In July 2016, as my mom’s health was failing and we were coming to recognize the reality of her impending death, I first became aware that Roger had a drug problem. When he came to my mom’s birthday party, he was smoking a vape pen (which was a shock to us as Roger had not used any drugs in high school). He was also carrying a small Altoid’s box of pills. When he set this box down on the table, I photographed the contents and went online to identify the pills. I called my friend Mary and cried, not knowing what to do.

Looking back now upon the glimmer of dread that I experienced then, only three months before Roger died of a drug overdose, I wonder and wonder, “What should I have done? What could I have done?”

At the time, I didn’t understand cognitively what was happening to Roger as he was descending into addiction, but I had emotions, feelings and intuition that things were not right. And I trace back the foreboding even earlier. Only a few months before the birthday, when I was visiting my mom for Valentine’s Day, I shared with her my complicated mix of anger, frustration and worry about Roger.

Since the success of his first novel, he had intentionally distanced himself from our family, and we thought it was our fault. He didn’t return phone calls. He had stood me up when I came to visit him in Portland. He seemed angry with us. We didn’t know what it meant. When I explained my feelings, my mom said to me, “I remember this feeling. Frankly, you were a jerk to me when you were in your 20s. He’s full of himself now — like you were when you were at Harvard— but he’ll grow out of it.”

That’s when I found this poem, which I read to my mom out loud. It captured exactly my fears about Roger’s release into the great big world, with its overwhelming challenges. Today this poem breaks me open as I live with my loss, humbled by the reality that I will never hold my precious and irreplaceable son in my arms.

For Julia, In the Deep Water

The instructor we hire
because she does not love you
Leads you into the deep water,
The deep end
Where the water is darker—
Her open, encouraging arms
That never get nearer
Are merciless for your sake.

You will dream this water always
Where nothing draws nearer,
Wasting your valuable breath
You will scream for your mother—
Only your mother is drowning
Forever in the thin air
Down at the deep end.
She is doing nothing,
She never did anything harder.
And I am beside her.

I am beside her in this imagination.
We are waiting
Where the water is darker.
You are over your head,
Screaming, you are learning
Your way toward us,
You are learning how
In the helpless water
It is with our skill
We live in what kills us.

—John N. Morris


2 thoughts on “In the Deep Water

  1. Renee, thank you for your honest and open stories about Roger and your grief. I appreciate the confusion of being a parent and wondering what is normal and what is not. I loved your mother’s comment about how she perceived you to have behaved in ways that distressed or confused her when you were the same age. I think the literature is filled with these stories of children separating from family as they launch into adulthood and then coming back again as they become comfortable with themselves as adults. I’ve seen it with my own children. I’m so sorry that for a tragic moment in his journey he didn’t make it back. Clearly he was much loved. I wish it was different, for you, your family, for him and even for his fans.

    • Terry, your thoughtful reflection means a lot to me. I will always treasure so many wonderful memories from our family time in Massachusetts apple country. Thanks for thinking of me. Love, Renee

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s