Soul Doubt: 11/2007 - 12/2007

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Working Through the Worry, Praying Through the Pain

What a crazy last week this has been. Crazy enough that I haven't even considered surfing the 'net, let alone blogging on it.

I'm swamped at work. For some reason, my co-workers (spread out over all five regions of the U.S.) decided to up their "blitz box" requests. This is a small complimentary 9x6x6 box filled with either a baking or pasta mix, replete with a glossy paperwork packet and cover letter, that is sent to either stores possibly adding new lines of our product, or prospective clients we're trying to court with a free sample. Normally I send out about 80 of these a month, putting the flat-packed boxes together myself, stuffing everything in it as neatly as possible, printing a FedEx label for it off their site, then recording the data into our database/scheduler.
Well, this last week I got almost 50 of these requests, each one imperative that it gets sent within a day or two. I've kept a lot of late hours, let's put it that way. And this doesn't even take into account the cookbook orders I get, usually 5 or 6 a day, which, since Click-N-Ship still won't send media mail, I have to package and cart down to the post office myself rather than having them picked up. The daily average on those have been at least a dozen. Arggh!

What else... well, a teething son who seems to bonk his head about every ten minutes, necessitating me dropping everything and running frantically over to comfort his wailing woe sure doesn't help. I know it's a process, this learning to crawl and pull himself up on stuff, and we've baby-proofed as much as possible, but dammit, the little guy is just precocious, I s'pose. And/or clumsy.

But let me dispense with the miscellany and get down to the real tragedy, the real reason my heart is aching too much for any typing to have gotten done as of late.

My grandmother is in the hospital for what we first thought was a heart attack, but after endless testing now seems to be some sort of internal bleeding thing. It breaks my heart to think that just now when I've finally become a source of pride to her, and my son is bringing her untold amounts of joy- that we very well may lose her. So I've been at KMC a lot, letting her hold Jameson when she feels strong enough, carrying on these painful one-way conversations that seem utterly inane to me, but I'm hoping she's listening and just liking the human contact. It hurts, though. God, it's tough to lose someone you love when you're actually in touch with your feelings enough to drown in them.

I've had people die in my arms from overdosing. I witnessed a point blank beach party shooting of a girl by her jealous teenaged boyfriend, a kid we all knew. I was 15. I spent that night in the shower until the water ran cold, scrubbing all the blood and bits of brain and bone that I swore I could still feel on me. I've walked in on other dead bodies here and there throughout the years, mostly drug-related; and of course both my older brother and my uncle have both committed suicide.

So there's been a lot of death in my life. Even me, spending time in a hospital bed pumped full of Narcan after an overdose, have been told I was clinically dead at one point. I'm no stranger to the Reaper.

But I'm begging God not to take my Grandma B from me now, not when we're just starting to get to know each other again. The roles have changed- it's now me who comes over and cleans her house, drives her on her errands, fights with her doctors and pharmacists when she's too timid to do it herself. I do most of the talking- she's not the same old spitfire bartending Seahawk fan who raised up three daughters and then had to take care of some of their offspring as well. She's quiet now; spends alot of time in front of the television, sometimes watching Westerns, sometimes just staring at the blank screen. I wonder what she thinks about, but when I ask, the one or two word responses just don't ring true. It's the stroke she had several years back, I know, but it doesn't make it any easier when I compare this virtual stranger to the woman who partially raised me, before I hit my teenaged years and was off and running, not to be raised by anyone anymore.

We all love her just the same. My mom is lost in her own alcoholism a bit too deeply to really devote the time away from her drinking that it would take to visit more often; my other aunt lives way over on an island off the coast of Washington; so my
Aunt Marcie and I are the ones who are there for Grandma these days, but I know the heartache is not something her and I hold an exclusive patent on. My cousins have all been to visit her in the hospital, sheepishly holding their heads down as they mutter excuses why it had been so long since they'd seen her prior to this. Same with the more distant relatives- aunts, uncles, in-laws.

I'm bracing myself for the worst, but I console myself by the fact that she was able to bond with her first great-grandchild (I was the last child, thirty years ago!) and that her and I become, if not truly close friends- due to her condition resulting from the stroke- at least close in many ways.

Thank You, Lord, for these last months of bonding with this amazing woman whose ancestral blood runs in my veins. Thank You for blessing us with the opportunity to share the joy of my son- I've loved seeing those huge smiles: one on her wrinkled face, one on his cherubic toothless one. If You choose to bring her home to You, I will understand, Father, since nothing in Your world happens on accident, but by Your design and divine timing. I only ask that You ease the pain of our loss by filling our hearts with the joy of memories of how she used to be, and with the peace of knowing she's passing on to her eternal reward.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

A Glimpse Into My Past

Last week there was a holiday which never fails to give me a little jolt of surprise when I realize that I am one of the people for whom it was enacted- Veteran's Day.

I am indeed a veteran, at least I served in the U.S. Army. But it somehow feels hollow, because from the very get-go I chose a duty station that was non-deployable, a cushy stateside medical post. And I never pictured myself on the frontlines of any war, defending my country- although I'd have gone, had they ordered me to, sure- instead the main things on my mind when I enlisted were the travel, my sign-on bonus, and a chance to go to college.

So I guess that's why I forget that Veteran's Day honors all this country's servicemen and women, including myself. I know I provided a necessary service, as did lots of say, Reservists and whatnot; but we just seem so inconsequential compared to those who fought wars, served hardship tours in far away lands, and shed their blood on foreign soil... I dunno.

On Huckleberries Online, one of my favorite blogs, there was a post by a veteran of the Vietnam War, describing his trip to D.C. to take part in a reading of all the names on the Vietnam Wall. He was so humble and matter-of-fact in his description of the experience- the way he shared about not getting this kind of laudatory welcome when he and his "brothers" came home from the war back then, so it was nice to finally receive it now; his conversing with the many luminaries attending the event, some veterans themselves, and how he respected them; and how he photographed a grave belonging to the son of a local veteran, who, because of his full disability, was unable to travel there himself.

Humbling. For me, anyhow. Put things in perspective.

When I enlisted in the Army, I was barely nineteen years old, and already had made some bad decisions. As a sophomore, I had dropped out of high school; although it was a breeze for me, I thought at the time my social life- one big party with much older people- was more important. I had vague plans for a GED and then some higher education, but wasn't very energetic in pursuing them; in fact, it was sheer luck that I was able to take advantage of a program called "Challenge" that allowed me to attend Maui Community College on a grant and earn my high school credits back through tests I was able to pass. Nevertheless, I blew off the rest of the program once I got my diploma, although I would've been able to continue accruing college credits had I not dropped out. So when by chance I spoke with a recruiter, I made an on the spot decision to sign up, dazzled by the promise of a $15,000 G.I. Bill, a $5,000 sign-on bonus, and the chance to attend college part-time while I was enlisted, for only 25% of the cost.

So I took the ASVAB, testing out at the 96th percentile, which would've allowed me to choose whatever MOS I wanted, had I not already had a bit of a criminal record. Having gotten expelled from a high school for possession and sale of LSD did not look good to Uncle Sam. Did I mention I had already started to make a mess of things even at that tender young age?
I ended up settling for enlisting as a combat medic/ 91B, the civilian equivalent of which is a medical assistant. Not the most glorious job (I was leaning more toward code-cracking, or perhaps foreign languages) but oh well, it offered the above-mentioned sign-on bonus, so that sold me. I swore in, got my traveling papers, and found I was to report to basic training at Fort Leonard Wood in Missouri, then AIT (school) at Fort Sam Houston in Texas.

Basic was all I'd been warned about/ promised and then some, but I sweated and groaned and fought my way through it, coming out on the other side a lean, mean, fighting machine. Or something. I remember being both relieved and sad that it was over- I think that was the closest taste to the "real" Army I ever got.
Then AIT... that was more of a mixture of a frantic cramming of information down our throats in the limited time they had to dispense it, as well as continued physical torture, I mean training. I tied for the top score in my graduating class, and was offered the opportunity to train further, what was called a secondary MOS (Military Occupational Specialty). I recognized a one in a million opportunity for being just that, and accepted. I chose veterinary medicine, which in the service is more of a research position- working with laboratory animals mainly. This was okay with me, as it insured I would remain stateside, rather than being deployed to Korea, where most of my former classmates were going.

So I ended up being stationed at USAMRIID (Gosh, the military just adores acronyms, don't they?), the United States Army Medical Research Institute for Infectious Disease- this is the military counterpart to the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta. Very high-tech, very high-security, lots of important stuff going on there. It was a blast. I think I felt challenged for the first time in my life- I was learning new things every day. And I was a part of something huge, one little cog in a massive machine. I felt at first like I could do this forever, become a careerist, maybe enlist in the "Green to Gold" program and become an officer. I loved it.

But real life intervened, as it always seems to do. After a couple years there, what seemed novel and dignified, paled and became mundane and unnecessary, with stuck-up officers and archaic customs. The high security was a huge pain in the butt. I was exhausted, and since the Army pays a salary, not hourly wage, it wasn't like I could lower my hours. The community college I attended was pissing me off- they didn't offer the classes I needed to take during the hours I had available, so why was I killing myself by going? I was thousands of miles away from my family and old friends, all that was familiar, and the East Coast began to seem cold and forbidding, rather than a wondrous cluster of landmarks, museums, natural beauty and culture. In short, I was burnt out.

This story does not have a happy ending. Not really, anyway.
I ended up having to have a major surgery, getting deathly ill from a burst tubal pregnany or cyst, no one seemed to know which. Too busy doctors compounded the problem by prescribing bottle after bottle of heavy-duty pain medication, which my addiction-prone self eagerly accepted. Months of convalescent leave turned me lazy, sulking at the prospect of having to go back to the chaos of Ft. Detrick. By now I lived off post, separated from the other half of a doomed from the start marriage, and was consorting with civilian friends, smoking pot (after all, we all worked in the lab- we knew when the UA's were coming and how to avoid them) and hosting endless parties. When the prescriptions finally began to peter out, I started making runs to D.C. to score heroin, which I smoked or snorted, thinking that since I wasn't shooting it, I wasn't really a junkie. Ha.

I got deeply in debt, and was calling in sick so often that finally my commander and his staff put two and two together. After a tearful confession, I was placed in rehab at Andrews Airforce Base, on the top floor. I was amazed at how many others there were there- apparently drug and alcohol addiction is more common than you'd think in all the branches of the service. My roommate was a female marine sergeant who got caught stealing injections of morphine from the ER in which she worked, and we cried and sweated and cramped and detoxed together, until she broke down and walked out, going AWOL from treatment when she couldn't handle it anymore. I was so envious, I too plotted to leave, but chickened out. After all, I only had seven months left in my four year hitch, why blow it?
This changed when my sergeant from my unit came to visit. He informed me that they were considering an early discharge, dishonorable at that. I kept my cool, nodding and promising to meet with him and the C.O. as soon as I was released, but the minute he left I went to my room, threw my stuff in a bag and took the staff elevator the hell out of there. My logic: why suffer through all these awful withdrawals when they were just gonna boot me out anyway? So I ran.

Called my estranged husband and promised reconciliation if he'd come pick me up. He eagerly accepted, driving up from South Carolina to meet me there in downtown D.C. By then I had scored some dope, so was feeling just fine about the whole stinkin' mess I'd once again gotten myself into.

Suffice it to say that the next year or so was a mindless blur of drugs, travel and fear. Fear of getting caught- after all, I was a federal fugitive- fear of not getting caught and having to live like this forever! and fear of just about everything else you could imagine a young girl facing alone and on the run. It was a nightmare. When I was finally apprehended at a motel in Las Vegas, it was with relief that I confessed who I was and what I was wanted for.

The anticlimax of the whole thing was spending a bit of time in the out-processing center at Fort Sill in Oklahoma, where I was set up with a JAG attorney to represent me throughout the process. She looked over my file and decided we had a slam dunk case, and promised to get me a medical discharge under honorable conditions. Which she did, to my surprised relief. I'm not sure if I was deserving of it, but I guess the upshot of the whole thing was the fact I had served about three and a half years out of my required four with a spotless record- in fact, I'd gotten promoted several times, a commendation or two, and plenty of good reviews from my commanders. The threat of early discharge from my sarge was just that- a threat- and had I not panicked and ran, I most likely would have just suffered a demotion in rank to PFC from Specialist, and perhaps some extra duty. But no, instead I was lucky to get off with what I did- loss of my G.I. Bill, most of my benefits, and my pride in having served.

That was the big one, and I think the reason why I usually don't mention having even been in the service. It's humiliating to have to admit how the story ended.

But nowadays, I don't see that sort of pride as such a necessary attribute. I'm okay with having some humility, and admitting my past mistakes. There's only One who I'm interested in impressing- and I think I've made myself right with Him.

Anyway, there's the story with how I (sort of) qualify as a veteran. Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

A Day In The Life...

Although I don't really have anything drastically deep to impart, no nuggets of wisdom to bestow, no burning desires I feel the need to extinguish, it's been a bit since my last post, so I thought I'd jump in and just let my mind wander as my fingers tap the keyboard.
I know one thing that's been surfacing over and over again lately is my marveling at how drastically different my life is these days. I know everyone experiences lifestyle changes of one sort or another, but at times I really have to shake my head in wonder, laughing at how I'm a complete universe away from, let's say, five years ago.
How 'bout I illustrate. Today was fairly typical of the way things are for me these days, so I'll list some of my activities...
6:30~ Got up with my husband and infant son, fed them both while watching the morning news. Packed a lunch for the man, packed the diaper bag for the boy. Hubby left for work, I did my morning ablutions and headed out with the baby as well.
9:30~ Bible study at my church (His Place). Laughed, prayed, drank coffee with around 35 other Christian women as we studied "Women of the Bible". Made a date for "Mom's Connect" later in the week- clothing exchange and chance to get together with other moms of little ones, yay!
11:45~ Will be turning in a shoebox for "Operation Christmas Child" this Sunday, so spent a few bucks at the Dollar Store on toys, toiletries and candy. I picked a boy, aged 4-9, to shop for. My shoebox will most likely be his only gift, and it made me feel all warm and fuzzy to pack it up as I imagined the joy on this Third World child's face when he opens it.
Noonish to Five-ish~ Worked. In my home office, on my new desktop computer, on our satellite internet connection (read: expensive). I'm blessed with a super-flexible yet lucrative position with a natural foods company, doing a wide variety of online tasks. This allows me to stay home with my beautiful baby boy, instead of having to farm him off at some daycare, while making a necessary contribution to our finances.
5:30~ Dinner and a movie. Literally.
7:30~ Read a few chapters of a Tanenbaum novel. Played with my son, making him laugh until he got the hiccups (this brings me untold amounts of joy). Told myself repeatedly how great quitting smoking feels- it's been a month- and the urge to chew on my fingernails would soon pass.
9:00~ Hanky-panky with the man of the house.
9:07~ (just kidding) 9:45~ Made a cup of Apple Cinnamon tea (reading on the box while I waited for the kettle to whistle that in ancient Egypt cinnamon was valued more highly than gold- hmmm, learn something new every day). Wandered into the office, where I proceeded to mouse around until I landed here. My blog.

Interspersed with the above, there were lots of other miscellany: diaper changes, housework, errand running, chatty little phone calls, snacks. You know. Stuff.

Now, although I won't be able to retrieve an exact timeline of any particular day from my past, I can certainly remember enough gory details to give a convincing facsimile. So here goes....
3:17(a.m.)~ A carload of shady characters, spun out of their minds, show up at my run-down apartment's door wanting to buy some dope. Including all the other losers crammed about the premises, all in various states of intoxication, this makes 14 people in my house. My stress level is rising proportionally, and I put the meth pipe down long enough to search through my drug stores for some sort of downer. The phone won't stop ringing, so I assign someone (can't remember their name right offhand) the task of answering it for me while I step into my office (read: bathroom)in order to weigh out the tweek for the latest customers so they'll get the hell out.
4:20~ I throw a mini temper tantrum. I have the biggest sack of dope, so I feel entitled to do this. Only a couple things get broken, and the upside is that several scumbags are intimidated into leaving. An older guy with tattoos on his neck and track marks on both arms invites me to smoke some pot with him. I accept. The phone still won't stop ringing.
6:05~ Time to re-up. I assign the task of guarding what's left of my belongings to one of the more trustworthy crack whores, telling her I'll throw in an extra quarter gram if she does some housework while I'm gone, as the place is a freaking disaster.
I jump in my beat-up car (extremely well-known to the police by then) and screech off towards Spokane, digital scale hidden in a secret compartment under the hood, stereo thumping obscenely loud music from a top-shelf stereo system, every component of which was stolen. I justify this by saying, "It wasn't ME who stole it. I paid someone for it." The phone won't stop ringing, but as I'm out of "shit", I don't answer.
7:25~ I sit at some crack shack in SpoCompton, fidgeting because my dealer's too paranoid to come out of his closet at the moment. He shouts instructions from within to his many syncophants. I watch some fat guy covered in sweat surreptitiously masturbate in the car out front, a girl who looks all of fifteen try to shoot up in her neck with the aid of a mirror, and an emaciated dreadlocked black guy pick at what he says are bugs crawling out of holes in his dog. I feel sorry for only the dog. Finally get my ounce of meth and peel out, nose upturned at all those horrible addicts.
9:00~ Back in business. Deciding to answer the unceasing ringing of my cellphone, I rack up so many potential sales, I can't remember them all. Having run into this problem many times prior, I'm prepared with a dry-erase marker. I use this to write the customers' names on the inside of my windshield as I drive erratically back into town. They'll be wiped off as I make the stops. I'm swerving because it's hard to drive straight when I've been up for several days, as well as hit the pipe, apply makeup, and change CD's.
12:15~ Eight stops later and six hundred dollars richer, I realize I can't remember the last time I'd eaten or showered. I'm avoiding having to deal with all the riff-raff at my house, so I hole up at a motel for the hell of it, peeping out the window to make sure I wasn't followed. I become absorbed with the mindless task of blowing another glass pipe, and forget about everything except the hissing of the propane torch. Time gets away from me. Since the phone won't stop ringing, I shut it off.
7:29~ Cramped muscles and blistered fingers warn me it's time to stop messing around with the glass tubing. I've blown four pipes and ruined another six feet of tubing as I tweeked, as well as almost set fire to the motel room. Solution: handful of pills and a dozen hits off one of the new pipes, then slink off under the cover of darkness.
8:00~ Turn the phone back on. It immediately rings, with a collect call from my estranged drug-dealing boyfriend, currently a guest in Kootenai County Detention Center. He begs me to be careful, as I lie my head off regarding what I've been up to. I promise to visit, write, bail him out eventually and be faithful and careful until then. All are lies.
8:15~ Back on the road, this time to rescue a fellow dealer. It's kind of a "boy's club", but I do my best to fit in by pulling off crazy stunts such as the one I'm about to undertake: the guy's in an altercation with a rival, so I show up waving a butterfly knife around and threatening to cut off his nuts. It works, and we celebrate by another round of meth smoking. A couple people scamper off to go shoot up instead. I realize I've left my apartment full of people who I promised I'd see shortly, and by now it's probably been picked clean and someone might be cooking a batch of dope in it. I go to leave but someone has slashed my tires, busted my windows and stolen my stereo system. I freak out, raging about idiot thieves with knives... and the phone STILL won't stop ringing.

This is by no means a definitive description of how things were back then. No, it was WAY more psychotic. And x-rated. And sad. And exhausting. I think, no I know, when I was finally arrested and I knew it was over, it was with a feeling of relief that I crawled into that police car, like a great weight had been lifted from my skinny little shoulders.

So do you see what I mean? If it weren't for the publicity I've been afforded as of late, I doubt most people would ever even have the slightest inkling of how different my life used to be. I think even I forget sometimes, and I'm not sure that's so good. I think sometimes I need to be reminded of how crazy and sick it all was, how much better things are for me now.
Yeah, after all the nonstop excitement it gets a little monotonous sometimes these days. Yeah, I'm not a big-time power-tripping dope dealer anymore, I'm just a wife and mom who's just about done cleaning up the wreckage of her past, but has lots of mundanity ahead. But that's okay. Because with the mundane, there is also great joy, inner peace, and the gift of looking into the eyes of my innocent sweet son and knowing I'm doing right by him- that he'll never know that person who his mommy used to be.

Friday, November 2, 2007

All Things Considered...

I'm not sure if I mentioned here that I was the designated chaperon for the little ones this year, that for some bizarre reason I actually volunteered for the driving/ escorting/ supervising (and disciplining if necessary) of my monstrous young nieces and nephews as they tricked and treated their way across town, silly overconfident aunt that I am. Not to mention my own little monster- well, he was costumed as a bat, actually, and an adorable wee bat he was, to be sure- which, although too young to understand the whole to-do, or eat candy, I still was obliged to dress him up and lug him around for the candy-hander-outers to ooh and ahh over.
All in all, there were six of us, the children ranging in age from eleven to seven months, and we made quite the little troupe as we traipsed from neighborhood to neighborhood, candy buckets shaped like jack o'lanterns in hand.
I knew I was, if not in over my head, at the very least swimming in deep waters when I began dismantling costume parts in order to buckle in the youngest into their four carseats. It was a cacophony of "are we there yet" and "Skyler poked me with his light saber!" while I drove to the first upscale cul-de-sac, and a relief to all once we parked, unpacked, and reassembled ourselves at the curb in time for sunset.
The ground rules were set, the littlest were instructed to hold hands with the biggest, and off we went.
* * * *
Three hours later, the buckets were overflowing, the noses were running and bright pink with the cold, and the two youngest were crashed out in the backseat. I caught myself fervently wishing for a nap as well, but quashed the thought and made sure everyone was happy with their haul before buckling them all in for the last time and heading to Grandma and Grandpa's for pizza and a treasure hunt.
That was a blast, and we all stuffed ourselves with Papa Murphy's Cowboy pizza, laughed at the old folks (dressed like pirates), and searched for our goodies with the provided clues. No one was excluded, not even the grown-ups. Or the baby, for that matter- the other kids were happy to "help" find and unwrap his gifts, too.

I wound up sitting alone at one point in the evening, reflecting on how good it felt to be a part of this family, even when it entailed some hard work at making everyone happy. Thinking, "I wouldn't trade this for the world," then realizing, wait a minute, the whole time I was shunning these very same events for my massively selfish drug habit, and ignoring the very people who cared about me the most, that's exactly what I was doing- I had traded them in. For what, now I don't know. An ephemeral sense of well-being? a temporary high? the swollen ego of a drug dealer?
Ha. All that pales in comparison to a room full of laughing people you love, your belly full of good food and your heart full of promise, looking forward to tomorrow.