family

New Year’s Eve

So here I am, approaching a new year chowing down cough drops and reading a book.  Not that I have any complaints, I outgrew the “let’s begin the new year shitfaced” a few years ago, but it’s low-brow enough to be a high-brow thing going on here.
I spent the last two days of my Christmas vacation sick at my mother’s and the first hour of my return home silently crying in the backseat of a car, wishing I could be sick at mama’s house again.
Not often do we get to have our mother’s take care of us and pity us when we’re sick once we’re grown and moved out, so I sort of basked in it… I have to admit.
I bought a new journal during my trip home which is always exciting for me.  It’s like a fresh start, however, it always ends up filled with the same crap at the end of it’s lifespan.
At some point, even our pleasures become cycles – dull patterns of our life that we get stuck turning in.  Not to sound pessimistic, I’m certainly not viewing it all that way, but there is a sad truth to it that can’t be ignored.  I’m not really the free-spirit type, more of a silent, creative-type that moves along in the background and freezes up when any of the last shines close.  I shy away from any recognizable credit but still beg for it.  I’m still not entirely sure if that’s an insecurity or just a personality trait.

I don’t even really know what I’m talking about, I picked up a computer to write and crap came out.  It happens.  I just figure writing is the important part.

Random Childhood Memories #1 (of about 10,000)

My Uncle Willie was the best storyteller I’ve ever known.  He was nothing more than an alcoholic country boy with Jesus in his back pocket, but when he  started in on his stories, there was no tearing yourself away.   The best memories of growing up are of the summers spent at the lake house with my uncle and my grandmother in the little town of Cisco, TX.
I was the “caboose” of all the grandchildren (as my grandmother always called me), and wherever my uncle and grandma were, I could be found. I have no doubt some would look those summers and shake their heads at the things I was exposed to, but the bonds of love and family were never stronger than those days at the lake house.
Perhaps it was the magnitude of their personalities, but even in my earliest memories, I recall preferring the company of my grandmother and her siblings over kids my own age, even to my cousins.

I owe any sense of adventure I have to my Uncle.  Not because he was particularly adventurous or even a daring sort of man, but because he always had a story to tell and no matter how dull it might have been in real life, he added just the right amount of garnish and you could visualize every moment in a sort of glittery shimmer.

His best known tale was the story of “The Old Man”, a sort-of swamp creature with one, big, yellow eye above his nose that lived at the bottom of the lake and ate raw fish and only talked to Uncle Willie. Any fish or animal bones found near the shore were just the remains of the Old Man’s meals. Nights when the coyotes were silent were nights you stayed inside because the silence meant he was roaming around looking for something to eat.
If you did go outside, you didn’t dare go without Uncle Willie because the Old Man wasn’t only ugly, he was mean and wouldn’t hesitate to make a meal out of you.

In the mornings, my uncle and grandmother would sit on the screened-in porch drinking their coffee and smoking cigarettes until everyone else woke up.  I was usually the first awake and I’d sit with them at the table and listen to whatever memories they were suddenly struck by.
Nearly every morning at the lake house, my uncle would tell me I fell asleep right before the Old Man came to visit him.
He’d brief me on their conversation and said he’d told the Old Man I was back (or still) in town. He always said he’d introduce me to the him one day and thought the Old Man might like me, but he probably wouldn’t like anyone else.  So, every night I’d sit up waiting to meet him with my uncle and grandma on the porch, listening to them talk until I eventually fell asleep.

Somewhere in the early 90’s Uncle Cliff married in the family through my aunt (my mom’s sister).  Cliff is 6’7 and 400 pounds of stupid but also 400 pounds of heart.  The first 10 or so years, my grandmother wasn’t very fond of him (she preferred my aunt’s ex-husband) and being blood, that meant Uncle Willie didn’t much care for him either.
Cliff was extremely gullible which made him the butt-end of countless jokes when he dared go to the lake house with the rest of the family.  Maybe he was too stupid to realize they were picking on him, but either way, he was always good sport about it.
Even in my single-digit years, I had my doubts about the existence of the Old Man but at 35, it wasn’t hard to make Cliff scared of the water.  I’m not sure he actually believed Uncle Willie, but he was still uncomfortable being out alone in the dark, nonetheless.

However it came about, one night he was dared to sleep on the fishing dock alone.  He talked big, but somehow my aunt ended up with sleeping bags on the dock with him.
At some point in the middle of the night, Cliff came bounding up to the house from the dock soaking wet, swearing the old man was after him.  To this day, no one is sure who scared him, but his delinquent stepsons weren’t his biggest fans.
Family legend has it that he couldn’t shut his eyes at all that night and heard branches cracking and something moving in the water.  In attempting to try to wake my aunt up, he swore someone grabbed his arm which scared him absolutely shitless, causing him to roll over and fall off of the dock and into the lake.  My aunt laughed at him that night and she still laughs at him this day.
Cliff has been dubbed the “titty-baby” of the family since that night.

Even when I was older and saw less and less of Uncle Willie, when I did see him, he’d always ask if I’d seen the Old Man lately.  For whatever reason, I always envisioned sitting at a picnic table under a tree by the lake house (even though there was no picnic table) and eating burgers with him and my uncle in the dark.  I remember thinking I wouldn’t act like I was afraid of him even if I was, espeically if Uncle Willie was with me.
Every time I watch To Kill a Mockingbird and Scout sees Boo Radley behind the door, I always think of the Old Man.  He is my Boo Radley, I just never stayed up late enough to meet him.  Uncle Willie died about 10 years ago and as I’ve gotten older and feel the sting of things I can never have again, I think the largest hole is reserved for summers spent in that shitty shack of a lake house in Cisco.

Family Time

We all have that side of the family.   For me, it’s my mother’s side of the family.  Rural Texas folks just trying to make a dishonest living.   Just to give you a peek at the level of dysfunction in which I grew up; my aunt and uncle are con artists, and bad ones at that.  My cousin is a meth addict that’s been in and out of jail for the past 4-5 years.  She has six kids between three different men and in court, stood up and said her first son belonged to her stepfather, to which he jumped up and yelled “Ya’ll take my blood, ya’ll take it right now!” which resulted in her being charged with perjury.  A few years ago, she gave up custody of her children to pursue a dream of theft and meth addiction.
Mary-Elizabeth-Hillis-Brown-mugshot-23059512.400x800This is my favorite mugshot (she has more than one). She is currently serving a short sentence in jail.

Trust me when I saw that this is only the tip of the tip of the iceberg.  The majority of my mother’s family remained in small towns or little “big towns” that don’t really provide people with successful opportunities.
A lot of people will argue that it’s up to a person to decide, but anyone who knows anything about small towns knows that they’re black holes.  How my mother escaped, I will never know, but each time I see my family (who I do love very much), I am extremely grateful for the choices she made.

That being said, I’d like to tell you about my cousin David.  David is my grandmother’s nephew.   He is the youngest of three children – only one of which turned out normal.  David is ginger as fuck.  The last time I saw him was at my grandmother’s funeral a year and a half ago, his teeth were black and his hair showed signs of whitening at the sides.  I didn’t talk to him that long, but the first thing that came to my mind was the time he kidnapped himself.

Yep, you read that right.  He kidnapped himself.  I was talking to my mother the other day and we were talking about how incredibly fucked-up our family is and I brought up David.
I was always under the impression that he did it because he was broke, but it turns out I was wrong.

The story is; one day he disappeared no phone call, no note – nothing.  A couple of days later, someone received a ransom note (either his parents or his boss) asking for x amount or he was going to die.   However it came about, the receiver threw the note away knowing that it was David.

Getting no response from the first note, he wrote a second one.  Finally, I guess he gave up and turned up a few days later saying he chewed his way through ropes and broke free.  Even took the liberty of bruising himself up for effect.  It was shortly after that that he was turned over to the state hospital.
Again, I always thought it was because he was broke, but after talking to my mother, I learned that it was because he didn’t want to go to work.

I have spent quite a bit of time thinking of ways to get out of work, but I can’t even fathom how kidnapping could even makes it way to a list of options.  Granted, he’s bat shit crazy, but “kidnapping” yourself to get out of work is an entire realm of fuckedness that I can’t comprehend.
Even worse that that shit runs in my family, leaving me open to a world of possible mental-illnesses.  However, when I saw him at the funeral, he seemed pretty normal.  But that shit doesn’t just go away, oh no, it’s the herpes of the mind, and I am more than ready for the next flareup.

Unfortunately, I’m not ashamed of how trashy my family is.  I’m so completely entertained by it that I feel it’s 100%  necessary to tell anyone who will listen and it generally opens doors for sharing.
My favorite documentary is The Wild and Wonderful Whites of West Virginia because it  reminds me so much of my family.  I made my mother swear to watch it and after she did, she said the exact same thing.  While only a few family members have developed drug addictions, at least 75% of them are plagued with mental illnesses that stretch out beautifully over decades of rural country life.  And there is little I’m more proud of than having a front row seat to the best shit show around.

2013, ain’t it a beaut?

Today, I filled out my FAFSA application for Financial Aid.  Today, I also decided I should really start working on that whole “aspiring alcoholic” thing.  This was before the FAFSA business.  So now, in a tingly, merry state of mind, I can hold my head up.  Should I be ashamed?  Probably.  Am I?  No, not really.  I figure, I’m a failure in every other aspect of life, why not give my nagging blood the thing it craves and succumb to my heredity?   My family is full of failed dreams and alcoholism.  And hey, at least I’ll really have something to write about, right?
I already make myself miserable by trapping any happiness in thoughts of doubts and insecurities, so why not weaken such a cruel structure with some liquor?  Hell, at least then I’ll have an excuse other than sheer laziness for my lack of accomplishments.  And my family will look at these days, here, as the days when I really could have been something.
It’s like giving in to my destiny.
You see, after my grandmother died (the smoking alcoholic she was — to give you an idea), my mother found a pack of cigarettes and a bottle of whiskey hidden in a drawer in the kitchen.   My grandmother, Nanny, fought cancer for about 11 years and claimed she’d quit drinking after her first visit to the hospital in those 11 years prior to her death.  She battled with smoking and had weened herself to the point of being able to not smoke in front of other people, but we all knew she still smoked.  I told my mother to let Nanny live her life in a way that was comfortable for her, but my mother nagged her about it anyway because well, daughters need mothers.  The same cravings course through my mother that course through me, and we both inherited our “desires” from  my grandmother and grandfather.   My  mother had successfully fought off the demons until she lost both parents last year and now she spends her weekends in a drunken stupor from wine.  Last week, I flew home for Christmas and stayed 7 days, 5 of which were spent drunk with my mother.  How wonderful it felt to rest in the bottoms of bottles 1,700 miles away from my problems.
And now, with flushed cheeks that greet saddened cheekbones, I have continued my grandmother’s legacy.  Only, she was brave and stubborn and confident and she died living up to  the bold letters of her name.
Sure, she was sad but I’ve come to accept that we’re all sad, we’re also all happy.  We’re a mess of every emotion tangled in to a single, conscious vessel, obligated to ignoring certain things because, well, we have to if we want to be happy.  I simply have problems with putting on my blinders.  It’s not a bad thing, necessarily, but it takes it’s toll.  And tonight, I drink to all of those thoughts and problems and to my grandmother who was certainly brave, honest and genuine until the day she died.
I’ll get through my problems but it will never be below me to drink some of them away.

Going Solo

I’ve read plenty of books and blogs and quotes and poems.  Every writer will mention a calm that takes place/took place at some point in their life.  Today, I knew exactly what they meant.  Every previous form of calmness was blinded by the ora of pure, white kindness I felt today.  It bleached out everything that has been troubling my mind and I can truly think of no word to describe it, because I’ve never experienced anything like it before.
I felt it at 5:45 this morning.  I was waiting on my bus and asked myself:

Why are you so calm right now?  Your truck is gone, you take the bus to work, your relationship is hanging on by a thread, you’re in debt and you haven’t bettered your education in any way.  You’ll be 27 in a month and you haven’t worked in any way towards the career you really want.  You’re best friend won’t talk to you, you moved away from all of the others and no one in your immediate presence appreciates you or values your company the way the friends you left did [this does not include you, Cassie, if you read this].  But you’re still smiling and hopeful.  Most people would have quit at this point.  Why are waiting for this bus right now?  What is the purpose of continuing this?

The truth is, I didn’t really have a good answer.  But, somehow, I know that without a doubt, I’ll be just fine.  Not because I’m special or talented in any specific way but because the changes that have taken place recently, the inner-struggles that I have fought my entire life — they are all, suddenly, becoming clear.   I’m no longer troubled by the person I’m not, but inspired by the person I’m capable of becoming.  I have something to work towards.  And it’s not that I expect it to be easy, I know it’s going to be quite the opposite.  I know I will find myself on the floor curled up plenty of more times in my life.

But I’m not going to be that person any more than I’m going to be the person that inspires me.  I will probably always balance between the two.  I am a perfect whole.  And with everything I’ve lost and the miles and miles that stretch ahead of me; I’m seeing it for the first time, very clearly, as a clean slate. We can take nothing with us forever in life any more than we can take the things we cherish in to death.  I’ve spent my entire life clinging to my friendships and my relationships because I thought they were all I had.  It’s wonderful to value your friends and family —  to be there for them and to go to them when you need them most.  But it’s entirely different when you define yourself through your friendships and your relationships.  And that’s all I’ve ever done.  I’ve always tapped my foot to my own rhythm but I’ve never attempted to do it solo.  I’ve always needed the backing vocals and other instruments to harmonize with.
For the first time in my 26 years, I have no reflective surfaces in my life.  No one to mirror myself against and say: You’re a good person, look at the wonderful friends you have and all they do for you.  No one to reassure me (aside from my mother) or remind me of the wonderful things I am (aside from my mother).

And while I thought it meant I’d be a shitty person if I lost any of the people who comforted me in that fashion, it didn’t happen that way.  I was simply flooded with the reality that that’s life sometimes.   I could win the lottery and give it all to charity but that doesn’t mean there aren’t others still suffering.   In actuality, my dependency on the friendships I’ve lost cheapened the value of every kind gesture I made.  This doesn’t make me feel like a bad person though, the only person I feel like is the one growing in to someone that can handle the pains and still keep their head up.  The person that sees the changes they need to make and works towards changing them.  The person who’s had their heartbroken more than once but still believes in romance and love.   The person who can take a shitty situation and pull something positive from it.  The person, who despite every setback, still believes they are capable of wonderful things.

This isn’t an easy person to be, and knowing that comforts me because of all the things that are wrong in my life, I must have done something right if I still have this much confidence in my character.