This is going to be the On The Road of blog posts. Imagine it as though it were written on a single roll of butcher paper, at a typewriter, in one sitting. No edits. Porbably the author is a little crazed.

Because I have no time. Because too much has happened. Because I’m so frustrated and angry and sad I can’t breathe, and yet I can’t take time to be those things either.

Because I can’t breathe for real, and so as I eat and drink I find myself gasping for breath, and this head cold has lasted all week so far.

Because Thing Two has pinkeye and an abcessed hand and a sinus infection.

Because Thing One’s eyes are both swollen, under and over, so badly they look like water balloons. Purple, shiny water balloons. He resembles, if anything, the vampires from Buffy, except that it hurts my heart to look at him.

What happened this week is that one of my oldest friends flew out to visit from the East Coast to stay with me and ostensibly help out. He wanted to be useful, I more wanted the moral support. He spent a couple days apparently getting frustrated when he spent time with the kids. Then I walked into the kitchen and found him swigging from the bottle of Pastis.

He’s an alcoholic.

He’s been recovering for nine years.

This is what happened: I walked in, noticed, but didn’t jump all over him. Instead, I made a trivial remark on a different topic. He leaped off the chair he was standing on (the alcohol is high up), bottle in hand and behind back, and edged toward the door, then went upstairs. I went to the bottom of the stairs.

“Is that the Pastis?”

“Ye-es.”

“You know, that’s really hard to get.”

“I’ll get you some more.” (Retreats toward attic room where he is sleeping.)

“John?”

“Yeah.”

“You need to bring that bottle downstairs. Now.”

Now, I don’t have a lot of experience with alcoholism or alcoholics (I do think that K. has a problem with alcohol, but I don’t think it’s his primary problem). However, after he zipped downstairs, replaced the bottle, then ran back up, muttering, “Long story. Shameful stuff. Long story,” I decided that two things were probably wise: 1)not to bury my head in the sand, and 2)not to leave the booze out.

So I hid it. As best I could. On the bottles that were harder to hide or went into worse hiding places, I used a Sharpie to mark the fill line. On the label, so it couldn’t be scrubbed off. Yeah, I know that these things can be diluted. But I figured it was something.

We did have a talk that night, a talk in which he assured me that this was only the second time he’d relapsed in nine years, a talk in which he told me he didn’t want me to tell his family and I told him that I couldn’t be complicit in keeping that kind of secret. I suggested he go to a meeting and went and found him one the next day at noon. He expressed concern that he would be missing picking up Thing One at school, which he had been slated to do as a favor to me. I told him not to worry about it. Then I got on the phone and machinated wildly, calling in favors and cobbling together a schedule that would have a friend picking my kid up and keeping him for a bit and my mom getting him and bringing him to our house on the bus. I had to attend a workshop on campus that day, you see, and K. was supposed to come at 3 to do parenting time, and I didn’t want Thing One to miss it (or I would have had a simpler solution).

I was in and out of “Focus on Assessment as a Learning Tool And Blah Blah What the Fuck Ever” all morning, making and taking calls and making this happen. And then popping back in and discussing stupid acronyms for ways to do Learning-Centered Teaching. By eleven I’d nailed it down.

At exactly 12:15, K. called and left a message that he would not be coming because he was sick, had the flu and had been terribly sick since Monday.

Ron, who was in the workshop with me, said, “Hangover!” when I told her. I didn’t think it unlikely, either. Especially since I remember that at four a.m. on Tuesday (late Monday night) he’d been on Facebook posting his five favorite albums with some cheery blurb about them for all his friends to read. He hadn’t seemed sick then.

But, hangover or flu, one thing was clear: he was irresponsible, he was inconsiderate, he was a major spanner in the works. If it were really a flu, why didn’t he call me more than 2 3/4 hours in advance so that I could make other arrangements? I was angry, not least because I didn’t actually feel like leaving Thing One in the care of my obviously destabilized friend (and this made me feel bad, but at least K. has more experience, and also I’m legally obliged to trust him until he proves that trust wrong, whereas I have no such obligation for others. He could have called me Tuesday night. He could have called me earlier. Whatever.

I did talk to him. I didn’t reproach him. I suggested he text me letting me know if he’d be well enough to come Sunday. He said quickly, “Oh, I’ll be fine. I’m going to work tomorow.”

So maybe he believes in recuperating conservatively. Or maybe he was hung over. Or maybe he had something else to do. But most of us parents — we don’t get to call in sick. Particularly when, as his voice suggested, the worst of it was over.

As it was, the wheels were in motion. My mom doesn’t have a cell phone. I could have saved her and Thing One the pain by just having him stay with friends and getting him myself.

So that’s one thing that happened this week. And I did end up telling John’s family, and I don’t think he liked it, but he was making a mysterious effort to make secret purchases at the store and I didn’t think he was on the up-and-up. And the kids didn’t see their father — the sum total was about 3 1/4 hours last Sunday. And my friend and I are uneasy around each other.

He went home yesterday. He seemed all too eager to leave. I was sick and the kids were sick and I didn’t feel up to confronting it, nor did I think that would be strategic.

It’s Sunday again.

Backstory: so the children had shown a lot of interest in a cat. Thing One talks about wanting a pet, and Thing Two is extremely interested in cats. She’s always pointing and bellowing when she hears or sees one on the street. And I work with a woman (she was on my tenure committee, actually) who runs a cat shelter. And I had heard that she had a kind of cat that was less likely to provoke allergies, which Thing One has.

(Oh, my delicate boy! It must be true that boys are more delicate, and I really believe his immune system was fucked over by the toxic mold we had when he was one. Food allergies, asthma, cats, dogs, feathers, dust mites, etc. etc.: he’s got ’em all, and three times this week his head has ballooned.)

Anyway, today was the day. We were going up to get the cat in a small town an hour away. I had explained our situation and my coworker was understanding. We could take the cat, she said, and if it worked out we could keep her; if not, we could return her.

The drive was dreary, though pretty at the end. Our destination was on a steep hill overlooking the river, a view unfortunately marred by I-5 providing a lot of noise and a visual interruption. My coworker led us to the cattery, a small ‘house’ in her backyard. Maybe 100 cubic feet inside, and all of it full as can be of cat dander, for of course she doesn’t leaave the door open and multiple cats live in there.

You can guess what happened: Thing One started to sneeze. I sent him out. We took the cat. By the time we were on the highway he was clawing at his eye. By the time we’d hit the first mile post he was screaming, it was swelling, and I was panicking. It was 11:20.

“Hold me, Mama!” Thing One wailed. “HELP ME!!! AAAAAAGH!!”

“We’re going to be home soon,” I lied. “I can’t stop now; it’s dangerous.”

“Talk to me! HELP ME! I NEED YOU!!!” he wailed.

I tried to talk. I tried to reassure. I tried not to crash.

I called K. I’d been debating whether to do so, but I figured I would need an extra hand, and he was due at 12 (and if I had to wake him up, well, at least he’d be on time this week). I told him that we could pick him up and would call when we got close. I told him that I’d need him to help me take care of Thing One, who was having a bad allergy attack.

Thing One screamed.

We picked up K. at a few minutes to noon, zoomed home. I asked K. to take Thing Two, who showed no signs of allergy, to the nearby pet store and buy some allergy cat shampoo. I took Thing One up, disrobed us both on the front porch, ran into the bath, and rinsed the dander off us both. I administered a second dose of antihistamine (the first had gone down in the car). K. got back and, as instructed, brought a naked Thing Two in and left the cat on the porch. I frantically cleared and cleaned a spot for her (the cat) in the back entry, HEPA vacuumed her bed, which had been sent home with her, then went outside and combed out some of a seemingly endless supply of shedding fur, doused her with allergy wash, brought her in, then quarantined all the dandered clothes.

The cat was actually very tolerant, which gave me an idea. “Will you help me vacuum the cat?” I asked K.

“What?”

“I’ll hold her, and you can vacuum her,” I said. “Should help with the dander.”

“Can I finish my coffee first?” he said.

Finally, we did it. I held the cat. K. vacuumed her with the brush attachment. It seemed to be working well. Thing One sat at the table during this time, snacking (I’d put Thing Two down for a nap in between cleaning forays). We were nearly done when – CRASH – our son hit the floor. Crying.

There I was, covered in dander. “Pick him up,” I said to K. ” Comfort him!”

I finished on my own, removed and washed the vacuum heads. I was about to go shower off the dander, and Thing One had subsided and I was just giving him cheese to go with his crackers, when K. said, “I’m going to take a break on the front porch.”

I looked at our son. His eyes were swollen, discolored, and red. He was traumatized. He had just calmed down.

“The last thing he needs is another allergen,” I said, “Can’t you wait?”

K. was offended. “I’d be happy to brush my teeth afterwards. I just vacuumed your cat,” he said. “I can’t take a three minute break?”

“You vacuumed our son’s cat,” I said, ” so that his allergies, which are flaring, wouldn’t be triggered any more than they already are. He’s not feeling well, he hasn’t seen you all week; he doesn’t need to sit alone and eat while you smoke. He needs you to sit down with him.

He grumbled.

I took my shower.

Thing One came into my room when I came out and played with me.

I got my things ready, finally, after a third cat wash, and said goodbye.

“I’m going to kiss you!” said Thing One. His purple, swollen, bruised little face kissed me on the cheek. Then, as if to establish that he would not take sides, or to assert some equality of affection, he kissed K. on the cheek, too.

And I remembered a conversation we’d had when Thing One crawled into my bed at four this morning:
“Maybe someday we can take my bed over to Daddy’s and I can spend the night,” he’d said. “But you need to stop him from sleeping in my bed. Because that scares me when he does that. That’s not nice. So you need to keep him out of my bed so he doesn’t get scary.”

I had held him and thought about the night to which he referred, the night when I asked K. to settle Thing One and found him passed out in the toddler bed, Thing One standing there pleading to be let back in, and then when I pulled K. out he yelled, “Fuck you! Get the fuck away from me! Fucking fuck you!” and shoved me across the room, several times, as Thing One watched. And I thought that I couldn’t stop Thing One from wanted to sleep over at his daddy’s, but I also couldn’t make his daddy behave.

So today I feel angry and I feel anxious.

I feel anxious that the cat will not work out, that she will make Thing One sick, that it was foolish to try even though I felt that the children needed a pet to love and learn to care for and even though it seemed like it could be possible.

I feel angry that K. is the kind of father who shows up once a week and informs me that since he’s done ME such a favor by helping make the cat safer for Thing One to be around I owe him a smoke break 2 hours into his parenting time.

And, lord help me, I feel angry that Thing One keeps reaching out to his daddy. Because I don’t think there’s much there to reach for. And I know that my relationship with K. and Thing One’s are not the same. But I also know that K. is this guy: the guy who thinks it’s a favor to me. The guy who cancels or is late frequently. The guy who has hit the children, called them names, told him it’s their fault he’s leaving, told them it’s my fault he won’t come see them. The guy with whom I had this conversation (apropos of his asserting that “having a bar would have a ‘positive impact on the world’ last Sunday, when he was over three hours late due to oversleeping):

“You know, don’t you, that you’re not having a positive impact on this world. Right now.”

“I know.”

“What do you think about that?”

“Not everyone can have a positive impact all the time.”

“What do you intend to do about it? This is hard for them.”

“I have no plans.”

—-

Sure, some of it’s me being petty. I feel guilty about that. But more, I feel like this: I feel that I don’t want to watch my kid stand in an empty house at it chars and crumbles around him. And I especially don’t want to watch him try to make a bed there, curl up, and hope it will be okay.

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