Grieving, Obsessions and Tears

How they spend every morning and evening beating the heat.

How they spend every morning and evening beating the heat.


Me: Dinner! Ding-ga Ding-ga Ding-ga Ding!

Molly: (already eating) TUMBA TUMBA TUMBA TUMBA!

Hank: Mama’s ringing a bell and Molly is…

Me: Knocking on the door of a Dragon’s lair, of course.

Molly: YAH! (giggling, mouth full, humidity curls bouncing) Dragon door. (nodding)

Pai: Smells evil good.

Hank: What is this?

Me: Fair warning, I am incrediably emotional. This is emotional cooking. I am on the verge of tears at any moment. This was my favorite food when I was a kid before I stopped eating meat all together. Meatball subs with melty, melty cheese. Made possible by papa.

Pai: What did I do?

Me: You bought me a crock pot and you bought a bag of frozen meat balls and American hot dog buns while we were sick with the flu. These are things I would have never done.

Hank: Are you sad about the fire?

Me: So sad about the fire. I was on social media for all of twelve seconds today and there were a flood of photos of (voice cracking) families with small children who were on ferias (vacation) in the area who are still missing. Then the news started reporting… (shaking off a wave of grief)

Pai: (hand on my back in comfort and support) Portugal has declared three days of national mourning.

Hank: The fires are all we talked about at school. I told my class about the time we drove through an incêndio (wild fire) on the highway once.

Me: (tilting my head back trying to get the tears to flow back inside my broken heart)

Pai: (rubbing my back) Let’s listen to music.

Hank: Yes. Mama, knows the song I want to hear.

Pai: (joking) A song from Eurovison I assume.

Me Nope, a classic. (queueing up The Weather Girls, It’s Raining Men)

Hank: I am totally addicted to Eurovision.

Me: You aren’t addicted. You are obsessed. There is a clear difference.

Pai: An addiction is something that you emotionally and often times physically can’t live without. You start out only needing manageable doses but rather quickly with an addiction you need more and more and it is never enough. If you were addicted to Eurovision you would start with one hour, but then you would find you weren’t satisfied so then you would find yourself watching two hours, then three, then four but you still wouldn’t be satisfied. This is why an addiction is so damaging. You need so much of a thing that you would go to any length to get your fix of the addiction.

Me: You have obsessions, Hank. You always have. Your first obsession was Elmo, then cars…

Pai: Cars was a long obsession.

Hank: I still love cars.

Me: Then it was stop animation and Play Mobil, then…

Pai: Minecraft.

Me: YES! I almost forgot about Minecraft. And then it was YouTube in general and now it is Eurovision.

Hank: I didn’t know I was like that. Is it bad?

Pai: Not at all.

Me: It just shows you are passionately interested in things. There is nothing wrong with that.

Pai: And maybe with Eurovision and your love of The Weather Girls we can help you become passionately interested in Music from the late 70’s and early 80’s.

Me: OH fun! I bet Hank would like Roxy Music and maybe Donna Summers and my favorite…

Pai: Chaka Kahn.

Me: YAS! You know me so well.

Hank: WAIT a minute. Hold on. I like this song. This one. I am not saying I am going to like all the old songs in the world. Calm down.

Me: But Chaka Kahn was like the Adele of my life. And Prince! If you like Conchita Wurst from Eurovision 2015…

Hank: Eurovision 2014.

Pai: Or maybe Aretha Franklin or Keely Smith.  Ballad makers.

Me: Whatever, then you would love Prince. And Simone de Oliveira!

Pai: She was in Eurovision.

Me: Really?

Hank: Yah, like the first ever one.

Me: So doesn’t that fit the criteria?

Hank: I like the pop music Eurovision not the old school formal, like, first shows.

Me: I have already reconciled that we have completely contradictory music tastes but your killing me, Smalls.

Pai: Face it, no matter what we suggest he listen to he will hate it because we are lame old parents.

Hank: You’re not lame… you’re just not my style.

Me: WHITNEY HUSTON! Who doesn’t love Whitney. You have to love Whitney if you love pop music and you don’t have to choose her early albums.  Some of her later songs are fantastic, too.

Hank: She died of addictions of drugs, didn’t she? A lot of musicians do that.

Me: Creative, sensitive, artistic people so often get swallowed up by addiction.

Pai: All addictions begin seemingly harmless until they reach the point where more and more is needed and then they become dangerous and isolating and all consuming.

Hank: I’m never doing drugs.

Pai: You can become addicted to more than just drugs.

Hank: You can become addicted to the internet.

Pai: True.

Me: Let’s become addicted to THIS. (pushing play on Chaka Khan I’m Every Woman) Chaka could have totally won Eurovision. Hands down.

Pai: Your mother wanted to be Chaka Kahn when she was little.

Me: I wanted to be Diana Ross first and then Chaka Khan with a dash of Tina Turner with the soul of Laura Nyro. I Didn’t really jive with the New Kids On The Block generation.

Hank: (shaking his head) I have no idea who any of those people are.

Pai: Your mother was always a contrarian.

Me: And this was all before the 90’s when I full shifted to the Riot Grrrl scene.

Hank: I don’t hate this song, but it still isn’t my thing.

Pai: You were also obsessed with ABBA!

Hank: I like ABBA.

Me: I TOTALLY FORGET! YES! ABBA was the bridge between Elmo and cars.

Pai: ABBA it is.

Molly: YAH! (dancing in her chair to Dancing Queen, mouth stuffed, happy with our choice)

Me: (looking around at my happy, funny tribe and I just can’t hold back the tears any longer)

Pai: (hand on my back)

Hank: (focused on his meal, humming along)

Molly: (wiggling, giggling, curls bouncing)

Me: (crying into my napkin, so grateful for the safety of my beautiful family, extremely aware of what has been lost, holding the families not sitting down to dinner tonight heavy in my heart)


Hearing About Manchester

A photo of Molly watering our veranda plants to soften the blow of the conversation below.

A photo of Molly watering our veranda plants to soften the blow of the conversation below.


Me: (writing emails early this morning)

Hank: Hi mama.

Me: Hi Hank.

Hank: Whatcha doin’?

Me: (with the tone of someone off to the dentist for a root canal) Writing emails.

Hank: To who?

Me: You mean to whom? If you would say he or she you would use who. If you mean him or her you use the word whom. Unless it is formal and the recipient is undeclaired then it is whom.

Hank: English is hard.

Me: Truth.

Hank: So yah…

Me: To whom are you writing emails?

Hank: Sure. That.

Me: I am writing an elevator pitch to a literary agent.

Hank: What is a… Huh? I have too many questions about that one sentence.

Me: A literary agent sells books. A literary agent is a person who works for a writer and represents them to publishers as well as other agencies that would like to buy the rights to use a writer’s work. An elevator pitch is a phrase used to describe why you would buy, invest, support something said in the briefest and most direct language possible in the length of time it takes you to enter and exit an elevator.

Hank: So you have to read this email in an elevator?

Me: (grinning) The elevator part is metaphorical. It represents the length of time you have to sell your idea or in this case my latest book project.

Hank: Ooooooooookay. I understand. Wait, that must be hard for you. You talk a lot.

Me: (raised eyebrow)


Me: (loudly slurp coffee, eyebrow still raised)

Hank: I mean in a good way. It takes you time to tell your whole ideas. This is why you are a good writer.

Me: Nice save.

Hank: (relieved) Thanks. I was worried. You know what I mean though.

Me: I do. Trust me. I hate these query emails. I hate writing press releases for the blog. I hate promotion. I feel so slimy. Like I am standing in front of a group of people I respect and shouting, “Hey! LOOK AT ME! LOOK AT ME! Aren’t I great? I am soooooo great. Oh, you think I’m great? (death metal growl) GOOD THEN PAY ME.”

Hank: (giggling)

Me: But I have to start using my creative writing to pay me more so I can freelance less or else the blog and my book projects have become very expensive hobbies that I can’t continue to devote so much time to.

(news on in the background announcing a bombing at a concert in Manchester. 22 dead including children, 50+ injured)

Me: (shock, horror) My god.

Hank: Where is Manchester? Is it in London?

Me: No, it is in the north of England.

Pai: (stopping to listen)

(News: Pop singer Ariana Grande concert…)

Pai: Children and Teens are terrifying to some people. They represent the future where their ideas will no longer be powerful. They are taught to love and accept all people and that education is the real power not fear. That makes them a target.

Hank: Children were there at night? This happened at 10:30pm, right? Why were there children there?

Me: (large lump in my throat) A child is any person under the age of thirteen.

Pai: They were your age, Hank.

Me: That could have been you.

Pai: And you, Joy. I would have bailed rather than sitting through a pop concert.

Me: More likely Hank, you and one of your Tias or Primas (aunts or cousins).

Hank: (devastated)

Pai: It would be like walking into school and the majority of your class wouldn’t be there today.






Hank: This feels normal. This feeling I have. This feeling is becoming normal now.

Me: That is what the sick and sad people of the world want.

Pai: They want you to be afraid and angry.

Hank: I am not afraid or angry. I am so sad that there are no word and no tears. I can’t even cry. I just want to find a person who is thinking about hurting people this way and be their friend and love them enough that they know they don’t need to hurt people.

Me: (nodding, rubbing Hank’s back) Hurt people hurt people.

Hank: I just want to love people.

Pai: That is probably the right answer, Hank.

Me: We need reconciliation.

Hank: What does that mean?

Me: It means the restoration of friendship.

Hank: That is exactly what the world needs.

Me: It starts with us.

Hank: (nodding, numb)


“The Drugs People Are Worried About”


Pai: (coming to the dinner table) Where is Molly?

Me: (deep exhausted sigh) She ate already so I gave her baby crack.

Hank: (diving into his meal) What is baby crack?

Pai: The iPad.

Me: Crack is a form of cocaine, a highly addictive drug. Molly is highly addicted to bouncing around the iPad. If we were to give her unlimited access she would forget to eat and forgo sleep just like a person sick with addiction so your papa and I refer to the iPad as baby crack.

Hank: So crack is a drug?

Me: Yes.

Hank: How many drugs are there?

Pai: Millions.

Hank: Have you ever done drugs?

Me: Who are you asking?

Hank: Both of you.

Pai: I have never done any drugs that were not prescribed by my doctor.

Hank: I don’t mean medicine, papa. I mean the drugs people are worried about.

Pai: My answer stands.

Me: In my 37 years of life I have tried marijuana three times and each time years apart. Twice pot made my world spin until I puked my guts out and the third time I just took a nap, so that made it a rather expensive nap I could have otherwise had for free.

Hank: Drugs are expensive?

Me: They are an expensive vice or if you become addicted to drugs they become expensive for your health and wellbeing.

Hank: This is what I don’t understand. People talk about drugs and then they talk about addicting.

Me: Addiction.

Hank: Right, so some people do drugs and are not addiction…

Me: Addicted.

Hank: Right and some people do drugs and they are like the parking lot men out on the street. (In Portugal one way to hustle drug money is to “park cars” asking for a few coins to keep an eye on your car so that it doesn’t get robbed or damaged.  They also “help” you park by directing you to an open space.)

Pai: May I?

Me: Please.

Pai: Your mother has a very different experience with drugs and drug culture than I do, but what I want to say is for the millions of drugs in the world there are varying intensities. There are some drugs that are the same as drinking alcohol and there are others that will erase you from your life and your family and after you are so ill that you will for the rest of your life struggle.

Hank: So crack is an erasing drug.

Pai: Yes. There are some drugs that once you cross the line to try them there is no going back. You are lost to the disease of addiction.

Hank: And mama has had friends die from drugs.

Me: (nodding solemnly) Many.

Hank: Your friend just died.

Me: Recently I have lost two friends. Growing up I would always say when I was offered drugs that I wasn’t interested because if I ever tried drugs I would never stop using them.  Saralee first tried heroin when we were 15 years old and she never could stop. This really shaped my personal choices. Her beautiful, bright, brilliant soul was lost in addiction. Same with my friend Brett. He did his best, they both did, but their addiction to getting high, emotionally and physically, was too strong and they both died too young and they both had kids. They were loved, so loved, they were parents and they were powerless against their disease. You should never judge a person who has an addiction, they are ill. No one intends to become so dependent on drugs that they chose an uncomfortable life divided from family and friends. That is why it is so important to ask questions, Hank, and have conversations like we are doing now.

Hank: But why aren’t those drugs never made or like not given, are they given?

Pai: People take drugs to escape, to feel better, because you will never feel as good as you do when you are high on a drug. The trade off is that you will spend your life trying to stay high. That cuts you off from life.

Me: And life isn’t easy, but it’s worth it.

Pai: Drugs are bought and sold so it is a business and very profitable, but because of the nature of drugs and that taking drugs then leads to a public health crisis, they are illegal.

Me: In Portugal drugs are illegal, but decriminalized. You can have up to a certain amount of any drug on your person at anytime and it is still illegal but you won’t be punished with more than a fine.

Hank: Like a parking ticket kind of fine?

Me: Exactly. Distributing, selling, trafficking large quantities of drugs are still a criminal offense, but partaking of drugs is no longer a crime in Portugal. At anytime you can walk into the hospital or a health center or a police station and ask for help and you will be given treatment, doctor’s care, counseling. In Portugal they don’t make the person with the addiction a criminal. We understand that the person is ill and illness should never be considered illegal.

Hank: Who would think that?

Pai: A lot of people.

Hank: What?

Me: There are almost as many people sitting in jail right now in the United States of America for a marijuana offense as there are citizens of Portugal.

Hank: WHAT?

Pai: Seriously?

Me: Yup.

Pai: How do you know these things?

Me: I read. According the the ACLU something like above 8 million people incarcerated for a marijuana offense in the US and Portugal’s population is about that, right?

Pai: Around 10 million, I think.

Hank: 8 million people are like in jail?

Me: Yes, sir.

Hank: But…

Me: America chose to literally wage a war on drugs while Portugal chose to decriminalize and focus on public health and outreach.

Pai: And life got better for Portugal and it’s people. When you provide sanctuary and a way out it shows respect and instead of preaching drugs are bad and wrong we learn that drugs lead to disease, illness, deformity, mental incapacity, isolation and death and at any point if you find yourself out of control you have help. In Portugal you aren’t a criminal and you don’t have to hide.

Hank: But there are drugs that will make you a junky and there are drugs that won’t.

Me: Let’s not think of it that way, your pai (dad) said it best: all drugs have different intensities. The intensities are not what you should focus on although that knowledge is very important. The biggest risk factor other than overdose is addiction and addiction is a disease.

Pai: Alcohol is a very powerful drug that can also be highly addictive, but it is socially accepted so therefore not illegal.

Me: The difference between recreation and addiction is as simple as need vs want. Do I need to eat an entire bag of jellybeans or do I want to eat an entire bag of jellybeans.

Pai: Do I need to drink a beer with dinner or do I want to drink a beer with dinner.

Me: I have an addiction.

Hank: You do?

Me: Yes. What happens if I don’t have a coffee when I wake up?

Hank: OH! You, you…

Pai: Are a monster.

Me: Truth.

Hank: You yell and say you can’t handle things and then you get dressed and leave.

Me: I abandon all of you! I get dressed. I walk out of this house. I walk down the street and into a café with €0.60 and I drink a coffee before I even attend to the needs of my family! If I do not drink a coffee my mood is erratic and irritable, I get a splitting headache and I am not able to function. I am addicted to coffee. Now this addiction won’t kill me. I could stop drinking coffee and it would be a miserable week, but I wouldn’t die. I NEEED the coffee I do not WANT the coffee.

Pai: Tell Hank about your first thought in the morning. That is a better example.

Me: Right. Hank, I used to smoke cigarettes.

Hank: (chewing) I know this.

Me: I started smoking in 1994 and I quite smoking in 2003, but I would occasionally cheat until about 2005 and then after I had you I never ever touched a cigarette again, BUT every single morning when I open my eyes my first though isn’t how much I love your papa or you or Molly. My first thought isn’t what I need to do that day or even that I need to use the bathroom. Hank, I haven’t smoked a cigarette in over twelve years and my first thought is always, every single morning, “GAWD I WANT A CIGARETTE!”

Hank: Really?

Me: Truth.

Pai: Addiction, even if you break the pattern and change you habits, pledge and pray and think you have over come it is always with you.

Me: It never goes away. My body isn’t physically dependent on cigarettes anymore like it is on coffee, but I will always be addicted even if I never smoke again. I loved smoking cigarettes, but I know they will shorten my life and I love my life so every day I make a better choice. Never judge someone who suffers from an addiction. Addiction is powerful and often beyond someone’s control at that particular moment.

Pai: You will have a lot of choices as you grow up and it is our hope that we have many more conversations like this one in the future.

Me: Always talk to us or another adult in our tribe about whatever makes you curious: Pot, Booze, Sex, Stonehenge, Stock Car Racing, LDS, Onomatopoeias, Sacred Bundles, Meth, Hairless Cats…

Hank: (giggle snorts) I have seen those on the Internet. They are creepy.

Me: And hypoallergenic.

Pai: It is my greatest wish that you chose not to ever use intense drugs or suffer from an addiction stronger than coffee.

Me: Or jellybeans.

Hank: But wait… so how do you get better if you have an addiction in America if drugs are a crime? Doing drugs makes you a criminal, right?

Me: (sad) Yes.

Hank: Then how do you get help now that Obama Care is gone?

Me: Obama Care didn’t insure that you would be given drug treatment, Hank.

Pai: Portugal is unique and our initiatives have bettered our nation and our people, but our choices aren’t universal.

Hank: But how do you get help in America?

Me: Treatment opportunities depend on each individual state and how much you can afford or your family can afford for treatment. There is help, but it isn’t a national plan like it is here.

Hank: If a person is sick why is it about being able to afford treatment? Why doesn’t America become like Portugal and have healthcare for everyone?

Me: (pausing with my dinner fork in mid rise to my mouth wondering how to explain complicated, baffling, capitalistic politics to my nine year old) That is an excellent question. Maybe someday you will go over to America and help change things.

Pai: For now be grateful to grow up here.

Hank: Oh, I am. Portugal just makes sense. (stuffing his face with salad)