Friday, December 08, 2006

This undeserved life

I don't even know what to call this because it's going to be a rant and I have to get rid of it so I can go to bed. It's long and ugly but it gets better just by writing it out.

I am a helper by nature: little miss fix it, help it, make it better. I don't know if it's some thwarted mothering instinct which would have been spent had I ever given birth. I don't know what it is, it's just been with me all my life and, like so many things, it's hell and it's not, this urge to help.

A couple of months ago I got a call on a Saturday morning from a guy wanting to know if I had some work for him in packing and shipping. Very long story short, I hired him and I adore him. He's smart, energetic, runs circles around my main warehouse/shipping guy. Circles. He's sweet, funny, I like this man. He's the cousin of a guy who used to work for me, and the nephew of another, both of whom are hopeless alcoholics and had to be let go.

This kid (I say kid, he's 38!!) tries so hard. He's sweet. People take advantage of him. I think he's kind of lonesome so he allows all sorts of trash into his life and since he works and works hard, makes money, keeps a home, has something of a stable life, he attracts users. He is Seminole and Creek and he and his family suffer the triad of afflictions so common to Native Americans in this state: profound poverty and discrimination and alcoholism. I don't know if our native population will ever overcome the effects of this country's efforts to destroy their culture with the boarding schools. That policy was a travesty no amount of reparations will ever make right.

He lost his apartment three weeks into working for me because the aunt he was living with spent his rent money on dope; had to move. He gets anxious, obsessive. I know these traits. He's an alcoholic, sort of non practicing, sort of, most of the time. I'm an alcoholic, definitely not drinking ~ geeze, just realized for 24 years December 6. He's done some time on a couple of occasions; it was sheer luck that I was not locked up for any number of reasons. So I helped him with the apartment thing ~ just a little, with transportation, some extra furniture.

Then the electric goes off. Apartment's cold. Some loser cousin used his name to get utilities, didn't pay and now this kid (38!!) owes big $$. I helped. Gave him his Christmas bonus early. Electric's on. Yea. Let's work!!

I hold back part of his money each week so he'll have it to pay rent. He took his check last week while we were in Mazatlan and got his holdback monies too. Before he got his rent paid, he met up with a cousin fresh out of the pen, and got drunk to "show him a good time." Ended up staying drunk all weekend. His female cousins took his money. Some other cousin took his phone. When he realized he'd lost all his money and his phone, he just got drunk again. What the fuck. I know that feeling. I advanced him the rent money without his having asked. Poor people get so thoroughly fucked in this world. A day past due and it's another $25, then $25 per day until paid. By the end of the week he'd have been so far in the hole his entire check wouldn't have covered it.

But then there was the phone. The phone is this man's lifeline. I think it's the way he keeps the lonesome at bay and stays connected to other people. He's frantic without the phone. We have been working on this fucking phone all week. Needs a new Cricket (and I have nothing but dirt to dish on those users, fucking Cricket). Three phones later, nothing had worked. There was one across town, he was sure of it, for $50. We're running all over, all day long, trying to get the fucking phone on so we can actually do some work.

At 4:30 I gave up and said let's just go buy you a new one, we have to stop this madness somewhere, we've wasted days trying to get a used one, it's not working and I'm losing my mind. Four days lost for him and a good 10 hours of my life trying to set up broken phone after broken phone, all donated by worthless cousins of this sweet kid I now want to strangle and run over with my truck.

We got the phone and he instantly relaxed and I was pissed ~ enraged, actually ~ at wasting a day until I got home and headed up the rock path to my front door. There was a fire going ~ I could see the flickering of the flames in the stained glass windows in the living room. As I opened the door, I heard a yip and the thumping of little feet on the oak floors as my puppies came running. The big cat was sitting on the sideboard making blinky eyes at me in welcome.

The house smelled marvelous. My husband was in the kitchen cooking tenderloin, asparagus and a pilaf. He came to me with a smile and hugged me, giving me warmth and comfort on this very cold, dark night, asking if I was okay, if all had gone well, I was late, he was worried, so happy to see me my sweetheart.

I felt so fortunate, so filled with gratitude, so blessed by this life filled with love and the luxury of living without any real struggle, with financial security, safety, companionship, comfort, resources, support. I too often take these things for granted and I realized it at that moment in Mike's arms.

I feel ashamed sometimes of my good fortune. I express this upon occasion and am always told "well you work hard, you went to school, you you you you." But it's really not about me and what I did. I did some things, true, but I was able to do those things because of the sheer happenstance of birth. I was born into a family with resources, a family that valued education, work, steadiness, honesty. Mine is family with good values, so good and so never ending that even when I strayed wildly from the way I was brought up, I still had that foundation to return to. I could be rehabilitated because I had something to go back to, something solid, real, good.

It's not really possible to rehabilitate someone who has never been habilitated to begin with. It's too hard. The making of a functional citizen is a lifetime process that begins at birth. A lot of what's needed happens in those first 12 years. This boy's family members are the main ones cheating him, lying to him, using him. My family lifts me up, they're always there for me, loving me, supporting me. They would never, never, not ever use me in any way. They love me. It is pure chance that I got my family and he got his.

When I am irritated with helping someone who struggles so, I find myself consumed with my mad and think fuck all of this, fuck you, fuck all you losers who can't keep it together. The feeling behind that comes from the selfish bitch who inhabits a bit of my soul. I am not doing what I want or need to do and the initial feel good that comes from being able and wanting to help another dissipates as the process drags on.

I am unselfish by instinct and my first impulses are good, but if it takes too long to help you the great I gets in the way and the bitch gets out and I think fuck you. Fuck you. I want, give me, my time, me, me, me, me, what about me!

Recognition turned my mad turned into glad and then to gratitude and an awareness of this shame or embarrassment or something I have about my undeserved blessings. This time of year when it's so cold and the nights are dark and the comforts of home are so exquisite, I am mindful of those who have so little and I say a prayer for all of the struggling people of the world. I say a prayer, too, that I will be a cheerful giver when the next opportunity presents itself. I know it will come, it always does. I will do what I can.

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Blogger Debbi said...

First, congratulations on 24 years of one day at a time.

Thanks for a really great post. I volunteer at a federal women's prison camp (lowest security level). Rehabilitation really isn't part of their day, they just pass time and count down to their release date. Incarceration is warehousing.

But I'd never thought that rehabilitation can't be accomplished without a strong foundation. Some of these women have it; most of them don't. You gave me a lot to think about today.

In gratitude ...


December 09, 2006 1:45 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for the visit on my site last night--so great to wake up to your comments this morning. Yours mean the most and it has so much to do with what you write here--the respect that I have for you. This post is interesting and full of so much to think about. You make a wonderful point about people who have never been "habilitated", I never thought of it that way before. But I have to ask, at what point do you throw in the towel, throw your hands up and walk away from someone--who ultimately is becoming just like one of the "users" he attracts. It is a tough call and a challenging process to be the person who he counts on--just be careful.

December 09, 2006 4:39 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I do struggle with this Lynn. In the instance of this young man, he never asked for help. That may be an "issue" of mine ~ leaping into the fray because I can't stand to see someone suffering and struggling so. It's kind of like watching the pinned-down butterfly slowly die. I want to ease that misery.

But the other part is that I feel so blessed that it's hard not to share that with others. There's a limit ~ both his uncle and his cousin ran into it with me. I don't have patience for people who aren't even trying.

I don't know. It's a complex thing in my mind and something I grapple with regularly. More than anything, though, I don't want to be one of those successful, comfortable, smug assholes who think to themselves "look at me, look what I accomplished, look what I did," then look at others and condemn them as not working hard enough and thus being unworthy of a hand up.

It's a fine line and thank you for reminding me of it. Smooches, cupcake

December 09, 2006 7:28 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Lynette, I struggle with the same internal battle about who can and cannot be 'rehabilitated'. I love the way you distilled it to such a basic principle: Without a firm foundation, there is little hope of ever getting our feet beneath us.

When I look at the stories of those who overcame seemingly insurmountable odds to achieve success, it is almost without exception that there was someone in their lives who created both a firm foundation and soft place to land eary on.

I am torn between the hopelessness that helping someone who may truly be beyond any meaningful help causes me, and the glimmer of hope I still feel when I help them anyway. I don't know if it's a flaw or feature of my character that compels me to help regardless...

December 09, 2006 8:40 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

But I have to ask, at what point do you throw in the towel, throw your hands up and walk away from someone--who ultimately is becoming just like one of the "users" he attracts.

Not until the bitter end. Two Lost Boys of the Sudan live with me, and it's been a learning experience. I also work in nonprofits, and I'm surrounded by clients who, for one reason or another, are unable to set goals or help themselves.

Until the last drop of patience is squeezed out of me, I'll stick with someone. It's hard, and discouraging sometimes. But then I see a glimmer of hope. As my family and I see it, we provide a respite and haven. Life is too tough for my boys (and clients) otherwise.

Excellent, excellent post.

December 10, 2006 2:15 AM  
Blogger Amanda said...

Wow, what an excellent post. Thank you so much for sharing this, it has opened my eyes and made me realize that I am blessed to have what I have and for the family that I have. You sound like a wonderful caring person and boss to your employees for going that extra mile and sometimes without being asked. I applaud you. :)

December 10, 2006 4:04 AM  
Blogger Vickie said...

Have you considered being his accountant instead of giving him his paycheck until he "grows up" and learns how to deal with his family?

If he didn't HAVE his money - he would learn to say NO to them. It would give him growing time.

It might be easier on you to be the Bank of Boy - paying his bills directly - rather than giving him $$$. And, then cleaning up the messes.

I had a grandpa that my grandma had to do this with - happened to be an alcoholic by the way - his company sent HER his money (this was long before direct deposit) and she (worked also) was the ONLY one listed on their bank authorization - she paid all bills - if he was buying something - whether it was a pair of socks or a tractor - she went with him and paid the bill or sent him with a check made out for the exact amount and made payable to the store. This man turned into a worthwhile person - never could handle a $$$ - but rest of his life was okay - he stayed out of jail - they stayed married and out of debt.

December 10, 2006 7:01 AM  
Blogger evilganome said...

Hi Lynette,

I catch your comments on joemygod and always enjoy hearing what you have to say. That said, what a great post of your own. I've been bad and I've been good. Sometimes good seems sort of boring, but it's better than bad. I just wish I had had someone like you to help me over the rough spots. You go girl! (BTW with a little spit and determination I managed to take 4 inches off over the past couple of years so keep up the good fight)

December 12, 2006 9:30 AM  
Blogger tomvancouver said...

I keep liking your comments on JMG, and finally visited your blog. I think I agree with you too, yet I have seen people from impossible backgrounds and terrible addictions. But rare

December 12, 2006 3:01 PM  
Blogger dpaste said...

I think Vickie's suggestions is brilliant, if you feel you can handle taking it on.

And thanks for this post and these comments, it has helped me to put a few minor things going on in my life into perspective.

December 13, 2006 10:35 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

December 13, 2006 2:45 PM  
Blogger Miss Janey said...

One of the hardest things in the world is trying to help someone who can't (or won't) help themselves because they can't see their own goodness & potential because no one pointed it out to them as children. Hope he appreciates La Belle and all that she's done.

December 13, 2006 6:02 PM  
Blogger Kimberly said...

I agree with you about the families we get being chance, or luck. And the people in your life are lucky to have you. Everyone will find themselves at the end of their rope once in a while, but I admire your ability to get things back into perspective. The world would be a better place if more people shared your compassion.

December 13, 2006 11:15 PM  
Blogger Red Seven said...

Brava, sister. Let me echo my congratulations on your 24 years. Also, congrats on knowing how lucky you are; there are folks in this cold world who have a lot more than you but have never realized the gifts that the universe has given to them and are therefore sad and bitter when they don't have to be.

Finally, have you every had your Enneagram done? It's an ancient personality test, and I'd be willing to bet that you're a Two, like me. If you haven't, treat yourself. You end up learning a whole lot about the main character in your own life story ...

December 14, 2006 8:47 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I came here from Project Rungay, and this is the first post I read. Love you already from your comments on the other site, but now I totally dig you. I hear you, sugar. I thought it was just me being the mean ol' selfish bitch - in the middle of giving I feel completely PUT OUT. The only thing that keeps me from slapping my own face is that I am doing something...if I was put out AND not trying to give, I would be completely worthless.

Thanks BAB...


December 15, 2006 11:21 AM  

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