Maybe I would have rather Emmie wouldn’t recognize me when I got off the plane, that she would see a new Daddy she had never met before, while the goofy faces and the long hair might have brought back some memories. I just hoped they were comforting ones.
Somehow I had gotten fired up. It was pure joy and excitement and, again, belief. Belief and the encouraging knowledge that I really hadn’t done it by myself. That would have taken much more effort.
After all, it was twenty-seven hours, which had previously been a case-and-a-half in Anheuser-Busch time. More if I had hit up the Tabor.
I cranked up Stills’ first “Manassas” album, the double album, and danced around the first floor playing the most wicked air guitar ever not seen, pounded away at the imaginary keyboard, and went to bed soaking the sheets with sweat.
And through the seventh morning of the week, the day I was flying out to San Jose, I woke up with no headache, shakes, dry heaves, sweats or anything.
Lived with it for almost nine years, actually fought it for some of them, actively for a few days every now and then, and it was gone in the split second or two of a solid, firm commitment:
“I can’t do this shit any more.”
I don’t think that epiphany would have fallen within the realm of the customary protocol, but I do believe an “Amen” would still have been in order.
And now, more on each anniversary of that day, I deeply regret not having kept that last crushed up can to keep on my nightstand in the box that holds my mother’s bible.
It had been nine years. Pretty much one third of my life at the time.
It had started shortly after I had lost my entire family.
It stopped shortly before I once again lost my family.
During that time, I had lost myself.
It was a period of intense introspection, of actually gaining insight into what had happened to me and what I continued to do to myself, yet without the full comprehension of all that it had meant or the reality of what it was doing.
While there remain specific incidents or episodes I deeply regret, overall I can’t say I shouldn’t have done it. In ways, I might rightfully have needed to.
I will say I had allowed it to go on far too long, that I had brought the most important person in my life through too much of it …
and that is the deepest regret I have in life.
It should have been a time of discovery, of growing clarity.
It could have been a time of pure strength and hope, of putting my life together after having picked it apart.
It was a time during which I just dug my hole another six feet deep.
I guess it served its purpose.
There were some exceptional memories over the time, some approaching historic, and a fair share of laughin’ and scratchin’, but they didn’t seem to pack a proportionate punch to the clichéd but haunting memories that should have been.
The Haze that was supposed to hide me from the ghoulies and ghosties and long-legged beasties and things that went and barfed in the night …
… that Haze also hid some of the greatest treasures of those years from me.
Tell you what:
that Haze would have kept me from remembering to this day the place I first heard Emmie say “Dada”.
Google Earth doesn’t do the memory justice.
Served its purpose.
For too long, children.
Far too long.
And Morrison? The Tabor?
It was a magical scene to be absorbed in, a dangerous diversion to be absorbed by.
But as most of Bill W.’s recovering Friends will tell you:
We will not forget the past nor wish to close the door on it.
The three of us spent a week together in Milpitas with Liz’s folks.
We knew what we were facing:
Liz had spent quite a while talking with her dad, and he had reminded her that she knew me before she got into what she knew she was getting into. Nap even flew out to Colorado and spent a few days with me, reminding me of what I had committed to, who I had committed to, and all I had to lose.
He knew. He had his bouts with the same demon much longer than I had, and he knew all it had cost him.
Our respective times with him paved the way for our time back together.
We didn’t stay in the hills much longer.
Liz had indeed felt abandoned up there, not in just the emotional sense but a physical one also.
There was not a lot of work to be found close by Deermont, and if I took the back roads into the Denver metro area, it would always be an easy detour to go through Morrison.
She knew that. I knew that.
We put a deposit on a twenty-two-hundred square foot home on the very western edge of Ken Caryl Ranch, a major development stretching right up to the foothills southwest of Denver. We’d be close to the mountains I loved, we’d be able to take a short ride to Deer Creek Park for picnics with Emmie, to drive farther south towards Pikes Peak. to at least start our days standing at the front steps to the Cathedral created by God to welcome people to the Golden West.
Liz could stay home with Emmie for a few years, maybe find some part-time work after a while, and we could spend more time together as a family. All the people we knew were basically in Morrison, but we could meet more people. Those we had known and those we had spent time with still migrated around the Tabor, and that could be too great of a temptation.
I believed in myself, had felt myself grow farther away from them, but I had to be realistic about things.
Ran into one of the Morrison crowd at a flea market in the west suburbs of Denver who told me everyone there was concerned about me. Worried that I had been acting so strangely.
“Yeah, I sure was the motherfucking poster boy for stability while I was up there, huh?”
I swear, people who knew me before I started “drifting off” were far more forgiving than the ones who saw me getting back on track. I just figured that while they were sitting at the bar, staring into the mirror behind the rows of glasses and bottles, there would from that point on be one less person to point at and smirk before they finally had to face themselves.
I truly believe I could have managed it around there. Could have started fresh.
I had already lost one family and I could not do it again, because this second time around it would have been my fault.
One day, while passing the Heidelberg Inn outside of Golden at Interstate 70, on the way home to the apartment we had temporarily settled in down in Lakewood, Liz told me she wanted to move to California.
I told her emphatically (knowing the way her Mom was) that I did not want to spend more time being an in-law than I did being a father and husband. I could not move to (Jersey /) San Jose.
Liz told me she couldn’t either. She didn’t want to be too close to her folks either. Maybe her Dad, but still not enough to be in the Bay Area.
To this day Liz has never been able to convince me that was not something her mother always held against me till the day she died: going against her (and Liz’s and Jesus’) decision that we would just live down the street from them.
It wasn’t a matter of miles but of time: how long would it take for us to get to them, for them to get to us. Made sense to keep it right about where it would be close enough to justify an overnight visit once a month or so, far enough not to just stop by on a weekend whim.
We could look towards the foothills.
But I would be leaving Colorado. It was the safest, but not the only bet to make.
While it was devastating to me to leave the first place I truly felt I was meant to be, it was the only truly clean break Liz felt I was strong enough to survive.
In September 1979, we made the move.
With each mile we drove, the tears and the fears swelled up inside me, put to rest by the stronger faith I had in myself and the growing appreciation for the family I had.
And there was a second child on the way.
A boy who we would name after my Uncle Ben.
And it was the symbolic move farther west.
Once again, the time was right, only this time I needed to give up something that meant far more to me than the drinking ever could.
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