Friday, February 23, 2018

Here's how I ended up having a first kiss - six days into rehab



“Hey,” he says getting up. 

I lick my dry lips and pop a forbidden, cherry flavored, Spree candy into my mouth. 

Scottie is sitting on the balcony floor with his arms draped casually over his knees.  I marvel at the absolute sense of ease with which he stands and rests his hands on the balcony rail.

How can anyone be comfortable here?  Isn’t he hurt and ashamed too?  Doesn’t he hate being watched twenty-four hours a day? Doesn’t he resent having every move we make cross-examined and analyzed?

He is looking at me now with questioning eyes.

“You alright?”

“Sure,” I breathe, although I am far from all right.  Six days earlier I'd flown from Los Angeles and checked into Wickenburg, Arizona's, The Meadows treatment center (now made famous by clients such as Harvey Weinstein and Kevin Spacey).  After trying to leave for home that first day (twice), I’d been persuaded to stay by The Meadow’s Director of Services.

“I think I’m in the wrong place,” I'd sobbed, pointing to the 'Love and Sex' section of their brochure.  "You understand that I'm only hooked on pills, right?  I've just gotten out of a 13-year marriage!   So it's not like I'm a sex addict or anything like that.”

Sex addiction?! Is that even a real thing?  It just sounds like an excuse for guys to cheat on their wives...

“Please stay, Laura,” he’d responded calmly.  “You’ll find that we treat all addictions here, pills too.  We can help you.”

And now six-days in (ironically), I find that I am developing an ill-timed, preposterous crush on this blond haired, blued-eyed, outdoorsman from Park City, Utah (who checked himself into The Meadows one hour after I did).  

I am someone who used to scoff at those people who fall for each other (so fast!) on shows like Survivor or The Bachelor.  But now I'm totally getting it.  Just like all those "Big Brother" type shows, everyone here at The Meadows is completely isolated from the outside world.  No magazines, no cell phones, no TV (except for the golf channel every Saturday).  So all we really have is each other.  And people end up -- well, bonding.

Maybe I'll pitch a rehab reality web series when I get out of here... 

“I’m okay  -- thanks,” I say, mustering a smile.

And anyway it’s just a matter of time before our counselors separate us.  Because of all of the sex and love addicts here, men and women aren’t allowed to even sit together. If anyone ever catches Scottie and I sneaking up to the balcony to watch the sunset “concert,” we’ll both be kicked out for sure.

As if on cue, a single cow begins to low. 

Scottie puts his finger gently to his lips and then points down the pasture beneath us.  I get quiet, turning my complete attention to the cows.

Suddenly, the air is filled with a cacophony of mooing.  I smile widely and clap in delight as the mooing goes on, crescendo-ing and then ending as abruptly as it started.  There is an air of contentedness about everything as the cows settle in closer to the base of a large, shade tree. 

Cicadas start to sing now, but they can’t compete with their opening act. Their song is more like a pleasant hum, a denouement.  It is the heralding of the (mildly) cooler evening, which is now on the horizon.  Both Scottie I and are awash in gold and pink tones as the sun dips beneath the far-off, purple-tinged, mountain range.

The molten, metal railing begins to burn our fingers, so we drift down to a shadier (and more secluded) section of the balcony. Scottie starts telling me funny story about a time he was "guiding" (fly fishing) for some famous movie producer on the (Colorado?) River.  

I try to listen, but despite my efforts, I find that I am being hypnotized by the deep purr of his voice and the cadence with which he speaks.

It's probably for the best if I stop hanging out with him now — before I get into trouble.  And really, the timing (and location!) couldn't be worse for even contemplating a new relationship.  

"I should be careful," laughs Scott.  "Since you're from Hollywood, you might know him."

And besides which, I think he's at least four year's younger than me...

“What?” He says.  He is looking at me with that same bemused, questioning look.

Jesus! Did I say that out loud? 

“Nothing, sorry,” I shrug my shoulders in what I hope is a nonchalant way, but I feel my chest tightening up.  “You were talking about camping, right? Wyoming?”

He laughs and puts his hand on my shoulder.  I flinch wildly, as if his fingers are searing a hole through my thin, V-necked t-shirt.

"Fly fishing," he says, piercing me with his eyes.   "I'm a fly fishing guide -- in Utah."  

All at once, I am keenly aware of the lack of space between us.  He narrows that distance even more as he waits for my response.

“Oh…?” My voice sounds as though it's coming from someone very small.

Without warning, he leans in even closer.  I feel my heartbeat still in my chest as his lips touch mine.  My arms go limp and remain motionless until he’s done.  I stare at Scottie as he pulls away slowly.  His eyes are closed, his breath tastes vaguely like vanilla. 

He kissed me…

“Is that okay?” he says softly.

We aren’t allowed to have any sugar, caffeine or table salt at The Meadows.  So after six days of blandness, his kiss is even sweeter than my contraband, Spree candy, which has now dissolved completely against the inside of my cheek.  I am silent for what feels like minutes, folding and unfolding my lips -- breathing in his scent.

“Oh sh*t,” he says.  His eyes are wide with concern now.  “Did I overstep?  I’m so sorry.  I thought you were… I mean, I thought it would be okay.”

My mind whirls crazily before screeching to a complete stop.  I stare back at him frozen, unable to blink. 

Say something.

“Laura, I’m really sorry,” he says again.  “Was that a mistake?”

Suddenly, blood begins to flood into my face and ears with a pounding rush.  Released from my paralysis, I pull back slightly and touch my lips in slow motion, as though they’ve been burnt.  

“You kissed me,” I say.  I have to force the words out. 

“Was it too soon?  Are you mad?”

I shake my head and take another step backwards, unable to get in a full breath.

“I just didn’t expect that.  I, we've never talked about anything like that.”

“Like kissing?”

He starts to look relieved.  “Do you usually talk about kissing before you do it?”

“No..."

I'm too embarrassed to look at him, so I decide to examine my white, toenail polish instead.

“Oh right, of course,” he looks wounded as he lowers his gaze to catch mine.  “You just got divorced.”

“It’s just that’s it’s been a while," I say quietly.  "Since I’ve been kissed — by anyone. Anyone else, I mean.”

He looks up at me.  His eyes are cool, blue water.  I’m so hot and flustered that I just want to jump inside them.

“Are you mad?” He says again.

“I’m not mad,” I say slowly.  “I was caught off guard, that’s all.”

“So our first kiss caught you off guard,” he smiles as he tentatively puts his arm around my shoulders. 

I feel electric shocks running up and down the places where his arm and chest come in contact with my body. I want to pull away from him, but I feel myself leaning in closer, as though we have both been magnetized.

What is happening here?

“Next time I kiss you, I’ll ask beforehand, okay?” He is grinning at me again. 

I try to suppress a smile.

“Next time?!” I say, trying to sound indignant.  I look at him from the corner of my eye as we descend the staircase.

“Oh, there will be a next time,” he says with complete confidence.  “But I’m not in any hurry.  After all we’ve got, what?  26-more days here?”

“22,” I say with a laugh (it feels so good to laugh). “We’re here for 22-more days."  

My sandals make a loud, clip-clop sound as we walk in lock step down to the gravel path. We separate from each other automatically as we begin to pass other "clients" heading to their respective counseling appointments.  I look over at him after we've gone a safe distance.

"Well, don't worry, Laura.  I have to be patient for a living," he says with a wink.

I stop walking and regard him with a puzzled stare.

"Fly fishing guide, remember?" He says.  "All we do is bait and wait.  And I'll wait for as long as it takes."

Friday, February 9, 2018

Someone handed me a drink one year ago today -- here's why I took it.




"Madame Chair, are we toasting with martinis or tequila today?"

It is July 16, 2017.  We are gathered at a restaurant for the very first planning meeting for our school's gala fundraiser.  I am the new mom at school and have agreed (reluctantly) to chair the event.  Four women have volunteered to help me.  I will refer to hereafter as them as the "gala-rina's".

"You're going to need to drink a lot this year," says Wendy (not her real name).  "It's the only way we get through it, right ladies?!"

She looks around to the other three women who are all nodding and cackling conspiratorially.   I wait for a moment before responding.

"Actually, I don't drink -- alcohol," I say.

The abrupt cessation of laughter is followed closely by a short, awkward silence.

"Not at all?!" Says Wendy finally.

"Really?" Says another.

"But why?" Asks the third (with a look of concern).

"Well, I'm -- in recovery," I smile.

Two of them look at their hands uncomfortably.  The third puts down her drink menu.

"But," I say with a wave of my hand. "Don't let that stop you guys from having a cocktail. I'm good."

"But not even a glass of wine?"  Says Wendy.  "Ever???"

Uh, I don't know if you know this, Wendy.  But wine is alcohol...

"No, not even wine," I say with what I hope is a generous smile.

"Well, I just don't know how you're going to do it," says another one, shaking her head with a grave expression.  "We all just drink our way through these things.  It's the only way to survive the drama."

I feel you.  

In fact, this conversation is making me wish I were drunk right now.  Can we change the subject please?

February 9, 2017

I arrive at the Four Season's Westlake with my overnight bag and my long, black, one-shoulder dress in dry cleaner's plastic and set my stuff on a sofa in the lounge area.   My phone buzzes in the side pocket of my Lululemon leggings.  I set my decaf coffee down on a speaker and fish out my phone. I have missed 17 calls during the 40-minute ride from my house to the venue.

Faaaaaaackkk!

I scroll through the missed calls and mentally "triage" each number, sussing out which ones need to be returned most urgently.

It is 7:45 am.

"Mimosas are here!" I hear Wendy's voice from just outside the ballroom.

Her thin frame is hidden by a baggy, navy sweatsuit.  Her blond hair is pulled tight into a bun, making her blue eyes appear even larger than normal.  She is wheeling a cooler behind her and stops where I'm standing to set up, giving me a kiss on the cheek.  She sets out plastic cups and pops a bottle of champagne.  The three other gala-rinas come running over giggling with delight.

"Let the drinking begin!" She says.  "Who wants one?"

I stand back a little, watching their eyes light up.

I don't want the champagne, but I do desperately want the sense of freedom and relief that I see spreading over each of their faces.  They are all chattering so effortlessly.  I want to join in but I feel a self-righteous tightness spreading through my chest.

Go ahead and get your buzz on, b*tches.  Meanwhile, I'll just be over here all by myself making sure that this whole event doesn't go sideways.

I decide to walk around the corner (away from the booze) and sit on one of the 6-foot auction tables while I return phone calls.  I can feel the muscles in my neck and jawline clenching.  I open and close my mouth a few times in an effort to relax.  I ignore the next phone call and text Scottie.

Hi Hon.  What time will you get here?

I'm sure he's still asleep...

I sigh, wishing that I were still curled up next to him in bed.

I text him again and ask him to bring Advil.

*  *  * 

"The talent is ready to go over their script with you now," says Wendy.

It is 30-minutes before "showtime." Our sound system isn't working and our silent auction signs are missing -- along with the silent auction chair.

I really don't have time for this sh*t.  

"Didn't they already go over them with the live auction chair?"  I try to soften my gaze so I'm not glaring at her.

"Yeah, but they thought you'd want to hear them rehearse.  I told them to wait in the lunch room."

Can't anyone do anything without me?!

I have to gasp as I enter the lunch room to get some air in my lungs.   It is incredibly humid and stuffy inside. The two celebrity emcees who have donated their time to us are waiting for me.   One of them is mopping his forehead with a napkin.  The live auction chair (who looks stunning in an up-do and a white, low-cut gown) is frantically sorting through scraps of paper.  I close the door behind me and sit down in the only vacant seat.

"You know we're about a half-hour away from opening the doors," I say as calmly as I can.  "But you guys pretty much have it down, right?"

"I could remember my lines better if I had a drink," says one.

"Uh, yeah!" laughs the other.  "A little liquid courage?"

Keeping the smile frozen on my face, I get up and open the door to the hallway, stopping one of the banquet waiters.  They are carrying trays of something called Purple Haze, which they are serving chilled in highball glasses with a wedge of lemon. The color reminds me of the opalescent nail polish that I used to wear in the ninth grade.

"Excuse me?" I smile.  "Can you please bring one of those trays?  I've got some thirsty people in here."

At that moment, one of the gala-rina's comes careening down the hallway, sobbing.  I grab her quickly and pull her to the side.

"Hey, hey!  What's wrong?"

Babbling unintelligibly, she tries to squirm away from me.   All I can make out after a couple of minutes, is that another gala-rina has hurt her feelings (but she won't say who and she refuses to let me comfort her).  I pull her forcibly inside the "talent" room with me and gently advise her to take a breather.  She takes a seat in the corner behind me and hides her face in her hands, making soft, squeaky noises.

"Okay," I say, looking around.

Everyone is quiet now and staring at the crying gala-rina.  The banquet waiter I hijacked earlier is standing motionless in the far corner of the room. He seems to be waiting for me to direct him.

"Please," I say through gritted teeth, pointing around the table.  I feel light-headed now, as if an inner tube is squeezing the muscles around my heart.

"Please pass out the drinks."

He starts at the other end of the table.  As each person takes a sip of this Purple Haze potion, their voices suddenly become soft and silky smooth.  Its like they each have an invisible volume knob that has just been lowered.

"Wow, what is this?"

I watch fascinated as they all take large, thirsty sips.  I am so engrossed by this process of transformation that I find that I don't notice that the waiter only has one drink left on his tray. A drink which he is now offering to me.

"Oh?"

I don't think anything of grabbing it off the tray.  Nor do I think anything of taking the small, square, white napkin he hands me.  I do this as if I have done it every day of my adult life, when in fact it has been almost nine years since I've held a cocktail in my hands.

The glass is cool and dewy.  I slip my index finger up to the rim and slide it around slightly, feeling how wide and solid it is.  I swirl the iridescent liquid inside the glass.  I've never inhaled anything like it.  The smell is fire — full of citrus and licorice notes.  I lick my lips because I can actually taste that smell in my throat.  The sensation sends a river of shock through my body that pools up in the soles of my feet.  I slip one of my heels off and scratch an itch on the bottom of my foot.

This whole night would be SO much easier with just one drink.  Just one -- to smooth the edges...

I remember how that burn of that first sip would loosen up every muscle in my chest.  I remember how a bubble of warmth would envelop my head soon afterward and everything would kind of melt away.  I close my eyes.

I remember it so well...

But then, just as quickly; fear, humiliation and guilt begin to swirl around in my stomach. Suddenly,  I can feel the stickiness of those endless, dark hours in my bedroom, hiding bottles in my closet with the shades drawn.  I am struck by the knife-like pain of those unbearable thirty days in treatment — thirty days away from my babies! I can recall the shame and horror of those first clumsy amends that I had to make to the people I loved after I got out.

And my life now!  I have this incredible life full of my family and friends.  I'm able to be a mom to my kids.  People can actually count on me.  People DO count on me.  Could a brief (albeit possibly awesome) single moment of relief be worth destroying all that I've worked so hard for?  Could that one drink (and PS, who am I kidding, it would never just be one drink)! be worth it if I had to relive all of that awfulness and drag everyone who loved me through it all over again?

Just then my phone buzzes in my lap and I open my eyes.  It's a message from Scottie.

And Scottie...

I'm here, Hon. Where are you?

I close my eyes again and shake myself a little before turning around in my seat.

"Here," I say quickly, handing the drink to the still-crying gala-rina.  "Maybe this will help."

I watch her take it from me.  She cups it with both hands like it is a warm bowl of soup and sips at it tentatively.

"Delicious," she says dreamily, as a slow smile spreads across her face.  "What is this?"

"Purple Haze," I answer quietly.  "Enjoy,  I'll be right back.  My boyfriend is here."




Friday, January 26, 2018

Are you're honestly considering having children? Then maybe don't read this blog #tictictic

I used to dream about the children Scottie and I would have.  Maybe our girl would have his blond hair and my brown skin.  Perhaps our son would have my long legs and Scott’s strong shoulders.  I was 44-year’s old when Scottie and I fell in love, but the timing seemed off for us to consider having children.   We were both getting sober, both newly divorced and both raising kids of our own.  But on our weekends alone (my sons spent every weekend with their dad and Scottie’s daughters lived in Stowe, Vermont), when we lay face to face, breathing in each other’s breath, gazing into each other’s eyes, we would try different faces, hair and bodies on our imaginary, yet-to-be-conceived children (like I used to do with those old, Colorform dolls).  We tried to picture what our lives would look like with another child — a child of our own.

Everyone who knows me is aware that if there’s a baby around, I’m probably going to have him or her in my arms before too long.  I love babies.  I love their smell and their keen sense of wonder.  I love their innocence and how they see the world.  But I am always surprised by how drawn I am to babies.  You see, I was never one of those girls who played with baby dolls.  As a teenager, I wasn’t sure that I would ever get married, let alone have children.  At age 31, when Miles came along (and then Justin followed 21-months later) I was utterly unprepared.  I did the best I could to duplicate the love, care and protection that my parents had provided for me. But if motherhood were a car, I felt as if I were being dragged behind it.  I could hold on (just barely) but I could never pull myself close enough to get into the driver’s seat.

But love changes everything, doesn’t it?  Because Scottie and I were so enamored, (especially when we were newly in love) I felt as though I were being biologically compelled to consummate our love in a way which would result in the ultimate and indisputable proof of our adoration for each other — a child.  At 47 (during a time where my unusual mood changes had me wondering if I were already in menopause), my OBGYN was astounded to find that each of my ovaries were producing multiple eggs and that my estrogen levels were still normal.

“You body,” he said, “is 47, but it thinks that it is 37.  I don't know if you're even thinking about it — but if you want, I think you could still have healthy children.”

Hmmmm....

I tucked this bit of information away for a while as Scottie and I continued to etch out our new lives.  His older daughter, Lily and my sons were all pre-teens now.  His younger daughter, Nora had just turned 8.  Scottie and I were more settled into our sobrieties and were finally relaxing into amicable relationships with our respective exes.  All the while though, I was aware that with each passing second, I was losing time on my proverbial biological clock.

Tic tic tic.... 

“I’d have a baby with you in a minute,” Scottie would say to me before, during or after a tender kiss.  “I’d marry you too, but you know that.”

But I was already starting to question the extremely romantic notion of having a baby.  I was now 48 and my sons were both starting high school. My focus was being pulled in so many directions that the thought of starting over with a baby seemed far away and at times, laughable. 

What would happen to our weekend-long “date nights?” What about our "just-the-two-of-us," twice-a-year getaways to beautiful hotels in tropical climates? And what about our yearly summer road trips with all of our kids (and my mom)?  

More and more, we each began to recall (with surprisingly sufficient force) the memories of all of those sleepless nights we’d endured, the teething pain tears, the vexation of lugging clumsy car seats and diaper bags everywhere, the hours of homework (that I could barely help with), those inconveniently timed parent-teacher conferences, the excruciatingly long school recitals, the frustration of enforcing those dubiously effective “time-outs” and shrill din of those dreaded visits to the pediatric dentist.  These were all things we agreed, that we were happy to have in the rearview. 

A child of our own would change everything -- we knew that.  Did we want that kind of change? It was also (probably) much too late to even think about conceiving and carrying a child naturally. So if wanted to get pregnant I would need to employ medical/scientific help.  I knew all about the physical, mental and emotional demands of those processes from the many friends of mine who had endured them.  But before Scottie and I even considered going down that road, we had to ask ourselves -- was something still missing? We each already had children, but the question was -- how much did we need to have/want to have OUR child?

Tic tic tic...

On the eve of my 50th birthday party, Scottie and I took an inventory of our lives in that same way that we had in the beginning, laying face to face, breathing in each other’s breath, finger’s interlaced. 

We are so fortunate.  Our lives are so full with our kids, friends, service and recovery that we can scarcely believe they belong to us.   

There in bed that night we confirmed to each other what we both had known in our souls for a long time.  Our lives, just as they were, were more than enough.  We didn’t need to add anything or anyone to them in order to be happy and whole. 

Nothing was missing.

This past August, Scottie and I were lying out by the pool of an upscale Santa Barbara hotel.   We both had our headphones on.  I had just flipped over onto my stomach and was reading a magazine.  Scottie had his eyes closed and was a moving his golden brown foot along to the his music.  I was tapping him on his shoulder to give him the lunch menu, when out to the corner of my eye, I saw a very pale woman in her thirties entering the pool area.  She was struggling through the sea of chaise lounges and had a six-month-old baby boy on her hip, a large, heavy-looking bag in her free hand and a larger one on her other shoulder.  Not too far behind her was a man in sunglasses and a baseball cap, pulling a two-year old girl along in a car/stroller, knocking into chairs and hotel guests as he went.  He had a blow-up pool toy around his neck and another large beach bag that was overflowing with pool toys and swim diapers.  I watched fascinated as they finally found two free chairs and the mom started setting up "camp" (with what can only be described as military precision).  The dad was charged with putting sunscreen on both now-screaming children.  Grim faced, he kept “patiently” instructing his daughter to keep still, while the mom “gently” reminded the dad how to best apply the sunscreen to get the most coverage.

("Watch his eyes! Don't forget her stomach, remember she burned there last time").  

Finally the dad set his screaming daughter free and then chased her (yelling out her name over and over) to the snack bar.  It was then that an attendant rushed over and informed the mother that they were at the "adult only" pool and that she and her family would need to move over to the kid-friendly pool on the other side of the resort.  

I braced myself for her reaction.  Would she cry?  Be angry?  Would she refuse to move?  But no, she just started to calmly pack up their things, while trying to signal the dad over to help.

After they’d finally re-packed and headed over to where they “belonged," Scottie turned to me, smiled broadly and grabbed the lunch menu from me.

“Yeah, Honey," he said.  "I think we’re good.”

I knew exactly what he meant.  

Friday, January 12, 2018

Why this new women's movement has me hoping that it's “Time's Up” for racism too

Me, chatting up President William Jefferson Clinton at an event in 2001

Like many of us, I was moved to tears when Oprah Winfrey gave her impassioned speech after receiving the Cecil B. DeMille award at Sunday’s Golden Globes.  But I was surprised to find, as I looked from one beautiful, nodding celebrity head to the next, that I was also feeling, well frankly --  a little disconnected.

If I’m honest here, I can tell you that ever since this #MeToo reckoning started, part of me has been a little envious that this particular equal rights movement is getting so much traction and world-wide attention. Ever since women have been speaking out and men have been getting fired and stepping down as a result,  somewhere deep down inside me, I've been building a case for a small, curious and confusing resentment.

But real change is happening, Laura!  Powerful men, CEO’s, anchormen, celebrities, politicians — their worlds are turning upside down.  This is a huge victory for us! And it started when a Black woman, Tarana Burke, created the #MeToo!

It's true! I still cannot believe that I’m getting to see a group of marginalized people (women) stand up to the status quo — rich, powerful, White men, and really, really effect change.  I never thought that I’d see that in my lifetime. It’s stupendous.  It’s wonderful.

And yet…

Don’t get me wrong.  It’s not that I don’t connect at all with the Time’s Up movement.   I wrote a #MeToo blog about why I kept silent after I was raped.   It infuriates me that women make (on average) 23% less than their male counterparts in the same positions.  I am outraged by the expectation for women to submit or demure to men for any reason.  I get angry when female beauty is worshiped above intellect or talent. Rage boils up inside me when I hear that any woman has been asked to compromise herself in order to compete or get ahead.

Most of the time, I feel like I am walking hand in hand, stride by stride with all of my sisters who march for gender equality.

But I think what’s happening is that I still connect more with the challenges of being Black than I connect with the challenges of being a woman. And often times, it feels (to me) like the #MeToo movement (and now the Times Up movement) are of particular benefit to non-minority women. Up until Oprah’s speech, I felt like non-minority women were kind of all, “Come on women of color! You guys get in here too!  We’re going to change the world for everyone!”

But that can’t be.  There were plenty of Black women in that room while Oprah gave her speech; Zoe Kravitz, Kerry Washington, Tracy Ellis Ross, Viola Davis, Halle Berry, Gayle King and others.   These women were all clearly feeling included. They were standing, cheering, shaking their heads and blinking back tears.  

And yet…

In Zora Neale Hurston’s masterpiece, “Their Eyes Were Watching God,” she brilliantly observes:

“De ni@@er woman is de mule uh de world so fur as Ah can see." 

Early on in my life, the hierarchy was explained to me this way:

First in the order is: White men

Then comes: White women

A distant third is: Black men

And bringing up the rear are: Black women

What? That doesn't seem accurate to you?

Look at your news anchors (local and national) or politicians.  Check out the nominees for best director or best motion picture.  Click on the Forbes list of top billionaires and see who pops up.  How about the teachers and administrators in your children's schools?  I'll bet that nine times out of ten you'll find yourself confronted with this seemingly outdated, certainly unfair, and mostly unspoken-about, batting order.  With few exceptions (former President Barack Obama and Oprah to name a couple of the more notable ones), you'll find that what you see mostly, are White men in the top, most visible positions, followed closely by White women, then Black men, and finally, Black women.

So my question is — is the "end game" of the Time’s Up movement to move me up on this list?  If Time's Up succeeds in moving White women up to that first line (equal with White men) where does that leave me and other women of color?  Is the working theory that when "we" move up, that ALL women move up automatically?  And does my status as a double minority shift or blend when women finally get the recognition that we deserve?

Scottie thinks it might.  His take on this is that the #MeToo and Time's up-movements are shifting more than just gender inequality — he hears an unspoken promise in these movements for Black women too, to gain some footing.  He hears the whisper of hope for women of color, the LGBTQ community and other minorities in the speeches that are being given by Reese Witherspoon, Nicole Kidman, Susan Sarandon and Rose McGowan.

I like that idea.  And I would probably feel a great deal of relief if I could be content with the "unspoken." But assuming that this new women's movement is "one for all and all for one" doesn't come easily to me.  I've gotten my head handed to me too many times with assumptions — especially when it comes to race.  An outspoken actress friend of mine says that she'd hoped for this kind of show of solidarity during last year's "OscarsSoWhite" movement (which was created when, for the second year in a row all 20 nominees in the best actress and actor categories were White).

Imagine if there were no female nominee for two years?!  There would be an immediate, anger-fueled Academy Award's boycott!

But the fact that there were no nominees of color in 2015 or 2016 barely created a ripple in the press.  And in fact, when Jada Pinkett Smith called for a boycott, people ripped into her for being an instigator. To be fair though, when interviewed about this subject, stars such as Reese Witherspoon and George Clooney both called for a greater representation of diversity in front of and behind the camera.  But the truth is that no one's bottom line was affected by the giving of these individual interviews.  There was no organization, no disruption, and therefore, no one stepping down or getting fired.

I think I'd feel better if someone near the top of these movements spoke out about the particular challenges that face those who have spent their lives paying the proverbial "double tax."  I'd like for it to be publicly acknowledged by those at the forefront that yes, women are moving up, but women of color are facing a steeper climb than our majority counterparts.

Because, now -  circa 2018, when a White woman enters a room --  she is still simply seen as a woman entering a room (of course, she will be instantly assessed by her beauty, age, nationality, prowess, stature, weight, hair color, etc.).  But when I enter a room -- most people see a Black woman entering a room --  my race being the first (and sometimes only) thing that most people see.
Yes, people also notice that I’m a woman and will subsequently assess me by those same standards, but not before first noting that I’m Black (with or without prejudice).  It’s just the that it way it is.  Countless studies have proven this fact over and over again.

I do triumph and celebrate in the successes that have been afforded us (women) by #MeToo and Time’s Up movements.  And while I am looking forward to all of the victories to come,  I’m still unsure of how women who look like me will fare.  I hope Scottie is right and that we are all getting First Class compartments on this new equality train.  But I fear that (for the time being at least) some of us may still be relegated to Unreserved Coach.  #nomoredoubletax



Friday, December 15, 2017

A Black Panther, two bricks and a trunk full of cash




"Someone is here to see you."

Someone's here to see me? 

It's late morning on Christmas Eve, 1988.   I have just driven 375 miles to Berkeley from Los Angeles for a quick trip to see my mom and my brother, Kenji.  I am glad to be home, but I'm eager to get back to my new job at the St Mark's supper club in Venice.  The other hostesses have told me that we will really clean up on New Year's Eve.  One of them said she made $500 last year.

I really need that kind of NYE money.  I'm already a month behind on my rent, my car payment is due next week and there are these dope, brown, over-the-knee Charles David boots that I REALLY want.

"Laura!"

My mother's voice is tight with concern.  I search her eyes for an explanation as I rise from her time-worn, paisley bedspread-covered sofa, where I'd been napping after my drive.

"What Mom?  Who is it?"

She is silent and barely moves to the side as I get up and approach the doorway where she stands. I tilt my head slightly as I scoot past her, pushing opening the rickety screen door.  I look back at her one more time before I step outside with a questioning look.

Who knows I'm here?  And why is she so upset?

I hear Bobby Brown's "My Prerogative" blasting from the street as soon as I open the door.  I shade my eyes from the bright sunlight as I survey what lies beyond my mother's wide sitting-porch.  All at once, I see that an older, grey, Chevrolet Malibu has missed her driveway completely and is parked at an angle across her lawn.  The car is still running.  The melancholy stink of exhaust fumes fill the air.

Oh my God! There's a car in the yard!  That's why she's upset.  But who's that White guy behind the wheel?

After taking a step forward, I can see that Greg, Huey's best friend is in the driver's seat.  Even at that distance I'm able to make out the sweat glistening on his forehead.  It looks as though his blue eyes are too wide as he waves apologetically and turns the music down.  The passenger seat is empty and the door is open.

Oh no...

All at once, Huey's walks out of the shadows with cartoonish chuckle. He's been standing to the side of the porch.

"Hey, hey," he says with his arms up in a mock surrender.  "I come in peace."

He is standing at a tilt on the grass-broken cracks in her walkway.  He smiles and starts up the porch with a decidedly uneven gait.

Oh Shi* - is he drunk? What are they even doing here?  How did they know I'd be here?

"Huey?" I say quietly, not wanting my mom to hear the alarm in my voice.

My mother bursts out of the house.  Her posture is menacing, a warning.  Huey slows down at once and stops on the third step, looking frantically from me to her.  He sniffs loudly and gives his nose a generous wipe with his leather coat sleeve.  I am temporarily mesmerized by the slimy streak it leaves behind, like a snail trail.

Should I tell her that this is actually Dr. Huey P. Newton?  The co-founder of and former Minister of Defense for the Black Panthers? The man who studied our gun laws furiously until he found a loophole in the second amendment that guaranteed his right to bear arms and patrol neighborhoods, protecting Black people from the police? The man who coined the term "Revolutionary Humanism?"  The man who took it upon himself to implement hot breakfast and after school programs in the inner city neighborhoods of Oakland and Chicago?   The man whose arrest sparked protests across the nation in 1967 ? Remember the "Free Huey" signs? 
"You can jail a revolutionary but you can't jail a revolution." 

"I just need to show you something," Huey stammers.  His smile has disappeared and his voice is higher than normal, almost whiny.  My intuition shoots a wall between us, I take a step back toward my mom's protective energy.

"Show me what?"

Huey looks up and grins again, seemingly emboldened by my question.  He dashes up the last two stairs and grabs my hand with surprising speed.  His fingers feel incredibly soft and sweaty, like five over-sized bait worms.  I want to wrench my hand away, but I don't want to give my mother any more cause for concern.

Okay, no.  Don't tell her who he is.  Just get rid of him.

"It's okay Mom," I say as casually as I can.  "These guys are my friends.  I'm just going to walk him back to the car."

My mother folds her arms and keeps her post on the porch.  She cranes her neck a little as she watches Huey leading me across our lawn.

Greg gets out as we approach the driver's side door.

"Hey Greg," my voice is full of prickly irritation.  "What are you guys doing here?"

"We just had to show you something, Laura.  Can you take a ride with us?"

I look back at my mother.  She's on the top step now, her eyes tracking Huey's increasingly erratic movements as scurries backward to open the trunk of the car.  Once open, Greg steps out and motions me closer, leaving the driver's side door open too.

"You're going to want to come with us after you see what's in this trunk!" Huey says as he leaps forward. He grabs my right arm and ushers me to the back of the car.

"How did you guys know I was in town?" I hiss under my breath as we exit my mother's line of sight behind the open trunk.

"We called Kelly and she told us where you were."

Kelly!

I knit my brows and narrow my eyes, making a mental note to "check" our mutual friend Kelly next speak I with her.

What is she thinking sending these drunk mutha fu@@a's to my mother's house?!?

But my angry expression fades into one of disbelief as soon as I look into the trunk.  At first I think that the sun is messing with my eyes.  I look from Greg's face to Huey's and back to the contents of the trunk.  Huey starts laughing manically and hopping up and down.

"You're gonna take that ride with us now, aren't you?"

Holy sh*t.

The trunk is large.  Large enough so that three or four people could fit inside easily.  There are a couple of brown and charcoal colored blankets (or mats) that have been folded back from the middle, like you would if you were going to change a tire.

Faaaccckkkk!  

There are hundreds and hundreds of hundreds. The money is not stacked and banded like in the movies, but loose, like someone has casually dumped a few trash barrels of Benjamin's into the trunk.

"This has got to be like a hundred grand," I whisper to myself.

I hear the haze in my voice.  The money has put me into a trance.

"You ready for this?" asks Greg excitedly.  "It's no 100K, Laura -  this is two point one million dollars!"

Two twenty-somethings with bulging Jansport backpacks are walking past my mom's house now.  One has long black hair and Birkenstocks, the other is skinny with a shaggy, Peter Frampton haircut. They have stopped talking to each other and are now watching us with intense curiosity.  I shoot them a "mind your business" look as I put my hands on Huey's shoulders and reposition him so that he is blocking their view of the trunk.

"Lower your voices," I say to them though gritted teeth after they pass us.

I should walk back in the house right now.  Someone is definitely looking for this money.

But for some reason, I just stand there, my right hand hovering above a particularly large mound of cash that is piled in a ring around the spare tire well.

How deep does this money go? One foot down?  Two feet down?

I put my right hand in the trunk, moving as much of the cash as I can to one side.  It's almost elbow deep.  The cash feels cool, crisp and smooth against my skin.

These are new bills...  

That's when I saw it. The spare was gone and there was something else in its place.

How the hell did miss that?!?

There, right in front of my eyes are two, pure white, overly full, sack-of-flour-sized packages, swaddled in several layers of plastic wrap.

Are those what I think they are?!?

Huey sniffs again.  The sound startles me back to reality.  I look back and forth in astonishment from Greg's dilated pupils to Huey's fidgety stance.

Oh my God, Oh my God...

I peek around the open trunk to see if my mom is still standing there. I can't see her on the porch anymore.

"Take a ride," Huey sing-songs enticingly.  "A quick ride, we'll have you back before noon."

I shake my head slowly as I back away from the trunk.

"Where did all of this come from?  Did you guys rob some drug dealer or something?"

Greg laughs too loudly and Huey joins him in the hysterics after a few seconds.  I look around in a panic until they stop, terrified that they're going to attract more attention.

"Nothing like that," says Greg finally.

"Let's just say," says Huey.  "That someone made a rather generous donation to the cause."

Greg spins me around so that I'm facing him and grabs my hands in his.  Unlike his face, his hands are bone dry, almost leathery.

"Come on, Laura.  We'll give you some of it.  As much as you can put in your purse.  We just want you to drive with us for a little while."

As much as I can put in my purse?  Sheee-aaat!   That's a year's rent! Those boots I want and maybe my car payments too!!

"Just get in," pleads Huey.  He's walked back to the passenger door now and is holding it open for me.

Greg takes my stunned silence for a yes and "yippee's" with a little fist pump as he hops into the driver's side, closing the door after him. The door slam brings my mother back out onto the porch.

All at once, my mom's house looks especially shabby.  All I can see is the gray and white peeling paint, the torn screen door and the "lawn" that is as much dirt (and weeds) as it grass.

Maybe I could give her some of this money.  She could use it to fix this place up!

My mom mouths "Are you okay?" to me.  I gulp and nod at her with a what I hope is a comforting gesture.

Take the ride, Laura.  Take that money...

"Laura?" calls my mom.  "What's going on?"

I nod slowly and hold up the palm of my hand toward her to indicate that I need a minute.  I feel my shoulders drop as I walk toward Huey.  I shake my head "no" as I get close to the door that he's still holding open for me.

"I, I can't go."  I can barely believe the words that are coming out of my mouth.

Huey follows my gaze and looks up at my mom. His eyes soften with understanding and  disappointment.

"Hey, I get it," he says dejectedly.  "Do you want some anyway?  You could just grab little.  I'll open the trunk again."

My Mom is down on the bottom step now.  My heart starts banging a hole in my chest.  I hug Huey quickly.  The smell of the Aramis cologne he wears is so strong that I can actually taste it in my mouth as I pull away.

"I can't, Huey.  But thank you anyway."

My heart sinks when I flash on those beautiful, buttery, brown leather boots.

"Where are you guys going to go," I say softly?

"I'm not sure," says Huey.  He smiles as if to cheer me up.   "But I'll call you when we get there."


My brother Kenji and I on Christmas morning

*  *  *

Huey Newton was a great guy -- a genius in my opinion.  And despite this rather unflattering depiction of him in this outrageously bazaar, but completely true story,  Huey was a hero, a role model, a leader and my friend.  When I first moved to LA in 1988, it was Huey who got on the phone and introduced me to people who could help me get a job in the entertainment industry.

"Bert, yeah, it's Huey.  Looky here! I need you to meet this young gal that's just moved to LA, she wants to direct commercials.  She's a friend of mine.  Take good care of her, okay?"

But some of our best conversations were those in which he would take time to break down his role in the war that he spent his life waging against the status quo.

"I am a doomed man," he would say dramatically between sips of Hennessy.   "But all revolutionaries are --  so it's not death that I am afraid of --  but it is a death without meaning that scares me."

That producer he called on my behalf was Bert Schneider (The Monkees, Easy Rider, Five Easy Pieces, Hearts and Minds).  Bert took me out to dinner at Dan Tanas shortly after my Christmas trip home that year.  We laughed and talked non stop — mainly about Huey.  I found out that Bert had been a generous, long time supporter of The Black Panther Party for Self Defense.

"But I think Huey may be losing it," Burt says to me in confidential tone over our coffee and cheesecake.  "He called me a couple of months ago begging me to have someone come and pick up some two million dollar car..."

My fork slips out of my hand and drops off the side of the table.  Suddenly the cacophony of dinner conversations around us are locked out -- like a bank vault door has just been slammed shut.

"What?"

"Yeah," he smiled.  "You wouldn't believe it!  He was all hyper and paranoid about some "mysterious" car with two million dollars in the trunk. Talk about delusional!  Oh yeah! I forgot -- he said there were also two or three bricks of coke in the trunk! Yeah, right!"

"Two," I whisper.

"Huh?" Bert looks up at me innocently as he wipes his chin with his napkin.

"I know about that car, Bert."  I clear my throat.  "He came by..."

"Oh, he told you too?  Did he tell you the bit about how he and Greg were both so loaded that they  stopped by someone's house to ask them to stash it for them?  Isn't that a riot?!?  Get this!  They didn't trust themselves to remember where'd they parked it.  It was like they wanted a real live treasure map."

A treasure map!  That's all?? Damn!! I should have taken that ride!!!

"Oh my God, Bert!" My voice is thick with emotion.  "That was me!  They came to my mother's house on Christmas Eve! I saw that car!"

This time Bert drops his fork.

"What do you mean?  You were the treasure map?  You saw the money"???

"Totally true.  I saw all of it.  It was too much money to count.  I saw the packages too, all sealed up. They wanted me to go with them.  They seemed pretty desperate, but it felt too shady.  Plus my mom was right there on the porch watching us.  They offered me cash, but I didn't take any. They wouldn't say why they wanted me to get in the car with them."

"And you didn't just take a little cash?!?" He laughs, picking up his fork again.  "You know you could have given some to your mom."

"What happened to it?" I lower my voice to a whisper, suddenly conscious of other diner's eyes on us.  "Did he say what they did with it? The car, the money?"

"That's just it," Bert is visibly agitated now, clearly replaying his conversation with Huey in his head.  "They parked it in some lot in Emeryville and now they can't find it!  They've been looking for it since Christmas."


*  *  *

Bert sent various private investigators to the bay area to look for that car for six months after I confirmed Huey's story to him.  It wasn't until Huey was assassinated in August of 1989 that a heartbroken Bert gave up his search.  We were both greatly saddened and angered by Huey's death (which had all of the earmarks of a cover up, but that's another story).

My friendship with Bert is just one of the many things for which I am deeply indebted to Huey.


And as far as I know, that car may still be out there somewhere...




Friday, December 1, 2017

Why Prince Harry and Meghan Markle are giving me LIFE right now! #princessofcolor #changereaction #thenewnormal


Lily, Nora, Justin and I with Scottie on his birthday this year



My friend Victoria, (who happens to be White) won't engage in politics because she doesn't believe in "these limited barriers that people use to separate themselves."

"Skin, hair, where you are born, who you love, what language you speak, how and what and if you worship --  these things don't really matter.  We are all souls confined in these vessels for a finite period of time.  Why are we fighting over the vessels?"

My first thought was, Really? Wanna trade vessels and see if you still feel the same way?

But the truth is, that the more I think about her words, the more I feel like she might have the right idea.

Scottie and I do an annual road trip every summer with our kids and my mom.  And in certain states, at certain times, when we all walk into a restaurant for a reservation (that I've usually had to have made months in advance) we get -- looks.   Sometimes our big, blended, multi-skin-toned family is greeted with genuine smiles and other times, well -- we aren't.  Because depending where we are and who we meet, all that some people can see (and pre-judge) are the vessels in which we are all contained.  They don't or can't see the strength of our connectedness, the love we have for each other or feel the sheer joy that emanates from each of us because we are all together.

There are thousands of people who are making a daily effort to clear away the thick climate of racial hatred that looms low over our country right now.  But as hard as all those people may be trying to "move the needle" by protesting, lobbying or campaigning, the discouragingly difficult-to-look-at truth is that needle hasn't moved very far (and frankly isn't moving very fast).

According to an editorial in the Sunday New York Times last month, there are three main pathways by which social movements gain power; Cultural, Disruptive and Organizational.

But Scottie thinks that there may be one additional way of effecting real change that the Times' columnist may not have considered: Love

In 2009, Scottie flew me out to Richmond, Virginia to meet his dying father, Harry, who had a major stroke and couldn't move or speak.  Little did Scottie know, that by taking this one simple action, he inadvertently started a "change-reaction" that permeated and affected his whole family.

Harry was an admitted racist.  Scottie's mother Nancy, was a gentle, Southern woman who had lived in Richmond her entire life.  She was kind to everyone, but all of her friends had always been White.  Scottie's daughters, Lily and Nora, grew up in the very homogenous, Park City, Utah, before moving to the even more homogenous, Stowe, Vermont.  But yet, when Scottie fell in love with me, everything changed for the Slaughter family.

There was no questioning or bargaining.  Scottie was with me.  He loved me. He wasn't letting me go anywhere and he wasn't going anywhere without me.

So Harry and Nancy did what any loving parents would do, they made an effort to see me through Scottie's eyes.  One by one, they both abandoned their old, limited ideas of what it meant to be Black.

Nine months after meeting Scottie, I found myself pacing back and forth outside of an ICU hospital room. Inside the room, Nancy and Scottie were preparing Harry to meet Scott's first Black girlfriend (me).   When they motioned me in, the stern-faced, balding, small-framed, White man who lay under a thin, pastel colored hospital blanket literally took the breath out of my body.

"Hi," I exhaled.  "It's so nice to finally meet you."

My heart beat was noticeable under my black, cashmere crew necked sweater.  I scrambled around the foot of the bed and hurried over to his right side (Scottie had said that it was his good side).  Harry's thin, pale arms lay motionless on either side of him until I got near his face.  Unable to move his head, his eyes followed me, as I set my purse down on his nightstand with a thud.

Without warning,  Harry's right arm sprang into action and scurried across the blanket. I startled at how quickly his hand found my fingers, grabbing and clutching them with impressive strength.  Before I knew what was happening,  I felt his thin, soft lips on the back of my hand.  Scant tears appeared in the corners of his tender, Cornwall blue eyes.

"Beautiful," he mouthed to Scottie.  "She's beautiful."

Shortly after his death, Nancy and my mom, Linda became instant, close friends (they were hilarious, goofy, secret-sharing buddies from the gate)! And eight years later, before quietly passing away from ovarian cancer, Nancy, cupped my face with her hands, kissed me tenderly on the cheek and thanked me for loving her son so fiercely.

"You do too much," she smiled.  "But I am so grateful..."

Lily and Nora have basically only known a family that included a Black stepmother (me) and Black brothers (Miles and Justin) and a Black grandmother, grandfather and uncles (my parents and my brothers).  Their instinct to pre-judge ANYONE has been tempered by the love that they've experienced.  But a real change of perception needs a generation or two to take hold.  You see, Harry and Nancy didn't really release all of their old ideas about Black people when Scottie brought me into their lives, but they did learn to love and accept my family and I.  But it is with Lily, Nora, Miles and Justin that the real change is occurring.  It's not that our kids don't see color, but they just don't see color as a barrier.

Love did that.

Harry Slaughter would have probably never responded favorably to a protest march or some impassioned civil rights speech on television (what in God's name are they complaining about now)??  But his heart turned to butter when his son brought me into the ICU that day to meet him.  He saw beyond my vessel and held my hand, whispering to Scottie that I was beautiful.

Doria Radian and her daughter, Meghan Markle and Prince Harry (insert)


I've tried to imagine what that first conversation between Prince Harry and his Grandmother, Queen Elizabeth II, must have sounded like.  I picture him walking into her chambers (or maybe a sitting room?):

"Thank you for taking time out of your day, Grandmother.  I need to speak with you about the girl that I've been seeing."

"Is this the brunette that you've been gadding about with?"

"Yes, that's the one. But we're hardly gadding about.  It's very serious."

"I see."

"I'm in love with her, Grandmother.  I want to marry her."

"Marry her?"

"And if it would please you, she would like to be baptized and confirmed in The Church of England."

"I see.  But am I to understand that she is divorced?"

"Yes, Grandmother, she is.  But the union didn't result in any children."

"I'm told that she's an actress."

"Yes, Grandmother.  Her name is Meghan Markle."

"Very well.  I take it that Ms. Markle is not of the same (ahem) lineage as the other girls that you've dated before, is that correct?"

"That's correct.  She is American."

"I'm well aware of that.  But I was referring to her ethnicity not her nationality."

"Um yes, of course.  Her father is Caucasian, but her mother, as I'm sure you know, isn't..."

"Isn't what?"

Silence

"Grandmother, she's um, well that is to say, her mother is Black."


The media is in a frenzy comparing Ms. Markle to Grace Kelly.  True, this is a fair comparison as Ms. Kelly was a beautiful, American actress who married into a royal family.  But of course, Ms. Kelly was blond and White.  Ms. Markle's impending trip across the pond is more historically significant because of the simple fact that Ms. Markle is Black (I know, I know -- in the UK they're calling her "mixed-race," as her father is White.)  But let's be real, there really isn't a "mixed-race" category here in the good ol' "Make America Great Again" United States is there?!  Think about it - Halle Berry?  Black.  Tracy Ellis Ross?  Black(ish).  Former (beloved)! President, Barack Obama?  He's Black too.

Ergo, Ms. Markle is a Sistah.

I saw an interview on Monday night where Prince Harry and Ms. Markle both said that they were dismayed by the "racial overtones" of the media coverage of their courtship and engagement.  But I for one am overjoyed by those overtones.  I don't want people to deliberately overlook the fact that she's bi-racial.  I think that now more than ever, race needs to be part of the discussion.  She's not just going to be any princess (with all of the inherent duties, titles and privileges), she's going to be Great Britain's very first princess of color! Prince Harry, British Royalty, fifth in line to the throne has fallen hopelessly in love with a soul contained in the vessel of a beautiful, slightly older-than-him, mixed-race, divorced, American actress.  And if Scottie loving me  could cause such a major "change-reaction" in his small, Virginian-based family, then what are the possibilities with regard to this royal engagement and marriage?

And while its true that Meghan Markle's upcoming journey to Buckingham palace is very appealing at a tabloid level (it has sent Black Twitter into another stratosphere)!  What I really find to be exciting is the possibility that Ms. Markle's presence at Harry's side could finally mark the nexus between mere hope for a blind-hatred-free future and real, lasting change for all types of blended families.   When Meghan and Harry say their "I do's,"it will become harder to hate people indiscriminately who are of a different race, sexual or gender orientation, religion or nationality.  For how can one justify an unfounded distain for an entire group of people, when someone so posh, so royal and so well regarded, absolutely refuses to do so?  If Harry loves Meghan, then perhaps it becomes a little bit more normal for a family to look like theirs, like mine (or like Noel's Norma's, Désireé's, Christina's, Nicole's, Amy's, Barbara's, Leah's, Troy's, Michael and Tony's, Victoria's, Derek and Rick's, Lilah's, Rochelle's, Rehani's, Jennifer's, Ling's -- and so many other of my friend's families).   And maybe one day (long after I'm gone) all we'll really care about are those bright souls that shine within each of our vessels. But for now, I hope that people keep bringing home (to their respective families) whoever it is that they love and plant that seed of change.  It may be America's best shot at real growth; one family at a time, one love at a time, one generation at a time.

#loveislove #whenharrymetmeghan #eraseblindhate



"The fact that I feel in love with Meghan so quickly was confirmation for me that all of the starts were aligned."









Friday, November 17, 2017

Here's why I always had to drink my way through the holiday season #tipsdown2017


I was on top of the mountain, ski's pointed straight out in front of me so that the tips hovered out like a ledge over the steep face.  My instructor, Jim, put his hand on my shoulder and said in a deep, booming voice (so deep and booming that I feared it might cause an avalanche), "Okay Champ, chest forward, poles back, tips down, bend your knees and stay away from the trees." I chuckled thinly at his glib rhyme, but remained motionless (or frozen, as it were).  Then, suddenly afraid that he might push me, I closed my eyes and forced myself to lean forward. My skis automatically pointed downhill until the bottoms were flush with the slick, powdery white stuff  All at once the wind was whistling past my ears and my breath steamed up my goggles.  I heard my heart beating in my head as the bracing air whipped across my cheeks like ice cold fingers. The mountain top had become the jumping off point and no matter how scared I was, there was no going back.

That's kind of what Halloween is like for me every year.  It's the jumping off point to the holiday season trifecta: Thanksgiving, Christmas (and the like) and New Year's Eve.  On October 31st, I'm always filled with a vague, panicky feeling, followed by a strong desire to flee and hide until January 2nd.  Because from November 1st on --  it's tips down.

The holidays -- they're baaa-aackkk...

I'm not sure of the best way to convey how I really feel about the holidays.  Some of my friends think that I hate them.  That's not exactly true.  There are many aspects of Thanksgiving and Christmas that I truly love and enjoy.  But I really have an issue with the obligatory parts, the spending money I don't have on people I don't really know and the Paperless Posts holiday party-invites, especially the ones with the hidden guest lists, (Really! How am I supposed to know if I want to go, unless I know who else will be there??).  Once upon a time, those holiday "social obligations" were just good excuses to drink unabashedly.  Now, at age 53 and nine-plus years into my sobriety, a holiday cocktail party invitation feels like some sort of moral imperative, rather than something that I look forward to doing.   So here's where I am - I have a huge life with a man that I love.  I have wonderful, authentic relationships with my family and friends.  I wake up excited for the day ahead and snuggle next to Scottie into bed at night, sleeping soundly until morning.  I love my life.  But every time I am confronted with the holiday season I feel a distinct sense of dis-ease.  This feeling is magnified by the fact that very often at dinners and holiday gatherings, Scottie and I are almost always the only ones in the room not drinking (yeah I know, there's sparkling water and Diet Coke.  But even sparking water and cranberry juice seems kind of "meh" when everybody else's faces are flushed with fragrant, red wine).  So even though I don't want to drink, year after year, I just can't seem to shake the thick feeling of intense discomfort that comes when I'm facing the holiday trifecta. During the rest of the year, I don't even think about whether people are drinking or not.  But in November and December, there are just so many parties, dinners and gatherings clumped into a short period of time -- and drinking is always the main event.  Take the first holiday for instance:

Thanksgiving: 

Thanksgiving is a food-centered, family holiday (based on how the Native Americans helped the Pilgrims to become acclimated to this new place they called "America" (of course, the Pilgrims later made servants out of the Native Americans and stole their land, but that's another story).  But gnarly beginnings aside, Thanksgiving is probably my favorite meal of the year.  I love mashed potatoes, macaroni and cheese and sweet potato pie.  I love gravy-drenched turkey.  I love the green beans and collard greens. I love, love, love buttered biscuits and Parker House rolls.

But...

 Thanksgiving is also a drinking holiday.  Look at any Thanksgiving ad.  You think that turkey is the star of the show?  Uh-uh, the real spotlight is on the cocktails that are served before, during and after the turkey.  On Thanksgiving, wine is poured and consumed in the kitchen all day and night during the cooking and preparation.  Bourbon and whiskey are cradled lovingly in short glasses (neat or maybe on the rocks).  Bottles and cans of beer are opened with that comforting POP sound and swigged in front of the TV.  The more interesting part (for Scottie and I) comes after the other guests are a few drinks in and people start getting confidential and argumentative.  But as an observer, even the spiciest of family drama gets dull when too many drinks are imbibed and people start getting sleepy or belligerent.  That's when I start checking my watch to see if its time Scottie and  I to say our goodbyes and head for the movies.

Christmas/Hanukkah/Kwanza:

I'm sure I'm missing a December holiday, but my point is that these holidays all appear to be about family, friends, togetherness, brotherly love (and of course) presents.  And to some extent that is absolutely true.  Hanukkah and Kwanza illustrate and celebrate miracles, journeys and principles.  Christmas is midnight mass, a thoughtfully decorated tree, presents and a beautifully planned dinner.  "Season's Greetings" and "Are you going away for the holidays?" become common salutations in December.  The December holiday season is a collection of festive, warm, colorful, generous days, all strung together like cranberries and popcorn.

Christmas and Hanukah promote family togetherness and goodwill, but for many of us, all of that enforced connectedness can (rather ironically) create feelings of loneliness and inadequacy.  Drinking is the number one, society-prescribed, go-to solution for treating any undesirable feeling (and some desirable ones too)!  But when you're an alcoholic, without warning, this society-approved solution to holiday angst, this invisible liquid barrier and mood enhancer, can quickly become the problem.  And even though there are holi-days when I would be grateful for anything that would help make all of the small talk more bearable, for me, that something isn't booze (anymore).   And yet, during all twelve days of Christmas, I find myself surrounded by well-meaning people who are constantly offering me drinks as a salutation ("Hi! What'll you have?").  And why not?  Every Christmas commercial shows  people with champagne or wine glasses embracing each other and tossing their heads back with laughter.  Budweiser and Jim Beam ads give the viewer permission to do something "nice" for themselves this holiday season (aka drink).  Of course!  You deserve it! (a drink that is).   And here's the subtext to all of that text.  Most people really can't fathom the idea of being around their families for more than a few hours without some liquid courage (i.e., a drink) in their hands.  Yeah, sorry jingle bell-laden, Clydesdale horses, but no — that ice cold BUD is definitely not for me.


New Year's Eve:

Okay, I'm sure even non-alcoholics can admit that this is at the ultimate drinking holiday (and as Frank Sinatra once famously said: "New Year's Eve is for amateurs").  I completely agree.  I've never cared for New Year's Eve, it was the ultimate set-up and let down.  Midnight toast?  Dude!  I started drinking at 4:00pm and always overshot the mark well before midnight.  In fact, midnight was usually a hazy, forehead-smacking-embarrassing memory that hit me the next morning as I peeled my face off of my pillowcase.

But nowadays, everyone "pre-games" on New Year's Eve (for you people my age and up — that's when you get drunk at home BEFORE the party).  So by the time people jump into their Ubers, most of them are already pretty tossed. And by the time we might see them at the dinner party, instead of talking to them,  we're talking to at least 4 gin and tonics and a glass of champagne.

So, no thanks — we'll pass. Scottie and I stay home every New Year's Eve and invite friends over for tamales and sparkling apple cider.  We usually have upwards a couple dozen people who just want to be around other like-minded celebrators and not have to dodge drinks or drunks all night.  It may sound boring to some people (I mean yes, we are always in bed by 12:30.  I know that sounds boring). But I'll be a boring b*tch for an obligation-less NYE party and a hangover-less New Year's Day.

And just so you know, every year, that October 31st "tips down" gets a little easier.  More and more, friends of mine are considerately conscious of making sure to have mock-tails available for us and not making a huge fuss when we politely excuse ourselves after dinner.  That comes with my being better at setting boundaries and making sanity-preserving exit plans ahead of time.  Now we can show up for our wonderful friends who graciously want to include Scottie and I in their respective holiday celebrations, but we can still head home before the all of the other guests get too drunkity-drunk.