Karen’s Family

Karen is a white, middle-aged divorce from Salt Lake City County, Utah. She has three daughters–the youngest a sophomore in high school, the middle a recent high school graduate, and the eldest a dental assistant–and one son, who is 22 years old. When I asked what her son was up to, she said, laughing facetiously, “He’s a pharmaceutical rep.” After a brief pause, she followed up, “He’s actually a drug dealer.”

Karen said that she is not happy with his decision and that he is not allowed to live in the house–close to a school district–while he is dealing. She hopes that if the upcoming measure to legalize marijuana passes that he will join a legitimate distributor. Apparently he has borderline personality disorder and is verbally and physically abusive, though he has a girlfriend with whom he is planning to live at her mother’s house.

“I hope that things mend between you and him.”

She thanked me and said that family is important and that no matter how much friction there may be, she would never abandon her children. Her two daughters and her cousin, around her daughters’ ages, sat comfortably in the backseat, three across. They were mild mannered and good-natured.

As I was getting close to dropping them off at Long Beach Airport in Long Beach, California, Karen had mentioned that the family–her sisters and their kids and their mother and father–often vacation together. Recently, after receiving word that her mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease, causing gradual blindness, they went to Hawaii. “My mother always wanted to go,” Karen said, “So we went to make that memory while she still has some left.”

I thought of  my own mother whose one bucket wishlist item is to make such a trip. She, too, had a memory issue not long ago (a few weeks back) whereby she experienced a bout of “temporary amnesia” as the doctors at Hoad Medical in Newport Beach, California, called it–though they do not know its source (I think it is stress related, or maybe just a fluke). Either way, it was a terrifying experience to hold space for someone who could not remember what transpired five minutes previously. I told Karen about this and she noted that a loved one’s illness is hard not simply for them, but for the ones taking care of the sick person. Her mother is on a scroll of medications that she typed up recently and distributed to her sisters, as well as her 80 year-old father, who, she said, has the well-being of a 60 year-old.

Family is important. True enough indeed. I think of Ron whose sister took him in after he put in a lifetime on the streets. I think of Karen, who has raised four children virtually on her own (their father is relatively absent from the picture) and who stays committed to them despite their disagreements. I think of myself–a 35 year-old Lyft driver still living with his aging parents as he figures out what’s next on his journey. I need my family as much now as I did when I was in infancy. In many ways, this period of my life marks a similar kind of transition as that of an infant learning to walk on their own, guided by the hands of those administered to care for them. In a country where individualism is so entrenched into our national psyche, it is good to meet people like Karen, whose loyalty to her children and whose capacity to keep a broken clan together demonstrates the necessity of family–biological, in her case; chosen (street friends) and biological in Ron’s case–for survival in an often cold and cruel world.

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