Category Archives: abusive relationships

Horrid Little Men

We returned to the coffee shop we’d been to the previous day and people watched.

Lynn commented, not for the first time, that the Botero statue of the fat man with a little dick dressed as a gladiator reminded her of a certain president.  “Such a horrid little man,” she said.

This was the second time this day she had used the phrase “horrid little man.”  Over lunch we’d had a long conversation about the Me Too movement and our different experiences.

Lynn’s mum had made it clear to her three daughters that they should put up with no nonsense from anyone.  “Remember, you’re a Rutter!” her mother would admonish them.  Rutter is Lynn’s last name, no relation to the famous composer.

“We didn’t even know what that meant,” Lynn said, “But it had its effect.  When Jan and I were traveling around Europe …” (Jan is her older sister) “… when I was 17, we slept on a hillside in Italy with a bunch of other broke young people who were sleeping rough.

“I woke up in the middle of the night to find a bloke unzipping my sleeping bag.”

“Did you know him?  What did you do?” I asked.

“No, I didn’t know him! I yelled at him—‘Get away from me, you horrid little man!’  It just came out of my mouth.  I don’t think any bloke wants to be called ‘little.’”

“What did he do?”

“He scurried away.  I went back to sleep.  No one bothered me again.”

“And no one ever hit on you at work, ever?”

“I don’t think so,” Lynn replied thoughtfully.  “If they did, I didn’t realize it.”

“Well if you had had any of the experiences I’ve had, there would be no doubt about what was going on,” I replied drily.

I wrote a post last November detailing some of the incidents where men have stalked, groped, exposed themselves, or otherwise sexually harassed me, including at work.

I think, due to my early childhood experiences, I had a big V for “vulnerable” or “victim” stamped on my forehead until just a few years ago.  My mother never told me, “Don’t forget—you’re a Maertz!”  But then, she had been an abused woman herself.

As I write this, a month after this trip, Colombia is in the news because its peace process is in danger of falling apart.  The US is trying to extradite one of the FARC leaders to face cocaine trafficking charges.  The 2016 peace deal promised immunity to FARC leaders, all of whom were wanted in the US, if they quit the drug trade.  The US says that Seuxis Hernandez-Solarte (great name!) has continued in the coke biz. FARC claims the US and Colombia are in cahoots to frame him.

Sigh.  More fat men playing at gladiators. And why was the drug trade so lucrative?  What was the economic incentive?  It was the US demand for drugs. And rather than get people into drug treatment which would have dried up demand, we tried to arrest and incarcerate our way out of the problem.  My son is Exhibit A.  What a waste of lives, money, and time, in both countries.

We had a last supper with Roxana and Ricardo and Gaby at the same restaurant we’d enjoyed the previous night.

The next day we would fly to Santa Marta, on the northern coast.  We would have to make a connection in Bogota.  Someone would pick us up in Santa Marta and drive us to Tayrona National Park.  It became unclear from that point out, but somehow we would then spend an hour traveling on foot or by horse into this park.  It was going to be a long day.

The driver didn’t arrive at the agreed time, 7:30am.  He hadn’t showed by 7:45, so I What’s App’d Responsible Travel.  It was an hour-long drive to the Medellin airport, there was only one route, and we had seen miles of backed up traffic going in the other direction on our way in.  If we didn’t get to the airport it would set off a cascade of missed connections and we didn’t want to know where that would land us tonight.

Over the Hills

One of my proposals was due in two days and things had gone seriously off piste. It may be that, because we are essentially a mental health organization, we have a way of working that is consultative in the extreme.  When people edit drafts of proposals they never comment, “This number should be 50.”  Instead they write, “I sort of think this number could be 50, but what does everyone else think?”  And then everyone piles on and adds comments until all the edits look like the Babylonian Talmud.

I often suggest that people jump on Skype and talk to each other and make decisions, but with time differences and poor internet and … well … Skype—the program we love to hate—that’s challenging.

A colleague had offered to incorporate everyone’s comments into the proposal.  I just had to give it a once-over to cut down the length and make sure it was clear and responded to the donor’s intent and requirements.  I was free to go with Lynn on an excursion the next day.

The next day.  An email from my colleague to the whole group, “I’m sick and there’s no way I can do these edits. I’m sorry!  I’m signing off now.”

Shit.  It was on me now.

“Will there be internet at the venue?” I asked Lynn.  She didn’t know; Richard Googled it and the website didn’t say anything about internet.

“But it’s an event venue,” Lynn reasoned.  “It has to have internet.”

“Agreed.  It has to have internet.”

Lynn is on the board of Grampian Women’s Aid, one member of a consortium of Scottish domestic abuse organizations.  The event was a celebration marking their 40 years of providing refuge for survivors and advocating for stronger laws to protect women and children.

It took us an hour to get to there.  Richard had hand-drawn a map for us; I held it and nervously called out the turns.  “Left before this bridge!”  “Right after the abandoned pub!”  We only got slightly lost once, which is amazing for Lynn and me.  Why didn’t we use a GPS?  I don’t recall, but we passed through one of the most wild, empty areas of Scotland.  An old-school GPS wouldn’t have known about the washed-out bridge; a smart phone-based app needs 3G, which was iffy in some areas.

I’m looking at a map of Aberdenshire now, trying to figure out where we were. I love the names but none of them sound familiar: Haugh of Glass.  Glenkindie Towie. Bellabeg Strathdon. Longmorn Fogwatt. We may have been in Cairngorns National Park.  I don’t know.

We passed this creepy gate.  I hope it was a joke.

I can’t recall the name of the venue, but it was lovely.  We met some of the other board members in the café to have lunch before the event, which was redundant because there was so much great food at the event.  More great food!  Here is my lunch.  A fresh fish fest!  I forgot all about my proposal.

But after lunch reality hit and while Lynn and her fellow volunteers were setting up, I tried to get an internet connection.  This was complicated by the fact that my laptop battery has been dead for five years so it has to be plugged in.  I walked around with it and finally got an off-on connection and an electric outlet in a back room.

People think everybody, everywhere, is online.  Well everybody isn’t, and doesn’t.  People in Ethiopia.  People in rural Scotland.  People in Nebraska.  Poor people.  Elderly people.  Me.

But I managed to just focus’til I got ‘er done then got enough of a connection to send it off.

The event was very moving.  About 100 women and men were in attendance, including one of the local lords and a woman politician.  This is artwork by children in refuge.

The most memorable speaker was a woman who had been involved from the start.

The food was fantastic and provided gratis by the caterer.

I felt grateful.  A former battered woman myself, I was now eating strawberry and cream tarts in Scotland to celebrate 40 years of aid to battered women.  There is so much good work being done in this world by so many.

High Rolling

It’s Super Bowl Sunday.  Yawn.  I don’t care about sports but I’ll watch the game because it’s in Minneapolis and I want to see how Minnesota is portrayed in the media.

The game has temporarily escalated prices for everything, and people are scrambling to take advantage.  My landlord rented out the duplex above me to two Canadian brothers in town for the game.  I’m sure she’s getting a packet o’ money.  If they want to borrow a cup of sugar, it’s gonna cost ‘em $500.  Just kidding!  We Minnesotans are as nice as our neighbors to the north.

My mind has been casting back to Super Bowl 1992, which was the last time Minneapolis hosted.  I had ended a long-term abusive relationship with a rich man by getting a restraining order against him.  I lived in St. Paul and he lived in another state but he still managed to stalk and harass and beat me.  I fully acknowledge my participation in this; I got on planes and flew out to see him.  I allowed him to stay in my apartment and Vince was exposed to things he never should have been.

I can’t believe it was me.  It’s like it happened to another person.  I was a zombie.

The last time the police had taken photos of my bruises they had urged me to get an order for protection.

“We can’t touch him because he lives in [another state],” the cop said.  “If he was a loser, an order might escalate the situation but with rich guys who’ve got a lot to lose, it shuts them down good.”

And it did.  I knew the moment the order was delivered because the phone rang and after a long silence, click, then nothing but peace.  Release.  I started my life over.  To be on the safe side, literally, I bought my little first house and made sure the address was unlisted.

A few months later, on Super Bowl Sunday, I opened my front door and there he was on my door step.  Not in person, but in a front-page full-color edge-to-edge photo in the Minneapolis Star Tribune.  The image is emblazoned in my mind.  He was posing with one foot on the bumper of a limousine, raising a glass of champagne toward the camera as if to say, “Ha ha, Anne!  Look at the lifestyle you spurned!”

The article was nauseating.  He really had terrible taste.  Me—I may not have a lot of money—but I have good taste.  There are certain things you can’t buy: good taste, depth of character, a clean conscience, wisdom, kindness, pride, joy, and love.

People like him don’t have the bracing travel experiences I’ve had because they never stay in hostels, or take the bus, or meet normal locals.

I’ve told a few people this story lately because the Super Bowl is all anyone is talking about.  I began to wonder if I imagined the whole thing, but I didn’t.  The archive where I just had to pay to download the article didn’t include the photo and that’s probably a good thing.

Published: January 26, 1992
Section: NEWS
Page#: 01A

The weekend belongs to a wave of high rollers

By Randy Furst; Staff Writer

Meet Dr. Dale Helman, Monterey, Calif., self-described high roller.

The 32-year-old neurologist was tooling around the Twin Cities Saturday afternoon in a blue-and-gold chauffeur-driven 1962 Rolls that rents for $1,200 a day.

He’s here for the Super Bowl and because he needed someplace to spend some money.

He says he made the trip to the Super Bowl because he needed a $10,000 tax writeoff: “On Dec. 30, my tax accountant said I have 36 hours to get an entertainment deduction.” In a New Year’s Eve rush, Helman bought four tickets to the game over the phone from Ticket Exchange, a ticket broker in Phoenix, Ariz.

“I offered him the 40-yard line, but he said it wasn’t good enough,” said John Langbein, owner of Ticket Exchange. “I offered him the 50-yard line, three rows up, but he said that was too low. I offered him the 50-yard line, 30 rows up; he said that was too high. I finally got him the 50-yard line, 20 rows up.” The price: $1,550 a ticket.

Helman wanted only the best seats. He said he’ll write the trip off because he’s taking three neurologist friends to the game and plans to discuss neurology with them “in the limo. . . . Maybe at halftime we’ll talk about the neurology of football injuries.” He also went to Minneapolis Veterans Medical Center yesterday afternoon in his limo to interview a neurologist for a position on his staff.

“It is rare that I get a weekend off, but when I get a weekend off I play hard,” said Helman, who flew first class from San Francisco on Friday night. He and his buddies went to a Champps sports bar, where they met some Buffalo Bills cheerleaders.

He calls his visit “clean fun.”

He was headed last night to the Taste of the NFL, a $75-a-plate dinner.

High rollers in cabs Some high rollers don’t like to walk or find the temperatures a bit too bracing for a stroll. Many hail cabs for one- or two-block trips. Cabbies complain that many of the visiting bigshots are playing it cheap, too, with tips in the $1 to $2 range.

Rollers on the rocks

As many as 900 of the highest of high rollers ventured onto Curt Carlson’s frozen private lake yesterday for an exclusive party outside Carlson Companies headquarters. A 130-seat TGI Fridays was erected on the lake so partygoers could eat and drink. Outside, they rode snowmobiles, a hot-air balloon, horse-drawn sleighs and an eight-dog sled. Former Olympic figure skater Dorothy Hamill gave skating lessons, and polar explorer Will Steger narrated a slide show about his Antarctic expedition.

Some praised the advantages of the cold weather. “The germs are all gone,” declared Norah Farris of Dallas. But not everyone was dressed for the occasion. Nina Pellegrini of San Francisco tried her hand at ice sailing in a full-length white fox fur coat. The party was sponsored by Carlson Companies, CBS and Coca-Cola. The plutocracy was out in force: CBS President Howard Stringer, Curt Carlson, Minnesota Twins owner Carl Pohlad, Northwest Airlines Cochairman Al Checchi, financier Irwin Jacobs and First Bank Chairman John Grundhofer.

Rollers come first, uh huh!

At the Winter Carnival ice slide near the State Capitol, there was nearly a revolt yesterday when Pepsi officials reserved time on the slide at 10 a.m. for Pepsi executives. Pepsi contributed $1 million for the ice castle. But by 10:30, more than 100 average citizens had lined up at the slide and weren’t being allowed to take their turns. Some angry people started shouting, “Coke! Coke!” After about 15 minutes of failing the good-taste test, Pepsi execs decided to let common folks ride, too.

A fitting feast

A 600-glass pyramid of cascading champagne opened the Taste of the NFL yesterday at the International Centre in Minneapolis. The program raised $100,000 for the poor, but the participants didn’t do too poorly, either. About 1,500 people dined on alligator, duck pastrami and assorted delicacies. Admission was $75. Organizers overcame several last-minute crises, including a case of the missing scallops, needed for 1,100 entrees prepared by a chef from Cafe Annie in Houston. It was miraculously delivered 10 minutes before the 6 p.m. opening.

Ice jam Traffic congestion became a nightmare in St. Paul yesterday thanks to the Winter Carnival Grande Day Parade. Shuttle bus service was backed up much of the day, requiring waits of up to 90 minutes. And bus service from the ice palace to downtown Rice Park was stopped for several hours during the parade. 

Your taxes at work

Super Bowl fans will be treated to some high-flying antics, including a possible coin toss in the weightlessness of space, by the astronauts aboard space shuttle Discovery, according to the Associated Press. The astronauts plan to make a brief television appearance during the pregame show.

CBS Sports commentators Greg Gumbel and Terry Bradshaw will chat with the shuttle crew in a TV hookup arranged by NASA.

Oops!

On Jan. 15, 1982, shortly before the Dome opened, an article appeared on Page 1 of the sports section in the now-defunct Minneapolis Star. It began: “If you think the Jan. 24 Super Bowl in chilly Pontiac, Mich., means that Minneapolis might someday be host for the football ritual, don’t bet on it. According to officials of the National Football League, the city’s nearly completed Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome is just too small to hold a Super Bowl crowd.” The author of the article was Randy Furst. Oh well.

Staff Writers Jean Hopfensperger, Joe Kimball, Dave Phelps and Ellen Foley contributed to this article.

Lady Day

Lynn, Richard, Possum, and I made our way into the Wyndham, got some drinks, then headed into the auditorium.

The show was Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill.  The premise is that Billie Holliday, the American jazz icon, is performing at a run-down bar in Philadelphia right before she dies, age 44, in 1959.  It’s a two-hour monologue and song book, accompanied by a man who plays the piano, tries to stop her from shooting up, then procures heroin for her.

I don’t go to a lot of live theatre.  It always feels to me like people are talking in a stilted way: “Look at me—I’m acting!”  I was leery about going to any American show in Britain.  On my first trip to England, my cohort of volunteers—who were from all over Europe and Asia—insisted on going to a west end musical involving a loud-mouthed Texan in a big hat.  There was also lots of waving and shooting of guns.  I squirmed through the whole thing.  The group members loved it and laughed all night about “typical Americans.”

Lady Day would be performed by Audra McDonald, with actual audience members on stage as though they were customers at the bar.  This was a bit strange, since McDonald and the musicians were dressed in period costumes, while the customers/audience members were dressed in contemporary clothes.

We were seated at a café table right below the stage.

I loved Billie Holliday as much as anyone; I had listened to her songs over and over, especially in my angst-ridden 30s, but would I be able to sit through two hours of angst?  And my chair was wobbly!

Then McDonald began her performance, and within moments all distractions melted away and I was riveted.  I knew Billie Holliday’s story—raped as a child, raised by a single mother, addicted to drugs and alcohol, did prison time, full of regret over not having children and a string of abusive relationships.

McDonald’s voice was well up to the task of Holliday’s songs; when the first strains of “Strange Fruit” began I teared up instantly.

Southern trees bear strange fruit

Blood on the leaves and blood at the root

Black bodies swinging in the southern breeze

Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees

 

Pastoral scene of the gallant south

The bulging eyes and the twisted mouth

Scent of magnolias, sweet and fresh

Then the sudden smell of burning flesh

 

Here is fruit for the crows to pluck

For the rain to gather, for the wind to suck

For the sun to rot, for the trees to drop

Here is a strange and bitter crop

So the show was about Holliday’s life, but also about racism in America, and the lot of being a famous woman performer, and love, and addiction. Believe it or not she was also very funny.  I wanted to run up onto the stage and hug McDonald/Holliday, tell her everything was going to be alright and that I would take her home and take care of her.

I didn’t find myself feeling defensive about the theme of racism.  In fact, just the opposite.  Racism is a reality in America and always has been.  It’s something we’ve had to struggle with, collectively.  We’ll probably never see the end of it.  I’d like to think that as older generations die off, younger ones will be less racist, but the crowds in Charlottesville at the white supremacist rally last year were mainly young men.

So why would I feel proud of my country?  Because at least half of us are fighting this shit. At least half of us are fighting back–marching, writing essays, lobbying our elected officials in opposition to racism and other “isms.”

The performance ended; we looked at each other and I spoke first, “I feel like a wrung out rag!”

“That was intense,” said Richard.

“I’m exhausted!” said Lynn,

Added Possum, “I never knew!”

We went back to the hotel, ordered some wine, and talked for hours about racism in our respective countries.

Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill was made into a TV show; if you want to watch it it’s here.

Have a box of Kleenex handy.

Stories as Old as Time

This is a series of posts about Italy, Malta, and Spain that starts here.

The Borghese, pronounced borrrr-geh’-see-ah, was once a private estate originally owned by a cardinal who was the nephew of a pope.  There was a lot of money to be made in the Catholic Church 500 years ago, which is partly what sparked the Reformation.

The gallery is one building in a sprawling complex.  There was the villa itself, where successive owners lived before the last ones bequeathed it to the state.  There were parks filled with statuary and fountains, and then there was the gallery.  I didn’t see the villa, but I imagine it isn’t too shabby.  So if you were lucky enough to live here in the 17th Century, the gallery was your own private art museum.

My group of a dozen New Yorkers, Floridians, Hoosiers, Ottowans, and one Dutch couple were led around efficiently by our guide, Mario, who said he was an art student.  He was around 35, so I think he may have meant he was a lifelong student of art.

The first room featured a sculpture by Bernini, the Rape of Persephone (by Hades, the king of hell).  According to Mario, they “lived happily ever after.”  Really.

rape-of-persephone

Despite the repulsive subject, I couldn’t help but marvel at the lifelike bodies carved out of a block of solid marble.  Look at Hades’ fingers sinking into Persephone’s flesh.

rape-of-persephone-2

The Rape was the centerpiece in the room, but every inch of the room was covered with art.  Even the walls, floors, and doors were works of art because they had been painted to look like marble or other precious materials.  I wondered how much just one of the friezes above the door would be worth, and what anonymous artist had produced it.

In a hallway, there were these 3D murals on the ceiling:

3d

The next room featured another guy (Apollo), who couldn’t keep his hands off a woman (Daphne) who had said “No.”  She pleaded for help to her father, the river god Ladon; and he turned her into a tree.  How did Bernini know where to start?  How did he carve the arms and fingers without cracking one off?

apollo-and-daphne

We passed through an enormous room that was closed for renovation, but we stopped to appreciate the ceiling; this is one small section:

ceiling

There was a sculpture of Napolean’s sister Pauline, who was married to a Borghese for the political alliance. Note the wrinkles in the marble “mattress.”

pauline-b

Then there were the paintings by Caravaggio.  This one had been banned because it depicted Mary with cleavage and was unflattering of her mother, Anne.  Full frontal male nudity, I guess, was not a problem.

caravaggio

Continuing along the rape theme, there was this painting of Susanna being raped by the elders.

rape-of-shoshana

The painting below depicts a virtuous vs. sinful woman. It’s not what you think—the naked one is virtuous because she isn’t hiding anything.  You know us women–always keeping important secrets from men.

virgin-whore

After an hour and a half, Mario said we could walk around by ourselves until our timed ejection at 2pm.  I had read about a statue by Bernini called The Hermaphrodite—female from behind, male in front. Mario had led us past it without comment and it was pushed against a wall—for modesty’s sake?  Was male nudity deemed unseemly when it was an adult?  But there were plenty of other statues of naked men throughout the gallery.  Was it because of the gender fluidity of the statue?

hermaphrodite

I had not expected to encounter these themes of rape, of women being objects for barter and use by men, and of the mixed attitudes toward nudity. Aside from The Hermaphrodite, I didn’t go looking for any of these works; they were highlights of the gallery featured on the tour. Mario didn’t interpret or make any sociopolitical commentary.

Open a newspaper anywhere, any day, and there will be stories about rape and human trafficking and women being killed by stalkers. I’m not one to say “nothing ever changes.” The world is safer and saner in many ways than it was four hundred years ago.  But art suggests that human nature, emotions, and impulses don’t change.

 

When Worlds Collide

I’ve been writing a series of posts about traveling in Cuba that starts here. I am pausing that for a day to write about an unsettling experience where my worlds collided.

I volunteer with the Minnesota International NGO Network, or MINN. MINN is composed of Minnesota companies and nonprofits that work overseas, like my employer, the Center for Victims of Torture (CVT).

Last year MINN launched a class called MINNspire, which helps 50-somethings to explore doing something abroad. This could be anything from volunteering with Peace Corps, to teaching English as a second language, to consulting on communications, as I have done. MINN isn’t there to find them placements; we’re there to guide them through the thought process. I led one of the four sessions last year and will do the same this year—I think.

I was excited that we had 18 people registered—about twice the number as last year. It’s kind of a big commitment to come to something after work, in the dark, during the winter.

I walked in and said hi to my friend Carolyn, one of the four facilitators of the class. There were already two students in the room. Carolyn said to me, in a way that told me we might have an “issue”, “Something really interesting happened with registration. I spoke to a Rotary Club that happened to have a lot of members of the DOC, and we’ve got 10 people from the DOC registered for the class.”

The Department of Corrections. The people I never wanted anything to do with, ever again.

I had come from work, where I had spent the day writing about Eritrean torture survivors. Eritrea is known as the “North Korea of Africa.” They have forced conscription, which means every young man must join the military or go to prison. In the military, they are worked like slaves and their service is indefinite. If they try to escape, Eritrea throws them into underground prisons where they are tortured. If they make it to Ethiopia, they wind up in refugee camps with no future, and their family back home is persecuted. Sometimes they try fleeing to Israel, the one country that reluctantly takes them in, but often they are caught by—essentially—desert pirates called Rashida who hold them for ransom, torturing them while their families listen helplessly on the other end of the phone.

As you might imagine, a lot of Eritrean torture survivors have PTSD, and that is where CVT comes in. We provide trauma therapy and we hope to add physical therapy next year.

So I was writing about this all day and then I stepped into a room of people who had been my and my son’s tormentors for a year and a half.

I am in no way comparing what I went through to what Eritreans have endured. My point is that I know firsthand what a flashback feels like. A surge of adrenaline surged through me. My heart started racing and my palms got sweaty. I felt a powerful urge to bolt.

“I figure if I was a prison warden for 20 years, I can do anything!” one of the women exclaimed. The thought of her volunteering in an orphanage made me uneasy.

“My son just finished the boot camp program,” I told them. Might as well get it out there before she said something that would cause me shoot my mouth off. They oohed and ahhed said what a great program that was.

Carolyn knows my back story and has a high EQ.   She emailed later:

“I would never imagine that you would come face to face with your oppressor in MINNspire.  I mean, last year you were in Palestine, looking for ways to collaborate, professionally, with enemies of the Jewish state and now you come to St Paul and you are asked to teach the people whom you’ve written about for years.

“ I have to shake my head at what the universe is throwing at you.  But if anyone can handle it, you can.”

I hope she’s right, because I thought about backing out of the class but I’ve decided to stick it out.  I’ll keep you posted.

From AA to LA

This is the eighth and final post in a series that begins here.

Vince went to live with my mother, and I attended outpatient chemical dependency treatment.  If you are in the “helping professions”—social work, psychotherapy—or if you even just have common sense and empathy, you won’t be surprised to learn that I wasn’t an alcoholic.

The expectation had been that I would go through pregnancy, birth, and adoption without any support, then go on as though nothing had happened.  People seemed surprised that I was sad and angry.  They were uncomfortable when I talked about it.

“You signed the papers; it’s over—why keep bringing it up?  Just don’t think about it.”

Alcohol is a time-honored stress reliever in such dissonant situations.

Sobriety—and a break from being a full-time mother and student—helped clear my head and face my emotions.  I spent the month working the Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous and reading piles of self help books, and doing all the other things people do to get back on track.

After a month Vince came home.  What–you were expecting some big drama?  Sorry.  In Minnesota we don’t like drama.  In fact we are all about avoidance of discomfort, or as I call it, “reality.”

I didn’t drink for a couple years.  I went to AA, where the members often listened to my story skeptically and said, “I don’t think you’re an alcoholic.”  I should have been referred to Alanon, which is for family members and friends of alcoholics.  People impacted by alcoholic behavior act just as crazy as their alcoholics, but there’s no rehab for them.  In fact I can recall my mother complaining that my dad got to go to “that country club”—Hazelden, a rehab center nestled on a lake with a pool, wooded walking trails, and tennis courts—while she stayed home with the four kids, the house, and the bills.

I got a job, moved out of the hi-rise, and started paying back my student loans.  Vince began school and, while his grades were never great, he was popular with teachers and students.   I made sure he brushed his teeth and washed behind his ears.  I took him to baseball practice, religious school, and family functions.  We watched Dr. Who together and went on little road trips to Lake Superior to hunt agates.  You know, normal life.

Every spring I would find myself feeling blue and wonder what was wrong with me.  Then it would hit me: Ah ha!  Isaac’s birthday is coming up.  On Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, I would tear up when they read the story of the sacrifice of Isaac.  Every couple of years I would send a letter to be placed in his file, knowing it would probably never be read.  When my mother talked about how many grandchildren she had, didn’t count Isaac.  Intellectually, I knew this was the whole point—that it remain forever a secret—but to me he was always out there, somewhere.

When Vince was 10, I got entangled with an abusive guy and we ended up losing our home.  Three times in one year, we had to move and Vince had to change schools.  I chose this time to tell him about Isaac.  I thought it comfort him to know he had a brother out there somewhere, assuming he was alive.  Clearly I am not a psychotherapist, or I would have known this would backfire.  Vince was devastated—it was a loss on top of losses.

He met his brother, eventually, and some day one or both of us will write about that.

Did these events have a permanent effect on Vince?  They deeply affected me, so why not him, since he was so much younger?  If they did affect him, it’s his job now to delve into them and resolve whatever leftover effects may be holding him back, which is what he seems to be doing in AA.

Thanks for reading this series.  Several people have commented offline that it’s been emotional to read.  I’m ready for a happier subject for the next post: my plans for a road trip to New Orleans!