The trip Outside and back again was well worth it; I’m satisfied with my purchase, and everything unfolded without a hitch. I haven’t experienced summer in the lower 48 since I left it seven years ago. The air smelled familiar, of back-to-school and hay and warm asphalt. Cupping and slicing the heat with my fingers while sailing from state to state, I felt grateful for the memories provoked by my senses.
Still, it’s good to be back home. Did anyone miss me? Eight messages on my machine confirmed my importance. I act hassled when confronted with business affairs--wedding gigs, orchestra rehearsals, and lesson inquiries--but secretly I cherish the attention I get from my trade. Someone wants what I can give, and this is good.
So it’s back to school, is it? Time to polish the shoes and sharpen the pencils. Spiral bound notebooks and crisp method books for the students, new stickers and receipt books for me. The end-of-summer dread that has accompanied August for most of my life is gone, now that I’ve found a career that I can anticipate instead of loathe. Teaching brings me joy.
Having progressed from student to teacher, now I’m donning the role of student again as I enroll in college violin lessons for the first time in twelve years. Has it really been that long? Can an old dog in fact learn new tricks? He must, or stamp out his existence once and for all, for what is life without growth?
"Did you know the speed limit was 80 kilometers per hour?"
"I'm having problems judging my speed in this new car."
"There's numbers there on the dash, eh?"
"Yeah, I saw that."
"When was the last time you got a speeding ticket?"
"Oh gosh, when I was twenty. That's years. Not kilometers."
So, the sun came out. For almost half a day. I felt so good, I bought a car.
In Colorado Springs.
I cried most of today, thank goodness. I was beginning to get jealous of the sky, who seems to unleash without any effort at all.
The soul needs rain, too. Rain and cocoa.
Dude, you so much as try to mix Kool Aid while sitting next to me on a plane, and I'd tell on you so fast...
Yeah, well you should have seen me in third grade, Emily the Wandering Tattler.
I was feeling anxious today. I get grabbed by an impending sense of doom that I can't shake some days, and then I start canning soup and stockpiling like a stash-happy squirrel on a mission. George will be leaving me for four months this fall, and I don't like the idea of being all alone if something big were to go wrong. I want to be strong and self-sufficient; the best way I can overcome fear is to be active and aggressive against it. Otherwise, I will be spending many evenings incapacitated by worry this fall.
So today I canned a big pot of soup for winter, and I walked around the lake. And again. And again.
Who's going to help me? Who can save me from harm when everything is out of my control? Not many people really know what it's like to be at the mercy of the elements. Money can get you a few things. Maybe. Food stashes are wise. Physical ruggedness can make travel by foot manageable, if necessary. Knowledge can help you build a fire or track down water, if it came down to that. But in the end, all your efforts would be pretty feeble.
What frightens me really is that the God I believe in who loves me doesn't guarantee a suffer-free life. I only know that He's been good to me so far, and perhaps I can bank on His continued providence. I don't know, though.
As I walked by the spruce trees, a chattering of high-pitched "tweee"s caught my ear. Little flitting kinglets were trailing me through the forest. I stopped to watch as they were joined by curious chickadees, who bravely inspected me just out of arm's reach. I observed them for several moments as the flock made its way up and down the dead limbs in search of good eats. They stayed nearby until I decided to continue down the sawdust trail.
Suddenly, it seemed as though all the little wild things made an appearance. Spruce hens flushed into low branches in a startling explosion of feathers and moving air. Busy-body squirrels froze in split-second intervals. Blackbirds, magpies, and woodpeckers all gathered. What is this, Snow White or something? I laughed out loud.
Little birds, who's going to help you? Who's going to save you from harm, when it seems everything's out of your control? You seem to be more vulnerable to the elements than I--yet in some strange fashion, everything's all perfectly orchestrated and running along, just as intended.
Each little bird is well-equipped and surviving. Not only surviving, but singing!
Now that it’s over, I suppose I can begin.
Seven years ago, God put a special place in my heart for an 11-year-old girl named Brittney. We met here at camp during the most depressed point in my life, just as things were beginning to change for the better. She’d recently lost her mother to breast cancer, and was up from California for the summer, visiting relatives and working at our summer camp’s barn with me. It was an unlikely situation, a 24-year-old finding herself befriended by someone so young. I cannot say what drew me to her, or what compelled her to seek me through the following years. Except, it seemed we’d been cut from the same hunk of clay.
She left Alaska, and during the next few years she would call periodically from California, as though begging for a scolding for her impulsive and foolish behavior: first eating disorders, then boys, then alcohol, then drugs. One night, she called frightened because she had mixed the wrong drugs and was having a bad trip. At that point, I began to make plans to get her out of her situation. On May 22nd, she wound up on a flight to Anchorage so she could work with me in the kitchen for the summer. I hoped it would work. At the very least, I could buy her some time.
At first, I believed that I could somehow be strong enough to fight for her. If I could just explain it just right, if I could give a convincing speech, if I could pour out enough love and time into her, she would grow strong and healthy. Apparently, I wasn’t the only one who believed this. Friends from all over came to visit and showered her with gifts and flowers and phone calls.
When she felt weak, I would stay up and listen and talk, or just hold her quiet so she wouldn’t leave in the middle of the night. Perhaps I could change her mind. Perhaps I could make her laugh with my silliness, or perhaps I could distract her just long enough to stay another day. We listened to Clair de Lune and played silly duets on the piano. We turned the radio up loud and drove for miles, and climbed the high peaks and laughed about pixie sticks and imaginary bears. We talked about pain and God and truth and freedom. And when I could think of nothing else to say, I played the violin as she cried on the floor in the dark. I loved her.
For a while, I believed her, too. I felt I had no choice but to trust her, and she felt she had no choice but to lie in order to protect her vice. The day she confessed she’d been on speed the entire previous week, I was completely dumbfounded. I don’t think I’ve ever been betrayed like that before. What do you do once someone has proven to be a liar? How can you ever believe another word they utter? What kind of relationship can you have with a fictional character? From that point onward, I watched the bond we’d shared slowly disintegrate.
People told me that you can’t change someone who is not yet ready to change, and Brittney was not ready to change. Says who? I thought to myself, and I continued to try, though the forces that work against good were larger than I thought. Old contacts in California had bought her a plane ticket home, and every time I talked her out of using it, she held it over my head, postponed until the next impulse arose. I stopped trying to convince her to stay and told her if she chose to leave, the door was open. But if she walked away, I wanted no further contact from her until she had been sober for one year; she could not have both drugs and a relationship with me. I think that ultimatum may have glued her feet down at least a couple of times, but after five of her attempts, I knew that the departure was inevitable. No amount of my tears would change her heart.
Though the entire summer has been rainy and cool, with only five days of sunshine since it began, this week’s cold, breezy drizzle marked the close of the season, and the fireweed blossoms began to work their way up the stalks. Last night, as I drove to town with Brittney for a soda, I asked her about her latest contact, a former-camp-counselor-turned-heroine-dealer living in Girdwood. He’d taken her out earlier, and I suspected his intentions were not good. As usual, she casually explained it away, and again I wanted to believe her. I wanted to so much, that I actually did. Even so, I offered her my couch for the evening, inviting her to watch a movie, enticing her with freshly washed blankets to block out the dreary damp. “Don’t go with him,” I urged. She paused as she stepped out of the car. “I can handle myself.”
The next morning, when Brittney didn’t show up for work, I went up to her room to see. A bag of garbage. A pile of bedding. A selection of my borrowed belongings scattered on the bed. A bouquet of roses, a card, and a pastel mug on the dresser, all from various friends, all addressed to Brittney. She was gone.
I’m not her savior. I don’t claim to be. I can’t be. She wants none of that, anyway. She is angry, and she is in love with her addiction, and for now she’s hoping that it will save her.
And now I will sleep a long slumber, and try to forget how good she had it, and how she threw it back at me and ran away anyway.
Brittney, if you happen to read this, you know that my couch is always open, and you know the conditions. You also know I love you unconditionally.
30 Days Sober
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