The Joy and Sorrow of Adoption

JOY AND SORROW

Caryn wrote the following story a few years ago when I was the editor of Purple Clover, a web site for “old people who used to be cool.”

***

Twenty-two years ago, the 18-year-old mother of my eldest son gave my husband and me a gift that could never be repaid and will forever remain priceless.

After nurturing a nearly nine-month, long-distance relationship with this incredible person, I found myself madly in love–with her and the little boy growing inside her belly, who would soon be my son.

She had agreed to let us adopt her baby early on in her pregnancy after we flew her to New York City from Joplin, Missouri, and spent a lovely day sightseeing at the South Street Seaport.

For the next few months, we continued to talk and write and cry, but mainly, we waited. Until one day, when she called with the news–she was going into labor. I boarded the first flight out of New York on Jan. 5 (my husband planned to join me soon after) and flew directly into the teeth of one of those infamous midwestern ice storms. A direct flight to Joplin that was supposed to take three hours turned into a 12-hour rerouted nightmare to Springfield, which took me two and half hours farther away from her and my baby.

Labor pains and all, she traveled in a blizzard of snow and ice with her mom and her mom’s boyfriend to pick me up at the airport, and then drove me to my hotel. January 6th turned into the 7th and then the 8th. I was staying nearby her mom’s trailer home, so I was able to visit every day. And then, just as suddenly, her labor came to a halt. It turned out to be a false alarm, and I was immediately faced with a dilemma–should I go back to New York and wait for her to call again, or stay put with my beautiful young friend and continue to share our days together?

The choice was easy. It had been so difficult getting there that it didn’t seem to make any sense to turn around and go back home. Besides, she liked having me around, and to be honest, I didn’t ever want to leave her side.

So we fell into a comfortable routine. I went to the hotel gym in the morning and then we’d take a walk around the mall in town. After that, I’d read or watch TV and then we’d go for lunch and just hang out. We both loved it when I rubbed her belly.

We talked about her future and her dreams and how we would handle our relationship after “my” baby was born. It was always “my” baby. She would refer to him as “your baby.” She became the center of my universe and I wanted so badly for her to be happy and at peace with her life in the future. I marveled at how strong she was at such a young age, and was in awe at her ability to make such a giant decision for herself and her unborn child. I loved her for giving me this amazing gift, and for filling my heart with joy where there had long been a gaping hole.

And then came the moment–Jan. 18, 1991, at midnight–when real, true labor began. Robbie James was born soon after. My husband arrived a few hours later, and neither one of us could believe that we were now parents.

The next few days were among the happiest and saddest in my life. After a legal transfer of parental rights, it was finally time to say goodbye, for our new family to return to New York. But how do you say goodbye to the one person who matters more to you than anyone else in the world?

We had mutually agreed early on in the adoption process that we’d go our separate ways once Robbie was born. We got together in the hospital one last time and cried and hugged and cried some more. Robbie was zipped up tight in a snowsuit–a literal bundle of joy. That would be the last time I ever saw her, and all I remember afterward is that I couldn’t stop crying.

What I had been clueless about beforehand (among many, many things) was that along with the arrival and adoption of a new baby came another special delivery–a broken heart. I just couldn’t get her out of my head. How was she doing? Did she like the flowers we sent? Did she regret her decision? And why was I now feeling so sad when I finally had the only thing I had wanted for the past five years?

Although my body wasn’t bloated with milk or riddled with hormones, and my arms were filled with a bouncing baby boy, my heart was conflicted with feelings of love, emptiness and guilt.

If you google “postpartum depression,” the first thing that comes up is “a moderate to severe depression in a woman after she has given birth.” In my opinion, they should revise that to read, “after she becomes a mother.”

I was blue for many months after, and now when I think about the incredible girl who is a 40-year-old woman today, I begin to cry. And I’m not sure if these are tears of joy or sadness, or both.

Seems Like Old Times

SEEMS LIKE OLD TIMES

On Saturday, I decided that it was time to have lunch with Rob again. So I hopped on the 405 and went to pick him up at his apartment building in Long Beach. He was waiting out in front smoking a cigarette.

“Yeo,” he said, getting into my car and then we bumped fists as always.

“Yo, soup dumplings at Din Tai Fung today?”

“Let’s do it.”

And that’s what we did. There was the usual 45-minute wait, but we didn’t care because it’s always worth it. I gave the greeter my first name and phone number so they could text us when a table was ready, and then Rob and I walked around the mall catching up on this and that.

“So what’s going on at work these days?” I asked, which is generally my first question. “Anything new?”

“The ushe. We had to throw some drunk asshole out the other night because he was fighting with his drunk girlfriend.”

“So what exactly happens when something like that happens?”

“You don’t want to fuck around with our security. They’re big dudes and they’re strapped and they take no shit,” Rob said proudly. “So they just picked this guy up like he was a little boy and threw him the fuck out. The whole thing was over in like 30 seconds.”

“I’m glad they finally changed your schedule so you don’t have to do the graveyard shift anymore,” I said. “I don’t know how you did it for as long as you did.”

“I don’t know either. I just did it,” Rob said as we walked past a Footlocker. “A man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do.”

“Did you just make that up?” I joked. “You don’t have to answer that.”

“Good because I wasn’t gonna.”

“What didja do last night?”

“Friday nights are always the same deal—the Gong Show meeting in Hermosa Beach,” Rob reminded me. “So I went there and then our crew went out for coffee afterwards.”

“You’ve been going to that meeting forever. Since you first moved to Torrance,” I said, momentarily flashing back to the day we met Brendan Baltimore at the Harbor Rock sober house.

“It’s still the best. It sometimes gets really wild and some people say some crazy shit,” Rob said, “but I love a whole lot of people in that room.”

“Have you spoken with your sponsor lately?” I asked as we sat down on the large, comfy chairs near the entrance to Nordstrom.

“Yeah, I saw him the other week and we had some eggs at the Greek diner,” Rob said. “I hadn’t seen him for a while. He’s been real busy and having some problems with his wife.”

“If you don’t mind me asking, what do you guys talk about?”

“It changes each time, but mainly just checking in with him kind of stuff,” Rob said while checking texts on his iPhone. “I’m still stuck on the 6th Step. Too much God shit for me.”

“Well, at least you don’t have to go to church anymore!” I said. “By the way, how long have you been sober now?”

“Just passed nine months.”

“Wow! That’s awesome! I’m really proud of you!” I told him and got all choked up for a second. “Three more months until the next chip! You know I need to be there, right?”

“I know, Dad, I know.”

“Did I tell you that I saw The Irishman?” I asked, quickly changing the subject so I wouldn’t cry. “It was really, really good.”

“Two reallys is a lot coming from you.”

“Joe Pesci steals the movie,” I said. “I think you’ll really like it.”

“Really? Or really, really? Make up your mind,” said the wise guy who sounded a lot like me. “I think I’m gonna wait until it hits Netflix in a few weeks, although three and a half hours might be a rough sit.”

“It’s the same amount of time as watching a football game,” I pointed out, “which I’m sure you’re gonna do tomorrow when your Bills play the Browns. I still can’t believe that the Bills are actually good.”

“They’re better than the Giants,” Rob said, “but so is everybody.”

“I’ve taught you well, my son. Speaking of sons, have you spoken with Zach lately?”

“Yeah, we text all the time. He’s always sending me new songs,” Rob said. “He sent me a few the other night from a new Rex Orange County album. I thought they were aiight.”

“I listened to a few of them too. I liked the one called ‘10/10.’”

“I don’t remember what any of ’em are called,” Rob said, which is so typical of him.

“Speaking of calls, when was the last time you spoke with Mom?”

Rob paused for a moment and looked me in the eyes. “I think it was a few Sundays ago,” he said. “She had just come back from a walk on the beach.”

“Really? In October?”

“Dad, you know I’m not really here with you right now, right?”

“I know, Rob. But can you hang with me for just a little bit longer? Until we get the text that our table is ready?”

“You got it,” he said.

“Thank you, sir.”

“Now you’re stealing my lines!”

“Now you know what it feels like,” I shot back.

“Did you just make that up?” Rob asked. “You don’t have to answer that.”

“You’re such a fuckhead!” I said and laughed one of those high-pitched laughs that comes from some place I can’t control.

“Thank you, sir,” he said and laughed along with me. It seemed just like old times.

“I’ll see you later, Rob. I love you.”

“I love you, Dad…” he said, and then hesitated for a beat. “You know that you end a lot of these stories with me saying that, right?”

“Yeah, I know,” I admitted. “It’s because I miss you so damn much and can’t hear it enough.”

“I get it. Later, father.”

“Bye for now, dude.”

Team Tyco

TEAM TYCO

A few weeks ago, Caryn and a bunch of Rob’s friends participated in a walk in Long Island that raised money and awareness for suicide prevention. Since I couldn’t be there, I asked Rob’s best friend Sarah to tell me all about it.

***

So last Sunday on October 27, 2019, Team TYCO walked in the AFSP Out of the Darkness suicide prevention walk at Jones Beach. Now I’m not sure if you remember the Long Island weather forecast for that day, but basically it was a shit show–torrential downpours, insane wind speeds, and to top it all off, 50 degree weather (without the windchill).

Some of you may be wondering what the hell Team TYCO is? Well, for those of you who don’t know, TYCO makes RC cars, trucks, motorcycles etc. Now if you haven’t picked up on the obvious, RC are Robbie’s initials, so TYCO was always something Robbie used for usernames, passwords, etc.

Our team was comprised of the usual cats–myself, Caryn (of course), my cousin Jacqui (aka Cuzzy Lumpkin as Robbie called her) & her boyfriend, my mother Linda, my brother Ryan, Jacob Silverman, Matt Baluyot, Chris Moro & his girlfriend Sam, Mike Chiovitti, Scott Robalino, Kaitlin Krol, Steph Freda, one of Robbie’s Binghamton friends Kelly, and Jamie Rosenblatt.

We all came sporting our Team TYCO shirts, which had an image of his infamous four-leaf clover tattoo on the front with the line “Life Rolls On,” and the back had one of the most beautiful pictures ever taken of Rob with the words “Team TYCO” above it in his favorite color, purple.

The entire environment of the walk was surprisingly uplifting (at least to me) considering the circumstances that brought us all there. They had a snack & refreshment stand, a stand where you could get different colored beaded necklaces to represent why you walk, another where you sign a wall in honor of your lost loved one, a spot to decorate a seashell for lost loved ones to be left on the beach, and much more.

We were met by a sea of people who were in similar shitty situations as us, who have felt the effects of losing a loved one not just in general, but to that “special” thing called suicide.  Although none of us knew each other, everyone there was compassionate towards one another & shared smiles and head nods of “acceptance.” There was no passing of judgment for what your loved one had done or why. In those moments, it was all weirdly okay.

After gathering our teammates and getting ourselves ready, all the teams met in front of the stage for some announcements. While we stood there talking/catching up, a woman from another team came over and gave us stickers that read “What would you miss?” as part of an initiative to get people talking about mental health/suicide prevention. I couldn’t help but stare at this woman in awe because to me, she looked JUST LIKE ROBBIE! And I wasn’t the only one who thought so! A few of us were weirded out, so I felt compelled to tell her & show her his picture on our shirt, which made her uncomfortable and freaked her out. But I felt as though it was a sign from Rob that he was with us and knew that we were there for him.

Once they finally allowed us to begin, the downpours began! To be honest, I don’t think any of us realized what we truly signed up for. This walk was WAYYYYYYY longer than any of us had expected/prepared for, especially in that weather! Within a matter of minutes and only about half a mile to a mile into the walk, we were all soaked, freezing, and wondering where the finish line was.

All of a sudden, I heard Caryn’s voice telling us all to slow down & stop so we could discuss our options. It basically came down to either a) we continue to walk and get soaking wet, cold, miserable, and possibly sick or b) we stop and turn back. None of us necessarily “wanted” to stop because of the reason behind us walking in the first place, yet at the same time, we so desperately wanted to give up. In that moment, Caryn reassured us that “we don’t have anything to prove to anyone. We don’t have to keep going, thinking we have something to prove!”

After that, a few of us turned back and ended the walk, but a good handful of us continued on. I half-jokingly said that this tumultuous storm we were fighting to walk through was metaphorical of the storm that was the internal struggle of Robbie’s everyday life.

We got about a third of the way through the walk before we decided to call it quits, which again felt metaphorical to me. Caryn and I threw our customized seashells out onto the sand (I feared that Rob would have the wind throw it back at me for quitting on him), then shared a sopping wet hug before Caryn went on her way back towards the start of the walk and to her warm, dry car.

Of course, my brother didn’t notice beforehand that we had all stopped, and continued on walking. To be honest, I think for him, this walk was much bigger than Robbie or anyone else lost. He himself has suffered from suicidal thoughts/depression, and I truly believe he did not want to let Robbie down, but even more so, he didn’t want to let himself down.

We headed back to the car and pulled up to the entrance of the walk, warming ourselves while waiting for my brother to show up. After about 15 or 20 minutes, he appeared smiling while also miserable, wet, and cold, but proud that he had finished the walk & was the only one out of us all that did. (To answer your question, yes, I feel like a complete asshole for giving up like that.) I also feel as though Robbie was laughing at us the entire time, especially me because I HATE when my clothes are wet & stick to me.

In the end, our initial fundraising goal was $500, but Team TYCO raised $3,724 in honor of Robbie. I couldn’t be prouder and more thankful for everyone who was involved. The amount of love, consideration, support, and desire for change from all parties who donated their time, money, or both will not go unnoticed. I know that Robbie is smiling down on us. I can feel that big, warm, infectious smile every day.

Larry & Zach, I made sure to have shirts made for you both so that you could forever be a part of Team TYCO. Please send me pics of you wearing them!

***

A few days ago, Caryn told me one more quick story about the walk:

A woman came over to me and asked, “Who is that?” referring to the back of Sarah’s shirt. And I said, “My son.” “What a great picture!” she said. “He looks so happy and what a great smile!” I told her that the photo was taken last Christmas and that he had passed away in February. She nodded and said, “It just goes to show you that you can never tell how someone is feeling.”

If We Love, We Grieve

IF WE LOVE

Lar: Push!

Me: I’m pushing!

Lar: Breathe!

Me: I’m breathing!

Lar: I can see his head!

Me: ARRGGHHH!!

Lar: Okay, stop.

Me: Stop pushing?

Lar: No, just stop. I don’t want to do this anymore. Rob died nine months ago today, but this set-up doesn’t work. You can’t give birth to death.

Me: You can give birth to life—your life! Speaking of which, how you doing, man?

Lar: I’m pushing through, no pun intended. I wake up every day and I’m not sure how I’ll feel. Some days I’m depressed. Some days I’m busy and distracted. Some days I’m living in the past. Some days I’m present in the moment. It’s like a choose-your-own-adventure kind of story, only I still don’t feel like I’m the one doing the choosing. But I push through because there’s no other choice.

Me: It may not feel like it, but you’re choosing life. You’re choosing to get out of bed every morning, so in a way, pushing through is like giving birth. Maybe it’s more of a rebirth. It’s a rebirth to living your life without Rob.

Lar: It’s funny, but not really funny, that we’re even talking about this, because the other night in grief group, one of the moderators asked us, “What changed when you first became a parent?”

Me: Knowing that there’s really only one answer.

Lar: Yes, of course—EVERYTHING! And then I chimed in with the story of the day Robbie was born and how it was love at first sight (as it also was with Zach), and how the amount of love you feel for your children is so enormous and overwhelming, you didn’t and couldn’t possibly know that you even had it in you to give. There’s a transformation that happens at your core when you become responsible for this tiny, new human being who is 100 percent dependent on you. The world shifts from revolving around yourself to revolving around your child. Your child becomes your world.

Me: And that’s to say nothing of you not realizing how much you personally needed to give to Rob in order to heal your own childhood wounds, which came mostly from growing up without a father.

Lar: And that’s to say nothing of how incredibly needy Rob was right from the get-go, and how we were perfectly matched—the sand and the water.

Me: That’s a whole lot of stuff to say nothing of. And then you voiced the other question that everyone in the room was thinking and knew the answer to…

Lar: What has changed since losing your child? And duh, EVERYTHING! Everyone in the room expressed the same sentiment—there’s a part of us that is missing—it’s gone and can never be replaced. And we’ll never be the same just like we were never the same after our child was born. A piece of us died when our child passed away. Most people can’t see it because it’s partly invisible and partly disguised, but everyone in our group can. We can see and feel the loss—the missing piece—in each other’s eyes.

Me: But you all still carry your child in your heart and that’s forever. They’ll always be with you. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, Rob is here, there and everywhere.

Lar: I know, and it’s truer now than it ever was before.

Me: Okay, let’s get back to the grief group.

Lar: Change was the main topic that evening and one father was struggling to see any significant shift in his grief. His son, who like Rob was adopted, passed away a year ago, and he told us that he still cries almost every day and basically still feels like shit.

Me: But it’s different.

Lar: It is. There has been a change for all of us, including him. We’re no longer in that unrelenting, agonizing pain. We’re no longer freefalling in a bottomless pit. The initial devastation has abated, but that doesn’t mean that we’re now shiny, happy people. Grief keeps changing. Moment to moment. Day by day. Month by month.

Me: Probably forever.

Lar: Definitely forever.

Me: How about you? How have you changed? What’s different about you since Rob died?

Lar: We’ve previously discussed this when I told you how Rob had broken me open, but I feel like I’ve become more compassionate.

Me: Like the other morning with the homeless guy who sleeps outside in front of our garage.

Lar: Before Rob died, I basically ignored that guy. He’d ask for spare change and I’d always say I didn’t have any. After I came back from Rob’s funeral in New York, I started giving him a few bucks every time he’d ask. Of course, now he keeps asking, and I keep giving because…jeez, the dude sleeps outside every night! And there’s a part of me that always worried that Rob would end up that way.

Me: The guy asked you if you had any spare pants.

Lar: When I pointed out that I’d already given him a few pairs of old jeans, he said, “But I ran out of them!”

Me: You can’t argue with that! On another note, I thought the second group exercise we did that night, where we were asked to describe our grief in a metaphor and draw a little picture of it, was kind of interesting.

Lar: My drawing sucked, but we all had to begin a sentence with the words “My grief is…” So, in keeping with my whole sand/water personal brand, I wrote, “My grief is an ocean and every day, I try to keep my head above water.” And then I drew little waves that look like the ones on my tattoo.

Me: One of the moderators asked you where your head was at in that moment.

Lar: I said that I don’t want to incur the wrath of the grief gods by saying anything positive, but my head has been mostly above water these days, and that’s when I brought up the change thing again. Because in the beginning, particularly for the first few months, it felt like I was drowning every day. I couldn’t breathe. I was being crushed by tidal wave after tidal wave, and after I scrabbled to get to my feet, the undertow would grab me and pull me down to a bottomless ocean.

Me: The depth of the ocean is also the depth of your love for Rob—enormous and overwhelming. And the truth is that you can now swim in it, and one day you’ll be able to sit on the beach and just look out at the ocean. You’ll feel sad, but it will also be beautiful, just like that imaginary place with your mostly imaginary friends, Meryl, Harry and John, when you did the EMDR session with Katarina.

Lar: The jealous writer in me has to admit that I liked another dad’s metaphor for grief way better than mine.

Me: Me too.

Lar: It was succinct and conveyed exactly the way we all feel. He wrote, “My grief is my constant companion.” Underneath, he drew two stick figures holding each other’s hands.

Me: He also shared that spot-on quote from Nick Cave. He definitely won grief group that night.

Lar: He totally did. I googled it and saw that it came from a letter Cave received on his website The Red Hand Files, where he answers questions from fans. Here’s the gist of it:

“It seems to me, that if we love, we grieve. That’s the deal. That’s the pact. Grief and love are forever intertwined. Grief is the terrible reminder of the depths of our love and, like love, grief is non-negotiable. There is a vastness to grief that overwhelms our minuscule selves. We are tiny, trembling clusters of atoms subsumed within grief’s awesome presence. It occupies the core of our being and extends through our fingers to the limits of the universe.”

Me: I think Rob would’ve liked Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds.

Lar: You know, he did a side project called Grinderman, whose name Rob would’ve loved. And also, there’s a great track called “The Weeping Song” from the album “The Good Son.” And also, also: Nick Cave’s 15-year-old boy fell off a cliff and died four years ago.

Me: That’s so fucked up, dude.

Lar: Tell me about it.

The Sand and the Water, Revisited

SANDAND THE WATER REVISITED

My therapist Katarina asked me if I was up for trying something a little different from the usual chitchat the other night, and I said sure why not. So she went into a closet and brought out a slender, wooden box filled with sand.

“This is what’s called Jungian sandplay therapy, and it’s sometimes used if you’ve had severe trauma,” she explained. “Go ahead, put your hands in it and move the sand around. Do you see the blue bottom underneath the sand? That’s the water!”

I immediately smiled. “Do you recall the name of my blog and what I have tattooed on my left forearm?” I asked, which made her smile.

She then instructed me to go into the closet and choose whatever I liked—toys, trinkets, baubles or knickknacks—and place them wherever I like in the sand tray. She also suggested that I avoid overthinking it, that I should just go with the flow and enjoy myself.

The basic idea, as I understand it, was to create a play world that reflected certain aspects of my life, while at the same time tapping into my inner world, my unconscious, child-like psyche. Which things I chose and where I placed them on the tray would have some type of symbolic or metaphoric meaning. Then Katarina and I would talk about my choices and help me connect the play world with whatever is happening in the real world…and I have no fuckin’ clue what was supposed to happen after that.

For the next 20 minutes, Katarina sat quietly taking copious notes while I went in and out of the closet, strategically but also unconsciously, placing various objects in the sand tray. There was a whole bunch of crap in there, mainly the kind of discarded stuff that you might find at a weekend garage sale. There were also small curios, porcelain-y figurines that you might see displayed on a miniature shelf (like the one in my house), but my eyes immediately went straight to the toys, particularly the action figures and, even more particularly, the Batman action figures.

When Rob was a little boy, he was obsessed with all things Batman, and I hunted down and purchased every Batman toy and accessory under the Gotham City sun, except for one—the diabolical supervillain Mr. Freeze. I remember telling everyone I knew to keep on the lookout for it, and a few years later I received a package out of the blue from a writer friend who lived in London. Inside it was the elusive Mr. Freeze action figure. So long story short, two Batman toys went into the sand tray to start things off. Even now, after all is said and done, Rob still comes first.

I then picked up a small witch figure and a miniature Woody from Toy Story and placed them next to the Batmen. I was drawn to the witch because she looked like a Tim Burton character who could’ve been in Nightmare Before Christmas, an all-time fave of Rob’s, and Woody is just something anyone who has been a parent or a child would gravitate to.

This seems like as good a time as any to tell you about some of the things I didn’t choose. For instance, there was a small wooden penis sitting next to a small wooden vagina. I had to ask Katarina if anyone had ever selected those objects to frolic in the sand tray.

“Not yet,” she said and laughed, to which I added a long “Ewww.”

There were also entirely too many creepy dolls that looked like they were straight out of The Twilight Zone, and a lot of shiny, crystal-y things that my subconscious and conscious mutually agreed to stay away from.

The next items I chose were a very cool-looking Chinese dragon, the kind you’d see in the Golden Dragon Parade here in L.A., because I thought it would make a fantastic tattoo, and a small pirate figure brandishing a sword. The swashbuckler made me think of that crappy Spielberg movie Hook, which forever holds a special place in my heart because it was really less about Peter Pan and the Lost Boys and more about lost fathers and their sons.

There was a small wooden box with some notepaper and a purple pen resting on top of it. That was a no-brainer. After I placed it in the tray, I thought about putting it back in the closet because it was too on-the-nose. I felt like my consciousness(es) are so much better than that.

So I doubled down instead and picked up an even smaller wooden box with a few tiny farmhouses painted on the lid. I felt the excitement of anticipation before I opened it up and was immediately disappointed to find nothing inside. If that wasn’t a perfect metaphor for my life, I don’t know what is. That strangely led me to pick up a bubble toy with a bloodshot eyeball, the kind of thing you’d get in an old gumball machine. I placed it near the dragon and then put the empty box near Rob’s toys. All of a sudden, I felt like I was inside a Salvador Dali painting.

Opening a plastic container all the way at the bottom of the closet, I found a cache of vintage Matchbox cars. I picked three that were right at the top and positioned them in the corner near Rob’s other toys. My first thought about why I chose them was that Rob and Zach loved racing these little toy cars when they were kids, but then I remembered all of the car accidents Rob was in. For a moment, I was tempted to go back in the closet and add a few more vehicles to the tray.

At the top of the closet, I noticed a Russian Matryoshka nesting doll, which made me think of how I played with one in my grandmother’s house while she cooked sweet and sour meatballs and kreplach. I placed the doll in a corner all by itself because it represented a tender memory from my childhood. And that led me to select a yo-yo, which was always one of my favorite toys. I can’t tell you how many hours I spent alone in my room trying to master tricks like Walk the Dog and Shoot the Moon. It became an obsessive act, much like writing this blog. I placed it right next to Woody.

I then picked out two conch shells because how can you have the sand and the water without seashells? I remembered putting them up to my ear to hear the ocean when I went to the beach with my mom and, later on, telling Rob and Zach to do the same thing when we were at my brother-in-law Stephen’s beach house. This trick doesn’t work so well in a therapist’s office, but even so I put them in the tray next to the Russian doll.

I was genuinely fascinated by this exercise and thought that Carl Jung really knew how to make grief therapy fun. And then I lit up when I saw two articulated, hardwood modeling figures, the kind of things I imagined would be in Maura’s art classes. One of them was much taller than the other, and I placed them together in a special corner where they could shut out the rest of the world and just be by themselves.

The last four objects were all symbols—a porcelain fairy, a blue crystal Buddha, a smooth rock with the word Change on it and, finally, a red rubber heart wearing a smiley face. Some of these things were self-explanatory and I’m still wondering about the others, but after I placed the heart right at the top of the sand tray, I knew it was time to stop.

Katarina and I sat down and started to discuss all of this.

“Remind me again, what are the words on your arm?” she asked.

As I began to say the words you’ve heard plenty of times (You are the sand, little boy…), I got choked up and had to stop for a few moments before I regained my composure and was able to finish the sentence (…and I will always be the water). I had no idea why I was crying, and we just looked at each other until I finally said, “I think our time is up.”

Trick or Treat, Smell My Feet

TRICK OR TREAT 1

I was going to write a sad little something about Halloween and how this time of year always sucked because it was usually when Rob got into his most serious trouble. The spooky season was when I worried the most, waiting for the phone to ring, trying to gird myself from whatever fucked-up, crazy hellraising had just gone down.

But instead of revisiting those horror stories, I asked Zach and Caryn if they had the photo from a million Halloweens ago when the Menendez brothers went trick-or-treating as Batman and Robin. Zach sent it to me first (see above) because he had previously shared it on his Instagram, and then Caryn texted me another classic photo (see below).

TRICK OR TREAT 2

I asked her if she remembered Halloween as a happy time in our life.

“Nope,” she said, “What I remember most is yelling at them for eating too much candy.”

“They were so little,” I said. “Remember when we once let Zach eat as much candy as he wanted until he puked it all up?”

“Of course I remember that!” she texted back. “You also told me to chill out and just let them eat it! I still feel badly about yelling at them.”

What I remembered was sneaking into the kids’ rooms once they fell asleep and going through their plastic pumpkins and shopping bags filled with all kinds of yummy crap. I’d pick out the Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups and would then clean them out of Kit Kat bars. It took Rob and Zach several years before they finally caught on to what I was doing, and I don’t think Rob ever really cared because he never had that much of a sweet tooth.

I remembered the kids dressing up as Power Rangers, ninjas, pirates, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and there was one year when Zach went as a pimp, wearing a giant, wide-brimmed purple hat, pink-tinted sunglasses and a fake gold grill covering his teeth. Rob’s costumes always seemed to come with a sword or some kind of pointy weapon that gave him yet another excuse (like he needed one) to whack the shit out of Zach.

I remembered how delighted the kids were when they first learned the trick-or-treat song in kindergarten (which I can’t imagine parents letting their kids sing today):

Trick or treat, smell my feet
Give me something good to eat
If you don’t, I don’t care
I’ll pull down your underwear!

They were equally delighted years later when I turned them on to the R.E.M version of “Spooky” by the Classics IV.

And then I remembered a semi-funny conversation I had with Rob when he was 17 and in Four Winds on Halloween. He’d just been admitted a few days prior and was bummed about not being with his friends on that night. I pointed out that it was way cooler being in a mental hospital on Halloween—in a Stephen King type of way.

He laughed weakly and said that there was going to be a lame costume parade in his unit that evening, with most of the kids dressing up as either The Joker or as a “skank,” and that there were a surprising number of boys going as skanks and girls as Jokers. I asked him who he was going as and he said, “Myself.”

“Maybe we’ll all dress up tonight, too,” I joked. “Mom could be a witch, Zach could be a clown and I’ll be a ghost.”

“You’re not the ghost type,” he said, confirming that I had nailed the rest of our family. “Maybe a werewolf or Frankenstein.”

“Thanks, fuckhead,” I said. “What about a skeleton?”

“You’re too fat,” he said.

“I think I’d make a good elf.”

“Too gay,” he said.

“You know what? Maybe I’ll just follow in your footsteps and go as myself,” I said. “Or better yet, maybe I’ll just go as you!”

“Whatever,” he said. “When you come to visit tomorrow, can you bring more candy?”

Something of a Fresh Start

RESTART

The only time it didn’t absolutely suck visiting Rob in the hospital was the day he was born. All the other times were some version of hell, and the last time, at BHC Alhambra in Rosemead, was no exception.

Rob was in on a 5150 hold, which meant he’d be their guest for at least 72 hours, and also meant that I would be bringing him a chipotle chicken sandwich from a nearby Subway each and every day.

If you google BHC Alhambra, it says:

BHC Alhambra is an acute care treatment facility providing behavioral health services for children and adults.

And maybe that’s true, but it wasn’t true for Rob. To be honest, I didn’t really care about his care. I was only interested in his safety. That’s how it always was whenever he was hospitalized. We knew that for at least those few days and nights, we didn’t have to worry about him, that he would be okay.

It wasn’t until the afternoon of the second day that he finally saw the main shrink, who told him the unsurprising news that he was depressed and prescribed some meds. Otherwise, Rob just hung out with a bunch of other despondent people who smoked cigarettes, sat silently in a few rudimentary group therapy sessions, and basically just waited to get the fuck out of there.

The problem for us was where Rob would be heading next. Caryn and I wanted him to go to a rehab facility to help him dry out and maybe set him on the right path, whatever the hell that meant. A friend of mine had recently done a 30-day stint at a no-frills, 12-step recovery program in the foothills of Virginia that he highly recommended. I called them up to see if there was a bed available. There was and I thought we were all set. Just one small catch—convincing Rob to go.

I brought it up on his second day at BHC Alhambra—actually it was night, visiting hours were really just visiting hour, from 6:30 to 7:30 PM—and let’s just say that he didn’t take the suggestion too well.

“I’m not going to fuckin’ rehab, Dad. I don’t need to go. End of discussion,” Rob said. He took a bite of his sandwich and threw the rest in the garbage to emphasize the point.

“Then where are you gonna go, Rob?” I asked, trying to remain calm while ignoring the knot in my chest. “You can’t stay with us. You have no money. Where are you going to live?

“I don’t know,” he said, and then walked away from me and down the hall back to his room. Like I said, circle of hell.

I called Caryn on the long drive home (they were always long drives home), and she told me about a friend of hers who was living in a sober house in Los Angeles. He knew of another sober house in Torrance that he thought might be a good fit for Rob, and passed along the name and number of the guy who ran it.

The next morning, I called up Brendan Baltimore at Harbor Rock Recovery and explained our situation. He said that they usually need to interview a potential resident before accepting him into the house, and I said that Rob had no other place to go and that we’d swing by once he was released from the psych unit and take it from there. Brendan was cool with that. Again, there was just one small catch—convincing Rob to go.

Rob called about an hour later and said that they were going to discharge him some time after 3 o’clock, so I did what I always did and raced right over there. I remember sitting in the waiting room with a Spanish family of five who were there to pick up their eldest son, and a prim and proper older woman who was there for her adult daughter. We all just sat there quietly, looking sad and hopeless, waiting for them to call out our kid’s name.

As always seemed to be the case, they called Rob last. I went through a very locked-looking door and saw him sitting alone in one of the visiting rooms.

“Yeo,” he said, sounding slightly friendlier than the last time I’d seen him.

“Yo, what’s the story?”

Rob explained that they would only discharge him to a rehab or a sober living house. He still wasn’t going to rehab, and the sober house they wanted to place him in was like an hour east of where we were, which was already close to two hours from where I lived.

Then it was my turn to explain that that was too far for me to visit him on a regular basis. I told him about the other sober house option in Torrance that Caryn’s friend recommended, and we went back and forth for a few minutes until he finally agreed to check it out. So we packed up his stuff, which wasn’t much more than a change of clothes and cigarettes, and made yet another long drive back in the opposite direction to meet Brendan Baltimore.

Harbor Rock Recovery turned out to be a nondescript, ranch-style house with a big bay window in the front, right in the middle of a pleasant looking suburban block. It’s not like I was expecting there to be a big sign that said “No Drinking Allowed Here,” but I guess it wasn’t as depressing as I thought it would be. We knocked on the door and a big guy about my size with a bald head appeared.

“I’m Brendan Baltimore, the house manager,” he said, and we all shook hands. “I have to grab a few things from my truck. Why don’t you guys look around for a minute and meet me in the backyard and we’ll talk.”

And that’s what we did. The house was nothing fancy. It had a small kitchen and dining room, a living room with a big TV on the wall, three small bedrooms and two bathrooms. It looked like all the furniture had been donated, but it was fairly neat and clean.

“This place doesn’t look so bad,” I said, trying my best to sound encouraging.

“It’s all right,” Rob said. “Maybe I can hook up my PlayStation to the big TV.”

We went to the backyard. There were some free weights on the lawn and lots of junk, including a few rusty old bikes piled high in the garage. Rob and I sat down in some weather-beaten Adirondack chairs and then Brendan came and joined us.

He asked Rob how he was feeling and what brought him to the hospital in the first place, and Rob gave him uncharacteristically honest answers. He then asked Rob if he was an alcoholic and if he was willing to go to AA, and that was the first time I ever heard Rob admit that he was.

Right after that was when Brendan got into this whole faith-based recovery rap, with lots of stuff about God doing what only He can do to bring freedom and abundant life, and Rob and I just looked at each other like what the fuck is this guy talking about? But we went along with it until Brendan mentioned that going to church on Sundays was mandatory because the place was run by a pastor named Daniel Bradford.

“Well, I’m Jewish, but okay,” Rob said. I could see that Rob liked Brendan and I knew that this was the best chance for him to restart his life here in sunny California. I also knew that Rob needed to do whatever he needed to do to survive.

Brendan went through a bunch of rules—Rob had to go to daily AA meetings, find a job and there was a curfew—and he’d also be sharing a room with an older Mexican man. Rob was cool with all of it.

After that, Brendan gave us some papers to sign and asked Rob for some form of ID, which Rob didn’t have because he had “lost” his wallet (he actually threw it away on Venice Beach the night he came to my house) and would have to go to the DMV to get a new card. Caryn and I had decided that we’d pay his rent for the first few months until Rob got back on his feet, so I gave Brendan a check for $650 and it was a done deal.

“You can move in tonight, Rob,” Brendan said, and we all shook hands again.

We then went to Ralph’s for some groceries, and also stopped at RiteAid to fill Rob’s prescription for Lexapro. There was a SuperCuts next door and we ducked in there to get Rob a fresh cut. I was hoping that this whole sober living deal would be something of a fresh start.

After driving back to the house, we unpacked the groceries and I told Rob that I’d come by that weekend and bring him his clothes and other belongings that I had stored in my garage. I gave him $40, and then we hugged and kissed like we always did.