The Male Sibling Unit and the holidays, or better: It’s beginning to look a lot like F*** this.

The Male Sibling Unit is in a tizzy of sorts.

With the holidays nearly upon us, he is trying to sort out his complicated social calendar. So many parties to attend! So many outfits to plan! He is truly a social butterfly, very happy to be the center of attention in his own mind, but not quite as socially dynamic as he envisions himself to be. Oh, I am sure that in his head, he is John Travolta a la Saturday Night Fever on the dance floor, but truth be told, he resembles Ed Grimley from Saturday Night Live in both movement and personality. “Awkward” was a word invented for him by some ancient, visionary, psychic person who said, “You know? I’ll bet there’s going to be someone in the future who embodies this word.”

 

The thing about The Male Sibling Unit is that he likes to talk about these upcoming events. A lot. Every day. Months before they actually happen. Hell, months before he actually knows the date of said events. In the past, I would just try to handle the incessant chatter, because I am not the kind of person who dwells on the things that are going to happen in the future until they are nearly upon us. I’m not a procrastinator as such, but I just prefer to concentrate on the here and now instead of thinking about something that’s not happening for 3, 6, 9 months. Eventually, I would explode with frustration at his tendency to dwell on the next Christmas party at work the day after the last one.¬†I am acutely aware of such outbursts of irritation toward him because that’s how our mother chose to handle him in nearly every possible conversation she had with him. I am not kidding. Back in the days when I was married to my biggest mistake and we had bought our first house next door to her, I would rise at 6am to get my kids going for the day and hear her screaming at him. Yes, through the walls of two houses in the winter, and of course, through an open window in the summer, which is more understandable. Our houses were perhaps 6 feet apart, which isn’t much, and our kitchens were side-by-side. I’m not trying to explain how I was able to hear her. I am explaining that she was screaming at him at 6am. I know, I know…..don’t bother someone before they’ve had their coffee. I am such a person, but I don’t scream or rip faces off. I am more likely to stumble about, blind, muttering incoherent bits of sentences, and groping for my Xanax if I have woken in the throes of a panic attack. (It happens. A lot.)

But our mother? Would. Rip. Your. Face. Off. Simple questions from The Male Sibling Unit like, “Should I wear a sweatshirt today?” or statements like “We are almost out of milk” would elicit banshee-like shrieks of fury only heard in the best, most terrifying horror films. One morning, one of my kids – I don’t remember which one – asked me, “Why is Grandma so mean to Uncle Charlie?” My answer was probably something along the lines of “She hasn’t had her coffee” or maybe even “Because she’s a bitch” if I was feeling particularly hostile toward her on that day. The truth is, I was used to it. She did it to me, too, but I was intellectually savvy enough to learn, very young, that you just didn’t engage her in the morning.¬†¬†(Or any other time.) The Male Sibling Unit, he of a less advanced intellectual capacity, didn’t grasp this, and still hasn’t, and she’s 5 years dead and gone. Somewhere, in the back of his mind, I imagine he expects her to pop out of a room one day, bellowing at him. Death has little meaning to him.

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An actual illustration of our mother before coffee. And after.

The point is, I try, very hard, to never explode at him. I am not her. Sometimes, it’s hard. Sometimes, I am pushed beyond my limits. But I have tried to come up with simple rules he needs to follow about these things, because he is very regimented when it comes to following most rules. Even better, if you make him charts, he will follow them religiously. Now, I have a hard and fast rule that, if it is not happening in the actual month we are in, we don’t talk about it. It works. Most of the time. He is, lately, very verbal and OCD about the things he does every day. He will chant to himself his tasks or responsibilities and actions for the day, in order. If I have’t got my Mom filter on (the one that only hears the shit we absolutely need to hear in case someone is in danger of hurting themselves or someone else, or truly in some sort of jeopardy….if you’re a mom, you know exactly what Superpower I am talking about) I will hear him and call him Rain Man in a joking sort of way.

Anyway, we are in the midst of furtive mutterings about parties and gifts when he thinks I am not listening. I hear him, though, and when he slips up and starts making his vocal lists about each event and who’s going and what they will eat and how much he will dance and then on to the next event, I have to modulate my voice to stifle the rising tide of exasperation and remind him that we have rules.¬†Thanksgiving? We can talk about that. Christmas, though? Please. No. It’s bad enough that the TV commercials started the day after Halloween and I have people on my Facebook page crowing excitedly about how they already put their tree up and have been playing Christmas music for a month and don’t even get me started on the retail world and the tinsel-covered, ornament bedazzled, Christmas vomitus blanketing every single store, every single window, every website. I just can’t do it. Not yet. I have begrudgingly begun some shopping, but that’s only because my children have procreated an astonishing number of grandchildren and it’s as daunting a task to manage their gifts as it was 20-odd years ago, with five young kids.

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The Male Sibling Unit has a girlfriend now, and that has become a major consideration when planning his holidays and his shopping. He knows he should buy her a gift, but truly, it is less about the gift than the fact that he gives her one. He really doesn’t actually care about what he should buy her, and will offer up suggestions like “a necklace?” when asked what he would like to buy her. She is older than him, and is capable of living independently, with guidance from social workers, so her needs are a bit more refined than he imagines. I have begun planning his gifts to her, and he’s perfectly cool with that as long as he gets all the credit due. When she is delighted at the scented lotions and soaps and the pretty jewelry and probably a nice coffee mug since she drinks coffee, he will take every ounce of the credit for picking out the things that thrill her so. I’m good with that, as long as we don’t have to talk about it for two weeks after Christmas. He is, however, extremely excited and concerned about what she has already purchased him and, unfortunately for me, teased him with the knowledge. He’s a 42 year-old 8 year-old, giggling and excitedly wondering out loud, “What did she get me?” I don’t know! I think I’m going to love it! I hope I do!”¬† He can’t help himself. And I don’t have the heart to quash his anticipation.

19 more days of blessed silence remain until he bursts out of his room on December 1st, chattering about Christmas and parties and food and presents and what kind of cookies are we making and most importantly, what is everyone going to think when he shows up at work every single day with his vast assortment of Christmas hats and attire on? I can feel it building, like a pressure cooker filled to the brim. He is gonna GO OFF. There is no way to avoid it.

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A pretty close rendering of The Male Sibling Unit in December.

It doesn’t have to be stressful. What you allow will happen, right? I can choose to be zen-like in my approach to his effervescent bubbling-over. I’m girding my loins. Preparing to embrace the horror.

And keeping the Xanax and wine in constant supply.

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Yes, those are both my glasses but that is not enough wine.

 

 

 

 

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Me, too.

There are rocks inside me.  Everyone has them. Stones from the past, most grown smooth with the passing of time; small, like marbles.  I carry those with me like little reminders of the battles I fought and the wounds those stones caused. The scars are small; with time, they heal and turn into silvery threads on my skin.  And then there are the big rocks. They weigh me down, burdensome with their size and  their jagged edges. They sit farther back in my psyche, lining the walls of my mind, actually becoming the walls themselves. I have subconsciously built many large and tall, impenetrable walls throughout my life. Some have come down with the help of warriors who chose to go in there and knock them down (the husband, for one, he with his armor of strength and patience to work with in order to relentlessly, slowly take down walls, stone by stone, brick by brick); some have fallen with the passing of time, leaving open pathways for feelings I was never too keen about feeling to creep through like a midnight mist in a cemetery.

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Today, a wall comes down. I am knocking it down myself, with a heavy battle ax and then when that breaks, with a sledgehammer. If the sledgehammer breaks, I’ll pull down those jagged rocks with my own two hands, and perhaps come away, bloody and torn. Am I afraid of getting hurt? Sure. But I am more afraid of holding this inside me another day. By holding it inside, I am complicit; an accessory to a crime that has overtaken this country, this world. Men in power. Sick men gripped by an illness that is vile and horrifying. Men taking what they want from those weaker than them. Men using that strength they have to overcome with fear and ripping from their victims so many precious birthrights: dignity, self-respect, safety, innocence.

This is my “me too” story. It is long, but it is necessary. It needs to be puked out onto this page, purged from my soul.

I was 14 when he began to groom me. I didn’t know what grooming was back then, but if any girl was ever ripe for the picking, it was me. I was both intelligent and na√Įve, having thus far grown up without a father figure or any man to really show me what it is like to have that kind of influence in their life. I had attempted suicide at 13 and had just finished therapy. My mother and I were at odds all the time, and she had recently gotten my grandmother to enter a nursing home after many battles. She was figuring out her own life, free of caring for an invalid , and I was a young teenager without any kind of anchor. She began a pattern of leaving me home with The Male Sibling Unit while she went to bars and hung out with new friends, wearing new clothing she defiantly announced to me that she “deserved” after years of not caring about how she looked. She and I fought, constantly, and all I ever wanted to do was escape. Music had become my life; I lost myself in rock and roll, spending every penny I made babysitting on records, 45s, and cassettes. The Walkman had yet to hit the market, but when it did, I would buy one I could afford and be lost in the stereo sounds of my headphones every moment that I wasn’t in school, watching tv, or asleep. Music is how he lured me in.

He was a teacher at the high school who had been sent to our junior high to teach a class there half-days. He was also a part-time deejay, doing school dances and working at the local radio station. In those days, there were a bunch of teachers who worked part-time at our radio station. It was a good side job, I guess. He was nothing special to look at; I thought he looked a little bit like a pudgy walrus. He was certainly old; I would find out that he was about 37. He was somewhat of a celebrity to those of us at the junior high level, because he was friendly and engaged us in discussions about our favorite music.¬† He used our slang; he was one of us. He borrowed our albums to make copies for his deejay jobs and offered to make us cassettes of different music; all we had to do was give him lists. It was all innocent enough, but there were certain ones who he seemed to pay the most attention to – all girls, now that I remember clearly – and I was his favorite. We would spend time talking, and he began to delve deeper into who I was, and what made me tick. I was flattered; no adult had ever been that interested in me, a homely, nerdy, closed-off girl with baby fat just beginning to melt off my body. I was awkward around boys and certainly around men; I had no frame of reference. You can see where this was going, can’t you? I never had a dad. He found that out, and that’s what he used to engage and reel me in. He was the perfect “father figure”.

By that summer, when I was graduating from 9th grade and getting ready to enter the high school, he extended a special invitation: I could come out to the radio station when he worked and see how things were done. I only lived a short bike ride away and as he lured me with the promise of all the different kinds of music that I could listen to out there, I was¬†all in.¬†After the first invitation, others followed. He taught me how to work the machines and to make mixed tapes of my own. It was amazing and wonderful there, because even though our radio station didn’t play 99% of the music they received as part of their programming, they seemed to have everything! The British New Wave movement was ramping up and I was lost in the sounds of Duran Duran, The Fixx, The Clash, and so many others. I was listening to rock and roll that just blew my mind; I was in a musical heaven out there. All the fights my mom and I were having; I had a haven to retreat to, and an adult to talk to who didn’t tell me that I needed to mind my mother. He even took my side sometimes! Oh, man…..it was¬†soooooooo easy¬†for him. He must have rubbed his hands together like some villain in an old movie, just exultant with the possibilities he had with a rube such as me. One afternoon, he kissed me on the cheek as I was leaving and said, “Congratulations on graduating from 9th grade.” I felt special. I felt like a dad would have done that. Not a single alert went off in my head. Not one.

As fate would have it, he had another “in” with me. His mother¬† and my mother had a mutual friend, and his mother was visiting that summer. The three women got together and my mother became friendly with her, too. They even had dinner at his house with his wife and kids. Oh yeah…..he had a wife and 2 kids. After that, I was asked to babysit for them, and I remember doing that once. The relationship was pretty solid by then, and he had gained the trust of my mother. He still took my side whenever there was a fight, though.¬†Of course he did.

I will never forget the first time. It was a Saturday, and Mom and I had just had another knock-down, drag-out fight. She was threatening to send me to my aunt’s again for a week, and I was just NOT going. I sped away on my bicycle and found myself at the radio station. In between his broadcasts, he let me vent. I cried. I raged. He calmed me down. I remember it clearly: the music on the radio was Huey Lewis and the News. And then he kissed me. On the lips. I had been kissed just a couple of times by then, by a boy I was sort of dating. I didn’t even really know what a kiss was. I froze for a moment, not sure what was going on, confused and in pain and then desperately hopeful that this was some sort of mistake, just a reaction to my teenaged angst and his way of just trying to make me feel better. I drew away from him, and he apologized and said it wasn’t what he’d meant to do. I shrugged it off, a little scared, a LOT confused, and a little dazzled. This tiny part of me, deep inside, was blossoming a little. I realized that I was a girl, becoming a woman, and¬†this man¬†saw that, somehow. At that time, I didn’t say to myself, “This is sick, this is wrong.” I had no real frame of reference for that. I had been warned, as a young child, that there were “bad men” who would “touch young girls” but this guy¬†was a teacher. Was my friend. Was friendly with my family.¬†There was no way he was a bad man. It was just impossible. I decided to let it go. It was a one-off. He’d apologized.¬†

School started, and as the early days passed, we 10th graders began to get the lay of the land at the high school. Older kids who befriended us would teach us the things we needed to know in order to navigate the huge, mysterious and deep waters we were swimming in now. We began to hear whispering about him. He was no longer teaching part-time at the junior high now; that task had been given to the next teacher in line for that job. I would see him every day, and early on, when one of my classes were changed and I needed a study hall, I was assigned to his room. That’s when the older kids¬†really¬†began their talk. “Don’t be alone with him,” they would say, “He’s a perv.” When pressed for details, we were told that he had actually been “suspended” for a year because he “touched a girl;”. The stories were lurid and endless. I was able to verify that he had been “on a sabbatical” and yes, the stories linked hands with that one occasion in my mind and I began to feel a little uneasy. Could I have been wrong? Was I that gullible? My friends and I would talk about it constantly, and in the end, we decided that if he had really done something bad, the school would have never let him come back. In those days, it was more like which teacher¬†didn’t¬†act like a perv than did. In the following years, we would all come to realize just how true that statement was. And so life went on.

One Friday night, he was working at the radio station and he called my mother. “Why don’t you and the kids come out and I will order us some pizza and we’ll just hang out? I am so bored tonight. There’s a game broadcasting.” My mother had nothing going on that evening, which was rare, and so the three of us went out. We sat and talked for a while and then he handed her some money and asked her to go get the pizza. This was in the days before delivery. She took The Male Sibling Unit because there was always a chance of him talking while the mic was open. It was growing dark; I remember standing in the big, glass doorway, watching for them to come back as he did some top-of-the-hour news. I never heard him come up behind me. He wrapped his arms around me, touching my breasts and groaning. “You don’t know how badly I have wanted to do this,” he moaned in my ear.

Fight or flight instinct. It ran through my mind at lightning speed. If I fought, I would have to explain. If I flew, where would I go out in that dark, isolated night? I did the other “f” instead: I froze. His mouth was on my neck and he was turning me around and pulling me back away from the door and I was defenseless, scared, confused. I remember thinking, “What the hell is wrong with him?” As he tried to kiss me, I suddenly regained some fight and pushed him away. “Stop!” I cried. “Don’t do that!” He looked confused and hurt and God help me, that made me feel terrible. He said, “Please, don’t worry, okay? You can’t get pregnant. I had a vasectomy.” It was as if I was up in the air, a thousand feet high, and suddenly came crashing down to earth. I backed away, suddenly angry, and shouted, “Pregnant? Are you crazy? This is so WRONG!” I ran for the bathroom and locked myself in. He waited a few minutes, then came to the door, again with the apologies, again with the insistence that he didn’t know what had come over him. Then he played his last card: if I told my mom, it would all get really ugly and we didn’t want that to happen over a stupid mistake. I knew what he was talking about; the year before, there had been a “incident” with another teacher and a student and¬†that¬†student had been run right out of the school. That teacher had the school district on his side, and the support and devotion of other students. If I said anything, I would be ostracized just like her. Silently, I came out of the bathroom. I stood at the door, waiting for my mom and brother to come back. When they did, we ate pizza, me just kind of playing with a piece and then complaining that my stomach hurt; could we please go home? When we got home, I went straight to my room and put my headphones on, wishing for nothing more than to lose myself in the music.

That whole weekend, I was troubled. When Monday came, I was still feeling confused and puzzled. What was going on? I just didn’t understand. Were the stories really true? I began to watch him, how he looked at girls, how he spoke. He was very different with me, very open and casual. Part of me felt betrayed, but this other part of me, the part he groomed? I cared for him. I wanted his support and friendship. I know now that it wasn’t like being in love with him; in no way did it ever resemble that. It was an infatuation, but not with he, himself. It was with the idea that another human being, a man who was successful and had power in some ways, found me interesting. And that, right there? That was the abuse. He abused me, plain and simple, and it was going to get worse before it got better.

Two weeks later, he sexually assaulted me with his fingers. He stood, with his back to me, held me up against a wall, and put his hand down my jeans, into my underwear.¬† This was punishment for not helping him, the night before, at a dance he was deejaying. He had told my mother that he would bring me home after; this was the only way she was letting me go – if I had a ride home. Somehow, I felt that he intended to be alone with me, despite the fact that another girl was also getting a ride home from him. It just didn’t feel right, and I was still¬† so unsure of him. I bowed out and walked home, lying to my mother that he had brought me. The next day, I knew I had to make things right with him or he would tell her, and so I rode my bike out to the station to explain. I told him I had not been feeling well, and that I was sorry, but that if he told her that I had walked home, she would ground me. Shit, you’re thinking. I played right into his hands, didn’t I?¬†I¬†would be screaming that at my 15 year-old self now, but back then, I thought I had some sort of control. It was as if all pretense flew out the window at that very moment. He knew he had me. I knew he did, too, but not in time. And so, he told me he needed something, just a very small thing, because I had¬†really let him down. Right then I knew that the stories had been true; that he wasn’t sorry for the things he had done to me before, and that this was the only way I was getting out of there. I had to let him. He pulled my hand around in front and ground his erection against it while his other hand reached behind and penetrated me; I did not know what to do. I struggled, I cried a little bit; mostly, I stood outside of myself and let him finish. I knew that if I pretended that it was okay, I could get out of there faster. When it was done, it was as if a mask had come off his face and I saw him.¬†I saw him. I left, and I was never alone with him again.

For about a year, well into 11th grade, he basically stalked me. He would call my house and talk to my mom, finding out where I was if I wasn’t home. She didn’t know better and would give him the telephone numbers to the places where I babysat. He would call me, and I would tell him to stop. He would drive by our apartment building, by the places I babysat. At Christmas after the assault, I tearfully tried to tell my mother what he had done. She was wrapped up in a relationship with a very toxic man who scared me, and I was trying to talk to her about it, and she sarcastically told me I could “go complain to________” about how I didn’t like her boyfriend. I lost it, tried to explain to her about what happened. In those days, I didn’t have the words, and couldn’t articulate exactly what had happened, to her. It just wasn’t something I could¬†say¬†to her. She got the gist, though, and blew me off. There was no way “such a good, kind man” who was “like a father to me” could ever do anything like that. I had misunderstood, she said. I was being dramatic. He was “a religious man” who didn’t see me that way.

I was completely and utterly alone. During that time, I had a couple of boyfriends who I told, although not with any detail. One was quite large and towered over him, and he confronted him in the hallway outside his room one afternoon, threatening to wring his neck if he ever came near me again. After that, the stalking, the phone calls, mostly ceased. There was an uneasy truce, with me steering clear and him not crossing any lines. 11th grade almost felt normal. Until it didn’t.

It was a Sunday night, and I was doing homework at the kitchen table. The phone rang. I answered. It was him. He was working. I don’t know why I talked to him, but maybe there was just some part of me trying to make things feel normal again. He asked what I was doing, and I explained my homework to him in a little bit of detail. I was having a problem with one aspect of it, and, like a dad, or at least like a guiding adult, he helped me to find the answer. I thanked him. Then he said, “How about coming out here and making my night exciting?” I hung up on him, my face red, my heart racing. I was angry, disappointed, and not at him. At myself, for falling for it, for being so gullible that I let him make me feel that low again, that powerless. The next day, I avoided going down the hallway where his classroom was, and ducked into other rooms if I saw him. I was in my last period class when he appeared at the door and beckoned me over. Acutely aware that my teacher was at his desk and that other kids had seen him ask me to come to the door, I had no out. I walked outside the room and stood there. “What do you want?” I asked tersely. “Why’d you hang up on me last night?” he demanded quietly. I looked him dead in the eyes. I was done. I was beyond willing to let him do this to me anymore. “I hung up on you because you cannot talk to me like that, you fucking perv!” I said, low enough to hopefully not be heard by anyone inside the room, but angrily enough to get my point across. He stepped back a little, visibly affected by my anger. “You can’t talk like that to me.” he said. “Oh, really?” I asked, sarcasm dripping from my voice. “What are you going to do? Give me detention? I bet you would just LOVE to get me alone in your room, wouldn’t you?”¬† His eyes grew wide. “Leave. Me. ALONE.” I said, and walked back into the room,. feeling both triumphant and terrified.

“Lori? Come see me a sec.” It was my teacher. He was sitting at his desk, intent on some papers in front of him. I was absolutely petrified. He had heard us. The jig was up. My life was over. I walked over to the desk. Without looking up at me, he asked quietly, “That guy bothering you?” His meaning was clear; the stories had not only been true, but he¬†knew.¬†“He-he was,” I stammered, “but I don’t think he will now.” Still not looking up at me, still writing on a piece of paper, he said, “Good. But if he does, you come to me. I will deal with him.”¬†

I was never harassed again. The phone calls stopped. The fear never totally went away, and of course, what happened to me affected how I saw men from the moment it happened. I think they’re all a little bit bad. I think they’re all capable of disgusting things. But not all are pedophiles, like him. Because that is exactly what he was, and what he is. The stories would emerge as the years passed; I would find out that he had been at this sort of thing when he was in his early 20s and had assaulted the daughter of his mother’s friend. There were other girls during and after me. One of them had a very angry dad who took matters into his own hands and avenged his assault on his daughter by beating the crap out of him. I wish I’d had a dad.

In the next five years after I graduated, there was an investigation into teachers being inappropriate with students in our school district. They were legion, these men, and it had been going on for years, and the school district had systematically covered it up. I had confided in another teacher, and she had given my name to the investigator. He drove to Oil City, where I was living with my fianc√©, expecting my first child. He took my deposition and then told me about the others. To say that we, the students, were surrounded by predators, is an apt description, and that’s all I have to say about that. The girls, the boys. We were all at risk. At one point, there was talk of charges being pressed against my teacher, and an attorney called to speak to my mother, who now knew that she had made a terrible mistake in not believing me. My fianc√© called that attorney and told him that no, I would not be testifying, that they had my deposition, and that I needed closure. I had a baby, and we had a family. He would not allow me to go through the nightmare all over again. There were threats of a subpoena, but in the end, he lost his job but left town with his pension intact.

Throughout the years, I have kept tabs on him. Why, you ask? Why not just heal? Forget the terrible things? Put him out of your mind? I would have, and could have, I guess, had it not been relayed to me that he was teaching again, in another state, at an all-girls Christian academy. To say that this distressed me was an understatement. I regretted not pointing my finger at him in court. Because he was most certainly still at it. I knew he was. He’d left, his wife at his side, to begin another cycle of sexual predatory acts upon young girls. I was wracked with guilt. When I found out he had lost that job and was back in our state, on the other side, no longer teaching, I tried to rest my mind. He wasn’t teaching. He didn’t have easy access to girls. At least there was that, right? But in this age of social media, no one is ever completely gone, and through a mutual friend, I found him again. He’s old, and time has taken its toll, but he is a beloved, Christian, upstanding figure in the community in which he resides now; a grandfather, and a pastor. Yes, he is a pastor at a church and with that, the access to youth is there again. I know him, you see. I know him. And he is most certainly thinking things, if not actually doing them. And no one is going to suspect that this grandfatherly, religious, totally cool guy is thinking about fucking their troubled 14 year-old daughter, are they? The pastor will know what to do. The¬†pastor¬†will help her find her way.

So this is my story. The wall is down. It explains a lot about me; my anger, my fears. Why I hate men, all men, just a tiny, suspicious, little bit. Why I have trust issues with everyone, for a dozen or more reasons.  Why, if my child ever came to me and said someone did something to her/him, I would utterly, completely, and totally believe them. Why it is an absolute miracle that I can have a healthy relationship with my husband. Why I feel guilty for not knowing that there was power in addressing my attacker years ago, before he could hurt others. I fear that many others came after me, not in this town, but in the other towns he escaped to. I fear that he is at it even now, even though he is old. Because there are a lot of girls just like my younger self; they exist in every town, in every corner of the world, just ripe for the picking by a piece of shit like him. The Harvey Weinsteins and Kevin Spaceys of the world exploit boys and girls like me but the lid is thrown open and the cockroaches have been exposed to the light and it is up to us to have the power to squash them underneath our boots, as we take back our dignity, our self-respect, and lose the veil of shame that has covered us for so long.

I was innocent. He stole that from me, like a thief in the night. And he does not get to keep it. I don’t need it back, but motherfucker, you don’t get to keep it. By taking it back, I regain my power. I am no longer ashamed. I am no longer a victim. I am free.

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I’ve Seen Some Things.

I try to walk every single day. Yes, it’s good for me, gets me out of the house, and gives me at least the occasional dose of natural vitamin D. As a person who now works from home, it’s important to try and force myself to interact with other humans, lest I turn into Smeagol, the nasty little hobbit-turned-Gollum in The Lord of the Rings. I can see me, peering suspiciously out of my cracked-open front door, muttering angrily, “Peoples. We don’t likes them, do we, Precious?” It could get that bad if I allow it. No matter how badly I would like to take a flame thrower to the human race on my worst days, I nevertheless gingerly immerse myself in their presence just to remind myself that I am still “one of them” and that maybe some are bearable.

When I walk, though, I am reminded that people? Well, they just ain’t right. I encounter strange objects thrown, abandoned, carelessly cast aside, everywhere I go. Let me prove this to you, because I take photos. At first, I thought this could make a really strange, interesting coffee table book, these photos; and then I just thought nah. You’ll see why.

Yes, those are men’s skivvies. I encountered them in front of a church, which led me to post them on Facebook with what I considered to be pretty good possibilities for them being there.

When you’re walking past a church and you see that a man has apparently lost his underdrawers. Could this be a new religious movement?

“Get Naked For The Lord!”

“Moon If You Love Jesus!”

“Mother Mary Says ‘Never leave home without clean underwear!’ ”

“Shake Your Willie For the Holy Trinity!”

“Nude Christian Men For God ”

“Commando For Christ!”

I’m here all week. ūüėĀūüėĀūüėĀūüėČ

Yep…..Commando For Christ won, hands-down.

Upon closer inspection, I discovered that this was, or at least had been, a plush sort of jacket. I think it may have been purple at one time, but the elements really did a number on it. Why it was just laying, discarded, on a sidewalk? I have no idea. The date I took this was September 11. Guess what? It’s still there. Way to go, City Street Department!

By now, you might be noticing a couple of trends. People in this town don’t like their underwear. They don’t like their gray underwear. They don’t like gray (looking) things in general. What’s the most natural thing to do when you don’t like something? You throw said undesirable item away!

You do not throw them out in front of a church, or in the case of this sad pair of cast-off womens’ panties, in a drugstore parking lot. There was a gray flip flop, too, but I neglected to photograph it. One. Gray. Flip flop.

I don’t know if this is better or worse. Apparently there was some sort of bondage-gone-horribly-wrong scenario with these two bungee cords. Maybe not, you say? Maybe it was just a furniture moving mishap? You’re ruining all my fun. There are scantily-clad, underwearless people running amok in this town, so obviously there must be some sick, sex slave bondage going on. Look, we just elected the first Orangutan President, so sex slave bondage with underwearless churchgoers who do their dirty stuff in the CVS parking lot is not beyond the scope, okay? And by the way? The bungee cords were ACROSS THE STREET FROM THE CHURCH. The church where the mens’ skivvies were. Conspiracy? Collusion? My mom always told me those Baptists were crazy as hell and highly suspect. Of course, we were Catholic and we all know the Catholics have nothing to brag about either, but bungee cords and discarded underwear? What do those priests wear underneath their cassocks, anyway?

This tale does have a redeeming, miraculous discovery made on one walk. This handsome man accosted me in front of the DMV, where he had been unsuccessfully lobbying for either his driver’s license, or, I suspect, a meal and a cuddle. He gratefully accepted a ride home in my arms, where he ate and drank voraciously and promptly fell asleep. I advertised him, hoping that such a beautiful boy could not have just been discarded, like those dirty, gray underwear. After two days of no response to my feelers, he told me his name (they all do; you just have to listen hard and be able to hear them) and Viscount Angus Martin became a cherished, spoiled member of our family. He IS our royalty, as befitting his name.

Walks. You see the unexpected, the dirty underbelly of the world sometimes. You see bad behavior and things that defy explanation. Usually, you return home, grateful for the ability to shut the insanity out.

And some times you encounter exactly what the Universe needs you to see.

Oh, you have OCD, huh? Well, I have ISD (Irritable Sibling Disorder).

The Male Sibling Unit has caught a cold.

This in and of itself is twice as bad as any man catching some mild virus. 99% of the male population suffers throughout mild maladies as if they are going through a severe and chronic illness. They are convinced that they have the Bubonic Plague and what’s worse than that is if they had a doting mother who took awesome care of them when they were sick little boys because now they have unrealistic expectations about how the females in their lives are supposed to treat them. Excuse me, but¬†Fuck you, all you Donna Reeds of the past. You’ve made it way more difficult for the women of modern times to manage your precious little boys. You were supposed to have our backs and teach us how to be fearless, warrior-like and strong, but you raised man-pussies who can’t handle getting the sniffles and who think they are dying when they do. They groan. They mope. They whine. They turn into 6 year-olds.¬† Was this all a part of your plan?¬† Are you passive-aggressively getting back at us for the inequalities of the past by raising your sons to think they married nurses? You’ve greatly disappointed me.

Anyway, The Male Sibling Unit is a man, but not like all men. His disabilities make him unique in the most infuriating, exasperating ways. This, of course, is not his fault; the blame lies within my impatience and inability to just deal with it. I am, by nature, not a patient person. I am, however, mindful with him and I try….oh, how I try. I’ve got a higher threshold for it than our mother did; she of the saintly demeanor with everyone who knew her except for her own children. We knew the real person, and that real person had ZERO coping skills where the Male Sibling Unit was concerned. Hell, she barely had half a nerve where¬†I¬†was concerned, and I was a pretty average kid. She moved him into assisted living when he was 21 and never looked back. He was taken OUT of assisted living nearly 20 years later, when she passed away, because I made a solemn vow to always be his protector when he was little and it was time for me to do that. I don’t regret that decision for one second but I do wish that I had a few more ounces of patience when he really gets going.

 

The Male Sibling Unit has many little OCD tendencies. He is a narcissist by nature, which again is not his fault. It’s all a part of the disability. He simply does not have an empathetic bone in his body. Everything in the world that occurs around him is met with an “How does this affect me?” attitude. If I’m sick, he worries about himself. If there’s a natural disaster in another part of the country, he will listen to the little soundbytes about travel and maybe delivery routes being interrupted and worry that the trucks won’t be able to get to us and replenish the peanut butter at the grocery store. He is¬†that self-absorbed. This can be hard to take, and some days, I’ll admit that I am not very good at letting it roll off my back. Some days, I vent on Facebook or I just lose myself in music or I piss and moan to the husband, who has a longer fuse where The Male Sibling Unit is concerned but who doesn’t have to handle his shenanigans nearly as much. See? Men. The fuckers.man-flu2

 

On an occasion when The Male Sibling Unit is sick, though, it becomes much like when a kid is sick and has a big field trip or a special occasion coming up and they are afraid that they might miss out because they are ill. They tell you constantly that they feel fine or that they feel totally better and then you take their temperature and it’s 103.6 and they are sweating and coughing their little fool heads off and you have to make them get back into bed. That’s what it is like with The Male Sibling Unit, except that there usually is no special occasion. In his case, the special occasion is LIFE. Getting up, going to work, coming home, doing his chores, getting ready for the next day, having his dinner, watching tv. Mostly in that order….except when he has social outings. Then it is way worse, because he has to fit all of that¬†and¬†his social activities into the day. Asking him to skip part of the routine is cause for distress. The OCD takes over and before you know it, he has asked 10,000 questions and wrung his hands in worry and on an occasional instance, thrown an actual tantrum. He simply cannot deviate easily.

Tomorrow, he has the day off. That’s good, because he sounds like a cross between a bullfrog and a bleating goat. He is pale, tired, and irritable. He does not like to take medication unless it has been prescribed, and he has an abnormally high tolerance to pain so it is very hard to get him to admit to any discomfort. A few years ago, he had a painful bout of shingles. I have never had them, but those who have relate a pain so awful it is truly distressing to even contemplate. This was back when he was still living apart from us, and so he didn’t bother with telling anyone that he had a terrible rash on his back and sides and stomach. One day, his house parent noticed and took him to the doctor, who diagnosed the shingles and prescribed him painkillers to go with antibiotics. It was so widespread and angry looking that the doctor felt that The Male Sibling Unit must be in agony. Except that life just¬†went on for¬†him and he went to work and did his thing. On a dreary, freezing Saturday afternoon, we were driving home from getting groceries and saw him out walking. We stopped and asked him why he was out, what with having the shingles so bad? He shrugged, said, “I’m taking a walk,” and insisted that he was not in pain. He never took one painkiller, either. This high threshold for pain can be great, but it is also equally bad. I simply have no idea when he is really sick or not. He will insist he is fine, but he won’t be. If being sick means he will have to deviate from his routines, he will lie to me and say he is fine. I really have to be hypersensitive when I hear him cough or sneeze or make an odd noise.

timthumb

Thankfully, he agreed with me easily when I asked him if his throat was sore, and he took Tylenol with no resistance. Now, though, the worries are assailing him and he is in turn assailing me with them. In a bullfrog goat voice.

“I’ll feel better tomorrow, right?”

“I’ll take a hot bath, okay? That will help.”

“Should I drink all my tea while it’s hot?”

“I hope I can go to STEPS (community center) tomorrow.”

“What if my throat is sore tomorrow?”

“What if I can’t go to STEPS? What will they say if I am not there?”

“Should I take more Tylenol?”

“Should the tea make me feel better?”

“I drank the tea and now I feel great!”

*Cough cough*  *Throat clearing*

20 minutes later, after I have popped a Xanax, wished for some rum, dug my nails into my palms, and asked him to please please PLEASE just relax in his recliner and watch some tv, I wonder why he is quiet. (Yes. It’s that Mom reaction I will never be able to set aside.) I tiptoe into his room. He is fast asleep, his mouth hanging open as he snore-honks, the tv droning quietly in the background.

Ahhhhh. Peace.

 

Requiem for a blasphemy.

I am an Atheist.

There. I said it. Okay, I wrote it. It is in print, and soon to be published, and then it will be floating out there on the internet for anyone to see.

I have not yet been struck down by a lightning bolt, because, see? I am still writing. If this does make it to published content, it will mean that I managed to avoid the Wrath of God. Which would negate my belief, or lack thereof, if The Wrath of God did strike me dead for making this pronouncement. This is a steep hill I am climbing, right? It’s confusing. Let’s move on.

When did I become an Atheist, you ask? I have to be completely honest about that and answer that I always have been. I have fronted a lifetime of lies to myself and others about what I truly believe, deep down inside, because it was necessary to do so. Call it self-preservation, or call it a journey. I don’t care at this point. It is what it is. When I was growing up, it was not popular, or even “edgy”, to refuse to believe in God, or to refuse to follow the flock into church. It would have been dangerous, even. Not only would my family have been angry, but society would have shunned me even more than it already did for being a poor, fat, homely bastard. I did what I needed to in order to navigate the murky waters of life back then.

When I was little, I feared God every bit as much as I feared The Devil. They both seemed to be filled with anger and punishing acts for those who disobeyed. We were taught that The Devil liked it when we were bad but that God would punish us. I always thought that this tactic was a double-edged sword, because if we were bad, wasn’t the threat of Eternal Damnation punishment enough? Why did we deserve to be punished by the Creator of All Things as well? I spent my childhood both cowering when I was bad and quietly gleeful when I was bad and didn’t get caught. Sure, the threat

God sees all

was always in the back of my mind, but if I did something bad and nothing came of it and life went on, well, what the hell did that prove? Either that God didn’t necessarily see all because there were too many people doing too many things, or that God was a big load of hogwash. And no, you don’t need to know the bad things I did and got away with because fuck you, that’s why. You can take your judgment and tuck it right up your pooper. You’ve been bad, too. Oh yes, you have.

But oh, the guilt. I was raised within the confines of the Roman Catholic faith. Hold your apologies, because it wasn’t all bad. The church was pretty. The stained glass, the flowers, the breathtaking statues and art, the incense; all of it was heady in the sensory overload department. I loved all of that. I loved the ritualistic way Mass was said. It pleased me. I loved the Latin and the music. It gave me peace.

That’s what I loved about religion. End of story.

I did not love the exclusiveness. I did not love the threats of peril if one did not follow the teachings of the church. I did not love the begging for money every Sunday so that the church parking lot could be replaced or that a bunch of young men I didn’t know wanted to make a pilgrimage to some Third World country to organize the natives. Most of all, I did not like how we were supposed to take the Bible seriously. Like, all that shit really happened. Give me a fucking break.

As I’ve gotten older, it has dawned on me that I have made a ton of mistakes, thought a whole lot of bad thoughts, and sinned my ass off. And yet? I am still blessed with a multitude of good things. I am blessed with wonderful people in my life. I am blessed with the ability to see all of this and to also understand that the sum of my actions add up to the cost. God didn’t figure that out for me; I did. By myself.

God has never spoken to me. Neither has the devil (although during one very specific, vivid dream, he did appear as Dave Grohl to tempt me mightily, but you nevermind about that, okay?) And I am positive that we don’t float around in Purgatory, atoning for all the little, white lies we have told. Here’s the thing: bad stuff happens. Something or someone is the cause of them. Usually, we can draw conclusions from what happens. There’s science, and logic, and pure emotion. When you use one or all of these tools at your disposal, you can almost always find the root of everything. It’s not some Eternal Being, pulling the strings. It’s, well…..it’s probably YOU.

PLEASE. Don’t tell me you’re going to pray for me. Don’t try to change my mind. I believed this a long, long time ago but it was reactions like that which kept me quiet. I’m going to go on sticking to my convictions because really, so fucking what if I am wrong? No one has ever returned to tell me that, though. Unless my lilac bush out in the front yard spontaneously bursts into flames and an ominous voice speaks from the depths of the fire, I think I’m okay, alright? You do you. I’ll keep doing me, because me is kind, and good, and caring. Me is who I want to be, and no religion can enhance that which is perfect: perfectly flawed, perfectly human, perfectly myself. In a world that has gone batshit crazy with religion and politics and outrageousness, I’m good. It’s all good.

The f***ing struggle is real.

I’m reinventing myself yet again.

No, I’m not changing the very core being that exists within. I’ve worked long and hard at perfecting her, and while she may never be everyone’s cup of tea, she is genuine and honest and capable and strong. She kicks ass and takes no prisoners when she gets involved in something. She’s street-smart, book-smart, and life-smart. She’s one awesome bitch. She’s an ever-evolving work in progress, and she will never, ever be “finished” until she is cold and dead and laying on a slab in a morgue, awaiting the flames of the crematorium oven. Even then, she will flicker and flare in the afterburner of electricity that some call ghosts and that I call after-energy. Nah, I am not reinventing¬†her.¬†I’ve grown to like her a little bit.

This time, I am reinventing what it is that I do for a living. Since the medical issues are still prescient, I have to adjust and modify. I’m fluent in more than a few vocations, but a master of none of them. This time, I am taking those that I know are marketable and that I possess some talent for and I am throwing them all together. I have taken on a job as an independent contractor for a Remote Call Center company. You bring the equipment and the skills and they place you with a client who needs you. You make your own hours and deduct your own taxes. You follow the company’s guidelines and rules and you get to operate from your home. It’s freelance work, if you will. I am being paid pretty well, and the best thing about it is that I don’t even have to leave my house. I can “show up” in my pajamas if I want, and my looks don’t matter at all. For a tatted, pierced, crazy-ass hairstyle person with a penchant for black, gothic clothing and band t-shirts and who also deplores most of the human race and craves solitude, this is a fucking¬†dream job.¬†It actually takes a lot of self-discipline to commit to something like this. The tendency to procrastinate and lay in one’s bed, bemoaning the unfairness of having to get up? You can’t do that if you’ve contracted yourself to show up and log in from your home office to provide services for callers. Not if you want to make a paycheck. So, you can be a slug, but only a partial slug. A slugling, if you will.

 

female-telemarketer-headsets-25305878This is a stock photo of me if I were 20 years younger and more professional-looking.

 

Now, I can follow rules pretty well. I don’t tend to go rogue unless it’s really justified and necessary. We don’t have to follow a script; we are simply expected to speak in a professional manner and to handle ourselves in the way in which our company can be proud. I can do this, but there’s one aspect that worries me. It worries me whenever I work, actually. It worries me whenever I am in an unfamiliar or “proper” setting or circumstance.

It’s my fucking potty mouth. It’s as bright as the entire color spectrum. It’s a plumage of decorous and audacious feathers of every brilliantly-decked bird on the planet, including the extinct ones. It’s outrageous as an 80s-inspired Halloween costume. It is brash, bold, sarcastic, murderous, and rancorous in a way that I don’t think I ever envisioned it becoming when I was but a 5 year-old child being taught Pig Latin curse words by the big kids in my neighborhood.

Me: Mommy, what’s uckfay ouyay mean?

My Mom: I don’t know. Where did you hear that?

Me: Just the kids at the playground.

My Mom: Hmmm, well, we live in an Italian neighborhood. Maybe it’s Italian. I’ll call your Aunt Rose. Her parents are “off the boat” from Italy. (Picks up the phone and dials) Hi Rose. Your goddaughter has learned some new words and I think they’re Italian. Here, Lori. Tell them to Aunt¬†Rose.

Me: Hi Aunt Rose. What’s Uckfay ouyay mean?

Aunt Rose: Well…..I don’t know what that is, but it’s not Italian. Maybe it’s German? Or Swedish? There’s lots of Swedes around here.

I swear like a trucker who’s been to prison and made someone his bitch. I swear like a sailor who’s been out to sea for 14 long months. I swear like a pirate who’s out to pillage and plunder and who drinks¬†all¬†the rum and then bemoans its absence. I swear so much that I think it probably sounds bizarre to hear me put on my professional voice and actually manage a customer or another human being with that Polly Purebread personality. I don’t apologize for it, never have, and never will. My mouth is legendary and lascivious and blunt, and I am well-known to have come up with a few curse words that no one else has ever heard of. ¬†I will likely swear on my deathbed, driving out the Padre who comes to administer the last rites. (Note to my children: Nix the Last Rites. I will not fucking need them where I’m going, which is Nowhere. And if I’m wrong and it isn’t Nowhere, don’t worry. I’ll go where I belong. I’ve earned it.)

Usually, after I become used to a workplace, I learn when I can curse, where, and who I can curse around. Swearing isn’t as verboten as it used to be. I had a coworker who refused to use the F word (but everything else was fair game) because she claimed it showed “a lack of intelligence on the part of the the person using it”. I call bullshit. Moreover, I call¬†fucking¬†bullshit. What other word is more descriptive, more elegant, more colorful, than the word FUCK? It’s a noun. It’s a verb. It’s an adjective. It’s simply fucking brilliant, fuck is, and it cannot be fucking denied. There is no fucking substitute for fuck. It just fucking rules. Anyway, I am pretty good at getting the lay of the land and being professional.

This job, though, is another kettle of fish. Since I am in my home, the rules are somewhat lax, shall we say? Hell, if my cats could talk, they’d be the sweariest cats you ever met. I’m amazed their meows don’t sound like fuck, shit, and damn (and every other word George Carlin said you can’t say on TV. He would be both gratified and upset with the colorful language you get to hear on TV nowadays. He’d have to redo that list and change his bit.) at mealtime. My coworkers and I connect to each other via Skype and some other inner-office chats. We also have email. There are quite a few who run neck-and-neck with me in the cursing department, but the thing is, I have to take them at their word. Because we are prohibited from cursing in our chats and personal emails between each other. We can say “frick” and all the other white bread words, like crap, darn, flippin’, freaking, and whatnot. Outright swearing, though? It’s off the table.

fuck

In short, I’m in uncharted fucking territory here. I have to tightly wind my shit together and be professional even when on Skype, so it’s going to be a whole lot of reigning myself in, especially when I get the inevitable douchebag tool customer who uses up my last fucking nerve. Where do I go to piss and moan? My cats? They’ve heard it all, trust me.

I think I can pull this off. It’s going to be hard. I’ve often joked with the husband about installing a speed bag in the house so that I can take out my aggression on it. I’m thinking that I will ask for one for Christmas this year. He can install it in my office, and I will not only refine my ability to act and speak in a more professional manner, but I will develop some serious fucking guns in the process.

speed

Wish me luck.

A Momorial, or let’s not do this sad stuff, okay?

My mother died five years ago. This is the anniversary date. You know, I don’t think we should group death into the anniversary category. There should be a separate category, like “endiversary” or “passing day” or “A Fucking Sad Event Occurred Day”.

I’m going to go with endiversary, because I made it up and I like it.

A few days before the endiversary, I start to feel things. Little twinges of emotion, shortness of temper, and the desire to hide myself away. Now, I suppose those in my immediate realm will exclaim, “Wait! You’re like that ALL THE TIME!” but they’re just being assholes so ignore them. Things are somehow magnified in their intensity, and I am not as up to to coping with things as I normally am. Truth be told, I am so caught up in the effort to be stoic that I am likely to crumble under the weight of such a feat.

In the five years that have followed since her death, I have gone through every conceivable stage of grief that could be possible. Hell, I think I may have discovered some new ones. I really think that I cried so many tears in just the week after that this is why I have no tears now. I simply used up my available bank of leaky, salty, eye waters and when the well went dry, I was SOL.

After the tears came the love, profound and crushing in its reality. During that phase, no one could have loved their mother more than I did. I saw only the good, the loving ways, the things she did that were phenomenal, and, in doing so, I crafted a halo to perch atop her head. It was made of silver and emeralds because those were her favorite precious metals and jewels and it was a beacon to all in Heaven that I was honoring my mother. I was beatifying her.

Of course, the halo came crashing down to earth when the next phase of grief hit me. It fell and it hit the ground and it shattered into a million little pieces, and it was not at all repairable. Her post-mortem fuck-you came in the form of an estate utterly lacking in preparedness or the funds to see things to their conclusion. In the end, she took the phrase, “You can’t take it with you” so seriously that she decided that it really meant “You can’t take it with you and you should also leave the bill for someone else to pay because what the fuck do you care? You’re dead.” I was so angry at her for many months following this discovery. Just as her admission, shortly before she died, that I had never been able to please her and that it wasn’t entirely fair….this seemed to be another piece of proof that she really had regretted having me all those years ago.

What do you call a stage like that? To this day, I still don’t know.

Eventually, I struck a sort of happy medium. It was a peaceful cohabitation of love and hate, which I suppose characterized our relationship from beginning to end. I had to give up the ghost, so to speak, and quit providing safe harbor to the demons that terrorized and taunted me, their teeth gnashing as they delighted in tearing me apart from within the confines of my troubled mind. I suppose she had her own demons to fight, too. I suppose she took them with her, silencing them forever. I suppose that she finally found her own peace. But I find that time has a way of wearing down the anger into just a slight twinge. Now, there is really only love.

It has been five years, and so much has happened that she missed. Four new great-grandchildren have been born. The thing about my mom? She adored her grandchildren. She delighted in them and then delighted in their children. We did see eye to eye about the fact that my kids are blessings.

The Male Sibling Unit has really matured and blossomed in ways that would make her proud.

And her granddaughter married the best guy in the world. I do not tell my daughter this, but I see the best parts of my mom in her. Her creativeness, her earnestness about everything she does, the gentle way she has with children. Sometimes, her eyes will light up and she will pop off, make a smart comment; and it’s my mom, as I remember her when I was a little girl. I see the mother who made me something out of nothing; a cardboard box was designed and drawn on and parts were cut and pasted and my 3 year-old self had a play car to sit in and “drive”. Play-dough was made from scratch. Paper dolls were drawn and cut out for me to dress. Every holiday was an event and every day, she found ways to engage me in learning, creating, and being myself. She might not recognize these qualities in her granddaughter as being reflections of her, but I do.

I wore a skirt with a green flower print to the wedding. I had planned on wearing a gorgeous dress I bought months ago, but I the end, I decided that my mother needed to be present in some way. She would have been so immensely proud and that she missed it makes me so genuinely sad that it makes the dull ache of missing her pale by comparison. So I wore green – her favorite color – and I imagined her sitting on the bench next to me, clutching a wad of tissues and smiling beatifically as she watched her youngest grandchild become a wife. If I believed in God, I could wax poetic about how she was “smiling down” from Heaven, but I don’t believe that. Instead, I believe her presence was felt in the whisper of winds amongst the trees and the way the sun was shining upon a bride so beautiful, it took our breath away. She was there.

She was there.

Five years is a long time to be a motherless child. I think about her in some way every single day. Her voice is still fresh in my memory. I don’t feel the need to please her anymore, nor do I have the added stress of a religious faith that indoctrinates Heaven and Hell and cows us into believing “they can see us” after death. I felt her for a long time after she died, and I think that takes time to fade away, like fog in the morning on a warm, sunny, Autumn day. She’s here, yes.

In the whispering of winds in the trees.