This and That or There But For the Grace of God Go I

I was feeling disappointed this morning. I had just finished meditating, the whole time during which my lower back ached. I  injured it a couple of weeks ago and it was hurting. A lot. So much for my plans. I said to my husband that I probably should take it easy today. I felt kind of disappointed because it would have been fun to go on a jaunt with him to the big park by the river to enjoy all of the young goslings parading around as they followed their parents.

“Well, you never know, maybe if my back was fine and I went out today, something horrible might happen, so having a hurt back is good”, I jokingly said. I grinned at him.

And then I remembered. One day many years ago, when I still lived in Toronto, I phoned the train station to find out the time for the first train heading to London in the afternoon on my preferred date. The man who answered the phone gave me a time. I thanked him and got off the phone. Later, after having already bought my train ticket, I discovered that he had given me the wrong time. I needed the train before the one I had booked the ticket for.  Needless to say, I felt more than a little peeved.

The day came for me to head to London and I climbed aboard the wrong train. Or at least that’s what I still thought. The train made its way out of the station. Not too far into the ride the train came to a full stop. This never happens, I thought. I wonder what’s up. After what seemed an interminable wait an announcement was made. Holy crap! Our train was being rerouted due to the fact that the train before us, the very one that I was supposed to have been on, had derailed. Even as I write this I feel in awe of the error made on the phone that day, an error that saved me from being on the derailed train. I felt so grateful to that man who made the mistake. Talk about a change of heart. And all dependent on unforeseen events. I don’t think that I was ever so glad as I was that day when I arrived at my destination, hours later than I should have. I must admit though, that as the train clacked its way on its circuitous route to London, my mind went into the “What ifs” more than once. What if that man had given me the correct time? What if I had been on the derailed train? What if I had been injured? What if….

In retrospect, I love how the universe or Creator or God presented me with such a wonderful demonstration for just being with what is, with no judgement call that “this” is bad and “that” is good. I think back now to the anger and frustration and angst I felt at the time that that man goofed. Wasted energy. I am so glad that every so often something happens in my life that is a wake up call to just be content with, and accept what is.

I want to be clear here though. I know only too well that there are things that happen in our lives that are definitely not good, events or matters that demand action. Having lived through years of abuse at the hands of my ex-husband I am certainly cognizant of that fact. I was right to get out of that marriage. Ironically though, it is not lost on me that if not for having lived with my ex-husband, I would never have met my current gentle, and caring husband. But that’s a story for another day.

So much of our suffering in this life comes from aversion to the myriad of life events that we consider to be negative. I’m glad that I don’t know what the future holds. It really can be an interesting ride this just going with the flow without attaching to the “I want it to be this way” or “I want it to be that way”, along with the accompanying suffering that we are so good at creating.

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Lucky

I am so lucky. I hurt my back two weeks ago.

This morning at 7 a.m. I was startled by some pretty heavy knocking on my apartment door. My husband threw on his robe and opened the door to be greeted by a paramedic. The man needed the key to our neighbour’s apartment in our building; he had been informed that we had a spare key that would let him in. I watched as our neighbour was carried out by four paramedics. Poor Keith. I know that he has had a brain tumor for many years; I also know that those kinds of tumors grow back, or at least that was what I was told. I hope that he is okay. I don’t have a tumor. How lucky is that.

I got to connect with Bob, another neighbour who takes care of our apartment building’s garbage and recycling blue boxes’disposal; I was watching out for his truck when he made his daily rounds.  I let him know what had happened to his friend so he could let Brent, another friend, know too. Brent will take care of Keith’s pets as he always does when Keith is away. I am glad that I knew about Keith’s cat. Bob let me know that Keith also has a fish tank. I am happy that I was able to help Keith in this way. How lucky is that.

This morning I sat in my neighbours’ back yard meditating. I pick up their mail when they are away. They have invited me to feel free to enjoy their back yard and front porch while they are gone. Since I live in an apartment it is quite the treat to enjoy their generosity. I have awesome neighbours. How lucky is that.

As I am enjoying the silence while I meditate I am disturbed by the loud sounds of two other neighbors, friends also of my friends in whose backyard I sit. I smile to myself. Just being with what is. With life: birds flitting about, the smell of the lush plants of Spring by which I am surrounded, noisy lawnmowers, friendly neighbors…How lucky is that.

I just answered my door to the second knocking of the day. A parcel. I opened it. The expression “It took my breath away” took on new meaning as I gazed at the beauty before me. Thank you David. Thank you for being my fun loving, warm hearted friend. Thank you for sharing your gift with us all. Thank you for this painting. How lucky is that.

I am off to see my chiropractor in a little while; my back feels better after a visit. How lucky is that.

Betty Rose, someone who I have only known for a few months died last week. I will miss her. She was 93 and left behind a loving daughter and granddaughter. To witness the love between the three of them over those months was a gift. How lucky is that.

I hurt my back two weeks ago. Here I am with a body that walks and talks and thinks and cares and loves and acts and heals. I am alive. How lucky is that.

 

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Legacy

As the earth gives us food and air and all the things we need

May I give my heart to caring for all others until all attain awakening

For the good of all sentient beings

May loving kindness be born in me.

I am so grateful for these words, words that I say at the beginning of every day at the end of my morning meditation. They are kind of a wake-up call. A call of compassion. A call of compassion for every single being. A call of compassion for my daughter. My daughter who, more often than not, does not acknowledge me on this day that our society dedicates to mothers. And sometimes I really need that wake-up call. I certainly needed it this year.

Mothers Day. A day I dread. Every. Single. Year. Every single year I get caught. This year was no exception. It started the day before actually. As evening approached I recognized the closed feeling starting to take over my chest. Shutting down. The tightening of my abdomen. The slight nausea. Yup. Mothers Day warning signs. My body doesn’t lie. It’s funny you know, even as I write these words my body is doing its Mothers Day thing. No escaping it.

With the arrival of Mothers Day, before I even got out of bed, I felt my gut clench. Nausea. Fear. I thought: I hate Mothers Day; I hate that I have to go through this every year. I tried to shut off my thoughts. Didn’t work. I should know better. If there is anything that I have learned through my many years of meditating, it is that you can’t stop your thoughts. They just arise as they will and go as they will. I know they are not real. I mean: Where do they come from? Where do they go to? Yup. Definitely not real. Did that help? Not as I lay in bed, dreading my day. And so it began.

As per usual on this day, depression threatened to take over. I crawled out of bed, did my morning ablutions, and made my way to the kitchen. With coffee in hand I headed to the meditation cushion situated in front of the big picture window overlooking our backyard. One thing that I always do, no matter how I feel, is to get my butt onto the cushion.

Grant your blessings so that my mind may be one with the Dharma

Grant your blessings so that Dharma may progress along the path

Grant your blessings so that the path may clarify confusion

Grant your blessings so that confusion may dawn as wisdom.

I quietly repeated these words of the Tibetan Buddhist lineage I follow, words that have been repeated over the centuries by countless others before me, all of us carrying forward a tradition of peace and compassion.

And so I sat. Eyes open. Doing a kind of meditation where I bring my full awareness to the sense doors: ears, eyes, touch, smell, taste, thinking… Feeling the rise and fall of my chest with every breath. My thoughts taking over. Noticing my mind doing this. My emotions reeking havoc. Kind of a loop really. One feeding the other. Still I sat. I kept coming back into the present moment. As I sat there I felt hurt. I felt angry. I was caught. Oh, was I caught. Still I sat. Bringing my awareness back into the present moment, again and again and again.

I noticed a puddle. Raindrops splashed in the puddle, disturbing its mirror-like surface. I heard the piercing call of a red bellied woodpecker. I felt the silkiness of my coffee as it washed over my tongue with every sip. I watched a squirrel munch on something white it had found. I wondered what it was. What a scrawny tail it had. Shifting my awareness from the yard to the window ledge directly in front of me, I noticed the leaves of the Christmas cactus, their spines a foil against the shadows cast from the light coming through the window. A pink flower barely hanging on to its stem on the fuzzy leafed hanging violet.  As I listened to the raindrops patter against the window and noticed the sky darkening in the distance, I realized an hour had passed. My meditation session was coming to a close. What did I feel now? What did I think? I felt sadness. I thought of how my daughter, like me, was a victim of abuse. At the hands of my ex-husband. At the hands of her father.

As the earth gives us food and air and all the things we need

May I give my heart to caring for all others until all attain awakening

For the good of all sentient beings

May loving kindness be born in me.

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A Slow Learner

One day my teacher, Venerable Karma Yeshe Wangpo said to me: “You should teach”. I didn’t. Some weeks passed. Again he said: “You should teach”. Still I didn’t. I guess I am a slow learner. For two whole years he kept saying: “You should teach”. I didn’t tell him, but I was terrified. Who was I to teach? I didn’t know enough. I wasn’t good enough. Nobody would come. I’d screw up. These thoughts were my companions for those two years. Then one day as I sat meditating, something shifted. A great and wonderful sadness filled my heart. It’s not about me. I cried. From somewhere deep inside of me I had touched something that was greater than me and yet at the same time was me.
 
Yeshe said once it wasn’t him teaching. I didn’t get it then. I do now. The One, the Universe, God, Creator, or whatever we call it, manifests through all creation, including this body and mind that I label “me”. He said what was important was that I had touched that wisdom place, and it was from there that I would be guided as I undertook the journey to follow this path of compassion.
 
I got up from the meditation cushion. I now knew. What “I” wanted didn’t matter. My insecurities didn’t matter. My fears didn’t matter. What mattered was really very simple. Compassion. Compassion for others. I felt my heart open wide. My heart was big enough to love others, all others, including the fearful, scared me. How could I not teach?
 
I phoned Yeshe and told him. I went over to his apartment and we talked for two hours. He spoke of many things during that time, including that for as long as he was able, he would always be there for me. And what about “me”? Yes, I was still scared. I would make mistakes. But I would be coming from that open-hearted part of myself that we all have inside of us. Somehow I now knew that if I always tried to come from a place of kindness and genuine caring, that whatever manifested would be okay.
 
Near the end of our chat, something curious happened. Suddenly, what looked like a small picture fell off of the wall where he stood; he caught it. He was quiet for a moment. He looked down at the item in his hand, then at me. He smiled, stepped towards me, and handed me the picture. Puzzled, I looked at what I now held. I can’t even begin to describe what I felt at that moment. As I raised my eyes to meet his gaze, he softly said that Tibetans would consider what had just happened auspicious. Even now, as I recall this story, I feel a sense of wonder, and from somewhere deep inside of me a connection to something I find hard to explain: A feeling that I’m not alone. Of process. Of being guided. Of love.
 
What was the picture? What did I see that day, the day on which I finally let go of the “I” and welcomed the “we”? From a carefully crafted needlework the words stood out: For everything there is a season.
 
Now, many years later, I feel fortunate to still be guiding others. Every day I feel grateful to live where I can connect with the beauty of the Dharma, with my teacher, and with other sangha, as they, as we, make the effort to keep alive a tradition of compassion, a path of peace and of love begun so many centuries ago by the Buddha.
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Love is Forever

     I was meditating this morning. I cried a couple of times. It was a busy meditation session. Lots happening. The happening that ended in tears was my mom. My mom. Sometimes when I look at her wrinkled, beautiful face I want to cradle her in my arms and never let her go. Life is impermanence; I know that. Every person, flower, tree, bird, ant, river, mountain…all of it, ever changing, moment to moment, day to day, year to year, century to century. I just sat there as the sadness took over. Sometimes wrapping my head and heart around her deteriorating mind, around the mother who very slowly, and irrevocably, is disappearing becomes so difficult.
     Dementia. It’s just what is. I know that. At ninety-six she has lived a good life. A happy life. Mom loved life. She didn’t just live it, she engaged with it. I have watched over the last few years all of those engagements disappear. One by one: socializing with friends, playing bridge, enjoying Scrabble, doing puzzles, going for long walks, driving her car, scooting around town on her motorcycle, cycling, camping, synchronized swimming, crafting pottery, and laundry.
     Yes, even laundry. I can’t even begin to count the times that I would arrive for a cup of tea and a chat to encounter her pinning up a blouse or a pair of shorts or a bed-sheet to the clothesline. She’d be all chipper and smiling as she greeted me, clothes gently flapping around her in the breeze. She loved to breathe in that wonderful outdoors smell when she donned a just cleaned blouse, or rested her head on a freshly washed pillowslip as she drifted off to sleep at night. No more.
     It breaks my heart to arrive for a visit mid afternoon to be greeted by her, still pajama clad, hair disheveled, just sitting, doing nothing, on her living room couch. No more will I sit there as she nips into her closet and pulls out clothing, piece after piece, asking me if this color blouse goes with that color pants or no, wait a minute, how about this sweater instead? Did I like the pink top or the mauve one? Did this pair of pants look better than the other pair?
     I encourage her to get dressed when I visit. It’s nice to see her perk up as she comes out of her bedroom in a sweater or shirt rather than a pajama top. I guess that the clothing thing hasn’t quite gone yet.
     My Mom the go-getter. No more. Ironically, her memory might be gone, but she is still cognizant of the fact that her life is empty. She often tells me that she doesn’t know what she’d do without her television. She does still like to watch documentaries on nature and anything medical. She still knows who we all are, we, her children.
     She loves for me to drop by. She always has a cookie to offer me. My mom the  sweetaholic. That certainly has not changed. She still can make a simple cup of tea. Just. She used to love making her regular orange pekoe tea with a bag of Earl Grey added to the pot. No more will I listen to her emphasize to me how much she loves to add that one bag to the other two. I still remember the day I asked her if she wanted me to reach up for her to snag the box of Earl Grey from a high shelf. She just stood there with this blank look on her face.
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Mom and I enjoying William Wegman’s book on Weimaraner dogs.

I do what I can when I visit to brighten her day, arriving with a couple of our favourite cranberry orange scones to nibble on as we chat, a book of cute pictures of Weimaraner dogs that we ooh and ah and laugh over, a book filled with pictures of the Queen Mother through the years that we enjoy together, and an interested ear to listen to her wartime stories.

     My mom. A war bride who came to Canada in 1945. Married my dad, a Canadian soldier she met during World War 2 when he was stationed in Hove where she lived. Three months. That’s all it took. They met. Three months later they married in England. She came over here towards the end of the war, to be joined soon after by my dad. 73 years ago.
     So that’s my Mom who I love with all my heart. This heart that sometimes feels broken. Like this morning when I cried. I feel as though there is a big empty nothing where my heart should be sometimes. I know what it feels like to be rent in two.
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Mom and I sharing the love at Christmas 2017

Please don’t get me wrong. I wouldn’t try to change a thing. What is, is. Life unfolding just as it’s meant to be. But you know what? I am grateful. I have been given the greatest of gifts. When I give her a hug and a peck on the cheek as I prepare to leave after a visit, I can hear the love in her response, see it in the warmth of her eyes, and in her words to be careful that I don’t slip on that icy patch on the sidewalk beside the house. And, as I mentioned before, she still knows who I am. I’m not going to look ahead on that one. Why worry about what hasn’t happened yet? Conjecture isn’t helpful here. That’s a trap I don’t want to enter. I am also not going to get caught up in the mom who no longer is. What’s the point of that? How do I feel when I keep going over, again and again, how my mom used to be? Nope. Definitely not helpful.

Love. Love is now. Love is forever.
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A Gift to Remember

The train screeched and groaned its way onto the platform. Silhouetted against the Christmas lights shining through the windows of the station, the darkened figures dotting the platform gradually came into focus. I squinted, trying to locate them through the foggy vapors billowing back from the engine just ahead. It was December 24th, 1967. Christmas Eve. A happy time. Maybe. Wiping the condensation off the train window with the back of my mittened hand, I watched as his tall stout figure standing next to her short tiny one gradually became visible through the quickly dissipating mist. My stomach finally released me from its grip when I saw their faces. As I looked at them standing there among all the other families waiting for their loved ones, I couldn’t help but notice how much they looked like everybody else. But were they? I had never really thought about it before, but I now wondered how many of those smiling faces masked the kind of tension and unhappiness that hung like a cloud in my parent’s home. That unhappiness had provided the perfect excuse to run away on that Friday almost two months before. I told myself that I did it because my parents were arguing a lot. That was partly true. Some part of me knew better, though. I hadn’t been studying at all and was afraid to face the first of my grade ten secondary school exams on the following Monday. The part of me that knew this stayed buried deep inside.
“Dad.” I said, as I made my way away from the train towards him and my mother. Reaching him, I dropped my suitcase and stepped into the warmth of his hug. As a young child I had loved being enveloped in these arms: The faint scent of Old Spice aftershave. Rough whiskers scratching my face. Some things remain the same.
“Welcome home,” he said, as I pulled away from his embrace to give my mother a hug.
“I’m glad that French family of yours let you off for the holidays,” he said, grabbing my suitcase.
I thought for a moment about that phone call that I had made a month before to let them know I was okay. I remembered acting pretty casual about everything at the time. I had been surprised by the relief in his voice when I told him that I was working as a nanny for a Quebecois family who wanted their children to learn English. I had run away to Toronto first, then to Montreal where I had managed to get the nanny job in Ville D’Anjou after only three weeks. I was glad he cared enough to be worried about me, but didn’t he know that I could take care of myself? I mean, really…at sixteen years old?
As the three of us walked away from the station towards the car, I looked from my dad’s face to my mother’s and couldn’t help but wonder what this Christmas and the days ahead would be like.
Christmas day came and went. All I remember was how awful I felt because I had only received gifts. I had no money as I had yet to get a pay check from my Quebecois family;  I had been unable to buy anyone a gift. Not even something little. Throughout my childhood I had always had my allowances to buy my parents a Christmas gift. Just getting and not giving made me feel empty. My parents understood why I didn’t give gifts. They didn’t seem to mind. That didn’t help me to feel better.
Three days after Christmas found my dad and I making our way across the parking lot of Sayvette’s, a local department store. We had been shopping for a couple of hours. I was enjoying every minute of it.
“Thanks for the new suitcase, dad.” I said, sliding into the car seat beside him. Sitting quietly as he turned into the traffic on Wellington Road, I watched the wipers fight a losing battle with the sheets of rain spreading across the windshield. I felt safe and warm as I leaned back against the headrest.
We talked. I talked about smoking pot and he talked about how the police had not posted my picture in Montreal when I ran away because of the white slave trade.
“What’s the white slave trade?” I asked, looking straight ahead into the darkness outside.
“Men involved in organized crime kidnap young women to use as sex slaves.” He paused for a moment. “They’re kept as prisoners and forced to be prostitutes,” he said, taking his eyes off the road to glance at me. “If they try to escape they are beaten and sometimes killed.”
I turned to look at him, saying nothing. I was thinking once again of that phone call that I had made a month before to let him know I was okay. As I looked at his face, I wished that I had not been so flippant and nonchalant during that earlier conversation.
“Dad.” I finally said, breaking the silence. “I’m really glad to be home. It’s good to see you.”
“Your mother and I both feel the same way about you, Maureen.”
I didn’t want to hear about my mother. In the few days that I had been home, it seemed as though my mother was always picking on me about something.
“If she’s so happy to see me, then how come she keeps getting mad at me?” I asked, an edge in my voice.
Dad then did something that surprised me. He slowed the car and pulled into an empty parking space just in front of the YMCA. With the engine still running, he turned and looked straight at me. Quietly and in an even tone he spoke.
“The reason that your mother is picking fights with you, Maureen, is because she is having trouble dealing with her feelings about your running away. We didn’t know whether you were dead or not. That’s why she is so upset. We both love you a great deal.”
I didn’t say too much for the rest of the drive home. Dad told me how he would prefer it if I moved back home and went back to school, but that if I needed to be away for now, he understood. He just wanted things to be right for me. I could return to school next fall.
In bed that night I thought a lot about our conversation. I was finally aware of just how much my running away must have scared him and my mom. For me it had been an adventure. I had never once stopped to think of how my absence must have affected them. I was also more than a little bit in awe of the fact that my dad had not become angry with me when I had talked about pot. I wanted to see if I could talk to him about anything. None of my friends could talk to their parents like that. I remembered the day a few months before when I had told him that I was going to drop acid. It was about the time that I was beginning to admire him. I was testing him. I did a lot of that. He told me that he didn’t want me to take LSD but that I was an adult now and that being an adult meant that I could make my own choices. He also told me that I would have to be responsible for those choices. If something went wrong with my decision to take the drug, that as an adult, I was fully responsible for the consequences. He would not bail me out. I was pretty impressed. I know now how very hard that conversation must have been for him.
The day after buying the suitcase should have been Christmas day. As I stood with my arm linked through my father’s, waiting for our photograph to be snapped by my mother, I suddenly realized for the first time just how much I loved this man and how very lucky I was to have someone like him for a father.

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Me at 16, my dad, and Mary, my younger sister. The last photograph taken of my dad.

I squeezed his arm because I wanted him to know that I cared. I had never done that before. I felt shy. We weren’t a demonstrative family.

In two days I would be heading back to Montreal. With winter safely locked out behind the icy tapestry decorating the kitchen windowpane, I sat at the table listening to my dad and sipping hot chocolate.
“I lost all my men in Italy.” He said. “I was supposed to go with them, but at the last moment I got orders keeping me in England.” He was silent for a moment. He looked at me as though expecting something.
“I should have been with them.” He said quietly.
My dad was telling one of his war stories. As I sat there, I remained quiet. I didn’t say ‘not again’; I didn’t try to change the subject; I didn’t act bored. I really listened and didn’t try to stop him, even though I had heard this story many times before. For the first time I didn’t care about me and whether or not I was bored. All that mattered was letting him talk because what he was talking about was important to him. He was all that counted. It was wonderful to watch his face and hear the pleasure in his voice as he told his story to someone who wanted to hear. No one ever wanted to listen to his World War II stories, but he would tell them anyway. I would be many years older before I could even begin to comprehend how war altered a human being forever. And how those stories were more than stories. They were a part of what he was.
The day finally came to say good-bye. The drive to the station was a quiet one. As I watched him put my luggage into the train’s overhead storage compartment, I thought about how well things had gone over the holidays. Just before he turned to leave he hugged and kissed me good-bye. I felt embarrassed about kissing him in front of everybody and ashamed about feeling embarrassed. After making sure I was comfortable in my seat, he walked towards the exit, but before he disembarked, he stopped and turned to face me. As I watched him, he looked at me in the strangest way. I have never seen a look like that before on another human being, not then, or now. Ever. I could see the love in his eyes; I could also see incredible sadness. And I saw something else. I didn’t know it then, but that look would haunt me for years.
As the train clacked its way to Toronto I cried quietly. I couldn’t understand why I was so upset. I knew that something in that final look had disturbed me greatly, but why should a facial expression upset me so much? I knew that I would be back again in the near future for a visit. I really should be happy. I couldn’t wait to see my dad again. I wanted to show him how much I cared. The war stories were just a beginning.
Three days later, on January 4th, 1968, my dad died of a massive heart attack.
It is now January 4, 2018. Fifty years have passed. If I close my eyes I can still see him standing next to the kitchen table. I can smell the dampness of the car in that parking lot at Sayvette’s. I can feel his fear at the side of the road. But most importantly, I can still feel the love so evident throughout that final week of his life. Thank you dad for my life and for your love. May you rest in peace.
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Looks ARE Deceiving

I have often thought about the fact that I really don’t know what is going on in another human being’s life, especially when, in my perception (and that is all it is: my perception), that individual is behaving in a negative way. I am grateful for this post; it is well worth sharing. Peace to you all.

going outwords & inwords

We can never know what’s going on for someone else.

I was at the Tuscon airport a couple of days ago, preparing to fly back home here to Montana. I sat down at the terminal, in close enough proximity to a woman who’s cell phone conversation I could hear very readily. She was an attractive woman. Shoulder-length blonde hair, middle-aged. She was sitting at the electronic port station situated in front of a large window overlooking the tarmac. Although there was little I could do not to overhear her conversation, I felt badly for eavesdropping, so I quickened my pace in getting the music going on my iPod. In the meantime, however, I learned that she was leaving her 20-something-year-old son behind, to return back home, after situating him into a rehab. He was not at all well – detoxing, incoherent, unable to care for himself. His girlfriend would be…

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