my brother what I cooked and you could hear his stomach grumble over the phone.

"That's it!" he exclaimed. "I'm moving back to the South. I miss down home cooking. Jennifer feels the need to cook like everyone out here. I've eaten baked fish twice this week. I want some macaroni and cheese, turnip greens with fatback, and cornbread."

I smiled as I told my brother goodbye. That reminded me to run by the store tonight and pick up a block of sharp cheddar and some macaroni noodles. Tomorrow's supper is going to be a ham steak, macaroni and cheese, and turnip greens with a vinegary homemade hot sauce. I can taste it now. Man, I love living and eating in the South.

Falling

I feel like I shouldn't feel this way. Love. It seems so stereotypical for me to have fallen in love with my best friend. They say absence makes the heart grow fonder and it has, and she has only been gone a day. I miss her smoky voice. I miss the way she asks me a hundred questions and that surprised look upon her face when I answer. I miss the way she will so blithely grab my hand to hold and the warmth it imparts.

I once had a crush on Wanda. I have always liked larger women. My ex-wife was a voluptuous woman and I immediately fell in love with her at my brother's wedding. A.A. complicated matters for Wanda and I. I was new to sobriety and she had recently had a slip up as far as her drinking was concerned after a decade of being sober. It just seemed too soon and too not socially acceptable within our home group. I would lie in bed thinking of intimate moments with her. Not overly sexual. Just times shared together over a good meal and those quiet moments at home only a comfortable couple will enjoy. My vivid imagination now plays out those same scenarios in my mind of Rosa and me.

Rosa called me this morning on her cell phone. I was in the kitchen washing up after breakfast.

"This feels weird," she said. "I feel like an interloper."

"Do you want me to come get you today?" I asked.

"Let me give this some time."

"What's weird about it?"

"I realized I don't really know my daughter," Rosa replied. "We are strangers."

"Well, this a way for you to get to know her," I said. I wanted to tell her to come home to me. We would grill out this evening and sit on the porch, smoke our cigarillos, and enjoy each other's company.

"I'll call you tonight and let you know how today went," Rosa replied and we got off the phone.

I realized Rosa is like me. We are having to grow up and be adults after years of addiction. It can be so scary and uncomfortable. I had written in another post about it being like exploring an undiscovered country and it is. It is easy to fear what is new and un-experienced. Real life is never as fun as the make believe worlds we conjure when using or drinking.

I've fallen in love with my best friend and I don't know what to do. I am scared and elated at the same time. I do know I can't wait for her to get home so I can tell her in person. "I love you," I shall say and hopefully she will say the same back. Ah, love. One of the most confounding of emotions and it still fells good.

I Can Smile Now

I remember hearing that word for the first time, schizophrenia. We were sitting in Dr. Rheddi's office in Opelika, Alabama. She was this miniscule little Indian woman with a fiery determination. We had tried everything. Lithium. Haldol. Seroquel. Countless doctors. I still wasn't doing well and was having extreme paranoia and delusions.

"You have schizophrenia and I am going to start you on a new medication," she said.

The new medication was Zyprexa and we saw immediate results as long as I would stay sober.

"This is your chance at a new life," I can remember my father saying.

I remember not believing him. I never took much stock in medications. There was just too much trial and error. He was right. My most immediate result of the meds was the extreme paranoia went away. I no longer felt I was being watched or followed so much. The imagined camera in the corner of my bedroom ceiling also dissapeared.

The Risperdal that I take now isn't perfect. I still have certain symptoms like the occasional bout with paranoia and the thinking that everyone is out to get me or is watching me. Driving is very hard for me and trips out of my driveway can bring on lots of anxiety. But, all in all, I am stable. I can actually take joy in my life and I will often smile for no apparent reason I am so happy. I am actually smiling now as I write this. I don't think I smiled for years under the iron grip of that scourge schizophrenia.

It is pretty commonplace to hear people disparage mental illness medications. "You're just buying into the pharmaceutical money pit," I heard one say. I've often had people send me emails or blog comments with spiritual or herbal remedies for mental illness. That always makes me smile. I do wish it could be so simple, but I believe schizophrenia is a malfunction of the chemistry of the brain and no amount of ginkgo or herbal tea is going to remedy that. You wouldn't give a diabetic some oregano and tell he or she that they are cured. The same goes for those of us afflicted with this disease, and I do believe it is a disease.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Satiated

The dishes are done and all the leftovers are in the fridge. The lingering smell of baking meatloaf wafts into the room from tonight's cooking. I prepared a traditional southern meal of meatloaf with a tomato glaze, creamed potatoes, and English peas. I will sleep well tonight on an overly full stomach.

Dad just came running by to give me my medications. He ate a meatloaf sandwich which he loves.

"Do you always cook like this?" he asked.

"Unfortunately, no," was my reply.

"That tastes as good as mommas always did," he said.

I fixed a plate of food for my father to carry to my mother. This meal was always one of her favorites as well.

My thoughts turned to Rosa tonight and her first evening in an unfamiliar environment. She called me to let me know she and her daughter had arrived safe and sound. Fortunately, Atlanta is just an hour up the interstate and I told her I would come get her if she outstayed her welcome. "I'm already missing you," she said over the phone. She knows just how to tug on my heartstrings. I hung up the phone and escaped to my porch to smoke a cigarillo in her honor. "I miss you, too," was on the tip of my tongue as I sat there enjoying the rich, cherry hinted smoke of that little cigar.

Goodbye is Always Hard

Rosa's daughter came and whisked her away to Atlanta. A feeling of dread overcame me as I watched them drive off. Rosa is my confidant and best friend and I don't know what I am going to do without her sage advice on life and other matters. "I'll see you in two weeks," she said as she smiled weakly. I waved goodbye and drove on home.

This afternoon found me and Dad sitting on my porch and talking. He came by just to visit.

"Do you think I can get a job, dad?" I asked him timidly.

"I think you need to give yourself some time," he replied. "You've done so well that I would hate for us to upset things."

He was right. I can always throw myself into my writings and this blog. I am actually making a decent income from the advertisements on this journal and should concentrate on bringing in more readers. I am already making close to the maximum I can make without upsetting my social security. I appreciate those of you that read and comment. You make it all worthwhile.

Friday, July 27, 2007

A Teacher Then and Now

Mrs. Hawking was my first grade teacher. I thought she was ancient at the time, but she is still living today. She was a widower and would wear her beautiful white/gray hair pulled up in a bun in the Pentecostal fashion. She would also wear long flowery print dresses that she made herself upon her sewing machine. She was a teacher from a different era - a kinder, more gentler time when everyday life moved at a slower pace. This kinder, more gentler time was reflected in the way she would sit with me after school in the afternoons helping me with my spelling and reading. As with most things in life, I was late to the party for these things as well. I struggled with the simple Sally, Dick, and Jane readers that most kids had long since moved on from. "Try to associate the words with pictures in your mind," Mrs. Hawking would tell me as she patiently guided me through reading these simple little books. Slowly, but surely, I would grow to read with aplomb by the end of the year due much to the diligence and guidance of Mrs. Hawking.

Many years passed and I was a grown man. The scene was my grandmother's visitation for her funeral. It was a sad time and many tears were shed as we said our goodbyes to a great woman. I was standing next to the casket as I reached out to hold my dead grandmother's cold and clammy hand. I felt an arm wrap around me as I turned to look. It was Mrs. Hawking. "I thought I should be here for your father and you," she said with a reserved smile. I was so glad to see her and those long ago days of staying after school with her came flooding back.

"What are you doing with yourself these days?" she asked as we stepped aside, away from the coffin.

"I am a writer," I said, but the main reason I said that was I was out of work and I didn't know what else to say. It felt pretentious. I didn't really think of myself as a writer at the time although I wrote everyday in my paper journal and had been dabbling in short stories for years.

"What kind of writing?"

"Nonfiction," I said, having learned that saying this in response to that question seemed to satisfy most people without further questions.

"You always had it in you," she told me, so proud of how far I had come from those hard after-school sessions of slogging through the English language.

"I couldn't have done it without you," I replied, and she left me to go sign the guest book and leave after a few more moments of reflection and reminiscing.

I watched as she walked out of the funeral home and remarked at how she still had an aura of teacher about her. She had long since retired and was in her eighties now. She was still teaching in these advanced years. Not of simple things like dotting your I's or crossing your T's, but of lessons in life and kindness, and being there for your fellow person in a time of need. Her legacy lives on after all these years in my just being able to write this. I wish she could read my writings today. I think she would be proud.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Relative Comfort

I prefer rain to rays, laughing to crying, and "enjoying the moment" to analyzing. Sunny Sundays fit in there somewhere and so do the once in a decade snowy southern winter days. We are having one of those preferred rains today and I am enjoying the moment. It is a good time to write.

Once upon a Househusband life, I would frequent our local "rails to trails" hiking trail while Rachel was at work at the library. Long walks with a walking stick and my trusty hiking boots would find me upon the banks of the Chattahoochee at the end of the day. Rachel worked all the time and I didn't mind it much. I actually liked it as it gave me coveted alone time and room to breathe. She couldn't stand to be alone and would have to be with me when she wasn't at work. Rachel didn't have any friends and wouldn't let me have any either. Her work was also all about her career as a librarian and not about "our." Still, I didn't care. I would grow excited as the time grew near for her to leave and I would lock up the house as she left and I then went to play. Inviting green riverbanks and lazily grazing ducks would greet me as the treat at the end of my journey. I can vividly remember a small redheaded girl sitting in that deep green winter grass, gathering the fresh grass cuttings into a pile, and trying to put them into a discarded soda can as a game. That was my last memory of being married other than the huge fight me and Rachel would have that night and the drunkenness that would ensue. I would soon find myself sitting in front of a convenience store in a drizzle and homeless, drunk. A pile of my camping gear, by my side, sitting on the sidewalk getting wet.

It is hard for me to believe I ever lived that way now. It has been so long since life was chaotic and crazy, and I was without a home. I have little "episodes" as my father calls them, but for the most part, life is serene. For that, I am very grateful. I saw Rachel again today as we passed in our cars and it reinforced how serene my life is these days. She waved and smiled and I can remember feeling so relieved at the time. Relieved that she and that life were long gone. I waved and smiled back, but it was forced. I wanted to look the other way and act like I never saw her. I still harbor some bitterness and want to blame her for my homelessness even though it was my mental illness and drinking that caused it. It was just a matter of time and was bound to happen. No, needed to happen. It turned my life around. I did cry for weeks, though, in the cold. "For better or for worse," I would sob as tears literally fell into my beer. I felt abused and discarded like some poor animal that chewed the furniture too much and had shit on the floor once too often. My family turned a blind eye to my predicament in the beginning as well. "I was hoping it would wake you up and you would realize you can't go on living that way," my father would later say. My family would eventually step in to give me the basic essentials of modern living and brought me out of homelessness. I would have to do the hard work of turning my own life around though.

Rosa has told me horror stories of her homelessness when she was a prostitute. I asked her once why she did it. "All I had to do was suck some dick, fuck some guys, and I had a cheap motel room and some crack for the night. It was better than sleeping in those crazy religious rescue missions, or sleeping on park benches. You have to do what you have to do to survive on the streets." I can't imagine Rosa living that way now and in many ways our lives mirror each other. I am just glad I didn't have to suck dick to get a beer. Uncle Sam provided that. We both did what we had to do to get the shambles that were our lives together. I do think we came out stronger because of it, and I also think that is why we are such good friends. "You have to do what you have to do to survive," as Rosa says and we are both surviving in relative comfort these days.

Don't Say Goodbye

The appliance guy showed up a day late.

"This here is what's wrong with your dryer," he said holding up a small black roller that looked like a hockey puck.

"I hope that works," I said. "And let me know if you need anything."

I closed the door to the laundry room and was immediately greeted by sounds of electric screwdrivers, drills, and the clanging of metal upon metal as panels were removed.

My laundry is also a day late and I am wearing shirts and shorts I haven't worn in years and it is uncomfortable. Rachel, the kind soul that she is, didn't see fit in keeping my clothes in the divorce. Thank God.

Breakfast was a meeting under the golden arches of McDangerous for sausage biscuits and coffee. "Two billion served!" the sign proclaimed. Rosa had insisted on this avenue of culinary brilliance and I complied.

"I'm going to Atlanta for two weeks and I am scared," she told me over breakfast as we sat in the uncomfortably cold restaurant. "I'm scared of seeing old using friends and running into my old pimp."

Rosa is going to spend time with her daughter, granddaughter, and their live-in boyfriend. Rosa's daughter is having a hard time finding childcare while she has to work extra hours.

"Stay away from your old haunts," I said emphatically. "I want you to come home being the same Rosa that left."

"Do you think I am crazy for going?"

"I think it is going to be interesting. I also think it will be good for you and your daughter."

"I just want her to know I am there now. So many years I was absent."

"I know," I replied, trying to imagine how hard this must be and how incredibly good it is at the same time.

"I'm going to miss you," Rosa said in an intimate moment uncharacteristic of her.

"I'm going to miss you too. I wish we didn't have to say goodbye for so long," I blurted out like a child being left at summer camp for the first time. "I am going to be bored to death without you."

Rosa has been talking of this for a few weeks, but I was unsure if it was going to happen. She leaves Saturday and will not be home for two long weeks. I am going to miss her dearly.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Through Screens, Emotion Imparted

She smiled. I smiled. I was so glad to see her. My neighbor, Joyce, came outside to greet me and Maggie as I was sitting on the porch, listening to my radio, and smoking a cigar just a moment ago.

"Howdy neighbor," she said with her southern drawl.

"I am so glad to see you today," I replied, taking off my headphones.

We talked mainly of mundane things as neighbors normally do. The sandals she had bought that were killing her feet. The man that was coming today to fix my dryer that is eating up my clothes. The goings on at vacation Bible school in which she is deeply involved. Little tidbits of our lives shared between the screens of my side porch.

I am getting better at this game – this game of social interaction. I am learning to act genuinely glad to talk to someone by the tone and inflections in my voice – learning to listen and to not always feel the need to talk all the time. Asking questions. How was your day? Did you sleep well? Can I weed-eat your yard? And the hardest of all: showing positive emotion and not the neutral or bland persona my medications can impart upon me. "It's formulaic," I tell myself as I watch my father and how he interacts with people. And there is no man more socially gregarious than he. Like a young apprentice, I am learning from the master one step at a time and the social anxiety melts away.

Don’t Rock the Boat

The sign outside said they were hiring. A thousand thoughts went through my mind as I wanted to go in and get an application. "It would cause a rift in the family," were my final thoughts as I drove on, opportunity lost. I thought the rest of the day of being brash and just getting that job. Nervous. Unsure. I waited on me and my father's nightly rendezvous over crazy meds, sodas, and ample talk. I was gathering up the courage to ask him if I could take the plunge and join the ranks of the employed.

It was an uncommonly cool night for a July in the South as me and dad went for a drive out into the countryside. Lightning was flashing on the horizon down south way and I had on my winter pull-over it was so cool with the windows down. Sounds of katydids wafted in through the open windows as we passed out the wooded road towards God's country.

"Dad?" I asked and then hesitated.

"What son?" he said, finally rolling up the windows to block out the cool night air.

I swallowed hard. Now was the moment.

"How was your day?" I then asked, chickening out.

"Oh God!" my father exclaimed and would go on to talk for thirty minutes about how hard his day was.

It made my most pressing problem of having tons of hours in my day to fill seem not so bad or important. And my days lately have seemed so long and drawn out with little to do. I know for some of you that would be an enviable predicament. It makes me stir crazy though.

Dad needed someone to listen last night and it was no longer my place to speak. I just sat and loaned him my ear for the rest of our journey. I know it must be terribly odd for some of you to imagine a thirty five year old man having to ask for permission to work and get a job. I find it exasperating as well. To think – I was once homeless and living in a tent in the wild woods of Alabama. And now I can't even walk down to McDonald's and get a job flipping burgers without upsetting my family. That's all I want – a simple, mostly unobtrusive, low responsibility job to fill the time and to make some extra cash.

I didn't rock the boat last night and was just there for my father, and he really needed to vent. There is always tomorrow and I have done so well lately that maybe it is best not to upset the careful equilibrium we have established. Let's let time run its course. I have always had the knack of finding a job within a couple of days when I look so it's not like that job opportunity yesterday was my only recourse.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

The Undiscovered Country

Laughing. Talking. Sharing our day. My father and me sat in my den last night enjoying each other's company. "I love how you wrote today about thinking you were the next Mozart," he said. "The grandiosity schizophrenics share reminds me of all the religious people standing on street corners crying the 'end is near.' They seem to think they are so important, as if touched by God. Your mother was the same."

"You have to also remember I thought aliens were traveling light years to visit me," I said with a good hearted smile and a laugh – even I almost have a hard time thinking I believed that. It sounds so clichéd for schizophrenics. I had probably watched too many episodes of the X-Files.

"Your writing has just been wonderful lately," he then said. "It reflects how well your real life is going."

"Thank you," I said, beaming with pride.

I love getting accolades from my father about my writing. Comments from strangers on a blog are nice and encouraging, but nothing is the same as one of the nearest and dearest people in your real life telling you such words. It has been years since I had done something in which my father was so proud of me.

My father left and I curled up on the couch with Maggie as the TV droned quietly. I had such a wonderful day. I felt happy. I could take joy in the small things in life. I seem to have this zest for living these days that I haven't experienced in the 35 years I have been on this good earth. "You're growing up for the first time in your life," were my father's words that echoed in my mind. He was right. My development as a young adult stopped with the onset of schizophrenia in my early twenties and my subsequent alcoholism. I was a perpetual adolescent in a man's body – a strange combination of boy and man. Adult feelings. Adult emotions. An adult life. It is all so exciting and I feel as if I have discovered an undiscovered country filled with exotic lands to explore and strange indigenous people to meet. A Columbus in my own time.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Churlish Emotions

It was a beautiful July afternoon at lunch. The humidity was low with the temps hovering in the lower eighties. I was so glad to be at one of my old haunts and hang-outs, Fat Albert's. It felt like old times and Rosa had accompanied me on this almost forgotten routine. She wanted to play the Georgia lottery as she often does.

"You could just give me the money," I said, coyly, of her buying lottery tickets. "It would be the same thing."

"You either have gambling blood or you don't," was Rosa's reply. "And no, you can't have my money. I want the thrill of the chase for all those winnings."

I smiled as I ate my red-hot pickled sausage and watched as Rosa scratched off the little metallic circles revealing money amounts. She didn't win a dime as I had predicted.

I heard some news about my ex-girlfriend, Carolyn, from her friend, the manager, today. She was transferred from a Wal-Mart store to a local Wal-Mart distribution center. She had gotten a promotion and I was pleased for her. Carolyn's friend then told me that she still isn't dating anyone and I was pleased that she was still single. I felt terrible for feeling that way and was beating myself up over it on the drive home. "Why would I take pleasure in someone else's misfortune?" I thought. I told Rosa about it and she said she has done the same thing before as well.

"I occasionally hear about my old boyfriend and pimp," she said. "And I have to keep myself from being pleased that he is still a no-good thief and crack-head. It makes me feel better to feel that way about that son of a bitch."

Breaking up can be a strange thing, indeed. I should just be glad Carolyn was okay and doing well. I did so love her once. Rosa told me not to be so hard on myself as everyone does that. It seems so childish and immature though - like something out of high school. I will just chalk up my churlish response as a blip on the radar of emotion.

The Odd Couple


I am happiest when my home isn't just clean – it's resplendent. Glowing white bathrooms full of sterile tile. Neat cupboards full of canned vegetables and that ubiquitous round of canned tuna that was on sale. Stainless steel sinks in which you can see your reflection. Dishwashers that are empty and ready for another load. Beds made with taunt and crisp sheets, and the expensive down pillows that Charlie bought me a few weeks ago are plump and inviting upon them. The smell of lemon furniture polish and the aroma of fresh paint fills every room. Mirror finish hardwood floors looking like glass as your tennis shoes squeak upon them while you walk they are so clean.

Maggie is the exact opposite. She loves chaos. Toys strewn - the innards ripped out. Dog hair flying as she digs at yet another imagined flea. Cushions on the couch pulled off onto the floor to make a comfortable nest to lie upon. Festive runs and jumps onto my freshly made beds to groom ourselves in the most vulgar way. We are like the odd couple and I constantly have to pick up after her. I will sigh with an exasperated look (but with also a smile) as I walk into the house to be greeted by such messes after running errands. If it wasn't for the greetings she gives me at the door, I could easily grow aggravated. My frustrations are soon forgotten as my best friend lets me know that she couldn't wait for me to get home and she is so glad to see me. Is this how parents feel?

Channeling that Thief in the Night: Schizophrenia

I was taking Music Theory, Woodwinds 101, Piano, Voice Performance, Chamber Choir, and Concert Choir for the semester. A busy class load. That is when it happened and it happened at the worst time. Things were looking so up for me. "It" was when the paranoia started. I had struggled with social anxiety for a few years, but these new experiences with college was when my first symptoms of schizophrenia started to manifest themselves. Imagined furtive glances. Snarky little remarks that were really complimentary but I couldn't see it. Laughing in public when strangers were around. The feeling of being followed about campus and while driving. I began to always look over my shoulder. It was enough to drive a young, impressionable man crazy. I was crazy. Then I found my best friend, beer. Ah, nirvana. Utopia. The anxiety would melt away and a feeling of calm and perceived sanity would overcome me. I had finally found my "medicine." I can see it happening all so clearly now, but then, the growing love affair with alcohol and my escape from the terrible first symptoms of schizophrenia was almost coyly incestuous and sneaking. Like a thief in the night sneaking up to steal your very soul. That thief, schizophrenia, would later go on to steal more than just my soul. It would steal my humanity.

Last night continued me and my father's usual routine of giving me my medications. "I'm thinking of turning the medications back over to you," he said. "You are doing so well now." I grew so scared. What if I quit taking them? was a frantic thought. It is so common for people with mental illness to think they are "cured" and to quit taking them in a fit of irrationality. I have truly felt so well lately as my father had remarked about. I was toying with the idea the other day that I am no longer mentally ill. I was just a chronic alcoholic. Warning signs! Then, I remember those first experiences with schizophrenia in college and it brings reality roaring back in full force. Normal people don't think aliens are controlling them and think, grandiosely, that they are the next Mozart.

Status quo. That's all I hope for in this next chapter in my life. Quiet, uneventful days filled with good food, loving friends, and caring family. And a welcoming home with which to enjoy them all in. Is that too much to ask? I feel as if I have been through my purgatory and it is time for a level of heaven. I don't want golden gates and harp playing cherubs. I don't want eternity in bliss. All I ask for is that the waning, last few years of my life be quiet, sane, and uneventful. I am off to a good start so let's see if I can keep this up.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Large in Girth and Heart

She's a large woman in both girth and heart. I have come to love her dearly these many months I have been attending Alcoholics Anonymous. Brown locks of hair cascade down her face framing her green eyes. Rosy cheeks bounce when she laughs. Her green nurse scrubs make her look professional and caring. She has a sensuously alluring and smoky voice from years of cigarettes that reminds me of Audrey Hepburn. We are having a quiet lunch at a local seafood restaurant. She is enjoying the seafood buffet, while I begrudgingly try to enjoy a bowl of chowder with a side salad. Being on a diet sucks sometimes.

"You sure you're not drinking?" she asks over plates of food and glasses of sweet iced tea with little lemons perched on the rims.

I assure her that no, I am not. I was so worried when I quit going to A.A. that my friends from our local group would abandon me. I have a hard time making friends, but did manage to make a few these last few months of attending. I have been so relieved that Wanda and me are situation normal – nothing has changed.

"What made you decide to stop?" she then asks.

"Stop is such a finite word," I reply, avoiding gory details. "I am still going on occasion when the need arises."

Not being a Christian. Group politics. Old timers. Cultish atmosphere. There are many reasons I wanted to shy away from Alcoholics Anonymous. I struggled with the idea of me using the group as just another addiction and caught myself doing just that. Going to meetings every night religiously. Reading copious amounts of A.A. books and pamphlets. My group of friends slowly diminishing to only include members of the local chapter of our group. I had to step back and reevaluate the situation and take a breather, or break, if you will.

"Well, every time I've seen a member do what you're doing, they end up drunk and drinking again," Wanda said.

I very well could drink again, but it won't be the end of the world. I hope I have the good sense to know when I need to stay on the wagon, or get up off the wagon-trail and try again. I have so many things now that can and do help me that I didn't have when I was homeless and a drunkard. A supportive family. A mental illness under check. A stable living arrangement. A decent and steady income. Self confidence and esteem. I explained some of this to Wanda and she replied that I had her, too, as well. It is interesting to me how us people who have struggled so in life can come together and give each other a helping hand. It gives me hope for the human race as a whole when my hope will often falter. There needs to be more Wandas in this world.

Messy Life

Sometimes I want to just post everything on this blog. I have already shared so much. So what would writing about almost everything else matter? I'm learning for the first time what it feels like, regret in writing. I regret I ever revealed my mental illness or alcoholism. Because, I believe, it has alienated me from so many readers and friends over the years. I'm learning what to keep to myself, and I've never felt this before. Before, I believed putting everything out there was brave, novel, and unique. I was going to break from social norms and carve this interesting little niche out for myself in the blogging world. It is actually not brave, or novel. It is young, naïve, and embarrassing. Because when I open my life that much, it leaves me open to more criticism, not of my writing, but in judgment. And humans are rife with judgment. My life has been messy enough.

Tango for Two

I wasn't listening to her. There I was, sitting on my porch, momentarily alone and comfortable, sunset, a cherry hinted cigarillo, in my porch swing, single mindedly enjoying the first katydids, just back from a leisurely stroll for the evening in an effort to lose at least ten more pounds. She came out asking me more questions as she commonly does, but I didn't want to play our game last night. "What is it about women that make them so nosey and make them ask so many questions?" I blurted out, callously, and then blushed. Snippety. I had crossed the line between conversational and brusque. You quietly left to go sit in the den and pout with me. I felt terrible. "I'm sorry," I said walking through my porch door. "I didn't mean to be so blunt." You smile and forgive me. I am taken aback because my ex-wife or ex-girlfriend, Carolyn, wouldn't have spoken to me for a week for doing such a thing. Your kindness and understanding made me feel inadequate.

Some people live for the drama of an intimate relationship. I abhor it. I can stumble through a delicate situation like a blind man in an unfamiliar room full of furniture. These little social tangos are the most exasperatingly complicated dance of rules, feelings, and heightened emotion. It takes a special soul to be able to put up with my social foibles and misgivings and Rosa seems to be the one. She can read me like a book and knows my moods. We finished the rest of the evening on the porch as darkness fell, cigarillos in hand, with Maggie at our feet. The katydids and you were comforting. All was forgiven.

Canine Bravado

Hair bristling. Tail erect. My faithful companion goes bounding out the backdoor for her 5 a.m. bathroom break. Every corner of the yard is carefully inspected for the errant feline, nocturnal squirrel, or creature of the night. A sinking feeling overcomes me as Maggie then begins to bark loudly. "Crap," I will mutter. "The neighbors are going to hate me." Luckily, this fit of canine insanity soon passes.

Business is finally done. The grass is scratched exuberantly in a show of canine cockiness and bravado. "Look at me! I can pee! And this is my yard!" Maggie seems to broadcast. Our final bounding leads us through the backdoor as I lean down upon one knee to rub and congratulate her. "I love you, girl," I say as I scratch her back and she licks me upon my face and wiggles like a wiggly worm. This happens every morning and never fails to make me smile. I don't know what I would do without my faithful canine companion.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

I Could Get Used to You

The other night, we hit my favorite restaurant – seafood platter piled high with fried shrimp, oysters, fish, and crab. Shit, I ate it so fast I almost forgot about my baked potato and the onion rings – icing on the cake. Later in the evening, in from the oppressive July heat, we sat in my den, full and lazy, like some stodgy married couple set in our ways. I was busily flicking through all the channels endlessly with the remote until you complained and told me to pick a channel so we could actually watch TV. It was uncannily like the many nights I would spend with my family as a child with mom telling dad the same thing. "Johnny, find a channel and stop," she would complain. My father would grunt and tune it to the weather channel as my mother sighed. I did the same thing the other night and you sighed as well.

I could get used to you…

The Chase

In college, going out for a drink was like kissing. At first it was exciting, but then you wanted more. For a brief few hours it was exhilarating to go through my usual ritual of buying the beer, running through the drive-thru at Hardee's (the only fast food joint in town) for a bag of 50 cent cheeseburgers, and then driving out to my favorite haunts getting drunk as tunes from Steely Dan and Joni Mitchell blasted on my car's stereo. It was a nightly love affair and like any good mistress or overindulgence there were consequences.

First class of the day was music theory which suffered the most as far as my studies went. Early in my drinking career, I suffered terrible hang-overs and would moan as my alarm clock blared waking me up. "Oh my God, I am never doing this again," I would say every time with a pounding headache as my roommate showered getting ready for class. It seems my memory was terrible in those days as nightfall would find me driving out to those same deserted dirt roads to sit, drink, and listen to talk radio and blaring music yet once again. I know I would stumble to class the next morning reeking of stale cigarettes and sour beer breath. I thought I was having a good time. Doesn't every college guy do this? No, they don't, but my skewed sense of reality couldn't see that.

Failing college, I dropped out and took a job. I was living the life I thought my admired uncle envied. "I wish I could just work eight hours doing a mindless job with little responsibility, come home and get drunk, and go to sleep after screwing my wife only to get up and do it all over again. That's the life," I can remember him vividly telling me and my father many times. Although I was living a similar life, I was miserable with a capital m. Alcohol was making my choices for me and not vice versa. It took another decade of living similar to this before I finally woke up and smelled the proverbial coffee.

Lately, that old nagging urge to get shit-faced is no longer there. There is an empty feeling of not being normal though. Normal for me was being drunk - three sheets to the wind. Not normal was living life without my old crutch, alcohol. I realized I had kissed my last kiss in this relationship and had to say goodbye – like a lover pining over a lost love, I mourned for months. My next kiss might have been the kiss of death and the fear of death is a powerful motivator. There was one bullet in my gun and I was playing a risky game of Russian roulette with a loaded bottle. They often say in Alcoholics Anonymous that the average drunk has to hit rock bottom to begin to climb back up and find a new life. With the help of friends and family, I was able to avoid that for the most part and was given a new opportunity at life. I no longer want to kiss, make out, and dance flirtingly with my old nemesis, beer. It feels good to be sober today.

Memories Past

Dear Mom,

Will you please send me more of the MAD magazines? The last ones you sent were great. All my friends loved them. I am going on a three day hike starting tomorrow. We are hiking to Cold Mountain, North Carolina. The hiking staff says the water is so clear and clean you can drink it out of the streams and pools along the trail. Breakfast was pancakes and sausage. The food is so good here. The cook is this little black man who is shorter than me! He is mute which means he can't speak. Alex (Ed. my brother) is still crying every day. He hates it here. Says the mosquitoes are terrible and he got Ear Dry in his toothpaste and thinks he is going to die. He wrote you a letter about it. Well, I just heard the dinner bell ring and must meet with my cabin to eat. Hope you and dad are fine.

Sincerely,

Andrew

P.S. - Send more magazines!!!!!

-- June 16, 1982 Age 10


I was thumbing through old letters I wrote as a child at summer camp this morning. It brings back so many fond memories. I can remember laughing at my neurotic brother for thinking he was going to die because of the Ear Dry in his toothpaste. He was dead serious. No pun intended. My mother was so good at sending us stuff in the mail like books, newspapers, and magazines. They were a joy for a little camper far removed from the outside world. My mother would later say she almost drove the 300 miles to get my brother and bring him home his letters were so pitiful and pleading. My brother hated summer camp. I loved it.

What brought this on was that I have been toying with the idea of putting together a memoir of sorts as an excercise in creative writing. It's fun combing through old photos, letters, and diary entries, wondering what I will use, what this says about that time in my life. I also have a written diary from when I was homeless that I kept everyday to help me write my old blog. I wrote very matter-of-factly with little expression, emotion, or description in my entries. I guess I was probably just worried about where my next beer was going to come from.

I will be incorporatiing some of these writings for my memoir as little snippets on the blog. I hope some of you enjoy reliving these memories with me, good and bad.

Breakfast Moment


Succulent biscuits, melt in your mouth center, a pool of real butter on the plate as it drips from the edge. Ham and cheese omelets, carefully flipped, with cheddar oozing from the fold. Crispy bacon, with a hint of smoked hickory flavor. Steaming mugs of coffee with milk and sugar, looking like caramel and tasting of exotic places like Colombia.

Lingers of moments, aftertaste of thoughts. You smile for a laugh. I reach for your hand. The way you tell me of your day yesterday and play with your hair. My hand wraps around your head as I pull you close. We kiss, hard and delicious. I taste you still. All I have left is hope and optimism that this will lead to something more. Its tastes good over breakfast with you.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Long Night

Spare me the "Gosh you should look into some sort of 12-step group" shite. I am tired. It was a long night. And I am jonesing for a beer belying the post I wrote yesterday. I can't take something messing up my routines. I walked into the house this morning to a hundred emails (I am avoiding email), two messages on my answering machine, and Maggie sitting in the floor tearing up a pair of my dirty underwear. Just great, I thought as I peeled off my clothes and put on the most comfortable attire I could find. I am sitting here in what my ex-wife called my "wankey shorts" as wanker was slang for penis in the U.K. and these shorts show a hard-on like a lighthouse shows light on a dark New England shore. The night was spent at the hospital with Joyce. She had awoken with belly pains and she had recently undergone a kidney transplant. I got a call from her around 1 a.m. asking me to drive her to the medical center. "The tests look fine," the doctor said walking into our sterile, white waiting room. "It must have been cramps." Joyce laughed nervously and turned to me and said, "I am so beyond cramps. I've been menopausal for years." I sighed with relief that nothing more major was wrong and drove us home in the early hours of the morning.

The Morning After or How I Lost My Mental Virginity

You brush up against me as I stand in front of the stove cooking breakfast. You have on my flannel shirt from yesterday and a pair of skimpy panties. Your feet are bare and I tell you to put on some socks, scoldingly (yes, I made up this word). "Are you hungry?" I then ask. "I am hungry for more of you," you growl with a Cheshire grin. My heart palpitates as thoughts of last night's love making session stir within me. We stayed up last night, well after midnight, behind closed bedroom doors. We explored each other's bodies and became one for a few short hours.

Morning arrived much to my lament. We sit and eat breakfast. "I like a man that can cook," you say. I smile as I place a spoon ladled with succulent eggs into my mouth. Food and sex. It is enough to overload the pleasure center of my brain. I'm thoroughly content that the most basic of my human needs are being met. "I will see you tonight," she finally says as she pulls on her jeans, shoes, and runs out the door for work. She turns in the yard to blow me a kiss. I sigh. It's going to be a long and lonely day without her.

This post was inspired after listening to Dr. Laura tonight. "You don't normally fall in love with your friends or think of them in a sexual way," she said on the radio. I sat with a glazed look in my eyes as thoughts of Rosa came to mind. Who wouldn't want to fall in love with their best friend? I mused. It is what dreams are made of. Too bad Rosa would be completely socially unacceptable to my family. Yes, this post is a bit of mental masturbation seeing my real world plumbing is not up to snuff these days. I always have my daydreams.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Formulaic

Formulaic. Certain things just are. Rap songs. They all sound the same to me. I am sure a rap lover would say the same of the Pearl Jam and grunge I grew up listening to in college. I catch it in my writing as well. Something happens and it is so easy to just write in my familiar dialogue style as I remember in my mind's eye what was said. I rarely edit much and most posts only take a few minutes to write so it is the easy way out. I can be a terribly lazy author most of the time. I am working on it, though. When I sit down to write these days, I want to come up with something interesting, introspective, and unique. I want to be creative. Comments on a post are a good way to judge whether something was hit or miss. And it also helps that I am mainly writing anonymously so I can write freely and expressively. I don't have my real name, email, or address plastered upon this blog. I learned that lesson long ago when my cousin googled me and was calling my father and complaining about everything I was writing. She always was the paranoid sort, but she was right. Most people don't stand on a downtown corner crying out to the whole world about their mental illness or drinking problem, or the embarrassing discussion with your doctor that day about m-a-s-t-u-r-b-a-t-i-o-n. "Crazy, I tell you," would be what a bystander would say and the police would soon be along to shoo you away or send you out for a psych evaluation.

What brought this on was that I was just reading this week's writings. These writings, for the most part, are distinctly different from the way I wrote for months about getting to know Rosa or the antics of George and the gang. I have been reaching into the creative grab-bag and pulling out better stuff these days. I think. I know some of you have commented on the positive tone my writings have generated, and yes, this is a reflection of my real life. "Things are better now than they have been your whole life," my father told me yesterday. And he was right. Things are better and I think it is coming out in my writings upon this blog. My only regret? That I hadn't toiled so long and hard on my book without being in the better frame of mind and life that I am in now. Just think of how better it could have been.

Excuse me. I have A LOT of editing to do on a labor of love of mine. My book. I may even start over. I have nothing but time on my hands these days.

Decadent


Tonight I'm making mushroom chicken with a broccoli and wild rice pilaf and homemade angel biscuits. It was a childhood favorite and a decadently fattening and savory meal. Dessert is going to be pear salad with a pear-half topped with a dollop of homemade mayonnaise, a sprinkle of sharp cheddar, and a candied cherry half upon a bed of crisp, green lettuce. The chicken will cook for hours until fork tender, taking on the essences of cream of mushroom soup, rich real butter, and tangy sour cream. I just feel like treating myself tonight even though I will be eating alone. Of course, there is Maggie and she will get a small plate after the food has cooled. I got a phone call from my brother the other night that inspired this menu. "Remember that mushroom chicken mom always made when we were kids? It was delicious. I am tired of California, tofu, and froufrou food." I grinned and immediately called my mother for the recipe. It took her an hour of searching to find it in one of her recipe notebooks and then she called me back. She hasn't cooked in over a decade. Not once. So her recipe books have been squirreled away in a closet collecting dust.

Another food fact about my life, was that I bought a HUGE jar of dill pickles and it is sitting on my kitchen counter full of gigantic pickled cucumbers – the type of pickle jar that would be sitting on the counters of little country stores near my grandmother's house in God's country, yesteryear. It was on sale for $2.99. I love anything vinegary and salty and will waltz into the kitchen to fish out a pickle and enjoy it wrapped in a paper towel. Luckily, pickles have few calories or I would balloon up eating so many.

Turning the Page

"I'm worried about you," Rosa said over the phone last night. "You haven't been to A.A. in over a week and you went like clockwork for months."

"I'm fine," I said, trying to reassure her. "I don't feel the urge to drink these days."

I had also gotten a call earlier in the evening from my A.A. friend, Wanda, worried about the same thing. I assured her, as well, that I was okay. Amazingly, I just don't want to drink. I don't want to feel like crap anymore and I have come too far to fall back into that pit of despair.

Yesterday, I was standing in Fat Albert's convenience store, buying my beloved smoked and pickled hot sausages. I passed by the beer cooler and my old favorites leapt out like beacons in the night to greet me. Coors Light. Milwaukee's Best Ice Beer. Miller High Life. It didn't even faze me and for once in my life I didn't stop, longingly, to look at something that was such an integral part of my life for years and something that almost destroyed it. My stomach did a flip-flop thinking about drinking that swill. My old reaction would have been to start salivating like one of Pavlov's dogs.

So many aspects of Alcoholics Anonymous just didn't suit my tastes – especially, the extremely cult-like manifestations that emanated from the program. Yes, there are lifers. I've met my fair share of them. I just don't think I am going to be one of those folks. I took what I needed from Alcoholics Anonymous and left the rest. Now, it is time for me to leave as well and move on.

"Why did you never go to Narcotics Anonymous?" I then asked Rosa.

"When I got out of detox and was over the withdrawals, I never looked back," Rosa said. "I didn't want to die and I was going to die smoking that shit. I just didn't feel the need to smoke crack any longer."

"Fear can be a powerful motivator," I mused.

"Fear of death was more powerful than the fear of God."

I always used to be so amazed at Rosa's strength when dealing with her addiction. Now, I am finding that same strength within me as well. Life's future sure is looking brighter and brighter each and every day.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Dial M for Torture

Psychiatrist's office. Cold, esoteric surroundings make me shiver. I am captivated by all the ADHD pamphlets for children sitting on the table. "Does your child speak out of turn?" one asks and I shudder at the thought of filling little children full of largely untested chemical combinations. "They may be attention deficit hyperactive disordered!"

"Come on back," the receptionist says in a very heavy Southern accent as she opens the door.

"Kermit is ready for us," my father whispers, as we get up from our chairs, and walk down that sterile seeming and long, boringly white hall to his office.

"How are you, today?" my doctor asks as he greets us, shakes my hand, and we sit down again.

I chuckle. The thought of my father's words of calling this esteemed and learned man, Kermit, makes me smile. I envision a little man up under the table animating and speaking for the personage sitting in front of us. He does look like Kermit, I think.

We talk of side effects.

"How is your sexual health?" my doctor asks after a myriad of questions.

"I haven't m-a-s-t-u-r-b-a-t-e-d in months," I reply. "I have no desire for sex."

I can't believe I said the M word. I look at my father and he is leaning forward in his seat, interested. I want to curl up in a ball and disappear with a wink. I felt like the proverbial bull in the conversational china shop.

"Are you okay with that?" my doctor then asks. He goes on a long diatribe about how my medications can cause sexual dysfunction.

"I want him to get married again and to have a normal life," my father chimes in, looking at me to see if saying this was okay.

I am so embarrassed, by now, that I want to run out of the room and hide in my father's car. I still can't believe I said the M word.

"Dad, did I say too much?" I ask my father on the ride home.

"Son, he is your doctor. You need to talk about those things with him. We all want you to have a normal life and everybody masturbates," my father said.

I felt sick at my stomach talking about it, but dad's words did make me feel better.

A Bridge of Worlds

I love when it's cool in the morning. I fell asleep with nothing but a sheet and the white noise drone of my box-fan by the bed. I awoke beneath a mound of freshly washed comforter, the strong smell of Gain fabric softener invading my nostrils. I had such a realistic dream about The Homeless Guy. Me and a childhood friend were sitting in a rescue mission, eating a sparse lunch, destitute and penniless. He came walking in with new clothes, computer laptops, digital cameras, and donations of cash from his blog. We were jealous. "Homeless people don't live like that," I told Jason, my friend, over rancid rice filled with mealy bugs. "Why work when gullible people will send you things for free?" was the Homeless Guy's reply, overhearing us. I remember feeling angry at his words and woke up feeling that way. The dream would end with The Homeless Guy in my father's pharmacy begging for medications for his high blood pressure. My father, the kind man that he is, didn't tell him to just lose weight, and would go on to help the wily guy solve yet another of a never-ending string of problems that is his life. I finally stirred awake with the epiphany that we love to hate in other people what we hate in ourselves. At least, I do. And I have certainly had my fair share of life crippling problems like that fellow. My dream was filled with jealousy and raw, negative emotion because of it. Some say that dreams are the bridge between waking life and the afterlife. I am glad I don't believe in that claptrap as some of the nightmares I've experienced are best forgotten and not relived throughout all eternity. I certainly don't want to spend my afterlife feeling angry and jealous.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Home


I am so damn happy. It is so wonderful here that I feel like I am on vacation. I keep turning to Maggie to say, "Can you believe that we actually live here? These are our sunsets. These are our streets. I mean, this is like our very own home!" Unfortunately, Maggie doesn't share in my exuberance, nor does she understand what I am saying. She does understand O-U-T-S-I-D-E. I have to spell it out just like I wrote it to not get her excited when Charlie, Rosa, or my father are over here.

Also, there are neighbors and they like me. Not often do I walk out of the house and don't get caught by Joyce or Ed down the street. We talk about neighborly things such as the weather, or my sister-in-law's newly found-out pregnancy. It will be her and my brother's second child. News travels fast in this little, small Southern town.

Today, I am editing my book for the umpteenth time; in my own computer room full of geeky goodness like computers, new desks and chairs, and shelves upon shelves of software and parts for future computers. Motherboards. Processors. Little boxes of random access memory. All just sitting and waiting for the perfect moment when I get the urge to tinker and build. And then there is the soft and comfortable bed in here that I will sometimes lie upon at night while I listen to the radio streaming over the internet. Things are coming together. Glorious. It is the only word that really comes to mind right now. This all feels so grown-up with smells of fresh paint, newly shellacked wood floors, and a kitchen filled with matching white appliances. I think I am finally home.


Exhaustion


The morning was a whir of breakfast and activity. Eggs. Toast. Bacon frying in a pan. Dishes piled high in the sink much to my dismay.

"How many eggs do you want?" I asked Rosa, pan in hand, as butter melted.

"Two," she replied.

"Now dammit," I said as I laughed nervously. "You have to have multiples like three or six."

"God, you are so anal," Rosa said, rolling her eyes. You should know me better, was my thought.

Out the door we went. I had to walk back and check it three times to make sure it was locked. My computer! my mind screamed, fearful of all the foot traffic on this street.

"It's locked!" Rosa exclaimed, standing at my car and rolling her eyes once again.

Dropped Rosa off at her house. Rendezvoused with my two-week injection for my schizophrenia. A cold blast of air greeted me as I stepped into the doctor's office causing goose bumps. Signed in. Short's pulled down to the side. Cold, steel needle pricking the skin of my cherub bum. Nurse gossip. "Work sucks here." "Works sucks, period, unless you like what you do," was my reply.

Snarling traffic. Police cruiser behind me. Paranoia. Is my tag current? Is my license in my wallet? What if I have a warrant out for my arrest? I turn into the driveway exhausted mentally as I sigh with relief. And my day has just begun.

Vanity

I stepped upon my scales this morning and weighed 215 pounds. My extra large t-shirts are fitting me like discarded circus tent canopies. The seat of my shorts sag and hang off my butt like Droopy's jowls. It is hard to believe that just a few short months ago I weighed 255 pounds. And I gained all that weight in a mere matter of months on my new medications. Easy come. Not so easy go.

I take some comfort in that I am 6 foot, 3 inches tall. That allows me to spread the extra weight around further than most. But I don't want to be fat. I am vain. I will admit it.

My good blogging friend, Annabel, wants to come and visit me at the end of July and I vowed to get down below 200 pounds before she came. It doesn't look like I am going to make it. I have been avoiding her because of it. I want everything to be just perfect if she does come.

Vain, I tell you. It's a curse.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Mad Scientist?


I was thoroughly enthralled with this week's book as Rosa began to ask me a hundred questions just like my mother, the queen, as my brother calls her. My mother can form a question upon her lips for my father before he has even pulled into the garage good.

"Tell me about college," Rosa asked as one of her questions.

"I hated it," I said, not wanting to talk much tonight.

"Come on," Rosa said, pulling my book from my hands to get my full attention.

"It's grade school for adults," I quipped.

"Momma always wanted me to go to college, but I was too busy having my daughter," Rosa replied.

"I was too busy avoiding class to graduate," I said as I laughed, not revealing the real reason I was holed up in my dorm room with a bottle of bourbon most nights neglecting my studies.

At the time I was in college, I was just having a hard time keeping it together. The first symptoms of my mental illness had manifested themselves and I began to withdraw from society and social contact. I had a string of miserably failed relationships that only furthered to complicate matters as my self confidence was destroyed. I would later throw what was left of my self esteem out the window by dropping out of college and taking a night shift job driving a forklift in a towel warehouse. I worked. Came home in the morning and drank a twelve pack of beer. Slept. Then I would get up and go through the same process all over again. Rinse and repeat. I felt like I was trapped in a bad B-movie version of Groundhog Day without the Christmas theme.

"I actually went back a few years ago and tried once again," I then told Rosa. "Sadly, it interfered with my drinking and I didn't go back after one semester."

"That's a shame. I could see you as a professor the way you read and write so much," Rosa replied as she looked at me wistfully.

"Yeah, I could be a mad scientist," I said sarcastically as I smiled and picked my book back up to continue reading. "Literally."

I can be so self deprecating at times. Rosa burst out laughing with me as she leaned up against me upon the couch. It is going to be nice having her stay over tonight.

Long Lost Friend



Jay was my best friend when I worked at the pet store during my second try at college. Jay was a transplanted New Englander and I still can't watch This Old House without thinking of him due to the accents on that show. "Bah-ston," I can still hear him say in my mind's eye.

Jay kind of adopted me. He was the type of friend that would come over and drag you out of the house to go do something. This fit my social anxieties well as I needed someone this aggressive to draw me out of my shell. Jay just wouldn't take "no" for an answer and I was known to protest at times and to try and stay at home.

"Where are we going?" I would ask as we would walk out from my apartment to his truck in the parking lot.

"Hockey and Lynn's Den," he would reply in that Boston accent with a devilish grin upon his face.

Lynn's Den was what Jay called a "titty bar" or what you would know as a strip joint. Can you imagine a guy riddled with social anxieties being thrown amidst exotic dancers crawling all in your lap and begging you for tips as they urged you to buy them mixed drinks? I never could get used to slipping those dollar bills down their skimpy thongs as they danced in front of me.

"Lighten up and have fun!" Jay would say, chugging a Miller Lite, as he would pat me upon the back.

Somehow, I would always go and manage to have a decent time as long as I could avoid the lap dances that Jay would occasionally buy for me. My avarice for sexual things was never very pronounced. I especially enjoyed the hockey games beforehand and the numerous beers and hotdogs we would consume. Me and Jay would drive home in his Silverado, late at night, singing, as Angus Young belted out old AC/DC tunes on the stereo. Those were good times and I miss that Yankee.

Missives

I will never forget the time my ex-girlfriend, Carolyn, asked me, "How do you do it? How do think of something to write every day?" I had built her a computer, got her on the internet, and had made the mistake of letting her read this anonymous blog. "I can not, not do it," was my reply. Writing is part and parcel of who I am.

People think they know me from what I share on this journal. I have said often that you are getting little snapshots of my life. Little missives I care to share. I didn't write about staying up all night drinking diet coke, or the call at 11:50 PM from Rosa about her fears of being a bad grandmother and mother that was too intimate to share. Some things are best filed in the rainy day folder in the writing memory bank. I do probably share more than most, though.

I was so worried when I moved into this house, far removed from my usual haunts, that I wouldn't have anything to write about – the blog would just wither and die. No George and the gang. Little of Rosa as she can no longer just walk over. I couldn't write about my daily journeys and walks into downtown, or over to Rodger's Barbecue to eat lunch. I can't just go camping because I have to be hand-fed my medications every night. The exact opposite has happened. This move has forced me to be more introspective and creative with my writing – trying to make each little moment I share with you count and to be an enjoyable-to-read anecdote of my life. I hope you enjoy the next chapter in this journey and of my writing career as I share it upon the blog. And thanks for reading.

Fresh Air

One morning I awoke to a terrible smell as you slept beside me.

"Did that come from you?" I asked you as I stirred you awake.

You groaned, "No. You are just gross."

"It wasn't me!" I would reply emphatically as I pulled up our covers to look for the dog.

The business end of our canine companion greeted us.

"Must be from Otis." I would then say. "I would have claimed that one proudly."

Otis was our Boston terrier that had a known history of flatulence and bowel irritation. I didn't have the foresight that blaming this poor dog many times for my own emissions would someday backfire. You didn't believe me as I had cried wolf once too often.

"That dog would have exploded before releasing that," you told me and I smiled at the thought of you almost making a fart joke. You were always so serious about such matters.

My inner 8-year-old was now grinning broadly; trying hard not to burst out laughing. It was too early for you to let me show emotion. Otis would poke his head out from under the covers with a look upon his face of, "Someone say my name?"

I finally broke out laughing in a show of gleeful exuberance. You would hit me, pull the covers around you tightly, and go back to sleep, un-amused and disgusted. Sometimes, I miss being married for the little moments such as this.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

A Grit is a Grit


I grew up eating hot, steamy, buttery bowls of grits – the kind of grits that would stick to a spoon and the bottom of a bowl, and still melt in your mouth. I have heard northerners ask, "What the hell is a grit?" and it never fails to make me laugh or smile. Of course, it was once poverty food in the South, and just like cream of wheat, you have to grow up eating it to appreciate it.

Getting me to school was always an ordeal and dad, not mom, would fix a big breakfast to kind of soften the coming blow. I was a big kid, loved to eat, and could be persuaded to do anything after a hearty home-cooked meal. "Breakfast's ready!" dad would holler from the kitchen as I would be pulling on my Sketchers and tying the laces. Me, my brother, and sister would all run to the kitchen as dad ladled up that thick and creamy porridge-like concoction into bowls. If we were lucky, dad would be the adventurous Southern chef, and throw in some sharp cheddar cheese. Man, that was some good eatin' as they say in the South.

Breakfast was always the most important meal on my grandmother's farm, but I never recall her serving grits. She grew up in the Great Depression in farmland Alabama and said they were so poor that they ate corn in everything and she had eaten enough for a lifetime. Cornbread. Grits. Hoecakes. Hominy. Corn sticks. Corn soufflé. You name it and somehow they incorporated corn into it. It is a wonder they didn't find a way to eat cotton – the cash crop of the South and most widely grown. In my grandmother's later years, she believed in eating bacon or sausage every breakfast – a precious commodity when she was a child and something only served on special occasions as slaughtering a hog was an all-day celebration and holiday that seldom occurred. I take eating bacon at breakfast for granted every morning.

And since we are on the topic of grits and breakfast foods, I think I shall go mosey on into the kitchen and simmer a pot of cheddar cheese grits with a side of bacon. I'll see ya'll later.

The Worst of Both


I was just on the phone with my father. He loves my way with words and told me he was going to tell everyone in the family what I said just below in our conversation.

"Dammit, Dad. I got the worst of both you and mom," I told him as I chuckled.

We had been discussing how things were going lately and this little gem of self awareness blurted out of my mouth.

"I got your laissez faire attitude about life and I got mom's mental illness and obsessive compulsiveness. I am just screwed."

My father laughed and laughed. As if it was really a laughing matter. Sometimes you have to smile at your foibles, though.

"Your brother says all three of you got some of it," he replied.

"Yeah, but they made doctors," I furthered. "I haven't made anything yet."

"You do damn good to have gone through what you have," Dad said, trying to bolster my spirits. "I am very proud of you."

That made me feel good and I look forward to seeing him tonight when he gets back in town. My cheerleading section has been on vacation and he has been sorely missed.

Gregarious

I have heard the old saying that dogs take on the personality of their owners. That certainly isn't true for Maggie and me. She is such a gregarious little soul. I am terribly shy.

This morning, I was sitting on the porch, early, smoking my first cigarillo, vanilla hinted. Joyce came bounding out of her house with a perky gait full of conversation. Maggie's tail immediately began to wag and she whined, longing to run over and greet her. My first inclination is to mutter, "Oh shit, I am going to have to make small talk," as I am overcome with a feeling of dread. I always end up really enjoying our talks despite my social anxiety. Joyce and I are two peas in a pod I am starting to learn.

"Do your medications make you sleepy?" Joyce asked me once again this morning. I guess she had forgotten she had asked me this before.

"Terribly," I replied. "Charlie brought them over last night and I was soon in the bed after taking them. I then usually get up at five."

"Me and you are a lot alike," Joyce said. "My Tegretol makes me terribly sleepy and I then get up at five as well for breakfast."

Maggie sat this whole time so happy, wanting to go over and greet Joyce. Joyce then did her customary baby-talk encouraging Maggie to get overly excited.

"How's my girl?" She said in her high pitched voice.

Maggie was in ecstasy.

"Well, I have to go open up the church and turn on the air conditioning," Joyce said, climbing into her car. "Do you need anything while I am out?"

"No," I replied. "Thank you so much for asking, though."

I watched as Joyce drove off to do God's work and Maggie didn't quit wagging her tail and whimpering until her car disappeared around the corner. I will say again that she is such a gregarious little soul. I wish I shared the alacrity with which she greets people. I want to take on the personality of my dog and not vice versa as the old saying goes. It's a dog's life they say.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Muddling

I realized this wasn't going to work the moment I heard him speak. His voice was like fingernails rasping across a chalkboard. I would have to talk to this person often on the phone. I hate to be so petty, but it was the truth. I hated that voice. Our avenue for our meeting was also suspect being a burger joint due to his request. McDonald's. Gross. I imagined many meetings here at this scourge of culinary crassness over my preferred coffee and omelet at the Waffle House.

"I know this great guy," Wanda had said on the phone. "I think he would be a great sponsor for you. Meet us for lunch."

He was near my age. He had gotten sober at twenty-five. Can you imagine? I didn't know my ass from a hole in the wall at twenty-five, let alone having the soundness of mind to get sober at such an early age. Drinking and getting drunk was cool then. All my friends got drunk and stoned. I would have been a social pariah by abstaining.

"How long have you been sober?" He asked me over fries and ketchup, spilling some on his shirt.

"I don't keep count these days," I said, long ago having quit practicing the chip system of A.A. "It's been awhile."

I could tell he didn't like my answer at all. It was just a major hurdle for me to show up for this so I didn't care. I just wanted to go home, curl up in the chair on my porch, and read chapter twenty of my book. I was doing this for my dear friend, Wanda. I have not had my mind much on Alcoholics Anonymous anyway.

"So what did you think?" Wanda asked as we walked out to our cars in the parking lot.

"He was cool," I replied out of niceness and respect. The guy did take the time out of his life to meet me and I owed Wanda this much.

"Do you think you can see him as your sponsor?"

I just knew she was going to ask this awkward question. It is the story of my social anxiety riddled life. They always ask the hard questions.

"I am not ready for a new sponsor, yet," I replied. "I am still getting over Tim."

It came out sounding as if me and Tim were lovers and I was recovering from a terrible and tumultuous breakup. I cringed at my own words. It was weak and I could see the disappointment in Wanda's face.

"Think it over," she said, crawling into her old Ford Crown Victoria as I stood in the parking lot. "Give it some time. I think you two would be great."

I had never been so glad to get in my car and drive home. The whole ordeal was nerve wracking, but I muddled through. Bless Wanda's heart, but this one just wasn't going to work.

Blurring the Line

I do not know when Rosa and me blurred the line of friendship and a more serious relationship. I do know that most good friends of the opposite sex do not hold hands or snuggle on the couch. Such intimacy is reserved for more serious and sexual relationships. And yet we do not have a sexual relationship. I made myself very clear to Rosa early on that I am functionally dysfunctional sexually due to the medications for my mental illness. I have no interest in sex these days, nor do I miss it. This doesn't stop her from lacing our conversations with sexual innuendo, though. She takes great satisfaction out of seeing me blush and squirm, and can be very crass about it at times.




What brought this on was me reading my post the other day where Rosa, me, and her granddaughter were in the car. I said sorry and Rosa reached for my hand. It felt so natural at the time. Normally, such intimacy would make me uncomfortable, but with Rosa it feels sublime. It was as normal as the sun coming up in the morning or the katydids calling on a Southern summer's night.


Rosa and me did sleep together once. I broke with my sobriety and drank copious amounts of beer. She joined in on the party and we both ended up drunk and naked in the bed. There was a most extreme feeling of uncomfortableness when I woke up sober and hung-over in the morning and realized what had happened. It almost ruined our friendship and there was a tenuous few weeks of us avoiding each other intermixed with emotionally charged arguing. Somehow, our friendship weathered the rocky shores that were the banks of our indiscretions and we never slept together again.

One Out of Two


Dinner was pasta last night. I love the ritual of the cooking of a good pasta sauce – the house filled with wonderful aromas after the sauce simmers on the stove for hours. When I was child, I would always be dismayed with how my mother prepared her pasta. She would break it up into little pieces before boiling it – travesty! One of the important rituals in eating good pasta is carefully twirling the long strands upon the fork, making sure to get a chunky piece of tomato or some ground beef with every bite. That smell of garlic, basil, and grated parmesan is almost always intoxicating. I could easily become a food addict now that I am sober these days.

As I was making my way home from my early morning walk, I thought of what I wanted in life. Pasta. Cooking. And someone to share it with. I could curl up with a friend on the couch and watch hours of The Food Network getting ideas for our next culinary foray into the kitchen. We would sit eating pasta as we talked of our day. "Pass the parmesan and grater," she would say. I would smile as I asked her if she would like another bowl, taking great satisfaction out of her enjoyment of the meal. I realized there was no greater relationship magic than sharing a bowl of pasta between friends and ample, good conversation. I do not have much hope of ever finding this combination of conversational and culinary bliss, but I do take comfort in knowing that the next bowl of pasta is always only a few hours of cooking away. One out of two ain't that bad.