Soul Doubt: 07/2008 - 08/2008

Thursday, July 24, 2008

A Bright Black Cherry Burst Quilt Spot in an Otherwise Dark Week

If you're wondering what the heck that post title could possibly mean, I should first explain that the situation with my stepdaughter has NOT gotten better at all- if anything, it's deteriorating rapidly. Her drug use, cigarette smoking and whatever other vices she's dangerously indulging in, I've now found out have been permitted- if not necessarily condoned- by her father, my husband, of course without my knowledge. Behind my back, in fact. Apparently he's trying so hard to be her buddy, he's forgotten his role as her father. He's also seemingly forgotten that part of being in a marriage is presenting a united front, especially towards one's children. Dissension among the ranks should be behind closed doors, not after the stepmom finds out about crap that the other two have been lying about and hiding. To make it even worse, things have also come up missing around the house. I've been forced to put a password on my computer, purchase a small lockbox, and hide certain items I'm afraid may grow legs and hop into J's hot little hands. Can you sense some resentment here? I sure hope so; I think I can even feel it oozing off my fingertips onto the keys.

Anyway, we are (or at least I am) taking steps to rectify these completely unacceptable activities, attitudes, and atrocities taking place in the former sanctity of our home. There is an elder at our church who owns a Christian counseling service, Genesis Associates; I yanked the poor guy to the side after services last Sunday and poured the whole sorry story out on him; he was gracious enough to offer to start us out with a mediation session between just Tony and myself (communication at this point has almost entirely broken down, reduced to epithets and personal attacks on both sides), then possibly lead into a moderate number of sessions necessary to relieve some of the communication issues and animosity. We may even bring J into it at some point, if she lasts in our household that long, or is amenable to such bullshit (to use her terminology). We'll see.

I was at a family function last Saturday- the 50th wedding anniversary of some semi-distant relatives. It was fun, but the highlight of the event was a short little jam session with my uncle Gary, which made me realize just how sharply I miss playing guitar.. I didn't realize how rewarding making music can be when one's soul is aching- music is a wonderful conduit for all of life's ills and injustices. Case in point: the blues.

Musical talent runs in my family- my dad used to be quite well-known in the area back in the late 70's/early 80's. He- Zane Goodrick- played a combination of good ol' boy country, Southern rock, and classic rock (Stones; Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young; John Prine- all faves as far as I can recall, along with hundreds upon hundreds of others). My pops was that breed of musician that was mainly in it for the song in it's entirety- something I inherited- he eschewed the fancy leads and exact chord changes for the basic feel of the song... one that everyone in the audience can recognize with joy, sing along to at the top of their lungs, and just generally enjoy as a package deal.

I learned from my dad at the age of around 12 or 13; didn't get serious til my late teens, but then really became devoted once I discovered the wonders of Jimi Hendrix. At first it discouraged me from continuing playing- I mean, why bother? The guy had already done all that was to be done, I could never even hope to wash his sandals, to borrow a line from J the B. But then I looked at the flip side, and decided that instead of him being my inspiration and someone to try to emulate, I would rather just idolize him while sticking to what I did best- just plain playing songs. Any songs. Songs off the radio (I can usually pick 'em up by ear and fake my way through), songs listeners request- like "Hotel California" or "House of the Rising Sun"- I must've played each of those about a billion times apiece! Or as of late, praise and worship songs which I've scavenged tabs and lyrics for off the internet; most of them are pretty simple.

But one major thing which has kept me from pursuing this avocation (besides the demands of my job, son, and other real life concerns), this something which used to be a ha-huge part of my life, is the fact that I've nothing but a beater little pawn shop acoustic, plastered with stickers and with action so miserable one's fingers are complaining after the first barre chord or two; not to mention tinny, twangy tone and zero resonation, it being a 3/4 size no-name dreadnought to begin with. Embarrassing to take out in public, a pain in the ass to play in private, and generally just a dust collector these last couple months- after seeing and savoring the feel of a quality guitar neck under my now uncalloused fingers I was determined to kick that p.o.s. to the curb and treat myself to a real instrument, one that I could play the heck out of anytime, anywhere, just for the sheer joy of it.

So we went directly from the party in the Spokane Valley to Pawn1 in Post Falls, and lo and behold: there was an absolutely breathtaking guitar on display there right in the place of honor. I knew enough about the make and model to be in utter awe -not to mention feeling serious trepidation about the price tag- an Ovation Celebrity acoustic/electric with all the bells and whistles (built in all-new OP20 preamp which features three eq bands and a Pre-Shape circuit for killer tonal flexibility, chromatic tuner that's easy to use and keeps perfectly in-tune even when using open or non-standard tunings), not to mention the gorgeous finish on the maple body face: black cherryburst quilt, high-gloss; the signature curved mid-depth Ovation back seemed form fitted for little ol' me, too. All this just HAD to be too good to be true! Or at least too expensive!

Well, wonders upon wonders, some idiot pawned this beauty and Pawn1 was silly enough to list it at the ridiculously low price of $350.00. Being fairly loyal purchasers of electronics and jewelry at their shop we don't pawn- just take advantage of other peoples' idiocy for practically giving away their stuff to loan sharks in respectable fronts of buildings... we were even able to talk 'em down to 300, case included. I swear when I walked out of that building my feet didn't even touch the ground. I was so elated, I couldn't wait to get better acquainted with my new sweetie.

Haven't named her yet- any suggestions would be much appreciated. Maybe I'll be like Phil or JB3ll3 and hold a contest- the prize could be one serenade of the winner's choice. Like I said, I can play or at least b.s. my way through just about anything, so be it old or new, country, classic rock, alternative, blues, oldies, Christian contemporary, very little punk/metal/grunge (mainly from their strange tunings and my lack of interest in the music itself. Mainly I play for the love of it, the love of expressing my feelings through song, be it joyous or sad, the love of seeing faces of those who are listening light up with recognition or love for the song. I love it when they sing along, or jump in with a guitar or other instrument of their own (Herb, why don't you break out that banjo and lets cut loose with some bluegrass? I know "Big Midnight Special"... but that's about it, unfortunately. You should school me, old guy! I love learning from more experienced players than I.) And Stickman, do you play? What about anyone else?

My Uncle Gary runs a homeless assistance center called Fresh Start on Coeur d'Alene Ave in C'dA, actual address 418 Coeur d’Alene Ave. He does wonderful things there, mainly helping the mentally ill and those with legal/criminal issues have a safe place to vent, find resources, shower, etc. He also holds jam sessions, any and all welcome, every Saturday morning from 10 to around noon. This week, for the first time, I'm going. And I'm going with pride in my new guitar, hopes that I will be able to release some stress from playing- it used to work, why wouldn't it now? and especially just spend some time with another family member who really cards about me and while I was stuck in the dope scene, I shut him and many others out of my life. It's time to start repairing those bridges, and I'm looking forward to this.

Let's see if the photos turn out (they won't do this marvelous instrument justice, but at least they can give you a general idea of this thing of beauty I am so in love with!

Here's another one, unfortunately the high gloss reflects the glare a bit too much.

What do you musicians (or nonmusicians for that matter think? Is this not the most beautiful hand crafted work of art expressly made for birthing beautous music?

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

One Guilt Trip, All Expenses Paid

I've been mulling this over for days, wondering if I'm being selfish and petty, or merely looking out for our little family's best interests- and always end up right back where I started. Trying to discuss it with my husband is even more pointless: he's firmly convinced I'm being the former (selfish, heartless, petty, etc.) rather than the latter, and every time it gets brought up, a measured exchange of views quickly escalates into a full-blown fight.

And you know, I'm not even sure if this is appropriate blog fodder, hitting as close to home as it does; when the story involves personal details of people besides myself, I usually shy away from airing the laundry here. Be it dirty or sparkling Clorox white. But I've long ago gotten full clearance from Tonydaddy to share the goriest details of our lives in whichever forums I may choose, so I'm going to exercise that option now, in hopes that transcribing the situation may even help my thoughts fall into line a bit more clearly and eventually lead to some sort of resolution. That often does happen with me- I'm much more of a writer than a debater.

So here's the scoop. Tony and I have been together around 6 years, and in the beginning one of the reasons he became so enamored of me was because of the way his two daughters and I hit it off. Apparently, after his divorce, there had been quite the parade of women through his life, none of whom his girls were willing to share their daddy with. I was an exception, and to have finally found someone whom they liked, Tony was overjoyed to say the least.

The odd thing was that once we both went through the whole bloody process of end-stage drug addiction/sales, multiple arrests, drying out and cleaning up while incarcerated, managing to struggle our way through outpatient treatment, 12-step meetings, probation and the like- somehow Tony and I got closer, but the girls and my relationship became more and more strained.

Looking back, I think there were a few different factors involved. For one, changes having little or nothing to do with their father or I: J, the younger daughter, had evolved from a sweet little single-digit tomboy into a rebellious, sullen teenager. B, an awkward and shy adolescent to begin with, morphed into a dark, angst-ridden highschooler with multiple piercings and an attitude toward everybody. So it's not like I'm part of some exclusive club.

I think that they may have also blamed me in part, even if it were subconsciously, for the eventual downfall of their dad. See, when we first hooked up, we were living pretty high on the hog because of drug sales: lots of cool toys, cars and trucks with bumping stereo systems, a well-stocked garage in a home Tony still owned... and of course much of this ill-gotten wealth spilled over into J and B's lives as well. When they stayed with us, they were spoiled rotten. And every effort was made to shield them from the sordid realities of dealing huge quantities of dope. Oh, I'm sure they had an inkling- after all, we rarely slept; fed them but didn't eat much ourselves; dropped them off at Skate Plaza, Triple Play or the mall with wads of cash waaay too often, so we could "take care of grown-up business" and pick them up hours later.
So when the house of cards all came crashing down, it was Tony who got arrested first. I liquidated much of our "holdings" to bail him out on a $90,000 bond, only for him to be arrested again, on new charges, the next day. That's how demented our lives had become, and how well-acquainted the law had become with us. It was a relief, really, when the cycle repeated itself with me a few months later- I got arrested, bailed out, and was rearrested a few weeks later; both times with large quantities of drugs and paraphernalia.

So there we sat, in the crossbar hotel, probably within 50 yards of one another but of course unable to communicate except through collect phone calls to my mother, who would pass on messages, albeit reluctantly. She, at this point, was every bit as disgusted with us as everyone else in the straight world was- and NOBODY held any hope for Tony and I to stay together. After all, we were both facing long prison sentences, had basically lost everything (I had put everything in storage after the house was foreclosed on, but after being incarcerated myself, there was no one to make the payments), and it was common knowledge that toward the end we fought like banshees almost daily... so what future could a relationship possibly hold between two such idiots?

I'm sure the girls had picked up on much of this- after all, they're neither blind nor stupid; they knew Dad had been arrested for drug dealing and that Mom blamed his demise on Dad's trashy new girlfriend. And in their family, at that point, it was most certainly NOT fashionable to stick up for me, regardless of what buddies the girls and I had been before. As S.E. Hinton titled her book, That was Then, This is Now.

So for the next year or so, things were in limbo as Tony and I reaped the rewards of our short-lived drug-dealing career. What a career, really- sure, the short-term benefit package was alright; but the retirement package truly sucked. Somehow, we got through it and made a fresh start from scratch upon release. Not much of one, though- Tony was living at a halfway house, I in my mother's attic. Both of us were under the strictest supervision, something which Tony handled well but I chafed at, eventually exploding under the pressure and violating probation. I had managed to get a little apartment and a decent job, both of which I lost as I was sentenced to my full time in prison- four solid years before eligible for parole, a potential of fourteen total (in the lingo: four fixed, ten indeterminate). I was devastated, to say the least, but I also knew this was all of my own doing, and I think at that point the inner change began to take place... actually, I'm sure it did: I've been clean ever since.

Of course, I didn't bother telling anybody else this- why would they believe me? I'd just let a whole lot of people down with my relapse and recidivism- no one was gonna believe I had all of a sudden finally decided to take my recovery seriously! The exception to this was Tony. Amazingly enough, he believed me- he believed in me, too. And he stood by me. He visited. He wrote almost daily. He stayed faithful and kept me convinced I was worth staying faithful to. It was remarkable, how solid this guy was. And while the months dragged by for me, Tony meanwhile was reestablishing a relationship with his daughters, trying to salvage the wreck it had become. He was still living at the halfway house while saving up money, so the girls couldn't stay overnight or anything, but they did start spending a lot more time together. And at this point, neither one of them could understand why their dad was wasting his time and money on a loser jailbird like me who obviously couldn't stay off the dope. Whatever friendship they and I had once had was totally kaput, try as Tony may to play peacemaker.

A miracle occurred: Judge Mitchell signed off on a "Rule 35", a loophole granting me alternative sentencing. Instead of rotting away in a state hold, I was given another chance at the Idaho Retained Jurisdiction program: 120 days in a minimum security prison which was heavy on the treatment programs and transitioning for release. I aced the program, something fairly rare. People were starting to wonder if I maybe was serious. I no longer had to wonder about how successful I'd be upon release: I knew. Something had shifted inside of me, and from that point on I was determined to do whatever it took to stay clean and out of jail.

. . . . . . . .

Fast-forward a few years. After a huge scare from the Idaho Court of Appeals- no fault of mine, it was due to the Judge's procedural error- and a brief period of newsworthiness, I escaped fairly unscathed: a scant month of incarceration, this time fully supported by friends, family and the community at large; a happy ending and reunion with my now-husband and newborn son. Heady stuff, to be sure. The silver lining to the cloud?
1) A great job- Daphne Taylor, owner of Namaste Foods, hired me on salary to work from home doing promotional mailings and some light online duties for her company. I've since been promoted, gotten the hang of things in the allergen-free market, and adore being able to work from home while raising my son.
2) A great church- His Place, where Tony and I have grown closer by including God in our marriage and every other part of our lives.
3) This blog- as well as HBO, some online buddies and real-world relationships which all came about as a result of my notoriety.

So, all this and more has transpired over the last I don't know how long, but to travel back to the issue which inspired this post: J and B are now both somewhat troubled girls, J in particular, and their relationship with their mom is strained to the point where B is living in the Seattle area with a friend of the family (at 18 years of age, something she is entitled to do) and J, while still technically residing with her mom, is rebelling so viciously that if something isn't done, their relationship may be damaged to the point where the law is forced to step in. Yeah, it's that bad.

B lived with us for a short time last year, attending school in this district for maybe a semester, before deciding her uncle's house was much more fun- after all, we were out in the middle of nowhere, led staid, boring lives, and a kid brother wasn't as fun to live with as he was to visit. And heaven forbid she would be asked to do some chores around the house, maybe wash a dish or clean her room from time to time!
Bottom line was, it didn't work. There was a mild clash of personalities, and although there are no hard feelings now, I doubt she'll ask to stay here again.

J, on the other hand, has only had the joys of staying with Daddy and family over the weekends in the last couple years since we've lived here- which entails pizza, staying up all night on MySpace, movies, her friends staying over with her to keep her company, all that jazz. No reality check whatsoever. So of course, to her this seems like paradise compared with her mean old mom. Especially due to the fact that Tony is by no means a disciplinarian in any way, shape or form, and in pretty much everyone's opinion who knows her, J is in sore need of some discipline right now. And I concur, having been a 14 year old girl myself at one point- one very similar to J, as a matter of fact. I too was smoking pot and drinking at parties, cussing like a truck driver, and enamored of guys in leather jackets way too old for me. I can also relate to hating my mom at that stage in life, and sympathize with J's desire to escape her.

This is where the quandary comes in- on one hand, I want to help this child. She really is a sweet girl, despite the tough front and potty mouth. Her dad adores the ground she walks on, and is able to laugh off the school suspensions, drug use, and fighting. She shows a tender side to her little brother, and when asked to do the dishes or whatnot, only drags her feet I think for show. And again, the situation with her mom has just about reached the boiling point. I will feel extremely guilty if J ends up in juvie because I forbade her to move in with us.

Hell, I feel guilty already. Guilty for not just welcoming her with wide open arms, guilty for trying to talk this through with Tony, guilty for bringing up questions like: where is she going to sleep and keep all her stuff? we don't have a spare room. What if we go through all the trouble to get her in school and get her moved in, only to have her do what her sister did, change her mind a couple months down the road? Or worse, what if the problems escalate and next thing you know, we have the law knocking on our doors again? Are we really doing her any favors by bringing her into our home, when we both know full well Tony's not cut out to be a hard-ass? And don't even try to make me assume that role, that wouldn't even be fair.

But right now, J is staying with us. Sort of. I guess she's been dividing her time between here and her aunt's house- her and her cousin are really close: same age, same problems, etc., and of course it's much funner for her to be in town rather than out in the boonies where we live.
But things are still very much in limbo. Nothing has been promised, nothing has been laid out in the way of plans or rules or anything, and I think both her and Tony are halfway hoping things will just sort of fall into place without any big "talk" or any of that uncomfortable nonsense. And maybe they will, I don't know. Maybe the longer J sticks around, the more I'll warm to the idea of her living here with us. Maybe I'm just being unreasonable and cynical. Perhaps I should give her a chance, the way so many others have given me chances throughout the years. And even though at her age I personally was just getting started in my career of disappointing and breaking the hearts of those who cared for me, it could be that she is just going through a brief phase of it, one that could be cured if her and her dad would just give her a fresh start here at our house.

I'm pretty sure I'm going to have to give her this chance, but I'm not nearly as sure that all will work out for the best. And there lies the rub.