Category Archives: Biographical

The Gift Of Memories

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My Aunt Ardith and cousin Jimmy, standing in the front yard of their house on Ann Street.

Once again, I opened my email to discover a message telling me exactly what I needed to hear. A sister of one of my paternal aunts wrote me, telling me she’d noticed I added another 100+ pictures of her sister on Ancestry. These are archived in original resolution. My aunt’s sister told me she’d cried a bit, something she hadn’t expected. I wrote her back and told her I put every usable picture I owned of my aunt on there, in the hopes they might last forever, for anyone to see. I also told her I did the same for my uncle and my cousin Jimmy, both of whom now have hundreds of pictures on their respective pages. If you didn’t guess, putting so many pictures on accounts is a rarity.

It was a labor of love and honor. It’s the least I could do. These pictures are in my possession, but I don’t think I own them. They belong to us all – anyone who shared moments, laughter, or time with those in the pictures.

Yesterday, I wrote a post about high school pictures. I used a horrible picture of myself from many years ago. It was a bit satirical, but the message was one I’ve written about a few dozen times: vanity and hoarding regarding pictures is sinful. I’ve never owned a picture that I haven’t offered to everyone who might have an interest. I don’t get the urge to hoard pictures in a box, under a bed, or in a seldom-used closet.

More than one person got irritated at me for preaching the gospel of sharing. Some people righteously guard their past appearance, as if history isn’t going to kick that door open with time anyway. Others play the role of Gollum and greedily keep their pictures hidden in the crook of their unapproachable arms. The last tendency lessens everyone’s ability to remember and cherish people in our past who’ve passed on to the next life.

When my aunt’s sister reached out yesterday, she didn’t know that it was what I needed to hear. My actions months ago opened her heart again, even if for only for a while yesterday. In those moments, she could see that I had paid homage to her sister, to life, and to people we love.

All those pictures? Some of them have been downloaded dozens of times, each time by someone who discovered my treasure, one freely given. I am merely the guardian.

Love, X

High School Picture Vanity? (The Picture Rule)

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Do I have your attention with this horrible picture? Is it completely real or photoshopped? Who knows! Who cares? It’s more or less me back in 2005. I’ve posted it before. It makes me laugh, precisely because it makes me look like the “before” picture for both the South Beach Diet and John’s Guide To D-I-Y plastic surgery.

I enjoy the posts about people complaining (gatekeeping) about people posting their high school pictures. It’s true that it doesn’t “help” current seniors. Let’s be honest, though. High school pictures don’t seem to help anyone. Except comedians. We all love a crazy high school yearbook picture. We can’t help it.

They do, however, remind us that our idea of hairstyle and fashion was never as great as we’d imagined. This is the case of every graduating class in the history of… well, history.

I know it’s not an ironclad rule, but I distrust anyone who is truly upset about anyone seeing their high school pictures. Not only are almost all of them available online, but they are precisely the pictures more likely to survive the next 300 years because they are public and otherwise in the hands of so many other people. They are copied, indexed, and even included in genealogy websites.

What am I saying? You’re screwed if you don’t want people to see your pictures from school.

Years ago, I scanned and archived several years of Springdale High School’s yearbooks. I also uploaded them to all the relevant SHS FB class pages, for everyone to share and enjoy. It look me 100+ hours. It was a huge way for all of us to get acquainted again, whether we liked it or not!

By the way, a huge number of yearbooks are available on classmates. Get a free account and start looking. Other websites carry college yearbooks, too.

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The Picture Rule: If you’re complaining about the existence of your high school pictures, you’re probably at the mercy of either an exaggerated vanity or a profound scarcity of a sense of humor.

P.S. I have almost never been stymied finding EVERYONE’S yearbook picture, not to mention the address you lived at when you were 7. Your life is an open book, no matter how badly you want to stick it under the bed where no one will ever find it. The more you want to hide your pictures, the more likely your brother-in-law is passing it around secretly via text, email, or DM.

P.S. Redux: If you are desperate to find someone – or a picture of them – let me know and I’ll get enough details to sleuth them out in the interest of both lovingkindness and transparency.

Love, X

The Jerks Raised Their Hands And I Didn’t Notice

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I didn’t know it then, but I learned much more than I thought back when I changed my birth name.

In regard to my struggle with addicts, anger, and sociopaths in my life, I look back and now wonder how I didn’t see the bright neon light flashing above my head.

I struggled, even as the answer flashed repeatedly. My instincts knew. I can see them in action as I re-read some of my posts about my struggles with my name change.

Let’s face it: my ‘struggle’ completely derived from other people’s reactions, all of which were choices they made.

Here’s what I learned: ALL the assholes from my earlier life self-identified when I changed my name. They raised their hands. They showed me who they were, each one. All those who had already demonstrated violence, anger, and addiction in my youth showed me that their true colors and outlook about the world hadn’t changed. The only people who refused to immediately attempt to respect my crazy choice to change my name were already less-than-good people.

Some of my family and friends didn’t understand (or agree) with my decision. But the good people among them, the ones I could count on, all unilaterally tried to get used to the idea that the person whose identity I was born with was no longer a person. Did they forget sometimes? Yes, but not with malice. It bears repeating that some had concerns I’d lost my mind. Willingness to change shows the ability to love without agreement or even understanding.

Rigidity in attitude, though? Pathology.

The rest? All of them fall into my list of people who didn’t respect me as a person in the first place, or could only see me in terms of their own narrow and dark view of the world. There was a spectrum of disrespect. Not all were raging sociopaths. Some were. I’ve documented the variety of disrespect I endured from some. I’m not painting them all with the same brush of anger or lunacy.

I now see that their disrespect was just another symptom of their disease: simply put, they weren’t good people to begin with, not people I would have chosen to be in my life absent from the confines of exposure due to geography or family ties.

If I could go back and choose, I think it’s obvious that my choices would be quite different.

I still would choose to change my name.

This time, though, as the assholes came forward, I’d open the door for them and slam it behind each one of them.

And march forward with my life.

Which is what I should have done.

 

 

 

A Few Words About Sociopaths

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That’s me in the jacket, 1997ish. The shadow is the lurking presence of what I brought with me from my childhood.

 

One of the tactics of addicts or sociopaths is that they time their harshest manipulations around major life events: big trips, funerals, weddings, birthday parties. Any gathering or otherwise stressful social interaction will suffice for them. Their anger at you festers. They bide their time, bite their tongues. And wait.

Your wish to get through the happy day increases your stress level. Addicts and sociopaths secretly wish for your suffering. They lay the groundwork, seeding insecurity. If you’re normal, you won’t understand how much pleasure and joy sociopaths can derive from the suffering of others. There are more of them in the world than you’d think.

Near the day in question, they’ll unleash a fresh hell upon you.

You’ll flounder and attempt to deal with the symptoms, rather than the disease.

If you’re looking back at your shared trajectory with someone you believe might be a sociopath, examine how many outbursts coincided with life events. It’s another sign.

My mother was an absolute tyrant in this regard. Another close family member followed her lead into adult life. He/she became blind to the fact his/her life slowly devolved into a miserable cycle of anger and control. As people fled in hurt, their departure should have signaled that something was wrong. Sociopaths, though, paint themselves as victims to other people’s search for normalcy. One thing they cannot abide is for another person to demand control and freedom from them. Departure is the ultimate treason.

The sociopath is the disease. Excising it is the only viable option, one we should run to with greater velocity.

We all make the same mistake: we attempt to navigate their well-placed mines instead of simply walking the other way.

You have to learn to cut ties more quickly. If you can develop this skill when you’re younger, you’ll be able to live a much happier life.

A lot of my adult life was diminished by my own stupidity. I tried to continue relationships with sociopaths and addicts. Some of it is because of family loyalty; we need a primer to teach us to demand change (or silence) especially from those closest to us. Family affiliation does not grant either access or proximity. It is one of the sociopath’s worst tools. They say things such as “We’re family.” Or, “You only have one family.” Worst: “You only have one sister/brother/mother/father.”

If you’re otherwise a good person, trust your instincts. If someone’s presence, words, or behavior triggers feelings of insecurity, something’s wrong. Figure out if the rupture lies within or without. Ask yourself if your life is better or worse by the other person’s involvement. Do you tolerate such behavior from strangers? If not, use it as a signal that something’s wrong.

Don’t open their emails, don’t answer their phone calls, and certainly don’t show up in the same place they’ll be. If it is your occasion, forbid their presence. As they recruit people to their cause through manipulation, ignore those impassioned and angry pleas. It’s a short-term gain. Take the long view.

Use a display of outward calm to communicate your dedication to taking back control of your own life. Don’t veer into the unwinnable territory of explanation. No matter how many words you’ll spew, not only will those words be used against you in the worst way possible (and out of context), you will be wasting your energy. In turn, that leaves you with less ability to live a good life.

Let your “No” be a whisper and leave your shouted “No” only for those times you’ve lost all inhibition against unleashing your anger.

The No Rule: let your “No” be a whisper. If someone demands an explanation for your “No,” start with the assumption you’re being manipulated.

Sociopaths love driving you past the point of control and then using your entirely normal response as an accusation against you. Observers won’t see the gaslighting. All they will see is you screaming in anger at your family member or friend.

When I was younger, I tried hard to distance myself. I had no real sense of self-worth. I knew where I was trying to go. Because of the pathology of many members of my family, I came into adulthood ignorantly. Interpersonal skills? Not much. I should have declared my independence and stuck to it unilaterally. I would have moved past some of my future obstacles much more quickly. Would my life have been lesser? Maybe. I don’t know. But, I do wonder who I would have substituted into my life absent some of my addict and sociopathic family. Something would have filled the void. Would it have been better? Again, I can’t know – and that’s on me.

If I had it to do over again, I would cut anyone angry or addicted from my life when I changed my name. I would abandon any attempt to bridge the infinite divide between me and people who were fundamentally different from me. Everyone would have been put against the backdrop of my poor grasp of normalcy.

As I got older, my ability to tolerate sociopaths waned. As my life moved toward a larger understanding of self, my joy in living a life free of drama became self-evident.  That kind of tranquility gave me greater latitude in saying “No” to the screeching urgency of the sociopaths demanding access to my life.

It is with this post that I give my final “No” to the sociopath who won’t take “No” as an answer.

 

 

 

 

A Reminder For Revisionists

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My Uncle Buck, taking a bath and smoking a cigar. This photo makes me laugh. As many issues as he might have had, he was a better man by far than my Dad.

This is another one of my unpublished stories, one I’ve had for over 6 years. I stripped much of the specifics because of the unflinching harshness. It’s still harsh. I don’t really like this post. The stripped version misses all the personal stories.

One of my first blog posts was about the screech of revisionists: those people who will defy truth and appearances by shouting “Lies!” Or, spend an incredible amount of time attempting to rewrite history, even history that is substantiated by detail, fact, and others sharing the same lifeline or timeline. Many of them brood and obsess over tactics to gaslight or silence people who aren’t particularly concerned about privacy, family shame, or admitting their own failures.

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I don’t know who this lady is. She was hilarious and nice. She spoke to me like I was a real human being. The picture is at my Uncle Buck’s house. I remember nothing about her, though. It reminds me of the fickle nature of memory. Her warmness remains; her identity escapes me.

 

I specifically wrote that one of my goals of blogging was to drown my urge toward secrecy and keep the revisionists at bay. I admitted I wasn’t going to get everything perfect – and that memory is a fickle thing. I promised to try to keep the tone right, though, including the undercurrent of both joy and hateful violence.

In spite of my commitment to share my life, I have dozens of personal stories I’ve not published. Some of them are dark revelations about people who are still living. For other stories, though they are mine to share as I see fit, I still have a pang of reluctance. The stories would fall on some heads like anvils. (I deleted 5 stories in this section.)

Unlike many, if I learn something new or that I was wrong, I won’t stress too much about changing both my previous idea and what I’ve previously written. I won’t be that relative who to this day still repeats the long-squashed mistaken idea that any of our last five generations were Native American.

Personal stories sustain me. Not just mine, but those of others. I’ve done my part to encourage everyone to share their lives as best they can. Our stories won’t interest everyone. The truth in them, though? It will annoy some people just enough to make it all worthwhile.

Years ago, I predicted the overall arc of revisionists in my life. Many have died. Most have learned to practice blindness and disregard for the presence of my storytelling. The sheer volume, not to mention content, of my years of writing usually drown the attempts to gaslight me. Most people don’t possess the free time, much less willpower, to divulge their lives, especially if their focus is to derail the thousands of stories I’ve shared. It just doesn’t add up. They sound bitter. One of my common refrains has always been, “Get your own soapbox.” The complainers almost never do. They critique, complain, and waste their lives trying to get everyone to conform to their misguided opinions.

I still have a couple of revisionists in my life. They’re on the far fringes because the lesson of keeping my distance from them surfaces from time to time to hit me in the face. They seethe, boil, and fantasize about some future point in which they’ll finally be able to infect me with their falsehoods and craziness. Usually, they do all the work for me. The surrounding people might take a circuitous route in realizing their deceit, but the conclusion is inevitable.

Some revisionists, upon realizing they have failed to silence someone who shares their truth, will change tactics and lie. Some lies are obviously and demonstrably false, but they’ll forge ahead, compounding their initial lie. During my life, I’ve had 4 or 5 harsh attempts to discredit me with cruel lies and untruths. The truth always came out, but it costs me a piece of my soul each time. It motivates the psychopaths to inflict pain. At this point in my life, as the few surviving revisionists lash out, I calmly point out that their version of truth is suspiciously late to the game. The tardiness of their response isn’t a guarantee that it’s untrue, but it puts a hole in their motivation and credibility. I’ve consistently shared my life throughout the years, even when it paints me as behaving cruelly or stupidly.

It’s a unsettling feeling to know that a person out in the world hates the fact that I bear no shame for my youth or for the stupidity I’m guilty of in my life. He carries the weight of personal failure and shame, one that I don’t share. While my younger life was markedly less professional and stellar than his, the time on this end, the one toward the ending of each of us, has been punctuated by personal fulfillment, happiness, and a solid connection to myself and the world. His? Addiction and a fantastical, maniacal pathology that drives him away from the people who should be his foundation in later life. He may have seemingly sprinted ahead at the outset, even as I ran by him years ago and veered away from our shared infection of addiction and anger. He reacts angrily to the fact that his presence in the lives of those around him is a detriment to them. Truthfully, when I am not exposed to his craziness, it fades to the background.

(No matter who I’m talking about in this post, I am sure that someone will be singing Carly Simon: “You’re so vain, I bet you think this song is about you.”) They recognize the tactics because they tend to be echoed by narcissists and angry people at every turn.

I certainly don’t find my meaning through addiction. My head isn’t stuffed with anger. It could have easily been my path.

With each constricting spiral of anger, I push back and away – as I should have done all my life. People tell us who they really are, day after day, year after year. We endure them and convince ourselves their pathology isn’t really that bad.

Even when I was quite young, he (my principal revisionist) mistook my push away from the pathology of some of my family as a rejection of family in general. It isn’t true. It’s a fantasy he often repeats though. He has a vast mythology created in his mind that paints him as a savior and hero to my connection to the family. It’s completely wrong. He’ll never admit it, though. The soundtrack of this fantasy has placed deep grooves in his ability to see the world as it was and his. I never lost my connection to family. I just lost my connection to him and some others who weren’t good people. It’s no secret that my family contained its share of violence, addiction, shame, and secrecy. When I changed my name, I wrote everyone in the family a letter. For others, I called them or talked them to face to face. I gave them an unflinching explanation as to my allegiance, or lack thereof, to any of them who saw me as anything but an adult they’d never understand. I didn’t need him to kidnap me and forge a new connection to family. Even when I was very young, I instinctively knew which people were ‘my’ people. As a result, I avoided much of one half of my family. It’s a lesson that I should have carried through life, but didn’t. My revisionist insists his version is accurate.

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One of the very few pictures of me with both my siblings, the ones I knew about until I was 52.

 

Allegiance to biological connections is one of the most sinister cons perpetuated on those of us with pathology hidden in the family closets. One of my worst revisionists spent a great deal of effort to pummel me into submission by insisting that family honor demanded my silence. He denies that now, too. In his mind, he was the champion of truth. The reality? He fought me tooth and nail about my right to tell my story, especially those parts consumed by violence, addiction, and poor choices. My resentment ebbed and flowed throughout my life.

The perversion of family and honor infected the idea of love, too, that unconditional demand that angry people place on everyone around them to require loyalty, obedience, and silence, even those things overlap very little with the concept of mature love. Addicts are especially prone to this tactic.

Despite my early life, I didn’t flee the country, or move to another state. I stayed here and worked to eliminate the stain of my DNA. I knew that the things that I had rejected in the family would torture me anywhere I went. There’s no escaping the ‘us’ inside us.

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A picture of me with my mom, taken at my Grandma Nellie’s house in Brinkley.

Some of the those secrets I’ve uncovered through diligent study and research, not to mention DNA. I endured a lot of shouting as my skill at uncovering the truth and asking the right questions improved. It’s getting quieter, though. The revisionists continue to fade, to lose all credibility, and to evaporate into history. They’re still gnashing their teeth at me, though. Those people look – and sound- crazy.

I deleted a section here that became obsolete due to the discovery of an unknown sister in 2019. Her existence nullified all the anger the revisionists inflicted on me about the family tree. I’d always insisted that given the number of times dad cheated, children must have resulted. I persisted in my march toward filling in the holes and answering the questions about our ancestry, even when people maneuvered with anger to stop me. I was proven right about the family tree and about my factual conclusions about my Dad. In case I wasn’t clear, Dad wasn’t the only one who cheated. Even the pious ones had scandalous affairs, one-night stands, and secret addictions. It’s in part because of this that I automatically assume anyone saying, “Why are you asking questions,” or “Stop asking questions,” is guilty or hiding the truth for someone else.

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A picture of my parents at my Uncle Buck’s house.

I also found records and newspaper accounts of some of my Dad’s criminal behavior, some of it from the early 1960s. He wasn’t simply a young man with behavior issues. He was at times a bad person. That statement alone would have earned me a chance to get accidentally shot in the deer woods years ago. Family did not permit me to idly discuss what was self-evident.

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This memorial was placed in the newspaper near my Dad’s hometown. No mention is made of his impact through his horrible behavior. We all become saints upon our death. Many in my family are counting on this.

It scares the revisionists to know that someone like me could be the final word, the last word in their epitaph regarding legacy and truth.

 

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With my brother, in front of the house on Cottonwood in Springdale, before he left for the Army.

 

 

Don’t Come Knocking, Cowboy Boots Man

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On May 11th, 1985, my family moved from Cottonwood Street in Springdale to a house next to the Willis Shaw long-haul employee parking lot in Elm Springs. To be exact, it was 111 Jayroe Avenue. As for the date, I only remember because of the circumstances and that I wrote an erratic journal entry that day. Graduation from high school loomed close for me. I loathed moving away from town again. Although I can’t remember why we moved from Springdale, it seems like Dad wanted to be close to Mr. Dunivan’s house and car shop near there. (Mr. Dunivan was married to a paternal cousin. I grew up thinking he was the cousin, rather than his wife.) I was surprised that Mom and Dad were moving together; their feuds were becoming bloodier and louder. Barring a duel to the death in the street, I assumed that my graduation would be the apex of their shared hatred for one another, at least married hatred.

My brother left ASU and came home long enough to realize his best option was to be somewhere else. He joined the Army while we still lived on Cottonwood. My sister was long gone, on her circuitous road to disaster.

We rented a house next to the landlords in Elm Springs, one of whom was the postmaster at Elm Springs. I’m 75% certain of the last part.  Our house was literally next to the parking lot where the trucks idled. The constant hum and rumble of diesel trucks never ceased. I’m not using hyperbole; they literally never turned off. It required an adjustment, but once in the background, everything sounded crazily quiet by comparison.

Elm Springs was a great little town. We had our own version of Joe the Tiger King, a strange man who owned escape-prone large cats. He lived right off Highway 112, which cut through Elm Springs. The roads were ideal for running, biking, and walking. I lived in Elm Springs the first and only time I was a victim of a deliberate hit-and-run while I was running. I guess it would be a hit-and-run-and-running in that case. That’s a story for another day. The house was near the community building, on the opposite side of the employee’s parking lot across from the diesel lot.

It was from that house that my dad finally fled Northwest Arkansas to return to Monroe County. He never returned to live in NWA. He died a few years later. I could not understand why my parents had inflicted so many years on us by staying together. Individually they were treacherous. Together, toxic and flammable. It seems like they needed both victims and witnesses to their lunacy. It’s a great foundation from which to draw stories. Oddly, this is the house my Mom lived at when she went to rehab for the first time and before she lost her great job at SW Bell aka AT&T. For the golden era shortly after her return from rehab, I couldn’t believe she was the same person. The golden era of sobriety didn’t last long. She kept finding higher cliffs to jump proverbially from after her sobriety.

If you would have told me that my Mom and Dad would have voluntarily remarried one another after intervening marriages to other people, I would have laughed. They originally married on Feb. 12th, 1964. They remarried on Feb. 12th, 1993. Dad died 7 months later.

While we were in the Willis Shaw house, it was an erratic series of brutal nights. Rent-A-Center didn’t exist then. If it had, we would have bought 30 roomfuls of furniture. For reasons still unclear to me, one of my parents would buy or bring home a wide variety of glass furniture, or furniture that was easily lifted. I often amused myself by considering the purchase of a box of used plates from the Tontitown Flea Market on Elm Springs Road. (It used to be called the ‘original.’ Everyone misses it.) I could then stack them on the counter or table in huge piles, ready to be grabbed by beer or whiskey-scented fingers in anger. After each round of furniture melees, Dad would load the pieces into his truck and dump them at Mr. Dunivan’s, or burn them there.

I have a lot of stories from this place. This one, though, amuses me.

There were a few houses marked by greater-than-average savagery: my cousin Leta’s house in Tontitown, the tiny tin can trailer where Don Tyson now meets Butterfield Coach, the trailers on Piazza Road, and the Willis Shaw house, as I remember it in my memories.

Somewhere out there in this world, there’s a man who tells a terrifying story, one that began with his intention to check on the welfare of people in a house in Elm Springs next to the Willis Shaw lot. I call him Cowboy Boots Man. How long he had been out on the road in his 18-wheeler is something I’m not aware of. But I do know that he pulled in and walked across the street to enter the vehicle parking area where his truck sat, after at least 3 weeks of not being driven. Though my memory is a little dim, I think it was about 8 p.m. He must have been worn out from driving for weeks.

He probably heard a thunderous crash and perhaps a series of screams and shouts. I’ll remind you at this point that due to the trucks always running, the volume required to pierce the atmospheric blanket of noise must have been chillingly loud.

The back of the house where my room was had a bad door directly from it. This was invaluable on many nights. My bedroom was cavernously huge, as an add-on sat at the back. I had a couch. I also had an incredibly bizarre old organ that someone gave me. Because of my mismatched skill with electronics, I had modified it to allow me to input/output and to record with it. I wrote some truly strange music in those days. I could also record the rantings and violence of my parents. I didn’t keep those recordings, which is a shame, given the historical clarity they would have provided me later in life.

That evening, I’d left and taken a very long walk, after running earlier in the day. I assumed that upon my return that my mom and dad would have lost all interest in their violent fight. I was wrong. I looked into the living area, and the carnage was almost comical. My parents were screaming insults back and forth. Mom was sitting near the t.v. and dad was on the edge of the upended couch. He held a sawed-off 20-gauge shotgun in his lap. In one hand, he had a bottle of whiskey. The gun didn’t alarm me. I’d seen it pulled in a fight repeatedly. No one could guess the alchemy which determined at what point my Dad might lose his temper permanently.

I shut my bedroom door and just as I sat down on the cheap couch in my room, I heard a bang on the front door. Bang! Bang! Bang! Someone was at the door. That raised the hairs on the back of my neck. Interlopers made it very dangerous for everyone present. I opened the bedroom door. Dad stumbled across the mess of broken household items and flung open the front door.

“I heard someone screaming…” the man began to say. Just as he started to speak, Dad raised the shotgun at him. “What the f$%^,” the man half-shouted. I don’t remember what Dad said. It was both threatening and a little humorous. The man must have not registered that laws were inapplicable to my Dad in this state.

He asked if everyone was okay and took a step forward as if he was going to stick his head inside the door. Dad was initially surprised and almost fell backward. In the interim, Mom was rambling incoherently and angrily in the background. Dad took a swig of whiskey and then took steps toward the man. He hastily back-pedaled away, retreating to the edge of the concrete porch. He grabbed one of the wrought-iron decorative posts to steady himself. Dad flicked the light switch with the hand holding the whiskey bottle. The light came on, illuminating the face of the man who was only trying to help.

Dad raised the shotgun, and for a second, I knew he would cross one of the few remaining lines and shoot. He did. The gun blasted and Dad’s arm flew up with the shot. It sounded like a bomb went off inside the house. Even Mom stopped angrily ranting momentarily. The man stood frozen in place. Though it’s not quite right, Dad then asked, “Anything else, c#cks#cker?” and took another drink from the bottle and howled as he sometimes did.

It was a frozen moment. Without a word, the man turned and ran toward the street, even though he was wearing cowboy boots. Mom jumped up, or tried to, and fell face-first across the upended couch. She flipped over like a child’s toy knocked off a high shelf.

Dad turned off the porch light and slammed the front door. “Goodbye, c#cks#cker,” he said to himself. “C#cks#cker,” as I’ve probably mentioned, was almost a prayer word for him. He sat the whiskey on the shelf nearby and sat the shotgun next to it. “Imma going to bed,” he said. I know he saw me there, but thankfully he said nothing to me. He walked to my right and down the hallway to the bedroom on the righthand side of the hallway on the end. I went into my bedroom and went outside through the backdoor. I walked around the side toward the employee parking lot and waited.

I saw no sign of the man who just saw his life pass in front of his eyes.

No one else came by that night. No police. Though it will cause some strife to hear it, even if the police had come, it was easy to ‘persuade’ them to lose interest. Dad or Mom could have held up the decapitated head of the other, and I’m certain the police would have asked them to please keep the noise level down.

The next day, I peeked out into the living room early. Mom was still lying on the floor near where she fell. She’s moved a couple of feet during the night. Passed out, I presumed. I took a long run, wondering what the day would look like. Early morning fights were the ugliest. Fewer words, more bile. Unlike the other parts of the day, it was the one time when holding a cup of scalding hot liquid seemed to present the insurmountable urge to fling it at one’s spouse in anger. “The best part of waking up, is 3rd-degree burns on your face,” was my family’s version of the Folger’s commercial.

Hours later, when I came out of my bedroom from reading and before I had to go to work, Dad was outside, running his hand along the front panel of his truck. There were pellet dents all along its surface. The shotgun had been moved, so I assumed Dad put it away, either under a piece of furniture or under his truck seat. I could hear Dad cursing under his breath.

“Did Kack do this?” he asked. (A nickname for my Mom.)

I didn’t want to answer either way.

I chose the middle option: I lied. I figured he didn’t remember most of it.

“I wasn’t here.”

I wondered about the Cowboy Boots Man long after. Why didn’t he call the police? Did it cure him of his desire to help people? Did landlords ever check references when my parents expressed an interest in their properties?

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P.S. The picture is one from my parent’s second wedding at the Lutheran Church in Rich, Monroe County. I was the flower girl. In a twist, my dad, who loathed formal wear, wore a suit minus tie. I wore my beloved “get shot in Chicago” jacket with a glowing “X” on the left side, which is a story unto itself.

The New Look For A New World

 

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Having ventured into the world of helping someone get their hair did, I now present my foray into covid fashion photography. I’m wearing a combo of George, Dickies, and almost-purloined footwear. The bag I’m wearing is Walgreens, available locally. Unlike other supermodels, I waited until after eating to pose. Elegance takes work and I need people to see my struggle with beauty.

Love, X

Saturday Morning Notes

 

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-I’m an expert stylist now, apparently. Dawn surprisingly asked for my assistance doing her hair, including hair color. Given my prank-to-seriousness ratio, you think alarm bells would have prevented her from such a suggestion. The social distancing period is a great time to find out what works and what doesn’t. Keep your fingers crossed. We don’t own any firearms, so the odds of me surviving are good.

-My humble cousin wrote a fabulous nostalgia story about my grandma. Thousands of people have read it and rightfully loved it. Granda would shake her head at our modern foolishness but would also appreciate the love that echoes in the story. Grandma survived a tornado that demolished my original small town, as well as the great depression, multiple wars, and men in general. I’d do anything to sit in her living room in the cloud of bacon smell and listen to her take on the world we see outside.

-Tempering the joy I’ve had watching my cousin and another fellow writer realize their gifts, my trollish alcoholic relative made his return. I had to learn some new website management skills to eradicate his footprint. I’ve had to blacklist ip addresses and multiple email accounts, as well as turn off automatic comments in places where it will be a hindrance to other people connecting with me. You’d think that needing to make multiple identities would trigger a bell of caution in someone’s mind. That’s what alcoholism does. It blinds people to the harm they’ve inflicted. They build impossible narratives to reshape their role as one of victim instead of perpetrator. It’s not his fault that he doesn’t see himself in the way that those around him do. I can’t change him – and neither can they. I make an effort to avoid needlessly embarrassing him, despite his trail of angry words. I make no mention of him to family and friends. They just know I’m struggling to find a way forward with an anonymous family member who insists on control, anger, and a dedication to drink. During the last blog blitz, the person in question posted some outrageously offensive words, including an implication I’d murdered someone. He probably doesn’t realize I kept screenshots of each incident of nuttiness and hate. I don’t look at the folder containing it, as each piece is a roadmap to mental decline that should have been avoided. He still rewrites history even though everyone involved compared notes and realized that the issue wasn’t us; rather, it was an addiction that went untreated and festered. I can’t imagine cursing at someone via text more than once, or haranguing anyone, much less a family member, after being asked to stop. The anger would signal to a rational person that moving on or radio silence would best serve everyone. While I don’t wish him a lesser life, I long for a sustained silence and the absence of his needlessly erratic finger to no longer pierce the bubble of my better life. Distance is the best gift he can provide; my own monkeys and circus require my vigilance. My wish to have a life devoid of alcoholism is mine to make. I wasted too many years allowing the pathology of alcoholics to bend me. Worse, I cannot pretend otherwise.

–Note: Since I already wrote a novel during revision of the above paragraph… I don’t live a life with drama or those suffering addictions. In my world, the normal one, those with issues get help and we help them get it. People exhibiting angry behavior don’t stay in our orbit. It’s bad for everyone. Allowing the person with behavior issues to drive the car is pure lunacy. As for my relative, it was painful trying to distance myself again after years of needless strife he put between me and anyone in his inner circle and those who knew his secret. It didn’t have to be that way. He could have gone to rehab more than once. He could have stopped drinking. Once we started talking again, it took an accidental conversation with someone close to him to realize that not only had the addiction taken control of his life, but that he was actively campaigning to create differing fantasy worlds depending on who he spoke to. We’d all been “had,” so to speak. It was a crushing discovery. I didn’t recover from it. In the midst of it, I felt an immense pain for the people around him. I know firsthand the darkness that angry addiction conceals. The person I once knew was gone in spirit, leaving a resentful and angry man bent on maintaining his addiction. All of us pay. I can’t do it. I tried.

-My in-laws are finally settled in Springdale. I’m going to miss the horrible drive to the middle of nowhere. Having them so close to the things we take for granted is going to improve substantially all of our lives. I’m certain. I’m jealous of their house. It isn’t new, but I would pay a hefty price to swap neighborhoods with them.

-While next week might provide the anticipated kick in the nether regions for my daring to say it, returning to work after a bit of an absence was weirdly comforting. The day started with a bit of amusement. A knee-high black and white dog ran into the dock entrance. (It was of the good-boy breed, obviously.) Although there was a covid screening table staffed with vigilant people, the happy canine ignored the quarantine lines and admonitions. We all stopped, happily petting the dog, and giving it the good boy love he deserved. Once one of the volunteers had him back outside, he again madly dashed back inside as I started to turn the corner out of sight. I laughed harder than I have in a while. Even though I only missed three days of actual work, something substantial had shifted in that interim.

-The same is true out in the world in general. The mood shifted, too. Whether it’s advisable or not, I’ve noted a trend that brought more people back out. Whether it is crisis fatigue or attributable to misinformation, people are simply looking at the pandemic differently. The inevitability has hit a threshold of some sort. It is difficult to explain. It’s observable, though. Those of us who are essential and exposed to a large cross-section of the population see it increasing each day. If you’ve heard that essential personnel and those who simply couldn’t self-isolate look at this crisis in a markedly different way, it is the truth. This pandemic has segregated our perspective on it and its effects going forward.

-Though this prediction is not scientific, I predict we will emerge from isolation sooner than what is recommended. The things I’ve witnessed by being in the medical field have shaped me in ways that I’m still thinking about. I predict that the patterns emerging will determine our future resolve to follow the same blueprint. Along with a prediction of emerging from isolation sooner, I predict that the solidarity in resolve so many had at the onset of this virus will not sustain to the next pandemic. Again, these are not things I’m comfortable with. The trends are observable, though.

-I hope everyone who had the chance took time to sort through their old photos, the ones collecting dust in forgotten places. The people who preceded us need an occasional nod to reinvigorate us. Share those pictures with everyone you can.

See The Silver Lining Of The Pepperoni

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The belt in the picture tells the story of healthier eating since February 1st.

I’m officially adding two words to my vocabulary: precovid and postcovid. We will need words to divide our lives easily into instantly recognizable periods. Both ‘precovid’ and ‘postcovid’ serve that purpose. Everyone can understand their meaning without explanation. All of us recognize the truth of the two words. “Remember before?” will be one of our go-to phrases in the ‘after’ of this.

My wife bought me a new belt last year. I don’t use it because it’s rigid and lacks the comfort of my old one. It’s also wider and feels like I stole Hulk Hogan’s WWE belt. Not that anyone missed it, but I’ll take comfort any day over the options of style, fashion, or common sense.

When I started, I had no way of knowing that the pandemic would hit. Once it did, it eerily served as a replacement for the therapy rubberband that many people use for behavior modification. Looking at the underlying conditions contributing to COVID told me, “Hey you, dumbass!” And not politely.

I’ve read a bunch of commentary in the last few weeks about people increasing in weight and girth because of being isolated. My case reflects the opposite. I’m not trapped at home. My job places me right in the beast’s barrel, so to speak. Even when I’m too tired to fuss over ‘what’ I’m going to eat, I’ve so far resisted “the call of the pepperoni.” As you might guess, I love a bathtub full of chips and salsa.

Despite my previous bitching and moaning about Walmart in the precovid days and their hateful self-serve kiosks, Walmart (and Harps too), has been an unforeseen blessing. I don’t give my praise begrudgingly; they deserve it. It hasn’t been perfect. But their presence has made life drastically easier for many of us, whether we’re isolated or at liberty due to being essential.

Please throw this praise into my face once we’re past the crisis and I return to my hobby of freelance bitching and moaning.

As the particulars of the epidemic mounted, I often looked at my weight and nervously shook my head. I’ve had a dozen chances to lose enough to determine if my blood pressure would no longer require medication. I’ve lacked the wit or will to make it so. That’s on me. Pepperoni and starches are my mortal enemy. My wife and I still have 400+ assorted candy bars in a closet. I’ve eaten none of them. However, my previous failures to stop hurting myself by overeating continue to be my burden.

I haven’t eaten from the cafeteria at work since the beginning of January. Most often, my breakfast, which I tend to eat between 5 and 6 a.m., consists of a can of green beans, tomatoes, or soup. It’s the spices added that add the delight.

From there, I’ve resisted the pull of fast food. There have been exceptions, but even then, I’ve relented from filling my cavernous yaw like a dump truck.
I had Pizza Hut one night, but ordered my favorite, one which sounds terrible to sensible people: thin crust, no cheese, minimal sauce, no meats. With 10 different spices and sauces. You’ll I know I’ve lapsed into sadomasochism is you see me attempting to eat Dominos; or rather, the box it comes in. Studies have shown that Dominos pizza isn’t actually food.

I’m waiting for the enchanted umbrella of consistency to slip off my shoulders. I know myself too well.

We all see the reminders to see the good, find those who are helping and try to peer into the ether to see benefits from our inescapable calamities. Mine is this: the virus was a knock on my front door. Let’s see if the lesson is transitory or lasting in my case.

P.S. I’m not bragging. It’s dangerous, because tomorrow might bring new challenges that derail me. For example, someone might give me a truckload of potato chips, pepperoni, or pasta.