Happy Birthday 2018 Charlie and Robin

So, I was dreading this day for a few weeks.  I alternated between wanting to bury my head in a pillow all day, or go hiking to stand on a mountain top and scream in protest all day.  I settled for a compromise.

Robin Elizabeth Bollman

I posted pictures of Robin on facebook, from her family albums.  Jac had given them to me for safekeeping on the day of her memorial in April of 2016.

I wanted to post them so that Chris, BJ and Jac could see them when they woke up.  I wanted them to remember her as the wonderful person that she really was, not as the sick person that theycame to know as their mother.

Then I posted pictures of Charlie and a post about the day he was born:

Charlie Hughes and his crazy hat

28 years ago, this hour, I was getting ready to go into Littleton Hospital to give birth to my new child. So excited we all were. Lisa Stavig was in charge of making sure Katie Hughes had a great experience. My mom and dad came down to be with us. At 5:39 pm, our son was born, with the chord wrapped around his neck 3 times. It was a few scary moments and then the doctor lifted him up for us to see… a little blue smurf. They whisked him away to get him oxygen and then gave him to me. As I held him close, Charles Hughesbeaming by my side, little Katie leaned over and gave him a kiss on his brand new cheek. Remember the great times, remember the great times, remember the great times. #ForChar Charles Everette Hughes III

I had originally planned on going for a hike by myself to the Enchanted Forest Trail, one of his favorites.  I was going to scatter some of his ashes at the top of the trail, in the cool shadows of the pine trees.  Then I wanted to sit down and meditate and try to talk with him.  It didn’t happen.  I just didn’t want to be alone after all.

Linda Hughes prepping for hike at Brainard Lake, CO

So, Chuck and I decided to go to Brainard Lake instead.  That way he could fish and I could hike.   Why this lake?  Well, when the kids were little, we camped here in the RV.  That was in the middle of summer, and we were rained into the RV for the first day.  The day before that trip, Blackie, our dog, got sprayed by a skunk.  After bathing him, we sprayed him with this crap that Petsmart had recommended.  It just made him smell like a floral version of skunk.  So you can imagine what rainy dog fur that smelled like floral skunk was like in an enclosed RV with antsy pre-teens.  We listened to audiotapes of the Hobbit, played Trivial Pursuit and checkers and listened to the lightning crash and the thunder roll at timberline.  The next day, the sun burned off the moisture, they went fishing and I went hiking.  Great times, great memories.  I guess I just wanted to remember –them in place.

As we started up the Indian Peaks Wilderness Highway the wind came whistling down off the mountain and I realized that we were not prepared for this trip today.  As we drove further in, the wind got worse and it started to rain.  We decided to do it anyway, even if we just sat in the truck and looked at the skyline.  When we got to the lake, we parked and stepped out of the truck.  The sun came out of the rapidly swirling clouds, the wind died down a bit and I decided to go for a short hike close in, because of weather worries.

I put on my sweater, followed by a rain coat, slipped a red Tshirt on over my rain coat, pulled up the hood and slipped my pink tartan cap on over that.  Chuck loaned me his neon yellow work gloves.   There is no way that a hunter could possibly mistake me for a moose, which is the game currently being hunted up there this time of year.  We fiddled with the bear mace, I put it in my pocket and away I go.

The sign at the trailhead says Beware of mountain lions, really.  Like, as in, we aren’t kidding.  As I stood there, I was overwhelmed with the most urgent need to stop and go no further.  The sign goes on to say, do not hike alone, bring a dog, carry a walking stick, look big, act big, talk big, and if I have to fight, don’t give up, fight like hell.  Really, it said all that, minus “hell”.  But, if you were fighting, wouldn’t that be what you’d fight like?

I went back to get Chuck’s cane.  Go back to the trail.  And once again, it was like the wind was talking to me, no, yelling at me NONONONONO.  So, I said, what the hell and went back to the truck.  I walked a few feet away to the edge of the lake, easily in sight of the truck, sat on a wet rock and said screw it, I will meditate here.

And so I did.  I talked to Charlie about everything I could think of.  Basically, I talked to him about how much I love him, I apologized for fighting with him that day, I apologized for all the things that I had done wrong as a parent.  I explained that I didn’t mean to do wrong things, that they happened accidentally.  Or that I had made a wrong decision or that I had over or under reacted to situations.  I reviewed the top 10 things with him.  Then, I apologized for the worst one, which was when I left him that day to go with Chuck instead.  I should have stayed and taken him to the ER.  The whole time crying.  The whole time barely able to catch my breath, my grief is so profound and that hurts so much.

Shoreline at Brainard Lake, CO

And the whole time I am thinking that a mountain lion might be watching me.  One time I felt like someone was standing right behind me, touching me on the shoulder.  I jumped up, turned around with my bear mace ready.  Nothing.  So I sat back down, caught my breath, calmed down and continued.  As I talked, I watched the wind on the lake water, pushing it in, then whipping it back – like when you vacuum carpet 2 different directions.  When the wind whipped it towards the shore, the sun glistened on it and it felt like a sheet of glass was zooming right up next to my feet, whipping back just before it impaled my ankles.

I had a dream a few months ago about how God came to talk to me.  He was very exasperated and pleaded with me to talk to Charlie.  I said, really, what about?  You are God, can’t you do it?  He said that Charlie refused to leave hell, even though God had invited him in.  I said why?  He said that Charlie was ashamed, grossed out and upset with the way he had handled things, with the way he had treated us, with the way he had left things.  I said, OMG, that is so Charlie.  It is so Charlie to argue with God of all people.  God chuckled and said, I agree, but, could you talk to him and tell him you forgive him so he can come to Heaven?  In my dream I said yes, but, then I woke up.  I have said these things to Charlie many times since then, but, I thought I would sit at the lake and say them again.

So I did.  I told him that there was never anything to forgive, ever.  That I knew his heart, had always known his heart and that his heart was pure, full of love, full of goodness, full of compassion.  I told him that the “bad” things he had done were a result of the drugs and alcohol.  That his addiction had warped his heart, had cut his heart and had evenutally killed his physical heart.  But, that it was always his heart – pure and full of love.

Charlie Hughes Playing Guitar

And I said, “forgive yourself Charlie, let my love for you unlock the doors of your self imposed prison, so you can go safely, peacefully into your next journey”.  And I jumped a mile high off that rock, because I swear someone touched me.  I wheeled around ready to fight that lion like hell!  And there was nothing.  Just darkening forest, the truck gleaming in the distance.  And the storm clouds were rolling in, little beads of snow ice starting to fall gently.

I sat back down and the sheets of water whipped towards me and I wished that the hawks would come circling in to show me that Charlie, Daddy and Robin were in attendance.  I even heard them in the distance, but, no birds showed themselves.

So, I asked Charlie if my grief was holding him back.  Were my tears and depression actually causing him to stay behind?  Was I being cruel and should I let him go?  So, even though I released him in the chapel the night before he died, I released him again.  I was hysterically crying now, tears freezing on my cheeks.  I said, I release you, please go to that great new adventure.  But, if you could, or would, please come back once in awhile, or give me a sign that you are ok, that you are safe, that you are loved, that you are still in existence.  And don’t go too far away, so that when I die I can still find you.  And don’t change so much that I don’t recognize you when I do find you.

And I thought Chuck must have come down from the truck to get me, because I felt total love, warmth and comfort around me, even in the midst of that freezing snow and ferocious lake breeze.  I turned to tell him about my talk with Charlie, and no one was there.

Then, I turned back to the lake one more time, to finish some other unfinished business.  I have a friend who told me to go on a hike on Charlie’s birthday and talk to God.  I just wanted to try, just because I said I would.  So, I sat back down and said hi and kind of explained what I wanted to do.   Nothing.  My connection speed to God must be broken, or maybe I need a new carrier.  Anyway, by now I am freezing through and through.

I said goodbye to Charlie for now, walked back to the truck, got in and we drove home.  The first snowstorm of the season on Charlie and Robin’s birthday.

As we were driving away, I was thinking about how jumpy I had been all day, how antsy, anxious and just plain crazy jumpy I was.  And then I remember another day that I was just as jumpy and anxious.  As I thought it through, I realized something.  Those feelings were not from being stalked by a mountain lion, or just random jumpiness.  They were from Charlie trying to reach out to me.  I had totally, completely missed it.   And the hawks didn’t come down today, because at least one of them was already there with me.

The Day Of February 9: No Mountain Lion Today

It was almost like Chuck and I had an unspoken pact that day to not talk about Charlie and his addiction.  One of us would start and before the sentence was out of our mouths, we both changed the subject.  We focused on the matter at hand instead.  The wildlife officer was supposed to meet us there at noon.  We all arrived early.

I have to admit I felt much better standing next to a man with a handgun holstered at his side and a rifle in his hands.  We entered the place and found Charlie’s lunch debris on the floor.  The pizza box was shredded, the remaining pieces of pizza had been eaten, except for the cheese.  The lion had picked off the sausage and pepperoni, had eaten the dough underneath, but, left the cheese laying where it fell.

We inspected the place – all 3 floors from top to bottom.  The ranger was giving us instructions for how to proceed.  We were standing at the plywood that had been used to cover the garage man door opening.  I remarked, well, we are safe if we can get all the doors on, right?  He said, well, not really.  Lions have been known to scale rough frame walls and they love to hang out in the rafters.  Always, always inspect the rafters before entry or doing work.   I was incredulous.  He then went on to say, it won’t be safe here until there are real doors, insulation, drywall and siding.

Before any of that could be done, we had to pass all rough inspections.

So, before he left, he gave us final instructions on what to do should we encounter a lion.  He looked at me and said, what ever you do YOU MUST NOT RUN.  He said that I would be prey to the lion and would probably be taken down immediately.  He said to talk big, act big and don’t block the door way or other access.  The whole time he is talking I am thinking what I would really do if I were to meet this creature.  Would I remember all these instructions?  Would I remember to not run, when everything in me would probably be saying to run?  What about my husband who walks around assisted by a cane?  Would he be able to do these things?  Would I be able to protect him?

So, the man with the weapons left us alone in the cold, cursed house on the mountain.  Our task of the day was to cap and pressure test the mechanical and plumbing pipes in preparation for inspections on Monday.  Because we were still not in mountain lion free zone, we came up with this plan.  We would do everything back to back.  That way we would both have visual confirmation of what was happening around us.

The plumbing pipes had to be capped on the side of the building from the 3rd floor.  The ladder leaning up against the open gable end on the inside, I shimmied up between the ladder and the rafters and leaned out to place the cap and secure it.  Done, whew.

Capping the mechanical pipe required climbing the ladder at ground level, hoisting myself over a 4 foot embankment of snow and walking across the frozen roof to the pipe.  Done!

We capped all of the others from the basement and then went down together to the basement.

The whole day was pins and needles.  I was jumpy all day.  Every sound, every movement, every shadow.  I couldn’t stand to be away from Chucks body.  I wanted to cry and to scream all day.  Why are we doing this?

We pressured up the lines and started the test.  First thing we hear a loud pop, followed by another loud pop.  The first 2 caps had blown, the test failed.  We ran outside and found the first cap 20 feet down the driveway!  We never did find the roof cap.

Long story short, wash, rinse, repeat.  My jumpiness continued, I was worried that dusk would bring the mountain lion back.  Standing still, I could feel it’s presence behind me.  A couple of times on the ladder upstairs, I felt like I was being touched on the shoulder.  It was getting dark when I climbed up and literally ran across the roof for the last time to clamp on the last pipe.  The tests succeeded.  We closed up and drove down the mountain.

I was overjoyed to get away from that place.  I was totally and completely creeped out.

A few miles out of town, Charlie’s helper from the day before called.  He had heard from a friend of a friend of a friend that Charlie had overdosed on heroin and was at some ER, he did not know where.  He did not know if Charlie was ok.

The Morning Of February 9: Decision Time

I got up early as always, did my internet business and then got Chuck up to get ready for mountain job.  Charlie was already up, or should I say, he never went to bed.  I think from the time he left the house the night before until that morning he had been drinking.

He was heading for a crisis, I knew it, he knew it.  He was sitting on the stool in the kitchen while I was making breakfast and lunches.  I decided that I had had enough and I was going to get tough with him, tough love you know.

I yelled, I admit it.  I told him that the only thing separating him from now and the life of his dreams was a shooter bottle of vodka.  That he could have anything, be anything, do anything, if he could just stop drinking.  That I would do anything I could to help him, if he would just help himself.  I begged with him to stop, I pleaded with him to stop.

Empty words.  Because he knew and I knew that there was no way to actually help him, other than AA and he was already doing that on a regular basis.  There was no way to get him treatment because we didn’t have the fucking money to do it.  But, still, I kept at it.

And I compared him to Robin, saying that he needed to get help or he would end up like she did.  He gave me the oddest look, prolonged, it scared me.  I said, what?  what?  He replied, you know, Robin is dead?  Do you want me to die?  I said, no of course not, don’t play stupid with me.  You misunderstood on purpose.  Of course I don’t want you to die.  I want you to live.  I want you to have a great life.  And you can’t if you keep going the way you are going.

And he mentioned Andrew and that he was in mourning.  And then I really yelled.  I yelled that he had to quit using excuses to justify his drinking.  If he needed grief counseling to be able to find a way to accept Andrew’s death, then I would help him find a way to make that happen.  And then we went through the entire argument again.

And finally, I looked him in the eye and asked if he could wait until evening for me to take him to the ER.  I asked him and stared into his eyes, trying to see if he could.  It was only a few seconds, but, now it feels like it was forever.  I weighed my 2 choice for that day in those split seconds while I was staring into those eyes.  Stay home with you and take you immediately to get the help you need.  Go with your father to meet the park ranger and then help him finish the weeks work so we can get paid, so we can keep afloat for another week.  Stay home and help you, go to work and help your father.

He broke the spell with a crooked smile and said to go.  I told him that when I got home, I was going to take him to the ER for detox.  He said, “I am not going to Arapahoe House, you can’t make me”.  I said no, not there, but a real ER with a hospital behind it, not the stupid place on 84th.  I told him I would stay the whole time and if they tried to strap him down or force him to do anything against his will I would put my body between them and him.  He agreed.  We hugged on it and I finished getting ready.

Chuck and I were standing at the truck and Charlie was standing on the porch.  I said, ok, this is not the day to leave angry or without hugs. Your dad and I may meet the mountain lion and he may eat one of us.  So, let’s not leave angry with each other like this.  Charlie laughed and said, yes, that is true.  He ran down the steps and gave each of us a hug.  I love you mom, I love you dad.  Have a great day.  I love you too son, stay out of trouble and we will see you tonight.  I love you too Char, remember, be ready to go to the ER when we get back.

The Mountain Lion

Cougar Image courtesy of Christy Hader at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Cougar Image courtesy of Christy Hader at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Back up to the mountain job for Chuck and Charlie.  They went up on Wednesday, Feb 7, spent the night at a hotel and came back down on Thursday.  They took a helper with them this time.

In the years that the project sat idle, the animals had free rein.  The first week up there, the guys had walked in on a bear sunning itself in the great room.  But, the worst offender was a mountain lion that had taken up residence.  And it did not want to relocate.  There were 3 episodes of Charlie walking in on the lion, and each time both of them became more agitated by the encounters.  The last time was that Thursday.   Chuck had dropped Charlie and his helper off at the job and gone for more materials.  Charlie and his helper had taken a lunch break in the great room,  eating pizza that they had brought in.  After finishing, they walked up to the staging area to get the door that they were going to install.  As they were getting the door ready, one of them looked back at the house and saw the mountain lion slip into the house.  They both dropped everything and ran, hoping that they would run quickly into Chuck returning to the job.  Chuck did pick them up on the road, they called animal control, set up a meeting for the next  day and headed home.

When they got home, the story spilled out from all 3 of them at the same time.  Charlie was very upset and refused to go up there again.  He told me that there would come a day when the mountain lion would not back down and then he, Charlie would be the menu.  He was worried that the lion would encounter Chuck first, and because of his disabilities, would not be able to get away.  He was just worried about everything.  And the more he talked, the more agitated he became.

So, I assured him that I would go up with his dad the next day and that I understood completely.  He was in the right for feeling the way that he did.  I did understand.  So did Chuck.

The Ladder

Ladder Image courtesy of renjith krishnan at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Ladder Image courtesy of renjith krishnan at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

There was something about that job, not sure how to describe it. You would think working on a project in the mountains, on a lot that overlooked this amazing vista of forest and blue sky would be great. We always headed up there with such high energy and excitement. And from the minute we walked onto the site, that energy got sucked out of the three of us. It infected our attitudes, our moods and before long we were arguing about everything. The jobsite had been poorly maintained by the first crews, so we were always tripping over things that should not have been like it was. The debris from other crews was frozen under the ice or piled up on the sides. Nothing was as it should have been.

We had been up there for a few weeks off and on. Chuck started out trying to restore order to the site, for safety reasons. Then, he had done a walk through of the project to determine what needed to be done and in what order. One of the first thing he had done, with the owners permission, was to introduce himself to the local inspectors and to respond to their directives. These included instructions on what they wanted fixed. One of the most difficult fixes was to tie down and fasten the original first steps done in the framing. Difficult, because they had to trace back and go behind surface framing to secure the initial first phases of the framing. That meant agility and flexibility in very high places… in very cold weather in the shadows. It also meant Charlie, as he was the most flexible and agile of the 3 of us.

I was up there helping them in the middle of January. Very short, very cold days. We were all dressed appropriately and had the proper safety gear. The assignment of the day was to tie down the framing in the garage, all work done from a 32′ extension ladder.

Chuck gave us the detailed instructions, gathered the tools and readied the supplies. He was standing nearby to assist in anyway he could. Charlie had what he needed strapped to his tool belt, had his safety harness on and headed up the ladder. I was at the foot of the ladder, holding it steady and offering moral support. I was also ready to hand him up what he needed. Charlie made the remark that my holding the ladder was a placebo, but, that he would take it anyway.

Then Chuck and Charlie argued about the problem being encountered and the solutions. It was like the negative energy of the place infected them and stole their normal camaraderie. I would play peacekeeper only to get drug into the argument. Arguments about nothing really. And then Charlie came down, sat down in a heap and pouted. Chuck stomped off to the truck and pouted. Finally, they came together. Chuck, disability and all, went up the ladder to see what Charlie was trying to say. Charlie was mortified that he had let his anger push his dad up a ladder. While up there, Chuck realized what was causing the problem and outlined it to Charlie. They both breathed in, apologized, regrouped and it was time to start over.

And it was in that moment, I realized something profound. The look on Charlie’s face as he started back up the ladder was one of pure terror. He was afraid of heights! I had never noticed or realized this before. But, he was petrified as he took the first few steps up that ladder. And I realized that standing at the base steadying that ladder was so much more than a placebo for him.

The problem was resolved, the work was completed, we were frozen solid when finished and were grateful when we finally loaded up and came back to town. All the way down the mountain we were quiet, lost in our own thoughts. And with every passing mile and the truck heater thawing our frozen blood, the job curse, the tensions of the day, the anger and agitation, fear and frustration melted away.