I think I burst a cyst yesterday. I felt kind of weird most of the day and then I had this pain that was like a menstrual cramp but in the wrong spot and there was blood, though, mostly just clear liquid, like runny egg yolks.

Then all evening my side was sore. Even this morning, it feels bruised, but in a smaller, tighter spot.

I tried to work on my museum piece for the Scene that’s due next week. It went like hell. Not hell. But heck. I’m glad to have something down on paper, even if it’s shit.

My parents called, too, in the middle of it and I think a thing I have failed to realize about this all until just yesterday, because my dad is always threatening to die like in the next four seconds, is that my dad is terrified of ending up like my grandmothers–wanting to die and not being able to. His threat to die immediately isn’t wishful thinking for a worst case scenario, as I thought. What my grandma now, what his mom before, went through is his worst case scenario.

I have mixed feelings about assisted suicide. I am terrified that the abuses of it would be monstrous. But with my whole heart, I wish that my grandma could just decide enough is enough and know she had a painless way to opt out when she felt the time had come.

I don’t think life has any meaning beyond what we’re able to cultivate for ourselves. You look at all this shit and you think it must happen FOR A REASON, but it just happens for reasons, many of them stupid.

A lot of the reasons being that we’re just fragile, ill-designed sacks of blood and puss and poop and eventually the garbage bag gives out. Everything you can do to transcend the stupidity of our fundamental human state, to make it more than just sacks of shit sloshing around being jerks to each other, is important, I think.

A Friend of Crows

I came home yesterday shaky and excited, the stain of a cherry lime-ade spreading across my “We Get What We Deserve” t-shirt. I took the dowsing rods and my mom out into the back yard, way back to where we’d buried the dog. I showed her how to hold them. I showed her how it worked–how they crossed when I crossed the dog’s grave. I asked her if she wanted to try and of course she did. And she stepped on the dog’s grave and they crossed for her.

My mom has her degree in biology. She’s trained to think things through. She knows about the ideomotor phenomenon. She just looked at me and I said, “I know, right. It makes no sense.” She wandered around the yard a little more. No further crossing. You know it can’t  be real, can’t really work, and yet, there you are.

And then a squabble of crows barked in a nearby tree and we looked up to see them harassing a hoot owl. A big one. A couple of mockingbirds were screaming at the owl, too, and a cardinal hopped from limb to limb nearby, as if eager to see a fight. The owl kept looking back at us as if to check to see whose side we were on.

My mom said, “Crows hate owls. Always have. I’m a friend of crows normally, but I don’t like to see them take after owls like this. In this situation, I’m always on the owl’s side.”

I felt the same, even though I knew I was just watching everyone who’d ever lost a relative to an owl letting the owl know how they felt about it.

We watched the argument for a good ten minutes and once the crows got bored, we went inside.

Well, Here’s the Problem

Last night, we were talking about old boyfriends of mine and the pranks my brothers used to play on them and my dad insisted that the guy who stalked me and tried to rape me and who threatened to kill me and who broke into our house and left “presents” to replace the “inferior” things I liked–like, I liked Grape Crush and he thought I should be drinking some other brand of grape pop and, well, problem solved, I still can’t quite bring myself to drink any kind of grape pop.–and who kidnapped the Butcher and and and and

My dad insisted that he was my boyfriend.

Last night.

My dad insisted this.

I couldn’t even be mad or upset. I’m not mad or upset now, though it’s possible that it’s still worming its way through a lot of callouses.

I was, in fact, kind of…relieved is not the right word. But it was a feeling akin to relief. The feeling that almost everything about my life made sense all of a sudden.

My dad saw this jackass hurting me and me suffering and assumed it was some kind of love. After all, look at his family. That’s what love looks like. My mom once told me that one of the things my aunt can’t forgive her mother for (my grandmother, who is long dead) is that when my uncle–my aunt’s and my father’s brother–was beating his wife at my grandmother’s house, my grandmother refused to call the police and told my aunt to butt out (my aunt was a teenager at the time, which, I assume is why she didn’t call the police. Say what you want about my aunt, she has transformed herself into the kind of woman who is not going to be told what to do ever again.).

The thing that is hard to explain about life, about traumatic life is that things happen to us that make us a certain shape and then we tend to search out other situations that will support that shape. If the shape of you is happy and fulfilled and respected, searching out situations that feel familiar and will keep you in that shape is not a bad thing, not a bad thing at all.

But other times, those shapes hurt you, it hurts to be kept in them. But that’s what you know, so that’s what looks right to you. Even as you might recoil from pain, you subconsciously search out situations that maintain your shape, because that’s what you know.

It’s not all just a victim’s dynamic, though. Abusers groom their victims into the shapes that satisfy the abuser’s shape.

But the thing about these patterns is that they get passed down, maybe in slightly different shapes, but still there. I have, for years, been so pissed and disappointed that my dad could not stand up for me to this huge, fucked up asshole who directly ruined four years of my life and who still, even now, even when I feel like I’ve moved far beyond it, skulks at the edges, a much less frightening phantom, but still there.

But, y’all, he could not recognize what was happening to me as something negative. He saw it as love.

Holy shit.

I don’t know if I can even be mad about that. It’s so fucked up. It’s impossible to understand as anything other than just a complete failure to engage the world as anything other than a fairytale that tells him his own life was normal, okay, and survivable without lasting damage.

I hate it for me, but, I have to tell you, I kind of can’t begrudge him needing that fairytale.

Things to Read

This is a pretty beautiful meditation on story.

Here’s an excerpt of Lindy West’s new book. On Twitter, she said her harassers are now using the photos accompanying the article to argue that she wasn’t fat as a child, but had some kind of body dysmorphia, which is unfortunate, since one of the things she’s talking about is how “fat” and “thin” are moving goal posts. So, way to get/miss the point, dumbasses.

My brother posted a picture on Facebook today of us when we were little kids with my mom, for Mother’s Day. I’m wearing a shirt over my tiny round belly that has a picture of two hogs rubbing snouts and it says “Hogs are beautiful.” This was shortly after or shortly before the first time I heard my dad complain to my mom about how fat I was. The first time I knew I should be embarrassed about my body.

My dad, being fat himself, wanted me to not be fat, in part, because he knew what the world does to fat people, especially fat women. But because my dad thinks fat, even his own, is evidence of some moral failing, and because every doctor I ever met until I was 30 believed I was lying about what I ate (thus again a moral failing) or lying about how hard I was trying to lose weight (moral failing again), no one bothered to check to see if there was anything medically wrong with me. I just, somehow, at eight, became a person in a constant state of disobedience because I couldn’t lose weight and, in fact, gained much more.

But also, at the same time, my dad had a lot of compassion for me, I think, in his own fucked up way and he wanted to give me some tools for how to survive. So, one of them was that, if people were going to call me a pig, I would learn that pigs were awesome.

I don’t remember, though, if anyone but him at that point did call me a pig, though they certainly did later. I must have liked the shirt. In the picture the Butcher posted, I think that’s my birthday. You don’t wear shirts you hate on your birthday. I don’t remember feeling it as an insult anyway.

But when I look at that picture now, I, well, I can’t look at it for very long, the idea that that is a fat girl is just so…like, dang, how little it takes, how the tiniest little deviation and the full weight of so much bullshit comes down on you.

And the idea that we should learn to love the insult so that it loses its sting… god damn, what a terrible thing to teach a person. And clearly, what a terrible thing to have been taught yourself.

Doing It Again

I remember having this realization when I was a teenager that a family is like a lake and things ripple out, replay themselves in slightly different ways, generation after generation. We’re living with the things our parent did to us and they did those things in response to the things their parents did to them who, in turn, were done poorly or weirdly by their parents.

My dad had some old home movies he found digitized and I spent some time looking through them. It was something to see my Grandpa Bob again, my dead cousin, my Grandma and Grandpa Phillips, my dead uncles.

To see me, so young and vibrant. How much time do you spend as a teenager hating yourself and wishing to be pretty? And then you see yourself from half a lifetime away, and that young girl was pretty. She moved like a poem.

I was alarmed to discover that I had forgotten what my Uncle B’s voice sounded like. In many of the movies–they’re his movies–he’s talking constantly, providing a running commentary, and I didn’t recognize it. He’s been gone so long I’ve forgotten.

Here’s what I know, though, watching those movies as an adult, coming to them with four decades’ worth of experience with people, as much as I know about my dad’s family, I don’t know anything. The siblings don’t interact like people who like each other. My grandma is cautious in a way I don’t remember her being, but it’s clear in ever minute of film, no matter from what year it’s taken.

My one uncle talks incessantly, just drones on in the background telling stories about people no one knows anything about. My dad does that now, but seeing the video has given me some sympathy for it. How strange silence or normal conversation must seem if you’re used to that constant noise? I wonder what my uncle thought would happen if he stopped talking. I wonder if he didn’t exist for himself if he wasn’t speaking.

But they’re all performing. All the siblings. Except for my uncle, when he’s filming. Then, of course, he’s watching.

And all us kids are remarkably quiet. Maybe that’s what disconcerts me most of all. The Butcher might only be six or eight. So, at any given time, there are five kids under the age of eight at any family gathering. No one’s running around. No one’s being loud. No one’s getting up to play. Everyone is so well-behaved.

All of us.

It’s not natural.

Every once in a while, my cousin A. will call me and ask why we’re not close. I think next time I’m going to send her one of these videos and ask her to watch it like it’s a video of strangers. I wonder what she’d make of it.


I have to fight with my parents today about whether I’m going to go down to Georgia for some as-of-yet unspecified number of days over my birthday to sit in a hotel room while they attend my nephew’s graduation.

He can only have ten people come to his graduation. If there’s a choice between his siblings and me, obviously, his siblings should get the spot.

It’s been a kind of grueling spring for me, for a lot of reasons. I think I’m shook by Jim’s death more than I realize, because, man, have I been hit hard by the feeling that life is too short and I’m not going to get to do the things I want to do–both because of that shortness and my own shortcomings and bad luck and the luck of the draw, etc.

And, fuck me, man, the second “my own shortcomings” comes into play, my brain has a whole litany of those shortcomings to run through on repeat, just to see which ones will cause me the most misery.

Added to that that I feel like my parents have been spending this Spring acting like I, because I don’t have “my own” family, am just an emotional extension of them, a pawn they can move around the board in their quest to make sure that everyone they care about is getting the kind of love and support they need, and it’s a bad scene.

Bah, I wonder how much longer I’ll feel able to even write these kinds of posts. I’m already leaving so much unsaid just because I feel more public in a way I haven’t.

But I’m worn out. I’m worn out from shit in my own life and I’m worn out from doing stuff for them for their friends and the family members they think need taken care of. And the thought that I would spend my birthday watching my dad and my brother reenact their life-long drama and hurt to not even go to a graduation which is ostensibly the reason I’m needed in Georgia?

It makes me want to throw up.

This is the other thing, too. Sometimes, I think, “Oh, my god, what if I died and I’ve not sold this book and I’ve never found true love and I’ve never seen a Viking burial mound and I didn’t laugh one last time with the Professor and I didn’t tell the Butcher I loved him” and all that kind of stuff that fills me with dread and anxiety. And sometimes I think, “Well, when I’m dead, I won’t have to give a shit about any of this stuff any more, whether I’m doing right by my family, whether I’m making the right decisions and balancing them against my responsibilities. Oh, glorious death, where nothing matters.”

And that’s not a good head space to be in.

On the other hand, if there was any doubt that I had some strain of grouchy German in me, it’s that I’m now comforting myself with the thought that someday I’ll be dead and this shit won’t be my problem then.


I hid from the world this weekend. Not in a good way. I’m pissed at my parents and the Butcher’s all “they are who they’ve always been,” and I said, “yeah, I know.” And I wonder if, then, I’ve always been pissed at them?

It’s depressing to think about.

Hospital Visit

A while back, many years before she got married, one of my dear friends was hospitalized in Illinois. I asked my dad to go see her, because I would have felt better if someone I loved put eyes on her and I, being in Tennessee, was not able to.

He refused.

It hurt and confused me.

This weekend, both he and my mom called and asked if I would go see their friend who is in the hospital and sit with his wife a while, since they’re at Vandy and know no one here.

I was pissed. Am pissed. But I went. Even though I had Saturday plans. Even though I don’t know these people. My mom says I’m a good person.

I didn’t do it because I’m a good person, though, really. I hate the idea of “good” almost as much as I hate the idea of “deserves.” They both seems like kind of bullshit mind-games we get stuck in with ourselves.

I did it because I want people to do that shit for me.

I did it because it wasn’t that hard and I could.

I did it because I heard in my mom’s voice how important it was for her.

But mostly I did it because saying “no” would have meant admitting–both to me and them–that I have a list of grievances against them I carry around in my heart, running fingers over regularly, telling myself I keep poking to see if it still hurts, but doing it to remind myself of the pain.

This weekend I had a conversation with a friend about how there are these kinds of conversations we remember our parents having from our childhoods where they complain about something their family does that really pains them. And now, here we are, thirty years later, and they’re doing the same damn thing they hated that their parents did.

The Phillipses know every slight, every wrong. We horde them in our souls and use them to justify all kinds of terrible behavior that then causes other Phillipses to compile their own “here’s how I’ve been done wrong” lists which they then also weaponize.

I hate that, mainly because when you’re devoted to “I hurt you because someone hurt me and I want you to soothe it but you won’t so fuck you,” you’re pretty miserable. And I just don’t want to be miserable.

I don’t expect to be able to get out of misery all together, but, if most of us find 60/40 misery/okayness normal, the main gift I want to give myself in this life is to have 60/40 okayness/misery. And a lot of that means not doing things I don’t have to do that would make me miserable.

Scrutinizing the “you done me wrong” list, as soothing as it can be, serves to reinforce the idea that I should be miserable, that this is the normal state. And so, most of the time, I try to not even look at the list, to forget that it’s there.

But whoa doggie, was it temping to bring it out and start reading from it on Saturday.

But I did not, because I don’t want to keep all my hurts fresh, even if I’m not as good as I would like to be about letting them all fade.

A Couple of Ancestors

My parents found this when they were digging around in my grandma’s stuff. This is Clayton and Marie Rich, my great-grandparents. She was Irish. His family made her life miserable. They eventually divorced. It’s hard for me not to see a little uncertainty in this picture, but I’m sure I’m reading a lot into it.

clayton and marie.jpg


My nephew didn’t sign his enlistment papers. And we all quietly cheered behind his back while pretending to be drinking our Diet Cokes and being distracted by some song on the radio.

And he has a girlfriend! And she is cu-ute.

I talked to my cousin and his wife last night and it was nice to hear them sounding so happy.

My New Year’s resolution is to not age into some anxious grouch. At least, not all the time. Ha.

I’m completely in love with this afghan I’m finishing up for Sam, the giant granny square one.

Um, the afghan being the giant granny squares. Sam is not, as far as I can tell, a giant granny square.

It just makes me laugh. It has all the charm of a regular granny square while also a certain preposterousness that makes me happy.


We Are Who We Are

I’m feeling less grouchy this morning, but man, that’s a rough day. Too much sugar, too much stress, too much of people’s expectations that I’m going to cheerfully make a bunch of food and stand around in the kitchen and wait to meet their demands.

But mostly, in my family, it’s about working so hard to find presents for people only to get to hear all the ways the presents have slightly disappointed them.

Or to hear how they will have to hide the presents, because, if someone were to ask them for said present, of course they would give it to them.

Yeah, no shit.

My parents even told one of their friends, who I don’t know, and who I’ve never met, that they would get her one of my afghans. Their plan is to just root through my closet and give her one of my “extra” ones.

The only two afghans I can think of in my closet right now (and I have zero desire to go look) are the afghan I made my grandma that she died in and a wool afghan that the Butcher stuck in the dryer and I can’t figure out if there’s a way to salvage it, but, since I hand-dyed it, I hate to throw it out. Neither of which I will give away.

If there’s some other afghan in there, at one level, fine. I might even be a tiny bit impressed and flattered that they think something I do might be a treat for someone else.

But holy shit.

Who does this? I genuinely don’t think that my parents know how to understand me as a person in my own right. Because I’m a woman and because I’m not married, I’m this defective support system that might be put to use whenever they want.

Anyway, my dad liked his afghan. Both because he genuinely liked it and because I think he knew if he hadn’t, I would have motherfucking quit this family.

But he never tells you what he wants for any holiday and then he loves to sulk when you don’t end up getting him something he likes and he always makes this big production out of how your failure to get him something he likes proves that you don’t really care about him, because you’re not paying attention to him.

So, as you can imagine, it makes buying presents for him suck. It becomes this terrible, fraught thing where your goal is to get him something he likes and his goal is to prove to himself and you that you don’t really love him.

He’s been halfway talking about getting a ukulele for a couple of years. Mom and I found a cheap, but okay, one for him, figuring that, when he hated it, it wouldn’t sting that bad because it was just $30.

But Jesus Christ! He liked it at first! But then, after he got it tuned and strummed it a little, he announced that he refused to play it because he couldn’t get a clear sound on it because the neck was so small and we should have known to get him a bigger one. And he had this look on his face… like I can’t even explain it. Like he was pleased and relieved to find that the present he, for a second, enjoyed, really sucked. And I wanted to beat him to death with the turkey.

It took every ounce of myself to just tell him he could exchange it then for one he liked.

But, you know, it made his day. He got exactly what he wanted.

So, I guess that’s good.


I Will Make this Gumbo for My Parents

My whole goal for Christmas week is to get my presents wrapped and to make this new gumbo for my parents. It’s pretty much like regular gumbo except that you don’t do a roux and, instead, use potatoes as a thickener and substitute for rice.

Well, my god, I figured, once you’ve done away with the most nerve-wracking part of gumbo…once you’ve exposed yourself as willing to call something without that roux gumbo… why limit yourself to potatoes?

I swapped in sweet potatoes, which, dear readers were FANTASTIC. Especially if you can’t do shrimp for whatever reason, the sweet potatoes add that delicious sweetness that balances all the spiciness.

Also, rather than dicing the chicken, this recipe just has you lay the chicken over top, simmer the whole thing for an hour, and then fish out the chicken and shred it. It’s so much easier to shred cooked chicken than to cut raw chicken that I about jumped for joy.

My only trick will be making the gumbo bland enough for my Midwestern parents.

A Bitterness in My Heart

The thing they don’t really get into in the story of the Prodigal Son is that the son who stayed behind is only temporarily pissed at the son who left. Eventually, he comes to realize that his dad is a jerk and he’s a chump and that his brother probably had good reasons for running off.

The Prodigal Son is not the problem in that family.

I try, very hard, to not think about the stupidity of my family and how it makes my life harder, because it really, really upsets me. But I also sometimes feel a great conspiracy between the Universe and my family against me, so that, just after I get a phone call about how my parents bought my brother a new washing machine (after everything else), I’m sitting on the side of the road with my hazards on so that people know to watch out for the Butcher, who is looking for a bolt on the side of the road so that he can replace his battery so that he can move his van to someplace safe so that he can put in a new alternator, all bought with money much depleted after a trip to my folks to help them with chores around the house.

After the ceiling fiasco, I vowed never to be in a position to need money from my parents again and, knock on wood, I have not been. (And again, thanks to everyone who made that possible.)

But I can’t let it go. The healthy thing would be to say “Well, it’s their money, their fucked up relationship to our brother, their problem. If it makes them happy or doesn’t or whatever, not my business.” Even just typing it here, I feel better seeing it out loud. We are all adults and what they do is their business and not a reflection on me and my life. It doesn’t have anything to do with me.

But I don’t feel it in my heart.

In my heart, I feel like they choose, every day, to make sure my brother’s way is as easy as they can make it and they think I should find my own way. And then their feelings are hurt when my way isn’t what they thought I should do. And so, here we are.

I’m pissed. They’re hurt. The world goes round.


I know I’ve told you how shocked I was to learn that my German ancestors didn’t all come over in the late 1800s. My mom’s great-grandfather, a Fisser/Fisher, came over then and married a Swedish gal who also came over then. My dad was assigned to some of the earliest churches he was assigned to because, in the 70s/80s, there was a big push to get everyone Social Security cards, so elderly people had to have some proof of birth. A lot of times, in these old farming communities, the proof of birth these elderly people had was their baptismal records. My dad doesn’t speak German, but he could read enough of it to translate the records, hence his gigs.

My Grandpa Phillips, the story goes, was the first person in our family who only spoke English. Considering his birth date–right before World War I–it makes sense that he’d not have been taught German. But, folks, I assumed, if his mother–born Ina Mae Hiestand–was bilingual, then she was probably the daughter or grand-daughter of immigrants. No, those stubborn bastards had been in this country since before it was a country. They just never gave up their German ways. “German ways” in this case being extreme grouchiness and a love of sweets.

Oh, lord, I’m not having some kind of writing crisis this week! I’m reclaiming my roots!

Anyway we’re descended from the brother of the guy who built this house up in Kentucky. There’s as many generations between the guy who built that house and Germany as there is between me and that guy.

In the Times today there’s an opinion piece about how we should all reclaim our German roots, which have been all but lost, supposedly. I don’t know. My family hasn’t given up extreme grouchiness or a love of sweets or bratwurst or chicken fried steak or a fondness for Mennonites. But what would it mean for us to embrace our German culture? The one from 1730?

My dad has a friend whose family never did give up speaking German. They spoke it in secret, even after it became so suspicious to do so. When his friend went “back” to Germany, a place his family hadn’t lived, also, in almost four hundred years, he couldn’t understand a damn person. He finally located the place his family was from and he could understand their dialect, but they had a hard time understanding his. They thought he spoke like a weird, very old person.

Even if the anti-German sentiment in the 20th Century hadn’t taken place, we would be nostalgic for a weird, old Germany that contemporary Germans would find strange.

I don’t know. I guess I just find it strange to try to reclaim A German ethnic identity. If you just go by who spoke German, my parents are the same amount of German–each had a German great-grand parent. But it strikes me as absurd to think that Grandpa Fisher and Grandma Phillips would think they shared a common culture. He came directly from Germany. She most decidedly did not.

On the other hand, we did grow up hearing stories of how German prisoners of war at Fort Custer were sent out into the town to work and how some of them disappeared into the community never to be found when the war ended. So, I guess finding fellow German speakers might have been enough for some camaraderie.

But, I don’t know. I still come down on the side of “reclaiming” German roots being something like “making up a stereotype about Germans and then treating that as if that’s how we all should act.” I’m not particularly interested in that.

I will, however, continue to be grouchy, as is the way of my people.

In Good News

My little cousin posted pictures of her and her brother at her father’s grave, because today is his birthday. So, familial efforts to thwart that were, indeed, thwarted.

So, ha ha ha.


This morning I was listening to Keith Richards singing “Good Night Irene” and I swear I remember my Grandpa Phillips singing that when I was a little girl. The gravel in his voice.

But I find it kind of baffling now, to think of my grandfather singing at all.

So, I wonder if that was true, if it really happened.

But, if it didn’t, how did I come to know the song?


One thing that constantly surprises me when I see my brothers’ girlfriends with their kids is just how much time kids now spend with their moms (and dads, too, I think). I love my mom and feel like she was really great as a mother when we were growing up. I don’t ever remember playing with her. Either we played games as a whole family or kids entertained themselves and my mom… I don’t know… did whatever she did when we weren’t around.

I don’t think this way is worse or anything, but I remember my grandma telling me when I was in college that she didn’t understand how the stay at home moms of the 90s did it because it seemed so boring and lonely. But I don’t think even in the 90s, moms were expected to spend so much time with kids doing the things kids want to do without seeing other adults.

And, obviously, this situation wouldn’t have arisen if being let loose in the yard all afternoon all summer long while our mothers did whatever worked for us. Clearly, we’re raising kids this way because something about the other way didn’t work for us.

But I’m not going to be surprised if the next generation of mothers lives closer to their siblings and/or friends and we see more pitching in by adults so that no one feels isolated and cut off from the adult world.

Family Weekend

Lord. On Saturday, we made pork chops, green bean casserole, asparagus, greens, biscuits, and potato salad for everyone–the Butcher and his girl and her kids, our brother, his girl, all his kids, our parents. We got accused of doing more for this meal than we do at Thanksgiving. There was a pool. There was cornhole. People were jumping cracks in the sidewalk with a scooter. The dog ate Cheetos and is still not recovered from a weekend of no one allowing him to nap. The niece was less screamy this time and she did even pet him a couple times. But he still heard “No, no, no!” more than he normally does.

There was drama and hurt feelings and my heart hurt a little by the end. But, in general, I think it was a very nice visit.


My nephews were here this weekend and my youngest nephew must be a good foot taller than than he was the last time I saw him. It was so nice. They are funny and fun to hang out with and my god, my oldest nephew has become a beautiful guitarist.

But it made me laugh that the one song my dad, my brother, and my nephew can all play is “Light My Fire,” which they play as some kind of cross between the original and Jose Feliciano’s version. And my nephew knows a ton of old Metallica, which also pleased me.

And the Butcher was pleased because my nephew knew a guitar tuning app which meant that the guitar that his girlfriend’s boy had set the pegs all flat on got put right. And my dad was pleased because he tuned it by ear while my nephew was futzing with the phone and my dad was only slightly off on one string. “My A is always true,” he explained.

Slipping Away

My mom has told me, at great length, the exact same story about her mom’s getting lost at the grocery store–the grocery store she drives herself to for her preferred chocolate–and my aunt’s wanting to either get her a live-in nurse or put her in a home and my other aunt’s belief that my grandmother can decide for herself.

There’s a certain amount of humor, dark humor, in listening to someone terrified her mother has lost her mind telling you that in almost the exact same words twice not four days apart. But I listened and nodded and supported my mom in the same way twice, because I don’t think my mom is losing her mind. I think she’s having to realize something very terrible–that, here, at the end of her mom’s long life, she and her sisters are going to have to do something to/with her that she’s going to hate so much there might not be any coming back from it. She does not want to go into a home. She does not want a nurse. Her house flooded earlier this summer and it’s been a nightmare of that and, for some reason, moths, and my mom and one aunt had to fight her to get the basement cleaned up and she won’t do the things she needs to do to stop the moth infestation even though the bug guy told her that there’s only so much he can do if she won’t make some fundamental changes. She won’t do the physical therapy she’s supposed to be doing. She’s got a urinary tract infection. She won’t treat it.

I also think she’s depressed. No, the big D. I think she has Depression. Which, who the fuck wouldn’t, if you’re in your mid-90s and you know you’re losing your mind? But she denies that to her doctor as well.

If you’ve read along here for any length of time, you know that my family is not good at… I don’t know quite how to get at it… If something bad is happening to you, I think we have a tendency to blame you for it and to assume that the way to help you is to let you help yourself or ask for help. You tell us what to do and we’ll maybe do it, but, if you can’t ask or you don’t know, tough shit, we’re mad at you for making us uncomfortable.

That’s not entirely fair. We have a lot of good qualities on top of that. But I’m just trying to make clear that my grandma needs my family to do something they are really not in practice of doing. She needs them to see that she can’t make decisions for herself anymore and she needs them to act.

I have not, since I was a small child, experienced them as people who can act in someone’s best interest without being asked for help. And yet, I think my mom is trying to come to grips with the fact that she can’t ask, that she won’t ask.

My mom and dad are being called upon to finally do what they have never done, what they have always failed to do. I’m frightened for them. I hope they don’t fail her.

And my poor grandma.

A Little Bit of Everything

–Yesterday morning, that Dawes song came on the radio and I just sobbed the whole time it played.

–I saw a screenshot of the New York Times this morning that has the verdict in the Colorado theater mass shooting, a story about the ongoing investigation of the Charleston shooting, and then, of course, breaking news about the Chattanooga shooting. And somewhere, I guess, a guy sits in his room planning the next shooting. Round we go.

–We have these shootings so often that I feel kind of emotionally fried. But it broke my heart in a new way to watch on Twitter the people who knew these guys–the victims and the shooter–struggling with trying to understand how yesterday morning, these were just some guys they knew and liked and today they are gone and transmuted into symbols that prove something to someone somewhere who never knew them in the first place.

–I’m still having an ongoing, difficult conversation with my cousin and still feeling like I am utterly failing at it. I guess I get that we were told we had one kind of family and we, in fact, have another kind. But, I also guess that I feel like we aren’t going to ever actually be the kind of family we were told we had, so it makes me sad, to some extent, that we can’t be the kind of family we wanted so desperately to pretend like we were. But I’m also kind of relieved that most of us aren’t pretending anymore. And I don’t know if we can build a new kind of family or if people even want to.

It took me a long time to be okay with that, to decide that what would be the best way to love this mess of a family, is to have no expectations and to just take whatever good thing whoever can manage to do when they can.

I mean, maybe I’m not completely okay with that. But it’s what brings me peace and lets me stop being constantly hurt and confused.

But, what works for one doesn’t, I suppose, work for another.

Family Things

I talked to my cousin for a long time last night. Her dog is dying. She’s bummed. But the other thing is that she’s pissed kind of existentially that the family we were all told we have is not the family we have. And I admit to finding it a little illuminating and befuddling to be sitting on this end of that conversation. Because, damn, man, have I sat at her end. A lot. A long time.

So, I had nothing comforting to tell her, which I found interesting and alarming.

I don’t know. Maybe I’m not making my point clear. But I guess what I’m trying to get at is the ways in which I am constantly assuming knowledge is power–to know something is to have power over it. To understand it is to reduce its ability to fuck you up.

Those things are not true. Knowing all the subtleties of a thing, all the minor details, all the facts (or even, in my case, just many of them, not even a majority but more than some know) does not make you immune to being hurt, still, by them.

Having thought a lot about a thing does not, in this case, make it easier for me, or even possible, to say something that will make it make sense.

All this work I’ve done hasn’t really moved me beyond things and I don’t feel like it’s given me skills to help someone else resolve it.

I guess I don’t believe in resolution. That’s where I’ve gotten after all this time. Resolution and catharsis are attractive fictions, but they’re fictions.

Closer than You’d Think

On Friday, after the crowd sang Happy Birthday to me, I made a joke about it being the twentieth anniversary of my twenty-first birthday, and, even as I said it, I realized, then, that it was the twentieth anniversary of my Uncle B.’s death. Which must be true, seeing as that’s how physics work. Things that happened at the same time happened at the same time and thus retreat into the past at the same rate.

I never think of turning twenty-one. My Uncle B. is almost always in my thoughts. I go to the Civil War battlefields I know he enjoyed and I think about whether he’d be able to traverse them or not. I wander through museums and I look for the most obscure stuff and I try to suck all the meaning I can from them because I know it’s the kind of thing he’d enjoy. I try to treat children as interesting people with important things to say because that’s how he treated me and I know how important it was to me.

So, it feels to me that he must have died quite recently. Long enough ago that it doesn’t suck every day that he’s gone, but recently enough that it’s still strange that he’s not here, that my habit is still to take into consideration how he would think about things.

I have to believe this is why people came to believe there was something more to this world than just the here and now–this feeling that the long dead aren’t that far away.