How Stella Got Her Mixing Bowl Back

When I was in 2nd grade, my music teacher took notice of my Fierce Lesbian Fingers ™ and told me that I might be a decent piano player if I took lessons. He started teaching me which keys played which notes, and explained the clefs to me. After a little while, he told me it was probably time to ask my mother to teach me more at home.

I came home from school that day and told my mother that my music teacher said I was born to play piano (which he did) and that he thought I should take lessons. My mother said, "You want to learn to play piano? Here -- play this." She handed me the sheet music for the theme to The Incredible Hulk circa 197something, and opened the piano for me. 

We actually had two pianos in our house for a while, and before you go thinking ooooo-la-laaaa, let me point out that both of them were ancient, out of tune, non-functioning player pianos handed down to us by our congregation, because white people give weird shit to the poor.

One year later, I could play the theme to The Incredible Hulk, and just about anything else I wanted to play. Watching me play piano was cringe-worthy, to be generous. My fingers were in all the wrong positions, I twisted my wrists around like I was playing drunk stripper Twister, but it sounded magnificent. I taught my little brother and sister how to play, too. We's each sit at a piano and play off of each other (add overpriced, under-poured martinis and we would have invented piano bars) (I also invented pore strips around this age) (true story). It was wonderful, and I loved every minute of it. I used it as an escape -- no one bothered me when I played, my mother was kind to me while I was playing, and even forgot herself enough to pass me the errant compliment when i got through a particularly challenging piece. I played almost day, and got, while not Julliard good, pretty damn hood-good. 

And then I moved to Colorado on January 9th, 1992, and never saw my mother, those pianos, or that house again. And I haven't been able to play the piano since. 

I can't explain it, I just lost the ability to do it. It doesn't work. I can barely muddle my way through the first of Dr Bruce Banner's sad, lonely steps into the unknown future before my fingers stutter and trip over themselves and my brain remembers, 'Hey wait. WE AREN'T DOING THIS ANYMORE'.

It's no one's fault; it just happened. And it happened again a whole lot of years later, but this time it was with baking. 

I used to bake a lot. Like, a lot-lot. I've been a hobbyist cook for many years, but one day I just woke up one day and thought, "Hmm, I'd like to make a Yule Log for my in-laws for Christmas." And in three days, and a whole lot of homemade buttercream later, I did. And there was much rejoicing. 

I baked avidly for years, and then one day it just stopped. I kind of stopped cooking, too, but when things got really gong show crazy with Soon-To-Be-Ex's drinking, I just lost the will to bake. It was no one's fault, really, I just didn't want to anymore, and when I tried it flopped, and that made me want to less, and so it goes. 

But I kind of felt the twinge come back this summer, while I was in California for seven weeks working and staying with baby god-daddy & co. I think I started to remember who I was during those weeks I was gone. That's one of the hardest parts of being the enabler in a co-dependent relationship -- we take on so much of the other person's shit that we don't have room for any of our own stuff. This is no one's fault but our own, and it's a hard habit to break. 

Seven weeks a few thousand miles away from one's co-dependent isn't the worst way to start breaking that habit. 

While I was at baby god-daddy's house, his wife and I talked a lot about what she bakes (the baked goods of the Gods, in case you were wondering where to find them) and what I used to bake, and you know, I kind of started getting the itch again. She'd bake cookies and we'd think up fun ideas for ice creams to go with them. We'd eat her favourite cupcakes and we'd talk about what other kinds of buttercreams would go with the cakes. I'd watch her mixing batters and I'd start missing the smell of flour. 

So I came home and started baking again. Turns out, I still gotz it. In fact, I gotz it, plus. These? Are cookies. I made them, and they aren't dead. 

Cookies are my life-long foe. I have never successfully baked a cookie, until now. Now I spend my nights dreaming up new variations on these little masterpieces. My kids are telling their new friends that their mom bakes the best cookies on Earth. I CANNOT BELIEVE THIS IS HAPPENING. I am going to have to order new business cards now, because it seems I am no longer a cookie assassin. 

I don't even know what this means for my future, but I do know that it's probably time to start posting weekly recipes again. It's been, what, years since I did that last? Yeah, we're bringing sexy back. 

Those cookies up there are Oatmeal Coffee cookies on the left, and cherry pistachio cookies in the middle. The cherry pistachio ones still need some tweaking, but I've got the oatmeal toffee ones down to a science. The recipe is based off this one from Hershey's website. Someone in my Houston Al-Anon group gave me that recipe, and I have been messing around with it for a few weeks. Here's how I altered it:

  • Use 1 cup less oats than recommended (so 2 cups total)
  • Use a little less sugar than they call for (so, like, 1 1/2 cups brown sugar - you'll have to find your comfortable sweetness level. I was going for less-sweet entirely)
  • Mix the wet ingredients and refrigerate the mixture overnight, then soften it slightly the next day, and finish the recipe
  • For sure use the coconut, since you're using less oats
  • Add 1/2 nuts. I used slivered almonds that I then chopped a little, so they'd be about the same size as the oats. 
  • Use PLAIN toffee bits, not the chocolate coated ones. They're harder to find. They are also worth it.


Day Thirty Six

I walked out of our hotel the same day I married him, because he had been so drunk for so long that day that his best friend and I had to hold him up on the way back to the room. He chased me down, screaming at me that if anyone was leaving, it was going to be him. I came back five minutes later.

I left him when our sons were infants, partly because I was sick of it and partly because he'd thrown me out - though I very purposely poked and prodded at him until he did, because I couldn't find a way to say I was unhappy; I needed him to tell me to leave. I came back three months later. 

I left him after he crashed his car in the middle of the night, out drinking with some girl that worked behind the bar, and cost us a month's rent in bail money and another month's in car repairs. I moved the kids and myself to Colorado Springs and he began court-ordered-sobriety in a court-ordered alcohol treatment program. I came back three months later.   

Five months after that the drug testing stopped and the drinking started back up. 

I stayed for a long time that time, and things were okay for a while. I saw both of my boys into school and was looking into university for myself. I was 29 years old and just starting to get an idea of who I was. I made some new friends, some of the kinds of friends that adults make who stay with you forever, and I started this blog in secret. We fell pregnant with another baby, moved out of our crappy apartment and into a house, and it all started to unwind then. 

These things never happen suddenly. They slowly amp themselves up, and we simply choose to see it or ignore it. I ignored it, because I didn't know what else to do. And then we got transferred to Canada. 

And then he lost his goddamn mind one night while I was at an alanon meeting and that's when I took my children and got as far away from him as I could. I went back to Denver and started my life over, and he stayed in Vancouver and started his life over. He was work-ordered sober on a work-ordered treatment program. I was a single mother with three children thousands of miles away from him, where I could work on myself, my life, my children, and not enable him any longer. 

I was happy. I was broke, tired, lonely, worried, and proud of myself in a way I can't describe. It felt so good to be finished with it all, to not enable someone anymore, to live for myself for once. I lived. I worked at a bar two or three nights a week, cleaned houses one or two days a week, and took care of my kids the rest of the time.

It was an impossible existence that I only pulled off because I had an incredible support structure of friends who would help me when I asked and let me figure it out for myself when I didn't. They didn't make it easier for me, but they made sure it wasn't too hard, either. I came to realize that I was worth being loved, that I was respectable and capable and could have meaningful relationships with healthy people who made me a better person.

I went back a year later. 

He was unbearably far away and the children didn't want to live without their father any longer. He was getting better and I couldn't live without my co-dependent any longer. The idea of someone getting sober-him after I'd give up a decade to drunk-him was unbearable. So I came back.

Two weeks after I'd dismantled the last little bits of my life in Denver, in the middle of a summer Vancouver night, I heard the crash of him passing out drunk on the kitchen floor. I came downstairs and laid down next to him, in the bed I realized I'd made, and I've been laying in it ever since.  

Until 36 days ago.

36 days ago, I flew to Montreal to finally end this for real, to put us out of our misery in front of a third party who would make sure he, and I, had the tools we needed to deal with everything that came after.

And I didn't do it. But I didn't not do it, either. 

We talked a lot while I was there - with the therapists, with each other, with the people going through treatment with him. We talked about everything that has been, and everything that's coming, in real terms that mean something to both of us. We talked about what needs to be done now, and what can wait for tomorrow. We talked about what actually matters to each of us as people, and for him, that's recovering from his addiction to alcohol and for me, that's recovering from my addiction to alcoholics. In particular, him.

We talked about how hard it is to change anything, let alone everything, and that maybe everyone would be well-suited to take advantage of the fact that we don't have to do all of it rightthissecond. And so we aren't. We made a deal that we wouldn't fix the marriage, and we wouldn't end the marriage - we would just let it sit here while we work on all the other very large changes happening in our individual lives. 

And I am terrified. I am terrified that I had my final out and I didn't take it. But at the exact same time, I sat in a chair in a basement in a country north of us and I met this man for the first time. I have never seen him like this. Whatever they did, it worked. I'm not saying he's cured, I'm just saying he is changed.

And I am more afraid of sabotaging that than I am of missing the last exit on this highway.