"The world does not reward honesty and independence, it rewards obedience and service. It’s a world of concentrated power, and those who have power are not going to reward people who question that power."-Chomsky

"The trouble with self-delusion, either in a person or a society, is that reality doesn't care what anybody believes, or what story they put out. Reality doesn't "spin." Reality does not have a self-image problem. Reality does not yield its workings to self-esteem management." -J.H. Kunstler

"You don't need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows."-Dylan

Sunday, June 28, 2009

6/28/09: An Afternoon With Dad

Shelly and Chris had reconnected in Delta and as I waited for them to pick me up for this Sunday meeting, I was simply ready to get on with it. The thought, "Why does this have to be such a production?" was foremost in my mind, plus I was interested to see how the three of us would interact and see how it would compare to our brief meeting in 2000.

We deposited Chris at the place of his own choosing, the woods, then Shelly & I made the 40- minute drive toward Marshall, chatting about how we had gotten where we are and the possibilities of where we were all going now as adult siblings. It has been obvious from the beginning and more so as time went on, that there were cavernous inconsistencies between assumptions, realities, and expectations. Who knew what? Whom had talked with whom? My one hope for the afternoon was to annihilate these gaps, and be sure that the three of us at least were on the same page so as to be able to act from a position of fact. If I could somehow do that, I would be happy.

We arrived at the restaurant in Marshall ten minutes early for our 2:30 meeting. As 2:45 came and went, there was still no sign of him. We couldn't imagine him just standing us up but I confess: the thought entered my conspiratorial little mind! Shelly began making calls and discovered that there had been a mix- up on the time! He had arrived at 1:00 and apparently sat there for an hour, leaving 20- minutes before we arrived. He had gotten rid of his cell phone, so had no way to contact us on the way up. He was not pleased! Great.

Shelly was not giving up. She asked him straight out if we could just drive up to his house in Charlotte. As she was asking, I was cringing. I didn't like this idea! It felt like I was invading someones home, but to my amazement he was fine with the idea. It was up to me. This was a surprisingly difficult decision in the sense that despite the effort I had put in and that this may be my last opportunity, there was an urge to "cower to the moment", and just let it go. To my credit, I caught myself and saw it as it was happening. I had berated a perceived "lack of courage" just the day before, and now was on the verge of providing my own example of just that, and my very own "glaring hypocrisy." It's easier to be critical from the outside, isn't it?

For my own self- respect I HAD to do this, and I needed to do it for Shelly. After a quick beer, we were off to Charlotte. The rest of the drive was light hearted, even loose. It quickly became apparent how silly this all was, and I resolved to just have fun. Neither Pam nor his wife, Mary, were at home so it would just be the three of us having a nice little visit. I also figured he's be in his element; perhaps a bit more relaxed than the guy who was "sitting at the end of the bar drinking beer" as the waitress put it. That could help ease things a bit.

My father is an ex-Marine who has recently retired after running various DHL terminals for a number of years. I was just slightly nerved up as we arrived, but that quickly evaporated as we walked in the door. I shook his hand, told him it was nice to see him again as he smiled and returned the compliment. There was no obvious tension as the three of us went out to the back yard and began chatting. He did, however, seem a bit at a loss for things to say, as you can probably imagine. What do you say to a son you have spent less than an hour with, and that being 8-years ago? It was rather comical when he asked "What are you doing these days, Todd?" My typical response seemed a bit inadequate, so I quickly stumbled through the basic answer of "Threw my stuff in a backpack and am traveling around." He had NO idea what to do with that, and I'm glad! But, through that, I quickly discovered that we have a couple of significant common interests. The topics of traveling and New Mexico gave us the opportunity to get to a comfort zone.

Norv owns an RV and loves the southwest; New Mexico in particular. He and Mary have a spot in Las Cruces that they like to visit and he claims that he would retire there if Mary would. Our shared affinity for New Mexico goes beyond that, and is on the edge of creepy. He told of a trip he had taken through it as a young man, and how he had just gotten "hooked by it." Something that has stayed with him for the rest of his life. I then chuckled as I recounted how in 1998 I had taken a drive from Des Moines to Phoenix, through Santa Fe, and been completely hooked. "I WOULD move there one day!" And I did, in 2004. Don't laugh too hard! There's a "frequency" about New Mexico; one that grabs A LOT of people and just wont let go. These are just two examples of a story that's repeated surprisingly often. He's also not all that impressed with Santa Fe beyond what he called "Old Town"; the area around the Plaza where the Santa Fe Trail ends. I didn't ask, but I doubt this old Marine has much to offer the pretentious, bourgeoisie hippies on Canyon Road either!

While he was showing and narrating the picture DVDs, I learned that he had stayed in Espanola while I was literally living 5- miles away in Pojoaque. He had been driving on US-285 within 1/10 of a mile of my house. Visiting Buffalo Thunder Casino. As I saw his pictures of the Santa Fe Plaza, church, and the Palace of the Governors on his TV, it struck me how insane this whole drama REALLY has been. Really, why are we here? That would be for Shelly and I to discuss on the drive home. We wrapped up our visit by watching the Tigers beat the Astros on a Brandon Inge 9th-inning home run. I thought that was fitting too, sitting on the couch chatting baseball. It happened that he was planning on being in Colorado in August, so I offered my connections at Coors Field to get tickets if they make it to Denver. Norv had said he was contemplating extending that trip up to Boise, also in August. I told him to keep an eye out for a big red and black backpack. I think he thought I was serious, that made me chuckle a bit!

After a tour of the RV and snapping the first and ONLY pictures of us together, I got permission to get his email addy then Shelly and I were headed back to Hillsdale. Getting those pictures meant a lot to me, as did the fact that he let me come into his home. That's not something to be taken for granted, and showed me something. I had been mischievously praying to Jeebus that Pam would happen home just to see the look on her face. Alas, Jeebus would have none of my shenanigans.

There were times during the nearly 3- hours that he had the look of a man who wanted to say something. That something obviously wasn't "get the hell out of here!", and for whatever reason just couldn't quite do it. Quite honestly, it spoke volumes as it was. I can only speculate what these "things" were, but the looks occasionally reminded me of Chris's father that afternoon in Springfield. The conversation was relegated to the superficial, but for once with me that was fine. It was great for what it was, and I learned quite a bit.

Shelly and I went to Arby's to make up for our missed lunch, then had much to talk about on the way home. I told her that we had just done something very significant, and that it was shared experiences like these that turn "siblings" into "brothers & sisters." It had occurred to me that exactly that had just happened. Shelly was beaming, and was thrilled that we had some success while I was here. Norv had shown her something, too and she appeared to have gained a new level of respect and affection for him. I was happy to see that, and glad that I was perhaps serving more of a purpose than that of the "Classroom Disturbance!" More on that to come...

We continued our exercise in pasting together the growing pieces of information, and I decided that I'd use this new email address to be sure that he knew exactly what had been going on since 1994. Who met whom when, etc. Shelly and I had begun to draw the conclusion that he was possibly in the dark over exactly what was happening beneath his feet. I wasn't going to perpetuate that. Plus, I wanted to show a bit of the "respect of direct honesty" after the man had let me into his home.

Once Chris was picked up, we said goodbye to Shelly again, for the 4th or 5th time! We quickly stopped in to let my mother know how it had gone, and soon Chris and I were on our way to Bobby's to let things sink in. Bob was at work all night, so the two of us sat around a small fire drinking beer and chatting about what had happened not only today or the past month, but the totality of events since April 13th. This phase was seemingly closing down, and from the Veggie Bus to today it had exceeded even our lofty expectations. If we are not even three months in, imagine the next 12!

It seemed that I should now be free to head west, but we both noticed a sense that we weren't quite done just yet. For once, we noticed the sense of limbo as it set in, and it felt centered around Wednesday. We decided to do a little experiment, and just relax for the week to see what happened, if anything, on Wednesday. We even told people about it beforehand, just in case...

Saturday, June 27, 2009

6/22- 6/27/09: Relaxation & Regression

This week was as close to a time machine as I'll see in my lifetime. Chris had stayed in Ohio to frolic solo, so I was back in Hillsdale alone staying with Bobby with no real ties to my current life, except for my backpack. It was funny to see my old habits take over as I essentially let go and re-immersed in the enigma that is Hillsdale. It was out of the question to stay with my mother after the week before, so the time warp was completed by staying at Bobby's house, playing softball, and drinking beer. A lot of beer.

One troubling aspect of this month was the frequency in which I was drinking. Another was the amount of money I was spending. The two were closely linked. The drinking was all in good fun, but there were indications that it was also in small part due to the fact that I was having trouble coping with the intensity of all the events of the month. My entire concept of who I was and where I had come from was steadily changing, and integrating all of this was understandably difficult, but it bothered me that I chose alcohol as a means to cope. Never a good sign. On the bright side, there was no drama, nor were there any Random Acts of Stupidity! Just good times reminiscing with friends, smoking cigarettes and suffering hangovers.

Summer finally arrived in full force with temps in the mid-90's and Monday and Tuesday were spent playing softball. After three games in two days, I realized just how young I wasn't anymore. I was fine while playing, but as it was with baseball, my recovery time was pathetic! Thank God for ibuprofen and beer. It felt good to be playing ball again, and I ran into many people I hadn't seen in years. Softball it seems has replaced the bars as the social mechanism of the area. The softball fields are now where you go to see people, and there are many to choose from. I finally got to spend a little time with my cousin, Dewey, who along with his father was the first person from my father's side of the family to actually embrace me as "family." They did this way back in 1996, and for that simple fact I will always respect the hell out of them. Several of my old teammates now have wives and children, and a few have aged drastically! It was at times a sad, sobering reminder of just how much time has passed.

I had also quit eating... again. I've been battling weight loss the since leaving New Mexico at 165#. Toward Wednesday, I was noticing an extreme lack of energy, headaches, and dizziness. Obvious symptoms of malnutrition, but I had simply forgotten about food!! How the hell does that happen? By Wednesday, I was getting ridiculously close to 150# (153#), looked like a corpse, and had had enough of this folly. I began eating everything I could get my hands on! My weight fluctuates wildly at times, and by Saturday had "ballooned" to 157#...still too fucking scrawny for me. Hard to believe I was 200# in 2006.

Thursday night was spent around another bonfire. I was paid a visit by another blast from the past in the form of Ian. We had a nice chat and it was fun, except for the fact that after Ian had left, I was thrown in Bob's son's wading pool. With the heat and humidity I probably would have enjoyed it, except for the fact that my cell phone was in my pocket. I initially thought I had just soaked it, but when it dried out the next day, I discovered that I had also shattered the LCD screen. Not only could I not use my phone, but I had also lost all of my contacts! This...was not good. Luckily, Bob had a spare Sprint phone lying around, so after a quick trip to the local Sprint store I had a phone again. The other phone works fine now, I just cant navigate it except to play mp3's. Hopefully the contacts can be retrieved Monday.

Friday night I spent with Dave & Bonnie eating pizza at Baw Beese Lake, traipsing thru my mother's abandoned house, and chatting up folks at the bowling alley. Through Dave, I learned some of the methods that people are using to cope in the economic cataclysm that is Michigan. Many people are telling the system to go fuck itself. They're trading labor while working for straight cash for friends; friends that wont outsource their jobs to Mexico. I had also heard about a state "re-education" program for "displaced" manufacturing workers. The problem is that they only "re-educate" people in what they deem to be "approved vocations." These "approved vocations" are, to a great extent, service industry fields and when I heard "approved vocations" I immediately thought of the old Soviet Union. That was a nice visit, and I'm glad I got to spend a decent amount of time with them. Again, too much time had passed.

This was a nice, relatively calm week that served as a place holder for bigger events to come, and reminded me a bit too much of the good ol' days! By the time Saturday rolled around, I was mentally preparing to head west after the meeting with my father. I have been here throughout the month of June, and had a great time. I even toyed with the idea of sticking around until my class reunion on 7/18 and trying to use some contacts to find temporary cash work, but in the end decided against it. It's time to refocus and get back to the task at hand...whatever that may be.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

6/21/09: Father's Day Surprise

It didn't take long to figure out what was going on behind the scenes while I lingered in this apparent state of limbo. Shelly and I had a candid talk on the way back to Michigan about my willingness to hang around and make myself available if there was some sort of solid, specific meeting set up. I was pretty clear however that, after 3-weeks, it was time to move forward and that I was mentally moving on. I was quite content with the effort she and I had put forth, and if nothing came out of it I could tell my kids I did everything I could when they asked about their grandfather.

Then, on Father's Day I received an excited call from Shelly saying that she had had a chat with our father, and that he had agreed to get together with the two of us. They had already set up the day, time, location. No more asking, speculating, or wondering. It was done. She had apparently called him to wish him a happy Father's Day and decided to try one last time. If I recall correctly, she explained that I was here backpacking, leaving relatively soon, had met Lynn's kids, and was going to make my way toward their house in Boise next to meet her. This fact appeared to pique his interest, and may have made him realize that I have been swimming awfully close to his feet, so to speak. It may have also made him understand just how much had gone on, presumably without his knowledge. I can't say for sure. All I can say is that Shelly's hard work had finally paid off...if he didn't cancel!

When I told my mother about this, and again tried to explain my attitude toward it (with limited success this time), she also pointed out that in all likelihood he has no idea of the effort I've put in due to the prevailing silence that runs thru the non-Shelly/Lynn part of the family. Another factor may have been Skip. Kelle had told me the week before that he and my dad had sat down and had lunch just a day or two prior. This was the first conversation they had had in something like five years, despite living in close proximity. Perhaps he's beginning to realize some things himself? Again, I don't know.

The overall feel of this meeting is much different than in 2000. If you tuned in late, that 20-minute conversation is the only contact we've ever had. At that time I was understandably nervous, and hoping to make a good impression. I thought the meeting went well, and at times could even be described as "warm" yet, ever since, there's been nothing. This time nerves are not a factor. It's almost as it was meeting Shelly a month ago: "It's about time." Rather than being preoccupied by impressions, the tables are turned. I hold no expectations beyond dinner, and consider it to be up to him to show that there's hope for a relationship that means anything. For once, I hope my cynicism is misplaced! Yet, I can't help but wonder if he's simply pacifying us to make Shelly's questions go away.

That being said, this is a big step for him and shows something. He could have easily continued to ignore the overtures and gotten off the hook one final time. The idea that he chose not to do that says a lot in and of itself, and I'm sure was not an easy thing to do. He has a great opportunity to lead and serve as an example to his kids and grand kids... almost all of which know the truth anyhow. We'll see how it goes.

Monday, June 15, 2009

6/12-6/15/09: "A Moment of Realization is Worth a Thousand Prayers"

Ben & Brad had insisted on coming to Shelly's house in Ohio on their way to the Detroit airport Friday to see her cats. Shelly had lived in Boise for a short of time and they had gotten to know Baz the Cat pretty well. There wasn't a lot of time, but having lunch was nice sendoff , and it was good to hang around them a bit more before they returned to Idaho. I let them know that Boise was on my list of places, and that I'd see them again before they went back to school in the fall.

My primary goal for this entire Michigan visit was to be sure that I left with no questions to be asked, even if the answers came via omission. I like to use the analogy "Water thru the Pipe". Put enough pressure behind it, you'll find the cracks. I intended to make myself as available as I could, and make every effort to allow people show their character; good or bad. A clear choice would be given, and we'd see what they'd decide.

Shelly was the catalyst for this, and unfortunately for her, she was also on its emotional roller coaster. She had been hoping to set up a couple of reunions over the weekend, still holding out hope for at least the two of us having dinner with our father. There was also new, rather unexpected hope surrounding our oldest brother, Skip. She had contacted Skip's wife, Kelle, and learned that she herself was considering trying to contact her own "long lost" brother, who had been given up for adoption. Kelle was very interested in finding him, and since this was something that was happening in his own world at the same time, it seemed possible that Skip would be in the right mindset to meet me. Kelle agreed to chat with him, and as Saturday approached, we were waiting to hear the verdict.

This felt quite familiar, and it had a familiar ending. When Kelle relayed to Shelly that Skip "wasn't too keen on the idea" it set off a domino effect of realization. This was the final piece of the puzzle. I seemingly had everything I needed to finally begin drawing long overdue conclusions, and they were based on reality as opposed to speculation. It would appear that despite the fact we share DNA, I had missed out on very little growing up other than an emotionally barren desert! Despite all the talk of "getting together" before I had left New Mexico I had heard nothing from Pam or Kim, and now had since been given a stiff arm by both my father and brother. It was becoming clear who I was (or wasn't!) dealing with and, while painful on a base level, it was also clear that I was indeed "the lucky one" to have been spared the baggage. Despite proclamations of "victimization" by my father's "inability to communicate and deal with them" they were themselves in fact that "mirror" of what they claimed to hate. That hypocrisy was blinding, and my questions about who these people are were finally being answered. At this point, I was totally unimpressed beyond Shelly, Lynn, and her boys.

Surprisingly, with this realization came a stunning freedom. With the bar set this low, it's much easier to take what I've gotten, move on, and attribute the disappointment to the simple fact that the rest suffer from an emotional, even human, deficiency that has nothing to do with me. It also further solidified another growing realization about the "American Dream" and the fairytale concept of "family" and, more importantly, "normal." We've been fed an idea that we're supposed to live up to the impossible standard of "Father Knows Best", "Little House on the Prairie", or any number of these other images of the happy, tranquil, "normal" little family. Some families function better than others, to be sure, but dig deep enough and I believe you'll ultimately see thru the illusions, walls, and fronts. Ward cheats on June, Wally likes Meth, and I'll bet the Beaver is a cutter. The wholesome, perfect family is wholesome, marketed bullshit. Worse yet, it's as unattainable as Barbie Doll physique.

These notions of "normal" result in outrageous expectations, and a sense of failure when you don't quite measure up. "Normal" is a Hollywood production that is marketed, then sold, to keep us chasing the unachievable: a faux idea of "happiness", and where it comes from while at the same time exploiting simple human imperfection and insecurity. I'll let you infer as to who benefits when the masses are chasing ghosts, and some will say that's cynical. I'd counter that quashing these "Notions of Normal" is liberating and the first steps toward freedom. It allows you to be happy with the best YOU can be and accept who YOU are. What better path to happiness and contentment than doing the best YOU can, accepting your faults, and telling "normal" to fuck off?

Another surprising realization was that with this acceptance came an unexpected level of forgiveness. I was disappointed, yet no one' s perfect. I believe that when we can accept the fact that every family unit, every human being is flawed, imperfect, and that "normal" doesn't exist, then we can on some level even APPRECIATE the flaws each of us have INCLUDING our own. In my case, I began to sympathize rather than feeling victimized and, after a day of self pity, I felt some long-held anger finally begin to subside and that old, familiar hole actually begin to fill. I never understood the Buddhist philosophies on forgiveness and ego better than at the moment I realized this was happening.

I was also, for one of the very few times in my life quite proud of who I have become. I had shown courage and conviction in this case and had shown character that has been missing from the rest of that family, save Shelly and Lynn. I had offered myself up, risking the likelihood of another painful rejection, in a relentless pursuit for "Truth." Vitam Impendere Vero. "Facing fear is the beginning of wisdom." That Bertrand Russell!

I felt very bad for Shelly, however. It dawned on me (after my little pity party, of course!) that she was taking this very hard. She knows her family is far from perfect, but I believe she had hoped that this month would provide an opportunity for some healing, and steps toward being a bit more of a functioning unit. With my father's unwillingness to have me at the BBQ, Pam & Kim's blatant indifference, and now Skip's failure to respond, she was resigned to the fact that it probably wasn't going to happen. Once I could see the forest thru the trees, I saw that she had shown an incredible amount of courage herself and risked many of the same feelings of rejection and failure that I had. She showed an extreme, rare character, and I hoped that she would take a sense of pride out of that. I myself was very proud to have her for a sister, even though in my self-absorbed, burnt out mental state, I was incapable of showing it very well!

The rest of the weekend was quite uneventful, as I typically isolated myself as I processed everything, and resisted the urge to write (vent) on it until the dust had settled in my mind. As the weekend concluded, I had a sense of closure and it began to feel as though I was ready to move on. To put a neat bow on everything, I sent a Facebook friend request to the last remaining sibling, my younger brother Mike. He was the last one I had yet to contact, and I didn't want to say to myself later "what if."

The "Michigan Adventure" seemed to have played itself out, but we had made arrangements with Shelly to be around her place again the following weekend. That genuinely felt like overkill at this point, but there was still no clear path as to how else proceed. Chris and I decided to go back to Hillsdale for the week to goof around and see if there were more things that needed to play out--as is usually the case when we seem to be in limbo. Sometimes, we need to sit down, shut up, and let other people live their lives for a bit! We did get a huge laugh when I started receiving pictures from Ben highlighting his flight home! He was, indeed, getting his $100 worth!

Thursday, June 11, 2009

6/11/09: Three New Nephews

Shelly had not seen my mother since she was a little girl, and I was maybe a year old. Our mother's had remained friends and had brought her, Lynn, and Skip to our house periodically after my mother and our father had parted company. There was never any indication given that I was anymore than "their mother's friend's kid" throughout their childhood. Shelly finally was let in on the fact when she graduated and my mother sent her a card with a "Santa Picture" of me. My mother had tried to get me to go to the ceremony, but at 10 there was no way I could. I'm not sure why to this day.

The plan for Thursday was to surprise Mom by having Shelly come up to say hi. It wasn't completely out of surprise nostalgia. I've cut ties with one of the sisters I was raised with and, since she lives in the area and my mother likes to subversively plan "coincidental visits", I wanted to be sure that there were no unexpected knocks while we were there. Despite the fact that I had made it quite clear I didn't want to see this other sister, I was not all that sure it would not happen anyhow, especially if she was planning on Shelly to be there. It was quite a nice little reunion. As I've mentioned, my mother has fond memories of Shelly and it appeared that they had quite a bit to talk about, although I am sure it was a bit odd for both! Chris and I ducked out for coffee to give them a few minutes to chat, and before long we were snapping pictures and heading toward Mosherville to do The Family Tour.

My grandmother was essentially the matriarch of this tiny hamlet north of Jonesville. Mary had been the post master, apparently owned a lot of property, and ran the general store. It was neat hearing Shelly reminisce, adding to the fragmented information on her family's past that I had been given through the years. Our grandmother had known exactly who I was growing up, and we would cross paths occasionally, albeit rarely. The only significant memory I have of her is an event at the fairgrounds when I was 14 or so. She simply sat there, staring what seemed like daggers the entire time. Not my mother. At me. What stuck with me was that it wasn't as much disdain in her eyes as it was shock and perhaps realization. Judging by my resemblance to her son, there was probably no further doubt in her "old school" mind that, yes, I was her grandson. At least in the DNA sphere of things! I'm quite certain of this but, despite the obvious, we never had a single, solitary conversation before she died in 2001 or 2002.

Ben, 16, and Brad, 14, are Lynn's kids who were coincidentally visiting from Idaho and staying at their Grandmother Charlotte's house south of Quincy. They had only found out that they had another uncle the week before and, from what I heard, asked Lynn, "How can you have a brother that you've never met?" I thought that was a great, brilliantly simple question and apparently so did Lynn's husband. Dave suggested that they "ask their grandfather" when they got here! Although Lynn did not encourage such shenanigans, and I know next to nothing about Dave, I immediately began to like him! Shelly had made arrangements to meet the boys at Charlotte's house, then grab some food and make a trip to Angola, Indiana to meet her 24-year old son, Travis, at his place. Three new nephews in about 3-hours.

Ben and Brad have had some upbringing. As we walked into the living room, Ben stood up to greet me and shake hands. I was surprised and impressed by this considering the fact that he's just 16. Brad seemed a bit taken aback, and I felt a bit sorry for him. It had been quite a week for them considering they had also been reunited with "new" cousins and their Uncle Skip who had not been a part of their lives. I could genuinely empathize with him. These two had a different aire about them. They put off a completely different vibe. It's a vibe that I can't quite explain other than to say it lacked the "implied, silent negativity" that I'd grown accustomed to over 15 years of on and-off dealings with Pam & Kim.

As we slowly became acquainted, the conversation turned to their airline experience. Ben is old enough to fly by himself, but Brad isn't. This meant that Lynn had to pay an extra $100 to have them chaperoned airline-style. This equates to be shoved in a little room between flights with a cooler full of Apple Juice, and the Disney Channel on a TV. Chris and I encouraged them to milk it for everything they could to get their $100 worth, including demanding a full tour of the airports, depriving the airline of ALL their Apple Juice, and getting some pictures of the cockpit. I suggested that Ben ask the pilot if he "liked movies about Gladiators" or if he had "been in a Turkish prison." The references went over their heads, but Chris and I got a nice laugh out of it! Charlotte seemed unamused. Hopefully, she's seen the movie because that could have sounded a bit odd, but something tells me I would enjoy toying with Charlotte a bit anyhow!!

Angola is a quick 20-30 minute drive from Coldwater, and we were to Travis' house by early evening with subs in hand. I had hoped we'd be able to connect while I was here. Travis is doing quite well for himself working as a FedEx driver, and has bought a house with his girlfriend in a little subdivision out in the Indiana countryside. They have a huge yard, and got it dirt cheap because of foreclosure. Travis is a big, quiet guy, but has a good sense of humor and a calm almost gentle demeanor about him. Also joining the party was Kirsten, Shelly's step daughter from a previous marriage. Kirsten is a short (fun- sized according to her!), pretty, bundle of energy! Very outgoing and easy to chat with. I was glad that she took the time to come out there; I'm not sure the next time we'd all be in the same place!

All told, this was quite an experience. For the most part, I just quietly sat there watching taking in the scene, trying to appreciate the moment. It was interesting to think back just six months and realize just how much has changed! I have added two sisters, three nephews, and in addition Shelly had been busy trying to contact my older brother, Skip, to see if he wanted to meet up Saturday. Shelly doesn't mess around!

The ride back to Delta was intermittently quiet, then chatty. I had begun to get a bit overwhelmed, especially during the "down times" when my brain goes guano. It was beginning to show. The mental fallout of the past 11-days had been staved by activity, but as this weekend in Delta would show, that was about to abruptly end.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

6/6-6/10/09: Home Again

"Avoiding Hillsdale like Herpes" was an understatement. I had tried several times with limited success to "escape" in the years after high school, only to inevitably find myself right back where I started with just a few new anecdotes. I knew I would have to get out eventually, naturally assuming that it was Hillsdale that made me miserable. Typical victimist thinking, but it served the purpose of motivating me to get a bit creative with my "escape" methods and helped me to stumble on a vocation: radio. In 1994 I went off to broadcasting school in Detroit, and after yet another return, found myself 'freed' for good in early 1997 after my radio career finally got going. Since then, the visits have been rare with the exception of 2000, when among other things I decided to try playing softball with old friends-until getting my night show ended that.

Returning has always been like watching the videotape of a night of heavy drinking: cringing repeatedly! Everywhere I turned, it seemed that there were reminders of the levels of douchebaggery I had reached while there. I still had a few friends around, but as we steadily lost contact, I tried to resign myself to the notion that I would ultimately be one of those who just vanished, except for the few people who knew the station I was on and the stage name I used. My mother had never left so I would make a few trips every year, but it was more like a tactical strike with a specific target. I was always mindful not to stray "off course" and of getting out as quickly as I could! This has been the case for the past nine years, and the visits had dwindled to maybe once a year since I moved out of Michigan in 2004.

Another particularly interesting side note, and one that I'm reluctant to mention, is that I have had recurring dreams about Hillsdale, involving friends, forgotten acquaintances, my house, softball, and odd, seemingly random places for years. Places that had made no sense, like an unfamiliar bar on a lake somewhere down US-12 toward US-127. And, these dreams were so common, like 4-6 times a week at times, that they became downright annoying. "Why the hell am I always dreaming about that place!!" I mentioned it to my girlfriend a couple years ago, but none of it made any sense. I had never considered returning to the area for any real period of time until I connected with Shelly in February of this year. That too had some odd, weird circumstances. More on that at another time, but as Chris and I entered Michigan for the first time, the first of these little premonitions, or deja vu, began making themselves apparent.

Following the week with Brian, I tried to keep low expectations for this visit. I had been in touch with my friend Bob for about a week, and while he seemed just as I remembered, I was wondering how we'd interact these days. And, I was curious to get Chris' take on all of this. He had very little background on where I had come from, and it wasn't lost on me that there may be a vast, unexplained gap between the person he knows, and the guy that my old friends remember. I too was quite interested in gaining an outsider perspective and especially to see my own reaction to the new, familiar atmosphere. My emotional reactions are always a fucking case study in the unexpected!

Sean dropped us off, snapped some pictures, and as soon as Bob & I said hi it was clear that little had changed with him. Bob's like an old pair of comfortable boots, for lack of a more flattering description! He's a bighearted, generous, friendly, loyal guy. Perhaps one of the two most loyal friends I have. I was quite grateful to be there after having to navigate the odd dynamics of the previous week. There was no analysis going on. No judgment. No diagnosis. I was Todd. He was Bob. That was Chris. We were friends. End of story. I laughed as we instantly resumed the long-dormant roles of tormenting each other. After ten minutes, it was like I had never left. I remember thinking, "Friends like this goofy fucker are a rarity." This was a good omen to what was about to become an almost unbearably intense few weeks.

These omens stuck around for all of Saturday night as Bob, Chris and I decided to try to find a bar where I could freak some people out. The problem was, that while there were several when I had lived here, there were now next to NONE anywhere within a safe driving distance, let alone walking. We decided on the near-empty bowling alley in Hillsdale to watch the Red Wings, then Bob suggested a bar in Somerset; a 30- minute drive away. This turned out to be the bar by the lake that I had repeatedly dreamed of! I about shit as he turned in, as you can imagine. At least there were people here, although none that I recognized. As we sat there drinking beer, it slowly began to sink in that I was indeed seeing my old hometown from the position of the familiar outsider.

I had also been quickly discovering how things have changed over the last 12+ years. This "crisis" they like to talk about now has been gutting rural Michigan's manufacturing base for years. It's this base that supports most of the people I knew, and I was shocked to discover that Bob was one of the rare people that still HAD a job, and wasn't either laid off or let go. They can quote unemployment figures all day long, but my unofficial unemployment "research" would come back with numbers a hell of a lot higher than "12 -15%" or whatever the latest "figures" are. To me it seems closer to 50%, and higher if you consider "underemployed." I suspect that many have said to hell with filing unemployment, and taken work under the table. One of the first things I noticed about Hillsdale itself is how quiet, and empty it is. Especially the main road thru town. I remember it being a whole lot busier.

People here are tough, blue collar types who won't whine, and don't want you to whine for them. They generally work hard, they play hard, and they live their lives raising their kids the best they can. The only thing they generally want is a fair opportunity to do just that, and to offer their kids a better future. Like people anywhere I suppose, except that this "opportunity" has been pulled from their still warm hands. I wont bother with the politics, because the politics just don't fucking matter. It was no better under Bush than it is now. If you think this "crisis" is something new, come pay a visit. It's only "new" and publicized because it's hit the economic elites, and the suburbs a bit. I only offer this brief commentary out of a realization (get used to that term now!) that I respect these people. I seek authenticity. This is raw and authentic. I was astounded to find myself thinking that! It occurred after some thought that in order to appreciate fully the blunt reality, perhaps you need to run in the circles of mentally masturbating "intellectuals" who fail to leave the circles of their safe, cushy, modern day salons.

The reminder of the week was crystallizing, and far from a new one. The idea of true wisdom as opposed to its illusion. Education without practical and visceral experience is as useless as being a trivia expert, unless of course your goal is making money and collecting shit. Hell, poker players do that! There needs to be personal context in which to frame and apply that million dollar degree, or we're nothing more than tools, or worse yet parrots squawking someone else's dictation. The ability to recite isolated facts does not make one wise. The ability to apply someone else's formula doesn't make one wise. Wisdom is turning data to knowledge then applying unique experience to that knowledge. No wonder so few people are truly wise. They seem to think they've gotten there early through hubris and buying the illusion that disconnected facts and formulae mean something significant. I'll save the rest of that rant for later, but this was the essence of my first four days in Hillsdale. Making friends with my roots, and perhaps the roads I've needed to travel to come to that realization.

Sunday was spent having a quick visit with an old classmate, Steve, who had driven down from Detroit to see Bob, Chris and I. He had sent me the brass alcohol stove and turned me on to Eckart Tolle last fall. We had spent hours philosophizing online over the winter, and I was looking forward to the sure mental- fireworks if Steve, Chris, and I got together. Unfortunately, he had little time to stay, but he had crafted an idea for us to ride with him to Minneapolis when he went on business later in the month. We figured 12-hours in a rental car would get us down the road AND provide lots of time to chat. It was a great idea, but the suits didn't like the math, insisting he fly instead. The following weekend I received another two packages from him, INCLUDING a collapsible fishing pole! I wish we would have been better friends earlier.

Another interesting revelation was that Hillsdale of all places was the friendliest town we had encountered to-date. As we were often sitting outside the gas station with our backpacks drinking coffee, or waiting for a ride, people would oftentimes stop by to say hello. One young man even handed us $10 when he left. Michigan people are NOT known for their outgoing, friendly nature, but Hillsdale is doing its part to counteract that. Go figure!

I went to see my mother of course, and went to Bob's softball game on Tuesday the 9th, where I had arranged to meet two more of my best friends from back in the day, Dave and Eddie. I hadn't seen Dave since 2000, Ed since 2004. These are two friendships that go way back, and have many cementing experiences binding them. Some involving bail, bloody frying pans, and damaged public parks. Ed has ultimately proven to be another friend, like Bob, who is always there, as-is, regardless of where you've been or what you've done. He's gone through a lot of changes over the years, and Chris and I both noted that he and I may have more in common now than before. It was also a smack in the face to see his kids! I hadn't seen them since the mid- 90's, and they're all grown now. My friends and I, including Dave, used to throw his oldest boy Denton around on his bed when he was a baby. I bought him a beer. I almost cried about the fact that I could. Dave and his wife Bonnie offered us their floor Tuesday night, and it was nice chatting with them after so many years and marveling at how their kids have grown. Their kids aren't much younger than Bonnie was when we first met her. There were other familiar faces around, and I thoroughly enjoyed the reunion atmosphere!

Bob picked us up again Wednesday morning, this time to try our hand at fishing. We caught nothing. We didn't even see a fish in the St. Joe. The afternoon was spent lounging beneath a tree at the bowling alley before meeting up with Ed for a nice chat then engaging one of the owners I had known for decades in an unexpected political/social conversation.

We had decided to camp on my mother's property right up the road Wednesday night, and on the way, Chris and I began discussing the changing ideas on our method and mindset. We had essentially been stationary for a month and a half since arriving at his mother's in New York City May 1, and it had become clear that there was nothing wrong with that. Ideas began to develop about possibly returning to Denver or Santa Fe to begin exploring other venues for our photographs then heading toward Idaho to meet my other sister, Lynn.

When Bob picked us up after dropping his son off at school Thursday morning, it was time to switch gears and prepare to meet Lynette's kids, Ben and Brad, at their grandmother's house. I was really looking forward to this, and wondered how many people had met their nephews--before meeting their sister! Good stuff!

Saturday, June 6, 2009

6/2-6/6/09: Kalamazoo, MI-Evolving Friendships

I was absolutely right about Chris. He got along with Brian & Joey famously! Tuesday night was spent diving into our different philosophies and experiences as Brian took it all in and offered what was now clinical analysis. To my shock and amazement, however, I quickly discovered that I was having the same sense of difficulty talking with Brian as Chris had with Bill in DC! The days of free-flowing ideas had evolved to emulate Brians' now extensive psychological training. Rather than engaging in the development of ideas, we were being psychologically evaluated. WE were being studied, rather than the ideas! None of this should have come as a shock. Brian has a brilliantly studious mind, and has absorbed everything he's learned. He is also beginning his internships and is counseling people nearly everyday. The fact that he would bring that into our odd situation made perfect sense.

While I was quite interested in his interpretations, it quickly became clear that he was drawing his conclusions a bit too quickly. We had not shared everything with him, by any means, and when I picked up on the diagnosis process and then heard what I identified as the Voice of the Institutional Filter, I began to get a bit defensive. I was struggling to find the "right" words to get my point across, and was reluctant to even broach some of the primary purposes behind this little adventure. Not something I had expected from this! While we were still close friends, it became obvious immediately that I needed to re-define this part of it. I was no longer comfortable walking in this field with Brian!

To be fair, my opinions of the psychological field have always been mixed. While there is indeed a need for some people to get treatment, from my own experience I believe that much of it is simply a method of social control. The practice of categorizing people so that they can be put into a box, then treated by textbook...with the ultimate goal of assimilation. I'm of the opinion that many people are experiencing mental turmoil as a result of an inability, or unwillingness, to listen to themselves and follow their own internal compass. One that cannot be "fixed" or reset. By another person, or ANYONE, regardless of the training or method.

I'm not just talking out of my ass; I've experienced this. I was forced to enter "therapy" a number of times as a "maladjusted youth", and later by the state as an "alcoholic." In all but one instance, they attempted to force me into a pre-approved template rather than encourage me to listen to and follow my own voice, thereby eliminating that dichotomy between what I wanted from life and what is "expected". This was the ultimate root of internal conflict creating the symptoms. They did more harm than good in each case, because the more I tried to "fit", the worse it got. Then the old adage became true: hear you're defective long enough, you'll start to believe it and can ultimately run the danger of giving up.

Until we're ready to accept responsibility for ourselves, then reach the point where we are willing to tell the Ministry of Standards & Practices (institutions, friends, family, media) with their definition of "defective" to go to hell, you're going to have a choice: Live life as the socially engineered clone of your neighbor, or live in conflict with yourself. I've yet to see a therapist that can provide an accurate road map to get here. Then again, maybe that's best for them...if that secret got out, perhaps they'd go the way of the live DJ!

It's quite simple really, and is summed up nicely in the ancient cliche' "Answers lie within." It's impossible to get it from anything, or anyone else but ourselves. We alone are responsible for finding our own, individual path to happiness. That self-exploratory journey is, in my opinion, the essence of life. Both of these remembered lessons were about to repeatedly beat me over the head over the next 2-weeks! I believe even Brian would agree with most of that!

The rest of the time at Brian & Joey's was uneventful, except for a VERY cool reunion of sorts with an old friend. This meeting came at the perfect time in retrospect, because it provided the personification of some things I just wrote, and also was a terrific exercise in "mirroring"; a concept we picked up from Brian. We had some nice chats through the week, but mostly it was spent on computers while they lived their busy lives, then watching TV at night. This time had shown that while we still had great love for each other, we had begun that old familiar process of change that alters friendships, sometimes for the better.

Saturday, I reconnected with my old radio buddy, Sean. He had offered to drive us to Hillsdale, and that simplified things greatly. We had a great time taking the 90-minute ride discussing politics, radio, and whatever else came up. When he dropped us at my friend Bob's place, I was primed to see what was waiting for me here in this place I had avoided like Herpes for 13-years...

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

6/2/09: Kalamazoo, MI

Tuesday began as Monday had: Dropping Shelly at work, then hitting the road to Ann Arbor. We returned to her house so I could prepare Elmo for his demise; unpacking everything and repeatedly searching him to be sure I was returning only the pack! Not unlike leaving an apartment for the last time. During this process, I discovered that even if I had not found the new pack, I would have returned it because stitching had failed where a stabilizer strap meets the rubber fabric on the bottom. My good fortune was continuing.

We found "Sunshine" again working at REI, and a new day had done nothing for her demeanor. I just glared at her the entire time she struggled through the process of refunding my money. We normally will look around for a spell anytime we get to REI, but through all of this, we were ready to get to Bivouac. I figured the various other things I needed would be better purchased there. Plus, we wanted to catch Pam before her shift ended at noon. We had a good time chatting with her and the other employees before heading to Whole Foods for mate' and Cliff Bars and returning to Ohio to prepare to meet my friends Brian & Joey in Coldwater that evening.

Once on the road back to Michigan, it was yet another trip down memory lane. Shelly took the Hillsdale County back roads thru Camden, Reading, and Allen before stopping at her mother's place on a lake in Quincy. I had heard a lot about Charlotte over the years from my own mother. They had been friends despite the fact that she was my father's ex-wife and my mother had always recommended that I contact her to meet her kids and learn about my father. Being at her house was a bit strange, and the idea that I was going to meet her the following week with my new- nephews was even more bizarre. That all changed immediately when she unexpectedly passed us on the road just after we had left her house. Shelly turned around, and we were instantly making introductions. Charlotte gave me a hug, an intense look up and down presumably evaluating any resemblance to my father, and all was well in the world. Another one of these mythical, main characters from an previously abstract past brought to life.

The four of us piled in Shelly's car, and finished our trip into Coldwater, stopping at the Big Boy for food and coffee while Brian & Joey made their way from Kalamazoo. Once they arrived, they joined us for coffee while I found myself astounded by this gathering of people. My sister & her mother from one era of my life. Brian & Joey from my radio days. Chris representing my days in Denver and beyond. I have never allowed these epochs to clash, and it was a sign of things to come. The conversation was light, loud, and full of laughter as we sat at this dumpy little restaurant on US-12.

I had lived in Kalamazoo for nearly 5-years before moving to Florida in 2004. Brian & Joey have been my best, longest lasting, perhaps my only remaining "real" friends from my Kalamazoo radio days. I met Brian when he was my Program Director at 107.7 WRKR. We had shared a common passion for radio, beyond "bottom line" and "product." We considered radio an art form, public service, and more than just a simple advertising venue. He is to-date the only PD who demanded creativity first, and avoided the "radio formula" like a plague. The ratings reflected this. Unfortunately, corporate powers disagreed and we eventually, after job changes for both of us, found ourselves continuously miserable and frustrated as we began to seek out other ways to live. After I left WRKR, I rented a room in their home for nearly a year. Brian and I would spend hours philosophizing about radio, life, politics...everything. I remember distinctly sitting at his dining room table when he made the decision to tell radio to go fuck itself and go back to school to get his psychology degree, in 2003. He's now preparing for his doctorate and presumably moving to Denver for that in 2010.

I had seen Brian & Joey once or twice a year, whenever Laina and I would return to Kalamazoo, and the familiarity was nice. As we rode back to Kalamazoo, the "plan" was to stay through Saturday, then meet up with Shelly after the BBQ at our father's house in Charlotte, MI that Sunday. The one I had once hoped to attend. That would give us 4-days in Kalamazoo, and I was eager to see how the conversations would go and what insights we'd leave with. I was also anxious to see if I was right in assuming that Chris would get along with these two brilliantly!

Monday, June 1, 2009

6/1/09: Michigan

With the buildup and Internet conversation, Shelly and I had little to cover once I arrived. It was more of feeling out process to see how we communicated and connected face-to-face. She also had to work very early in the morning making it for early evenings, so we had spent Sunday night getting acquainted, making plans for Monday, and playing with her kitten, Timber. Shelly had discovered Timber in the debris of a fallen tree. She was still too young to survive without nursing, and Shelly had adopted and taken care of her well enough to become the rambunctious ball of energy she is today. They both became local celebrities in the process with a writeup in the local paper.

Monday, we dropped Shelly off at work in Wauseon, about 10-miles west of Delta, just before 7am. For those of you new to the party, I don't do 7am. This fact necessitated a crucial coffee stop. We noticed a little diner in Delta aptly named The Barn; aptly because it used to be one. We had the bottomless coffee and $3.75 breakfast special before driving north to Ann Arbor and the closest REI about 70-miles away.

It was a dreary, and wet as we a finally approached the Michigan state line and I quipped that we were quite accurate with our March prediction: that we'd be getting to Michigan around the 1st of June. Considering the events of the previous six weeks, it was dumb luck that we were entering Michigan on June 1st, and it seemed comically ironic that through everything, one of our "plans" had actually worked! Chris pulled over next to the big blue "Welcome to Michigan" sign on state road 109, and we took some pictures of me acting like I was pissing on it. Maturity to the end.

Rural southern Michigan's roads brought back a flood of memories. I began to see things that looked familiar as we drove close to Tecumseh, thru Adrian then eventually down US-12 to Clinton. When we crossed I-94 in Ann Arbor, it finally struck me that I was home. I wasn't sure what to make of that, but I was surprised to find myself rather giddy and even a bit excited; not the typical emotional response.

REI is easy to find, and my intention was to swap out the now useless Minimalist bivy for the Aurora I had returned in Santa Fe. The problem was that they don't CARRY that model ANYWHERE in Michigan! I was slightly pissed. The only bivy they carried in this impotent REI was the one I had. To top it off, the girl who was "helping" us was a complete Sea Hag; obviously annoyed that I knew what I wanted and presumed to inconvenience her to do her job and help me get it. I quickly accepted the idea that I was either stuck with this near-useless bivy, or I was getting one elsewhere. REI was quickly losing its appeal, so I inconvenienced her again-to give me a full refund.

It's ironic that "Sunshine", while not helpful to us as it pertained to REI, was helpful enough to send our business to some people who appreciated it. She suggested we try Bivouac Ann Arbor, an outfitter located downtown on State Street near the University of Michigan campus. I was astounded to find my backpack from last year IN THE STORE and ON CLEARANCE!! 40% off! Are you kidding me??? The hitch was the hip belt was too large. I need a medium, and wasn't sure they had a replacement that would work for my skinny ass. As I carried it upstairs to ask questions, we met Pam. She told me that she'd put the pack on hold for a week, and put a call into Gregory to see if they had the belt in stock. I figured it was unlikely this would work, but if it did would save me A LOT of money. Plus I was now looking forward to reuniting with REI's Sunshine so I could inconvenience her for another refund. We began to chat with Pam about the trip so far and discovered that we both liked her a great deal. She was about to make my Christmas Card list...and I don't do Christmas Cards.

I was already liking this store when I found Chris's Alpine bivy in stock and, to my utter glee, it was $20 less than it had been at REI and Pam let on that she would knock another 20 or 25% off the tag. Again, are you KIDDING me?? I immediately told her that if she'd make it 25%, I'd buy it. She agreed, and I had my bivy. A better one than I intended to get from REI, and I got it for $70 LESS! This was turning out to be a pretty good day! Then to top everything off, she said that if a hip belt was found, she'd knock an additional 10% off the backpack, making it half- priced for a brand new pack! Hell, YEAH! THEN, she'd have it shipped to my sister's at no extra cost. Double Hell Yeah!!

I was obviously quite happy as we left the store with my bivy in tow and the pack on hold. I decided that, since it was still early, I would try to contact a couple friends in Jackson about 40-miles west of Ann Arbor. I thought that it would be a good opportunity to see them, and/or take a quick drive past my old house, and stomping grounds. This worked out quite well as I was able to connect with an old baseball/drinking buddy, Todd. He and I were quite good friends and it was nice to chat with him at a coffee shop in Jackson.

It was still only 2:00 as we left Jackson for the sticks, and the old house I was raised in. In its heyday, this house was imposing. It was built in 1863 for loggers and had been added on to giving it a total of 14-rooms. Along with me, my sisters, mother, and grandfather had all either grown up or spent most of their lives there making it something nearly organic for us. I always make this pilgrimage when I'm in the area and have time, despite the fact that it's been abandoned for 15-years and is quickly being reclaimed by nature. It's a powerful practice in perspective. A physical manifestation of the passage of time on display before me. While difficult to see it disintegrating, it still has a centering effect on me. Chris and I explored the place the best we could, taking pictures and making sure we weren't stepping anywhere where the floors may collapse, as has the entire top floor on the west end. My mother still owns the place, and is unable to bring herself to see, or sell it.

We timed this perfectly as we had enough time to get back into Ohio to pick up Shelly with 20-minutes to spare. I had also received the hoped for call from Pam at Bivouac. The belt was found and already on its way. That meant the next morning, we'd be on our way back to Ann Arbor to return Elmo.

5/31/09: Meet Shelly

Shelly and I had been talking via Yahoo chat, Facebook, and the telephone since February, so the meeting wasn't as emotional as it would have once been. I can't even say it was "weird", believe it or not.

Part of this stemmed from Shelly notifying me toward the end of our stay in Mass. that Lynn's kids, Ben & Brad, were flying in that week and there was going to be a BBQ at my fathers the following Sunday. They're 14 and 16 now, and hadn't seen their aunts, uncles, and cousins in years. Shelly thought that, since I was already in touch with most of the players in this drama, it would be a good opportunity to get it, for lack of a better term, over with! I agreed, even though I was sure I'd feel out of place beyond comprehension! Shortly after we left Hillsdale, NY however, she called to let me know my father didn't think it was a good idea because it would "make people uncomfortable", even though everyone there would know who I was...including Ben & Brad...by then. In other words, he'd have to look me and the rest of his family in the face at the same time, and didn't want to deal with it.

While I wasn't surprised, I was both hurt and pissed off at the same time. Who was he kidding? Does he think everyone's a fool? Coward. I stewed for a good portion of the night, before getting to Oneonta. I had held out hope that there may be a chance that I'd be able to get somewhere with him, but this wasn't a good omen. Shelly suggested that perhaps we could set up a smaller gathering with her, Pam, and he and his wife while I was here. At the very least I'd be able to see my nephews while they were here from Idaho and staying with Shelly's mother. That would indeed be pretty cool.

As I got out of the car and walked to her door, of course I was a bit nervous, but once we hugged there was more of a sense of "finally" than anything. We seemed to simply continue this newly developed relationship seamlessly, with none of the dreaded "tension" that I had been afraid may be present. It was nice to finally put my own mental picture with the photographs I had been shown over three decades and begin the process of bringing these other "phantom" siblings from the abstract to the real.

Shelly has always been intriguing to me. My mother has been very upfront about what she knew about my father's side of my family, and had spoken very well of her. She was the one who it seemed would be the most open to hearing from this "new" brother all of the sudden, and upon our meeting online, it became obvious that I was correct. She took the reins, letting Lynn know that she was talking to me and that I'd love to get to know her. Shelly is still the only person with enough courage to confront my father face-to-face, letting him know that she was going to have a relationship with me, whether he was part of it or not. That was the first display of courage based on a sense of right and wrong I had seen from anyone in this family in 15-years, and it was something I will always respect and appreciate, whatever happens from here on.

In addition to this, genealogy is a passion of Shelly's. My heritage has also been a blank slate to me. I knew that the name had originated in France, but also that it had probably had its spelling changed at some point. Without the most basic of information, it was impossible to know anything about where they had come from. Fortunately, Shelly had already done all of this. Within an afternoon, I had gone from next to nothing all the way back to 1633, with the name of the town in France that the Dube' family had emigrated from. Coupled with the dozens of pictures she's provided, now not only do I have names, dates, and places... I also had some faces to go with them. Including those of my father as a young man. Scarily similar to mine!

I'm not sure Shelly realizes what she did for me. Regardless of how parental relationships end, the knowledge of who you are and where you have come from is important, and in my opinion an entitlement not to be withheld out of petty cowardice. It's not as though doing the right thing, in this case, would cost anything other than a dose of pride. I had written a letter to my father in 2005 in an effort to make sure he knew I held no grudges, and to both try to establish contact with him AND get some sort of history; both genealogical and medical. Maybe he was out of stamps. Maybe the phone was broken. Maybe the Innerwebs went down. Maybe he's just a jackass. This visit should answer that once and for all. More on that in another post. First, a little history.

I have a total of six- sisters and two- brothers:

- Two sisters are from my mother's first marriage, where I got this horrendous name.
- Three others are also older, from my father's first marriage. They are Shelly, Lynn and Skip. Their mother, Charlotte, was friends with my mother, so these three were around me after I was born having no idea I was their brother. Shelly didn't find out until my mother sent a picture of me to her in her graduation card.
- Then came me: a bounding bundle of annoyance & inconvenience!
- Shortly after I was born, my father got his current wife pregnant and married her. They've remained married, and have three younger children. Pam, Kim, and Mike.

At some point shortly after I was born, my mother and one of her more obnoxious friends ran into my father and his current wife at a store. This friend apparently took it upon herself to confront he and his wife, asking him "Don't you want to see your son?", while pushing the stroller in front of him. I've always resented her for that because, while I'm sure it made her feel all-powerful to blindside him, it ended any likelihood that there would be any casual contact between he and I. From my understanding, this caused some discussion between he and his wife, and somewhere along the way she ended up telling Pam (born shortly after me) that I was out here.

When I finally tried to contact people in 1994, it was Pam whom I reached and, despite my attempts to be clever and coy, she knew exactly who I was. Shortly after this, I met Pam and her younger sister Kim. These relationships were a bit strained, and after a couple years of feeling like the puppy dog hidden in the shed, we lost contact shortly after I began my radio career.

At a particularly intense point in 2000, I decided to drunk call again, and this time Kim just put my father on the phone, probably not wanting to deal with me! From that came the only meeting I've had with him, which was at a mall food court in Battle Creek. It lasted all of 20-minutes, but went pretty well all the same. I left thinking that we had actually begun to connect in some weird way and thought that we'd be able to continue keeping in touch. That was the last contact I've had with him, and the last contact with Pam or Kim until January of this year after a chance encounter with Kim on Facebook. That led to re-establishing contact with Pam, which led me to Shelly.

It was always figured that there was clear, universal knowledge of the situation based on the fact that when I contacted Pam 15-years ago, she had known who I was. Figuring this family was at least quasi normal, I assumed that the topic of "another sibling" would make its rounds and the results would play themselves out over time. Shelly, Lynn, and Pam have finally dispelled this dreadfully misguided assumption.

Through these conversations I've learned that not only was there no communication on the topic, but that it had become taboo for whatever reason. Michelle apparently had to push her way onto the computer the night we talked for the first time. I wasn't even told she was there. Then, Lynn shocked me when she told me that it was only VERY recently that she discovered who I was. Apparently my father and his wife have NEVER discussed this, at all-NEVER-after "the store." I keep saying it, but this is just inconceivable to me, even now after I've come to discover how whacked their family dynamics really are.

As I arrived at Shelly's house in Delta on May 31, I held no real expectations beyond meeting my nephews and a faint, fading glimmer hope that I'd be able to begin to develop a relationship with the rest of that part of my family, particularly Daddy Dearest. I also, however, knew that this was the last chance. It's time to draw conclusions, good or bad, and move on. I know that I have growing relationships with Shelly, Lynn, & perhaps Pam. That aint bad! From this point, the best that I could do was make myself available and do everything I could to offer every opportunity to get things right. I want to at least leave Michigan knowing I have done EVERYTHING that I could do, having no regrets or "what ifs" from here forward. I wanted to be able to say for certain when he's dead and gone, "Yes. I tried. But he was just simply a jackass" with no second thoughts about being right. I hoped for the best as I prepared for what was assured to be the most intense period of investigating both myself , and where I had come from to date: Vitam Impendere Vero: Truth before everything.