Two years ago today, I gave up. I looked down at my swollen toes pinched into my black patent leather shoes—shoes I wore only because they looked and felt better, more grown up, than I did that day—and I stopped promising myself I would never drink again.
All around me, I can see the unmistakable beauty in all the seasons that have passed, especially the really difficult ones. I can honor the one I am in. This is the season of my adult aloneness. The season of writing my first book. The season of goddess friendships and living in my body. The season of mothering and becoming an aunt. The season of my 39th year.
I'm one of those annoying people who never shuts up about books. And it's not because I've read so much (I haven't, relatively) but because words are my primary map for life. There are hundreds of books that made a mark on me, but the ones on this list are those I return to again and again and recommend to others most often.
I was driving my daughter to school earlier this week and absentmindedly reached for my chapstick in the console. I took off the top and as I went to put it on, a few pieces of something poked my lips. I drew it back to investigate, annoyed. Probably my daughter had stuck something in it to be funny. Maybe I’d dropped it in the sand? I turned the tube around, brought it closer, studied it. Oh.
"The Holy Spirit's temple is not a body, but a relationship." - A Course in Miracles
This will be a short post. This morning my husband and I have our divorce court proceedings. It's been three years, and all is fine, really, but it marks an official end of a nine year chapter, and I've found myself swirling the past few days. I've been trying to unpack the emotions, put some narrative to the story, with little success.
Am I sad? Certainly.
Am I grateful? Beyond.
Am I regretful? Of the way things went, but not of the outcome, yes.
Am I relieved? Not really.
Do I need to understand what I am, exactly? Not today.
Will it be delivered to me later, in chapters? Yes, as it always has.
I pulled out Marianne Williamson's "A Return to Love" last night, read a few passages and let it sit on my night stand as I slept.
"The Holy Spirit's temple is not a body, but a relationship."
Later in the chapter, she says, "in every relationship, in every moment, we teach either love or fear." Of all the things I cannot pull out, separate and identify yet, I can say that in our relationship, and especially in the dissolution of it, I was taught love. There was plenty of fear, but it was mine. I was given and taught love, so much that I could not accept it at times.
I will have more to say. There is so much more to say. But I have to get myself in the shower, get ready and put my left foot in front of my right and do the next thing.
Eulogy : May 30, 2015
I always imagined growing up that my grandma passing away would be something I couldn’t bear. We were very close. I saw her nearly every day in my childhood until I moved away at 21. She called me the apple of her eye, her first love. A life without her in it seemed too hard to imagine. Who would be watching over us all, cooking for us, worrying about us, if not her?
But as it turns out, I got lucky. We all did with Pina. We got to have her for a long, long time. 95 years. A long life; a full life. And by the end, she was ready, I think. In fact I feel her more around me now that she’s passed than I have in some years. My mom and brother have said the same. I think she’s very much here with us right now. No doubt dressed fabulously and in style, judging our own wardrobe choices. I don’t remember a time when my grandma wasn’t in my life. Probably she was there the day I was born. As with my brother, Joey, and my cousin, Lauren. We never lived far from her, and for most of my childhood, she was our neighbor. She could see our house from her living room window. Wonderful if you’re feeling unsafe or want something to eat; not so cool if you’re trying to sneak in, or out, of the house.
As I was sitting down to write this, I made a list of the things that come to mind when I think of her. The list was long and full of color and love and warm memories and humor and fascinating contradictions. She was nothing if not full of contradictions. Warm and full of love, but man, she could bite. Motherly and selfless and self-sacrificing for her family, but she also carried a deep longing for her own identity and personal story. A mother’s heart and an artist’s soul. A life divided into two parts: the first in Italy, where she grew up with her family and siblings. The second in America as Pino’s wife, Tony and Mary Ann’s mom, and the grandmother of Laura, Joey and Lauren and eventually, the great-granddaughter of my daughter, Alma. She loved her second life - the life she lived here, the life she built – but she always longed for her homeland, too.
There are a few things that rise to the top of that long list.
The First: Food
How can anyone think about Pina without thinking about food? She and my grandpa were both fabulous cooks. And they were always cooking. I have joked that even if I showed up at her front door with a broken leg and a gaping head wound her first question would still be, “Are you hungry?”
Her recipes are the only ones I really know. Spaghetti and meatballs, chicken cacciatore, veal marsala, manicotti and tiramisu. My mom, uncle Tony and my brother all picked up her love for cooking, and all of us – her extended family and friends – her love for really good food.
Her cooking heavily influenced what people ate at Pino’s, our family restaurant, and my friends still comment that they miss going to her house after school to feast. From her I learned about food as love, food as home, food as family.
No doubt she is wondering what we’re going to eat when we leave here, and if she could have done it better.
The Second: Art
Pina was a true artist. Her primary medium was oil painting, but her art came through in so many other ways, too: her knitting, her food, her jewelry and shoes, her sense of style. She valued artistry and encouraged me to paint, write, draw, read, cook, sing, play music, create.
I loved watching her paint. Loved the smell of the oil paints, the way her face softened when she was working, the continuous whistle that animated her movements.
Most of her paintings are scenes of Italy, the ocean, flowers or women. They are little portals into the lens in which she saw the world: beautiful, melancholic, nostalgic, stylish, rich in color and texture. Most of her paintings now decorate the walls of her family’s homes. Her favorite painting is on the back of the memorial service card.
The Third: Humor
She was just so damn funny. Quick with the one liners. A great sense of humor. I remember when my ex-husband first met my grandma, he had come here to Colorado to visit and meet her and the rest of my family over the holidays one year. After we had dinner at her house, we got into the car and he said, “I had no idea she was going to be so funny.”
It’s one of the things that comes to mind first: laughing with her. Even in her very last days, she was cracking jokes, making her signature hand gestures and shrugging her shoulders in a way that said, Hey, what did you expect?
The Fourth: Family
There’s nothing my grandma valued more than her family, both the one in Italy and the one she built. Growing up, I was lucky enough to have her be a part of my everyday life. She cooked meals, took me and my brother to and from school, took us shopping for clothes (or really whatever we wanted), sewed and fixed things, watched TV and read with us, was really just there all the time. When she and Pino owned the liquor store, we would hang out with them there, learning how to use the cash register, take inventory, sip 7-up and suck on lollipops. Her role in my life really bleeds into everything; she wasn’t just someone we saw on the weekends, or for summer vacations, or holidays. She was woven into the fabric of my life from the beginning and I always had a sense of how special that was. I was and am grateful for her the way I am grateful for the ocean or good writing: boundless; I can never really express it fully with words.
And I know the rest of the family would say the same. She was quirky, and stubborn, and she could spin up the most incredible versions of a story in her mind, but you always knew she was going to be there. You always knew she was going to take you in. She was always waiting to cook, to sit, to take care, to love you. I miss the days of being able to walk into her house unannounced, pouring a bowl of Grape Nuts with whole milk and a pile of sugar, watching Cheers or talking about what she was reading or gossiping.
The last thing I’ll leave you with is a poem by Mary Oliver that reminds me of her. She always encouraged me to reach far, to do extraordinary things, to travel the world, to get an education (she always said, an education is the most important thing), to learn a new language (like she did), to find BIG love (she said, you’ll know when you find the ‘real McCoy”), to children (which she said was the BEST thing), to make art and music and write and cook and to create something out of our “one wild and precious life,” as Mary says. I know that my grandma had so much in her heart that she couldn’t make manifest of this trip around. I like to think of her being able to do that now; now that she’s no longer bound by earthly things like geography and time and language; now that her heart isn’t split and she can finish writing the chapters of her life she left behind in Italy; now that she can meet up with the souls who left before her and speak in Italian and English at once. I like to think she is everywhere and made whole, and at peace, knowing she can see and love everyone at the same time.
She left us with more than a lifetime of precious love and fun and joy and creativity and laughter. And the beauty is we get to keep it all, to share it generously, to live it every day we choose, and pass it on and on and on by living our own wild and precious lives.
Summer Day by Mary Oliver
Who made the world? Who made the swan, and the black bear? Who made the grasshopper? This grasshopper, I mean- the one who has flung herself out of the grass, the one who is eating sugar out of my hand, who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down- who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes. Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face. Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away. I don't know exactly what a prayer is. I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass, how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields, which is what I have been doing all day. Tell me, what else should I have done? Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon? Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?
Stay with yourself.
This is something I used to tell my yoga students when we were holding a particularly hard pose. It came out of my mouth during one of my first classes and I thought, where'd that come from? But it felt like exactly what I was trying to do myself. And what I wanted to try and give others. Stay with yourself.
Not like, grit it out with a stiff upper lip. More like hang in when you want to bounce. Just a moment longer. Hold your own hand. Sit there with your best pal: you. Make an ugly face, wince in pain, grit your fucking teeth, let the sweat drip and the body shake. Check out the edges. On your mat and in the world.
Stay with yourself.
Two years ago today, the Sunday of Memorial Day weekend, I woke up in a jail cell. I got my first DUI. It was coming. I’m not sure how it didn’t happen before. I’d driven buzzed or drunk dozens – hundreds – of times.
The fact I got one is less remarkable than my reaction, which was almost nothing. It wasn’t until I was standing in the Salem court room two days later, shaking from the weekend of drinking and nerves, listening to the police report – which sounded like a dramatic story about someone else – that it started to settle in that I might be kind of fucked.
And still. I dissociated with what was happening like I did a lot of serious things. I found a space between what was happening and myself and I floated up into it.
They read the police report – which took almost ten minutes – and I hovered up above my body a bit. The clerks voice became tinny, cartoonish.
“Miss Gaunt’s eyes were bloodshot and she seemed confused, laughing, when asked how much she had to drink, she started to say something several times and then shook her head, ‘I don’t know. I’m not sure.’”
"Miss Gaunt's blood alcohol level was a .27, well above the legal limit." At home later, I would look up an article on blood alcohol levels. .25-.30 is #9 on a list of 10, with 10 being complete unconsciousness. After that, the description reads, fatal for nearly all individuals.
The laughing was because I had smoked pot – something I rarely did because I couldn't stand the effect. But I had set out that night on a mission to obliterate. I had an entire bottle of wine within the first hour of arriving at my friend’s house. I think I was chasing a hangover, definitely some nerves. I had just started a new job with a big title and weekends without my daughter left me eager and gutted at the same time. I had been talking to a guy that worked as a bartender in Beverly and he was planning on coming over after his shift. I was excited and wanted to speed up time to get to that part, and alcohol is great at speeding up time.
In reality, the circumstances never mattered. But I wanted to believe they did.
I had arrived at my friend’s house in Salem around 6pm. By 7 I was drunk. By 8 I was stoned and drunk. By 9 I was blacked out. I vaguely recall throwing up in the bushes next to their house and deciding to leave without telling anyone, while wearing my friend’s slippers. There were six of us adults there plus kids; mine was with her dad. It was a fun group, our kids were around the same age and we’d often have dinner parties or cookouts or go to the beach and bring the kids and always, there were cocktails. That was the primary reason I was there – not their great company (which it was) or the food (always awesome) – but because I knew they’d be drinking, too.
The fact I attempted to drive is insane on so many levels. It’s a big holiday weekend. People are around, in the streets. Families. Kids. So many awful, horrific things could have happened instead of what did. What did happen was I attempted to navigate myself back to my town and got lost in a maze of streets pretty far off the path home, which I’d driven hundreds of times. I grazed a few “jersey turnpike” barriers on a street and pulled over to check the damage (I only know this because it was in the police report). One of the residents on the street heard the smashing noise and came outside, saw me, clearly not sober, wrote down my license plate and called the Salem police before I drove away.
I didn’t make it far, maybe a block or two, before they pulled me over. They gave roadsides tests (I failed) and went through the motions before they piled me into the back of the cruiser and had my car towed.
When I came to a few hours later in the detox cell, my first thought was that I didn't get to meet up with the bartender. He would be coming to my house - or maybe he'd already come - and I wouldn’t be there. Goddamit. I had no idea what time it was.
I’ll never forget the smell of that cell. Something like urine maybe, except more chemical. Putrid. I slept for several hours on the cold concrete partially covered with a stiff, disposable blanket. It was freezing. When I came to at 3am, my friend’s husband was there to pick me up. He'd been waiting while they held bail for a couple hours. He had their kids at home and I'd completely messed up their night and probably their next day. I was so ashamed, I apologized profusely, but also pretended like it wasn’t all that bad in hopes they'd feel the same. He asked me if I actually got a DUI and I handed him the ticket and said, "No! I just got pulled over!"
The next day was a painful slog. I had to collect my car and have someone else drive it home. My friend wisely suggested I call an attorney and even had a name from one of her friends who'd got a DUI the weekend before. This was comforting. It was no huge deal, right? Holiday weekend. Cops were everywhere. It could happen to anyone. I was fine.
I texted friends who I knew would be supportive and not mortified. Those who would commiserate because they’d been there, or knew someone who had. Those who would say, “Ugh” and “That sucks so bad” and “I’m sorry, so sorry” and “It’ll suck but you’ll get through it.” I didn’t tell the ones who would know that I drove drunk a lot. The ones who would be concerned and had been for some time. I didn’t tell people who knew, like I did - even if it was buried under layers and layers of denial – that I was careening toward a big fucking disaster. I didn’t tell those friends yet.
A few months later, the morning after his wedding, my brother brought it up.
“I was glad when you got a DUI. I hoped it would slow you down.”
But it didn't. And that's why we were talking. That morning there were much bigger horrors to discuss.
That morning I cried hot tears into my coffee as my brother spoke to me seriously, solemnly, letting me know in no uncertain terms that the gig was up.
“You are not someone who can drink, Laura. Some people can. You can’t. If you keep going you are going to lose everything. Including your daughter.”
I can’t imagine how hard it was for my brother to do that. The full weight of our conversation that morning has been delivered to me in chapters, as time and my sobriety unfolds. I have yet to unpack it all; I probably never will.
I have $500 left to pay my attorney from the DUI, which will come out of my account on the 15th of next month. Aside from my skyrocketed car insurance rate (which I’ll have for the next four years) that’s the last of my monetary ramifications from the whole ordeal. In total it cost me about $15,000. I wonder how much $15,000 weighs? More or less than I do? It is among the least heavy consequences of my drinking.
I sat in a recovery meeting last night and halfway through it hit me that the DUI was two years ago. At the end of this particular meeting they give away chips for different lengths of sobriety (30 days, 60 days, 90 days, 6 months, etc.). Our usual “chip girl” is on vacation so I was asked to stand up and do it. A couple people grabbed 30-day chips, one person got a two month one, someone got six months. The last chip given away is a 24-hour to 29 day one. It is silver and I've had dozens of them, but I only kept one, the last one I got.
Four women walked up to the front last night to get these chips. Four beautiful, gorgeous, brave women had the balls – first one, then another, then another, and then another - to walk up to the front of the crowded room as people erupted in whoops and claps. I hugged them each too tight as I pressed the silver chip into their palm, whispering “you are amazing” in their ears.
This morning around 6 a.m. I opened my eyes to flickers of sunlight on my desk and grey curtains billowing with ocean air. I adjusted the pillow to find a cool part and rubbed my feet together rhythmically, breathing in a long sigh of deep, deep gratitude and wonder. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you, thank you, thank you.
Mary Oliver’s words floated into my mind:
It is a serious thing
just to be alive
on this fresh morning
in the broken world.