At the Car Hospital

I went to visit my car at the auto body shop today, and it’s left me feeling . . . I don’t know. Shaken, maybe. I never wanted to see it in the intermediate stages of restoration — things so often get worse before they get better, and this is so much worse! — but I needed to see if the car was in fact being worked on.

And oh, the poor thing! Makes me wonder if I will regret having all the work done. I am pouring out a lot of money for what is, after all, an ancient vehicle. (I have never done an expensive foolhardy thing in my life, never wasted more than a few dollars at a time, so if this turns out to be a foolish move, then, I’ll just chalk it up to experience.) Even worse, I’m stuck in this vehicleless and homeless state for another month, and the frustration of it all is getting to me. I am an independent soul who hates begging for help, and lately, I am in that situation more often than not, especially since I am running out of people to sponge off of. In the beginning, people felt good about helping, and were pleased to have an opportunity to be kind, but three months is enough to strain everyone’s patience.

One friend said that the reason homeless people end up on the street is that they run out of people to stay with, and I am heading in that direction, at least locally. I’m not in any danger of ending up on the street — I’m not destitute and there are such things as motels, after all, but without a car, I would be trapped.

I suppose it’s good for me to be temporarily embracing such a lifestyle as this, humbling though it might be. Since I have chosen to believe I am where I am meant to be, there could be a reason I am supposed to be hanging around. Or not. It could simply be an ill-fated wind blowing through my life.

Oddly, despite the lengthy restoration process (and the even lengthier wait for the restorer to get started), I still trust this guy. I think he’s an artist who knows what he is doing. And one cannot hurry art. So will this mess end up as a workable piece of art? Only the auto body guy knows.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fireand Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

Being

I don’t know if you will find this as amusing as I do, but I’m sitting in my storage unit, taking a break from digging out stuff I need for the coming week, and rearranging boxes to make needful things more accessible. I feel perfectly comfortable here, as if I’ve always been unanchored without my possessions a constant presence in my life. Maybe I’m finally learning to be at home wherever I am, unanchored or not.

I called myself unanchored because although I don’t have a place of residence at the moment beyond the grace of my friends’ hospitality, calling myself homeless doesn’t fit with the current meaning of the word, or at least the current implications of the word. I am not destitute, not dysfunctional, not addicted to anything. I am merely in a state of transition, learning to go with the flow of life, experiencing whatever comes my way. And apparently what has come my way is my sitting in a storage unit, smiling at the ridiculousness of the situation.

(Actually, now that I think about it, it’s not so silly. The photo at the bottom of this post is what I am seeing. Is your view as lovely?)

When I left the house today, I made plans to meet up with my friend in four hours. She seemed concerned about what I would do with all that time. I suppose what I am currently doing is simply being. Not a bad way to spend a sunny afternoon.

Hope your day is as being-ful as mine.

***

(Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.”)

A Close Encounter of the Unhomed Kind

(Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.”)

***

I’ve been sort of joking about being homeless, and I suppose I sort of am. (How is that for a noncommittal sentence!) And anyway, I consider myself ‘unhomed’ rather than homeless. (I’m laughing. I’m using my phone since I don’t want to be dragging my poor old computer from place to place, and the phone has a mind of its own. I’d written the word ‘unhomed’ but the word ‘unhinged’ appeared instead.)

My stuff is in storage, and at the moment I am living off the kindness of friends, but this is due more to my lack of a vehicle and a need / promise to continue with dance classes at least until the end of May than to destitution. I have resources and plans, just a strange set of circumstances coupled with a growing need for adventure.

I’d planned to rent a room for May, but couldn’t find anything within walking distance of the dance studio so I will need to continue relying on friends for another few weeks. The distance wouldn’t have mattered if I had my car, but it’s still at the body shop. The original estimate on my car was that it would take three weeks to be de-dented, de-rusted, and painted. Four weeks have gone by, and now the auto body guy says three more weeks. Luckily, my friends don’t seem to mind my company. And if they did? Well, I’d figure out something. Use my vehiclelessness as an excuse to go on some sort of adventure by bus, perhaps.

I am learning something during this time — the foolhardiness of my making plans. Every time I make any sort of plan, it changes. Not just concerning my living situation but about taking off on a trip. I’d planned to leave June first, but a friend asked me to housesit the first couple of weeks in June, so I’ll be staying around here a bit longer than I’d originally intended. Makes life interesting, just going with the flow.

And for now the flow is toward . . .

I was going to say the flow was toward homelessness, but the truth is, now that I don’t have a permanent place to stay, I feel less homeless than at any time since Jeff died. He was my home, and I knew that to ever be happy I’d need to find ‘home’ within myself. To be home wherever I am. And if I am home, I can never be homeless even if I don’t have a set place of residence.

If you’re one of those who are worried about me, I truly appreciate it, but there’s no need to be concerned. I’m just experiencing a close encounter of the unhomed kind.

Enabling or Decency and Caring?

Kaypacha Pele says that this week’s mantra is:

“I feel that Life is upping the stakes,
Just to see what it will take,
To get me to stand up tall and straight.”

Oh, so very true! I’m in a difficult situation, one in which there is no real solution, no right way of dealing with problem, no wrong way. And the situation keeps escalating beyond anything I’ve ever had to deal with before. (I was going to say escalating beyond my power to deal with it, but that isn’t correct. I am dealing with it. Just don’t know what the right way is, or if there is a right way.)

In Applying the Lessons of Grief, I wrote about a homeless sibling who is depressed, possibly bi-polar, probably an alcoholic, verbally abusive, furious, manipulative, desperately needy, and relentless in pursuit those needs. (He’s also brilliant and exceedingly creative, and spent most of his life composing music and writing songs.) He has been living here for several months, and therein lies the problem since his anger now seems to be focused on me. (He thinks I have it easy looking after my father, and doesn’t see how stressful it is being torn between the two of them, as I have been my whole life.) If I could find out what he wanted, perhaps I could help, but he is cagy (paranoid is more like it) and talks around his needs. (He hates being a charity case, hates when people do things for him, and hates even more when people don’t.) He won’t go for treatment, blames everyone else for his problems, and doesn’t know how to take care of himself. Mostly, it seems as if he is lost inside a whirlwind of unfocused energy.

Although my father would like to invite him to live here, it’s not possible. My brother is restless, doesn’t sleep, is unable to stay still. He’d wander away in the middle of the night, leaving the front door wide open. He is a pack rat, surrounding himself with piles and piles and piles of trash, never shuts up, drinks constantly, all of which made my 97-year-old father a nervous wreck. And me, too, actually. When my brother stayed in the house, he used to come into my room every night and scream invectives at me (“porky pig” and “whore” are about the two nicest things he has ever said), because he thought I was working against him in his efforts to reconcile with our father.

For the last few months, he’s been camping out in the garage, which has seemed to be the best solution all around. My father could relax and go about his business of growing ever older and at the same time could be assured my brother was taken care of. Of course, that care fell on me. I’d make sure he had food, clean clothes, access to a shower, arranged for dental care and even made sure he kept the appointments. A couple of times when he was too crippled with sciatica to make his daily trek to the liquor store, I made the trip for him. (I can hear you screaming “enabler!” But it is not my place to decide when he is going to stop drinking.)

When he gets wound up in his whirlwind of unfocused energy, he becomes relentless in his need to be heard. He often knocks on my window at night, wanting to talk, and I used to answer the knock because . . . well, isn’t that something we all want? To be heard? Unfortunately, what he usually wanted to tell me is how fat, lazy, stupid and useless I am, living in a cocoon of ease that I don’t deserve. When I refuse to answer his knock, he bangs on the window every few minutes for hours. I’ve gotten used to it, and ignore it, though a couple of times the neighbors called the police. (I asked the police what they could do — they said they could arrest him. “Then what?” I asked. They said, “We let him go. If he comes back, we can arrest him again.” I asked, “Then what?” “We can arrest him again.” I said, “Then what?” “Arrest him.” Oh, yeah, like I want to spend the rest of my life caught in the hamster wheel of the justice system.)

It all came to a head yesterday. After a sleepless night due to his shenanigans, I went out to tell him I’d be gone most of the day (to keep him from disturbing my father with his endless pounding on my windows for attention) and found my car covered with invectives written in black marker. Some of the markings came clean with toothpaste (makes me wonder what it’s doing to our teeth if it’s such an all-purpose cleaner) but other markings didn’t come clean at all, not with Windex, Magic Eraser, isopropyl alcohol or any of the other possible solutions I found on the internet, so I painted over the words with acrylic paint. He was lying in his sleeping bag, laughing drunkenly at me while I was cleaning my car. I was so angry, I kicked him and kicked him again. (Not something I am proud of. I also almost strangled him once and slapped him another time. Never in my entire adult life have I lifted a hand to another human being, not even in self-defense, and yet somehow, he raises true homicidal tendencies in me.)

I cleaned my car, went to an exercise class, and at lunch afterward (well, we had to replace all those burnt calories, didn’t we?) I mentioned my problem. Later, I got a call from one of the women, a retired psychiatric nurse. She was kind, but pointed out that I was enabling him. That I had to call the police, get him out of here. At the very least, she told me I needed to start keeping a journal of his abuse. (I started last night.) She also suggested my leaving for a while or spending entire days or weekends away so that my father wouldn’t take me so much for granted. (He can still mostly take care of himself, so it’s not a problem if I leave.) Told me that I’m being torn between two puppet masters.

Oddly, hers wasn’t the only unsolicited advice I got yesterday.

A friend who is a holistic therapist with Buddhist leanings told me that there was no right or wrong. That if I kept helping my brother as a fellow human being, that was okay, just not to take his karma on myself.

An astrologer told me that according to my horoscope, I need to let go of being attached to a past dysfunctional emotional pattern or pain that began in childhood. (Oh, so true! One reason I am sympathetic to my brother is that I remember the bewildered boy and angry teen trying to deal with a my-way-or-the-highway father.)

A writer friend told me to keep a journal of what my brother does, and to write a book about it someday.

This is all so complicated. I do understand about enabling and tough love and all the rest of it, but where does one draw the line? It’s important to me to be decent and caring. It’s also important to me not to end up in prison for manslaughter. (How fitting that word is! The “mans laughter” was the final straw.)

I considered leaving and letting the two men fend for or fend off each other, but I am making friends here, have made various plans for the next couple of months, and am not yet ready to be homeless myself.

In the end, it was my own response to my brother’s abuse that turned something off inside of me. I can see that as a fellow human being, he deserves certain basics, such as cleanliness, so I told my father that from now on, if my brother wanted to take a shower, he was to come to the front door and ask. If he wanted food, he was to come to the front door and ask. Since this is my father’s house, it is up to him to allow my brother access or not. I don’t want to have anything to do with my brother any more. While I might be sympathetic to his plight, he made choices that I never did. (We both knew from a young age that we inherited a tendency toward alcoholism and substance dependency. I stayed away from both; he ran toward them with open arms.)

Life. Such a strange thing it is. I hope I am standing up tall and straight.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Follow Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

Haunted by an Image of Pizza

I saw something unsettling the other day that I can’t get out of my mind. A homeless man was standing at a dumpster behind a pizza place, feasting on discarded slices. That wasn’t the unsettling thing since it seemed oddly normal — we humans have origins as hunter/gatherers, finding food wherever we might. It wasn’t even that the food had been previously nibbled on, because it hadn’t been. Most of the slices of pizza were whole.

PizzahuttWhat haunts me is the sheer bulk of the discarded food. Hundreds of slices of pizza. Huge bags full. Mounds of it. (Did you ever see Space Balls? Pizza the Hutt? The piles of pizza looked like that.)

I have such a respect for food, that even seeing food wasted in a movie, such as a food fight, turns my stomach. Somehow I had assumed others had the same respect for comestibles. And yet, there was a dumpster full of food that people had ordered and not eaten.

Ignoring the dubious designation of pizza as food, it is edible, and supplies needed calories. Only in a society that views food as disposable and calories as something bad can such a situation occur. I don’t know what the solution is, or if there is a solution. Restaurants can’t really donate used food to homeless shelters, though some restaurants do donate leftover food. (I was a at a family-style dinner once where they kept bringing huge platters of food long after everyone had eaten their fill, and those platters of food were taken to a nearby shelter. They could have fed an army that night with our leftovers alone.)

I can’t do anything about the situation, either to help the homeless fellow or deal with the discarded food, but still, the image stays with me.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

Are You Your Brother’s Keeper?

I went to lunch with a few friends today. One is dealing with an aged mother who seems to either be bipolar or downright evil, jealous of her own daughter and unable to say a single nice thing to her. Another woman had such a mother, and the mother’s death set her free.

desert knollsWhen it comes to a parent, I can see that perhaps you have no choice but to deal with her (or him) as best as you can, but how much responsibility does one grown sibling have for another? If the sibling has some sort of mood disorder (undiagnosed and untreated), are you obligated to put up with their invectives and haranguing? And if so, how do you deal with it without being destroyed in the process?

If the mood-disordered sibling is also homeless, are you obligated to give that sibling a home? If you’re not in a position to give the sibling a home, what then are you supposed to do? Is it ever okay to walk away and leave the sibling to deal with life as best as possible on the streets? What if the sibling is suffering  with once broken bones that were never set and other painful issues because of a lack of insurance? And what if the sibling is also an alcoholic? How much responsibility do you have then, especially if the sibling doesn’t want to hear anything you have to say and misinterprets even the smallest gesture of kindness, such as the offer of a bit of food?

Is one ever free from the situation? If you walk away, how do you keep your heart from breaking? If you stay in contact, being subjected to so much anger and hatred, how do you keep your spirit from breaking?

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Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.