I awoke to a dream of perfume, its vaguely floral scent filling my senses.  My body felt deliciously languid and spent, as if I had just finished great sex and was basking in the afterglow.  Everything was calm, peaceful.  There was no visual component to the dream, just the warm glow of release and that cloying smell of perfume.  I was utterly content.

And suddenly I was terrified, sick to my stomach, frantically checking my nightclothes for stains.

Thank God, I didn’t come.

I recognized this dream.  It haunted me for years when I was younger, always making me feel dirty and ashamed of myself.  But I had thought it gone – it had been almost 30 years since I had dreamed it.

I thought a lot that day about why I had dreamed that dream after so long, why it had come back for a visit after so long,

I decided that it was time.


March, 1977. I was 15 years old, barreling towards 16 in only a few weeks. Star Wars was opening in about a month and a half and I was very excited about it. It was the first movie I have ever really, really, REALLY wanted to see on a big screen, not in the crappy old State Theater in Oroville. Sixteen was exciting – it meant that in the fall I could take Drivers Ed and Driver’s Training to get my license, and I was pretty jazzed about that too.

My parents being divorced, every month my father, Max, had visitation rights.  Sometimes he came up to see me, and stayed at the Western Motor Lodge in Oroville, which had rooms that often smelled vaguely of smoke, and a pool that no one ever swam in.  But sometimes I would catch a Greyhound bus to San Francisco to see him, and I would stay at his apartment, which often had lots of dirty dishes and occasionally silverfish. But in San Francisco there were bookstores and game stores and lots of interesting things which were absolutely NOT Oroville.

Including, in a month and a half, Star Wars.

The original schedule had him coming up to visit in Oroville in May.  But I had begged and pleaded with my mother to change the schedule so I could go down to San Francisco in May during the week to catch the opening.  My mother loathed talking to my father, but I was going to be 16 and had asked for it as a birthday gift, and so she reluctantly got on the phone and made the arrangements, which involved me going to San Francisco in March, April, and May to help defray the cost of my father having to take off work on Wednesday the 22nd to go to the opening with me.

Max was an alcoholic. He hid this from me most of the time, and it wouldn’t really dawn on me for several years yet. I knew he drank of course, had even seen him drunk on more than one occasion.  But he could usually hold off for the few days that I was visiting, though I noticed that sometimes when it was nearing time for me to go his hands would tremble.

I thought it was because he was sad to see me go.

Anyway, there I was in the big city, jazzed up about my birthday and Star Wars and learning to drive a car. As per usual I arrived at the SF Greyhound terminal at around 9:30 pm and started my visit, which would end when I got back on the bus Sunday afternoon.

On Saturday evening there was a party hosted by some of my father’s friends. My father thought I was old enough to go to this sort of thing now, and I agreed (my mother hosted periodic cocktail parties, so I was familiar with them). It was over in Marin, so we caught a ride with one of father’s friends.

This turned out to be very different from my mother’s cocktail parties. There was marijuana for one thing, which I had never tried and which I was too frightened to try then (much to my embarrassment). And people drank a LOT more than at my mother’s parties, where people would nurse drinks and maybe, MAYBE get tipsy. Several people, including my father, got totally shitfaced, stagger-around, slurred-speech drunk.

I didn’t have much to do – there was no one even close to my age there – so mostly I sat around listening to conversations and stories, answering the inevitable questions of what I was studying in school, and wishing I had a book.

Then my father, during a break in the conversation, announced that I was turning 16 in a couple of weeks and would be a real live adult instead of a child anymore. This was, of course nice for me to hear. Some of the women (40+ women for the most part) came over to give me a hug.

And then one of them kissed me. On the cheek.

And then one of them straddled my thighs (I was sitting on a couch), threw her arms around my neck, and kissed me on the mouth.  She tasted like alcohol and lipstick.  I was shocked!  I had no idea how I was supposed to react or what I was supposed to do.

And that was, and would forever be, my first kiss.  Booze, lipstick, and utter bewilderment.

Suddenly there were also women sitting on either side of me stroking my arms and legs and kissing me on the neck. The woman on my thighs stuck her tongue in my mouth, and I got more secondhand alcohol taste. Others came and stood behind me or in front of me and started stroking my arms and hair. Everyone was laughing  including my father.

But not me

I was 15. Despite my attempts to escape, and the fact that I wasn’t enjoying this at all and was in fact scared practically witless, my penis was on autopilot and I rapidly got an erection. Which the woman sitting on my thighs noticed.

Which the woman on my thighs touched.

Which the woman on my thighs started fondling.

At this point I was paralyzed. All I could think of was that I was wearing light tan pants and if I ejaculated it was sure to show.  My brain couldn’t process what was happening to me – it was overloaded.

The woman on my thighs pulled my head down into her cleavage.  She was not particularly well-endowed, so mostly I got a nose full of sternum.  But the smell of her perfume was overwhelming.  I felt like I couldn’t breathe, like all the air had been sucked out of the room and replaced by perfume.  All the time people were still touching and stroking me from all sides.

The woman on my thighs said something to the effect of that if I wanted we could go back to the bedroom and have sex. Everyone there laughed. I looked at my father, desperate for some way out of this situation.  I had a wild hope that he would say something like “OK, that’s enough, leave him alone.”  That he would come to my rescue or at least help me understand what the hell was going on here.

He was laughing too.  He told me that whatever I wanted was fine with him and that he wouldn’t tell if I didn’t.

And that was the point where I lost it.

I became hysterical. I started crying. Fifteen years old and so excited to become 16 and take my first step towards adulthood, and I started crying like a baby in front of an entire party full of adults. I managed to get free of the couch and ran to the bathroom, locking myself in. Still crying I whipped off my shoes, pants and underwear, climbed into the tub, and ran cold water on my penis, hoping it would deflate, and figuring even if it didn’t I wouldn’t mess in my pants.

By this time there were adults at the door, saying all the things that one would expect adults to say – they were sorry, it was just a joke, they didn’t mean any harm. I was humiliated and wet and still crying – those big, wracking sobs you get when your nose is clogged with snot.  I couldn’t stop for the longest time. Someone outside told everyone to leave me alone, so they all went back to the party and drank some more while I sat half-naked in the bathtub in my sodden socks, which I had not taken the time to remove,

But of course I couldn’t stay there forever. I wanted to.  I never wanted to come out of that bathroom. I never wanted to face those people again. I had just failed adulthood 101.

If there had actually been a razor someplace visible to put the idea in my mind, I am pretty sure I would have used it rather than deal with the adults who had seen and heard me crying.

But eventually I came out, with my shirt damp and my shoes on my bare feet, leaving my dripping wet socks in the tub.   And of course everyone was very apologetic and said that they didn’t mean to hurt me and thought it was just a big joke. My father was particularly apologetic, saying he should have intervened. They were all apologetic in that way that only drunk people can be apologetic – that “I’m sorry, truly sorry that I ran over the pedestrian, officer, but you see I was drunk at the time.” way. “We’re sorry, truly sorry that we sexually assaulted you, Edmund, but you see we were drunk and thought it would be funny.”

You get the idea.

And because I was 15 and they were adults, because I felt humiliated and embarrassed, because I was ashamed, I apologized right back to them.  God help me, still damp and with eyes swollen nearly shut I said that I had overreacted, that I knew they were just having fun and teasing me, and that I shouldn’t have gotten upset and locked myself in the bathroom.  I apologized to the woman who sat on my thighs.  I apologized to the hosts.  I apologized to my father.

In May I came down and saw Star Wars.

That was 41 years ago.

The woman who kissed me, who stroked my erection, haunted me for years afterwards.  I used to dream about the cloying smell, overpowering enough to make it hard for me to breathe. But the dreams were never nightmares.  I always awoke feeling pleasantly spent.  I had wet dreams about her.  It was only after I woke up and remembered the dream that I felt dirty, abused, and ashamed that I dreamed of enjoying it.

My father and I never spoke of that evening again.  On the other hand I do not recall him ever taking me to a gathering of his friends with more than five or six other people again.


I can’t say precisely how this event affected my life.  There are some aspects of my personality that MIGHT have been shaped by it.  But we are multifaceted beings who live complex lives, who can say for sure?  I do know

  • I don’t like to be touched.  I REALLY don’t like to be touched by people I don’t know well, and I ABSOLUTELY LOATHE being touched by surprise.
  • Hugs have triggered a flight reflex in me for most of my life.  I’ve been working on that one for a long time, though, and it’s gotten a lot better.  Don’t be afraid to hug me – just let me know it’s coming first, preferably while out of arm’s reach.
  • I ultimately decided not to drink alcohol.
  • Perfume is an absolute, 100%, near permanent turn-off for me.  Likewise makeup.  Women who wear either become instantly unattractive to me.
  • I do not like crowds indoors, though I have a much higher tolerance for them outside,
  • I don’t like parties where there are a lot of people I don’t know, or where much alcohol is consumed.
  • I do not like to have people I don’t know sit next to me.  This sometimes makes public transit a problem.
  • I have never, ever wanted to have children.

Why didn’t I say something in the last 41 years? Many, many reasons.

  1. I really bought into the idea that the people meant no harm to me, and it took me many, many years to realize afterwards that it didn’t matter and that harm was still done
  2. I wanted to see Star Wars, and I wanted to keep getting to go to San Francisco. I knew that had I told my mother she would have (rightly) moved heaven and earth to assure that I never saw my father again.
  3. The idea of admitting that I cried in front of a bunch of adults was mortifying.
  4. They apologized. I apologized. That made everything all right, right?
  5. I loved my father. Even after I discovered years later that he was an alcoholic, I didn’t want people to think he was a shit father. A bad father, an absentee father maybe.  But not a shit father.  Despite the fact that I was very angry with him, I would defend him when others spoke harshly of him.  Whenever something about my father being less than sterling would come up I was always ready with the answer “But at least he made all his child support payments!” Loyal, loyal Edmund.
  6. I bought into the idea that it was some sort of well-intentioned “rite of passage”, sort of like the cliché of the father getting the son a hooker or a trip to a brothel.
  7. By the time I actually realized that what happened to me was serious, I had moved away from home, my father was in Thailand, and my mother was very sick. I couldn’t see the point in burdening my mother, and I wasn’t in touch with my father.
  8. Other people, particularly women, have had experiences, often multiple experiences, that were infinitely more horrible and scarring than mine. I felt that bringing it up would make me seem like a fraud jumping on the bandwagon for sympathy.
  9. Ultimately, I thought that I was past it and that it didn’t matter anymore.

Why am I saying something now?

  1. I had a “discussion” with an internet troll who couldn’t seem to understand that assault is assault, and there doesn’t have to be some threshold of horribleness before people are permitted to act in their own best defense.
  2. I dreamed of the perfume again. First time in over 30 years. It scared the living hell out of me. I nearly threw up.  I was determined not to go through weeks or months of that again, and the only thing I could think of to do was finally tell someone.
  3. Sometimes it is just fucking time. My mother is dead. My father is, I assume, dead. I no longer have to protect either one of them. What’s the purpose of keeping such a thing secret when it is really just a habit of not talking about it?
  4. Secrets get heavier the longer you carry them. I’m tired of this one hanging around my neck like a dead albatross.
  5. I read an article on C-PTSD, and noticed that it shared a lot of symptoms with my depression, and thought “I wonder why that is – nothing terribly traumatic has happened to me.”

The events of that party are long in my past now.  Like physical scars they are a part of me now, and like physical scars they sometimes hurt when I poke at them but otherwise are largely unnoticed and unremarked.  They do hurt a bit now because I am stretching myself, letting go of the secret that I kept.  Its a bit painful at the moment, but ultimately I hope that I will be better for it, the scars diminished some, and gain a greater emotional freedom.

The people who participated in my molestation were probably not terrible people.  That’s the real horror of evil – it’s largely banal, plain, and human.  They were adults, and they should have known better, but sadly that can be said of so many, many people who have done wrong not by malice but by a simple willingness to go along and not think about it too much.

Also, they were drunk, in case there is anyone out there reading this who thinks that makes it more acceptable.

For those who have gone through their own trials, who struggle years or decades afterwards to come to grips with the terrible events of their past; for those who suffered far worse things than I – chronic abuse, rape, mutilation, incest – and carry the scars  both physical and mental; for those who keep it secret, for those who speak out, for everyone who has had the beauty and joy of sex tainted by evil:  I see you, I hear you, I believe you.  Whether I know you or not you have a place in my heart.

Thanks for reading.

The Neighbor

Image result for neighbor

The neighbor came to our door in tears, barely coherent, disheveled, frantic. Something terrible had happened, but it took us a long time to figure out what it was. Primarily it was a domestic thing – trouble with a parent, trouble with a brother – but with other, lesser problems wrapped up in the mix.

We had lived on the street for five years. In that time we had probably never before exchanged more than a few lines of dialogue with the neighbor. If the sum total of our conversations had been a sitcom script there would have been a disagreement about where we put our garbage cans and a few “hello”s or nods of the head and that would have been it. No producer would have accepted that or spent the money filming it unless there was an overwhelming need for a montage.

Yet without warning the neighbor was there, in our living room, sobbing and overwhelmed.

We spent twelve hours with the neighbor that day. It was exhausting. It was stressful. It was just the beginning.

The neighbor returned the next day.  And the next.  It suddenly became a “most days” sort of thing.  Someone we had barely said a word to in five years suddenly became a person who would spend hours in our living room trying to sort paperwork or complaining about their brother, or lamenting their mother or reminiscing about their past – or just crying.  Our lives rapidly became sucked into a whirlpool of computer problems, money, familial relationships, lost love, and a Driver’s License suspension.

And mental health issues.

The neighbor was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and anxiety attacks.  The neighbor’s explanation of their problems was often long, rambling and would jump from one topic to an entirely different one in the course of a single sentence.  Sometimes there would be an interruption in the narrative when the neighbor broke down in tears or drifted off to the oranges we had in the living room or our cats.  When this happened it would often taken five minutes or more to direct the conversation back to the original topic.

A Definition

Bipolar disorder, also known as manic-depressive illness, is a brain disorder that causes unusual shifts in mood, energy, activity levels, and the ability to carry out day-to-day tasks.

There are four basic types of bipolar disorder; all of them involve clear changes in mood, energy, and activity levels. These moods range from periods of extremely “up,” elated, and energized behavior (known as manic episodes) to very sad, “down,” or hopeless periods (known as depressive episodes). Less severe manic periods are known as hypomanic episodes.

A Definition

Occasional anxiety is a normal part of life. You might feel anxious when faced with a problem at work, before taking a test, or making an important decision. But anxiety disorders involve more than temporary worry or fear. For a person with an anxiety disorder, the anxiety does not go away and can get worse over time. The feelings can interfere with daily activities such as job performance, school work, and relationships. There are several different types of anxiety disorders. Examples include generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, and social anxiety disorder.

We tried to help.  Honest to God, we aren’t monsters.  We took the neighbor to doctor’s appointments.  We took the neighbor to appointments with the DMV to try to get their license back.  We took the neighbor to pick up prescriptions from their psychiatrist.  We tried to sort out all the paperwork from the DMV.  We tried to figure out how to get the neighbor help from the county.  It was exhausting, confusing, trying, and took up hours of our day – often leaving us so frazzled and stressed and mentally exhausted at the end that we couldn’t get much done for the remainder of the day.

Our original plan was to deal with the neighbor together – I felt uncomfortable being with them by myself (particularly after the time they came over without underwear).  But the sheer scope of the assistance the neighbor needed and the sheer amount of time required to decipher their needs and wants from the tangents and the tears soon made this impossible to do.  Instead we started taking turns so that at least one of us could get on with our day to the extent possible with a near stranger weeping and sometimes shouting in our living room.

The neighbor was getting worse.

We called the police twice because of potential domestic violence between the neighbor and their brother.  The police were mildly interested, but would do nothing because they did not actually witness the abuse.  Once it was because she had reported an incident to us – but apparently did not give the same story to the police.  Once my wife heard screaming and shouting from across the street and the sound of things crashing around, but again the police did nothing.  They didn’t see it, and the neighbor obviously made a terrible witness.

The neighbor started talking about taking an overdose of  medication and checking out.

At first it was general statements:  “I wonder what would happen if…”, “I have a lot of pills around the house”, “I don’t think anyone would miss me”.  But over time the threats got more specific – “I could go home and…”, “no one would care if I…”, “Sixty pills ought to do it, right?”  We were already feeling anxious, and there seemed to be a trajectory to the neighbor’s behavior.  But we could never quite narrow it down to anything specific enough to feel like it was a credible enough threat to call the police about it – we’d already had them out twice and nothing had come of it, and we were worried that if we kept calling we’d get a “chicken little” reputation.

I got the neighbor to promise that before they did anything they would talk to me first.  Even when I said it I knew it would be trouble.  It was a license to call at all times of the day or night.  And this was already a problem.  It was also admittedly a CYA maneuver on my part, so that if and when the police and coroner showed up to haul a body out of the house across the street I could say “well, I tried!  I offered to help!  If ONLY they had talked to me!”  I didn’t feel particularly proud of it.

Predictably, things escalated from there.  The neighbor started calling at 10:30 at night, or knocking on the door at 7:30 am.  They became less inclined to talk to my wife (who in turn was becoming less and less inclined to talk to the neighbor) and more inclined to talk to me.  And the thing they started being more inclined to talk to me about was past  lovers.

I started becoming really alarmed.

We stopped answering the door sometimes and started screening the neighbor’s calls.  More often than not these calls and visits had nothing to do with a concrete problem that we could help with, and simply involved the neighbor wanting to talk.  We sympathized – they were obviously lonely and had little outside contact – but their condition had progressed to the point that they could talk literally for hours without pause, jumping from topic to topic and from emotion to emotion with bewildering frequency and often digressing to topics for which there was no useful response possible, and after a full day or at the beginning of the morning before coffee and breakfast it became simply impossible for us to deal with.

So when the neighbor came over one night while we were on a conference call, my wife told her I was unavailable at the moment and would call when we were finished with out conference call.  Which I did.

The neighbor had many pills in the house, and was considering taking them.  The neighbor was also clearly mad at me for not coming to the door.  We had an awkward conversation for about ten minutes in which I was told repeatedly that “nothing was wrong” and that the neighbor didn’t want to talk anymore, and that the neighbor had lots of pills of various sorts and that clearly nobody gave a damn whether the neighbor lived or died.  The neighbor forced me be proactive, to ask questions about the pills and whether any had been taken and whether any would be taken.  The neighbor would then answer flippantly “Oh NO!  I haven’t TAKEN any PILLS!  I’m JUST FINE!  EVERYTHING is GOOD!”  I hung up eventually and made dinner and thought.

Then I called the police non-emergency number.  Of course it did no good.  An officer came and apparently talked to the neighbor for a few minutes, and once again did nothing.  My wife and I both found the situation very frustrating.  It was clear to both of us that the neighbor was gradually escalating.  Vague hints were now turning into vague threats that were turning into more specific threats.  But what could the police do?  The neighbor had not actually taken any pills or tried in any visible way to commit suicide.

So now we wait.  Every day we sit at home, trying to work, trying to write, trying not to hide in our own home.  Trying to be helpful to someone who is clearly in trouble, but not enough trouble to attract the notice of the powers that can actually do something to help.  We recently took the neighbor to the DMV to meet with a hearing officer about the license suspension (so far as we could tell from what the neighbor said afterwards the interview was probably pretty horrible and did not result in their getting the license reinstated) and last night I noticed the neighbor’s car out of the driveway and spotted the neighbor driving it later in the evening.  Its pretty obvious right now that if things continue as they are going, there is going to be a massive emotional and possibly physical train wreck in the future.  And we’re going to get caught up in it because we got involved.

I like to think of myself as a good person.  I certainly think of my wife as a good person.  I don’t know quite what that means here though.  How far do we allow ourselves to be carried into this situation?  When does it stop being a situation where we are helpers, and start being a situation where we are enablers, or worse, victims?

On the other hand, if we did not get involved, do not stay involved, are we the sort of people we want to be?  If one of us was alone, in pain, troubled, would we not hope for, pray for a kindly stranger to offer aid and assistance?  Is not our very living situation currently an example of someone doing for us what our neighbor needs us to do for them?

There are no easy answers here.  It seems that there never are when issues of mental health in the community come up.  For now we must take it day by day, offering what help we can because that’s what neighbors should do, limiting our activities and exposure as we must to keep from being damaged ourselves, and waiting for any potential opportunity to get some authority higher than “neighbor” involved.  It’s difficult and stressful and tiring, but its the better thing to do.

“-Isms and Me” (Part III)

goodbye california poster - Google Search: I was born in 1961 in San Francisco, California, to Max and Sibyl Metheny.  Max was either a beat poet who clerked, or a clerk who did beat poetry depending on how you prioritized profession and passion.  Sibyl was a social worker who, at the moment of my birth, transformed into a stay-at-home mother.

It wasn’t an easy birth.  Most of Sibyl’s doctors thought it wouldn’t be a birth at all, but rather the death of my mother and the fetus she carried.  She proved them wrong.  The drive to reproduce is strong.

Because my birth was hard, my mother had to have a cesarean section six weeks before my due date.  In 1961 this was a big deal.  Now it isn’t.  Medical science is wonderful.  But prior to being wheeled in for surgery, Sibyl was given a sedative and this led to an odd occurrence at the hospital that she would talk about in later years.  She always told it as a funny and self-deprecating story, and she told it freely enough that it stuck in my mind.  Heavily sedated and loopy, as she was being prepared for the surgery an alarming prospect suddenly popped into her head, one that she had to deal with immediately before the anesthetic took her completely.  She caught the attention of the orderly, desperately fighting the effects of the drugs to get her message out before it was too late.

“Please,” she said to the orderly, “please tell them in surgery not to give me any negro blood.”

“Don’t worry, ma’am,” said the orderly, who my mother would later describe as being black as night, with an afro out to here, “I’ll let them know.”  Sibyl, greatly relieved, surrendered to the anesthetic

What brought about that outburst?  As Sibyl told the story, it was an effect of the disorientation from the drug.  But we already know that Sibyl had issues in this area.

Image result for 1960 incubator
Not me.

In any event, I got me born, was briefly held by my mother, then stuffed into an incubator and wheeled off to the chapel where I was baptized as Edmund Martinus Metheny and then given last rites.  I was rather problematic – six weeks premature with an umbilical hernia and an rH compatibility problem.  I wasn’t considered particularly viable.  But it turned out that I was.  So eventually I went home to the Haight-Ashbury district of San Francisco where the beatniks were slowly transforming themselves into hippies.  My mother took care of me.  My father clerked, wrote beat poetry, and drank too much – which may have been a requirement to write beat poetry.

The first person of color I recall knowing in my life was the street sweeper.  We had street sweepers then, actual people with brooms and trashcans who would come and sweep the streets clear of trash and debris.  I no longer recall the man’s name, but I knew it at the time.  He would appear on our street early in the morning with his can and his broom, and as often as not he would be singing.  I would toddle over to the window to listen and wave at him.  I asked my mother if I could meet him, and she introduced us, and thereafter he would wave at me when he saw me in the window.  He was an older man.

In my young life he was one of the coolest people I had ever met.  I would cry if I missed him.  Even now I can remember my enthusiastic waving, and him smiling and waving back.

The first really sick person I recall knowing was Mrs. Mack, who lived upstairs from us with her two daughters and husband.  Mrs. Mack was dying.  She had cancer.  It had started in her throat, and her vocal chords had been removed and a stoma cut in her throat so she could breathe.  She used to stick cigarettes in the hole in order to smoke. It took me a long time to figure out that Mrs. Mack was in fact the mother of the two girls – she looked older than my grandmother.  She scared me, particularly when she would hack what seemed like gigantic amounts of phlegm from the hole in her neck.  Because she lacked vocal chords she also spoke in a hissy, clicky whisper.

The girls, who were about 6-8 years my senior, were always in good spirits though.  It must have been hard having a dying mother in the house at such a young age.

Eventually Max departed the scene in order to devote himself to drinking and writing poetry, Sibyl divorced him for intolerable cruelty, and there was a lot of yelling and crying and acrimony, which bewildered the living hell out of 4-year-old me.  I have a vivid memory of my mother crying and me running to the bathroom, there to tear off a single square of toilet paper to help her dry her tears.  Another memory of that time was of my watching out the window as my father left after a visit.  He strode off down the street with those big, adult strides.  I waited for him to turn around because I wanted to wave at him again, but he didn’t.  That bewildered me for years afterwards – why my father wouldn’t turn around and look back at me – but it makes a lot more sense now that I am an adult.

After my mother got her teaching credential she started looking for work.  She went to lots Image result for True Detective magazine coversof different places, but it was hard for a single mother even in the 60’s to find work – the stigma was much reduced over previous years, but it remained.  It took a couple of years for her to get her teaching credential and find a job in teaching, and during that time my aunt Gertrude Phillips came to live with us and provide care for me.  Aunt Gertrude was a former nurse who had worked in tubercular wards.  She was a spinster who loved those lurid “True Detective” magazines – the ones that featured tied up women – often with their clothing in disarray – being menaced by shadowy figures.  Make of that what you want.  Maybe she read them for the articles.  It’s not like we had discussions about it, but there were always a half-dozen issues of various such magazines lying around her room.  She also chain smoked, which eventually led my mother to restrict her smoking to her room with the door closed.  She was an average cook, and most importantly for me a lax disciplinarian.  Finally, she was somewhat afraid of black people, despite having worked with a lot of them in tubercular wards in her younger years.  On Allport’s scale she was a stage 1 who occasionally drifted into stage 2.  Because of where we ended up it was relatively easy for this to be a non-issue most of the time.

But I digress.

I was diagnosed with amblyopia during this time, which was later refined to lazy eye.  I got an eye patch – not the cool pirate kind initially, but rather a big adhesive thing that looked like an eye-shaped bandage that I had to stick over my dominant eye to give the other one an opportunity to strengthen.  This had exactly the effect that one might imagine – my dominant eye got weak, my weak eye got strong, and the problem jumped back and forth from eye to eye.  Finally when I was in second grade (further up the narrative from where we are right now) the doctors just said “to hell with it” and let the lazy eye settle into the eye that it was currently in (my right) and gave me glasses.   I bring this up mainly because it led to my  very first encounter with being part of an out-group.  My very first encounter on the wrong side of discrimination.

My mother sent me on an overnight outing sponsored by the day care center I attended.  I had never been on an overnight outing before, and was a bit apprehensive to say the least.  At the time I had three possessions that I considered really important – a light blue “security” blanket, a stuffed bear (“Preacher Bear” – named because we had gotten him at the local church thrift shop) and the eye patches that I wore religiously with the understanding that I would surely go blind without them.  At some point during the outing my stuff got stolen by other children, and my blanket, bear, and eye patches got pitched into the camp fire where I got to watch them all burn.

To say that this made me upset would be a profound understatement.  I had a complete and total nervous breakdown.  I would not stop screaming and crying.  Eventually one of the adult supervisors had to drive me back from the Marin hills to San Francisco in the middle of the night and return me to my mother and Aunt.  There was a lot of screaming and yelling – my mother was not happy with my treatment – but mostly I just cried.  I cried for hours.  I cried for days.  I was convinced that I would now go blind.  I was devastated by the loss of my blanket and Preacher Bear – we had been inseparable.  And I simply could not wrap my mind around the idea that other people had done this to me maliciously, because I wore an eye patch or had a blanket, or for whatever reason they had chosen as their excuse to single me out for special treatment.

Lets be clear – this was a mere taste of the ice cream of prejudice.  It wasn’t like I had gotten a full scoop.  It was a terrible, traumatic event but it was nothing, nothing, NOTHING like what those who experience systematic discrimination must endure.  This was casual.  This was small children being mean in the way that small children can be.  This was drive-by discrimination.  I was a target of convenience, nothing more.  If the mix of kids had been different, if I had been a bit less conspicuous, it could easily have been me on the opposite side of that event, doing something casually cruel because my child’s mind didn’t really grasp the extent of it.

Nevertheless for me – FOR ME – it was a shattering event.  As I write this the events happened approximately 50 years ago, and I can still conjure up with ease the image of Preacher Bear burning in the camp fire.

Image result for the king the mice and the cheeseI had to go to a child psychologist.  God knows where my mother got the money for that.  I don’t remember too much about it except that the child psychologist had lots of nice toys – way nicer than the toys that I had at home – and he and I would spend about an hour playing with them and making up stories about them.  I went for several months before the child psychologist pronounced me to be in reasonable psychological health for someone my age who had parents going through a divorce.  The child psychologist gave me some books (in truth I think my mother probably paid for them because I had drawn all over them in crayon).  Of these, my favorite was “The King, The Mice, and the Cheese” (which was a new book at the time).  I kept that book for decades, crayon marks and all.

Again, draw your own conclusions from that.

Following this, my mother kept me close for some time.  Despite the presence of Aunt Gertrude who was there ostensibly to watch me, and frequent visits by Ruth, I went with my  mother on many of her job interviews – to Oakland, to San Jose, to Davis.  Eventually we hopped into the 1966 Volkswagen my mother had purchased and headed off for a little town in Northern California called Oroville, where my mother was seeking employment as a Home Economics teacher.

They hired her.

Away we went.






2016 – No Justice. No Peace.


I spent 2016 feeling largely like someone had taken a bat to my head and wielded it with conviction.

To be honest the last few years have not been good ones.  For very good and sufficient reasons we left Seattle and the friends I had made there (making friends is hard for me – making friends outside of gaming is almost impossible) and moved to Eureka.  That turned into a disaster as the economic downturn robbed Sophie of work.  When we came to the Bay Area it was functionally as economic refugees.  And we’ve been economic refugees since.  My mental health deteriorated to the point that I wind up spending at least a day a week as a complete or near non-functional, and my sleep schedule is now so erratic as to be effectively random.

Throughout the last twenty years Sophie has been a foundation of strength for me.  Recent years have put strains on our relationship and on her, as tough times frequently do.  They were almost too much for us.  That happens, and usually earlier than it happened to us, but we came back from it, and in 2016 we were on the way back up in our relationship.

Image result for breast cancer ribbonThen came that goddamned motherfucking cancer.

In truth, if terrifying, life-threatening cancer there had to be this was pretty much the best terrifying, life-threatening cancer ever.  It was caught early due to Sophie’s diligence with breast cancer exams (lesson to all of you out there – DO YOUR SELF-EXAMS!  That applies to everyone, of any gender – I’ve started doing them for my he-boobs).  It was big and scary when found, but responded well to chemotherapy.  Surgery was as successful as it is possible for surgery to be – we couldn’t have hoped for a better result.  Radiation therapy seemed to go by very quickly, and didn’t develop any of the side-effects which might have slowed treatment (thus reducing its effectiveness).  We got lovely support from friends and family – scarves and money and ointment for radiation burns and physical presence and love.

But cancer is shite.  Now that we’re getting out of the crisis portion of treatment, it’s easy to look back and say “Hey, that wasn’t so bad – we were really lucky!”.  But cancer never feels lucky.  There are few people out there who are diagnosed with cancer and rejoice.  There are few people who go through the weeks of discomfort and nausea and weakness of chemotherapy and rejoice.  There are few people who lie on a gurney waiting to have pieces of them cut out and rejoice.  There are few people who have to go in five days a week to get shot with a radiation gun that rejoice.  Hindsight is a great comforter, a defense mechanism for softening unpleasant experiences, but it fools us into thinking things were less unpleasant than they were.  Going through the experience of cancer is nothing short of catastrophic – even if the end result of the treatment is a good one – and going through the experience of cancer in the United States for-profit medical system where you also have to worry about the six-figure costs of your treatment and receiving bills for more than every single thing you own on a regular basis – is soul-crushing.

Lots of people also died this last year.  I’m really not that much into the phenomena of celebrity deaths, but the drum beat was constant and loud this past year.  It was a phenomena that was frequent enough to be nigh inescapable no matter who you were or which celebrities you loved.   I guess we should get used to it – our idols are typically older than we are, and so we are likely to lose most of them before we go.

Image result for Trump vs ClintonPolitics in the US were also a disaster this last year.  To be fair, politics in America have been a disaster since the redistricting  in 2010, but most of us weren’t paying enough attention to realize just how bad things were getting.  We knew that Obama held the White House.  We were aware that Republicans held Congress.  But we didn’t pay that much attention to what was going on at the state level outside our own states (and in California, with its super-majority in Sacramento, it was admittedly difficult to see just how far down the toilet state politics had gone nation-wide).  Nobody could quite believe that Donald Trump could become President – it just HAD to be some sort of a mistake.  Worse even, because we hadn’t been paying attention we didn’t quite realize that the Democrats were in such a huge hole.  Two weeks before the election progressives, even those who weren’t all that hot about Clinton, were confidently predicting her easy victory, a Democratic majority in the Senate, and four years of Supreme Court nominations.  Election wonks were predicting the end of the Republican party.  It wasn’t until one day after the election that we woke up to discover that not only had Clinton and the Democratic party somehow failed to prevail over Trump, but that the party that we thought was one of the two political powers in our two-party system was a smoking ruin, not only shut out of the Federal government but in many states – the majority of states – irrelevant and powerless  as far down as the county level.  That it was so far gone that the Republicans were close to the super-majority they needed to call and implement changes to the Constitution without even needing the consent or involvement of Democratic controlled states.  That all those things we had supported – women’s rights, LGBTQ equality, minority rights, disability rights, immigrant rights – were now sitting on the chopping block waiting for the ax.  That somehow all the victories that we achieved over recent years, and even victories that we thought were won and settled decades ago, had lost much of their protection.

It was bewildering.  It’s still bewildering.  Like many of us I am still stunned by it, still coming to grips with it, still trying to figure out what to do now.

So many things piled one on top of another.

Image result for Big Bad ConTo be sure, 2016 had good times too.  Let not the crap cause me to forget what was good about the year.

  • Big Bad Con was one of the best things that happened to me this year
  • The visit by Sophie’s mother (though a bit stressful) was a happy occasion and fun
  • The cats give me joy on a regular basis
  • the visit by our friend Paul was great
  • the visit by our friend Bryanna was also great
  • I attended Pride Day in San Francisco for the first time
  • the numerous visits to our friends Steve and Dorene, and their support during Sophie’s cancer treatment, were touching and uplifting
  • I read some really good books
  • I had some very good meals
  • Although FTF gaming was sparse, I had a wonderful time in some of the online RPGs I ran/played in

It’s important for me to remember these things because my natural tendency is to forget or disregard them.  I am pessimistic and depressive by nature, and spend far too much time focused on the crappy things in life, and not enough time focused on the good stuff.  And there certainly was a lot of good stuff to be thankful and grateful for this past year.

Image result for Middle fingerSo yes, 2016 was an incredibly toxic year.  It was a year I will certainly look back on with a great deal of fear and loathing.  It was a year of scary, a year of not nice, a year when my eyes were opened to shit going on in this world that I had blinded myself to in the past, and a year when I was reminded to my horror and dread that all things come to an end one day.  But it was also a year that I resolved to see – a year that I learned and grew.  It was a year that held precious memories in addition to the horrible ones, a year that held friendship and support, a year that taught lessons that I needed to be taught, and were necessary to see me have a chance to successfully navigate 2017.

It would be nice if I could say now, looking back on the year, that if I could do it over I wouldn’t change a thing.  But that’s just sentimental claptrap.  There’s ALWAYS something – we humans are fallible creatures (so unlike cats!) and we make mistakes both big and small all the time, some of them for important reasons that we think are justifiable, and some for dumb reasons like we aren’t paying attention or didn’t think things through.  We SHOULD have regrets about some of the things we have done, it’s a sign that we learned something and that even if we didn’t figure out what we should have done, even if we couldn’t fix the damage we did, there was still something learned even if it was simply that the previous way of acting or thinking was wrong or inappropriate or over-general.  We can improve.

There are a lot of things I want to tackle in 2017.  There are a lot of things I am looking forward to in 2017.  And of course there will be things that come up that will be painful and awkward and even downright embarrassing or shameful or uncomfortable that I will need to learn from in 2017.  Politically, 2017 will almost certainly be pretty horrible for a lot of people that I care about – 2016 was just the trailer for that, 2017 will be the beginning of the movie.  Sophie will still be dealing with her cancer through early 2017 and to a lesser extent beyond.  My depression isn’t going to magically go away.  But Big Bad Con will still be there this year, as will (hopefully) Kublacon.  I have some writing ideas.  I live in a beautiful place for photography.  My wonderful wife is alive and improving thanks to her own hard work and the work of her physicians and care teams.  I still have friends, and maybe I will make more this year.  There’s plenty to do, a lot to get involved with, and maybe even orks to fight in Warhammer 40k (if I make enough soup for Sophie).  There will be good moments in 2017.

2017 will be OK.

Misha B

Just your friendly neighborhood ego striker.

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