Codependence Day

a woman walking alone across a bridge at night

Boston was hot and humid the summer of ’72. With searing temperatures, I methodically packed over 50 boxes filled with antiques, junk and old stuff that Joey and I were planning to sell at auction once we arrived to San Francisco. For several months we had traveled about New England picking treasures from shops anywhere we could find them. In those days you could buy unique items for practically nothing and then sell them for much more in the west. We had little money; this was our only form of investment to begin our new life in California. Our choice to leave Massachusetts was made for us; Joey was “on the run” as a parole violator, having been recently released from prison, and I was pregnant, a fact I had kept secret from most of my peers.

For the previous trimester I was nauseated almost all day, everyday. I had mixed feelings about being pregnant with a man I had met only eight months before and to whom I was not married. My sickness was both hormonal and emotional. Although Joey was obviously alcoholic, I was inexplicably drawn to him; it was almost an umbilical cord tug and pull. I secretly fantasized that having his baby would bring us closer together. I dreamed that if I got him away from his “cronies,” and moved out of state, we could have a normal life. A few years earlier I had flipped a coin to decide whether I should move to Boston or California. It landed on Boston; now I thought it was time to try the west coast. We both were in denial as to the reality of our relationship and the repercussions that would ensue. We were focused on one thing; we had to get out of there!

We nervously rented a 24 ft.truck from the company called One Way Ryder to transport all the goods we had collected. There was no way I could drive such a large van; Joey was going to be in the driver’s seat but I used my driver’s license for identification. Because Joey had committed a felony his privilege of having a license was revoked. Our plan was to hitch our dark green Ford Pinto to the larger vehicle so that we could sit together in the cab of the truck. It seemed exciting for us to be able to hang together for the long trip and talk about our future business strategies and the birth of our child.

Although One Way Ryder was closed on Sunday, it was the only day of the week we could leave because of the location of our downtown high-rise apartment building on Boylston and Tremont. The alley in back was narrow and traffic during the week would have made it impossible to maneuver a large truck hauling a car. We had already paid our fee and received the keys, so early Sunday morning, the first week in July, we drove to the car rental lot on the outskirts of Boston to pick up the van. Two teenage boys, sons of one of Joey’s unlawful connections, met us back at the building to help with the loading of stored furniture and multitudinous boxes. They complained a lot and sweated copiously after making many trips downstairs from our 6th floor apartment.

I had taken my retirement money early so that we could make this trip across country. We knew we needed first and last month’s rent for an apartment when we reached our destination and also cash for gas, food and lodging for the week. We didn’t have enough money. I wasn’t sure we were going to make it. I cooked a roast because I thought if we kept it in the cooler we could make sandwiches instead of buying meals at restaurants. We threw our sleeping bags in the car hoping to camp out instead of renting a motel each night. I knew this wouldn’t be comfortable since I was pregnant but I felt we had no choice.

A sweet woman from down the hall, one of the few people I had told I was going to have a baby, gave me a special gift the night before we were leaving. It was a soft, cuddly, white teddy bear. When she came to our door and presented me with the tiny stuffed animal I was overwhelmed with emotion. The symbolism was layered in my psyche. I was aware it was a present for my unborn child but I, Kay, had just been gifted with kindness and caring. Up until that moment, there had been very few gifts in my life or tender moments. It was my first teddy bear.

After weeks of preparation, I was exhausted but I didn’t dare let that thought come to mind. We had to go, that’s all there was to it! Joey paid the boys cash and thanked them for their help. We were leaving the empty apartment clean and were within minutes of departing. I remarked, “I’m going to wash my hands and face and then I’ll be ready. Wait for me downstairs.” I went into the bathroom to use the toilet. Whenever I was nervous I needed to go often. I sat down and was overcome by fear. Oh no, no, no! It can’t be happening! Why me, why now? Oh, God help. I was watching the water in the bowl turn a deep crimson. It kept coming and coming. The pressure from backed up tears was burning my eyelids, but they wouldn’t flow. They were stuck! My heart was pounding and my head was on fire! It felt like I was being held in a vice, being depleted of life force energy. I couldn’t move. I was scared shitless. At 4 1/2 months pregnant, I was having a miscarriage.

I sat for what seemed like an eternity. When I didn’t go to the car to meet Joey, he finally came back to the apartment. The look of profound sadness washed over his face when I told him what was happening. I was thinking, I need to go to the hospital, and what came out was, “Would you please go to the drugstore and get me some Kotex? I’ll need several boxes.” After all what were we to do? We barely had enough money for the week, I didn’t have insurance, and the truck had to be out of the alleyway before rush hour Monday morning. We had to go, we had to leave! I stuffed my panties with paper towels, picked up the white teddy bear off the terrazzo floor and walked with Joey outside.

The last thing we had to do before we left was to hitch the car to the back of the large truck. In a daze, I sat in the cab of the van while Joey was attaching the Pinto to One Way Ryder. It was stifling! I was sad, drained and pathetic. I don’t want to go! But, I was resigned to the fact it was much too late to have thoughts like that. Just then Joey came bolting around the truck cursing loudly, “God damn it, those Mother Fuckers! The hitch is broken! You are going to have to follow me in the car!” Like a robot, I got out of the truck, put my teddy bear in the front seat, and sat behind the wheel. This is really going to be something! I hope I can make this 3000 mile trek!

I followed Joey in the One Way Ryder truck. We agreed to stop and make a plan when we were approximately 50 miles outside the city limits. Our schedule had changed because I hadn’t expected to be driving the car. We needed to be specific about getting gas, eating lunch, and/or stopping since we both were driving different vehicles. I didn’t take my eyes off the One Way Ryder sign and couldn’t wait until we made our first stop to discuss the trip. There were no cell phones then, we had no one to call in case of an emergency and we would be in big trouble if we were separated from each other. I was relieved to see Joey pull into a clean rest-stop about an hour after we had left. I needed to talk with him desperately and take care of the untidiness between my legs. The fear of getting lost from Joey seemed to keep my mind off losing the baby.

The first two days seemed to go smoothly. We managed to hook up every few hours for rest and nourishment, eating only food from the storage cooler to save money. I am not sure why, but I wasn’t having any pain. I was bleeding quite a bit, and did so for the whole trip, but I only had a few cramps. Since we weren’t driving together, I had no idea what was going on in Joey’s mind. When we did stop in the evening we were both beat and fell right to sleep in the car. I thought this isn’t so bad.

On the third day, passing through a small town in Illinois, Joey signaled for me to pull over. His attitude was serious when he walked up to the car. “The brakes just went out.” Terror permeated my body. We did not have any charge cards and our cash was limited. How much is this going to cost and where do we go to get it fixed? Oh, God, what do we do now? Is this huge truck going to glide right into another car and cause an accident? He managed to drive to a garage to see if they could help us. Nope! Not a chance! They said they were too busy to look at it and the first day they had time would be Thursday. I saw something in Joey that I would see many times in the years that followed. He had a built-in reserve of knowledge that seemed to come from the universe. He was not a mechanic, had never worked on cars, yet he got under that 24ft. truck, (in the parking lot of the service garage,) and after a few hours, miraculously fixed the brakes on the van. I was impressed. This was the type of gesture that made me forget Joey’s behavior when he was under the influence of alcohol. I was convinced he was a genius, and he was “all mine.”

About the time we reached Colorado, I was really tired of driving behind the truck. My car could go faster than the van and I was bored staring at One Way Ryder. We agreed that I could go ahead and meet Joey at various state rest-stops. I was getting quite weak from losing so much blood. It helped to be able to lie down while I waited for him to catch up. We used our map to chart our course and did this successfully many times. That is, until sundown of July 4th. What a mess!

I am not sure exactly what happened, but the rest-stop I used was up on a hill. Although it was marked the same as the other state park stops, I had never seen one up so high. I drove in, as I had done many times, and stretched out to wait for Joey to meet me. Hours went by and he didn’t show up. I was getting terribly worried and didn’t know what to do. I could see the highway from the elevated vantage point. I began looking for One Way Ryder trucks. Do you have any idea how popular that company was, and maybe still is? There were hundreds of trucks and none of them were pulling into the rest-stop. At this point I was weak, tired, scared, worried, and thought I wasn’t going to make it. I noticed it was beginning to get dark. In the distance I could see fireworks. It was Independence Day and all I could think of was, “How can I live without Joey?”

I just started to doze off when he came charging up the hill. Apparently he had missed the stop and had driven 100 miles down the road before he turned around to come back to find me. We were both so angry we began screaming, not caring who was listening. I just couldn’t believe I had gotten myself into such a chaotic situation. I didn’t want to go! I wanted to go home, but I didn’t have a home! I wanted my mother, but my mother wasn’t there for me! Joey opened the door of the truck and began throwing all the antiques out on the dirt at the rest-stop. I was in such denial in those days, he probably stopped for a drink and the hours got away from him. I don’t know, but it was awful. We finally calmed down; both of us, realizing we only had each other, (Oh God.) Slowly we put everything back in the truck and drove several hundred more miles late into the night.

At this point in the trip I was in a fog. I keep worrying and wondering how long a dead fetus could stay in my body without causing a serious infection. I wasn’t able to think and was barely surviving.

It was either in Arizona or Nevada when we both noticed a blockade on the highway directing every car to stop. There was a weigh station in the vicinity and police wanted each driver to get out, go inside the building and show their license. I thought major securities check, they must be looking for someone. This had never happened before in any other state. I panicked! I was absolutely terrified! I knew they would get him now! Oh dear God, help us! We had no choice but to get out and walk inside like everyone else. Joey always “kept his cool.” He was a con man; I knew nothing of that world. I was so sick at this point I can’t imagine what I looked like. The most amazing thing happened once we were inside the building: Two long lines had formed and officers were walking down the middle of the rows asking to see identification. When they came to us, we were together; they asked for my ID and completely overlooked Joey. I couldn’t believe it. He did it again. As we walked outside, away from the law, he said, “I told you not to worry, it would be all right.” Whew, divine intervention.

Throughout the whole journey I did notice something unusual; police were always looking at Joey. Every time a highway patrol officer would pass the truck they watched him. It was peculiar. He was the one who told me to start observing and I did. Maybe when someone is running from the law they put out a guilty vibe. It was just one more worry on my mind, but we were so close to our target, I got over it.

We knew we needed to pull into a motel that wasn’t located in the center of San Francisco. We found a place in Daly City that conveniently had a lot big enough for the large van. Our money was slowing eroding. We arrived Saturday evening and spent all day Sunday looking for an apartment. No one would rent to us because we didn’t have references and neither of us was employed. After eight hours of searching we got one man on the phone that was willing to give us a chance. His unit was located at the foot of Nob Hill. I had always heard it was lovely there. It was definitely the heel of Nob Hill, not the foot. But, again, we had no choice. We paid the first and last month’s rent and was given the keys that night. But, it was too dark to move in. To save money we parked the van in front of the building and slept on the floor of the apartment. The next day Joey and I unloaded the One Way Ryder, returned it to the rental agency and came back to the apartment to crash.

First thing Monday morning I found the name of the general hospital where I thought I could get medical help without insurance. I drove myself to San Francisco General and was admitted for a surgical D&C. I’ll never know what really happened but, the anesthesia caused me to have horrible nightmares and hallucinations. I awakened to find five interns surrounding my bed. One was holding my hand. They looked thankful and relieved when I opened my eyes. They just kept staring at me as if something had gone wrong during the operation. One said, “It was a boy.” Any hope of a normal life was washed away with the loss of the baby. I was truly sad I hadn’t died on the table.

This was just the beginning of a dramatic, chaotic, and troubled existence I shared with Joey. What we experienced together was profoundly life altering for both of us. I worked extremely hard on myself to get well. Joey unfortunately died from alcoholism at the age of 42. Please see www.ISurvivedDocumentary.com. We continue to work together, he from the other side and I on the physical plane, to help guide people to their own healing. It is time for all of us to live healthy, happy lives. Here is an example of balance and harmony:

Let’s fast forward to the summer of 2005

The last week of June my husband Bryan rented a SUV Jeep for us to drive to Central Oregon for a week. Our SUV is over ten years old and he felt it would be wiser to rent a vehicle. There was no fuss made, he just went on the internet and figured out what he wanted. I drove him to the airport the morning we were leaving; we picked up the nice looking car and parked it right in front of our house where there was plenty of room on the street. It was new, clean, and the perfect size for our entire luggage. For this trip we had the pleasant addition of one of my daughter’s friends who flew from Texas to join us for the holiday. For the past 15 years we have traveled to a fabulous resort, Eagle Crest, once to three times a year, for a vacation.

Packing wasn’t difficult because we have a routine. It does take time but there isn’t heavy stress involved because I used a master list which includes all the items we need. Bryan did his own clothes packing and my daughter, who is almost 10 years old, helped me. We brought a small cooler that held drinks for the day and a bag of snacks mostly for the girls. When it was time to load the car Bryan lifted all the heavy items and Mariah and her friend helped with the smaller goods. Since we have done this so many times we have developed a system of loading that works well. We were fortunate to have fabulous weather. No one was sweating. Mariah and her friend each brought their favorite stuffed animal and supplies such as music, books, writing materials, and their Gameboy.

You can make it to Central Oregon from our house in the Bay Area in 8-10 hours. Instead of driving straight through, we chose to enjoy ourselves and stay all night at a wonderful motel, Sis-Q-Inn, in Weed, CA, driving 4 1/2 – 6 hours a day. For a reasonable fee, the inn offered a suite where the girls had their own room. The second morning on the road we stopped at our favorite restaurant, The Hi-Lo Café. Since cooking is not my forte, I think my husband really looked forward to their home-cooked style of breakfast. We had such a delicious meal, but none of us could clean our plate, not even come close.

The views of Mt. Shasta were breathtaking and the entire ride to Oregon was beautiful. We didn’t talk much, I think because there was so much natural beauty to enjoy. Mariah and her friend loved all the different types of farm animals grazing in the pastures. As we got closer to Oregon, I especially liked the heavily wooded forests. Because Bryan did all the driving, I was able to work on a book proposal and listen to music as the hours passed contentedly. It was heavenly.

At the resort we stayed in a gorgeous condominium which overlooked the Deschutes River. Our unit was decorated magnificently and was equipped with all the amenities of home and then some. The activities offered were plentiful with several swimming pools, (both indoor and outdoor,) bike riding, craft classes, three golf courses, video game nights, and hiking. Nearby, down the road, was Diane’s Riding Place where Mariah rode her favorite horse, Disco, the Pinto. There was so much to do we didn’t need to leave the area, although many times in the past we have. It is one of the best family resorts in the country. We are blessed to own a time-share at Eagle Crest.

Bryan, Mariah and I love Oregon! Three years ago we purchased property high atop a canyon with views of the entire Cascade Mountain Range. We are planning to build a home there in the near future. We, of course, visited our property while we were there last June. Mariah and her friend looked for owl pellets while Bryan and I enjoyed the stunning view. The peace I felt, when standing at the edge of the cliff with my husband and daughter nearby, is beyond words. Thirty years ago peace was not in my vocabulary.

When I planned the trip initially I was a tad disappointed because check-out day was Monday, July 4th. This meant we would be on the road for the Independence Day Holiday. When the time came to pack up and return home I hoped the girls’ vacation was so memorable that they wouldn’t notice we weren’t celebrating the day with a barbeque or festive event. They didn’t seem to say anything until we stopped at Red Bluff where we were staying for the night. At the restaurant, where we were enjoying fabulous ribs, a waitress asked us what we were doing for the holiday. Both their eyes got big! When I said we were traveling and hadn’t made any plans, she pointed toward the river and said, “Why the fireworks are right here. You can see them outside.” Wow, we were all excited.

We went back to the hotel and at 9:30 p.m. the girls and I went down to the pool to pick out a spot with a “birds eye view.” Mariah said, “We need to cut down that tree. It is right in the way.” A few blazes had gone off and she was right, the tree blocked our view. Just then Bryan came down and said, “You can see the whole show from our room on the 3rd floor.” We all made a “beeline” up the steps and down the hall to our air-conditioned room. The temperature registered 106 degrees. We ran inside, threw back the curtains, opened the large glass sliding window, and were entertained with the most spectacular fireworks for almost half an hour. What a joyful experience that turned out to be.

Our trip to Oregon may not have had as much high drama or be as intriguing as the experience I had with Joey over 30 years ago, but I wouldn’t trade the life I have now for anything in the world. Independence Day will always remind me of how fortunate I am to have liberated myself from the bondage of addiction. I am overwhelming grateful I will never again have to live a Codependence Day. What about you?

Kay Kopit is living an amazing life with her husband of 24 years (who happens to be 19 years her junior) and daughter in Northern California. Besides being a mother and wife, she continues with her love of painting, writing, teaching and speaking on the subject of codependency and children of alcoholics. Her passion is not only the arts but to help others through her inspirational story. Her courage, stamina, and faith have given her direction and the gift of helping give others hope. Kay has several published articles and recently launched her collection of inspirational cards, Art & Soul, Collection One: Transformation. For more information on Kay Kopit please visit www.kaykopit.com.

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