Category Archives: Biographical

The Mooch

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What is the polite way to tell someone that people refer to them as “The Mooch” behind their backs? Answer: “There isn’t one.” Even if you’re right, trying to tell someone this can only result in anger. Even expert mooches don’t seem themselves in this light, much in the same way that prejudice blinds the holder from its influence. Such behavior becomes background noise for them .

I’d been at the fringes of this experience before, usually informally and always with one or two other people. Mooches tend to evolve into the habit. They learn the subtle ways to misdirect people or to convince them they’re being unfair.

I was in South Dakota with my wife, Deanne, long deceased. She had a huge Catholic family. Being with them in a group was at times like attending a party with gregarious and funny people who were always one joke ahead of you.

Several of us gathered at a bar/eatery in a mall in South Dakota. One of Deanne’s uncles made a comment about money and tipping. Another one piped in and laughed. He said, “Man, that makes me really miss -James-.”  (I changed his name to protect his anonymity.)

An Aunt immediately said, “What a mooch!” As she pronounced the last word ‘mooch,’ 4 or 5 other people at the table said the word ‘mooch’ in unison with her. It was a hilarious and jarring moment. I looked around the table and most of them noted the incredulity on my face.

They sang it in the same way that the characters on “Letterkenny” say “To Be Fair…” each time the phrase is uttered.

-James- wasn’t a blood relation to them. He’d been around the family often, though.

An uncle said, “I guess X here didn’t know we all call -James- “The Mooch” anytime we mention him?” I shook my head no. “Well, let me tell you some stories…”

For the next 15 minutes, all of them told an increasingly incredible series of “Mooch” stories. Forgotten wallets, lost $20 bills, requests to pay them back later, extra pizzas added to orders without asking and never repaid, one-night stays that turned into weeks, requests for double meat tacos, siphoned gas ‘because what mine is yours,’ among others.

The oldest uncle said, “X, watch out. He’ll trick you with his niceness and you will be trapped in an ever-larger cycle of loans that aren’t repaid and a helping hand that will get bitten. He’s done it to us all. We have all been marks at one point or another. Weirdly, he can be a fun guy, but it’s always about the angle with him.”

Over the years, I compiled quite a list of equally ridiculous mooching behavior from -James-. The uncle wasn’t wrong.

The Mooch in question grew older to become a conservative who bitterly complains about rich people, poor people living off the government, or anyone who was getting something he wouldn’t. A long series of jobs, a long series of financial missteps, repossessed vehicles, and unexpected involuntary moves from one place to another punctuate The Mooch’s life.

There’s no moral to this story and not much of a narrative. Perfectionism is tiresome to me. I was thinking about -James- today and hoping his bitter attitude had evolved.

I’ve not heard the word ‘mooch’ in the last 20 years without thinking about -James- and the eagerness with which people who knew him shared stories about it.

I cringe a bit, knowing that in a way I can’t see, I’m probably a little bit “-James-, ” too.

If -James- were to read this, he’d be very angry.

I’m certain that he’d be violently upset to discover that an entire clan of people equate him with the living embodiment of “The Mooch.” It’s not the most enviable way to be remembered.

 

Burns of Denial

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When my wife died suddenly several years ago, I opted for an awkward visitation after her cremation. I know it was awkward; such things were not common, especially in the Venn diagram of the converging families affected by her death. Many of her family were Catholic; a few of those hid behind their Catholicism to attempt to blame their dislike of cremation. To be fair, I didn’t care. In my case, I was lucky. The death of a maternal uncle about a month before had crystallized any doubts what my wife wanted if she died. She loved the Catholic church through her grandmother’s eyes; she rejected in the world at large. Her displeasure with it took on its own life when she observed some of her family members use it as a disguise for the things that infected them.

Though it strays from the theme of this post, one of the first serious conversations I had with her involved her dad. Her youth was punctuated by heartache. Both parents were not appropriately tuned in to their kids. She was the youngest of a series of children born to a mix of fathers. Both misbehaved; the mom especially led a promiscuous lifestyle. I convinced my wife that she would almost certainly reach a point where she could sit in a room and laugh with her dad. That day came before her death. It wasn’t perfect, but it was miles from where they’d started.

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Deanne with her dad Ralph…

Even though it made some people uncomfortable, for the visitation I had a table with letters, photos, and both mementos and moments for people to see. Like it or not, none of us are prepared for the unreasonable demands of sudden death, especially when young.

Someone familiar with my story and the players involved told me a story I keep forgetting. Her accounting of memories and happenings is much stronger than mine – though she would not agree with me saying so.

When she attended my wife’s visitation, the wife of my biggest critic turned to her and mentioned the cigarette burns on her husband’s back, ones earned during his abusive childhood.

I wasn’t a part of the conversation. Although I was told the story before, it slipped out of my mind as things do.

It was such an odd time to bring it up.

It was an odd and unrequested topic, too.

Given the recent uptick in unsolicited criticism, it echoes in my mind as a benchmark for so much.

I felt like I should share this story.

Because the story comes from someone unimpeachable, it seems important that the wife would later attempt a hard right turn into becoming a revisionist regarding any abuse.

The abused themselves do this with an astonishing frequency.

A Forgotten Monday

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Moments before, I’d been crouched against the dry, brittle earth as I pried it loose in a 16″ square, throwing the depth of removed dirt into a large bucket. I’ve been engaged in a methodical war with the ground along the back fence since I started my infinite project. Stone by stone, my bites of the earth growing larger as the squares I use become heavier and thicker.

The virus has involuntarily trained me to tolerate being hot and uncomfortable. At work, it is for safety; at home, it is for the war I declared on the ugliness left by my neighbors. Today, I stayed in my work clothes. Often they get so filthy that I must wash them unaccompanied in the washer when I’m done.

Though it was late in the day, I went outside and began the slow process of gouging rectangular templates in the ground. The work for Monday at my job was relentless. As contradictory as it may sound, working on the infernal yard project has probably saved me from a bit of insanity. My job does not reflect who I am and leaves me bone-weary some days but unsatisfied that I’ve accomplished anything real. I suspect it is a malady shared by many of my contemporaries, and one amplified by the virus intruding upon us.

Though working in the dirt tires me even further, it also rejuvenates me. There are no conflicts, no agendas, and no uncertainties.

After finishing my first large stone, drops began to hit me in the head and neck, dissipating instantaneously. I left my hat in the house, where I’d left it last time to dry and harden back to normal shape. A breeze lifted from the void and billowed my work shirt around me.

I walked over to the remainder of the old chain link and barbed wire fence and leaned against it. I stood there, my face upturned into the advancing rain and wind. As the droplets increased, dozens of dragonflies began their dance of pirouetting into the air to catch gnats, flies, and other insects as the rain brought them from the dense grass of the neighbor’s lawn behind me.

Because my clothes and shoes were already dirty, I stood for several minutes as the rain advanced and peppered me. The temperature dropped, and goosebumps rose along my arms and back. The dragonflies scattered from the other yard and began to circle around me and through the links in the fence.

I couldn’t help but smile.

The Monday accumulated behind me disappeared completely as I lost myself in the simple pleasure of the dragonflies and rain.

 

The Broken Record Is Renewed

For those who wanted a simple timeline, instead of my endless commentary. Names have been changed to protect whoever wants such protection.

One part of my motive for this blog was to share my stories and cement my stories so that revisionists couldn’t later do what they do when attempting to silence someone doesn’t work.

This isn’t going to be perfect. I’m leaving out huge gaps of nuttiness and drama.

People who read this blog won’t know who is being discussed unless they have a Ouija board or an exceptional dossier on the thousands of people in my life.

Earlier this week, my family member (who I will call Mark) created more identities and emails to attempt to interact with my blog. I already have a large list of blocked IP addresses, aliases, and emails he’s used previously. Though I can screenshot them, only people in denial would claim I’m making it up. I’ve shown it to a couple of people, ones who are familiar with the long pattern of anger and addiction that I’ve dealt with.

Mark was always a blowhard. When he was younger, his wit and intelligence were formidable. As his personality hardened, he became a victim to his own assuredness and secrets. We had a lot of great moments. To talk about the ones that diminish him does not negate that great moments occur. Mark hated my outspoken nature, especially when it walked over family honor. (Or dishonor.) Throughout most of his adult life, he was angry. Addiction did not help him in this regard. Whether anyone wants to hear it or not, his legacy will be one of anger and discord. There will be those who point the finger at me. Those who know me know that my life isn’t punctuated by this sort of addiction or constant refueling of anger and drama. It’s pointless.

When Mark resurfaces and starts in on me, he usually has a commensurate reaction in his personal life. When people get out their flamethrowers, they tend to scorch everyone. Previously, I let his wife know. (I’ll call her Jolene.)

I wrote Jolene a simple email to let her know Mark was at it again.

She responded angrily and with a swatch of allegations regarding my motive, character, and credibility.

I replied back, saying I wasn’t going to reply in anger, given that it wouldn’t help anyone, much less either of us.

She replied again, doubling down on her accusations. The email was boiled in anger. I could post the email chain here with names edited. It’s obvious when reading them who is suffering. And although Jolene wouldn’t want to hear it from me now,  I still feel a profound sense of loss and empathy for her and those who grew up in Mark’s sphere.

It has nothing to do with morality, superiority, or any of those accusatory defenses. It’s simply a matter of life not well-lived.

I replied a final time, using a short 3-sentence reply, one absent rancor, or accusation.

I went a long time without interacting with my Mark. In 2013, while I was helping to care for a cousin who was dying of cancer, Mark launched an all-out campaign to threaten me. It was effective. He worked in a job that gave him great ability to follow through on his threats and had a long history of alcoholism and anger issues. Instead of pressing charges, I tried to get someone to get him some help. I nearly lost my sanity for a bit.

As he does, Mark flipped it on me and told everyone that I was trying to get him fired. I still have the emails with his bosses that easily prove I’m telling the truth. Having perfected his skills over the decades, he told his bosses that I was bipolar and his family that I was out to ruin his life and get him fired. It took me forever to make him stop contacting me. My cousin died while I was dealing with Mark. Afterward, I had to endure the interference of family members who tried to paint it as a disagreement, despite that Mark had threatened to kill me – and that I believed it. People who knew me and who had heard his voicemails and calls knew it. While I might have been guilty of being an asshole, a charge I must confess to, Mark was guilty of an actual crime, one which I contributed to me trying to get him help instead of arrested.

In the intervening years, I dreaded the other shoe dropping. I knew that it would.

Not terribly long ago, Mark was forced to retire from his job due to alcoholism. I didn’t know that for quite some time. I didn’t know that he had been forced to get treated before, either. How could I know?

He began to call me intermittently and I answered. I was cautious. During one of my trips to Hot Springs, Mark called me. I’ll never forget telling him that he broke something in me in 2013 and afterward and that I might not ever regain it.

Mark began calling me more frequently. I tiptoed around his issues, wanting just to reconnect.

Many of us foolishly try to keep a relationship alive, even while swallowing huge parts of ourselves in exchange for doing so.

I sent Mark books, encouraged him to write his stories down, and made him personal gifts to encourage him. I tried to put in an effort.

Later, his wife Jolene wrote to me using an alias on social media, asking me to please call her. It’s important to note that I did not reach out to her; she asked me to talk.

Much to my surprise, we had an instant rapport, after so many years of not communicating. She shared with me that Mark was suffering badly from alcoholism. We talked many times and at length. I can’t stress enough that it was rewarding. We found out that Mark had told us differing stories to keep us from comparing notes. He had constructed a huge web of deceit and was continuing to victimize those around him.

At some point, Mark called me and told me he was another state to confront an ex-brother-in-law who slept with his wife Jolene. He was going to come back through Arkansas afterward. When I called Jolene, she said, “What are you talking about? He’s outside the house right now.” And she sent me a picture, which I still have.

Suddenly, all the things that Mark shared with me were called into doubt. He had told me a 1,000 stories, many about how evil Jolene had supposedly been to him. Most of them weren’t true. Jolene and I shared a lot of stories and compared notes. Mark had lied about his injury while drinking, as well about so many others. I won’t recount the list here. Suffice it to say there was a staggering amount.

My heart broke for Jolene and her children. All those years of assuming she hated me washed away. Mark was the spider in the middle of the web.

I tried to continue to talk to Mark. We talked many times, usually reminiscing. I tried to avoid mentioning the disparities or anything that would crash his fantasy world. It became harder and harder to do it – as well as to be nice to Mark. The longer I interacted with Jolene and her children, the more I tried to make him get help. I also worked hard to convince Jolene to get as much help as she could and to leave Mark if he wouldn’t do everything possible to get better. We talked many times about these issues.

I can prove it all, not that anyone reasonable would doubt what I’m saying. For those that do doubt, I can prove it. I’d hope that no one would make me. It’s needlessly traumatic.

During one episode, I recorded Mark at Jolene’s request. I emailed her the audio of the conversation. It laid bare to her how deeply Mark’s pathology extended. I’ll never forget that conversation we had. There was no escaping how deeply Mark’s addiction had advanced or how far he’d go to protect his choices.

At one point, Jolene sent me a picture of Mark passed out inside the garage, between the car door and the car. He wouldn’t stop drinking and driving. He was hiding alcohol everywhere.

I spoke with Jolene and one of her children.

I didn’t do it to refuel my drama cart. I did it because I was concerned. That concern grew to be anger at Mark for refusing to get help – as often as it took and for as long as it took. I discovered that he’d been misbehaving for a long time. I already knew it to be true due to a combination of observation, instinct, and passing comments from friends and family. Families traffic in gossip, truth, and innuendo.

It’s true that toward the end, I grew to be disgusted with Mark. I had to avoid him for long periods because I couldn’t peacefully maintain the facade of deceit or pretend I approved of his life. It would have been different had he not been so evil to his own family.

At some point in all this, he was caught driving drunk and endangering a lot of people. It was mishandled and because of his profession, he was not required to be accountable like a normal person. And so, he continued to drink and drive. I won’t share those stories which were shared with me.

He threatened his family and did and said things that were truly malicious.

Jolene told me to let it out and tell him how I really felt. I finally did.

Naturally, Mark waited until the day of the funeral for another family member. I’ve never participated in a conversation so ugly, even those involving my Mom. The level of pathological lying and misdirection was beyond what I’d dealt with before.

For me, the worst I behaved during all of it was during the phone call on the day of the funeral and later texts I traded with Mark In October 2019. I hit him in the jugular to try to get him to admit his issues and to get him to talk with me and Jolene simultaneously so that I could ask questions with her listening and gauge his response.

 

 

 

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There are other screenshots in which I’m chasing Mark to be honest, to talk to me with someone else, etc. Truth be told, I wanted nothing except to have Mark and Jolene on the phone with me at the same time.

 

Ultimately, Jolene stayed with Mark, even though the children wanted her to leave. Jolene tired of talking to me and said she thought it would be easier if she didn’t keep me informed anymore. I agreed. I couldn’t be nice to Mark anymore and I realized that Jolene reached her endpoint.

I talked to her another time, as well as to one of her children, who told me that it was still terrible at home.

I knew the risks of talking to someone so close to Mark and that the likelihood of it being spoiled given enough time would be a certainty.

I traded texts back and forth with someone earlier this year – and it was worse than I had left it. It killed me to know that Mark not only had angrily refused help but had tightened his grip on those around him.

Each time I asked Mark to stop calling me, texting me, etc., he took great pains to go out of his way to ridicule me and do it even more. I have screenshots of pages of his calls. If I blocked his number, he’d leave nasty voicemails. For a time, I had to leave my voicemail full just to keep him out of it.

A few years ago, I had changed my email and phone number to avoid talking to him and my Mom. An allegedly well-intentioned family member gave him my new phone number.

No matter what Mark’s mental condition, he was together enough to employ complicated and ongoing efforts to create identities, use IP addresses, and continue to bother me when he knew it wasn’t welcome. His addiction and anger worked together to continue to convince him that I had no right to keep him at arm’s length.

I missed being able to talk casually with Jolene. We all shared a common battle and it shaped all of us and all of our lives.

But even that is gone now, probably forever, another casualty in the addiction war. Mark won. He’s poisoned us.

I have a mass of notes and records from all the craziness. I don’t like to peer into it for too long or look up details to understand. There’s nothing to understand. It’s just another wasted life being brought to a withering end.

Because Jolene called me a victim and insisted that I love washing in it, I’d agree I’m a victim in the sense that Mark perfected part of his skill at angry manipulation on me. I was stupid for returning to the scene of the crime. I failed Mark – and I failed Jolene and her children.

I knew there was a good chance that I’d end up on the wrong end of anyone conected to Mark. He’s gaslighted so well and so consistently his entire adult life that it is a rare person who escapes unburned.

As for that, there are more footprints on the internet that Jolene may realize. Not from me; rather, from those who were close and shared bits and pieces in their own way. They too shared parts of their stories, whether Jolene realized it or not. I didn’t go out of my way looking for them. They were offered voluntarily and at their own pace. They prove that the carnage was real and much worse than what is willingly admitted to. A lot of people eventually tell their stories. They validated what we all knew and whispered about. It’s no shame that someone had an addiction or couldn’t get their loved one to make amends.

We all failed. I wasn’t equipped to deal with it. I learned my own way and mostly avoided the craziness that Mark did. I didn’t escape it entirely, though.

As to whether I wrote too much about it, I only wrote about it when it dramatically crossed paths with my life. That’s my right. I can’t help it that some of those involved wouldn’t escape it. I understand that they have to paint a different picture, choose another villain, and ask someone else to pay their price on their behalf.

If you think I’m the problem, you need to take a long hard look across the internet. The truth is out there.

 

 

 

 

Slightly Embellished Story

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Someone close to one of the people who has vexed me most in later life wrote and lashed out at me with the phrase “Slightly Embellished Story,” stating that I write stories because I have a need to be a victim and relish the attention. I’ve written about this before and the ongoing likelihood that if you share your opinion and stories, even if they are completely yours to tell, people are going to use whatever tactics they can to knock you into silence. Or, worse, to question yourself.

I took some time to think about what I’d been told. While I didn’t let it pierce deeply, I did examine the implications. Only callous people disregard completely what they’ve been criticized for. We all go blind to our own foibles. I will admit that my brain glazes over when people scream or lash out in anger. I spent enough of my life around that sort of craziness. It’s almost totally absent from my day-to-day life. Those who don’t enjoy such lives simply can’t grasp how abnormal such anger is to most people living their lives.

In my case, I have grown so accustomed to this sort of manipulation that it works in reverse on me. I take a moment and consider what is really going on and what demons caused the person to write those words. In short, I’m appalled but fascinated. This sort of drama propels me to write MORE, not less.

Though the story is not mine to tell, I feel empathy for the person who wrote. They have lived a life diminished by things good people should not need to deal with, especially long term. They’ll never believe that I hoped for a long time that they’d find peace even if they had to build an entirely new life to do it. Gaslighting changes you fundamentally. Protecting secrets becomes an obligation. Ask any mental health professional about the consequences of being around addiction and pathology. We internalize what we cannot avoid.

Even as I write those words, I know I’m going to stumble and say and do stupid things. And I will also waste my remaining years making the same mistakes in the face of people who are not whole. I’ve been less than whole a few times in my own life.

One of the comments struck me as odd: “…you find a new audience to hear the same song/dance…” Which is weird as well as untrue. This blog, the one you’re reading. It’s been here since 2014. The previous blog on Blogger was there for several years before that. I imported some of the ancient ones here; some I edited and reposted later but many are in their original form. I don’t understand the criticism about my voice or stories “being new.” A decade of telling them doesn’t strike me as new.

This blog isn’t hidden. Anyone can read it. I used to allow open commenting. A couple of people with anger issues ruined that part for me.

I don’t post for secrecy. That’s a stupid argument to make. I post so that anyone interested can read what I have to say. It’s a one-way conversation. Unlike social media, no one has to even scroll past it.

Before that, I shared stories without embarrassment my entire adult life anywhere such outlets existed. Things happened to me that I didn’t choose. But I learned to embrace the hard things and talk about them.

If you’ve read much of my blog, you’ll read that I had a lot of family members who didn’t want to hear that we had some evil behavior in our family, didn’t want to hear that I had the right to change my name, and certainly didn’t want to be reminded of our right to choose our own paths.

All families are difficult. Being in one stuffed with alcoholics and abusers made learning to be independent of them difficult. We don’t start out understanding that people are scared of honesty or that someone might discover their dark secrets. They have to realize on their own that people know, anyway. It’s why if I get arrested or miraculously get a DWI, I will be the person saying so immediately on social media. Telling the secrets before they are outed robs them of their power. Most of it, anyway.

I never said I got it all right. In fact, I’ve said the opposite. One of my first blog posts was to point out that we are often wrong. Following that, I wrote a list of warnings about the dangers of writing anything down.

But I’ve been here, plugging away for more than a decade, telling the same stories that are mine to tell.

In 2014, I wrote another post about “Revisionists.” Even then, in 2014, I went through a period in which the haters almost silenced me. Several wrote and insisted that I was making so much of my story up. Years later, after DNA and research proved that countless stories of mine were true, they stopped trying to revise my life story.

As for the rest, I am a victim of some things. I’m certainly not a victim any longer, not for the most part. I don’t live a life full of drama, addiction, and secrets. My life isn’t perfect – but I have successfully reached a point now for several years when my sanity isn’t called into question. I continue to work to avoid people who can’t escape their lives.

Having said all that, that’s how this works: I write, you read. Or not.

If I’ve said something that you know is untrue, with the exception of those I asked to leave me alone, I’ll entertain any assertion that demonstrates how wrong I am. I don’t like to be wrong but I certainly hate to pretend to be right if I am not.

Otherwise, each of our lives is a Slightly Embellished Story.

Though the phrase was offered in anger, it did remind me to be wary of people. They are dangerous when wounded.

 

 

 

 

 

King of Kung Fools Rule

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The King of Kung Fools Rule: once you ask that someone leave you alone and not communicate with you, total silence is the only option. If you engage, you will be bogged down in a perpetual fight wherein you’ll be held into a perpetual account for exercising your right to be free of someone.

If you’re reading this, you should think of Carly Simon: “I bet you think this song is about you.” It’s not. It’s about me and about the lesson I have to learn over and over.

We watch in society as people with protective orders still deal with the people tormenting them. It’s incredible it requires that. Pathology drives people to ignore the wishes of other adults.

It’s hard. Believe me, I know. I’m a fool on my best day.

Despite what people at a distance from me might think, I’m a bigger fan of snark, wit, and pithiness than you’d imagine.

I don’t care what you have to say or what motivates you. If I’ve asked you to stop communicating with me, you can be sure that you’ve done or said something (or many things) that brought me to the decision. Even if I decided on the spur of the moment, it is still my right to do so.

Even though I’ve been on both sides of this issue when I was younger, I’ve learned repeatedly that when someone says, “Leave me alone,” you should leave them alone. No matter how you’re connected, whether you’re related, past friends, or any other relationship, real or imagined, when someone says “No,” it means “no.” Regardless of your past connection, an adult has the right to say “Enough is enough,” if not, “I’ll let you know when I’m ready.” Forcing a conversation when it is unwelcome is aggressive and indicates that you don’t understand that each person has the right to choose who, what, when, how, and where regarding their lives. Who they permit to interact with them is entirely their choice and not subject to veto.

Manipulators and abusers insist they have a right because of __________. (Fill in the blank with the most common nonsense abusers mention.) This insistence indicates either immaturity, anger, or pathological tendencies on their part. Do not engage further. No matter what explanation you provide, it won’t be good enough. They will move the goalposts, gaslight you, or avail themselves to the tactics that all manipulators attempt. The worst will misbehave by saying or doing things to provoke a reaction. These actions will escalate to horrific levels if you acknowledge them. Being kind to them won’t work. Being mean to them won’t work. Their insistence to have access to you is a warning sign that they need help.

Have I mentioned how terribly I have failed to follow my own realizations listed above? I am an expert in falling into the holes I’ve dug for myself.

If you do engage, they’ll eventually succeed in making you respond with anger. They’ll then triumphantly screech in mock horror (and glee) that you got angry. Your anger at their stupidity is normal. It’s a superpower to be able to ignore abuse like that.

My Mother was a Kung Fool like no other.

At each stage of my life that I exerted control, she’d enlist any available family member to guilt me into reconnecting. My love for her sometimes interfered. It was a long, exhausting cycle. Not too long before she died, I finally broke the bond. I’d had enough. I mean, really enough, not the ‘enough’ of ‘maybe I’ll change my mind later’ enough. I only talked to her again because my Aunt Barbara called me and told me she had stage 4 cancer. Even then, I felt like I violated every protective mechanism I had in place. This was especially true because I had another family that convinced me he was going to kill me. In my family, that sort of thing is discounted at your own peril.

Addressing the other common refrain: you’ll be called crazy, a liar, or heartless. (Or some other word you can find it an Abusers Thesaurus.) IF the other person is correct and I am demanding to be left alone because I’m mentally ill, irrational, or simply hateful, it still doesn’t change the fact that I’ve demanded to be left alone. IF you insist on continuing the attempt anyway, you become the problem. If I’m spouting off nonsense, let me continue to do so and the truth will find me. Even Obama made famous a saying to let fools do their own talking.

If you can’t let me, you’re afraid of my message and that becomes obvious to people watching.

If you’re the abuser or troll, once the word “Stop” or its equivalent reaches you, stop. If you can’t get help, because you have control and anger issues that need to be addressed.

So, again, I don’t want to hear from you.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Let There Be Light – An Epitaph For Truth-Telling

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When I posted this story, I didn’t expect the invisible mob to approach me. It’s easy to skip over my stories if you don’t want to see them. Anyone not wanting to read what I have to say can easily avoid it. For most people, I’m a forgotten planet on the edge of the universe. If you’ve found me and continue to find me just to gnash your teeth, you should take more effort to stop looking for me.

It was amusing to see people assume they knew who I was talking about. That underscores my insistence that people only see what they want to see. Their own preconceptions mislead them into assumptions. Their defensive responses based on these errors tell me a lot about how they are wired and what goes on in their heads versus the persona they present to us.

This story is not about my siblings. It’s not about my paternal uncle. If it were, I would say so, especially now that I was attacked for people’s wrong assumptions about it. To be clear, I’ve been guilty of the same type of jumping to conclusions. It’s driven me to cause a couple of people needless harm. I tried to make up for it. While they might have forgiven my stupidity, they probably remember that I was a jerk needlessly to them.

I’ve waited a while to share it.

We all have people in our lives who have dark secrets. Many people would choose a miserable life over truth and honesty. They fear that the concealed darkness they protect will somehow consume them. The opposite is true: secrets, especially family secrets, only gain their power by our complicity. Children grow up to recognize the disconnect between what they’ve experienced and the story that follows them in life. Most maintain the charade of silence because it is safer. Silence seldom draws much ire or criticism. If we all consciously chose to avoid making ourselves prisoners to our secrets, we’d be happier. As with anything personal, there will always be people who ‘know,’ ones you interact with who are running their own truthline in their heads as they talk to you.

Although I can’t be sure who led him to my history online, it doesn’t change anything. He’d obviously found my thousand stories about love, life, laughter, loss, and lies. As with my family tree online, my stories are not hidden, private, or anonymous. I share them so that anyone can read them. I can’t force belief. I can’t force consumption.

I don’t claim to be a singular authority but I do lash back at anyone who challenges me with the asinine assertion that I have no right to tell my own story. I’m not forcing anyone to consume it. I get grumpy when people who’ve remained silent for decades suddenly get a voice or a conscience; or worse, when they go down the road of revisionism to challenge what happened or to create their own stories with the goal of mitigating the ones I’ve always shared. Several episodes of my life have been worsened because people have lashed out with their own revisions after mine have been out in the wild for most of my adult life. It doesn’t mean they stories are always wrong, but it does mean that their blooming interest should be cautiously examined.

I could tell the conversation had an intended point, even if we weren’t getting there directly.

He couldn’t see that attempting to challenge me would only cement my authority and right to tell my story. His anger and frustration not only told me that my words had pierced his heart, but that he recognized some truth in them. (People don’t generally argue with clowns or people with no credibility. They should stop and think about that before they start challenging or shouting at me.)

People tend to only stand rigid in anger when something has blurred their internal belief system.

It’s pointless to argue with someone wearing clown shoes – so any defensive reaction is in recognition of an arrow cast with keen accuracy.

So, I told him. “You are supposed to let the fools talk. Arguing with them only makes you foolish. If what I say is obviously false, why are you angrily wanting to silence me? It’s all out there, on the internet. Well, not all, but a great deal of it. And those parts which aren’t out there can be inferred. I think I captured the savagery of some of my youth truthfully. And some of the beauty. My story hasn’t changed in 30 years. I think that fact alone gives me a voice of authority and finality.” I wanted him to know that my story wasn’t accusatory; rather, it was history personalized and irrefutable. I wasn’t telling it to draw blood. It was my story – and mine to tell. He had his story to tell if he wants to. He won’t though, because words won’t conceal his complicity. People don’t want to take the time to examine their lives or write about it. I understand it, whether it is laziness or fear of the consequences. We cannot tell our own stories without stepping onto the fringes of other lives. It cannot be done.

“What good does it do? You’re not helping anyone. It’s over,” he said.

“It’s not entirely over. I’m not dead yet – and neither is all of your family. DNA has a lot to say, to reveal many of the lies we’ve been told. I can find things as an adult that our ancestors screamed to silence. Children will grow up and do their own research and find the things we’ve concealed. It took 25 years to find out that my family robbed me of being with a sister I would have undoubtedly appreciated more than my other sister.” I waited.

“DNA isn’t the full story, X. And people kept secrets for a reason.” It seemed like that comment wasn’t full of holes to him.

“Well, why did your parents fight you tooth and nail for no one to do a DNA test? Precisely because they knew you’d find skeletons, bastard children, and stories that would lead to huge lies. I often wonder if people knew if my own Dad had illegitimate children and that I had a black half-sister. It seems likely. They robbed me of all those years with her – and gave my Dad a chance to hide from the consequences of what he’d done. Even now, no one wants to talk about the fact that my Grandfather Terry was ridiculously old to be marrying Grandmother Terry as young as she was. My Grandpa Cook had his own skeletons, but he loved me when he was older. I didn’t know all those stories. The love he had for me was real. Knowing the truth does not change who they were. It might change who we are, though.”

He started to object and I cut him off and continued.

“It helps me. Most of the guilty are dead. I’m not claiming moral superiority. I am better than my ancestors, though. Literally, every moment of your life is over in the sense you use the word, right? Yet, when you think about yourself, you think about the sum of your words and experiences. All history. You can choose another path and never look back. That’s not what we do, though. Telling only the beautiful moments is easy. We are the sum total of what we’ve said or done. We have to earn a reset when we’ve realized we were wrong and offered to make amends.” I knew he hadn’t thought of that.

“What about your motive? It’s obvious that you are writing about it just to hurt people.” He seemed to think that was a rebuttal.

I noted he didn’t challenge the truth of my writing – just its existence.

“My motive? What was the motive when ancestors covered up that my dad killed someone or went to prison? Or beat me with a rake? Or when another family member told me it was my fault that my dad hit me so hard I was coughing blood? History doesn’t hold a motive. And I noticed you failed to mention that there were good times amid all the blood-stained teeth. I don’t just write about the terror. It’s odd that you focus only on the things that you’d rather that people not talk about, that you’re heavy-handedly trying to censor me. I had some great moments when I was young. I’ve never said otherwise and grow tired of people saying I do.”

He was clearly dumbstruck. “Listen, I can’t defend why anyone did or said things. I wasn’t there. But our dads were both more or less good people. They had problems, to be sure.”

I cut him off.

“Most people don’t beat their wife and kids. Or fail to protect kids when they are being beaten. They also don’t use the n-word or hold a buffet of prejudices. Or kill people because they chose to drink and drive. Those aren’t problems. They are psychosis. Family preached that they were superior to black people and that anyone sharing their religion wasn’t welcome in Heaven. My Dad tried to kill me and never faced the consequences of the law or even of family stepping in and demanding he act like a human being. Their silence encouraged him to continue for decades.”

I paused, as he stammered.

“Well, my dad loves God. He’ll be in Heaven.” I could tell he was certain of the fact.

“I know you love your dad. You were almost always good a good person and had a way of sharing laughter everywhere you went. It is possible to be a good person and have a parent or parents who were not good people. It’s okay to say you loved bad people because that is how love works. It’s no sin. It is a sin, though, to insist they were good people because you won’t see the truth of their badness. We have to eclipe the shadow of the people who should have known better.” I waited.

I continued.

“Some of my family looked away while my dad beat me dozens of times. They told me to go back to my dad after he literally tried to kill me. They let my dad lock me in a shed in the middle of summer, and make me eat rotted meat to teach me a lesson. They let dad beat mom and told her it was her fault and god’s will. They told people they were better than dark people. They used their jobs to hurt people who weren’t white. They said gay people were the Devil’s children. And as always, I have to reiterate that I had family members who did stand up sometimes and they were shouted down, too. Some tried. People forget that I acknowledge those people, too.”

“Your dad is a better person than me, I’ll give you that much. He’ll die one day and people will piously say he was a good man. And when he’s gone, I’m still be here, writing, if writing the truth can be twisted to be an accusation instead of a recitation. I stood in silence when people called my grandpa a degenerate drunk, all those years ago. Your dad could be generous and lovely as a person. I’ve said so. I know that the negative drowns out the positive. But that is the point. You can’t escape the totality of what you’ve said and done. People might not have snapped my bones with their own hands but their beliefs pushed them to allow others to do so. Had they ever realized they were wrong and told me as much, it would have been redemptive. People like them rarely do, though.”

I continued. “Your dad insisted that if a thing were true he could say it with a clear conscience. Those words alone give me a license to share my story where it overlaps with my family. And I will. Because I can. Because it’s my story. One day, this conversation will be out there, too. My goal isn’t to find the mud. It’s to tell a story. I can’t change what happened. I can either silence it or share it.”

“You’re an asshole!” he said.

“It’s hereditary. That’s my point. I haven’t beaten anyone to death yet, raped a young girl, or allowed anyone to do it and get by with it, so I guess I’m ahead of our ancestors, aren’t I? As an adult, I have not once allowed another adult to beat a child in my presence. I don’t recall ever saying that I wish the white race were back in charge, that gay people should be put down, or that my religion was the only one.” I laughed.

The phone went silent.

I won’t though.

Befourth

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In a strange place, as dusk approached, I was alone, as if the world stood still. I heard echoes and booms. The frequency and intensity slowly intensified, much like a novice drummer tentatively using his sticks across the surface of a drum set. Peering through the window, I realized I had a front-row seat to a fireworks display at a church slightly more than a hundred yards from me. Because I was higher than the display, I had the best view in the house. It was a moment crafted just for me, though the dozens of spectators packed on the lawn and the parking lot behind the church would disagree. Before light succumbed to dusk and encroaching darkness, I could see the dozens of mismatched lawn chairs assembled in random order across the pavement.  I could see the dots of both adults and children restlessly moving around. Though they anticipated the commencement of the ceremony, I’m sure many of them realized how quickly it would come and go, much in the same manner as the days we take for granted overtake us. One of our modern curses is to be thinking about getting out easily after whatever event we’re attending is over; it is the opposite of living in the moment. “Parking prevails,” a wise man once said.

I pulled a desk chair in front of the large window and sat down to observe.

Because I continue to believe that 90% of our lives lie in the spaces between the grand moments, I couldn’t help but think that somehow I knew I would always remember this moment.

Though I’ve forgotten the majority of my incredible trip to D.C. with the band in high school, I’ll never forget the backdrop of the national fireworks display in the distance. Though we were confined inside due to rain, the moment was majestic and shared. We’d burned under the July sun earlier in the day. All of us were on an upper floor of the hotel. Perhaps the fireworks display I observed at Lake Atalanta 30 + years ago was more exciting because I was dangerously close to the firework system itself. I was within feet of it and found myself mesmerized by the colors and brilliant reflection of the charges on the shimmering surface of the lake as they exploded. As each charge fired, I could feel the heat and the tickle of the powder discharged from the nozzles.

This year, I had the best view, the best outlook and the most colorful advantage. In the background, the approaching dark skies blossomed with intermittent bolts of lightning above the horizon. Mother Nature competed against man and I was a sole witness.

It was an unplanned moment. Unplannable, really.

The subsequent booms and explosions of color ejected streams of dense smoke that floated slowly across to the west. The dark clouds behind and above seemed frozen in place, even as the lightning bolted from within. The smoke billows seemed artificially 3-D as they moved across the sky in front of me.

Across that same long horizon, I watched the dueling lights of the radio tower blink intermittently and the illumination of the coal electricity plant light up a small portion above the vista. Dotted all along the expanse were other fireworks displays, some large, some small, all equally observed by craning necks and fascinated watchers.

I could sense the anticipation of those at the church after so many confined moments and small rooms, behind masks, away from shared experiences.

This unscripted moment will not be rivaled.

Afterward, I watched the human dots and the lawn chairs as they dispersed back to their vehicles. I didn’t need to hear their private conversations to know the content. I now wonder why they didn’t remain there, congregated, and joined. Even in silence. The homes they’ve become too accustomed to in the last few months undoubtedly will echo falsely upon their return. How long will their memories of this exotic Fourth of July remain in their minds? Like the fireworks, things are moving explosively and with no preordained velocity, as if life must be packed into a single instantaneous moment that escapes our grasp. Amidst the temporary sizzle, all of us would probably agree that life is simultaneously on hold and flying past us with hurried feet.

Because you were not here to see, I’ll carve a tiny slice of my witnessed memory to share with you in the most imperfect way possible.

Now that everyone has departed, I remain at the window observing Mother Nature illuminate the dark clouds and the enveloping night with immense bolts of electricity. I feel that those attending the display should have remained to see this too. This eternal power abides restlessly and insistently, ignoring our movements with disregard. It needs no Fourth as an excuse; its power conjures a glimpse of a timeline so mammoth that it drowns out our concerns.

While I filmed both fireworks and lightning in their respective moments, I won’t share them with you. I’d like your imagination to fill in the gaps of what I witnessed, much in the same way I hope you fill in your life with as much curiosity and interest as these times permit.

The picture I used is not real, no more than the already-forgotten pictures you might have taken during the holiday. For me, the surprise and delight of experiencing fireworks spontaneously would overshadow the reality of data I could see. I stole that moment from a night otherwise absent such delight.

Premonition

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Earlier, the sky opened momentarily and dropped a few minutes of light rain. Given that the temperature was hovering at ninety, the humidity increased. Despite being fatigued from work, I stopped and picked up a few things at Lowes. Yesterday, the heavy rain prevented me from going outside. The truth is that I could barely move by the time I finished work. As I exited the store on the way home, the rain drenched me with its pendulous drops.

Today, I went out in the backyard, working on my infinite project. I painted a few stepping stones and reseated a few others. While I was on my hands and knees trying to position other heavy stones for the planter, I smelled the intense and overwhelming odor or tires that have skidded on pavement for several seconds. When I looked up at the dark sky, I heard someone shout. In my mind, I saw someone being sideswiped by another driver who had fallen asleep. The smell of burned tires persisted for another couple of seconds.

Whether I experienced a strange and momentary daydream or something else, I’m not sure. I’m not superstitious, though. I finished working outside and came inside and took a shower as cold as the water would go. When I passed through the living room, I saw my copy of the “The Stand” on the little table by the couch. For a brief second, the smell of burning tires hit me again.

Maybe I need to stay out of the heat or perhaps I should stop drinking so much diet tonic water. Whatever the daydream or hallucination was, it is thankfully receding, like a dream that won’t let go.

 

Shamway

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While I worked at Cargill, one of my white coworkers approached me with his pitch. He was enthusiastic in his approach. What he didn’t know is that I saw him coming from a mile away and was already calculating how best to both amuse myself and learn something from him in the process. Being poor granted me the ability to avoid spending all my money foolishly; most of mine went for rent, pico de gallo, and an acre of french fries.

I’ve been thinking about some of my shenanigans due to the Showtime show, “On Becoming a God in Central Florida,” starring Kirsten Dunst. It takes a darkly comedic view of MLMs.

I invited my coworker Mitch (not his real name) to come to my residence. At the time I lived with a co-worker from Cargill. He owned a trailer in a park in Johnson. This is the trailer that would later give me the opportunity to say, “A plane crashed on my house.”

Mitch left his car running in the driveway, a common tactic used by converts to the scheme. As I listened, my roommate Ray shook his head in wonderment. He lived for years in California. As a result, his exposure to MLMs was vast. Later, he shared some of the stories of friends who had ruined themselves with such endeavors. I let Mitch do his pitch without being too problematic. It almost killed me. At the end of the first phase of his pitch, he asked me if I was interested. “Yes, but I’m more interested in how this ends for you, in three months or a year because it is going to end. Badly.” Because he’d spent a great deal of time with someone in his upline, he had a pat answer to redirect my point. I then said, “One thing I noticed is that you didn’t identify your company by name at any point. That’s one of the key warning signs for a pitch.” Mitch became nervous. I stood up and shook his hand and told him I wished him the best of luck. “Think of this as a training exercise. I’ll make a list of things that caught my attention.”

Ray stood up and told him, “Your pitch is pretty good, Mitch. I’ve heard a lot of them. But I recommend you quit now and start your own business or do your own thing before you spend a lot of money to make $10.”

Later, I gave Mitch a list of critiques. I made my comedic recommendations alongside my serious ones. He took the list. He stuck with the program for several more months, although after a couple of months, he began to drastically talk about it less. He quit Cargill without notice. Months later, someone told me he lost several thousand dollars buying his merchandise before quitting the MLM.

Over the next few years, I went to several pitches to see how much creativity might be involved. As you would guess, not very much.

Later, as people approached me with new opportunities to own my own company, be my own boss, I varied my responses from amused to indignant to gauge how it affected them. They couldn’t understand that I’d already peeked behind the MLM curtain. I asked them all, “Name one person you know who made the kind of money you claim. I want to talk to them.” No one ever gave me such a name, at least not a reasonable one. “I’ll follow up with you in a year. I hope you strike it rich. I’m rooting for you. And you should feel free to tell me ‘I told you so’ when you do!” No one ever did.

The same was true with timeshares and other similar high-pressure sales. One of the best I ever witnessed was in Mexico during vacation. The presenter was incredibly adept at countering every conceivable question or insight. Discovering that I spoke Spanish, he tried the ‘divide and conquer’ method. I switched to ‘batsh!t crazy’ mode and completely destroyed any means he tried to get back to normal. I ran down the clock and many of the other participants/victims joined me in ruining any chance we’d be stupid enough to buy a timeshare. Despite the free souvenir blankets, ponchos, bottles of tequila, and free meals, I finally got him to admit that each session paid for itself with only ONE person or family signing up. His usual success rate was 1 in 5, much higher than the average. This interaction was one of many that reminded me that when a person argues after the first “No,” you’re being manipulated and it is best to flee by any means necessary.

I learned long ago that you can’t convince a person in the cult of an MLM to listen to reason; they must finish the fatigue and finish line of their own accord, often after weakening countless friendships and connections.

One MLM currently going the rounds had to disclose that less than 2% make more than minimum wage doing it, and very rarely can someone live on the income generated. Most quit after losing more than they ever earned. Having a family member or close friend involved in any MLM is exactly like having a used car salesman living with you.

All of us have experienced the agony of a social media friend getting started in an MLM. The cringe factor is immense. Many of us have learned that it is impossible to tell them they are making a mistake.

MLMs are like religion; those involved want to do all the talking and seldom wish to hear your input.

All of us universally cringe when someone gets snagged by the tendrils of the promise of easy money.

As with some religious views, don’t make the mistake of trying to get people to see reason. They have to discover it for themselves.

Whether it is skincare products, essential oils, nutrition drinks, or clothing, it is never worth it. I am still waiting to get to know one person who has made a living from it. I certainly know a lot of people who have lost their social media friends by abusing their connections with these ‘business opportunities.’

For just an hour a day and $43,543, I’ll teach you how to do the same.