"This is a gift, it comes with a price, who is the lamb and who is the knife?"

"This is a gift, it comes with a price, who is the lamb and who is the knife?"

"This is a gift, it comes with a price, who is the lamb and who is the knife?"

“Whoo, laddie, I’ll be the lamb if you slip me your knife!” Young Madge yelled as she slipped around the courtyard to the barn. Old Madge snorted a laugh and turned back to hanging the day’s washing on the line.

Roger glared at them both, then raised his arms above his head, and intoned, "This is a gift, it comes with a price, who is the lamb and who is the knife?" His mam’s best butcher knife flashed in his hand, sharp and wicked. But his arms weren’t quite right - he adjusted them to be more menacing, less limp-scarecrow, and yelled, “THIS IS A GIFT, IT COMES WITH A PRICE, WHO IS THE LAMB AND WHO IS THE KNIFE?”

That sounded proper. The spring lamb between his legs continued chewing grass, unimpressed, but Roger flushed smugly. His voice hadn’t cracked once; had rung out quite boomingly, in fact. He lowered his hands toward the lamb’s head and gripped it by the wool, lifting its head up to expose the neck. He made the mistake of looking into its soft, dewy eye. So trusting. So sweet. It gave out a soft “baa-ah” and a piece of grass fell out of its mouth.

Shit.

Roger let it go, closed his eyes, and counted to 10. He set his mouth and silently repeated his mantra: “I am the man of the house now. I am the man of the house now. I am the man of the house now.” He shoved the sleeves of his tunic back, raised his hands, and added a little more oomph this time. “DARK LORD, this is a gift, it comes with a price, who is the lamb and who is -“

The knife was suddenly whisked out of his hand; he gave a not-so-manly squeak and was jostled aside, his own mam brandishing the knife, her other hand fisted in the lamb’s wool.

“You’re no dark lord’s knife, laddie, if you can’t even get us supper,” and she yanked the lamb’s head back, severing the esophagus and blood vessels in one fast swipe. She kept her glare on him while the lamb’s blood spurted into the big kettle, its head lolling back off the spine, body limp.

“Now, take this off to the kitchen shed for Young Madge. We want some black pudding put up,” and Roger’s mam dragged the sheep over to the butcher’s block. He was ashamed, but grateful. Last butchering, he’d turned green and vomited - just a little. Butchering before that, he’d straight out fainted. It was generally held that he would be a musician someday, or perhaps an actor in one of the higher-class troupes, as there were 10 other sons on the farm, all brawny and brainless and butcherful. Alas, those 10 other sons were now gone to war for the Duke, and Roger was the man of the house now.

Roger turned back to the kettle of blood, still warm, and fought with disgust and an urge to drool at the thought of fresh lamb with mint for supper. Not as delicious as pork, but better than the pottage they’d had for the last 6 days straight.

He bent his knees and put his arms around the kettle, lifted with his back, but it didn’t budge. Young Madge came around the corner to help Old Madge finish laundry; he didn’t want them to see him strain, so instead he went to his knees, and in his best black-magician voice intoned, “Dark Lord, we sacrifice these virgins to thee, drink of their blood and rise!”

Young Madge scampered over, whisking the kettle from between his arms and propping it on her hip. She eyed him up and down.

“Laddie, you’re the only virgin here, and I don’t see you bleeding.”

This time Young Madge and Old Madge laughed together and shared a wink, while Roger looked at the ground and blushed. He may as well go pick the mint for supper.

-----
This has been an entry for [livejournal.com profile] therealljidol. Please also see my teammates' entries at Ellison's LJ, I love Freddie's LJ, Prog Schlock's LJ, and Mika's LJ!. Together we are Team Clueless, and we appreciate your votes! Please don't forget to vote at http://therealljidol.livejournal.com/888626.html and thank you!
There's one country-western club in my town, which is a bit odd considering the town itself, but I gotta specify that by club I mean CLUB. Not bar. I think by default all bars in this town are country-western bars. First time I went to this club, I ended up line-dancing to No Diggity. They also have a ladies mud wrestling night, winner walks away with $250. Even had it set up tournament-style for awhile, the 6-weeks winner gets a cool grand and, obviously, bragging rights.

So my cousin Naomi, she shows up at granny's and says she's gonna go for it. Her brother's a bronco rider, she figures if he's got a drawer full of buckles for staying on a horse for 8 seconds, she can take out a couple hillbillies in a mud ring. She's strong, true, but she's also a sweetheart with a penchant for the cannabis, so I give my beer to granny, step out of the kiddie pool, and ask her what her moves are gonna be.

"Moves?" She looks at me blankly. "Like, plan them out? It's mud wrestling, you just go for it."

This is no good. I pat her hand, say, "I'll help you sweetie," and stroll into the garage to get more beer and make a call. She needs practice. Coaching. Some solid advice from some solid professionals, and that's not me. There's family pride at stake here. If she goes down in the ring, all the old bags at the bingo hall will be heckling granny for months.

I stroll back out, hand a Busch to Naomi and granny, knock back half of mine.

"Emma and Justin will be here soon, so drink up," I tell her, then turn the hose onto the garden patch we left fallow this year. It's 98 degrees out and has been for weeks, so the dirt is hard and packed but, obviously, we need some mud. I sit back in the kiddie pool and prop the hose up to get the ground nice and gooey.

Justin and Emma show up 10 minutes later. Emma's birth name is Paul, and Paul is a nice mild-mannered sort of guy, but if there's a wig on the head, she's Emma, and Emma is a nasty, unpredictable bitch... which is what you have to be, it seems, if you're gonna be riding around a cow town in Carhartts and a blond wig without getting beat up regularly. Exactly the kind of role model Naomi needs right now.

Justin, though... Justin's been in and out of jail, did some terrible things in the army he'll never talk about, and he gets right into it. While I haul myself up, get more beers, turn off the hose, he prods Naomi into the mud and starts talking.

"Rules - you can't get high first, but you can have a few shots of tequila, get yourself riled up and a little loose. It'll hurt less if you go down. Girls fight dirty, so you wanna go for the head and face. Get an arm around the neck, a leg around the ankle, you're maybe good to go."

Naomi nods, all seriousness, then shrieks as he pushes her shoulder and falls back into the huge mud puddle.

"No, see, no good... it's slippery, obviously, and you gotta find your balance," Justin says, nudging her in the side with his foot. "Stand up, give me a good crouch."

Naomi stands up, laughing some, and flexes her knees. This time when Justin pushes her, she sways but doesn't go down. Fast learner. Did I mention she was smart? Real smart girl. Besides ideas like this, that is.

"Now, what's your opener?"

Naomi just shrugs; so Justin turns to me, "She needs to actually practice, can't swim around in the mud and call it good. You hop in there."

I shake my head. I'm not gonna wrestle my little cousin. Sure, I outweigh her by a good 50 pounds, but she's got height and reach and youth. Also, we're a close family, but not that close. We all turn to Emma, who took it upon herself to pull the curlers out of granny's hair and start teasing it up into an old-lady puff. Nice thing about Emma, she's up for anything. She bounds toward Naomi and without a word lunges at her legs. It's on. Justin stands back to avoid the mud flying while the two grunt and heave and, now and then, shriek a little when some hair gets pulled. Or in Emma's case, shriek a lot - it's not her best wig, and she's gonna have to clean it good tonight, but if it comes off she'll lose her shit.

Granny's covering her eyes, I'm laughing, Justin's yelling advice: "Keep your center of gravity! Twist! Hold her down, no, HOLD HER DOWN!"

Emma and Naomi break apart, panting, and Justin walks back up, crouches down, and says, "Look, if you're losing ground, or outmatched from the start, there's two things you can do to take your opponent completely by surprise: First, and nobody - NOBODY - expects this, is slip a finger up the ass. It'll freak anybody ou-"

Emma interjects, "Not me," and bats her eyelashes at Justin.

"Okay, yeah that's a good point. If by some chance it doesn't freak the other person out, it's a whole new ball game anyway, and you still got the element of surprise and can run away while they're figuring their next move." He glances at Emma, and adds, "Or, you know, you can roll with it, but that's a jail yard thing. Finger up the ass, fight's over, one way or the other."

Naomi can't help but giggle at this, despite the dead-serious look on Justin's face.

"Second thing, with girls, you don't got a real clear target. You're up against a guy, you go for the balls. Generally you can go for the kidneys, but when you're grappling it can be hard to get a clear shot. Girls, you can sometimes get a foot to the cooch, and that hurts, but it takes some room to maneuver. So go for an ovary punch, just low on the stomach and off to the side."

He traces, lightly, right about where Naomi's ovary is, and she nods, eyes big. I file this away in my head. My fighting days are long gone, back in the days of coke and whiskey, but it seems like good advice.

"Plus you can disguise that a little, it's not so obvious a move. If your girl's fighting dirty, go for it, right there. Slam her in the ovary then sit on her back and shove her face all into that mud."

Turns out it's good advice. When the real deal happened, Naomi took down her opponents hard and fast and bought textbooks for the next term with her winnings. As we sat there, whooping our heads off, granny beaming with pride, Naomi turned to me and winked and mouthed, "Ovary punch," then took her victory lap around the ring.

bonus picture )
I'm currently on a diet.

Except it's not really a diet, it's more realizing I'm almost 36 and I need to start eating like an adult. A dietary retraining, if you will. One problem is I'm not an adventurous eater, and I also work at home - you might think, well, then there's plenty of time to cook a lovely dinner isn't there? But at the end of the day I just want to LEAVE the house. Cabin fever sets in fast. Also my granny is generally in charge of cooking dinner, and I've had a hard time convincing her there's more to vegetables than broccoli and potatoes, and she seems convinced, after telling her I'd prefer to be vegetarian, that chickens and turkeys are simply fast-moving vegetables.

It is very similar to this:


Which brings me to waffles. They fall under the heading of "foods I don't like much," which also includes pancakes and muffins and other dense, bready things. I feel sort of queasy if I eat only bread for breakfast, especially bread with fat and sugar on top. However, when I was about 11, my parents got a waffle/sandwich maker (similar to this but not so fancy). My mom had just graduated college and was working the night shift; my dad was finishing up his MBA and working full time as well. My brother and I were old enough to cook for ourselves, and gadgets like this were mind-blowing. A year or two later my grandparents gave my parents an anniversary gift of a microwave, but that's a whole other set of stories... none of them very interesting, we'd simply never had a microwave before, and it was like magic.

As stated, our waffle/sandwich maker wasn't near as fancy as the one linked to; the sandwich side was simply flat, didn't cut things into neat triangles, and while we occasionally made waffles, this was mostly used for grilled cheese sandwiches. Of all sorts. Grilled cheese and tuna, grilled cheese and avocado, grilled cheese and lunch meat, most of which was eaten with tomato soup.

Because you cannot - CANNOT - beat grilled cheese and tomato soup. And, in my opinion, you have to go old school for this - the sodium and preservative filled canned tomato soup and cheap white bread are the best. You may try to argue this fact, but like any fanatic, I won't hear it. Butter the bread to a medium thickness, and stick it in that sandwich maker until it's perfectly brown, crisp on the outside, gooey inside, then take that sandwich and dip it right into the tomato soup. Perhaps, if you're feeling especially daring, shred some cheese into the tomato soup so you get swirls of melted cheese when you spoon up whatever hasn't been dipped by the sandwich. I'm drooling now.

How does this connect to waffles, you ask? A few years back I accidentally grilled my sandwich a little too toasty and didn't want crumbs all over so, without thinking, I did the most genius thing I've ever done - I cut it into little cubes like croutons and dropped them into my tomato soup. Then in every bite of tomato soup I had this perfect cheesy crouton thing, and it was divine. I will repeat: Divine.

With the advent of Pinterest, I became aware of other waffle recipes and indeed was tempted to buy another waffle/sandwich maker simply to try out things like brownie waffles. Because I am highly interested in chocolate in all its various forms. Then my second genius moment happened: Waffle grilled cheese. Not with the waffle mix, oh no... But I am itching to see if one can make a grilled cheese in the waffle side which would then be already cut up into perfect little cheesy crouton bites for my tomato soup. Or at least require minimal handling to do so. I dream of opening up the waffle-maker and simply turning it over into a vat of tomato soup and watching the little squares of yum drop in. I don't know if it will work, so if you have a waffle-maker and want to try it out, please let me know.

This is a serious request - please, please let me know. Describe it in detail. Is there a proper crisp to gooey ratio? Does the waffle cutter indeed make perfect croutons or do you still have to slice it up? Does it make a huge mess or is it as easy as I hope? You may be thinking, well, go out and get a waffle-maker and try it yourself, but that's the problem: as it turns out, I feel immensely better when I don't eat dairy products. I'll spare you the details (and at least 1 person on my friends list is heaving a sigh of relief, as I often talk about my bowels and related issues), but.... dairy is not for me. No heavy cream in my coffee, no sour cream on my potatoes. No pizza. No more grilled cheese sandwiches, especially not cut up and dropped into tomato soup to be eaten like bits of heaven fell from the sky. It is sad, but I need to be an adult about it. I'm almost 36 after all, in no way did I spend multiple evenings moping about the fact dairy isn't right for me (yes I did).

So, try it. Have some grilled cheese sandwich croutons for me. Pour out a sip of your tomato soup for my digestive system. I'm off to go pick all the fast-moving vegetables out of the actual vegetables - which basically means I gotta pick the leftover chicken out of the potatoes and go eat what passes for a Responsible Adult Lunch around here.
Big Spoon, Little Spoon







I don't like sleeping
with other people touching me,
he said, stroking my arm

Neither do I, I replied. I
never slept deep enough to dream before,
not next to someone, until I laid down
with you.

It thundered so loud, I woke up in a panic. Like
a bomb went off, he said.

It's all right, I'm here now, I replied,
stroking his hand.

It's not
all right
when you're
not here
with me,
he said.

He turned.
I turned
with him,
here now.


This has been an entry for [livejournal.com profile] therealljidol, please check out the other submissions and, importantly, vote!
I was plowing my way through the entries for this week and while I read them all, I'm not sure I commented on them all, so I'm leaving this as a note for other Idolers to say I enjoyed every single entry.

If you're just browsing through my journal or are a friend who doesn't know what LJ Idol is all about (cough ahem cough you certain someone), check the general gist of it out here: [livejournal.com profile] therealljidol.

If you've read the entries and want to vote, there are two polls - one for the teams and one for the solo artists, which includes me, and to be honest my goal is to quite simply not be the first one eliminated. Everything after that is a whopping success, so I don't mind if you just go over and vote for me out of pity.
My father played with my brother and me a lot as children - chess, checkers, '30s bank robbers*, baseball, basketball.... we didn't have a TV for some years, so mom read to us, and dad played games. When I was 6, we moved to a new town in a neighborhood full of my kids my age. All the neighbor kids loved my dad - they'd call him "dad," in fact, as did my classmates. We'd moved to this town so that my parents could attend college, and we lived exactly 1 block from said college, with access to all its fields and tracks and racquetball courts.

It was on one of those fields on a beautiful sunny day that dad organized all the neighbor kids for a game of baseball. Dad had played baseball as a kid and always insisted he could have made the minors, if he hadn't started smoking the dope (and dropping LSD and eventually shooting heroin, among other things) when he was 12. We grabbed our gloves and bats and balls and some mats for makeshift bases, and trooped out together to start a glorious game. If you've seen Sandlot, this game had that same sort of childhood fairytale sense around it. I was on second; I don't remember what was happening up at bat, but it wasn't going well, and I desperately wanted to steal third.

I was always a short kid, by the way. I couldn't run fast, but at least being low to the ground gave me a good center of gravity. If you've ever seen a Corgi run, that's about what I looked like - stubby little legs blurring forward. Dad was the second baseman. He knew what I wanted to do. He approved. He encouraged me. He whispered that he wouldn't try to tag me out, he'd help me get to third. He always liked the "get ahead no matter what" mentality, and being the second child, the unwanted daughter**, I desperately wanted his approval. And to win. I don't know what happened to my competitive spirit, but that day, oh I wanted to win.

After much hesitation, I went for it - my little Corgi legs took off. But I'd waited too long, hesitated just the right amount. I heard the crack of a bat, the soft whump of the ball landing in a glove, and mere nanoseconds later, the touch of the glove on my shoulder, dad tagging me out.

I burst out crying, to dad's great perplexity. While I sobbed and sniffled that he'd promised, he'd supported me, I was going to get to third, he hugged me and patted my back and said that I never should have trusted him; that's how the game is played. His refrain all through my childhood, "life isn't fair," was trotted out yet again, and the game went on.

Dad stopped playing chess with my brother, David, when David started beating him, sometime in grade school***. David and I kept playing, and as dad got busier and busier with school and work, we played together more and more often. Anything we could get our hands on, to alleviate the boredom and fill the time while our parents were busy. When I was about 9, David got a deck of cards and the Hoyle's book of card games. I had ADD as a child, although it wasn't diagnosed. The last thing I could do was concentrate on rules and explanations for anything. But there were something like 100 different card games in this book, and by gum, we were going to get through all of them.

It was David who taught me about cutting the cards while we learned to play a bewildering variety of poker games. It wasn't a big deal, simply a precaution, a normal part of the game. Every game we learned to play, card or board or computer, David would read the instructions while I fidgeted with the pieces or stared out the window, then explain the basics and walk me through a practice game before getting down to the details. No fuss, no flurry, he'd hand me the deck of cards to cut, not minding when I picked up all but two and cut it that way, or wanted to cut it a bunch of times because why not? David and I, we never cheated each other. It was just part of the game.

The thing is, life isn't fair. I get that. But life is also what you make it. You have to trust others enough to navigate through, but learning to take precautions, to protect yourself, to be cautious - that's important too, and it doesn't require making small children cry to teach that lesson.

Footnotes under the cut )
I'm being an ungrateful bitch lately because I'm tired, cranky, and don't feel well. I thought of writing a story for this entry, but I can't even think of a story that doesn't include some sort of bitter, self-serving complaining disguised as thanks.

I am, however, thankful for this competition... and for all those who participate in it.

I had an entry that was indeed sniveling and spoiled and lame, and I deleted it - because there's nothing quite like the public shame of admitting that, despite my relatively privileged lifestyle, I'm a whiner.

So I'm just going to make a list: Coffee with heavy cream, kittens too tired to scratch, Granny's homemade bean soup, mom's ridiculous puns, aunts who pay the internet for 3 years without complaining, brothers who save me from myself, weather too cold to smoke in, doctors with sliding scale fees, and armpit sugaring.

It's a start.

edited to add: Ordering a boar bristle hair brush, my long-distance SO who remembers to say 'good night and sweet dreams' every single night, my fat old cat who wants to claw my eyes out but gets distracted by chin scratches instead, regaining my #1 spot in the football betting pool.
So, uh, as I announced previously I'm doing the LJ Idol mini season - there's spots left, so if you're into writing (and not totally burnt out on NaNo), check it out! It actually won't start until December 1, so it won't overlap with NaNo much (well, not at all in a time sense, might overlap in the weary of word counts sense). There's something about pitting myself against other writers in a friendly way that doesn't quite reduce me to tears the way sitting down to the computer with the intent to Write The Next Great American Novel makes me dissolve into a total wreck.

Then of course there's the Sitting Down To Type And Blanking Out Completely problem.

Introduction: I feel like I have a few introductions here on my LJ that could give an overview of me. In writing specific terms, I'm just sick of my habit of starting things then never finishing. And by finish I mean polish up, have a few people read through, then submit somewhere. Anywhere. It could be Sky Mall Magazine, for all I care. I mean, my few rejection letters made me feel like a real writer, but one acceptance would make me feel like an even realer writer. Notable projects I have abandoned in the past: Children's books, including one "Henna the Hermaphroditic Cow," intended to introduce children to fluid concepts of sexuality (which I started in high school... which was 17 years ago); comics, including "Sad Oregon Girl Goes to New York to Drink Copiously" (working title) which never really got off the ground; an overview of the State of Jefferson (a regional thing); and of course the hundreds of ideas that have been written down on scrap paper and ultimately lost. Genius ideas, probably. Let's just assume.

I also have a "35 for 35" list - the idea being that as I'm now 35, I should do 35 awesome things. Some of these aren't done (it's now too cold to go rafting, at least in the "float down the river with a rack of beer in the hot, hot sunshine" sense), and I don't mind carrying them over into my "36 for 36" list, but one of the items was, in fact, to submit something - anything - for publishing. Again, anywhere, though I'll be straight up and admit I'd swoon if Glimmer Train took me up.

I have until February to accomplish this goal... and to quit smoking, though I think somewhere not too deep in my brain there's this idea that it's perfectly okay for frustrated writers to chain smoke... So I'm really hoping this mini season will jump start me - get some new stuff out there, start my brain churning, and finish the process. Even just to get more of those ironically-validating rejection letters.

edit: I'm 99% sure I said hello to everyone - if I missed you and you're here commenting on mine, lemme know so I can go check out your intro! I'm real excited (and getting suddenly nervous even with it being a week or so away), and I've really enjoyed 'meeting' everyone so far :)
Yup, I'm gonna get over my nerves, insecurities, horrible time management skills and do this again.

LJ Idol signup

Now for steps 2 and 3... And of course I'm blanking on the 3 prompts.
Trigger warning - sexual assaultRead more... )
Felly sat in the clinic room, Ced nodding off beside her. When he'd given up on the implant, he'd dug a few slightly outdated morphine patches out of his desk and slapped one on both of them, his for moral support, he'd said, and hadn't said much since. It only put a dent in her headache, but it was enough to get down to a medtech clinic to get checked out. She'd had to use his credits for the clinic, but they'd gone to the 5th ward where Shiver was working, and he might be able to fudge some of the numbers on the invoice. After what seemed like hours, the door whooshed open and a med tray slid inside, docking itself to the exam table, with Shiver following after. He smiled happily at her behind his face mask, and she relaxed immediately. Ced was her oldest friend, but Shiver had spent afternoons in creche with them while his parents worked, one of the few kids in creche who slept in a family home. They'd amassed enough credits to apprentice Shiver as a medtech, and he was now their pride and joy, the only one of the Patel family to have contract work instead of Council Labor, like Felly and Ced.

"Felly, what in the world? Your facesheet just said 'glitch ache,' so I programmed the tray with a little of everything because 'glitch ache' is really vague, you know?" He sat down and immediately turned her head to inspect the 'plant with a handheld scanner that also recorded her vital signs. Felly began explaining her path down the rabbit hole and the looping meme making her 'plant go haywire, but Shiver cut her off only a minute in.

"Ok." He sat there, staring at her, hands now limp on his thighs, and she stared back. Not talking was easier; her words kept getting mixed up and she had a hard time tracking anyway. The silence lengthened, highlighted by a few soft snores from Ced in the corner.

Shiver went into a sudden flurry of activity, punching buttons on his scanner and pulling open a drawer on the med tray, coming out with a hypodermic.

"Here's the thing, Felly," he said while carefully pumping liquid into the syringe and pulling out alcohol swabs, "the thing is that a few days ago we got a Council notice, that there's a new bug going around and they're working desperately but their techs are a little stumped, and they're concerned especially about people with medical 'plants, like yours. This bug can make some problems worse, they say," here he started tapping the veins on her left arm, "so obviously the people with epilepsy or Parkinson's should be watched carefully," and he slid the needle home, fast, slapping a latex skin over the puncture point on sliding it out, "and so anybody with this problem is to be sent to Council Clinic. Immediately."

Felly stared at him. "But, Shiver, that's totally bizarre. And what do you mean by 'sent'?" Then her head started melting off her neck, and she added, "And what's that beautiful thing you just gave me?"

"It is bizarre. And by 'sent' I mean I'm now required to call security and have you escorted to Council Clinic. And it was nothing but good old-fashioned drugs, like you'd get for a migraine if you didn't have your 'plant in. I tried to dose it so you'll be able to walk but not fall asleep. I don't want you to go to Council Clinic; I've read the tech boards and the few mentions of this bad meme make it political... and until I know better, I'm not sending you up there. I've updated your facesheet, there's no trail, but I want you to meet me down at the Barrel of Monkeys at 6:30. I get off shift at 6. You need your 'plant out, but we can't do it here, so you have to go elsewhere."

Shiver rubbed his hands over his face, glanced at Ced, and added, "If you can wake him up, take him with you. Don't use your credits or sign-on anywhere, if you can get away with it. I'll give you a med pass for the checkpoint, and we can figure it out over breakfast."

He patted her hand clumsily; creche kids were touchy-feely, they had to be given the confined space they were crammed into, but family kids were a little more distant. Still, Felly appreciated the effort at comfort. Now she'd probably owe Ced 2 weeks of Labor credits, but if Shiver knew where to get this problem fixed, it would all be worth it.

This is a continuation of a previous LJ Idol entry. The astute reader will notice discontinuity between the 2 stories. This is because the first entry was meant to be stand-alone, and I then realized I could stretch the story out longer, so some details had to change in order for that to happen. Sorry for the disconnect but thank you for reading!
I need to call my dad. I need to, actually, answer the last email from him that's been sitting there about 2 weeks, the one where he floats the idea of moving in with me then immediately makes a joke out of the idea, which is what lets me he know he actually desperately wants to come stay with me.

It's almost Father's Day. The last Idol post was about Father's Day last year, before he went to jail and I saw him in that stupid fucking blue velvet cloak* in person for the first time. It was 3 years ago that was the worst (3? really? weird). I was still living with the Gentleman Caller, who was getting sick of the whole "crazy dad" situation, and it had culminated in February-ish of that year when we went down to so I could try and talk dad into going to the hospital, or at least support my family. Because of that fiasco, dad had sent some nasty emails and GC had washed his hands of it all (and rightly so), but also was actively an asshole about my continuing to feel emotions about this whole situation. In March(ish) dad got evicted. Mom had already left, and although she cleaned as much as she could beforehand, there was still some left to do. My brother had gone over to help toss things in storage and clean up as much as possible; this was when dad assaulted David (besides some corporal punishment as children, and one notable time when I was an adult, dad never lifted a hand to us), but David felt bad calling the cops and then found out dad had called the cops on him and it was sort of a mess, so... anyway. Dad was in a bad state. He had "friends" over "helping" and was selling stuff left and right, so David kept having to buy family stuff out from under dad's friends** in order to toss it into storage.

From there, dad went camping. First he started off in Medford but quickly got into an altercation with a younger gentleman down at the park where the Juggalos and hobos and junkies hang out, wherein the other man tried to steal dad's bike. Dad has studied aikido for years; he has, I believe, done 2 tests, so this is one of the weirdest things about the last few years - he never seems able to defend himself. He gets angry, puffs up like a rooster, then somehow ends up with a rib sticking into his lung or a broken face. Besides my brother, and David said it was a very odd half-hearted fight, I'm unaware of dad doing anything but getting beaten in situations where beating is an option. So dude tries to steal dad's bike, dad tries to get back, ends up on the ground with what turns out to be a punctured lung from a broken rib, requiring a week in the hospital with chest tube drainage. He made the front page of the paper.

From there, dad goes up to Cave Junction, which is this tiny town towards the middle of nowhere renowned for its lack of a police force and the area's general lawlessness. If you don't like authority and love drugs and have nowhere to live, it's the most logical residence. When dad had been evicted he had, as far as I know, asked nobody for help, which was a relief to most of the family I would guess. The sad part is, nobody offered - and it's sad mostly because not offering was the logical thing to do when he was out of control drunk and on drugs and physically aggressive, but to him, that would have been another kick in the teeth. So he does this very stoic "I've got it all under control and have a plan" thing, and even talks as though he's really looking forward to a summer of camping. I totally bought into that one, actually - partially because to me it's a very enticing prospect. World crashed around you? Go camp in a beautiful area, hang out with hippies and bikers all day, drink a lot, and smoke what you get for helping the medical growers trim their crops. Take a break, figure shit out, you know? Except this only would have worked for him if he'd cut the drinking/smoking part out, and that's what he refused to do.

So as Father's Day and his birthday draw closer, I'm getting more frantic, and GC is getting more visibly annoyed with the fact I can't/won't disown dad and frolic off to happiness, which is pissing me off more and more, so I make plans to go south and find dad. Phone reception being spotty, we'd hammered out a basic plan to meet, and I'd enlisted the help of Paulo to drive me out there, because I was afraid to be alone with dad. And dad ended up really liking Paulo. Every time dad would start talking about the portents of a recent comet (or meteor shower, I dunno), I'd get confused, dad would get disgusted at my ignorance and/or willingness to be lied to by the government, and Paulo would take another drag off his cigarette, nod, and know exactly what dad was talking about and make (what dad considered) enlightened responses. They'd been listening to the same late-night conspiracy radio show, apparently. The visit itself was uncomfortable. To put it mildly. Dad and I were both winding up inside, but I bought him food, gave him a backpack and some old archaeology magazines as a gift, and drove away trying not to cry.

I don't know at what point it occurred to me, but at some point I realized dad had hoped I'd be there to take him home. That he wouldn't have to ask, that I would welcome him immediately, perhaps even imagined how he'd resist once or twice, to save his dignity, then hop in the truck and leave his trash-filled campsite behind. That's what Paulo said, as we drove away -"His dignity's hurt real bad," and I think that's when the realization started to dawn. I'd just left my dad with a backpack's worth of canned goods, $20, and my castoff magazines, in the middle of nowhere, where he would soon get beaten up, his workboots and a bundle of stones stolen, and a broken zygomatic arch... my dad who was obviously malnourished, sunburned, getting eaten up by mosquitoes. But also my dad who refused to stop drinking and doing any drug he could find, so if I had brought him home would immediately have started all the same behaviors up again. Though the bright side of that would have been that I could call the cops on him without the eyes of my family on me, and perhaps gotten him to a hospital finally for the checkup we all wanted.

Plus, there was GC at home. GC, who for months I'd wanted to kick out but for lots of reasons that, honestly, only other abused people can fully understand, I'd let stay there. If I'd shown up with dad, it would have been an instant shitfest with GC. But even then, maybe he would have left. Maybe we would have broken up way before the bad stuff happened. Or maybe he would have seen that empathy and compassion can be good. Or, more likely, we would have slumped along in resentful hatred for awhile, so that's a dead-end to think about. So on the one hand, I didn't feel safe with dad, and I was on the breaking point of stress as it was. On the other hand, I think I did the wrong thing by leaving him there, on a couple levels. Now when he's real mad at me, that's what he throws in my face, that I "left him in the dirt" as he puts it. To get over the sting of that, I have to deal with the truth of the situation, and part of the truth is that even at the time, I felt I was making the wrong decision but shoved it aside because it was more comfortable at the time.

Now it's almost Father's Day again, and I still haven't answered that email from dad, asking if he can stay with me. Because the answer is basically no, even though it'll also be yes - as long as he goes to rehab first. Preferably also with a neurological workup and definitely followed by ongoing counseling. Even though in another sober email he recently said he'd been looking into AA, I can't bring myself to believe anything will change - even with AA. He needs something more concrete than meetings; he needs a break with this new reality to balance out the break with the old reality. Father's Day only serves to highlight how little anything has changed over the years. Maybe it won't be like this forever, and maybe it can change at any minute. I don't know if I'm being cynical or realistic here; it's hard to be objective about all this, to take a step back and analyze for any grain of hope. As of yesterday, he's officially homeless again. This is exactly the time for me to step up and be supportive - anniversaries are real hard for him, any reminder of how isolated he is makes it worse. This is a great time for me to balance what I see as past deficiencies. I even got him a Father's Day card (there's some ironically tragic shopping for you). Any time I think too long about how dad must have felt, there in Cave Junction, it feels like a gut punch and my heart imploding all at once. Even if dad never changes, I'm sort of thinking the only way to make that feeling stop is by continuing to do what I can. If I can get the courage up to just, you know, answer his phone calls or reply to his emails. Baby steps, right?

*No offense to people who like blue velvet cloaks. I myself would love a blue velvet cloak, which I think would be perfect for Faerieworlds, which I will not be able to afford to go to anyway. In the context of dad, a blue velvet cloak symbolically represents the complete turnaround in his life, sort of how, um... well, I can't find a metaphor. It's throbbing with symbolism, let's just say that.

**Someday I'll talk about my mom's role in this, but in a big way it's a lot more complex than dad's and harder to grapple with, but this is one of those situations where I look back and wonder what the actual fuck she was thinking.
About 2 weeks ago, my dad went to the hospital with what turned out to be congestive heart failure. I'd been expecting this for some time - heart problems run in his family, he's a smoker and a drinker, and he's done a decent amount of cocaine, so it was more a matter of when than if. I type medical reports for a living, so I'm aware that heart failure can be managed, and generally trust modern medicine to do so.

I don't, however, trust my dad to manage his health, and this news immediately sent me into a panic, especially as I hadn't spoken to my father for months, and I haven't seen him in person in almost a year. The last time I saw him was the day before Father's Day. He was camping at a local hot springs because he'd been kicked out of his apartment and was scheduled to start a 6-month jail term that next Monday. As his birthday falls very close to Father's Day, I thought it triply important to visit him, for moral support, and perhaps to reassure myself he was okay.

He wasn't okay. He hasn't been okay for a few years now, though it's hard to tell exactly how long because it was a slow slide into psychosis and, to be honest, when things get stressful I disconnect. I'm told it's related to PTSD, but it's this almost physical sensation of separating my brain from my body, and I go into robot mode. I can only tend to one or two things at a time, don't answer the phone, etc. Usually I make sure that one thing I tend to is work, because losing my car and apartment is terrifying enough to get through that disconnection, but otherwise, I'm disconnected. So, timelines get fuzzy, but it was about 3ish years ago dad started talking to people who weren't really there. He also wore a tinfoil hat, and listened to public radio because he thought it was the only thing that blocked transmissions from getting inside his head.

He'd already been spiraling out of control with drugs, but he ended up at a church that uses ahayuasca as part of their sacrament; and as a concept, I'm fine with that. But the ahayuasca was, for dad, the tipping point between holding on and a complete reality break. His whole life fell apart, and my heart broke along with it. A major part of his break was being ultra-paranoid and ultra-angry, and he saw the drugs and alcohol not as the cause of any problems, but as a coping mechanism for the things that were happening to him, an innocent victim. For instance, it wasn't that drinking on the job caused him to get fired; it was that he drank on the job to deal with the stress of his bosses picking on him. That sort of thing.

So, last year, the last time I saw him in person, I met him at noon at his campsite, and he was already drunk. He pulled on his blue velvet cloak with the tassel on the hood, and showed me around. He tried to introduce me to people, but he whispered, so that the watchers couldn't read his lips or hear his words... which meant none of us could, either. His campsite was strewn with garbage and dirty laundry, and when I tried to pick some of it up he got very upset, because everything was right where it should be - in fact, where it needed to be, or Bad Things would happen.

I left pretty quickly that day, which I'm not proud of, but I couldn't handle that stress. So when dad popped up out of nowhere (Georgia), in the hospital, I disconnected again. All I wanted was to help dad, all I could think of was what I could do to make his life easier and better and help him be closer to the person he once was. But all it did was put me behind on work, and behind on school, and left me in a vortex of sadness and guilt and existential angst because no matter what I do, I can't help him, and I'm wasting both of our time. I thought this would feel like giving up, but I actually feel set free. I'm not connected to his problems any more, though I am still connected to him. He's my dad, and I won't give up on him, but giving up on my life and my priorities is a big waste all around. He detoxed in the hospital; it's the first time in that 3ish years I've spoken to him sober. It was good, even if half the conversation revolved around losing his blue velvet cloak and replacing it with a green one, but I'll take what I can get.
Felly scurried through the late-night city streets, passing a checkpoint that she got through only because she gave the guard a capsule of Scoop in lieu of a valid night pass. She had to get to Cedric, and fast. The red alarm on her implant was blinking furiously, her head pounding in time. She got to Cedric's building, a post-war hive of concrete and hopelessness, sped through the front door, whose mag locks were always fritzed out, up three flights of stairs and down a murky hall.

Half-collapsed against Ced's door, Felly pounded until she heard the snaps and clicks of a dozen locks, and practically fell onto Cedric himself, looking far too alert for 2 a.m. and not at all happy to be interrupted. Clutching his shirt front, panting in short breaths, Felly looked up and blurted, "I've caught a bad meme. It hurts. I need it out, Ced, you have to get it out."

Peeling her fingers away, he pulled her inside and relocked the door. "You've got a top scanner, and you still caught a looping meme? Did you restart?"

"Yeah, Ced, of course I restarted. It's still there. I blanked the left eye screen but there's still flickers, and I can't get it to stop. My skull is splitting in half." Felly looked it, her pupils dilated so wide almost none of the blue showed, her hands shaking.

Silently Cedric cradled Felly's head in his hands, tilting it to one side, and brushed his thumb over the stats nub. He had an ancient pair of glasses, so clunky even the most desperate thieves passed him by, that he'd modified into a tiny walking interface. He didn't like the 'plants much, though they kept him in business, but he preferred his tech removable. His eyes unfocused as he scanned the readout on his glasses screen.

"Where, um, where did you pick that up?" He didn't move for his toolset, the mag reader, or even ask for payment, but stepped back warily while Felly plopped to the floor cross-legged and tentatively rubbed her temples with her hands.

"I was curious about the silo bombings and started trailing some links. I ended up on this fansite, real weird stuff, and one of the posts had a thumbnail of the floozer meme, so you know, I wanted to see... well, I like that one, a weasel dressed like that, you know? I just wanted to see how in the world someone would caption it." Felly's pupils were still dilated, but her breathing had slowed, and she watched Ced's face crumple in thought.

"It's not weird someone looped a meme, but it is weird your wall didn't block it, or at least ping you. No ping? Nothing?"

"Nada. I got the first meme up, then it started scrolling through a bunch of different captions so I figured it for a pop-up, but it didn't redirect anywhere. It's scrolling, just scrolling nonstop, and it hurts. I've never had a meme glitch like this."

Ced rummaged through the bin next to the computer and came out with an interface cord. He poked an end into the port behind Felly's left ear, causing her to wince, and the other into his stand-alone, the computer he used to prevent the spread of infection. He called up a diagnostics program and stared at Felly while it went to work. She stared back for the first minute or so, then dropped her eyes to her lap and tried to relax instead.

A tiny beep, and Cedric was up like a shot, scanning the readout, clucking and shaking his head. "You've got a tracker, but a new one. It's bizarre. The code is real dense, very elaborate for just a meme, definitely too elaborate for an average pop-up ad. You were looking at... a fansite? Of people who supported the bombings?" Just a week ago, a group had bombed and burned the huge silos at the edge of the city, destroying bread rations for the next month. Why anybody would be a fan of that act was beyond Cedric.

Felly nodded, still staring at her hands. If Ced couldn't fix it, she might have to see a licensed specialist, and she didn't have enough credits for an office visit - plus a pesky outstanding warrant or two. Ced was still staring at her thoughtfully, glancing at the code now and then, and back at her 'plant. He leaned over and tapped the power switch once, to restart. But the red light came back on when it rebooted, and the ghostly flicker of the meme was back in Felly's screen.

Ced sat down and started tapping out a sequence to change the part of the code he thought might be the loop, but when he ran it, nothing changed. He turned to another computer and started checking forums and boards for mentions of a code like this. He figured he'd have heard about it by now, unless it was brand new. When he finally found a mention of similar meme glitches, he sucked in his breath, and Felly whimpered again. If it surprised Ced, it couldn't be good, as far as her experience went.

"Sorry, Felly. It's definitely a tracker. There's not much info on it, and there's definitely no patch up yet. The few people who've seen it are saying to pull the 'plant. And most of them think that's point."

Felly was almost speechless. Pulling the 'plant was a delicate process; the neuroelectrical interface required sterile conditions and a legit upper-level tech, not someone she could trade gas rations and a few Scoop capsules to, like Ced here. "Ced, if that's the point, then... then the council's trying to pull in suspects by forcing them to a clinic?"

Ced nodded tiredly. "Yeah, seems like the best conclusion. If they're willing to risk censure by downloading trackers into people, they might be desperate and pulling 'em in however they can. News has been quiet so if they're not making much progress, well... Unless you can handle it and wait for a fix, the only way to end this meme is to see a tech."

Felly held her head in her hands. It hurt so bad, the constant input and flickering of the meme making her head throb and making it even harder to think. There was another option. A terrible, unreliable, possibly not even real option she'd only heard rumors of. He, or she, the rumors were unclear, had lost licensure at a posh clinic years back but stole enough equipment on the way out to set up... somewhere. The rumors were also unclear about that. Felly's realm was drugs, not tech, and she'd never had to cross that line before. But logging a visit to a med/tech clinic and bringing council security down on her was, in Felly's mind, not much of an option.

Finally she raised her head, looked Ced straight in the eye, and said, "Alright. I'll get it pulled. But I'm not going to a clinic to do it," and as doubt and dismay crept over Ced's face, she finished, "I want you to help me find the Mole."

to be continued
They all gathered around the table, Pye, Sandy, Andrew, and Mark, with a pile of snacks and Mountain Dew on hand for the long night ahead.

"Andrew, you're playing Deadeye again?" asked Mark, the DM. Andrew nodded, busy picking through his bag for the dice that had fallen out of their bag yet again.

"I'm going with Pye," said Pye, "I want to build my fighter up." Andrew rolled his eyes a bit; in his view, naming a character after yourself was a mark of true narcissism.

Sandy perked up; she loved the character building and had written out 10 pages of back-story for her new character.

"Elo'yesando'ri'on," she said, enunciating so concisely they could all visualize the apostrophes.

The others stared.

"Seriously, I'm so sick of elves and their stupid apostrophic names," said Andrew, and Pye nodded, already firmly placed on the "less is better" side of things.

Mark made his face as stern as possible, since Sandy often tried to cajole her way through scenes like this. "Yes, Andrew, I'm on your side. I'm not saying 200 syllables every time you get attacked, so either shorten it or get used to being 'Hey you.'"

"But I'm elvish! I need a name that sounds like water over pebbles, or wind rushing through the trees!" Sandy made her eyes big and pleading.

"You can shorten it or say your goodbyes and leave, I'm in no mood, not tonight." Mark was tired of this game; they'd tried to mash too many rules from different games together, and it was a headache.

Mark and Sandy glared, but she broke first, muttered, "Fine, Eloyes," and after final preparations the game began, Mark saying, "You're still in the forest guarding the gramaryes and treasure chest when you hear a rustling..."

"Using Eagle Eyes and rolling for spot check!" Deadeye exclaimed.

"Eyes of the Eagle, jerk," Pye muttered, nitpicky all the time.

"It matters? Come on..." Eloyes patted Deadeye's hand, "Don't listen to him."

Mark sighed. "Weaving through the trees you see an erinyes, androsphinx, and... that's it. Charging toward you!"

"Roll for - "

"No, wait, this is ridiculous. I can't do this anymore. We're only 2 minutes in and I'm already sick of it," snapped Mark, "I'm not pronouncing 11-syllable elvish wind fart names, and we can't modify as much as we have and still have the world and rules make sense."

Shoulders slumped all around, then Deadeye perked up. "I don't want to go back to 3rd edition - can we do Spelljammer?"

Eloyes also perked up, "We could! Though I haven't played it, and maybe there's just a few modifications we might have to make (Mark groaned), but I'd love to have space battles and meet aliens, plus Deadeye's android!"

"Man, I really want to play that android," said Deadeye, "If I can play an android, I'd switch for sure."

Pye nodded; he didn't care, he'd just switch over his characters and keep building them carefully. It was Mark who gritted his teeth, eyes and an index finger twitching like they did when he was frustrated, but he said, "Fine. Okay. Yes... and if you guys do just a few mods that's fine, but this time I have full veto if I think it's getting too complex."

Three heads nodded enthusiastically, each already abuzz with ideas, as Mark, ostensibly in charge of this game, slid further down in his chair and cursed the day he became DM.
Dear LJ Idol friends: I wanted to leave so many comments and reply to all comments but am traveling and this is the slowest internet I've seen in months. Maybe years. Also am on tablet & large storm coming thru, and seriously forgot a midterm due tomorrow. Excusses! But decent ones? Non LJ Idol friends, Denver is still sorta rad. I wish I had more time here. vous about scholarship dinner. Argh! Nervous! I forgot my stylus, this is ridiculous. Exhausted. Must study. Bullshat my way thru today but luckily read some of it years ago. I should've saved this for tomorrow... boy with pretty dreads in class, otherwise middle-aged preachers in training who unaccountably kept repeating "balls to the wall" to describe their attitude toward school. Felt awkward, squirmy inside every time. Thunder whee!!!
SUNDAY
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-It has to be totally untraceable - Papa Joe hears about this, he will shred our balls, like he did to poor Louie.

*I heard the skin graft took well, though.

-Yeah, you check it yourself?

*Asshole.

-Doctors these days, though, they're miracle workers. Remember when Vinny came out of that coma? Thank god for brain damage or we'd all be in the slammer. But they can't fix her, and I almost had a heart attack about Mr. Wobbles. You're absolutely sure this is going to work?

*The little shit has one of the best records I've seen. I mean, sure, maybe it's only 3 so far, but it's 3 for 3 and this'll be 4 for 4. I'm tellin' you, it'll work.

-Well, the old lady is Papa Joe's life, psychopath or not, and he'll go nuts if he thinks it's a hit.

*Man, she chewed the ear off her schnauzer. Her SCHNAUZER. Maybe Louie's balls had it coming, but Mr. Wobbles? No way. I don't even know if he was dead first and the old bag wouldn't say shit, just chewed and chewed and smiled at me. I still got the creeps. It's as foolproof as they come, and if it don't work, who'll know the difference?

-(long pause) Alright, set it up.

TUESDAY
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Inside Papa Joe's house brothers, cousins, and associates are talking business in the office. Outside Papa Joe's house, their kids are playing hopscotch. A little girl tosses her marker - an old quarter, a lucky quarter, a quarter none of the other kids get to touch - and hops, hops, hops, until she stumbles over a crack in the sidewalk. The children's laughter wafts over the grass, she takes her place at the back of the line, and nobody hears the slight thump when the old lady falls half out of her bed, gets tangled in the sheets, and snaps her neck clean.
Derrick stretched, yawned, and chewed on a piece of straw while sauntering over to the drafting table. He peered over Brad's shoulder and made a long sucking noise as Brad tapped the pencil against the table.

"Seriously, don't chew that thing in my ear," Brad snapped, and erased another line, his brow furrowed.

Derrick just sniffed and examined the blueprint, and after long minutes pointed to a section in the middle of the plan. "I think it's there. I think we can fit it in there, and not bother with anything else. See, once they get to that tunnel (gesturing off to the upper left), there's no going back anyway, so why make it more complex than it has to be?"

Brad cocked his head to the left, then the right, peered closer and wished for glasses, reared back and squinted in thought.

"Derrick, I think you may have it. Can't believe I didn't see it before, in fact. It's such a small change it won't affect the load-bearing walls at all, and won't change the cost much either!" Brad was so relieved he didn't even twitch when Derrick started chewing open-mouthed on the straw, still talking.

"If we move that thingy 2 cm over and replace it with that, with that, you know what I mean... It could work!" Derrick settled his thumbs into his belt loops and looked extremely smug.

Brad shook his head in wonder. When he'd asked for help on this project Derrick had been the only one to volunteer, so they trooped off to the little office in the back of the barn as often as possible. Through stifling heat, dust and hay flakes, working around the stablehands' schedules, stealing every moment they could, they had drawn and planned and erased and redrawn.

Brad had to admit, despite his almost complete lack of engineering or construction knowledge and his deeply irritating personal habits, Derrick had surprisingly helpful flashes of insight.

Brad, so carefully, erased a few lines, drew new ones in a few centimeters over, made a notation for the builder to add a tiny spring, and dropped the pencil. It would be the best mousetrap any mouse had ever seen. Sleepless days and nights blended together while he and Derrick despaired. Or really, Brad despaired and Derrick chewed through half a bale of hay, claiming it helped him think. But it was done and none too soon, for the courier was coming in the morning.

Brad and Derrick beamed at each other. "We'll be famous! Our names will go down in history!" Derrick exclaimed, and indeed they became known all throughout mousedom as the heroes who ensured the best mousetrap in the world had an escape hatch.
When I was very tiny, punishment could come in any form. Timeout, a little smack with the hand, a bigger whack with the wooden spoon, occasionally The Belt. Only dad used The Belt, and for whatever reason it didn't last past about kindergarten. The last time I got spanked was around 6 or 7, when I said "fuck" in front of my parents. Perhaps ironically for a dad that strapped his kids with a belt, cursing of any sort was not allowed in our household. It was the neighbor kids who taught me the words, and at that age the lecture was far worse than the spanking itself.

My parents fought a lot during their marriage, screaming matches, and I would tiptoe around for hours or even days afterward while dad simmered. You know how, when you walk into a room where two people have just been arguing, and there's a palpable feeling to the atmosphere? Dad carried that like a force field around himself, so you knew when he was ramping up to being angry, and you knew when he hadn't gotten over it. The overriding impulse of my childhood was simply to not make dad mad. Do everything possible to make dad happy. Never push dad too far. Never challenge dad. Even getting angry was to tempt dad; his anger was the only valid anger, so even if you weren't mad at him specifically, being angry challenged him in some way.

But, of course, dad wasn't always angry. Dad could be incredibly fun - he was other kids' stand-in dad. He was the "fun uncle," and my classmates and the neighbor kids would call him "dad" and get excited when he'd go on field trips or play baseball in the street. I don't want to tip this in favor of the "all terror, all the time" childhood. It was a seesaw. But I'm sure you can see where this is heading; all the traits that make a child into an adult were subverted underneath this underlying fear and all-encompassing need to walk on eggshells to keep dad as happy as possible. This set of thoughts and behaviors was automatic, not something I ever thought about. Not until I got to around puberty, which is a hard age anyway, and a great time for rebellion. I only started to think not all families were like that when mom told me I shouldn't talk too much about what goes on at home. It's nobody else's business, she said. But that got me thinking; if it's nobody else's business, that's fine, but then why would it be important not to talk about?

And again, there was no physical abuse. There hadn't been physical punishment in years. But the deep memory of The Belt persisted, lying low, but always attached to dad so that he didn't have to be physically violent. Looking back I can still feel the fear - amorphous, huge, but all he would do was yell. You know how people have a fight or flight response? Either of those would get me in bigger trouble, so I developed a "hide" response. I call it "tense and condense." Make yourself as small as possible so the storm can blow right over, and you can come out when it's safer. I still have that in relation to dad, even though now I can stand up for myself and will risk the yelling. It was simply the unspoken threat that hung over my head when I was younger.

The problem, of course, is that I carried this with me into other relationships. It almost seems like a cliche, but there it is. Even if I recognize the issue and am trying to change it, I still don't trust myself not to fall right back into that pattern. My parents together raised me with a bent back - dad with his anger, mom with her placating - and as much as I admire Dr. King's words in this instance, I'm afraid I don't know how to straighten it.

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edit: Forgot this part: This is an entry for [livejournal.com profile] therealljidol, more entries can be found there, as well as weekly voting that's open to all.
As soon as they pulled up to the farmhouse, weathered gray and ivy-covered in its copse of shadowing trees, Laura felt a shiver. While her parents talked to the landlord and her brother read in the car, she wandered around the grapevines, past the falling-down paddock, to the front yard. She tripped up the front step, and for a few heartbeats the ancient holly bush was gone, and a woman in a long dress was pouring out drinks for children. A slow blink, and the tableau vanished. She ran back to the kitchen and tugged on her mom's shirt, the story spilling out in gasps. The landlord laughed and said, "There's plenty of ghosts here! They don't seem to bother people, just make for good stories."

Laura's eyes rounded in fearful delight, and the adult conversation continued around her. The house was so old it was registered as a national historic house; the landlords insisted they couldn't put in insulation because of the restrictions on renovations, and the downstairs walls were rough, unsanded boards painted a dark brown sometime in the early 1900s. They were unevenly spaced, some cracks wide enough to stick a finger into. At night the scratching and scrabbling of rodents would keep Laura awake. Her mother told her it was squirrels because she thought it would be less scary, but the cats would sometimes leave half-eaten mice and rats on the carpet. Two of the bedrooms were papered in thick dusty paper, in some places peeling off to show a layer of older, dustier paper underneath.

For months after moving in, nothing more happened. The landlords told stories about the pioneers who built the place, the 5 or maybe 10 or maybe only 2 children who slept in the attic and died of flu or maybe smallpox or maybe it was a fire; of the two blind brothers who strung a line from the back porch to an outhouse so they could feel their way to the shitter, refusing to move from their familiar home until they, too, died. Then Laura started having nightmares. She heard voices whispering, felt eyes watching through the windows, couldn't take the garbage out at night because the sense of being surrounded by cruel intent was so strong it made her skin crawl and her neck hairs stand on end. She awoke screaming on the nights when a black cloud came to hover over her bed and slowly, slowly descend, threatening to suffocate her.

Erik, Laura's brother, never noticed anything. Too logical and too wrapped up in avoiding everybody while he wrestled with puberty. Then one night a family friend came to visit. Nobody would tell Laura what happened, afraid it might give her bad dreams, but after a night on the couch he refused to ever sleep there again. Her mother saw children peeking around the door jamb between the dining room and kitchen, giggling. She chose to call them angels. When the sense of being watched in her bedroom became too much, Laura demanded her brother switch her, but still the black cloud found her at night, and the feeling of watchers was so strong she expected to see faces peering in through the windows if she looked up. She never looked up.

Laura's mom invited her brother over, recently converted from a life of drugs and drink to ecstatic religiosity, to drive out the spirits. Laura watched her uncle and her father walk through the house with an open Bible, praying, dipping their thumbs into a dish of blessed olive oil, drawing dripping crosses over every doorway. They were satisfied. Laura was not. She felt shivery, numb, and despairing at the same time. The house didn't feel cleansed, it felt dormant.

Well after the olive oil crosses had faded to shimmers, in the middle of a day in the middle of summer, huddled in the corner of the couch with that sense of being watched, being loomed over, but all alone, Laura made a break for her room. She bolted through the living room, the dining room, turned a hard left into the kitchen and ran up the first rise of stairs. Where the stairwell jogged to the right was a small landing, and despite knowing the stairs like the back of her hand, it was here that she tripped. Her hands slapped down to break her fall, but Laura was on her hands and knees, and when she caught her breath and looked up, it was dusk. The stairs were no longer painted a dark red; they were bare wood but polished, the walls also stripped of paint and covered in cobwebs. As she drew in her breath for a scream that no one would hear, a cobweb brushed her face, and she noticed three spiders crawl toward her, another dropping from the wall, its front legs waving with interest.

She shoved herself up, arms windmilling as she took a step back over what seemed to be a missing stair, and the spiders vanished. The cobwebs were gone. The stairs were no longer polished wood but the usual faded brick red, the walls thicked over with the usual brown paint. The midday sun streamed through the window at the head of the stairs, illuminating her way as she carefully, purposefully not counting the steps, picked her way up the stairs.

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