is about so much more than external travel. I was born in South
Carolina but I grew up in Wisconsin and have lived in New York City
for 30 years. Time travel seems impossible they say, but the past is
always with us. Iíve always wanted to connect with South
Carolina where I was born.
Beach is aptly named. A small beach community outside Charleston,
formed by the confluence of the Ashley, Cooper, and Wando rivers.
Charleston is named after the King of England at the time it was
founded. In Charleston Iíve been to the slave market there, and
the museums, walked around and looked at views and houses. Fort
Sumter is where the Civil War began. It was a very important city in
early America when coastal towns were where it was at.
year when we went to a plantation someone whined about how Sherman
decimated everything. Like his cruelty was worse than the cruelty
that necessitated his cruelty--slavery. OK, so if thatís what
you want to focus on, go ahead. When you read about Frederick
Doughlas seeing a slaved killed as though it was nothing, you canít
really imagine slavery needs to be abolished naturally. John Brown
did some horrible things, but was that what was necessary to uproot
the evils of slavery?
canít really abide people using my sensibilities to try and
decimate them. You donít like a world where Sherman comes
through smashing everything, then maybe donít succeed from the
union to try and keep slavery.
pretty sure if I lived in South Carolina, I would feel differently,
make my resolution with the history of the Civil War in a more
indigienous way. I mean nobody is perfect. Everywhere we stand in the
USA is stolen land.
find it amazing that people want a participation trophy for losing
that war, but pride is important if you can find it the right way.
The legacy of slavery isnít the thing to latch onto in my
opinion, and the flag that represents that. The south has plenty to
offer besides that. I like the great writers from the south:
Faulkner, Flannery OíConnor, Eudora Welty, Zora Neal Hurston,
Harper Lee. My uncle Scott met Harper Lee in NYC. Theyíre both
gone. I really like the southern gothic aesthetic.
donít experience that much difference throughout America, itís
all the same corporations in the strip malls and the mean poverty the
system engenders. You get most of your culture from your family. My
family are Klingon warriors.
good old boy who got Dís and Cís in high school, but went
to medical school because his father was a prominent doctor, is a
nephrologist. He visited us. He said he wasnít a democrat or a
republican, I was grateful he didnít perpetuate the great lie.
My aunts thought he was depressed, but he seemed sane and centered to
me. Not super thrilling or exciting, but I thought he had a core, a
heart and intelligence. He was our one visitor, actually from South
Carolina. I should have spent more time with him but I ran off to the
beach with my cousins, their wives, and my sons.
wanted my sons to get to know my family more. Folly, I know. Steve is
a senior in high school, and is applying to college, and wants to
study history and film. Andrew plays for his high school soccer team
and got me into soccer when he got into it so long ago. Weíll
watch some of the World Cup qualifying games together, and the
European championship, my cousins and my son Andrew. Iíve
always thought sports is a good object to relax men so they can talk
to each other.
last family reunion was 12 years ago. When my grandfather was alive
he tried to have a family reunion every year. Lots of drama and
people storming off, or refusing to come. And he's been gone 20
years. And he's still with us. Every time I ate something my aunts or
mother would say something. Like weíd grown up during the
depression, like my grandfather did. I fight the paradigm of
scarcity, instead see abundance. There is way too much. America has
no sense of proportion or sense of themselves in the world.
cleaned some blueberries, and offered them to everyone. My aunt told
me my other aunt Ophelia likes fruit, not to eat them all. Iíd
rinsed half and tried to get everyone to eat some fruit. So when they
were left at the end of the reunion, I was chagrined. I cleaned them
and offered them to those left at the end, after the three Macbeth
witches had left. ďFair is foul and foul is fair.Ē The
family has a way of enforcing falsehoods as truths.
sat down to eat some leftovers, and my mother commented to me to not
eat up all the leftovers. I was chagrined again. So I blew up at her,
but I can't help but think now with distance that my grandfather grew
up during the depression and had such a vigilant approach to communal
food. You get a comment eating, that is the price you pay for being
so selfish as to eat when you are hungry.
legacy of coping with trauma is substance abuse.
mother barged into my room while I was sleeping and turned on the
light, because she "didn't like the way we ended things."
She'd spoken some hard words to me and wanted to undo it. Always
believe people when they betray their real thoughts. I knew Iíd
have to eat a lot of humble pie, but Iím striving to be more
humble, so I welcomed it. My higher power isnít the usual one,
but the act of standing in awe of the universe and seeing how puny we
are seems about right.
pretty sure my mother was reenacting something there, coming into my
room drunk, wanting to unburden some feelings she had, not really
noticing I was sleeping. When I think about it, that must be how my
grandfather raped and molested her. My mother told me she is a
survivor, which is often another way of saying survivor of sexual
abuse/trauma. Sheís never told me about the abuse she suffered,
not sure she has to tell her son the story. Sheís just signaled
aunt Ophelia kept bragging about how she used to work 120 hour weeks,
with slurred speech because she was smoking pot, eating edibles, and
drinking beer all day. When I think about Opheliaís motivation
of going into recovery, I worry she doesnít have much life
left. Grandma went into recovery at the end, and she quite liked it
in her remaining years. She used to talk about the other people she
liked in the meetings. How many times did my grandma drive me to the
pool half crocked when I spent my summers with them in Murphy North
Carolina? Iím glad she didnít ever kill anyone while
drunk driving. Things could have been worse.
aunt Lena is in recovery, and we talk a lot about recovery. We used
to. But instead of being present for her children, or supporting my
recovery, she chose to chase the camaraderie of substance abuse with
her sister Ophelia. She smoked joints with her, and she took an
edible that was 10X what she usually takes, and felt sick. People say
one of the virtues of marijuana is that you canít overdose, but
she seemed to overdose. Lost an evening to it. Took turns laying down
because she felt dizzy and eating leftovers in the kitchen, while
someone propped her up.
felt victorious coming out of the family reunion sober, without a
relapse, and more confirmed in my sobriety. I saw the contraction of
the soul and selfishness in substance abuse, the inability to work
towards transcending character defects, the missed opportunities. Dan
said he'd wished his mother Lena was more present to spend time with
him. That right there speaks of the loss in substance abuse. I canít
pan that off, brush it away.
daughter Kimberly hasn't talked to her in 2.5 years. Evan and Dan
chose to live with their father when their parents split up, not to
live with their mother Lena. It's a sad legacy of being successful at
work, but not so much with family and children. My Klingon Aunts
identified with the father, not the alcoholic mother, except they
were functional alcoholics.
canít tell someone they have a drinking problem in AA, you just
support people if they ask for help. We end each meeting with a
prayer for those still sick and suffering, then the serenity prayer.
You can only really get yourself sober. AA only works for 10% of the
people who try it. Covid may be the new plague, but substance abuse
has been a plague since the dawn of time, and Americans like to be
judgmental about it. In the disease model, people canít help
it, and need support to actively embrace recovery. They send people
to AA where paradoxically you have to choose it. 90% of the people
choose not to use AA. I feel like people judge so they donít
have to support, supporting others is too much for them. We build so
many walls. Iíd like to choose being supportive over
judgemental. When my AA friends relapse, I hold them closer, not push
good part of the trip was walking on the beach, being with family,
playing board games with family. The family plays this quick card
game called Pounce. My sons got into the game, and the cousins and
their wives played. The three crones played a game before everyone
was there, but stayed away after that. I remember as a kid watching
them play that game, and wanting to join in. That game and alcoholism
are my family legacy.
swam in the ocean, saw an old tree the locals think is the oldest
tree east of the Mississippi, but Wikipedia contradicts that. We went
to the north east tip of Folly Island, and saw a lighthouse off in
the water, you couldnít get to at high tide. We played lots of
frisbee. Love the Spanish moss. Plovers and seagulls on the beach. I
sat in the backyard and watched a red shouldered hawk soar, gliding
on the updrafts.
cousin Dan's wife Carmen worked all the time, she was on conference
calls in front of her computer the whole time. Covid wrecked her
wedding in Puerto Rico. If theyíd planned it a month earlier,
or later, they could have pulled it off. Instead they slunk off to
the bureaucratic office. I was glad to meet her, and we explored the
lost opportunity of a family wedding.
aunt Ophelia didnít recognize Carmen as a lawyer, she just said
there was one lawyer (Evan) at the dinner table. I joked that Carmen
didnít count because she was Puerto Rican and while I got
laughs, her face didnít say she thought it was funny, and I
regretted it. I betrayed my value of other cultures, my value of
spend time in the park watching my daughter and talk to Albanian,
Polish, Ukrainian, Russian, and every kind of Asian and Hispanic
immigrant. Thereís even a woman from Ivory Coast. I met a Druce
woman once. I love Carmenís culture, and wish my sarcasm gave a
hint of not valuing other cultures, not being inclusion. I tried to
drum out sarcasm years ago, but itís a hard habit to break. I
hope to drop the rock, be willing for my character defects to
evaporate through character development and virtue. In sobriety, Iím
disliking cheap hits like that. Iím trying not to say
provocative things to get attention. Too desperate. An outsider. I
apologized to her later, but I donít really believe in apology.
Living amends means you donít have to apologize later when you
realize what youíve done is wrong. Just stop doing bad things.
I donít have to hurt people for a laugh. Everyone talks about
how you canít get the pillow feathers back easily when you open
the pillow. Be careful what you say, you canít take back
cousin Evan's girlfriend Erica is of Korean heritage, and sees Evan
and Dan as "too nice". She was hassling me to get off the
property when our time was up, but I'd talked to the owner and she
said take your time, so I ran over 5 minutes putting on my shoes. I
felt like she was a bit of a busy body, hassled me unnecessarily.
I asked Erica which was more crazy, her family or ours? She objected
to the term crazy even though I'm pretty sure she uses it in her
head. I donít believe in the term either, here I go again
betraying my values. ďCrazyĒ feels like something you say
in a middle school playground, not a dignified concept for an adult.
But I think it accurately describes family behaviors at times. If you
say it in a loving way. I was trying to include her in the family,
unwillingness to engage with me was her choice, and I have to respect
that. I was ashamed by her micro-rejection. Shame is an attack on the
self, but it can be useful if you use it to grow in a positive way.
ďI want to be better,Ē isnít an attack on the self,
itís a positive expectation. I try to dance with the dialectic.
I'm mostly good, but there is room for improvement, which out of
strength, not weakness being described, I can embrace.
and Dan bought BBQ one night. My aunt Ophelia wanted She Crab soup,
she said it was authentic South Carolina food. She couldnít
wait for tomorrow, she had to have it tonight. In her pot and beer
haze she said to Lena, ďyou told me to go with the flow, and
Iím going with my flow.Ē She told me how they get female
crabs who have just created eggs, and make a soup with the crab and
the eggs. Seemed brutal to me. Pregnant and post pregnancy crabs are
a delicacy? Thatís the kind of lack of empathy Iím trying
asked Lena if she thought a more empathetic approach to Opheliaís
daughter would yield a better result for Ophelia, but my aunt Lena
defended her sister. Her daughter was crazy. Crazy can be used to cut
off empathy, whereas I think itís the reverse, people need more
empathy when the judges start abandoning them.
enjoyed taking care of my sons, cooking them breakfast, checking in
on them, tending to them when they didnít feel good. Andrew had
a headache one night. He thinks he might have been dehydrated. I kept
making sure he was hydrated after that.
told my sons that the safe word for the vacation was ďaubergineĒ.
If someone heard that word, we needed to gather around and protect
that person from the emotional attack. Steve said he almost said it
when my mother was making him do an online application for college.
mother started an application for the University of New Mexico at
Albuquerque with my son Steve. He's a senior and needs to figure out
what he's going to do. I talked a lot to him about the importance of
making choices, versus drifting, and unmade choices making the
had my cousins talk about how Evan chose Vassar and Dan chose
Cornell. Dan started out with architecture, to be like his father,
but switched to polisci. He works for the foreign service now. Evan
went to law school. Dan did a masters in international relations.
second wife called me Cinderfella because I went to bed early.
Usually I didnít stay up playing games. Saw a bunch of amazing
sunrises at the beach. I won the chess tournament. I beat everyone
multiple times, and tied Dan once. Dan beat Andrew, so he got second.
Andrew was game to play against everyone, nobody else would play
chess. Participation medal.
had a lot of memories of past family reunions. One time in Nashville,
I was looking at my aunt Ophelia's photo albums. There were pictures
of my aunt with strange men, and my uncle with strange women. It was
their swinging photo book. Just left out for everyone to see. John
was her first husband, Steve was her second husband, the father of
her daughter. She has a new boyfriend now. I'm all for sensual sexual
women, not a problem with me.
remember a reunion in Myrtle Beach when my grandfather showed me a
picture of his first wife, a surprise to me because I'd never heard
about her. Children always think the world begins when they come onto
the scene. Grandma had been a constant if not alcoholic presence.
When she went into recovery, that is when I heard her laugh. She
never laughed when she was drinking.
have fond memories of just floating in the ocean with my grandfather
who's been gone for 20 years. He joined the military when they still
had a cavalry of horses. He went to Japan when the USA occupied Japan
after World War Two. My mother and aunt were born in Japan.
reunion my stepfather John told my uncle Scott that he needed him at
the reunion, they were both secular jews who married goyim. Anyway,
by the time Scott got there, John couldn't take it and had left
already. Scott felt a little bit betrayed.
would have left if I'd had the means. I'm thinking now I'm not going
to a reunion unless it's a sober healing reunion. I don't think I'll
see Ophelia ever again. My fond memory of her is that she sent me
great gifts in the mail for my birthday when I was a kid. I
appreciated that. Scott was another absence I felt at the reunion. I
listed all the people who werenít there, dead or choosing not
the Uber was a fellow who was from Baltimore, moved nearby recently.
I told him I went to an Orioles game in the 70ís with my great
grandfather. He said Baltimore changed. I interpreted that as subtle
racism, but instead of seeing if I was correct by exploring more, I
just let the comment stand. I donít have any confidence in
persuading people any more. Iíd done enough digging at the
reunion and wanted to be superficial and just try and keep my
judgmentalism in check. Who knows what he really thought, not me. I
thought about Anne Tyler, the famous novelist from Baltimore. Just
read her wikipedia page, sheís from all over, but sheís
also on a list of Baltimore writers.
took a class once where we talked about writers of place, and I never
really saw great examples of the idea. We live so much in our heads.
I should keep it on the I. I live so much in my head. Wish the
emotional dramas of the family reunion evaporated and I was more
sensitive to where I was. Folly Beach really is beautiful. Cool,
quaint beach community.
grateful I could blab about this to someone, unburden myself and say
what I really think. I wrote a letter to my good high school friend.
Usually I just try to get along with everyone and donít feel my
narrative is important. One day I woke up and found myself an
alcoholic. The shame of that can sink some people, but I want to live
in the solution. Thank you for your interest in my experience.
went to a meeting after getting home, and came away feeling like I
need to focus on myself instead of interpreting others for my
convenience. I know my narrative is one of many, and like everyoneís
has an aspect of self serving to it. I need to force myself to share
at meetings, hiding was part of my addiction. May I accept the moment
which allows judgment to become discernment. I have great pictures of
sunrises at the beach to help me remember the reunion.
Former teacher and psychotherapist.
of the message
won't know where to send it.)
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