[Revised and updated, 8/25/2016]
My mom was the impetus behind A.v.A.—my weed-smoking boyfriend–coming to live with us. The year was 1987—I was eighteen–and A.v.A. was an injured bird—motherless, practically fatherless, and a senior in high school—so, when his dad finally went MIA, my mom dove into action so as to prevent him from having the life of a high school drop out.
My mom’s best friend—Mary—donated her damaged yellow Toyota Celica to him (aptly dubbed the “Deerslayer” after an unfortunate incident the year before on a winding, forest road) so that he could drive from our house in the Santa Cruz (CA) Mountains to his job as a busboy in Soquel, and logistics managed, mom opened with some obvious rules: no canoodling, no breaking curfew, no doing anything that might cause my nosy little sister to tattle and, above all: No spending money on weed. He could smoke it (like if friends offered) but spending his money on it wasn’t allowed.
For some, it might take a monumental, Herculean shift in cultural awareness to understand why that last rule was not, in fact, the epitome of “lax,” for in standard American culture in 1987 explaining the subtleties of conscientious weed-smoking to a 17 year old kid wasn’t a thing yet but, in Santa Cruz in 1987–where even the cops smoked weed (they’d take your stash and smoke it themselves)–the resignation of the futility of fighting it had already occurred, and boundaries had to be moved accordingly. Like out. Way way out. Like to where a parent might find themselves not wondering very long about where their bong and rolling papers went, at which point they chuckle softly and go back to watching Cheers. Way. TheHell. Out.
The first time I smelled pot smoke coming from the downstairs bathroom, I knew he’d bought some (because it doesn’t matter how awesome your friends are, they’re not going to be sending you home with a goody bag filled with their weed) and I lectured him on disrespect, and lack of gratitude, lack of consideration, the importance of following my parents’ rules and how it seemed he was flouting the opportunity that my mom was giving him. What was wrong with him, I wondered, that he didn’t obey the rules; what was wrong with him that he wasn’t afraid of disappointing her? He didn’t get it at all, what she was trying to do, and why she was trying to help, and I was confounded by his shitheadedness.
Months later after I got back from a family trip to Cancun in 1988, I found out that he and my brother had snuck onto a neighbors’s property, stolen some of their mature pot plants, and hid them in the gully that ran along Hazel Dell Road to dry, at which point I knew that the writing was on the wall. He’d have to move out.
But it was sad. And it hurt.
For I had been rooting for him, hoping the experience with an intact family might spur something; and there was intelligence and kindness and humor and potential inside him, and I knew that, and could feel the truth in how it’s often the wounded birds among us who tend to come off as jerks simply because their whole life has been one long self-fulfilling prophecy of uncaring, the end result of which is that they actually have no idea how NOT to self-destruct.
But I knew I couldn’t save him, and when he moved out, it was into a leap too big for both him and us, and I broke up with him soon after.
Two months after breaking up–late summer of ’88–my mom, her Celica-donating best friend—Mary—and I set out on a girls’ trip to Yosemite. We had rented a cabin, and planned on going hiking, and doing some bonding right before I left home to attend the University of California, Davis.
In a deserted cliff-walled section of Tioga Road, our Jeep Wagoneer broke down and—over the course of 3 minutes–we had exhausted our entire automobile troubleshooting repertoire save for sex appeal, at which point–after another 15—we found ourselves giggling silently when a guy with even less auto-knowledge stopped his studmuffin sports car to offer roadside assistance to us three stranded dames.
The nearest house he dropped us at ended up being a refuge. The family that lived there—dad, mom, older teen son—were familiar with cars, and the father and son went to retrieve the car part we needed from the nearest town. The car place was closed for the night but—with beer and KFC purchased by my mom and Mary–we passed the evening with this little family, chatting with one another as if catching up after a long absence.
It was surreal. To be helped out of a jam by good-hearted, gentle people who we just happened to come upon.
We spent the night in a small, enclosed wooden shelter (no electricity, no plumbing) on their property, and the next morning—new part in place–said our very grateful goodbyes.
Continuing on to Yosemite, Mary relayed a weird thing that had happened to her in our shelter that night.
She said that during the night she saw three spots of light, darting about the darkened room. She said at first they seemed white but, as she watched them, they changed color. Light colors, green, purple, then back to white. She watched them as they flitted, knowing they weren’t normal, but was completely unafraid.
She said she thought that one of those lights might be her mother—who had recently passed—letting her know that she was okay.
Alphons–A.v.A. in the above–found my (first incarnation of this) blog about two years ago, made a nice comment on my site–in which he agreed with my reference to him as “wounded bird”)–and since then, we periodically email and text. I asked him if my blog was true to what happened all those years ago and, in an act of blatant and gorgeous honesty, he said yes. His life didn’t get that much easier after we broke up; his much-younger sister–who he’d been in foster care with when they were little–ended up being killed when his dad made the decision that it was okay to send her to live in Baton Rouge with their mentally-ill mom; she died as a result of being the passenger in the car of a drunk driver. She was 16.
Last year, on July 28, 2015, Alphons texted me because he’d been following the disappearance of 8 year old Maddy Middleton–hoping initially that her disappearance was due to a nasty parental custody issue–and had just found out that she’d actually been killed by a teen in her housing complex. He was very emotional, saying that there was something about the fact that Maddy had been out that day riding her new scooter that was really wrecking him and that the minute he heard the news that she’d been killed, he couldn’t stop crying.
His compassion was so strong and his feelings so deep, it was easy to picture it had been triggered by his time in foster care, when–out of love and loyalty–he took on the task of protecting and caring for the younger sister whose life would one day be forfeit by the uncaring act of his father.
I urged him to go to Maddy’s vigil that night, for I thought he should be around others also grieving, and he did, reporting the next day that he lit one up and passed it around, as the news vans congregated in Westcliff to record people’s grief.
My wounded bird still blazing (pun intended) his own trail in whatever way he can through his very difficult life.
There is so much goodness in this world. And my fellow human beings are my heroes, wounded birds–at times—and overpowered by battles with demons both real and imagined but, they inspire me–as I move through life–with feats of generosity and love, both small and large.
Because, in this existence full of pain and hardship where walls are readily built to fortress our natural vulnerability, we allegorically lie in the unfamiliarity of a darkened shelter, and–in so doing–exist perhaps beyond all measure and reason for one another like beacons of hope in a world of shadows; like little spots of flitting light, pushing forth together as we carry on towards a life of unity bound by shared truth and collective wisdom.