ERNIE AND ERNESTINA: Searching

Joshua and I plan to attend a baseball game, a way to be together on a warm summer evening. But we never get to the stadium. Instead, we become involved in a conversation with my older brother, Joe.

Conversations involving Joe and me are rare. He has a loud voice, which he usually uses to comment on sports and politics — controversial topics, but safe for him. Or he engages in nonsense talk, jokey talk, or teasing. He can be a bit of a bully, Joshua says.

But tonight, Joe speaks his mind. He thinks I need a “talking-to”, and he’s just the person — along with Joshua for back-up — to do it. In fact, it’s something I said to Joshua — that his relationship with Christy is co-dependent — that Joe wants to address.

“When you marry, you automatically lose your life,” he says. “Your life becomes raising your kids. Look at me. Nancy drank. My three girls had rashes. Nancy wouldn’t soap them. I didn’t want them to have rashes, so I soaped them and changed their diapers. No more diaper rash.” He grins almost demonically, his straight white teeth shining against his ruddy skin.

When his oldest daughter was in high school, Joe left the family home. Nancy and the girls didn’t know where he was. A few years later, he showed up. He’d lost his job, couldn’t make child-support payments just then, and needed a sofa to sleep on.

I’m sure he left the marriage because it was killing him. He was wounded and bleeding and wanted to stop the bleeding. But he didn’t get into a Recovery program. He merely escaped.

He’s bleeding now, the bleeding caused by a rectal tumor. He’s undergone six weeks of pills and radiation and found a surgeon who thinks she can cut out the tumor, re-sect the lower intestine, and avoid a colostomy. He doesn’t see the connection between the emotional wounds he carries from childhood and from a painful marriage, and the cancerous tumor.

“You’re sad,” he tells me. “You’re stuck in the past. Nobody wants to be around you. You think bad things don’t happen to all of us? We have to accept it and move on, do the best we can.”

I know I’m sad. I see the deepening lines in my face. I hear my lower voice. Who knows how long I’ll be sad? In this first year of Recovery, with my new thinking, heavy slabs of guilt and shame are falling off me. But sadness, I think, will always be part of me.

Joshua talks of his girlfriends. “I’ve been with strippers. I didn’t know they were at first because I didn’t meet them at a bar. I’ve had druggie girlfriends and alcoholic girlfriends. Christy used to drink a twelve-pack in no time. She doesn’t anymore, but that’s what she did. I try to help them, but if they can’t be helped, I move on. I can’t control or change people.”

Joshua plays the Rescuer role. He played it first with Ernie and me because we needed rescuing.

Yet I’m learning this: I have to rescue myself. Others can lend a hand, can understand and encourage, but the heavy work is mine alone.

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Ernestina

Ernestina

My writer husband’s favorite nickname for me was Ernestina, so in this 3-book memoir, he is Ernie. This is his story, our story, and my story. I invite you in.