Monday, September 5, 2016

A New World


Einstein was really onto something with that theory of relativity. "Put your hand on a hot stove for a minute, and it seems like an hour," he quipped. "Sit with a pretty girl for an hour, and it seems like a minute." It's funny how two years in a graduate program can seem to have passed in one long sigh, while five months can feel like a decade. Five months can reveal a lot. Five months can change you. Five months can make a different person. 

Back in April, I was completing the second half of my student-teaching requirement and contemplating what a job in a classroom would mean come the fall. In retrospect, in light of the way things actually went, that seems laughable. We plan and we plan, and sometimes our plans work out and other times God throws us delightful surprises. He certainly surprised me. Back in about May or so, maybe a month after we last checked in, I was completing a difficult second student-teaching assignment and also wrapping up my stint working with a local public-relations company part time while in school. I decided, due to some longstanding reservations, to put in a few applications for communications positions outside education and see if anything materialized. I'd received some positive but non-committal responses when I departed Mountain University for Northern State in the third week of June. 


This two-week trip, to a monastery on a bend about one hundred miles from where the Holy River leaves the City of Fate, was one of those rare moments that actually changes a life. What happened to me in that place deserves its own post, and will have one. But you should know it was a gift, delivered in a deeply painful package, that taught me important lessons about people and important lessons about myself, that forced me to confront some of my own worst predispositions. I walked down to the shore of the Holy River, sobbing, and told God I didn't understand. I asked Him not to hate me if I had to leave for a while, take some time away from my relationship with Him. And then there He was. Shimmering off the glassy surface of the river. Blowing over to caress my tear-streaked face with a warm summer breeze.

It's okay, He seemed to say. You're still mine. I still love you.

I wiped my eyes. Staring out into the afternoon sky, I took stock of the things a visceral new wound had taught me and realized what a profound gift I'd just been handed. I thanked Him and turned back to the monastery, and a day later I was on a train bound south for Mountain State. A week after that, I was on a highway headed to Native City.

"This might be a great conversation to have over lunch," the man's friendly voice enthused through my cell phone speaker. His picture had been intimidating, and I remember being surprised that his tone wasn't more gruff, maybe more menacing. Lincoln, they say, had a high, reedy tenor, not the baritone people usually assume from photographs and from his stature. It was the same here.

"Sure," I said. "When would you like me to come by?"

This was just another turn in an improbable chain of events. Earlier that week, I'd been perusing through regional public relations companies to see who was hiring, and in glancing over one with no vacancies I noticed that one of its senior officers was a Russian speaker who'd spent time working in the former Soviet Union. Purely academic interest led me to send an e-mail asking him about his experiences, and not too much later we were on the phone organizing an impromptu meeting. That meeting, incidentally, went well, and included the man, his colleague, delectable coffee, Netflix-centered conversations, and halting exchanges in Russian. "Your accent is good," he laughed. "Mine's getting rusty." I'd no sooner gotten home than another phone call awaited me.


"Listen, BB," the man said. "I know this is kind of out of the blue, but we were really impressed with you. We've just brought on some new clients and have more business than we anticipated, so I'll get right to the point: we'd love to have you come on board. Are you interested?"

And so a random man became Ivan the Great (Boss), at least on my blog. Isn't it weird how things turn?

After a hasty move to Grand Ma Normal Family's house--"It makes sense for you to save some money at first, and this way you don't have to worry about finding an apartment before you start work"--to take a position that neither employer nor employee had planned for, I began work as a junior account executive with Native State Public Relations on August 22. The photo above is the view from our conference room. Me using a conference room. How bizarre is that?

A few weeks in, I keep wondering how in the world I lucked into this. Ivan has been incredibly supportive and, noting my challenging commute, has allowed me to work from home two days a week and operate on an eight-to-four rather than a nine-to-five schedule. My co-workers, most of whom are in their twenties, have been friendly and warm, and my immediate supervisor makes clear her very reasonable expectations, offering appropriate feedback as needed. I'm writing, editing, researching, gladhanding. I wear a suit jacket three days a week and leave my house at six-thirty to sit in rush-hour traffic on the highway. I love it.

And I'm getting paid, which, after years of underemployment or the unpaid internship gigs that everyone seems to now have, seems like some kind of incredible luxury. This salary, mind you, is not glamorous. But it would be sufficient to live on my own, if modestly, and with the money I'm saving staying with my grandmother it's more than enough to cover everything I need to cover and then have plenty left over. And that's a new feeling.


As is the case for anyone, my current situation is not without its challenges. My contract is a trial one that runs from August 22 to December 31, and while Ivan has expressed a desire to bring me on permanently effective January 1--"as long as you're happy and we're happy with the arrangement"--it means that there is at least the chance this position will end in the New Year. I am also waiting to hear from a company who was considering me before Ivan made his offer and is still weighing my application. So, on Native State PR's end and on mine, there is a bit of uncertainty.

It's also become increasingly clear that the mysterious ailment from which I began suffering during graduate school is Hashimoto's disease. This autoimmune condition, which I inherited from my father (though he himself does not appear to be affected), involves the gradual destruction of one's thyroid by one's own immune system, which goes haywire and, mistaking the thyroid gland for a foreign body, does everything it can to kill it. My exhaustion, hair and eyebrow loss, weigh gain, forgetfulness, delayed reflexes, and episodes of slurred speech are all classic symptoms of the disease, from which my grandmother and cousin also suffer. Far more frustrating than the symptoms has been the experience of dealing with medical personnel who are often shockingly ignorant about a condition that affects tens of millions of Americans. When they finally thought to check me for the antibodies that are the marker of the illness, and for which I've now tested positive four times, they downplayed the extent of what was going on.

"You may be one of the lucky few who has this disease but never becomes symptomatic," one told me brightly.

"But I am symptomatic," I said. "That's why you ran the test in the first place."

"Your lab numbers are on the high end of normal," another informed me. "So it may be that the disease has not progressed very much yet."

It took my calling her professional organization and requesting their official guidelines to learn that she was wrong. The numbers weren't normal, not even close. She just hadn't known. And when I sent her an e-mail citing her own group's guidelines, she didn't care. I'm seeing a third endocrinologist on September 16 and keeping my fingers crossed that he's well versed in the realities of the disease with which many of my family members have been afflicted. With medication it's very manageable, and I want to begin that management as soon as possible. So not everything is great. But some things are great. And everything is better than it was.


Finally leaving the home of my destructive and disrespectful stepmother, finally working a real job and earning a real salary, finally making a stab into the world, is so much better than rotting away in a prolonged pseudo-adolescence. Sometimes it's scary. Sometimes I miss things I know I shouldn't miss, or people I know were bad for me. Some days I am sad, some days worried about the ongoing progression of a serious illness that two physicians have declined to treat. But every day, I know I'm doing the right thing. Every day I'm aware I'm investing in myself, taking an important step. Every day I remind myself that I'll make new friends, date new men, grow in my career, spark with the right partner, find a good doctor, get better. Every day I'm thankful. And every day I take another tentative step forward.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

I'm Still Here


If anyone is still left here, after four months of silence on my end, you probably think I've abandoned you. I haven't. I've just been going through some changes--rapid, broad, profound changes--that have been good for me even when they've been painful, and the scope of those changes required some stepping back. After eight years of having an audience I needed, even if only for a little while, to not have one. I'm not sure how much longer I'll be away, taking care of things in the real world of BB, but I will come back. I am, after all, a storyteller.

And there's so much story to tell.

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Eight Years


Time never stops marching. That's a powerful truth that most try to forget, some try to escape, and a wise few learn to embrace, but it is a truth to which each of us is subject. The sun rises. The sun sets. Countless morning blends into countless morning, year into year, each moment at once irretrievably lost and each yet somehow eternal by virtue of the universal qualities inherent to it. We go from young to old and then we die and others come, and incidentals often change while fundamentals rarely do.

I cannot believe it has been eight years since I started this blog. On April 7, 2008, eight years seemed (if I thought about it at all) like an impossibly long time, and so it was; I was only nineteen. Eight years was half of my life. Today, of course, things are somewhat different. Then, I was a teenage boy; now I approach thirty. Then, I was a sophomore in college; now I am in the final semester of my master's degree. Then, I was closeted and fearful; now I am out and fearful only of not finding the right man for me. Then, I was immersed in the greatest trauma of my life--my relationship with my parents; now I have put significant distance between us and intend to impose still more.

Then, I was young; now I am still young, but perhaps not so young. I find myself, particularly now that I am student-teaching and in an authority role all day, behaving in ways that are stereotypically "adult." The fashions from my own senior year of high school, a decade ago, finally look outdated. The music I listened to comes on radio stations' "throwback" segments. I don't understand, and lack the ability to correctly use, the lingo currently en vogue among the nation's secondary students. And I find myself increasingly coming down on the side of caution and of respect. Within limits, of course. I believed as a child, and believe now, that the need for respect cuts both ways. But if I'm being reasonable, I'd like the favor to be returned. Of course, every now and again I am reminded of how much left I have yet to do. If ever you get to thinking you're becoming old and wise, having a seventeen-year-old girl confuse you for a student at the school where you teach is a sure way to bring your ego back down.

Above all, though, I'm more experienced. At twenty-seven I have accomplished--and survived--a lot. I've worked in professional environments. I've had professional failures. I've had to admit some of my own worst faults, among them a drinking problem, and have come out a better person for the efforts to redress those issues. I'm more tolerant of other people's shortcomings because I've had so many of my own,


And I'm secure in myself. Not all the way, and not as much as I'd like to be, but secure. Which is a long, long way from the self-conscious mess that was nineteen-year-old BB, apologizing for things that needed no apologies and accommodating those who should have been thrown away. The last year has been one of growth. Let's take a look at how it went.

April 2015: I turn 27 years old.

May 2015: I conclude my first full year of graduate school.

June 2015: I begin taking summer courses to keep myself on time for a 2016 graduation.

July 2015: After years of wanting to do it but not having the opportunity, I begin studying Russian with a private tutor.

August 2015: The second and last year of my master's program begins, and I also start to display the first significant signs of an autoimmune disease.

September 2015: A friend tells me about the Foreign Service, and I begin to research a career in diplomacy.

October 2015: I take the Foreign Service Officer test in the Goldlands and am successful. I use the opportunity to see an old friend.

November 2015: On November 12, my family celebrates the 396th anniversary of my 11th great-grandfather's arrival in Southern State in 1619.

December 2015: One of the most difficult academic semesters of my life concludes with my filing, for the first time in my student career, a formal complaint against a professor. After a difficult Christmas Eve, I make the decision to put more distance between myself and my wayward brother Powell.

January 2016: The largest blizzard of my lifetime delays the start of the spring semester by two weeks.

February 2016: I begin student-teaching, the crown jewel of my education master's degree. Earlier in the month, I travel to the City of Fate to explore the possibility of doing missionary work overseas following graduation. On February 20, after a painful episode in which I nearly lose a friendship, I at last confront the reality that I have a drinking problem and commit to completely foregoing alcohol until at least 2017 (it's been forty-eight days and counting).

March 2016: After a month with 7th-grade social studies students, I transition to a 12th-grade classroom, where I encounter both new challenges and new opportunities. At the end of the month, I begin making plans to move out of my mother's house and in with a friend by May.

This anniversary is different than the others. Every other April 7, I've faced uncertainty regarding the future. Now, in a very core way, I don't; in one year's time (indeed, in six months' time) I will be financially self-sufficient. I don't know what occupation or even what country I'll be in, but I will have a master's degree and will, one way or another, be at last independent. I've never known that before. Now I do, and I cannot wait. I've been so happy to take this journey with you over the past eight years, and to see the journeys you've taken as well. I hope we can continue, in person and online, for a long time to come.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Spring of Twenty-Seven


It's funny how your late twenties can be such a confusing time. Confusing for me, at least, in a way that my teen years never were. Being the zany kid who liked to read, who brought whoopie cushions to school and devoted weekends to watching awful horror movies with girlfriends, that was easy. That I knew how to do. I earned good grades, then retreated to a warm cocoon secure in the knowledge that I was securing my comfortably distant future. I knew how to be seventeen. And sure, in retrospect there was actually a lot of darkness, even horror, lingering under the surface during that time, and because of my parents' alternating abuse and neglect my childhood was undergirded with a foundational insecurity that no childhood should have. But still, the expectations were clear and simple. And I was clear and simple. At seventeen.

Somewhere along the way, things got a lot more complicated. It's a decade later now, and I approach the end of twenty-seven still not quite knowing what it means to be the age I am. Am I young? Am I old? I'm not yet thirty, but I walk through high school hallways as a student-teacher and consciously present myself as a source of guidance and adult stability. I'm months away from the completion of a master's degree, something I don't even quite believe, but outside of work I'm happy to jump into a fantasy novel for a whole day, or giggle with my twelve-year-old sister over the most mundane and stupid things. I still laugh at bawdy fart humor. That part of me might not even be gay, if we're being honest. I want to be an adult, self-sufficient and prescient and skilled. But I don't want to be old before my time. I want to rise to my responsibilities, but still have the enthusiasm and brightness of my youth. I'm trying on different clothes and can't tell which ones fit. And sometimes I feel so impossibly tired.

This year has been and will be a milestone. I've grappled with the onset of an autoimmune disease and its attendant problems: chronic fatigue, bouts of cognitive impairment, a digestive system turning on itself and a body going into panic mode. No one can agree exactly what's causing this, but in test after test the same thing keeps showing itself: autoantibodies lurking in my blood. Somehow, in some way we haven't determined yet, my own immune system is trying to kill something inside of me. But it's not all bad.


Sometimes I can have as much as a week with no symptoms at all, and I've learned to appreciate smaller things and put problems in perspective. When I first started showing serious symptoms last fall I responded with private hysteria, but now I'm exhausted of thinking about it, exhausted of the countless doctors' offices, yet another of which I must go to today. They'll find it, whatever it is. And I'll be okay.

This year I've also confronted difficult truths about myself. I have been undisciplined and lazy, inconsiderate of others, though in mostly minor ways. I work now to hold myself to higher standards. And I have finally come to understand that I can no longer drink. Alcohol and I started off well; my very first beer at age eighteen resulted in a dizzying rush of giggles and exuberance, and through to my very early twenties I made sparing use of that liquid courage to marvelous effect in social gatherings. BB at twenty-one was a light drinker who could become the life of the party when he wanted to. And those parties were great, and that company sparkling. Does anything ever seem as magical as it does when we're young?

But BB at twenty-three started to head to a very different place. BB at twenty-three began to drink not to enjoy, but to escape--not to commiserate with lovely people, but to forget horrible ones. BB at twenty-four continued drinking, even alone, because he just liked the feeling, even if so often he went to a very sad place while indulging. BB at twenty-five hit critical mass, losing friends and nearly his life. BB at twenty-six put the reins on the partying. And then BB at twenty-seven dropped the ball.

I have a drinking problem. And it's so funny, because in my earlier years I was always the good boy, the pure boy, the one who had his head on so straight. But I can see now that I've had a drinking problem for about five years, and that the most distant whispers of it were blowing softly into the wind even before that. Many of us form a conceptualization of ourselves in our formative years, and then that is always our "true" self, even if we deviate from it for most of our lives. So I really am still in disbelief that I, innocent and trustworthy BB, wound up here. But I have to deal with reality as it is, not as I would wish it to be.

And in my reality, I choose to be thankful for the forgiveness of a friend on whom I imposed in a terrible way. I choose to be thankful that my indefensible decisions did not cause my own or someone else's death, did not ruin a career I've worked so hard to get. And I choose to end this. I choose to be a better person than the person I have been. 

The day after, when I was drunk until after noon and still hungover when I went to bed for the evening, I nursed an unsettled stomach and unsettled conscience. A pounding headache and pounding guilt. So I made the declaration that countless drunks have made: never again. I've seen many of those people throughout my life, and "this time" is always the last time. It's an exhausting game of pretend that gradually robs its players of self-respect and dignity. But in my case the thing had been building for a while; I'd worked hard to impose limits on my drinking, but found myself cheating around the edges. For months I'd vowed that if I couldn't keep it together I'd abstain, and when in late February I failed in so fantastic a fashion to maintain control of myself I knew the time had come. That was twenty-six days ago. 

I'm not saying I'll never drink again. But at least for the rest of this year, it's best for me to do what I haven't done in a full decade: see what kind of person I am for an extended period without alcohol. I can go to the open of 2017 and assess from there. Nearly a full month in, the results are positive. Do I miss having a drink at social occasions when everyone else is imbibing? Sure. But I don't miss the consequences. I don't miss what came after. 

To be clear, my drinking was acceptable and healthy probably 95% of the time. That other 5% packed one hell of a punch, though. And even when I held myself back, there was always that insidious desire for more and more and more. Which does not seem to be present, by the way, when I just totally abstain. I did have cravings about two weeks in, but in general I've not thought about drinking that much now that I know it's just not a possibility. It was moderation I had trouble with. And that makes me wonder how much of this was psychological. 



This morning I'm sitting in a bright room, staring out a sunny window and into a warm day. It's my second day student-teaching at a local high school, and because of observations that are taking place my host teacher just gave me the run of the school. I've spent time in the empty teachers' lounge, writing this. This morning I wandered through the library, chatting with the delightful librarian about her college experiences in Germany and Russia before heading over to get lost in the fiction section. Countless hours spent diving into books during my own high school lunch breaks came back to me. I felt like my old self again. 

Parts of that old self weren't praiseworthy, of course. I am more nuanced, more empathetic, more outgoing and less judgmental than I was a decade ago, in large part because of my missteps. In that critical way, I've done a lot of growing up. But there's much seventeen-year-old BB had to offer. He was inquisitive, kind, imaginative, and motivated. He was devoted to his faith. If Old BB and New BB can get together to combine some of their best qualities, then the BB who comes out of conference committee will be in pretty good shape. 

This year could take me in a thousand different directions. I don't know for sure that I'll go right into teaching, but come August I will have that option for the rest of my life. And however uncertain I am about outcomes, I am absolutely sure that I'm moving in the right direction. 

Saturday, February 6, 2016

The Serpent


The serpent comes
He fills the sky
A poisoned eclipse of silver-black scales
That eat sunlight and dreams

I wield a sword of summer dawn
A blade of starry wonderment
To rupture his foul heart
And restore the sun

But his coils are vast
And strangled my childhood
His hiss is a seismic scream of doubt
And shatters my fluttering hope
His mouth is a seductive pit where Death reclines upon a forked tongue
And beckons me to turn my neck

Every once in a while

The serpent rears high
A pillar of weeping rage
A trunk of acid anomie
That covers my whole horizon

I lunge in feral anguish
And heave gleaming Daybreak
But the weapon finds no target
It only draws him nearer

His venom burns my eyes with spiralling blindness
And rips apart my mind in a shower of frothing hatred
It swerves my hand
So the blows meant for him land on others

And then they're lethal
Bloody and boiling
And steeled with monstrous strength
The kind I can never aim at him

I'm meant to be the prince who kills the snake
It's written in the heavens
Just north of my name
Just south of Polaris

But it's hard to raise Daybreak in the middle of the night
When I see what he shows me
And hear what he whispers
And when my voice so clearly matches his

I'll fail myself and all the constellations
He'll devour me in the end

Thursday, January 21, 2016

January


Chill and serene
A word from a dream
A voice crystalline
January

Unmoving white steel
Dark grey streaked with teal
Flame cloaked in ice shield
January

The spear in the loom
The brine in the bloom
The kiss tipped with gloom
January

The silver snakes chance
Grieved winds for a dance
Sharp diamond romance
January

The clear-eyed deep sleep
The prize winter reaps
Blue sun in black deep
January

The breath braced with might
Stars fuel for the fight
A cold dawning light

January


Sunday, December 27, 2015

A Time for Reflection and...


The year 2015 was strange for me. It was a year defined by major and, in moments, debilitating struggle, but also by my ability to overcome that struggle. It was a year defined by sad recognition of my own and others' limitations, but also by a happy readjustment based on that recognition. It was the year in which, more than in any other, I determined and took concrete steps towards having my own life.

You'll notice that I did not write much here throughout the fall. My last entry, dated from October, recounted reunion with a longtime college friend, and after that it was radio silence from old BB for a full two months, longer than I have ever been absent from this site in its nearly eight-year history.

I had cause. I dealt with a terrible professor, the worst of my academic career, and when his initially unhelpful behavior advanced to vindictiveness and then outright lying about me to my adviser, I was moved to, for the first time ever, file an official complaint against an instructor. Failure to pass his class would have barred me from student-teaching and, in effect, delayed graduation and a job by another half-year. The day his final project was due, I was a hysterical wreck and reached a level of stress that unhinged me a bit from the surrounding world. Those days were a frightening blur to which I never want to return.



Starting around the beginning of the fall term, and due at least in part to the burdens of that time, my obsessive-compulsive disorder came roaring back. If this condition were in fact that cutesy preoccupation with neatness that is depicted on TV, a recurrence of it would not have been a problem. But my life isn't Monk. By October I was convinced of the inevitability of my failure, and was routinely afflicted by horrifying nightmares in which my hair and teeth fell out.

And then, at about the end of August, my hair actually started falling out. Along with patches of my eyebrows. A recurring forgetfulness that had first surfaced as early as the summer of 2014 amplified, and I began losing words, misplacing items, and falling victim to disorienting moments of what I can only call "fog." My emotions were heightened and I cried easily. My energy plummeted, and I wound up tiring out after even brief moments of exertion.

"You need to see someone, BB," my grandmother told me this summer. I'd been helping her with yard work, and about twenty minutes in just hit a wall and could do no more. I needed to sit down, and urged her to take a break, supposedly out of concern for her wellbeing but actually so I might mask that I was being outflanked by a seventy-three-year-old woman. "You're too young to be so tired. And you've been like this for years. You get winded so quickly."

After a dermatologist determined she could not help me because my hair loss was not age related--i.e., not natural balding and thus a symptom of something else--I was referred to several other doctors, and began a semester-long odyssey of blood tests and physician visits that required me to explain why, at the age of twenty-seven, I was exhibiting signs consistent with very early dementia. One doctor even asked if there was a family history of early-onset Alzheimer's.

The actual culprit does seem to be hereditary, but not so bad as all that: hypothyroidism, which runs on my father's side but which may have been missed in my case because of my relative youth and because men are affected nine times less often than women. One more blood test, to be done shortly after the New Year, should confirm the problem and justify a medication regimen that will hopefully put an end to this nightmare.


But the nightmare had a big casualty. In September, I made the deeply painful decision to cut my gorgeous, waist-length hair, which I'd spent nearly nine years growing into a waterfall of golden waves in which I took great pride and happiness. The result, though still long, falls far short of the spectacular beauty for which I'd become known in the near-decade since 2006.


When this is over, though, and this health issue resolved, I will not lose one more thing to it. Not one more word. Not one more memory. Not one more instant of clarity. Not one more day of yard work. Not one more strand of hair. I will grow that hair back, to as long as it ever was, and wear it like a flaxen badge of vigor. I will achieve that by this time three years from now, in the fall of 2018. I will have just celebrated my thirtieth birthday.

I overcame the professor from hell and pulled an A in the class I thought would sink me. I overcame the extraordinary apathy of my family and the dismissiveness of one breathtakingly arrogant doctor to finally get something concrete when I knew something was wrong with me. But there were also things I could not overcome.


This November, Our Family celebrated Our Family Day, the annual remembrance of our immigrant ancestor's arrival in the New World. Last month marked 396 years since my 11th great-grandfather set foot in King's City, Southern State, in the fall of 1619, and the party included tales of the past and somewhat dubious plans for the future.

"On the 400th, I'm getting smashed," laughed Thomas.

Towards the start of this blog, when I was a boy of twenty and Thomas one of thirteen, I made the conscious decision to attempt stamping our our father's ruinous legacy. Where David--my father--showed inconstancy, I showed steadiness; where David showed disproportionate anger, I showed even temper; where David was quick to build minor mishaps into life-defining crises, I didn't sweat the small stuff. I taught Thomas how to drive because our father wouldn't. I helped Thomas with his homework because our father couldn't. I helped Thomas plan ahead because our father was unconcerned. I listened when he needed someone to talk to, because our father couldn't be bothered. Time after time, I showed Thomas kindness that I hoped he would internalize as a way of living rather than just as an act from which he benefited. Of late, though, I wonder if I ever had a shot.

This fall, I asked him several times to pay me back the small sum of money I'd loaned him when he was in a tight spot. About the third time, he snapped.

"BB, I have a lot going on right now," he said, shooting me the look of disdain I now so often receive from him. "And paying you that money isn't my priority."

He might've slapped me. I stood in his doorway, not believing that the selfish, inconsiderate young man sitting before me with such indolence was the same person in whom I'd reposed so much confidence just three years before.

"Well, Thomas," I said quietly. "When you needed that money, it was my priority to give it to you."

Two weeks later, he put a down payment on a piece of expensive music equipment. A bit after that, he had to have work done on his car and I was happy to let him use mine. I even gave him gas money because I know he doesn't make much. And then, when I was away with family out of state and asked him to return some movies I'd forgotten to take back, he wouldn't. He didn't have $5 to cover the trip to the next town. When I told him I had about $50 in change in my room, he shrugged me off with a scornful text.

"I'm sorry, but I'm not paying for gas with quarters. I'm just not doing that."


This has accompanied increasing blue-collar mannerisms (including a maddening affected laugh), a refusal to make realistic plans for the future, a tendency towards overblown criticism that is reminiscent of our father--Thomas recently berated me, for instance, for "always doing things halfway" because I waited a bit to clean up dishes from a dinner I'd prepared for him and Pie--and a draw to heavy drinking.

"BB, you and Mom have to do something," Powell told me by telephone. "You guys have to help him."

"No, I don't," I answered. It was cold and it was definitive and it had been building a long time. "I don't have to save Thomas. I can't save Thomas. I'm not his father. I have to think about a boyfriend and a husband and having kids of my own one day. I need to have my own life."

I love Thomas, and every moment isn't a bad one. But he's becoming someone I don't know, someone so far removed from the boy he used to be that thinking of it makes me want to weep. I'll always love him. But I can't help him. And that's what I meant earlier, about recognizing not just others' limitations, but my own: I can't save the world. I can do my very best to be a positive influence on others, and to extend them what help is within my ability to give, provided they demonstrate a willingness to take that help and use it constructively. Someone who won't do that reveals themselves quickly. When I was offered help from my grandmother, I ran with it and earned a bachelor's degree. When Rowdy Cousin was offered help from his parents, he did the same thing and on graduation was hired by an accounting firm who offered him a salary that would have been generous for a person twice his age. If someone doesn't want to do something, though, you can almost never make them do it. And I will no longer waste precious energy trying.

Aunt Crazy said it best.

"Powell is a lost cause," she pronounced, her jolly face cooled by calm certainty. "But Thomas...maybe not yet."

I'm done with lost causes. My father, my mother, my stepmother, my brother Powell, all lost and never coming back. My door is closed to them. Thomas stands on a threshold whose precariousness he does not yet recognize. Pie is still a great light to me, but not my life. I will let her go, too, not to a place that I throw away, but to a place I visit in moments and with love. She has a harbor with me. Just not my most important harbor. I'm saving that for my own family, and leaving behind the siblings and stepmother who have, if we're stripping away politeness, been astonishingly ungrateful to me. I've given too much to the wrong people. Now, at least for quite a while, I'm going to give to myself.