Warren Holleman

Casseroles and Conversations

2017 was a heartbreaking year for our family.
To start things off, my wife’s parents–both of them!–were diagnosed with terminal illnesses. We spent the next few months immersed in the painful, complex process of transitioning them to home hospice care and beginning to face and grieve the prospect of their deaths.
In the midst of this, Hurricane Harvey began heading towards Houston, our hometown. My wife, Marsha, drove to her parents’ ranch, south of the city, intending to bring them back to our home, on higher ground. But the heavy rains arrived a day earlier than expected, trapping Marsha and her parents for three terrifying days and nights in their flooded house.

Recovery Room

Warren Holleman

We’re sitting in a circle: seven women and me. Most are in their thirties and forties, and in their second, third or fourth month of sobriety. They look professional in the suits they’ve assembled from the donations closet of our inner-city recovery center.

I start things off by reminding everyone that this is the last day of the group. The last hour, in fact.

All eyes turn to Dorothy.

Dorothy is a proud woman, tall and tough and strong. And a former track and field star, although now she’s wheelchair-bound.

She speaks in a deep, husky, monotone punctuated occasionally by dramatic earthquakes–otherwise known as spastic tremors. But in all this time, she’s avoided talking about herself, fueling the suspicion that she’s hiding something really interesting.

I feel tense. Dorothy was assigned to me for individual therapy, but she hasn’t opened up with me, either. I tried showing her how to construct a family genogram, thinking that something tactile might resonate. She played along, but I could see she wasn’t buying it.

“Five years ago,” she tells us, “I got shot in the spine. Yeah.”

The other women fire questions: “How did you get shot?” “How do you take …

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Girl Talk

Warren Holleman

“I got pregnant. Quit sports, quit school. Quit all my dreams.”

Brenda looks fit and handsome, despite the scar running down the middle of her face. At six feet tall, she commands respect, even though her sweet, high-pitched voice belies her imposing physique.

We are sitting in a circle: Brenda, six other women and me. Most are in their thirties and forties, and in their fourth or fifth month of sobriety. They look professional in the suits they’ve assembled from the donations closet of our inner-city recovery center.

No one is surprised when Brenda says that, twenty years ago, she trained for the U.S. Olympic volleyball team.

“Did you ever compete again?” someone asks.

“Nope.”

“Why not?”

Brenda shakes her head. The group gives her a moment to think about it, to grieve the loss.

“Later, I took up tennis. I was pretty good! Won lots of tournaments. You know, local stuff.”

Brenda pauses, then continues. “The people I played with, they were doctors, lawyers, people like that. Which was kinda cool. But this was the Eighties, and everybody was using powder cocaine. You know what I mean?”

The older ladies do know what she means. They nod …

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