He Ain’t Heavy

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For the last, I don’t know…say, 30 years or so, we wanted little or nothing to do with him. Some blamed the Army, because he didn’t come back from Germany in the same shape he got there. But that’s too easy; he had problems before he went in. That might be the reason he joined anyway.

An alcoholic. A barely functioning one, going through relationships and marriages, jobs, cars (wrecked and repossessed), hospitals and rehab and halfway houses, 12- and more step plans. But there was always something crossing the path of his success: a bottle of vodka. He couldn’t resist, and eventually stopped pretending to try.

After years of making excuses for him, of putting up with phone calls at three in the morning outlining outlandish plans of all of us jumping on a plane to Vegas and cleaning up with his surefire method of beating the house, of listening to rambling sales pitches for gold coins and Amway and pyramid schemes that would make us all rich, of trying to find him places to live, we – his brothers and sisters, and to an extent (at our insistence) his mother – kicked him out of our world.  No more invitations to family functions; he was conspicuously absent at my niece’s wedding, which he probably didn’t even know occurred. I live out of town and don’t get back often. I can’t venture to guess when we had our last conversation. When I spoke to our other brothers and sisters, I never asked about him. They never ventured any information.

Today I happened to think back on younger days, back when we were close. We were only two years apart. When our parents divorced, he and I chose to go with my father, me because I thought it would be an adventure, he because he worshiped the ground our father walked on. For quite a few years it was us against the world, every time we moved to a new town, started a new school, we looked out for each other.

Something else I happened to remember today: he seemed to have problems with headaches for a long, long time. I recall that even when he was a preteen, he was getting tested for this and tested for that as various doctors tried to find the cause of these vicious, painful headaches. Who knows? Maybe that’s why he turned to vodka. Nothing else could ease the pain.

Late last night he visited a friend, and they started drinking. According to the friend, he started getting one of his headaches, which got worse and worse, until he was literally in tears. He began banging his head violently against the wall, as he’d done in the past. Eventually, he collapsed.

His friend rushed him to the hospital, where he was pronounced brain dead. The doctors, as far as I know, aren’t sure whether the blood in his brain was caused by the violence he inflicted on his head, or if a stroke was perhaps the cause for this particular head pain.

It doesn’t matter now.

Family members in the area were notified and all rushed to the hospital. He was on a ventilator. The doctors told them that there was nothing they could do. At approximately 3:30 this afternoon, according to wishes in his Living Will, the plug was pulled.

At 6:05 this evening, March 28, 2011, just two hours ago as I write this, my brother died. He was 57 years old.

Rest In Peace, Bro.

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The Unintentional Mr. Grinch

I’ve been telling you for the past couple of weeks how much I love Christmas. Instead of rehashing, I’ll let you read my previous post containing my Random Christmas Thoughts. Go ahead. I can wait.

So after all that, why do I feel like Scrooge McGrinch now that Christmas gift-giving is over?

Because I love giving gifts. Ol’ Santa and I are bruthas from different muthas. I way overspend each year, because, hey, it’s only money, and I love to see the eye-lighting, the smile-spreading and everything else that goes with giving someone a nice gift, particularly something that catches someone by surprise.

This year, with the sagging economy and things being tough among certain of my friends, there was an understanding amongst many of us that gifts should be held to a minimum. Or even less if there were children involved, because it’s really for them anyway. I have a friend that is having a rough time right now moneywise; I told him no gift exchange between us this year. Use whatever he would spend on me to buy something extra for one of his grandkids. Many people I know commented that they weren’t even sending out cards this year. They can be costly and get tossed after a week or two, anyway.

So, in light of all that, I kept myself in check and went easy on the presents. Instead of going all-out, I held back in order to avoid any possible embarrassment. The few gifties I did buy were nothing extravagant. I did not make out cards for those who said they were passing them by this year.

Of course, I got screwed. While I was trying to keep things low-key, my friends and family were plying me with all sorts of gifts and cards that, while appreciated, of course, left me looking like a goof.

My ex and I historically haven’t made a big deal out of exchanging gifts, preferring instead to spoil the only fruit of our loins. When I asked her for a list of ideas this year, she gave me a few; she just got a Blu-Ray player, so a couple of DVD’s would be nice. She showed me a Christmas ornament in a catalog she liked. She asked me for a list that she could share with others, because certain of our friends and family would go to her for gifts ideas for me.

So I got her a couple of Blu-Ray discs and the ornament, and a video game I thought she’d enjoy, and she got me everything on my list! I probably spent $125 on her, and she got me $100 just in iTunes gift cards! Yes, yes, I’m a thoughtless male, but I’m generally not this bad.

Another friend I have is going through a tough time, and had indicated that she wasn’t even giving anyone a card this year. The past couple of years I’d given her family a card just because, but this year I respected what I thought were her wishes and kept my card to myself. Damn if she didn’t come up to me at a social event and hand me a box of chocolates because I’d given them cards in the past and they hadn’t given me one. Okay, the choccies were no doubt a regift, because everyone knows I don’t indulge, but they thought of me, and I didn’t even send them a damn card this year.

An online friend sent me a very nice Cleveland Browns blankie, despite her financial problems; I sent her a DVD. Late, even. *Sigh*

And don’t get me wrong, this has nothing to do with money or amounts spent or who got who what. But I kind of feel like I disappointed a few people, and that’s not the Christmas Spirit I want to leave with anyone.

I don’t know. Probably nobody cares but me. But I do care. It bothers me a lot.

How about you? Did you feel like Santa or Grinch this year?

Yo Ho 2: An Update

I have to relate this quick story. It is, to the best of my knowledge, 100% true and accurate. You can’t make this stuff up.

This occurred today between my older friend and her S.O.B. boyfriend, as mentioned in my original Yo Ho! post.

Miley Cyrus is appearing tonight in Philly. Boyfriend has a ‘tween daughter. He mentioned to my friend that the daughter was a big Miley fan, so she bought tickets to the Big Concert for the three of them, plus two of Daughter’s friends.

My friend, like many of us (and probably many of you), has been trying to avoid catching the bug that’s been going around, but she’s come down with a nasty cold, on top of some other minor health issues she’s been dealing with. So she told Boyfriend today that she wasn’t going to join them for Miley.

So her Beau, obviously concerned about her health, threw a hissy fit, and said that if she wasn’t going, he wasn’t either.

And they couldn’t very well disappoint the girls, who were so looking forward to seeing their idol; so since he wasn’t going, then my sick friend would have to drive them to the Wachovia Center.

Yes, you read that right. She decided not to go because she’s not feeling well. He proclaimed that if she wasn’t going, then he wasn’t either. And since he wasn’t going, then she’d have to take the girls to Philly.

I’m happy to report that she stopped by my office earlier this afternoon and asked me to print out MapQuest directions to the center so that the Boyfriend wouldn’t get lost taking the girls to the concert.

Good for her.

Yo Ho (A Single’s Life For Me)

So here’s something you may not know (nor care) about, but I’ve been down the aisle twice, neither trip ending happily ever after.

Actually, “down the aisle” is a bit misleading, because neither ceremony included an aisle, in the commonly accepted sense. Maybe that was my problem; maybe a church wedding would have made a difference in the longevity of the respective marriages.

Nah.

The first one was for all the wrong reasons. I was pushing 30 and thought I should be married, she was 23 and living in her parents house and wanted to be out on her own. Early in the relationship, she invited me to accompany her to an anniversary party she was throwing for her parents at her church. During the festivities, I was introduced to the priest, who commented, “I understand you might be part of the family before too long.” That should have raised a red flag, but I chose to ignore the remark, prefering instead to pour yet another glass of beer.

The eventual wedding was held not at her church, but at a courthouse in downtown Akron. The “ceremony” performed by the justice of the peace was short and sweet, much like the subsequent marriage (if you leave the “sweet” part off). The next morning she said, “This may have been a mistake,” and eventually I had to agree with her. We lasted about three years before calling it quits. The parting ended up being so amicable, however, that we shared one lawyer between us, and the only reason he sat with me at the hearing was that my name was listed first on the paperwork. Afterward, we walked down the steps of the courthouse, shared a quick hug, and went our separate ways. After about six or seven months apart, we began speaking on the phone a few times a month until I moved to Pennsylvania. I haven’t seen her in over 20 years, but one of my brothers tells me he runs into her frequently and she’s doing well. Good for her.

A few years later I met someone else through work at a management meeting at, of all places, Walt Disney World (by the way, this has seriously nothing at all to do with my Disney obsession. That was in place for several years beforehand). After the meeting was concluded, I went back to Ohio, she to New Jersey. We kept in touch throughout the next year, and cemented our long-distance relationship at the following year’s meeting in Scottsdale, Arizona.

We got together two or three times afterward, and in September of 1992 she left New Jersey for Ohio. We married in April (the wedding itself deserves its own blog entry: it was held in the party room of the apartment complex we were living in; the actual ceremony was held in the middle of the reception; the Best Man’s name was Laurie; our ring bearer was a collie), became pregnant during our honeymoon Cancun in May, and gave birth to a beautiful baby boy in February of 1994. Financial considerations forced a move to her parents’ home in Pennsylvania; she and Cameron went in May of ’94, I finally found a job there and joined them in December.

Because of the circumstances of the beginning of our relationship, everyone said it wouldn’t last. And damned if they weren’t right. It barely lasted 12 years. We had a good ride, but in the end, we grew in different directions (the 15 year age difference between us may have been a contributing factor). We parted the closest of friends. In fact, she owns the small company I work for. I spend holidays with her and her family (mine’s still in Ohio). I live literally two minutes away.

That was five years ago. Since then I’ve been introduced to various women by various friends, and I’ve had various crushes that I’ve never followed up on for whatever reasons. But nothing’s taken hold, and I’m at the point where I think, “That’s OK with me.”

Looking at some of the relationships around me only reinforces my desire to remain unattached.

I have a friend who is a successful bar owner. He has a lovely wife and three darling kids. He also has regular dalliances with several of his female employees; only oral sex, though, because that’s not really being unfaithful.

I have another friend, a few years older than me, who’s been dating the same guy for about 8 or 10 years. The dude’s a real S.O.B. When he wants to go on a fishing trip or spend a few days on his own doing God knows what, he picks a fight with her and doesn’t call her until he’s ready for some female companionship again. They’ve gone on trips to Atlantic City where she’s awakened in a hotel room by herself, not knowing where her boyfriend is or how long he’ll be gone; when he finally shows up in late afternoon after a hard day in the casinos, he bitches at her for not being ready to go anywhere. When she complains about this sort of treatment, he comes right out and says, “You know I’m an asshole.” Yet she puts up with it, because she’s afraid she won’t be able to find anyone else at her age.

A couple I know is going through a very ugly, nasty divorce. At least it will probably be a divorce as soon as one or the other of them have enough money to spare for a lawyer. They got married 10 or so years ago, nice little church service (hmm…maybe the Where doesn’t play into it that much after all), had a cute little blond daughter…and things just fell apart. He decided he needed some space and moved into his own place, found a girlfriend, gave the wife barely enough money to pay the mortgage on their house (hey, he has his own rent to deal with), but still popped by to use her computer and eat her food. The husband lost his job and is in the process of filing bankruptcy and recently got a DUI, after browbeating the wife because, in his opinion, she drinks too much.

The kid has spent a lot of time being used as a pawn; she’s been displaying some behavioral problems.

What’s ironic to me as an observer is, when the husband started dating one of the wife’s high school friends, the wife found out from one of the husband’s close friends. He called her (or texted her; who knows these days) and said that her husband was fooling around with a good friend of hers. The ironic part is that the wife and the husband’s good friend had had an affair of their own a few years ago. Pot, kettle, etc.

Anyway, as I look at all this, I’ve decided that I’m perfectly content with my drama-free life. No one to walk on eggshells around. No one to explain things or make excuses to. If I want to get out of bed at 3 a.m. and drink a martini naked while watching a M*A*S*H DVD, I can do that without making excuses. If I want to sleep until noon on a Saturday, nobody cares.

Companionship? I have a 15-year-old son with tastes similar to mine as far as movies and music go. I enjoy his company, and he tolerates mine. We both play guitar, so we spend a lot of time playing together, though his tastes run more towards Metallica, while mine are more Beatle-oriented.

Lonely? Sometimes. Until I start thinking about a lady sitting alone in a hotel worried if her boyfriend is alright, when he’s in fact feeding his gambling habit and not thinking about her at all. Or until I remember a little blond girl crying because her parents are living apart, and her father telling her they’d be a happy family if her mother would stop drinking.

No, thanks. I’m quite content for now. In a few years I may wish I had someone around to bitch at, or to take care of me in my declining years, but in the meantime…

I nap in the daytime, and stay up all night.
Drink up me ‘earties, yo ho.
Eat steak and Fruit Loops by dawn’s early light.
Drink up me ‘earties, yo ho.

Wear red shirts and green pants and socks that don’t match,
Drink up me ‘earties, yo ho.
Keep eggs in my fridge ’till they’re ready to hatch,
Drink up me ‘earties, yo ho.
Yo ho, yo ho, a single’s life for me.

The Bad Son

I don’t even know where to start with this.

I guess the year 1951 is as good a place as any. That was the year I was born. Don’t know the circumstances surrounding that; the most credible story I’ve heard is that my mother was an  unmarried schoolteacher who got impregnated by some guy or other. I was put up for adoption right away. Before a month had passed I was taken in by the couple I always considered my parents.  I don’t know how old I was when they told me. Very young. It was never a big secret, like you see in various movies-of-the-week. I’ve never felt the urge to track down my birth parents; they didn’t want me, somebody else did. Yeah, yeah, I know, circumstances, morality in the ’50s, this argument, that argument. Doesn’t matter. The couple that adopted me didn’t think they would be able to have any kids of their own. Oops. I have three brothers and two sisters. And I’ve never spent a day thinking I wasn’t part of the family because I sprung from a different set of loins.

So time passed, as time is wont to do. My father turned out to be a dick. In my eyes, anyway. Maybe he wasn’t as bad as I remember him, but I think he probably was. He was a philanderer. He used to drop my brother and I off at a movie or concert or whatever and go out carousing, making sure we knew to tell Mom that he went to the movie or concert or whatever with us, grilling us about plot details and so forth. We complied. We were kids. We didn’t know better.

He left my mother when I was 15, remarrying twice before committing suicide in 1970 at the age of  43.

In the meantime, my mom was left with 5 kids to raise (I was trying to make it on my own at the time, but had to abandon that in ’74). She worked long hours as a waitress at various venues, including the Firestone Country Club. Trying to earn a living and support all those brats, who would be calling her at work at all hours because this one called another one a name, or wouldn’t let them watch a certain TV show, or various other life-threatening disasters that had to have her Solomon-like pronouncements immediately, if not sooner.

Eventually we all grew up (or at least older) and into our various individual lives: one sister a Mother figure dispensing holistic wisdom, another a gay activist. One brother a hopeless alcoholic, another in and out of trouble with the law, the third, by avoiding the rest of the family, came close to his goal of being a millionaire before he was forty. We’re all family, though, revolving around the solar gravity of our mother, who lets herself be taken advantage of, lets herself be walked on, but in the end can’t say “no” to any of her kids. They’re her damn children, after all.

I can say I was never one of the advantage-takers or walker-onners. I was something much worse. Despite her plucking me from a hospital and giving me a home when I was a month old, even though she reassured me throughout the years that I was no different to her than her natural-born children, despite the love and care she blessed me with, I wasn’t a very good son.

Oh, I wasn’t like certain of my brothers, who depend on her to this day to drive them to and from because they’ve had their license suspended pretty much for life. She never had to bail me out of jail or let me live with her because I blow all my money on vodka.

I committed the worst sin you can commit against a parent: I neglected to include her in my life. I got married the first time while I still lived in Ohio. For several years I lived less than 5 miles from her, and rarely went to visit her. Just because I was caught up in my own situation at the time. No big deal. I was married, things happened that didn’t pertain to her. So what? Right?

When I got married the second time, and that marriage produced a son, and we fell upon hard times, we moved to Pennsylvania because that’s where her parents lived. Her folks owned their own business, and were therefore able to help us out more than my mom, who was by this time retired. Oh, sure, she had remarried, but they were both retired. And something I feel bad about is that I never considered her husband as my stepfather, but just the guy she married. Maybe it was my age. I don’t know.

So I’ve been living here in Pennsylvania. Got divorced as a matter of course. My son is now 15. We don’t get back to Ohio much, maybe for a 4- or 5-day stretch during the summer. Too much going on, ya know? I call my mom occasionally, not as often as I should, but I’m not a phone guy. I don’t have much to say.

I put myself in her place occasionally. How am I going to feel when my son grows up and moves away and I hear from him maybe every other month, and see him 5 days a year if I’m lucky? Pretty crappy. I adore the kid and will miss him more than I can say when he’s gone. My mom probably thinks the same about me, since I’m not around like the rest of the crowd.

Like I said, when I do call, it doesn’t last very long. Called her yesterday, as a matter of fact. We talked for 5, maybe 10 minutes.  I didn’t have much to talk about except how nice the weather was over the holiday weekend. She asked about my son, what we’ve been doing, when we’re coming home to see her. She mentioned she had a doctor’s appointment today to get her asthma medicine represcripted.I said OK, talk to you again soon.

My sister called me about 20 minutes ago about the doctor appointment. Seems my mom’s lymphoma has reared up. She also has lung cancer. Doctor says she has a year at most.

My mother has a year to live, at most. Then she’ll be dead.

I don’t know how to end this.

“Cat’s in the Cradle”

I don’t want to be the guy in the Harry Chapin song. I have a 14-year-old son, Cameron. His mom and I divorced amicably a few years ago, and I live literally 5 minutes away. He alternates weeks at our respective places.

His mom lives in a nice neighborhood where his friends can come and hang out and he can ride his bike to his grandmother’s house if he wants.

I live in a small second-floor condo unit, in a development of mostly older people. What kids there are, are younger, so it’s just he and I hanging out when he’s staying with me.

Generally he’ll spend the evening in the living room on his Xbox, playing Halo 3 online with some of his school friends, while I hole up in my bedroom surfing the ‘net, playing guitar, whatever. Occasionally I’ll sit in the living room and read while he plays, but that’s not really spending quality time together; that’s just being in the same room.

One night a week we’ll go to karate class together (when it’s not soccer season), and we go out to a restaurant once a week, but I want to do more with him before he’d rather spend his time hanging out with his buddies. Maybe a game night, or bowling once a week, or something.

But I want to get something done before the day I say “Hey, let’s go do this” and he says “Sorry, Dad, I’ve got plans.”

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