Saturday, January 24, 2004

The demons will out!

Since the big event on Monday I've had scarcely a moment to get out of my paper hat and quiet down enough for the significance of what has happened to surface. Held it all together until last night. This was the long-anticipated opening night of the Henry J. Kaiser exhibit attended by Kaiser family members, museum patrons, foundations, individual funders, city and state officials (Loni, of course), historians, and me. It may seem strange, but I'd completely forgotten about it until around three in the afternoon when I was reminded by another staffmember that it was on my calendar. I was to staff Loni for the evening. And I'd not yet told Loni that my image and audio strip were a part of the exhibition. No accounting for such a slip, except that it was an extraordinary week in my extraordinary life.

Getting to sleep each night this week has been more and more difficult. Seeing old friends on Monday had served to churn up memories -- both joyous and painful -- with each crowding out the present and replacing it with "mini-documentaries" that played out in the dark against my closed eyelids, often only to be washed away by cleansing tears. Would that this had happened long ago. My pride had robbed me of the chance to rid myself of the pain, even during several years of psychotherapy. Admitting that such things were happening to us somehow made them the more deadly. I'd not even shared such things with my family or childhood friends who lived within driving distance of no more than 30 minutes -- across the hills. Not even my hard-working young husband knew what some of the days were like in our new life among hostile strangers. The catharsis of Monday cannot be overstated.

The image of my poor dear Rick looms large in these playlets. His early onset alcoholism was marked by the fact that -- when under the influence -- anger would rise in him that was terrifying! He was a slightly-built teenager, but could hardly be contained at such times by his father who outweighed him by 50 pounds.

Let me describe just one incident in his troubled life:

For Christmas one year, Mel's gift to me was a beautiful beige Mercury stationwagon with the simulated wood side panels and a ski-rack on top. It was -- until the year before when he'd give me a magnificent Martin concert guitar -- the most extravagant gift of my life.

On an afternoon, two days after Christmas, I gave 17 year-old Rick the keys so that he could drive to his friend's home about 3 miles from ours -- such a thrill! His drinking was still well hidden, and only occasional until much later. He was a good driver and an otherwise responsible youngster. We had a loving relationship, and this was -- after all -- the new "family" car. He'd been driving my old one for some time.

When he reached Kevin's, and before he could get properly parked, a man rushed out of the house next door with a hammer held high and hurled it at Rick! It crashed against the side panel beneath the window on the driver's side (missed Rick), and made a huge dent in the paneling. All the while the brute was yelling "Nigger get the hell out of here!" Rick was terrified both of this wild man and -- of course -- at how he could face his parents.

A few hours later my phone rang and Florence Pierson's voice on the other end said, "...Betty, Rick is here with us. He's afraid to come home." She then explained to me what had happened and put him on the line. He had no words, only sobbing. There was nothing he could say. There was no way for me to explain or for him to understand. It was all totally irrational. It was another of those times when reaching down inside my mother-self to be helpful yielded nothing. My mouth was as dry as cotton. I simply told him to come home and that I loved him, and that we would talk to Dad together.

Then there was the impossible question of explaining to the insurance company ... and then just quietly paying the deductible and moving on. I believe now that the "moving on" may have done more to harm my children than anything else might have done. Life forced us to learn to cope and to become complicit in our own psychological devastation because there simply were no rational responses to the irrational. My children probably learned from me to stifle their responses in quite the same way, so that over time, I ceased to learn of such things -- except when they were too agregious to contain, or those rare times when such incidents were funny enough to afford a good laugh. We learned to share the ironic more easily as they grew older and wiser.

Then there's the inexplicable story of Dorian and her first date ...