Earlier this week I made a trip to Winston-Salem to one of the many doctor's offices clustered in the area near Hanes Mall.
With three little ones and the various things they are occasionally tested or treated for that involve more specialized services than we have here, that's not an uncommon thing for me to do with my daughter and the girls. It was nothing serious and we decided to make a day of it and enjoy the trip.
Then when we started talking about the address and planning the route, street names seemed vaguely familiar. When we made our turn, it was an all too familiar street.
I was plunged into one of those firsts I've been anticipating and was totally caught off guard.
After Ethan began having seizures in 2009 and lost his driver's license and ability to work, I found him a small apartment in Mount Airy and got him a referral to a treatment center that specialized in seizure disorders. I didn't understand his addiction and I thought at that time that such a serious physical consequence would make his stop using. I was trying to help him regain his life.
At least once a month we made the trip to Winston-Salem and the turn next to his favorite Taco Bell to take us to the doctor's office. Either before or after the visit we'd stop and load him up on burritos, maybe go in and share a meal. When we made the same turn by the same Taco Bell, I knew what was supposed to be a fun trip was going to be plagued by memories instead.
Those monthly trips to Winston were the most time I was able to spend with my adult son, and for the most part they were enjoyable despite the fact we were going to a medical facility.
We shared music and conversation in the car. Sat down for a meal together (not always at Taco Bell) and usually stopped for Krispy Kreme donuts on the way home -- one box for him and one for me. The drive from his apartment to the far side of Winston took the better part of an hour each way and once we added in the meals, we spent a lot of time together on those days.
Yet now, they're just a dim memory of mostly good times. There's no special memory of a moment shared and nothing to cling to from that time. The seizures got better with medication, but he wasn't really interested in the therapy the psychologist recommended. We weren't surprised when she said he was far smarter than he was letting himself behave or that he had some issues he needed to work through. He never admitted he was still using dextromethorphan.
The only trip that stands out in my mind was one that also included my oldest (and then only) granddaughter, still a toddler at the time, and a bitterly cold December day. On our way home, sometime after our last stop, Ethan snapped. It was totally irrational and I blamed it on having to share what was usually "his" day with the little one. He began cursing me and wanted out of the car while still in Forsyth County, threatening to open the car door at 60 mph. Finally, back in Surry County I pulled over a few miles from his apartment and let him out. He had to walk home in dangerously cold temperatures but I could not persuade him to calm down. I know now he had probably carried some of his little friends in his pocket, dosed at some point during the outing and was high.
I'm sad that I can't remember a smile, or a song he enjoyed and instead can only summons his rage.
But I know we had peaceful times together and perhaps more pleasant memories will come in time. I can remember how he devoured whatever we sat down to eat. I can remember how he loved the fresh donuts and how we'd sit together, often outside in the sunshine, and talk about other people and things in our lives. I can almost summons a memory of his laugh and smile during one of those times. Perhaps it will be clearer in the future.
Despite the fact I wasn't driving and was with a different group, the memory of those trips cast a shadow over our journey. There were odd moments when I just wanted to break down and cry and over the course of the afternoon I became "cranky" as my daughter said. There was nothing I could do to manage that, it was just something I had to push through, something that I'm fairly sure will get easier with time and repetition. Soon new memories will push the old ones aside and as much as I hate to let Ethan fade, trips with little ones will more and more take the place of the trips I made with him.
While we had fun, and I'm glad that I made that trip with my daughter and the little ones instead of stumbling on those memories all alone, I was relieved when we were finally homeward bound. And I'm not sure but what it may have been memories as much as day-old donuts that caused me to not enjoy our final stop at Krispy Kreme (but seriously those were some stinky stale donuts and I even put one in the trash).
Without warning, I find I've survived a first I didn't see coming and I know this year will bring a lot of those, as well as the ones that I'll try to prepare myself for emotionally. I think those times, however they come on me, are just going to be a matter of survival and getting through, an effort to make new memories and find some way to cling to the good while releasing the bad.
Maybe next time I'll be able to eat a donut with a smile at a memory -- or if not next time, before too long.