“Joy Despite the Cracks” by Pamela Knight

A  huge, sparkling “8” adorned the roof of Star’s restaurant.  “Wow,” thought Joyce, Star’s and I have the same anniversary. Eight years sober.  A slight smile crossed her lips as she remembered the stargazer lilies her friend Marie gave her to celebrate the occasion.  Stars again.  It’ll be good to see Marie this weekend. Thank God for friends.

The twangy voice of the radio D.J. hummed in the middle of a skit that Joyce was not following. “Crackpot!“ his edgy voice squelched.

“Crackpot, crackpot!” Brenda and Bobby, ten and twelve, seized the word excitedly, trying it out in various insulting forms. Laughing and poking each other.  They were delighted with their new word.

“Your kids are such all around kids !” one friend had gushed. “Not afraid to talk or laugh or enjoy things.” Admittedly, Bobby delighted his basketball team. Brenda drew balloons to herself like a magnet.

Joyce was less enchanted to hear a word that so rawly summoned up /images of substances.

“Crackpot means crazy or a sham,” Joyce explained before drifting back to her self absorbed reverie. “A lot like my last relationship.” Despite Joyce’s  best intentions not to think about Paul and to move forward, she slid into the pain of their recent breakup.

The pain was gnawing and obsessive. Paul made her feel complete even though Joyce knew no one “completes” you. Day dreaming about him and how it would be when she was with him — how it would be when they got married —  had been distracting.  Had been sufficiently numbing to keep her from dwelling on her mother’s health, unpaid bills and Bobby falling asleep in class at school. Now that the relationship was over her thoughts prefaced each illusive longing with “if only, if only.”

If only we could have had a life together like the day we went down the Cape — a day that as a microcosm of life with Paul Joyce dreamed of.  The phone conversations leading up to the date purred gently and suggestively. The kids were spending the weekend with their father. Paul pulled up to Joyce’s home early with his van and loaded her bike beside his. The early summer sun shone.

The tentatively defined couple drove to the Bourne Bridge. Parking the van, Joyce thrilled to be doing something with someone who shared her drive for exercise. Happily, surrounded by breezy salt scented sunshine, they began the seven mile scenic ride along the Cape Cod Canal. Once they stopped and rested on a park bench and ate the snack Paul had thoughtfully prepared.

Afterwards, calmed and invigorated by the bike ride, they continued flirting. Joyce knew she was falling in love despite Paul’s reminders throughout the eight month relationship to keep things casual. They traveled further down the Cape to Dennis Beach and found a secluded sand bar. Paul read his novel, comfortably settled in a webbed lounge chair, as Joyce, fantasizing of many days to come like this one read the newspaper contentedly.

Topping the day off, the two stopped at Joyce’s parent’s house and Joyce proudly introduced her new boyfriend. The perfect day was rounded out with a meal out and a visit to a local AA meeting. Sleeping together ended the ideal day.

But Paul called a few weeks later, stumbling over, “it’s too soon after my divorce for me to be serious.” Joyce reeled.  She was still stunned, empty and grieving as she journeyed to the Recovery Convention.

Joyce pulled into the parking lot of the Sheraton Tara where she and the kids would spend the weekend. She was looking forward to attending workshops but was not to the nitty gritty settling requiring trips back and forth for the cooler and luggage.  Getting the kids to help remained difficult.

“Mom, this is too heavy,” Brenda whined, struggling to hold up her end of the cooler.

“Ma, can’t we just go swimming? Can’t we do this later?” Bobby definitely would prefer to shirk. “We could have just bought drinks here anyway.”

“Honey, you know I’m trying to save some money by bringing our own.” Joyce wrestled with two suitcases and a backpack.

Once again her thoughts strayed to Paul and why he would leave her.  Why she didn’t have a partner to help with stuff like this.  She remembered what her counselor advised: don’t ask why. Ask how. How can I live my life happily or at least serenely? God please help me. She remembered to ask for help with these aching, annoying continuous thoughts. Thoughts of something, outside of her, that owned her- Paul rented space in
her head and seemed permanently lodged in her heart.  It was impossible to evict him.

“Joyce!”

“Marie, I’m so glad to see you.”

“Hi Bren, hi Bob, how’re you doing, kids?”

“Good,” they chimed. Small grins appeared. Marie’s teenagers were here. Sometimes they swore, and while Mom denigrated this behavior, Bobby, especially, commended it.

“Come, guys, you can make it though you do look a little overburdened. Let me take something.”

Try as she might to relax after they settled in, Joyce could not. Bobby and Brenda monotonously echoed “Crackpot, crackpot,” as they cannonballed into the pool. They barely noticed as Joyce left to go to a workshop.

“Thanks a bunch, June,” she called to Marie’s sixteen year old daughter who joined in with the antics of Bobby and Brenda as Joyce left the pool area.

“Crackpot. What is this crackpot crap?“ Joyce heard June ask as she left. She felt mildly free and told herself to be grateful for the small blessing of having an hour to herself.

The title of the workshop listed on the program was Joy Despite the Loss of Our Dreams. The topic resonated with Joyce. Becoming absorbed in the sharing as she sat in the room Joyce was prompted by something the speaker said to remember her brother who died in his early twenties. After a few minutes of sadness, she realized she may not have had these feelings when he died ten years ago because she had been drinking and drugging.

She thought of that eight ball they had as kids. The one they’d ask questions of and wait impatiently as the answer slowly slid into focus. It was just like that.  Her brother Ed slid into view. She was nineteen and he was fifteen. They’d hopped into the VW and traveled up to Vermont. After smoking the joint she brought, they lay in sleeping bags beside a country road. Side by side they watched shooting stars cascade into the deep, wide indigo sky.

The speaker was saying, “despite the loss of my dream of staying with my wife, I am grateful to have my kids in my life, to be sober, and to be a productive member of society. Every day I ask God for help. The losses in my life are scars. Today I plan to turn my scars into stars.”

Everyone clapped to hear the positive spin.  It was Serendipitous that she’d been thinking about stars (and scars) at the same time as the speaker. Synchronicity or coincidence nurtured her faith and hope. It helped her trust that being a single mom and working full time must be God’s will. Marie always suggested that God’s will was wanting what one had and appreciating it. Joyce had been journaling and recording all the synchronistic events that had occurred, proof if she needed it that life played on key. She would read a
character’s name in a book and then someone with that name would appear in her life.  She marveled at these happenings and wondered what message the universe was trying to convey to her.

People in twelve step programs call this type of coincidence God-incidence. For Joyce it helped to show that a Power Greater than Herself was working in her life. One day she took a walk while on vacation, not really knowing where she was going.  At the end of the walk she came across a dingy with her initials painted on it. Another time she took her teenage nephew to see Ozzie Osbourne. Wondering, even as she was there, if
this had been the right thing to do, Joyce opened the Anita Shreve book she hoped to read during the chaos and found it dedicated to Ozzie. At these moments, Joyce felt in the right place, sure of God’s blessing.

Leaving the workshop, Joyce mulled over all she wanted to tell Marie. Briefly she thought of Paul but remembered to stay present with herself, here and now. Marie was walking to the pool.

“Marie, Marie!” Joyce called.

The two hugged.

“You look a little better,” Marie observed. . Marie knew how badly Joyce had been taking it since Paul broke up with her.

“I am. That meeting was really good. I thought of my brother; I felt the pain- deep original pain, so to speak, and then I remembered a wonderful day with him and by feeling it and grieving and then having the good memory, I think I released some of the pain.”

“That’s right, girl. Its okay, it’s going to be okay,” Marie encouraged.

The pair hurried into the pool area. Suddenly happy to be with her family Joyce grandly greeted her children, “My stars, my stars!” she called as she saw them.

Used to their mother’s whims and grandiosity and what they called ‘recovery crap’ such as the Easy Does It but Do It bumper sticker their car sported, they grimaced good naturedly but answered, “Hey, Mom.”

“You’re coming to the big meeting tonight,” she reminded them. “How’s the water?

“Great. Real warm,“ Brenda spluttered. “Can I go in the Jacuzzi?”

Joyce and Marie exchanged glances. Kids always pushing limits.

“How about we check out the paddle boats?”

“Okay,” everyone agreed.

The paddle boat experience bonded the two single parented families together. Only an occasional joking affront of “crackpot” was uttered by the younger members of the group. By now even June was throwing the term around. Joyce explained how the word had come over the air and how the kids had become obsessive about it.

“Crackpot is a funny word, I have to agree,” Marie told the kids. Then, to Joyce, commiserating, she added, “And gratitude, patience and acceptance are funny words, too.”

That night, refreshed from the outdoor entertainment and a nice meal of Asian food, the group went to the ballroom to hear the main speaker of the convention. Usually the keynote speaker was clever and engaging, able to make the audience identify and laugh.

“Let me tell you a Zen story,” Loretta began, “that has to do with character defects and not being fully present for our realities. There were two pots that were being used to carry water.   One pot was broken and dripped along the path; the pot was not perfect. The cracked pot went to the Zen master and complained about its condition. But, look behind you, the Zen master said. I put seeds in your path and every day the crack in your side allowed the water to seep out and nourish the plants. Look at the beautiful flowers you have grown!” Loretta laughed. “And you know I am just an old cracked pot! But that’s okay, because God has been with me every step of the way.”

Joyce became mindful that she had not thought of Paul for five hours and that she was enjoying life exactly as it was right now. Tears filled her eyes as she felt the grace of another serendipitous moment. Cracked pot. Crackpot. She put an arm around each child and gave a warm squeeze. A full, wide smile emerged on Joyce’s face as she turned to see if Marie had caught the coincidental gift. Marie nodded.

“I really, really want what I have,” Joyce whispered.

Brenda and Bobby rolled their eyes. Silently they mouthed a word to each other.

 

 

Pamela Knight has worked as a subway mass transit driver for the MBTA in Boston, MA, for the last twenty three years. She has published two pieces in Chicken Soup for the Recovering Soul Daily Meditations. Residing by Nantasket Beach, she lives with her two teenage children and three cats. She enjoys her book club, gardening and bird watching.

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