At The Art Institute of Chicago I gazed at the blue-eyed Vincent Van Gogh. With turbulent stroke, deep dejection clear, hospitalized a whole year before the ear incident. Then death by suicide. His eyes held mine. “I want to touch people with my art,” he said. “I want them to say: he feels deeply, he feels tenderly.” I felt it down deep, faced him, and cried. “You remind me of my son,” I said. “His gift, the cello, sings. Yet other voices reside inside his mind. Relentless and mean. I see you, dear Vincent. Your help arrived too late. My worst nightmare is your fate.”
One year ago, and for the first time ever, I blogged A-Z during the month of April as part of a challenge. I committed at the very last minute, wrote my first post A is for Apple on April 1st and posted it on the 2nd. I chose a theme of gratitude, which seemed important at the beginning of a pandemic and in keeping with the nature of my blog:
Faith + Gratitude = Peace + Hope.
Other than that, I didn’t have a big plan. I chose an attitude of gratitude for twenty-six days according to each letter of the alphabet and posted on the fly. It was all part of keeping my own sanity.
I missed this year’s big theme reveal day on March 8, and I read that technically I don’t have to stick to a theme. That’s what I love about blogging—freedom of voice. Whew!
This semester my MFA program comes to an end, and the deadline of my thesis looms on the horizon—April 26. Revisions continue on my memoir, a quest for help for my son who has a severe brain illness and a coming-of-age story of a middle-aged woman who realizes the only person she can truly help is herself. I see my work as a playbook of sorts for someone in my position and hope it’s relatable despite a person’s circumstances.
During the spring semester of 2021, I’ve submitted the first two-thirds for feedback from my professor, and the next third is due at the end of March.
Parts I-III: 20,650 Words and 74 Pages
Parts IV-V: 23, 271 Words and 87 Pages
Parts VI-VII: 23,882 Words and 84 pages
Grand Total Today: 67,803 Words and 245 pages
Then, two more rounds of MAJOR revisions on my part, and after that three more professionals will read for extra opinions. So I might be mad to even consider a challenge. Then again, if I go for it, I might be building my audience of potential readers when the time comes to publish Help in the Time of Schizophrenia.
In August the Rocky Mountains beckoned, or maybe it was my friend Cheri in Denver—Girls Trip 2020, Telluride, Colorado. Cheri has a Telluride connection, and she invited me and three other friends for a complimentary weekend at a posh three-bedroom condominium in the heart of the action. We grew up together in the Oklahoma panhandle. We’ve all known each other since fifth grade or before. I had never been to Telluride. AND we all rolled up to fifty within the past eight months or so. This was a celebration of empowered women and a new decade, the ultimate slumber party and the feat of forty-year friendships, hot tubs in the mountains and an offer I couldn’t refuse. COVID, shmovid.
One Thursday, after sitting on my ass for 155 nearly-consecutive days with minimal human interaction since mid-March, I made my way to and through George Bush International all masked up and onto an airplane that touched down at Denver International. Denise from Dallas, my friend since age five, arrived ahead of me and waited with Cheri to pick me up. The three of us worked really hard to stay out of trouble before Starla, my friend since age seven, landed later that evening from California. On Friday morning, we three road-tripped into the Rockies and picked up Pamela, who flew from Austin to Montrose, sixty miles or so from our destination. Pamela has been my friend since age ten. Do I realize this is rare? Grown women, who grew up together, now staying connected, and still growing?
I’m sure I could tell some stories, but I would prefer to keep our secrets, just like I know they will keep mine. At the end of our time together, we shared photos and take-aways and one last hug. I can’t stop thinking about how the gondola carried us up and over the mountain, just like the best of friendships.
You see, when I returned home, the sky fell off my life, again. My son Drew, who lives with paranoid schizophrenia and dysfunctionally depends on his dad and me, returned to the hospital for the first time since 2015. An overdue hospitalization. His medication of the past five years, no longer effective. His doctor has been telling me for three years there’s nothing he can do. Me—after living through the 2017 hurricane, and in a hotel for ten months while rebuilding home, and starting a new job in 2017, another in 2018, and then a long-term sub job in 2019, and finally returning to school as a graduate student in 2020—well, I’ve stayed too fucking exhausted to look for a new doctor. Besides, Drew is an adult, and so he must agree to any changes. That’s the problem with seeking help for a person who doesn’t believe he has a problem. Meanwhile at home, Drew shouts at the voices he hears in his head most of the days of the month. His words. Terrible and angry. Racist and sexist. Filthy and threatening. His body odor vile. I don’t care to dive into further detail. All of this is an ongoing battle, Drew is now safe in the hospital, and of course, he wasn’t always this way. This brain disorder has transformed my son and stolen ten years of his life, and of course, I’m sad. In no way do I mean to imply schizophrenia is worse than cancer or Alzheimer’s or drug addiction or Lou Gehrig’s disease or any other infirmity leading to ultimate death. Wow. This post suddenly turned dark as tends to happen when I go down the path of what is wrong. Therefore, I focus on gratitude. Otherwise I may remain in fetal position for the rest of my days. Ain’t nobody got time for that.
And so—I continue to count my blessings. When I don’t even care to put one foot in front of the next or speak a single word, I am so very thankful for the friends and family I have who carry me and for their prayers that lift me like a gondola up the mountain I continue to face.
“Who is set up for the tragedy of suffering? Nobody. The tragedy of the man not set up for tragedy—that is every man’s tragedy.”Philip Roth
And by the way, if you are the type who prays, please join me in believing Drew will understand there is better for him and that his dad and I are here to help and that we love him and that God will direct our steps and give us wisdom in dealing with this illness and that there will be a helpful, hopeful outcome to this hospitalization including a new doctor who believes along with me.
Amen. And thank you.
My son Drew is a cellist. These days he doesn’t play often. His cello stands in its case next to the media console in our living room. The voices Drew hears stand in the way of his gift.
But—I have a vision. I believe in better days and a brighter future. I decided long ago that I can choose hope or not, and I choose hope. I wouldn’t know how to do that without God, and I lean on the words of the good book:
“He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds” (Psalms 147:3).
“Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness” (Matthew 9:35).
“Then [Elijah] stretched himself out on the boy three times and cried out to the LORD, “LORD, my God, let this boy’s life return to him! The LORD heard Elijah’s cry, and the boy’s life returned to him, and he lived” (1 Kings 17:21-22).
I believe in a God who will return Drew’s life, a better life with a cello to play and the light in his eyes. And today, I have a gift for you, actually Drew does. Four years ago, Drew managed the symptoms of his schizophrenia better than he does today. He found an app on his phone that allowed him to record a four-part cello piece, and he makes it sing. It’s the gift—I hope you have a minute to listen:
It looks as though I will make it to the end of my April A-Z blogging challenge. I had some doubts along the way, but I kept doing what I do—being grateful each day. All of this goes to show the importance of our beliefs. Life is not perfect. And now for those times when my world shakes so hard that the sky falls off my life, I have a little collection of reminders to help me carry on:
A is for Apple and B is for Boozer and C is for Champagne and Chanel No. 5 and D is for Dad and E is for Epiphany and F is for Faith + Gratitude = Peace + Hope and G is for Great _______ and H is for Hatbox and Honeysuckle and I for an I and J is for Jesus and K is for Kody and L is for the Lovely Lauren and M is for the Marvelous Misti and a Dirty Martini and N is for the Numbers and O is for the Oversized Owl and P—Prayer and My Grandmother’s Pearls and R is for Ripples Colliding and S is for Siblings and T is for the Tomlinsons and U is for Untamed