This story is my son’s and is shared with his permission.
I cried today for the first time since arriving in Armenia. It was only a tear or two, and it wasn’t because I felt isolated and far from my family. I cried because I heard from my son.
I didn’t see Tony in the month before I came to Armenia. He was completing a rehab program that didn’t allow visitors. He and I were permitted a phonecall on the day I left for the airport, but I hadn’t heard from him since. I knew that was the rule of his program, but still I wondered and worried about him. Did he stick with it? Did he have what he needed? Did his sister drop off what I asked her to, and did it get to him?
Being unsure about Tony’s well-being has been a feature of the last six years or so. DNA translates as Drink, Narcotics and Addiction for Tony. Add heartbreak and deep seated pain, plus a need to self-medicate some mega mood swings, and from his late teenage years it was clear he’d need a sidewalk to call his own. At times, he has chosen not to be in touch, sliding from homeless shelter to street corner, with none of us around. At times I have chosen not to see him. Occasional exchanges have been painful, non-productive and potentially explosive for us both. He had a baby and I found out about her from Facebook. He got in trouble with the law and I knew only because the summons came to my house, the nearest thing he has ever had to a permanent address. Through it all, he never asked for anything, and insisted on his right to live his life his own way. He is nothing if not proud. I have always loved and admired his spirit, even when I am mad with him, and sick with fear for him.
Since New Year, Tony has been working to save his own life. The chance to join a residential rehab program came after successful completion of thrice daily meetings, a series of clean urine tests and successive successful outpatient appointments. I was content not to see him before I left Washington DC because, for the first time in years, I knew where he was, and that he was safe and (getting) well.
Tony contacted me today — coincidentally Mother’s Day in Armenia, something he couldn’t have known—to let me know that he will move into a transition program this week. In the photo he sent he looks as though someone smoothed all the crags and fissures and crevasses from his features. He has always been an astonishingly good looking person, but in the last years his skin and eyes have dulled. In today’s photo he was shining.
It was not until this year that I heard Tony label himself as someone with a chronic illness,someone who knew himself well enough to know he needed help. The words stabbed me, but his ability to say them was vital. His upcoming return to the outside world will be tough, even with the support of the transition team. My own experience of giving things up has not been an unqualified success and so I really admire his determination and his courage. I am thrilled that he has not lost his ability to hope and dream. Tony has it in him to be a wonderful father, partner and family member. He is a natural teacher, leader and advocate. Through music and poetry he can show his heart and touch anyone’s. Through jokes and acting crazy he can bring joy to everyone’s day. Through his ability with a basketball he can nurture and mentor others, and give anyone a good game. He is an amateur cook who, with training,could do really well in a professional kitchen. He is a skilled handyman for whom IKEA flat packs hold no fears. He’d be a great grassroots politician. All of this is possible now, and anything else he wants.
Six months ago, I really feared Tony (27) would not see his thirtieth birthday. In my head, I’d rehearse his obituary and his funeral. I’d think how to talk to his daughter about her dad. Now, I really, truly believe that he can have his life. Recovery will be slow, there may be setbacks and for a long while it will be all-consuming. But the boy who used to say he was afraid of nothing now knows what can do him harm. He has already paid a price — shattered health, fractured family, stalled career and delayed development. With luck, his worst is behind him. His future can offer a W9, a driver’s license, a passport, a rental agreement and a wedding day.
It is probably just as well that I am thousands of miles and several time zones away. I have a tendency to fuss, and try to take over. I call him Darling and that annoys him. This opportunity is Tony’s to realize. I am cheering him on in Armenian.
Թոնի ջան, վստահ եմ, որ ամեն ինչ շատ լավ է լինելու xxx
Good job Tony, I know everything will be great. You got this. xxx