A Surprise Ending!

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Last week, we went to spend the after-holiday weekend north of Eureka and Holiday Island. Due to the throngs of tourists, the horse-drawn carriages were operating, despite the heat.

As we went up the scenic loop before leaving town to go to the cabin, we passed a carriage with 10 or 11 middle-aged women enjoying the ride. They were laughing and rocking the carriage with glee. They were dressed identically and were drawing onlooker’s gazes. The driver was keeping a close eye on them, as a couple of the ladies were holding poorly concealed drinks.

A block up the loop, a water main was leaking, and traffic was backed up. I turned around in a narrow driveway and headed back down.

As I took the next corner, my wife gasped in surprise. Ahead of us, we could see that the carriage had overturned, tossing the ladies out. Several were on the grass. The driver was standing next to the carriage, obviously crying a little and upset.

I pulled up next to him and put down my window.

“Hey, there’s no need to cry, sir!” I told him.

My wife looked at me with horror.

“Why not? This could have been fatal,” he said.

“Maybe. But everyone knows there’s no use crying over spilled milf.”

It’s Personal, With Love

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This is not a Father’s Day post.

On the other hand, it is. I just found out this morning that my dad had another child. Were he still alive, he would have found out this morning, too – and I would have been the person telling him. Life is a series of kicks in the face.

All my life, I’ve resisted the revisionist tendencies of much of my family. I revolted against the idea of secrecy and shame. Each of us makes our own decisions and is responsible for the consequences. People misbehave and make terrible decisions.

For the first time, this morning, I wrote, “every person in my immediate family has struggled with the demons of alcohol, drugs, or violence.” Some of their stories weren’t mine to tell, even as the consequences boiled over and tainted my ability to live a good life. Over the last year, I learned that my brother, despite his stunning intelligence, has been a victim for much of his adult life. On the Terry side of my family, every person in my immediate family has led a double life. Many have died prematurely as a result. Just writing this paragraph might have earned a beating in the not-so-distant past. The revelation that some of us lead secret lives (or smaller lives) controlled by our lesser natures is one that seldom gets a warm embrace. We prefer to hide our shadows away from questioning eyes.

None of this is a secret. Everyone close to those family members knew, of course. That’s part of the corrosiveness of alcohol or addiction. Part of my adult fight was trying to reconcile the fact that so many people stood by on the sidelines and angrily pushed me away as I tried to be open and honest about my parents and their brutal hidden lives. It’s my story to tell because I have an equal right to share my steps.

Since I was little, I’ve joked that I must have brothers and sisters out in the world. My dad was unfaithful in every sense of the word. He had notorious affairs with several people. I knew that one day I would be able to say with certainty, “I told you so,” even as a couple of my aunts and uncles angrily told me to shut up. “You ought not to talk about that!” Equally true is the fact that my father ought not to have behaved that way. People close to me have heard me say that my genetics are an infection. I don’t say it with disrespect toward my brother and sister; it’s a fact that is sustained by the carnage of our lives.

Years ago, I started genealogy. I didn’t think it would be interesting to me, even though I love to research. It opened a world to me. I helped many people find lost loved ones, discover their birth certificates, and unlock countless mysteries. Many of those mysteries were buried – or so those involved foolishly thought. I participated in the DNA system early and with optimism. DNA is the blueprint of truth that people can’t control. It is the genie which relentlessly tells us the truth, despite what those who preceded us might have written as history. Alongside DNA, I began to discover the historical record that buttressed my claims about my past. Much of the record contained people’s accounts of crime, abuse, violence and sometimes proud moments. Several of my aunts and uncles died before I compiled a record that would make them wince.

History devours all of us incrementally.

As the unofficial family historian, I’ve never shied from directly admitting what happened behind closed doors. It’s caused some discomfort and anger.

And so…

After years of relentless diligence, it finally happened: through DNA, I discovered that I have a half-sister out in the world. This discovery just happened. It’s raw and fresh in my mind. I can’t imagine what my half-sister is experiencing. I have a million questions, of course. Luckily for her, she can use my ancestry treasures and written accounts to jump right into the lives that she wasn’t able to experience. I warned her that demons possessed my father. I’m not one to gloss over the terrain that makes people uncomfortable. I’ve given my dad a long eulogy, one punctuated by bitter truth.

Her mom was very young when she was with my dad. The liaison happened in the early 70s after my dad was in prison and had returned to Monroe County, Arkansas. He’d barely survived a DWI accident that killed my cousin. I know nothing about my new half-sister’s mother or other family. It’s probably best at this point as she comes to terms with unintentionally finding an entire family in the world.

I don’t have all the details. Part of the uncertainty is that the woman in question didn’t expect to ‘find’ relatives, much less someone like me with a full arsenal of DNA results and extensive family history for her. I don’t even know her name yet.

Ironically, I found confirmation on Father’s Day, a holiday that was no more real than a unicorn in my family. My dad died over 25 years ago. He would laugh. Whether that makes him human or a monster I’m not sure.

I am both confused and happy. Most of my glee is for my half-sister who found the road she was seeking. What she does with it is entirely her choice. That’s entirely the point of DNA and family history. None of us had a choice regarding who brought us to this world, and many of us would desperately love to be able to change those choices. It’s not our fault. Whether our parents were doctors or assassins, we are guiltless in our existence.

I wish I could grant amnesty to all those children who grow up feeling responsible for the people behind them.

For those of you who have good families, it probably seems a bit exotic to think about these situations. Many of us flee in self-protection from our family. All of us would prefer the warm embrace of people who value and love us. Unfortunately, much of the world operates on a stranger wavelength.

It’s no insult to say that my original sister and I are incompatible. I’m not one for anger, drama, and instability. It might make her angry to see this truth written out – but it is true in a way that no one can deny. As for my brother, he wisely moved away when he was younger. Over the years, our connection lessened. A few years ago, we went through an intense and disruptive episode that broke something in me. I didn’t know at the time how much he was suffering from addiction. I knew but didn’t ‘know,’ much in the way that each of us later wonders how all of us avoided connecting the painful dots.

Now that the day has come that I might have a connection to another sister, it is news that I can’t share meaningfully. Mom and dad are both dead. My sister is in exile for my sanity, and my brother is struggling merely to live another year.

You might say, “None of that is your place to say, X.” You’re wrong, though. I have earned the right.

I don’t know what, if anything, will come of my discovery of a new half-sister. I wish my brother Mike were in his right mind, though. We share a deep and incisive bond of dark humor and irony. Since he’s been at the brink of death, he has passed a lot of time with me recounting the old stories. Shared history acquires a more profound meaning when you realize that your time in it is diminishing rapidly. In the last few months, Mike has read all my family lore and stories and relished them. He knows how strongly the gravity of what we came from has affected us.

I hope that my new half-sister waits a long time to meet my original sister. While I am by no means able to claim normalcy, I’m foolishly confident that I am the best ambassador to the family.

To anyone reading this, I hope each resists the urge to ‘find’ my new half-sister. She gets the right to decide when or if she opens the door. I wish her peace regardless of her timeline.

To the new half-sister I don’t even know by name, I wish that Father’s Day were one of joy for you. I wish that life had been different for us all and that all of us could sit at a table and wonder about what might have been. Each paid the price of our common ancestor. We never stop paying.

We also never stop hoping, though, either, not if we share a common humanity.

There Are No Small Deaths

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This post is in defense of those who have connections with other people we don’t understand. As I hope we’ve all experienced, it’s possible to meet a person and ‘get’ them, as if we are estranged best friends. Some of these bonds are stronger than those of family. It’s possible to feel closer to one’s fourth cousin than one’s grandmother. Bit players in our lives often morph into the main actors. By living in reverse, we don’t see their importance until they’ve stepped out and away from our lives.

Only the person experiencing the feelings of loss at a person’s passing knows to what depth those feelings reach. Tendrils of connection are often invisible, incomprehensible, and unknowable. It’s important that we abandon the false expectation that we understand the loss someone else is processing.

There are no small deaths.

Even with my best arsenal of words and passion, I sometimes struggle to describe the nuances of another person and their importance accurately. That’s the best-case scenario even when I’m communicating with someone who shares a great deal of humanity. It’s a fool’s errand with those who lack a common understanding.

When a person commits suicide, it’s human to question all your choices, as well as your attention to the person who has left us. Even without the shadow of self-harm, we tend to experience a depth of introspection when we lose someone.

Whether it’s fair or not, suicide strikes us an accusation. We have to give space to those who need more time to find first gear again. Implying that the loss isn’t a reason to grieve is an unacceptable reaction.

Because of the invisibility of many of these connections, one of the most traitorous acts you can do is to doubt or question whether the relationship was real when another person is suffering from the unexpected rupture and loss. “Did you know him or her very well?” or “Were you ‘friend’ friends?” both serve to undermine and accentuate the pain of the other human being you’re inadvertently demeaning.

“Only the spoon knows what is stirring in the pot” is one of my favorite clichés precisely because it reminds me that I’m not privy to all the information contained in a situation or between people. I’ve committed the error of assuming I know. Worse, I’ve judged people based on what I perceive as only imagined depth. Because I’m human and stupid at times, I fear that I’ll do it again.

A typical example of callousness is when someone says, “It was only a dog” in reaction to someone’s disabling sorrow at losing a pet. Such shallow and meaningless comments only serve to highlight the accuser’s fractured self. We should feel compassion for them, as they’ve been deprived of a pleasure in life that they’ll never understand. It was indeed ‘only’ a dog. The greater truth is that a human being had a deep love for that dog. You’re not demeaning the dog; instead, you’re demeaning another human being’s choices and authentic feelings. From the right perspective, such an attitude is monstrous.

Likewise, when people are involved, the callous person can’t know the person they doubt shared a bond with you. The connection isn’t measurable. We can’t see the swell of your heart or the yearning you wish upon the Earth to have this person inhabit your space again. Grief makes even the best of people uncomfortable. As you learn with age, it also unhinges people who have no foundation to come to terms with the helpless sorrow they see from other people.

Perhaps the person who passed once took a moment and literally reached out to let you know that you were seen, measured, and appreciated. Whether you were indeed at your rock bottom, their outstretched hand and openness pulled you out of the abyss. These moments create a bond that’s difficult to inventory – and treasured forever. Because these moments are often private and held close, those left behind are often the only witness to their measure.

As people die, it’s important to remember that grief is terrible, personal, and unknowable. Each time we’re the one experiencing the loss, if we are lucky, we suddenly remember the lesson of connection.

Time, with its caress and embrace, imperceptibly diminishes our pain, even as it prepares us for the next dark surprise.
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*…written for someone struggling with friends who don’t understand the loss…
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A Mixed Bag

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My cat Güino took umbrage with the fact that Dawn impugned his character this afternoon. Per the left picture, my wife Dawn noted on my chalkboard that I shouldn’t wake ‘the monster.’ When I opened the door this afternoon, Mr. Monster had already jumped up to warmly greet me. As you can clearly see in the right picture, Güino then proceeded to explain why Dawn’s comments were libelous. “Incredulous” best describes his level of chagrin with the mistress of the house. The cat and I had a good laugh together as he told me that he was going to leave extra litter on her side of the bed tonight.

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I now have stained hardwood floors, thanks to Incontinent Bob.

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Idea for poultry marketing: using the 80s slogan “Where’s The Beef?” I think the poultry industry should adopt my version… “Where’s The Beak?”

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“Jerk!” He yelled at me.

“Are you accusing me of identity theft?” I asked.

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*Life is like a glass of chess.

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The Huevos Rancheros tasted too authentic. I’m pretty sure I saw a clump of manure in there. Thanks for the recommendation, though.

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“…his face was a topographic and cartographic wonder…” – from the book “Write Good,” regarding polite methods of describing dermatological afflictions.

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gingivitis

Gingivitis
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I signed my first artist to my label: Gwen Campbell. It’s an all-female country cover band.

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Some nitwit keeps placing googly eyes on the stair diagrams. I wonder when I’m going to deplete my supply of googly eyes?
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I wrote the best joke ever written a few minutes ago.
This isn’t the joke.
This is the tribute.

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I watched the horizon to the north as huge lightning bolts illuminated the towering clouds. At 4 a.m. nothing was as it seemed. A couple of hours later, I stand inside, immobile, as the sky bombs the roof. Nothing has changed. Except for everything.

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The look on the doctor’s face when he saw the phlebotomy band-aid on my neck… I asked him, “Where did the blood tech get trained? Is it safe to do blood draws from the neck?” P.S. They should be paying ME for the entertainment.

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Apparently, “Dothraki” isn’t what the doctor’s office envisioned under the ‘Preferred Language’ area of the patient data chart.

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Custom Diamond Painting

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I inadvertently ordered a custom diamond painting that is 40 X 60 cm, which is either about 16 X 20 inches or 0.0020202 X 0.00252525 furlongs, depending on how weirdly you enjoy your specifications. Dawn completed several ‘out-of-the-box’ ones, so I thought I’d surprise her with one I designed.

I should have used a cutout template, as the picture I submitted contained a mass of colors and details that I didn’t take into account. I’m sure Dawn passed out for a second when she first discovered the number of colors and noted the thousands of diamond squares required. I tried counting the squares but kept getting lost at 8,234.

Months later, she’s finished with the herculean artwork. She passed many hours at the kitchen table, hunched over with an applicator pen and a magnifying glass. If you’re searching for a hobby which will either delight or terrorize, this one is for you.

The picture is based on one I created. Dawn’s image was at an event in Fayetteville, while I am wearing one of the most handsome ensembles from the Handmaid’s Tale Collection. We already own a similar wood-panel version of the picture. It’s available for sale for $120,000 if there’s a potential lunatic buyer out there.

After Dawn finished the painting, we made our first attempt at sealing the canvas, using DecoArt triple-glaze to enclose it. Luckily, it worked fantastically, even with me doing the application. Note to those who once enjoyed eating Elmer’s glue: this stuff does not have any appetizing elements in it.

I bought a great frame from Hobby Lobotomy and placed it on the wall of honor near our bar and fairy door. (We rarely see our pixie/fairy named Crowder anymore.)

One picture is of the finished painting on the kitchen table. The other is of it hanging on the living room wall. You’ll note that I overcame my otherwise professional perfectionism and used a picture that reflects the picture window at the front of the house. At my age, it’s risky wasting precious time getting the camera just right.

 

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Note: there is a huge difference in comfort between diamond paintings using square vs. round tiles.

My wife prefers round, for a variety of reasons.

DecoArt TG01-36 Triple Thick Gloss Glaze, 8-ounce Triple Thick Gloss Glaze is what we used to seal the canvas. 8 ounces is more than enough to do a 16 X 20″ painting. You can use it on other things, too, if you’re interested.

I personally think it’s acceptable to leave many of the colors unfilled. I’m hoping my wife will do a diamond painting with the main parts finished and allow me to hand paint the gaps with either white or corresponding colors. I can imagine several creative alternatives to an intentionally finished diamond painting.

 

The Bathrobe Rule

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The Bathrobe Rule:
Some things need only to be seen once.

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Only after writing this to encompass a variety of situations did the overwhelming interpretation occur to me. A given movie: once. A particular place: once. A neighbor taking the garbage out in the assumed cover of darkness while wearing a deficient bathrobe: once

 

It Was Everything

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He sat there in the warm embrace of the relentless sun. The breeze brought a touch of cool relief but also wafted across us laden with the scent of the fast food of the golden arches. The blue sky above might as well have been a lifeless ceiling.

He wasn’t asking for anything, much less my attention. His clothes were dirty, and his posture was one of a young man who’d already done more than his share. It was palpable.

Our mornings were orphans now; his due to monotonous work and mine from the disconnect of knowing he was probably dreading a repetition of the same tomorrow.

Ignoring my fear of injury to his pride, I approached and asked if he was okay.

“Waiting to go do some more work,” he said. “My buddies went for lunch and I haven’t earned enough to eat.”

I solved his lunch problem. And probably his supper problem too, the one waiting for a solution after he’d finish working much later.

“Thanks. I never ask for anything.” He looked me in the eye, and I knew he was telling the proud truth.

I nodded, in fear I might I burst into inexplicable tears. I walked back to my car.

He went inside the store next to his perch. Moments later, he exited, tearing the package of his lunch with his teeth and inhaling half of whatever sandwich hid within. In his other hand, he had a large bottle of water. He gulped half of it as he stood there, looking up at the overcast blue sky as if it had just appeared above him.

A couple of minutes later, a beat-up small pickup truck pulled up and the young man jumped into the bed. I could see lawn equipment protruding above the edge of the bed. They drove off without exchanging a word.

I can’t help the sinister cloud enveloping my brother’s sanity. I can’t erase the past or retrieve angry words exchanged in the course of my steps.

I solved the stranger’s problem, though, even if it was not mine to approach.

It’s a nice day, I agree, even as we individually navigate the inevitable perils waiting to befall us.

The Etiquette Practicality Exception

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I still see many posts about manners and etiquette. One of them that invariably makes the lists: “Always use a person’s last name until you know them well enough or they say it is okay to use another.”

Pure manure.

One big problem with etiquette is that it’s based on past customs and behavior. Additionally, across cultures, countries, and societies, etiquette demands vary wildly.

It’s hard for some people to imagine, but there are quite a few people whose entire legal name consists of one name. Also, it is no social faux pas to have trouble attempting to remember or pronounce many of the world’s names. We should stop beating up on one another when no malice was intended, even as we botch names in our daily lives. Some names are akin to a mouthful of consonants and live crickets.

The ongoing attempt to insist that there is a single method of etiquette and politeness is absurd and almost bigoted. If you live inside a regimented or closed society, perhaps it is possible to assume that there might be one infallible way to ensure you’re behaving according to a particular imaginary list of societal demands. Otherwise, it’s a rodeo out there in the world.

Using a person’s last name requires you to know whether they’re married, male or female, and a couple of other variables. (Unless you’re a barbarian and saunter around calling people strictly by their last names, such as “Johnson!” or “Gonzalez.”) Ms., Mrs. ma’am, and Mr. are not the simple labels they once were.

Whether the older generation agrees or not, we’re changing the way we use titles and pronouns – and in ways they never imagined. It’s presumptuous to assume we know the other person’s pronoun or marital status. As I rapidly approach dinosaur status myself, I find myself needing to learn new manners and ways to extract my foot from my mouth. I strive to stop thinking that I ‘know’ the rules that are emerging in life. I don’t, precisely because the rules are a moving target.

We’re all equal. Using a person’s first name does not reveal a lack of respect or an overdeveloped sense of familiarity with the other person. It does, however, demonstrate that we are capable of unilaterally agreeing that a person’s name is, in fact, the label with which they identify. If the person in question wishes to be called an alternate name, they should politely say so. It would also help if people stopped using names as vanity devices or as ammunition in conversations. It’s worth noting that it’s bad form to call someone by a different name or label after they’ve asked you to use another one in their regard.

If we are introduced to someone as ‘Mark Hemmington,’ the only other argument to be made is that we should address them by their full name. That’s a bit unwieldy. Why not insist on using their entire legal name, even if it an absurd array of three, four, or five names? I’m one of the smart ones. I have two names, both spelled phonetically, and only have a surname from necessity. My name is the same in public, on my birth certificate, and on my identification. I don’t use nicknames, titles, or further naming devices to confound those around me. Some people indeed use some rather base nicknames in my regard; that’s another issue.

I don’t mean disrespect if I fail to use an expected title. It’s more comfortable as a society to accept a default of no harm or ill will intended.

I don’t kneel to royalty and don’t consider a senator or president to be anything other than an elected employee we collectively chose to do a job as our representative. Judges are legal experts, not demi-gods of virtue. Police aren’t officers; they are public servants whose dangerous and complicated jobs give them the authority and responsibility to keep us safe. Anyone in those professions who angrily demand conformity or obedience in regards to their title needs to remember humility as a virtue.

I have learned to distrust anyone with a reverence for titles.

I don’t call my personal physician “Doctor.” Financial transactions don’t require an element of inequality. I’m thankful that doctors are well-trained and able to help me. I’m paying for that service – and it is their job. Until the day we call all occupations by their respective vocational title, I think it’s objectionable to anyone to demand the title before their name. Carpenter Joe. Plumber Jim. Teacher Jill. All trained professionals. We need doctors desperately, but we also need people to pick up our trash, fix our vehicles, and keep us from drowning in sink water.

As always, I don’t expect my arguments to be perfect. I don’t defend these ideas with a fiery passion. I do, however, know there’s a strong element of truth running through the points I’ve made in this post.

As a person with a peculiar name and an aversion to bending a knee to titles, I watch in keen observation as society struggles with our out-dated naming conventions.