It’s About to Get Real… Part II

Earlier this year I saw this truck around town a number of times.  A Chevy pickup with an Oklahoma license plate, donning a vanity plate that had the “Don’t Tread on Me” graphic over the Confederate flag. My blood boiled every time I saw it.

oklahoma

One day in early summer, I was driving down a street near my home and I saw the truck parked in front of a house that was holding a yard sale. I drove past the house. I stopped. And I circled back. I parked in front, got out of my car, and strolled around, looking at things and observing people.

It didn’t take long for me to realize that the person who owned the truck was related to the home owner, if not the home owner himself.

I asked about a couple of items that I was truly interested in. I told the man and the woman running the sale… his sister… that I might come back. And I left. But as I was walking to my car a voice in my head said, “Stop. Go back. Ask.”

I went back and I opened dialogue with the man who owned the truck. “I have to ask you… what’s up with the Confederate flag?” The conversation that followed was a lesson I did not need to learn.

The man proceeded to tell me how he created this vanity plate… the Confederate battle flag with the “Don’t Treat on Me” flag superimposed on it. He sells it on the internet. He started with the typical, “You don’t know what the flag means.” And I corrected him. I know damn well what the flag means.

It turned out this was his childhood home and his mom was in a nursing facility. He and his sister, who now lives in Kentucky, where preparing the home for sale.

He told me that he was a Vietnam veteran and he pointed to a diamond stud earing in his ear. “I got this when I was 20 years sober.”

He seemed like a nice guy.

As the conversation moved forward, he shared with me, “I wasn’t a racist until I was in the military.”

Holy Good God Almighty… he admitted he was a racist, without me even suggesting the word. I cannot dislike this man, because he is honest.

He shared with me that he served with a number of Black men. When they were on furlough, these men acted as though they didn’t know him. My first thought was that they might have been cliquey, like when I was a kid. A bunch of guys hanging with their peers. And I am not condoning cliquiness, because, in my experience, it’s kind of a subtle form of bullying.

And then I wondered. Maybe he was just not a likable guy.

As we continued to discuss racism, I looked over at his sister’s car and noticed a couple of comforting bumper stickers. One was a peace sign and I can’t recall the other. Thinking I might have a comrade, I asked, “What do you think?”

She proceeded to tell me that she was not racist and that people are not racist where she lives in Kentucky.

Brace yourself.

Wait. I feel the need to say twelve Hail Mary’s and beg forgiveness from my friends of color.

She said, “They know to stay in their place.”

And this was well before Trump’s rise to power.

With that, I closed the conversation politely and went home to my safe place.

So, as every good essay should, it’s time to circle back. The end of the story must have a link to the start of the story. The closing.

As you may know, after I lost my job two years ago, I started a yard care business. Late this past summer I did some work for a customer who owns a rental property in Plainfield. On day two of the project, the owner was there to do work on one of the units. While giving me a tour of the apartment and showing me how the former tenants had destroyed it, our conversation somehow shifted and we were talking about the neighbors a few doors down. The very house that had many months prior displayed the Confederate flag that I initially wrote about. My first “siting.”

I returned about a week later to continue the job, only to find a new tenant moving in. He, his significant other, and their five kids. They were very nice and their little girl was a ray of sunshine, asking me question after question after question. She innocently asked, from a second floor window, “Why  are you in my yard?”

The next time I returned, I continued with the front yard, which was now decorated with a Trump sign. I had to keep telling myself, “It doesn’t belong to the person that hired me.” And I had an entire conversation in my own head, asking myself if I am at a point where I can decline jobs at homes with these signs, promoting a Presidential candidate that I am vehemently opposed to.

As I turned the corner to work more on the back yard, my heart dropped and my blood pressure spiked.

As previously suggested by a childhood friend, which I did attempt with Mr. Oklahoma and Ms. Kentucky,  I decided to engage. I was working my butt off, but I chose to take the time to ask. To communicate. Peacefully.

This young man, who I affectionately refer to as “Matthew” because his glowing smile and perfect teeth remind me of actor Matthew McConaughey, was happy to engage. And then I notices something else. As if the flag near his child’s toys and the family picnic table was not disturbing enough, his buff young shirtless chest was tattooed with the image. No lie.

He claimed that he displays the flag as proof that it “doesn’t make people kill.” He was referring to the Charleston murders and his argument made no sense to me. It was asinine, at best. As the conversation continued, I realized that explanation was a cover.

“I’m not racist. I have Black friends.” I would argue, Mr. Man, that they may be your friends, but you are not theirs.

It got better. “I just don’t understand why they talk like that when they’re with other Black people. It’s laziness.”

I asked, “Talk like what?” He explained. I cringed. And my stomach tied itself into a knot.

I suggested to “Matthew” that perhaps it was a dialect or a cultural thing and not laziness. And, again, I politely brought the conversation to a close and went about my work.

Sadly, five children are being raised among that thinking. And the neighbors directly across the street care for their bi-racial toddler grandchild and they have to look at that flag every day.

The South will rise again? This bonehead isn’t even a southerner.

Will I engage again? Never. My belief that people who fly this flag, especially northerners, are racist has been confirmed. I don’t need to engage.

Will I write more? No. My point is clear.

Will I post more pictures with addresses? Sadly, yes.

Celebrate diversity. It’s a beautiful thing.

Hug a person of color.

Pray for peace.


Photographed Summer 2016:

confeerate

203 Cherry Hill Road ~ Brooklyn/Pomfret, CT USA


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It’s About to Get Real

Seriously though. It’s about to get REAL.

This post was triggered by a “sighting” I had today… at the corner of Tripp Hollow and Tatnic Roads here in Brooklyn. Connecticut’s “Quiet Corner.” The QC. I could have named this Blog post “Tripp Hollow and Tatnic,” but then I might not have grabbed your attention the way I just did.

Last year, after a Facebook exchange with a friend, I was invited to participate in a group being formed in the Hartford area called “Friends for Social Justice.” What a wonderful idea, I thought… like minded people of different races sitting together in a cozy living room, sipping tea or wine and enjoying snacks, and discussing social justice. For starters, racial justice. Cool.

The post that sparked our initial exchange included this photograph, which I took in Plainfield on June 21, 2015. Right here in the QC.

Confederate Flag Plainfield

Before I go further, let me remind you that this is NOT the Confederate flag, though I will refer to it that way in this Blog post. This flag is one of many Confederate “battle” flags. This one was used by General Robert E. Lee and, at the close of the Civil War, he asked that it be “put away.” The war was over. The North won. He also requested that the flag not be used at his funeral or grave. Facts.

This “sighting” occurred just days after nine people were murdered at a black church in Charleston… by a white man that they welcomed to their prayer group. And around the time the Confederate flag flying on the grounds of the South Carolina State Capitol became a hot topic with the media, inciting a good portion of the American populace… no matter which side of the issue they were on.

Three days after I took this photo in Connecticut’s Quiet Corner, South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley, a Republican, called for the removal of the flag from their Capitol’s property. Proof that Republicans CAN do the right thing.

Occasionally.

Rarely.

Isn’t it ironic that the conservative South finally admitted that the flag is wrong, but the liberal North is now poisoned with it’s presence?

These events… the murders in Charleston and the disputes over the Confederate flag… combined with the unacceptable number of killings of black men and women by law enforcement officers that were taking place throughout the country, prompted the formation of the Friends group.

Before our first gathering, I was also invited to a meeting of a group called “Standing Up for Racial Justice,” or SURJ, also in the Hartford area. It was a powerful meeting, attended by not nearly enough people, and one of the goals of the organizers was to send attendees home with a “Black Lives Matter” lawn sign.

I am a supporter of the “Black Lives Matter” movement. A huge supporter. And if you feel the need to tell me that “all lives matter,” please bite your tongue. Of course all lives matter. That is a given. Just pretend it’s called, “Black Lives Should Matter More Than They Do.”

I didn’t take a sign and part of me felt like a hypocrite because I didn’t. But I knew that if I put that sign in my front yard, up here in the QC, it would have disappeared within 24 hours. Remember, the “sightings” had already begun.

I have only been able to attend one of the Friends meetings, because the distance is prohibitive. But I am still committed. In the meantime, it IS about to get real.

Here’s a photo I took in Danielson later that same month. May I suggest that the size of the truck speaks to the size of a certain part of the owner’s anatomy? And, perhaps, the flag speaks to his intelligence quotient?

Confederate Flag Danielson

I’ve spent a lot of time wondering what I can do up here in the QC to be an active part of the fight against racism. Until now, though racism makes me insanely angry, I have thought that I need to be nice. Learn how to talk to racists peacefully. Be rational. Keep calm.

And today I decided… nope, I don’t.

When someone has gotten to the point they will display this symbol of hatred, I owe them no respect. I know, many still believe the Confederate flag is not a symbol of hatred. That’s bullshit.

The Confederate flag represents the Civil War. And the Civil War was started, primarily, over the issue of slavery. Fact.

Slavery represents racism. Fact.

Racism represents hatred. Fact.

End of story. Not debatable.

As I drove by that house at the corner of Tripp Hollow and Tatnic today, I decided that it’s time to call out the haters.

So, from this point forward, I will continue posting photos of Confederate flags that I see here in the QC and I will include their exact location. And I will share the information on Facebook, hoping that my shares get shared. And so on, and so on, and so on…

If there is nothing wrong with displaying this symbol of hatred, then there should be no problem. These haters should be happy when a photo of their flag goes viral. Right?

The people who live at the home in the first photo are spared, because the flag was removed in July. I’ll never know why they removed it, but they did the right thing. I still wouldn’t choose to break bread with them.

Potty mouth alert…

The fuckwhistle (I stole that name from a Facebook meme about Donald Trump) in the truck… well, it’s a big, red truck. And it has a license plate on it.

Who’s next?


Photographed 1/30/2016:

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9 Tripp Hollow Road ~ Brooklyn, CT 06234 USA


2/1/2016: Today I drove to a neighborhood where I saw a mailbox with a Confederate flag on it a few months ago. It was on Church Street here in Brooklyn. It’s gone. I’m happy. And, without knowing why (or that they even are), they’re happy, too.


Photographed 2/3/2016:

img_1548 141 Brooklyn Road ~ Canterbury, CT 06331 USA


Carpe Diem

Holy Christmas.

I cannot believe it’s been over a year since my last Blog post. Time really does fly.

My reason for taking a break was very intentional. My family is in the midst of litigation over the wrongful death of our father and it was suggested to us that we should be careful on social media. And so, because I was too lazy to look back at my first 50 posts to see if I had ever mentioned the defendants by name, I decided to pause.

F*** that.

It has been just over three years since dad passed away. And two and a half years since mom left us. And, if those losses were not enough, it has been just over one year since I was fired from a job I loved and my career was destroyed.

I decided a couple of weeks ago that I would start writing again, but I wasn’t sure where to start. Really. There is SO much to write about.

Back in the nineties I took some classes at a local community college. One was a course in public speaking and the professor had us keep a journal for the duration of the class. One of those black and white composition notebooks… a required one entry every day. Just one page. I was an adult in my thirties and I embraced the assignment. Others–mostly much younger than I–not so much. While they couldn’t think of things to write about, I couldn’t choose which things to write about.

Since I decided a couple of weeks ago that I would start writing again, I have not been able to calm the chaos in my head in order to choose a subject to write about.

What it’s like to be an “orphan” at 53 with no parents? What it’s like to have been fired from a job I loved, ending a career that was truly an answer to a calling, and, at the same time, being separated from an organization I believed in while in the midst of the most difficult time of my life?  What it’s like to create a new beginning and find complete joy? Racism and social injustice? Islamophobia and xenophobia? The tragedy of gun violence and the idiocy and paranoia around the 14th Amendment and the NRA? Planned Parenthood and the pro-life/pro-choice debate? The issue of police brutality and good cops vs. bad cops? “Happy Holidays” vs. “Merry Christmas?”

The list goes on. And on. And on and on and on…

Here’s the thing. No matter what the debate is; no matter how grim things look; no matter how many people I piss off; and no matter how many friends I lose… I am confident that my views are correct. My hope for humanity is real. My love for “the other” is true. And my dream of growing old in the crazy world we live in will be realized.

But, today, on a much smaller scale, this is the story I wish to share.

Several years ago, because of several wonderful women in my life, I decided to get a license to drive a motorcycle and I bought one. It was a love affair. I remember that I rode my bike to my mom’s apartment one night and while we had dinner together, I tired to explain how I felt about it.

“Let me put it this way. If I were to die on this bike, you can rest assured that I died happy.”

Well. That is not what mothers want to hear from their daughters.

But that is what I feel today. In the midst of the chaos in my head. I am in love with my life. I am in love with my friends and family. I am in love with the place I live. I am in love with how I spent the last 48 hours of my time.

And, truly… despite all of the issues that make me crazy and sad… if I were to not wake up tomorrow morning, my friends and family could rest assured that I died happy. And that I did my part.

Carpe diem.

(I actually wrote this Blog back in December 2015 and have no idea why I didn’t post it.)

 

A Purpose Driven Life

I know… there’s a book with a similar title. I own it. But like most books I own, I haven’t read it. It sits on a shelf with all of the other books recommended to me by well intentioned friends and family members. And, with good intention, like all of the other books I own, I bought it. I am just not a big reader. I blame it on my self-diagnosed “Adult ADD.”

If it is possible to digress in the first paragraph of a Blog post, I just did.

After my dad died in October 2012 and then mom in June 2013, I PLUNGED into the grieving process, beginning with the anger stage. The stages come to different people in different order and in very different ways. I was profoundly sad and terribly angry. For the first time in my life, I was really selfish. I took a close look at myself and decided that I could no longer be there for other people. Friends or family or coworkers. It was time to take care of me.

In more recent months, I have, many times, found myself thinking about how different the grieving process is for different people. Wondering if it might be easier for those who have a partner or spouse. Those who have children or grandchildren. Those who own a home. All wonderful distractions from “the process.”

And then I became acutely aware of how alone I was. No parents to worry about and love. No mom to take care of when she needed me. No siblings to be there for. No partner. No children or grandchildren. No home to call my own that I could bury myself in with projects. And, because I could already feel that things were changing at work, no security in my job.

I felt as though my life had no purpose.

Fast forward several months to when I received my horrible performance evaluation at work and ultimately “separation” from that position… I moved from feeling as though I had no purpose to not wanting to get out of bed in the morning. Feeling incapable of looking for a job, because, on top of my continued state of grief, I felt stripped of my self esteem and confidence. Feeling incapable of staying in a field of work that I love, because of this negative experience that came close to breaking my heart. As if the loss of my mom and dad had not already done that.

In my idle time, I have thought a lot about my “purpose.” I have read and reread my Blog posts about subjects that I feel passionately about. I have been very thoughtful about how I respond to controversial issues on Facebook… or don’t. I have given a tremendous amount of thought to what I would like to do for work in my next chapter. And I have come to realize that I NEED a purpose, if not several.

And I have come to realize that we all need to have a purpose. All of us. Including the poor, the mentally ill, and the disenfranchised.

We all need a purpose in this life. Or what’s the point?

We all need to feel needed, or what’s the point?

We all need to feel wanted, or what’s the point?

We all need to feel loved, or what’s the point?

Three weeks ago yesterday, I received an email from an organization offering a five week series of workshops in my field… beginning the next day. A field that I wasn’t sure I could return to, because of my emotional state following the loss of my parents and the loss of my job. Because G-d is good, I had the money to do it, so I signed up for all five workshops.

After the first workshop, I left feeling empowered. Like I knew as much as the presenter, if not more. And then I felt like I may very well have known as much as my most recent ex-boss, if not more.

Workshop two, I learned a shit ton.

Workshop three, today, like workshop one. I left feeling just a little cocky.

Two weeks ago yesterdy, having a strange surge of confidence, I re-joined an online dating service. That Tuesday I met someone who has proven to be a welcome addition to my life.

And in the past several weeks, I have spent quality time with two of my brothers and one of my nephews, around, but not limited to, the Thanksgiving holiday.

Purpose?

Meaningful work.

Romance and love.

The bond of a family.

We all need to feel like we have a purpose in this life. So if you already do, maybe you could help someone who doesn’t.

And maybe it’s time for me to read that book.

w r i t e r ‘ s BLOCK

When I started this Blog at the beginning of this year, I did it for two reasons.

First, I love writing.

Second, I needed a distraction. I felt like I was falling apart after my first holidays with both parents gone. I had asked for time off at Christmas time, but was denied because my boss was going to be out on maternity leave. It had been just over a year since dad died and just about six months since mom died. I wanted to run as far away from my reality as I could.

Writing helped.

Tomorrow marks seven weeks since I lost my job. Some days I am okay. Some days I feel strong enough to do the job search thing. Some days I bury myself in landscaping work for my landlords. Damn, they must love me right now. Some days I never get out of bed.

And some days I am just pissed off.

I have always been very careful on social media. I have never complained about my job, while employed. In fact, I am pretty sure the only negative reference I have made to a job was when I no longer worked for the “Spawn of Satan.” I have been very selective about who I invite into my personal life… nobody under 18 (mostly because I don’t want to know what they are up to); no parents, or students, or clients at work; no board members; and as of several months ago, no coworkers.

I believe in boundaries.

At the beginning of this year, I was made aware of a situation with a child I know. I learned more than I ever should have known. Boundaries were crossed and not by me. I tried to have conversations about this child with three different adults. Two were unavailable and one ignored my email in which I requested a meeting.

This child was clearly suicidal, if not homicidal.

So I wrote a Blog post. It was discreet, but clear. And I wrote to these three people who were too busy to listen, as well as two others, and pointed them to the Blog.

I got their attention.

The post stayed up for less than twelve hours. No harm done. But I created the beginning of my end at this job that I loved. That I LOVED. They assumed that my actions were related to my anxiety, depression, and profound sadness surrounding the loss of my parents.

Here’s the thing. I would do it all again. In a heartbeat. Because I have seen the clear signs of suicidal ideation far too many times. And I have known far too many people who have taken their own lives. I did the right thing. Had something happened to this beautiful young child or, G-d forbid, me and my coworkers, my conscience was clear. Very clear.

It was the beginning of my end at this job. This job that I LOVED.

When I was called in to a meeting on my last day, something I wrote in an unrelated Blog post was quoted. My “Labor Day” post, in which I stated that I was unhappy at work.

Isn’t it normal to be unhappy at work SOMETIMES?

They used that statement against me and ignored the part where I said I loved this job. And that is when I realized that I led them to stalk my Blog. Not because I am a good writer, but because they were looking for something. Anything.

And now, every time I go to write, I am stuck. Sort of “writer’s block,” but not really.

Blogging is not social media. In my humble opinion. It is an artistic outlet. A forum for writing about ones thoughts and views. A peaceful place for readers to consider what has been written and comment (or not).

So, to my Blog stalkers, I will say this. I loved this job. Contrary to what you believe, it was not a stressful job. It was a great job and I was really good at it. I was REALLY good at it. It was the ENVIRONMENT that was stressful.

You have brought me to my knees, in tears, unemployed at 52 years old and still dealing with my profound sadness at losing my mom and dad.

You have brought me to my knees, in tears, because you took away a job that I loved.

You have brought me to my knees, in tears, because you fired me three weeks after signing a lease and allowing me a “three month paid leave of absence” that will end right at holiday time.

You have brought me to my knees, in tears, but you will not stop me from writing about the people and things I love or the subjects I care about.

Writer’s block?

No.

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline

If Only

I had trouble naming this post. It could have been so many things, but I decided on “Happy Monday.”

Happy Monday?

Indeed not.

Today marks the first Monday, at age 52, that I have been among the ranks of the unemployed in nearly 40 years… if I count all of my jobs. At 12, I was baby sitting, delivering newspapers, and sometimes selling night crawlers to fishermen… back when fishing down at the Connecticut River was a popular activity in our (then) small town of Rocky Hill.

At 15, I continued with those jobs and added a job at the town’s Parks and Recreation Department. At 16, it was Parks and Rec and a local restaurant. At 18, my introduction to the insurance field and what would be my first career, while most of my friends were heading off to college.

Aside from one break several years ago, when I took some time off from work because of an episode of depression–short term disability under FMLA–I have not been unemployed since I was 12 years old. It goes back to that work ethic that was instilled in me by my parents.

G-d, I miss them so much.

It is hard to be sad from where I am sitting. Quite literally. I mean, look at this view.

image

I’m sitting on my landlords’ back patio right now, borrowing their WiFi signal. As if last Tuesday wasn’t traumatic enough for me, I woke up to a dead phone on Thursday, which is also my WiFi source.

I digress.

So why did I lose my job?

Well, I would like to share that story. But, like most stories, there are two sides to it. So, I will leave it at that. Except to say…

I was “unhappy with my job.” Well, I did say that in my Labor Day post… an 800 word post about the work ethic instilled in me by my parents and that is what stuck out.

The truth is, I loved this job. I loved the creative team I worked with and everyone there. And I loved the organization. But losing my dad on October 20, 2012, having my mom get sick in December of 2012, and then losing her on June 6, 2013… well, the loss of both of my parents in eight short months nearly destroyed me.

I thank G-d that the “irreconcilable differences”  I had with my family, turned out to be reconcilable. And I have good friends.

What next?

I looked at some job postings this past weekend and it made me sick. And angry. So I am going to take some time to mourn the loss of my parents, which I have not allowed myself to do.

I am going to enjoy this beautiful place I live and my two feline friends.

image

I am going to fix my motorcycle and get it back on the road.

image

 I am going to spend some time playing in the dirt in my landlords’ greenhouse.

image

And then I will look for a job. And if I don’t find one… well, my three month “paid leave of absence” will land me at December 15. Just in time for the holidays.

If only I had been able to take time off around the holidays last year, when I knew I needed it.

If only.

Labor Day

This post really has little to do with Labor Day, but then my last post really had little to do with Indpendence Day. They both have more to do with… well… life.

I think I have mentioned before that I have significant memory deficits. I can’t remember.

Kidding. But seriously.

We call our youngest brother a savant. Even though I’m not sure it’s really the right word. He remembers everything. His memory of childhood events is truly uncanny.

For me, I have few memories before age twelve, which I know full well is not a good thing. But the ones I have… or the ones that are brought back to life by my little brother… they are as vivid as if I were there right now.

Our dad was career Navy. He enlisted in 1942 at the age of seventeen and he served for thirty years. Then he had a few civilian jobs, then he worked for the Veterans Administration Hospital, and then he retired.

Mom worked for as long as I can remember, first as a waitress for many years and then in dental offices for many years. And then other jobs until she reached retirement age.

They both worked so hard and as tumultuous as our childhood was we wanted for nothing. Ever. And they instilled in us a strong work ethic.

One of my most vivid memories of my dad was when I was helping him wash his car one summer day. I remember telling him how much fun it was and he reminded me that it was “work.” I remember telling him that I hoped work would always be that much fun. I couldn’t have been much more than eight years old.

Another vivid memory I have is when dad bought a Wheel Horse riding lawnmower. I have crazy vivid memories of that machine. I remember that he bought it from Stewart’s Lawnmower in our hometown and I remember that it cost $800. A small fortune for he and mom. And I remember that my dad taught me to use it. I couldn’t have been much more than ten years old.

And then after mom and dad divorced, I continued to help out with lawn care, along with my other siblings. It was always fun for me… never work.

This shed, built by my step-father Ed, housed the Wheel Horse. It still stands in the back yard of our childhood home.

This shed, built by my step-father Ed, housed the Wheel Horse. It still stands in the back yard of our childhood home.

Fast forward forty years.

Nearly two years ago we lost our dad and less than fifteen months ago we lost our mom. They divorced when I was twelve. Mom always stayed in our home town until just a few years before she passed when she moved to the next town over. Dad retired to the south when I was a teenager. South Carolina for many years and then Georgia. Ironically, they both wound up in emergency rooms for bronchitis and neither of them were ever the same… due to a number of complications.

Three years ago, while mom and dad were still with us, I moved to Connecticut’s “Quiet Corner.” I was offered a job and was lucky to find a wonderful place to live. My home, a rental, is a 500 square foot cottage on twenty-six acres of land that I call “The Bungalow.” I have loved this job, but I have LOVED my home.

At the start of this summer, I offered to my landlords that I enjoy lawn work and I would be happy to help in any way I could. So I frequently help with the lawn mowing.

image

I think they think I am crazy.

These days, life is not easy. I thank G-d every day for good friends and family members who love me. And for “The Bungalow,” which is like going to a vacation cabin every day. But the sadness of losing my parents is overwhelming most days; work is not as great as it was…funny how losing both parents within eight months can have an impact on a performance evaluation; and my relationships with some family members… well, I have heard that sometimes families are not the same after the loss of parents.

Today… Labor Day… I had plans. But it was one of those days. I was overcome with sadness. Sad that my mom and dad are gone. Sad, in thinking about the history of Labor Day, that I am not happy in my job. Sad that there is, what I consider to be, irreconcilable differences with family.

So I lost myself in lawn mowing.

Work.

Fun.

Fun work.

All the while, thinking about mom and dad.

Crying about the loss.

Thinking about the work ethic they both instilled in me.

And smiling at the prospect of lawn care being my next career path.

Independence Day

image

It was the 4th of July, 1979. Day Pond State Park, right here in Connecticut. I was 17 and he was 15. Most of the family was there, including the then Brady-like blended family. That day… that moment… has always stayed with me. Vividly. Even with my memory deficits.

Some of us were at the picnic site getting the food ready and the others were down at the pond enjoying themselves. For our normally abnormal (or abnormally normal) family, it was all going really well.

My step-brother John came running to the picnic area to let mom know there was an accident.

“It’s Steven.”

I remember mom being impatiently sharp (or sharply impatient), in a scolding way. I don’t think she had a clue, at that moment, how serious the situation was. But for some reason… for some divine reason… I knew.

John pleaded for us to come and we all ran.

The time that followed seemed like an eternity. Seconds. Minutes. Hours?

Steven, who was a really good swimmer, because Elm Ridge Pool was our babysitter for many years, had taken a shallow dive into the pond. A running start from the beach. You’ve probably seen people do it a hundred times, if not more.

He was injured instantly. The degree of his original injury will never be known, because in 1979 nobody really knew the correct way to respond.

One thing is certain. When his spine was first damaged, he was floating paralyzed with his face in the water. Floating there, face down, motionless and unable to signal for help.

The “first responder” was our step-brother Mike, who flipped him over, essentially saving him from drowning. Whether or not flipping him contributed to the degree of damage will never be known and it’s a moot point. What matters is, he didn’t drown.

Sadly, the lifeguards did not have the appropriate equipment, so he was kept floating there, unstabilized, in shallow water until an ambulance arrived. There was no back board (or spine board) on site, so the lifeguards could not remove him from the water. But there was an angel… because there are always angels. A woman who was enjoying the holiday with her family helped out. She was a nurse.

Fast forward…

He survived the accident and a spinal fusion.

He did his rehab at Newington Children’s Hospital.

He had his driver’s license at 17, and was able to use mom’s car with the use of hand controls that could be easily removed for her.

Our little town of Rocky Hill rallied and had a walk-a-thon, which raised $8,000 to help out my mom with Steven’s bills. It was quite something… students, teachers, members of the community, local politicians, and radio personality Brad Davis. It was a really special day.

And that event was the beginning of Steven’s independence. My mom chose to buy him a car with the money. A Ford Fairmont. Some saw that as frivolous, but it was Steven’s first realization that he could be independent again; not trapped in the house relying on others. Having his own car returned him to some semblance of normalcy.

He graduated from high school in 1982–no delays.

He had his first apartment at 18.

He was the first of five kids to earn a Bachelor’s Degree.

And he works.

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When we were kids, I bullied Steven. As I was bullied. But I was relentless. I called him cruel names… we were all horribly horrible to each other. In our home, a blended family with a lot of kids and both parents working full time, it was survival of the fittest.

But when he injured himself, an angel came to me. Right at the moment John told us there had been an accident and it was Steven, I knew he was never going to walk again.

I just knew.

And from that moment on, we have had an unspoken special bond. Yes, we have our moments… as most siblings do. And I have been tough on him through the years, when others have felt sorry for him. But I know he knows that I love him unconditionally and that I am so proud of him. I know he knows I would do anything for him.

In 35 years, I have never heard him complain.

I have never heard him complain about the fact that normal bodily functions are laborious tasks.

I have never heard him complain that he has to get up at 4:00 a.m. to get himself up and ready for work at a job with “normal” hours.

I have never heard him complain about taking care of an apartment, cooking, shopping.

I have never heard him complain about what a pain in the ass it is to transfer his body into a car and then get that chair in with him.

I have never heard him complain about the many times he has wound up in the hospital with illnesses related to his paralysis.

I have never heard him complain about his severe sensitivity to heat, because with his spinal cord injury he also lost the ability to sweat.

I have never heard him complain about money, even in times when he needed a little help, because he lives on a limited income.

I have never heard him complain.

For the past 35 years the 4th of July has had a different meaning for me. It is still Independence Day, but it is about the independence that my brother Steven has achieved and maintained since that sad day back in 1979. It is a bittersweet day, so when people wish me a Happy 4th, I still get butterflies in my stomach and wish them a safe holiday, without explanation.

The chapters from then until now… only me and Steven could write them. Mom could have written a prize winner of a book… I wish she had.

I love you little brother and I am so proud of you. Happy 4th of July… and happy 35th anniversary. Happy Independence Day!

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Handicap Parking… a rant

Let me preface this one by warning you that my potty mouth may come out.

First and foremost, handicap parking is not and never was intended for lazy, inconsiderate pukes.

I just came off an amazing vacation week and I was sent right back to reality when I stopped at the local Dunkin’ Donuts shop where I saw an able bodied woman step out of her pickup truck to run in for coffee.

I kept my mouth shut.

I ordered my coffee and a breakfast sandwich, waited in line for them to be ready, and watched her walk to her truck and drive off.

By the time I left the building, another truck had parked in the same spot. If it hadn’t been covered with advertisements for the Ford dealership a few doors down, with a stereo blasting, I might have ignored it. But all I could think was… this person has the balls of a brass monkey.

I popped back into the DD, which was now very crowded, and asked, “Excuse me, who’s driving the Courtesy Ford truck?” And some schmuck actually raised his hand and identified himself.

I said, “Just wanted to let you know I took pictures of your truck in the handicap parking space and I’m gonna pop in to show your manager.

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So I got in my car, drove a few doors down, parked my car, and walked in to a cheerful guy sitting at the reception desk.

When he asked how I was, I let him know that I was just a little cranky and I  told him, as several sales people listened in because it was an early hour and there were no customers, that I would like to talk to a manager.

He offered to help me and I said, “Sure. I just wanted to let the manager know that one of your vehicles is at Dunkin’ Donuts parked in handicap parking with the stereo blasting and the store name plastered all over the vehicle.”

I continued with, “Very uncool and really bad for business.” And I left.

Really, what is it that makes able bodied people feel like it’s okay to park in handicap parking?

Recently I pulled in to the Post Office in town and the lot was packed. A guy proceeded to park in the striped part of the handicap space and I said something. He challenged me, stating that wasn’t part of the handicap space. Um. Really?

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I try not to judge, but we really are surrounded by lazy, inconsiderate people.

Why is this issue so disturbing to me? For starters. My 50 year old brother has relied on the use of a wheelchair for 35 years and relies on the availability of a good, wide parking space. And one of my best friends has severe mobility issues as the result of MS. She also relies on the availability of these parking spaces.

And then there are people in my life who would easily qualify for a permit, but they know that others need them more. Our mom was a lung cancer survivor with severe arthritis, COPD, and CHF, and she refused to use handicap parking.

Here’s the thing people, laziness and inconvenience do not entitle you to that parking space.

Period.

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Chase is Not Homeless

It seems to be an ongoing theme for me… homelessness. But let me tell you, Chase is not homeless. He told me so.

I’m vacationing in Garden City, South Carolina. Our dad lived here for thirty years or so and it holds a special place in my heart. And what a great vacation it has been. For Memorial Day Weekend, I got to spend time with my sister Cindy and her husband Joe; her son Eric and his wife Jessica and their twin five year old daughters, Izzy and Gabby; and my nephew Jake and his fiance Courtney. They’ve all gone home, but I don’t have to be home until Saturday.

We all got here on Friday at different times, coming from different places and on Saturday morning most of us went out to breakfast… the very place I am sitting at right now, writing this post.

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Me and my family members are nosey… it could either be a nature thing or a nurture thing. Both parents were the kind you would like to have for neighbors; always having an eye on everyone else’s business.

That morning I was sitting at the counter eating my bacon and eggs, grits, and toast, when I noticed one of the staff members talking to a man at the door. All I heard was, “I was hoping I could stop in once a day for a beer and a hot dog.” And then he left and she went back to work.

I could tell my sister Cindy saw it, too, but neither of us really knew what happened.

After breakfast we all left and popped in to a couple of shops. But Cindy noticed I kept looking to the end of the street in the direction I thought he had gone. She handed me some money and I walked to the corner and found him.

I asked him if he was homeless and he said, “No, I’m looking for a place to live.” He didn’t share much, except that he had lived in Myrtle Beach for a long time, but got fined for an “open container” and was broke from the hefty fine. He shared that he was disabled and lived on a limited income.

He never asked for a hand out but, between Cindy and I, we gave him $20.

On Sunday, I ran to the store to get some laundry detergent and I ran into him again. We talked more. He shared that some fishermen gave him some fish they had caught and that he would be grilling it. He also shared that he was living at a campground.

Most people don’t know this, but campgrounds have maximums on the length of time you can pitch your tent, because it’s an affordable way for the poor and/or homeless to live in a decent climate. I learned that when I worked for the emergency food pantry in Rhode Island.

Huntington Beach State Park here in South Carolina has a 42 day maximum, which is generous. But it’s not cheap. Twenty-four dollars a night with his discount for being disabled. If you reach the maximum, you can go back after seven days.

After chatting for a few minutes, I went along my way. As I walked away he thanked me again for helping him out the day before. I wished we could have done more.

Last night I went back to a place we hung out at a lot this past weekend; Murrell’s Inlet. And I wound up at a place I hung out with my nephews, niece-in-law, and soon to be second niece-in-law on Saturday night. I was drinking beer, sitting in a rocking chair looking at the water, and listening to some really great live music. A woman named Elizabeth sat next to me and we had a great time chatting. Though I really think she was eyeing my rocking chair.

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And then, as we’re sitting there chatting, here comes my NOT homeless friend again. Mind you, I was in a totally different town.

I watched him as he went and sat at a table on the patio, just at the edge of the sidewalk out of everyone’s way. I excused myself and told Elizabeth I was going to buy him a beer. With the understanding that the rocker was mine.

Well, when I walked up to him, he was just as blown away at seeing me again as I was at seeing him. These are tourist towns. Three times in four days. What are the odds?

There are no coincidences.

I offered to buy him a beer and he thanked me and said, “How about a Coke?”

I got him a Coke, chatted for a minute, and went back to re-claim the rocker. But I kept looking back at him enjoying the music, hoping nobody would chase him out.

About an hour later, he came over to where I was sitting. He thought Elizabeth was my sister and he wanted to thank her for helping him out on Saturday. I invited him to sit in the chair between us. Elizabeth embraced him and we all chatted for quite a while.

His name was Chase. I learned a lot about him, including the fact that this restaurant wouldn’t serve him a hot dog and a beer, because his ID was expired. What a great way to weed out the riff raff. He was 36 years old, but they wanted identification before they would serve him a beer. It reminded me of back in the eighties when bars would post a sign that said they required three forms of photo ID. If they didn’t like the way you looked, they would point at the sign. Nobody has three photo IDs. And most homeless people don’t have driver’s licenses.

What a wonderfully humble, sweet man. But he wasn’t homeless.

Finally Elizabeth left and then I felt like I should get going. So I left and he went back to his little corner seat out of everyone’s way.

I headed toward my car, paused, and circled back to where he was sitting. I said, “Chase, you have been a very important part of my vacation and I would like to take a picture with you.” He stood right up, and I asked a gentleman at the next table if he would take our picture.

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Chase is not homeless. He told me so.