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Entries in family dynamics (65)

Sunday
May122013

My Irrational Mothers Day Heart

Everyone on Facebook is posting pix of their moms and showering them with all sorts of praise. I can't be so brief, soft, or fuzzy. I'm in a situation where it seems all there is to do is pathetically beg for my mom's attention, which of course is lame. Let's see how this one goes...

Being a mother's son is largely an abstraction for me. It's an idea more than a reality. I've never really lived with my mother though I've had three more concentrated spells of time when she's been in my life and I was "welcome" to be in the midst of the larger family clustered around her. Most of the time though, she was just not part of things. And even when she was, there would be maybe a lukewarm response to reconnecting. Following that, usually periods of increasing tension and finally some kind of a cold war leading to a prolonged period of silence of a number of years until something stirs in me, feeling the profound wrong-ness of it all to have gone on so long with no resolution or at least no functional communication. Forget about loving fondness or the idea of being any momma's boy. She's far too bitter and I have gone too long to know much about relating to her as mother.

Since 2011 I've been more insistent at trying to reach her or to find inroads into the family wherever I can. Social media has helped find the cracks in the wall where usually I had to face the fact that I did not have direct contact information with everyone constellated around her, and typically, if she was not having me, no one seemed to, making for pretty complete blackouts lasting years. Since 2011 in particular that has begun to shift. Those who will risk being in contact with me do run some risk of her wrath. That might just mean more strain or estrangement. Depending on the particulars of who lives at her house, it might earn a place at the curb, I suppose. (Though I don't think that has happened because of me so far but it's not inconceivable either.) So I applaud the individuals who have made the decision to be in touch, even if only by electronic means. That's a whole new thing.

With more insight from the complicit parties (lol), mother has become both more interesting and one dimensional at once. The newer input I have from a few different voices has indicated that she can be as petty and harsh as I've experienced. She's been caught in some rather stark contradictions and outright lies that seem to be resented widely. I've been assured that lending money to her when she's in distress is sure to cause more problems than it heals. All that. That's sort of the one dimensional side though. Knowing that her tendency that way was not customized for me has been liberating and has led me to wonder more about her than before.

I understand she's a hurt woman like any other. What I don't yet have much understanding of is how at least in my case, she allowed herself to give up the fight for a relationship with me even after the legal situation with my old man ceased to be valid. What I can't really understand is how when I do make the independent attempt to get to know her, humbled by my own nicks and bruises in life and wanting to connect, she can't go there. What kind of momentum keeps her judging me as if I was my old man? Or why in the world did she not even tell me my brother was sick and was about to die just over two years ago? (She had no intention to, since I found that out six months later just because I dared drop in on her house unannounced for the first time in nearly four years.)

I did talk to her last November, two days before Thanksgiving. Coincidentally that was an echo of the third big reunion in 2000, with a reunion just two days before that holiday. That day though was also her mother's memorial service. All these years later, stories are told of how that experience caused fractures for many. But last year, trying to talk to mom in what I hoped would be a heart to heart talk, even as a drop in once again, was kind of like playing racquetball against a mattress. No rebound, even as solid as my game was. Maybe it was because she had recently had a stroke or maybe it was that my sister was moving in to the house and it was a bit noisy and distracted, but she was just there. No real response to some of the most heartfelt stuff. Cold. When she did respond at all it tended to be a toned down bunch of her now-typical "just like your dad" talk. Even though I reported that he's hurt me and I've not talked to him for six years by then. She sat there unimpressed at all I had to say about how this estrangement is killing me. No attempt to reach out. No parting hug. Are you my mother?

After a terrible visit in March 1996—one which was intended to be a sit-down-and-talk-it-out-after-a-year-of-silence visit that ended up putting nearly five years of space between us till the November 2000 reunion—I drove home from mom's place in Long Beach. My girlfriend at the time, Robin, had been up in the apartment for a while during the conversation then left. It was tense enough for her to leave but after she did, it was pure firefight. Maybe an hour afterwards, I came down to the car, feeling banished and defeated to the core. It was Robin that had to remind me that a mom was supposed to love her kid unconditionally. I had to be reminded of it. Or maybe told so, since it seems it was so far from my mind at that point, or maybe it was never my experience in the first place.

Before I had left that day in November 2012, she threw me to the wolf. My younger sister has not spoken to me in nearly a perfect dozen years though she's been vitriolic in any online exchanges, where we've egged each other on. Mother dearest, not even interested enough to see this divide as something worthy of some attention, just let me have a go at talking to my sister. For my daring, I was ripped apart for talk I made 11 years ago about single parenthood, fatherless families, and the like—the observations I had made from my black sheep status outside the family unit, looking in. Completely unforgivable, it seems. She's fond of naming me—completely groundlessly except by association with a man who has done a bit of this stuff—as a child abuser, pedophile, stalker, and all that. No hyperbole out of my sister's mouth is worth calling to task, apparently. Nothing concerning me is worth mending. Not even suggesting we sit and hear each other out. (Okay, we're all big boys and girls now, but still, for all the talk about moms usually wanting family harmony, she surely didn't get that memo about helping to foster it when it's so evidently needed.) Thanks mom :-/

I try not to be so harsh in my assessment but mom has given hell to more than just this black sheep son. I'm not simply imagining that she is difficult and petty, which helps me step back and try to be compassionate. I tried to visit on her birthday last month, even to say the words to her face—an act which is a small bit of pay-it-forward garden tending, and that has not even happened since 2001! A text message thread the next day, had with my older sister and self-proclaimed protector of mom's virtue and sanity (ha!), said mom hid away when she saw it was me at the door. She just turned 69. She's not going to be around forever, and given her heart attack about 20 years ago, and a stroke last year, it's hard to tell if she's got more than a few years ahead. We're never going to be all loving and fond of each other, but with time ticking mercilessly, even knowing her just to learn things about her life or even mine is fast becoming a lost opportunity. Even my late brother James said the words in 2001: "we can't just keep letting five years go between visits..."

I'm not saying this to distract from fault I have in things that have happened, but I'm sure most rational people would agree that those were some awkward moments that anyone could have had, decisions that were boneheaded but not malicious, and especially that the punishment of estrangement (if not outright hostility and vitriol) was doled out more generously than is warranted in such cases. A number of those missteps come from being a foreigner in their midst, and never having any one of them experience my life in San Diego. Something is profoundly wrong though. The rational mind says, "there's not much here to work with. Move on." You can bet plenty of people have told me that. Even some of my family "informants." The other mind, caught in a total tangle of hurts and contradictions is holding out for a diamond in this rough.

To the extent that I could say I feel like the son that would send flowers or post the warm fuzzy messages on Facebook, I could say that those sentiments amount to maybe a few occasions or periods that might condense down into maybe a week or two of lived experience. I could congratulate her hard work, or her almost incomprehensible role as mother to six kids (five in practical life since I was raised by my father and step mom before even she was gone by the time I turned 10). I suppose those props are due for mom. But I never lived it myself. I visited it. She did all that, apparently, because she couldn't make relationships work. Or because somehow she managed to become mother again and again by being with men who treated her like trash. I don't know how to come down about that. It's one of the enduring mysteries. The irony is, my old man was the only one who actually took an interest in his child. (Some of you can appreciate what a bind that puts me in, if you know the story about him!)

The fact is, I don't really know what to make of her motherhood or the patterns of motherhood in her side of the family. It seems like there was an element of chance and some lack of control about all of us being born. I don't think any of us got here because two people really loved each other. Sure, she made something of it but I really can't relate to it. The fact that she has done what she's done to provide for the others, and her almost militant attitude about not needing a man does not endear her to me. She's used the whole thing as a weapon. A wedge. What she has accomplished with the life she's led does not account for what has not happened were the opposite true, a scenario in which she might have some collaborative partner to demonstrate some kind of give-and-take and some kind of balance in life. My younger sister, last to be born and the one with essentially no knowledge of any father figure in life, not even a stepfather, is essentially a savage. (And that isn't just my own assessment.) She's got all the loathing and bitterness of mom, it seems, but with hardly a share of the lived experience and drama of her own. It seems she's inherited and absorbed stories from mom and our older sister and harbors as much resentment as it seems has accumulated prior to her being born.

This very line of confused thought and ambivalence gets me in hot water. I am said to be "judging" her (or my sisters) when I talk this way, or when I seek to be enlightened. Understood. But they have mostly kept me at a distance and so I am left with what evidence I have around me, comparing what I know about them with other observations. With new information, new understanding. Seeing how some of my friends and acquaintances have met their motherhood struggles has softened my heart toward my own mom. The thing is, the understanding I seek calls on higher levels of thought than may be possible with these folks. I'm probably going in circles hoping anyone could explain much beyond just what has happened. Good luck with more nuanced thought that touches on bigger themes in life. That's my lot as I try to deal with these relations. At times it's driven me to anger. Usually hurt and confusion. But always some kind of wonder at it all. It's the blueprint for the things I find myself concerned with in life. It does get abstract and nebulous, even as the people I am dealing with are not abstract. Nor are they really completely grounded. Odd.

Sky

One of the most interesting teachers I had on this matter presented herself to me as a reservation mutt dog named Sky at a sheep ranch in New Mexico in the spring of 2011. She had a litter of puppies that were born under the trailer where I was staying. She had to feed them. There were four giant dogs tasked with guarding the sheep but they seemed to be more keen on eating Sky's food on the porch, probably 100 yards from where they were supposed to be. She ate and drank voraciously. She was scrappy and would fend off those bumbling sheep dogs that kept cutting in on her food. She was small enough and wily enough to figure out a way into a trash enclosure to extract more food. She had the enclosure to herself while the sheep dogs lurked and watched. Somehow I felt the need to feed that dog. Keep feeding her. Don't question it. So I filled her bowl serial times if needed. I sort of served as the camp chef for a week and a half and fed her the scraps and broths. She ate it all. She'd drink a gallon of water at a time, it seemed. I never saw her pups but I didn't question her need. She was a newly relocated dog to that camp. A single mother. Helping the widow and the orphan and the stranger all in one relationship. It was a real spiritual lesson that softened my heart about my mom and helped me formulate a new resolve to visit my her that summer when an opportunity presented itself. Little did I know that by the time I had this experience in New Mexico that my brother had died days before.

While Sky did help me envision my mom's past in another way and to feel compassion for her in a way that had not registered before, the challenge remains of what to do with that insight, despite trying to pay visits to her house. So we're in limbo. If my older sister isn't exaggerating, and mom is really hiding from me, then it seems there isn't much to be done. Flowers, Facebook messages, and fuzzy things won't work. Those are just shallow things of the most superficial order. For Mothers Day all I can do to honor her is to hold up the story and ask if that's the way it's supposed to be. I've made my moves toward reconciliation and some attempt to get into some orderly relationship. I know she's hurt from many things but is that all there is to it? Will there be no growth from that? Call me pretentious but after losing one son to death you might think she'd reconsider what it means that I'm alive and trying to be in contact. After all, I was the one son lost to the law, but that's not relevant now and the door has been open to be in restored relationship for a long time now.

The heart is an irrational thing, isn't it?

Friday
Dec212012

Hog Heaven Holiday Theme Music +12

Hog Heaven Holiday Theme Music? Tech Background

A long time in coming. That's what it has been for me to bring you this recording. Oh, it's not new. It's not even unheard. It's been here on this site for years, and each year in December I do something to share it around as a gift to people around me, either in person or online. 

What is new is that after a dozen years of kicking around with a rather boring mix and with the hasty cover art, this year I finally was able to address that and get it all remixed and fixed up with some snappier visuals. I owe a debt of gratitude to one Brian Caldwell, a figure I've met while in Escondido. For many months since I got here, I've jammed with he and Paul Castellanos at the Irish pub. I found that Brian owns two Roland VS-2480 recorders and after hearing of this, I talked some shop with him. I used to own a 2480 myself but found it really difficult to work with, especially after becoming very fluent on my VS-880. This Hog Heaven Holiday Theme Music project was done on the 880 in mid December of 2000, and has the distinction of being the last project that was done in a way that seemed album-like. It's only 15:35 long but it feels like an album, not just a one off track.

Recorded at the end of 2000, this was done fairly late in my 880 period. The 2480 came on the scene in late June 2001 and for all intents and purposes, buried the 880. It had the capability to bring 880 projects onto its hard drive, and while it was of nearly no use to me then, when Brian spoke of VS-2480s, my ears perked up. See, I have about 40 data CDs of 880 and some 2480 material. And since Roland machines have a proprietary audio encoding, my Mac can't even read the disks. So, for all these years I've hung on to the 880, expecting that if an opportunity like this were not to arise, I'd need to do a MIDI sync linking the iMac to the 880, and transfer tracks two or four at a time. It was pretty much a deal breaker to think of doing things that way. The good news is that with only eight tracks to mix with at once, anything that I mixed before with that many tracks was not that hard to recreate.

Brian lives just a couple miles away and let me come over to reacquaint myself with the 2480. I found it as difficult as before but the optimism was there that this time something might actually come of my time fiddling with it. My goal was first to grab the multitrack sources of this recording so I could give it a proper mix with richer effects and more clarity. I got pretty frustrated relearning the 2480 interface in just an hour but got my CDs with the WAV files I needed to get things into the iMac where I'd mix in Logic Pro. (He was nice enough to offer the use of the machine as I needed it. Then he let me borrow it. What a guy! That's giving me ideas to remix and finish such a thing as ReCyclED, toiled on for years and then sort of set aside when Receiving took center stage.)

The original recording was done in two main sessions, and each had eight tracks. When I got back home, I had 16 WAV files there, ready to... well, wait a minute! Actually, they could be mixed that way but you see, the initial recording process was really scattershot. I started off on what you now hear as the middle of the recording (track 5 if it were to be indexed). That started the entire project but there were five "songs" from that point to the end. Each had just a few tracks—never more than six at once—and when there were open spaces at the end of one "song" I'd use them to start a new idea. Maybe two tracks launched it, but as things ended on a previous "song" I'd have new track space to put in more ideas. The idea of sensible track layout (drums, bass, guitar, keys, fx) progressing from left to right was just not of any service here. Nope. If you looked at the tracks as lanes on a freeway, it would appear rather like the various color cars and trucks on such a road: at different places, sometimes traveling together, others out front, some longer or shorter, etc. In musical terms, it meant that in the lane of track 1, it might start as a tambourine and then become a keyboard, and then become a different keyboard later on. And tracks 2-8 would have equally odd instances of musical bits cutting in and out. The task was to get that into order so I could progress. This is just the preparatory work so the creative job of mixing can flow.

With those 16 audio files in one session at last, I cut all the separate regions (instrumental parts arrayed across the audio files) so they could be arranged next to each other with their "song" peers. I found there were 37 parts to work with. I got them grouped into the constituent "songs" and color coded the groups of tracks that were meant to perform together. Then, for the next song on the timeline, those tracks would receive like treatment. As the whole project progressed, a group of pink tracks ended and some green ones started, and then blue, and purple, and orange, etc.

Those 37 tracks gave way when I further divided a few that I missed, and when I deleted a couple instances and replayed just a few parts on drums and cymbals to improve feel and timing, and then added just a bit of cymbals for more texture. Other than that, the whole project was the same as before. What could be done now was to use ample plugins to do the detailed EQ and compression that I never could do, and to mix with far more variety in effects and also to do automation for tricky bits that I could never do with my fingers on just a few faders. I took the opportunity to time align a few things for improved feel. Things were done quite hastily in 2000. Because the parts were put down and then the mix happened no more than a week or two later, the idea of what the mix might sound like was not yet lost. But to recover such ideas a dozen years later? Um... better to just wipe the slate clean and put stuff into logical groups!

Mixing was a joy. One effect I found to be real useful and transformative was a subsonic bass treatment that does some amazing hocus pocus on drums and gives them a richer bottom end by synthesizing some lower octave information based on the extant material. It worked wonders on a relatively small headed tambourine that was played at real low level originally (and close to the mic for a natural bass boosting effect), but did not have the deep fundamental like the bass drum it emulated. This plugin took that calfskin headed tambourine and added some real balls to it, in effect turning it into a tribal bass drum sounding like it was being hit pretty hard. Further processing was done to separate the jingle from the drum part of the tambourine. Detailed filtering on cloned tracks let me cut the drum out of one track and the jingles out of the other, in effect creating two instruments from one instrument. I did that a couple places for the more rirualistic and festive sounding parts.

Creating some stereo spread without reverb was handy on some tracks, but since the aural model I had in mind when I worked in 2000 was that of the Paul Winter Consort playing their Solstice Live concerts in the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, I was cool with massive reverb. This is meant to be a powerful and atmospheric sounding recording, and so it gave itself to such processing. Some rich delays too.

With all the muckity muck of the 45 tracks that I mixed (the biggest project I ever mixed, but really only from 2-8 tracks at once), I was still keen to keep natural sounding dynamics intact. I mixed and remixed several times, reviewing in mono, small speakers, out of my room, and on headphones. I kept compression to a minimum on the whole mix, and used a bit of widening to make it even richer.

The art from 2000 was really basic and rushed. Remember, it was just to give away as a Christmas present. All I did then was to use a picture from a calendar I had a year before—one with a slightly iconic Ron Kimball portrait (porktrait?) of a giant hog towing a sleigh with a piglet at the helm. Then I used label maker tape to mark it up as from TAPKAE, and to call it Y2k Holiday Theme Music. The words "Hog! Hog! Hog!" were meant to be read as "Ho Ho Ho!" but I don't think anyone got it. It was innocent and cute but it was someone else's work and done stupidly cheap. So this time I put a bit more work into the design. I still used someone else's work but made it look a lot nicer. These days, since nothing is released on a CD-R anymore (at least not for free), a bit of humor got lost. Originally there was a CD with a paper label applied, with one side of the spindle hole showing "Side A" and the other, "Side B."

These days the prospect of creating some audio and turning it loose on the world is finally starting to appeal to me. In the old days I gave so much of it away anyway. With Soundcloud now proving to be a great sharing option, allowing ready downloads, links, and embedding, I have decided that I should properly post stuff with full tagging and notes, and set it out there. This tune is on YouTube as you see, and also on Soundcloud. While the mixes I've had around for years have been online, it's not much use to just have them hosted on my site. That's been kind of a shift of paradigm too. After blowing out the last of the copies of Receiving, I decided to get it on Soundcloud as a high quality download. Now this. I plan to work my way backward and remix things and get my more established stuff together that way.

Personal Background

A bigger story lurks behind the timing of both the original recording and this remix. Indulge me, and you might appreciate the layers of meaning to its creator.

In 2000, I was 27 and at that time of life when it was time to address the various broken relationships and other troubling aspects of life. Seeking to reconnect with my mom and the extended family constellated around her after the better part of six years estrangement (not even the first of its kind), I sought their numbers in phone books at 7/11 stores around their known neighborhoods. That turned up a successful connection and I went to a reunion two days before Thanksgiving that year. The occasion was not just to welcome me though. I was at least "second fiddle" that day; the larger cause was that my grandmother there had died the week before, literally the morning after I got a call back from my sister. I hadn't seen my grandmother in years.

Despite the mixed emotional content of that day, I entered the holidays with a great deal of optimism. It was made all the more interesting because it was just then that I found my young niece Kaitlin to be a delightful inspiration. I had three other nephews from my older sister, but I'd never connected with them at any significant level. But with my niece, I got that feeling that I could be someone for her. This time, my resolve was there.

Back at home in San Diego, that spark continued when I went into the studio and spent about a week and a half leaping from one instrument to another and back again, having all sorts of ideas come to me, fortunately at a time when I had some cool keyboards and percussion toys on loan, and lots of time to indulge the muse's calling.

Yes, it's spontaneous and rather unfinished and gets from one idea to another without returning to any one theme, but the joy of recording it comes through clearly. I've always found it interesting to note that this project has a lot more melody and charm than anything I'd done thus far. It wasn't so dark, or so goofy. Maybe it reflects some of the consonance I felt for a few weeks at the end of 2000. The world was a safer place. A little girl melted my heart and made it safe to be vulnerable again. Who knows.

Now, in 2012, the sad fact is the family relations continue to be unbearable most of the time, not unlike the situation that launched this whole story. It has been an incredibly challenging part of life to deal with all this, trying to live with either their presence OR their absence. The prolonged estrangement periods take everyone out of the picture for the most part, and the short punctuations to that are usually heated and savage. I did get to see my niece briefly as I paid my mom a visit in November (half-coincidentally just a few days before Thanksgiving once again). Unlike the occasions 12 years ago, I left there realizing there would never be a relationship, and because of my sister's intransigence, all those years have passed and I've not ever been given a chance to be in any relationship with my niece. It's not that there is no hope, but essentially, the book has been written by now. (To further indicate the measure of dysfunction, no one actually told me my own half brother had died until I happened to drop in at mom's place over six months after the fact!)

So while the optimism of 2000 has had stumbling blocks put before it, and the recent remix project was laboring under the cloud of a new dose of defeat for my spirit, this year, rather than limiting the dedication to niece Kaitlin, this year's work is dedicated to the people who have sustained me on the outside of the rather disappointing family I was born to.

The solstice happens in the darkest time but signifies the coming of the light.

Santa and the Kingdom of Childhood: a Bit of a Troubled Place

A related project that uses a bit of the 2000 version of HHHTM is this short video that I put together this year. The reading is from a book called The Dance of Time by author Michael Judge. I loved the reading so much that in 2010, I decided to do a few takes. The whole thing is explained in more detail in another post. Shortly after getting that video posted, I got a call from my sister Nikki, chewing me out big time for posting pictures of her minor child (Katie's 15 now). Oh? Well, she's my niece too. She tried to tell me she wasn't so I dared her to prove it with DNA testing. And four of seven pictures are mine. She tried to tell me they weren't when I hold the negatives in my box just in the other room. She threatened legal/law enforcement action. I know what she means, but her fiat declaration that Katie is not my niece is kinda flimsy. I mean, at one point, I was welcomed into their house, took pictures of my family member, and a dozen years later I posted them online? If my sister is worried about all that kind of stuff, maybe she ought tell Katie she can't have a Facebook account, or she ought not post pictures herself where people like me (she calls me a "stalker," or "pedophile" or "child molester") might find them. I offered to take out the three pictures I didn't take myself.

So enjoy the show. Merry Christmas to all. Even those family members who like to pretend they're not.

Tuesday
Dec182012

On a String at the Bottom of the World +20 

My First Rebirth Day

December 18, 1992 was one of my birthdays. Or I guess we need to call it a rebirth day since it really has nothing to do with departing the body of another human being. Until a somewhat early breakfast that morning, there was a creeping depression upon me. It wasn't that depression was new. There had been some precedent, especially in the period since about two and a half years before. But at this time, it was a new thing that I began entering the dangerous thought space of suicidal ideation. Now, remember we're talking about 20 years ago when I was 19. The facts show a pretty ordinary list of happenings and life situations that are almost painfully ordinary on paper. But when one is experiencing the stuff of life that is unfamiliar, maybe without guides or a map, it can certainly be nerve racking and scary. So that period was a threshold time. The particulars are easy to name: I was going through my first couple years of community college courses with no idea what it was leading to; I was not employed and my last job went south so fast and furious it ended in a restraining order against me which was in full effect; I'd just returned from Europe in the late summer and felt rudderless because that also signified the last time I'd see my friend Steve (and so far that has been exactly the case, despite some occasional talk on the phone or Skype). The distance of dear friends and the pointlessness of schooling, and the oddness of my new "friend" Matt and our exiled drummer status all conspired. Matt, in the shadows of people who did seem to be true friends, was just too odd for the first year or so for me to feel we were friends. He was more someone to pass time with. Starting to get a bit of carnal knowledge of my first girlfriend certainly fired up feelings in this period about to be chronicled. But then finding that she was not the panacea I needed to mend all the other disruptions of life was cause for more despair.

Melissa, or, Don't Climb the Orange Tree Looking for Apples

Melissa was 16 and I turned 19 a couple months after we started going out. The fact that she was sort of a sometimes friend from childhood was always in my mind. Was this just a thing of convenience? She'd made overtures even a year or more before we got together, despite an almost insurmountable distance of .... nine miles! She came onto the scene as a girlfriend at the very end of June 1992, and with only two weeks before I went on my six-week trip to Germany, we spent an inordinate amount of time together. The events of the year or so prior led me to be really needy after so many alienating experiences. So when she came onto the scene and we had those misty eyed experiences, I was rearin' to go with it. Nevermind it was the sappiest puppy love fluff you ever saw. Dang. I was already 18! I needed something to happen. The emotional center of my trip to Germany was an odd thing, as I've written. Prior to starting with Melissa, I was singularly fixated on making the trip to make good on a promise to come back and spend a more proper period of time with my friend Steve there. But instead, once on the trip, the whole focus shifted in a big way: get back home to Melissa. I did not originally plan to be homesick. I planned to throw myself headlong into my experience in Germany. Coming back then was odd because I didn't really have a plan except to go to school and look for some work, and spend as much time exploring the world with Melissa as possible. The rest was a cloud of variables I had no comprehension of.

I came home in late August and started strong. I went to school and did pretty good work. Matt and I resumed getting out to parking garages to make drum mayhem on Sunday afternoons or at night. We even started to shift our approach to accommodate sheets of ill-executed lyrical material that at least gave us some structure and something to focus on, and then maybe laugh at upon playback of our recordings. I looked for jobs mostly because the expectation was to get some work, but I was quite distracted by Melissa and of course prioritized time with her. In nearly perfect clockwork motion, weekends from Friday afternoon till late evening on Sunday were given to her. That entailed my riding my bike three miles over to my grandparents's place to pick up the Ford, then to drive it up to Mira Mesa, nine miles from my house in the other direction. I got to keep the car at home for the weekend. But I'd go up there each weekend day—yep, three times. And each time would be filled with as much as we could wedge in, most of the time. And since I had the car, I sort of was the chauffeur for her and some friends. There were some instances of off days or other spontaneous occasions when I got up there midweek for a little mice-when-the-cats-away kind of play. I even biked up there once in the middle of the school week. So it went for a while during the fall after I returned in late August. On top of all that, there were letters and journals written to each other. The fluff factor was high. Because "these are the moments you hang on to forever," to this day I have a calendar marked with numbers reflecting how many hours we spent that day. And this went on the entire seven months and three weeks. From that, I could tell you now how many hours we spent together. Sick, eh? Teen love.

The irony is that Melissa was really kind of a closed up case who probably had ideas and words waiting to explode out of her but much of the time I found she was either in awe of my greatness (er... she wanted me that whole year before we got together, dig?) or too intimidated by her dad and other voices that encouraged her to shutup and be cute as a girl. So she liked to spend time but rarely could say what she needed to say. Some letters broke some ground but really it was quite stifled. Attempts to draw something more conversational from her were usually frustrating. She was at that point where her curiosity was leading her farther from her young girl moorings and she only had a cousin to talk to about what she should be doing with me. Her mom a bit, but obviously less so. The fact that her parents were friends of my old man (and her dad worked in the same factory as he) meant that we knew each other enough to have some history, but of course, the risk was ever that they'd talk. Her mom loved me and gave me some kind nudging in the right direction. Her dad was a no bullshit kind of guy who didn't mince his words much. Melissa obviously had to fear him. Lots of time was spent inviting her out of that fearful silence so we might have a more interesting relationship.

What all that meant was that the one person I was investing so much time into was coming to be found as kind of a dead end. She listened to me tell tales of frustration with distance and loss but she herself could not fill the gaps, even conversationally. Being only 16, her level of experience was even less than mine, so that further limited what we'd be able to cover. Her world was that of a sheltered girl's: a busy school band schedule with other extracirricular activites. Many weekends during that season she had to go to her marching band meets all over the county. I went along to many of them. It was very foreign to me but it kept us together on days otherwise occupied. Melissa was fond of fanciful, fluffy stuff and listening to all the sappy radio dedications at night on the soft rock station. She and I did our own dedications on the air, and I think that was a way for her to get something of her message across to me. But it was no less sappy, and while I played along, I always wished there to be more substance.

That Damned Television

She watched lots of TV and movies. (With that mindless habit, she set a precedent for my generally despising television, but particularly when it seems to be more important than whatever relationship I am in at the time. More outrageously for me is when the TV is on and it's not even really being watched. It's just overstimulating aural and visual noise. There are enough cases of that over the years.) The TV proved to be a major sticking point, in the way that it seemed we could never connect when it was on. And I needed connection. One journal entry recalls a sort of passive-aggressive game played with channel switching from her choice of Fox showing Married With Children and my preference for PBS. After that exchange I found it preferable to leap to and to do her family's dishes rather than be sidelined by TV. And dumb TV at that. I even went to talk to her mom in the other room...about math. As the fall season went on and I didn't find work within biking distance, and all those weekends felt like sugar highs and their resultant crashes when I could have used some protein to sustain me. My mood shifted downward. With the march of time I felt like we should be getting more physical if we weren't going to be having great and profound conversations. I was 19 after all. She was willing to tease me some but then retreated. She was 16 after all. So for all the time spent there, on one level or another did not meet my needs.

It seems that season of 1992 started to disabuse me of the lofty ideas I had of what a romantic life would bring. I mean, popular culture paints a pretty picture of it all, and while we had our fluffy expressions of fondness, at least doing it in a paint-by-numbers kind of way, I was finding that the kind of relationship I was longing for was not going to come from anyone three years my junior, particularly with her set of interests. I think it was the onset of this realization that started to take me downward more than I tended to. For all the time prior to Melissa, the imagination of some kind of love relationship was free to wander, unmoored to reality. The lofty visions of what might be possible with Shelby, for example—a smart, engaged and socially aware peer of mine (only nine days younger, even) —were met with a dawning reality that Melissa, the consumate couch potato and homebody with little girl dreams—would be only a way point on the road toward something deeper and more fulfilling. On the surface, frustration might have been because of the pent up 19 year old male energy to get laid and being "stuck" with a girl who wasn't going there yet and who could barely be persuaded to shut off the TV and be present in the relationship that she herself pined for, but who kept feeding a bit of carnal experience out then withdrawing. But seeing the journals now, it's quite evident that far bigger issues were trying to be met and enacted but with a partner who had utterly no ability to do so, if only because her life experience was as sheltered as mine, and a few years less, at that. The discord between us was barely understandable and I got to acting out some things that later on proved to be patterns that needed addressing, and some I'm ashamed to say, persist when I wish they wouldn't.

The Revolving Door of Friends

I never really bonded with anyone for the long term while taking classes at Mesa. Having no more than three classes at once kept the frequency and repetition of encountering people somewhat low. Since people there were no longer my peers from within a few miles of my house, there was little chance of crossing paths with these new classmates. In the same way, there was no history to draw upon. I liked school well enough but obviously I waited for it to be over with so I could get back to Melissa or to my silly songs and playing drums. I didn't retain much connection with anyone from high school either. But by the end of 1992, the social patterns were disrupted enough and that caused concern. It felt like someone else's life I was leading when confronted with my new options.

The life I'd grown to like included pursuing Shelby, despite her being so fickle and doing such a thing as returning a couple years' worth of letters to me in February 1992 for crossing her sense of moneylending decorum. Obviously, the pursuit of Shelby had to be put on hold while with Melissa. But that felt odd to me, and sometimes I resented that Shelby got a little too excited for me and Melissa hooking up, for that was to mean that she was demonstrating some relief that I'd not be able to pursue her. Shelby herself was in northern California by then and so the physical distance was then, as usual, a bar to doing much with Shelby anyway, even as friends.

Matt was a newcomer as of a year before and certainly a wildcard but shortly after my trip to Germany he had expressed some sentiment that we might be becoming friends—maybe because he was finding some home strife and he was eyeing the spare bedroom at my house just in case he needed an out. Since we didn't work together any longer, most of our time was spent somehow linked to Rhythmic Catharsis. We had one of those kinds of mutually abusive "friendships" but he weathered things better than I did, at least outwardly. I didn't always know what to make of it. Was it good natured ribbing that he was pulling on me, or worse? And some of the things he did to be antisocial... oy!

Returning from Germany was a troublesome thing because it closed up the in-person friendship with Steve. Once a fellow student (exchange) at my school, doing fun things and gettting to know each other on weekends for a semester, and chumming at school, that was now all over with, particularly after two trips to Europe. Who knew where the future would lead, but to this date, we've not seen each other in person since then. He is an intelligent, articulate, and balanced male peer of mine who also demonstrated perhaps the best openness of them all. (Funny, during the writing of this entry, Steve called me completely out of the blue. I can't recall talking to him for two years. He'll later make my point behind this entry.)

The Old Man

In scanning my journal from the period, I was rather surprised to have penned the following about my old man on October 5th, 1992:

I woke up. William gave me shit. Like usual. I asked him for an allowance for food. He gave me a lecture on getting a job. He just doesn't listen to me. Or if he does, it means so little. Or he reinterprets it to mean I'm stupid or whatever. After two or three tries, I just lost out on the allowance, and certain grocery items he doesn't like me to have. And I got the job lecture anyway. God, I hate it when he tells me that everything I know is wrong. I'm out of money [I find that a bit much, but Europe and months of unemployed time did wear things down] and all he's worried about is making a return in his motorcycle seat business [something he bought in early 1989 from his friend who made the company name, but that was never maintained enough to be more than an also-ran in the business]. Bullshit! He's got to pay himself off before he's going to help me. Maybe he'd rather not have my help. Does he deserve it? If he won't support me in something so simple as eating, should I help him? I'm almost getting to the point where I'd like to leave this ouse, perhaps in favor of my grandparents' house, where at least I'd be needed [ironic I'd say this since I used to be rather mercinary in helping them so I could borrow the car so regularly]. And it would almost be convenient. At any rate, I'm tired of being less than I am. Maybe I'm not much, but do I need to be told so? Can he encourage me rather than tell me I'm all wrong? And he also is trying to restrict me from using the car.

In 1992, I didn't yet know how some of those same things would play out over the years in ways that seem even more savage. At the time it was just maddening. Who was he to obstruct me in such ways? I watched him do a poor job of keeping a business even in his chosen field of interest. It was a precedent for watching the things he did as a landlord, driving me to more complete madness a decade later, while I indeed did live in my grandparents' house, having moved there and for some years feeling he held no sway over my housing. This habit he has of outright declaring things "wrong" to my face—stuff that interests me, that I enjoy—has been around for a long time and always came wrapped in a rather smug delivery style. And this talk about wishing he might just encourage me is nothing new, either. By the time I wrote this entry, the various ways he tried to get me to think of music as "just a hobby" and not as something worth my total devotion, were already well despised. Here I am these 20 years later and that damned voice still buzzes my ears like a fly I can't kill but that I keep swatting at. Sad as I know all you kind people would say it was, it's been the gift that kept on giving. And yet, for all his talk about education and "you can never learn too much," and other such talk and other admonitions to get a real job, he never saw fit to actually finance my schooling at a level beyond Mesa. These days, with such sickening comments to reflect on, it's easy to see how such crap kept things destabilized just enough. He could cast just enough doubt to weaken trust and thwart enthusiasm.

Drifting from the Woman who Loves Me

In another ripple, it was also becoming harder and harder to spend the time I spent with my grandmother, indulging in talk of life and relationships. With the unfolding events with Melissa especially, I found myself not able to let her in on the big news of my life. My grandmother, while as much of a confidant as I ever had, was 64 years older than I was. She was conservative but tolerant. It's hard to say what mind I had about reporting to her about Melissa. Maybe it was so simple as to expect that she knew what kinds of things would be entailed. Or maybe I realized well enough she might cast some disapproval upon the news of getting familiar with a girl so young. At any rate, this certainly began a period of increasing opacity. At that time, it might have been harmless, but in retrospect of course, that worked against us in later events. So I lost that vital connection with the one woman left in my family, and the one person who did not talk in doublespeak and sarcasm and did not rely on intimidation by a chosen word or look in the eye. I guess that's just the agony of growing up and getting oneself formed by the other things in the world. With the creeping depression, it would seem foolish to have not kept transparent and honest about how life was going. Major loss not welcoming input from her.

Distance from Church Life

Having been at some distance from church for about a year or more by the time this depressive episode was taking hold of me, I was at some loss, at least relative to the days when I used to be a regular participant. Work at Subway put the first crack in the wall when schedules overflowed on Saturday nights and kept me up way too late to get sleep and feel like getting to church on Sunday. And of course, if there were other things at church, scheduled later in the evenings on most any day, I passed that up for the newfound earning potential. It was a sad trade but certainly a needed misstep to ultimately shape the course of later, more redeeming events. Then, after Subway, it was just a period of drifting, and then Europe, and then Melissa. All that was the stuff of distraction from living among folks who at the time often demonstrated a lot more love and acceptance than the home life I knew. My journal tells me that in November I went to the first Shalom group meeting since January. That group was one I helped to found and for a while was the safe spot where those of us in high school tried to share and make sense of our evolving lives and struggles. (It was in that group where I got to know something of Kelli when she joined in 1990.) No doubt that staying away from that group helped isolate me, but since I was a graduate, I was nearly aging out of the group, and so it wasn't impossible to reason being gone. But in retrospect, I really could have used that setting to voice my increasing concerns.

Unmasking the Evidence of Despair

I was feeling pretty lost as the end of 1992 approached. My journal from November 26 that year was brief and to the point in one of the purest expressions probably found to that point. In giant scrawling, I wrote: "I hate this fucking life!!! and no one seems to understand it." And then, in my usual way, I went on for a few pages in some detail. (All were very original thoughts, I know. I suffered alone, yup.) Melissa and I had gone to the mountains one cold autumn day and I was feeling I should get out and just do some primal screaming. Maybe even she would like to do so herself. But at the stop we made, she retracted and we stayed in the car. The placid exterior that passed for my default identity was chipping and cracking. Melissa started to register some fear at what my various mood swings and talks were pointing to. The same journal from November 26 was grappling with what later was known as the shadow and feeling that the masks I'd worn for others must come off. Melissa would be one of the first to see the new, hurting, angry, confused me. It was the first real identity crisis. Not knowing who I was of course made it hard to articulate what I needed. It made it hard to see any role I might play as being worthwhile. Around this time, I had written a poem that bore the title of this blog post, trying, in fewer words than usual, to capture my feelings. The medium was only starting to become appealing to me. All of us who have passed that point can probably chuckle at how worked up one gets during those times. But at the time, those are the biggest questions. The darkest places. The mightiest challenges. In spiritual language now available to me, it's the agony of new birth into something else. Back then, maybe it would have done some good if someone stuck a copy of Catcher in the Rye before me.

Crisis of Faith

Perhaps the only safe harbor I had wasn't with family. It wasn't with a girlfriend. It wasn't in a work life. It wasn't even my "friends" such as they were then. It wasn't church, per se, but it did turn out that I'd need to call upon figures from church who had looked after me before and had a bigger picture for me to fit within. I did go to church with great regularity for the period of mid 1989 into early 1991. I say it was with "regularity" because it'd be misleading to say I went "religiously." That's because in the church setting where I went there was a very heady atmosphere that is still apparent these days, but more so then when certain figures were present and a certain dynamic formed around them. The effect was particularly notable because the pastor, Jerry Lawritson, has often been seen as intellectual in his liberal theology. At any rate, as a teen I barely understood a word he said but knew he had my back from some very key pastoral moments. He surely thought of the Shalom community in part because he saw need from some of us in high school who had deeper streams of concern than could be let to see the light of day in regular activities around church.

His associate pastor, Judy Slaughter, arrived on the scene at the same time in the mid 80s. She was a gregarious, attentive presence in my life. Early on she picked up on discord that I was far from being able to articulate and she let me tell it to her straight. Better still, she responded straight. Over time, the two of them operated in loving ways to nudge me along in a better direction as living in a home with just a dominating father and having recently met my mother for the first time, with the struggles that accompanied that reunion after the party favors were put away. They knew my dark side before I knew it and tried to hedge against it with only some help from my grandmother.

I was not really a believer even in the better times, and by this period, I made an early declaration that I was having a crisis of faith and starting to get nihilistic. I saw others' faith turning up good fruit, but I was not able to see it myself. Or maybe I was expecting the the apple while climbing the orange tree? Yet, in the same journal from late on Thanksgiving Day, I did express thankfulness for Melissa's family's taking me in (one time even letting me stay over when things got real hot and testy at home with the old man), and even her aunt's contribution of $10 when at the time I understood her to not really have a lot to give. (Years later, a picture emerged of her life then: living in a part of town known for being a meth alley, some notable dental issues, and then some talk from other sources, I came to think she might have been embedded in that scene. Hard to say for sure, but in my journal from December 14, 1992, she and I had talked about all sorts of things for hours and with regard to my jobless state, she offered help if it meant "lying, cheating, or stealing." Hmmm...) The last part of the paragraph ends with:

I'm not used to that generous behavior. They may not be saints but they all have warm hearts and take care of people when they can, even if they shouldn't. They treat me like one of their own. That's about all I have to be thankful for.

Even a few lines like that, following the lines above them, show what a confusing world it was then. Was that all I had to be thankful for? Was that not something pretty nice, for which I ought to give thanks? Such nuances were far from my mind then. Even now, I find myself in similar situations.

An interesting thing happens in my journals from time to time. I might write one of those despairing messages one time and then not write for a few days or weeks, maybe feeling I said all there was to say. And then the very next entry would start with some disclaimer kind of message announcing "what a difference a day makes." And then an entry would flow, celebrating all sorts of inversions and pleasant surprises and developments that somehow renewed me since the entry before. That has been the push and the pull of life for me for a long time. I suppose it's that way with everyone else. But I didn't really see it. It was just confusion. It took someone else to interpret such a thing in a way that I could digest.

Jerry and Judy to the Rescue

For the time I was involved extensively at church, I was a big participant in life there. In some ways, that might be far more evidence of meaningful belief than just intellectual assent to theological ideas. All that tended to be over my head, but I felt that in that community at that time, I was welcomed and offered an alternative path to get through the minefield of adolescence. Calling on that sense that there is some alternative to the world I knew, by the time December 18 rolled around and I was feeling at the end of my string at the bottom of the World, I called and asked if Jerry and Judy could give me some time to vent and seek some counsel. I met with Jerry for lunch on December 4th but don't have any record of what was taken from that meeting.

On December 7th, 1992, I got an hour to talk to Judy and I'm sure I spilled all the frustrations and internal mayhem before her. The journal says it was a day of some great relief, particularly since Judy was a real trusted person. Taking in all this mess I poured out, she used the word "depression" to sum it up. While I might have used the word before that, I suspect for me to have written it down, it would suggest that for a trusted adult to use it meant I felt validated, even if it was just in naming the beast. She had some things to offer as ways to meet it. Getting a job of any sort would help put the brakes on the emotional slide. It didn't have to be career stuff, just something to give shape to life, get some independence back, get out of the spiraling thoughts.

After being kind of a Subway snob and trying to get a job at any of the very few stores I could readily ride to from either school or home, but not being able to on account of being sort of blacklisted from the restraining order put on me by the Levys, I had to look at other options. In mid December, I paid a visit to the Jack In The Box on Genessee, perfectly between school and home. The Subway snob in me declared it unclean and beneath me, otherwise there was no reason not to have applied any time in the several months prior. Who knew that some clown would end up saving my life?

Let's not get ahead of the story here. This is pretty much why this entry was written, anyway. 

The record shows that December 15-16 reached a pretty low point where I was getting the first ideations of suicide. Apparently a friend of Melissa's had done the deed a week or so before and that sort of paved the way for me to ruminate and entertain such ideas myself. It was probably abusive but it was inevitable that I'd have to let Melissa in on this. This opened up a testy but revelatory conversation with her. In some ways, it might be seen as the first with that kind of honesty, forcing aside the puppy love which had become by then so nauseating to be surrounded with. She said she'd hate me if I went through with taking my life. That didn't register, especially since the six months before was all about loving me, blah, blah, blah. She couldn't really handle the talk and sort of froze up. I later heard she turned to some other dude, a mutual friend of her suicidal friend, for some ear time. For my part, I even found that a bit of a breakthrough with Matt took place when I let him in on what I was feeling and experiencing.

I at least had the sense to call Jerry and ask if we could get together with Judy. The next day, we did get together for breakfast at the Broken Yolk, a popular breakfast joint not far from the church. It was sort of like the paramedics arrived on the scene to defib and resuscitate me. These were two of the people for whom I had the most respect and trust. For them to take such an interest in my life has always registered in a big way with me. Both had recently been briefed on my increasingly confused and fragile state, and surely part of the morning was given to the latest news and confused perspective I bought that day.

Jerry in particular, being a pastor, knows the world hurts. He'd see it from working with his people for days after weeks after months after years. But his philosopical background and his interests in the massively disruptive 20th century and his "Jewish soul" no doubt give him profound insight into the kind of mental anguish that is the hallmark of our time. Since he realizes the world is plenty messed up, he doesn't need to be surprised to find it at the more granular level of the individual. I suspect to know the darkness like he seems to, he must surely have his own brushes with such existential despair. One can't just know what this is about having read it in books alone. Most of this I found out about him years later. At the time, I thought he just knew this because he was a pastor. Jerry got his place as pastor in no small part because he was asked why he should be the guy to pastor the church. He replied that he was a good listener. And so I could vouch for that, time and time again. A day like that Friday at the Broken Yolk is as important as it is not because anyone rolled up his or her sleeves and got to work under the hood of my life, but that he and Judy took the time to really listen and help me get things out of my head. But on a day like that, when the talk of suicidal ideation is more than garden variety downer talk, they needed to do more than listen.

Judy was always able to bring the down-to-earth, friendly, nearly motherly approach to her work. She had been ordained more recently while serving the church, and so people like me and our youth group were part of her educational and formational experiences as a professional. I probably gave her more than my share, but she was ever keen on helping any way she could and always was very appreciative of my trusting her to help.

The takeaway lessons that came from that day were perhaps few in number but great in import. All the things I said were validated and I felt heard. A great lesson from the day was one that I don't seem to have learned anywhere prior. Jerry said suicidal ideation is one thing, and perhaps far more common and normal than anyone lets on. He wanted me to know that to hurt is to be human, and to not wish that away. He cautioned that when that hurt is not accepted and aired is when things go tragically wrong. To hurt is human. It means one is alive and sensitive to the world. It's not a fault or a shortcoming. People who don't feel, don't hurt. But that's not the human lot. What he did want to clarify is that while the agony of existence is great, to snuff oneself is a selfish act, one that forfeits a hard won position of resistance against all that darkness that is already so prevalent and ready to move in on those who don't remain vigilant. It's as if to say "all hands are needed on deck for this life."

Another major lesson was just that if we take life as a book (where we simply can't skim ahead), we just don't know what the next page will bring. Or the next chapter. Well, hasn't that been the truth? Yeah, kid, what a difference a day makes. I left the breakfast with a renewed spirit, thanks to a steroidal dose of empathic listening, encouragement, advice, and a lot of love.

The Clown that Saved My Life

It wasn't merely abstract talk. The lesson of "what a difference a day makes" was about to be embodied in the day itself. Just the day before our breakfast meeting, I'd gone to Jack in the Box and after applying there got a callback with an interview offer for later on the 18th—hours after the breakfast wound up and left me with more determination to engage in life. I had thoughts about how the interview would go. Probably some question about why I wanted to be there, etc. What would I say? Since this was really the first job interview that seemed normal after the first two jobs I had, each with their own oddball ways of getting hired, how much of my life would need coverage? What if they found out I was depressed? Does that help or hinder? I'm sure when I got there it was far simpler than I would allow it to be in my head, and certain questions were to get certain answers and that's that. I got lucky. They had expressed at some point later on that they were looking for a friendly looking, white, native English speaker for their counter/register work. I got the job. What a difference a day makes.

So it wasn't the job that launched me on a glorious career in management at a major fast food company. Nope. I worked there for about a month, starting just the week following the booster breakfast. The five weeks that I did work there seemed rather lighter, like life was okay. Then the national e. coli scare happened and the company pared back their crews, and guys like me with no seniority were given several weeks off during the entire month of February. I would ride by to check in a couple times a week. And when I did get back, I was in there for a month or so and then with no real back up plan but feeling at some distance from the life I had when I started there, I turned in my notice sometime in April. Yeah, the job was not career stuff but it did do what I needed it to do: give me something to fill time, get some money for a while, start to see life differently. After a few weeks off, I happened upon another Subway that I could get to if I drove. I applied and got that job and it launched me into yet another major phase of life. But that's for another journal.

During that period of the layoff from Jack's, Melissa and I broke up and I was pretty torn up about that but not so much that I turned back to my despair before December 18. It was dark, but the lessons resonated in me: who knew what the next page brought?

As if to Prove the Point

This is a bit of a distraction from the core of the story about how fuggin' depressed I was at the end of 1992, but it makes a good point. Consider this. Just at the end of the year, in the last few days, I got a new boombox that featured a dual cassette player/recorder and a simple input for a microphone. In only a week, Matt and I went out to play some Rhythmic Catharsis songs out in our favorite parking garage. I took that boombox along and got a sound that surpassed what I ever had. And then most especially, the day after we did that, my life changed. It changed because for the first time, I was able to bounce the tape we made while adding new sounds of some additional percussion instruments and some voices. It wasn't what is properly known as overdubbing but it accomplished the layering of sound that gets you to the same place. That then was the bug that bit me, drawing me into the world of recording. For at least the next ten years from that point on, recording and creating music was a huge part of what I felt I was. The past ten years a bit less so but I still do it, and really, I have to say it was from that early time, just a couple weeks after I thought I was spent on life.

Keep turning the page. Keep turning those corners...

Friday
Dec142012

Santa and the Kingdom of Childhood

Kaitlin

This is a presentation several years in the making even though it came together last night. The first four pictures are original shots of my niece Kaitlin, taken in 2000. I had met her just weeks before, only in the week of Thanksgiving. I was 27 and on the verge of wanting to grow up after years of hurt and alienation from many, including my mom's whole side of my family. That gap was bridged in time for the holidays that year. Kaitlin was not quite four years old then. By my readiness and her very presence, she stole my heart in the sort of I-Thou exchange that Martin Buber wrote about. She reached into me in an amazing way and inspired me to first make a 15 minute bit of music (Hog Heaven Holiday Theme Music) just in time for Christmas that year, and to give it to her and other folks as my present for the year—one I might add that could NOT be bought. Bitter and senseless family politics has kept us apart for all the time since just after that Christmas, though I saw her a few weeks ago (almost exactly 12 years from when we first met) and had a crashing feeling that the situation of estrangement would never change. It broke my heart. Her mom unleashed vitriolic words upon me after staying perfectly quiet for almost exactly those same 12 years. The only exception has been a few email and MySpace flame wars. Any hopes I might have had to be Katie's uncle are probably for naught. One can only imagine what Kaitlin has heard about me, all without knowing me but for those few weeks, lost to the mists of her young mind.

To be honest, I've been quite depressed in recent weeks, in part because of that, but in no small measure because of it either. This kind of thing is a dull ache most of the time and sometimes gets outsized and more painful than maybe I should let it. I've tried engagement and disengagement in order to cope. Neither particularly suits me. I just hurt.

The remaining photos in the slideshow are ones I've been able to collect from my sister's social media pages. I am pretty certain they are not used by permission. My tragic point, exactly. But while my sister has her fanciful notions of protecting her daughter from the Savage Sociopath from San Diego, she's using the same twisted logic that my old man used to keep me from my mom. Funny that she doesn't see it that way. Anyhow, these are pictures of my niece as much as they are pictures of her daughter. To date, even though the fiery words have flown and the icy wastelands have grown between us, there is really no substance to her decision to keep Katie from me. I mean, I'm not a pedophile. Not a rapist. Not a murderer. I haven't stolen anything. I haven't really held any financial power over anyone, despite some monetary issues that I've since learned were my mom's very style. There really isn't much to hate me for, though their typical approach to keeping a distance has done plenty to stall any chance of development and certainly any hope of healing. It's just that they don't care.

This little show is my act of defiance, just something to help keep a light of hope alive for me. None of what has happened since can take away that flicker of hope that came when I played with Katie for a few occasions that holiday season of 2000. I might say that in keeping with the theme of the reading in the video, Katie might just as well be said to be my first real Christmas gift as an adult. One I didn't even know I needed. That holiday was quite enjoyable, and since, while no other Christmas since has been spent with that family unit, Christmas has had its component of wonder and hope returned to me.

The Music

This music is just a short segment from the longer, freewheeling musical romp that perhaps was my nod to Mike Oldfield, Todd Rundgren, Mike Keneally, and maybe other solo artists who just love to get into the studio and make any music that comes to them. With one exception (a totally random instance of Kelli appearing at my place with a friend packing a Maltese bagpipe), every part of the recording was done on my own. For lack of a better title, and for the fact it's not strictly a bunch of Christmas tunes but rather is more a sonic tour through impressions of the season, it's called what it's called. This year I have returned to the source recording of the original project and brought it into my main recording program, Logic, a far more robust place to mix the recording that never got the mix it deserved in 2000 when it was rushed out the door in time for the holiday. So that will appear too, sounding better than ever, first a gift to family that didn't really care, and now to the world, and I bet it will unfold in ways I could never imagine. I'll probably post it next week, 12 years from its first release.

The Reading

On another track of life, a few years later in 2004, I got Michael Judge's book, The Dance of Time, a sweet little thing to feed a hunger for knowing what the world was like before our particular kind of timekeeping evolved. To read it, one must suspend the cold rational mind known for its "stinking thinking" and just fall into the premodern mind where time is measured according to the universe and the play of celestial bodies upon the Earth.  It's prose that reads poetically and a few times a year (but especially in the colder months) I am likely to pull it out and read it aloud to Kelli. In 2010 I found a page that I liked and paired it with the Holiday Theme Music. (The crazy thing is, I think I actually got the wrong segment of music!) I gave it a few reads and tried not to choke too much but you can hear the end did get a little hard to read. As it should.

Meeting my niece when I was 27 was the beginning of a thawing of my heart from the cold and broken thing it had become over those years of creeping skepticism and doubt about goodness and frankly, mystery. In so much mythology, the troubled male soul is mended by some kind of feminine presence. So it was for me. This humble little reading is just a thing to remind me of the good stuff, to not get jaded and cynical; to not be barricaded behind all the hurt and pain that accumulates too easily. The pictures I took of Kaitlin that first holiday season are significant of those first glimmers of light in the darkness for me.

Tuesday
Oct162012

Happy Birthday to Nikki, Chris' Response

Today is my sister's birthday. I'm talking about my younger sister Nikki, who turns 35 today. Yesterday I paid her a visit since one of my stops was almost across the street from her place. No one was home. I left a solitary business card (the one I created for my work with Jubilee Economics), and on the back I scrawled the briefest of notes wishing her a happy birthday. Just about seven hours later or so, my other sister, Chris, ten years my senior, and self-appointed guardian of all things on that side of the family (she's just insistent on being stubbornly unwilling to communicate in a civil manner), wrote the following and I indulged her in what is about the only kind of chatter we engage in anymore. She doesn't seem to understand I've been in touch with other members of the family for just over a year now, and from their perspective, they never agreed to Chris making pronouncements that "no one" wants to talk to me. Chris got caught in a lie here. Watch as she squirms. I wish she'd just calm down and be someone to talk to like in the old days. Somewhere along the line she decided to offload her baggage on me and to scapegoat. And Nikki, never having lived a day in "my life" in San Diego, has hardly a genuine complaint of her own about me. I could only reason she's absorbed the toxicity around her over the years and internalized others' emotions. Anyhow, here's what transpired.

Nikki and Chris blissful without me wishing them happy birthdayNikki and Chris, c. 2011?

Christina Marshall: I dont know how you found out Nikki's address, but it was down right STALKER behavior. I did advise her to contact the authorities 7:22 PM

Me: I wished her a happy birthday. How are you? 7:22 PM

Christina Marshall: You found her address? Which was NEVER given to YOU!! Thats rather odd and creepy 7:24 PM

Me: It was given to me. 7:25 PM

Christina Marshall: Not by her! So whomever gave it to you has NO respect for privacy 7:27 PM

Me: I hope she has a good birthday. 35 if I did my math right? 7:28 PM

Christina Marshall: Your approach is so Bill Lucas. How fucking creepy is that!! WoW 7:37 PM

Me: Approach? You mean stopping to wish a family member a happy birthday? He doesn't do that. Not even for me, and I live in the same town. You think I can afford to drive to HB just to drop a card and get a hostile response from someone else? 7:39 PM

Christina Marshall: Wellll considering that "family" hasnt had contacted you?? Yes it is rather disturbing, to say the least 7:43 PM

Me: I don't know why you bother to concern yourself with this. I didn't address you in the least this morning. I bothered to think of you for your birthday and you wrote "thanks!" back to me. A simple thanks from Nikki would do fine. It is a civilized thing to do. 7:45 PM

Christina Marshall: Dont hold your breath on that! Shes too freaked out by this to even feel over joyed! Im involved because i was told of your stalker behavior 7:50 PM

Me: You're involved because you think you hold the keys to the whole family. You don't. You just enjoy the idea. But others (that you can find out from your own research) have shared info with me and have absolutely and directly refuted words that you've put into their mouths (regarding who doesn't want to be in touch with me). 7:52 PM

Christina Marshall: Hahaha! do you honestly reallly think that this family has you in interest? Think about it? No one is looking for YOU, right? My FAMILY does involve me 7:55 PM

Me: Someone from your branch of the family decided to wish me happy birthday. It was a nice gesture. Actually, two did. Doubly nice. 7:55 PM

Me: Your family involves you, but if you are lying about what they say or don't say, wish or don't wish, you're just lying. And someone you probably love has told me that your efforts to block me were not their ideas whatsoever. So maybe you're concerned but it's not your place to speak for others. 7:58 PM

Christina Marshall: Yeah okay. Goodie goodie 7:58 PM

Christina Marshall: Well that wouldnt be my immediate family! 8:00 PM

Me: It would appear you admit to being caught in a lie. If was planning on being a stalker, I don't suppose I'd hand over my business card with plenty of info. It's hardly sneaking around in the shadows that way. I don't really have anything to hide, see? 8:00 PM

Me: I'll leave it to you to figure out who may be nice enough to keep me in the loop. 8:01 PM

Christina Marshall: Well i know its not my mom, brothers or nikki. And especially my kids! 8:04 PM

Me: Tell me one thing. I was just surprised when you responded to my birthday wish with what sounded like some appreciation. Just wondering. 8:04 PM

Christina Marshall: I honestly do not believe you have contact within my "loop", considering it only consist of my mom, siblings, my kids and grandkids 8:12 PM

Me: Your mind might explode at things you don't know. Wouldn't it be better to relax and just be civil? It's a far nicer life being nice to people. Maybe you could write all your issues down for me on paper. Text is so... impersonal. I mean, you probably don't want me to call you or anything, do you? Even if I have your number now? 8:14 PM

Me: You actually have pretty good handwriting. Better than mine. I can't even read my shopping lists. 8:18 PM

Christina Marshall: LMAO! yeah my issues! Go enjoy your wife and life! Just remember this Ed, if anyone ever had true interests in you, dont you believe they would have contacted 8:21 PM

Me: It happened. Last year. Maybe one day I could tell you about it. It was pretty surprising to me too. We should have lunch sometime. It'd be good to catch up. 8:23 PM

Me: Okay. Gotta go walk the dog. Worked 14 hours today. Tired. Tell Nikki happy birthday, even if you have to not say it's from me. You two are difficult to love but I'll try anyway. Be good. 8:29 PM

Saturday
Jan072012

The Return of Eda +20

My old man and my step mom Eda separated on July 19, 1983. That was the first I knew of anything wrong, and by that time it was so wrong she had already left the house, in favor of staying down the street at a friend's place until other plans could be made. By that time Eda had been in my life since sometime in 1974; most of my nearly ten years on this earth. I called her mom. Even when she left in 1983 I was just over three years away from meeting my own mom for what functionally was the first time in my life. The animosity was not directly between them. I don't know of any time when they actually met. But as the story has come down to me, Eda was feeling threatened by my old man. She isn't a person of deceit nor even of exaggeration and hyperbole, and when she tells me the story, I believe her. And I've heard it a few times and every time it's the same: a threat from my old man that he'd hit her in the mouth so hard that no dentist could fix the damage. As she tells the story, she would quote my grandmother Virginia, a dear friend, who used to tell her "God got [her] out of there just in time."

Eda was 22 years older than my old man. She could have been his own mom if we are to consider age and biology alone. By the time she and my old man got together (they had known of each other for some time before), he was 29 and she was already in her early 50s; she was a menopausal woman who posed no risk for him as he no doubt felt quite upset about the fact he had a child with the "wrong" woman—my mom. Eda was not about to get pregnant, and she liked riding BMW motorcycles. She didn't own property or much of anything. She was mature but still able to enjoy some fun at travel and recreation. And she took to me well enough. Sometime in those early years for me, not knowing any differently (at least consciously speaking), I began calling Eda "mommy." She didn't want to take that for granted. I was not her own. So she reported this development and the old man went with it.

It was all rather a workable arrangement for my old man. He was in and out of jobs in their early years, but he had a house (have you heard about his house, yet? LOL!) In some ways, having greased the appropriate palms in the legal system he had me, he had his BMW-enjoying partner, and he had his house. It must have seemed like a big time in the mid 70s when they got married (Halloween 1977). Just that year he got a real job at Solar Turbines where he worked for 16 years. That was the life I knew him to lead for a lot of years. That was normal to me.

Breakup

Their breakup was rather surprising for me, but it fell into the shadows and was very much something I was sheltered from. Since I was uncontestably under his custody, there was no custody battle this time around. I slept in my bed the same as always. Whatever legal machinations that took place were behind the curtain, I just knew she was gone, and in her place I was given a little white hamster that supposedly was found on the sidewalk near the house. I called him (sorry, this is a very young 1980s suburban child's consciousness speaking) Whitey. He was an albino with beaty red eyes. Somehow this new critter was supposed to be a distraction, and maybe he was. I think I've written that my earliest days in drumming came from lessons that would be just the thing to keep my mind on things other than family matters.

a pencil written letter to the divorce judge that didn't seem to grasp the matter of divorce. I was 10 year old then.A note to the divorce judge, 1984I don't recall much emotion or drama around that time, at least not at home. I wasn't really offered the latest news nor did I seem to go in search of it. It was pretty much a cut and dried thing. Eda was just gone and I suspect I was given enough cause to believe she had left us for no real clear reason. It is hard for me to tell now that in response to her leaving, I attached to my old man in a big way. I guess I couldn't be expected to do otherwise. If there was more to it, I never knew much, and there wasn't the kind of pain and the displays thereof that you might expect from a kid. But you gotta remember, I already knew the loss of one mom. Here went one more. I wonder if I was in some kind of shutdown mode? Was this becoming something I ought to get used to?

I do recall the kids at my new school in fifth grade, with their confidence-eroding taunts that my mom left me because of something I did. Harsh. I do recall some school drama associated with that, as I do recall being in some fights that year. I also had a very cool male teacher named Clayt Wright who used to intervene for me and put those kids in their places. He seemed to understand what was at work for me and he offered some male presence both stern and compassionate.

Mostly Momless

What can be said is that Eda was gone physically from the middle of 1983 until January 6, 1992. But she wasn't totally gone from my life, thanks to a rather clandestine letter writing campaign of hers in the intervening years. I do recall some letters being handed to me from school administrators in the first couple years while I was at Longfellow elementary in 1983-85. I might have them still. I recall one Sunday in February 1986 when on one of our rather ordinary afternoons at Seaport Village on the harbor, I happened upon Eda and gleefully greeted her. It had been about two and a half years since I'd seen her. I did something maybe I shouldn't have and ran to announce her to my old man. I guess somehow I didn't realize what mixed feelings would be present. To me, it was just a matter of seeing my mom again. But the old man went over to her, banished me to one of the shops and gave her some kind of "get lost and don't talk to Ed anymore" kind of talk. After that, there were maybe two years before I got in touch with her nephew, Eddie. I always fancied him a cousin and he was happy to hear from me but somehow thought that I was tight with the old man. But I was trying to get in touch so I could do what felt I needed to do around that time of the end of the first big period of relations with my birth mother (the 1986-88 period). Reasserting that Eda was my mom was my effort to get back to "normal." Eddie somehow got me in touch with Eda once again, and during that time from about 1988-1991 my pastor Jerry allowed us to use his mailbox as a front. I have a lot of her letters from that era with the postmark and her address cut out, but they're clearly mailed to my pastor's address not too far from my own house.

Eda lived in the interior of Mexico for several years. In the time since her departure she had embraced a Baptist style fundamentalism and had lived with her son Rene in a town where she could do some ministering to alcoholics on the recovery path. When she was here during my childhood, she was not really religious but she was dabbling with more and more new age and alternative paths toward enlightenment. I'm sort of bummed she settled on what she settled on, but hey. All her letters were filled with love and a gushing heart for me. It wasn't hard for me to remember she loved me. There was a kind of warmth that emanated from her letters while she was gone and especially once I was essentially declaring relations with my own mom null and void. In fact, in my senior yearbook, I have a "senior memories" entry that openly declares (in limited characters like txt spk now) "EdaIsMyMum." Eda was indeed the one who should be there in my life. I even offered her an invitation to come to my graduation in 1991. She took it half seriously but decided it was not time yet. Not there. Not then. Not with so much chance to really mix up the event with drama. Okay.

Reunion

Easter sunday 2001 when I last saw Virginia alive. Eda and Rene were there though.Rene, Virginia, Eda, and me, Easter 2001, a week before Virginia diedI turned 18 some months after graduation and I was increasingly anxious for a chance to move beyond just writing to her. Being emancipated from my old man, at least legally speaking, I was chomping at the bit to see her again. I was still rather sure that he'd be opposed, so this was still an underground effort. My journal from February 6, 1992 indicates that I was bracing for a conflict should he find out that I'd been seeing Eda for a month up to that point.

Alright. Epiphany Day, 1992 was the day that finally brought us into the same room. Since my journals were being written and kept in the house where the old man might find them, I have to say I did myself a big disservice by being pretty vague and conciliatory. What I do recall is getting a call either at home or at my grandparents' place and being told to come down about a mile from their house to where Eda's friend Haydie lived. Haydie was a Cuban who I recalled from time before so it was like a reunion just seeing her and her daughter Amanda. I talked for a bit on the phone and then blew on down the hill on my bike to see Eda at long last. I got there in the late afternoon. It was darkening as I stayed there. We talked for some time, I guess. It was an odd experience though. Or as I said in my journal, which records the impressions I got from that first month back in contact:

Meeting with her was odd. Nine years changes us all, and somehow the change mystified me. Sometimes she was entertaining and told old stories that were still effective but other time she talks about which she is profoundly familiar but seems in a trance and glances around distractedly. I didn't speak much partly because she talked a lot, and partly because I had said so much through my letters, and she knew so much about so little that goes on in my life. She was well informed, but you aren't going to be because I'm not going any further. I don't know what direction I'll take with her from here.

Eda and me the saturday before the county was burned to the ground, 2003Eda and me the day before the 2003 wildfires in San Diego CountyThat is how it got back on track for us. In some ways, it was anticlimactic. That first week back in touch my calendar has coded marks that indicate five separate encounters. I guess that means she was staying at Haydie's place where it was rather easy to get to. I also have evidence I didn't even have to work those few weeks in early January, so I had the time to bike down and spend time, or however it went. Maybe we went out with my grandmother, or maybe Eda came up to see us at Quapaw. At any rate, that week ushered in a new era, and in some ways I got my mom back after all those years. In other ways I didn't really recognize her. All her God talk put me off a lot of the time. I'd just have to sort of zone out to get through it. But then sometimes she'd be telling earthy tales and we'd be laughing in hysterics, or wondering about life's mysteries and the weird winding paths we find ourselves on. More or less, this first week was the model for how our visits would unfold in most of the years to the present. Usually I would feel I could meet with her a handful of times each year, because each usually had this pattern and in some of the heavier years of other family drama, she'd indulge me my stories of angst which would often be met with God talk that I wasn't really interested in. After each meeting, she'd write a letter or send a card and some pictures that she invariably had taken; some posed too carefully and some rather embarrassingly candid after a meal at a restaurant. Conversations were meandering as she often made interjections and drew things in different directions or needed more backstory, etc. The times I introduced her to any girl friends (even a couple that weren't my dates, she sometimes made me rather embarrassed when she asked when we were getting married. Okay, typical mom stuff, but I was momless for a lot of years and so this was a bit stranger than if it had been an unbroken relationship.

Up Till Yesterday

This year, I have this Eda story to tell you, in addition to the story of another woman who changed the picture again for me ten years ago now: Kelli. (I just got done telling that one a few posts back.) It is interesting to note that each goes back a long way in my life. Each has been a beacon for me. These days though, Eda and I are rather unable to carry on a conversation for too long like we typically have over the years since 1992. It's been a little over two years since we were in the same place, and it has been testier. It used to be I just tolerated Eda's God talk. Heavenly Father this, God in Heaven that... But since about 2004-05, with our wedding and Kelli's professional advancement, it has gotten harder and harder to talk with Eda. Kelli and I are a bit unconventional you know. When Eda returned to the scene in 1992, she was nearly 70 years old. Now she's nearly 90. And as cousin Eddie has explained to me, she was really close to her mom, a Franco-American woman with a very Old World sensibility about roles for men and women. And if that wasn't enough, Eda has pretty much thoughtlessly adopted patriarchy's trophy bride: a narrow minded reading of Christianity. Having a wife that is educated like Kelli is a bit much; having her schooling come at the expense of "normal" marriage relations and family planning is a bit more concerning to her; being uppity enough to think that women belong in the pulpit? Now that's pushing it. But even since we met up last, Eda probably doesn't know that Kelli was ordained. It's all rather much for Eda.

Don't get me wrong. Eda is still sweet. But she doesn't have a critical mind for religion or politics and certainly Kelli and I have been keen on those things. Eda takes the right wing radio at its word. She laments the dire state of the national scene but doesn't see how her vote for a Republican ticket works to get us there and keep us there. She's into personal salvation and saving people in the standard conservative way; Kelli and I see that salvation is a social thing to work toward, working on the structural matters, and not just at the individual level. But this is all esoteric and nuanced beyond Eda's ability or willingness to grasp. And it isn't just her; the paradigm that is normal to Kelli and me is one that the more conservative churches really love to smear and disregard. But our background is firmly in the prophetic and social gospel tradition.

Similarly, in 2008 when all of California was in an uproar over Prop 8 and the "proper," so-called "biblical" family was a topic that seemed to be on everyone's lips, Eda chimed in thinking I'd be easy bait. She didn't realize I'd be on the "wrong" side of the issue. She rattled off her right wing anti-gay talking points that she adopted but that are really probably not her own. She quoted Genesis and the "Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve" bit. She did all that. I dared her to consider that I had heterosexual parents who couldn't make a marriage work and proceeded to make my life a battleground and left me on the field almost to die. I dared Eda to see that this silly notion of ideal and proper family is stupid and damaging. She hung up the phone after the discussion turned to matters of my reading the "wrong" Bible—anything but the King James Version. That day of her hanging up the phone put us in new territory altogether. I didn't talk to her for many months and even when I did come back around to tell her about how that made me feel, we ended up being at some odds. For a woman who can rattle off bible verses better than Kelli, she is like so many others: woefully unable to know what it all means. Sure, she might be able to recall Acts 2 verbatim, but she doesn't know what those words mean. And she doesn't know when her failure to know that does some hurt to someone sitting at the table with her. She can tell the story of the raging Spirit wind at Pentecost, but she isn't prepared to recognize that that raging, unbridled spirit of God might land upon her dinner guest, her son's wife, who has accepted a call to work for God and God's goals in the world. It's a shame. It's a waste of all that time reading the Bible if it doesn't open one's mind and heart. How can you read that book and come away with a smaller mind and heart? People do.

I am rather mixed of mind about how to go about talking to Eda. I did try to pay her a visit in the summer last year, to no avail. I didn't give her my present house address because I think she might have leaked the one prior to this. She tried to weasel out of coming to our wedding, and it took an emotional plea to get her to come. I have a hard time knowing if she's got my back anymore. She could say she has, but in another sentence she'd be denying Kelli's role as an ordained clergywoman. Or she'd be puzzling over our unconventional marriage roles. Who knows. I just don't feel as close to her as I once did. What I described in 1992 has become a pattern that makes it so that even when I do see her, it's for one day every several months. I have to get in the mood to do a day with Eda. It's all patterned on that kind of thing. At least until this matter with Kelli emerged a few years back. So now it's really nothing. I'm not happy with it. I'm not even happy without it.

I reviewed my last journal from when Eda and I talked in on the phone on September 27, 2009. It pretty much sums up how far things had come. Remember this is a year after the big phone hang up thing with talk about gay marriage and normal families. When this transpired, it was the final straw in the dying family chain of events after December 2006's epic time at the Calabrese Compound, and about a year later having things fall apart with mom once more. Seeing this unravel with Eda was crushing. At this point, essentially anyone once known as family to me was now such an overwhelming challenge to relate to, I had to tell myself they were all dead and gone.

Oh fuck this. I call to find out what this Willy card and email campaign is about and she tells me never to call again and that I am the one who needs help. Fuck that. I'm done with her now. She wants to talk about my not wanting to be a father because I am scared. I don't want to be a politician or a businessman or an astronaut and no one holds it against me. But as soon as I talk about not wanting to be a parent, people turn on me somehow. Call it freedom that the last of these crazy fucking people have fallen from my life.

Today

This came as a bit of a surprise to me, actually. While Kelli and I have periodically made talk about getting back in touch with Eda and chalking up her little -isms to the onset of confusion associated with her age, today was the first that we set a course for her place in La Mesa, took the dog (our other mission was a walk at the lake) and got out there to see her. Certainly on my mind was the 20 year date now upon us. She was still at the same complex but in a new apartment, now living with her son Rene and his partner Penny whom I'd never met. We spent a couple hours reconnecting after over two years. It comes back pretty naturally, but the obvious elephant in the room is the old man, so after we got through the pleasantries, we talked about him for a bit, and frankly why I've been out of that picture for five years. Apparently Eda and Co. have a bit more perspective on things from during those years, but my boundary still stands.

Time with Eda might not be all that much more. She's having problems at last with her hearing and sight, and worse, her ability to walk. As a person who never drove and always kept connected with people in person in the village a couple blocks away, that's going to be a game changer. But living with Rene and Penny will help smooth over the loss somewhat. After living alone for nearly 20 years, this is a new adventure. I want to make clear that I don't like estrangment. I don't like having to do all this divisive stuff. Eda in particular has been far better to me over the years than anyone else but maybe Virginia, and even that could be contested somewhat. So of course it was shocking to get to such a point as 2008-09. After years of her generally accepting my life and decisions but nudging a bit for the God program, those conversations were barbed and turned into black and white matters.

A mixed message I have always gotten from Eda is that she tells me not to live in the past. And yet, ever and always we've drawn a lot of material from it. Even today she had bought out a well kept photo album from my youth, and since she'd not need it anymore, with eyes clouding and all, she gave it to me. It is mostly redundant next to the other albums she made and that I've had all these years, but there were some things I'd not seen in ages. She and I had a overwhelmingly good past that was affected by other players. She and I never had drama to speak of until just a couple years ago, and that seems more like a matter related to my married life seeming quite at odds with the national right wing rhetoric than anything else. But that is the new reality. That is the present. That is what everyone says I should live in. The present includes that I am married to a "nice church girl" who happens to be qualified to preach in the pulpit. The present is that I've found my own way to relate to God and to understand Jesus and all that, but I don't obsess about it being my own salvation project. The present is that I don't want to have kids. It just happens to be the same as my past. But my conviction about it isn't the same as it once was. There are new ideas and insights grafted onto that.

Eda has always been a simple person, really. Advancing age is making her simpler still. I've had enough reunions with people not to think that one conversation puts it all right after some time away. And as she comes closer and closer to her own end, the conversations probably won't be so heavy as ones we've had. The irony is that the safe stuff to talk about is the good old days. The past. The old patterns. I might wonder aloud if she'd really want me to take her advice not to live in the past. Not doing the memory lane stuff would cut out a vast amount of conversational fodder. To discuss the present and who I am and what I stand for now would easily take us into past talk and controversial talk about my views on family, relationship, community, and more. Unless we agree only to talk about pink fluffy things, we're in a patterned relationship. I guess the irony is that in order to avoid our usual business, it helps to have Kelli in the room.

me and eda for the first time in two and a quarter years.

Tuesday
Jan032012

Blogging in 2012

I'm looking at my calendar of 2012 and anticipating that I could blog myself silly this year, if I were only to retrace my steps of either of the years of 2007, 2002, 1997, 1992, and perhaps even 1987. All those years of course are moving back in fives, and as I consider them, they all have some juicy stuff to ponder and to revisit here. Even taking just two of those years is enough to bite off and try to chew; the year 2002 is the opening year of life with Kelli, but 1992—20 years ago now—was filled with various coming-of-age moments that just beg for some consideration now. 

In 2011 I blogged a lot about stuff happening in 1991 and 2001, each of those being years with a lot of pivotal stuff happening. I realize I didn't even write about one major piece of that year: my trip to Europe. I've written around it in other posts, but just about the time I would have written something, or maybe even transcribed my journal of the trip, I was really intimidated at it. My writing from that period, and on that particular trip, was insanely immature and distracted and therefore nearly impossible to imagine presenting here. So it sat and other things got worked on. Scanning and presenting some long-hidden documents that help illustrate some of the stories is very time consuming, but it did enrich the entries in some places. Even scanning choice items is rather labor intensive and really kind of ridiculous considering no one reads this blog anyway, but I've longed for an online scrapbook and now have done a lot to get the whole story out the best I can, considering I don't live in a vacuum.

So what might you see this year as those key years' anniversaries pile up this year? It could all of this and more, or maybe just a few highlights. I just don't know how I'll feel as a date comes around and begs of me a bit of my time to mull over.

1987

  • A bit far back but I'd like to assess that year as a year when the first major period of relations with my mom and family there was finally sent its first shocks and the distance started for the first time. Things did carry on into 1988, but the first cracks in the wall for me came in 1987.
  • Getting orthodontic braces was linked to the mom story in a pivotal instance, but otherwise was cause for teen confusion and identity issues. A talk with my pastor one day before that started, and weeks before starting 9th grade is also a major thing that shaped me for years to come.

1992

  • This one is pretty rich. It's the first full year after high school. Lots of emptiness and alienation as I tried to find out who I was after high school and in the midst of two major friends being out of my life. Even though Nirvana and Seattle was exploding musically, I was hunkering down into Genesis and Dire Straits, unable to really be part of my peer group at the same time as a whole new scene developed around me.
  • I reconnected with my step mom Eda after all the years since she left in mid 1983. We'd been writing for some years prior to our in-person reunion in January but this was the start of a new era, for better or for worse. In a lot of ways, the modifier word, "step-" is a lame thing to have to add to her title since in a lot of ways she did fill the role of mom better for me than my own mom has, even as she's been given her chances over the years.
  • Subway was my job and I was as close as I'd ever come to being a "company man." After a couple months of that, the store was sold to some really uptight New Yorkers who really spoiled things when they fired me and got legal on me.
  • Subway buddy Matt Zuniga and I were drummers on the run, or as we called ourselves for a few months, Drummers With Attitudes (original, eh?) and later on, Rhythmic Catharsis. DWA/RC was essentially my entry into being a "recording artist" and self publisher. In some ways, the drum-vocal-noise "music" was just secondary to the chance to do ridiculously antisocial and annoyingly self promotional nonsense. 
  • First girlfriend Melissa and the resulting carnal knowledge. And some insanely naive and embarrassing writings that accompanied that. 
  • I took my second trip to Germany during the summer and that was the fulfillment of a year's hopes and anticipation. Six weeks out of the nation on my own initiative was a huge step. Seeing my friend Stephan Rau in Germany was a vastly better closure to the time we enjoyed as friends in 1990-91 at school and for the few days I saw him in Germany just a month after graduation in 1991. 
  • Joblessness after the Subway era was frustrating to start with and was prolonged by the trip to Germany, and then prolonged more by starting another year at Mesa College while being rather distracted by my new girlfriend. Getting a job at Jack In The Box was hardly the answer to my prayers, but it sort of was.
  • Even my 16 year old girlfriend and her undying puppy love for me was no match for my first "adult" depressive episode that arose in the aftermath of my trip, knowing that what had held me together for a year—working like mad at Subway and putting up with the indignities there, and many indignities and frustrations that came from the general picture of being thrown into a new world that year. My first suicidal ideations came as a young 19 year old. Oddly, getting a job at Jack's helped me bail the water some at just the right moment. 
  • Chalk that up to one more great talk with my pastor Jerry and youth pastor Judy, who had both been instrumental in prior years.

1997

  • The year kicked off with a breakup from Robin after nearly two and a half years. It felt like freedom even though I was a wreck inside and didn't realize it.
  • Kind of related to that, I also made a decision to avoid television and have generally kept true to that ever since, at least as far as owning one, paying for service, or scheduling my life in accordance with TV schedules.
  • The first full year out of my childhood home. I lived for the first time with total strangers. That was something that was clear, but in some ways, seeing what happened in the year or so after my grandfather died led me to see a side of my family in a way that made them seem like total strangers.
  • Coming off the tour with Mike Keneally in late December 1996, I was energized to play music, record like mad, and to trust my creative instinct. I recorded Hog Heaven early on and then redid parts of it for my first CD release using my new VS-880 recorder, which really ushered in the glory days of my recording era.
  • The Shelby matter was brought back (after a two and a half year silence) by a total chance meeting that sometimes I wish never happened, but at the time was the stuff of miracle.
  • Laboring at Pizza Hut was the first lucrative job I had. It was able to give me some idea that I could live on my own (with roommates, really) but I knew I was kidding myself that I could do it for long. Another job was more absurdly mismatched. At 24, I was rather in need of direction and was years from such a thing.

2002

  • Kelli and I got together. Duh! After five years of the single life and all the strife that went into that, Kelli and I got together in a way that surpasses Lennon and McCartney, Abbott and Costello, Laurel and Hardy, Peas and Carrots, or even peanut butter and chocolate!
  • Graduated from Art Institute of California with almost no skills and even less confidence. And with a new debt burden that irritates the fuck out of me even today, even as I paid it off five years ago or more.
  • I faced weak work prospects for much of the year, but was able to find that the depressed state of things in the audio world gave me time to explore my new relationship as something that gave me life and opened my eyes to a dimension of wonder again in a way that nothing else had. 
  • Work did open up at a senior center where Kelli worked. Lame pay, but it was a great lesson in regaining some humanity and compassion that a lot of years had diminished. It was a very humble position but a transformative one where it's clear God went to work on me.
  • Musically I was able to return to my project of trying to play within a band context. There was some neat stuff happening that year even as it started to seem like it was not the same me at work in that music and studio environment, which had peaked and started into a decline just as the year started off.
  • I also was in the first year of using a computer of my own, and was experiencing the technical and relationship difficulties that went with that: in some cases, losing a lot of data and in other cases, creating cyber-carnage wherever I went, it seemed.
  • TAPKAE.com came online with its first full site dedicated mainly to my musical identity in support of Receiving. It was self indulgent but in a real self indulgent way. I say that knowing this present site is rather much about me, but does that with a different aim than I had in 2002.

2007

  • Another year, another crappy job to deal with. This time I was trying to hold the fort for as long as possible while Kelli was at school. For my trouble, I got about six and a half months' worth of value from that job.
  • We set up our first garden at our new place—the third place we lived in less than two years. The garden was good for soothing our souls and learning lessons that can't be taught any other way.
  • Buber the Dog! Buber too continues to be one my one of my sprititual teachers. 
  • A good thing he was because I made a move I never really thought I'd have to make. One I didn't want to make. I left my church, and in doing so, it felt like even another family member was taken from me. It took eight months before I went to church again, and then that was at another church that had a transitional role before I got into the one I am at now, but with new ideas of what I needed from church, and how I might situate myself in that world again, according to who I am, and not according to who my family member was, or even that my wife is a clergyperson.
  • Dental hell. All the years of avoidance came down on me finally as I had to meet the enemy. Scaling. Gum surgery. Bone reshaping. It wasn't fun. But it was sort of theologically provocative as I began to recognize the resurrection after the death. God can teach that in any old way. I learned it in part from having to sit in the dental chair with my heart beating out of my chest.

So you see? I could spend some time unpacking all that and more. I reckon it's not really productive to live in the past, but from where I am at, it is productive to remind me of what it has to teach me. And, since my art is essentially the life I lead, it helps to know what has worked or felt good versus what has not worked or that has left me at odds with myself. No one else seems to keep this documentary of who I am, what has happened to me, or what I think of it all. What I've enjoyed seeing in the last year since the new TAPKAE.com (Squarespace era) has exploded into a completeness never before seen at this domain, has been to gather the scattered pieces together and enjoy the mosaic of it all. Some is nice fabric; some is shattered glass; some is mangled metal or broken drumsticks or guitar strings. In some ways, I consider this the long form of my epitaph. Maybe one day someone will be tasked with reading all this and distilling one snappy line suitable for engraving into rock.

Wednesday
Dec142011

Dysfunctional December

This December I have the rather weighty and somewhat ignominious matter of some gross family dysfunction to reflect upon. And you could say that for the past several years, that has been the case. All true. This year we get to the rather rounded and convenient numbers of five and ten. Much of this has already been written here. I guess what gnaws at me is that for all the time having passed, nothing has been resolved. I feel like I've used the time for learning, but I'm not sure the other parties have progressed.

I'm talking of course about two parents and two separate meltdown experiences: the first with Mommy Dearest during this very week in 2001, and with Father Knows Best on this very day in 2006. In mom's case, it hasn't been an unbroken period since that sad email flame battle (which was more the work of my sister Nikki). For about two months at the end of 2007 and a short few days into 2008, there was some attempt at connection but that bombed out again as mom and Nikki and Chris all aligned against me once again. In dear ol' dad's case, it has now been five years since direct communication has passed between us. Or, as I'll say later, two years since I've said anything in response.

To get this out here in front, I'm not really glad of this. I'm not even happy with my own handling of things. I'm complicit in it too. After being turned into their plaything in my adult years about a decade ago, even years after I was just their legal plaything as an infant and into my teens, the whole strain of things grinds one down and makes it hard to always work from any rational mind. My life story essentially is one of being broken by the interplay of these two characters, either directly or by proxy. I have been left to pick up the tab on their party together, and then some of the sequels to that. There are plenty of regrettable moments in the whole sad story.

In my defense though, you have to realize what kind of emotional stonewalling has been the tactic of the various characters involved. So far, my experience has been that neither side has been able to address things at the level I'd move to. In each case, there is a good does of shutdown that goes on; on my mom's side, it is accompanied with a smokescreen of vitriolic statements and open hostility; in my old man's case, it's more or less a blanking face and a physical departure from the tension and then his subsequent manipulations as he's often been responsible for the places I've lived in. In either case, I really feel that my message isn't being heard, no matter what volume or tone my voice, or no matter what choice of words. In desperation, I err on the side of more volume and more colorful words of the sort that can get a person fired from a job. I don't like it. I know when it happens that I'm consumed by the wrong stuff. But at moments like these monumental breakdowns with people I share fundamental relationships with, after trying anything else, it seems the only thing left to do. And then I shrink back into a fearful state of not knowing if I just wrecked things more. This thought is accompanied by a feeling of liberation, that I have no business aspiring to be a member of a club that so clearly throws up barriers to membership. Maybe then it makes sense to start to wash my hands of it all. Such has been the pattern when things have gone this way.

Mommy Dearest Meltdown

Telling this story is so difficult because of the way the elements are interlaced in a way that might inspire and even confound authors of soap operas! Certain themes are present and criss-cross in three dimensions of time, space, and emotion. In 2001, the meltdown was preceded by a Thanksgiving dinner that symbolized a huge shift from the year before. What happened a year before in 2000 was almost magical, even though there was a giant cloud over it that I was not aware of at the time. My grandmother (mom's mom Sofia) had died just the week before Thanksgiving in 2000, and my reunion with them all (I dub it "version 3") happened literally in the wake of that—or, specifically two days before when her memorial was held. It was the first I had seen of anyone among them since March 1996 (in the case of seeing mom, but that was explosive and terrible), and more completely, I might have to say that it had been since late 1994/early 1995 that things were normative between us. Thanksgiving 2000 was party like, with the entire gang, including my aunt Lisa and uncle Steve. I met niece Katie that week and fell in love. The coming year was the time when reality settled in as sister Chris made her allegations against my old man, crediting him with molestation and other abuses. That of course rocked my world but made me feel for her and that side of the family in a way that I'd never felt. So as the holidays approached in 2001, I naturally thought maybe it would be a bit like the year before. I was wrong in a big way.

What I didn't realize was how the matter of Sofia's estate was causing friction between mom and aunt Lisa. I still don't know the stories, but it seems to have been quite divisive even to this day. So back then, when I was putting my two cents in about wishing I could buy one of Sofia's two grand pianos, and hoping that maybe one would be kept around for the benefit of the family, especially young Katie or any other kids that might come along, I was sort of an extraneous voice in that matter. And, in my mom's usual way, she hung on to it for some time and didn't say anything. Some weeks before Thanksgiving 2001 I inquired if she was having dinner again and that I'd like to be there. (This was meant to address and correct a giant faux pas in 1994 when I skipped out on Thanksgiving dinner at just about the last minute just as I felt overwhelmed by the five day engagement to Robin, which I cancelled the day before.) I did end up getting to Thanksgiving dinner in 2001 but it was a quite subdued affair of mom, Nikki and Katie, Steve, and probably no one else. It was a head-down time. By that time, Nikki had not even bothered to talk to me since the end of 2000. Yep, most of the year that I was back in the picture, she had shut me out. I've never really understood it though maybe I could repeat a few things she's said. It just doesn't make sense. On the way home from that strained dinner, I visited Chris separately. She was back in San Pedro living with her sons' Cuban family. By comparison, visiting her that night was fun.

In the first half of December 2001, there started up an email thread with me and mom writing about some things. I was pressing on about the pianos, and asking if she would put me in touch with Lisa. I didn't know what to make of her reluctance to do so. I had come into an inheritance that summer and was semi-seriously thinking of buying one myself. (Of all the money spent on musical gear that summer and traded or sold off within a year or two later, I wish I had bought a piano instead.) Somehow, Nikki got involved in this email conversation, even as she was replying using mom's address, almost as if she was her secretary. The rather innocuous talk about pianos and my intent to be supportive of anyone's interest in music gave way to larger themes of alienation and the shape of family and reproductive decisions, having kids so young as she and mom and Chris all did. And for my trouble, Nikki saw fit to throw up in my face the matter of Robin's abortion—one thing that she seemed accepting of when I told her about it on the very first reunion night at Sofia's memorial a year before. She also decided to make declarations that I shouldn't invite myself to "other people's holiday dinners." Beg your pardon, Nikki? She's my mom too, and that's a family style holiday. Okay. All that went south fast! By just a few weeks after Thanksgiving, "version 3" was in the trash. My memory tells me it was December 16th. Done deal. It was one of the first email flame battles I had (the other was with Shelby earlier in the year), and it spared nothing in its incinerating blaze. It was a tragic lesson in how digital communication was sorely lacking.

I was quite devastated. My reason for getting in touch with that side of the family in 2000 was to help piece life back together after many years of depression and angst. Seeking reunion was one major proactive step toward getting my own life back into some shape. Seeing it crumble all over again was painful, especially after the molestation news caused a permanent upset in things down here in San Diego. The genie was out of the bottle with that one, and with that being the case, there wasn't even a "normal" life to return to in the world with which I was familiar. This was uncharted territory.

There is a bit of an exception to that, but it doesn't really change the game much.

Conning the Con: Old Man, 2006

In 2000, my old man found out that I was in a renewed period of relations with mom and her crew. I never intended to tell him, nor was it his business. But he did find out (almost certainly from Virginia while she was in the hospital) and made it his business, and his meddling set a feedback loop into action and his warnings to me to leave them alone went unheeded as I told mom and Chris about his notices, and they in turn moved closer to opening up the old dusty vault and then finally Chris delivered her old news about how she was abused by him. That day was momentous and wretched. I cursed the day I was born. The coming months were dismal. My grandmother Virginia died in April, and the house I was in became his. It was too valuable a tool for him to manipulate me with. He knew I wanted stability, but he knew that my "disobedience" (I was 27 at the time, and living at Virginia's house for nearly three years before she died. We had our own deal going) was going to cause problems, and I'm convinced he was perfectly okay with playing house games to keep me off balance following my pursuit of family completeness. Just a couple months after Virginia died, the house was dressed up in new carpet and a few other bits. I had already painted it on my own during the six months I had it to myself. But now he demanded I rent it out in part. I could stay but I had to be the resident manager on his behalf. Okay. I got to stay. I got to keep my studio space, which that summer grew to be as big as ever. I rented two rooms to younger guys.

By the end of 2001, things leveled out with him under those terms. Nothing more was said about family matters. It was strictly a business relationship that was useful enough to both of us. That basic arrangement went on until mid 2005. Lots has been written here about that. Suffice to say, at the end of the year in 2001, staying at my house was a comfort, even as it was terribly ironic that I no longer trusted my old man as far as I could throw him. 

But in 2006, the picture was quite different. The meltdown was epic. This was nearly a year and a half after the eviction, but I was still not content with his property grab. By this time, Kelli and I had moved twice and we were living about a mile from our old house, at the house of Mr. Calabrese, a church friend of Kelli's and mine. He had two houses next door to each other. The one we were in was usually rented to his son and Brazilian daughter-in-law but they were out of the country for one year. The old house on Quapaw was rented out to a couple and was partially open to Kelli and me for keeping some things as we would at a storage locker—one rare concession that was granted us. (One night Kelli was longing for a teddy bear that was in a box there. I drove over to the house in the middle of the night, and almost burglar like opened up our area and grabbed the bear and went back to Kelli with it as she slept. She was quite surprised at finding it next to her when she woke!) After having made so many keys during the rental years, I had a few left over even after I turned in a fistful of them upon my departure. My old man is a wily fellow, and I knew his tricks and decided to reserve a few for myself.

The rental arrangement with the couple came to an end in September 2006, and then it was to be empty. He had already ordered me to take my stuff out, and I'd collected the miscellaneous furniture and boxes earlier in the summer. The old man gave a date when the couple would be leaving, and said that if there was anything else I should want to get, we could go over there and get it. He was offering that he'd be there to let me in. But since I had the key, I went over the day before, just after the couple left, and grabbed all the stuff that prior verbal agreement or actual receipts said was mine to take:

  • Washer and dryer
  • Fireplace screen (a big beefy thing that the old man made some years before)
  • AC outlet cover plates, light switch plates (all stainless steel that I'd bought myself)
  • Small hardware I'd installed
  • Vertical blinds on four large windows (I'd bought them in the period before Virginia died)
  • Dining room and other light fixtures (also from before Virginia died)
  • And everything else I could lay hands on that wasn't something he bought or inherited—rather random junk

I needed little more than a piano dolly and a screwdriver and wrench to get it all. Then I took it to my new house and offloaded it into the back yard, behind a gate. Some went into the garage which was locked. I cleaned the place out of everything I could find. All that was left of what I put up or installed was the paint on the walls. 

He called me the next day to see when I'd like to come over and get things. I told him I already got the stuff the day before. He did a double take. I told him 'yeah, it's all okay. I got everything.' He drove over to Quapaw and had a look then came over to where I was at to confront me. He was rather stunned. I told him I had everything and that I'd take it all back and reinstall it if he wanted to include me in his little financial games which never seemed to include me or Kelli. The stuff was essentially useless to me, and barely worth selling or trading in most cases (the laundry machines being the most profitable at $225 for the both of them). I didn't really want the stuff at all, but I was tired of his total dominance in the matter, and felt that if he can inherit a place and move toward selling it, that I, as a seven year resident who was inclined to stay and do my share to the best of my ability, should be able to share in the profits.

That didn't register with him. It never does. It's all him or it's nothing. Somehow, I suppose that even after this little stunt I had enough keys to return again on November 29—two months later—and employed another bit of subversive "Occupation" (a word that now has currency in situations like this). This one was straight out of his own playbook, from the chapter on messing with locks: he used to take combination locks that had missing combinations or were left open and he'd drill them out enough to read the tumblers. Or he'd gut a padlock and use it for looks only or to work in some confounding way. This time it was my turn to con the con for once. I was able to get into the back of the house so I could unlock the front door. There, the steel screen door could be opened and its lock disassembled. I took it apart, gutted its interior, turned the barrel backward so it wouldn't open from the outside, and reassembled it with the thing in a locked position. While the lock was taken apart, I was able to remove the realtor's lock box and hid it elsewhere on the property. It was proto-Occupy! It was just an inconvenience measure made in protest.

And getting on to the pivotal stuff, just two weeks after the lock stunt, another drive by on December 14th revealed that the house was indeed up for sale, replete with the sign out front. Or maybe it had been that way but this one day inspired a streak of righteous indignation and a last ditch effort to get my voice heard. I availed myself of a Sharpie marker on hand and scrawled a protest message in "open letter" format—my own 95 Theses posted in public. Seeing that sign gave me a clear feeling that my ship was sinking, and it was all I could do to write an impassioned Occupy-style note on the realtor's sign. (I had had my biting words with the realtor himself earlier on, searing him for taking his profit off this dreadful family breakdown that accompanied this sale. Later on, I had the presence of mind to write a few haiku about it all.) 

The sign, written just before dusk on a day not long before the solstice, was left for all to see. I thought it might be a day before I heard about it. I had barely left for home over at the Calabrese Compound, sat down to dinner with Kelli, and then there was a knock at the door. It was the old man. Best I can tell, he must have been informed by a neighbor named Len, a guy about the old man's age, and who was just crotchety enough and buddy enough with my old man that he'd rat me out. (I know he called before about noise in the early days of my renting the place. Len also came by one day and in some conversation was going on about all sort of antisemitic talk about Jewish conspiracies and the New World Order. Quite a character. His wife was rather sweet by comparison.) At any rate, barely an hour passed until the old man was on my doorstep. It was a bit of a shock but I had to expect it. I didn't know it would be the defining moment that would put an unprecedented five years between us.

The Betrayal Ratio

I answered. He had the sign with him. I confirmed it was my work. In fact, I told him to come inside. I demanded it. I told him to "come in and sit the fuck down!" He refused and I reiterated that maybe he needed to come in and listen to me for a change. Not accepting my generous offer of hospitality, within moments he made his way out to the driveway and then to the front of the house, down a deep driveway. I let him have it. I'm pretty sure he was threatening me about the missing lock box and the earlier house cleanout. My notes say more about my giving him the third degree about betrayal. Somehow, he likes to claim that I betrayed him with my calling the city. It might be that way for him. But his more absurd claim is that he never betrayed his parents and their trust. And he also has made similarly absurd claims that the trust level was (or should be) 100%. Um, I'm afraid he's clueless as to how his own mother felt. But on this evening of December 14, 2006, that betrayal statement set me off in a huge way and I incinerated him as he tried to escape to his truck out on the street. I was literally screaming in such a way my throat hurt. It was epic. Kelli followed us outside and was watching from the driveway.

What the hell was there to carry on about at such outrageous and disruptive levels? He wanted to talk betrayal. He had one or two things that he could level against me: turning him in for illegal construction and perhaps relating to my mom against his wishes. (There might be something lost to memory but those are the ones I know he felt burnt by.) But what about the strand of betrayals he's spun all through my life? I had a nice long list that was fresh on my tongue at the time: 

  • Molested my sister which led to all sorts of unknown dysfunction that exploded years later
  • Cost me my relationship with my mom time and time again due to his various ways of manipulating her legally and financially
  • Threatening my step mom with violence enough that "no dentist could fix the damage" and causing her to flee for her safety
  • The totally uncalled for instance of throwing my childhood dog over the fence when she was in his way as he worked
  • Never really made a plan for me to get to college but always made talk that I "could never learn too much"
  • Never really showed me genuine support for playing music, and always commenting and acting in such a way that undermined my own ability to commit in a deep way
  • Using draconian disciplinary methods to try to make me a better student while I was trying to just be a kid who was dealing with the usual mess of new adolescent experiences, with the added load of 8th grade being the year I met my mom and her family and tried to adjust to that
  • Opened a locked door to spy on me and my new girlfriend Robin in the wee hours in September 1994—he didn't know we were fully awake and knew
  • Charging me rent to put a lock on the door in response to that violation—his messed up actions caused me to have to pay...him?
  • Telling me to leave home so he could have a Russian woman move in, and who never did
  • Eavesdropping on me from upon the roof as I talk to my girlfriend
  • Took my car off the work ramps while getting the timing done, causing me towing and repair fees at a commercial shop
  • Sided with Bill Francis (tenant/"helper" at Virginia's house after she was widowed) on New Year's Day 1997, essentially re-evicting me from a house he did not own months after the pressure to leave his house
  • Essentially ignoring my needs as a tenant at that same house when I was a paying and contributing resident, and always fast-tracking his own ideas of how to "raise the value of the house" which proved to be useless, illegal, tasteless, and offensive to me
  • Not attending my wedding, let alone supporting it in any way at all
  • Evicting Kelli and I early in our marriage so that he could make his point about my choice to rebuild a relationship with mom 

And that might just be a partial list. But the meat of it is there in a general chronological order. Over time, you might say he meddled in or totally wrecked my relationships with women time and time again. And not just girlfriends. He's cost me two mothers. He's said and done things that threatened to sabotage things with Kelli too, and seeing that coming, I was not about to stand for that. It was an intense 15 minutes if it was even that long. He made his way for his truck and drove off. Kelli and I regrouped. It was one of those sweaty palms, frantic and pacing times, not knowing what all that had unleashed except pure passion.

Epilogue

The following day, he sent me an email saying the realtor was planning to press charges for the matter of the missing lock box. I never responded. I think it was bluff-calling on his part, and I think that if the matter is to be settled, let the one who has the most to gain take a modest few dollars and pay for it out of his profits!

On December 18th, after a weekend of hand-wringing and discussion about the Thursday before, Kelli and I both resolved his presence was threatening enough to need to at least attempt limiting it. So we went to the family courthouse and applied for a restraining order which we did not get. But even the gesture of doing that was a huge step up in our young marriage of just two years and a few months. After the two years of couples' therapy where we had to repeatedly deal with a triangulated relationship with my old man and the house as the third party in our relationship, it was a breakthrough moment of clarity, that I'd look after Kelli's interests before my own, or before I let worries about what it took to protect the house sideline what I should be doing for Kelli. 

In the middle of 2007, I was left to find the house had been sold in April for $515,000. I found the listing online months after the fact. I was not even notified. It was far from the $569,000 I think he thought he'd get if he got prime market price. His dumb remodeling efforts cost him. I knew they weren't needed and would add nothing. He didn't listen to me. So he paid. And I am happy to assume that the state of the house was not even as nice as when I lived there, so I hope that cost some more. And why shouldn't it? It's a box of stucco, sheetrock, wood, and other bits. He inherited it and took everything for himself. I can't tell exactly how much he invested into it after he got it, but I reason that with new carpet a time or two, the material and labor in doing the remodel work (none of it good), and taxes, I can't even really get the number up to $20,000—his total investment into the structure and the taxes. I'm sure the city got him for something. Any way you cut it, $515,000 is far more than he deserved to collect, given his antics during the decade preceding the sale, and in some ways, throughout his whole relationship with his parents.

The time since that fiery night in December has been nearly silent. Most of the communication was aimed at me, but in a few cases channeled through Kelli, as he or maybe even a caretaker or some other party called or emailed one of us. There was one invitation in 2008 to sit and have some summer evening date with step mom Eda, her son Rene, and his new interest at the time—the guest list being what he would still like to remind me of as "the family" I knew. But in the same letter, the dripping condescension that suggests Kelli is the undermining element to our glorious family picture is unacceptable. Another letter was channeled to me through my former pastor, and it drips with more of that black and white thinking that glorifies the Lucas family mythology and degrades all else. He also made a drop of several of my old books at yet another house following the year at the Calabrese Compound. I got word that he needed hip replacement, and he sent an email, written in the third person, saying he would be in the hospital this date to that. I've stayed clear of responding. What I have to say gets said on this blog. I know he reads it, or used to read it. I can't tell if he's losing his mind, but he's certainly into some incredibly immature thinking with plenty of distortions and omissions. The couple things I've heard from him about any effort to change the course seem to sabotage that message. I don't see anything that indicates any real change of heart, contrition, or a new spirit of any mutuality. My Father's Day offer to reconnect still stands: a year or more of family therapy must guide it, and since he's enjoyed the windfall of cash, he can pay for it. I think he's too full of himself to do it. I'll gladly be proven wrong.

The carnage is pretty severe. Each parent is unable to relate to me. Each blames me for reminding them of the other. Each harbors so much anger about things far in the past. Neither seems to claim much responsibility for the shape of things. In some ways, they are perfectly created for each other. The thought amuses me. But I feel bad for them. They are literally pitiful. What a miserable life to lead! I don't hate them. I wish they'd get their shit together as people. It seems even their advancing age (both 67 now) hasn't really taken an edge off. For mom, she lost a son to the law in 1974 (me), and a son to death in 2011 (James), but she's locked into her story enough that even when I show my face, it is the safer thing to do to ignore me, even though I've heard stories about the huge hole in her heart after I was taken from her. For the old man, he still has the same house as he had in 1970. It's the same house he drove my mom out of; my step mom too; several tenants; and ultimately me. When's he going to see that has failed him? When's he going to find that no relationships equals a death? I think of them both as tragic figures unable to learn new ways to live.

For me, this all has been a great teaching/learning experience. Oh, a lot of it has been heart-rending stuff in the moment. Fortunately I've had a great many teachers and advocates and therapists who have helped channel me toward newer understandings. Fortunately I have Kelli. Kelli has been a total angel. She's been the best thing that has happened in my life. Ever. Make no mistakes about it. Don't any of you ever misquote or distort that. Kelli has been an agent of bringing balance into this picture where for a lot of years, there was none. (Soon I will tell the story about her arrival on the scene ten years ago now, my eyes for her being opened by the 2001 and 2006 story told here.)

Some of my teachers have been known to say, "God comes disguised as your life." One favorite scripture that I've had to mull over and take seriously is one where Jesus is alerted by a disciple that his mother and siblings are outside waiting for him. He replies (paraphrasing), 'who are my mother and my siblings? The ones that do the will of my Father are my family.' All this deconstruction has happened for a reason, to draw me out of a rather parochial picture of what family is and has driven me to actually reinvent what all that means and how I might function within a larger, more nebulous picture of family. Kelli is a key building block of that new paradigm. While we don't really talk much of having kids, we do realize that it is a noble goal to chart a course together that itself is an act of resistance to the kinds of things that dissolved parental relationships for both of us. And in another way, relationships forged within church or other spiritually situated settings also have a way of patching up the damage and building new relationships in ways that the old original ones only hinted at. I find myself often dripping in gratitude that my broken, dysfunctional clan of origin has given way to seeing many new members in a new, nebulous family of fathers, mothers, sisters and brothers, and others. 

Tuesday
Nov222011

Pre-Thanksgiving Party

I'm pretty tired right now. I spent all day prepping for Thanksgiving dinner. And then serving it. And then enjoying the company. And then kissing my sweet wife after all the commotion settled down. And then doing the dishes after she went to bed, no doubt exhausted from a day of her full time job, a two hour conference call for UCC related matters, and then straight into our gathering. Now, after 1:30 in the morning, the time seems right to reflect

Why was my Thanksgiving dinner on Monday? We're going out to Death Valley once again for the weekend, with a prelude of a day spent driving in Sequoia forest which I think is something we've never done before, but for a cursory pass through the valley where CA-178 cuts along the Kern River, again, done last year. The dinner is also put on for the benefit (mostly) of the Young Adults group at church, timed to try to get people together before scattering for the "real" holiday.

1999

All day long the thought was with me how big a day this was in my life. It was nearly unimaginable in 1999 and some years before that. That year on Thanksgiving, while everyone else was having their family gatherings, I was not. I was in the midst of a dark spell in life, taking consolation—like Silas Marner who counted his gold daily because it was his whole life—in studio recording. Though on that day in 1999, there wasn't much consolation because I was throwing drumsticks at the sheetrock after so many frustrated attempts to play drums to a first draft of Zehdihm's Flight (a track that took two more drafts to get right, one featuring Mike Keneally on it). At the same time, my grandmother Virginia was taken next door to be with the large and warm family of evangelical Christians who took care of her so well. They were probably trying to "save" me so I was suspicious of all their conversations and gestures, but in retrospect, the daughter, Connie, was always good to me. She left me a plate of food to eat so I'd be a part of their dinner, even in my small way. I got to it about 10pm or so, long after the festivities came to a close. I really hated it all. I was so so lost.

In between that one holiday and Thanksgiving in 2000, I don't know how many times I was so depressed and contemplating suicide. It was kind of a dull ache like these things are; too painful to live, too frightening to die. Too strong a feeling of failure in life; too likely I could fail at suicide too. This was long before the current "FAIL!" meme, and for me, even before memes! I just felt that way, less as a recording artist, but certainly as a human being. Yeah, I don't really know how many times I just wished things were done. At least it wouldn't all hurt like it did. No one would miss me, would they?

2000

And by way of a string of transformative events and compulsions to try to make amends in life, the very next year was what to that point was perhaps the best, most rich feeling Thanksgiving. Which is interesting because it set the stage for years of challenges. It was, of course, in 2000 when I had just started a new period of relationship with my mom and her side of the family. But it had a cloud over it that fortunately did not show itself for a few days or weeks. Not only was my reunion on the exact day of my grandmother Sofia's memorial (mom's mom, memorial on Tuesday before the holiday), but that choice in my life—part of my dull ache being the brokenness I felt with regard to estrangement with so much family—was something that I paid for with more of the same, though met with transformed consciousness.

The story has been told here before. I love to tell it. So much drama, so much intrigue. It keeps the audience on the edge of their seats. But let's keep on the Thanksgiving memory from 2000.

Being raised apart from my mom, there has always been a feeling that I was never at home with her. Few are the times when I felt as deeply connected as my memory of T-giving 2000 suggests. During my visits as a young teen, her two bedroom apartment was filled with her, my younger brother and sister, our older sister and her two kids. Six people as a baseline population, and seven when I was there. More still if we got any guests. It was rather close, and with so many kids, the place was a perpetual mess. In 1994 it was a lot lighter, either that she had just Steve and Nikki and a nearly new condo in a gated community in Las Vegas (that she moved from weeks after I was there), or that when she did settle in Long Beach for a few years, it was in a large apartment with Nikki only. Steve was off in the Marines. By the time I got to her new house (that she owned) in Long Beach in 2000, it seemed she had something going, even though Steve and Nikki were again living there. Nikki with her daughter Katie. She was not quite four years old.

Katie was a cute kid. It might not seem much for me to say that now, but in 2000, when I was somehow seen through, reached through in some mysterious way, my heart gripped by the first girl of the new generation. Ask anyone (even now) and you'll probably not hear anything about me complimenting kids. I don't connect with kids. I don't want kids. But somehow, like God does with people like me, the unlikely, the impossible, the wrong is used in just such a way as to thwart expectations. Katie just went to my heart somehow. Oh, I had nephews but they were rough and tumble fellows, and one was already able to drink me under the table at the age of 16. But Katie...she was beautiful. Innocent. Not obviously damaged by the kinds of chaos I'd known to be the reality of life in that family. I'd barely met her two days before when I was up there at the memorial for my grandmother. Nikki and I had gone to her grandfolks' place in Huntington Beach, talking like we were in a desert oasis, taking in all the water we could, catching up on what life has been in the nearly six years since we saw each other last. She had Katie at the age of 19—in keeping with the generation gap that generally defines that family, and dare I say, a bit on the late side. She and Katie's dad were already a historical entity; I think that was the case before Katie was born. But she had some seemingly nice and decent grandparents, even if her dad was off in his own world. (I still say this is what you can expect of a pair of 19 year olds who otherwise aren't attached.)

At mom's house on Thanksgiving, it was festive with Mom, Steve, Nikki & Katie, Chris and her husband Gary and the three boys, and Uncle Steve and probably Aunt Lisa. And maybe more still since there are usually friends along. It was big. It was so anti-1999! It was lively and boisterous. I watched (of all flippin' things) a Disney movie with Katie in Nikki's room. (Later on, when I got to have my house to myself after Virginia left and then ultimately died, I painted the walls the same color as Nikki's room and used some of the same brushed metal touches as she had.) Katie and I took a walk around the block, and I was clear then that something was happening. The thawing of my heart had set in. 

There was something stunning about seeing Katie in the flesh and looking on the wall in mom's hallway where there hung a picture of herself at a little older than Katie's age, maybe four or five years old. They looked remarkably similar. My mom's picture was taken close to the time when her father killed himself. You gotta think that that was a major lifequake for her. Seeing this picture of mom from so far back, a rather solemn one at that, said that the hurt went back a long way. Looking over at Katie gave me cause to think more toward the future, to hope that maybe this time instead of the couple generations that preceded her (and a collective bunch of hardships including suicide, aggravated rape, molestation, divorces, custody battles, gang fights, unemployment, bankruptcy, and more), that maybe something different could happen. In some odd way, Katie gave me something to live for.

2001

And then the train went off the tracks a few weeks later. Nikki fell silent. A bit occupied. Closed off. And then began a spell of being about as cold as ice toward me. I still don't get it. With her being closed off, I've not seen Katie since 2001. And so sadly, the great patterns are there again, this time in an interesting reversal where they block me out after mom got blocked out by my old man long ago. (That they've adopted his technique does not seem to register.) Even by the early part of 2001, it was turning up this way. But nonetheless, I was thinking of Katie when I inquired about the plans for two pianos that Sofia left behind. I had hoped to buy one myself but also hoped the other might stay in the family just in case it could do some good, not to mention kids who get put on the piano early on seem to do well. Well, that all went down like pork chops at a bar mitzvah and contributed to more strife than it was worth.

During the course of 2001, things were passable, but by the end of the summer and around the holidays, things were getting worse. I expressed interest in coming to Thanksgiving dinner again if mom was going to do that. Nikki somehow laced into me about that one, saying I was inviting myself to dinner. Excuse me, is it wrong for a son to think he'd be at his mom's house for dinner on such a night? I did get to dinner there on Thanksgiving night but it was a far more reduced affair. Not festive at all. Heads down, it seemed. Coldness. I think it was Nikki, Steve, mom, and maybe Katie. Chris was out of the house at that time, embittered with mom and living at the house of her oldest sons' father's family in San Pedro (a Cuban family). After having dinner at mom's I drove down there and at least had a bit more fun, even among people I really didn't know. It was a little something to feel that the holiday was special, and worth the 110 mile drive up. But then barely three weeks later, the whole mom/Nikki thing crashed and burned in a miserable email flame war of name calling and accusations going both ways. I think it was the first real email flame war I was engaged in. Sad.

And, in a way, good. My response in mid-December was to call a friend of mine named Kelli Parrish. She and I could hang out, but I wanted to tell her about how things turned so disastrous as they did that week. And she was game for listening. Just about two weeks after that, we started our present relationship on the first of the year, 2002. In about a month, we're marking ten years together.

So here's where it gets interesting, and this is worth its own posting. I wrote earlier about my brother James passing away totally unbeknownst to me. A few days ago I got an email from his long time (common law) wife Trish. I had never ever spoken to her because they lived in Las Vegas and somehow despite some shared sense of loss from way back, we were never close. (Really, none of my brothers were in reach. I always had to go through Chris or mom.) Trish and I talked on the phone for an hour and more and have passed some emails. So far I've found her to be quite candid about things, and with a new take on my own family but also seen by an outsider who's also an insider. She hasn't spent much time with them, but over the 15 years with James, she's got perspective that I'd love to hear about. And pictures. She told me about the quite dreadful motorcycle accident he was in four years ago, being pretty traumatically injured, and then his fight with cancer and the stroke that finally got him. It sounded quite hard to take. I look forward to knowing more. James and his twin John have been rather mysterious figures for me. I've seen them both only a few times, at least consciously. I now have some contact info for my two surviving brothers.

And the thing to be found is just how much Chris' gatekeeper role is her own imagination, or if people are interested in being in touch with me, and being civil. A few posts back, I wrote a long letter to Chris, criticizing her for many things but one in particular is how she blocked several requests to get in touch with Trish, John, and others. But since Trish found me out on her own, that about undoes Chris's case, and exposes Chris for being the dysfunctional one she is. It's sad that she can't get past her own agenda even in the name of one brother trying to process the death of another.

Today

My family out there is a Humpty Dumpty affair, and that's an optimistic assessment. There's no getting it back into one piece. It never has been one piece. My own existence is as "one piece" as it gets. There are no real functioning day-to-day activities to take part in with any among them. My life is here. It's with Kelli. And church friends primarily, or others who can appreciate the journey I've lived. The three Thanksgiving holidays detailed above offer what a wild ride it has been. Still, those are some real formative times where I "suffered into truth" as Aeschylus says in The Oresteia. Those were the times that made me want something. The times that called me to life. And like coming into life the first time, it is simultaneously agonizing and beautiful.

Today, I cooked for my family, such as it is. The people who are willing to be in my movie, as I say it these days. Most of them were young adults from that group at MHUCC. One was from the old church at CCCPB. A coworker of Kelli's (and a seminarian/CPE buddy before that) was here with her partner. Lee and Juanita were here. It's right to say my mom gave me life, but she's not been too predictable in helping me to live, and to cherish life in the way that tonight's guests (and many others who could not make it) have done. A decade ago I was "inviting" myself to my mom's dinner. This time I was inviting my new family to my table, freely, lovingly, generously. I cooked a good portion of the meal and rather surprised myself at doing so—turkey; four types of potato dishes; vegan gravy; cookies, stuffing, cornbread, roasted veggies... a huge task that took me all day and part of last night. Peeling carrots and potatoes, cutting onions, dicing celery, basting a turkey—it was all a prayer. It was like that last year and the year before that when I did similar dinners (with Kelli's help) at our current house. It was like that as I gazed out the trailer's bay window while the wood stove raged, looking out over the windblown plains at Red Mesa in New Mexico, cooking for the guys most days I was there.

For me, it was like the Danish movie Babette's Feast where Babette, the exiled French master chef whose life was saved by a stodgy religious group on the Jute coast, pays back years and years of accomodation and a place to live in safety away from the war in her homeland. She won the lottery and after years making the worst food to the specs of her hosts, she asks to give a feast to coincide with the date of the deceased pastor's birthday. All her 10,000 francs went into the event, made in the same way as if she were at her old restaurant, with no cut corners, and best of all, the stodgy congregation thaws out over the sensuality of the meal's several courses and wines. It's a great movie about gratitude.

My guests though were not a stodgy bunch. It was all quite convivial. But my heart was still with the young man of a decade ago, at war with himself and others, only at the liminus (threshold zone) of starting to feel alive again, and then having that taken back for a year, and then meeting up with a splendid girl who dared to walk along the path for a decade now. Every reason to be thankful. I attached a bit of my own thoughts to Rev. Parrish Lucas' grace before dinner. I added that this moment is the culmination of so many things in this universe, this amazing place. With all the randomness, isn't it amazing that we're here, together, in this place, ready to eat this food, ready to be in community by a blend of grace and tenacity of will? How is that not a spiritual thing of the greatest magnitude? 

A bit over a decade ago when thoughts of suicide visited me periodically, such grand thoughts were not on my mind. I doubt the evangelical religion of Virginia's caretakers could get me there. Only the long twisted and bumpy road of disappointment did that. And, in the great paradoxical arena that is the spiritual life, I have to be thankful for the whole messy lot of it. A decade ago I could not have imagined it. Would not have imagined Kelli as my wife. Nor that I had a gay couple and a lesbian couple here. Nor that Lee Van Ham would be a father figure to me. Or that I'd have gone to and left my old church at PB, but would have one person who transcends that, working right beside me to get dinner ready, even though she only got invited a few hours before. Never really imagined that I'd be the facilitator of a young adults group, at church no less! Our guests were from a couple different circles of our lives. Intergenerational. Gay and straight. Married and unmarried. A motley crew that made my house as lively as the year I was at mom's place. I still lament that so many years have gone by with her and that family. Births and deaths and anniversaries clocking by. I don't want to be seen as excluding them, but after many years of trying, the evidence is that there is nothing I can do about it. So I put my peeler to the potato, the baster to the turkey, and carry on with my new family.

Wednesday
Oct122011

Bye Bye Black Sheep

It's my 38th birthday today. The blog post title, amusingly rendered in a Photoshopped birthday invitation to people, was indicative of a more powerful current in my life: that of finding identity even in the messy business that comes from being born to a rather dysfunctional set of people. A letter like this has been brewing for years. This is who I am as I make first steps into my 39th year: gaining clarity in how I can deal with family, and what I need from it (but know that I can't ever really expect it. Also, feeling the urge to move toward forgiveness while still holding people accountable. I am moving increasingly toward the needed letting go. I consider this part of the grief work. The title is in reference to my black sheep status, always being apart from a larger flock, relegated to another sector. But it also speaks of my own discarding of the boundaries that kept me there, and a kind of assertiveness and presence that has sort of been taking shape in the last several months within me. I am the dismissed black sheep of the family. But now I am dismissing that role itself with a new stance that is shaped by a deepening understanding of what Jesus' experience might teach about how to absorb pain, gracefully.

The following is addressed to my (half-) sister Christina Lyke, ten years my senior. It is perhaps the last thing I'll be saying to her for a few years, given the pattern of a really estranged relationship that is only punctuated every few years when I try to process the distance and the hurt with what I hope are a new set of tools and methods. It always turns out to be a one-sided effort that crashes and burns faster and faster each time.

On a drop in visit to my mom's house in Long Beach a few weeks ago I found out from Chris' son that our brother died—in March 2011! No one bothered to let me know. The longstanding estrangement is a hostile one, mainly from her side. I sent a handwritten card not to her, but to our mom (equally estranged), with a note of sympathy and an invitation to my birthday gathering this coming weekend. Mom didn't respond directly to that. Chris did the dirty work of replying via Facebook. This letter is part of a thread between she and I where I asked to be put in touch with either James' wife or his twin brother so that I might be able to do a bit of grief work. Chris has apparently appointed herself spokesperson for everyone and has been blocking any attempt to communicate with curt and increasingly testy responses. I asked her to let them speak in their own voices because I really don't believe her.

This is my most recent but likely last hurrah to say what's on my mind. I've tried to keep my tone level and genuine, but she finds me unbearable and the last I saw of her four years ago was a time when she put on a display of absolutely ridiculous show value, yelling and shouting and waving hands and all that—quite a song and dance, and not something that spoke of her being ten years older than me. It also happened to be the very same time when Kelli met that branch of my family for the first time ever (except some phone calls with Chris in 2003 when I was in Halcyon). Anyhow, I am feeling differently than I used to, and from a place of recognition that the pain is so great and has had such a distorting effect, I sort of want to try another tact. For all my words and feelings, the precedent suggests that this will be met with nothing but hostility. The letter starts in protest, responding to her total disregard that maybe I too need to process James' death. Just dismissed me and told me to get over it on my own.

Chris—

Mourning is a community activity, not an individual one. I also don't usually mess around with "chit chat" either. [She said she wasn't writing her responses to engage in chit chat, and that she would thank me to go away and not write more.] I take things more seriously than that. You don't have the right to unilaterally set the terms of relationship for everyone. Besides, why would you want to? It seems more than you even want to be part of. I think it would be better to have your cooperation. If not, then I know well enough what to expect. But the stonewall approach might just leave me looking for whatever holes in the fence I can find. And over time, I plan to find them. I think it is sad that this state of things seems preferable.

I just don't understand why you've taken the path you have, keeping me at a distance, even as I dared trust you to tell me the truth. I never doubted that what you said was true. I wish it wasn't so. I wish there was a way to make that point clear, and that I've had my own kinds of hurts that has kept me from even talking to my old man for the last five years—and unheard of time of silence. I wrote an open letter to him on Father's Day this year that might be as pointless as trying to convince you of anything at this point, but I have kept my distance but under certain conditions welcome a change in the course. [I get a feeling he is in his lonely room snickering at me still trying to clean up a mess that he helped create for me. It might be the gift that keeps on giving for him.]

Chris, I was willing to share your life and its hurts in whatever way I could. There isn't much else I could have given you. I wish you could see that for that decision, I took a bigger hit than I anticipated. I gambled for the sake of having a relationship with you because I did feel that there would be a chance at recovering something we both felt was lost, and that doing so was worth a risk to my precious stability. And then you shut me out rather inexplicably. I'm trying not to be bitter, but really, what you did was buck-passing the hurt; scapegoating. And yet, from the tone you've had for the times I've been in any contact with you (for several years now), it doesn't seem like you're feeling any less conflicted or hurt. [The explosive response to my presence alone at mom's in 11/07 was a clear confirmation of that. Her Facebook profile says she's training to be a drug and alchohol counselor. The thought of her in a healing role kind of scares me, really.] I don't think your strategy has worked for you.

I'd love for our old stuff to be turned into the basis for something constructive. I really don't like strife. It sucks way more energy than it returns. But your cooperation is a key part of that. At one time I thought you wanted me to be your understanding little brother. I still am—as much as I can be. But the trend is that you don't don't want that. What changed? Why? You might have set your feelings aside but I still hurt for you, and the hurt that I think everyone lives with but has brushed under the carpet. It's plain to see it is still at work, from the few bits of exchange that I have to judge by.

I don't mind physical distance and that we don't play a great day to day role in each other's lives. I just wish it didn't bring with it the harsh tones and curt responses. Even being civil and cooperative, keeping me in the loop about who's getting born [she mentioned that she had a grandchild on the way, due today, but neglected to say which of her sons was about to become papa] or who's dying...that's about all I feel I should ask. One day mom will be gone too. Will I read about that on MySpace or Facebook, or hear about it years later? Put yourself in my shoes for a moment.

I don't know if this is intentional but when I am blocked out from even having civil discourse with the family, that is not just a matter of denying me (all of us really) a place at the dinner table or the photo albums, it also robs me in particular of a sense of history of who I am, be that the son of royalty or the son of saints or the son of thieves and murderers. It is a gross unfairness to take that much from me. I have a sketch of who is involved, but I don't know much when it comes to even tracing my own genealogy or the stories of who came from where and what they were like. Is that part of the strategy? Or just an unintended consequence of a hairtrigger avoidance of me? What this means is that as I am dealing with fragmentary memory of my own experience and an even more fragmentary second-hand memory, I could forget things or altogether choose to put my own story together. I could tell any story I want. I could make you a princess or a harlot according to how I feel. I could make it all up. But that is disingenuous. I would rather be reasonable, and to not place the blame out of unprocessed hurt, and not to inflate people larger than life. The real story is big enough, and tragic enough. I can tell it straight. But blocking me from having the facts does not do any good. I wish you'd not be so rigid about withholding the kinds of information that still instructs me on who I am, whether that is good, bad, or whatever.

In a similar way, I feel that it is wrong of you to play gatekeeper especially at this time, and to block the flow of legitimate emotional response to James' death. That is unfair of you.

I still love you Chris. I love you as a human being, and as a person with whom I know I share a troubled past at the hands of a troubled man. I have long said that I felt a closer bond with you than anyone else in mom's side of the family. It's a troubled bond, but those can be made into strong bonds under certain conditions. I don't love the strife. You're still a child of God the same as I am, or as even my old man is. [This one is pretty radical assertion for her. Be prepared to duck from whatever projectiles might come this way!] When you know that in your heart, when you know that to be true, I think something transformative will happen. People who know they are children of God and accept that message deep down inside don't have to play the games that divide people from one another. In a paradoxical way, in the way that spirituality is always paradoxical, I owe you a debt of gratitude for even your repeated rejection. It forced me into new areas of life that I probably never would have volunteered into. In the same way, I owe a similar debt of gratitude to my old man for a similar but unconventional way of teaching me. And mom too. And Nikki. (Don't you think it a bit odd that the bunch of you sit on the same bench in that regard?) That is the irony of the spiritual life—that all the hurts can instruct. I'm just glad I've had the right directors—pastors, spiritual directors, friends, therapists—who have generally moved me and my story toward something different than I was inclined.

But you didn't know that. You don't really know what my life has been for the last several years. You know only that I chime in once in a while, that I seem a speed bump on your path or a thorn in your roses. If that is all you hear from me, then I can understand. But that is not who I am the other times. Ask anyone. I explore life. I grapple with pain—mine, yours, my old man's, mom's, that of the world. I am creative and resourceful. I am a loving husband of seven years now. I do time consuming volunteer projects for non profit orgs. I have different and evolving roles at church, including facilitating a young adults group that in some ways is a surrogate for playing a responsible role in the lives of my nephews and nieces—something that I found myself willing to do a decade ago, but so far have been dismissed from.

I can't say to you that your perception of me is wrong. There are perfectly true things—even negative things—that you say that are true. But that is not the whole record. It is fragmentary at best. Incomplete. Outdated. The fact is, I am more than the little brother you lost some three and a half decades ago, or in the times since. When you want to pick up the phone and have a reasonable conversation, or when you want to come to my birthday, or to church on any Sunday, or to meet up on an unimportant Tuesday afternoon, then maybe there is a chance to integrate something new about me and the life I lead. There is plenty to find out. And that is just my side of things. Kelli has plenty of interesting stories too about her life. And you probably have too.

As I write, it is about ten minutes from the time when, 38 years ago, I was born. The stories I have received from you and mom and the twins about the old days have both broken my heart and led to my restoration in the ever-unfolding drama of my movie that is made in one conversation or letter or Facebook post at a time. I still have a flush of feeling when I consider that for a while you were acting as my caretaker while mom was at work, and that from that experience, you were linked to me in a profound way. You've said as much to me. You and the twins both told me of heartache from the separation and drama. I might never know your hurt at the level you do, and I might not even be able to articulate my own hurt that operates at a level I can't even tap into. In that, we are again brother and sister again, children of the same forces.

One thing you don't have control over is that I have the power to forgive you. I have the power to feel your hurt and not hold it against you. I have the power to receive even your rejection and to still see you as my sister, if not of the same mother, then of the same experience at the hands of a hurtful man. And if not that, then you're still my sister in God's grand family in which each of us is a beloved son or daughter. Neither you nor anyone else can shut me out of that.

It is now 4:25. My birthday all over again. Peace and love to you, my sister.