One Wanted Fifty Pairs of Eyes to See the World

Friday, April 10, 2015

making moves: my statement of purpose for a teaching credential program at USD

I want to become a teacher for the same reason I became an English major. It’s less a matter of choice, than of identity. It’s less a matter of making money or ends meet, and much more about who I am, what I want to do and what makes me happy. In my few years I had the privilege to coach high school sports while taking units at community college before the University of San Diego, I found that the happiest I have ever been was when given the chance to teach, coach, and instruct. I was probably too young to be coaching kids that were in some cases the same age as me, but what I found on those sun soaked fields in late Septembers and wet Springs was that heaven on Earth can exist. I know that can sound cheap, or trite, but to be honest, when I had a lot going on – when my girlfriend at the time had suffered sexual assault at a frat party after going away to college, when I was stuck with a bus pass and a two hour commute for what would have been a fifteen minute drive – I was blown away, completely surprised at just how all the stuff I was worrying about fell away as soon as I stepped onto a field, what was then my classroom. As the years passed, and as my passion for English grew, in my few chances to step up in front of the class,  I found myself remarkably more confident, self assured or at peace than I am ever accustomed to being.
            I had the chance to coach at three different schools, one of which was Costa Mesa High School, the other, Newport Harbor. They could not have been more different. At the former, I walked up to my freshmen players stretching, only to find the fallen face of Alfredo, my favorite sixteen year defensive end, whose quiet, peaceful sense of assurance inspired me in my more flummoxed moments. However, one day, I noticed something was wrong, and I took the step of asking him what was up. “My sister, coach… she’s pregnant. She’s fifteen. I know the guy who did it, and I want to…” His voice trailed off, and I knew what he meant. Contrast that scene with the one at Newport Harbor, when kids came to practice straight from AP and SAT test prep or Associated Students events, and I got to see two different sides of the same school district, separated by fifteen minutes and two different worlds.
            My time at Costa Mesa makes it hard for me to believe that our country’s educational issues and availability of opportunity boil down to individual accountability, or personal responsibility. What I saw were kids without dads, moms who worked too many jobs for too many hours, whose children were lost, filling the hours between class getting out and a parent coming home with the kind of mischief that people seek when they have holes to fill, and little hope.
            I too, came from a broken home. My mother was abused by a step-father whose anger issues stemmed from losing his father to a motorcycle at an early age, and suffering the loss of his best friend and brother in the same year, one from which he’s never recovered. I too, know what it is like to come to practice, to play with an angry edge that drew the coach’s attention, praise, and concern. I remember the day I moved out of my mom’s and into my grandmother’s home to escape the chaos, and the next day reading Catcher on the Rye on the bus with no clue what the book was about before starting, heading to a game in Downey wherein my emotions, bottled up, were released in fiery tears and too many fouls. I’ve been there.

            I have come from privilege. My grandma gave me the opportunity to go to college, and though I come from a land of cardigans and four dollar coffee, I am no stranger to distress, dysfunction and violence. And, as the years of my childhood come to a close, and as I think forward towards my future, and the one I want for my kids, I know that I want to make sure the children I can reach have the kind of support I way always able to find in the English teacher’s of my not so distant youth.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

wasting away again in margaritaville, with concerns

It’s 3:17 p.m. and I’ve poured the first drink of the day. I just backed my car up into the solid concrete wall of my school’s parking structure with a friend in the car, and then nearly threw it into drive and rammed directly into the shining front grill of a 6 Series BMW, but luckily, I found the break pedal in time. It’s the kind of mistake that an old person made that lead him to mow down eleven to fifteen people in Santa Monica some decade or so ago. I’m doing that kind of thing, sober, at 25, all because I’m not anywhere close to being present. The last time I did this kind of thing, when I scraped the side of my car against a wall, I was talking to my girlfriend at the time, and she was saying something that made me jealous, or that I was made jealous by, and I remember having that thought as I made the mistake; I remember being distracted. I am distracted, today, by a myriad of concerns: my mother not calling me back, making herself as available to me as my dead grandmother is, all while I’m going through a lot. I don’t know if I’ll be able to go to Columbia. I got my FAFSA rejected today, because I filled out something wrong, marking my application for undergraduate instead of graduate studies, some stupid, juvenile mistake to make that hopefully doesn’t compromise my ability to get non-loan aid. We will see. I’m worried about my future, as anyone who reads this stupid fucking blog can see. I’m worried about loss. I’m worried about what moving to New York will mean for my relationships, all of them. The one with my mom is basically already severed. My dad and I stay close through texts, mostly, as it is. My friends, here, are somewhat few and far between, except the girls I’ve suckered into hanging out with me, in between me freaking out over all the shit I avoid, have going on in my life. It can’t be all that pleasant being around someone like me, no matter how tan or handsome my face might be in moments: I’m anxious, stressed, worried, negative, never in the moment, and totally isolated from the basic joys that bring people happiness: eating, sleeping, running, dancing, loving, sex, socializing, etc, etc, etc. I have my roommate – one now – and he’s great, and I’m lucky to have him, but he’s different than I, and there’s only so close that we can be, at least in terms of me being able to open up, express myself, be heard, have him care. He works a full time job for just above minimum wage, and works hard to make that money, to pay rent. He doesn’t have a trust fund – not that I do either, at this point – nor does he have the luxury of being bailed out like I might. In other words, my problems are nothing to what he has going on. My problems are just that: mine. No one cares, and I can’t expect people to, though saying something like that is pretty self-pitying. I know I’ll be okay, I suppose, I know, eventually, I will.

But I’m worried about moving. I’m worried about what it will mean for my relationships with people back here. I’m worried about how I’m going to pay rent, how I’m going to find another roommate, about having to move into my house’s laundry room in order to afford it without a reasonably paying job. A job: I need something fulltime, twenty dollars an hour kind of thing, the sort of job you get after graduating college, but then again, aren’t I moving? Or am I? I have no fucking clue.

On days like these, after my grandmother died, I’d get real down, because she was the only person I could ever turn to in moments like this, who could tell me what to do, who could make it better, who loved me despite how anxious I am, despite how much of a turn off that must be to people. Who wants to hang out with a nervous wreck? Who finds someone who hopelessly in his own head and upset attractive, let alone sexy? I’m isolated. I see girls, pretty ones, jogging down the street, healthy, every guy looking at them, their big dog running along with them, and all I can think about is how far I am from being in a relationship with someone like that, let alone anyone, how far I am from being able to have someone like that in my life. I don’t know where I’ll be in six months. I can’t really afford to date. I don’t know what I’m doing with my life, except stalling. That’s it. That’s what I’ve been doing, this year, probably all of it: treading water, checking off the last boxes, delaying the inevitable: get a job, grow up, get serious, pay all my own bills. I’ve got this bitch Sallie Mae calling me twelve times a day, that same unknown number that I know exactly who it is.

Like Drake says, something to the effect of “waiting on a check again, ain’t no tellin” I am utterly lost when it comes to what I’m going to do to survive on this planet. I say I will teach, I say I’ll coach, but I don’t even know how to get a fucking credential. I don’t know what I’m doing. I keep writing, but at this point it’s for me, only me, as I’ve given up any kind of serious hope of being able to create something that people outside of myself, and my life will find remotely interesting. I want to write outside of myself, write something for someone else, but I’m completely consumed by my own bullshit, my own thoughts, worries and concerns. I’m a total fucking narcissist.

And as such, I have to wrap my head around the fact that ain’t nobody got time for that. I’m smashing my car nearly into parked ones, yet there are plenty others with far more pressing concerns than this spoiled brat at his private university with his sadness, his anxiety. Over what?

Over whether or not he’ll be able to go to that expensive private grad school he wants/ wanted to go to? Poor baby. Someone will have to say no to him for once in his life. Or maybe I’ll just run away, take the debt on, start my life anew. Far from family, farther from friends, at least the ones on this coast, few of which remain, anyway. I’m closer to tequila than I am those I have mistakenly called best friends, over these years. Tequila, at least, is there for me, listens, makes me feel better. It doesn’t judge, it doesn’t flake, it doesn’t have other plans, it doesn’t have its own concerns.

I’m sad these days. I’m sad because I realize that even if I stayed, it wouldn’t matter, and, probably, things would get worse, much worse.

I am a cautionary tale in leaving your child up to his own devices, what happens when a child is left to raise himself, without supervision, with way too much lax freedom, money, and anxiety. I’m 25 and completely unprepared to be a self-sustaining adult, despite my myriad of advantages.

I need to get the fuck out of dodge.

In my dream of dreams, I’d run away, but then, god knows I’d be so lonely. Leave it to me to make scramming sound bad, to make my delusional fantasy of taking whatever money I have and running away to a hammock and a margarita bar sound bad. I’ve always joked that Cocktail is my life’s plan, and more and more lately, that’s less and less far from the truth, except I’ve never tended bar. Go figure.

I’m a lost boy. And no matter how many words I type, blog posts I make, none of that is going to change. I desperately need to go somewhere to level out. I need to pack up my shit, sell everything I can, get out of rent, escape utilities, and just, be, at, peace. Somewhere safe, regular, where I won’t have to worry about all the exigent realties of existence. But, who wouldn’t want that? Leave it to someone as sheltered as me as to feel deserving or entitled to something like that. I haven’t just come back from war. I don’t work seventy hours a week. I take two classes, just came off two weeks of vacation, and yet I’m a shaking, nervous wreck who’s crashing his car into inanimate objects.

Bullshit, bullshit, bullshit, blah blah fucking blah.

Self-pity, whine, etc, upon endless etcetera. I should have just applied to law school, not that I would have gotten in with my grades.

Not that it stopped my mother, I guess. The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.

I suppose at the end of the day, all I really have to do is make rent for May, put in my 30 day notice, sell all of my shit, get through my last classes, graduate, and then…? HA return home? Live with my parents? I can’t even get my mother to return my calls, and I’m not going to live in the same house with the guy that broke her ribs, and that belittles her. I guess there’s my dad’s house, in Torrance, completely isolated from everyone and anything I’m close to. My Uncle Bill’s condo? Assuming, he’d have me? I don’t know what I’m going to do. I’ve got a little money set aside, I guess, that I could use to get established, if I had a cosigner, on a new place, a studio, somewhere here in San Diego, by myself, or perhaps, what, back in Orange County? Is that really what I’m doing? Moving back to Huntington fucking Beach? Not that that is such a bad place to be. I mean, Faulkner never left the South, but James Joyce did leave Ireland. Mark Twain did go to write in Elmira, New York. Hemingway left Illinois for Europe. And who the fuck am I to consider myself in that same metonym? Jesus.

I hear there are organic farms you can volunteer to work on, where you do work, they feed, house and clothe you. That might not be the worst thing for me. I mean, I’m getting real outside of the box right now. But I don’t know how else to not. I’m truly lost, without any notion of what my future is going to look like, outside of a massive amount of debt, and a degree that I can only hope gets me jobs to pay it off. I’m probably, definitely, just terrified of it, moving, leaving, going out on my own. That’s probably what keeps me from fully committing to NYC, that, and delusions here at home.
I don’t have anything here to stay for. I have people I will miss, but people who have lives all their own, whose won’t be benefitted by my staying. In fact, they have their own lives to the extent that my presence here would be inhibiting. I need to get away. I need to get away from the people I’ve clung to, and go do whatever it is I need to do to take care of myself, to grow up, to get settled. Whether that’s Peoria, Illinois, Julian, California, or somewhere in New Mexico, I’ve got to get established. I need a cheap cost of living, clearly, as no one is paying to read my blog anytime soon. But then again, what of Columbia?

I guess that really is my only option. I don’t know what else to do. I’ll just go there, take on the debt, and hope and work for the best. I suppose that’s been the only option all along. I guess what I need to do then is just graduate, and survive in some way until August, when I can begin to move in.

I’ll be all right, at some point, I guess. But I just don’t know anymore. I just don’t trust myself the way I used to. I feel all of a sudden very, very old, high school far removed, and myself all too much separated from the young and lovely faces on my campus, so happy for Spring, joyous, without all the bullshit I carry with me on their faces, let alone their bullshit, which they do a better job dealing with, or sublimating.

You don’t realize how good of a friend you have until you aren’t around them, and it’s in times like these I really miss Michael LaBlanc, but then again, if it were easy enough to appreciate people in their presence, their loss wouldn’t mean so much.

I’m definitely going through loss. I don’t know how else to describe your own mother not returning your calls. It feels like a death. I guess one that is inevitable, literally, but not one I expected so soon, clearly. At least baseball is starting today any minute, and the twenty dollars I’ve got on the games, who knows, could just solve all my problems. I am definitely quite the degenerate gambler, one who wins just enough, largely enough, to justify, in my mind, the whole god damn thing.

Buy the ticket, take the ride, roll the dice, hope it doesn’t come up sevens.  I keep betting long odds on deuces, and they never seem to show.

It’s a half hour till five on the west coast, and happy hour is long since started.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Turning the Page: Me, Myself and I

It was sometime past ten o’clock in the evening and I’d had what I’m not sure was too much, or not enough wine to process that which I’d just saw. I’d seen, in my Twitter feed, distracted as I was by the performance of particular players tonight in Major League Baseball, various instances of concern, expressed by the usual players, accounts linked to Anonymous, those favorited and re-tweeted by them, posting pictures of a white man, and something about another racially motivated policing incident, this time in South Carolina. By the time I’d gotten to reading the paper on my phone, in the eventual hour or so before bed, whatever it was had made it to the top of the New York Times mobile app’s front page, with a video and a warning: graphic language and content, viewer beware.

What I watched, then, first, with the sound off, as ESPN played still in the background, some major league manager giving his explanation for a move made in a game after the fact, to satisfy a reporter’s question as to “what he was thinking,” was what appeared to be a police officer shooting an apparently unarmed black man as he ran away, with his partner joining him over the dead body minutes after. I wasn’t sure what to make of what I’d just saw, especially not after what appeared to be a weapon was clearly planted deliberately and directly next to the fallen body, all in the view of a recording cell phone camera. After rewinding the clip, and turning on the audio for full effect, I heard then the videographer’s few words of narration, exist as a refrain:: “Oh, shit. Shit.” A fifty year old man, son and brother, was shot dead after a traffic stop for a broken tail light. He had been arrested before on charges of failing to make payment for child support and failure to appear for a court hearing, as well as assault and battery, in addition to a charge regarding the possession of a “bludgeon.” These charges are noteworthy, first and foremost, for the role they will play in Fox News’s coverage of all this tomorrow, in their framing of the discussion. The father of four breathes no more after a stun gun failed to fall him, after a former Coast Guard and current cop fired eight shots into him as he ran to escape, the wires from the “less than lethal” device still attached to him, as his body became a corpse.

As I go back into my Twitter feed, across four hours of bullshit, I find little. All of the #WalterScott coverage was left to a moment four hours past, with a flurry of outlets and accounts mentioning it, then little else, the conversation apparently having turned back to the Women’s Final Four, Rand Paul and the California drought. The thought that, at the least, a climate change issue is trending would be inherently helpful and positive, if not for the fact that the conversation was now shifting into a blame game over how much water particular crops take, and why its not fair to hate on Almonds. When it gets to the point where people are willing and ready to give up eating beef for the sake of living more sustainably, that’ll be something. Until then, we’ve got to ask for water at restaurants, take two minute shows and not flush, because In-n-Out has money to make, and addictions to assuage.

Realizing now, as I fumble through the feed, I see that almost each and every instance of the Scott case that was presented came by virtue of a retweet from an Anonymous account. These are the same people that posted a video of a man in a Guy Fawkes mask denigrating Kanye, because of his infatuation with chasing high fashion’s acceptance, and for marrying an amateur porn-star turned reality TV queen, the latter of the two striking me as somewhat misogynist, in terms of shaming a woman for their sexuality and promiscuity, but then again, how many people are willing to defend the path to stardom that she took as a model for their future children? At the same time, who is anyone to judge someone who has so cleverly and successfully built themselves into a globally recognized brand? And at the same, should a brand be such a proud thing to be? I think that’s the tack that Anonymous would take. But that then begs the question: how likely and serious is their idea of a New Renaissance? They called for it this year, in their video polemic against Mr. West, in which they recognized his talent, but decried his dedication to his ego, and to pet projects of vanity, rather than working for global change, or to solve any of the many problems he’s dealt with or addressed in his work. I think they are right to hate on Kanye for his stupid thing with sneakers, as I’m not sure peddling consumerism to young and urban audiences is an appropriate thing to be doing, especially when the wealth inequality gap is greater than ever. Yet, we have the rich selling the poor stupid looking $300 sneakers, holding them up as the next great thing. If cool means subscribing to that bullshit, than making cool mean spending that much on sneakers can’t be good for the world, at least in the Pope Francis sense of it all. And isn’t that the one we should aim to embody?

I mean, I’m not trying to make Saint, personally. But then again, I think it’s hard not to see what Pope Francis is talking about when he talks about a culture of narcissism, consumerism and a callous hardening towards the poor. I know this is probably much too much negativity for any of the Fox News watching set, who watch their sacred channel because of the good way it makes them feel about their country. For certain people, criticism and dissent and dirty words. It reminds me of that old Woody Allen joke about commentary and dissent merging to become dysentery. Well, that’s how Sean Hannity feels about criticism of his country: it’s like an STD: not to be mentioned, and to be dealt with in privacy behind closed doors.

I guess what compelled me to write is the way in which what I saw in that video shook me out of what I self-diagnosed as my narcissistic condition. According to the DSM, I exhibit, if I’m being honest, and if I’m answering the questions, plenty of the particular traits associated with the type. I don’t think, however, that I don’t experience empathy. I think I’m pretty sensitive, to which I think many would attest. I can, however, be incredibly cold and in moments cruel, perhaps the product of experiencing loss and disappointment often in a childhood marred by adults who often didn’t act like it, but then again, that’s probably exactly what a narcissist would say. They’d throw pity at you, and hope for you to bite. They’d reel you in with sadness, and seal you in with obligation.

To be fair, however, I’m not sure that it’s my fault, nor that I’m alone. I was, definitely, over-praised as a child, and made to feel better than others, like I was special, the owner of some innate gift, and as that gift was more and more selectively described to be my writing, my ego only grew, and grew. Add to the fact that I now write mostly non-fiction, and in the first person, and about myself, and you can see just exactly what twenty-five years of this kind of thing will do to a person, how it can lead to someone absolutely and completely self-obsessed, lost eternally in their own mind, who struggles constantly to stay in any moment, even the most beautiful. This is not to mention the fact – though here it comes, because of my ego – that I was accepted into an Ivy League grad school for that very writing, and for its explicitly first-person and auto-biographical bent, and here you have someone truly insufferable: at once, too narcissistic and pretentious to deign interest in committing to any of the things that would make him feel like part of a community, while at the same time so uncomfortable with his own ego that he feigns humility and charm to obfuscate his true intentions: status, acceptance, pleasure. Probably, in that order.

But am I being too harsh? Is there not a part of me that is truly and beautifully kind? And loving? And dedicated to his friends and family? That is fiercely protective, and loyal to them? That spends most of his time, in some way, thinking or dreading about them?

The same loyal son who denigrates his mother in the blog post that he writes? That feels kinship to Eminem rapping about his mother? Who can’t get a call back for nearly a month after an email he wrote? One he swears to himself includes not a single word that he would take back?

The son whose beloved father he barely visits? Who he didn’t even call on Easter?

The wonderful little sister he seeks to shape and protect, but whose live he blogs about online? Beyond her knowledge, in hiding, through deception and privacy settings…

I’ve never been good with the concept of self-love, because I’ve probably never loved myself for the right reasons. I’ve spend too much time priding myself in things that are contingent rather than inherent, on the conditional rather than the not: best delegate awards in Model U.N., playing time on the football or lacrosse team, having a pretty girl around who is willing to have sex with me, or my teacher’s appreciating my written work. It was never, doing well in school, or, how well I played the game. It was about consequences, about results, about how the arithmetic added up in my head. It had little to do with, cliché as it is to say, my heart.

Here I am, twenty-five years old, about to graduate college and getting ready to embark for the East Coast and graduate school, or to set up roots in Southern California, and get ready for teaching, for a life of coaching lacrosse, learning to take care of a puppy and watching the sun set over the water, rather than rise from it. Until I know the offer Columbia is going to make in terms of financial aid, in terms of loans as opposed to grants and scholarships, it’ll be hard to say what exactly it is that I should do. I’ve been weighing the scales, thinking about pros and cons, but all it comes down to is the idea of taking out over two hundred thousand dollars in debt, and whether or not I’m just afraid to go.

School is starting again, at least, and I’ll have that to attend to as I figure out how to make ends meet in the interim, between coming to a decision and not knowing. Whether it’s a seasonal job to tide me over till August going door to door fundraising for PBS – really, I did a phone interview – or locking up something more substantial with the understanding that I’d be full time starting in June, committing to at least another year here while I work, teach, and perhaps apply to more and other grad schools this time, rather than just one – see what I did there, always rubbing the ego points in – and see where I am this time next year. Though, I am not getting any younger. I am, however, only twenty five, and when I began to think back today where I was this time five years past, compared to where I am today, I felt pretty good about it: from Park Newport, OCC, twenty years old and reeling from the death of my grandmother, to Ocean Beach, graduating USD with an acceptance to grad school. I do, at least, know what it is I want to do: write, teach, coach, and repeat. I do, also, have plenty on which to write. If I’m being honest, and if I’m being willfully engaging of my ego, I can say that I have stories to tell, some, if not many of which, could be usefully told and interesting, that could have value if repeated, and if told with the direction that they ultimately should be afforded. I had a fairly unique view of the 1990s, of 9/11 and the jingoism around the Iraq War coming from conservative Orange County. I played football as a nerd, did performing arts in addition to lacrosse. I wore pink to school, got a black eye boxing in the football locker room. I came from a broken home, with drug and alcohol abuse, and I’m also a product of divorce. I’m the sum of my parts, and there is a story in their compilation, and through the mosaic of the man I am I think I might have a thing or two to offer, if not only in the struggle I show in telling what it is that I want to say, which, for better or worse, seems to be fairly all consuming at the days pass, and the nights grow longer. There still aren’t any more than twenty four hours in the day, but as each day passes, and as I get one day closer to death, the ease with which I can frivol away time reduces, as do the stakes with which I know I ought to live the next day. Depression results from all that which I want, and hope to achieve, and my lack of faith or hope in my ability to achieve them. It’s stilly, because you can accomplish nothing without blind, irrational and unconditional belief in yourself. But, as I’ve heard it problematized before, is it so irrational, then, to ultimately believe you will be able to handle whatever cards are dealt? Probably, but perhaps not if you consider it less a matter of being able to deal with what is dealt, rather than being willing to come back to the table, time and time again, no matter how bad a beat you just suffered. Failure, it could then be said, occurs only when we accept defeat. It also occurs, however, when you lose.

But how often can I in my life remember truly losing? I remember defeats: in Model U.N., in sports, in student politics. I’ve struck out with girls, and flunked classes. But I don’t know many times in my life when I haven’t put my mind to something and not accomplish that which I set out to do so. Whether it was getting to know a girl, getting a grade, or getting a job, I’ve had pretty good success with my passion meets my ability for Zen-like focus, the kind I only turn on in rare occasions, when my anxiety is tuned out and I am fully present, like in those Model U.N. conferences of old. They were always a marathon, not a sprint, and my ability to stay focused and on task through the duration of the entire weekend, never feigning to play cool or talk about the party that night, or how hung over I was from the night before, meant winning. But then again, after a sentence like that, I’ll leave it to you to judge who was the one really having success. Clearly, I wasn’t exactly popular in high school.

It’s edging closer to midnight, and I have only the sound of the keys beneath my fingers, as they dance along, and the wind running through the palms outside the screen door, a storm coming in from up north, the weather of Spring as indeterminate as my own mood and spirit these days, in winds that seem to constantly change. The beginning of the end of my undergraduate education starts tomorrow, still some more homework due, tests to take, attendance to record before it’s over, before I move on to the next piece of debt or to being on the other end of the teacher’s desk. They say that at the root of anxiety is uncertainty, and that a man’s (or a woman’s) ability to handle that kind of thing says a lot about their character, but I think a corollary of that is also true: That successful people, though they may thrive in indeterminacy, are such because they eliminate the need for decision. They streamline, they save their energy for the things that really count, not for which Starbucks to drive through, which Mocha to buy, or figuring out what outfit to wear. I think rituals, routines and some sense of order tend to help me inordinately, especially to the extent that they minimize uncertainty, and the need to make decision after decision continuously, throughout the day. I know Obama does this, and doesn’t pick out ties as a result. God knows he eats the same thing for breakfast each day. As I describe this, it sounds quite boring. Another word would be monk-like. I, for one, would like to reserve the right to eat something different each day for breakfast. Then again, I’m also not the leader of the free world. This is all, of course, a way of dancing around the big decision, of what is going to happen with grad school, where I am going, or not. I’ve taken solace in saying it’s not up to me, that it’s more a matter of what they offer. But to be honest, even still, some part of me believes that if I fully believed in myself, I’d buy the ship, take the ride, and burn my boat behind me, fully committing to New York, to being a writer, a professional one at that, and knowing that when I make it that debt wouldn’t mean shit. But also too, there’s the part of me that thinks the brave choice would be to be happy, to teach, to coach, to be near family… But I could also be happy I’m sure on the East Coast. Especially if I was taking classes from John Jeremiah Sullivan. But perhaps it would be rough knowing it was at a cost of borrowed money to the tune of $80,000 a year. Decisions.

And what then to of the idea of spending a small fortune – a large fucking amount of money – to be certified as a writer! To buy a degree that says you are accredited? Surely, the advice, support and teaching you’d receive would be, perhaps, priceless, right? But that’s also what they say to the student-athletes about the value of their education. Things, do, however, have a price, as does everything, and the cost of going to Columbia, without grants and scholarships, would be a hell of a lot. Especially to learn how to do something that you either can, or cannot do. It’s not like going to school to be a lawyer, or a doctor: it’s a natural thing, that’s honed, or it isn’t. It’s not instructed, there aren’t hard and fast rules. Once you are past grammar, if one can ever be said to be, it’s all down hill from there. The rest is just practice.

Graduating with 200k in debt is one thing for someone in the medical or legal professional field, let alone the business one. For an aspiring writer? It’d be as if I was trying to make myself broke, destitute and better able to embody the cliché. Then again, a master’s degree would be nice, as would anything that would keep me out of the real world and a true 40 hour a week gig for the time being. You can live well on financial aid, I’m sure, especially with a side job of some sorts. But then again, it’d be on a tab yet to be rung, or, rather, one that was continually ringing, only to be deferred…

At the end of the day, to quote that easily imitable Kyle Manning phrase, what I want is a house, land owned outright, my own Woody Creek. I want to be able to make money teaching, and writing. I want to have privacy, and quiet, as much of both that I can while not living completely isolated in some suburban or distant interior. I just want to be, in Drake’s terms, if not literally, then figuratively, successful.

I’d like not to worry about picking up the check at dinner, be able to afford to have kids in the next ten to fifteen years, and to be financially secure enough to attract the kind of women who would want to do the same. As it is, if I’m being honest, I’m two months graduating and one grad school not gone to away from being another unemployed college grad with a degree that doesn’t lead directly to a job, debt on his head and a body that’s the result of a sedentary and anxious lifestyle, self-medication and not enough sleep. I mean, if I am being more self-loving, and I’m trying to do it unconditionally, I know, deep down, I’m still me, and I still have music, and words, and writing, and the books that I know that can and will protect me. But I also know what it means to be judged by the terms of a particular system, and in our society, in our culture, being cool or liked means well off, it means having means and independence – as it well should – and no girl likes a guy who sits on his ass all day, nor one who has no career or direction, like every other Peter Pan in the Bear Flag State. I’ve said before that there’s nothing wrong in my life that a job and a gym pass can’t solve, and that’s almost true: it can’t lay out the path ahead of me anymore clearly, or give me any more definition about what I should do, or what I have done, about my future, or my family. All I have instead is what I’ve always had: my stories, and myself to entertain me. I have my words, my pads full of pen ink, my worries, hopes and dreams. I have my blog, my bitching, my online dumping ground of emotion, thought and despair – thanks for reading! But above all else, I have my struggle, which, I guess, puts me in the same category as Hitler, because he had his too, and he termed it just as such. Great. It’s about that time.

I’ve had a professor once ask me what the purpose is to so much self-conscious in my writing, in a particular piece, and he made the point that it has to serve some kind of end, that it has to serve the piece itself. I suppose when I’ve figured out that, how my self-consciousness can serve me, let alone my writing, I’ll really be somewhere. But then again, I wouldn’t hold my breath. I’m five more years to thirty, and no closer to being published in GQ by then. I mean, there’s Columbia, and that’s a clear path. But then again, I’m not sure it’s magazine articles I really want to write. But don’t listen to me, because I’ve talked myself out of both options back and forth today than I care to admit. A pro becomes a con and back again, which is easy to do when you’re scared and unsure of yourself. That’s not easy to admit for someone who has so often trusted his intuition, at the expense of his better sense. But at times, when your gut leads you do a decision that doesn’t lead to a clearly defined outcome which you might have desired, let alone any tangible, visible outcome, it’s hard to be an honest judge. But then again, if I’ve learned anything – perhaps, like to use another connective phrase then the same one I’ve been repeating endlessly – it’s that you cannot live nor act based upon consequences, at least not alone. In a world in which cause and effect is still theoretical, in which we have control only over the intention and spirit or motivation with which we can, how we act, getting caught up in what happens as a result is probably far too close to Monday Morning Quarterbacking than I’d ever like to be. Nobody likes the guy who does that. Least of all the guy who was wrong on Sunday.

But then again, none of us are going to be around to see who was wrong on Sunday, let alone make it past Monday or Tuesday, so we might as well enjoy the game. Bad metaphor? Probably. But as every good football player knows and has experienced, the lights, at some time or another, do go out.

Until then? While they still shine? While they may still even be a few fans left in the stands?

I guess we have to enjoy what’s in front of us. To live with any other motivation seems a bit vain, and trivial. I hope that doesn’t imply, or mean that I ought avoid suffering, or difficulty, because we all know that’s very important in life and according to Graham Greene life and its enjoyment comes down to one’s ability to develop a taste for pain. But all of that is so god damn Catholic to me, and despite how much I love Pope Francis, I’m just not into the whole self-flagellating thing.

It’s getting late on the West Coast. I’ve got Biology and Math in the morning.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Biting My Tongue

“Now I would never diss my own momma just to get recognition
Take a second to listen for who you think this record is dissing
But put yourself in my position; just try to envision
Witnessing your momma popping prescription pills in the kitchen…

I said I'm sorry momma!
I never meant to hurt you!
I never meant to make you cry, but tonight
I'm cleaning out my closet” - Eminem

“When your mother sends back all your invitations
And your father to your sister he explains
That you’re tired of yourself and all of your creations
Won’t you come see me, Queen Jane?” – Bob Dylan

Biting My Tongue

            Tomorrow is Easter, apparently, and yesterday Good Friday. I don’t know how good it was, or wasn’t, spent outside on the patio, reading, occasionally writing, but altogether avoiding that which is on my mind: my mother, biting my tongue, cleaning out my closet and the state of our relationship today. You see, nearly some two months ago, on February 11, my life changed; or rather, a wound I’d long since thought healed, sealed and moved on from was reopened, ingloriously, in a manner I could not have expected, planned or anticipated, though, if I’m being honest, if I am fully aware, I was a fool to ever think that chapter of my life was over. As I was turning 25, as the first act of my life’s three acts were coming to a close, I was taking stock of where I had been, from whence I had come, and where I was and am planning on going. However, it was just as that fateful line from the movie Magnolia goes, something like “just because you are through with the past doesn’t mean the past is through with you.”  It certainly was not.

            There’s no way for me to write about this without ruffling feathers. It’s a legal matter, for one, and it’s a matter of not embarrassing anyone, or at least, those parties who I wouldn’t want to be hurt by my airing of grievances. I do not intend, of course, to throw anyone’s dirty laundry into the street, or to spread gossip at the expense of those I love; however, if I am being honest – and that is what this blog has always been about, me having an audience in whom I can confide and face myself – I cannot think to ignore the pressing reality of my current existence: one in which I cannot get my own mother to return my calls for some two, nearing three weeks. What happened?

            Well, for one, I stopped biting my tongue. It was a process that began that February 11th evening, in the late midnight hour, after too many margaritas, apparently, or, perhaps, rather, just enough; I’ve long felt that alcohol, as a drug, is the ultimate revealer: take someone who is one way sober, and who gets an altogether other way when drunk, and you see the imbalance to which Nietzsche refers when he describes someone whose needs and wants are too far from being the same, in contrast to his superman. In contrast, through weed, pot, marijuana or cannabis, I’ve long found smoking to be an exercise in confrontation, as ironic as it is that so many smoke to avoid. That evening, I was not high, but I had been drinking, and my mother, step father and step brother were gathered together to eat dinner, drink and hang out, before my step brother had to head back to base in the morning, flying out from LAX, back to Mississippi, after his leave from being deployed in the Middle East had expired, and he had to go back to work. I, not one for driving long distances, or for being around my mother and step father, had avoided, to be honest, having to drive north to see him, despite the fact that I would have enjoyed his company. However, with him leaving in the morning, and the prospect of not seeing him for months on the table, I had little choice but to drive up, take the two hours and head north, fight through my anxiety around operating a motor vehicle and being in that same house in which I grew up, the scene of so many battles, in order to do the loving thing, to be a good brother, to not be guilty of avoidance behavior.

            So I did. I missed both my classes that day, wrote a bullshit note to my professor, blamed food poisoning, and drove north, getting into a road rage incident along the way, having to take the toll road to escape the mad man in the white Nissan Z that was offended by my giving him a thumb’s up after tailgating me in order to speed around me using the carpool lane in order to be, approximately, 60 yards ahead of me. I made it to Huntington Beach about two hours earlier than expected. I hadn’t called ahead to let Andrew know I’d be there early, as I wanted to surprise him, but the folly of my way was quickly revealed when I was told by my mother as I entered 8212 Prestwick Circle that he was with his father, out visiting his Grandma Della, and wouldn’t be home for some time. At that point, the image I had in my head of the two of us sitting poolside, drinking beer and / or margaritas, catching up until barbequing dinner was fairly dashed, but then again, the night, or at least that evening, was still young, and I figured he wouldn’t be going to sleep too early, despite his flight in the morning, as we would always, and have always, stayed up late together, talking about our life, shooting the shit, always beginning with the same question, asked by me, since we were young enough to think this was funny: “So, pimpin’ any Chiquitas with your Chiquita banana, lately?”

            At this point, I’m inclined to stop each time, writing that is, for reasons that are fairly obscure to me, but probably relate to my own desire, on some level, to avoid that which would necessarily follow: me trying to explain and paint a picture of my mother and I hanging out for an hour or so that afternoon, going to the meat market, to Ralph’s, to pick me up a burrito to tide me over till dinner, while I talked politics to her and complained about how capitalism has propagated a myth about mankind’s inherent competitive instinct in order to naturalize a system of oppression, as demonstrated by Fox’s failed TV show Utopia, in which human beings, in a true state of nature, in contrast to the one offered by Hobbes and his belief in a state of nature that is ugly and chaotic, it was one instead where people came together in society to meet their own personal needs. In short, no man or woman is an island, that we are bound together by our natural needs, and that cooperation offers a better value that competition; not to mention one that isn’t opposed to the so-called Christian values that we as a nation theoretically purport. Your reaction to this, probably, is much like my mother’s: you listen to the rant, you may or may not nod your head, you have criticisms in your head, but you mercifully let me blow it all out, let out the steam, give me a break and let me vent in my over-caffeinated, under-fed manner. I ranted, I said my piece, and my mother asked me if I would prefer broccoli or brussel sprouts? Andrew prefers asparagus, so we went with that.
            It’s not so much that I want to avoid this scene, as it is I perhaps realize that I’m an inadequate enough writer to convey it, though I have written several attempts, in scene form, in essay form, and here in blog form. Regardless, I have the same trouble wrapping my head around it, confronting it. Whether it’s fear of its feasibility as an artistic piece – wary of my work being little more than therapy on the page – or simply its value, I suppose I ought to power through those criticisms, those that I lobby against myself before others can, to cleverly protect, using self-sabotage to anticipate criticism, or failure. It’s like the lacrosse teams I played on and sometimes coached, who play their best only when down an insurmountable total, when the pressure is off, losing a foregone conclusion, and they have nothing else to lose: you can only be embarrassed, then, when you try, and fail; if you never try, you never come up short, so that logic goes. I have, in this way, watched “the wheels come off” of pieces before, blowing them up myself with strange self-conscious tangents that fail “to serve the piece.” I’ve obfuscated instead of “finishing my breakfast,” and avoided rather than dealt with, and ironically enough, here, in a piece in which I’m trying, desperately rather, to confront that which I’m so struggling to write and deal with, I am instead, telling you about how hard it is for me, rather than simply telling you what is going on. But how does one begin?

            It’s the question that has dogged me with every piece. I asked a non-fiction professor who was visiting our campus for an interview for a job she didn’t get how she begins her work: “I like to destabilize the reader.”

So, how’s this:

            We ate dinner. My mom went about cleaning up, washing the dishes, as she always does, after doing the bulk of the preparation, as the cooking of the steak was the job left to Robert or Andrew, the salad and the rest to my mother, including setting the table. I made the drinks. Things were going well enough. I had resigned myself to trying to treat these moments as a writer, such as the one in which I found myself sitting next to my step-father outside around the fire pit they’d recently installed and by no means can afford, as he talked about himself. I figured, while I may not altogether like this guy, his politics or worldview, I could, at the least, hear him speak, get a sense of his character, and try and make use of it someday, for something. That is, I think, how writers work, at least the ones in the books I’ve read, scribbling notes to themselves, digesting their days in the hopes of making something of it, providing meaning to what would otherwise be a slight to fairly inebriated conversation outside, underneath the moon in Spring.

            “There’s just so much to see, Nick, and you’ve got to get out there and have a look.” He was telling me about his motorcycle rides, or his plan for the next one, this time, in the southernmost part of Argentina, in a particularly treacherous part of Patagonia.

            “You’ve got to work for it though. Too many people these days want shit handed to them, from mommy or daddy, or whoever. But the thing is, if you want something, you’ve got to work for it. Nobody is going to hand you nothing.”

            We sort of cheers-ed to that, and I tried to continue to view him through the only lens I had to offer up any value in him to me: he’s a Hemingway kind of hero, an uber-masculine guy who doesn’t believe in god, doesn’t really believe in romantic love, though he can be romantic, who enjoys life most when he’s living on its edge, whether on the seat of a motorcycle along a cliff, or jumping out of an airplane. He’s the kind of guy I will never be, have never been, who grew up fighting in alleys in East L.A., never went to college, and has one hell of a blue collar chip on his shoulder. He wears Sanucks instead of shoes, and mostly shorts or canvas cargo pants, after a brief period when I was young, in the heady nineties, when he was subscribed to GQ, and liked to still shop at Nordstroms. Those days, however, passed, and with the tightening of the belt, and in deciding to no longer splurge on leather jackets, as the economy turned, and as him and my mother’s attempt to start their own business failed, probably just before, by a few years, my mother being disbarred for misappropriating client’s funds, came a more militant and virulent aggressiveness when it came to decrying softness, or pretension.

            “Obama’s never worked a day in his life – can you imagine how soft his hands must be?”

            The conversation, by this point, had moved away from one between just Robert and I, though at the end of it, he had begun to trail towards assaulting Obamacare and a culture of handouts, but I was quite gentle in my defense of it, desiring to, rather than confront, simply try and humbly offer the other point of view, without designs on its truth-value myself, hoping to embody Benjamin Franklin in his autobiography, when he writes about the need to deflate one’s ego and the need to appear to be humble in the face of those with whom we stridently disagree. I hoped, perhaps, I could be patient enough to simply offer what “some people think” or what “others might say,” though as the tequila had been drunk, so too had Robert’s opinions become more heated, as had my tolerance for his aggressive, domineering bullshit lessened, considerably.

            “What does the texture of his hands have to do with anything regarding his ability to govern a nation? He works in an office all day – would you prefer that he be doing yard work, or carpentry?”

            “All I know is that he doesn’t know what the meaning of hard work is, and…”

            Scott Walker had recently made news as the preferred choice among many conservatives who weren’t bending over backwards to make Jeb Bush the nominee. His union-busting charmed Fox News, the source for all of my mother and step-father’s stridently proud bullshit and misinformation. At some point in the conversation I said “Scott Walker didn’t even go to college” and as soon a I said it, I was genuinely concerned that I’d unnecessarily offended Robert, who did not have a bachelor’s degree, and began to apologize, saying “That’s unfair, you can learn a lot outside of the classroom, clearly Robert is an indication and example of that,” or something to that effect. I realized my error, a cheap shot I didn’t mean to take, but whether I realized it or not, or whether it was a catalyst or not, things only got more heated. Could I tell you exactly over what? Not really. Obama, healthcare, the poor, Iran, whatever issues Fox News was covering that week. Upon googling the date, and the requisite company, what comes up is an article detailing the attack of a disenfranchised white American upon Muslim students in North Carolina over a parking dispute, which leads me to believe that the conversation had a lot to do with Michael Brown, police who choke and shoot, and the things that lead a community to riot. My brother, a police officer in the US Air Force, obviously leant a law and order perspective to things, as did Robert provide the model minority side of the view, the one who can’t understand why these black youths won’t pull up their pants, get jobs, start a 401k – not that he has one – and assimilate into good Fox News watching Americans. At some point, my mother tried to make a point of her own, as she’s political and smart and interested in these things as well, despite the fact that she tends to agree with Robert more than I could hope for otherwise, and parrots too much of Sean Hannity.

            “Shut the fuck up – just shut the fuck up.”

            It was an escalation that came from nowhere, in some sense, the moment really not requiring that kind of language and violence, but the kind of thing revealed and released after the requisite amount of tequila and emotion.

            “Wow – no - don’t tell my mother to shut the fuck up. You need to apologize, right now. To her, and to me!“

            “I’m sorry, sorry” he said, but the cat was out of the bag, the bourbon out of the bottle, and there was no putting it back in, especially not with the half-assed sentiment with which he offered the apology.

            “You’re not sorry – you’re not sorry at all! Look at you, you think it’s no big deal, you think – “
            He screamed, loudly, violently, from the bottom of his belly in the manner in which he would when my mother and him would fight in my childhood: “Enough! Quiet!”

            He apparently thought, by shouting us down, silencing my mother, and then me, that it would all blow over. Bullies, by nature, tend to use this kind of a tactic to get their way, but it wasn’t going to work tonight, if for no other reason than I’d had enough tequila to keep me from biting my tongue, and had the presence of my larger, military trained step-brother to protect me in case things got exceptionally more sour than the mix I made with which to flavor our margaritas.

            “I’m leaving.” I walked inside, through the patio doors, up the three steps into the “living room” in which no one ever steps foot or sits, set down my gathered things – Sperry’s, cell phone, wallet, keys – and prepared to call an Uber, to take me to the nearest hotel I couldn’t afford, to escape this bullshit for one last time. Instead, I wheeled around, and went back outside.

            “Why are you leaving?” Andrew and my mother asked, in chorus.

            “Because I don’t feel safe here.”

            “Why not?”

            “Because of him – “


            “Because of his temper. I’m afraid he’ll hit her again. He’s done it before.”

            At this, Robert lumbered up, kinda said “all right, okay, that’s enough” and half-hugged Andrew goodnight, me too, and walked inside, calling it quits for the night, the tequila having gotten away from him, and himself probably sleepy from the combination of red meat, liquor and the weed he smoked in moments in which he’d squirrel himself away for a toke or two. My mother went inside after him, to follow, I think, as I sat there with my brother, and began to explain exactly what those elliptical last words meant, from whence they came, when my mother, coming back from inside, having been gone absolutely no more than two minutes, had tears in her eyes, and sat down next to us, and told us:

            “Just right now, when I went inside, he did it again: he didn’t say anything and pushed me up against the wall by my throat.”

            Obviously, I was livid.

            “It’s been so long since he’s done this kind of thing, not for ten years.”

            If you do the math, ten years ago is about the time that I moved out of that house, the one I shared so many years with my mother, step-father and half-sister, along with Andrew on the occasional weekend. I’d known Robert had hit my mother before. I remember as a child the cops being called, after a particularly loud thump came from behind their bedroom door. We discussed this.

            “Nicky, I don’t know if you remember it, but you saw it.”

            I don’t remember it, but perhaps, it’s been long lost to some Freudian repression, I figured.

            “After the cops left, he hit me some more.”

            I’d never been aware of that detail. You see, I am guilty of doing what I think too many in my family had done as well, which was dismissing the violent and dark aspects of their relationship, chalking it up to a combination of misdeeds on both sides, drug and alcohol abuse, and tempers flaring, leading to moments of sin, but not indicative of a general trend. He didn’t, say, hit her each and every night, and threats of violent abuse, while subtextual, didn’t linger openly in our house. It was certainly never discussed. Though, I had, heard something about a story wherein my mother’s ribs were broken, and that Robert had a hand in it, but I’d never learned how, or why. That night, I began to, as she admitted that he’d shoved her in a bathroom, and she’d fell against a toilet, breaking them. She said she didn’t remember much of it, after that. Chalk it up to more repression.

            “Mom, please, look, just get out. Get the fuck out of that house. When he goes to take Andrew to the airport tomorrow, just pack a bag, take the car, get a hotel room, or drive to Aunt Cathy’s new place in San Diego. Hell, come stay with me. Whatever it is, though, you’ve got to get out of this house.”

            Hearing my mother describe the violence in her own words, in front of the only son of the man who authored the abuse, put my childhood at 8212 Prestwick Circle in the light of an alcoholic who has a moment of clarity: I realized, finally, that what I had witnessed all those years was in fact an abusive relationship. That, despite the mystery surrounding the physical nature of that abuse, the emotional, verbal kind that I saw each and every day, meant something, that my mom didn’t deserve it, no matter how drunk she got, how many pills she took, how many times she fucked up, no matter how many times we had the water or the power turned off, because bills weren’t paid. She did not, in other words, deserve it, or have it coming, as I think so many of us, admittedly or not, had excused it all away as, just a “one time thing” in the “heat of the moment.”

            I resolved, that night, to not take this lying down, after calming myself, after resolving not to stab Robert in his sleep, or jump him while he dozed, though the thought did excite and entice me. Instead, I texted her older brother, my uncle, the lawyer, asking if I could meet with him to discuss something urgent later that morning, some seven hours from then at around 9 a.m. Andrew and I talked, and we discussed the possibility of Andrew confronting him about it that next morning, on the way to the airport, but ultimately decided against it, as the conversation, as they reached their destination, would have to end, whether finished or not, leaving Robert to cool down or heat up on his drive back down, to where my mother would still, most likely, be sleeping. That night, after we had “finished” talking, my mother got her record player out, and played her old songs, the ones she loved, the ones in which was doing the singing, from her days in a band, one called “The New Christy Minstrels.” Getting drunk, sad and listening to old records is kind of my mom’s thing, the kind of thing that she’d do that would especially infuriate Robert, who felt some kind of angry, jealous resentment in the way she seemed to pine for a life that was long passed, for days spent with men who encouraged her to sing, and to be sentimental, rather than those who put her down and ridiculed her for it.

            I slept on the floor of my old room, now my sister’s, as Andrew slept in her bed, as I didn’t feel comfortable being in the guest room by myself, which lead Robert to ask “why’s Nick on the floor?” that next morning, when he came to rise Andrew in time for the ride to the L.A.X. I played possum, and waited them out. After they left, I got up, threw my clothes on without having a shower, despite how ragged I felt, hung-over and sick, after drinking beer and tequila into the early morning, and walked into my mother’s bedroom to say goodbye, to see if she was awake, to see where she was, in more ways than one. The fact that she was sleeping, in that bed, not getting up, indicated to me that her intentions were set, and that the dramatic plan I envisioned and had concocted in my head would not be coming to fruition, at least that day. I proceeded to take my car through Starbucks, get some caffeine into me, as I truly struggled through the pain in my stomach, and my increasing need to release my watery, mal-digested bowls. I headed south to my uncle’s office. I was, however, low on gas, and spent a good half an hour trying to find a fucking gas station, even in this age of Google maps and apps, and finally, fortunate not to have run out, and debating buying a pack of cigarettes, I filled up, and set off to Irvine.

            I was, however, in traffic, as tears ran down my face, as I listened to music, all of which hit me hard, each lyric able I was to relate to, and waited until the requisite number of exits had been passed, and I turned off the Five and towards his place. There, I threw jeans on over my board shorts, went into the downstairs bathroom offered by the office, took care of business and tried to make myself presentable, as much as I could, but then again, and in testament to the manner in which I felt that day, I was fairly and rarely unselfconscious about how I looked, smelled and seemed, considering that all of it was probably part of the effect, anyway, that I hoped to have on my uncle, as I went upstairs to seek counsel on exactly what it is that I should do.

            “Can I close the door?”

            I sat down, told him the requisite details. What happened last night, what I was thinking, asking where I should go from here.

            “Well, don’t call the cops” and “don’t tell Cambria, daughters need good images of their father’s.”

            I don’t mean to disparage him too much by selectively quoting him in this way, as, when I began to bawl, I mean, to really break down and sob, he was quick to come around the table and put an arm over my shoulder, and I could see in his eyes that he cared about me, and hated to see me as such. I do love my uncle, and I do know that he meant for the best. But still:

            “Look, it’s ultimately up to Susan. You can’t make decisions for her. Whatever she decides to do, you’ll have to just wait and see. You don’t have any kind of evidence, and both of their names are on that house.”

            My mother, as it might be pertinent to know, does not work, has not worked, in any real, capital creating sense of the term, for years. She lost her license to practice law. The recession happened. She broke her ankle carrying dinner up to her husband after falling down those hard, wooden fifteen stairs, and the doctor who treated her fucked it up. Her damages were capped by virtue of the Republican tort reform laws passed, that she probably embraced foolishly, and for the price of losing her ability to run again, ski again, and eventually, walk up stairs again, she received a bulk sum large enough to pay for me to have a nice hotel room on my 21st birthday, but not enough to prevent her from having to ask me for ten grand out of my college savings account to cover her mortgage a year and a half ago in a sorry and sad November. I had, attempted, to make one of the conditions of the loan that Robert would have to know, just exactly how his mortgage was being paid, but at this, she freaked out, began to frantically cry, explaining “I can’t do that; he’d divorce me.” She got the loan, I eventually got paid back, and Robert never had to sell his motorcycle, or cut back on any of his expensive trips, the ones he takes always sometime around September or November, just in time to miss his only daughter’s birthday, year after year.

            Bill wasn’t much help, except for telling me to “go online, research it, see what you can learn,” which I did after tearfully hugging him goodbye no better off than when I came, after driving another hour or so down south in still more tears, twenty five years of pain, suffering and anxiety all coming out after one night of too much tequila, macho bravado and anger.

            I went home, I Googled it. All of the characteristics of an abusive relationship – the non physical traits – applied to my mother and their relationship. Such as:

Does your partner:
humiliate or yell at you?
criticize you and put you down?
treat you so badly that you’re embarrassed for your friends or family to see?

            Just weeks later, at about midnight on St. Patty’s, when I was driving home from working on a group project, and impressed with the fact that I was sober, such that the cop that followed me from campus for a few miles actually excited me, instead of eliciting the fear that comes when you’ve been pulled over and busted before, I received a call from my step-brother. I ignored it, as I didn’t want to be on my cell phone and drive at the same time, but when it rang again, seconds later, I answered. He described, for me, the scene, one wherein he’d spent the last hour sitting, talking and drinking with my mother, who was shaken up after a fight her and Robert had had outside earlier, where he’d blown up again, over something, apparently. I’d learn, it was over a heating bill.

Do you:
feel afraid of your partner much of the time?
avoid certain topics out of fear of angering your partner?

            I googled, and the more I did, the more signs I saw of that which I’d experienced, what my mother had lived through, had been living through for the past twenty years – their 20th anniversary is this August – and how it could be considered nothing else if not an abusive relationship. My mother, long ostracized and insulted over her drinking problem, one that saw her get thrown out of college and cause problems in her life long before getting married, had clearly self-medicated her way through this abuse, as anyone would, as at least I know I would, if I feared each day the consequence of saying the wrong word, doing the wrong thing, knowing that I could ultimately pay a corporal penalty. I called my step-mother, Lorrie, a social worker who’d dealt with women in tough spots for much of her life, running and operating a center for drug and alcohol addicted mothers and expectant mothers, having seen plenty of abuse, in its various forms, over the years. She gave me the best advice she could, told me that toll free hot lines for domestic abuse might be an interesting way of going, and gave me the number for one especially located in Huntington Beach.

            I called my mother’s sister Cathy and other brother John. I wanted to know who knew what, when, and what else I could learn. I knew then, only, of the incident with the cops, that in addition he’d also abused her after they came, and that, vaguely, he’d played a role in her breaking her ribs, sometime probably a year or so before I moved out, when I got fed up with that household, taking my things and moving into grandma’s, after mom, with Robert on a ski vacation, had got drunk and mixed it with Xanax and forgotten to pick my little sister up from play practice. I didn’t know then what angered me more, the drug abuse, that she forgot to pick Cambria up, leaving her all of nine years old standing alone in an empty church parking lot, or the fact that she planned on driving her at all.  I let her have it that night, and vowed never to return. I didn’t, at least as a resident.

            Talking to Cathy, I heard more about a story I’d gleamed bits and pieces of over the years, initially from my dearly departed Grandmother. It was the one in which my mother was counseled, for some reason, by her mother, sister and maid of honor to not follow through with her wedding on the very night before it, after some incident at a bar on the eve of the wedding, in which Robert had done something despicable.

            “He said to her, basically, ‘Why the fuck are you here, bitch?’ These are my friends – get the fuck out of here –“

            It was, clearly, to no avail, as though they’d all but convinced her to not go through with it. That next morning, when Robert showed up, asking for forgiveness, or whatever it was and however he phrased it, he turned on the charm, and the wedding went through, bags under eyes and all. I remember that day, and its pressing disappointment for me: my mother, beautiful and young in her white wedding dress, couldn’t pick me up and hold me, by virtue of her gown’s size. It was saddening to me, and probably telling: already, here, her getting married had an exigent price: there would be no “uppies.” I would not be getting held by mom, and probably not much anymore.

            My aunt also went on, to describe to me, what exactly she knew about that rib breaking incident.
            “They were at Susan’s high school reunion. And he wanted to leave, and she wanted to say longer. She was in the bathroom, and he came barging in, mad at her. He shoved her down, she broke her ribs, and then he proceeded to stomp on her.”

            “WHAT?” I mean, what else do you say?

            “Yes – she showed me the aftermath the next day. I had to ask her, so she took her shirt off and showed it to me, and Karen.” Karen was her maid of honor, who is now out of the picture, many years after becoming a homeless alcoholic and losing custody of her children, sometime after her husband, a Sacramento lobbyist, was found in a hotel room with hookers.

            “We had a camera, and took pictures. I could see the outline of his boot marked on her back.”

            She told me about the pictures, about how they were on a camera phone most likely long since lost. In the days after our conversation, after Cathy talked to my mother, after bringing up the said stomping incident, my mother claimed not to remember a thing of it, after falling and breaking her ribs. She must have blacked out, I imagine. I don’t know. But Cathy said my mom was interested when “pictures” were mentioned, though deflated to learn that no one knows whatever happened to them, and if they even still exist.

            I talked to my Uncle John, who said he knew something was wrong with that relationship as early at 2000, when we were together in Park City, when the recount was going on in Florida, and we all stayed together in a cabin to go skiing. I don’t know what he saw, or heard, but the fact that he knew something was wrong then, and didn’t do something, pissed me off.

            “What were we supposed to do? Call the cops? We didn’t have evidence of anything. Were we supposed to put you into Child Protective Services?”

            “I had a father, John. I had a dad who had no clue what was going on. He could have gotten me out of there, like I dreamed someone would do for me each and every day.”

            I don’t know what would have happened to Cambria in those circumstances, but it’s a moot point, anyway. No one ever came. I got out myself. And, in doing so, I thought, I suppose in the manner of every child of divorce who comes from a broken home, blamed myself: they hadn’t had a violent episode since I left. Maybe I was a large source of that conflict. Now that I’m gone, things were better, or so I told myself. I ignored the put downs, the way he condescended to her, the way he bullied his point of view to all of us, as he held himself and his family above reproach, while quickly and easily denigrating ours, my mother’s, mostly because of their wealth, their privileges, the fact they didn’t grow up poor like him. He was, clearly, privy to a point of view on the world that we weren’t, that I could never share, and all he could do was nod his head along with Hannity, and laugh at the Obama voters, those he speaks to when he orders French fries, as he might say, as a meme on Facebook he liked described.

            I resigned, after talking to the requisite members of her family, to get her out of there, and she seemed somewhat receptive to it, saying that Robert was going to be taking a motorcycle trip of his soon, after the wedding, Robert’s brother’s wedding. Steve, long since a man in my life I’d come to appreciate and respect, despite our different politics, someone I have loved as an uncle no different than one with whom I’d share blood, was getting married on March 21, and going to Vegas the week prior. He’d invited me, but, after all that had happened, I hadn’t responded, as I was unsure as to how I could possibly attend either event with Robert also there. My 25th birthday came and passed, and still I had not spoken a word of what had happened or was going on to my sister, she was up to then blissfully unaware, I imagined, and after hearing my Uncle Bill’s advice, I was loath to destroy her image of her father, especially in the middle of the semester, when she was thousands of miles from home, and could so easily turn to depression or drinking or whatever it is people do when they hear news like that. I carried on, as normally as I could, until that fateful night when my brother called, on St. Patty’s Day, with the wedding that coming weekend, when I decided I was done biting my tongue. I was done keeping that man’s secret inside of me, I was done doing his dirty work for him. Domestic abuse happens because people are kept from talking about it. I was afraid to speak out, lest it find it’s way back to him, who would then take it out on my mother. I was afraid of Andrew talking to him about it, lest he learn that the perfect father image he’d hoped to craft in the mind of his precious and equally perfect son was tainted, and all because of his damn wife telling lies, exaggerating details, muddling the truth. However, and whether it was the hangover I had from all the tequila I drank that night, despite the math test I had the next afternoon, or simply the exhaustion I felt from bottling it all up, I resolved to end the charade, and told my step-brother on the phone: “I’ve got a math test tomorrow until 2:20 p.m. At that point, I’m calling the house, I’m going to talk to Robert, and I’m going to tell him to leave, or I will tell his daughter the truth.”

            I left it at that, and schemed to possibly include Facebook, to publicly shame him, to contact the group with whom he rode motorcycles in distant countries, to tell all his friends that he has from the coffee shop in the mornings, to demonstrate who he really is to all. I slept that night with help from Hornitos, and woke up surprisingly hung-over, and sick feeling from it all. I took my test, went home, dialed the number for 8212 Prestwick, and it began.

            “Put Robert on the phone. I want to talk to him.”

            My mother was worried. She wanted me to give her time. Andrew did, too. He wanted to wait, as did she, until after the wedding. Andrew wanted to plan some kind of intervention, after, but I realized that Andrew would only be there at 8212 Prestwick until that coming Sunday. It was a Wednesday, he was in town for the week. I figured Robert wouldn’t be able to hit her while he was still there. It was a period of safe departure, I thought. It was a gap between periods of prison.

            Eventually, after hemming and hawing, Andrew told me to call his father on his cell phone. I did. I didn’t get an answer. I called Andrew back on his, and he gave the phone to Robert, who, didn’t exactly understand what was going on.

            “Nick! What’s going on man?”

            “You know what’s going on.”

            “No, Nick, I really don’t, your mom is saying – “

            “Look. Why don’t you think I’m coming to the wedding? Why don’t you think I’m there this week while Andrew is here –“

            “Gee Nick, I really don’t know, why don’t you just tell me, I don’t actually kno-“

            “What could you have done that would prevent me from wanting to be there?”

            “I don’t know Nick, I really don’t –“

            “Do you think it has something to do with the fact that you hit my mother? That you’d put her up against a wall by her throat? That you broke her ribs? That you-“

            “What? What? Woah woah woah, wait a second, I don’t know what you are talking about - ”

            “You’ve never hit my mother? Never –“

            “Nick, I don’t hit your mother –“

            “You’ve never hit my mother? You’ve never been abusi-“

            “No, Nick, I don’t know what you are talking about”


            He hung up on me. Apparently, he got upset, left, came back, and blamed my mother, saying that she was the one that hit him, and that she was drunk, and…

            It was all bullshit. There I sat, completely unexpecting what had happened. My hope for blackmail was shot, as I, foolishly, never thought he could possibly deny it. Then again, that’s the only response I should have ever expected. Dr. Gross, a former professor of mine, once told our class that studies show that 1 in 5 people might be a sociopath.

            I began to really doubt myself. Because, despite what Andrew had told me, I’d gone my own route. I had decided, consequences be damned, to act in accordance with the right spirit, or motivation, or, rather, principle. I didn’t want to weigh pros and cons on some kind of fucking scale, using utilitarian logic, and try and make the most pragmatic decision. I wanted to act instead, trusting what I knew to be right, what I believed in, how I knew I would want others to act, given the situation. But, realizing I didn’t have any proof – that all of it came from what others said, or hearsay – I began to worry. What if I was wrong? What if this was all some strange, sick narrative I’d invented in my head? Was the wannabe writer being melodramatic, again? Was I creating something somewhere where there was truly nothing?

            As I sat there, Cambria called.

            “Hey, is something going on? Mom just called me frantically asking if I’d spoken to you. She sounded worried, like you had died or something, like –“

            “Look, there’s something I need to talk to you about, that I’ve been avoiding, but you’ve got to tell me right now if you want to hear the truth or not, because it’s not going to be pleasant, and it’s not going to leave you feeling better after.”

            “Nick, of course, what’s going on?”

            I was intensely, miserably afraid. I was afraid she’d be mad at me, that she wouldn’t want to hear it, that she’d be upset that I’d ruined her idealized image of her father. I told her: I started from that night in February, to what I did after, who I called, what was said, where we were now.
            She also told me that she was the one who saw Robert throw mom across the room that night, the fateful one wherein the cops were called, when the authorities were requested. My mom had it wrong: it was her daughter who’d witnessed it.
            I was relieved, to say the least, sobbing, crying, embarrassed even by the enormity of my heaves, terrified I’d lose Cambria in this, as I was already feeling that I was losing Andrew, who was mad I’d dropped this bomb from afar and walked away, not there to deal with the details and consequences, leaving it up to him to play chaperone or referee. She got off the phone with me when she saw that “home” was calling, and they talked. I don’t know if she talked only to her mother, or what, but I didn’t hear from anyone after that for a while, at least the weekend. I saw the photos on Facebook from the wedding, and saw Robert intensely, shitfaced drunk in the images, his eyes with a look that, for lack of the better words of a better author, showed to me everything in them for which I could be looking: anger, resentment, and a lot of “fuck you.” In many ways, I imagined myself as the  ntended audience for those debauched photos that accumulated likes, comments: fuck you, you who are not attending. I instantly felt better about not going. There was no way I could have been able to fake it through.

            My mother sent me an email on March 20th, the night before the wedding, in which she said she’d gone to see a “psychotherapist” who had agreed with her that leaving right now wouldn’t be best decision. She’d ask Robert to go to counseling, and if he didn’t, she’d ask him to make plans to leave. She told me that she and the therapist agreed that she wasn’t in any immediate danger. She advised her that “this was the best course of action.” Of course, I thought, coming from the person who has a vested interest in keeping you coming back to more sessions, perhaps even twofers.

            I drafted one email upon reading it, at a bar with my friend Kyle, but deleted it after giving it to him to read, fearful of being too harsh. I wrote another one after the weekend, after she wouldn’t call me back, one that was harsh, but true, honest, but, I think fair. I think I may have, hypocritically enough, straddled the line of savior and of the bully she was trying to escape, harsh as I was, blunt and even cruel about the realties of the situation, in my anger at being exposed to this asshole, at her decision to stay together for one kid, but not the other, with a tyrant but not with a gentle artist who would have made for me an excellent father, if his time wasn’t restricted to 48 hours every other weekend, but who was one, nonetheless. I posed a series of questions in my letter, rather than responding to her statement, ones like:

what makes you happy?

does your "home" mean anything if it's only you and that asshole in it?

was it worth liquidating both your children's inheritance to keep your house with him?

would you counsel your daughter to do the same as you in these circumstances?

what is the cost - as everything has a price - of keeping your house and your sentimental mementos?

will you spend your life being dictated to by money, sentimentality and convenience?

would you want me to treat a woman like Robert treats you?

what would your parents think of the compromise you are making? would they be proud of you?

and lastly, how do you justify to yourself what you have put me through? as well as not paying a single cent to either of your children's education? but hey, at least Robert has his motorcycle, and you get to eat Matsu on special occasions.

            I received no response to this email, or the questions posed, though I did hear from Cambria that she found my email to be “nasty.” I’ve called her over the past two or three weeks at least fifteen times, if not twenty or more. I’ve left a voicemail, after my sister convinced me that since I was calling on mom’s cell, and not the home phone, as I was trying to avoid Robert and the censorship that could come. Perhaps, mom didn’t know how to check her missed calls. I left a voicemail. I’ve heard no response.

            I don’t know if she will leave him. I don’t know if what I have done was right, or if any of it will lead to for which I hoped. I do know, at least, that I no longer am silent. I’ve written about it, extensively – relative to what I write about anything else, at least – and I’ve spoken up. I made it a mission to not keep quiet, to no longer bite my tongue. And I’m not. I don’t know that I can say I’ve cleaned out my closet figuratively, but as I do literally, as I get rid of old shit, throwing stuff out, getting ready to move to New York City for grad school, or for whatever comes next. I have solace in the fact that I am no longer complicit, that my sister is no longer kept in the dark, and that my tongue, though its teeth marks will take years to heal, is wagging freely, for better or worse, in honesty where there once was no hope.