Heavy heart for Valentine's Day, sounds so cliché. I Love Valentine's Day. I like February, the name February, the letters in the word, the impending closure of winter. I love hearts because they bring out the eleven year old girl still living in me somewhere that drew hearts on anything and everything, often with a boy’s initials in them. Now I find myself at thirtynine years old, months away from turning forty. Single on the most celebrated couples day ever. I find myself typically bitter towards these relatively harmless, seemingly happy folks, coming to the local restaurant, buying ugly heart boxes or cheesy notions of sex inuendo items they would not normally buy.
We met at a Grateful Dead show in the parking lot. I was in the back of a make shift camper, housed in a Chevy pickup truck. A group of us were making spaghetti on an old propane single burner stove. He stood at the back of the truck. He was tall, with a long black pony tail, a startlingly handsome face with cheek bones set high. He wore jeans, ripped slightly in the knee, old, beat-up converse and a purple nondescript shirt. His deep-set eyes looked back at me briefly, holding a loaf of bread, offering to contribute some for the pasta. This is how we did things at shows. I felt my back straighten; drawn to this person, unlike most others I had met. He was still in college at the University of Maine. He was well-spoken, well read, well travelled. Traveling, the way we, as deadheads, saw traveling. All you needed you carried with you. You were road savvy, crafty, resourceful, concert venue savvy and, mostly, Jerry Garcia savvy. We shared very few words. He paid no attention to me. This added to his appeal. He stood with a carefully packed frame pack with a Jack Kerouac book stuffed in his back pocket. I was young, 20-ish, and new to the Grateful Dead scene. I was coming out of one of the darkest places in my life: murders, heroin, cocaine, scary world-big world stuff. I found the Grateful Dead. I remembered I liked the color purple. I remembered who I was. I found the music, the music that shut off my brain, that made me spin in circles and put bells on my body. I was home, but something was missing...
Then, I found Evan.
Months had passed before Evan and I would have another conversation. He was thumbing around the country as a modern day, self-imposed philosopher. What eventually brought us together again was not surprisingly the Grateful Dead. I had been taking ethics classes and asked Evan for a little help. It was a class about animal rights, a subject that inspired me, and that I am still passionate about. The Dead were scheduled to play the Boston Garden for six nights. Three days later, Evan and I were on a Peter Pan bus, two frame packs instead of one, and on our way to spend seven nights in a city. Together we searched for cheap, safe places to stay. We had no tickets to the shows, we had nothing but a mutual will to see the music we held so dear. We travelled well together. I did not have the concert savvy that Evan had, nor the silver spoon upbringing, though I was able to bring ample street sense to the table, as well as persistence and cleverness. The friendship between Evan and I grew. The relationship took its natural progression and we began seeing each other. The trip to Boston became our destiny for the next twelve years. Evan and I were best friends. We were inseparable for months, years. We camped in small spaces, all the time growing closer. As the years advanced, our motto became: "When in doubt, keep moving." When we would settle for too long, like when we camped for a month in a national park or on someone’s driveway, we would equate this with our cosmic minds becoming stagnant. We also travelled with the seasons, and with the Dead. We identified ourselves as "rainbow chasers" or some other title that described a state of drifting and dreaming, philosophizing, and seeing our country, always practicing philanthropic acts, eighteen times back and forth. That is another story that I will not get elaborate with right now. The thought was Valentine's Day, the hearts, the loves, present and lost long ago.
As I previously mentioned, part of traveling with Evan was about being resourceful. It was a trait I was born with, and I have used it throughout what life has put before me. I started to see Evan’s patterns and how similar they were to those of my divorced parents. His bouts with depression were more evident, as was his lazy silver spoon entitlement attitude, and his I am more educated and smarter than most, so therefore I deserve more manner. It is easy for me to tell someone else's story, but I will only tell my story, and writing about Evan will be an important and continual thread throughout my narrative. He is the father of my child. I believe that despite some control issues and possessiveness that therapy may have helped, he was indeed the love of my life, thus far.
Evan and I would roll back into town just a day or two before Thanksgiving. The weather and the shorter days made the slow but steady return (to his affluent town in Connecticut ) in VW bus , and then later, in a 54 passenger army green school bus, a bit more appealing. Winter would bring that stagnant thinking, but working, pot smoking, and idealistic conversations kept us sharp. We were both dreamers, although I was more of a realist by nature. I had to survive for years before I met Evan, and would continue to years later. Then after seven years of travel, death, friendship, drifting, I found myself pregnant. I did not particularly care for children, and was not expecting it. I was even less expecting Evan’s full-blown manic episode. It was the morning of Easter, and I was ten weeks pregnant. Evan had been acting very oddly. I thought perhaps it was a different batch of marijuana, or maybe I was viewing him differently being thrust into sobriety and the early stages of motherhood. He called me at about six am with desperation in his voice, desperation and mania, a tone my son and I would later on become accustomed to. He pleaded with me from a Dunkin Donuts parking lot to meet him. He wanted to take me to the local pond. He had been hanging out at this pond for weeks, blurting out biblical quotes and practicing strange rituals. I was alarmed with the biblical stuff. He had been raised by a strict Irish catholic family, and according to him: “religion was forced down my throat as a child and altar boy.” I reluctantly got into my car and drove a mile down the road. I had changed somehow in a few short weeks, having the most powerful, first-time feeling that the life I had known was no longer just about me. Evan stood pacing in the lot, crazed. He begged me to get into his mother’s Mercedes and go to the pond, where apparently the disciples of Jesus and Jesus himself were waiting for him. For the first time possibly in my life, I was not led by my co-dependence. I heard a voice within me that told me to go home, to go back to sleep and care for the new life growing within me. Less than 4 minutes later Evan drove the Mercedes into a tree outside of his deceased brother’s home at one hundred and twenty miles an hour. Evan got out of the car and continued to walk to the pond. The entire passenger side of the vehicle was gone. I was not with him. Elijah, my son, saved my life. This would not be the first time.
This was to be the first of many manic episodes, Jesus fixations and hospitalizations.Evan would be hospitalized with more severe episodes over a dozen more times for the first 9 years of my son, Elijahs life. Each time promising a more compelling story than the last. The evening he was first hospitalized I found myself pushing through what would become an impenetrable wall of deep-seeded family denial. Evan was tied down in the back of an ambulance. He was completely detached from any reality. In tears, I talked to him, calmly, with the sympathetic presence of the paramedics. I was scared and shocked. He was brought to the hospital. He came in and out of psychotic episodes. At one moment, he asked why I was crying, why he was in the hospital. In the early morning hours I went back to the bed, to where I was when he first called some twenty hours prior. I lay on the bed, in a fetal position, sobbing uncontrollably, visions of the half of car that remained, visions of my unborn child, eyes wide, I was unreachable rocking myself with the quiet, painful sound of a rhythmic moan. Evan had left. For the first time, I was afraid that he would never return.
Visiting someone in mental institution has its own array of pain and agony. You walk through two or three steel doors. You take your shoelaces off so the patient cannot use them. You are searched and questioned. Evan impatient hospitals stays grew worse from one place to the next, the facility itself and the fact that I had a growing child, who loved his father. I had to shield him from the other patients; they would be yelling violently into the wind. They would be so medicated that they could not stand up or would be screaming obscenities because of a bad visit with their family. The hospitals got so bad, and Evan got so much worse, that many times I would not allow Elijah to even get close enough to his father to give him a hug. Every time we drove away from a hospital, Elijah and I would just stop, maybe a half mile away, and we would cry. We would hug hard. I would kiss him and tell him his daddy loved him.
Evan stayed on his medication for a while after those first few manic episodes. During those times, he was a wonderful, loving father. Every spring equinox he would have a psychotic break. Elijah and I finally left when he was almost three years old. That Easter was eleven years ago. Eleven years and counting of chaos and denial. Of behaviors so bizarre, so frightening, from someone I thought I knew, from someone I was closer to than anyone than anyone I have ever known. This story, however, is still about Valentine’s Day. It is about losing a love; in my case, not though divorce or death, but through mental illness. Someone vanished before my eyes, yet still remained, standing in front of me. I learned about letting go of a person who I cared for very deeply. I learned about letting go of my own co-dependence to benefit another: my child. I know that all the love in the world will not direct another in their journey. Love cannot fix someone. I believe the act of forgiving is love. Have I forgiven Evan? He has caused so much damage to his son and me. Crushing pain and agony, moments of fear for our lives. He will continue to do this, although perhaps not intentionally. The Evan that I knew does not exist anymore. I mean that in the realest way. Do I have hope that he will someday return? Yes, for his son. I now wait. I tolerate. I assert rules. I try to forgive. I control environments and situations to protect my son and myself every moment of every day. I have love in my heart above all else. I have hope that Evan will find his way, that his life and destiny will become clear, and that his story will ultimately lead him to the peace he so desperately needs.
That is love.