Monday, April 7, 2014

Six Years

Today it has been six years since April 7, 2008, when I sat down at a computer in the Student Newspaper office of Major University and typed out my first blog post. Sometimes it's hard to believe so much time has passed; sometimes it's hard to believe how recent it was. Six years in the blink of an eye. A lifetime in six years.

Back then, I was a boy of nineteen, an adolescent with a host of problems that would bedevil, release, and then consume me over the course of the next half-decade. Some of these anniversaries have been happy ones--2009 and 2010 were both joyous occasions. Others, such as last year's, found me at lower points. Today I'm at a median, recovering from the horrible pit into which I fell throughout 2013 but not quite out of the woods yet. I have plans for the future and will act upon them soon.

So, for those of you who don't know or would like to be reacquainted, my name is BB. I am a twenty-five-year-old college graduate pursuing work in public relations, and by this summer will be either engaged in a job in that field or in graduate school.

I live in Mountain State with my father David, mother Marie, and siblings Thomas (age 18) and Pie (age 10). My brother Powell (age 24) lives with my birth-mother, Anne. And now, the previous year in review:

April 2013: I turn twenty-five years old

May 2013: Thomas turns eighteen, which inspires both happiness and disbelief on my part

June 2013: Pie turns ten, another emotional occasion

July 2013: I attend a convention in Misty City and begin the final slide towards suicide

August 2013: Our Family prepares to move from the reviled Farmhouse

September 2013: I slip ever further into the suicidal trance, and often wonder how I'll be able to make it to my planned execution date of January without throwing in the towel early

October 2013: I move in to the new house on October 7 and attempt suicide on October 20. I am nearly successful and am subsequently hospitalized in a psychiatric ward

November 2013: I begin a long recuperation at home

December 2013: I at last buy a new car after trading in the 1996 Oldsmobile that got me through college, and Our Family enjoys its first Christmas in the new home

January 2014: I begin an abortive unpaid internship in Marble City, but abandon the position by the end of the month

February 2014: In a moment of darkness, I conduct myself in a spectacularly offensive manner and lose several friends in the process

March 2014: I come to terms with my destructive behavior and initiate a plan to move forward

So that's it. Hopefully a year from now I'll be recounting much happier events than these. In the meantime, I'd like to thank all of you for the support you've lent me during the many peaks and valleys of the last six years. It's meant a lot.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

A Dark and Violent History

Longtime blog readers will know that I have periodically discussed the illustrious history of my mother's family. They were a truly remarkable group of people, self-sacrificing patriots who gave their all in the defense of liberty, in the Old World and the New. I have for many years enjoyed reading and learning about them, but have known exceptionally little about my father's line, about the story of my own last name.

In retrospect, it might have been better not to look. But look I did, and I found what I found.

More than anything else, this journey, undertaken during lunch breaks and the few hours between work and bed, was full of surprises. To begin with, I started looking in the wrong geographic direction: north. My brothers, sister, and I were all born in Native State, as was my father and his father before him, and I presumed that the family line would stretch back from Native City to some village in Germany. Not so.

In fact, the census records detailing my great-grandfather's life revealed an unexpected twist: place of birth--Southern State.

"No way," I whispered, delighted.

Southern State, you see, is my adopted homeland, the place where I've lived and where all of my life experiences have taken place since I was sixteen. For a twenty-five-year-old that's getting to be quite a span of time, and I've long since come to regard the locality where I attended college and came into my own as home. It was validating to learn that my roots evidently originated in the place I'd grown to love. But how far did those roots sink?

"Exactly," Powell said. "If they came to Native State from Southern State, then where did they come to Southern State from?"

I smiled.

"I'm going to find out."

And so I dug.

After a while I started to become concerned; the records just stretched back and back and back, and for a while I wondered that I'd never find the Our Family origin.

"Richard Our Family, born 1881 in Southern State. John Our Family, born 1851, Southern State. James Our Family, born 1823, Southern State...Peter Our Family, 1750...Salathiel--Salathiel?--Our Family, 1725...William Our Family, far back can these go?"

The answer, to my astonishment, was 1619, and the place was a touchstone of American history.

"King's City," I marveled, reading the name recited by countless generations of American schoolchildren. "King's City."

In the King's City population census of 1624, there he was: John William Our Family, age 24, arrived November 1619--from Wales.

"We're Welsh?" my father asked.

"And French," I clarified. "A French family married into Our Family in the 1700s."

"What does 'Welsh' even mean?"

What, indeed. The Our Family history in this small country adjoining England is evidently a long and impressive one, but it was what we did after arriving in America that interested me. And it was that, the devilish details, that dampened the happiness I'd felt at learning my family had been in Southern State for 400 years. Which was, obviously, a great thing to learn.

"It's like when we moved here, we were coming home," my brother Powell said. I thought that was such a lovely notion. But in this ancient home of ours, we did things that should not be done.

The land records for 1645 list John William Our Family as purchasing 1,200 acres of land near King's City, the area his descendants would occupy for the next 300 years. It also lists him as furnishing the labor needed to work that land. For two centuries, from this initial endeavor to the great Civil War that forever freed four million human beings from bondage, the economic mainstay of my family was slavery.

It is tempting to dismiss this legacy by saying, "Well, everyone in the South owned slaves."

And it's not true.

"Of the 6 million white inhabitants of the so-called slave states, less than 350,000 owned slaves, and only 40,000 controlled plantations requiring a working unit of more than 20 field hands. But the 3,000 or 4,000 principal slave-owners generally ruled the politics of the South." (Churchill, The Great Republic, 137).

They were an elite among an elite. Criminals among criminals.

Perhaps the most striking aspect of Our Family's involvement in slavery is its consistency over two and a quarter centuries; the family ruled an empire of the lash, maintaining at least fifteen to twenty slaves per leading member throughout the entire Antebellum period. James Our Family, the last head of the family, before the destruction of the Civil War, is listed in the 1860 census as holding forty-seven men, women, and children in chains.

Individual instances of brutality were more shocking, more visceral, than the fact of the immense legacy could be.

In 1774 my sixth great-grandfather, Salathiel Our Family (tell me that doesn't just sound evil) posted an ad in a newspaper seeking a runaway named Sam.

"This Negro shall be easy to identify," assured Salathiel. "For I have branded him upon his face."

You can imagine that, as a progressive young gay man, the knowledge that I am in fact descended from a dynasty of vicious Southern slaveholders (which, you'll note, bothers my father's conscience not a bit) has not been welcome. Which is not to say there aren't things to celebrate in the Our Family history.

The family had a habit of educating its sons at Harvard, an oddity that I learned was actually common among Southern planters, and on the French side we are descended from Huguenots who came to Southern State seeking religious liberty in 1689. Since at least that time my ancestors had subscribed to, in another bizarre coincidence, the Episcopal Church, which is my denomination of choice.

So I am, by chance, an Episcopal Southern-Stater who learned he's descended from 400 years of Episcopal Southern-Staters. Perhaps your history defines you more than you know. But what rings across our story, louder than any other sound, is the crack of the whip, and it is that that haunts me.

Of course, the Our Family story changes dramatically after the Civil War. The plantations are burned, the slaves freed, the fortune lost, the masters at last served their richly deserved comeuppance. Within two generations of the war we'd left Southern State, my great-grandfather and his father seeking factory work in Native City. In 1923 my great-grandfather, at the age of only thirteen, landed in a local newspaper when he was injured in an industrial accident.

So now I know a little bit more about who I am and where I come from. The Our Family name stood for something, something repugnant, but something that I now understand. And as I marvel at some of the strange ways in which my own life has lined up with this history--my moving to Southern State, my becoming Episcopal--I wonder at how the defining aspect of that history, slavery, may still influence us.

If anything, I hope to take it as another reminder of how the powerful treat the powerless. I have suffered nothing like those whom my ancestors enslaved, but I, too, know powerlessness, and that powerlessness at the hands of vindictive men and women has taught me the value of mercy and compassion.

It is my aspiration that, one day, when centuries from now someone looks back upon my name, they will say, "He was good. He was kind. He left things better than he found them."

There are precious few peacemakers in Our Family's shared history. Maybe I can be one of them.

Friday, March 28, 2014

There is a Time for Grief and a Time for Other Things

I had a lot of mourning to do back in early winter. I'd tried and nearly succeeded at killing myself on October 20. I was two years out of university with almost nothing to show for my frantic job search, I was isolated from my former friends, the recreational drinking I'd engaged in while a college student was turning into a quiet problem, and my relationship with my parents had arguably never been more toxic. So I decided to end it all. And then, inexplicably, I woke.

That's the part you never count on, what happens if you somehow make it out of the thing alive. Immediately I was overwhelmed by guilt about the ordeal I'd caused my family, and I had to do some painful self-examination regarding the factors, some external but many internal, that led me to combine those two poisonous bottles one morning in early fall.

So the winter was a time for introspection. It was a time for withdrawal from the world and, yes, for grief. I cried. I dreamed. I laid in bed at night and wished I'd been successful. I used alcohol to numb the pain and then said hurtful things that turned away a good friend. And I ate.

Goodness, did I eat. In the cold emotional wilderness that followed my suicide attempt, the warmth of food offered an easy and immediate comfort that I was all too quick to take advantage of. The result: by the time spring rolled around, I'd gained somewhere in the neighborhood of thirty pounds.

This is what BB looked like before, back in November:

I won't show you pictures from now. I haven't taken any.

Its drawbacks aside, though, winter was a time of shelter, of warmth and possibilities, a time of discovery about my past that has helped me to plot my future. I understand now why I did this. And I am determined not to do it again.

They say attitude is everything, and I've come to believe they're at least partially right. The months leading to my suicide were marked by a fatalism that was both freeing and horrifying, but the months since it have been defined by a search not of how best to die but how best to live. With a growing awareness that it was my task to revitalize myself, I resolved that the endless loop of job applications and false hopes had to come to a close. I needed to take decisive action, and so I have.

There are two options facing me now, one of which I will be embarked upon by June 1: the first is public relations; the second is academia.

Having blown out of my Marble City internship after two weeks (a decision I now, despite early misgivings, regard as being one of the best I've ever made), I've continued to apply for paid internships in my chosen field and will do so until the onset of summer. At that point, should I not have secured a position, I will enter academia either in a master's of education program or a bachelor's of history program.

Both of these academic branches have the same eventual goal: my teaching history at the university level, but they entail taking very different tracks to get there. If I start the master's of education program, which is my preferred route, I will finish it in two years and around the fall of 2016 will take up a job as a high school history teacher. From there I'll obtain my undergraduate degree in history while working, followed by a master's and eventually a doctorate.

Should I be denied admission to the teaching program, which seems improbable given that I meet all its requirements, I will simply enter directly into the bachelor's of history program and go through to my doctorate. This second option would appear the more straightforward, but the first is preferable by virtue of securing me a more immediate income.

So there you have it. BB, whom you met as a college student, may soon be a college student again. This is a time for journeys. For increased knowledge, for decreased weight, for ever-widening horizons.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Pugnacious Pie

My ten-year-old sister Pie is, as many of you have no doubt gathered, a plucky little pastry. She enjoys football, burping contests, contemporary pop music, and entertains aspirations to one day attend West Point. She has recently decided that she is Irish, in no large measure because my step-mother has Irish heritage and in no small measure because Niall Horan, of boy band One Direction, happens to hail from the island.

The other day the talking cake and I were headed into the grocery store when a female motorist, her hair dyed an absurd shade of orange, cut us off as we attempted to use the cross-walk.

I ignored the offense, but Pie wasn't content to let it go.

"Pedestrians have the right-of-way!" she called over her shoulder. "You red-headed she devil!"

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Letter to a Friend

It's been nearly a month since my last blog post, and I figured I'd post a general update. A recent letter to a correspondent of mine covers all the points nicely.

February 21, 2014


I’ll have to begin with an apology for my lack of correspondence; looking back, I realize my last letter to you was from July 2013. In my defense, a lot happened in the interim, and I suppose in retrospect surviving a suicide attempt created a bit more of an emotional health to-do than I anticipated.

It’s been a rough few months, a period in which I’ve slid from one pit to another and remained in a seemingly inalterable state of flux. I jump in my mind from possibility to possibility and nothing, it feels, ever really happens.

It’s a funny thing, what disaster can do to a person. You sort of find that your core qualities, those things that made you you, begin to slip, and then one day you turn around to see the roof in shambles and the pillars that once held it up—for me temperance, studiousness, religious faith, and optimism—dissolved.

Up until 2012 I was a genuinely sunny person, despite what I can—not immodestly—say were a number of difficult challenges: childhood abuse and illness, financial distress in college, and other things. You’ve had your share of knocks as well, so I’m sure you know how it is.

But what should have been an inevitable time bomb never went off; I graduated high school, entered university, and got through school a happy and well-adjusted person in spite of the chaos around me. It was only after graduation that the things comprising my identity started to erode. Persistent unemployment in the face of tremendous effort left me apathetic, and in time rendered me immoderate where before I had been controlled (in eating, in drinking, in leisure, in everything), uncaring where before I had been attentive, plagued with doubt where before I had been devout, and cynical where before I had seen possibility. Two years of this finally culminated in the suicide attempt last October, and led to a sort of lethargy that prevailed after that for several months up until very recently.

I’ve determined, after seeing in myself someone I neither liked nor recognized, to attempt a recovery of those qualities that once made for so salutary an existence. In that vein, I am resolved to drink and eat less, exercise more, and, in what you will likely find the most worthy of mockery, return to the faith that bolstered me through my adolescence and early adulthood.

People who know me have often found my Christianity to be the most incongruous thing about my character, seeing as how I’m both a flaming liberal and a flaming, well, flamer, but I’ve never really been able to conceive of a universe without a creator, and have always been drawn inextricably to Christ despite coming from a mostly irreligious family. I’m not sure how to explain it. It’s just what makes the most sense to me, and somewhere in my heart of hearts it’s what I’ve always known to be true. Given your level of wit, I fully expect some amount of lampooning when you manage to write me back. If you fail at this I will be very disappointed in you.

You’ll notice that we’ve moved, actually to a really splendid house that you’ll almost certainly be unable to visit—my parents are going away in April but have expressed a reluctance to let me have anyone over. Even if you come, you’ll have to be content knowing that the most spirited thing you’ll have will be the pleasure of my company; my mother has forbidden us to consume any alcohol while here because of the whole suicide-by-wine thing. I think they have it in their heads that if I get drunk enough I’ll try again. That betrays something of a lack of understanding as to what actually caused the situation, but as their hearts are for once in the right place I’m happy to abide by it.

You’ll be glad to know that our relationship is substantially better. Who would’ve thought that the experience of my nearly dying would prove unnerving? In any event, it did, and they’ve been much less dickish since they came close to losing me.

My rent, for instance, is kept at a much-lower $250 a month, and in general they’ve just been more concerned about me and solicitous as to my welfare. To be honest, I really needed it; when I first came back I was something of a wreck, and in that state I just wasn’t fit to do much of anything. I think I needed a time to mourn and self-pity and mope. I’m only now, with renewed faith and a renewed spiritual structure, beginning to pull out of that. Time really can be a lovely thing every now and again.

As far as professional pursuits go, I’ve jettisoned the internship in Marble City in favor of a public relations class at Mountain University. I was very afraid when I first made this decision that I’d done the wrong thing, but I’ve now come to the conclusion it was absolutely right; I am done working for free on vague promises of jobs that never materialize. I went to college. I paid my dues. I acquired a skill-set. And damn it, I am worth a fucking salary.

I have recently done a little poking around on that front, at least where public relations is concerned, but don’t want to write you about it until something materializes. At the moment I’m writing for the newspaper and editing manuscripts with plans to enter a teacher-certification program this summer if nothing comes up before then. And I really hope something comes up before then, because the course is two years long and would almost certainly require me to continue living at home while working and taking a full class load. I’m so ready to be done with this nonsense.

So how goes everything on your end? You’ve been in your new job for a bit now and have a place of your own, right? You’ll have to tell me everything—give me a book! And I won’t drop off the face of the earth this time, I promise. Let’s see about another in-person meet-up in the spring?

Hoping to hear from you soon.                                                                         


Monday, February 10, 2014

Saturday Evening

This is the poem I didn't want to write

For to pen it is to pen the frailty of my own dreams
And of me

Once when I was shining I convinced myself, as all shining things do, that my sheen would emanate forever
Never put out by the black curtain of death
Or, more resoundingly, by the grey curtain of life

Now all that's iridescent is not my spirit,
But the shimmering smoke of the bar, the gleam of the sun in my unwilling morning eyes
The glitter of glass bottles and momentary abandon
The false belief that it will all one day

Get better

And shine again

I remain here
No longer young, but still deluded
No longer shining, but still aflame

Lost in the haze of broken promise that was thrust upon us,
But for which we will be blamed
A generation whose greatest fault was to be born when it was

But maybe some of us brought it on ourselves

Maybe I did
Maybe I did

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

The Long, Dark Night

In the nearly six years I've been blogging, I've never been absent from the site for so long. I'm not taking a hiatus or anything of that sort--in truth, I can't imagine it--but I am pausing the narrative that's proceeded uninterrupted here since 2008. Back then, everything seemed like a progression leading to something else. Now, with the economic dislocation of of the last decade persisting into the middle part of this one, a number of my plans have been thrown into the air.

For the first time in a long time, I'm uncertain. Not regarding my eventual success--as uncertainty in that quarter has plagued me for years--but regarding what path I even want to take. What now? Teaching? A second undergraduate degree? Journalism? Public relations? Which of those is even attainable? And what will I do in the meantime?

So if I'm circumspect, please forgive me. It's not that I don't want to share, just that I'm not sure what's actually happening. And with everything changing so quickly, I don't want to begin telling threads that might just peter off. So for the moment we'll say that things are unmoored. And I'll let you know when that changes.