Category Archives: Family

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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You’re Not Going To Enjoy This Story

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I have some stories, many of which I won’t tell until some of those involved die. It’s not out of respect, though. I know I don’t get all the details right. Stories are certainly more complicated than I make them as I reduce and distill whatever swirls in my head when I share pieces of my life. Others attack the details and forget to defend the essential truth behind the story. I have dozens of anecdotes and stories I’ve written. Most of them are too raw or lacking a central focus. With many of them, I just concluded, “It’s time” and throw them out here as if they need to breathe. With some of my stories, it would be folly for the people involved to identify themselves. Their denials won’t age well. If you think I’m writing about you or someone you know, don’t ‘out’ yourself.

I wrote the initial version of this sometime in 2001. In reality, this encompasses several conflicting stories.

When I was in junior high, I had a few experiences which jarred me. A couple of them are closely guarded secrets. Because I could recognize violence in places most people saw few signs of such, there were a few times in which I was rendered floorless in recognition of how bottomless some people were. I now know that there are abusive people from all walks of life. Worse still, some are adept at recognizing children who are already at risk and then do further damage to them. Oddly, it took me years to realize that I also had a congruent weakness: I often failed to see the danger behind a smiling face. Many of the biggest monsters hide in plain sight, behind an easy laugh. Youngsters who are mistreated tend to be distrustful of everything, of course – but they also tend to contradict their instincts by responding with too much trust toward a smiling face or friendly demeanor.

Make no mistake, I encountered some incredible adults and teachers when I was young. Don’t make the mistake of thinking I don’t recognize the debt I owe them. Talking about the lesser people doesn’t denigrate the better people in my life. All are stories. Likewise, you must accept the reality that some of the worst human beings I’ve known were teachers, coaches, and other professionals. The positive examples outnumber the negative by a staggering margin. Not talking about the negative examples doesn’t help anyone, though. Regardless, I get amused when people call into question my motives for sharing. As Anne Lamott said, “You own everything that happened to you. Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better.”

I was beyond the normal scope of ignorant when I was younger. My family life didn’t foster a broad worldview and often no expectation that I would live to adulthood. Each weekend brought dread, even as I found youthful distractions. Much of my life was wasted trying to bridge the gap between my home life and the one outside its reach. I loved school in so many ways; the greatest and most singular was simply that it was not home. I often say anywhere was safer than home, generally speaking.

At school, I had befriended someone who seemed like she might have a glimpse of my life, an overview I didn’t have to explain. I’ll call her Tammy. It’s important to note that this wasn’t a romantic relationship. After a while, I noted that she didn’t want me to notice her mood swings. After I met her parents, I made the mistake of asking if her dad liked to drink, followed by me seeing that her mother seemed to behave like my mom. I thought I was sharing a secret, one Tammy might reciprocate. I could not have been more mistaken. In the short term, I just avoided her as she became belligerent and angry after I told her about my family life. I don’t know why I thought my honesty would let her be able to confess her own dark secrets. I tried to explain it to her. It only made her angrier. She couldn’t get past the idea that I “knew” what happened at her house when no one was looking.

She told me that her dad was going to find me and give me a dose of what I deserved. She threatened me if I shared my ideas about her home life with anyone. When she said it, I knew that her dad had probably actually said the words, in part because of the details she provided. Her eyes lit up with crazy glee each time she’d mention that her dad was going to beat me. It sounds like an exaggeration, but she probably said that her dad was going to beat me at least twenty times. She seemed a little too focused on ensuring that I was at least scared. Though I don’t remember any of the details, it was evident that her dad had probably hurt a few people in his lifetime. Years later, it occurred to me that Tammy might have earned a temporary reprieve from her dad’s beatings by offering me as a sacrifice. Children living with violence learn techniques to avoid scrutiny and to give the abuser another target. It’s part of the reason they lose their confidence and ability to make rational choices in later life.

One day, after a school function at another school, I was walking out of the building to make my long walk home. In those days, I was accustomed to walking miles from events. My parents had decided they didn’t want kids after they had us. I saw Tammy getting into her dad’s ugly little car, and I made a full swing around the edge of the lot to avoid them near the exits. To my surprise, a few moments later, her dad pulled his car alongside me and stopped. The driver’s side tire missed me by an inch.

He glowered at me. He was a huge, overweight man. “Boy, do I have to get out of this car and kick your ass?” Keep in mind that I was in junior high, and he was a middle-aged adult, one with a good job. He went on, shouting as the volume of his voice rose and fell. I don’t remember the words, just the expectation that he was, in fact, going to exit the vehicle and hit me until whatever plagued him faded.

Some people were lucky and never learned the truth that adults could hit a child in those days and face no consequences. Not only did I experience it personally many times, but I also witnessed it too. I’m not sure which was worse.

(I erased seven specific anecdotes at this point, ones dealing with job title and/or names. Whether it’s cowardice, self-protection or a soft heart, I’m not sure. They are not positive or life-affirming examples, though. A couple of the stories tell an entirely different story about some of the adults we shared growing up in the same community.)

Tammy’s dad said some angry things. Tammy was in the back seat, her face full of satisfaction. I’ll never forget that ugliness and glee. Her mom cowered in the front passenger seat, her head recoiling a little each time her husband shouted. Because of my dad, I knew that there was no right answer for the anger, just as there hadn’t really been a cause. Abusers don’t seek justification for their anger or violence – just an outlet. Justifications only come in the rare event that they are held accountable for their behavior. I stood there, silent and stupid, until Tammy’s dad was done screaming and threatening me.

Much later, Tammy continued her effort to retaliate against me for knowing her family’s secret. She enlisted another student to threaten me. I’ll call him Eric. Tammy had told him all manner of lies to get him really angry at me. I tried to be friendly and to avoid a fight, which only seemed to stoke his anger. I was a master of evasion due to my dad’s years of training.

Because I realized that Tammy was crazy, probably through no fault of her own, I found her and politely told her to please leave me alone. A couple of classes later, Eric approached and said something like, “I told you to leave Tammy alone, you sick f%%k. Next time I see you,” he said as he put a gun finger to his temple. I didn’t answer him as he continued to throw insults. People generally are going to do whatever it is they’re going to do. I had no doubt that Eric would beat me to a pulp. What Eric didn’t know, though, is that I would likely remove a part of his body against his will during the process. Some people fight to win because they are able; people like me fought when they had to, with the goal of making the assailant not do it twice.

Later, my dad had punched me squarely in the jaw when I wasn’t expecting it, precisely with the stated goal of teaching me to be mean. When I got up too quickly, he hit me again to demonstrate his superiority. His excuse? I was running too much. He also enjoyed giving me impromptu lessons on manhood. I had started running in March of 9th grade and lost a lot of weight. After a particularly bad day of home and school, I just decided I was going to start running. I had dizzy spells for a while after the outburst leading to being punched twice in the face by my dad. Because of the second punch, I had fallen backward and hit my head against the native stone fireplace at the end of our trailer. I lived in Piazza Road in Tontitown at the time, just past where the pavement ended. That was one of the times I told my mom that something was seriously wrong. I was covered by phenomenal insurance through her work. Mom refused to take me to the doctor, even after I made the mistake of saying I wouldn’t mention what brought on the pain and dizziness. She made a point to tell my dad that I had wanted to go to the doctor. She made sure that Dad understood that I implied I had something I could say to the doctor if he asked. It sounds like lunacy now. Mom at times exceeded the symptoms of being a victim and joined in the sadism. When Mom told Dad that I needed to go to the doctor, he waited until I let my guard down a bit and grabbed me and swung me around and into the cheap wood panel wall leading to the bedrooms at the end. I felt the wall crack as I collided with it and fell backward onto the linoleum. I’m convinced I did at least fifteen cents worth of damage to the cheap panel wall that ran throughout the trailer. Dad was shouting drunkenly at me that I should keep my mouth shut about the dizziness.

The worst part was the look of crazy smugness on my mom’s face as she watched Dad be brutal to me. I jumped up, ran into the bedroom, and immediately climbed out the ground-level window of my bedroom. I don’t know how long I stayed outside in the dark. I do know that the next afternoon when I arrived home from school that I took one of Dad’s pistols from the closet in his bedroom and walked down the dead-end part of Piazza Road. Several hundred yards down, there was a small valley and a stand of trees. I threw the pistol as far as I could, over the barbed wire fence and into the brush and rocks there. Dad had a massive collection of guns; he’d eventually notice the pistol was missing. His drunkenness would prevent him from tying me to its loss. It was a stupid thing for me to do. It did, however, make me feel immensely better. Apart from the fact that I could have shot him, he’s lucky I didn’t toss ten of his precious guns into the valley by 4K farms. I did take several hundred dollars worth of specialty ammunition from dad’s stash and leave it next to the fence along the road, though. Dad was a convicted felon in more than one state; he wasn’t supposed to have firearms. Despite this, the police who infrequently visited never took any of his guns, even when people had been shot or shot at. Mom and Dad smoked a lot of marijuana when we lived on Piazza Road, too. I threw out a large clear bag of it after another beating. I was in the lower little shed under the back porch of the trailer practicing my French Horn. Dad grabbed my French Horn and hit me with it. The bells struck me in the nose. Surprisingly, it didn’t break. It did spew an amazing amount of blood for ten or fifteen minutes. I went upstairs and went into my parent’s room to get a bowl of marijuana they kept inside aluminum foil in mom’s dresser. Instead, I found a large bag of marijuana.

While I didn’t feel particularly angry, it must have been lurking inside of me. As dumb as it might sound, I was furious that I had trouble reading due to the dizziness. The libraries were my sanctuaries. Reading was my outlet into the world without needing people to explain it to me. It was also the only way I could remotely mimic the people around me. The librarians at the high school knew me well. One afternoon, I had darted over to the library to put a book in the drop slot and walked back across the narrow street to campus. Missing the bus was a real problem for me, and as a result, I generally wasted no time getting back to the bus pickup area.

Eric was parked along the road by Murphy Park and the Springdale library. He was leaning against his car and chatting inattentively with a girl. I walked up and put my books on the ground. Eric turned to me to mouth off. I said, “No.” As Eric began to speak, I hit him left-handed the way my dad had involuntarily trained me to hit. Eric didn’t even have time to get his hands up. Although I’m not proud of it now, I hit him as hard as I could. One of his teeth punctured my middle finger above the middle knuckle. Eric’s head snapped backward. I didn’t even wait for him to retaliate. Had I caved in his face, I don’t think I would have stopped punching him. Something about the unholy trinity of him, my father, and Tammy’s dad broke a circuit in my brain. When he tried to fall, I dragged him by the hair as he screamed. He had the classic feathered hair that so many people preoccupied with their looks used to have in the early 80s. I threw him in the grass on the practice field (where the track now resides) across from the public library. I then crouched down and put my knee across the back of his head. I didn’t have a plan. I didn’t know I was going to hit him until I did it.

A car with seniors inside pulled up and the girl Eric had been talking to told them an underclassman was kicking the crap out of Eric. They all piled out of the car and came around. Just as one of them started to grab my arm and pull me off, I jumped up and away, not saying a word. “You’re Mike’s brother!” said one of them. Another one of them said, “I don’t care who he is, I’m going to kill him.” Because I didn’t want to be literally killed, I said something smart such as, “I’d like to see you try, coc%@#$%^&!” and took off running. Did I mention I ran several miles a day back then? It paid off. They gave up trying to catch up with me in less than a minute, even though two of them ran all the way past the old tennis court area in a failed attempt to corner me. I gave them the high-bird salute with both hands, laughing. One of the people involved later tried to kick my French Horn as he walked by. My French Horn was not only a school-owned instrument, but it was sacred to me. A few days later, I poured a can of coke onto the front seat and dash of his beloved car. It was hot, so I imagine the cleaning process was delightful. It wasn’t a habit of mine to vandalize things. Once the idea was in my head, though, it was insurmountable. I felt terrible about the coke. I also kept reminding myself that the senior in question had hurt several people I knew, all weaker and smaller than him. He loved torturing other kids. I recognized the look in his eye and on his face when he was violating someone.

Eric? He made an effort to avoid me and to ensure that people were around him. Whatever else I had accomplished, I put the idea into his head that I could spontaneously dance on his head again.

I waited a while and went back for my books, which were surprisingly still in the grass. I don’t remember how I got home that day, as my family lived over by 4K farms in Tontitown. It’s hard to believe that it was over 7 miles from the high school to our trailer on Piazza Road. It seemed like 50 back then. My finger bled for quite a while, especially when I played my French Horn.

Years ago, I wrote a letter to both Eric and the girl he was talking to, to apologize. For the life of me, I can’t remember the girl’s name. Eric didn’t deserve to be punched so hard. On the other hand, he shouldn’t have persisted in terrifying someone he perceived as weaker. That’s a prescription for disaster. I do remember apologizing and also pointing out that the feathered kind of hair he used to maintain was basically begging for a beating, anyway. I was trying to be funny. I didn’t hear back from him. Wherever he is now, I assume he is nothing but a full head of luxurious feathered hair. In his version of the story, he probably thinks of himself as the protector. Even though I tried to explain to him that Tammy had lied to him, all he saw was a weaker victim in me.

Even though it doesn’t reflect well on me, I fear that if I could go back and retrace my steps, I would have been much less patient with bullies, regardless of whether they were my age or adults. Whenever I see a story about a victim responding with uncharacteristic violence, I always initially sympathize with the victim, no matter what he or she did to the person who had bullied them. Had my older brother not been around, it’s possible that the already common bullying would have been much worse. Even though I suffered through my dad’s abuse, I recognize that if the bullying had been worse in my earlier high school days, it is quite possible that someone would have been seriously hurt. That recognition is what sometimes lets me know that I was infected with the violence of my ancestors.

The next time I saw Tammy, I told her, “So much for my Eric problem. Seriously, leave me alone.” I showed her the deep cut on my left hand. It had finally dawned on me that whatever infected her dad had been passed down to her too and continuing to be nice was only going to add another year of hell to my biography. Her dad never materialized to administer his promised butt-kicking. From that point, I only had to contend with evil looks and whispered chatter. She made herself scarce for the rest of my high school tenure. She would be furious to hear me say that I felt terrible for her. I knew what she was experiencing at home. I suspect it might have been much, much worse than what I was going through. Tammy’s adulthood has been one marked by serious trauma. When social media started to gain ground, she reached out. It didn’t take me long to realize that she was truly crazy. Redemption was impossible. Her entire life was consumed by anger.

After high school, I finally managed to break free of much of the insanity of my youth. I changed my name. I wrote letters to several people, thanking them for being great people to me. I wrote a few to those who treated me otherwise. Some were anonymous. Some were not. With three or four individuals, I found them and told them directly that they had left a stain on me, much like the violence I grew up with. I was young, and stupidly thought I knew what I was doing. Again, things haven’t improved much regarding my ignorance, but I at least recognize my ongoing stupidity most of the time.

A couple of those I reached out to were teachers. I had some outstanding teachers. Like everyone else, I try to focus on their example instead of the malignancy of the bad ones. One of the people I confronted, an employee of the junior high I attended, screamed, “That never happened!” and ran away from me. We were in the Kmart parking lot. He bolted away from me. I waited 30 minutes for him to return. He didn’t. He was in great shape and could have easily thrown me ten feet in the air had he wished to do so. He ran, though, from the truth. He’ll get a chapter one of these days, especially if I outlive him. Whether anyone else believes it is their problem, not mine. He had no business being around children, of that I’m sure. I used to watch the news or search for a mention of him online; it seemed inevitable that he’d make an appearance in the Crime Beat section of the paper.

One of those people who I wanted to talk to face-to-face was Tammy’s dad. Her dad didn’t know it, but I had family and friends in common with him, mostly as a result of his job. Life has taught me that we all have a network of tendrils connecting us. What we do and say finds the most unlikely nests to rest in. Secrets are rarely kept, even as we fool ourselves into believing that they’re buried.

I asked around and discovered that the man’s past was more widely known than he thought. In those days, though, it was quite easy to conceal that sort of thing. A cousin of mine, then retired from public service in Springdale, had a lot to say about him. “Scoundrel” was his word for that sort of person. “He beats his wife,” my cousin confirmed. My cousin told me several stories of some of the horrific things Tammy’s dad had done, including ruining more than one person’s career. One of them included beating a neighbor’s kid for running through his yard. He wasn’t charged, of course. The kid in question suffered a broken arm trying to get away. There was never a record of it officially.

I waited for the scoundrel to come to meet me in front of his work. I had left a message at the desk to let him know someone was outside. There were other people around but I didn’t really concern myself with that. I’m paraphrasing what I said, and I’m the first to admit that many of the words didn’t ring out as confidently as I recount them. People are strange creatures; angry people are literally capable of murder in church without blinking.

When he came out, he lumbered and wheezed with the effort. “Do I know you?” he asked. “Yes, you do, sir.” Weirdly, I reached out my hand and shook his. His hands dropped to his side. “You threatened to whip my ass when I was very young. I was once a friend of your daughter. By the way, I know that you liked hitting your wife and kids. You’re an asshole. I’d like to give you the opportunity to fulfill your opportunity to whip my ass, right here and now.”  I took a step back and left my hands at my sides.

His eyes filled with literal tears, and he started breathing like he might not catch his breath. “I’m going to call the police. This is my place of work, and I’m not in the best shape to shut you up,” he said as he pointed his finger in my face. I stepped toward him, and he realized that I might actually strike him. “Do you want to call now or after I give you a dose of your own medicine? You’re not two feet taller than me now, are you?”

He shuffled back inside, looking behind several times until he was inside with the door closed.

Truth be told, I might have killed him had he tried to actually fight me. For some of those I confronted, I didn’t expect a visceral response. With Tammy’s dad, because I knew he was a violent abuser like my dad, I welcomed the chance to yank his shirt over his head and beat him like a third-rate hockey player.

I sat on the curb outside for ten minutes to give the police time to arrive. There was no doubt that what I had just said was a crime. No one came. No one ever came. Had the police come, I would have told them the truth, the one about a huge man who abused his family and tried to do the same with me when I was in junior high. It would have been an awkward police report and even stranger explanation in open court. His sort of person fears open exposure to what he’s done.

I see so many people make the mistake of kicking people when they’re down. It is a universal truth that it is unwise to threaten someone who has nothing to lose. I like to think that Tammy’s dad thought about me a few times before his life ended. It’s only fair. I’m not proud of this – but I can’t deny feeling that way. I wanted him to know that I could call him to account for what he did if I chose to.

He died a few years later. I saw his obituary in the newspaper. The obituary used a picture of him from about the same time frame as when he was threatening me. I have that picture in a folder on my computer. I don’t know why I keep it. Whether it speaks ill of me or not, I found myself wondering whether his eulogies were glowing, or if anyone had the nerve and impoliteness to tell the truth: he was a violent and angry man for much of his life. His death did not come soon enough to avoid staining the life of his family. A lot of people know, though, despite the glossy sheen provided by an obituary. Unlike in my case, Tammy probably still staunchly denies any abuse that happened to her. I’ve heard through the grapevine that her life didn’t get any easier. She stayed stuck, stagnant, and angry.

I went to visit the grave of Tammy’s dad. As I stood there, I couldn’t help but think about the number of people who’ve lived with monsters like him and kept their secrets. I’ve argued with people before: if you punch your children or spouse, you’re a monster, even when the scales slide off and old age catches up to you. No one stood up at my dad’s funeral to shout the truth. He died a saint, despite the invisible blood soaked through his knuckles.

I saw Tammy’s mom from time to time at her job. Tammy doesn’t know it, but I talked to her mom a year after her dad died. I didn’t know how to ask her politely, so I simply asked, “Do you remember me?” She said that I looked familiar but that she couldn’t place me. I told her I knew her daughter when I was younger and in the briefest way possible, explained that my childhood was abusive, too, and that I was sorry that she had to live her life with someone who couldn’t control himself. I thought she might respond with anger, but she didn’t. Her face flushed red, and she resumed her job. “Take care,” she told me as I walked away. She was smiling at me when I left her.

I don’t know what the smile meant.

I only know what I like to think it meant.

And I sometimes rest, uneasy, hoping my mistakes weren’t sufficient to summon the smaller gods of justice to repay me.

I’m not proud of confronting Tammy’s dad all those years later. I’m glad, though. My sin of vengeance was certainly lesser than his of being the abuser, especially of children.

I distrust easy stories, happy endings, and simple answers. We’re all complicated and each of our demons swirls inside of us.

 

The Curtains Must Open

murphy 5th great-grandfather

Absent pedigree collapse, which occurs when the same genetics overlap in one tree due to noodling between relatives, I have 126 5th great-grandparents. Pedigree collapse is why our family tree pyramids are amazingly flatter than we would conventionally expect. Historically, about 80% of all marriages involved 2nd cousins or closer, due to geographical limitations. Most children resulted from people living inside a 5-mile radius. Modern people cringe at the idea, but proximity inevitably leads to relationships.

Life will find a way, as Malcolm said, whether it’s dinosaurs or people.

Because of the thousands of people in my main family tree and the fact that I’ve been using DNA for many years to trace my lineage, my DNA trail is remarkably old for some of my family tree branches. (And demonstrably absent for other alleged branches.) Occasionally, I encounter tree owners who hide or keep their ancestry tree private, which might be useful or warranted for current generations to protect their privacy. Still, it is 100% pointless to do it past one’s grandparents. Even if you’re not willing to pull the curtain back, the statistical likelihood that another descendant will do so approaches 100%.

The number of people using DNA results exponentially grows past three generations. Whereas paper trails and family history can be manipulated, expunged, or hidden, DNA is the math that draws a map directly to one’s ancestors. As more participants share their DNA, the tapestry of everyone’s relationships becomes incredibly detailed. Our ability to use algorithms and computers has rendered secrecy to be moot.

In the case of the example pictured, my DNA and family tree draw me through 7-8 generations, with multiple confirmations across hundreds of people. For whatever reason, I have a gap with my 4th great-grandfather Murphy, thanks to those who think hiding the identity of the person to be valuable.

Due to DNA, however, I can easily ‘ignore’ the missing 4th great-grandfather and jump up to the next generation with my 5th great-grandfather Murphy. This happens because of many people related to the cousins and siblings of my unidentified 4th great-grandfather having shared their DNA results. Using census, marriage, and other records, it is straightforward to use the process of elimination to identify the ‘secret’ ancestor. If it is someone unexpected, such as the mailman, it is likely that multiple DNA sources from other family lines have identified their overlap.

Given a large enough sample, no one currently alive escapes multiple points of intersection with our living DNA map. In case you’re wondering, it takes only a small percentage of people to finish a complete DNA map for every person alive today.

In other words, as I’ve said many times before, DNA will always ‘out’ a person’s intention to keep their family secrets hidden. People might not talk, but DNA is the hidden voice that lies in plain sight.

Unlike many, I find this to be a comfort. It’s probably a good thing, too, if for no other reason than I am powerless to do anything about it, regardless of my opinion.

DNA, in combination with my insistence on personal transparency, led me to discover a new sister. It didn’t allow me to force my search onto her; it allowed her to make the same choice and meet in the middle. Using my example, it is possible that one of her children or family members eventually would have come forward anyway, resulting in a similar discovery of new siblings. It just would have happened later or after my death. Whether we are comfortable with the idea, our DNA roadmaps are subject to the whims of those we’re related to, as the Golden State Killer famously discovered.

Yes, of course, DNA information can be abused. Using the possible negative consequences to justify a knee-jerk reaction is more a symptom of our inability to be responsible citizens and govern ourselves maturely than it is of a warning against using DNA at all. You leave DNA everywhere you go. Even now, your body is shedding your entire genetic structure into the air, on the floor, and on almost everything you touch.

My DNA experience also confirmed that some of my aunts and uncles had reason to be fearful of my dedication. Though most of them are now departed, their harsh demands about the silence of some of our family history are soon dispelled. Some of the secrets seem tame now. Others belie something unsettling. Their demands actually created a stronger desire to find out what all the fuss was about. Thanks to them, I have a specific list of questions that strike directly into their concerns.

People with nothing to hide also tend to welcome sunlight. If someone seems overly concerned, you should always assume it’s a sign you’re looking in the right direction. It’s not always the case. It is, however, logical.

Regardless of how we interpret uncovered facts, they don’t alter the truth they reveal. It’s an ongoing fascination of mine to observe the reluctance of some people to see their stories mapped and visited by other eyes.

For me, for now, forever, I embrace the universal nature of DNA.

May the curtains be forever opened.