Sixty-year-old Del Merrickís life is a bit more fraught with tragedy than most, a widow after her husbandís suicide with a younger son who has also died. Only Mark, thirty-seven, is left to grieve with his mother, but Mark has a dual diagnosis - manic-depression and substance abuse. Del and Mark are engaged in a long, slow dance, he through treatment centers and failed attempts at sobriety, she slowly trying to untangle from codependency and enabling behavior.
When the narrative begins, told from Delís perspective and Markís in alternating chapters, a sad drama is exposed, the revolving door of unsuccessful treatments and periods where Del nurtures a secret hope that this time will be different, this time Mark will get it. One more time, Mark is entering treatment, hopefully in line for long-term care. He turns his charm on Del, feeding her the lines she clings to so readily, his junkie brain already assessing, scheming, working to escape his fate for one more dayís reprieve.
Delís narrative is pitch-perfect - the fear that Mark will die, a barely suppressed hope that he will just go away, not be her problem. She works hard at disengaging, their tragic past a nightmare that haunts her ability to say no. His life without the refuge of the needle is unbearable. This family seems as close to despair as you can get, but there is a small nugget of hope, a slight change of direction as mother and son face their choices, the mind-numbing, simple chants of the recovery community reminding them that ďtoday is the first day of the rest of your life.Ē
Mark has sampled it all: detox, the therapeutic community approach, twelve-step programs. He even has a Narcotics Anonymous sponsor, yet the voice of his need is strong, louder than his instinct to survive. Given the family history, it is hard to imagine the mental terrain this young man travels. Clearly the drugs exacerbate any psychological problems.
Del vacillates, escaping for periods of quietude with long-term boyfriend Richard, a self-contained man who does not engage with Delís family problems or with her inability to break free from Mark. Torn between the two, Del yearns for the solace of time with Richard or alone to pursue her drawing but falls back into Markís emotional traps, a need to manage the details that may ease his path to sobriety.
Mark attempts no subterfuge in this story, a fact that is both frustrating and promising in the long term as honesty is critical to recovery. He freely cops to his self-destructive impulses, willing to sell everything he owns for one more fix. How, in all this discordance, is there still hope? It is faint, but it is there.
All too conversant with long-term care and twelve-step programs, Mark achieves a few months clean but falls again, unwilling or unable to sustain his efforts. This is a tragic, familiar story, a family infected with a fatal disease, inching slowly toward recovery for every backwards slide. But life goes on, Delís forgiving heart her greatest flaw, her broken son a burden she cannot lay down to save herself. This is a book that will leave the reader reflecting on the life and death struggle of one family, only one among many. It is a hard, demanding road.