My mom was the impetus behind A.v.A.—my weed-smoking boyfriend--coming to live with us. The year was 1987—I was eighteen--and A.v.A. was an injured bird—motherless, practically fatherless, and a senior in high school—so, when his dad finally went MIA, my mom dove into action so as to prevent him from having the life of a high school drop out. The life she almost had.
My mom’s best friend—M.—donated her damaged yellow Toyota Celica to him (aptly dubbed the “Deerslayer” after an unfortunate incident the year before on a winding, forest road) so that he could drive from our house in the Santa Cruz (CA) Mountains to his job as a busboy in Soquel. After hitting the pick-and-pull for a new radiator and a carburetor, the Deerslayer was appropriately reliable to get him on the road to being a responsible citizen.
My mother opened with some obvious rules: No canoodling. No breaking curfew. No doing anything that might cause my nosy little sister to tattle. And, above all: “No spending money on weed.”
Not so much caring if he smoked weed, mind you, (in town, donated by his friends) but definitely ordering him not to spend the money he should be saving on it.
It would take a monumental, Herculean shift in cultural awareness to explain--to those not familiar with the culture of the Santa Cruz area—why that last rule was not, in fact, the epitome of “lax.” In standard American culture, curtailing your weed habit is as easy as deciding which spaceship to take to work that day but, in Santa Cruz, the culture begets a tolerance for all manner of lifestyles that many in the country would consider uncomfortably fringey. Add to this the fact that it was the 80’s, and A.v.A. was Dutch, with relatives in pot-loving Amsterdam and—all in all—even “lax” rules, in this case, were kind of a reach.
The first time I smelled pot smoke coming from the downstairs bathroom, he received a lecture from me that heralded the genesis of a dysfunctional relationship dynamic. I talked about disrespect, and the lack of gratitude, and the importance of following my parents’ rules. I railed against his lack of consideration, and how it seemed he was flouting the opportunity that my mom was giving him. I fell into a maternalistic role, and wondered—worried and boggled—what was wrong with him that he wasn’t afraid of disappointing her?
I broke up with A.v.A. months later after I got back from a family trip to Cancun in 1988 and found out that--while I was gone--he had snuck onto a neighbor’s property, stolen some of their mature pot plants, and hid them in the gully that ran along Hazel Dell Road. Unbelievable.
And still, even as moronic as he was acting, it hurt a little to break up with him. He was regretful of his actions, and I knew that just because he did crappy things didn’t mean that he was a crappy person. There was intelligence and kindness and humor and potential inside him. And it broke my heart to even imagine lumping that wounded bird into any other category but “Salvageable.”
Because the wounded birds among us often come off as total jerks simply because of the veracity of the inspirational educational maxim: They won’t care what you think if they don’t think that you care. And—for wounded birds—the world is one long self-fulfilling prophecy of uncaring.
And now, regardless, he’d have to make a too-large leap into adulthood.
In late summer of that same year, my mom, her Celica-donating best friend—M.—and I set out on a girls’ trip to Yosemite. We had rented a cabin, and planned on going hiking, and doing some bonding right before I left home to attend the University of California, Davis.
In a deserted cliff-walled section of Tioga Road, our Jeep Wagoneer broke down and—over the course of 3 minutes--we had exhausted our entire automobile troubleshooting repertoire save for sex appeal, at which point--after another 15—we found ourselves giggling silently when a guy with even less auto-knowledge stopped his studmuffin sports car to offer roadside assistance to us three stranded dames.
The nearest house he dropped us at ended up being a refuge. The family that lived there—dad, mom, older teen son—were familiar with cars, and the father and son went to retrieve the car part we needed from the nearest town. The car place was closed for the night but—with beer and KFC purchased by my mom and M.--we passed the evening with this little family, chatting with one another as if catching up after a long absence.
It was surreal. To be helped out of a jam by good-hearted, gentle people who we just happened to come upon.
We spent the night in a small, enclosed wooden shelter (no electricity, no plumbing) on their property, and the next morning—new part in place--said our very grateful goodbyes.
Continuing on to Yosemite, M. relayed a weird thing that had happened to her in our shelter that night.
She said that during the night she saw three spots of light, darting about the darkened room. She said at first they seemed white but, as she watched them, they changed color. Light colors, green, purple, then back to white. She watched them as they flitted, knowing they weren’t normal, but was completely unafraid.
She said she thought that one of those lights might be her mother—who had recently passed—letting her know that she was okay.
This blog should never be taken as a sign of my discouragement with life or the world.
The mother (herself scarred) who tries to help a floundering teen.
The strangers who provide assistance and shelter.
The cousin who overcame drug addiction.
The relative who has committed her life to her farm-animal sanctuary.
The know-it-all ex-husband who finally takes your parenting advice because he wants to be a better dad.
The teacher who shields students’ from falling tornado debris.
The soldier who sacrifices personal safety for the good of the nation.
The known and unknown people who devote each day to random acts of kindness.
My fellow human beings are my heroes, wounded birds--at times—and overpowered by battles with demons both real and imagined. But, they inspire me--as I move through life--with feats of generosity and love, both small and large.
And, I want all to know that--as we allegorically lie in the unfamiliarity of a darkened shelter—they comfort me, perhaps beyond all measure and reason, like little spots of flitting light.