Category Archives: Family

Mama’s Lullaby

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When the story is good, nothing else exists outside of those pages. I love to read. Always have. Someone standing in the same room asking me a question might as well be a mile down the road asking it because I won’t hear the question. I can’t hear the question. 

A recent conversation with my cousin, who is a writer and avid reader, made me ask where or how he gained his love for the written word. It also prompted me to think where I gained mine. The answer in a word is Mama. Thoughts of her and reading bring memories from my childhood flooding in. 

When I was very small, reading was a huge part of my day. Mama read to me as a way of both entertaining me and lulling me to sleep for a nap. Her tone was soothing. Its sound was like a soft blanket wrapping around me. 

As I grew, Mama returned to work, and I stayed with a sitter while my brother and sister were in school. It reduced my reading time, but it didn’t eliminate it. Even when she was surely exhausted and hated the thought of it, my mother read an evening story to me. 

Each night, supper was cooked and eaten, the dishes were washed, dried, and put away, and then it was storytime. It was my favorite time of the day. Storytime was like my own special dessert. The anticipation of it through supper and cleanup tasted sweeter than any cake or cookies possibly could. 

The routine was the same each evening. I picked a book, and we settled onto the couch. She always sat near the end where the light from the floor lamp made it easier to see the print regardless of which book I chose. I sat to her right as close as possible. That proximity varied based on the time of year and the temperature inside our small house. Winter temps meant I could get as close as possible; summer temps meant there had to be space so we wouldn’t sweat and cause our skin to stick together. On the cooler evenings, when I smushed myself into her tightly, I could feel the vibration from her voice cause a soft rumble from her body to mine. 

I tended to choose longer books because, no matter the length, one story was usually the limit. Laundry still had to be folded and put away, and everyone had to have baths before bedtime. With five people and one bathroom, that was quite a process to complete. 

No matter how long it took her to read the story, it was never long enough for me. Occasionally, if I had picked the same book too many nights in a row, Mama would suggest a different book. I knew that meant she was tired of that story, so I would exchange the book grudgingly. The disappointment always fell away quickly though—as soon as the first word was read. 

Immediately, I was “in” the story. Everyone and everything else around me disappeared, and I was walking with the characters in the book; feeling what they were feeling, seeing what they were seeing, smelling what they were smelling. All of their experiences became my own and were as real to me as the room I was sitting in.

That wasn’t the end of reading for the night though. One more treat was to come. After I was ready for bed, Mama or my sister would tuck me in, pick up the book Little Visits With God, and read a Bible story to me. After that, a quick prayer, and I was off to dreamland feeling safe and secure. 

As I grew and learned to read on my own, Mama took me to the local library to pick out my own books. What a wonderful place! My first favorite moment was taking the first step inside the library door. It was like stepping into an entirely new world! The smell of books greeted me like the embrace of a favorite family member, and the spark of excitement that jolted and ran through me was like the joy of seeing your best friend at school after a long weekend. 

Our library was, to me, one of the stateliest structures in town with its brick facade and three-story, white columns. You couldn’t tell from the outside, but from the front door, the library was down a flight of steps. Standing on the landing was like overlooking a magic land from a lush hill while fairies spun webs of glowing books.

As a teenager, I had a book in progress at all times. Books opened up worlds I didn’t know existed: places, people, ideas, facts, and so much more. They showed me a vast range of possibilities existed for my future outside the boundaries of the small town I was lucky enough to call home. Books even taught me simple lessons about myself. I feel you asking “like what?” One book, in particular, taught me that scary books really should be avoided altogether. An all-night-by-flashlight binge read of The Amityville Horror and a weeklong inability to sleep drove home the lesson books of that sort were, for me, best left on the library shelf. As a teenager, one book was even a source of tension between my mom and me. Mom, after noticing a Judy Blume book in my room and flipping through it, decided the story wasn’t “suitable” and threw it away without telling me. She then allowed me to search the house for several days and, only after I asked if she had seen it, did she inform me it was in the trash because it was unsuitable for me. I was furious but knew better than to argue, so I only told her with teenage sarcasm, “Thanks for letting me waste so much time looking for it.”

Not only was my mother the source of my love of books, she too was a voracious reader. Having a book in progress, for her, was like having the next breath of air ready to breathe. One time after she came to my bedroom telling me to help with supper, I asked why she didn’t call me from the kitchen. She replied she had done that three times already. Yet, she wasn’t irritated. I presumed she would think I had ignored her calls and questioned her. “Not at all,” she said and then told me a story of her own. When she was my age and engrossed in a book, she didn’t hear her own mother repeatedly calling for help from the kitchen. Suddenly, Mom was brought to reality by a handful of homemade biscuit dough whacking her in the head. From that point on, she chose different times—ones that didn’t interfere with chores—to read. From that experience, she knew I couldn’t hear her when I was reading, and I’m thankful for that realization. Premade biscuit dough in a can would have hurt a lot worse than that handmade dough did. 

That love of books and the magic of libraries remain with me to this day. It is both a simple gift and a deep legacy handed to me by the person who loved me more than any person ever has or ever will.

Tilt Of the X-Axis

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I’ve had this story for a long time, waiting until the fulcrum of my ability to share it flipped over. If you feel I’m being unjust or harsh, I apologize. It’s a true story, one of a few that I’ve guarded. A few people have heard the sanitized version of it. Years ago, I told Mom the story. She became enraged and denied it. “It’s true, Mom and you know it. It’s my story to tell and not yours to deny.” I take no pride in this story – nor shame. I can’t alter the past sequence of events. None were my fault. Failing to share it simply because it strips my parents of their humanity, at least in these moments, is not my responsibility. I had several such conversations with my Mom as the years rolled past.

My cousin built a house in Elm Springs in the early 70s. He moved from an incredible house near the mall. He needed a place where he could build a shop and have a great deal of flexibility with the property. We assumed he was incredibly rich because he built an in-ground pool in the back, one with a slide. For me, an in-ground pool was as unimaginable as anything on the planet. I was accustomed to going to the dirty lakes, streams, and ponds of NWA with my cousin Jimmy. Jimmy was deathly afraid of the water, and his fear was amplified after “Jaws” came out.

All these years later, the house still stands. The pool was filled in by a previous owner. Years ago, I walked through the long yard and around back. The rear of the house seems odd to me now. The patio isn’t as large as I remembered it. Its roof length was held up by 4 vertical posts that expand into a “Y” at each point the posts touch the roof. A large sliding glass door led inside, with the fireplace being to the right and on the rear of the house. I was able to hide in the crevice of the fireplace on the outside sometimes.

I loved the adventure of the water, even I couldn’t swim. Swimming meant ‘somewhere else,’ and that was a place I always wished to be. My biggest issue was that it was impossible for me to relax and enjoy it if my Dad were within ten miles of me when I tried to enjoy it. Those times when I went with Jimmy and my Aunt Ardith and Uncle Buck were glorious. They had issues but they tried to give Jimmy an opportunity to enjoy himself. If my Mom went along, too, I was constantly uncomfortable. Her volatility made enjoying things difficult. I didn’t fear being taught a lesson and drowning with her, though. Thankfully, Aunt Ardith and Uncle Buck gave me a chance to experience something close to normal time at the lake. I wouldn’t have known one if it weren’t for them.

My parents never took us to swim. We only went when accompanying others. It’s a strange observation for me because one of my earliest memories was of me standing up in the back of a black car, as Dad drove. In the passenger seat was the widow of a cousin with whom my dad was having an affair. We were probably headed to Clarendon Beach in Monroe County during that drive.

With Dad, it was always a risk. The incongruity of him telling a 7-year-old, “I’m going to teach you to be a man” still rings alien in my ears. I heard it ten thousand times growing up. Whatever a man might be, his example taught me that I didn’t want anything to do with it. When I grew older and discovered the depth of cruelty he subjected those around him to, I knew my instincts as a child were right.

Mom and Dad generally tried to behave when they were at my cousin’s house in Elm Springs. The cousin’s family was considered superior to us in every meaningful way. My cousin was also Dad’s boss, which made things awkward. He tolerated an incredible amount of shenanigans from my Dad.

One summer night, we were all at my cousin’s house and enjoying the pool, even as the sky darkened. The nights when everyone behaved were typical summer memories: food, overly-sweetened drinks, and all manner of pool games. While every visit had its problems, many nights miraculously avoided the stupidity which characterized my childhood. I think this is true because some of those people who had lives intersecting with my parents had a more reasonable mix of fun, love, and joy. To be sure, they had problems, but not so many that the arc of their lives would fall outside the normal range. For those times in the summer, I’m thankful. I can separate them in my mind from those which would otherwise discolor my memories. For each night punctuated by violence or anger, there were three good ones. The possibility of any given night ending horribly, however, made it difficult to relax and enjoy the otherwise good nights.

Night brought the tendency to drink to excess. This particular night was one of those. At one point, my Dad managed to climb on top of the house in the back, several feet from the pool. He stood over the covered concrete patio and urinated. Someone shouted, “Bobby Dean! Damn it. Don’t piss in the pool.” Whether he was trying to before the shout is anyone’s guess. After hearing it though, he felt a compulsion to try. When he was done, he prepared to try to jump from the roof to the pool. Several people shouted at him not to. At the last second, he tried to get his footing down the side and then jumped from the roof down to the ground. The only thing saving him from serious injury was the fact that he was drunk. It’s relevant to note that several people shouted at Dad to convince him not to attempt to jump from the roof to the pool.

Within seconds, Mom and Dad were screaming at one another incoherently. Luckily, Dad didn’t punch her. He shoved her as hard as he could. She tumbled to the ground. Mom continued to shout while splayed in the grass. It took her a long time to stand up. Each time she’d attempt to get up, she’d lose her balance and fall again. She yelled every curse worse that can be imagined during this process. I’d seen it on repeat throughout my entire young life. Everyone, including the kids, heard every word. In the fantasy version of my memories, I sometimes laugh at the image of one of us kids using a steno notebook to take notes of all the especially memorable curse words as Mom spewed them. They’d watched in fascination and horror as Dad stood on top of the patio roof trying to urinate into the pool, too.

We resumed splashing around and trying to salvage some fun. I never dropped my guard when my parents were around, though. It was certain death.

I don’t remember what I said to one of the cousin’s kids. Whatever it was, I called one of them “Stupid” after one of them had done something unimpressive. It was a harmless comment. He got out of the pool. I probably assumed he went for a drink or some chips under the patio.

I heard Mom screaming from the other side of the pool. I ignored her because I attributed it to her fighting with Dad. Their fights could subside and resume like rolling waves. Whatever happened that night, I knew that we’d experience broken furniture and bruises upon our arrival home.

“Get out of the pool, you little fat fu#$er! Right now.” Mom was screaming from the steps of the pool. I could see her cigarette glowing as hot as she probably was.

My cousin Jimmy said, “I think she’s screaming to you!”

I took steps in the water to meet her and get out of the pool. My feet were as heavy as bricks. Before I even got out of the pool, my Mom was hitting me violently in the face and head. “Did you call him ‘Stupid.’ You don’t call people stupid! I’m tired of telling you, so help me God.” With her shouted amen, she resumed hitting me as everyone watched. “We don’t behave like that.” She sounded completely irrational and her words were slurred into a river of mixed syllables. The only reason she stopped striking me was her arm got tired enough for her to drop her cigarette. Her other hand held a paper-towel covered can of Budweiser. I could see the kid who had told his Mom I’d called him stupid standing there in the dim patio light with a look of horror on his face. At his house, such transgressions were probably met with a stern word and nothing more. That violence could result was now a horrible reality to him. No one shouted for Mom to stop.

When Mom bent to pick up her cigarette, she fell face-first into the ground. She dropped her beer, too. Someone laughed. Mom focused on the fact that someone laughed at her. She again did the dance of attempting to struggle to her feet. She was cursing again and screaming something incoherent about being laughed at. I moved away from her and went to the far side of the house where it was much darker.

I could hear Mom screaming and ranting still.

Not too long before, she’d been screaming and fighting with Dad. Her anger and beer-fogged brain shifted to shouting that I’d pushed her down. She was horribly embarrassed that someone had laughed at her for falling while beating me. Several times during my childhood my Mom told my Dad some crazy stories and lies. Regardless of who wants to hear it or not, there was something violently broken in my Mom and she at times reveled in the misery of people around her. As her anger peaked, her appetite for others to suffer rose commensurately. Although I’ve implied it before, this desire to see the world burn literally resulted in her burning down places she lived.

That both she and my Dad had engaged in public fighting, child abuse, cursing, drunkenness, not to mention urinating in front of a group of children, none of that seemed relevant. The hypocrisy should have struck her dead where she stood.

Within seconds, my Dad was hollering for me. I knew better than to continue to hide so I walked around the corner of the house. He staggered toward me and struck me backhanded. For whatever reason, I didn’t fall or shout. He hit me again. I felt my ear pop. Dad grabbed me and dragged me toward the pool. I welcomed being thrown in the deep end even if it resulted in me drowning. Instead, he screamed at me for me to go up the ladder of the slide. I didn’t mind using the slide if I wasn’t hurried. I could get to the edge of the pool quickly, even though I couldn’t swim. Mom shouted drunken encouragement. When it suited her, she loved Dad’s violence. It was part of the incredible duality of my Mom that very few people understood about her.

Still, no one shouted for it to stop. Whether they were frozen in disbelief, the adults knew that Dad’s misbehavior could easily result in someone’s death. It happened before.

My Dad had a long relationship with attempting to drown me. I have several such stories and I’ll share some of them in the next couple of months. Not all of them were horror stories or terrible, as contradictory as that may seem. It might be hard for you to imagine humorous near-drowning stories – but I do have a couple. I climbed the stairs of the slide. My Dad surprisingly went up the steps drunkenly behind me. As I reached the top and was about to put a leg over to position myself, Dad punched me ferociously between the shoulder blades. The breath whooshed from me. I fell face-first into the hard plastic surface of the decline of the slide and my body flipped over. I somersaulted and hit my head near the bottom as I bounced in the pool. I went under and didn’t try to get back above the water. I don’t remember who pulled me out of the pool. I drank a lot of water.

Dad wasn’t finished with me. No one had intervened yet. He shouted at me to get up. I tried to get up. I couldn’t breathe, my ear felt pierced, and my back ached from being punched. I didn’t know I was bleeding a little on my forehead from the impact of the fall onto the slide. “I’ll teach you to be a man!” He pushed me into the pool, where another quart of pool water went down my throat. For those with curious minds, “Pool Water” isn’t a flavor. There was a bit more cruelty from my Dad afterward but I’ll hold back the whip.

Even though my cousin Jimmy was a couple of years younger than me, we talked about this night years later. His dad, my Uncle Buck, had recently died. “I thought I dreamed that, X,” he told me. We both sat, thinking. We shared several stories that night. Even while sharing the harsh ones, we laughed. Our ancestors were dead and much of their power died with them. They wasted great chunks of their lives.

Like the pool at the house in Elm Springs, maybe it would have been better for my memory to have been filled in, too. Whatever scar I earned as a result of that night has long faded into obscurity. I can hear time calling my name, echoing for the day when my feet won’t walk the earth.

These words will remain.

In them, I truly find comfort. In a way that few understand, my sharing them transforms the hate of the moment into a lesser curse.

These words will remain, as shall I, for a moment.

 

A Visit From The Unknown

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This is a story written by a friend, one which details a family member experiencing a brush with the unknown…

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About a ten-minute drive from the interstate, the farmhouse sat on a dirt road a mile or so off the main highway that passed through a tiny community. The house had gray, wooden steps that led onto a nice wide porch with the front door beyond. A few miles further down the road were woods—the best kind for hunting deer and other game; not too dense to navigate but dense enough to provide a good home for wildlife.

It was a Friday night like most Friday nights. She was at home with the company of only her dogs and the television. Her husband was an outdoors man—a farmer and a hunter. He was out hunting that night in the woods close to home.

It was dark out but not yet late enough for the 10:00 newscast, and she decided to get ready for bed before the news came on. She rose from her favorite chair and started for the bedroom at the back of the house. Closely on her heels followed Mindy, a sweet, rescued dog named for the lead female in her favorite TV comedy, and Peanut, a happy beagle. The other dog Jake was with her husband in the woods.

As she reached the middle of the kitchen, something powerful stopped her in mid-step. She didn’t know what it was, but it caused the hair to stand on the back of her neck, and she broke out all over in a cold sweat. At the same instant she froze, Mindy and Peanut froze too and began growling; their hair raised along their backs from head to tail. Nausea from fear swept over her briefly before her legs unfroze, and she darted to the bedroom to grab the gun her husband had placed in the nightstand several years ago.

She had never wanted, much less felt the urge, to use a gun, but she had been instructed on the mechanics and knew instinctively now was the time for it. She snatched the gun from the drawer and rushed the dogs into the bathroom—the only room in the house with a lock.

She and the dogs crouched along the north wall of the small room, near the toilet and as far away as possible from the east-facing window and west facing door. Gripped with fear and gripping the gun tightly, she waited…for what, she didn’t know…while the dogs continued growling that growl that comes from deep in a dog’s throat when it means business and intends to protect the person it loves.

They stayed this way for what felt like an hour when, in fact, only ten to fifteen minutes had passed. Suddenly, the sound of someone banging on the front door and a familiar voice frantically yelling her name broke through the fear that had electrified her and the dogs.

She ran to the bathroom door and emerged to find her husband bursting into the house and running toward her, asking what was wrong and if she was okay. All three dogs were now alternating between barking urgently and growling in warning.

She quickly told him what had happened. He sent her back into the bathroom, and he ran back outside to search the property for signs of an intruder. He searched everywhere—under the house; inside the doghouse, the pump house, and the storage shed; behind the carport. He even went to the edge of the field that flanked the house on three sides and flashed the light into the darkness looking for a telltale sign of an unwanted visitor. After exhausting every place that could be searched, he returned to the house where they double-checked the locks on all windows and exterior doors.

Finally, they sat. Exhausted physically and emotionally. Dripping sweat. They compared stories and timelines, reliving details as they talked. At the same time she was frozen with fear in the kitchen, he was several miles deep into the woods and also paralyzed with fear. His fear was caused by a bluish-gray, smoky light that appeared suddenly; floating nearby. Jake began barking and baying at the light while running toward it. As it hovered, Jake “treed” it as a hunting dog trees an animal. The light continued to glow. At the same time, the man heard the voice of his father who had passed away only a few months before. His father’s voice clearly and strongly stated, “Get home to her!” Stunned and staring wildly at Jake and the shadowy glow, he heard his father’s voice a second time, “Get home to her!”, adding an urgent and forceful, “NOW!”

The man jerked the handlebars of his three-wheeler toward the edge of the woods and pushed the gas lever as far as it would go. The engine revved, the machine jumped, and the wheels spun crazily as he raced toward the tree line to reach the clear path at the edge of the woods. As she, Mindy, and Peanut braced in the bathroom, he and Jake flew down the edge of the trees to bypass an irrigation ditch and reach the relative smoothness of the dirt road. Yanking the machine to the left, he barreled down the road toward the house and soon saw the light from the bathroom window in the distance. He wished desperately for the three-wheeler to go faster.

As he skidded into the yard and slammed the brakes, he cleared the three-wheeler and jumped straight from the ground to the porch. Flying over the steps, he landed at the front door and began frantically beating the door while yelling for his wife. As he and Jake burst through the door, she came running around the corner from the kitchen into the living room.

There would be no sleep that night. Instead, they sat for the longest time comparing their memories, timings, feelings, and gut reactions. They analyzed it over and over for missing pieces and how the parts they did have fit together. There was one fact they never acknowledged or discussed. He had, at some point, wet his pants from fear.

To that point in their lives, neither of them believed in “ghosts,” but, from that moment on, they believed without reservation that his father’s visit to him in the woods that night is what saved her. Still unknown is from who or what.

 

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

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.

 

 

 

 

You’re Not Going To Believe This One (Read Until The End)

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This is true commentary. Some of it isn’t mine to share. I do no disservice to anyone by hitting the high notes of shame and secrecy. When I open up and share, sometimes people share stories with me. Some of them are stunning. Others are evil. A few are joyous. In a bit, I’ll share the general truth of one such story. I’ll do so by telling it anonymously. Whether it happened in Rogers, Arkansas, or Topeka, Kansas, it is a true story.

Throughout my life, I’ve been on the cusp of several discoveries. Some of have been personal, while others have been the sudden surge in my perception of the world. Given the outright ignorance that was mine to claim when I was young, I find myself surprised by who I am. My early life was cloistered and smelled of copper, whiskey, and sweat. Its soundtrack was a cacophony of shouts. I don’t think some of you truly take me at my word: my life was small for the first part of my life. I understood very little and my ability to grow to understand it was limited by the pathology of who I came from. Nature vs. Nurture lost a fight in my head.

An inquisitive mind took me places. DNA broke down doors. I was 52 before discovering I had another sister, one fathered by my racist Dad. While it was an accident, it would have not happened had I not insisted on following family questions over a long road. Revisionists shouted at me my entire adult life. Most wanted allegiance; when not given, they demanded silence. Failing that, they resorted to sustained anger. Their voices are fading though, leaving me to write the history of all the lives I intersected with. I was stunned to know that my suspicions about my Dad were right. DNA collectively slapped my naysayers in the mouth.

When my Dad fathered my sister, he didn’t know about DNA. He didn’t have an idea that it would expose his behavior 40+ years later. Unlike the news stories I found detailing Dad’s misadventures with crime and his DWI fatality, DNA lurked behind the scenes. I won’t share the details of my Dad’s case because they’re not mine to share.

DNA opens doors that people forget existed.

Which leads me to this inept segue…

Many years ago, a doctor told a young woman that her child died during or shortly after childbirth. The woman went home, heart-broken, and barely managed to move ahead with her life. She later delivered another child with the same doctor. That child lived to adulthood.

In secret, the doctor ‘gave’ the baby to a family who wanted children. The baby hadn’t died after all. This family ended up with two such ‘adopted’ babies. They were aware of the circumstances under which the baby was taken illegally from the mother and that the ‘adoption’ papers were forgeries. The stolen baby grew up with her new family.

When the doctor started his nefarious endeavor, DNA wasn’t a calculation. Paperwork could be falsified, lies told, and an impenetrable cloud of confusion could conceal what he’d done.

The doctor? He wasn’t an average doctor. He was respected, known, and had access.

He earned a rich living, had children of his own, and probably excused away his monstrous behavior by convincing himself that the stolen children would have a better life.

This isn’t a new story. It still happens. DNA makes it more difficult to conceal.

I wonder how many of you knew this doctor, or unknowingly knew the mother robbed of her child? Or went to school with the doctor’s children? What would the doctor’s children think of him if his crime were shared with the world? If you’re reading this, it’s possible you’re related to the doctor or know someone else who had their baby stolen from them. It’s one of the reasons I repeatedly tell people to get DNA tests.

Human behavior covers a wide swatch of possibilities. Doctors, midwives, and churches have all taken turns robbing young women of their children.

Because I’ve run across many variations of human deceit, I know statistically that many people out there aren’t related to the people they think they are. Some, although in increasingly smaller numbers, live a life absent a startling truth, one which DNA can help expose.

In this case, the adopted baby girl grew up used DNA testing to find her biological family. She reached out to her birth mom, the one who’d been told she was dead. I try to imagine the shock and horror of getting such a call – one from the adult daughter you’d mourned. I imagine the further horror of realizing that she’d risked having another baby girl stolen her by having her second daughter delivered by the same doctor.

The adopted baby, now an adult, and the mother who suffered a stolen baby attempted to confront the doctor, who still practiced. They confronted him decades after the fact.

How many times can you imagine the doctor stole babies from young mothers?

Did I mention that this is a real story?

The doctor never discovered the agony of being charged with a crime. He didn’t face public shame by looking out the window and seeing a news crew pull up in the parking lot, knowing his crime had been exposed and his face shown on the nightly news.

I wrote a long post about it but didn’t have permission to tell it to the world. I did enough research to discover that the salient points were easily substantiated.

So, I leave you with this doubt: are you SURE you know who your parents are? I’ll say it again. Because of my personal involvement with other cases, I say with full confidence that some of you are living without the truth.

Love, X

 

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.

 

x

 

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

 

 

Pies and Such

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Like most of us, my mamma (pronounced ma’am maw) never wanted to “be a bother to anyone.” On the scale of what she didn’t like, asking someone to do something for her weighed near the bottom – hanging slightly above having her picture taken. As she got older, her reluctance to ask for anything grew.
When she simply couldn’t bring herself to ask directly, she became most creative at pointing a conversation in the direction she wanted it to go. Her hesitancy to ask and her creativeness in asking indirectly was quite endearing.
My favorite all time example occurred one Saturday afternoon when my husband and I made the quick one-hour drive to visit her. Always glad to see us, she seemed a bit preoccupied that day. As usual, we carried the bulk of the conversation, but this time, during a brief lull, she suddenly inserted, “Whada y’all find goodta eat?” Anyone from the South (or a true transplant like my Illinois-born and raised husband) understands that to mean “What do you like to eat?”
Since the conversation to that point was not even closely related to food, we were thrown for a minute. To buy some time, I asked, “What was that, Mamma?” She repeated, “Whada y’all find goodta eat?”
Still a bit confused, I asked, “Do you mean in general, or are you asking if we’re hungry now?” She replied, “In general.” Finally catching on, I told her we like all kinds of food and asked, “What do YOU like to eat?” Knowing two of her favorite snacks were pork rinds and potato chips, it was amusing to hear instead an enthusiastic “I like those McDonald’s pies!”
Now fully aware of the game we were playing, my husband asks “Mamma, would you like us to go get you a McDonald’s pie?” He almost didn’t get all the words out before she was exclaiming, “Naw!! I don’t need one, I just like’em! Unless y’all want one; y’all want one?!”
My husband and I smile and glance sideways at each other. We stand (while she continues to protest she doesn’t want one unless we do) and head out the door while she yells for us to come back and get some money.
We return with McDonald’s apple pies for all. It’s hard to say who devoured theirs first, but it was obvious no one relished that apple pie more than she did.
From that point forward, McDonald’s was our first stop when we rolled into town for a visit with Mamma. The pies were cheap, but the joy they brought was priceless, and the happy memories of shared apple pies linger on.
To this day, 20+ years later, when one of us is craving something and wanting a partner in crime, the magic question is “Whada y’all find goodta eat?”

 

Dear Darla

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Dear Darla:
I’m glad you’ve moved to Springdale. Other than being able to see me more frequently, which is always a treat for everyone, you’ll be able to see Springdale from the window without being able to go outside until 2025.

Years ago, I scanned a couple of thousand of pictures from your life. It was something that I enjoyed tremendously. It was a lot of work, too, in part because I had to pull each photo separately and clean it before scanning.

When I saw that you had a box of pictures I’d never seen before yesterday, I almost fainted. We thought I’d had a pass of all the pictures chronicling your life, not to mention Dawn & Julia.

When I came home today, I sat down and began to scan yesterday’s ‘find’ of pictures without knowing what each group, envelope, or stack might hold. Some of the pictures are simply amazing. As you know, Dawn and I often wonder if a picture exists of us back in the 80s when we dated the first time. Sadly, there wasn’t one in this discovered treasure of pictures, either.

I can’t thank you enough for the prolonged joy I’ve already experienced sitting at my desk, and placing three or four pictures at a time on the scanner, assembling a timeline and history in my head.

A lot of people don’t understand me when I try to explain the discovery and wonder I feel when I get to live in reverse through other people’s pictures. I’ve probably scanned 50,000 pictures manually in my lifetime; I’ve never done a project that didn’t enrich me in some way.

These pictures were hidden from me for an extra decade. I hope we find more – and more memories to share.

“A picture in a box is worthless without human eyes and emotion to experience it.” – X

Thank you, Darla.

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