Shortly after reading Robin, a factual and detailed recount of the ghostly existence of Robin Williams, my recently purchased copy of The Way We Stay landed in my lap right before the August long weekend. Like the cover’s single-line drawing of a mother and son connected by hand and heart, both titles are tied up in addiction. But Cere Demuth’s memoir is a lived and breathed accounting of all that’s typically unsaid behind the hours and dates that give some years and take others.
Drug addiction might be a parent’s worst fear, and then the other monstrous dread that likely follows in close succession is the question of recovery. Is it possible? Will it last? Can the cagey and oppositional experience with an only son’s fickle and disappointing chemical affair be wrestled into cautious optimism?
Aside from an outlier Wikipedia source for facts about the Vietnam War and the Women’s Rights Movement during the time of her parent’s participation in extreme underground political groups, Cere’s credibility doesn’t need any references. Her experiences with single- and teenaged motherhood, trauma, and working as a small-town psychotherapist among her son’s widely known addictions is, well, more qualification than anyone wants.
The author of Robin, while creating a rigorous and lengthy biography of Robin Williams, simultaneously deconstructed Robin into a million different disappointments, probably as many voices as Robin played at. He seems to think that no one quite got all of Robin, that as outgoing and forward and even sexually aggressive as Robin apparently was, he hid his one and truest persona – his own. Sadly, after all his efforts, the author perseverates suicide as a criminal act, describing it as something that Robin “committed.” If you change two things about how you talk about suicide, make it this – first, talk about suicide. Then, remember that people die by suicide, they don’t commit it like a criminal or heretic.
For Cere Demuth, The Way We Stay is an anthem of pain and very clearly no magic pill for families dealing with addiction, because even though the book ends, the story doesn’t.
None of our stories do. Not even the reserved ones of Robin.
You and I might not be fluent in the patterns of meth and pot and OxyContin and heroin in the veins and volatility of loved ones, but if your heart has ever pounded with confusion about your parenting, marriage, or friendships, The Way We Stay will remind you to breathe.
Breathing is the way we labour children and lift weights.
Breathing is the way we swim, step on stage, and have sex.
It’s the way we live.
I finished the last chapters of Cere’s book outside, pacing among the dogs. They held their place on the grass and as I turned the last page, I sat down beside them and sighed.
We all hold old pain inside us, but as long as we live, we still have hope.