Once Upon a Time

My brother had a little girl, and I loved her more than anything. Strangely, you can have unrequited love in your own family, and that love story didn’t work out well. Not because of me, and probably not because of her. I suspect all the other dark factors that affected my family. The photo is her with her mom about 1981.

When she was a little thing, just walking and talking, she was my best bud. I didn’t get to see her often because there was a lot of stress in the famdamnily, but when I did see her, it was the greatest.

Once we went out to eat together — her mom, dad, and I. We had finished dinner and were sitting around the table while my niece played in a largely empty restaurant. She was enthralled with the (to her) long distance between the back wall and the front windows. I joined her in the back of the restaurant about to share an adventure to the front.

“Let’s go!” she said. She’d just learned to run without falling on her face.

“Where?” I asked.

THERE!” she replied.

“There? That’s too vague,” I answered (to a two year old)

“OK. Let’s go to vague!”

https://dailypost.wordpress.com/prompts/vague/

2 + 2

Rat IThe House Might Eat Tommy’s Ice Cream

Got THAT out of the way. I’m not at all interested in mnemonics, frankly. But I do know one and there it is. 🙂

***

In OTHER news it snowed last night. Here’s a photo of Bear in the snow. One of my friends pointed out the shadow, calling it Bear’s “Inner Wolf.” ❤

 

https://dailypost.wordpress.com/prompts/mnemonic/

Doors of Obfuscation

Our life’s dreams are often slow to realize and some of them are simply strange, like my dream of someday having a LOT of dogs. That was a dream I had as a kid and tried to realize as a teenager with a big red dog I brought home. The moment wasn’t right. It was not the right age/time of my life to begin my dog pack, so the dream didn’t come true. I forgot all about it for a long time, so long that when it DID come true. and I remembered it, I was in my 40s. All I could do was laugh.

But some night dreams are scary/important. I think we do work things out in sleep, some hidden conundrums — some very old ones — can work their way up the levels of our unconscious mind and teach us things using strange but perfect symbolism.

When my little brother was 10 we were visiting my Aunt Martha in Denver. She lived in a late 1950’s three story apartment next to Cheeseman Park. Now the building is condos and they sell for quite a lot of money ($213,500), but back in 1963 it was just a small, 600 sq ft, one bedroom apartment in a great location. My aunt lived on the first floor but elevated. The basement apartments had big windows so the first floor was pretty far off the ground. It had a “lanai” and to get to the lanai you went through a sliding glass door.

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The actual apartment! Thanks Zillow!

I don’t know if sliding glass doors were newish back then or that we just hadn’t had much exposure to them, but my brother walked through it. He could have been badly hurt, but all that happened was a cut on his thumb that didn’t even need stitches.

The other night I dreamed I walked into a room and my brother was there sleeping. There was a sliding glass door hanging off the rails. I was so afraid my brother would be hurt, or someone would come in and hurt him, that I began fussing with it to get it to close. When I got there I found DOZENS of attempts at repairing that door and NONE of them worked. I discarded one after the other — some made with wood and chicken wire, some with wire reinforced glass. I could NEVER get the door to close; I could NEVER make my brother safe.

In my dream, my brother slept through my Herculean efforts on behalf of his safety. He never knew. He was completely undisturbed. Then a voice in my dream said, “You have to go. You’ve done everything you could.”

Behind everything else in the dream was the fact that my brother had chosen to sleep in that room, in that bed. A very obvious cliché right there.

I’m pretty sure that anyone who’s reached the point of walking away from a beloved family member (my brother was a hardcore alcoholic) who is an addict feels conflicted, maybe forever. In my dream I answered that statement with, “What about this door?”

 

Sibling Rivalry

I loved my brother and respected his talents. But…of all the rocks I’ve painted, people like the one with his cartoon character on it most. It’s almost as if he’s back. I hear our art teacher saying to me, “Why are you always hanging around the art room? You don’t have any talent.”

That is not true.

My mom, “You’re the writer, Kirk’s the artist.” That was that, pure and simple. My reaction against this was instantaneous and visceral. Art is not just ONE thing.

For the most part — between us — my brother and I didn’t have any issues over this. Our work was very different AND different people liked his work from those who liked mine. My brother liked my work. In fact, he was my biggest cheerleader — up to a point.

When my work sold, paintings sold, he wasn’t too happy. He should have been since he was always hitting me up for money, but… He got over it. “You’re an abstract expressionist,” he said.

I had to look that up.

“The thing about your paintings, Martha Ann, is they’re not on the public pulse.” That was true.

I have never had any interest in drawing comic strips. I don’t enjoy them very much and to draw the same thing over and over again in order to advance a narrative (that’s the new way to say “tell a story”) seemed tedious. Why not just write the damned thing? But my brother’s comics were hilarious. I have a decent sense of humor it’s more situational than it is a world view.

Still, my brother wanted to do conventional paintings and he did some. I felt his imagination kind of died in that kind of work, but he was hoping to sell them for big bucks.

That led my grandma to say that which was never to be spoken, “Kirk’s a cartoonist. I think Martha Ann is the fine artist in the family.”

My mother’s face paled. Kirk’s reddened. I was pleased, but I looked down at the ground. The taboo had been broken.

Between us it was really not about whose art was better. I helped my brother paint cells for the animated cartoon and he taught me to make paper and sharpen my linoleum carving tools. Really that’s the point. I painted this rock so that Leafy could wander around Colorado Springs (where my brother lived most of the time).

 

He'll wander around Colorado Springs on this painted rock. :)

Leafy Wanders, my brother’s cartoon alter-ego.

 

https://dailypost.wordpress.com/prompts/visceral/

Shade or Sun?

For the last few weeks, weird guys have been walking up and down my street. Living in a small town you know who does and doesn’t belong on your sidewalk, and these guys don’t. We have neighborhood watch and I told my neighborhood captains that something’s fishy, that I think someone is selling drugs to the west of me. And the drugs they’re selling — as this is Colorado — are not pot.

So on our walk last evening, Bear and I met up with one of the Neighborhood Watch Captains who told me he’d talked to one of the scuzzy looking characters and told him he should take another route.

I said, “That’s fine. It’s his addiction.” This led to a conversation about addiction. Those lead to sad personal stories. Luckily his wife came outside and interrupted us.

I’m an addict, but not the kind that anyone would say, “Oh, she’s an addict.” I’m addicted to addicts. I grew up with an addict and my brother was an addict and my grandfather — my dad’s dad — was an addict. There is a network in addiction and everyone in the family has a role to play.

My role is the role of “good kid” and what I do is make life easy for the addict. It makes me INCREDIBLY HAPPY to do this. I think my dad might have had that role in his family, too, because his sister became an addict, but not his mom. I think my dad may have had the job of defusing my grandfather’s drunken rages and taking care of his mother.

In this role the person gets good feelings from enabling. We are every con artist’s dream, we are the ultimate patsy. It’s very hard to explain this, but my therapist said it, “It feels like home. You feel comfortable around those people.”

I am afraid I fell into the trap yesterday. A normal person would hire a handyman based on recommendations, look for his license, all the concrete things that show “this is a guy to be trusted.” I didn’t do that. I hired him based on price, the fact that we ‘hit it off’ (somewhat important since he’ll be in my space for a while) and something else I cannot define.

Yesterday when he came with the contract, there were red flags that I didn’t notice right away. He talked openly about previous drug use, told me about his family, his hopes for the future and none of this brought up any red flags — but it should have. The contract was a boiler-plate contract from the internet which, again, should have seemed strange but didn’t. It didn’t spell out the work he is going to do and the costs involved. I didn’t pick up on that at the time, either.

Later in the evening, something gnawed at me, “Check out the Facebook page you hired him from” and I did. I looked at his recommendations — ONE, clearly fake leading to a fake page with photos of the kid he’d brought along as his assistant. The kid was cleaned up and “Christianized,” but it was him. I thought, “Shady.”

At three in the morning, though, I woke up fearing I’d been played — again. All the things I should have looked for and didn’t went through my mind. I saw the pattern and I saw that there’s probably no way in the world that I will ever fully escape it. Now I have to deal with this.

He has a small deposit. He’s supposed to show up Monday morning. If he does show up when he says he will, then…the other side of it is MAYBE HE’S TELLING ME THE TRUTH and he is a young dad trying to start a life in a new state. That’s the other side of this. Knowing what I know about myself I find it very, very, very hard to trust my own judgment.

There’s also the fact that back when I lived in “the hood” and was really poor, if I needed home repairs, I pretty much hired any itinerant workman who showed up at my door. It always worked out.

https://dailypost.wordpress.com/prompts/paragon/

Mother’s Day

Red roses for all of us whose mother was not the haven of nurturing and unconditional love mothers are purported to be. These are for those of us who were our mother’s mother, those of us who had mean mothers and uncaring mothers and mothers who were substance abusers and mothers who found themselves shackled to a destiny that was too much for them. These are for the kids whose mothers don’t/didn’t like them much. These are for those who never knew their mother, even when they lived with their mom for years and years and years.

Red roses for us for loving our moms anyway and being here now, pretty decent people. Maybe we raised our own kids and have done a good job because we truly know what that is. Red roses for having forgiven our moms because we wonder, in all humility, what we would have done differently if we’d been them, standing in their shoes.

DSC_0248.JPG

The pink roses are for the all the adult women who stepped up and filled the gap for us, teachers, aunts, neighbors, sisters — who might have inspired us to step in a time or two ourselves.

****

And here’s a nice angry Eminem song with lots of profanity in it, but IF you can relate you might enjoy it. I do. It’s more my brother’s story than mine, but still…

 

 

 

Not My Thing

Daily Prompt Green-Eyed Monster Tell us about the last time you were really, truly jealous of someone. Did you act on it? Did it hurt your relationship? 

Envy or jealousy? There is a difference. I’ve felt envy often. When that shows up I look at it and try to figure out why, as in the case of the New Age maker of bad art at the co-op. I envied her that her work sold and mine hadn’t. I wouldn’t want to be her or paint like her. I thought about that, and I saw I could paint that kind of thing, too, but I didn’t want to. End of story.

I haven’t felt jealousy in a long long long time. It’s human nature, but it’s a trait I didn’t like much, and when I saw the power with which it overcame much of my mom’s personality, I wanted nothing to do with it.

My mom was jealous of the relationship I had with my dad. To write about it here would put a dark cast on a hopeful Saturday so I won’t. Just suffice it to say one of the last things she said to me was, “I slept with your father; you didn’t.”

Good god.

https://dailypost.wordpress.com/dp_prompt/green-eyed-monster/

Family Schamily

Daily Prompt Delayed Contact How would you get along with your sibling(s), parent(s), or any other person you’ve known for a long time — if you only met them for the first time today?

I’m going to accidentally meet one of my family members for the first time today? That kind of makes me want to stay home!

I think, in real life, we do meet our parents and siblings over and over for the first time then we marry some of them and we form friendships with others. I think many of us fall into relationships with people very like our parents and siblings, unconsciously working out unresolved questions and relationship conundrums. In fact, I think it’s inescapable.

I’ve had male and female friends who were very like my mom; charming, insecure, competitive, manipulative and physically violent. I’ve tried to rescue people, unconscious that I was involved in a rescue, unaware of how much they were like my brother — I even tried living with one whose dependency on me and expectations that I would care for him were just like my brother’s. The important thing is that it took me THREE YEARS to figure it out. He was as adept at creating a believable false reality (con job) as my mother had been!

My wonderful French therapist said long ago (by way of explaining this) that we all look for love and we “find” it in that which makes us feel comfortable, what is familiar, known. For some people, the “familiar” (like family) is not that great.  It would be a lot more interesting if we could actually meet and form relationships with people who are NOT like people we know already. In my case, that’s proven nearly impossible.

I wrote to this prompt last year on the VERY DAY I drove away from San Diego. 🙂 I wrote about a friend who’d proved not to be, really, much of a friend. He was, in fact, one of those people with whom I’d become involved who was unavailable. That has been a common motif in my life — reaching for the person who offers me a little something but, you know, not much, similar to the little something I got from my mom and my brother. Mostly it was nothing, but on rare occasions, it was wonderful.

I think everyone sooner or later has to “get over” their family. At the same time, no one probably ever succeeds completely at that. There’s more involved than simple (ha ha ha) environment. There is genetics. One of the strangest things is how much my niece, who never really knew my mother and was not raised anywhere NEAR my family, has grown up to share many of my mom’s traits — some of the good ones, some of the bad ones.

https://dailypost.wordpress.com/dp_prompt/delayed-contact/

Tyger

Daily Prompt Fearful Symmetry Pick a letter, any letter. Now, write a story, poem, or post in which every line starts with that letter.

William Blake wrote a poem about tygers. In that poem he described tygers as having a “fearful symmetry.” Knowing the poem is about a tyger, a reader can see, in just that description, the movement and beauty of a tyger about to attack.

More than once I’ve been described as a tyger. The first time was my therapist, a great French woman I started seeing for help dealing with the guilt and fear I felt when I realized I had to cut off contact with my brother. I had a list of therapists given me by the insurance company. I called the closest four, two returned my calls. One of them had a French accent. I was immersed in French films at the time so I picked her. There was something in the films that “fit” me and I decided anyone from a culture that produced those movies might be good for me. She was. It just so happened that her area of expertise was helping the families of addicts. That first day, after listening to me, she said, “Ze alcohol is ze worst, Maretha. Heroin? Yes, it is a bad sing, but ze heroin addict dies quickly. Wis ze alcohol ze person can live a long time and ruin more people’s lives before zey die.”

French. Worked for me. The same dark thread of truth that ran through the films.

On my first visit she gave me homework. I was supposed to “be nice” to myself. I went home determined to do that or else… 😉 So… I took myself shopping. I didn’t know where to start with this, so that’s what I did. Never mind I don’t like shopping. I decided to buy something nice for myself. As I walked across the parking lot to Macy’s in Mission Valley I thought, “This isn’t easy.”

Other things I was supposed to do to be nice to myself included forgiving myself for the choice I’d made to stop talking to my brother until he decided to stop drinking. My brother was an incorrigible drunk, and I had been working an extra job to put him through rehab (for the third time). He’d gone through rehab and had been given housing as long as he remained sober. I’d learned that he’d leapt eagerly “off the wagon” and was again going to be homeless. I didn’t think I could handle this whole thing again. I was exhausted, demoralized and felt like a failure. Every time I picked up the phone and heard my brother’s voice, I felt an abyss open inside me. “I need money.” I’d finally reached a point where I couldn’t do it any more, but I didn’t know what else to do. Support and advice from people who loved me convinced me to cut him off. “Call me when you’ve stopped drinking, OK?” I said and hung up. I cried for hours afterward.

That’s why I was in therapy. I wanted to kill myself. Actually “want” is too strong a word. I was afraid I would kill myself. I didn’t want to. There were just times when the guilt and fear for my brother were so strong they were nearly unbearable.

“Did you do your homework?”

“Yes.”

“How were you good to yourself?”

“I took myself shopping.”

“Did you buy yourself something.”

“Cologne.”

“Good. When you smell it, you should sink, ‘zis is ze smell of my freedom’.”

Wow. I got homework after our second session. I had to learn not to punish myself for letting down people who were not even there, my mom, my brother.

“Ze super-ego is very strong in you, Maretha.”

“What’s that? I never studied psychology.”

“It is ze parent. Ze voice zat says ‘Maretha, you should do zis, you should do zat, you aren’t good enough’.”

“Oh.”

“Ze super-ego is a good sing, too, but it is not everysing. Zere is a little girl inside you, too. Were you ever a little girl? I sink not so much. You had a big job to do in your family. You had to care for your parents. Your dad, he was sick. Your muzzer, I sink she was an alcoholic, no?”

I started to cry. France handed me a tissue.

“It is normal. You can see how that little girl had a job too big for her. How can a little girl do zat job? But you needed a family, you were dependent, you needed zem, so you did what you could to keep zem functioning. You could not succeed. You see yourself as a failure, but what you are is a survivor.”

“Wow,” I said. “I never saw that.”

“No. We cannot see so well in ze middle of sings.”

“What’s my homework this week?”

“I don’t have to give you homework any more,” said France. ‘You are figuring zat out for yourself. Ze fact is, Maretha, you are a tyger. You see what you need and you go after it. Nussing can stop you. You are very fierce, actually a little scary.”

“Is it a bad thing?”

“No. Tygers, zey are beautiful. If you were not a tyger, you would not be here now. I sink only a tyger could survive your childhood.”

A tyger? Her explanation gave me so much to think about. I left and persisted in trying to be nice to myself. It helped to remind myself that it was impossible for me to save my brother from what he had chosen to do with his life. His life was his job, not mine. I gave myself the homework to understand that he had the right to make his choices, even bad choices, even sad ones. He had the right to make choices that would take him away from me. As France’ words penetrated more deeply into my mind, I began to see the entire dynamic of my family in a new way. Yes. I’d always been determined to be “normal” and to function and to survive. I’d fought back. I also saw that was why I was sober and had held my life together.

Later that day I reread Blake’s poem and saw how Blake’s tyger was formed in fire of hard elements, of darkness and night’s pinpoints of light. Roar.

The Tyger, written and illustrated by William Blake

A really good song and an even better (cuter) video. You’ll enjoy it! I promise!

https://dailypost.wordpress.com/dp_prompt/fearful-symmetry/

Day of Unusual Happenings

Daily Prompt Cousin It We all have that one eccentric relative who always says and does the strangest things. In your family, who’s that person, and what is it that earned him/her that reputation?

“Ha, ha, ha, ha. Oh man. Whew. Dude, let me borrow your handkerchief.”
“Lamont, what’s so funny?”
“Look at that dumbass prompt.”
“Yeah.”
“I suspect that I am (in the eyes of my family) ‘Cousin It’.”
“Why do you think so?”
“Oh, sometimes they let things out, you know, stuff like, “In spite of everything, you’ve done all right for yourself, haven’t you, Lamont,” like they’re surprised. ”
“Well, you haven’t really followed the, you know, beaten path.”
“I tried.”
“I know. It’s just not in you.”
“No. I guess not.”
“Well, you’re OK. I mean you found a nice OLD place to live IN THE FRIGID NAVEL OF AMERICA, down here in the MIDDLE OF NO WHERE where you don’t  know anyone, living with a bunch of OLD DOGS and no TV or HUSBAND. Back in the 90s you…”
“Dude, we KEEP the laundry IN the laundry basket, right?”
“I guess, Lamont, no one else in your family would’ve made the choices you’ve made.”
“They all made their own bizarre choices.”
“No argument there.”
“Fact is, Charles Addams and I have the same birthday. We share it with William Peter Blatty. In a book I read that gave information about each birthdate, mine — ours — was headlined ‘Day of Unusual Happenings’. When it comes down to it, in the Greek Orthodox Church, Christ was born on that day, too. What could I hope for entering the world on the same day as those guys? Well as my friend Pietro used to say, ‘Tutti famiglie pazzi’.”
“Giusto.”*

*”All families (are) crazy.”
“True
.”

http://dailypost.wordpress.com/dp_prompt/cousin-it/