And so, just like that, I made another nuclear family for my son, except it was mostly for me. From the very first night we joined Chris in his home with his two sons Shawn and Brandon, we had the missing elements in our lives. We were a mother, father, three brothers, plus, as a bonus, Chris and I had our respective parents. I had found a place Micheal and I could belong. It seemed easy; we already partially belonged to begin with, and we wouldn’t be alone anymore. It felt a little awkward and a bit uncomfortable, but I knew in time familiarity would ease us into normalcy.
I realized our new life would not be without challenges, and that first evening in the kitchen demonstrated the pitfalls awaiting. Grandma and I were figuring what we could put together to feed the children. The cabinets were sparse, but there was plenty of spaghetti, but not enough sauce.
“I’ll run into town and get some more.” I offered.
“That will take too long,” Grandma countered, “these kids are hungry now.”
“I’ll be quick. I’ll be back by the time the spaghetti is done and it won’t take just a minute to warm the sauce up.” It made sense to me, but being unused to living 10 minutes from town I had no comprehension how long running to the store took. Ten minutes to town, ten minutes in the store, ten minutes back home, it all added up to around a half hour, plenty of time to have spaghetti on the table for three hungry children, and that’s the scene I walked into when I got back from the store. Grandma had extended the spaghetti sauce with a can of tomato sauce and a few dried herbs and garlic powder. It wasn’t exactly Ragu, but it was edible with enough parmesan.
I recognized my lack of planning and preparation led to the children not having a menu and meal time in place. I knew I’d have to re-evaluate my priorities if I wanted to keep this new-found security in my life. Adding to my anxiety, the kids were acting up a bit at the table, being silly, making faces at one another and laughing. Micheal, being the oldest, was instigating the scene.
“Micheal, stop it.” I wanted him to be a good example for the other boys, and besides that, I was not in a role where I could discipline Chris’ children as my own. “Straighten up and stop making faces.” All was quiet for a minute or two, but then he began his charade again when I wasn’t looking. I glared at him, but he kept it up.
“I’m not doing anything, Mom.” The
longer it continued, the more uncomfortable I became. It never occurred to me
that my son was dealing with his own discomfort in the way he knew how. However,
it wasn’t long before my frustration reached its limit and I exploded with a
slap to the side my son’s head. The ferocity and suddenness of the blow stunned
everyone in the room. “Stop it! I said, stop IT!!” I half yelled through
Chris looked at me in amazement, “You didn’t need to do that, Jane.” I immediately knew I shouldn’t have done it, but I was too prideful and too afraid to admit my meanness and apologize to my son. I also didn’t realize I was setting a tone for the dynamic between my son and Chris’ sons, and establishing a pattern for my interactions with all three boys. Of the many incidents that filled the sixteen years I spent in that house, this was one I would come to regret deeply.
November 28, 2018
The phone rings. It doesn’t jolt me the way it does when Micheal isn’t in lockup, but the usual thrill of fear rises up as it does every time a call comes in. The phone announces it’s my number three son, Brandon. When I moved in with Chris a little more than thirty years ago, Brandon was still in diapers. Over the years, we have become as close as a stepmother and son can be. I’m glad he’s called me. He has been on my mind since he brought his family for dinner on Thanksgiving. He seemed unusually negative about his life, and he made several comments that left me worried for his state of mind. My idea was to write a letter to express my concerns, but having him on the phone is just as good.
“I’ve called because I’ve got something to tell you.” Immediately, my heart is in my throat. I can tell by his tone that no one is in danger, but whatever it is it’s weighing heavily on him, and it scares me. “It’s bad,” he continues, “It’s really bad, but I think in the end it will work out for the best.”
It’s bad, but it will be resolved eventually. My mind runs through the scenario, no one is sick, wounded, or dying, so my next fear must be realized, he and his wife are getting divorced. I think about his wife, a sweet, practical, loving, and dedicated woman whom I love dearly, and my two grandkids. My eyes begin to well up. He goes on, “Well, you know I’ve had a problem with drugs for a while.” I did know this. Brandon’s drug use has been a topic of family conversation several times in the last few years. Once, his wife asked me for advice, but generally they seemed to be functioning well. I had no idea the problem had progressed to this point. I always assumed they would right themselves eventually. Brandon’s drug use never seemed as desperate as Micheal’s, but now, my biggest fear for them is happening.
“This is hard. You are one of the first I’ve called to tell and I’m practicing with you, so I might as well just come out and say it.” As I was listening, I braced myself against the emotion I knew was coming. I was sad for them, for the children, for me, and for the hope they represented for all my sons. If Brandon could overcome drug abuse and find lasting happiness, maybe Micheal would, too. He went on, “I’ve decided I’m going into treatment.”
My relief was so sudden and complete I nearly laughed. “Oh, Brandon, I thought you were going to tell me you were getting a divorce! I know this is difficult for you, but believe me, this is wonderful news.” I thought how funny it was that a decision so difficult and so emotionally charged for him would be welcome, even celebrated news among family members.
I know things will not be easy for my son and his family. Brandon tells me he will quit his job. He works at a company with an entrenched culture of alcohol and drug abuse among the employees. It’s a difficult but good decision, as is his choice of an residential treatment center. He tells me it’s faith based, God centered. I voice my support but not my reservations. Even though my own experience with religion led to disillusionment, I remind myself that my path is not Brandon’s path, and I decide to trust. God is always true even if His servants are not.
As we finish our call, I promise support for him and his family. I’m glad for him. I marvel at the power of faith and how the course of a person’s life can change so abruptly. After years of the continual onslaught of drug abuse and its consequences in my life, here is some hope realized. It occurs to me that the point between being a drug addict and a sober person is a door that hinges on one decision. ‘Do I give up the life I know and feel secure in for this other, unknown life?’ I am happy Brandon chose the sober side of the door.