I’m not sure why I’m so drawn to water.  Perhaps it is from swimming so much as a child or maybe there really is some sort of cosmic connection to a past life; I don’t know.  I was walking around today just to clear my head and get some fresh air.  I strolled down by the river where the bridge crosses Michigan Avenue and then down on to the riverwalk.  I like this route and walk it often.  I sat and contemplated the river for a while.  I heard in my head the sounds of boat trips down this very part of the river for many consecutive years the way a movie sometimes portrays sounds as if they are echoing in a chamber of the past.The sound of water, be it falling from the sky, running its course along a river bed or lapping gently to the shore of the lake at the secret place has always been so soothing to me.  When I was a child and would visit my parent’s condo in Florida, the tumult usually reserved for the Beach Drive home would of course follow us there.  The arguments, the violence, the raging insults and the histrionic fits proceeded in full fashion.  As a child growing into early adulthood I would often lie in my twin bed and open the jalousie windows so that I could hear the ocean either roaring or lazily folding to the shore ten floors below.

The advantage of expansive ocean views, the heady and living air, the verdant palm trees and the fortune itself to own an oceanfront property were of course unappreciated by the woman, my mother, who’s subconscious mantra of narcissism was “I’m entitled” and therefore they had no ebbing effect on her disordered behavior.  I often thought of my dad teaching the lesson from “Our Town” during this time.  When Emily is allowed to return and watch one event in her life she returns to her sixteenth birthday and from beyond the silent barrier of death she is unable to communicate her message to her mother who is busily preparing for the superfluities of a birthday party.  “Stop.  Mother, stop!  Stop long enough for me to tell you that I love you.  Stop long enough to appreciate that we are together and what we have – life!”  There was no stopping my mother even without the barrier of silence.

It was here at the condo that I decided to end all relations with my mother.  It was about a year after the divorce from Carole and Chloe was about two and a half years old.  She was so adorable at that age (not that she isn’t now); but then I could put her in little outfits and swimsuits and there would be no objection.  And because Chloe was an only child and, at that time I was an only parent we were incredibly close.  She was my greatest, and at that thin time, only joy.  Against my better judgment I allowed my dad, in a pattern that had been repeated a million times in my life, to talk me into going down to the condo.  The condo association had issued a new rule dictating that nobody could have indoor-outdoor carpeting on their patio and anyone that did would have to replace it with tile.  Being the family’s skilled do-it-yourselfer, my dad called on me to go down to do the job.  “Just do it for me, Tad.”  He of course paid for our trip and convinced me it would be nice for Chloe.  I was very reluctant to do this because I knew it meant I would have to be alone with my mother in that close space, something I avoided whenever I could.  I had nicknamed the condo “Tupperwear South” – a Konnorism phrase meaning it was tightly sealed with unreasonable rules and expectations in the same fashion as Beach Drive, the original “Tupperware”.

The first day went okay.  I went to Home Depot and got the tiles and materials necessary for the job.  I played all day with Chloe on the beach and in the pool and then got her to bed and started into the job once she was asleep.  My plan was to work on the project only when Chloe was sleeping so that she would never be alone with my mom.

My mother went about her usual business pouring wine after wine and teetering around her glorified self-imposed prison.  I got about half the tile laid the first night.  The second night we went out to dinner.  At dinner I ordered one cocktail.  Believe it or not I wasn’t much of a drinker back then.  I had viewed so much negative behavior surrounding drinking that I drank much less than these days; but one drink to take the edge off of my mother’s conversations which would frequently insult me was absolutely in order.  When the bill came it was in one of those leatherette folios.  Chloe, being a playful little child was bouncing around the edge of the table.  “I want to pay the bill,” she gleefully said as she picked up the folio.  At this moment my mother slapped her hand and screamed “put that down!”  She slapped Chloe so hard that she immediately started to wail.  It was not one of those “I need attention” cries.  I recognized it immediately as an “I fell on the sidewalk and hurt my knee” kind of cry.  I almost lost it.  I glared at my mom straight in the eye and sternly said “If you ever raise a hand to my child again I will, and I promise you, raise my hand to you!”  I don’t believe in corporal punishment of any type even when a child has done something wrong but here was a case where she hadn’t done anything wrong.

We drove back to the condo in silence.  I sat next to Chloe in the back seat and held her tiny hand and reassured her by speaking softly in her ear “daddy loves you and will always be there for you – always”.  When we got back to the condo I couldn’t find Chloe.  I went around the two bedrooms; living room, dining room and kitchen but I could not find her.  I finally heard a hushed whimper.  She had curled up in the corner of the closet of the smaller bedroom where we stayed.  I took her in my arms, dried the tear that was silently flowing down her round cheek and asked her what was wrong.  “Nana scares me,” she said.  I got her into bed and laid with her, gently rocking until she fell into blissful sleep.  I then resumed the tiling project.

My mother was pounding back glasses of wine, which she would mix with a dangerous cocktail of prescription drugs, and decided to pick a fight with me. I’ve let go of what was said but I remember that part of it was that Carole was right to leave me, that I deserved the punishment because I’m worthless in so many ways.  The incident at the restaurant had ignited one of my mother’s uncontrollable flights into the dark abyss of her disorder where narcassitic rage owned her thoughts, impulses and behaviors.  She continued to berate me as I laid tile on my hands and knees.  She then started telling me how I should never drink because I could not handle it and that I don’t know how to discipline a child.  That was it.  I stood up and I said to her “Y’know mom your projection on me is beyond comprehension – you are the biggest drunk I have ever witnessed.  I’ve been to frat parties mom, lots of them, I’ve been on the road with bands, so I have some point of reference here.” What happened next is emblazoned in my memory like a faded color snapshot.  Standing in her white nightgown with a half empty glass of wine in her hand she said “What?! Me?! I don’t drink!”  Her disorder was so far gone, so untreated for so long that she was capable of this level of denial and she believed herself.

In the morning I woke before Chloe and went to make myself a cup of coffee.  My mom had passed out and was supine on her chaise, one leg hanging off in lifeless fashion;  an empty wine glass lying next to her on the sea-foam green carpet.  I silently packed up our things, picked up Chloe out of bed and carried her the way I wish I still could – the way you carry a two year old; with one arm, her weight resting on your hip and her tired little head cradled on your shoulder. We silently left.  I checked us into the hotel that is two doors down from the condo.  I made up my mind that day.  I had been in therapy just long enough to have learned of her narcissism and its effects on me.  I made up my mind that day that this relationship was toxic to me and especially to my beloved child and that a lack of relationship would be more healthy.  From there forward I would only see my mother if she was incidental to some other activity such as a holiday.  I would literally see her as little as two times a year.  She never really made any effort to be a part of my life in a real way and she never made any effort in Chloe’s life to be involved with her either, so it was quite easy to avoid her.  Every once in a while I’d get a letter from her but after the first two I learned not to open them as they were nothing but a running mind salad of insults and belittlement.  After the fourth I learned to send them back unopened – return to sender.  “Sell crazy somewhere else lady, we’re all stocked up here!”

A boat horn interrupted my thoughts and the Michigan Street Bridge slowly rose as the warning bell clattered.  I got to thinking about the river.  I’m not sure where the Milwaukee River begins, but in my mind I started to pan back and think of rivers in general.  I thought of the river that ran out of the mountains in Costa Rica, through the resort and onward.  It occurred to me that all rivers have something in common; they spring from the earth as a trickle but then as they flow they gather strength from other estuaries and streams until they become mighty and headstrong in their pursuit.  If a river encounters an obstacle it always finds a way around it.  It might find another course; it might temporarily split and rejoin at the other side of the obstacle.  Other times a river will entrench a canyon if necessary, or go underground for a while.  But always, always the river keeps flowing.

I thought that we as humans should take on this quality of water.  That sometimes we, like water should flow around the obstacles we encounter in life.  Occasionally, resistance might mean destruction or loss so like water we adapt to our circumstances and accept, hopefully without complaint, that the stones or mountains hinder our path. Herein lies the strength of water.  It cannot be harmed by the largest hammer or ripped to shreds by the sharpest knife.  Nothing can carve its surface.

The river adapts itself to whatever route proves possible, but the river never forgets its one objective: the sea.  So fragile at its source, it gradually gathers the strength of other rivers it encounters and becomes one with them through commonality of element and goal.  After a certain point, its power is absolute.

Sometimes the river slows.  There are places on this river in front of me where is slows to a stop on the surface. It is at these times that one can look down into the river and see reflection – they can reflect on where they are, how they got there and what they have.  Ultimately, though the river will always find its way again.