Choices and Chances
Sitting by the bay window on that sunny September day in 1989 soon after we moved from Missouri to Cobleskill, New York, I stared out into the afternoon. I was suspended in a state of pain and worry as I dutifully watched and waited for my fourteen-year old son, Brian, hoping that my anxiety was unjustified. Being a single parent of two teenagers heightened my sense of loneliness and helplessness. I recalled the times I spent waiting for Jim at the dining room window when I was pregnant with Brian. The painful memory repeated itself in brazen detail. I wanted to turn the channel and make it go away. The flashback held me hostage as I sat motionless and scared waiting for the movie I didn’t want to watch.
Jolted from my trance by the rattling at the back door, I walked into the kitchen to find Brian opening the door with more caution than seemed necessary.
“Hey, Mom, what’s up?” he said, staring at me through glassy eyes as he swayed on unsteady feet. It was painfully reminiscent of his father’s look thirteen years before which had precipitated my flight from the marriage. Brian was eighteen months old and his older sister, Leigh Ann, was three when I began my life as a single parent.
He stumbled, reeled and fell on the floor at my feet as I looked on in horror and disbelief. His dark eyes, flashing and blazing from some unknown odorless substance, were fixed somewhere beyond me while I was locked in the reality of the moment. A searing pain in its rawest form pierced me, sending my heavy heart crashing down onto my churning stomach. The panic tried to escape as I struggled to find my next breath.
“No, Brian, please no, not this,” I cried, deep, wracking sobs that left me weak and shattered.
My handsome and sensitive young son, developing and growing into manhood, was slipping away.
Those eyes. That moment. Those eyes that drew me in and captured my heart all those years ago.
I flashed back to a happier day when he was four years old. Intense and thoughtful, he was always concerned about the little things in his world, like his little neighborhood playmates. One summer day after giving him a Popsicle, I snapped a picture of him at the end of the driveway sharing it with
But the scene before me in 1989 would signal the beginning of many episodic nights of terror as I waited and wondered where Brian was; wondered if he was dead or alive for nearly twenty years to come. I hung tightly to the reins of that young stallion on the first ride of spring. I was spiraling out of control as well, hanging on in nerve-wracking, futile attempts to maintain my own control. The lessons came slowly as I opened up in Alanon meetings. Loving veterans of alcohol battles listened and consoled as I spewed out floods of tears and pleas of desperation. They helped me to learn to navigate the mine fields of an alcoholic loved one’s life.
One snowy March night in 2002 at 2:00 AM a loud tapping at our front door awakened my new husband, Wayne and me from our sleep. We knew from recent phone calls that Brian had relapsed. Looking at each other through foggy eyes, we tried to focus while slowly arising to answer the door as a sense of dread hung over us. Through the glass panel at the side of the door, I saw Brian’s tall, dark outline against the soft, fluffy flakes of snow that were coating the trees behind him.
Slowly opening the door, I looked into his dark eyes. They always told me the story. I watched him trying to act normal, shifting his position in awkward attempts to act sober. His breath was stale, but he was neatly groomed in jeans, a sweater and a navy pea coat. He smelled of Aramis cologne.
“Hey, Mom.” He said, greeting me casually as if he had just run into me in the grocery store. I hadn’t seen him since Christmas.
“Brian,” I asked, shaking my head and closing the door as he stepped inside, “what are you doing here?”
“I just drive to Cobleskill. I stopped to see Coach Collins earlier at the school then just hung out with Justin.” He paused briefly,
“ Mom, I need a place to stay tonight.”
“You drove three hours from Connecticut to Cobleskill at this hour?”
“What’s wrong with that?” he answered with an escalating edgy tone.
“You’re not staying, Brian,” Wayne said, as he stood behind me in the hallway.
Brian bristled in response, looking down at the floor with his hands in his jean pockets. Then he fixed his angry glare on me.
Sitting on the couch, I wrapped my arms together and leaned forward on my lap. I knew Wayne was right but how could I turn my only son back out into that snowy night without a place to stay?
Rocking back and forth in silence, I watched Brian stalling for time in the doorway.
After a few moments that felt endless, I walked over to him. Taking a deep breath, I put my arms around his waist and out came the words I knew I had to say:
“If anyone knows how to get help, B, you do. I love you very much. Now go do what you know you need to do.”
As I watched him walk out into that snowy night to his car, I wondered if I would ever see him alive again.
It was my darkest moment; my only choice and his only chance.
It got worse before it got better but I often think of that night as the time I truly let go. Ten years later, Brian is sober. I believe with all my heart that this decision saved his life.
Kathleen Pooler’s Bio:
Kathleen Pooler is a writer and a recently retired Family Nurse Practitioner who is working on a memoir about how the power of hope through her faith in God has helped her to transform, heal and transcend life’s obstacles and disappointments: divorce, single parenting, loving and letting go of an alcoholic son, cancer and heart failure to live a life of joy and contentment. She believes that hope matters and that we are all strengthened and enlightened when we share our stories. She lives with her husband, Wayne on the 130-acre farm at the foothills of the Adirondacks in Eastern New York State where his grandfather used to have a dairy farm. Wayne grows organic vegetables on four of those acres and sells them at the local farmer’s market. Their seven grandsons (3-9) are a constant source of joy to them.
Sonia Says: Kathleen, what an emotional story of the love a mother has for her son, no matter what. There are many parents who can relate to problem teenagers, even though the severity of the situation varies considerably. You made us realize that “tough love” is often the only approach, and how difficult it is for parents to carry through with this process. Your story reminded me of A Beautiful Boy by David Sheff. I’m sure you read his memoir. I cannot wait to read your memoir when it is published.
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