wasn't fear of flying
... although that was part of it.
last week, I
hadn't been on an airplane since our honeymoon, two months before
911. So I'll admit I felt some apprehension about entrusting my
mortal soul to fate and Alaska Airlines. In fact, as I sat in the
middle of Oakland International on Thursday afternoon, waiting for my
flight, it occurred to me that I could sneak across the terminal to the
airport lounge and belt down a quick quadruple gin-and-tonic to calm my
flying nerves ... and nobody
would ever know about it.
David had kissed me goodbye over an hour ago. It would be dinnertime
before the Tots picked me up on the TicTac end. I was completely alone
... and completely unsupervised. I could even continue self-medicating
once I got onto the airplane, if I felt like it: maybe order some wine
or beer or a couple of eight-dollar cocktails. A squirt of Binaca
before I got off the plane, a drop or two of Visine, and who
would be any the wiser?
In the end, of course,
I went to the airport snack shop and bought a couple of junky magazines
and an Elizabeth Berg paperback instead. On the airplane, I ordered my
usual: club soda with a wedge of lime.
wasn't fear of all
the money I'd be spending once I got into town, either. That just goes
with the territory when you're The Visiting Mom. One of the key
objectives for this trip, after all, was hitting the malls and buying
new school clothes for the one Tot who is still in school -- Son #Only,
who starts his junior year at TicTac High in a few
days -- and any
mother worth her Mastercard knows that if you buy a bunch of
trendy/ugly/ridiculously expensive clothes for one Tot, you're
required to buy a bunch of trendy/ugly/ridiculously expensive clothes
for everybody. (Including yourself.)
wasn't fear of being
separated from David for the first time since we got married. It wasn't
fear of my mother calling me "Terri Lynn" in public. It wasn't fear of
running into ex-high-school-boyfriends at Taco Time. This stuff is all
part of the annual *TicTac Experience* ... along with overcast skies,
iffy radio stations and Tony Ventrella's ugly mug, leering into the
the thing that had me tied up in knots about going home for
a few days -- the thing that scared me more than flying, finances,
childhood nicknames and ex-boyfriends, put together -- was this:
fear of drama.
knew before I even
made my airline reservations that this was going to be one of those
High Drama Visits. How did I know, you ask? Because -- basically
visit to TicTac is a High Drama Visit. My whole family is hopelessly
addicted to the rise and fall of huge swirling emotions ... myself
I am your basic recovering Drama
Junkie. These days I have the problem pretty much under control,
thanks to sobriety, clean living, daily doses of norethindrone/ethinyl
estradiol and marriage to the world's most placid and optimistic human
being. (Most of the time I really have to stretch to find
interesting stuff to gripe about.
My bike tire is flat! The KLEZ Virus has infected our hard drive! The
Main Marketing Guy spelled my name with a 'y' instead of an 'i' again! )
Over the past couple of years, I've grown very fond of my calm, stable,
undramatic life. I was afraid that four days in TicTac might trigger
all of the dangerous emotional impulses I work so hard to keep under
Insecurity. Irrational anger. Unfounded jealousy.
The nail-biting. The multiple personalities. The overwhelming
compulsion to sing the Sunset Junior High School Fight Song in the
middle of the produce aisle.
next thing I knew, I
would be slamming doors and hurling casserole dishes against the wall
we entered TicTac
airspace, though -- as I got my first glimpse of Mt. Rainier out the
starboard window -- some of this groundless anxiety began to dissipate.
It was swiftly replaced by giddy maternal anticipation. In a matter of
minutes, I would be hugging ALL
THREE OF THE TOTS for the first
time in over a year! Daughter #1 and Son #Only have both been to
California to visit since the wedding -- Jaymi has been here three
times since then, in fact, and will be visiting again at Thanksgiving
-- but I hadn't seen Daughter #2 since before her recent legal
I planned to wrap my arms around all three of them at once, right there
in the middle of TicTac International, and enjoy a nice juicy Tot
soon as we landed I
sprinted off the plane, ran the 43,897,621 miles from Gate D-4
downstairs to baggage claim, looked around the terminal in search of
familiar faces ...
and all of a sudden:
there they were!
slim and radiant and gorgeous ... her intrepid boyfriend Joel, beaming
broadly ... Son #Only, who actually appears to have grown another
four inches taller since last April ...
but no Daughter #2.
son and daughter
looked at me, shrugging apologetically. Somehow their sister had
managed to drop off the planet at the last minute, once again, and
nobody had a clue where she was or how to reach her.
I wasn't upset. At
least ... not much. I wasn't surprised, either, even though I'd talked
to Kacie on the phone just the day before, and it sounded as though she
was planning to be part of the Homecoming Committee. If anything, I was
momentarily disappointed: I'd really been looking forward to that big
Tot Sandwich. But I knew we would catch up with Daughter #2 sometime
over the course of the weekend. The lure of free meals and new clothes
would coax her out of hiding eventually.
in the meantime, I
had two out of three Tots standing right there in front of me ... and
it was time to celebrate!
picked up my
suitcase, hopped into Joel's car and immediately headed for the nearest
Taco Time to satisfy my Soft-Taco-and-Mexi-Fries craving. (The earnest
young counterperson tried to talk me into ordering something called a
'Baja Taco' instead. "I've just flown seven hundred miles for a Beef
Soft Taco," I growled at him. "Don't mess with me.") Just as we
sitting down to eat -- just as I'd popped the first Mexi-Fry between my
trembling, eager lips and had begun to lovingly unwrap my Soft Taco
from its aluminum foil receiving blanket -- the cell phone rang.
Daughter #2, calling from Destination Unknown ... sounding forlorn and
overlooked. Why hadn't she
been invited to lunch?
thus it began.
spent most of the
weekend trying to fit our shopping-and-visiting schedule around the
whims and vagueries of Daughter #2's non-schedule. Part of the problem
is that she doesn't actually appear to live
anywhere, officially -- she's staying 'with friends' most of the time,
and we're not permitted to know exactly
where or with whom -- so it wasn't as
though we could just show up on her doorstep and ring her doorbell
three or four or eighty-seven times until she answered. What we had to
do instead was make arrangements to meet at various places ... and then
hope she actually showed up. Plus she kept providing us with phone
numbers that were disconnected or out of range or no longer in service
... which meant that we had to wait for her
to call us,
rather than the other way around. It was a little bit like trying to
schedule lunch with Houdini. Eventually we did manage to hook up, of
course. We picked her up at her Dad's house on Saturday afternoon and
dragged her along on The Great School Clothes Shopping Expedition. When
she walked into my ex-husband's living room and I hugged her for the
first time in over a year, my heart executed a perfect two-and-a-half
somersault pike. I felt joy at seeing her/holding her/being with her
again ... and sorrow over how thin and tired she looks. It was a
duality of emotion I would feel for the rest of the weekend, every time
I looked at her.
Daughter #2 wasn't
the only source of drama ... nor were the huge swirling emotions she
generated the only huge swirling emotions I experienced over the
the four short
days that I was in town, a family friend was arrested on drug charges.
Jaymi and Joel's cat had to be rushed to the veterinary hospital in the
middle of the night, after a marauding pack of neighborhood cats
literally tore her a new asshole. Value Village burned down.* My
mother, who has been ill recently, was sporting her new portable oxygen
unit. My ex-husband was sporting his new dog. My ex-husband's new
live-in "friend" was sporting an unhealthy tan and a pair of *my*
old earrings. The World's Cutest Nephew experienced a major
meltdown in the middle of the family barbecue. Somebody broke into
car, while we were all asleep on Saturday night, and stole his car
stereo and Jaymi's entire CD collection. I accidentally watched The
Anna Nicole Show.
was one trauma after
here is an
interesting discovery I made, in the midst of all this drama and
turmoil and swirling familial emotion: if you project yourself as calm
and capable and tolerant -- even if what you're actually feeling is Oh
god! Will they
notice if I lock myself in the bathroom for the rest of the evening??
-- you are magically perceived
as calm and capable and tolerant. And that's what I did: I projected
calm and capable and tolerant. I found myself smiling enigmatically a
lot. I found myself doing a lot of emotional cheerleading ...
especially when things were falling apart all around me. I found myself
nodding sympathetically a lot, and listening to a lot of Deep Dark
Secrets, and offering up lots of vague useless
motherly/daughterly/sisterly advice. (I'm not sure how or when it
happened, exactly, but somewhere along the line I seem to have become
the person that people confide secrets to, rather than the person they
confide secrets about.)
As I was doing all of this smiling and cheerleading and sympathizing,
though, I suddenly realized something else:
wasn't just the
planned activities that I loved, either ... but the spontaneous moments
along the way. I loved watching Joel play his video games. I loved
trying on perfume at Long's Drugs with Jaymi. I loved sitting on my
mother's deck, overlooking downtown Seattle, and looking at her China
I loved standing outside of the dressing room while Kacie tried on
leather halter tops. I loved combing my sister's hair with my fingers,
and watching my little nephew push a toy shopping cart around the
living room, and talking bicycles with my mom's boyfriend. I loved
watching my son dribble pizza down the front of his $67 T-shirt. I
loved listening to my seventeen-year-old niece talk about her rehab. I
loved sitting around the table, eating and gossiping and looking at all
these dear, familiar faces.
all of the huge, swirling emotions.
shouldn't I? It's
part of who I am, the same way my mother's chin and my father's ears
are part of who I am. Fearing it -- or fighting it -- are exercises in
futility. Besides: dramaddiction isn't like alcohol addiction. I'm not
going to come home to California, after a couple of days of exposure,
and suddenly start picking fights and throwing things and slamming the
phone down in people's ears. (Except for heavy breathers, maybe. Or
telemarketers.) Four days' worth of drama isn't suddenly going to make
me crave a daily dose of emotional upheaval. The way I see it,
dramaddiction is more like Taco Time: I live without it,
three-hundred-forty-some days a year ... and the rest of the time, I'm
going to eat it until it makes me sick.
I'll love every
minute of it.
the time I flew home
on Sunday night, my suitcase was filled with $200 worth of
trendy/ugly/ridiculously-expensive clothes I couldn't afford ... my
stomach was filled with $65 worth of Taco Time I couldn't digest ...
and my heart was filled with an incalculable amount of huge swirling
emotions I couldn't leave behind.
it will all be
enough to tide me over until Christmas ... and my next *fix.*
throw a rock