Tag Archive | faulty memory

Bringing the Smurfs Home

smurf2The summer before fifth grade, my stepdad and the beagle he’d taken with him in the split, picked up my mother, brother, and I and whisked us off to a new apartment in a new town.  After a year of separation, of living in my grandparents’ living room, we were going to be a family again. With my child’s eyes, I saw nothing but hope and promise.

By sixth or seventh grade, my parents’ relationship started backsliding. As I wrack my brain, I can’t recall anything being unpleasant. It was all flowers and rainbows.  Except in reality, a fuzzy reality that only appears to me in tiny unpleasant, out-of-sequence images, it was not as Leave it to Beaver as I like to think. It wasn’t horrible, the way some childhoods are, but there were issues that in retrospect were not as well hidden as my mother would have liked.

These not-well-hidden issues manifested in stress illnesses in me. I had headaches and bad stomachaches all the time and was always missing school, going into Boston to see one specialist or another. My parents tried to make the visits fun, and all these years later, one of my strongest and happiest memories was the day we went to the Boston Common after one of the appointments. There was a man feeding pigeons and they hopped up on him. I was impressed but Dad said it was just the peanuts, and if I sat very still and gave them nuts, they’d jump on me too. Pictures in an album of a chubby twelve-year-old with frizzy hair and a rugby shirt, with her arms outstretched, pigeons lined up on her arms and hands, remind me that it actually happened. That day was magical.

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There are a lot of random vignettes from those days: playing cribbage and Scrabble with my parents, singing in the school choir and school plays, playing with friends.  But none of it feels real. I could just as easily have watched a movie about a neurotic, over-imaginative little girl living in an apartment in the 80s and my mind wouldn’t know the difference.

There were a select few bad things, all jumbled together in a blur: the time the neighbor boy killed a garter snake in front of me for no reason. The night my teen brother and some friends tried to steal beer off a train and he fell and broke his ankle. Or how he later abruptly went to live in upstate New York with my bio Dad and stepmother and stepsister. It’s all hazy. Did I miss him? Did my mother miss him? I’m sure she did but when I try to recollect how it really was there’s just…nothing. Only snapshot images of certain, unrelated days.

When my stepdad would go out until the wee hours of the morning, and come back drunk (so claimed my mother years later), and I’d hear those angry shout whispers through the wall that she was so good at, as she rode him over the rails for being out AGAIN, all I could think about was that when I got up in the morning there would be a new Smurf on the kitchen table for me. They used to sell them at Cumberland Farms back then. I didn’t care about the yelling, or feeling sick all the time, or being chubby, or not knowing if my brother was coming back or not. I just cared about the Smurfs. I got the Cupid for Valentine’s Day, and Smurfette, and so many I can’t even remember. The Smurfs were my favorite thing in the whole world and the most concrete part of my entire childhood, next to my beagle.

Then in what felt like days but was actually several years, life changed dramatically, the details of which I’ve talked about at length in this blog. Before I knew it, I was in high school. Everything was different. Except for living in the same apartment, and still being a neurotic, over-imaginative girl with frizzy hair, it was a night and day contrast. When I was a Junior in high school and was dating the boy from Maine, aka my first love, we used to visit his family. He had a little sister who lived up there. She was eleven and adorable. She and her family didn’t have a lot of money, or space, and she didn’t have many toys. At that point in my life, I was so far removed from my childhood and the man who brought me Smurfs, that I didn’t have any attachment to them anymore. Truthfully, I didn’t have attachment to much of anything and drifted through most of those years looking forward to a future phase in my life that would be pleasant and easy.

So, the next time we went up to Maine I took the shoebox of Smurfs who’d gotten me through so much, and gave them to her. She was surprised and happy, and I hoped more than anything they’d bring her the same level of joy they had once brought me.

Over the years, as I got older, I often thought of my box of Smurfs and how I wish I’d kept them. Realistically, Mean Guy probably would have thrown them out and I’m still glad that little girl got them. I like to think she loved them as much as I did.

Now that I’ve arrived at that place I dreamt of, where things are finally pleasant and easy, that one loss nags at me. As an adult, I’ve rebought a few things that I lost over time, like a pop-up book about kids in a haunted house I had in fourth grade, or The Witchmobile book which I LOVED as a small child. Ryan has bought me many items from my past, like the Merlin electric toy. A few years back, McDonald’s had Smurfs and I bought a few Happy Meals to get them. Those Smurfs are on my desk at work. Unless I spend a lot of money though and go to a specialty store or eBay, I won’t get enough to fill that empty Smurf hole in my heart.

Until now.

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Last night I was on Facebook’s local shopping page and a woman posted “20+ Smurfs, $15.” There were two Ziplock bags of Smurfs and my heart leapt. She’d JUST posted so I sent her a message immediately. Rapid fire and manic because I was so excited. “I can be there in twenty-five minutes.” She said tomorrow would be better and I planned to go see her on the way home from the office. Today, I met her and got my Smurfs.

Maybe it’s silly to think that two bags of blue plastic from a stranger in Pacoima will replace everything that the “bad years” took away. That setting them up on an already crowded living room shelf and playing with them and staring at them with utter joy will be the last thing needed to make me complete. But somehow, I think it will. I have worked hard to set my life up just right, and mostly it’s all flowers and rainbows, to the level that people probably think I’m high all the time because no one can be that sunny.  But those darn tangible symbols of the adolescent Carly’s love for her father have haunted me.

Everyone arrives at adulthood with a least a few rips in their emotional fabric, tears that heal and scar over. We can’t go back and fix whatever happened but sometimes applying happy patches to the holes makes all the difference. Material things don’t matter, and at the end of the day, no one really needs “stuff.” But this once, stuff matters quite a bit, to me, still a neurotic, over-imaginative girl with frizzy hair.

Happy Smurfing,

Carly G

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The Tragedy of Arnie G.

Some blog entries come easier than others. This one has taken well over a month to complete, with my writing long passages only to delete them entirely. This may be the fifth or sixth version from scratch. I dance around the topic of Arnie G. and what happened to him, and how he became what he became out of privacy but also because I don’t think I’ve looked at it honestly before. I didn’t see the signs that were there earlier than I recall, when I reminisce about an idyllic romance that fell apart in a short period when his mind started to fracture.

The way I’ve often relayed it is that we were two young kids in love who moved in together in a week, married in less than two years, had typical struggles, had Ivy, and then a few years later looked around at a marriage that was quickly and utterly shattered by mental illness and drug abuse. And how twenty years after we divorced, Arnie is still spiraling out of control, and we’re still close, and there’s still nothing I can do about it.

Most of that is exactly how it went, except that none of it happened quickly. Memory is funny that way. In my mind, it feels like he was perfectly fine, best husband and dad in the world, and within a week was checking into his first of many hospitals.

When I try hard to think back, to reconstruct the timeline, it’s fuzzy. I know I won’t get it all right and I don’t want an entry that’s a bulleted list of what happened when. That’s not ever what this should be about. But I do need to look back with open eyes about the way we were.

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We were young. I was twenty-one and he was twenty-five when we met in a store where my mother and he worked. He was quirky and brilliant and within a couple of hours of talking to him I knew our meeting was something special. It was a whirlwind romance for sure, the way many things are in your early twenties.  You’re a blank slate then and for me, with my life planned out in precise steps, all I needed was him to walk into my life and then everything would fall into place. I ignored the fact that he’d had “a problem with cocaine” his words, or an arrest record, or that he’d just moved back to his parents’ house because “things got out of control.” In my life, everything was under control. This was my naïve, youthful thinking, which has since yielded to the understanding that I can only control some things and the rest I let wash over me like waves, adjusting myself so I don’t drown. But back then I hadn’t learned.

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There’s no point in rehashing all of it now except to say there were a lot of arrests, a lot of probation officer visits, court fees, fines, losses of license while I sat by, a dutiful wife, honoring my commitment to stay by his side. I complained a lot, cried a lot, yelled an awful lot. I think we fought so much in those ten years that I wore myself out. He had a nervous breakdown at one point that lasted for months. He stopped working and though I wanted to argue with him about it, I agreed he couldn’t handle work anymore. He was fragile, and has always been fragile and I suppose that was one of the things that drew me to him, his fragility and sensitivity. He cared so much about everything, all the time, just like me. His empathy and kindness toward others was boundless. But those were the traits that crippled him. He cared too much, all the time, about everyone. All of this was years before that short period of time I refer to as “When it all fell apart.”

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There was no one thing, no final straw. It was years of everything getting worse. There were probably about five things at the end that caused me to say I was done, once and for all, that I had to take Ivy and leave. I’m not going to broadcast them here because it won’t help anyone. I stayed as close to him as I could and I have to admit that all the serious boyfriends since him were really good about including him when he went through his clean or lucid periods, and even when he didn’t. I’ll give credit where it’s due. Even Husband #2 was a good sport in that regard.

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Arnie’s mother passed away last week. She was too young, and cigarettes are to blame. Ivy and I were close to her before and after the divorce. Her other children will surely miss her terribly as she was the one who held everything together. Her grandchildren will be very, very sad because she was a wonderful person. Despite Arnie being a mess though, and in and out of rehabs and jail and shelters and sober houses and then starting the cycle all over, and despite how much his mind isn’t as logical as it was, I think he will be the hardest hit by her passing. She was all he had, even if he didn’t always acknowledge it. Once I left him all those years ago, and after he went from bad to worse, and hit his rock bottom and stayed there, she was his touchstone. No matter where he was, he would call her, let her know where he was living, let her know that he was living. And she’d report to me and I’d report to Ivy and the three of us would breathe a sigh of relief that he was okay. For at least another day.

I don’t know what will become of him now. I’ve been in touch with him a lot lately out of worry. Ivy and I flew to Boston a few weeks ago to see Mrs. G. one last time, knowing the end was near. Mr. And Mrs. G. were celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary and the immediate family got together for one long day and night in their in-law home attached to my sister-in-law’s house. An attendant brought Mr. G. from the nursing home in his wheelchair. He has mild dementia and Multiple Sclerosis but seemed healthier to me than I’d seen him in a long time. It was nice to see all my ex-in-laws and for a brief time on that visit it felt like we never left. Except that in other ways, it was a stark reminder of how much had changed. Ivy and I were so cold, and the little nieces and nephews were so much older and more vibrant, and Mr. and Mrs. G were so much older and sicker. And Arnie…it was heartbreaking.

He was too skinny, looked emaciated. His muscle disease left his hands curled up and fingers mostly unusable; his calves had almost no muscle on them at all. Nonstop facial spasms that he says are excruciating, a side effect of years of prescription and street drugs, were the hardest to witness. He was barely recognizable from the twenty-five year old I met almost thirty years ago.

His mind is different too, as changed by his path and drugs as his body. About a month before the visit he said to me in an exasperated voice, regarding how the government keeps breaking into his phones, “Carly, you thought I was crazy but see, I’m not. They’re watching me. The FBI and the Attorney General’s office, they want me because of what I know. I can prove it now.” He keeps getting new phones and phone numbers and Ivy and I have started naming the contacts “Arnie Jan 19, Arnie Feb 19” so we won’t ignore calls from strange numbers. For once I didn’t argue with him. At this point he will never accept that the panic and paranoia stems from his mind, not covert government agencies. And my fighting with him comes across as name calling and that’s the last thing he needs.

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Ivy sat on the floor next to him as she did when she was little and talked to him, relating to him on a level that was endearing. For a few hours she was a little girl next to a father who told her about his adventures and his findings: flat earth, the Illuminati, secrets in dollar bills, the faked moon landing. There was no judgement that day, and when he dumped out his tattered bag of thrift store treasures on the dining room table, items picked with love, something for everyone, I think he felt good, like nothing had ever changed.

But now Mrs. G is gone, and Ivy and I are back in California, and Arnie is out there in the cold of a brutal Massachusetts winter, figuring out where he’ll live next, trying to stay warm, while his body is breaking down a little more each day. Mrs. G.’s passing has nothing to do with his homelessness; he seems to have a hard time staying anywhere for very long. But I hope he will not drift too far away from reality, from life, without Mrs. G. there to reel him in. He talks about moving to Peru because it’s magical there, or South Carolina, because it’s the first warm state when you head south, or to Sedona because there are people like him, or in a tent in the woods, or maybe just another sober house right there in Massachusetts.  I don’t know where he will end up but I hope he will keep chugging along one day at a time as long as he is able.

Rest in peace, Mrs. G. We will miss you so much.

And to Arnie, may the road rise to meet you. May the wind be always at your back.

To Carrying On

-Carly G