In the past, we’ve often stayed silent to keep the peace when various aunts, uncles, grandparents, parents, brothers, sisters, cousins, etc. have spouted racist nonsense. We’ve agreed to disagree about politics. We’ve let things pass.
Well, white folk, we can’t do that anymore. Letting it slide is part of how we got here.
So, when you go home this holiday season and your family passes the praise for Chitler* along with the gravy, remember: you’re not the asshole for pushing back. They’re the assholes for bringing it up to begin with. And they are very much assholes for voting for someone who wants to dismantle American democracy and rob the country. And before you get all sympathetic and think they’re victims, just remember that signs this shitheel’s a con man were everywhere for literal decades, and there’s no damned excuse for not knowing exactly what he is. He just had to settle a lawsuit over his fraudulent university, for fuck’s sake. There are no victims here. Just willing dupes.
…it’s because it’s another winter when my mother declines just that much more. She’s back in the hospital, and they’re talking about electroconvulsive therapy this time. Severe mental illness is a merry go round you can never quite step off of.
Please don’t worry about me. It’s sad and chaotic, yes, but not unexpected, and also something of a relief, as when I saw a call from my aunt on my cell phone, I had a horrid moment when I believed the message I’d hear was that my mother was dead, so to hear she’s safely tucked up in a hospital bed is quite an enormous relief, actually. And she asked for a flu shot, they say. Sign of forward-thinking, that. She’s planning for a future without the flu. This is good news. Or so I choose to look at it, anyway.
I’ll keep you posted, my darlings. Thanks for your understanding.
Actually, tell it to Ashley Miller’s dad, who disowned her for dating outside her race. He apparently didn’t get the memo about racism being a thing of the past. A scene with two lovers holding hands in which there is some contrast in skin tone is, to him, so intolerable that he must cut his daughter out of his life. Of course, he’s a coward as well as a racist, so he made his wife tell his daughter that he is willing to give her up over the skin color of her beau.
Racism is still a reality. Don’t let anyone tell you it’s not. Don’t tell yourself that lie.
I hope Ashley’s father has a photo like this one.
I hope it makes him weep. I hope it will make him think, and I hope it will eventually make him come to some different conclusions.
I got that message today that you know, in the back of your mind, is liable to come at any time. The tall, thin man with the funny hair and the thick-rimmed glasses was nearly ninety, if not past it, and he’d been ailing recently. So I wasn’t surprised to find a succession of messages on my phone from aunt and mother advising that he had passed, peacefully.
Still, expected and unsurprising as it is, it still seems sudden. These things always do.
We weren’t close. We hadn’t actually spoken in years. Over the last few years, he’s been slipping into dementia, but long before that, we’d run out of things to talk about. My family isn’t a close-knit one. It might have been different, if we’d stayed in Indiana, but we left there when I was three, and we were never good at the long-distance relationships, and the grandparents had stopped traveling a long time ago. So there’s a grandfather-shaped hole, but it’s not a gaping one. I’ve skipped the shedding tears routine in favor of the flickering smile, as memories pop up unbidden. I see him holding a sparkler, that last time we were all a family and whole, back when I was sixteen and I’d insisted on a summer visit. Great provider of the fireworks, he was. He’d always been a provider. The house he lived in to the end of his life was built with his own hands, and he’d never stopped wanting to do for his kids. I remember a photo of him, on a picnic bench outside that house, feeding a squirrel he’d befriended. He was so damned pleased with that squirrel.
The strongest memory, though, is one seared into the little gray cells by sheer terror. You see, I was thirteen or thereabouts, and the grandfolk had come to visit us when we lived in Sedona. They’d roust me out of bed at five in the ay-em for long healthy walks round the neighborhood. And then they wanted to take a drive up to Flagstaff, do the whole Oak Creek Canyon thing, which I was down with. I love driving the canyon. And, what with it being late spring or summerish, there’d be a lot of RVs holding up proceedings and so plenty of time to gawk at the scenery, whilst having a goodish chat with the elder folk. The only thing that worried me was the tape deck, because elder folk are notorious for playing things the youngsters cannot abide.
They put in the Statler Brothers. And we howled the lyrics, once I’d got them. We nearly wore the mylar off that tape, up the canyon and around. This was certainly not the hip music. I’d been listening to stuff like Aerosmith and Pet Shop Boys and (shudder) Icehouse, along with a bit of the old Maxi Priest kind of slightly reggae version of “Wild World” I was absolutely nuts for. No way, you’d say, such a youth would appreciate the Statler Bros. But I did, very much so, and I appreciated the old grandparents for having such discerning musical taste.
We had the time of our lives on that trip. And it was all going along swimmingly until ye olde granddad decided he wanted to take Schnebly Hill Road back home.
The road is about two inches wide, unpaved, with turns that aren’t so much hairpin as a corkscrew dosed with strychnine (which, if a corkscrew were a member of the animal kingdom, would cause it to seize up in a sort of frenzy of right-angle kinks). You may be headed due north on Schnebly Hill Road, and a nanosecond later discover you are, if you were very fortunate and didn’t hurtle into the abyss in attempting to execute the bend, now headed due south. It’s a washboard, with bits often washed out, and there are what the uninitiated call “vistas.” Some even call it “breathtaking,” without mentioning that it’s not so much the spectacular views into the red rock canyon that steal the breath as the ongoing suspense as to your chances of survival. There are no guard rails. There is no shoulder. If you misjudge the thing, you are sailing a few thousand feet straight down into a vista. At least you will die scenically, but that’s small consolation when you are young and wish to live to a ripe old age, like 18.
I dimly remembered all of this from a trip we’d taken along it with a group of intrepid young parents. The parents had enjoyed themselves immensely. The assorted kids had huddled on the floor in the back, teeth chattering from the ridges in the road combined with pants-pissing terror, and tried not to look out the windows. I remember looking out the window once, and coming eye-to-eye with an agave plant that was in full, spectacular bloom. The problem was that it was growing straight up the side of a cliff, and I could have rolled the window down and plucked a blossom, if by that time all traces of bravery hadn’t drained from me and soaked into the potholed road.
“Um,” I said to my grandfather, who at that time was already getting a little shaky in the hands with age, developed some few issues with sight and hearing, had suffered a fairly serious heart attack not too many years back, and had a reputation for not always paying as much attention to the road as he should, “are you sure?”
I attempted to warn him away, listing a few of the many perils of such a journey. I gave it up as a bad job when his eyes gleamed brighter with each warning.
At that point, I would’ve gotten out and walked, if I hadn’t been sandwiched between him and my grandmother on a bench seat. Ah, well, I said to myself as he turned off the perfectly-good pavement onto the gap in the pine forest that marked the beginning of the end, at least he’s old. And he’s from Indiana. He’ll probably take it at a top speed of 5mph. No problem.
I don’t think the speedometer dipped below 35 the whole way down. Most of the time, he seemed to be going a strong 50. Red rocks went by in a blur. Red dust billowed up from the tires. And the man had the audacity to comment on how lovely the scenery was, with enthusiastic assent from my grandmother, whom I’d always considered a sensible sort in the past. How they could even see the scenery at that speed was beyond my ken, and he certainly had no business eyeballing it, in my considered opinion. Not that I could tell him this. It’s impossible to force words past a throat clamped shut like an imperiled oyster.
I had just enough time at the beginning to think that a man who hailed from anywhere as flat as Indiana had no business driving such a steep, windy road to begin with, much less at speeds that even drunk teenagers bent on suicide wouldn’t dare attempt. Then I spent a mile or two contemplating my impeding death several times per second, and bewailing the fact that I was going to die before I’d even finished puberty. The rest of the road finished in one sustained mental scream. I think my grandmother was humming contentedly in between exclamations of delight. I have no idea what my grandfather was doing, aside from slewing the wheel this way and that whilst exploring how far the gas pedal could be mashed. I was too afraid to look or listen.
And then, somehow, as if by miracle, we made it to the bottom of the canyon. I don’t remember where Schnebly Hill Road comes out, because I have never visited it since. I just recall staring at the pavement of good old US 89A with mute astonishment. And when we pulled up at the house, I wobbled out of the truck and refused to ever get back in it as long as Grandpa was at the wheel. Not in Arizona, at least. Not anywhere near a road with so much as a gentle curve or risk of a slight incline.
My mother, damn her, thought it was screamingly funny.
Years later, the immediate shock had faded well enough that I didn’t have too many flashbacks when he drove us to Nashville, Indiana, which is about the only part of the state with topographic relief. And, although the Statler Bros. had played all the way down Schnebly Hill Road, soundtrack for what I believed were the last moments of my existence, I retained a fondness for them. Because it had been one hell of a ride, and in the end, with survival a known fact, sort of fun. You can keep your expensive super-duper-mega-rollercoasters-of-instant-death. My old granddad could do you one magnitude better for the price of a half a tank of gas.
It’s been a day. I spoke to my mother, who had sounded better the last time we spoke. She sounded much worse today, and informed me my grandfather’s in the hospital, although she can’t say for what. A rehabilitation center of some sort. She thinks he’s going to die soon. And then she wants to move to Washington.
I’ll admit that cold dread fills me at the idea.
We have a history. I spent a considerable chunk of my twenties trying to extricate her from a horrible situation. She’d call me in tears every time her husband went back to drinking and began beating her. She’s really leaving him again, this time, she’d say, and so I’d tell her to come on down. She’d live with me for a few days or weeks, interrupting my writing, putting my life in disarray, and inevitably, just when we’d got things sorted enough she could begin to live a life of her own, she’d go back to him. Always. This went on more times than I can remember.
I didn’t even mean to post it. It’s just a person pouring out pain on the internet. But if you want a look at what it means to deal with mental illness, then you can read on. If not, amuse yourself with my cat, partake of the other excellent offerings on the toobz, and wait for Los Links.
We’ve been down this road a thousand times. She’s severely bipolar, and her medications frequently stop working. She ends up anxious and paranoid and confused. It’s painful to watch. There’s nothing you can do except ensure she’s getting treatment. They’ll probably hospitalize her soon to stabilize her, and for a while, she’ll be okay. Then the vicious cycle will begin again.
Just talked to my mom for something approaching four and a half hours. The relationship we have is complicated – bound to be, considering she’s bipolar with occasional psychotic breaks, and I’ve got one hell of a temper. And we’ve both occasionally put each other through hell. Neither one of us is a perfect person.
And you know what? We don’t have to be.
She gave me the kind of childhood most kids can only dream about. And even when she’s lost her mind, she’s always been there for me. I hope, after this conversation, that she understands that. I’ve never once had to wonder if my mother loved me. Wondered how she could love me a few times, mind, but never doubted she did. She’s been my anchor. If everyone else in the world stopped loving me, she still would. That can’t be minimized.
And I love her. Finally got a chance to really tell her how grateful I am to her for everything, how much I respect and appreciate her, admire her, and am constantly amazed by her.
We’ve had our rough patches. But so does everyone. Every family has its problems, every life has its regrets. There are things we wish had never happened, but like I told her: “We got lemons. Honey, grab some sugar, cuz we’re gonna have ourselves some lemonade.”
And she laughed. I don’t know if she really understands it yet or not, but she and my dad are the ones who taught me what to do with the inevitable lemons. They’re the ones who prepared me to handle just about anything life throws my way. Hell, maybe anything, although we can never know that until it happens.
My mother did the lion’s share of the raising, which both me and my dad are profoundly grateful for. So that’s why today’s mother’s day: got a chance to have one of those long, gorgeous, incredible conversations that gets to the heart of everything and leaves both of you glowing.
I love my mom. I’m proud of my mom. And that’s something I want the world to know. When you look at me, you’re looking at my parents, too: all their hard work and dedication and devotion as they attempted to shape a borderline psychopath (which, let’s face facts, all small children are) into a decent human being.
There was only one quiet interval at work today wherein I could check my email, and there was this cry for help from my stepmother. She’s got a new cell phone.
What new cell phone? I fired back while my stomach made like iron and nickel on the molten earth and sank.
I will not mention the make and model, as that would betray where I work, and I do not want to tempt my corporate overlords into separating me from my only means of acquiring kitty kibble. Needless to say, she’d chosen the one phone that is the bane of my existence (and the source of considerable job security). It’s one of the most complicated phones we carry. And this purchased by a woman who, a few years ago, swore she’d never own a cell phone ever in her life, and who only last year was flummoxed by a pre-paid flip phone.
So I spent my lunch hour muttering “I can’t fucking believe you bought that fucking phone!” whilst helping her bring it to the point where it could potentially make and receive calls. I feel betrayed. I expected better of my family. Next thing I know, my dear old Dad will be calling me up wanting help with the same model, or worse. At least I know the ins-and-outs of the thing. And at least they won’t blame me for its quirks.
At least I have solid proof, should I ever need it, that my bitching about this phone in my private life carries no weight with anyone whatsoever. Even my own family doesn’t listen to me. So the company needn’t worry about my impact upon its sales…
…No, I didn’t save a bunch of money on my car insurance by switching to Geico. But I found this gold nugget in my inbox:
Your dad is going to vote for Obama. Can you believe it? If he gets nominated that is who he will vote for. If he doesn’t, then he will vote for McCain. Me, on the other hand, if he doesn’t get nominated, then I can do a write in vote, and I will still vote for him. I would rather put a gun to my head than vote for Billary or McBush.
He is crazy and she is a socialist. No thanks.
My father. My bloody father, who I don’t think has ever voted for a Democrat, is going to cast his ballot for Barack.
And my stepmother, who is even more conservative than he is, won’t even dream of voting for McCain.
When the fuck did I step down the wrong leg of the Trousers of Time? This can’t be the same universe I woke up in this morning…