Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Invincible? Reflections on Turning 40.

"As far as I'm concerned, life is all you get and I'll make the best out of it...And so I decided to learn to live with myself." --Keith Richards

Does this picture have "Don't fuck with me!" just written all over it? This is me when I was about 5. Don't ask me why, but I had this obsession with posing as if I was George Washington in photos at the time. It was up in Wisconsin on vacation with my family some summer. (Perhaps, appropriately, on Washington Island in Door County? I don't know.) My mom says I made that pose all the time, as if I was badass, despite my folks telling me *not* to pose like that in EVERY picture.

I was an active, spry tomboyish little girl trying to fit in and keep up with her big brother, the ever-ditching-me Steve, who was 4 years older than I am. I was a joiner as a little kid when it came to my brother, but apart from playing with Jennifer across the street and Heidi and Jenni down the street in the neighborhood, when I was that young, I preferred to play alone. To read in my closet. To write stories. To create stuff--alternate worlds, music (I played Steve's drums when no one was looking and before my feet could even really reach the pedals and could keep a beat, though I admittedly thought brushes were to CLEAN the drums, not play them with, and scratched up his kit, sorry...), words, anything. To pretend I was a disc jockey. Or a baseball player. I had Han Solo and Princess Leia (I knew they were meant to be before "Return of the Jedi!") action figures dancing to Debby Boone's "You Light Up My Life." I was, and still am, a big dreamer. A born idealist. I questioned everything.

It's a shame I went insane. Nah, not really. God chose me to be the way I am so that I could grow up and help other people like me, especially addicts/alcoholics.

Wow, the more I look at THAT picture of me, it reminds me of THIS picture of my eventual offspring, except his George Washington pose is noose'ing around my neck:

God's farting around with my iTunes this morning. Starting this blog on the last day of my 30's, the Good Lord saw fit for the first song to shuffle this morning to be the late Warren Zevon's "Life'll Kill Ya," segued into Joe Walsh's "Life's Been Good." A song about dying and a song about surviving (by the skin of one's teeth).

How do I feel about turning 40? Seriously, honestly? Very, very surprised. And very, very lucky. There only by the grace of God do I indeed go.

Answering the question of how to stay alive, Keith Richards said:

"It's about a little bit of introspection and having a sort of physical contact with the mind and the brain. Having some connection...I don't know what you'd call it...religion? Or just call it lucky?"
Yes, Keith. Introspection is important in survival. So is religion. So is luck. All of those components.

There are about 3 people (maybe only 2, I'm not sure) on this planet who know the God's honest truth about the extent of how many times I've almost died yet have miraculously revived and fought back, and those people aren't even necessarily people who've lived with me. My husband sat idly by and let the cards fall where they may, which I'm still trying to forgive. Luke has some idea, whether that's fortunate or unfortunate remains to be seen. (If nothing else, it's a great "Don't Do As I Did" anti-drinking and drugging campaign for your teenager.)  But Luke's the one who coined me as being "invincible" some months ago in retaliation to what Craig's mom was spouting about me getting myself into trouble by my own actions.

If you include my narcotics addiction of the late 90's, my alcoholism, my drunk driving (never a DUI! Praise God!), and having to use narcotics legitimately, medically over the course of the last year, mixing too many medications, conditional/situational anorexia and the NyQuil incident, I should've died dozens of times. If you also account for my medical problems, cutting and mental illness, add about another half dozen brushes with the Grim Reaper. In summary, I SHOULD NOT BE ALIVE. YET I AM. WHAT THE FRENCH TOAST? God? You are One. Sarcastic. Dude.

My brother Steve, who is going to be 44 next month, just bought another motorcycle, after his now ex-wife disapproved and made him sell the one he had briefly some years ago. Now that he's single, he's going through some typical early divorce behaviors, which amount to Doing All The Shit Your Spouse Frowned Upon. I am getting tattoos. Steve is motorcycling. I've always said that he lucked out in the gene pool of the family--that he's not addicted to drugs/alcohol, he's not mentally ill, he looks like he could pass for one of MY kids, or a much-younger brother, etc. But he is sort of a junkie when it comes right down to it--an adrenaline junkie. A daredevil. An extreme sport enthusiast and fan, though he's also fond of spending an afternoon hitting golf balls around and finds this relaxing. He's survived falling through a giant glass window working at Osco as a teenager, severely being injured either BMX ramp jumping or skateboarding (I don't remember), yet has managed to bounce back every time. Below: Two Grateful Daredevils, In Their Own Special Ways...

I jokingly told him last night that in light of the motorcycle (and I'm sure it's a crotch rocket, not like a Harley or something tame like that, though I wanted a giant sidecar so one of us could ride the bike and the other could set up a moving drum kit), it's now up for grabs which one of us is truly the Keith Richards of the family. Time will tell. I'm still the reigning Keef.

(Great. Van Morrison's "Into the Mystic." Another song about dying. I best leave for therapy before "Taps" starts shuffling.)

This morning, my therapist was fascinated at my smug thumb-to-the-nose of death I rattle vigorously and threateningly. She wanted to know why cheating death was so important to me, and what it was like for my brother and I to grow up having lost our father when he was only 42. It certainly gave us a taste of the temperance, the delicacy of our physical lives at a tender age. Like I've said before, certainly neither my brother nor I ever thought of *our* dad as "invincible." (Craig's mom said "Every kid thinks their mom is invincible, which Luke said wasn't true, and he's right.)  Perhaps when I was really young, I thought my daddy was strong, but as his illness overcame him, he became weak and quite honestly, sort of pathetic (kind of like Dick Clark post-stroke, but drunk). My mom was the strong, capable one, and I always respected and admired that in her. Cheating death dozens of times is part of what makes me a freak, I guess. (A freak with a typical emotional bipolar delusion of grandiosity.) Not that my life is a game, for I have a son to raise and a greater purpose to serve (and people to annoy, and apple carts to upset). My therapist asked me how I *felt* emotionally losing my dad at age 42. I said, "My whole world shattered." Would I EVER want that to happen to my son? Not in a million years.
"I let other people do that," Keith Richards said in response to the question "Do you contemplate your own death?" He said, "They're experts, apparently. Hey, I've been there--the white light at the end of the tunnel--three or four times. But when it doesn't happen and you're back in--that's a shock."
I did my best to fit in as I grew into teenagedom but I never felt quite right in my own skin. I liked bad boys, for the most part. I had big hair and a Liz Claiborne purse, but I secretly wanted to date the burnouts, going so far as to take guitar class just to get their attention (I didn't do terribly well in it). I had a small, close group of friends and wasn't popular. (I'm still friends with the girls I hung with to this day. Some of the finest women I have ever known.) I couldn't get a date to save my life. I gave in to trying to wear the "name brands" or designer clothes like the other kids had, unlike Luke, who already at 12, doesn't give a shit if he fits in or not, which I respect highly in HIM. That means Craig and I have successfully instilled in him the right values. It's not what you look like or wear that makes your character, lessons I didn't learn until college.

I was paid a very high compliment recently, from my friend, Robbie Rist, who's known most notably as having played Cousin Oliver on "The Brady Bunch." (Yes, Susan Olsen, "Cindy," deemed me an "Honorary Brady" when we finally all met in person a few years ago. So I've got that going for me.)

(Creepy iTunes shuffle: Eric Clapton's "My Father's Eyes." Dad, I feel you PEERING down at me.)

Robbie had posted a link to single badass women in prison who were looking for mates and asked a woman's opinion on the whole matter. I said something like, "What about nice single women who aren't in prison?" Robbie said he'd never go for a chick who could kick his ass. Was he talking about me or the imprisoned babes? He said, "I would never mess with a chick who, at one point in her life, could lug a fire hose up 7 flights of stairs." "It was only 5 flights of stairs, if memory serves me correctly," I answered. He said, "It doesn't matter, you could still kick my ass." I told him these days, the most I can lug is a case of pop from the car to the house, and even that is difficult, and saved for Luke if he's with me shopping. To him, anyway, it's effortless.

I couldn't believe Robbie remembered that I'd even taken the Chicago Firefighter physical agility test back in....God, when was it, even? Mid-to-late 2007? TOTAL alcoholic fog. (I know I took the written test in 2006, passed with flying colors, then was of the first group lottery-chosen to take the physical test, by which time I'd stopped working out 6 days a week and was drinking constantly, and though I promised I wouldn't show up to the physical test with a hangover, I did anyway. I failed the test and wasn't considered any further as a Chicago Firefighter candidate, but it's fair and honest to say that few females passed at all. But I FINISHED the test, and the test was really fucking hard.) Alas, that wasn't God's plan for me. Evidently, God wanted me to get far, far more drunk before I'd learn my lesson (only to teach it to me again this year).
"I come from very tough stuff, and things that would kill other people don't kill me. To me the only criteria in life are knowing yourself and your capabilities, and the idea that anybody should take on what I do or did as a form of recreation or emulation is horrific." --Keith Richards

Funny, now that I think about it, though, that I pursued a job where you cheat death for a living, firefighting. Who are we kidding? I was living my dad's lost dream. He was a firefighter/paramedic for many years (mailman, local cop, firefighter/paramedic, county sheriff--he squeezed in that many civil service jobs in 42 years) and gave up the job (and the pension), probably drunkenly, to run an outdated, ill-fated business before taking a very extended vacation (business fizzled) before he was a Cook County Sheriff, which is what he was when he died. (I just mis-typed and wrote when "I" died. That's gotta be more than me being in my afternoon sleepy slump. Dad, get out of here and let me write my damn blog about turning 40!)
Interrupting my train of thought, Dad says, "Ahem! Message from Beyond, below:"
"The boundaries which divide life from death are at best shadowy and vague. Who shall say where the one ends, and where the other begins?" --Edgar Allen Poe

It seems only fittingly bipolar to be quoting Keith Richards and Edgar Allen Poe in the same musing, while blaring "Livin' Lovin' Maid" by Led Zeppelin while my surly, hulking pre-teen is trying to play his XBox in peace. Forgive me, Luke, but I've been having trouble staying awake today.

How do I feel, being 40? I totally say "Bring it on!", mentally anyway. Most days, I'm still the temper of an 18-year old with more evolved spiritual enlightenment.  I don't look 40. Luke's age-range guesstimate as to how I look is between 25-35 (depending on his mood) and my next door neighbor said I barely look 30, thus, despite her yelpy dog biting me in the leg, she is now my new best friend. I have a much better physical frame than I did when I was 24 and got married, OR 18, even given the thinness, as I was cute but chunky when I was young. (Before "chunky" became a polite way of describing me.) Here, this is me when I got married, with my gorgeous mom (who caught the bouquet but has yet to re-marry) and not my husband:

Physically, how do I feel at 40? Like a bloody 80-year old weakling, though still capable of (when you get me angry enough) delivering a trademarked roundhouse kick to the crack of even the ass of a 6'3", 280 lb man with brute force and having him emit a huge "FUCK! That hurt!" at the top of his lungs. At least, physically, I am no longer anyone's whipping girl or smacking bag. I conquered that and continue to conquer it every day, little by little, in a seemingly never-ending process. And like the elderly, I wake up before dawn and go to sleep at like 10pm most nights (if I take my meds on time).
"It's a privilege. Then again, it's felt like a privilege just to wake up to a new day for a few years now." --Keith Richards on life

Walking around the block seems daunting and treacherous. I *did* walk around the perimeter of our complex last week, which my mom thought was encouraging. And I still wish to take up either yoga or boxing sometime soon, working around my school schedule and Being a Mom schedule. I need to gain a decent amount of weight (without thinking, with a modicum of body dysmorphic disorder, that I'm "getting fat again") and grow some lean muscle. Some measure of physical fitness is a definite goal, in addition to really kicking ass and getting going on my doctorate.

I am emerging from my recent depression, seeing friends (!!!) and engaging more with my family, talking to others on the phone whom I love, texting and emailing, and thanking GOD IN HEAVEN that SuperJuls was moved by the Spirit to extend the level of compassion that she did at the deepest pit of the darkness I felt I was entrapped. My therapist asked me how I, essentially, "got over" my father's death in our session today. I told her that after losing my shit on February 2nd year after year for a good 24 years, I just decided that day in 2008, and mind you I was still drinking but distinctly remember, that it didn't have to be this way anymore. It wasn't anybody's fault: not my dad's, not my mom's, not mine, not the doctor who couldn't revive him after cardiac arrest, not the bartender's, no one's.  It was God's plan and that was that. His suffering ended, unfortunately, at what I now consider to be a VERY young age.
"We all know somebody who we know is not going to be seventy, ever. Not everyone makes it." --Keith Richards

Me? As I told Kate a long time ago, I plan to live to an extraordinarily ripe old age. 40 is kid stuff. 40 is barely getting your toes wet and coming into your own. (For some, that's 30, but historically, and a lot of alcoholics/addicts will tell you this, you're stuck in an almost limitless state of adolescence until life/recovery forces you to grow the hell up.) Get me fit and educated and into my chosen profession and I'll be a force of fucking drumming nature.

Would I like to live to that age beside someone? Of course I would.  Am I there yet and do I foresee that happening any time remotely soon? No, for a number of reasons, the least not being that my son, who is fiercely protective of me, literally refuses to even allow me to date, much less re-marry. Luke, like me, is still trying to get over the scars left by Christopher. He vehemently hated Christopher, was uneasy and leery of him, but could never pinpoint why. I'd say that's because Luke is one hell of a judge of character. So potential inamoratos? Luke and I are a package deal, at least until he's 18.

"They give you that little bit--that important bit of living when you absolutely don't know shit about nothing." --Keith Richards, on having children
In the meantime, I will carry on with raising my young man, who's my #1 guy anyway.

So I want to thank all of you who've helped me get to where I am today, which is healthier, recovering, doing what I'm supposed to do but still defying authority and order. I thank God for all of you: family, friends, and enemies. Without your help, support or disdain, I wouldn't be the woman I am at age 40.

"I will write all of your epitaphs." --Keith Richards
Even given all the Keef quotes, I find it only fitting to close with the 2000 version of my favorite song, "My Sweet Lord," by George Harrison. This was recorded for the 30th anniversary edition of "All Things Must Pass." I love this video compilation and the inclusion of Christ in much of the imagery, in tandem with the Hindu gods. It reminds me of my tattoo. Seriously, watch the clip. I'm sure not many of you have seen this video of it before. God bless you all and here's to the next 40 years, onward!

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