Monday, August 10, 2009

Washington Social Diary

Credit: The Journal News.
By Carol Joynt

The Taconic State Parkway may be more than 200 miles away from Washington but its impossible not to be drawn to the story of Diane Schuler, the Long Island woman who went from “every mother” to “death driver” in one toxicology report. The distance between the two may not be that vast. Schuler’s family and friends appear to be genuinely stunned that she was drunk and stoned in the middle of the day when she drove the wrong way and plowed head on into another vehicle, killing herself and seven others.

The family is debating the official autopsy, which shows no underlying medical excuse for what she did, claiming there had to be some other reason for her to become essentially a woman weaponized by the combination of alcohol, wheels and weed.

Diane and Daniel Schuler (Newsday credited this as Newsday/Handout Photo.)
“She did not drink. She was not an alcoholic. Something medical had to have happened. I never saw her drunk since the day I met her.” The flailing words of a husband who’s lying through his teeth, in denial, or never knew his wife. Which is worse?

Daniel Schuler wouldn’t be the first married person to be the last to know that the loved one he had coffee with in the morning and slept beside at night had a secret. It’s not the same thing, my husband didn’t kill anyone, but I was married to him for two decades and didn’t find out until after he died that he was under investigation for criminal tax fraud. He was flawed. He had a secret. I didn’t know. Was Diane Schuler also flawed by a secret?

I look around me, the women I encounter, my neighbors and friends, and I think we’ve moved more backward than forward from Jacqueline Susann’s “Valley of the Dolls.” Her flawed women let it hang out; loudly and aggressively boozing and popping pills, weaving and wobbling through their unhappy lives. That was 1966. To borrow from Thoreau, in 2009 many women “lead lives of quiet desperation” and they aren’t in the gutter or sitting on a barstool. They could be in a minivan on the highway coming your way. They’re in the carpool line, the grocery line, waiting in the pediatrician’s office, holding a job, getting a little Botox, making dinner, dropping off and picking up at the game, chairing the auction committee, getting the gray roots covered, handling the family bill paying and listening patiently as a husband talks about his hard day.

But, and more than anyone admits, some of these same “responsible” women hit the water pipe, roll a blunt or eat a loaded brownie soon after husband and children are out of the house, or keep the day delightful with Percocet or Vicodin, or Vodka or Pinot Grigio. The drugs are a baseline buzz; the alcohol is for lunch with friends, evenings, dinner with hubby. The routine is equally doable with an office job. They manage it. The goal is to be just high enough to maintain a workable level of oblivion, to put a little filler in the wrinkle called despair.
I have a friend who keeps her cache of pills in little velvet bags along with the jewelry in her walk-in closet, another who gets a work out and weed from her tennis instructor at the country club, another whose dentist is generous with the Vicodin prescriptions, and quite a few who also quietly drink. All these women drive, and all are mothers. Sometimes I imagine a daytime satellite shot of Georgetown that would show little female figures in gardens with puffs of smoke around their heads.

The secret is to keep it secret and to hold it together. Women are good at that, until they’re not. A woman with a secret is all alone. She has no lifeline. A friend, also a mother and wife, used to do coke in the bathroom at work until she found herself writing little paranoid notes in tiny script on index cards. Her scrawled message was that she had no one. She sought help and got divorced. An acquaintance out west did three tries at Betty Ford before walking out of her marriage to stay sober. Was it his fault, her fault? Who knows? She was flawed. He didn’t want to admit it. She had to. She became her own lifeline.

It’s impossible for me to know what was going on with Diane Schuler, but I want to know. I want to know if the drive back from the campground, with a car full of children, was a routine drive for her - were all her drives enhanced with drugs or booze or both? Or was this the day she hit the breaking point, the day she couldn’t hold it all together, and since it was her secret, she didn’t have a lifeline?
Carol is the host of The Q&A Cafe in Washington, D.C. Visit her at: