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That Summer in Arkansas

This is an excerpt from my book Dancing in Hellfire , which is a true story of my life, basically. I am posting it here because I was about to say something derivative on Facebook, but I stopped because I realized that no one would know what the hell I was talking about.

Undoubtedly, the worst four to five months of my life, bar none. There is so much ground to cover here, and it’s highly unlikely that I will get the events in the correct order, but the chronology isn’t terribly important, for the most part. In my mind, it’s all blurred together, encapsulated by the words “That Summer in Arkansas.” There’s only one such summer that I could be referring to—that one between the second and third grade. A nightmare that didn’t seem like it was ever going to end.

It began as an ordinary visit. Mom came and got Britt and me, and this was probably the first time since Easter that we had seen or talked to her, since two visits within a few months was very high frequency for her. At some point over the weekend, she announced that she was not going to take us back, and that she was just going to keep us. Legally, she was more or less within her rights to do that: the agreement that my grandmother would keep us was a largely informal one, because the courts hadn’t settled the custody issue and didn’t seem about to settle it. Even though it had been nearly three years since the separation, the court was no nearer to settling things. In fact, the courts never did rule one way or another. What happened? How come none of the people who are paid to handle such matters was handling it? The divorce finalized, but the question of custody was never settled.

Mom was in full-blown denial about her situation, as would become evident very soon, but I didn’t realize it then—of course, I didn’t know it then. I was eight years old. It was true, though: we never had any money or food, our electricity was cut off due to non-payment several times, and even our water was cut off at one point. And she seriously thought that she could raise two kids in that environment. Plus, she was being beaten pretty much every weekend by that drunk man-child.

Second grade had passed without much of significance happening. We didn’t see mom every other weekend, of course, because she never had gas or a reliable vehicle since she always bought $600 cars. She was always having flats, or some other car trouble. We would receive a letter from her telling us to be by the phone on a certain day at a certain time, and we would sit eagerly by the phone all night. She never called. A week or two later, we would receive another letter that offered up some kind of excuse why she hadn’t been able to call, and she would throw out another day that she would call, or she would announce a day that she was going to get us. Then Britt and I would sit at the front door, hanging out on the garbage can, all damned Friday night, waiting eagerly to see headlights pull into the driveway.

They almost never did.

But she finally managed to get together the whopping ten dollars needed to cover the gas to make the hour-long trip, and decided early that summer that she wasn’t going to take us back.

It was then that we met David, another one of Everett’s four kids, much older than I was but also much younger than my brother. He was a decent enough guy, I suppose, except that he never did anything about Everett’s violence, either. In some ways, I can understand—I know firsthand how hard it can be to confront your father, and Everett was prone to violence. But no one ever confronted Everett about his violence, not even my own brother, which is one of the reasons I’ve never fully been able to forgive Eric.

Mom still lived at that house in Trumann next to the elderly couple, and Everett lived there too. It was an older house, but respectable enough, and had a dilapidated shed in the back that I liked to play in. Everett had a fascination with pocketknives, he gave me a few, and then he taught me how to throw them. I spent hours playing in the battered shed, flipping my knives and throwing them into the distant wall. At the age of eight, between the second and third grades. There were many occasions when I nearly stabbed myself.

As though there was something worse than nearly stabbing myself in the eye with a rebounding throwing knife (because mom or Everett had given me a set of throwing knives they found at a pawnshop), the shed was in poor condition anyway and not stable. The rafters were low enough that I could jump and grab hold of them. So I would—I’d jump and grab the rafters, climb onto them, swing around on them, flip upside down and hang precariously while I practiced throwing knives. It was wild, dangerous stuff that no one should have been doing, but certainly not a second grader, and my mom was well aware that I was doing it. But, in a strange way, she also trusted that I knew my abilities and limits, and that I wasn’t going to hurt myself.

And you know what? I never did hurt myself.

If all that wasn’t dangerous enough, Eric built a tree house for us in an enormous walnut tree in the backyard. Being a cool brother, of course, he built the tree house very high above the ground. No matter how high he’d built the house, though, I climbed up well past it and higher, swinging freely from one branch to the next, and I was higher even than the house’s ceiling when I did this stuff—a fall that would almost certainly have killed me. A fall that did happen that summer, but not to me.

I still loved playing Nintendo, and I did so regularly, but it would be unfair to say that I never did anything else. We lived only a few minutes from two parks, I frequently walked to both, and Britt often accompanied me. One of them was pretty boring, but the other had swings and other cool things—it was further away, though. Mom let us go to these places without supervision, of course, but I only bothered going to the distant one a few times.

I’ve often wondered, when looking back, whether my mom was trying to get my sister or me killed, because she did some reckless things when it came to parenting. I say that mom trusted in me and trusted that I knew my limitations, but that’s purely speculation on my part. Because the fact is that I was in the backyard, throwing knives and swinging from the rafters of a crumbling shed, and shifting wildly among the branches of a tree well above the tree house. Mom did, at one point, tell me to stop swinging from the limbs, but she made it clear that she was only telling me so because Everett’s younger son (who I haven’t mentioned yet) looked up to me and would copy me, and he was likely to get hurt. She didn’t say, “You might slip up, and we can’t afford a hospital visit.” She said, “Charlie will imitate you, and he will slip up.”

Mom’s car stopped working, as her vehicles often did, so we walked everywhere that we needed to go. Eventually, Everett’s parents let us borrow their two-seater bikes, but we didn’t have those for a while, and so we walked.

We went to the store one day, and Britt and I opted to stay and play outside while mom went in and did her shopping. After ten or fifteen minutes, she came back out and said that she had one more store to go to, told us which one it was, and Britt and I again decided we would just stay where we were. Mom left to walk to the other store, and I got bored a few minutes later, and then I went down the street to find mom. It wasn’t hard, and I quickly found her. After she finished her shopping, we came back outside and started heading back toward the initial store, the place where Britt and I had been playing.

And Britt was nowhere in sight.

“Where is your sister?” mom demanded as we rushed toward the store.

“I don’t know!” I cried, feeding off the panic and hostility in mom’s voice. “She was right there!”

As we jogged back, I shook my head, crying, and I mumbled, “I shouldn’t have left her alone…”

“No, you shouldn’t have!” mom snapped at me.

As we neared the store, though, we had a better view of its front, and it turned out that Britt was standing back in a corner, and we simply hadn’t been able to see her from the angle we were at. Years later, I realized what a horrendously foul response that was from my mother. “No, you shouldn’t have!” she said to me.

I was eight years old.

Assuming the worst, what in the hell would it have accomplished if I had stayed with Britt and someone kidnapped her? It would have meant only that Britt and I both were kidnapped. I was freaking eight years old, and Britt was the older one, at nine. I could have no more fought off someone than Britt could have. Still, “No, you shouldn’t have!” she hissed at her eight-year-old son who was already blaming himself.

“No, I shouldn’t have!” is what she should have said. She was the adult who left her eight and nine year old kids playing outside a store.

Britt’s birthday was horrible that year, and was probably still the worst birthday of her life. I’m not sure what caused things to go so badly, but they did. Britt and mom got into a fight—they were actually fighting quite often—and the most vicious one came near the end of That Summer, when mom threw a burning cigarette butt and hit Britt in the leg. I don’t think Britt ever forgave mom for that.

That was the year that Britt got the Polly Pocket toy that she had wanted for Easter, so I’m not sure what spurred the fight. I just remember that Britt cried a lot, and that I wanted her to be happy. But she wasn’t. And though I don’t recall ever seeing anything odd, there’s no telling how deep Everett’s abuses ran, and I certainly wouldn’t put any particular abuse beyond a monster like him. I don’t believe that’s the reason that Britt and mom fought so much, but I honestly have no idea why they did, and it’s clearly too painful of a subject for my sister for me to bring it up now.

I believe it was just that Britt was as miserable there as I was. The electricity was cut off a few times, but we weren’t allowed to run the air conditioners anyway. Arkansas summers are hot, but all we could do was open the windows and use box fans. That doesn’t help very much when the temperature is in the high nineties and the humidity isn’t far behind.

Then, of course, was the fact that mom got the hell beaten out of her regularly by a drunk piece of shit. And this is why I say that Eric would not have stood idly by if he had been forced to witness the abuse as Britt and I were—there’s only so many times that you can watch and hear your mother getting the shit beaten out of her before you’re ready to take matters into your own hands, regardless of your size and regardless of your age.

It was horrible.

You’ll forgive me for not going into elaborate descriptions of what it’s like to see and hear your mother being viciously beaten by an abusive alcoholic, but it’s every bit as awful as your imagination suggests, and so much worse when you’re witnessing it at eight and nine years old.

And one night I could no longer take it.

“[My name], don’t!” Britt whispered as I got up from the couch.

I don’t blame her. We were terrified when this abuse happened. We were too scared to move, too scared to speak, and even too scared to breathe loudly. If we had to go to the bathroom, then we held it. Mom was a lot bigger than us, and she couldn’t protect herself—how could she have protected us? Everett had already thrown a pair of scissors at one of us, so we had no idea if he would hit us. All we could do, at two in the morning, as their shadows danced on the floor, spilling in from the bedroom where they fought, listening to such sickening words as—

“Everett, I can’t breathe…”

–being choked out by our mother, was cower in fear and silence.

But I could cower no more. I had been pushed to the brink. I had seen this too many times; I had heard this too many times. This had been going on for too long, had been happening too often, and my mind snapped. For too long, I’d listened to my mother choking and rasping that she couldn’t breathe. For too long, I’d heard her being slammed into a wall, pushed through a window, punched in the stomach and face, jerked around and slapped. I knew only that I had to act, that something had to be done, and that I was going to do it because no one else was going to.

Someone had to put a stop to this, and there was no one stepping up to do it. And that meant it fell to me. It didn’t register to me that I was eight years old and about to step up to a grown man with a long history of violence. I didn’t care, because I was going to do what no one else was stepping up to do. It didn’t occur to me that I was eight years old, or that it wasn’t fair that I was way too young to be faced with the situation that I was faced with. Besides, no one ever said that life was fair.

No police were coming. My dad wasn’t coming. My brother wasn’t coming. My mom couldn’t handle it. And that meant it was on me, and only me.

I pulled two sharp knives from the kitchen drawer.

“Mom, I’ve got a knife!” I screamed.

Silence fell for a moment, and I was ignored as the horrific abuse continued. I immediately fell into tears, sobbing uncontrollably and whispering, “I’m sorry, mom. I’m sorry.”

I was sorry because I didn’t have it in me. I was sorry because I didn’t have the courage, the strength, or the age to do anything about it. I was sorry because I could do nothing to help her. I went back to the couch that was adjacent to the loveseat that my sister was sleeping on, and I continued crying until long after the violence stopped, because there was nothing else that I could do.

No one was coming, and I couldn’t stop it.

 

Hell Continues

Everett’s other two kids came that July to stay with us, and they were about mine and Britt’s ages, though Anne was slightly older than Britt was, and Charlie was slightly younger than I was. The first Power Rangers movie also hit the theaters, and I badly wanted to go. Mom suggested that I go around picking up cans so that I could earn the money, and I didn’t object at all to that. So that’s what I spent a lot of that summer doing: walking around with Charlie, picking up empty cans so that I could pay my way into the movie, because mom didn’t have the $5 to spare for the admission.

Charlie had some weird issues, though. Mom forced me to put up my Nintendo while he was there, and I was told that it was because he had a history of destroying them. He also burned down a house when he was much younger, by putting a sheet of paper onto a gas stove, or something like that. I never knew the details, but none of the adults ever disputed his claim about it, so it seems that it was true. And Charlie was, of course, proud that he’d burned a house down.

It simply made the summer worse than it already was. I didn’t spend all my time playing video games, obviously, but I did play them a lot, and then I suddenly wasn’t allowed to at all, for an entire month. One morning before Charlie woke up, mom let me connect and play it. I played Mega Man 4, one of my favorite games, but I was only allowed a few minutes before Charlie woke up. He walked through, rubbed his eyes, and mumbled, “There’s a Nintendo?” He kept walking to the kitchen, though. I furiously unhooked it and put it away, and we never discussed it again.

One day I was left home alone, and a man from the water department came by and did something outside. Keeping in mind that I was eight years old, I merely ensured that the door was locked and then watched him from the window. When mom returned, she learned that we didn’t have any water, and I told her about the man who came by.

“Why didn’t you stop him?” she yelled at me, as though her eight-year-old child was really supposed to have been able to handle a responsibility of that magnitude—or even understand something of that magnitude. I’m sure the city would also have been quite interested to learn that she had left an eight year old at home alone, and I sincerely doubt that I’d have been able to accomplish anything if I had talked to the man.

But, as usual, something had gone wrong, and I was just the convenient target to blame it on. Did she really expect her eight-year-old child to go and meet a stranger who had come into the yard? “Are one of your parents home?” the man would have immediately asked, a question that I would obviously have answered honestly. And this was a stranger to me. I had no understanding that this was a city or government employee—it was just some stranger, some strange, grown man in the yard. When I saw him, I verified that the door was locked; I definitely wasn’t about to open it.

Thank goodness, I had more sense than my mom did.

So there in the middle of June—because this actually happened before Charlie and Ashely arrived—we had no water at all. Each morning, Britt and I walked up the street to a nearby gas station, and filled up a five-gallon bucket with water from their faucet behind the building. We were only able to do this a few times, though, because the clerks found out and came out yelling at us, chasing us off, and telling us that we weren’t allowed to do that.

It goes without saying that it was awful, to not have water or air conditioning in the Arkansas summer, but it was even worse than that, because we never had anything to eat, either. Anne remarked once that I ate the equivalent of two biscuits a week, and she wasn’t wrong—I rarely ate anything. Because on top of having nothing to eat, my nerves were absolutely fried. I was always nauseated and on the edge of vomiting, and mom’s “solution” to this was to take me to the doctor for my “anxiety”—something that never happened anyway. Of course, the real solution would have been to get us out of that nightmare where we had no food, no water, and no cooling, and where my early morning wasn’t interrupted by the sounds of horrific violence.

Biscuits are also an apt comparison because I ate a lot of biscuits—there was never much else to eat, and biscuits were the primary staple. We would cook biscuits, then everyone would get two, and we’d dip them in this horrible concoction of peanut butter and maple syrup.

Then there was Treet Meat. It’s essentially a generic version of Spam, and it was the only meat that I ate through that summer. And, sadly, that name was also appropriate—it was a treat to have, because it was actual food. We didn’t even get it that often, because we couldn’t; we were poor as dirt. We didn’t even have water. Our food situation was no better. Throw on top of that the alcoholism and abuse, and it was an absolute nightmare, a true living hell. That, it seems, was what mom considered best for her kids, since she undoubtedly “only wanted what was best” for her kids.

And, unbelievably, it actually got worse.

Because as though all that wasn’t bad enough, the property owners tasked us with tearing down the shed, which we did. We then lit a bonfire with the wood from it in the backyard, and all that was fine. A few days later, however, we also lit a bonfire in the front yard. And from then on, we were under attack by fleas—fully under attack. Mom said that the fire in the backyard chased them into the front, and then the fire in the front yard chased them into the house. That seems likely, because we had a total infestation. Fleas were everywhere. No matter where we went or what we did, fleas where all over us, biting away.

Mom’s solution to this was some flea powder and anti-itch lotion, but that was woefully inadequate to deal with an infestation of that scale. Bug bombs wouldn’t have been enough. Only an exterminator would really have been sufficient, and it would likely have taken multiple visits from an exterminator.

The situation was beyond terrible, and it’s hard to imagine it being any worse and still leaving the victims alive and sane. How much more could my sanity have taken? How much more could my sister have taken? Hunger, thirst, miserable heat, domestic violence, and constantly being bitten by fleas. These are the reasons why it will always be “That Summer in Arkansas” to me, and why it will (hopefully) always be regarded as the worst summer of my life.

During the day, Charlie, David, and I went through the neighborhoods and picked up cans from the side of the road. That was probably the only bit of good parenting that my mother ever did—if I wanted to go to the movie, then I needed to earn the money. I would say that she might have been pushing it a bit, since I was only eight years old, but it’s also true that it was the only way I could have gone anyway.

Then the glorious day came that we called the person to come and buy the cans from me. It was a little over three dollars, and to my horror, he handed half of it to me, and the other half to Charlie. I threw a fit. And, looking back, I was right to throw a fit, because I was the one collecting the cans and had been from the beginning. I wasn’t being a brat when I said that Charlie didn’t help, because he really hadn’t—he simply came along because there was nothing else to do, and because that’s what I was going to do whether he came or not. I carried the garbage bags, I asked people for their cans, and I picked them up from the side of the road. Undoubtedly, Charlie picked up a few, but he wasn’t asked to, and he certainly hadn’t picked up half of them. I can understand, I guess, why the man presumed it was best to split the money between Charlie and me, but it still seems it would have been better for him to give it to my mother for her to handle. I worked all through that summer doing it, and three dollars was already not enough to go to the movie, but a dollar and fifty cents was nowhere near enough.

I was eventually given all the money—which, as I say, is good since I was the one doing it—but obviously still was not enough to pay for the movie. In another display of surprisingly good parenting, however, mom gave me the other two dollars that I needed, and I was able to buy the ticket and watch the movie. I didn’t get popcorn, a drink, or anything else; I just watched the movie, and it was great, because I’d spent the entire summer working to pay my way into it. I wasn’t entirely successful, but no one could say that I didn’t try.

One afternoon as we played in the tree… I don’t recall exactly what we were doing, but Charlie was swinging around in the branches as I did before my mom asked me to stop. And Charlie made a mistake. He fell almost in slow motion, and the three of us could only watch in shock as he fell, slamming into branches as he plummeted. We screamed as he screamed, and then there was a loud and sickening thud as he slammed against the ground.

Mom and Everett got him inside and called an ambulance. Charlie was able to move and able to stand, and the paramedics asked about taking him to the hospital to check if he had a concussion. To me, it seemed obvious. Dude fell out of a tree. His back was lacerated from the branches that had whipped against his flesh as he fell, and he had pounded against the ground. Why were people discussing whether to take him to the hospital? The ambulance was already there, after all—get the boy some medical attention.

But they didn’t. Because it would have been too expensive.

Charlie swooned at the door and nearly fainted, but caught himself on the jamb. Mom and Everett agreed to keep an eye on him for signs of a concussion, but he still didn’t go to the hospital, and none of us climbed the tree again.

Charlie proved more or less okay, though, and he and I stood in the front yard one day as I prepared to show the whole world once more what a jackass I was. A small, purple truck came through as I hoisted up a very tiny pebble—very tiny. Smaller than a piece of cat food, and very light—far too light to cause any damage. As the truck drove past, in full view of everyone and everything, I pulled back my arm and released, hitting the truck with that pebble.

Brakes screeched. Charlie and I bolted inside.

The man driving the truck, understandably pissed off, said that it was the short one who threw it, and that meant Charlie. Mom and Everett yelled for Charlie as the man left, evidently content to let them handle it, and I stayed hidden in the back, fully prepared to let Charlie take the fall for it. Because I was terrified, too. Charlie wouldn’t have that, though, which is good, and he told them that it was I. When asked directly, I did not deny it. There was a reason, after all, that I was hiding in the back.

That I was going to let Charlie take the blame just pissed Everett off more, but it’s not like there was ever much chance for that to happen. The dude mistakenly told them “the short one,” they called for Charlie, and Charlie told them it was me. But Everett was furious, and I suspect he had been waiting for such an opportunity all summer. He wanted to beat me.

Mom wouldn’t allow that, though, which is good. Because, honestly, if Everett had laid a hand on me, my dad would have killed him. As I said earlier, I never held the delusion that my dad was a superhero, as so many young kids do, but my dad wouldn’t have needed to be a superhero to take on Everett, or to kill him—and there is no doubt: my dad would have done both. Everett was the kind of man who hit women; the last thing he needed was to fight someone who was, at the very least, a real man. And my dad would have been so enraged that there probably wouldn’t have been a fight; he probably would have just shot the asshole.

Or stabbed him, as I had once been ready to do.

Mom took me into the bathroom, and I was crying hysterically, because I knew I’d done something wrong, and I didn’t typically do things like that. I really didn’t. I was just showing off in front of Charlie, and mom knew it, too. She also knew that there was no chance that I was going to do it again—it was all over my teary face. She had already promised Everett that she would whip me, though, and I’m sure that she intended to, until she got me in the bathroom with the doors shut.

Mom knew me better than that, though. She surely understood exactly why I had done it, and she and Everett were both aware that the thing I’d thrown was tiny—far too tiny to do any damage at all. And the guy checked his truck extensively, but there was no damage to it whatsoever. The tiny little pebble almost certainly hit one of his hubcaps, in fact, given the distance involved and the very low mass of the pebble. What I did was wrong, I knew that, and my mother knew that I knew that— and she knew that I had known it at the time that I threw it.

But there was also the fact that no damage was done, and that I undoubtedly would never have thrown something that would have broken a window or caused a dent. What I did simply caused a noise. There was no damage, and she knew that was not by accident. She made it clear to me that I wasn’t to do something like that again, but there was no chance that I was going to anyway, and she told me that Everett wanted to get at me.

In hindsight, I somewhat wish that he would have. Oh, sure, it would have hurt then, but when my dad found out, he would have beat the ever-loving hell out of Everett, and if there’s anyone who deserves to be beaten fifteen-sixteenths to death, it’s Everett Barber. And if Everett had ever laid a finger on me, my dad would have torn him to pieces. Everett did later say, “You’re lucky you ain’t my son, or that hide would be tanned and you would be able to talk for a week!”

Instead, mom spanked the toilet, and we both pretended that she’d spanked me. In fact, she lightly tapped me with the belt, but she grinned when she did it—that way we weren’t lying. That was the way that my mom and I handled things—she respected me, and I respected her. She didn’t have to roar and command me to stop swinging high in the tree; she asked me, explained her reasoning, and I respected her enough to obey. And she had been correct. Charlie had gotten hurt doing it, but it wasn’t because he wanted to do what I was doing.

Of course, Charlie didn’t believe that she’d spanked me, being a little snitch who was double-checking for Everett, and he asked me repeatedly. I consistently answered that she had, and she said the same. But she didn’t, because she was my mother, and she knew me better than that. I was no longer a rebellious kindergartener forced to adjust to a separation and trying to cling to the only normalcy that I had by eschewing school and staying with my mother. I was the kid who had just spent an entire summer collecting cans to pay his own way into a movie.

But no, Everett Barber. Violence is not the way that my mother communicated with me. Weak, ignorant people like you communicate with violence.

There is never a reason to spank a child. Talking to a child and reasoning with the child will earn the child’s respect, and will give the child a reason to respect and trust the adult as an authority figure. Resorting to violence will not earn the child’s respect; it will only earn the child’s fear. But I never again came close to throwing a rock or pebble at a vehicle, and violence wasn’t necessary to make that happen—simply talking to me was. But I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that an asshole like Everett immediately jumped to violence as the solution to misbehavior.

Everett was a violent asshole, and it’s proof that the universe doesn’t care, that he lives on while my mother has been dead for nearly two decades. This man directly responsible for untold amounts of pain and suffering, and who inflicted violence upon numerous people. Obviously, he doesn’t deserve to die by any means, and my mother was no saint, but, between the two, one of them deserves to be alive a lot more than the other.

Eric forgave Everett. I imagine that was easy, since Eric never witnessed the horrors that Britt and I did.

I nearly saw Everett again, that first weekend we spent with Eric after reconnecting with him, and I told Eric that it would be a very, very bad idea for Everett to come anywhere near me. Eric offered a weak excuse about how Everett is the grandfather of his son, and that they have to be civil, but I did not and do not care about that. This man relentlessly beat my mother in fits of alcohol-induced rage because he couldn’t face his own failures and inadequacies, and he never apologized to my sister or me. Eric said that Everett is clean now, and that he went through Alcoholics Anonymous. That may be, but he missed a step. He missed a few people that he was supposed to apologize to for some of his wrongdoings. My sister and I should have been pretty close to the top of the list.

With dysfunction of that scale, it certainly wasn’t only during the day that they fought. They fought almost constantly, and one of the many lessons I learned from mom is always have my car keys attached to a belt loop on my jeans. She did so, and it was extremely handy one day when they got into a fight. We planned to leave—probably to go to Aunt Diane’s—but she forgot something inside. By the time she turned around to go back in, Everett had already locked the door.

I will never forget that asshole’s stupid, childish grin as he parted the blinds and gave my mom the finger.

Britt and I stayed in the car for the next few hours as they fought inside, because there was no chance that we were going in there while that was happening. One walks on eggshells when there’s a lot of domestic violence, regardless of whom it is targeted at, because one is constantly afraid that something is going to set that violent son of a bitch off, and no one wants to be the person who causes it.

Charlie and Anne soon left with their mom to go back to Oklahoma, and that sucked, because I did enjoy hanging out with Charlie. I was happy to have my video games back, of course, but it wasn’t fun that a friend was leaving. I would never see him again, either—or Anne, for that matter.

It was soon time to register for school, and that was totally weird. I’d already changed schools several times. I started in South Pontotoc Elementary, but spent a few days in the city school—that was an awkward and unpleasant experience. I wasn’t there long enough to make friends, and the vibe in that school was strangely different from the county school. There was a lot of snobbery, and the playground sucked. Then I went to East Tate, and suddenly I was transferring to a school in Arkansas.

Dad and grandma came, to try to get us, before school started, and they weren’t trying to work within the legal system, mostly because we all knew by that point that the case was a total joke to the state. But mom was served with some kind of papers—it wasn’t a summon, and it seemed to be something that grandma paid a lawyer to write up and make it look official and scary. It was also filled with lies. For one, it asserted that we lived in a mobile home, that mom and Everett were doing crack and other things like that, none of which was true, but I understand in hindsight where they were coming from. But I refused to lose my mom again.

Dad promised us that he had gifts for us in the backseat of the car, and all that we had to do was climb in and get them. He held the door open, and it was all too easy for us to see that there was nothing in the backseat. The elderly couple next door knew enough of what was happening that they wanted to ensure things didn’t get out of control, so they came out and sat on their porch whenever dad was there and pulling his stunts. Britt and I weren’t stupid, though, and we told them that they could hand us the gifts, because we weren’t climbing in to get them.

They were trying to kidnap us, in effect, and I have to wonder what legal grounds they had to do so. What would have happened, if they had shoved us into the backseat and drove off? Someone would have called the police, and there would likely have been a roadblock—then what? Clearly, mom wasn’t in violation of any legal order, or they wouldn’t have had such a difficult time trying to go the legal route.

On one of these several “visits,” I stood near mom and Britt on the porch, as dad and grandma stood by their car at the road, shouting back and forth with mom because they had been firmly told to get off her property. “Does this look like a mobile home to you?” I shouted, because I was furious that they were again trying to take us away from our mom, and Britt evidently preferred to stay, too.

Life was borderline unbearable there in Arkansas, but it’s curious to think about what implications that would have had for me being transgender. I wouldn’t have had to struggle with it nearly as much, because my mom would have gladly accepted me. Everett would have gotten out of the picture at some point (he was removed from the picture later), and he would have certainly made it impossible for me to be transgender—more so than grandma and dad did, really. But Everett’s days with our mom were numbered, even if I didn’t know it then.

Mom is the only family member who I know wouldn’t have taken issue with it, because she was bisexual herself, and out of all the things I can question about my mother, I have never doubted that she loved me. Being transgender would have meant nothing to her, and she would have accepted and supported me. That she is not a part of my life is all the more tragic because of that: she is the only family member who would have accepted and supported me. Maybe back then, my sister would have as well, but with the way it went down, even my sister, with whom I went through all this bullshit, refused to accept my transgenderism.

In the grand scheme of things, though, it was certainly for the best that I did end up back with my grandmother, because I would have ended up dropping out as a teenager. I would never have been exposed to fantasy and would never have started writing; I probably would never have picked up a guitar and become an accomplished musician. My life has certainly not been great, but it would have been worse if mom had won that war.

“Dad, I hate you!” I shouted.

For just a brief moment, silence fell. Then my dad narrowed his eyes and pointed at my mother, and then he said in a low voice filled with icy anger, “Pat, if you ever tell him to say that again, I will kill you.”

So there, at the age of eight, I watched my dad threaten to kill my mother.

Obviously, they left quickly after that, because the elderly couple next door had certainly heard that little line, and it’s illegal to stand just on the edge of someone’s property, point at them, and threaten to kill them. For a while, I was in shock over that; it’s unusual to hear your dad threaten to kill your mom, and to mean it, and mom hadn’t told me to say anything. I spoke of my own accord, because I did hate him at that moment. He was once more a force of disruption, but also the only person who could save us—I just didn’t realize then how badly we needed to be saved.

And I was willing, I think, to endure all of those nightmarish things because they were the price of being there with my mother.

I didn’t understand mom’s laughter later that evening, when she bragged to Everett about what I had said. I was unable to understand that she liked how it hurt my dad to hear, and that she was happy that I stood against him—that I stood firmly with her. She didn’t tell me not to hate him, or even not to say it, as any good mother would have. She encouraged it, because she thought it was great.

For the first time, Britt and I suddenly went to different schools. We were two grades apart anyway, so it’s not like it made much of a difference, but… it did make a difference, and I didn’t like it. I don’t remember much about that school, except that people concluded that I was a talented artist, because I was able to draw something that was on the cover of a book. I did get into Gifted Art during the fourth grade, qualifying by drawing a boot. I have no idea why I made it in, because I saw the boots I drew years later, and they were awful.

They had GT at that school, which stood for Gifted and Talented, but only one person in our class was in it. Again, at East Tate I was allowed into TAGS halfway through the third grade (Talented and Gifted Students), but I was too depressed to have qualified for it there in Arkansas. I didn’t make any friends there. I didn’t want to make any friends there. The teachers would also frequently ask me what was wrong, too…

How was I supposed to answer that? Fucking everything was wrong. Between being hungry through the entire summer, sweating and burning up through the entire summer, not even having water through a substantial chunk of it, being blamed for my mom’s mistakes, watching and listening to my mom being beaten once every other week (on average), what in the hell wasn’t wrong? Oh, and I was having to lie to cover up for my mom, because she was shooting up—of course she was shooting up. Since everyone trusted me for some reason, she had me insist that it was for her headaches, when obviously it wasn’t.

“You know the shots I take for my headaches, right?” she asked me one morning.

“I don’t know,” I answered honestly. She didn’t make it a habit of shooting up in front of me, and I didn’t recall then her ever doing so—not since Pontotoc, at least.

“Sure you do,” she cajoled. “The shots that I take for my headaches.”

“Oh,” I convinced myself. “Yeah.”

“You know they’re for my headaches, right?” she pressed, and I nodded. “Good. Everett might ask you, and just be sure to tell him that you know they’re for my headaches…”

“You’re going to have to participate,” the teachers told me. “You can’t just sit there and mope all the time,” they said.

Then there was walking to and from school every day, at a time when I constantly felt nauseated and was always on the verge of throwing up, because we didn’t have a car and because Everett’s parents were weird about their bikes. We were there for about four months, possibly five, and they were by leaps and bounds the worst four months of my life, and I’ve actually been homeless before. But nothing else I’ve experienced comes close to That Summer in Arkansas.

It was worse than ever one night—so bad that the elderly couple told mom that they would call the police if they heard it again. And, as usual, mom told them that it wouldn’t happen again, the same thing that she told Britt and me. Of course, this left my nerves more frazzled than ever, to the point that I wouldn’t even eat, and mom knew that she had to do something, and her solution was to take me to the doctor. Britt also needed to go to a dentist, so mom scheduled both things for the upcoming Thursday.

On that day, since we would be in the city, mom also planned to stop by and see an attorney who wanted a two thousand dollar retainer “to even look at the case.” Mom seemed to think that implied he was a terrific lawyer, and that may have been true, but she was never going to come up with that kind of money, and she must have known that, deep down inside. Just a few weeks prior, she’d received and unexpected check from the government, which she used to buy a $600 car that broke down almost immediately.

Britt and I were playing at the closest park when I looked across the street and saw, to my horror and dismay, dad standing and talking on the payphone while grandma stood beside him. Dad happened to see me, as well, and I told Britt that we had to go home, and that dad was there. We immediately ran home, since we weren’t far in the first place. We told mom what we’d seen, but she wasn’t overly worried about it.

A few minutes later, dad and grandma pulled in front of the house, but they were not alone. They had the police with them, and they had some legal document signed by a judge that gave grandma legal guardianship of us. They accomplished this through some creative distribution of money (bribes, one might say). Dad never denied this, and it’s certainly strange that they managed to get a judge to sign something so major without a hearing actually taking place. So someone’s pockets surely got a little heavier.

It was heartbreaking, and we were conflicted about it. This was our mother, and we loved her and didn’t want to leave her. But, at the same time, the situation was terrible, and no child should have been anywhere near that mess. Britt and mom fought nearly as often as did mom and Everett—I loved my sister and didn’t want her to be unhappy, and she wasn’t any happier than I was. And while I know now that it was for the best, that didn’t make it any easier then.

It all ended as suddenly and inexplicably as it began. Just as we didn’t expect mom to randomly declare that she was going to keep us, neither were we expecting dad and grandma to show up that day with the law on their side. The police oversaw everything as we packed our stuff, coldly standing by and grilling mom, as Britt, mom, and I cried and said our goodbyes, because there was no telling when we were going to see each other again. Mom’s visitation rights had been revoked, which meant that… legally, we weren’t allowed to see her anymore.

There was no turning around that time, though, even as we answered their questions honestly about what had been going on. Dad repeatedly said that we were going to simply forget what I said to him—as though we could do anything else, or as though punishing me for it had been a consideration. I’d just gone through hell for months with my sister. What could he possibly have done to punish me?

The Blood I Cried

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Introduction

Whether being four years old and watching one of my parents’ friends shoot up peanut butter on our couch and dying before my eyes; whether being effectively kidnapped at the age of eight by my meth-addicted mother and forced to endure a summer of being too poor to buy food, with our water turned off due to non-payment, and with mom being beaten mercilessly by a violent alcoholic; whether coming to terms with her disappearance like something out of a murder mystery show; or whether being transgender in the midst of all of this and trying desperately to come to terms with it while surrounded by a fundamentalist Christian family that forced me to not merely repress who I was but also to forget who I was, I have seen a great deal of tragedy.

It’s strangely easy to forget how devastating all of this must truly have been, even as I was the one who experienced it, because it’s easy to forget how it truly felt to lie awake, crying and listening to the sounds of shattering glass as my mother was thrown brutally through windows. It’s easy to forget how angry I have the right to be at my father and grandmother, for forcing me to oppress myself and attempting to turn me into something that I am not.

Today I am a transgender woman and resident of the state of Mississippi. This is as frustrating, difficult, and dangerous as one would expect, but I survive, and I roll with the punches. I have no choice, just as I had no choice those early mornings as I bore witness to horrific domestic violence.

So this is my story–a story of how low human depravity can sink, but also how the human spirit can stand resilient and refuse to surrender. However, I know that I am one of the lucky ones. The majority of people who endure such childhood trauma, and who are forced by religiously oppressive authorities to repress their own natures, are not so fortunate. Most of the former lose themselves in a sea of drugs that allow them to forget, while the latter often lose themselves to the blade of a razor. Yet I know, because I have lived it, that we can survive the struggles–and not merely survive, but become stronger through them.

Where to begin, in this sordid tale of devils and demons?

My family is exactly what one would expect of a north Mississippi lower middle class / upper lower class white Christian family; it was only a few years ago that I first heard the acronym WASP, but I have to admit: aside from its redundancy, there is no more apt description of my family. They are almost stereotypical in how typical they are of an ordinary white fundamentalist Christian family from the southern United States.

Everyone in Mississippi isn’t like that, however, which is a point I’ve tried to stress in the past: Mississippi does contain many people like myself. As a friend recently put it, “We grew up in an area that is run-down, poor, and stupid, over all, where most of the populace is indoctrinated by religious nonsense to the point where they can’t even recognize rational thought. We pushed through what it takes to fit in here, and we defined ourselves. That’s something to embrace and be proud of.”

My friends and I have reached the end of a long and grueling journey that was filled with adversity and people who would use any means at their disposal—terrorism, fear, violence, and coercion—to bend us to their wills, and we’ve looked back at the paths we traveled and rejoiced that we survived and stayed true to ourselves. Friends are priceless when one is transgender in a family full of fundamentalist Christians.

Both of my paternal grandparents would reject me entirely—they do not yet know, and they will be among the last to know, since I see them only a few times a year. “You don’t know how they’ll react,” I’ve had people tell me. “Give them a chance. Sometimes people surprise you.”

With all due respect, those allies and friends have no idea the type of people we’re really dealing with. My Mississippian friends know better, too; they know that there is no chance that my family will ever welcome me at Christmas dinner as a female. When my grandfather (who, for the record, is on his tenth or eleventh wife) learned that my sister was living with her boyfriend, he wrote her a lengthy letter, wherein he quoted Biblical passages and called her a whore. When my grandmother found girls’ clothes hidden between my mattresses, she wanted to send me to a foster home and asserted that she would not have that in her house. If they had thought I was gay, they would have sent me to one of those awful “pray the gay away” camps.

This isn’t to say that I’m perfect, and acknowledging my own faults and mistakes will be the most difficult part of writing this. I have made plenty of mistakes and stupid decisions that brought people around me severe difficulty and hardship, particularly regarding past relationships.

My memory is also not perfect, and I am likely to make mistakes, and, given that some of the information comes from extremely unreliable sources (like my father), some of that can’t really be helped. It doesn’t matter, though. The point of this is to show how awful parenting shaped me, and the countless lies that my dad told me are part of that. I strive for honesty, integrity, and sincerity in all things. Consider this my vow that everything within is, to the best of my knowledge, the unaltered truth, except that names have been changed.

South Pontotoc

I was born premature, thankfully, since the umbilical cord had wrapped around my throat and I was choking to death. This was surely a result of my mother’s cigarette smoking and eating painkillers while pregnant. My father insists that she didn’t do drugs while she carried us, but… Yeah, she did.

I certainly don’t remember my birth, but I do remember some things from shortly after my birth. Though my family says there is no way I could remember it, my introduction to the world came with overwhelming confusion: I was in some sort of cradle, and the back of my right hand hurt because a number of needles and tubes penetrated my flesh. The details are blurry and fuzzy, as one would expect from such early memories, but the needles burned and itched. They irritated me, and I wanted them out. I was afraid and confused, with no idea why these things penetrated my hand and no understanding of what was going on. I knew only that I was hurting and helpless to do anything about it.

Confusion—pure confusion. I didn’t even have a sense of self. I had no idea that I existed, that I was a baby in a hospital, and that I was a being. I could feel the needles in the back of my hand, and they hurt. The pain, however, was not unbearable, and wasn’t the main facet of that moment. It was confusion. I was not afraid—I didn’t have enough self-awareness for the confusion to make me scared. I simply knew nothing. I was a blank slate, onto which was being written reality in the ink of experience. I didn’t even know that I was a blank slate. I knew only that I hurt, and that I was confused. I was not in the arms of a loving mother whose warmth brought me comfort. I did not stare up and into the eyes of a nurse who was delighted to see a baby growing healthier by the hour. I was not being cooed by an older brother, or rocked in the cradle while a loving grandparent read a story. I was alone and hurting in a room bathed in fluorescent light.

That was my first experience with the world. That was how I was introduced to the universe—in the sterilizing, emotionless light of an empty hospital room, not the gentle and soothing light of a home. I heard the beeps and sounds of monitoring equipment, not the joyous laughter of a loving family. I lie alone in a hospital contraption with the shrill, uncomfortable hospital sheets, not wrapped in a blanket and the arms of a doting mother.

And the worst part—the indisputable worst part—is that I remember this.

The first few years of my life were probably normal, about what anyone would expect from a southern, lower middle class white family that subsisted more on the successes of previous generations than the merits of its own. There were some oddities, though, and signs even then of who I really was, but it was the mid-80s. It wouldn’t really be fair to blame my parents for not recognizing and embracing that I was transgender.

Of course, I was born male, “with a penis and everything.” But whenever all of my underwear was dirty, my mother would put me in my sister’s panties; it wasn’t a punishment, to clarify. Being the clever child that I was, I began hiding all of my underwear, just so that I could tell my mom that I didn’t have any, and so that I could wear panties instead. Somewhere around three years old, I took all of my underwear and threw them into the back of a closet that no one ever opened, and then I reported to my mother that, strangely, all of my underwear was suddenly gone.

So when I say that I’ve been transgender since birth, it’s as close to “since birth” as one can get. I couldn’t have been older than three years old at that point, because my sister hadn’t begun kindergarten herself. I knew then that I preferred women to men: I loved my mother and sister, and, even at that age, I had a deep appreciation for feminine beauty. I also thought that my Aunt Diane was the most beautiful woman I’d ever seen, and my mother used to make fun of me for my enamorment with my aunt.

My experience with men at this point was limited to my father (who was fat and not overly pleasant to look at), my brother (who was thin, but who had nothing on my mother), my grandfather (who was also overweight, and a jerk), and my Uncle Danny (who has always been an asshole). Although it’s typical for young boys to love their mothers, I wanted to be just like mine, and I suspect that had a lot to do it with, but who can say? I was three when it began, and I simply wanted to be a girl.

I had a blanket (what most people would call a “blankie,” though I never called it that), and it was one of those cotton-threaded ones similar to fishnet. I refused to sleep without it and my pillow. The pillow actually wasn’t that important, but the pillowcase certainly was. I rubbed the pillowcase between my finger and thumbnail, sleeping on the central heating vents in the floor and driving my father crazy with all of it.

A Look at My Father

I would love to say that my father isn’t a bad man.

But he is.

That’s a difficult thing to say and accept, but I have to stress that it doesn’t really make me love him any less, and that the dominant emotion I have for my father is pity. Even so, I would be lying if I said that he was a good man who simply made some mistakes; that isn’t the case at all. He’s a bad man who has made some good decisions, not a good man who has made a few bad ones.

His own childhood was no walk in the park, damaged by my alcoholic and abusive grandfather beating the hell out of my grandmother. Though not much of that has been shared with me, I can certainly relate to what he has said, and it’s clear the recollections are as painful to him as it is for me to recall the abuse my mother endured at the hands of alcoholics.

At some point, my grandparents divorced—Go, grandma!—because my grandmother wouldn’t put up with the abuse. My grandmother is easily worthy of her own story, because she is an unsung hero of the feminist movement without even trying. In the sixties and seventies, she left her violent husband and blazed her own path in Mississippi, won the house in the divorce, and then worked at a college until she retired at the age of 67.

True to the family history, my grandmother endured her own screwed up childhood, and was even sent away by her mother to live with Uncle Bill and Aunt Edna on their farm. Evidently, Aunt Edna didn’t like my grandmother one bit, and was very unkind to her. What internal strength caused my grandmother, in what must have been the 40s, to graduate as the valedictorian of her class? What quiet resolve allowed my grandmother to learn the necessary skills to work in the administration section of a college during the 60s?

These are questions to which I would love answers, but I’ll never have them, because they are not things that my grandmother is willing to discuss. Questions about her past are met with short answers, and I can’t blame her for not wanting to talk about it.

On one particular drunken rampage, my father held a gun on my grandfather so that my grandmother could limp out of the house. While I truly hate that he had to do such a thing in the first place, I’m also jealous that he was old enough to do something about it. When my mother suffered under Everett’s hands, I was in the second grade, and too young and weak to do anything to intervene.

For years, my father insisted that he was drafted to Vietnam, and he even talked about how he was called a murderer and spit upon when he returned. Eventually my sister and I realized that there’s no way this is true. Either he was actually the oldest between him and his brother (and thus wouldn’t have been drafted), or the Vietnam War ended when he was 16. In this little alternate reality he had constructed, he had to be older than our mother was (which was blatantly false—she had always been recognized as the older one), his brother had to be lying about his own age, and almost everyone had to have falsified birth records.

He changed his story to say that he was in Vietnam during the 80s, through another offensive that we did, but I have been unable to find any military record for him. Whether he actually fought in Vietnam, he did mislead us into believing he’d fought in the Vietnam War, which is a lie of such magnitude and scope that one has to marvel at it.

He is a religious man, though it’s hard to tell by his behavior: heavy drug usage, constant lies, and steady manipulation. Although he is less religious than other family members are, his secularism is applied selectively, and he’s generally as fundamental as everyone else is. He continues to believe that President Obama is a Muslim, is more or less openly racist, and is a diehard Republican, despite that he’s effectively a ward of the state who benefits substantially from liberal policies.

I obviously don’t see eye-to-eye with him, but we do have some similar interests. It was he who introduced me to Fantasy literature and tabletop gaming, both of which almost immediately became passions for me. In turn, I exposed him to the tenth installment of a popular roleplaying video game, and I’m still happy that I was able to show him to something that he enjoyed so immensely. He must have played through it a dozen times, and he certainly discovered more of its secrets than I ever would have.

There is some kinship between us, and I do love him, despite the numerous differences, and in spite of the fact that he has done me far more harm than good. More than anything, I pity him, because his childhood evidently destroyed him; he is one those who did not escape unscathed. He was swallowed by the mentality that the world owes him something, and oblivious to the reality that the world will never give it.

The rifts between us began because I was not the son that he wanted. He hated that I loved sleeping on the heating vents—I’ve always loved heat. I wouldn’t sleep anywhere else. I had to sleep on one of the floor vents, and the heat had to be on. There in the floor, I had the pillow and pillowcase that I refused to sleep without, and the blanket that I required as I slept.

My father hated all of these things. We went to visit some relatives at one point, and I left my blanket and pillow at home. With no other way to shut me up, my parents took me to a store to get a new pillow, and there I went from one to the next, tearing open the plastic just slightly, and “testing” it until I found one that was satisfactory. When we got back to our trailer a few nights later, dad went outside and told me to bring my pillow.

As I stepped out into the night air, I saw him kneeling just outside the small stone circle beside our front steps. It had once been a flower garden—conceived during one of mom’s highs, when she was bolstered with energy from painkillers. The high wore off, but the flowers remained in that little circle of rocks—at least for a while. Then they died, shriveled, neglected, and forgotten.

Almost like a demon out of a child’s horror story, there was my dad, grinning devilishly and eagerly, urging me to throw my old pillow onto a mess of crumbled newspapers soaked in lighter fluid as he held his flaming lighter above it. “We need to burn it!” he said, but I refused. There was no need to burn it. They were already making me throw it away—they were already making me discard this pillow that I loved and had slept with every night for years. Was that not enough?

“We need to burn it!” he said again, as I ran inside and cried to mom that dad wanted to burn the pillow that I loved. It may seem strange that I had such attachment to a pillow, but I did, and both of my parents knew it. My father certainly knew very well that I loved that pillow.

That’s why he wanted to burn it. Because I loved it.

We didn’t burn random things, and I doubt that we ever burned anything there at all. He wasn’t content to force me to throw away this pillow, the symbol that I was an emotional person and not the crass son that he apparently wanted. The pillow had to be destroyed in flames because I loved it, and because “real men don’t love.” This silly, feminine weakness, this emotional attachment to an object—it had to be gotten rid of, and in the most dramatic way possible.

It was not the pillow that my dad wanted to burn.

It was my heart.

My mother intervened, though my father came inside and continued insisting that we needed to burn the pillow, because he was afraid that I would be able to talk my mother into letting me keep it. One has to wonder why it was an issue that I wanted to keep it. In the end, I placed it gingerly on top of the garbage can in the kitchen and told it goodbye. I hated to do so, and I cried, because it didn’t make sense to me.

It’s understandable that I developed such strong emotional ties to objects, as neither parent spent much time with me, and there was not much hugging in the family. Mom and dad were always high on one drug or another, lying on the couch and borderline comatose. I don’t know how Brandi handled it then, or what she did in order to get through the long and miserable days, but it was surely as awful for her as it was for me. Unlike our older brother, we didn’t have friends with whom we could go hang out. Or, at least, I didn’t. Brandi was friends with a girl who didn’t live too far from us, and I hope that my sister was happy then.

Aunt May and Kay-Kay

For a while, mom did work, as did my father. While Brandi and Eric were gone to school and my parents were at work, I was babysat by our great aunt who lived next door, a relatively kind woman who I remember as mostly humorless. My father fleeced her out of most of her money, just as he did to my great-grandmother, and just as he is currently doing to my grandmother. However, I was too young to comprehend that, and there isn’t much that I remember about Aunt May.

It was horrendously boring at Aunt May’s. There were few places worse for my pre-school self. I wasn’t allowed to take my Nintendo, which left me there alone with an eighty-year-old woman and very little to actually do, because there was no one to play with and nowhere to play at. Aunt May wasn’t unkind, but she was also not particularly joyful. I don’t blame her for that—she was a very old woman, and probably not happy to babysit a four-year-old.

I should have been outside having fun, rather than sitting in a living room with an eighty-year-old woman and playing with paper dolls that she cut out of a magazine. Of course, such things seem droll only from a modern perspective, but I was accustomed to video games and cartoons, the heightened entertainment possibilities of the late 1980s. In the 1880s, a child would have been thrilled to sit on a couch in an air-conditioned house and idle away the hours with paper dolls.

However, imagine the horrified response one would get if a modern child was asked to spend day after day in that environment, with only a very old woman as company. There would probably be allegations of child abuse, though I’m not making that claim. However, many modern parents would likely consider that to be, at the least, borderline child abuse. To me, it was simply boring, and the time passed so slowly that I probably lived more moments there at Aunt May’s house than all the moments I have lived since.

I don’t intend any of this to be disparaging to Aunt May. I have no doubt that she did the best she could, and significantly better than many people in her position would have. Still, I dreaded those days when both parents had to work, and it was routine for me to ask mom each afternoon, “Do you have to work tomorrow?”

Aunt May had a moustache, as well, but I never noticed it. It wasn’t until I was a teenager and I was shown a picture of her that I learned she had a moustache. I was pre-kindergarten when I spent time with Aunt May, so the idea that a woman didn’t have facial hair wasn’t in my head yet, so it seemed perfectly normal to me. My father had a moustache and Aunt May had a moustache. Cars had tires, and houses had walls.

One horrible day, as Aunt May sat in her recliner, concealed from view of the kitchen as I sat on the couch near the front door, there was suddenly a crash in the kitchen. The backdoor entered into the kitchen, and I will never forget the fear that fell over this old woman’s face. Someone had broken in through the back door.

She and I hid in the living room, cowering in the corner behind her chair. I don’t believe she ever called the police (she didn’t have a phone), or did anything about it, but my memory of that ordeal is vague. I recall only the noise, the unmistakable terror in her eyes that I was able to recognize even at four years old, and the hiding.

Because she was very old, it simply wasn’t possible for Aunt May to always babysit me, and I had another sitter called Kay-Kay—a hefty, middle-aged woman who seemed to be doing pretty well in life. She had a house, at least, which I recognized to mean that she was okay—we lived in a trailer, and most of the people we knew lived in a trailer. Living in a house… That was a grand thing to me. I didn’t mind that we lived in a trailer, and I was much too young to know that being the child of two fast-food workers (even if they were supervisors) who raised Confederate flags, shot up heroin, and ate Xanax made me the definitive example of “trailer trash,” but I knew that it was a great thing to have a house.

Kay-Kay was an ordinary woman, and there was much going on beneath the surface that most people never saw. As I sat in one of her bedrooms, playing a video game, there was suddenly a banging on the door and people shouting, demanding to be allowed inside and promising that, if Kay-Kay refused, they would tear the house down.

Although I was shocked and scared at first, Kay-Kay put my fears to rest by handling it expertly. She answered in an almost aloof way, as though she had no concern about it. Even as they banged and screamed, I was unafraid, because Kay-Kay didn’t appear to take it seriously. After a minute or so, the banging stopped, and then the rhythmic pounding echoed through her home, coming from somewhere in the back.

“They’re going to tear the house down!” I shouted to Kay-Kay, scared once more. In my head, I had the image of two enormous, burly, and angry men outside with huge hammers, smashing away the bricks and crashing through the walls.

“Oh, no, they’re not, sweetie,” came Kay-Kay’s reply as she dropped to a knee and hugged me. “They’re just mad. They’ll get over it and leave in a few minutes.”

Sure enough, Kay-Kay was right: they did leave shortly thereafter. In actuality, they probably just had given up on the front door and gone to try the back door. Finding it locked, they banged and shouted some more, and then left. I never learned what it was about, and Kay-Kay asked me not to mention it to my parents, which made sense: that isn’t the sort of thing a mother wants happening at the selected babysitter’s home. I didn’t stay quiet, though, and that was the last time Kay-Kay ever babysat me. It was also the last time that I saw her.

The Rise of Tumult

There was a “friend of the family” called Doc, and I liked him a lot. Everyone liked Doc—he was a friendly, charismatic person. Being my parents’ friend, he was heavily on drugs, but Doc was also in a motorcycle gang, which created a problem, because shooting up was explicitly against the gang’s laws. Just to be clear here: this is the world I grew up in. This was normal to my three-year-old self. On any given day, I was likely to see one or both of my parents shoot up heroin with a buddy who was in a motorcycle gang, smoke a joint or two, and collapse onto the couch in a stupor and droning out “Yeah…” to no one.

I watched my mother, laid out on the loveseat, look to my father on the other side of the living room. She held up, toward my father, a syringe full of some red liquid, and then she asked in a seductive voice, “John, do you want some of this?” And as she spoke, she pressed in the syringe and sent a jet stream of this stuff—whatever it was—flying across the living room. They were both out of their minds, just high as hell.

Disheveled, frantic, panicked, and terrified, Doc stopped by our trailer and wanted to sell my father a half-pound of weed for fifty bucks. My father had twenty dollars he could pay. Knowing my father, it’s amazing that he had any money, but he did, and he explained to Doc what he had.

Doc in turn explained that he had to get out of town. “Had to,” he said, and my father understood what that meant. The gang somehow learned that Doc was shooting up, so Doc had to get out of town before they found him and forced him to run “The Gauntlet.” Because, apparently, that actually happens. My father bought the weed, and Doc fled, but it was to no avail, and he was later found dead.

We frequently drove north to visit my Aunt Diane and Uncle Danny (the man who would later go to prison for murder and, in all likelihood, killed my mother, though there is no body or evidence), as well as our cousins. One of these trips proved to be one of the most traumatic experiences of my childhood.

As Brandi and I rode with dad in his yellow truck, in a secluded area where the road was surrounded by steep ditches that spelled death for anyone who lost control and went over, a truck driver decided to pass us. The trucker blew his horn a few times, and then he went for it. As he passed, he veered to the right—or dad swerved to the left. The enormous side view mirror of the rig crashed through the window beside dad and sent a spray of glass shards through the cab of our truck. Luckily, neither my sister nor I sustained any injuries.

The fault was probably my father’s (driving under the influence of one drug or another), but the reason officially given was that the highway wasn’t wide enough to pass. This excuse came much later in the day, after the trip got significantly worse.

We passed through Memphis as we traveled, and came upon an intersection. Not paying attention, I couldn’t tell you exactly how it happened, but there was shaking and noise. We rear-ended another vehicle. It’s possible that my father didn’t stop quickly enough, and it’s possible that he pressed the gas too hard and too quickly after the light turned green. Regardless, we hit the vehicle hard and sent it careening into the intersection. Reportedly, it traveled fifty feet from the impact.

The woman driving that car died on the spot with a broken neck.

Someone obviously called the police, and they arrested my father. The police placed Brandi and me in the back of the police car with him, which made us feel as though we were also being arrested, and that is terrifying when you’re four or five years old and have no comprehension of what is going on. As though we were playing out a scene in a movie, the very same trucker who had hit us earlier happened upon the accident, and presumably told the police that dad was driving erratically. The next thing I knew, the trucker was banging on the glass beside me, shouting obscenities at us—not just at our dad, but honestly at the five-year-old children, too. I was terrified, confused, and frightened out of my mind, and it didn’t help that dad, with his hands cuffed behind his back, was frothing at the mouth, rocking the police car, and demanding to be let out so that he could fight the truck driver.

My sister and I were taken to the hospital, and police, doctors, and therapists repeatedly questioned us about the accidents. We were separated from our father, but also from each other, and that made the experience more traumatic than it had to be. We were finally told that we would be going into the care of Aunt Diane and Uncle Danny briefly, and they were the ones who picked us up from the hospital. My grandmother acquired a good lawyer for my father, and he was able to go to rehabilitation rather than prison, or something to that effect.

For a long time, my nerves were absolutely shot, and it was nearly impossible to get me into a vehicle, which is probably the normal response of a four year old child after being in two accidents in a single day, one of which resulted in a death, all because the parents didn’t mind driving after eating a bunch of pills. Naturally, their solution was to shove pills down my throat, giving me what they called “nerve pills” that were probably Xanax or Klonopin. This was the only way to get me into an automobile for several months after the accidents, because otherwise I would scream and throw fits. Eventually the anxiety faded, but knocking me out with drugs was the only way to get me into a car for a while.

Things returned to what we considered normal, though that isn’t to say that either of my parents stopped doing drugs. I doubt either parent was clean for any notable period, and they continued inviting friends over. These parties, while they were more or less tame and consisted of people drinking, doing drugs, and playing spades, would not constitute “normal” for most kids.

On one such occasion, one of the people with whom they were hanging out decided that it would be a brilliant idea to inject peanut butter. Presumably, he’d heard that “The high is incredible, man!” and wasn’t much interested in maybe asking a doctor before doing something so horrendously and creatively stupid. According to my father—who is a known pathological liar, it’s worth remembering—the man died on the spot, so they took him home and left him on his couch, dead. I have no memory of this, but it allegedly happened sometime around my fifth birthday.

I started kindergarten, and I loathed it. Up until that point, my life was fantastic. I could wake up whenever I wanted, spend the entire day watching cartoons and playing videogames, snacking whenever I desired, and just doing anything I pleased. Then suddenly I couldn’t do that any longer; I had to wake up at a specific time, go spend the entire day in a boring school, and then only had a few hours afterward to do the things that I enjoyed doing. As early as kindergarten, it struck me as absurd: if the point of life is to be happy, as everyone constantly insisted to me, then why did I have to go to school?

We were poor—dirt poor, as you might expect, given the heavy drug usage. Although both parents were managers at various fast food restaurants at times, my mother eventually quit working altogether and got onto disability for her migraines. It was with tremendous excitement that we were approved for food stamps, and we waited for weeks with palpable eagerness in the air, though I had no idea what it even meant. There are two times that I distinctly recall the entire family waiting anxiously for something to happen, and the anticipation was identical on both occasions; we waited for food stamps and we waited for our cable to be activated with the same sense of impending thrill, as did I, even though I had no understanding of what either meant.

Being approved for food stamps felt like having a birthday, and so did the cable company finally coming out, after weeks of waiting, to connect our cable television. While I understood that having cable meant that we would have Nickelodeon, there was no way that I understood the concept of food stamps, so my excitement was surely nothing more than a mirror of my parents’ own eager anticipations. It was just months after this that I began school, and that mom became convinced that dad was not really working, that he was only disappearing while he was supposed to be at work.

It was a school day when it happened, because we were supposed to be in class, but mom kept us at home. My much older brother, my slightly older sister, and I were told that we were leaving dad, and I’m sure I handled that as well as any six year old child would, which is to say with naked emotion untempered by the jaded self-control we are taught to exercise in later years. I didn’t understand what was going on, but I was devastated nonetheless. First, the life I had come to know and love was wrecked by having to go to school, and then what little semblance of it remained was being irretrievably shattered by this upheaval. I spent the entire day in tears, as did my sister. Whatever was going on between our parents had nothing to do with us, and our lives were being cast into the hurricane because of it.

Too young to truly understand what was really going on, my primary concern was whether to leave my father “the good Nintendo” or the bad one. They both worked, but one of them was much more difficult to get working. Both my dad and I were big on video games, and so was my older brother, and even my mom and sister played occasionally. There were lots of family moments when we all took turns, and we even had a device that allowed four controllers to be used.

I agonized over that decision far more than a six year old should, and my mom didn’t give the situation nearly as much attention as it deserved. My entire world, prior to school, consisted almost entirely of playing video games. That I even debated which one to leave was a tremendous indicator of how much I loved my father, how much I didn’t want to leave, and, above all, how poorly equipped I was to cope with the chaos I suddenly was confronting. Mom was tearing our family apart, breaking it into two pieces, and she never sat down with my sister and me to explain what was happening, to assure us that we’d still see our dad, or to promise us that it would be okay. While to some extent that’s understandable, since she had to pack and load things up, the utter failure to remember that she was literally wrecking her youngest kids’ lives is very difficult to excuse.

To make matters worse, she was cowardly about it, too, because all of this happened while my father was at work. We lived in a trailer on my grandfather’s land, and it’s very likely that my grandfather was the one who alerted my father to the moving truck that was at his home. However, seeing as my grandfather later offered to shoot my mother for my dad, I doubt he would have showed the restraint simply to inform my dad of what was happening.

Regardless, dad pulled up while we were finishing and preparing to leave. The next little bit is a blur of anger, hostility, and shouting from which I am able to pull very few details. In a flash, dad went from anger to pleading, but mom refused to listen; her mind was made up, and she cranked the car, put it into gear, and hit the gas. Dad threw himself into the side of the car and then hit the ground, fell onto his back, and then lie there in the grass. My sister and I screamed and cried—our dad had just been run over!—and mom shouted at us to stop yelling. I gazed out of the back window at my father as we drove away, and there he was, lying unmoving in the grass, and all I could think was the horrible thought, “Dad is dead.”

There in the back of the car, crying quietly, having just watched my father die from being hit by a car, I sat at the age of six years old, being shouted at by my mom to shut up because I freaked out when I saw her kill my dad.

Want to read the whole story? Well, now you can! For a limited time (until June 15), Dancing in Hellfire is finally available for sale, for only $3.49. You can buy it here, through this very site, using PayPal or a typical credit/debit card (payment is processed by PayPal, so I don’t see the info), after which you’ll be given access to the book as both a PDF and an ePub.

Dancing in Hellfire

Last year, I wrote a book called Dancing in Hellfire. It is essentially my autobiography, except that I didn’t stop at simply relating events that had happened. Instead, I looked back on them and thought about what I learned from them, because the functional mind is always learning–any mind that refuses to learn is effectively dead. To be sure, I’ve had some really screwed up things happen in my past: both parents are/were drug addicts, my father killed a woman when I was 4, my mother was murdered when I was 12 (her body never found, so she’s still listed as a missing person), and other, generally awful things that you would rightly expect to happen in circumstances like that. Before we even factor in transgenderism, there is easily enough material to fill an 80,000 word autobiography (a bit on the heavy side for a memoir anyway), and I found myself chopping out entire recollections to make room for the transgender stuff.

Really, you’d think in today’s political environment that it would be an easy sell. That’s opportunistic of me, and I don’t deny that, but I also don’t see it as a problem. Identifying a niche in the market and targeting that niche isn’t a bad thing–in fact, it’s a smart thing to do. Only in the past six months, as my search for a literary agent has hit a dead end, has it dawned on me that I still made a mistake with the targeting. As I said, the book isn’t about “Oh, poor me, this happened and society didn’t do anything to prevent it!” Instead, it’s a book about “This happened, and this is what I learned from it.”

The critical difference is that the former marks me as a victim; the latter marks me as a beneficiary.

Without a doubt, I’d rather have my mother alive today, but there’s also no disputing that it has marked me in many ways that are very positive. Foremost among these is surely my awareness of justice as a function of forgiveness rather than vengeance. Those wounds are real, and they are painful–however, those very wounds have also made me ask the excruciating question, “How might I have closure on this?” The answer to that is not “…by seeing the murderer in prison!” The murderer has already been to prison for an unrelated murder, and it did nothing to make me feel any better. While it sucks beyond the capacity of weak words to convey how much it actually sucks to have my mother gone, absent without a trace, like an episode of Unsolved Mysteries, I can detach myself from that enough to recognize that having a mind that is more focused on forgiveness than vengeance is a positive result.

It wouldn’t be worth asking whether I’d rather have my mother alive, and to still consider vengeance and justice to be the same thing, or if I’d prefer the current state of affairs. Just because these things happened in a way that are causal doesn’t mean they’re mutually exclusive. Maybe my mother could still be alive and something else could have happened to lead me to that realization. There’s no way to know, and so the hypothetical is useless–built, as it is, on the assumption that I can’t have both simply because I don’t have both.

I’ve neglected to talk about it publicly before now, but we do live in a society that glorifies victimization, and this is no more evident than in the bizarre way that Glamour magazine named the Stanford rape victim their Woman of the Year. This perplexes me in countless ways. I’m not demeaning her fight within the system to see Brock punished for what he did, but “having been raped” doesn’t strike me as a particularly good reason to be named “Woman of the Year” any more than being trans was reason to name Caitlyn Jenner woman of the year. Why don’t we celebrate accomplishments rather than victimization? It is an absolute slap in the face to the female biochemists who lead breakthrough research, the females at CERN, and the leading female experts in countless industries, to be passed up as Woman of the Year because someone was a victim of rape and the case was very public. Again, this isn’t to say that the rape should be ignored, but it certainly shouldn’t be celebrated.

Bad Stuff Happens

… all the time.

Earlier this month, I attempted to drive ~150 miles to see A Perfect Circle live, for probably the last live tour they’re going to do, and it was an ordeal just to get tickets, much less to find someone who would go. To give you an idea of how much this meant to me, a few weeks beforehand, in an article about scalpers, I wrote:

I bought tickets to the A Perfect Circle concert next month for well over what they cost initially, and the reason was precisely because my demand exceeds other people’s. I can’t even convey with words what A Perfect Circle’s music means to me. Being able to see them again–probably for the last tour they’re ever going to do, since no one expected this one and it’s been 14 years since their last one–is one of those experiences that literally makes life worth living (no exaggeration). Because of scalpers, I was able to acquire a ticket, and I would say it’s far more important that I was able to get a ticket than Random Joe who kinda likes their music and has nothing else to do that evening. The seats aren’t even that good, and I don’t even care. It’s A Perfect Circle. It means more to me than it will anyone else in that audience.

And you know what happened? Shortly after I got onto i240, headed for i40 and the long eastward trip to Nashville, I saw that my temperature gauge was way higher than it should have been–like “about to overheat” high. I whipped over and got off the interstate, stopping on Airways. Not being an idiot, I’d left with more than an hour to spare, in the event that something weird happened. However, it took my car nearly 45 minutes to cool off enough to hold water, and we discovered that the upper radiator hose had come completely off, which is the rarest and most unlikely thing that could possibly happen with a working clamp (not to mention, of course, that the months of driving before that had no issue, so it happened at the worst possible moment). In doing so, it had brushed against the alternator belt, and had been cut open, so even after it was cool enough to travel again, it had a steady leak that meant the hose had to be replaced. This meant we had to go to an Auto Zone, buy a replacement hose, put it on, and then refill the thing with water (if you’ve ever driven a Chrysler, you know this isn’t as straightforward as with most vehicles). When we were finally heading back toward the interstate, the GPS called out, “Estimated time of arrival is 9:23 pm…” which was two hours after the concert started. That’s right. We lost nearly three hours due to that overheating.

This actually took me completely down for about ten days, as some people may have noticed, because I didn’t post anything. I didn’t have the strength. I was depressed; it’s really hard to convey how much it hurt to miss the concert over something so extraordinarily unlikely that no one would have taken the bet that it was likely to happen. Yet life goes on, I recovered, and got back to it–though I was down longer than I would have anticipated. Because I’m moving to Vegas and the state of Mississippi said “lol, fuck you” earlier this year, setting me back on that plan far more than I’d have liked, I don’t make plans to go and do things very often–spare money is better put toward moving to Vegas than going to see a concert, but this was no ordinary band–this is the band that has influenced my music more than any other. I didn’t really learn anything from that experience, because there was nothing to really learn. It was a freak accident at the worst possible time, and I’d checked my car that very morning. It’s true that I didn’t inspect the hoses, but, c’mon, no one does. That’s absurd. One might as well pull out and check each and every fuse. While I did inspect everything (on a different vehicle) before driving to Vegas in 2015, that was 1800 miles, not 180 miles.

I tend to think that I’m so anti-authoritarian because of the horrifically bad parenting of my mother and father, a point that I call attention to in Dancing in Hellfire. Through most people’s childhoods, and well into their adolescences, they have this idea that their parents are indestructible and supreme. I remember well being in the third grade and having Danny, a friend of mine, stand beside me in line at the cafeteria and put his fist to one of the cinderblocks in the wall and ask, “Do you think your dad could punch through this? My dad could!” Even then, at nine years old, it struck me as ridiculous. No, his dad could not punch through the cinderblock, but I didn’t challenge the idea with him. It did not occur to me then how odd it was that he would have this unrealistic idea of his dad, but it happened again much later, in the seventh grade, when a kid described his dad’s hand as “alligator skin,” proud of his dad being a Working Class Hero, and remarked that a puppy could chew on his fingers for hours and never draw blood.

I didn’t have any of that. When I was six years old, the state showed up with its footsoldiers to kidnap my sister and me, and our mother was powerless to do anything about it. All she could do was cry. I learned that day that my mother–who I’d been with since I was born–was ultimately not the one responsible for me, and that these other people called “the police” had usurped her authority. A brutal lesson for a six year old to learn, but one that has served me well since. My dad wasn’t ultimately the one in charge of me–my mother had trumped him by taking me in the first place, so clearly he was ranked below her in the hierarchy. My mother was also not ultimately the one in charge of me, because her impudence in the face of the state and its footsoldiers left no room to believe that.

And what of my father? Well, you lose the image of your father as the Glorious Personification of Everything Great around the time you see him faceplant into the dirt at a baseball field after eating too many Xanax and drinking too many beers. And if that doesn’t do it, then watching those very same police officers arrest him after a vehicle wreck and place him, powerless, in their police car will shatter that image. There’s absolutely no doubt: some of my earliest and most jarring experiences involved the state exerting its authority. I have very little doubt that this is what left me inclined to view the state as what it is: the slavemaster.

Would I be an anarchist now, if none of this had happened? Another useless hypothetical.

Every experience is not just an opportunity to learn; it is also a choice. No matter what happens, we never lose the power to choose how we react. We are not* mindless machines who operate on extremely complex if-then programming that dictates our responses; we are not powerless. We are not at the mercy of our reactions; our reactions are at our mercy, and nothing changes this. Just because some people choose to let their responses unfold emotionally, with no tempering or self-control, doesn’t mean that they have no choice in the matter, and we shouldn’t allow them to so easily escape the fact that their reactions to things are their reactions. We are not wild beasts braying in the field. We are human beings, and it’s time we acted like it.

If someone says “Fuck you, you’re an idiot” to me, it’s true that I have very little control at this time over my initial emotional reaction of anger and desire to retaliate. Evidence suggests, however, that extensive meditation and self-reflection can, in fact, put us in control of even that lightning-fast emotional reaction. And that’s the key: “lightning-fast.” Emotions are instantaneous. That anger lasts only a flash of a second. If left to its own devices, it would immediately die out, but more often than not we embrace it and purposely keep it going, stoking the fires. Larry Sharpe Sunday night (and today at 2pm Central at www.lrn.fm) is a clear example. After saying that he’d accepted Arvin’s apology and forgiven him, and that they were “good,” the indignation and anger in Larry’s voice were still audible–he was clearly still clinging to those emotions. I actually initially attempted to call attention that, but couldn’t formulate my thoughts quickly enough in a way that weren’t antagonistic, so I instead let it go immediately. While saying that he had let the matter go, he kept bringing it up, even after we tried to move on to other matters, and his voice was absolutely dripping with emotion. Regardless of what he said, it is clear that Larry is keeping those emotions alive rather than releasing them.

Still, that I would immediately react with anger and a desire to retaliate is still on me. It’s still my emotional reaction, and my failure to control my emotions to that degree is my failure. It’s not this person’s fault. They didn’t “make” me angry. I made me angry. They were merely the catalyst–they merely presented me with the choice of how to react, and I chose to react in anger. However, I would typically choose within a second or two to let it go and to release the anger, rather than dwelling on it. Unlike Larry Sharpe, if I forgive what I perceive as a transgression, then I’m not going to bring it up again, because forgiving someone is an internal thing–it has nothing to do with the transgressor, which the Vegas Chick made me realize when I pondered whether she could do anything that would “cause” me to forgive her–the answer was that whether I forgave her had almost nothing to do with her. Demanding contrition or restitution isn’t forgiveness, even if that restitution comes in the form of a simple apology.

Through my own failure, I have no control over the initial emotional reaction. Through much work, I have largely (though certainly not perfectly) taken control of the following moments. My own failures lead me to make the wrong choice in the first place, by reacting with anger, but the choice that immediately follows is whether to release that anger or to embrace it. Both of these are choices.

* At least, we don’t appear to be.

Justice, Punishment, and AnCap Principles

It’s come to my attention–via hearsay, as I’ve never read the person in question–that Walter Block argues that punishment in a stateless society isn’t strictly necessary, but what is important is that survivors are doubly repaid for losses. This seems to deal primarily with theft, but there was also a solution relayed to me regarding murder: simply, the murder would work for the surviving family for the rest of his life.

I… can’t get on board with any of this.

These are the moments when the principle of Non Aggression gets skewed. I have no idea if Walter Block advocates these things are not, but they are grotesque and immoral, and are no better than the state system of law and punishment we have now. So because a man did something wrong, he is to be condemned to being a slave for the rest of his life? What part of that is supposed to be in accord with AnCap principles? What part of that is supposed to be in accord with non aggression? Slavery is among the greatest violations of the NAP, to take someone and force them to work for you because they wronged you and your family member…

Two wrongs don’t make a right.

I know it’s hard. Believe me, I really do. There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t see some news article from the tri-state area about a body being found in the mountains, in a lake, or in a ditch, and every single time some part of me hopes… “Could this be it? Could this be my mother?” I know damned well what it’s like to lose a family member to murder, and I know what it’s like to live with that, to live with the murderer getting away with absolutely no punishment whatsoever because the body was thoroughly discarded. So you’re not going to find too many more people with the stable ground to say this:

There is nothing that could be done to bring justice to my murdered mother. It’s done. It’s over. She’s dead. While I would love nothing more than to have her rotting body buried somewhere respectable, with a tombstone so that I could finally put her to rest, even that would do nothing to alleviate any of the sorrow or pain, and it definitely wouldn’t bring her back. I know exactly who killed her, but without a body there’s nothing to be charged with. He lives a life of relative comfort, now a trained engineer or something like that, and has the love of his children and his other family members. There is nothing that can be done to him that would constitute justice.

This is the conceit that is breaking modern society: there’s no such thing as justice. It’s an imaginary idea. What we mean when we say “justice” is “This person did something wrong, so we’re going to get revenge, but we’re going to call it something else because we want to convince ourselves that our wrongful act against him is somehow different than the wrongful act he committed.” But it isn’t, because two wrongs don’t make a right.

It’s wrong to kidnap people at gunpoint, hold them against their will, and force them into slave labor, to force them into situations where they live in concrete jungles and have to fight for their lives or be raped. That’s morally wrong. There are no exceptions.

Truth be told, there is only one way for me to have justice over my mother’s murder by what most people would call my uncle, and that would be… forgiveness. Forgiving him is the only way to ease the pain in my heart and to release the sorrow. Isn’t that the point of justice? To ease the victim’s pain? Punishment doesn’t ease the victim’s pain; it converts it into zealous excitement and lust for vengeance. Just like if your wife cheats on you, it won’t ease your pain to then go out and cheat on your wife; it will only exacerbate it, enlarge it, and lengthen it. No, the only way forward, the only way to recovery, and the only way toward justice is through forgiveness.

“Through forgiveness.”

That phrasing isn’t accidental. Forgiveness is a difficult labyrinth that must be navigated, with pitfalls and temptations hiding around every corner. Through the darkness emanate the whispers, “Why should you be the one putting in the effort? You did nothing wrong! He should be the one who pays! He should be the one who suffers! Haven’t you suffered enough? It’s time for him to pay for what he did!” These voices rarely cease while one travels through the labyrinthine, internal mind, coming to terms with the past and accepting its role in shaping the present.

It’s not supposed to be easy to forgive people, but forgiveness is all about the forgiver; it has nothing to do with the aggressor. I realized this when I was asked what, if anything, Vegas Chick could do to cause me to forgive her. I realized that there was nothing she could do, because it didn’t have anything to do with her. It had everything to do with me and my own emotional responses. I had a choice: to cling to the negative emotions, or to let them go. A demand for some kind of contrition, some kind of punishment… is clinging to the negative emotions. It never releases them, and releasing them is the only way to travel from the land of the wounded to the land of peace.

It’s also not easy to forgive the man who murdered my mother for unknown reasons. It’s not easy to forgive him for being the sole reason that I will be buried long before her body is ever discovered, if, indeed, her body is ever found. It’s not supposed to be easy to take a deep breath, let the negativity wash away, and say, “I forgive you.”

As a society, we have a passionate lust for revenge, and we love our euphemisms precisely because they allow us to pretend like it’s not revenge that we’re after. Years ago, when working through these ideas, I decided that the difference had to be that justice was impartial and vengeance was personal. In other words, if you enacted punishment against the murder on my behalf, then it was justice; if I did it, then it was vengeance. I’ve since realized how wrong that is. You acting on my behalf doesn’t change anything. It’s just a convenient way for me to shirk the responsibility; it’s just a handy way for me to pretend like I’m not the one responsible for the aggression being committed against someone else. “I’m not doing it!” I could proclaim. “They’re doing it!”

Except they’re doing it with my blessing. And whether I have the power to stop them or not–in the modern American system, I probably don’t have the power to stop the court system from prosecuting him, if her body was ever discovered–it wouldn’t change the fact that they’re doing so on my behalf, on my mom’s behalf, and on my sister’s behalf. But what if my sister and I both expressed that we wanted it forgiven, not punished? Because I would absolutely go before court and argue such a thing, even for the person who murdered my mother. Our testimony would mean little. We wouldn’t be able to simply drop the charges, despite being the only survivors of the murdered woman and therefore having more claim to express her wishes than anyone else.

And why? Because the state would be acting instead on behalf of Straw Victims it has imagined, and those Straw Victims are more important than my sister and me.

Punishment doesn’t end an injustice. It extends it.

Alternatives

The goal can’t be to punish someone. Punishment must be incidental, if it happens at all.

I don’t dispute that, once someone murders another person, individuals–whether elected or hired–have the purview to take measures to prevent the murderer from murdering anyone else. How this is to be accomplished, however, is a question of extreme importance. The obvious answer, according to most people, is to “Throw them in prison and throw away the key!”

No, because that doesn’t really prevent murder. The murder rate in prison is pretty high, and you won’t get most rational people to agree to a life sentence for one murder. Hell, the person we’re talking about served only 7 of a ten year sentence for murder. So the person is ultimately going to get back out of prison–or will kill someone in prison, bypassing the “out of prison” part altogether and committing a murder, meaning our preventative efforts failed. Since prison inmates have a 75% likelihood of going back to prison, prison is clearly an ineffective way of preventing crime from happening again. It may or may not prevent some crime, but it’s too ineffective to be our Yes, That’s the Best Solution answer.

I don’t know that I really have an alternative. Extensive therapy by trained psychologists would obviously be in order. Is there any way to fix this person’s damaged brain? Because, without exception, something has broken down in the moral centers of the murderer’s brain. That’s a given, because normal, healthy people don’t murder other people. We find the idea repugnant in every conceivable way, and we would not murder another person even if we knew that we could get away with it without any consequences at all. It’s not punishment or fear of punishment that stays our hands; it’s our own internal morality. Once that internal morality breaks down, no amount of laws will protect someone.

The goal of prison was supposed to be to segregate, punish, and rehabilitate. It fails on all accounts. A scary number of innocent people have landed in prison, without even getting into the number of people in prison for committing “victimless crimes*”. So criminals are not segregated from the innocent. Nor are they punished, at least not in the way that society likes to pretend. Drug abuse and sex are rampant in prison. It’s often easier to find hardcore drugs in prison than it is to find them on the streets. As for rehabilitation–you’re kidding right? I would bet my shiny new tickets to the A Perfect Circle show in Nashville that most the 25% of former prisoners who don’t return to prison are simply too old upon release to be out there raping and killing people, or whatever they did to go to prison in the first place.

There has to be some way of preventing someone from committing another murder, and that’s what our focus should be on. Not punishment. Punishment only exacerbates the amount of wrongdoing in the world. Killing someone because they killed someone doesn’t reduce the amount of killing in the world; it obviously increases it by one. Kidnapping and holding someone against their will for kidnapping and holding someone against their will doesn’t reduce the amount of people being kidnapped and held against their will; it increases it by one. There is no justice as long as we are doing things that add more murder, more kidnapping, more imprisonment, more rape, and more violence to the world.

Justice, as an ideal, must be incapable of increasing the amount of aggression in the world. If it increases the amount of aggression, then it cannot be justice. That must be our metric for determining what is justice and what isn’t.

It starts with forgiveness.

This doesn’t mean that a person shouldn’t be held to account for acts of aggression, or that there should be no consequences. It does, however, change the goals of the consequences. Rather than seeking punishment, we should seek prevention. “What can we do to make sure this man never kills again?” should be our guiding question, not, “How can we make this man suffer for what he did?” The act is done. Making him suffer won’t fix anything and won’t help anything; it will only increase the amount of suffering in the world.

And two wrongs don’t make a right.

This is very different from catching someone in the act of aggression and having the opportunity to stop the act from escalating. If you walk in on some thief beating the hell out of your family member and you shoot and kill that thief, you’ve done nothing wrong. You prevented a beating from escalating into what probably would have been a murder. Since the thief initiated the aggression, you did what you had to do to protect another human being who had done nothing to initiate the attack. But what if you came home from work and you knew who had beaten your brother half to death and stolen your laptops and television? Would it be morally right to chase that person down and kill them? I don’t think many people would say “Yes” to that, and I certainly wouldn’t. Because at that point, you’re no longer preventing; you’re punishing.

We need a lot of spiritual growth–a phrase I use colloquially. It’s true, though. Before we can have a stateless society, we have to have a society where no one is asking “How can we punish criminals?” Because a stateless society can’t answer that question, because a stateless society forbids the use of force, violence, and coercion. “How can we punish criminals” is the wrong question, coming from a dark place in the human heart that prefers vengeance to forgiveness, and that’s something we have to let go of. We have to learn to forgive. Once we have a society of people asking the right question–“How can we prevent a murderer from killing again?”–then we will be ready to enjoy the luxuries of a stateless society.

This is part of the reason that the state is so tied to the criminal system, of course. It wants us to confuse punishment with justice, because as long as we’re erroneously calling punishment “justice,” we’ll despise any system that seeks to deny it to us. “You mean you’re not going to punish that child rapist? He should have his dick cut off! He should be publicly castrated! Fuck him! Throw him in prison with Big Jim!”

No… No.

That’s vengeance, not justice.

Yes, by all means, and absolutely: let’s prevent that rapist from raping again. That’s mandatory, once they have done such a horrific act. But punishment isn’t going to do it. And when taking steps to prevent the act from occurring again, we should be mindful whether our motivation is to sate our bloodlust for vengeance, or whether our motivation is to actually protect future victims from being similarly harmed. Only by using the correct path can we arrive at the correct destination.

Bloodlust leads to punishment and, 75% of the time, repeat offenses.

Forgiveness leads to justice and prevention.

So what do we do about criminals in a stateless society? I don’t know. But I’d love for us to put our brilliant minds and our empathic hearts together and come up with a solution that actually works without increasing the amount of suffering in the world and while releasing the primordial instinct within us that demands we take an eye for an eye.

* Otherwise called “choices”.

Western Nihilism 2: Victim or Beneficiary?

I’ve talked previously about the extreme nihilism of western society, and how we have become so confused that we hate strength and love weakness, which in turn causes us to glorify victimization–since a victim is, by any measurement, a weak person who was abused by a strong person. The victim, then, is the embodiment of our values–a rejection of reality and a hostile universe that literally kills off the weak–an embrace of undue and universal empty sympathy while genuine sympathy is derided as selfishness. We hate survival of the fittest, and so we hate capitalism, just as we hate all of the underlying socioeconomic, biological, and behavioral characteristics that brought us to this plateau, where we have done nothing but reject those characteristics as backward and archaic, choosing instead to embrace our new “progressive” values that just so happen to be wholly nihilistic.

Now, if the above paragraph seems to cover a lot of ground, then click the links. It’s necessary groundwork for the stuff I’m about to say. This series of not-really-linked-ostensibly articles is like a building, and those I linked are the scaffolding. We are building more scaffolding today–today, we are constructing the scaffolding that will hold the arch. I want to call your attention to something I read in what is literally a secret Facebook group full of Hillary supporter crybabies who are whining about having lost the election.

pansyI looked into the author’s profile, and there was absolutely nothing there that serves as any indication of any sort of trauma. Far be it from me to speculate about anyone’s past, but I’m willing to bet that anyone who genuinely has PTSD has true horrors in their past. You know that condition that some Vietnam Vets have that cause them to piss themselves and duck and cover when they hear a firecracker explode, because the horrors of the Vietnam War were so terrible that they left people permanently scarred?

Yeah, that’s what she has.

Only instead of firecrackers reminding her of mines going off and blowing her best friend’s legs off, or of bamboo traps springing up from the ground and Iron Maidening someone into a tree, it’s debate that triggers her PTSD. We can speculate, then, that the cause of her PTSD was probably something like her parents arguing when she was a child. Right? What triggers PTSD is obviously going to be a strong indicator of what horrors the person experienced. Vietnam vets duck and cover when they hear firecrackers because this reminds them of mines; she is triggered by confrontation and debates because this reminds her of some louder/greater event in her past that was about confrontation and debate. It’s not bitterness or being a bitch; it’s being logical. And, seeing how this person looks like she is probably still in college–and from a comfortably middle class life, probably upper middle class–we can readily surmise that it was probably something like her parents arguing.

You know what?

There is one area where I might actually have PTSD. This event is certainly the reason that I’m claustrophobic, why I won’t let anyone bind my hands during kinky sex, and why I don’t care what’s wrong–I am not crawling under the crawl space to fix the plumbing. It can cost me ten thousand dollars a month on my electricity bill, but I am not ever crawling under that house to fix it.

It’s not an experience that I talk about much. But when I was 16 or 17, my father had me arrested. I didn’t know it at the time, and thought I was being arrested for grand larceny. On pain pills years later, my father confessed that he had them arrest me to teach me a lesson. It was the same year of the A Perfect Circle The Thirteenth Step tour, which I know because I was still allowed to go to the concern just a few months after I’d been arrested. Okay, so this was 2003. I’d have been 16 or 17, depending on the exact day I was arrested. Even that isn’t a very big deal–16 year olds are arrested fairly often, after all.

Usually when this happens, the parent meets the police at the station, pays some money, or uses a bail bondsperson and the kid is let out. Not so here. My dad took me to the sheriff’s office at 7:30 in the morning. After talking to me for a few minutes, they arrested me and put me in holding, where I remained until about 8:45 the next day.

Now, under most circumstances, we would say that “holding isn’t solitary,” except… here, it was. This jail didn’t have separate solitary confinement cells; it had two holding cells that functioned as its solitary cells. So, yes, it was solitary. For more than 24 hours I sat in an 8 foot by 8 foot concrete box–concrete ceiling, concrete floors, concrete walls. There was a metal toilet in the corner–with nowhere near enough water to drown yourself, or I’d have done it. Along one of the walls was a large, steel door with no windows and with only a narrow latch about thigh-high for them to open and slide me a food tray through–not that I felt like eating. The lights were fluorescent and recessed, of course–impossible to get to, because you could smash one and use the glass to cut your wrists–which I’d have gladly done if they weren’t beyond my reach. Along three of the walls were what we’d call “concrete benches,” except they weren’t benches. They were just raised parts of the concrete and square-shaped. I had a horrible blanket that felt about like fiberglass, made up of billions of tiny threads glued together–that way you couldn’t pull the threads out and use them to make a rope to hang yourself with, of course. And I had what was basically a kindergarten mat, but larger. The blanket was nowhere near long enough to cover me–I’m a little tall–and it didn’t matter, because anyone with a brain used their blanket as a pillow anyway. The only thing to do was lay your horrible kindergarten mat on the concrete bench, lie down on it, and use that horrible fiberglass blanket as a pillow.

Surrounded on all sides by steel-reinforced concrete, there were no sounds bleeding into the room. There was nothing but silence, except, perhaps, the irritating hum of the fluorescent lights that my 16 year old ears could still hear, but my 29 year old ears wouldn’t be able to hear today. It was, for all intents and purposes, an isolation chamber that I was stuck in, held in against my will, knowing that there was no escape–not even death. There was nothing but silence, concrete, and the thoughts resonating in my head, for more than 24 hours. I didn’t know what was going on or how long I was going to be there. That room, to me, was jail, and that’s what jail meant–isolation, cut off not just from the outside world but from everyone, every other human being. There was no one to petition, no one to beg, to be let out. Trapped, a caged animal held against its will in a concrete box–indefinitely.

bdsmFor my 16 year old mind, I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that it had given me PTSD. However, it manifests itself only in ways that aren’t very important to me. I’ve never been into BDSM anyway–to me that’s “kinky” sex for people who want to be as mundane as possible. It means that I always take the stairs when given the option, because I’m not going to allow myself to be trapped on an elevator. When I worked as a janitor at one of the casino’s hotels, we had a 9 story hotel in one part of the building; I never used an elevator unless I absolutely had to. It means that I won’t let myself be put into a small space, and it means I really don’t understand cats’ love for small spaces.

Then again, cats like small spaces until they’re not allowed to leave…

But that’s enough about isolation, imprisonment, and solitary confinement. It just has certainly occurred to me that this is one area in which I might actually have PTSD, and for fairly good reason–isolation sends adults into madness with some regularity; the same to a 16 year old would undoubtedly be devastating. I survived by inventing stories and watching movies in my head–movies that I made up as I went, featuring little marshmallow people and stupid crap like that. It’s been pointed out to me that I have exactly the kind of mind that would be most in danger of going insane in isolation, but also best equipped to handle that. I suspect there’s a correlation between those two things.

Anyway, I want to share some stuff about me to all the special snowflakes out there who are dealing with “trauma” from the election, who have “PTSD” that is triggered by debates. I’m not saying this because I want sympathy. I’m saying this because I want them to sack up, grow a pair, and at least pretend to be adults capable of functioning in the world. It could be said that all the horrors in my past are precisely the reason that I am strong today, but I reject that reasoning, because I refuse to believe I’m better than anyone else. Anyone can be strong. It takes only the conscious decision to not be a victim. It doesn’t take being tortured. It doesn’t take parental murders. It just takes one single decision to be strong rather than weak, to fight rather than cower, and that is a decision anyone can make.

So buckle up. I’m going to give you the cliffnotes version. There’s enough material that I’ve got about an hour and a half of Youtube videos discussing it, a 45 minute long podcast, have written an entire book about it, and have, no exaggeration, barely scratched the surface. I have stories that will make you weep and cry that anyone would do that to a child, that anyone would be so negligent, that anyone would be so hateful. But I am not a victim. Because I am alive and I control my destiny. I control who I am.

Mother

My mother vanished off the face of the Earth when I was 12. Of course, this was after 6 years of only seeing her once or twice a year, because she was poor, addicted to heroin and meth, and preferred using her money to buy more drugs than coming to see her kids. Of course, this was also after she had kidnapped me and put me through That Summer in Arkansas–one filled with so much horror that there can’t be a Cliffnotes version. After a string of abusive alcoholic boyfriends who beat the living hell out of her while my sister and I could only look on and cry, terrified of making a sound, she finally hooked up with one who murdered her–my uncle, my aunt’s ex-husband. Of course, it took more than a decade for me to figure that out, because no one on my mom’s side of the family had anything to do with us, and never called to tell us anything. My older brother was no better; once our mother disappeared, he came to see us only once in the next six years, and it wasn’t until my sister and I took it upon ourselves to go see them that we reconnected.

But, no, you go ahead and tell me about your trauma.

Divorce

My parents separated when I was 5 or 6–depending on what time, during my kindergarten year, they actually separated. Of course, I didn’t understand what was going on, though I certainly cried a lot, and was mostly unsure whether to leave my dad the “good Nintendo” or the one that barely worked. “Didn’t work” would probably be a more accurate assessment. Naturally, I took the good one. I was 5. Rather than sitting and talking with my sister and me about what was going on, mom simply yelled at us all day–she didn’t handle stress well–and shouted that we needed to stop crying. We lived on our grandfather’s land in a trailer, and, strangely enough, he didn’t come over there with a gun to beat the hell out of mom; instead, he just found a way to let dad know.

Dad pulled up while we were loading the rest of the crap into mom’s car, almost like something out of a movie. He returned exactly as we were finishing up, and mom–in that tone that she’d been using all day that meant “shut the fuck up and do as I say”–told us to get in the car. So we did, my sister and me. We climbed into the backseat while Eric grabbed the front passenger seat. After they yelled and argued, mom got in the car. Dad, standing near the car, banged his fist against it while mom floored it. He immediately collapsed onto the ground and onto his back, pretending to have been hit by the car.

My sister and I screamed, hysterical, sure that our mother had just run over and killed our father. As we pulled away, he just lay there in the grass, not moving, and mom, once again, yelled for us to shut up.

Tim

Tim was one of mom’s boyfriends, and he really enjoyed lifting me up and holding me over the actual well that was in the backyard of this old ass house we lived in. It was an actual well, you know? Circle of bricks around it and everything. He really got a kick out of holding me over it while I kicked and screamed, while he laughed and threatened to drop me, saying that he might “accidentally” drop me if I didn’t stop squirming and kicking. I say he must have really enjoyed it, but I don’t remember how often it happened–more than enough, I can say that with certainty. More than once, at the very least.

Transgender

Shall we discuss how I’ve been trying to wear women’s clothes since I was three years old, how I would hide all of my underwear so that I could wear my sister’s instead, even back then, before the divorce, before any of that? It’s fair to say I’ve been transgender my entire life. Of course, I wasn’t allowed to be. Shall I go into how when things finally settled down I lived with my fundamentalist Christian grandmother who threatened to send me to a home if they found girl clothes in my room again? Or how my father took me out back with a belt? Is there any reason to get into any of that?

No Water or Electricity

With some regularity, once I moved in with my dad around the 8th or 9th grade, he had me stay home from school in case someone from the electric company came by to disconnect our electricity, but this was already something I was familiar with. We didn’t have electricity through most of That Summer in Arkansas, and one day mom left me alone–keeping in mind this was the summer between the 2nd and 3rd grade, so I was 8 years old–and someone from the city came by and did something to the water line out front. I secretly watched him from the window, not sure who it was.

Well, mom returned and learned that we didn’t have any water. So naturally, I got yelled at and in trouble for not opening the door and telling this stranger that I, an 8 year old kid, was home alone but if he could come back in a few hours my mom could totally arrange something with him–probably fucking him, of course. I’m not kidding, either. She honestly screamed at me for not opening the door to a strange man–I couldn’t recognize a city employee–and informing him that I was home alone.

That wasn’t the first time she said something that indicated that she wanted me to be kidnapped, either. Of course, she knew kidnapping pretty well, as someone had tried kidnapping her when she was a teenager. I don’t recall the exact circumstances, but he pulled a knife on her as they drove down the road, so she jumped out of the car. Because that’s what you do when you have a problem to be dealt with: you deal with it. You don’t sit there and beg the man not to hurt you as you undress so he can rape you. You handle it.

Arkansas summers are every bit as bad as Mississippi summers, though they might be slightly less humid. Not having electricity meant there was nowhere to escape the heat, and not having water meant that every day my sister and I had to carry a five gallon bucket to a nearby gas station and fill it with their faucet outside when no one was looking–because we’d already been chased off.

And when your mom is an idiot who tears down a shed in the backyard–as requested by the landlord–and sets it on fire, it tends to chase all the bugs and creepy-crawlies out of the backyard and into the front yard. Then your mom really shows her idiocy by choosing to deal with the problem–of being unable to step out the front door without immediately being assaulted by hundreds of fleas–by lighting a bonfire in the front yard. This, of course, chased the fleas into the house. And holy crap, they were everywhere. No amount of bug bombs or flea powder did a thing about it. It was full on infestation. No electricity, no water, and a house filled with fleas in the middle of July in Arkansas.

But no, I’m sure you’ve got trauma that gives you PTSD and forces you to flee debates.

Naturally, this entire situation had fried my nerves, to the extent that I couldn’t eat. Not that we had anything to really eat anyway–as I said in one of the videos I linked earlier, on those rare occasions when we did actually have money to buy food, Treet Meat was an actual treat. If you’re unfamiliar with Treet Meat, it’s basically generic spam. Mm-mm, good.

My sister and mother fought all the freaking time. Dad stood at the edge of the driveway and cold-bloodedly threatened to kill my mother, saying, “I will kill you.”

Death and Murder

Of course, that wouldn’t be the first time my father killed someone. When I was real young–somewhere between 3 and 5–my sister and I rode with him to my go visit some relatives. He, of course, was high as hell and shouldn’t have been driving. Some dick in an 18 wheeler decided to pass us. I was too young to really know the problem. My father insisted that the highway wasn’t wide enough. It was a scary highway, out in the middle of nowhere, with a steep ditch on both sides and heavy forests on both sides. Going into that ditch would have been virtually instant death. Whether the highway wasn’t really wide enough or whether dad swerved, I don’t know, but the sideview mirror of the 18 wheeler smashed through the driver-side window, spraying a hurricane of glass through the cab of dad’s truck. We weren’t injured.

Later that day–later that same fucking day, man–dad rear-ended a woman driving an auburn car. Again, I don’t recall all the details. He either gunned it as soon as the light turned green, or he didn’t brake hard enough because he expected the woman to hurry up and go. I don’t know which. I know only that we rear ended her, hard enough for her car to careen more than fifty feet forward. Her neck broke. She died on the spot. My father, driving high, had killed her.

Obviously, the police were called. I can only imagine the horrified panic in my father in those moments, and I can almost sympathize with that–the Mistake To End All Mistakes, you know? You know that sinking feeling when you make a mistake… Now multiply that by a billion because now someone is dead, and it’s your fault, and you know you’re going to jail and nothing will stop it. I sympathize with the dead woman, too, don’t get me wrong.

My dad, my sister, and me were all placed into the backseat of the police car. No, I’m not kidding. I, somewhere between 3 and 5 years old, was being arrested too, as far as I could tell. My father was in handcuffs, and I wasn’t, but that didn’t change the fact that I was in the cop car, too. No one was telling me anything; no one was telling my sister anything. We had no idea what was going on. Then, wouldn’t you fucking know it, again, just like it was out of a movie, that same goddamned truck driver who had smashed out our window earlier that same damned day arrived. Next thing I know, he’s banging on the cop car’s window, shouting obscenities at all of us. My father started frothing at the mouth and demanding to be let out so that he could kick the truck driver’s ass, but the truck driver just kept shouting and yelling at us while my sister and I cried, our entire world slipping between our fingers.

I was traumatized by that, too. I know that for a fact. It was almost impossible, for a long time after that, for my parents to get me into a vehicle. They had to give me “nerve pills”–probably the Xanax that caused that mess in the first place–in order to get me to get in the car. I refused to. I’d get sick and start vomiting, crying, panicking, any time someone said that I had to go for a ride.

But I’m sure it’s totally fair and justified that debates trigger you.

That’s Probably Enough

If it’s not, then check the links I provided earlier, or check out Dancing in Hellfire when I finally get it published. It’s got some brutal shit in there, and I still didn’t cover everything. I’ll never be able to cover everything, because I remember things every other week. You can’t cover all the sordid details of a life like that. There’s just too much ground to go over.

Other people have certainly had worse lives, and I don’t mean to say they haven’t. But not many people had worse childhoods here in the west that they actually survived. I’m not trying to earn the sympathy of these special snowflakes, these suffers of Special Snowflake Stress Disorder. I’m trying to give them a bit of perspective. Because, yeah, if you have no idea how bad things can really get, then you might come to the conclusion that your parents arguing when you were a kid is a good reason to run and hide whenever arguments start.

But sack up, sunshine. It’s fight or flight, not fight, flight, or cower.

I’m not going to compare my suffering to  yours. I have spent too long arguing that suffering is relative. Sure, I bitch about all of the above, but there are 12 year old girls who have now spent years as the forced brides and sex slaves of Boko Haram. We can, and should, say the same about your suffering. I know that people like to compare suffering, though, especially the kind of people who say that debates trigger their PTSD. Well, they like to when they think they can come out “ahead” with their suffering as “worse,” and why? Because they think being a victim is a good thing, so obviously the person who has suffered the most is the winner in their worldview–whoever has suffered the most is the biggest victim, and they want to be the biggest victim because being victim is a good thing now.

Someone always has it worse, but that someone has it worse doesn’t mitigate the suffering we have experienced. Suffering, after all, is relative. This girl crying in the corner because someone tried to debate her truly feels her own past suffering to exactly the same extent that I feel my past suffering, and to exactly the same extent that the kidnap victims of Boko Haram feel their suffering, and to exactly the same extent that poor woman was held in her father’s basement and raped for 17 years feels her own suffering. We can’t put a value on suffering, and it’s a fool’s task to even try.

But…

But whatever value we place on suffering, if you survived your childhood, aren’t a serial killer, and live in the west, then chances are that the horrors I can point to cause yours to pale in comparison. My point isn’t to say “Oh, poor me, I had it so much worse than you.”

My point is exactly the opposite.

The past doesn’t matter. The past doesn’t shape you unless you allow it to. You cannot be a victim unless you consent to be a victim. My past is not marked by horrors and traumas that have victimized me; my past is marked by lessons that have taught me. I am not their victim. I am their beneficiary.

So make your choice, but don’t pretend like it’s not a choice.

Will you be a victim or a beneficiary?

Atlas Must Never Show His Back is Breaking

I’ve been a bit shaken for about ten minutes, since I remembered suddenly that I had a dream about my mother last night. I don’t remember what that dream was really about, but it was significant, and I don’t often dream about her. Why should I? She’s been gone from my life for 17 years–well over half of my life, since I was 12 when she vanished inexplicably in the summer of 1999.

I told my sister last week that I plan to file the paperwork to have her officially declared dead. That’s long overdue. We need to put this matter to rest. While my sister agreed, I also realized by her tone and how she put things that she isn’t convinced that our mom is dead. Even more unbelievably, she believes the story that she “left with a truck driver named Tim” and thinks that our mom probably was murdered some time after that.

No. No, my poor, denying sister. Our mother was killed by the man she was living with, the one who put out the statement that she “left with a truck driver named Tim,” the one who was suspected of killing his parents, and the one who just got out of prison for killing another woman in Arkansas. It’s not exactly rocket science. When I said this, she remained unconvinced. I tried explaining that the murder was 6 or 7 years old when D. was finally arrested in Memphis and charged with it, and that it takes a lot of overwhelming evidence to find someone guilty of murder 6 years after the fact and then to sentence them to ten years in prison.

I wasn’t aware of how broken our justice system is until I began looking into that. Apparently, ten years is a huge sentence for a murderer to receive 6 years after the murder, and it’s apparently really hard to get a judge to be that harsh. How amazing. You can kill a human being in the state of Arkansas, live free for six years, be sentenced to only a decade in prison, and then get out on good behavior without even serving that entire sentence. While no sentence would ever have brought justice to the family of the woman he killed in [withholding the location to protect my identity–we are talking about a murderer, after all], it’s a damned shame that you can serve only about 75% of a weak sentence for murder.

My sister wants to apply for the survivor benefits that would have been due to us if her body had ever been found. I don’t really agree, because I don’t think I should be given money because someone murdered my mother. In hindsight, from that point of view, though, it’s good that no one ever found her body–our father would have ended up receiving the checks, and would have spent it all on drugs.

I’ve often felt guilty for using this story as such a major part of Dancing in Hellfire–for which it seems I’ve found an agent!–but I vastly prefer that over having the state write me checks. I’d rather tell the story in a fascinating, emotionally jarring way and earn money through the story-telling than have it gifted to me after other people were robbed to give it to me. But I no longer feel guilty, because my mother’s story is my story to tell. In fact, there is no one else who could tell it.

Even knowing as I do that she is certainly did–see above–does nothing to bring me closure on the matter. How could it? Her body is buried in the woods in some random place in Arkansas, rotted to the skeleton, forever lost. She has been given no memorial, no tombstone, and no real burial. These are things I intend to rectify. I will talk with D. somehow, and I will do everything in my power to convince him to give me the location of her body. Perhaps I can work with law enforcement to promise him immunity from prosecution. I don’t care. There’s no chance of having justice delivered anyway. For 17 years I’ve lived not knowing whether my mother is alive or dead–there’s no way to bring justice to that. So why bother?

But even if that can’t be worked out, I’m going to arrange a memorial service, difficult though that is to process and think about, once she is declared dead.

I don’t really want to do that, though. I don’t want my dad and grandmother there. I don’t want them patting me on the back or pretending to express sympathy. They didn’t show any goddamned sympathy seventeen years ago when she vanished. They would come, but it’s got nothing to do with them. It’s between me, my sister, and our brother. And our brother is dead, so it no longer involves him, either. He was killed in a car wreck about a year after we reconnected with him, after about five years of estrangement because he wouldn’t come to see us–because we asked “difficult questions about mom.”

So he wouldn’t deserve to be there, either.

No one on my mom’s side of the family deserves to be there. Her own mother would, but she’s dead, too. Her sister, my aunt? Hell no. My aunt knows exactly what happened–she knows damned well that her ex-husband killed her sister. She’s known it all along; everyone on that side of the family knew it all along. It’s the great elephant in the room, the sleeping dog that no one dares to wake. It would be an insult to have them there.

It’s ultimately between my sister and me, and, honestly, that would just be more awkward than anything, because we don’t share emotional moments. We’ve only hugged once in our entire lives, and that was awkward. How could we be comfortable showing emotions, after the bullshit we went through as kids? We trust no one with our emotions, not even the other. Then you have just me and my sister standing around, probably with her husband there, saying goodbye to a mother that isn’t there, in spirit or in death. It would be pointless, as neither of us would be willing to say what we were really thinking, and neither of us would be willing to shed a tear over it.

Carry on, weary soldier. Carry on.

Atlas must never show that the weight of the world is breaking his back.

Dancing in Hellfire, 2nd Draft Preview

This is essentially the first few sections (because the manuscript isn’t divided into chapters) of the upcoming autobiography Dancing in Hellfire and is, basically, the Submission Sample. While I’m not submitting yet, because I won’t until the final draft is 75% done (I really dropped the ball on it, but have recommitted to x pages per day, which is the only way to do such things), I think that this will get the job done. I’m going to continue rewriting those first few paragraphs until they leave people fucking speechless, though. Anyway–I hope you enjoy. Well… I hope you find it fascinating and interesting, because it’s not the sort of thing anyone should really enjoy…

You could also watch this video, where I tell a very small portion of the story–only a few parts that relate to being transgender–in video form, with wickedly appropriate music in the background. 😀

Introduction

 

The absolute best that I can say about my mother is that: even if she was kidnapped and wasn’t murdered outright, it has been seventeen years, and she has surely been killed by now—so, even if she was tortured in some psycho’s basement, it’s over now.

It’s the greatest of the series of tragedies that characterized my early life, and the worst part is that there is only truth in the above; that is the best that I can say of her fate. She vanished when I was twelve years old, and no body has ever been recovered. Since the last person with whom she lived has served a prison sentence for an unrelated murder, and that all he had to say back then was that “She left with a truck driver named Tim,” it’s not hard to piece the puzzle together, but it never grows beyond speculation. Without her body, it can never be more than baseless speculation.

And though that is surely the worst of the true and unembellished tales I can impart, it is far from the only such story. Instead, there are more horrors to be uncovered and shared—a reminder of the terrible depths to which human depravity can sink, and of the extraordinariy resilience of the human spirit that refuses to surrender. Because it’s possible—and I know it’s possible. Sometimes other people delay things and force transgender people to be something they’re not, but survival is always an option, and nothing can truly destroy someone’s spirit, hope, or identity.

It’s strangely easy to forget how much all of this really sucks. It’s easy to forget how horrible it was to lie awake, crying and listening to the screaming and sounds of shattering glass as my mother was beaten by her alcoholic boyfriend at two in the morning. It’s easy to forget how angry I have the right to be at my father and grandmother, for forcing me to oppress myself, to make myself forget who I am. And it’s easy to forget how terrible it was when my father killed a woman, when I was interrogated by police at the age of five, and how deeply the emotional scars of that childhood really extend.

When my mother disappeared off the face of the Earth, never to be seen again, I was only twelve years old, and people today are stunned that I speak of her murder so matter-of-factly, though her body has never been recovered and the only real evidence of her death is that the man with whom she was living has since been to prison for another murder. It’s amazing what the human spirit can become accustomed to, a fact clearly evidenced by the almost lackadaisical way I approach these would-be bitter memories.

But that’s all they are: memories.

Today I am a transgender woman and resident of the state of Mississisppi—the U.S. state that just passed a law allowing discrimination on religious grounds. Really, this is about as frustrating and difficult as one would expect, and the only thing that keeps me safe is the secrecy that surrounds me—not many people can link my male identity to my female one. That’s only dealing with what people do under the radar, though—in the open is another story, because it was already impossible for me to find a job as my true self, which forced me to live a lie to some degree as long as I am here, so the new laws don’t really have any impact for me. And I survive. As always, I simply roll with the punches. There is no choice. Nor was there a choice those early mornings as I became witness to horrific domestic violence.

C’est la vie.

I once uttered that phrase almost ironically, but it’s now one that I speak with the greatest of sighs, because there is no truer expression in any language: “Such is life.” It’s not that I consider existence meaningless and bleak, but I have been looking upon an unnecessarily brutal world since before my mind was capable of even grasping its tragedies. I did not live the sheltered life, and that delusion, that there is a Great Justice that one day is due us all, was ripped from my hands before I had even taken my first steps into a school.

I don’t begrudge the past. If anything, I am thankful for it, because we are all shaped by our experiences, and I’m pleased with the person I am. However, I am one of the lucky ones. The majority of people who endure such childhood trauma, and who are forced by religiously oppressive authorities to repress their own natures, are not so fortunate. Most of the former lose themselves in a sea of drugs that allow them to forget, while the latter are, perhaps, even more unlucky, and lose themselves to the blade of a razor.

Where to begin, in this sordid tale of devils and demons? Obviously, with the family that is, to be frank, to blame. Though I am not perfect and have done plenty wrong, my mistakes generally come after I was shaped by that childhood and adolescence.

My family is exactly what one would expect of a north Mississippi lower middle class / upper lower class white Christian family; it was only a few years ago that I first heard the acronym WASP, and I have to admit: aside from its redundancy, there is no more apt description of my family. With the exception of only myself and one of my cousins, the family is almost stereotypical in how typical they are of an ordinary white fundamentalist Christian family from the southern United States.

Everyone in Mississippi isn’t like that, however, and that’s one of the main points I’ve attempted to make in online communities: Mississippi does contain many people like myself. It must be acknowledged, though, that the common thread between us is that we’ve broken free of the terrorizing and gripping fears of the local religion. As a friend recently put it, “We grew up in an area that is run-down, poor, and stupid, over all, where most of the populace is indoctrinated by religious nonsense to the point where they can’t even recognize rational thought. We pushed through what it takes to fit in here, and we defined ourselves. That’s something to embrace and be proud of.”

My friends and I have reached the end of a long and grueling journey that was filled with adversity and people who would use any means at their disposal—terrorism, fear, violence, and coercion—to bend us to their will,s and we’ve looked back at the paths we traveled, and rejoiced that we survived and stayed true to ourselves. Friends are… absolutely priceless when one is transgender in a family full of fundamentalist Christians.

Both of my paternal grandparents would reject me entirely—they do not yet know, and they will be among the last to know, since I see them only a few times a year. “You don’t know how they’ll react,” I’ve had people tell me. “Give them a chance. Sometimes people surprise you.”

With all due respect, to everyone involved, those allies and friends have no idea the type of people we’re really dealing with. My Mississippian friends know better, too; they know that there is no chance that my family will ever welcome me at Christmas dinner as a female. When my grandfather (who, for the record, is on his tenth or eleventh wife) learned that my sister was living with her boyfriend, he wrote her a lengthy letter, wherein he quoted Biblical passages and called her a whore. When my grandmother found girls’ clothes hidden between my mattresses, she wanted to send me to a foster home and asserted that she would not have that in her house; if they had thought I was gay, they would have sent me to one of those awful “pray the gay away” camps. These are the type of people that comprise my family.

Again, this isn’t to say that I’m perfect, and acknowledging my own faults and mistakes will be the most difficult part of writing this. I have made plenty of mistakes, blunders, and stupid decisions that brought myself, and people around me, severe difficulty and hardship, and that is particularly true regarding past relationships.

My memory is also not perfect, and I am likely to make mistakes, and, given that some of the information comes from extremely unreliable sources (like my father), some of that can’t really be helped. It honestly doesn’t matter, though. The point of this is to show how awful parenting shaped me, and the countless lies that my dad told me are part of that. That said, I strive for honesty, integrity, and sincerity in all things. Consider this my vow that everything within is, to the best of my knowledge, the unaltered truth, except that names have been changed.

 

South Pontotoc

I was born premature, thankfully, too, because the umbilical cord had wrapped around my throat and I was born black, reportedly. This was surely a result of my mother’s cigarette smoking and eating painkillers while pregnant. My father insists that she didn’t do drugs while she carried us, but… Yeah, she did.

I don’t remember my birth, but I do remember some things from shortly after my birth. Though my family says there is no way I could remember it, my introduction to the world came with overwhelming confusion: I was in some sort of cradle, and the back of my right hand hurt like hell, and it was pained because a number of needles and tubes penetrated my flesh. The details are blurry and fuzzy, as we’d expect from such early memories, but the needles hurt and itched. They irritated me, and I wanted them out. I was afraid and confused, with no idea why these things were stabbed through my hand and no understanding of what was going on. I knew only that I was hurting and helpless to do anything about it.

Confusion—pure confusion. I didn’t even have a sense of self. I had no idea that I existed, that I was a baby in a hospital, and that I was a being. I could feel the needles in the back of my hand, and they hurt. The pain, however, was not unbearable, and that wasn’t the main facet of that moment. It was confusion. I was not afraid—I didn’t have enough self-awareness for the confusion to make me scared. I simply knew… nothing. I was a blank slate, onto which was being written reality in the ink of experience. And then I didn’t even know that I was a blank slate; I knew only that I hurt, and that I was confused. I was not in the arms of a loving mother whose warmth brought me comfort. I did not stare up and into the eyes of a nurse who was delighted to see a baby growing healthier by the hour. I was not being cooed by an older brother happy to have a new sibling, or rocked in the cradle while the soothing voice of a loving grandparent read a story. I was in a room shining in fluorescent light, alone, and hurting.

That was my first experience with the world. That was how I was introduced to the universe—in the sterilizing, emotionless light of an empty hospital room, not the gentle and soothing light of a home. I heard the beeps and sounds of monitoring equipment, not the joyous laughter of a loving family. I lie alone in a hospital contraption with the shrill, uncomfortable hospital sheets, not wrapped in a blanket and the arms of a doting mother.

And the worst part—the indisputable worst part—is that I remember this.

The first few years of my life were probably normal, about what anyone would expect from a southern, lower middle class white family that subsisted more on the successes of previous generations than the merits of its own. There were some oddities, though, and signs even then of who I really was, but it was the mid-80s, then. It wouldn’t really be fair to blame my parents for not recognizing it and embracing it.

I was, of course, born male, “with a penis and everything.” But whenever all of my underwear was dirty, my mother would put me in my sister’s panties; it wasn’t a punishment, to clarify. Being the clever child that I was, I soon began hiding all of my underwear, just so that I could tell my mom I didn’t have any, and so that I could then wear panties instead. There I was, at three years old, taking all of my tidy-whities and throwing them into the back of the closet that no one ever opened, and then I reported to my mother that, strangely, all of my underwear was suddenly gone.

So when I say that I’ve been transgender since birth, it’s as close to “since birth” as one can get. I couldn’t have been older than three years old at that point, because my sister hadn’t begun kindergarten herself. I knew then that I preferred women to men: I loved my mother and sister, and, even at that age, I had a deep appreciation for feminine beauty. I also thought that my Aunt Daisy was the most beautiful woman I’d ever seen, and my mother used to laughingly make fun of me for my enamorment with my aunt.

My experience with men at this point was limited to my father (who was fat and not overly pleasant to look at), my brother (who was thin, but who had nothing on my mother), my grandfather (who was also overweight, and a jerk), and my Uncle Dickbag (who has always been an asshole). Although it’s typical for young boys to love their mothers, I wanted to be just like mine, and I suspect that had a lot to do it with, but who can say? I was three when it began, and I simply wanted to be a girl.

I had a blanket (what most people would call a “blankie,” though I never called it that), and it was one of those cotton-threaded ones similar to fishnet. I refused to sleep without it and my pillow. The pillow actually wasn’t that important, but the pillowcase certainly was. I rubbed the pillowcase between my finger and thumbnail, sleeping on the central heating vents in the floor and driving my father crazy with all of it.

 

A Look At My Father

I would love to say that my father isn’t a bad man.

But he is.

That’s a difficult thing to say and accept, but I have to stress that it doesn’t really make me love him any less, and that the predominant emotion I have for my father, even now, is pity. Even so, I would be lying if I said that he was a good man who simply made some mistakes; that isn’t the case at all. He’s a bad man who has made some good decisions, not a good man who has made a few bad ones.

His own childhood was no walk in the park, and was tarnished by my alcoholic and abusive grandfather beating the hell out of my grandmother. Though not much of that has been shared with me, I can certainly relate to what he has said, and it’s clear the the recollections are as painful to him as it is for me to recall the abuse my mother endured at the hands of alcoholics.

At some point, my grandparents divorced—Go, grandma!—because my grandmother wouldn’t put up with the abuse. My grandmother is easily worthy of her own story, because she is an unsung hero of the feminist movement without even trying. In the sixties and seventies, she left her violent husband and blazed her own path, winning the house in the divorce, and then worked at a college the rest of her days, finally retiring at the age of 67.

True to the family history, my grandmother endured her own screwed up childhood, and was even sent away by her mother, for undisclosed reasons, to live with Uncle Ben and Aunt Ethel on their farm. Evidently, Aunt Ethel didn’t like my grandmother one bit, and was very unkind to her. What set of circumstances caused Jessica—I’ve never heard my grandmother refer to her own mother by anything other than her name—to send my grandmother off to this farm? What internal strength caused my grandmother, in what must have been the 40s, to graduate as the valedictorian of her class? What quite resolve allowed my grandmother to learn the necessary skills to work in the administration section of a college during the 60s?

These are questions to which I would dearly love the answers, but I’ll never have them; they are not things that my grandmother is happy to discuss. Questions about her past are met with short answers, and I can’t really blame her for not wanting to talk about it. She lived a difficult life, but she’s also the strongest woman I’ve ever heard of. I would love little more than for her story to be known, and that’s part of what makes her so remarkable: she doesn’t want her story to be told. Her humility and sincerity are matched only by the courage and wisdom it must have taken to craft the life she did in a time when women were “not allowed” to be more than housewives.

On one particular drunken rampage, my father was forced to hold a gun on my grandfather so that my grandmother could limp out of the house. While I truly hate that he even had to do such a thing in the first place, I’m also jealous that he was old enough to do something about it. When my mother suffered under Assface’s hands, I was in the second grade, and too young and weak to do anything to get in the way.

For years, my father insisted that he had been drafted to Vietnam, and he even pulled the whole John Rambo thing, where he talked about how he was called a murderer and spit upon when he returned. At one point, though, my sister and I realized that… there’s no way. Either he was actually the oldest between him and his brother (and thus wouldn’t have been drafted), or the Vietnam War ended when he was 16. In this little alternate reality he had crafted, he had to be older than our mother (which was blatantly false—she had always been recognized as the older one, by several years), his brother had to be lying about his own age, and almost everyone had to have falsified birth records.

He retconned his story to say that he was in Vietnam during the 80s, through another offensive that we did, but I have been unable to find any military record for him, and have even signed up for one of the paid services to look. Whether he did fight in Vietnam or not, he did mislead us into believing he’d fought in the Vietnam War, which is a lie of such magnitude and scope that one has to marvel at it.

He is a religious man, though it’s hard to tell by looking at his behavior: heavy drug usage, constant lies, and steady manipulation. Although he is less religious than other members of the family, the secularism is applied in strangely selective ways, and he’s generally just as fundamental as everyone else in the family—he continues to believe that Obama is a Muslim, is more or less openly racist, and is a diehard Republican, despite the fact that he’s effectively a ward of the state who benefits substantially from liberal policies.

I obviously don’t see eye-to-eye with him, but we do have some similar interests. It was he who introduced me to Fantasy literature and tabletop gaming, both of which almost immediately became passions for me. In turn, I exposed him to the tenth installment of a wildly popular roleplaying video game, and I’m still happy that I was able to show him to something that he enjoyed so immensely. He must have played through it a dozen times, and he certainly discovered more of its secrets than I ever would have.

As an aside, with the recent HD Remaster of said video game’s release to PC, I actually installed it onto my grandmother’s computer for him, thereby allowing him to play through it again. He’s been really excited, and I’m glad for that. Though I’d name him Lardnugget if I had to “All names have been changed” him, I’m still glad that I was able to do that for him.

There is some kinship between us, and I do love him, despite the more numerous differences, and in spite of the fact that he has done me far more harm than good. More than anything, I pity him, because the traumatic childhood seems to have destroyed him; he is one of the ones who did not come through unscathed. He was swallowed by the mentality that the world owes him something, whereas I left with the same feeling and the certainty that, whether the world owed it or not, it would never give it willingly.

The rifts between us began because I was just… not the son that he wanted. He hated that I loved sleeping on the heating vents—I’ve always loved heat. I would wager the guess that, particularly at those young ages, it was related to my premature birth, but, regardless, I wouldn’t sleep anywhere else. I had to sleep on one of the floor vents, and the heat had to be on. There in the floor, I had the pillow and pillowcase that I refused to sleep without, and the blanket that I really wanted with me when I slept.

My father hated all of these things. We went to visit some relatives at one point, and I left my blanket and pillow at home. With no other way to shut me up, my parents took me to a store to get a new pillow, and there I went from one to the next, tearing open the plastic just slightly, and “testing” it with my finger and thumbnail until I found one that was satisfactory. When we got back to our trailer a few nights later, dad told me to bring my pillow outside.

As I stepped out into the night air, I saw him kneeling just outside the small stone circle beside our front steps. It had once been a flower garden—conceived and implemented during one of mom’s highs, when she was bolstered with energy and had the random idea to start a flower garden. Naturally, the high wore off, but the flowers remained in that little circle of stones—at least for a while. Then they died, unwatered, neglected, and forgotten.

Almost like a demon out of a child’s horror story, there was my dad, grinning devilishly and eagerly with the flickering glow of his lighter shining on his face, urging me to throw my old pillow onto a mess of crumbled newspapers soaked in lighter fluid. “We need to burn it!” he said, and I refused. There was no need to burn it. They were already making me throw it away—they were already making me discard into the trash this pillow that I loved and had slept with every night for years. Was that not enough?

“We need to burn it!” he said again, and I ran back inside, crying to mom that dad wanted to make me burn the pillow that I loved. It may seem strange that I had such attachment to a pillow, but I did, and both of my parents knew it. My father knew it; he knew very well that I loved that pillow.

And that’s why he wanted to burn it. Because I loved it.

We didn’t burn random things, and I doubt that we ever burned anything there at all. But he wasn’t content to simply force me to throw away this pillow that I loved, this symbol that I was an emotional person and not the crass son that he so desperately wanted. The pillow had to be destroyed in flames because I loved it, and because “real men don’t love.” This silly, feminine weakness, this emotional attachment to an object—it had to be gotten rid of, and in the most dramatic way possible.

It was not the pillow that my dad wanted to burn.

It was my heart.

My mother intervened, though my father came inside and continued insisting that we needed to burn the pillow, because he was afraid that I would be able to talk my mother into letting me keep it. One has to wonder why it was even an issue that I wanted to keep my pillow. In the end, I placed it gingerly on top of the garbage can in the kitchen and told it goodbye. I hated to do so, and I cried, because it didn’t make sense to me (and still doesn’t).

It’s understandable that I developed such strong emotional ties to inanimate objects: even before the separation, neither parent spent much time with me, and there wasn’t much hugging in the family. Mom and dad were always high on one drug or another, lying on the couch and borderline comatose. I don’t know how Brandi handled it then, or what she did in order to get through the long and miserable days, but it was surely as awful for her as it was for me. Unlike our older brother, we didn’t have friends with whom we could go hang out. Or, at least, I didn’t. Brittney was friends with a girl who didn’t live too far from us, and I hope that my sister was happy then.

 

Aunt May and Kay-Kay

For a while, mom did work, as did my father. While Brittney and Anthony were gone to school and my parents were at work, I was babysat by our great aunt who lived next door, a relatively kind woman who I remember as mostly humorless. Sadly, I’ve also been told that my father fleeced her out of most of her money, which is the same thing he did to my great-grandmother and is currently doing to my grandmother. However, I was too young to comprehend any of that, and there isn’t much that I remember about Aunt May.

It sucked at Aunt May’s, though. There was probably nowhere that would have been worse for my three or four-year-old self. I wasn’t allowed to take my Nintendo the vast majority of the time, which left me there alone with an eight-year-old woman and very little to actually do, because there was no one to play with and nowhere to play at. Aunt May wasn’t unkind, but she was not particularly joyful. I don’t blame her for that—she was a very old woman, and probably not really able or happy to babysit a four-year-old.

A kid at that age should be outside playing and having fun, not sitting in a living room with an eighty-year-old woman and playing with paper dolls that she cut out of a magazine. Of course, such things seem droll only from a modern perspective, but I was accustomed to video games and cartoons, the heightened entertainment possibilities of the late 1980s. In the 1880s a child would have been thrilled beyond measure to sit on a couch in an air-conditioned house and idle away the hours with paper dolls.

But just imagine the blank and horrified response one would get if a modern child was asked to spend day after day in that environment, with only a very old woman as company. There would probably be allegations of child abuse! Of course, I’m not making that claim. However, many modern parents would likely consider that to be, at the least, borderline child abuse. To me, it was simply boring, and the time passed so slowly that I probably lived more moments there at Aunt May’s house than all the moments I have lived since.

I don’t mean any of this to be disparaging to Aunt May. I have no doubt that she did the best she could, and significantly better than many people in her position would have. Still, I dreaded those days when both my parents had to work, and it was routine for me to ask mom each afternoon, “Do you have to work tomorrow?”

Aunt May had a moustache, as well, but I never noticed it. It wasn’t until I was a teenager and I was shown a picture of her that I learned she had a moustache. I was pre-kindergarten when I spent time with Autn May; the idea that a woman didn’t have facial hair wasn’t in my head at that point, so it was perfectly normal to me. My father had a moustache and Aunt May had a moustahce. Cars have tires, and cows go “moo.” It simply was.

One horrible day, as Aunt May sat in her recliner, concealed in the corner from view of the kitchen as I sat on the couch near the front door, there was suddenly a crash in the kitchen. The kitchen was near the back of the house, and had a door to the outside attached to it, and I will never forget the fear that fell over this old woman’s face. Someone had broken in through the back door.

She and I hid in the living room, cowering in the corner behind her chair. I don’t believe she ever called the police (I don’t think she even had a phone), or did anything else about it, but my memory of that ordeal is really vague. I recall only the noise, the unmistakable terror in her eyes that I was able to recognize even at four years old, and the hiding.

Because she was very old, it simply wasn’t possible for Aunt May to always babysit me, and I had another sitter called Kay-Kay—a hefty, middle-aged woman who seemed to be doing pretty well in life. She had a house, at least, and I recognized that as an indication she was alright—we lived in a trailer, and most of the people we knew lived in a trailer. Living in a house… That was a grand thing to me. I didn’t mind that we lived in a trailer, and I was much too young to know that being the child of two fast-food workers (even if they were supervisors) who raised Confederate flags, shot up heroin, and ate Xanax made me the definitive example of “trailer trash,” but I knew enough to know that it was a great thing to have a house.

Kay-Kay, however, was a pretty ordinary woman, but there was a lot going on beneath the surface that most people never saw. As I sat in one of her bedrooms, playing a video game, there was suddenly a banging on the door and people shouting, demanding to be allowed inside and promising that, if Kay-Kay refused, they would tear the house down.

Although I was shocked and scared at first, Kay-Kay expertly put my fears to rest by handling it so well. She answered in an almost aloof way, as though she had no concern about it whatsoever. Even as they banged and screamed, I was unafraid, because Kay-Kay didn’t appear to take it seriously. After a minute or so, they stopped for a moment, and then the rhythmic pounding echoed through her home, clearly coming from somewhere in the back.

“They’re going to tear the house down!” I shouted to Kay-Kay, scared once more. In my head there was the image of two enormous, burly, and angry men outside with huge hammers, smashing away the bricks and crashing through the walls.

“Oh, no, they’re not, sweetie,” came Kay-Kay’s reply as she dropped to a knee and hugged me. “They’re just mad. They’ll get over it and leave in a few minutes.”

Sure enough, Kay-Kay was right: they did leave shortly thereafter. In actuality, they probably just had given up on the front door and gone to try the back door. Finding it locked, they banged and shouted some more, and then stopped. I never learned what any of this was about, and Kay-Kay asked me to not mention it to my parents, which made sense: that isn’t the sort of thing a mother wants happening at the selected babysitter’s home. I didn’t stay quiet, though, and that was the last time Kay-Kay ever babysat me. It was also the last time that I saw her.

The Rise of Tumult

There was a “friend of the family” called Doc, and I liked him a lot. Everyone liked Doc—he was a friendly, charismatic guy. Being my parents’ friend, he was also heavily on drugs, but Doc was also in a motorcycle gang, which created a bit of a problem, because shooting up was explicitly against the gang’s laws. Just to be clear here: this is the world I grew up in. This was normal to my three-year-old self. On any given day, I was likely to see one or both of my parents shoot up heroin, smoke a joint or two, and collapse onto the couch, unmoving and in a stupor, droning out “Yeah…” to no one.

I watched my mother, laid out in the loveseat on one side of the living room, look over at my father. She held up and toward my father a syringe full of some red liquid, and then she asked in a seductive voice, “Lardnugget, do you want some of this?” And as she spoke, she pressed in the syringe and sent a jet stream of this stuff—whatever it was—flying across the living room. They were both just out of their minds, just high as hell.

Disheveled, frantic, panicked, and terrified, Doc stopped by our trailer one day and wanted to sell my father a half-pound of weed for fifty bucks. My father had twenty dollars he could pay. Knowing my father as I do, it’s amazing that he had any money at all, but he did, and he explained to Doc what he had.

Doc in turn explained that he had to get out of town. “Had to,” and my father understood what that meant: Doc had been caught shooting up by the gang. Doc had to get out of town before the gang could find him; whoever had discovered the secret would tell the others, and they would force Doc to run the Gauntlet. Because, apparently, that actually happens. My father bought the weed, and Doc fled, but it was to no avail. Doc was eventually found, and he did not survive.

We also frequently drove north to visit my Aunt Danielle and Uncle Dickbag (the man who would later go to prison for murder and, though there is no body or evidence, would one day murder my mother), as well as our cousins. We did this regularly, and one of these trips proved to be one of the most traumatic experiences of my childhood.

As Brittney and I rode with dad in his yellow truck, in a secluded area where the road was surrounded on both sides by trees and steep ditches that spelled certain death for anyone who lost control and went over, an 18-wheeler decided that he needed to pass us. The trucker blew his horn a few times, and then he went for it. As he passed, he veered to the right—or dad swerved to the left. The enormous sideview mirror of the rig crashed through the window beside dad and sent a spray of glass shards through the cab of our truck. Luckily, neither my sister nor I were cut.

The fault was probably my father’s, driving under the influence of one drug or another, but the reason officially given was that the highway there simply wasn’t wide enough to feasibly pass. This excuse was given much later in the day—after the trip got significantly worse. Whether the trucker stopped after the incident is anyone’s guess, but I don’t blame my father for continuing on; in an age before cell phones were common, it would have been stupid to stop in an isolated place and confront a trucker who had, whoever was to blame, just smashed a torrent of glass through the truck that held two children (Anthony rode with our mother).

We ended up in Memphis as we traveled, and came upon an intersection. Not paying attention, I couldn’t tell you exactly how it happened, but there was shaking and noise. We rear-ended another vehicle. It’s possible that my father simply didn’t stop quickly enough, and it’s possible that he pressed the gas too hard and too quickly after the light turned green. Regardless, we hit the vehicle hard and sent it careening into the intersection—reportedly, it traveled fifty feet from the impact.

The driver of that car died on the spot with a broken neck.

Obviously, the police were called, and my father was arrested. The police had Brittney and me wait in the back of the police car with him, which made us feel as though we were also being arrested, and that is terrifying when you’re four or five years old and have literally no comprehension of what is going on. As though we were playing out a scene in a movie, the very same trucker who had hit us earlier happened upon the accident, and presumably told the police that dad was driving erratically. The next thing I knew, the trucker was banging on the glass beside me, shouting obscenities at us—not just at our dad, but honestly at the five-year-old children, too. I was terrified, confused, and frightened out of my mind, and it didn’t help that dad, with his hands cuffed behind his back, was frothing at the mouth, rocking the police car, and demanding to be let out so that he could fight the truck driver.

My sister and I were taken to the hospital, and we were repeatedly questioned about the accidents by police, doctors, and therapists. Of course, we were separated from our father, but also from each other, and that served only to make the experience more traumatic than it had to be. We were finally told that we would be going into the care of Aunt Danielle and Uncle Dickbag briefly, and they were the ones who picked us up from the hospital. My grandmother acquired a good lawyer for my father, and he was able to go to rehabilitation rather than prison, or something to that effect.

For a long time, my nerves were absolutely shot, and it was nearly impossible to get me into a vehicle, which is probably the normal response of a four year old child after having been in two accidents in a single day, one of which resulted in a death, because the parents didn’t mind driving after eating a bunch of pills. Naturally, to fix the problem, they shoved pills down my throat, giving me what they called “nerve pills” that were probably simply Xanax or Klonopin. This was the only way to get me into an automobile for several months after the accidents, because otherwise I would scream and throw fits; knocking me out with drugs was the only way they could get me into one, though eventually that anxiety faded.

Things returned to what we considered normal, though that isn’t to say that either of my parents stopped doing drugs. I doubt either parent was ever clean for any noteworthy period of time, and they continued inviting friends over frequently. These parties, while they were more or less tame and simply consisted of people drinking, doing drugs, and playing spades, they were not what would constitute “normal” for most kids.

On one such occasion, one of the people with whom they were hanging out decided that it would be a brilliant idea to inject peanut butter. Presumably, he’d heard that “The high is incredible, man!” and wasn’t much interested in maybe asking a doctor before doing something so horrendously and creatively stupid. According to my father—who is a known pathological liar, it’s worth remembering—the man died on the spot, so they took him home and left him on his couch, dead. I have no memory of this, but it allegedly happened some time around my fifth birthday.

I started kindergarten, and I loathed it. Up until that point, my life was fantastic. I could wake up whenever I wanted, spend the entire day watching cartoons and playing video games, snacking whenever I desired, and just basically doing any damned thing I pleased. Then suddenly I couldn’t do that any longer; I had to wake up at a specific time, go spend the entire day in a boring school, and then only had a few hours afterward to do the things that I enjoyed doing. As early as kindergarten, it struck me as absurd: if the point of life is to be happy, as everyone constantly insisted to me, then why did I have to go to school?

We were poor—dirt poor, as you might expect, given the heavy drug usage. Although both parents were managers at various fast food restaurants at times, my mother eventually quit working altogether and got onto disability for her migraines. It was with tremendous excitement that we were approved for food stamps, and we waited for weeks with palpable eagerness in the air, though I had no idea what it even meant. There are two times that I distinctly recall the entire family waiting anxiously for something to happen, and the anticipation was identical on both occasions; we waited for food stamps and we waited for our cable to be activated with the same sense of impending thrill, as did I, even though I had no understanding of what either meant.

Getting approved for food stamps felt like having a birthday, and so did the cable company finally coming out, after weeks of waiting, to connect our cable television. While I understood that having cable meant that we would have Nickelodeon, there was no way that I understood the concept of food stamps, so my excitement was surely nothing more than a mirror of my parents’ own eager anticipations. It was just months after this that I began school, and just months later that mom became convinced that dad was not really working, and that he was just disappearing while he was supposed to be at work.

It was a schoolday when it happened, because we were supposed to be in class, but mom kept us at home. My much older brother, my slightly older sister, and I were told that we were leaving dad, and I’m sure I handled that as well as any six year old child would, which is to say with naked emotion untempered by the jaded self-control we are taught to exercise in later years. I didn’t understand what was going on, but I was devastated nonetheless. First, the life I had come to know and love was wrecked by having to go to school, and then what little semblance of it remained was being irretrievably shattered by this upheaval. I spent the entire day in tears, as did my sister. Whatever was going on between our parents had nothing to do with us, and our lives were being cast into the hurricane because of it.

Too young to truly understand what was really going on, my primary concern was whether to leave my father “the good Nintendo” or the bad one. They both worked, but one of them was much more difficult to get working. Both my dad and I were big on video games, and so was my older brother, and even my mom and sister played occasionally. There were lots of family moments when we all took turns, and we even had one of the NES Satellite devices that allowed four controllers to be used.

I agonized over that decision far more than a six year old should, and my mom didn’t give the situation nearly as much attention as it deserved. My entire world, prior to school, consisted almost entirely of playing video games. That I even debated which one to leave was a tremendous indicator of how much I loved my father, how much I didn’t want to leave, and, above all, how poorly equipped I was to cope with the chaos I suddenly was confronting. Mom was tearing our family apart, breaking it into two pieces, and she never sat down with my sister and me to explain what was happening, to assure us that we’d still see our dad, or to promise us that it would be okay. While to some extent that’s understandable, since she had to pack and load things up, the utter failure to remember that she was literally wrecking her youngest kids’ lives is very difficult to excuse.

To make matters worse, she was cowardly about it, too, because all of this happened while my father was at work. We lived in a trailer on my grandfather’s land, and it’s very likely that my grandfather was the one who alerted my father to the moving truck that was at his home. However, seeing as my grandfather later offered to shoot my mother for my dad, I doubt he would have showed the restraint to simply inform my dad of what was happening.

Regardless, dad pulled up while we were finishing and preparing to leave. The next little bit is a blur of anger, hostility, and shouting from which I am able to pull very few details. In a flash, dad went from anger to pleading, but mom refused to listen; her mind was made up, and she cranked the car, put it into gear, and hit the gas. Dad threw himself into the side of the car and then hit the ground, fell onto his back, and then lie there in the grass. My sister and I screamed and cried—our dad had just been run over!—and mom shouted at us to stop yelling. I gazed out of the back window at my father as we drove away, and there he was, lying unmoving in the grass, and all I could think was the horrible thought, “Dad is dead.”

There in the back of the car, crying quietly, having just watched my father die from being hit by a car, I sat at the age of six years old, being shouted at by my mom to shut up because I freaked out when I saw her kill my dad.

The story goes on to explain that, obviously, my dad wasn’t dead. He just, quite pathetically, wanted my mother to think he was hurt so that she’d stop and check on him.

New Video: Forgiving the Devil

This is my best Youtube work so far, by a wide margin, and I think it’s probably second only to The Anvil, in terms of everything I’ve done. The background music, combined with the story itself and how I tell the story… I don’t know. I think it’s pretty good. 🙂

Just do me this favor: watch the first five minutes. If you watch the first five minutes and don’t feel compelled to watch the rest of it, let me know, and I’ll apologize for wasting 5 minutes of your time. But I think, if you watch the first five minutes, you’ll have to finish it.

There are a few other things I’d like to change, but it’s really too late for that. C’est la vie, I guess. I’d love to be able to beep out a few things, and to edit out one other thing that I wasn’t sure about leaving in. I ended up leaving it in (the tangent about serial killers), but I really wish I hadn’t. There was no way to express what I was trying to say without it sounding kinda weird. And it came out sounding very weird.

The video is a brief summary of my upcoming novel Dancing in Hellfire, which is a 100% true story about my childhood, teenage, and adult life–everything except Vegas is included, really.

It’s decidedly less controversial than my last video–I just blocked one of the commenters on that video for irritating the shit out of me. I don’t mind when people say stupid shit and insult me. I really don’t. But when people pull out bullshit three times in a row, and all three times can be proven to be absolute bullshit pulled out of their ass, and all three attempts have clearly been designed to make me look like “the bad guy” (instead of just being an idiot, as most people have accused)… That’s when I block someone.

I think that’s why I blocked him: he was trying to make it out like I have a problem handling criticism, which is a common issue, but the reality of the comment chain is that he wasn’t offering criticism. He first pulled out total bullshit with a Punctuated. For. Emphasis. Statement of:

Produce. Your. Own. Content.

He commented this on a video that contained 16/18 minutes of indisputably original content, and with a Description field filled with links to about a dozen articles, 30~ podcasts, 20~ original songs, and some more stuff. Just absolutely absurd, and clearly bullshit pulled out of his ass rather than offer up valid criticism. He later said that he wasn’t entertained and that my voice was monotonous; the latter is an actual criticism, but the former is irrelevant on a video categorized under News & Politics…

Like I’m not here to entertain you, dude… If you want entertainment, watch my guitar videos. Read my novels. Read my poetry. Listen to my political rants…?

One of those is not like the others.

What an idiot. “I’m gonna comment on this video not tagged under Entertainment and not made with the intention of entertaining, and let the maker know that she sucks because I didn’t find the video entertaining, but only after I accuse her of not making her own content.”

Yep. My inability to handle criticism is clearly the problem here…

I’m going to have to train myself to ignore these people.

The World Still Turns

A few weeks ago, one of my clients lost an employee. They’re one of my better clients, which is difficult because it’s a company full of “Good ol’ boys,” but they like me a lot–they just also don’t know much about me. The guy they lost was a manager, the go-to guy for anything that was difficult and unusual, and an all-around good guy. A few months ago, he was diagnosed with “some long, technical word for cancer,” and he died a few weeks ago. He went from perfectly healthy to dead in just months.

Today was the second time I’ve been to the client since the guy’s death, and it was a really jarring experience–no doubt one that they haven’t noticed. The world kept turning. Looking around the office, it was impossible to tell that such a person as Martin had ever lived, and his job was a big part of who he was. One dude got promoted and essentially took his place, and that dude’s old desk sat empty, but the world kept turning. Martin lived, he died, there was a brief period of mourning, and then life went on.

http://www.charleyproject.org/cases/b/baker_patsy.html

That’s my mother.

She disappeared when I was 12 years old, and until I was about 20 or so I hoped every single day that she would pop back up. From the time she vanished to shortly after I turned 18, I didn’t see my brother at all because he stayed in Arkansas with our family there, and they didn’t have anything to do with us. My brother said that he didn’t contact my sister and me because we asked difficult questions about our mom… When my sister and I went to Arkansas when I was 18 and she was 19, to bridge this gap they had created between us all, that was among the things that our brother told us. It was difficult for him to answer questions about our mom.

He had forgotten entirely that she was my mom, too, and that she was my sister’s mom, too. He came to visit us one day when he was working in the area; I was 15, and it had been three years since we had seen him, our brother, and three years since our mom vanished. Of course we asked him about mom. Unlike him, we were out of the loop. Our mom had been missing for more than a month before anyone let us know, so it was no surprise that when we finally got the opportunity we asked a lot of questions.

It basically went down like this: our aunt, mom’s sister, called us one night and talked to our grandmother for a while. Then our grandmother broke the news to us: mom had been missing for a month, she allegedly left with a truck driver named Tim, and no one knew where she was. And that was it. We never heard anything else. The next thing we heard was when our brother pulled into the driveway one evening three years later.

He said that he was working nearby all week, and that he would come back the next evening when he got off work, and would stay the night with us.

He didn’t come back.

Three years later, my sister and I went to Arkansas to see them. We had jobs and vehicles by that point, and we just decided one day to do it. Less than a year later, our brother died in an automobile accident, wrecking his car at the same turn he’d wrecked at years priorily. Previously, he had escaped uninjured, though he totaled his car. This time, he died within fifteen minutes. From the time we contacted to his death, we did see him pretty regularly; often, he came to see us, but sometimes we went to see him, so we did get a year of seeing each other roughly once a month before he died.

When he died, my sister and I went back to Arkansas for the funeral services, and I left after spending one day there. I realized I hated these people I was surrounded by. The only one who was worth a fuck was my sister; the rest were assholes. At one point, one of my cousins said to me, “He was like a brother to me…” in full disregard of the fact that he was a brother to me. And she expected pity and sympathy from me?

That was the whole vibe with the family in Arkansas, though. My sister and I weren’t part of the family. Our brother treated us that way about our mom, and never stopped to consider that this was our mom that was missing, as well. He never thought about the fact that he had a job and a car and could have come to see us countless times throughout the years and that we would have given anything to see our brother. Once again, as had been the case when we were children, no one was trying to imagine what the world looked like through my eyes, or through my sister’s eyes. No one was considering our emotions, our best interests, or our well-being. A quick phone call to my grandmother to relay the message to us, and that was it for three years, until our brother happened to stop by. And we probably would have never seen him again if we hadn’t decided, quite arbitrarily, one day to go to Arkansas.

I actually cried last night about the whole thing, which is highly unusual and something I haven’t done since I was 13 or 14, when I stumbled across that webpage again. A few years ago, I emailed them and asked them if they’d be willing to take those pictures down and replace them with a better picture of my mom. They said they wouldn’t, because those were the most recent and therefore would make it easier for someone to identify her. I pointed out that it had been 13 years, and that she was certainly dead, but they weren’t interested in hearing that.

Last night I started to email them again to reiterate my request, since it has been 17 years now, the last person she was with has been convicted of an unrelated murder, and a few other things like that, but I stopped halfway through. Because I realized that I don’t have a better picture of my mom. At the time that I emailed them, I guess I just assumed that I had pictures of her. I know that I had one of her when I was 13 or so–it was a beautiful picture of her, long before she started messing around with meth and started looking like… that.

And now those pics are the only pictures I have of her.

I don’t need no arms around me
I don’t need no drugs to calm me
I have seen the writing on the wall
Don’t think I need anything at all
No! Don’t think I need anything at all.
All in all, it was all just bricks in the wall.
All in all, you were all just bricks in the wall.

It’s been a rough life, really. Between all that insanity–most of which I haven’t even gotten to in Dancing in Hellfire, which is alarming because it really doesn’t need to go over 70k words and I’m about half that already–and the religious oppression that my dad and grandmother forced onto me, it’s been a rough ride. But there once was such a person as Patsy Lee Baker.

She was murdered, and the world kept turning.