Archive for January, 2013

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One day before Alice’s 16th birthday, Max, June, Alice and I pile into the car and head West for the promised excursion to the Gay Pride Parade in Santa Cruz. Earlier in the week, June took Alice shopping for the perfect outfit and she skips out of the house this morning in a flouncy black mini, tall shoes and striped stockings. A little black tank, her favorite hoodie and a smattering of chunky candy jewelry completes the outfit.

Max and June are equally splendid in their attire, June having donned a red party dress with a matching parasol and Max, sporting his favorite bowler, a natty vest and, oddly enough, a raccoon tail. My slouchy gray t-shirt and jeans are frowned upon by all.

On our way out of town, we pick up Samir, the Persian boy from Alice’s support group. He is inexplicably dressed like a pirate and wearing a delicately-pasted beard which fills out one of the few parts of his face not cluttered with piercings. It’s his first Pride parade and he’s stoked.

Alice has elected to spend her birthday tomorrow with her old soldier boy buddy Dante, and I’m scheduled to drop her off at his house in Santa Cruz before the rest of us head back over the mountains. While Dante seems to accept Alice’s transition, I’m nervous about his in-person reaction and that of his family. Still, I tuck that anxiety away for the time being as there is too much excitement and anticipation about the day to enjoy.

With Alice riding shotgun, Gwen Stefani sings us through the Valley, over the mountains and down Highway 17, which dumps us into downtown Santa Cruz with twenty minutes to spare. We may have been gone for a year, but Santa Cruz is still my town and I prove it by scoring one of the few unregulated parking spaces downtown. The kids spill out of the car and are rushing towards the commotion a block away when Alice turns back.

“How do I find Davey so we can get into the parade?” she asks, stumbling momentarily in her tall shoes.

“Down to the end of Pacific.” I point west. “Look for someone with a clipboard and ask where the AIDS Project group is staged.”

She grabs Samir’s hand and they’re off. Max and June are already across the street, heading in the opposite direction, towards the clock tower. Her parasol is bobbing behind their heads and his raccoon tail bounces along behind them.

I catch up to them near the Del Mar Theater just as the Dykes on Bikes roll out onto the street to clear the parade route. The sound of their engines makes me tear up. It always has.

The motorcycles are followed by the Grand Marshall, roller-derby girls and a pair of seven-foot-tall drag queens. A group of Latin dancers from up at the college put on a hell of a show and then The Women’s Alliance for Medical Marijuana (a huge support system for local cancer patients and those living with HIV) rolls onto the scene with my old friend Mario atop the float, shaking his El Salvadorian ass in short shorts and sporting a giant platinum afro wig. I squeal like a delighted child as he throws a string of glittery beads my way.

Things mellow out a bit when the local gay-friendly churches take the street, another entrance which makes me teary year after year. We’re just a few months out from the upcoming election and California’s Prop 8 vote so there’s a lot of marriage equality support in these groups. I let out a big graceless “Woo Hoo” as my friends Tad and Greg pass our corner. Always calm and collected, Tad smiles and waves his “God Is Still Speaking” sign in my direction.

The churches are followed by stilt-walkers, the San Francisco Cheer Team and a smattering of state and local politicians, including the Mayor in a beautifully-restored Woody. A random group of boys in tutus and girls with tiny dogs follow the political crowd and then I hear a blaring bass and look up the street to see an approaching contingent dressed all in red with the exception of one bright green pirate and a girl in a flouncing black mini and striped tights.

I punch Max in the arm. “They’re coming!”

“I can see, mom.”

It’s this point at which Davey spots Max and I. He jumps out of the parade to grace me with a bear hug and a second set of shiny beads. Then, like a flash, he’s back in and the whole AIDS Project group stops in front of us. Volunteers from the Org run to the edges of the crowd with buckets for donations and to hand out condoms, little red ribbons and more Mardi Gras beads. The music blaring from the flatbed which precedes them is obscenely danceable and those who aren’t working the crowd put on their own impromptu dance show. Right in the middle of them are Alice, Samir and Davey having a grand old time.

When the procession starts up again, I leave Max and June at the corner, moving through the throng, to keep pace with Alice. I don’t want to miss out on the grand finale which is always the Radical Fairies, but it is so rare these days to see her this happy that I want to capture every second of it.

I pass a number of friends, acquaintances and familiar faces along the way, but I don’t stop long in any one place, trying to keep pace with the thrumming beat as it heads towards the clock-tower at the end of Pacific Avenue. I’m up near Bookshop Santa Cruz when I run headlong into another spectator.

“Whoa!” He grabs me by the shoulders and steps back. “Jules!”

The friend and former co-worker into whose arms I’ve tumbled exudes kindness like few people I’ve ever known. With his ginger beard and wide smile, he shines there in the midst of the crowd.

“Jesús!”

I hug him fiercely as a blast of music announces the arrival of The AIDS Project’s group. Jesús turns to see them and I tug on his sleeve.

“You remember my youngest, right?” I’m practically shouting over the music.

“The soldier boy? Of course,” he says, still looking towards the dancers.

I stretch out my arm in front of him and point to Alice who is currently twirling and laughing in the middle of the street. She spots us there at the edge of the crowd and waves in our direction.

“My god,” he says, somehow more delighted than surprised, “she’s blooming!”

With his arm over my shoulder, we stand and watch them. Davey dances circles around Alice and Samir while the volunteers with the buckets work the crowd. It strikes me suddenly that Jesús sees what I see: a happy girl dancing in the street with a cute pirate. Nothing more. Nothing less.

I hope for the day when she passes well enough that we won’t have to think of such things, but I bask in the company of someone who doesn’t have to be convinced, someone who also sees her blooming, and I love him dearly for that.

Davey’s group spills out of formation at the clock-tower and heads for the park one block over where a stage show and festival booths are waiting. I wait though until the Radical Faeries come through with their bright frocks, streamers and all things fabulous. I walk along to the park with an elderly gentleman sporting a woolly beard and a sea-foam gown. We talk about how beautiful days like this are while small children zoom past us with balloons and strings of beads. As we leave one another at the end of the bridge into the park, he nods at me peacefully like an old Rabbi and wishes me a glorious afternoon.

I spot the kids near the playground and head towards them. Max is up a tree, and Samir is navigating the lower branches, intent on joining him. June and Alice stand off to the side beneath the red parasol. Alice clomps over when she sees me, wincing with each step but looking ridiculously happy nonetheless.

“Did you see the faeries?” Alice asks, when I reach them. “Weren’t they great?”

“See them? I walked over here with one.”

“Really? Can you introduce me?” She glances across the park to the Ribbon-covered shelter the Faeries have erected and in whose shade they now lounge.

“I just met the man, but I know someone who can introduce you. Get your brother out of the tree and we’ll head that way. I’m starving anyway.”

We order a mix of Greek and Indian food, staking out a spot beneath a generous tree to eat. As we’re finishing up, I spot Jesús heading towards a dance tent throbbing with trance music. I grab him just before he goes in and he consents to take Alice over to mingle with the Faeries. I flop down in the grass near the other kids and watch them go.

I will never not love this place where my child is accepted as she is, not for who she once was or even who she will someday become, but who she is right now, flouncing through the park, arm in arm with Jesús, towards a group of men in fancy frocks.
[In The Name of Love is an excerpt from “The Complicated Geography of Alice“, a memoir currently in search of the perfect publisher. If you would like to read more, you can find Laurustina.com on Facebook and get notification when the blog is updated and the book is released.]

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Habit(during Alice’s 3rd hospitalization)

The next afternoon the doctor from Sutter calls asking a lot of questions and answering a few. I walk out onto the sun porch at work and smoke while she talks.

“When Alice arrived, she was in benzodiazepine withdrawal. We were able to stabilize her with Klonopin and we’d like to continue that course with your consent.”

“I’m sorry, she was what?”

“Alice has confirmed that she’s been using Ativan. It doesn’t show up in tox screens, but we estimate significant usage due to the dosage of Klonopin needed to relieve her withdrawal symptoms. We would also like your consent to begin treatment with an anti-depressant and I’d like to keep her under observation for a couple of weeks until the effects of the anti-depressant kick in. That will also give us time to manage her detox.”

I consent to everything the doctor asks and hang up the phone. I see the head nurse Dawn at one of the umbrella-covered tables. I walk over and toss my phone and cigarettes onto the table before sitting down.

“That good?” she asks, with a wry smile.

“Ativan,” I say.

“I don’t have any on me, but Martha usually has Xanex if you need one.”

“I know.” I laugh. “She’s always shoving them at me when I look stressed out. But no, what is Ativan?”

“It’s a sedative. Here, we primarily use it to treat anxiety. Sometimes it’s also used for short-term relief of depression.”

“Addictive?”

“Withdrawal can be nasty. Why?”

I watch her tear two sugar packets and pour them into her coffee before lighting a cigarette.

“Alice is up at Sutter psych.”

“And they’re giving her Ativan?”

“No, Klonopin. To manage withdrawal from Ativan.”

“That’ll help, but then they’ll need to taper her off the Klonopin. It’s a vicious cycle.”

“Dawn, I don’t even know where she gets this stuff.”

“My brother, he has a kid like that.”

“And what did he do?”

“Mortgaged his house to get him into rehab which he walked out of three days later.”

“I don’t have a house to mortgage,but if I did, I’d probably do the same thing,”

I drop my cheek onto the table and Dawn pats the top of my head.

“Get Martha to pony up a happy pill to take the edge off and get back at it,” she says as she gets up to leave.

“Will do,” I answer, but I don’t. Instead, I call my mother to let her know what’s going on.

“I just saw this report on 20/20 about pharm parties,” she says.

“What?” I’m envisioning a bunch of farmers with banjos and BBQ hanging out on hay bales, the relevance of which escapes me.

“Pharmaceutical parties,” Mom says, “where teenagers raid their parents’ medicine cabinets and then get together to exchange the pills and take them.”

Immediately I think of Bret’s mother standing on my porch and Alice’s insinuation that the pills Bret took came from her mother’s medicine cabinet. Did she also have an excess of Ativan lying around? And who else’s prescriptions does Alice have access to? Is everyone we know now suspect of providing fuel for her fire?

Before we get off the phone, I remind my mother to keep her meds locked up. Then I call Grandma Kay and tell her the same thing. After that, I call Fiona from the support group as Alice has hung out at her place a couple of times now watching Top Gear.

It’s day three when I drive up to visit her. Jay is working and Max is down at the college, so I go alone. Two blocks from the hospital, I stop at a Burger King and pick up a couple of spicy chicken sandwiches. I add them to the bag filled with clean clothes, lip-gloss and mascara, all of which pass inspection at the front desk. Unlike the hospital in Fremont, visits are more casual here. We are allowed to sit alone in the day room.

“This is the only thing I’ve eaten in two days,” Alice says after devouring both sandwiches. Then she grabs the bag I brought and disappears briefly into her room, returning with fresh clothes, a brush of Cherry Blossom lip-gloss and a thick coat of Maybelline Great Lash. She curls up in the crook of my knees like she did when she was a toddler, and leans into me with a great sigh.

I can’t help but notice how subdued she is. When we visited at Fremont and on the first stay here, she was animated and occasionally agitated. Today though, she reeks of sadness. We sit for a while without words and then she asks the big question:

“When can I come home?”

“They want to keep you for a couple of weeks until the anti-depressant starts working.”

“They gave me Zoloft yesterday,” she says. “I got all panicky and told ‘em I wouldn’t take any more, so they switched to Remeron.”

“And you’re still taking the Klonopin?”

She nods. “It feels foggy, but not in a bad way. Like being stoned, but without the fun.” She turns and looks up at me. “Weeks?”

“Yeah, but they’ll go fast. Your dad and Max can come up tomorrow and then we’ll all come again next weekend. Grandma Jo and Pops can visit you early in the week too.”

She starts to cry, not silent tears but mascara-running, gut-wrenching sobs. Her nose runs and she wipes it on my sweater. All I can do is hold her. Nurses and patients walk past, peering into the day room but averting their attention once my eyes meet theirs. We sit like that until she’s all cried out and half-asleep in my lap. Finally one of the nurses pauses in the doorway and taps her watch.

“I have to go, kiddo.”

She sits up and rubs beneath her eye, smearing the mascara across her face. I brush her hair back off her forehead and lay the palm of my hand along her cheek.

“I’ll try and get the afternoon off so I can come with your dad and Max.” I know full well that I shouldn’t take any more time off from work, but I also know that I will, because the thought of leaving her here alone is wrenching and the guilt in being away from her is intense.

“I love you, Mom.”

“Right back atcha,” I say, choking on the words as I disentangle my body from hers and head for the door.

There’s something sad and hollow about returning home without Alice. She’s always been the biggest, loudest presence in the house. She’s also the only one who will hug me out of the blue. Sure, half the time she’s got an agenda, but still, I miss it. Her absence somehow mutes our family life. Max goes about his business, happy to pop his head out and greet me, but just as happy to curl back into the little world he’s built for himself with his art and music and now June. Jay goes about his business too, working long hours, here but not here, present but not present so much of the time.

I can’t remember when I started withholding details and keeping so much of the emotional turmoil to myself, but when I get home from Sacramento, I take a hot bath and settle in with a good book and a half-pint of whiskey. I don’t tell Jay how Alice wept. I don’t tell anyone. And it reminds me of the Bible verse where the apostle Luke writes, “Mary held all these things in her heart.” I always thought it was a lonely verse; now I know.

[This Is Becoming A Habit is an excerpt from “The Complicated Geography of Alice“, a memoir currently in search of the perfect publisher. If you would like to read more, you can find Laurustina.com on Facebook and get notification when the blog is updated and the book is released.]

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Victor Lopez_HambreEsther came to The States from Honduras in the late 70’s as the Mail-Order bride of a man named Walter. She was not what anyone expected, neither young and timid, nor shapely and full of fire. Instead, she was thick, forty-something, plain and docile. She spoke little English, and faded into the background of any room she entered, like a dull, flowered wallpaper curling ever so slightly at the seams.

By all accounts, her husband was a simple man with few demands and little capacity for cruelty. He had already buried two wives and now looked to this new bride, to carry him through old age. Men, after all, were not meant to care for themselves. Maybe she expected more than his little trailer in that tiny foothill town, in the dry center of California. But if she did, she never said so.

Sometimes Walter took her to visit his children, two daughters and a son. He introduced her to his grandchildren as Esther. They never once called her Grandma. She was awkwardly kind to them, stroking their hair, hugging them, and smiling as they prattled on, seemingly unaware that she understood not a word of what they said. She had no grandchildren of her own. But she did have a son. Read the rest of this entry »

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Talk To Me In early May, I get a panicked phone call from Linda twenty minutes before I’m scheduled to pick Alice up from her office. I leave work and drive over immediately, arriving ten minutes later to find the therapist  slumped on the couch in her waiting room, with the inner and outer doors to her office wide open. She sits up abruptly when I enter.

“She stormed out of here twenty minutes ago” Linda blurts out, “She punched the emergency callbox in the hallway and disappeared. She was in a mood when she got here. Like really agitated. I got her settled down enough to talk and asked a couple of questions, then she just lost it.” Linda runs her hands through her spiky hair and exhales heavily.

“The estrogen can bring emotions closer to the surface, that’s one of it’s side effects.” I tell her. “What were you talking about when she ran out of here?”

“I’d asked her what was bothering her, if it was school or home, or if it was this girl thing, if she just wanted things to go back to the way they were. I wanted her to know that it was ok, if she did.”

Immediately, I know that last piece was enough to set her off all on its own. I also know that I need to go and find her, but I’m having a hard time disengaging from Linda, who looks absolutely crushed. Read the rest of this entry »

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image (11)She bought the mask as a gift for his 19th birthday. It took all the charm she had to talk the antique dealer down to a price she could afford, but instinctively she understood that the boy and the mask belonged to one another.

After her death, six months later, the mask took on deeper meaning. It bewitched him, whispering dark secrets and filling his head with stories and colors he never could have imagined. In pencil and ink, his fingers flew, bringing the carnival of characters trapped within the mask to life.

For the boy, grief was not something to be discussed or expressed in ordinary ways, but it bled from his fingertips onto the canvas. With dark hues and haunting detail, his own tragedies intertwined with those which the mask inspired until even he could not untangle them.

Some nights, exhausted with the effort and frustrated by the medium, he painted his face, making his own mask and took to the stage as a merry minstrel. Make ‘em laugh. Make ‘em cry. Make them feel … anything. Afterwards, he’d go home, wash off the paint and stare at his naked face in the mirror … feeling empty, without identity. Then he’d lie down, put the mask on and let it fill him up again.

 

puppet

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