Category Archives: Family

Love, Jerry

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If the first rule is “Don’t negotiate with terrorists,” the second rule is this: “Whenever possible, limit your meaningful interactions with manipulative people.” Even though almost no one does so, it is equally true that we should pay the price as soon as possible with such people. That we’re going to have a go-to-Hell argument with them at some point is a certainty; delaying it wounds us incrementally and perpetually until we lunge toward the chance to pay the price and break the bond.

A friend of mine has struggled for years with someone who masterfully whiplashes people around her. She gaslights and triggers. Rarely, however, does she leave a smoking gun that her victims can point to in protest. The subtlety is akin to a razor blade cutting the skin sufficiently to cause bleeding and persistent minor pain. The accumulation of such cuts, however, turns even the most compassionate person into a cauldron of irritation.

This segues into a post I started yesterday morning.

From Madam Anon, the anonymous commenter who sometimes writes to me.

Madam Anon sent me this list, asking if it would be helpful:

Do you feel like they try to control you?

Do you feel like the person is good for your mental health?

Do you feel like the person lets you be you?

Does the person ask how you are?

Do you feel the person responds to you with enthusiasm or with an obligatory response?

Do you feel like you can let your guard down with them and not think about their response to you?

Do they pop into your head when you hear stories of positive care people or the opposite?

Would you characterize the person in question as “good,” however you define the word?

If you’re otherwise a good person, you should trust your instincts about a person. Ask yourself the above questions. Since all of human behavior exists on a sliding scale and a fluid Venn diagram, you have to take the variables into account and decide for yourself how toxic the person in question is to your well-being.

Above all, if you get a letter or card signed “Love, Jerry,” pour holy water on it. Once it stops sizzling, bury it in the backyard under the light of the full moon.

Life’s too short to endure manipulation, even if it is due to familial obligation. If you can’t beat them, be creative. Their unavoidable presence in your life at least presents you with the opportunity to try unusual methods of repaying them for their unkindness.

The link below is in the same ballpark of observation:

The Salutation Enthusiasm Observation

The Mooch

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Burns of Denial

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

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

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Deanne with her dad Ralph…

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

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

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

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

It was such an odd time to bring it up.

It was an odd and unrequested topic, too.

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

I felt like I should share this story.

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

The abused themselves do this with an astonishing frequency.

The Driveaway Recap

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Some of us sacrifice bits and pieces of ourselves by continuing to hold relationships that incrementally burn away our enthusiasm for good people. We stand close to the fire out of loyalty, confused interpretations of the word love, or because we fear that our lives will have a void where people of merit should stand. I’m equally guilty. By depleting my limited supply of peace with lesser people, I rob my future self of openness with people who love sharing the same with others.

She looked in the mirror as she drove away, seeing that foreign place recede from her. Once she became an adult, she’d already forced her way out of her old exoskeleton, even though it tore at her viciously as she escaped it. It wasn’t her choice to shed that skin; the people who should have loved her trained her with callous hands and closed hearts. Being without her protective layer hurt her deeply at first. In time, she grew to understand that being vulnerable ripped away the defenses that those people tried to beat into her. It’s impossible to join the ranks of the living with skin so thick it can’t be pierced.

The house she was departing had the critical components expected of a house and home. All the doors and windows were there, the lawn carefully manicured. Inside, people roamed the halls and kitchen, smiling and motioning as if they were made of the same clay as she. Weirdly, she often surprised herself by remembering the house in sepia tones, as if the vivid colors of the world were removed during her visits.

They weren’t made of the same stuff as she was, though. Her home was filled. Not simply with functioning human beings, but with love, vivacity, and laughter. Conflict surfaced, bubbled, and was pushed aside for better things. In the house receding behind her, she could feel the collective weight of the stones in their hearts. Their mass lessened with distance.

On those drives away, though, she’d ponder the thousand little arrows fired toward her. There were no simple words uttered in that house. Each was chosen to send contradictory reminders of status, connection, and affection.

As she did each time she departed, she mentally washed herself free of the house and its occupants. The blood and kinship she shared once again began to fade by the time she reached her claimed hometown. She could already feel the welcome arms of those waiting for her in her own private place.

Over time, she didn’t need to accuse the people in that foreign house. Her life itself was the accusation, unspoken and directed at no one. Though she was simply living her life in the best way she knew, others waited to use that against her. It was worse than a no-win situation.

“A life well-lived silences the critics,” or so said the old cliché. She didn’t believe it, no more than she believed the other companion cliché: “Don’t start none and there won’t be none.” With many people, the truth is that they can only bring themselves up by using their gifts of love and intellect to stab at people around them. Trying to step close to them with the best of human feelings inevitably gets you stung.

Instead of warm, deep affection and shared memories, she accumulates brief interactions. Standing in their living room, she dreams of the drive-away, where she can escape back to her normal affection-filled house.

One day, she’d find the words to explain their loss to them. It would probably be a day too late for reconciliation or reprieve. All she could do today was drive away. She pressed the gas, going even further away to attain the escape velocity needed. Much to her dismay, she found herself pondering their arrows. Though she was leaving, they’d found their mark with the little doses of poison. Never enough to kill but always enough to wound.

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A picture I made in 2015.

 

Unsolicited Advice

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Sometimes, people I don’t know send me random bits of thoughts, advice, memes, or links because of this blog. They are at times useful and topical. I appreciate them. It is easy to focus on the hard cases and mean people.

After a couple of recent posts, someone sent me this: “…an unhealed person will find offense in almost anything someone does. A healed person understands that the actions of other people have absolutely nothing to do with them.” They added, “Time spent trying to understand the first type of person is wasted time. Get away from them as fast as you can and do your introspection away from their claws and influence.”

They went on to say that all of us fluctuate between the extremes – and that the closer we are to being healed, our response to angry or bitter people lessens, usually because we know that empty space is the best healing agent at our disposal.

Hours later, I received another message: “The sooner you pay the price for anything, the less you pay. You know this because you’ve written about it often. Of all the things you’ve written about, I think one of the best ways we can protect ourselves and children is to teach them all from an early age to get away from anger, addiction, control, and toxic people. They won’t change until they are ready. If enough people shun them, they’ll change or spiral to the bottom more quickly. Few people successfully change but those who did hit rock bottom at terminal velocity before figuring out they can’t be that way around good people. The world has a lot of bad people but it also has many great ones. Choose the great ones. They’ll fill your life in such a way you’ll never notice the absence of those who chose the other way to live. Peace. And keep writing.”

 

The Broken Record Is Renewed

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I spoke with Jolene and one of her children.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

King of Kung Fools Rule

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My Mother was a Kung Fool like no other.

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Let There Be Light – An Epitaph For Truth-Telling

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

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

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

I’ve waited a while to share it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I cut him off.

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

I paused, as he stammered.

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

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

I continued.

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

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

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

“You’re an asshole!” he said.

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

The phone went silent.

I won’t though.

Another DNA, Another Day

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I’ve always had my DNA set to ‘share’ on the sites I use. Recently, because of renewed interest because of the show “Genetic Detective,” I ensured that it was uploaded to GEDmatch for law enforcement use. I’d been a victim of my own procrastination, even after watching a season of “The Innocence Files” on Netflix.

Are there cons to this? For some people, yes. No pun intended with the use of the word “con.”

Are there advantages? Definitely yes.

I can understand why some people have objections to DNA sharing. I’m not entirely comfortable with it. There are legitimate reasons. There are also many unfounded reasons. The good thing about DNA is that only a portion of the populace needs to participate to map out everyone else – so even if you withhold your genetic map, it is likely another relative will divulge theirs and make your decision moot.

I’m that guy. I have to be. It would be immensely hypocritical for me to constantly tell everyone that privacy is both a leprechaun and unicorn while foolishly attempting to protect my invisible genetic blueprint.

Despite being a liberal, I’m in favor of never having another unidentified soldier, as well as ensuring that crimes involving DNA are solved. It would be ironic for me to be charged with a crime based on voluntarily-submitted DNA results. Mistakes do happen. If humans are involved in the process, things are going to go wrong. If the government can force me to sign up for the Selective Service, I don’t see much of a problem with us collectively expecting a genetic database to protect us all. Again, I recognize that this sort of thing can (and sometimes will) be abused. Using the potential abuse of a few to justify doing nothing different doesn’t appeal to me. No system is going to be perfect.

However, I’ve always believed that DNA (and other advances) are going to strip away generations of mistruths and ignorance about our ancestors. If this information assists law enforcement with doing their jobs, I’m for it. I have the same argument for fingerprints. As long as scientists have review power over the application of such evidence, I’m at no greater risk by others having it.

If I don’t trust the government, I’m already screwed.

Believe me, I have some problems with the government, especially under our current President.

As for the police? If you know me, you know I have a sideways opinion about several of them and systemic objections to the way they are operated. Focusing on these concerns, however, as an excuse to fail to help in the way I can, that would be a greater sin of omission.

The interesting thing about the show is that it beats the drum that even remote ancestors allow for research and triangulation toward suspects in crimes involving DNA. This means that my DNA could potentially come up in a criminal investigation. It’s possible that someone will knock on my door as a result.

I have relatives who I believe are capable of committing crimes, even crimes a generation ago. Many currently living certainly committed such crimes already. It’s not a question of debate. It’s true.

Though I have no proof per se, I also know it’s likely that family members might have fathered children during WWII, Korea, and Vietnam. I have only whispers to base my suspicion on. However, my other suspicions have been proven correct, too, even though I waited years for some of them to find confirmation.

For much of my life, I endured ridicule and hostility for some of the views about my Dad. Just a year ago, I found out that my suspicions were correct and that he’d fathered a child with a very young woman in the early 70s.

Such revelations, in combination with a checkered past for many of my relatives, paints a realistic picture that other shenanigans may have gone undetected, too.

I’d like to part of the solution to the problem.

For those thousands of people who’ll be reachable because of my participation, please accept my apologies.

It is my DNA, after all, freely given.

In the same way that some of my ancestors kept their foot on the closet door, gun in hand, in order to protect the skeletons in the family closet, I now stand on the other side, with the door wide open.

 

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.