Monday, September 28, 2009

Selected Entries: June, 2003


This month's selected entry comes from June 18, 2003. It was the day that Pie was born. At the time, I was fifteen, Powell was thirteen, and Thomas was eight.

June 18, 2003

“Pie has arrived,” were the words that greeted my rising this morning.

It was the first statement that I heard. It was what I woke up to.

I exclaimed, “Is it a girl?”

Powell said that yes, it was a girl. In my excitement I ran to the kitchen and picked up the telephone, where my father had just called. We were able to speak for a few moments about the baby before the conversation became awkward, artificial, and dry. Grand Ma, Grand Pa, Powell, and I went in the early afternoon to the Beautiful County Hospital to visit the new child.

I was in disbelief. Such a great happiness wasn’t possible. I couldn’t believe that it was really a girl. Even up until the very birth, the child’s gender was in doubt. My father frightened my mother be exclaiming, “It’s a boy!” when Pie’s head was brought out. As the rest of her body emerged, however, the gender became clear. Pie Our Family is a beautiful baby girl.

I held her. I was terrified that I would drop her, and her little head had to be supported just so, otherwise it would just fall back, because she has no muscles to support her neck. She’s adorable. She was so serene and pure and innocent that it melted my heart to look at her, and holding her was an incredible experience. I felt such a love already for this small child, as if she was my own.

She was born at 8:09a.m. on June 18, 2003 (today), weighing 11lbs, 8oz, and she was nineteen inches long. It is incredible that there can be such an innocent creature, such an oblivious, carefree, wonderful being of life. At the same time I thought of Pie’s future. I hope that she’ll be smart and pretty. She has my father’s nose, so she may already be doomed there, but I hope not. I don’t want her to be a dork; I want her to be happy and be able to socialize and be satisfied with her appearance. However, I don’t want her to be like so many teenage girls who drink and do drugs and have sex. I want her to have high intelligence and to be able to utilize that intelligence and be extremely successful with it. I want her to strive to do well in school. I will pray for her extensively. I want her to be so unconditionally happy and successful.

We’ve already thought of a new diminutive for her: “Baby Bear.” Because Mom is “Mama Bear,” I figured that it worked. I still think Name-I-Chose is prettier than "Pie," but she's not my baby. Thank goodness they picked Pie's Middle Name as the middle name, because it’s so fun to spell. Dad wanted her middle name to be “Lukayan Sky.” Thank God for Mom.

Both she and Pie will be coming home on Saturday. I like Pie; it’s a unique name. I can’t wait until the baby is crawling about the house, laughing and smiling and giggling. Of course, there will be crying, but it will be primarily my parents’ responsibility to deal with matters like that. I’m so happy that they’ll have to invest so much of their attention to the baby; it should diverge it from me. Not all of it, but just enough so that they don’t nag quite so much. We will be expected to change diapers and held a lot more, but I really don’t mind. The baby will only wear diapers for so long, and if she ever does have accidents it soon becomes inappropriate for a boy to change a girl’s diaper.

Plus, I’ll be gone by the time that she’s five years old. It makes me a bit sad to realize that I won’t be around to watch her grow up. I’ll still try to be a very positive influence on her life.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Off to Marble City

In about an hour, I will leave my dorm to head into Marble City, where a friend and I will go to a gay nightclub. I've never been to such a place before, and am filled with nervous excitement at the prospect. I'll let you know how it goes.

The Morning Phone Call

My relationship with my parents is not one-dimensional.

It is that, perhaps more than anything, that makes the situation between us so difficult. If someone is awful all the time, it becomes very easy to justify hating them and cutting them out of your life. It's when there is mutual love that things get complicated, and shades of gray are introduced to the equation.

I was very touched by the comments on my last post, and want to thank everyone who sympathized with my circumstances.

My parents, however, fortunately or unfortunately, are not demons, and I do love them.

On the day following our big argument, a Monday, the house phone rang as I was about to leave for school.

When I picked up, it was my mother.

"Hey, BB," she said. "I just wanted to say sorry for yesterday."

We hadn't spoken since the fight, and I'd been firm in my resolve not to deal with her at all. Those two words, though, and the sincerity with which they were delivered, were enough to make my resolution crumble.

"I'm sorry, too," I sighed, relieved to have the weight of the anger lifted from my shoulders.

"I do love you," she said.

That was something that I wanted to hear more than I would admit to her.

"I love you, too," I replied.

I also told her that I wasn't upset she would be paying for Thomas and Pie's school, that in fact I was happy about it.

"BB," she said. "You have to keep in mind that they're probably going to go to community college for their first two years, and even then they might have to take out some loans. It wouldn't all be handed to them, either."

"But I would want them to have it," I said. "They should."

"Look," she said. "If you came home tomorrow and said, 'Mom, I'm quitting school,' I wouldn't let you do it. I wouldn't let you drop out of school."

Hearing her say that was a tremendous reassurance, as a persistent fear of mine has been that my financial support would be discontinued if the costs ever climbed too high, that I'd be unable to remain here.

"I love you," she repeated, her voice suddenly breaking with emotion. "I really miss you around dinnertime. You were the only one who would come and eat with me, who would sit down and really have a conversation. Every day I cook and no one shows up, it's just me and Pie. I have to battle with her just to get her to eat her food, and I feel like I'm going to throw up."

"Mom, she's six," I said calmly. "That comes with the territory."

"I know," she said. "I know. So I just wanted to tell you that I do miss you, and you're always welcome to come home. I just want to know when you're coming."

"Okay," I said. "I didn't know any of that."

"Well, I'm sorry I don't say it more," she said. "Sometimes I can be...immature, and when I'm angry at your father you get the full blast of it, which isn't right."

In a way, we both have to confront his inefficiencies, and it's difficult for us in different ways. In my case, I feel that the authoritative male figure I should be able to turn to isn't there.

In her case, she has no husband, no equal. She has instead a partner who's either absent or unhelpful, leaving her to run the family essentially by herself. She has been wrong in many ways, but her predicament is not fair and I pity her for it.

Since the confrontation, I think she's realized some of her own shortcomings and attempted to address them. This week she called me several times, leaving messages that my textbooks had arrived, asking if I'd be coming home to retrieve them, and telling me each time that she loved me.

Because of my cell phone's low battery I'd neglected to call her back, and this afternoon I received a worried voicemail.

"Hey, BB," my mother said. "I'm calling to let you know that another textbook came. I've called you a few times this week and I thought you'd get back to me by now. I'm getting kind of worried. Are you coming home this weekend? Call me and let me know you're okay and what your plans are. Love you."

The reality of my parents is not so cut-and-dry as it might sometimes seem. I feel considerable anger, resentment, and pain over their past and present wrongs, but also love, which is returned. I wanted that to be known.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

The Orphan

I sometimes wonder what a normal relationship between a person and their parents is. I find the question particularly interesting when applied to people my own age, people who have just stepped into young adulthood and into a new dimension of freedom but who by and large lack the financial resources to support themselves.

What are their trips home like? How do they interact with their mothers and fathers?

One of the accepted stereotypes of the university experience is a stream of phone calls from worried parents urging their children to eat right, get plenty of rest, and, most importantly, visit home more often. In popular culture, the occupants of empty nests are depicted as concerned, unadjusted to their children's absence, and delighted at any opportunity to see sons and daughters who are usually on campus.

No part of me has ever believed this cultural story. I see it as a joke. How could I do otherwise, when my own parents are so oblivious to my being gone and register no apparent happiness when I'm home?

In discussing his own mother and father some time ago, Smart Roommate smiled.

"I'm really spoiled," he said. "I don't pay for anything. My cell phone, my car payment, they cover it all. But they push me; I never get to slide on anything."

"They sound awesome," I said, referring both to the financial support and to the unspoken emotional support that accompanies directing a child steadfastly towards the right path.

"It sucks that I can't get away with much," he said. "But, yeah, it means they're being good parents."

I struggle to comprehend that kind of life.

I came home this weekend to pick up text books and take care of a cell phone bill that my parents started forcing me to pay as a twenty-first birthday present, and one of the first things my mother said to me was, "You need to tell us when you're coming home."

She was clearly irritated that I'd decided to stay.

We largely ignored each other for the duration of the weekend, until early this afternoon, when one of her typical demonstrations of rudeness finally drove me to speak up.

Intent on studying, I'd carried my textbook and iPod into the kitchen, where I left them on the table as I went back into the basement to retrieve something. When I was coming back up the stairs, something silver flew past me and landed on a step, followed by a glossy book.

She'd found my things, and, in her usual reaction to coming across items "left out" where they don't belong, she tossed by property down the stairs.

"Hey, Mom," I said as I headed into the kitchen, book and iPod in hand. "It's commons sense that you don't throw an iPod down the stairs."

"Then maybe you shouldn't leave your shit laying around," she responded.

This is characteristic of her mentality. She has always presumed that she can disrespect and violate others without facing any kind of retribution. For years, she has made a habit of taking our clothes out of the dryer if we've not gotten there before her and then throwing them across our bedrooms in the most haphazard way possible, leaving shirts strewn across chairs and freshly-laundered underwear on the carpet.

Several months ago I did this to her, and when she got home to find the mess she asked who had made it. I told her I had, and she wanted to know why.

"You do it to us all the time," I replied.

"I don't care," she responded. "I pay the mortgage. Who the hell do you think you are?"

In her mind, her financial responsibilities confer upon her the right to be inconsiderate of everyone else but demand their reverence nonetheless. Unfortunately for her, I have never played that game and never will.

"Well, leave my stuff alone," I said today in reaction to her line of reasoning.

"If you leave your shit out, it's going to get thrown," she said.

I stopped and thought about what I should say.

"Okay," I enunciated slowly, trying to control my anger. "Well, if you don't leave my shit alone--" I used the term she insisted upon--"then I'm going to start throwing your shit around."

"I dare you," she said, her eyes and voice full of menace. She thinks she's dangerous when she's like this, and perhaps that memories of childhood abuse will cow me into submission now.

"And what will you do?" I asked.

She didn't reply.

The truth of the matter is, I've never hit a woman, and I'm not given to the types of bellicose threats of which she and her ilk are so fond. When she's tried to strike me in recent years I've just held her arms until she's stopped, but as time goes on I lose more patience and start to regard this line of benign defense less favorably.

When I look at it objectively, I see two things: she hasn't really earned the kind of restraint I've employed with her, and she would not be at a disadvantage in a confrontation.

She actually outweighs me by about ten pounds and has more than proven her ability to fight. I'm not saying that I'd ever just jump my mother, but I am saying that if she were to assail me again as she's done in the past (when I was seventeen she actually drew blood with a bite to my hand), my tolerance would likely run out. In this case, my size is for once an advantage; Powell is so huge that any reckoning between him and a person of my mother's stature would be patently uneven. When she hits him, he has no choice but to take it. In my case, though, an unprovoked physical assault could be legitimately responded to in kind.

She likes to intimate violence, but for her sake I hope she never attempts to carry it out again. She's bigger, but I have seventeen years of memories from which to draw rage.

I am not the kind to throw the first punch, but if attacked I will defend myself. That is all I mean to say on that.

Her casual discourtesy escalated into a full-fledged argument that soon turned, as these things inevitably do, to the issue of my tuition.

"You don't even like us," she told me, speaking of herself and my father. "You're just using us."

"Why do you say that?" I asked.

"You said it," she said.

"Yeah," I replied. "One time, out of anger, and you've never let it go."

"That's not true," she continued. "The other kids say it, too. They tell us that you say that."

"Well, I don't know why they would," I said.

"We're just your meal ticket," she said.

"Oh, really?" I said, actually laughing. "And what am I using you for? Is it for the tuition you don't pay? Or maybe it's for the cell phone bill you don't pay? Or maybe it's for the car insurance you don't pay?"

"We have done plenty for you," she exclaimed. "We've given you $20,000.00 for school. Don't you dare act like we haven't helped you. You are not my responsibility anymore."

"Yes," I said. "Yes, I am."

It is my belief that a parent's job does not end when their child turns eighteen. The parent's task is to provide their son or daughter with all the tools they need to enter the real world as successful adults, and in today's environment that means paying for a college education if they are able, which my parents are.

They have tried to shirk this duty for years, and my ongoing insistence that they fulfill their natural obligations is a constant source of conflict in our household.

My father recently put forward the idea of my getting my own car insurance, independent of their plan.

"Do you realize," I said to my father. "That by forcing me to take on more financial responsibilities now, when I don't have the resources to cope with them, you're increasing the likeliness that I'll be dependent on you after graduation? I am in a substantially weaker financial position today than I was a year ago because of burdens you've put on me."

"I don't want to talk about this right now," he said. "The conversation's over."

I will not let them wipe out my savings, which until I get a real job are non-renewable. Neither of them seems to care that by asking me to pay more and more, they're slowly chipping away at my ability to separate myself from them in the future.

This, however, is consistent with their philosophy in many areas: an emphasis on short-term gain over long-term consideration that inevitably leads to poor policy choices.

A similar issue played out during my teenage years when I was growing my hair out for the first time: because it was so thick and poofy, my father, feeling he should do something, insisted I get it cut at least once every month, sometimes to the point of having three or four inches shorn. When I tried to explain to him that if he let me go longer without trims I would soon be able to tie my hair back, he disregarded the logic. The predictable result was that my hair's awkward stage was significantly prolonged and that getting it long enough for a ponytail, a goal that should have been reached within a year, took about twice the time.

It happened even that quickly solely because I spent the summer of 2004 in another state and went three months without a haircut. The situation improved only when he was removed from a decision-making position.

This same stubbornness is being exhibited with regard to my college education and overall financial support, and I was quick to throw my mother's hypocrisy in her face when she said that at twenty-one years old I should be providing for myself.

"Really?" I said. "Because I guarantee you that you won't feel that way when Thomas and Pie are my age. You can say whatever you want now, but I bet anything that their college will be paid for."

"You're damn right," she said.

"So they're your responsibility, but I'm not?" I asked.

"Yup," she said. "I'll scrub toilets if I have to so they can go to college. Does that piss you off?"

The closing question reveals a lot about the type of person she is, and about the profound differences between us. She's a taunter; she does things that she knows will hurt, and in inquiring as to my feelings she was looking to see if her professed zeal in paying for my younger siblings' education, a petty jab at me, had hit its mark.

She also believed, in a key misestimate, that the knowledge of my siblings being paid for while I was made to struggle would inspire some sort of resentment in me. She thought, possibly, that I would wish them to have to plough through debt and uncertainty because I did.

She was wrong, though.

In fact, one of the first emotions that went through my mind upon hearing her declaration, alongside the anger I felt at the obvious double standard, was relief. I am relieved that Thomas and Pie will not have to go through what I've been through and that their educations will be secure.

A real part of me was happy.

"No, Mom," I answered. "You paying for their school could never make me angry, because I love them and I want to see them have that opportunity. I would never take that away from them."

That short reply sums up completely the vast gulf that separates this son from his distant mother. I am not vindictive, petty, or snide. I do not seek to bring others down just because I have been brought down. I am a better person than that. I am better than her.

In one aspect, though, she succeeded; her words did hurt me. I refused to let her see that, but it was true.

You see, the woman, Marie, whom I call my mother did not give birth to me. Another woman, named Anne, did that, but when she and my father separated, Marie came into our lives. She has been with me, in one way or another, since I was three years old. She bandaged my wounds, kissed my scraped knees, scrubbed me in the shower, walked me to daycare, cooked my meals, told me bedtime stories, taught me how to count past ten, and changed my brother Powell's diapers. She is the only mother I've ever known, and today she told me without saying it that I'm not really her son.

There's no way that can't sting.

It's perhaps not as bad as I thought it would be, because it's been presaged by years of abuse and scathing criticism alongside genuine love, and, on my side, a consistently hardening resentment and anger. It's still not great, though.

When I look at the three individuals who I can reasonably call my parents, I feel a void of sadness and disappointment.

The mother who raised me cannot be my mother in the full sense, cannot provide the emotional backing a son needs.

Anne, who actually carried me, has proven herself completely useless, unable to contribute money to my education and incapable of overcoming her own ever-present drama long enough to be a moral pillar in helping me confront my own issues. She's not a mother in any sense of the word.

Then there's my father, a drunk whom I despise, with whom every conversation becomes a playing-out of our disagreements. He is crude, juvenile, unprofessional, unreliable, and given to bouts of addiction and depression. In maturity and outlook he embodies all the worst traits of adolescence, transfusing out from a grossly bloated red body.

In all of this, I feel as if I have no parents, no one who's stable, or fair, or selfless, no one I can turn to with full confidence.

It's like I'm an orphan.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Hair Update

When I last posted one of these in August, a certain blogger with a penchant for clandestine operations remarked that it seemed as if my July update had been made merely a week before. I agreed with her, but made a private prediction that when September's update came it would feel like much more time had passed.

I was right.

So much has happened in the last month, between school, work, and my personal life, that August 20th seems very long ago.

This is what my hair looked like then, just before I got it trimmed:

My Hair


My Ponytail

This is what it looks like now:

My Hair

Boy With a Long Blonde Ponytail

My Ponytail

You can't really tell that I got it cut, which of course makes me happy. I actually think it looks longer.

Notice this picture, in which for the first time here I used four hair ties rather than three:

Longer Than I Thought

I like having it this long. It does get caught a lot under my backpack straps now, and sometimes behind my back if I'm leaning against a wall, but I just deal with it.

I don't have to get it cut again until February, so I have a good long while to let it grow out uninterrupted. I can't wait to see how long it gets this winter.

A real post will be coming soon, by the way. There's a lot to write about.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Eight Years Later

Ground Zero, 2002

I was thirteen years old.

That Tuesday was the second one after our long Labor Day weekend, and I remember thinking as I walked to school that it would be the first full week of classes.

There was nothing particularly unusual about that morning. As I always did, I found somewhere out of the way to wait in front of the school until the doors opened, so that I would not have to deal with the taunting from the other students. Once the first bell of the day rang at 7:45a.m. it was time to head for my first-period Spanish class, where my psychotic instructor had a full workload waiting for us.

I got out a piece of paper, and, in an eighth grader’s scrawl, wrote “September 11, 2001” in the upper right hand corner.

It was shortly after nine o’clock when I realized that I’d left my textbook in my locker, and I requested Strict Spanish Teacher’s permission to retrieve it.

When I spun the combination into my lock and opened the metal door, I found that all of my things, including my backpack, had been stolen. Such treatment was not unexpected, but whenever it came it was a blow nonetheless, and in this case one that could prove particularly costly. All of my school books, all of my homework, all of my class notes, were in that bag. The bag itself, meanwhile, would have to be replaced, which in that era was not as easy for my parents as it would become later.

I began opening every unoccupied locker in the hallway, frantically trying to find my stolen things. I was in the midst of this frenzied search when I heard a sob from down the corridor.

I turned and the middle-aged teacher sniffed again, the sound echoing off of the floor and walls.

Our vice principal was trying to comfort her, whispering questions, but her blue eyes were awash with tears.

To his inquiries she repeated over and over again, “I don’t know, I don’t know. I heard it was the Palestinians—”

I continued on my way, bewildered at her weeping, and was still going through lockers when a woman appeared at my shoulder.

“Hi, Awesome Teacher,” I said.

Awesome Teacher had been one of my instructors the previous year, when I was in seventh grade, and her quiet support had meant so much to me. My older readers will remember Awesome Teacher as the one who once told me she wished I were her own child.

“Hey, BB,” she said, dazed.

“Awesome Teacher?” I asked.

“Yes?” she asked. She wore a glazed expression

“Are you okay?”

She looked at me and her eyes filled with tears.

“You’re a good kid, BB,” she said, patting me on my head. “You’re a good kid.”

She walked away without another word, presumably to comfort her distraught colleague. I knew then that something was truly wrong.

Spanish class let out, but I was too confounded by the scene in the hall to proceed to my next period, and so, for the first time in my life, I skipped a class.

I carried on my investigation of the lockers, all the while reflecting on what I’d seen and trying to make sense of it. My things were in the one place I hadn’t checked: the locker right next to mine.

When I finally got them I went to the office, seeking a pass for my next class.

Upon entering, I found the secretaries and administrators listening to the radio in total silence. A man on the airwaves was talking about something happening in New York, and whatever it was it had the whole room entranced.

“What’s going on?” I asked a receptionist who was staring at the speakers in shock.

“New York’s been attacked,” she said.

“By who?” I asked.

“They don’t know,” someone else answered, shaking their head. “They flew airplanes into the World Trade Center.”

“What’s that?” I asked.

“Two skyscrapers.”

One of the women wrote me a late pass to English class, where I sat for the rest of the class, not spilling the beans on what I’d been told.

By the time we left for U.S. history, though, word was getting around, and my history teacher explained in cursory fashion that two airplanes had been hijacked and crashed into the World Trade Center in New York City.

She tried to get onto, but the site was jammed, so she turned on the radio instead.

“Amidst the devastation in New York—” came the strained voice of the announcer. That was as much as we heard, for in that moment there was a sound of screeching metal, a great horrendous scream as thousands of people shouted out at once, and then nothing. The reporter spoke no more—only occasional shrieks penetrated the static.

Our teacher turned the radio off and returned to the computer, from which she was able to glean some information after several minutes’ effort.

“They’re gone,” she said. “The Twin Towers are gone. They collapsed around ten o’clock.”

Within minutes, police cars were pulling up in front of the school.

We weren’t sure what they were doing there, and if anything their presence made us more anxious; was there a worry that our middle school could be some sort of target?

It was about half an hour later when we left for Math class, and that’s when the hysteria really began to set in.

“Close the window shades,” our teacher instructed, bidding us obstruct our view of the growing number of police cars out front.

In one wild moment, I had an image of a terrorist crawling through the glass pane.

“I just want all of you to know,” she said. “That this is not your fault. We were always warned that something like this could happen, and that if it ever did happen, we would be in a dangerous position being between New York and D.C. Your parents knew this when they chose to live here. It was a risk we all took.”

Her speech was interrupted, though, by the ding of the intercom, which started going off with increasing regularity.

“Billy Johnson to the office to go home. Sarah Williams to the office to go home. Jake Roberts to the office to go home.”

By the time our guidance counselor made her way to our room, the buzzer was sounding every few seconds.

“You guys,” Guidance Counselor said, stepping into the room. “They’re sending me around to let you know what’s going on. D.C. is being bombed, and they just hit Camp David.”

We didn’t even know what that meant, not in terms of the implications, or of the incredible significance. We knew it was bad, though.

“They’re sending you home.”

The room of thirteen-year-olds instinctively cheered, but our normally-bubbly administrator cut off the clapping with a severe admonition.

“Stop it,” she said, her glare sharp as a sword. “Do not cheer. Thousands of people are dead right now.”

We fell quiet.

Several minutes later, after Guidance Counselor had gone, there came a moment that I will never forget as long as I live.

“Attention students,” our principal’s voice boomed over the PA system. “Due to some things that have been happening in our country today, schools will be dismissing immediately. We urge all students to exercise caution in making their way home.”

In the hallways, which had been muted in the hour or so following the commencement of the attack, fear and panic were the bywords.

The student body was a thrusting mass of people, running this way and that, scrambling to grab backpacks and make buses, or find the family members who were wading through the crowd.

“My father,” a girl gasped, sobbing uncontrollably. “My father!”

She’d been in fifth grade with me. She was blonde, her name was Grace, and she was from Hawaii. Her father was in the military.

She collapsed onto the ground and could not get up.

Our vice principal swooped down, picked her up in his arms, and walked her into the office as she convulsed.

In the cafeteria, the tables were abandoned. The students were standing in a jumbled mob, discussing the events amongst themselves, while crying mothers called out their children’s names.

“BB,” a voice behind me said.

It was my own mother, wearing the business suit she’d left the house in several hours earlier.

“Where’s your brother?”

The younger children were being kept in their classrooms in the science wing, and I led her there so we could get my eleven-year-old sibling.

“What’s happening?” he asked us as we rushed down a ramp to the front door. “Why is everyone leaving?”

“Because this nation is under attack,” I answered.

Traffic was a nightmare as parents clogged the roads leading away from the school.

“Aunt Ostentatious is picking up Thomas and Blonde Cousin,” our mother told us.

My cousin and youngest brother were still in elementary school then, Thomas six and Blonde Cousin ten.

“They’re celebrating over there,” my mother said in disbelief, alluding to the Middle East. “They’re cheering in the streets. Up in New York, I listened to this woman on the radio who thought her husband was dead. When she found him she kept screaming, ‘He’s alive! He’s alive!’ I cried the whole way home.”

When we reached our house, I went to the living room and turned on the news, where President Bush was giving an emergency briefing to the press from an undisclosed location.

“Freedom was attacked this morning by a faceless coward,” our leader’s words seared immortal into my brain. “And freedom will be defended.”

When I think of the moment he had then, and what he could have done, it makes me regretful for all the pain and suffering that we’ve both experienced and inflicted in the last eight years. He had a 90% approval rating domestically and the unconditional support and sympathy of the entire international community. We could have rooted out the causes of the tragedy, destroyed the terrorist network, and formulated a new, enlightened policy toward the Middle East. It was an instant with the potential to be a catalyst, but instead it was turned into an excuse, into a joke, into a tool of demagoguery and oppression, the kind of which the war to avenge it was allegedly meant to stamp out.

He had the chance to be so great, and I believed in him so much.

That afternoon, we watched as New York burned.

“They’ll probably declare martial law in D.C.,” my father mused.

On the telephone, I asked my grandmother what she thought would happen.

“We’re going to war,” she answered definitively. “We’re definitely going to war.”

Eight years later, that war still proceeds, and an anniversary that has lost its sting for most Americans still affects us every day, from the ruined national economy to the dramatic spike in international terrorism, from our damaged reputation abroad to our polarized electorate at home.

9/11 could have been something else, though. And while there are many things about that day that were awful, there is one I would never trade: pride in this country, belief in its mission, and the unshakeable faith that, in the face of horrendous loss and terrible bloodshed, the United States has and continues to stand for freedom.

For the briefest millisecond of time, a man named George W. Bush and a horrific tragedy made us see that again. That same man took away a newfound patriotism for millions of his countrymen, but for some of us it’s still there.

I hope that, eight years after that unforgettable event, a new generation can be awakened to the fire of America’s greatness, this time through a message of hope, responsibility, and tireless work towards the betterment of our society and the lives of our people.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

The Bright Spots

On the Way

The members of Anne’s family have turned spectacular failure in the face of incredible natural blessings into an art of the highest caliber. If managing to achieve nothing with your life despite abundant talent and mind-blowing intelligence were an Olympic sport, they would bring home the gold every year, and the lowlifes in our family tree come a dime a dozen.

The few exceptions to the rule, however, shine with particular brightness.

When my grandmother passed away in June, Generous Cousin and his wife Southern Belle invited us to their home on the outskirts of Coca Cola City.

“Seriously,” Southern Belle said. “You can come anytime you want. We’d love to have you.”

Powell and I assumed that our cousin’s wife was being polite, but before they departed Decaying State they urged us once again to make a trip down to them.

“Don’t let this be something we only talk about,” Southern Belle urged.

Powell and Generous Cousin spoke throughout the summer on the telephone, and it was arranged that my brother and I should spent Labor Day weekend in Coca Cola City. We left Mountain Town on Friday afternoon and headed south through the mountains.

Once we’d left the vicinity of the Goldlands area, the real South unfolded before us, a South unchanged by the surge of Northern migration, a South untouched by the cosmopolitan mega-cities that are hundreds of miles away.

It was rather scary at times.

Y'All Come Eat

“Dude, I seriously don’t want to stop,” my brother told me as we drove past ramshackle buildings and through mountain passes. During one stretch of the journey, we didn’t have cell phone reception for four hundred miles. “I’ve never actually felt scared to get out of my car before.”

Confederate flags, tacky souvenirs, and the kind of pins worn only by those with no personal dignity filled the small gas stations where we refilled and used filthy bathrooms. Just north of Coca Cola City, though, the landscape started to change. There were more buildings, modern ones, more lights, more stores, more cars. We could have been driving somewhere in the North.

“That’s what Coca Cola City is like,” a friend told me later. “It’s one spot of coolness and civilization surrounded by crap.”

Like an island of culture in a sea of barbarism, or a fortress beyond the walls of which lurk marauding savages.

Powell and I arrived late, after one o’clock in the morning, but Generous Cousin and Southern Belle had stayed up late waiting for us, and Southern Belle was only too happy to make us a delicious meal of grilled chicken, squash, zucchini, and rice.

A Warm Meal

After that we were shown about the house.

In our cousins’ living room was a piano taken out of my grandmother’s house when she died, and on the wall hung a portrait of my grandmother done in the 1970’s, when she and her family lived in Independence City.

The Piano

Grand Ma Weird Family

The piece of art, an incredible family treasure (painted nonetheless by someone outside the family), captures my grandmother’s most indelible characteristics: her strength, her intelligence, her resolution, her wisdom, her majesty. It is beautiful.

After we’d been given the tour, Southern Belle took us downstairs.

“You guys will have the whole basement to use,” she said. “There’s a bathroom down here, and I can arrange for you to have separate beds so you don’t have to share—”

“No,” Powell interrupted her, shooting me a smirk. “We’ll cuddle.”

The Guest Bedroom

Our Bathroom at the Cousins' House

Their home was even prettier in the daytime:

Our Cousins' House

The next day, Saturday, was Southern Belle’s “surprise” thirtieth birthday party. I say “surprise” because Generous Cousin was so excited about having it that he couldn’t keep his mouth shut, and a week beforehand he let spill the beans that something was in the works.

“I at least got him not to tell me who was coming,” Southern Belle lamented to me later. “I wanted something to be a surprise. It’s one thing for him to tell me that there’s a party going on, but for him to give me the guest list and the catering menu would be too much.”

The relationship between the two of them is so funny.

Generous Cousin is by nature a giving person (as indicated by his pseudonym), but his wife takes it to an entirely different level. When she does things like letting my brother borrow her and her husband’s Beatles videos despite the fact that Powell and I are eight hundred miles away, or offering to let both of us live in their home should we wish to go to school in Sprawling State, Generous Cousin says nothing.

Instead he just watches his wife’s abject craziness in silence, knowing it is insanity but loving her too much to object in the slightest. If Powell decided to transfer, he’d be living there, and Generous Cousin would dutifully accommodate him. He is more in love with his wife than almost anyone I’ve ever seen.

Southern Belle’s party was appropriately extravagant.

In the hours leading up to it, we procured food, alcohol, plastic cups, and decorations, the latter of which we strewed about the house.

Ready for the Party

Dining Room

Then it was time to wait for the guests. Powell slept late that day, not rising until well after noon.

Powell in the Morning

Later on, he and Southern Belle waited for the guests, who soon came in abundance.

Waiting for the Guests to Arrive

There were thirty people there by the time the sun fell, all bearing gifts for Southern Belle. Everyone mingled for several hours, and then at around nine o’clock the party moved onto the back porch to hear the live music that Generous Cousin, a local business owner, had hired for the occasion.

Generous Cousin and Southern Belle are the kind of people who are very active in the urban life of their city, who attend all of the underground shows for future mainstream acts before anyone else knows who they are, the kind of people revered by younger friends as a hip, in-the-know couple.

Generous Cousin had originally booked a semi-famous band to perform at the party, but due to an obligation they had to back out at the last minute and were replaced by a jazz group.

The singer had just begun a lively, soul-infused version of “Happy Birthday” when a sound came from the backyard.

An elderly man who I didn’t recognize was driving a red car right onto the grass from around the side of the house, eliciting gasps from the party attendees.

Surprise Gift

“What?” Southern Belle exclaimed, at first expecting a party crasher.

Then she looked harder.

“Generous,” she began. “No…”

She walked down the porch steps, her eyes wide and mouth open.


Perched on the lawn was a 1973 Triumph TR6—Southern Belle’s surprise birthday present.

The crowd rushed down behind her, swarming around the vehicle with cell phones and digital cameras as she took the driver’s seat in stunned astonishment.

Gathering Near the Car

Late that night, after all of the other guests had gone, Southern Belle praised the success of the party but wondered whether Generous Cousin’s mother, Crazy Religious Aunt, had ruined the event by assaulting several partygoers, including me, with drunken ramblings on religion, witchcraft, and, in my case, how I wasn’t “fucking gay.”

“I’m sure Crazy Religious Aunt annoyed some people,” I said. “But I don’t think anyone really paid attention to her. They all know she’s just an old drunk.”

“Yeah,” Southern Belle said. “I hope you’re right.”

“Southern Belle, don’t worry about her,” I said. “Things like that don’t really matter. You should focus on your blessings. You’re thirty years old and beautiful; you have a husband who adores you; you have three wonderful children; you work from your living room; you live in a gorgeous home; and you’re surrounded by friends who love you. Do you know how much that means?”

Thirty Candles

She nodded and smiled, the kind of smile that can only be made by someone so wildly fortunate that they are incapable of realizing the greatness of their gifts.

People like Southern Belle are charmed, and I’d not take away their happiness in a minute. It’s good that someone can live like that.

The next day, a Sunday, we made our first trip into Coca Cola City, where we walked through a park, ate at a fabulous Italian restaurant, explored the gay district, and had at least as much fun at a local playground as Generous Cousin’s three children.

Here are the pictures:

Coca Cola City Park

Coca Cola City

Life Is Short. Stay Awake for It.

Coca Cola City

Coca Cola City

Coca Cola City

The Park

Coca Cola City

A Silo of Blue Sky

We left Monday afternoon, but Powell will be returning there next month, and I’ll be visiting during Christmas Break. I greatly look forward to it.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Off to Sprawling State

Powell and I are headed to Coca Cola City to spend Labor Day weekend with our Laid-Back Cousin and his family.

His wife, Hospitable Cousin, is turning thirty-one years old, and we're going to be throwing a surprise party for her.

I'll let everyone know it goes.

We're planning to have fun!