Next?

This post might throw you for a loop; read my posts from winter 2011 if it does. 
One of my uncles, the one who will never change, the one born with fetal alcohol syndrome (which wasn’t exactly recognized in 1965 – look at me, making excuses!), the one the same age as my oldest cousin on that side, the pedophile, the incestuous piece of shit, called me a month or two ago. I recognized the area code – New Hampshire’s 603 – and picked up the phone. My mother lives in that area code and while it wasn’t her phone number, I thought it might be my stepfather’s cell phone.
Imagine my surprise when it was Joel, calling from work for my address, he’d found my Dad’s baby book, and to catch up after Hurricane Irene had blasted through Vermont. I am a reasonably good actress in such situations; I can make it seem like everything is okay or (more likely, based on what Mr. Q tells me) that I am pissed, but I will keep talking about normal things, things that don’t matter. It’s the old familial urge to maintain that everything is fine, normal – nothing is wrong – gained from two parents who experts in covering up the sometimes-bad people their parents were.
In such situations, I will also go along with pretty much whatever you’d like to say and I will tell you that I will do what you’d like me to (in this case, email my address even though you probably still have it from when I was still talking to you or you could probably get it from, say, someone else in the family).
I will be cordial.
We will have a pleasant conversation. We will talk about how Hurricane Irene blew through and tore up the town we grew up in, but the trailer that your Dad, my grandfather, fought to place in the middle of a field on the banks of the normally calm Ottauquechee (no joke- it’s basically maybe 200 yards from the river) made it through with minor flooding while the trailer park, down in a narrower part of the valley maybe a mile a way as the river flows, had several homes swept away and many more flooded. Oh, family – I remember you, and miss you, when I was young and we were all together and everything was okay. Except it wasn’t, but I didn’t know that outright until I was older.
You see how the history comes flooding back? My longing to belong, to trust and have family again?
I never emailed him my address. I mulled the phone call over for a few days and then decided that a baby book wasn’t worth renewing contact, just like getting a table that my Dad left me isn’t worth being back in contact with my Stepmother.
Even if this package hadn’t shown up with more evidence that for my Dad’s family (Ben and Betty and Johnnie and Suzy, and later Scottie and Joel) there was a definite before and after (before Betty became an alcoholic, before one Ben or Betty was a pedophile – no evidence, but I strongly suspect one of them must have been up to something to have half of their children do the same – [edited 11/17/11 to cross this out after reassurances that this was not the case, rather more that they were people of their time, with Ben providing for the family financially while Betty took care of the house & kids as well as an alcoholic can] before they moved off the farm, before they moved to VT, so many before & afters to chose from), I have already been thinking about the whys of what happened to me and the price I was ready to pay to keep family in my life.
I’ve been deliberately avoiding news – lately it all seems the same or at least predictable, cyclical. I heard rumblings about the sexual abuse scandal at Penn State, but not the specifics. Then I made the mistake of watching CNN for a little while the other night and my faith in humanity crumbled even more. My heart is broken for the victims – my heart is broken for every one of my friends who read this blog and told me that they had also been molested as children.
I am angry that more wasn’t done to punish Sandusky earlier or help his victims, that more wasn’t done to help my friends or me. I am angry that as a young adult and now, an adult, that I haven’t do more to defend myself or to prevent more children from dealing with things that I’ve dealt with, things that will stay with me my entire life. Lamely, this – writing and posting in a semi-public place – is my vengeance.
So first I get this phone call. I talk to him like everything is fine. I tell him I’ll email my address to him, but I never do it. Then yesterday a package showed up, from him of course. And in it is my Dad’s baby book, dutifully filled out by Betty from 1944-1957 for her firstborn (of course I looked through the whole thing immediately). All of my issues – everything that fucks me up – come rushing back. Everything I’ve tied up, resolved, and set aside – how many times now? – have come undone and are fresh again. I’m struggling to tie the knots back up and set them aside again.
And now today, I have an email from Joel asking me to at least acknowledge that I got the package and that I’m okay. I am not okay, I am undone again. Last fall my therapist recommended that I cut him out of my life again, what I did in high school, what I did by going to college as far away as possible. When my Dad got sick, him back in, thinking that 20 years might have changed things.
Why couldn’t he send the baby book to my brother? Why couldn’t he drop it by my mother’s house? This is deliberate and I don’t know why. I don’t know what his goal is here. Renewed contact? More of what happened in 08? Access to my children?
I don’t know what to do. Part of me wants to drive 10 hours and have it out – a final confrontation. Part of me wants to avoid the situation completely and drink, like my grandmother did, lose myself. I could use my default strategy for everything – carry on like nothing is going on, ignore the situation until it goes away. I should respond to the email and explain how this is fucking with me. I should respond to the email and tell him to leave me alone, that I don’t want any more baby books, any more family stuff, that I’m done because nothing in the world is worth this. Nothing physical in the world is worth my sense of well-being, which has now gone to shit anyway.
Yes, I’m a little crazy and for some understandable reasons.
Yes, you’re probably right – I do have a little too much time on my hands, but remember: I may not have an office job, but I should be moving The Yarn Office forward or at least vacuuming up the dog hair dust bunnies, which are getting as big as the dogs.
Yes, yes – you, too – you’re right that I probably shouldn’t be airing my dirty laundry.
And you too – I am a derby girl these days and we’re supposed to be tough as nails. I can take a physical hit, bruises – whatever. But this?

There are so many reasons for me not to post this, probably the most disjointed of all my posts, (a big huge part of me is embarrassed & ashamed to have this hanging out there) but what I need is a lifeline, plan. I’ve lost the path again and I need some help finding it again.

Edited to Add:

The email I got earlier today, along with yesterday’s package, set me off. Here’s the email and my response, sent a few minutes ago:

Hi there…. Did you get John’s  Baby Book? Sorry it took me so long to get it off to you…it rode around in my truck for a good 2-3 weeks.
I hope this finds you well I also hope you drop me a line at least to let me know you got the book and that you are OK….
Talk later….
JTK

And my response, fat lot of good it will do:

Oh, I got it and it ripped me apart, like your phone call did.

Am I okay? I’m still breathing – that counts for something. I’ve been writing a lot too, since last winter, actually. Your secret is out, at least to people who are friends with me on Facebook, follow me on twitter, or follow my blog, some of whom are family & classmates that live in VT or NH.

I never sent you my address because my sanity is worth more than my Dad’s baby book, it’s worth more than having extended family again. You might as well be dead. You and Julie are in the same category here – she has the table that Dad left me, but I’d rather slit my wrists than talk to her to get it back.

I’m sorry your life has been what it’s been and believe me, I sympathize. We all have choices – for example, I was molested by you and Scott, but I’m not a pedophile. Your choice to be a pedophile and engage in incest is not my fault or my responsibility, but because I have been a coward in confronting you about what you did to me, because my parents were cowards before me, I have no legal recourse against you. The only way I can make this right, warn other people about you, is via semi-public opinion, thanks to the almighty Internet.

You should feel as shitty as I do – that you don’t is amazing to me and tells me that you are basically a sociopath, along with all the other pedophiles. I hope you’re not doing anything to Susan’s granddaughter, but since I know that you did something to Kelly also, I don’t have high hopes. I hope your next victim and her family have more courage than I and my family had.

Don’t write, don’t call, but know that there are people in your area that know about you,

M

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#TheGoldenStallion

It’s surprising how little there is to watch on TV on a Friday night. We stopped subscribing to the premium movie channels in favor of Netflix streaming through the Wii, which lately has not been working well (or really, at all). So last night, I was back to my old entertaining favorites: channels without commercials (PBS, TCM, etc) and what I think of as junk food TV (E!, MTV, VH1, etc.). I couldn’t find anything I could switch between to avoid commercials (the Geico guy really pisses me off), so I ended up watching The Golden Stallion on TCM.

The Golden Stallion was released in November 1949, Roy Rogers’ 3rd and final movie of the year. Three movies in a year seems like a lot, but in 1948 he was in 8 movies, 5 in 1950. So what happened in ’48? He was either concentrating on his radio show (1944-1955) or his marriage to Dale Evans (12/31/47), his co-star. In November 1949, my Dad was 5 years old, the first grandson of my great-grandfather. My grandparents lived in a house very close to the family dairy farm in Rehoboth, MA, with my great-grandparents living in the Big House on the farm. Dad told me his grandfather welcomed his company any time – at home, in his office, in the barn. He gave Dad a pony at some point and spoiled him as any grandparent would. My great grandmother subjected Dad to the finer things in life, like getting cleaned up for church and piano lessons, which he hated and was terrible at.

I don’t recall Dad ever talking about Roy Rogers – he did say that when he enlisted in the Marines after high school in 1962, eventually ending up in Vietnam (July 1965-July 1966), that he had John Wayne in mind – I am positive, though, that Roy Rogers was among his heroes as well:

Exhibit A:

Dad.misc01

Exhibit B:

Donnie, Johnnie, Duke Aug 1951

(Look closer; you’ll see the horse. Also, Dad is sitting in front. Also #2: click the pictures to see them on flickr.)

I imagine also that Great Grandpa Kinne – or my grandparents – probably took Dad to the movies and that he probably saw The Golden Stallion. So last night, I watched the whole thing with a glass of wine and live-tweeted it, included below. Ethan has been my late-night buddy; he was on the computer behind the couch watching something online or so I thought. When I skipped back to catch a line to tweet a quote, he said “Hey! Didn’t we already watch that twice?” letting me know that he was watching it with me. My kids surprise me by being the people I need them to be when I least expect it and need it the most.

(Note that I really just want them to be the people they need to be, as long as they don’t hurt anyone physically/emotionally and love life, I’m good. Because of my relationship with my parents, I walk a delicate line between being interested and friendly, but not a friend – I neither want to ignore them or use them intentionally for emotional support.)

Going my own way, again

First there was roller derby and then came the new job: two of the biggest changes in my life since 2009, the year I went back into therapy & back on meds for depression. Well, one of those new things turned out to be not quite what I hoped for and instead of sucking it up (which I did do briefly, for the record), I decided – was able – have the luxury – to be honest with myself, my family, and my employer: I quit.

It was me, not the job.

It was the commute, not the job.

I haven’t worked since June of 2004, when I went on maternity leave with Henry. That’s 7 years that I have been doing the stay at home mom (SAHM) thing. I was only in the workforce for 9 years (9 years!), with 5 of those as a working mom. For me to go back to work was a sizable transition – a huge transition – one that I just can’t make right now, a transition I’m not willing to make right now. I thought I was, but I need to get my feet wet and get used to the water before I jump from the high dive into the deep-end of traditional employment. 

Traditional employment. You know, a 9-5 (or 8-4 or 10-6) job. You show up, do something there, and they pay you. What’s not to like?

I cannot stand the sensation of being a sheep/cow/stock animal of some sort as I fight traffic (or in Chicago, traffic then people for a good seat on the train) with all the other sheeple doing their duty by going to work. I am not sheeple. I don’t like to be stuck in traffic, cut off, beeped at. My reaction is to floor it when given the chance, like Thursday June 2, when traffic broke up on the Toll Road/Greenway and I went 90, weaving in and out of 3 lanes of lighter traffic to maintain my speed. I’m not sure what the solution is to congestion woes (public transport? alternate fuel/transport? telecommuting? an unrealistic utopian society based on discrete, self-sustaining communities?) but sitting in it makes me think about it (see previous parenthetical comment), which ultimately leads to me thinking about Humanity in general (it’s a blog: I’ll make humanity Humanity if I want to). We’re killing ourselves and the planet. [insert tree-hugger, crunchy granola rant here.]

Being stuck in traffic is like having insomnia: I tried podcasts, I tried playlists, I tried silence, I even knit almost 2 rows one night when the road I was on was shut down because a pedestrian was hit (and is reportedly doing okay) and traffic was more stop than go. It’s too much time to think, too much time when I’m not learning anything or doing anything physical (even mundane housework solves this problem for me).

Too much time on my hands. Wasted time. Time I can spend doing something entertaining, like theorizing the fate of my race. At least I was driving a hybrid car, which is like a smoker using the patch/gum/lozenge to quit.

I know a lot of people who would not be able to do what I did, who would love to do what I did. 1995-me couldn’t do it; I passed up grad school because I thought the people at my job needed me. But 1990-me did it when she got sick (really: I was throwing up, but definitely milked it) and couldn’t finish her last 2 weeks of waitressing shifts at Howard Johnnson’s before going to college. 1999-me couldn’t just quit either; but 1999-me wanted to work because she was an overwhelmed [too-]young mother looking for an escape. Even 2001-me had given up on her own career in favor of her husband’s (money won).

Wait – am I talking about myself in the third person? ::hangs head in shame::

I’m lucky for it to not be just about money, though having health insurance again would have helped all of us feel a little more secure. And I’ve just put a whole load of stress back on Mr. Q, who did an amazing job as Mr. Mom (no one’s woobie got sucked into the vacuum), who has been diligently applying for all the exec level IT jobs he can find and then some.

I don’t know ultimately where or how this will end, but I know I won’t be stuck in traffic or sitting at a desk when we figure it out, or if I am at a desk, it’ll be my Yarn Office desk.

I took over our formal living room and most of the dining room last year (or the year before?). All of my knitting books & girly doo-dads are in one spot, away from the boy-stuff that overtook the library/office. I have 4 windows in the living room, plus a bay of 3 in the dining room looking out over the backyard. My spinning wheel is here, along with an armoire with yarn & fiber. In trying to distinguish it from the other office/library, Ethan called it “your Yarn Office, Mom,” and so it is. And they all lived happily ever after. <— I still have hope.

Roller Girl?

Trying to come up with a roller derby name is hard. I’m not even sure sometimes if I’m really a derby girl/chick: am I fierce enough? Ten years ago: yes. Twenty years ago: definitely yes. So I’m going back to some of the music I listened to (and have continued to listen to all this time) for some inspiration. PJ Harvey’s first two albums really helped me work through some of my rage, if only while into walking angrily across the Cut (campus, basically, for non-CMU people) or glowering on the city bus to my first job at HealthAmerica.

Hardly Wait

Go get the albums and listen to them. Go.

General Craftiness & Brief Thoughts on Japan

Last Friday I had the beginning of a weekend-long surge of craftiness brought on by Mod Podge, not one but 2 pads of scrapbooking paper in the clearance aisle of JoAnns, and a reluctance to toss out tins (Altoids, Sucrets, Newmans Own, tea). I even got some books from Good Shepherd Alliance’s thrift store to use in decoupage.

Decoupage Montage: Front

Click the picture to follow the link to flickr, where I have notes on each tin top.

Decoupage Montage: Back

Ditto on the click-through: the snippet of Whitman is worth it.

I’ve also been knitting my head off. Er, knitting my hands off? Whatever. While knitting, I’ve been watching lots of footage of Japan on CNN and streaming from NHK, Japan’s state broadcaster: the scale of the disaster is overwhelming and that it continues with earthquakes and the failure of fail-safe measures at several nuclear plants … I am deeply concerned about everyone affected. Disasters like this remind me to be thankful for what I have and thankful that I am in a position to help.

Lost Hours

You’ve lost an hour to daylight savings; make it up to yourself by listening to This American Life episode #425: Slow to React. I’ve been listening to TAL since we lived in Chicagoland (2000-2002) and WBEZ was my local NPR station. Since I seem to be busy when WAMU broadcasts it locally in the DC area, tonight I caught up on some of the podcasts while decoupaging a bunch of tins I can’t bear to toss out. I’ll take & post some pictures on flickr once they’re done, probably tomorrow.

One of the stories in the TAL podcast made me angry about it again, Act 1: When I Grow Up. Really, you should listen to that first to see where I’m headed, or just throw caution to the wind (like I would) and read on.

It began the night that my friend Suzanne and I pulled the switcharoo on our parents, telling our fathers we were spending the night at the other’s house. After soccer practice, we walked into town, to Mt. Peg via Golf Avenue, and chose a camping spot to dump all of our stuff. We were free! Free for the night! Free to go to my uncle, Joel’s, party! Free to sleep under the stars! Free to pretend that being 15 and a sophomore in high school is cool (I’ve since concluded that almost no one enjoys their teen years or feels at all cool, or cool enough).

Joel was having a party at my grandmother’s house, the trailer in Beaver Meadow. She’d already shacked up with her boyfriend and he had planned a huge party for … I don’t remember now. His birthday? Octoberfest? He told my Dad & stepmother about it, and they were going to stop by after they got out of work, around 11 or 12. He also told me that I was welcome to come by also, and wanting to be more grown-up than I really was (one of the great labors of my life until I stopped getting carded), Suzanne and I hatched our plan: we would pull a switcharoo (most assuredly not what we called it) and would either hide or be long gone by the time they got there; we assumed there would be other parties to go to that night.

We caught a ride with some older friends and started drinking beer from the keg as soon as we got there. Joel and his friends had a bonfire going, music and a bar (really just the keg, as I recall) set up in the shed/lean-to. I felt safe drinking; I was at my grandmother’s house, a very familiar place, hanging out with my much-older uncle that everyone told me was hot and he was treating me as an equal. My Dad’s youngest brother, Joel, is the same age as my oldest cousin on the Kinne side of the family, the same age as my half-brother. Growing up, he was more of a cousin than an uncle, or perhaps somewhere in between.

I went into the house to use the bathroom, probably after a couple of plastic cups of beer. When I came out of the bathroom, Joel was there. He cajoled me into one of the bedrooms, saying he wanted to talk to me about something privately. I don’t remember what he said before he kissed me, on the mouth, with tongue, and my reaction was, for many reasons, all of which have caused me great shame, to kiss back. Then the rational part of my brain kicked in and I pushed him away, or as away as you can get without being let go of. Trying not to let on how freaked out and panicked I was, and hoping for a strategy that would get me out of the room and away without a confrontation (which I seem to instinctively avoid, even at great cost to myself), I tried to reason with him (and me) that this was wrong. I don’t remember how I did get away, but I didn’t tell anyone about that for a long time. I am still ashamed that I responded in-kind instead of with immediate disgust.

I rejoined Suzanne and our friends, and we continued drinking. Time seems to speed up at parties and before I knew it, I saw my Dad and stepmother in a group of people on the edge of the party. I don’t know if Joel told my Dad that we were there or if he just waited for him to notice us. I don’t remember if Suzanne and I did something to call attention to ourselves other than being drunk; by then, Suzanne couldn’t even walk straight and I had a hard time getting her up to go hide someplace.

My Dad was angry, of course, and probably shocked that I would pull something like that so early in my high school career. He wasn’t going to deal with 2 drunk 15-year-olds, though. He told me to call him in the morning after we slept it off. I don’t remember who called Suzanne’s Dad or if he called my Dad, but upon being found out by my Dad, Suzanne immediately started freaking out that hers would also show up. I don’t remember all of what happened, just that more drinking ensued and that there is a huge gap in my memory of the rest of the night. I don’t remember a lot of the details of the next day, like, for example, where I woke up. But I do remember Joel driving Suzanne and I into town, probably giving us a pep-talk the whole way about the risk we took and now having to face the consequences (though really: I don’t remember).

For the first and only time in my life my parents grounded me. The two-week (or was it three?) sentence was a huge hardship (imagine my eye roll and exaggeration here), considering my budding social life. At the time, I was spending weekends at Dad & Julie’s in Barnard, near the Bethel line, and the rest of the time at my Mom’s, the house in South Barnard.

It amazes me now that I forgave Joel for that initial transgression. It was not instantaneous. I avoided him and Scott – really, any Kinne family function that I could get out of. I was vigilant at first. But then he was there for me; he was the one house sitting for my Mom (really: smoking pot with his girlfriend) the hellacious night that winter when my first serious boyfriend broke up with me and Julie threw me out of the house for the first time (and my Dad let her). He was the one who comforted me & cheered me up the next day. I thought things could go back to normal, or close to normal after that. Normal with some caution on my part.  

Dad and Julie went to Florida every spring to spend time with her family. I had gone along for one of these trips, my junior year, when they went on their honeymoon in Hawaii. But my senior year, they had bred their Newfoundland and there was a litter of puppies that needed to be taken care of and a mama that needed to be fed more often than usual. After another house-sitting mishap for one of my Mom’s friends, which I’ll get to in another post, Julie acted like it was a huge deal to be left with a whole house all alone: she told me she’d talked to the neighbors (not likely) and they would be watching for a lot of cars going to the house (likely). I had something going on after school one day and wouldn’t be able to get home in time to take care of the dogs on-schedule, so my Aunt Sue pitched in and helped me out.

By this point, I’d finally honed in on getting out of Vermont via college, the further the way the better, and had stopped partying as much as I had by December of my senior year. Note that while my grades were good, (I made honor roll or high honor roll for every report card, was taking advanced classes for everything but math & science, and had gotten into NHS that fall), I wonder how much better I would have done with out all the drinking, smoking, pot-smoking (much of it contact high after I figured out that it puts me to sleep), and shrooming (4-5 times, tops). Maybe I would’ve gotten into Brown (first choice, turned down for early admission), fulfilling a not well-thought out fantasy of returning to Providence, where the Kinne roots are. Not that any of this really matters to this post other than me saying: hey, I was still a good kid, even for all of the bad things and not-so-great things.

So. There I am house sitting, perhaps the day before Dad & Julie & the twins are due to get home and who comes down the driveway but Joel. He was out driving and thought he’d stop by. We hugged. He didn’t let go. He gyrated into my hips and tried to get me to kiss him. “Playfully” held my hands behind my back. Told me that I wanted it, “You know you want it, don’t you?” Showing me that he was stronger than I was. I pretended that I was in a movie or on TV: what was I supposed to do next? I ran scenarios in my head of the options available to me. Chief among them were the ones that would keep him calm and me not hurt. While I tried to talk him out of this and convince him that I wasn’t interested and that force wasn’t going to help matters, I looked around for things nearby that I could hit him with. I calculated how fast I could get to the knife block in the kitchen if he let go of me, if I’d make it before he caught me. Contrary to all the movie & TV rape/incest scenarios, I actually talked him out of it. I don’t remember which magical phrase it was, but I could see the change in his demeanor. He let go of me, apologized, and left. As soon as he was out the door, I locked it. I locked the other door. I closed the curtains in my room (on the 1st floor). I kept the outside lights on all night.

The next day, when everyone came home, I couldn’t tell them, not right off the bat. In addition, Julie didn’t see how well I took care of the dogs, that the dishes were all clean & the counters wiped, or that I had borrowed my mother’s vacuum (a really good one with a rotating brush for the carpet). Instead, she focused on the hamper in the bathroom, a hamper I never used, and proceeded to throw me out of the house again after I had the nerve to talk back to her. She timed it strategically, I’m sure: my mother had separated from stepfather #1, the guy in the duplex in Hanover, and while she waited for the lease to be up on her condo in Wilder so she could move back in there, she rented a 2-room apartment in Bridgewater, in the basement of one of her brother’s girlfriends. For the rest of my senior year and the following summer, until I went to college, I slept on a metal roll-away bed just outside the bathroom in the eat-in kitchen, with my mother in her bed in the other room. I couldn’t tell either of them about what had happened until I was safely away at college. And their reactions were very similar to their reaction to me telling them about Scott: we’re not going to make waves by doing anything about this.

Things could have been much worse. The things that happened to me, that were done to me, are on the mild side of all the possibilities of what could have happened and what has happened to other victims of sexual abuse. Still, it has affected my life in ways I’m still coming to terms with. For example, my reaction to Joel making another hip-gyrating pass at me 20 years later when we all gathered around my father in the final weeks of him getting poked and prodded and probed to find out that he had pancreatic cancer. I also suspect that my parents probably wouldn’t have had success doing anything legal about either Scott or Joel. Any statute of limitations has long run out on all of it anyway, and so this is it; talking about what happened in public (or as close to public as I can get) is my only way to fight back and the only way I can warn other people. The weight of other possible victims weighs heavily on me.

But I’ve lost that hour and spent much more than another get the bare-bones (or as close to bare-bones, emotion-free, factual) story out. And though we’ve all lost an hour to spring, we’ll get it back in the fall when we need it most.

Ramblings, Grandma K., Senior Year

It doesn’t help me to know that I am not alone, at least not while writing. You’ve heard this story before: bored suburban mother/wife goes crazy while navel gazing, kid with (partially) crappy childhood pulls herself up and triumphs despite it all, brave woman tells the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth (at least the way she sees it). You’ve heard it all before, so why write it again? It’s all been written, there is nothing original, all the stories have been told. I have a tiny voice, often drowned out by the cacophony from the others, that says my story hasn’t been told and I haven’t told it in that way that is unique to me, and so here I am, posting again, which, by the by, is much different than how I write when I write in my journal (it’s been a while). 

I get really meta when I procrastinate, though I suppose that’s the very nature of procrastination: arguing with yourself to do something and losing. Also, I think there’s something about this time of year, when I’ve got to hold on just a little bit longer for spring, that makes doing anything beyond the necessary difficult. Hell, getting out of bed in the morning has been problematic lately; books are no longer my go-to escape world, my dreams have been pretty good for the last year and a half.

Perhaps you can see why there’s been such a gap between the last post and this; I’ve been busy procrastinating and dreaming.

I’ve gotten a lot of compliments and comments about how brave I am to tell the story this way, to tell the story at all. From my point of view, the worst has already happened. Bad things could still come out of this, I’m not completely naive (I hope), but I know that when they do, I will still be breathing when they’re over because that’s the real point: things happen and, much to my surprise, I keep going anyway, no matter how I feel (well, assuming I’m not that depressed).

I’ve also gotten indirect comments about letting things go, letting sleeping dogs lie, etc. This is exactly the advice, if you can call it that, my father gave me when I was 15 and in therapy for the first time: “Just let it go.” I would love to; can you tell me how to process the world without relying on past experience? Can you tell me how to make my brain stop replaying unpleasant things when I’m tired or down and generally feeling like a poor example for a human being? Recognizing that I do this – that my brain goes the extra mile to bring me down further – is the first step, of course. Fixing it is an entirely other process.

I fantasize sometimes that staying busy, becoming a workaholic or moving a third-world country where basic needs are an everyday concern (come on people: you are lucky to be reading this right now and I am lucky to be writing it) would solve the problem. I wouldn’t have a chance to think about the past, just the present. (And yes, meditation is on my list along with exercise.) But I was busy – I am busy, when I’m doing everything I should be doing. I had a child under 2, was pregnant with my second, my husband was working in a city 800 miles away, I was lucky to see him on weekends, and I was working full-time, sometimes more than full-time, writing manuals. We lived in an apartment without a washer or dryer that we generally could not park right in front of. To top it off, 2 months before I was due, Brandon broke his tibia and had to be carried everywhere until he figured out how to walk in a non-walking cast.

With all of that going on, I would still pick my old familiar problems up mentally and examine them, examine me, judging myself and finding myself lacking, particularly if I was tired (all the time) and if things weren’t going well.

Let me be clear, here, that I am not asking for sympathy or pity: just understanding and a little empathy. I’m trying to explain (and figure out, still) why I am me, why I do the things I do, why I react to things the way I do. Like a perpetual 3-year old, I still believe in the almighty answer to why, though I am working on straight out judgment, raw decision-making without the why: shitty people do shitty things and knowing why doesn’t make forgiveness or moving on any easier nor does it mean I won’t go back, take back the forgiveness, and find myself back at square one again – and endless loop. 

When last we left me, I had finished my junior year of high school, been fired from my live-in job, jetted off to visit my guy, came ‘home’ to my room at Dad & Julie’s, got a job at a B&B in town, and, of course that August, started soccer practice. I’ve been stuck trying to frame my senior year, trying to find the common thread (other than me) and I’ve realized I ironically achieved what my mother always accuses my father of: compartmentalizing all the parts of life so they don’t affect one another. So I suppose I will divvy it up, but I have to back track a bit to explain everything properly, to tell the story the right way.

Grandma

My grandmother, Dad’s mom, Betty, had started getting sick my sophomore or junior year – or maybe earlier; I’m not sure. My grandfather had died in 1982 and she started dating someone around the time that my parents’ marriage disintegrated. She shacked up with Henry (really, they were very sweet together) at least by spring on 1988, my sophomore year.

She was an alcoholic, though my grandfather managed to deny that to his dying day, in spite of watching her go through the DTs in the hospital when she broke her hip, and a heavy smoker. I don’t really remember when she was diagnosed with cancer, though I do know that it probably began when she was having thyroid problems (huge weight gains) and then was diagnosed with emphysema. She would cough so hard and so long that conversations stopped while her body tried to save itself convulsing. It was a smoker’s cough, to be sure, but constant and a full-body cough, like her body was trying to turn itself inside out.

And then the cancer diagnosis. Lung cancer. Esophageal cancer. Cancer of the larynx. Cancer cancer everywhere. I know now that cancer of the esophagus & is common in alcoholics. There was treatment – radiation, chemo. She had a tracheotomy at some point (that summer? my junior year? I don’t know) and her voice box was removed. I was very uncomfortable talking with her after that; I had a hard time understanding her when she used the electrolarynx. She wrote a lot of notes.

She did not quit smoking or, probably, drinking. I don’t think she stopped until she went into the hospital the last time in early November 1989. By that point she had an oxygen tank as well. Imagine all of the stereotypes of the smoker who can’t quit and she was it. She was who I thought of when I finally quit 2 years ago: I would rather kill myself quickly than suffer through that bottomless need, forget about the breathing problems and the cancers and pain.

I don’t remember a lot of the details of Grandma’s illness. Aside from being 17 and too cool to hang out with family, I avoided Dad and Julie as much as possible. After moving back in with them, Dad had decided to be parent again. I had a curfew, which I was more than happy to keep, and though I had spent the night at the house my boyfriend was staying at (the one who was out west) and he had spent many nights with me at the Braeside, Dad balked at me staying with the boyfriend in a hotel room shortly before he had to leave the area. Dad and I had a huge fight on the phone: “What will people think?” he said. I know he was concerned for me, but I laugh every time I think of this fight – what will people think? Well, what did people think when I lived on my own in a motel? What did people think when they found out he’d had an affair? What did people think when he got his girlfriend pregnant and then they didn’t marry? I did my best not to wonder what people thought and just do what I thought was right and so I spent the night with my guy.

Along with Grandma being ill, my stepbrother’s asthma was getting worse. The twins room was right over mine and, because I was smoking openly by then, my stepmother blamed his worsening asthma entirely on me. Much of that blame does lay squarely on my shoulders, but Dad and Julie did not figure out the solution – make the entire house non-smoking – until Peter spent the night in the hospital a few floors away from my grandmother. Even after the solution was reached, it mainly applied to me. Julie still toked up in the open living room-dining room kitchen though, if I recall correctly, she was not smoking cigarrettes at the time. When her parents visited, her mother sat in the mud room (also under the twins room) in front of an open window. This all sounds ridiculous now, like a farce. At the time, it just underscored how unwelcome I was in that house.

The night that Grandma died, I was at a friend’s house in Killington having a girl sleepover with her & another friend. Though it had started snowing pretty heavily early in the evening, I navigated over Sherburne Pass and into Rutland where we went grocery shopping (mainly for Pillsbury Cinnamon Buns) and rented Beaches.

A quick note on my high school friends: most of them came from families as dysfunctional as mine. One friend’s mother had tried to kill herself our freshman year and was later diagnosed with manic depression. Another’s mother and stepfather separated and divorced, but she stayed on with her stepfather so as not to have to change schools. One moved in with her much-older boyfriend our senior year and her family moved to another town out of the school district. And on – so many kids I knew who had messed up family situations. I would not have made it through everything without knowing that I wasn’t the only one or without my closest friends.

So Dad called my friend’s house to let me know that Grandma died. We finished watching Beaches, a sad movie to begin with, but I was glad to be with my friends instead of my family. I stayed the night – it wasn’t a good night to be out on the roads – and went home the next day.

The funeral was a few days later and was open casket, as my grandmother requested. I remember Aunt Sue remarking on Grandma’s fingernails; she always took great care of them and the funeral home had given her great final manicure. My brother had come home from the Navy and was staying … well, I’m not sure where. Perhaps with his high school girlfriend’s family, maybe with my mother, though (let me remind you and I) she was married and living in Hanover in an already-cramped duplex at the time.

To my surprise, Grandma left me some things; a snuff box with a lid that looks like tortoiseshell, some jewelry, her watch, and her engagement ring along with the original setting. To this day, I still don’t understand why she left the ring to me, of all people. Was it because of the guy I was dating, because our families were so close and she expected that we would be getting married? Was it because she knew I’d take care of it, save it, appreciate it? Of course my stepmother told me to not ever pawn it or sell it; perhaps she was speaking from experience? Or maybe she was preparing me for what was to happen over the course of the next year, mainly that they would move to Florida and any remaining semblance of support (i.e., financial) disappeared with them (I wrote several angry letters in college referring to the terms divorce decree so I could keep health insurance while I was in college).

So I still have everything, or almost everything. The ring. And the box. And the other do-dads, including the play tea set & porcelain doll (her name is Clara) she gave me when I was in 2nd or 3rd grade (probably when they sold the farm). I think I’m missing a few heart things; she loved hearts (and ducks, but I passed on the duck stuff). And since I’m linking, here is a clipping of her obituary and the laminated copy (front, back) given out at her service.

I went to the funeral, but not to the internment in Rhode Island. I used the excuse that I had to work, though my boss would have readily given me the day off and did send me home after I served breakfast that Saturday. Spending any amount of time with Dad and Julie, trapped in a car, was completely out of the question. I could have ridden down with someone else in the family, but really, I couldn’t handle it and so avoided it.

Shortly after grandma died and her will was executed (assuming there was one), the dispute over Beaver Meadow began. Scott & his family were living in the trailer my grandparents had moved into in Beaver Meadow after selling the farm; all agreed that they should stay. Joel and his girlfriend would get another part of Beaver Meadow on which to build a house. Aunt Sue had already been given part land in (what I think of and what may very well have been referred to as) the upper meadow at Wyman Lane & Gabert Road in the 60s. She & Uncle Terry built a house and lived there (mostly) until they divorced in the late 70s (I’m guessing about when they actually split). My father (though really, I suspect it was my stepmother pushing my father) felt that he should get a portion of Beaver Meadow as well because that was the fair thing.

Dad had been offered land in the upper meadow at Wyman Lane & Gabert Road, in fact, our first house was a trailer that on the top of the hill between Gabert & the farmhouse. My father had decided he did not want to go into dairy farming, probably when he signed up for the Marines shortly after high school. I think building a house so close to the farm, on the farm, in fact, would have meant Dad would get roped into helping out on the farm or maybe that would have been part of the agreement. At any rate, in 1974 or 1975 my parents bought the house in South Barnard and moved. I don’t know if my grandparents helped them buy it, but Joel (really, I suspect it was his girlfriend at the time) argued that Dad had basically turned down the land and his inheritance long ago.

The cat fight between my stepmother and Joel’s girlfriend, Debbie, was both epic and unnecessary. Left alone, Dad & Joel would have worked things out amicably; both are/were easy going. I don’t even know when it was finally resolved – December or January of 1990? But I do know Dad & Julie stopped hanging out with Joel & Debbie, who formerly been close enough to go on a trip to Hawaii together (Dad & Julie’s honeymoon trip in, I think, the spring of 1989, though they’d gotten married the previous summer).

With Grandma gone and a rift between Dad and Joel (though really, it was mainly between Debbie and Julie), the stage was set for Dad and Julie to pack up and move to Florida the fall of 1990. They probably started looking into it that winter, though I’m reasonably sure (fooling myself here?) that Dad waited for me to turn 18 before he really considering it seriously.