This has been a long and interesting week. Lots of stuff is happening, most of it good. I've been acutely aware this week that I've got too much going on at work and I've been half-assing things as a way of coping. This week I took a step back and concentrated on the people, not the paperwork.
That helped quiet the hamster wheel in my head a bit, allowing me to make some actual productive progress on the paperwork.
Of course, focusing on people has kept me entertained all week long.
My favorite part of the past week or so was spending a lot of time with friends. That's never a bad thing. All of that, plus all the people-ing I did at work, meant I spent this weekend talking to almost no one other than waitresses. I needed to spend some time listening to myself think.
One of the things I thought about was meeting a friend's fiance for the first time. He scared me. Literally.
The entry way to her house is small and I was carrying something large. I did not realize he'd opened the door and was standing behind it, flattened against the wall, giving me room to get inside. Until he spoke.
They were having a quasi-engagement/birthday party that evening. I was there early to - I kid you not - deliver several racks of ribs I'd smoked. (I never cook. But my bbq chef hit the road, so I had to learn to make ribs my own damn self.) While my friend was getting dressed, the fiance and I sat down to get acquainted. I asked him about the logo on his shirt and he told me his life's story.
In the short time that he talked, he told me three times, both explicitly and implicitly, how much he'd loved his first wife's mind. Not her looks, not her job, or how she made him feel or anything else about her. He talked about her intellect and how she thought and how skilled she was mentally. She died a long, excruciating death from a brain tumor. Cancer killed her mind and left her in a deteriorating shell. He grieves the loss of her intelligence most of all.
There are all sorts of good reasons that marriage could be doomed. (Aren't there always?) But I'd probably marry him too, if I were her.
Monday was the thirty-first, and I was hoping for a quiet day to start the week and end the month. Mostly that's what I got. That afternoon I had an appointment with Lucy.
Lucy waddled into my office, stomped over to the chair and dropped her body into it. She said, "I think I need to talk to someone."
Lucy has needed to talk to someone for a very, very long time. For an 18-year-old, she's got the body of a hard-living, long distance truck driver a few more miles from the next heart attack. She's extremely over-weight, carrying most of it in an ever-increasing bubble around her middle. Her blood pressure is dangerously high. She had a sleep study a month ago and has started - and already quit - c-pap therapy.
This is not a case of just another obese American teenager. This is different. It's been my experience that 18-year-olds don't get to this point by accident. They have to work at it. My narrow experience also leads me to jump to the - possibly unwarranted - conclusion that the main reason for this is to build a wall in order to keep an abuser at bay.
This time she finally, after almost a year, started to open up a crack about her abusive homelife. She assures me that she's safe. Nothing physical or sexual is going on. I don't buy that entirely, but I am respecting her boundaries for now. The best part of our discussion was that she's finally to the point of being pissed off. She's finally fed up and no longer willing to let the abuse continue. She's going to get out of the house.
I loved seeing that anger animate her face. I didn't think she had it in her, to be honest.
In May Lucy became the very first person in her family to graduate from high school. A week later she ditched all her plans for community college and said she was going to go to work instead.
I lost it. A bit. I yelled about how there is exactly nothing she can do her to support herself. Her only option, other than education, is to get pregnant and be destitute. That's it. That's all there is. Regardless of the lack of employment opportunities here, I told her she would NOT sit around waiting for something to fall into her lap. If she wasn't going to work at going to school, then she would WORK at finding a job.
I was a bit of a bitch about it.
And then I bullied her for a month; making her report every time she turned around, bringing me her job applications, pounding the pavement to apply at places that don't have openings and that would never hire her, even if they did need someone.
After about three weeks she came to my office, plopped into the chair, sighed deeply, and said she decided maybe she would go to school after all. I was glad. Truthfully, school may not be the best fit for her, but she will die if she doesn't do something. Whatever is causing her emotional distress will keep her physical health in a downward spiral.
Unfortunately she's not getting far enough away from home for school. I wish she could move to a different town and live in a dorm somewhere, but that's not going to happen. Instead, she will take cosmetology classes at a branch campus, 30 miles away, driving back and forth from home. On the plus side she's gong to move out; maybe stay with a friend or temporarily with her grandmother. Her mother is going to leave the home as well.
Lucy is angry. Wonderfully, purposefully angry. And for the first time since I've known her, she's not eating her anger. She's letting it motivate her to act. I've never been happier to see someone pissed off at the world.
Later that afternoon I had a call from Lonnie. He was in tears.
Lonnie is a Gulf War vet. He's in his 50's, tall and lanky. Looks a lot like Chuck Connors in The Rifleman from 1960's TV. He also has that character's quiet, unyielding, manly-man personality.
Lonnie got into trouble - felony trouble - due to his drinking. He's always appreciated a beer here and there, but about ten years ago things got bad when his wife and his mother died within months of each other. He was the definition of bereft.
Instead of grieving, he drank. The more he drank, the more he needed to grieve. Eventually he got to the point where he was sentenced to a long term therapeutic community substance abuse program administered by your friendly neighborhood Texas prison system.
That damn well dried him out.
In order to survive a prison-based treatment program populated with a lot of young punks, he had to pretty much wall himself off. He learned the right words to say to fill the boxes of his counselor's expectations. He picked up some valuable skills and information along the way. But he was still very closed off.
For a couple of months after his release he was in aftercare meetings once a week. He would grudgingly show up, sit in the chair and listen to what the counselor or I told him. He made very little input to the sessions.
Then one day, for no apparent reason, he opened up. There was no dramatic scene, no gut-wrenching sobs, he just started talking.
And now he won't shut up.
It's sort of charming, really. He has restored his relationships with his brothers and is making use of the tools he learned in treatment to recognize some of the problems and understand some of the decisions his brothers have made along the way.
He's back in the good graces of his aunts, caring for them and letting them care for him. He's even building community in his very isolated existence outside a tiny dust-bowl town in a forgotten corner of this forgotten county.
Now he's dealing with physical pain caused by years of neglect of his body, as well as a years long dose of hard work. The knees on his lanky, bow-legged cowboy's body are shot. He's had one replaced at the VA a couple of years ago.
That did not go well.
He was still a drunk when he had the knee replacement surgery. There was no one available or even aware of the situation that could help him out. He drove himself to the hospital, over an hour and a half away, for the surgery. Two days later, a couple of orderlies wheeled him out to the parking lot, loaded him into his truck and let him drive his drugged-up body an hour and a half back home.
He has no memory of that drive. None.
Once he got home, he had no help, no physical therapy and survived on canned soup and bottled bourbon. This time his aunt came seven hours from home to drive him the hour and a half to the VA hospital for the second knee replacement. She was there when he awoke from surgery and stayed there with him every day until he was discharged. When he left, he went to his brother's house and stayed there for a few days.
Now he's home alone again.
And the big, burly cowboy called me, crying real tears.
He has an infection which he's been on medication for. Now he's broken out in a rash all over his body. He needs to see the doctor. He's got other health problems that are exacerbated by the infection. His pain is intense and the rash has him scared.
His family would help, but the closest lives an hour away. Besides, in an unusual late summer occurrence, we've had rain all week.
When you live on dirt roads, miles from the nearest highway, you can't get in or out when it rains. Lonnie was frightened and lonely. His neighbor ladies, elderly women he's been helping in the last few months, had been bringing him food while he's laid up. It's going to be days before they can get to him. He's running low on canned soup. I didn't ask him whether there was a bottle of bourbon in the house. I didn't want to know.
We talked for a bit and discussed some options. We made a plan for him to call a neighboring farm and ask the farmer to come out with his tractor and give Lonnie a ride to the highway. He will call his brother to meet him at the highway. Lonnie will stay with the brother at least until the roads dry out.
When we ended the conversation, Lonnie was ok. He had his breath back and his feet under him again, metaphorically at least. The fact that he made the call at all says a lot for how far he's come. He has a long ways still to go. And chances are he won't make that entire journey sober. But I'm hopeful he will be all right in the long run.
Humans are resilient. And brilliant And strong. And righteously pissed off. We love, we grieve, we make amends. Y'all all amaze me. Keep it up.