Thursday, March 8, 2012

Lubricated By Love (Part Two)

     Tuesday, March 6, 2012 was a day that started out just like any other day. Spartacus and I arose at 0600 and guzzled a couple of cups of coffee as we sat across from one another at our desk, checking e-mail, Facebook, and in Spartacus's case, sport stats. Since being out of work and moving to Atlanta, my days generally consist of writing from about 0630 until early afternoon, taking Simon and Lilly outside to play in our complex's fenced, communal front yard, unpacking more boxes, grocery shopping, folding laundry, and planning dinner. The night before, I'd ironed some of Spartacus's shirts, a task which I've never performed for him, because I've just never had the time or inclination. (This morning, I asked him if he wore any of the shirts I'd ironed, which he answered affirmatively, "I've worn both of them...I was looking at my 'crease' all day.") I am also awaiting feedback from the anesthesia group with whom I interviewed last Friday, hoping I'll receive a job offer. My impression was that the interview went very well; by the time I got home from their office in Alpharetta Friday afternoon, I already had a nice e-mail from one of the partners, requesting several professional references. The only problem I had during the interview was my choice of shoes. I am someone who likes jeans, T-shirts, and clogs or flip flops, depending on the weather, and the only "shoes with backs" that I wear are my running shoes. That day, since I was wearing a suit, I opted for a nearly new pair of Sesto Meucci flats, which I'd only worn once before, thinking they'd complement my outfit. Maybe I should have worn some type of hosiery with them, but all I have are REI wool socks. By the time I emerged from my car, I'd developed two huge, painful blisters on the backs of my heels, which I am still having to treat with Band Aid blister ampoules. The funny thing is, I'm sure no one even noticed those shoes! Anyway, the morning of March 6 was going to be spent doing something entirely different: waiting in a courtroom in Cobb County's Superior Court for my brother's probation revocation hearing.
     Before we moved back to Atlanta, Mom asked me if I would consider going to Adam's hearing, as a show of support for my brother, with the hidden hope that it would have a beneficial influence on the judge assigned to his case. My older sister, Edina, was also going to come. In addition to our family, there would also be a contingent of men planning to attend, all of whom were in recovery and attributed their sobriety to being helped by Adam in some way. When Adam was doing well in his own recovery, he'd helped start a halfway house, and many of these men had lived there at some point. Edina's son, my nephew, Romin, was acting as Adam's attorney, and we were advised to be at the courthouse by 0900. I left my house at 0720, and made it to Edina's house in Marietta by 0750. Mom joined us there promptly at 0800, and we drove in her car to pick up one of Adam's recovery buddies, a guy named Wayne, who also happens to be a tenant in a condo that Mom owns. Then, we all drove to the courthouse.
     The courthouse looked to be a new building, down near Marietta Square. Because of all the one-way streets running adjacent to it, figuring out where and how to park was a bit tricky. Mom has bad knees, both of which have been replaced with titanium joints, so she is able to park in designated handicapped spots. On our way in, we saw lots of men and women with briefcases, who we assumed were probably lawyers. I passed through the metal detector unscathed, but because of Mom's metal knees, she had to be further investigated with the hand-held wand. Once we all got through, we headed up to the 5th floor, to Judge Reuben Green's courtroom. Several of Adam's friends had done some homework on Judge Green. From what I heard, he is an ex-Marine, and is considered to be a very tough, but fair judge. Prior to his Superior Court appointment, he prosecuted drug trafficking cases and violent crimes in north Georgia, and served as an assistant district attorney in Cobb County. After receiving his J.D. from Emory University, he practiced in a well-known law firm in Atlanta, with a focus on civil litigation, employment discrimination, and product liability. He's married with two kids, and he and his wife also serve as foster parents. Regardless of how tough or lenient a judge looks on paper, when it's your family member coming before him or her to plead a case, you're going to be a nervous wreck. Adam's fate lay in Judge Green's hands. All of us who'd come to support Adam sensed our complete powerlessness, and could only hope that this judge would be merciful.
     Adam's revocation of probation charges stemmed from his initial 2000 conviction in Cobb County for theft by taking and drug possession. He served two years in prison, down in Jackson, Georgia. This was during the time I was in medical school in Macon, and I went to visit him once or twice, along with my parents and my sons. After serving his time, he was released early in 2002, on eight years of parole, which he successfully completed in 2010. Following parole, there was a three year period of probation. Adam had already once violated his probation by TMing his wife during their separation, as text messaging between them was not permitted. That whole situation was a mess, with hostile interpersonal emotions confounded by difficulties resolving custody and visitation issues. Without question, Adam was a loving and dedicated father to Jerney. He was doing everything within his power to keep it together so he could spend time with her, but given their financial problems and his recent relapse, he was teetering on the edge of a breakdown. Having gone through an initially ugly divorce myself, when Nick and Rory were 14, I can definitely empathize with Adam. Luckily, my ex-husband and I came to our senses, and worked out a mutually satisfactory agreement, and I believe that our boys ended up benefiting from the effects of a "good" divorce. Anyhow, I think that Adam had to serve 30 days in jail for that particular violation of probation.
     With the collapse of the American economy in 2008, Adam's wallpapering business dried up. Most recently, he was involved in cleaning up houses that had been foreclosed, and this is how he ended up with his last probation violation. About a year or so ago, he'd removed some appliances from a foreclosure in Cherokee County, which he'd attempted to sell on craigslist or E-Bay. I guess Big Brother was watching, because somehow, the transaction was traced back to him, and he was charged with burglary, which is a felony. Somewhere during this time, he'd moved down to Macon, which was where Jerney lived with her mom. He was renting a house down there, and despite knowing there was a warrant for his arrest, he wanted to try and get things "settled" before turning himself in. He continued to work so he could pay Jerney's child support through January of 2012. He didn't have a lot of valuable possessions, other than some of my father's paintings and sculptures, which are now at Mom's for safekeeping. Shortly before last Christmas, Adam turned himself in. Initially, he and Romin thought he'd have a hearing in January, but as it turned out, his hearing wasn't scheduled until March. Although he could have had visitation with Jerney, he didn't want her to see him in jail. Because Adam had gotten Jerney every other weekend, Mom now took over that responsibility, often having to make the full two hour drive to Macon to pick her up.
     For the last several years, my relationship with Adam has been tenuous at best, and he and I have hardly spoken to or seen one other since about 2006. Without going into detail, I will say that he and I have been alienated from one another, over a grudge held by neither of us personally. I've never really  been a grudge-holder, so that mentality is hard for me to get my head around. I can't understand a person's unwillingness to forgive others, nor do I understand those who refuse to process through their own issues to get to the root of a problem. It may seem easier to shrug it off or ignore a problem, but inevitably, doing so escalates the formation of resentments, which end up affecting not just you, but everyone around you. Within my own family, like so many other families I know, there have been accusations of favoritism from time to time, depending upon whether or not someone perceives him or herself to have been the recepient of the least attention. Knowing this, and accepting that everyone is entitled to an opinion, I've spent most of my adult life trying to disengage from this skewed view of our family. It's been a frustrating and difficult process.
     What I've learned about harboring resentment is that it forces you to live in the past because you are forever dwelling on how you've been wronged by someone else. It absolutely prevents you from living in the present. Every single family-related event is clouded by misperception and faulty assumptions, until you're all walking on eggshells, hoping not to further wound the fragile egos and self-esteems that are starving as a result of denial and tunnel vision. What would it take to turn things around? For starters, effective communication requires at least two willing participants who can withstand some criticism and are able to rationally consider other points of view, without either party clinging to an agenda. It takes willingness to forgive perceived transgressions, as well as to critically assess one's own behavior. Where individual perceptions are involved, which is definitely the case with favoritism, there is no right or wrong. If you're the one who's complaining about favoritism, then you most likely feel justified and right in your opinion. You might recruit others from within the family who agree with you. However right your opinion is in your mind, the person you're complaining about probably holds a diametrically-opposed opinion, and if you're not registering your complaint directly with each other, how can you ever come to an understanding? Is it possible that family members avoid communication about touchy subjects because it means we get to always be "right"? Because families aren't exactly rational entities to begin with, this backward logic seems to makes sense. If you never have to consider someone else's feelings or opinions, you never have to examine your own conscience for ways in which you've created or contributed to a problem, and your ego is therefore preserved. It feels better when you think you're right, and someone else is wrong, especially if you find others who agree with you. You feel validated in your refusal to budge. The problem with this mindset is that you can never truly grow from experience because you continue to suffer from a lack of insight into your own behavior: you are doomed to remain bedfellows with the green-eyed monster of rivalry.
     That being said, time is a great healer of nearly all woes. When I was going through my divorce, I spent a lot of time thinking about what had happened between my ex-husband and me, and why our marriage failed a second time. Although it was painful to look inward and acknowledge the mistakes I'd made, it was liberating. Once I got to that point, I was able to forgive both him and myself; in doing so, I was able to move past the bitterness and blame of our old relationship to the mutual respect which characterizes our rapport today. This wasn't an instantaneous process, though. It took a couple of years for me to sift through the complexities of our issues, to remind myself that it wasn't all him, it was me, too, and to research ways in which I could change my own maladaptive behavior. Between Adam and me, I think enough water has passed under the bridge. Perhaps we are both finally in a place where we can discuss the issues which have damaged our relationship, and put them behind us for good. I think reaching out has to be for the right reasons...you can't necessarily expect your efforts to be reciprocated, all you can do is try. Whereas I tried a few years ago, now, he is trying. We are trying together.
     The outcome of Adam's hearing was actually quite good. Cherokee County had already agreed to reduce Adam's burglary charges to the lesser offense of theft by taking, and Romin had gotten his initial prison sentence of seven years reduced to four. None of us had any idea what to expect, but we were all hoping for a further reduction in jail time. The courtroom was sort of chaotic, filled with a cast of characters from an emaciated lawyer in polyester who sported a ridiculously long mullet to the lanky 6'5', grey-suited woman with extremely large hands and feet, who Edina and I suspected might be a transsexual. Once I heard her high-pitched voice and noted her conspicuously absent Adam's apple, I knew she was 100% woman. From the few cases we saw presented, Judge Green seemed like a reasonable man, very calm and polite, and definitely not above giving someone a second chance, which was encouraging. Romin spent a good deal of time outside of the courtroom, presumably negotiating with the D.A. or in the judge's chambers. There was one minor concern, which could have been a big deal. The judge had personally received two letters on Adam's behalf, one from the Catholic Archbishop of Atlanta, and another from a PhD named Donald Green, who claimed to be the Dean of Students at Emory University. The letters were obviously fabricated. Each letter contained a few shreds of truth, such as Adam's suicide attempt after his separation, but the "Archbishop" told the judge that Adam had a brother who died, while "Donald Green" glowingly described Adam's progress in Emory's MBA program. None of this was true, and besides that, the grammar and penmanship of both letters was on a fifth grade level. Although the judge should have been able to ascertain that these letters were phonies, most likely generated by one of Adam's well-intentioned, but dimwitted cellmates, Adam could have been charged with forgery. Romin had shown the letters to Adam, who denied knowing anything about them, and we were all a little worried as we waited for his case to be presented. Adam ended up never having to appear in court. Behind the scenes, Romin and the D.A. negotiated an agreement in which Adam would enter a residential, state-run, drug treatment facility for 6 months to a year, and upon successful completion of that program, he'd be a free man, with no more fines or probation. In addition, any sentence imposed by Cherokee County would run concurrently with that of Cobb County's. Romin pulled all of us outside the courtroom to inform us of this good news, and told us that the judge had already signed the negotiated sentence. Although we were all ecstatic, Adam was unhappy about it. Adam's compadres had told him the wait list to get into that program was five months, which meant five more months in jail, and Adam thought that he'd be out of custody quicker if he just served his time. He was actually considering telling Cherokee County that he wanted to serve time, instead of going to treatment. I had a feeling that he'd change his mind, and later that afternoon, Mom called to tell me that Adam was going to go along with it. It sounds like he'll only be in jail for 30 more days. The facility where he'll be assigned is in south Georgia, but there are three new facilities opening up across the state, and our hope is that maybe he'll be transferred closer to Atlanta or Macon.
     I still can't believe Adam's good fortune in getting this second lease on life. Although I'm sure the judge never personally met Adam, I can't help but think that maybe he had a gestalt about him. He'd certainly had a lot of experience prosecuting drug addicts. Instead of holding a grudge against Adam, assuming that he was some kind of a hopeless, refractory screw up, Judge Green gave him the benefit of the doubt. Will Adam take this opportunity and run with it? That remains to be seen, but my sense is that with some solid recovery time under his belt, he has a good chance at success, not just in staying clean and sober, but at experiencing real joy in each of his accomplishments. Mom and I are going to visit him on Monday. I am going to send him Alan Watt's book, The Book: On the Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are, because it contains simple, but powerful tools for gaining personal insight. Adam is going to need to spend a lot of quality introspective time, time within himself, time that I'm confident will be well spent. Although our society seems to frown upon introspection, dismissing it as narcissistic, knowing and acknowledging all parts of ourselves, even the parts that we don't necessarily want to know about, is the only way to achieve complete and profound consciousness, to connect and empathize with others, and to tap into our intuition, that little voice inside that nudges us in the right direction. Like spring cleaning for the soul, knowing ourselves is about removing obstacles, breaking down walls, accepting that we can't change other people, and most importantly, getting out of our own way. I mentioned in Part One that when Adam was small, he sported a permanent goose egg on his forehead from riding his little scooter down the basement stairs. It served as a constant reminder to us all that riding down the stairs on a scooter was a very bad idea. I think Adam has worn that goose egg long enough. It's now a matter of him internalizing his learning experiences and growing from them, instead of riding downstairs, over and over again, expecting different results each time. Hopefully, this time around, Adam will stay out of his own way.

Lubricated By Love (Part One) A Related Post

Addendum: I have received permission from Adam to write about all aspects of his life's events, in the hope that his story may inspire and help others. Some of the subject matter, especially with regard to family issues of black sheep, squeaky wheels, resentments, and favoritism is uncomfortable to read or think about, but is common in many families, and I submit that the best way to deal with these differences of opinion is to discuss them, openly and rationally, instead of ignoring them or sweeping them under the rug.

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