Justin was still asleep in my arms as the plane was touching the ground and skidding to a full stop with such impact that it made me extremely grateful that I was strapped in to the seat and forced me to squeeze my little blond-boy and his curls just a wee bit harder. He slept through it, figures! Now to get from the very back seat of this sardine can and out so I can breathe some “real” air instead of the stream of forced air that beaned me in the head the whole flight. Car seat…check, back pack….check, diaper bag…check, boy…check! And we wait. I got to stand, well at 5’9’’ I got to hunch slightly over the seat and the woman in front of me that knew better than to stand up yet. Did I mention I don’t like flying? Justin began to wiggle in my arms and thus started the mental begging pleas of “please just stay cool, please want to stay in my arms, please don’t get the need to pee, please just pretend nothing at all is happening, that Mommy is not standing up in the middle of a hundred people trapped at the back of the plane”, please, and thank you!
As I walked off the plane finally, and followed the threading single file line out, my bags smacked the tops of every aisle seat and the car seat in tow hit the sides of every arm rest, I was starting to get excited again. I gently umphed Justin back up on my hip with that side-upwards-swing-thrust-move that moms instinctively just know how to do so well. He landed squarely where I needed. I started telling him about how cool it was going to be to see green trees and grass everywhere. I told myself the very same! I couldn’t wait to crest over Braddock Mountain or South Mountain, drive 70 W and see real trees for miles upon miles! Now, don’t get me wrong, I truly loved living in Albuquerque for its own specific aesthetics but the ABQ is rock, sand, dirt, dust, and shrubs that try to pass for trees. You usually only see the real tall trees that have lived a true life in the richer areas from about Paseo Del Norte to Eubank across Tramway at the bottom of the Manzano Mountain trails to about Wyoming Blvd and Academy Blvd, where the Tanoan Elite lived. That area of the city actually became quite the inside joke later in my life. I would be sharing it with Heath, but not for about another 4 months or so. I didn’t know it any more than he did that day….That in a matter of hours from this spot in our time continuums, we both would be changed forever….that he would be implementing a rescue mission with my brother (whom he would meet for the first time in a few days from now before I returned to Albuquerque), then fly across the country, pack up a tiny U-Haul of mine and my children’s belongings, and then start climbing the excruciatingly steep hill of helping 5 kids he hadn’t even met yet, and a woman he loved but didn’t even know, to then drive across the country and start over without the violence that encompassed us all, only to have his whole new world be legally remanded back to the state of New Mexico. He didn’t know he was going to have to choose between his new life and his old life in just a matter of months. Neither of us could have imagined that in just a year’s time we would be living in Albuquerque together, raising my five children, with me pregnant with his first, and playing mentally anguishing rounds of a twisted version of relationship Jenga, not with simple, little wood blocks but with real live breathing and feeling human hearts… 9 of them to be exact.
No, as I got off the plane that night (it was a long, long flight) and headed for baggage claim and tried to figure out where-oh-where my rental car location was that night, all I could think was Holy wow this is unreal, what am I doing here and oh god I hope Jesse is behaving…behaving?! Really? That is the way I am going to label that fear? That’s just great, a grown man and I am thousands of miles away and I am worried that he will misbehave like one of my all under the age of 8 years old children… this is stupid, I need to find my bags, no, I actually need to call and check in, there’s still no text on my phone, but that is probably because of the airport lack of cell service, but what if it’s not, what if he is just drunk again and doesn’t want to call because he knows I will know the second I hear his voice? What if nobody remembers to check on the kids while I am away… oh this is ridiculous, I am going to have another stupid panic attack in the middle of BWI with my 3 year old, that’s just great, just like my mom, accept this time I’m not 11, I’m not riding in the passenger seat in her Buick and having to lunge my foot to the break of her car before we get slammed into on 70 because SHE had a panic attack getting on the on ramp in Myersville when we tried to go to Frederick to get groceries for crying out loud. Yeah, it was totally different and exactly the same…. I heard Justin say “chocolate mommy” and that broke me free from my toilet-swirling inner dialogue. Where was the Chick at my desk during this little diatribe? Well, she was happily, quietly, again, sitting with her notepad and pencil this time at my desk. She was writing down the description of my little transgression for this “future” access.
Justin and I walked some and of course I took him on that long human-belt-pulley-system they have in all the airports now that make us feel like we are getting somewhere else faster. He looked down in amazement; I looked forward so as to not get dizzy or miss my step and drop the boy. I tried to settle my nerves inside. I knew that whatever was going to happen was going to happen, I couldn’t do anything about it clear across the country. I put all the things in place that needed to be so that the best possible options were available should I need to call in back-up and until I knew something for sure that meant he was sober and the kids were fine. Living with this kind of anxiety didn’t happen overnight. It has been years of the day-in-an-day-out not knowing what would be the same… or more specifically whom would be the same in our case. I had married Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde aka Jesse and Evan Williams.
I never really knew who I was going to be waking up to each day. I always knew when my hit the pillows each night who was by my side, or not in most cases. I learned to be very much in touch with my gut instincts… in the beginning I felt like I was just really attuned to him and his mood and I justified inside myself that it meant I was really that much in love with him that I could read his every mood just from the tone in his voice or the orange flavored Tic-Tacs wafting from his mouth. My gut instincts turned into a mother’s intuition. It was the same visceral feeling that would stir inside me only now it was prompted by the growing baby inside of me. When I found out I was pregnant with my first child I was ecstatic! This meant Jesse and I could be a real family now and that we would have to move out of his mother’s house….. if we aren’t living there anymore he won’t be so stressed all the time and we can focus on us instead of everything else under the sun, which will help him stop doing meth and drinking so much. We could really turn our lives around and he can get a real job and I can look for our first apartment!… I was very young and naïve back then. A highly uninformed me sat across from the desk with that Chick in my head again. I didn’t know what alcoholism was or what it truly entailed. I hadn’t the first idea of what it meant to have an addiction, well, I had cigarettes but that didn’t really count in my oh-so-know-it-all-opinion at 18 years young. There turned out to be quite a lot that I didn’t know, no that I wasn’t trying to learn it lightning fast. You tend to grow up quick when there is another life depending on you for survival.
We had found this gorgeous little townhouse on the Westside of Albuquerque, up off Paseo Del Norte. I was totally stocked because it was the complete opposite end of town from where his mom and sisters lived so that to meant I would be able to actually start a life with Jesse instead of trying to constantly fit into his life with his enabling family. They never seemed to really care that his drinking got in the way of pretty much everything… his ability to have a job, a car, a relationship… this should have been huge neon flashing lights to the Chick at my desk and alas it probably was, but she was not the operating agent inside of me at the time. At the helm was a frustrated, needy, lonely, and sad little girl that still missed her Daddy. So head first I dove straight into the abyss calling it “love”. It wasn’t love, it was a means to end, it was me not wanting to be alone and heading home with my tail tucked between my legs, pregnant, with no job, no degree, and dependent yet again on the parent that wasn’t dependable the first 19 years… I have to make this work. I have to make him stop drinking….
That was the key to it all, I could have my happily ever after if I helped him stop drinking all the time, and thus started my internship and my undercover job in operation lose yourself in his addiction. I gained many new roles: bottle monitor, whiskey-flask sleuth of the year, whining wife, overextended mother hen, vomit cleaner-upper, find the drunk man in the bush-spotter, weightlifter, good cop, bad cop, detective, judge, jury, critic, counselor, id, ego, superego…. All this and I still hadn’t given birth to my own child yet! Keeping up with Jesse’s addiction, the mood swings, the cravings, the triggers, the non-trigger-triggers, was a fulltime job outside my fulltime job. I just didn’t see it as that, then. I saw it as what I did to help him be more a part of the life I was building. Sometimes I wonder if I had just walked away the first time I went home, how different it all would have been. If when my mother paid for my return flight from Albuquerque after he was arrested for the assault and battery of me, if I had just done what was asked of me… would it all have been better?
You don’t ever forget the first time for anything. I remember the first time I lost a tooth when I was little and I cushioned it under my pillow for the tooth fairy. I remember the first time I fell on my face at the playground and Uncle Bob scooped me up, wiped me off and danced with me in his arms. I remember the first time I saw my step-father hurt pick my brother up and throw him across the kitchen and the thud his little body made when he hit the wall and slid down. I can remember the days of fights afterwards and my own little voice yelling above my mothers, demanding that she just leave him and take us away. I remember the first time I kissed a boy and it felt like he was going to swallow my whoel face and I thought that if that is what it feels like to kiss a boy that I was never going to do it again. I also remember the shopping for my first Homecoming dress with my foster mom and the smile on her face when I came out of the dressing room. I remember giving birth to my very first child, Zachary Niklaus-Valentine and all the amazing moments that were included in those 48 hours before he finally was pulled the heck out with those forceps. I was going to go to my first Santana and Rusted Root concert but my little man had plans of his own, the night before the concert! And then I also remember the first time I was ever struck with such a force that it knocked me across the room…
I stood there dumbfounded, in shock, and in total disbelief. I was bleeding from the right side of my very swollen bottom lip and holding my hands up to my also swelling face, trying to just wish it all away. The hand prints that crisscrossed in the front of my neck tingled as if his hands were still squeezing. My shirt was ripped half off of one shoulder and both my knees bruised from falling as I had tried to run out of the house before he grabbed my pony-tail and the back of my shirt. I had yelled, I had cried, I had tried to reason with him. Someone had heard me and called 911 and that was why a clump of my hair lay at the officer’s feet. That was why she was asking me to turn sideways so the police photographer could take yet another picture. Jesse was in the other room explaining that it was just an argument and that he hadn’t even touched me… and I was in the adjacent room explaining to this lady cop that I had fallen and that was how I got hurt…. If you tell her the truth you are going to lose this baby, if you tell her what really happened…that you pissed him off again and hid his beer, and then took his keys and wallet… she is going to arrest you for this disturbance…why the hell didn’t you just leave him alone? You knew he was already half lit, you don’t get anywhere like that and he can’t make sense of anything and you wind up hurt every damn time, Tina! When will you learn to just walk away? Now you have to lie, hope you don’t get caught lying, because you can go to jail for that too, and maybe, just maybe he won’t leave you for good this time…
Sad, that is indeed pretty dead on with what the inner dialogue of a scared mother to be had with herself all those years ago. That is also exactly why I took a plane back to Maryland. Jesse was arrested for aggravated assault and battery. I pawned his guitar to make his bail, attended the court hearing where he was remanded to anger management classes for 6 months as well as AA. I also had called my mom and she had agreed to buy my way home and away from this monster before I got anymore trapped. I bawled as I packed my bags and had my brother (who had moved down there for a time) help me secretly get away in the middle of the night. That plane ride home was nothing like the one I just got off. That plane ride landed me in front of a very angry and disappointed mother. But even that I understood. She had tried in her own way for years to absolutely avoid this exact outcome, yet here I was, pregnant and alone, and beat to a pulp. It truly looked painful for her when she hugged me hello that night. I don’t know if she was actually seeing me in that moment or a distant shadow of where she once started the same exact path that led us all here to this moment. I do however remember the very vivid and heart crushing conversation that followed…