So, I've come to a startling conclusion during the course of the past several weeks. Actually, what's startling is that it IS startling when it seems like it should have been so obvious for years. My conclusion is that New York is, was and always will be my home. I suppose I never really lost sight of that, feeling like a stranger in a strange land for my entire existence in Florida. When we initially moved, in the back of my mind I envisioned it like an experiment, the "away" college experience that was partially stolen from me and partially relinquished of my own free will so many years ago. It was ALWAYS supposed to be "temporary". Who would've thunk that temporary would amount to almost eight years?
When my husband and I moved out of New York in December of 2004, we did so for several reasons, not the least of which was the fact that we had spent the past four years living in the house I grew up in with my mother and my verbally abusive alcoholic/addict brother. Clearly not the best environment for a new relationship (what was I thinking?) and without question, a toxic place to live for all those years. A trigger event took place that I will probably discuss in depth at some point in the future but suffice it to say, enough was enough. We were broke but desperate. We had little birds chirping in our ears for years extolling the many virtues of Florida, not the least of which was that it was FAR less expensive a place to live than New York, and, of course, it was many many miles away from my brother. SOLD. We made a trip down in October, quickly found a halfway decent place that we could afford, albeit just barely, and two months later, we moved.
Let me make something clear from the start. Florida is, as they say, a nice place to visit but I wouldn't (and do NOT) want to live there. In a perfect world, I could call my husband from New York, where I'm currently visiting, have him pack up all our "useful" shit, which consists primarily of our cat, my books, my photographs and our small cache of electronic devices and have him drive up today, straight to the adorably bohemian and funky apartment we would live in. (Hell, in a PERFECT world, that apartment would be a HOUSE, but I digress.) However, my world is FAR from perfect. I find myself today, still broke, once again in the same house as my mother and still verbally abusive alcoholic/addict brother, revisiting things almost EXACTLY as they were when I left almost eight years ago with one shocking and strangely comforting difference. The one thing, the ONLY thing that is different now than it was all those years ago is ME.
Three years ago, the last time I saw my brother prior to this visit, was what I hoped would be the last time I heard his familiar drunken refrain of "why don't you just go fucking kill yourself." But, life being the joyful mess that it is, that turned out not to be the case. Being the lucky soul that I am, I last heard those very words just three days ago, from the thing that was once my brother, in the midst of his "alleged" first relapse in about five weeks. (This according to my mother. I know I've seen him drunk and/or high at least two times prior during my three and a half weeks here.) I'm not going to lie and say that I was undisturbed by hearing said words. But for what I think was the first time ever, my initial reaction to those words wasn't sorrow or hurt. They didn't give me pause, I didn't think "yeah, why don't I?" I found myself filled with rage, disgust and pity. In the years since I left, nothing...NOTHING has changed for my brother. Sure, he has "tried" rehab, more times than I can count. Hell, in the course of his twenty-one year addiction (this counting from the evening when, at fifteen, he confessed to my parents that he "may have a problem with drinking"), I'd say he has "attempted" detox and/or rehab at least twenty times. But here we are, in October 2012, me in the active process of changing myself and my life, he, apparently satisfied with being a thirty-six year old leech, dependent on my mother for every basic need. Funny how life turns out.
My mother and I had an arrangement prior to this visit. The arrangement was that my brother was on waiting lists for several rehab facilities and that when I arrived, he would be gone in no more than four days. Well, let me back up, that was the MODIFIED arrangement. When I initially decided to come up here for six weeks, she insisted that he would not be here at all. Since the last time I saw him in the fall of 2009, I have been up to visit several times but only when he was not here, either in rehab or, most recently, in Miami where she had sent him to spend time with my dad's sister so that she and I could have a peaceful visit. I refused to submit to his tortures and to allow myself to be subject to his verbal attacks. Therefore, when she informed me that he would be here for no more than four days, I was angry as hell but at that point, my only options were to accept this or call off the entire trip which I was NOT eager to do. Of course, this being my life, the four day thing flew out the window when, the morning after I arrived, my brother decided to open up to me about his current situation. He said that he had almost died due to a recent bout with pancreatitis and had now decided that he, in fact, wanted to live. He gave what was in my mind a rather half-assed apology for all the things he had done to me over the years but hell, it was a start, certainly more than he had ever given me prior. I cautiously opened the door, ever so slightly, for an eventual reconciliation but, in the short term, for at least a peaceful co-existence. That, in turn, provided my mother, the classic enabler, with more than enough ammunition to immediately cease her search for a program for him and an open door to the far more pleasant option of the fairy tale family reunited, her two children both home and safe and speaking again. Oh, happy day. Of course, at this point, I was still under the misguided delusion that he would still, in fact, be out in no more than four days. It turns out, as I learned ONLY when I asked, the facilities (including outpatient day treatment) had all supposedly refused my brother admission due to his new medical condition. Let me make this perfectly clear...I do NOT buy this for a minute. I cannot believe that not one legitimate rehab facility would admit a client due to the fact that they have a pre-existing medical condition. I challenge you to show me one twenty-one year active alcoholic/addict who does NOT have a medical condition as a result of their addictions. But, this is the story my mother has chosen to give me and I, again, have no choice but to accept it or leave.
Fast forward (okay, maybe not so fast) to today. My mother was in contact with another facility over the weekend (where they, apparently, admit NO clients on Saturday or Sunday) and after a series of phone calls, they have agreed to admit my brother tomorrow morning. NOT what she promised me. Hell, I don't think I've EVER gotten anything that she's promised me, but I guess it will have to do. Do I think that this facility will be able to help him? Absolutely NOT. This is not a comment on the treatment center but on my general attitude towards my brother. Addicts and alcoholics CAN achieve clean and sober lives. It is a daily struggle but I've seen it done, countless times. The problem is, they WANT to change. For whatever reason, they hit their "bottom" and make a conscious decision to change their lives, to fight like hell, at any cost, to remain clean and sober. My brother, in my humble opinion, has NO desire to change. For him, rehab is a temporary escape from the blandness of his usual existence. It is something he does to get someone ("someone" being my mother) off his back. She goes back into her hopeful stance of "maybe this time it'll work" and I observe cynically from the sidelines. Do I want him to be sober? Of course. Do I ever believe it will happen? Not remotely. In his life, alcoholism and addiction have no consequences. He knows that he has nothing to lose. This is not simply because he HAS virtually nothing but also because the things he needs to survive: a roof over his head, clothing, food, water, money for "whatever", will always be eagerly provided by his mommy. It makes me physically sick but I realize now, after countless years of screaming, yelling, crying, pleading, rationally explaining and beating my head against the wall that I can't change him and I can't change her but I can change myself. I am doing it and will continue to for the rest of my life. I no longer feel powerless, hopeless or useless. Certainly there are circumstances beyond my control but I will ALWAYS have a choice as to how I deal with them. That is a very powerful thing.
I had such a different intent when I started writing today. This was supposed to be about how New York is "home" and Florida is not but it has become much more about what "home" really means. My current home in in Florida, with my husband and my cat. My present location is my original home, the place I lived for the first thirty-one years of my life. Eventually, my home will once again be the state of New York but someplace different than I've ever lived before. Home is the place where I live but home is also the place within myself where I feel all is most right. Home can be anyplace I want it to be. Wow, what an amazing concept! The home where I began, feeling worthless, useless and hopeless, like so much shit, is a mere memory. Even as I sit here, looking around at the familiar environment, I realize that I have grown above, beyond and past this place. It is filled with countless memories, good, bad and everything in between, but it does not define me. It is where I began but not where I will end.