Sunday, June 3, 2018

And Then There Was One

In the summer of 2007, my parents hosted a BBQ and book signing for my first novel. Mom didn’t like having people over, but she made an exception, because she was proud of me. She also liked the book. In fact, a lot of people did. I felt I had accomplished something worthwhile and that IMMORTAL BONDS would mark the start of a successful career. I looked forward to representing and supporting the small, west coast farm town that for half my life I’d called home.

The weather held for the most part – by Washington standards – and turnout was good. Across the hay field, the neighbors had a daughter who’d been diagnosed with a brain tumor, so we held a raffle to raise money for their medical expenses. If memory serves, we collected around $600. Mom was thrilled to win the quilt she’d had her eye on. I was grateful for the present and excited about the future.

The morning after the party, we took family photos. My son was in Alaska, serving in the U.S. Army, and my brother’s oldest daughter was out doing whatever rebellious teens did back then, but all the rest of Mom & Dad’s kids and grandkids were present and accounted for. The images were immediately iconic, if you believe that’s possible. We were feeling every bit of the festivities of the day(s) prior, but seemed content to be together: Mom, Dad, my husband and me, my younger brother & sister (twins), our baby brother, and four out of six grandchildren. One big, happy, dysfunctional family.

Four months later, on the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, Mom had a heart attack in the kitchen. Dad found her on the floor. The paperwork puzzle discovered in the wake of her passing revealed all kinds of things we hadn’t seen coming, among them that she’d known she was dying and planned to leave Dad with insurmountable debt. It was like the life I thought I’d been living was a lie. My sister – who was/is a carbon copy of my mother – couldn’t understand why I was angry. She was also unimpressed when, on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, I demanded she take her drunk-ass husband home (a four-hour drive) after a disrespectful verbal tirade – directed at his own sons as well as our newly-deceased mother – ended in his pissing and shitting himself on our parents’ couch.

Thanksgiving, itself, was uneventful.

About a month after Mom died, my son took leave from Alaska to visit the farm and grieve his grandmother, someone with whom he’d shared a mutual adoration. Only days after his arrival, my youngest brother – in a drunken stupor – mistook him for someone else and ran him out of the house with a gun. The rest of the family shook it off pretty easily, but I didn’t speak to my brother for years, not until sometime after his release from jail for allegedly groping a couple of underage girls, but before he announced he was gay, married a wannabe drag queen in California, and moved to Las Vegas. Even then, our relationship wasn’t the same.

On another Tuesday in November, in 2015, Dad died at home in a bed on loan from Hospice. The oldest of my two younger brothers was in the room. I was asleep upstairs. Being so much like Dad, my brother stepped easily into the vacancy I save in my soul for my favorite person in the world. In him, I could see home and acceptance and strength. I thought I even saw loyalty. But, given my family’s rapid decline in number over the past ten years, I should have known even that relationship wasn’t indestructible.

Shortly after becoming the executor of the will, the power went to my sister’s head. Combined with malarkey her new husband and church have fed her, the wrath she displayed against both my brother and me while the estate was in probate could have been described as seething. I can’t say I was comfortable with the way her eyes sparkled as she counted the change we found in Dad’s bedroom. Since high school, she’d never really “approved” of me or my choices, but I thought the bond of sisterhood counted for something. Since being called a drunk and a bully, among other things, I’ve learned that’s not always the case. Needless to say, she and I haven’t spoken for a couple of years.

As for the “good” brother, well…he likes guns. And, let’s just say, the NRA told him I’m a threat. In Facebook comments last month, my brother and nephew let me know they didn’t care for my efforts to end gun violence in schools. It didn’t matter that I had been an advocate FOR gun owners, or that my intent was to provide a forum for Facebook friends on BOTH SIDES of the debate to discuss and – hopefully – arrive at some dually-acceptable solutions. My family didn’t know – and, arguably, didn’t care – about the personal messages I’d received from friends on BOTH SIDES who wanted me to know they appreciated my time and patience and courage. He hadn’t seen or read or participated in ANY of it. All he saw was an attack.

What followed, through “likes” and subsequent comments, was a resounding wave of support for my brother from nearly all our west coast family, neighbors, and friends. Even my mother’s one-time best friend weighed in, and her two cents were exceptionally callous and cruel. Their united message was that I should be ashamed of myself for speaking out against their way of life – specifically their right to own any damn gun they want, because this is America! In an instant, I went from what I thought was “beloved family member” to “hated, unwelcome outsider.” I’d say it was a bit of a shock, but I think I’m still in a bit of shock.

My son, daughter, and husband have assured me they’re still on my side. While I sincerely love and appreciate them, I don’t entirely believe it, given some of the things they’ve said over the past couple of years. But, at least we’re still on speaking terms. And my dog still loves me. Conversely, I have nothing left to say to my family out west. It was too easy for them to turn their backs on me; as if they’d never really liked me for the past 50 years, anyway, so it was no big deal. To date, not a one of them has reached out to tell me I’m wrong, so… Once again, turns out the life I thought I was living was a lie. I wish I could tell you the lesson stings less the second time.

I also wish there was a happy ending to this story. There isn’t. What there is, I suppose, is a moral that goes something like, “Don’t believe your sister will never leave you, just because she’s your sister.” Or, “Enjoy the people in your life as much as you can before the NRA tells them you want their guns.” One thing’s for certain: nothing in this life is certain.

For the record, I’m not anti-gun, I’m anti-dead school kids. I’m also anti-mow down everyone at the concert/night club/movie theater. It even bothers me when people are shot dining at McDonald’s. (If, in fact, their experience could be called “dining.”) As a nation, we’ve proven – and we keep proving, only now at a more rapidly accelerating rate – that we CANNOT handle gun ownership. Whether the answer involves bans or buy-backs or both, it’s beyond time for drastic change. We need laws that are more effective, law enforcement that actually works, and a citizenry willing to sacrifice and take responsibility for what we’ve become. At the very least, those who choose to own killing machines need to step up and make sure their weapons stay out of the hands of angry white boys who can’t get laid.

Until then, hold your loved ones tight. And dress your kids in Kevlar.

~ Dawn

Friday, December 8, 2017

Fear Factor

The number one comment I received from people, once they learned I was driving alone around America, came in three parts. In eight weeks, I must have heard it a dozen times or more. And it was always the same:

              1 - Oh, my God!
              2 - I could never do that!
              3 - I’d be too afraid.
In hindsight, I wish I’d asked myself a few questions before embarking on my journey, starting with, “What reaction do you think you’ll get from people?” If I had, I probably would have answered that particular question with something like, “I’ve always wanted to do that, but haven’t had time.” In the end, THAT response was a distant second.

Specific reasons varied: never been out of state; can’t travel alone; don’t like to drive; aversion to heights, bridges, strangers, trains, bears, pigeons…; don’t know enough people (as in places to stay); don’t have enough money; wouldn’t know what to do if something went wrong; and so on, and yatta yatta. Ultimately, the number one thing holding people back was fear. Simple. Primal. Fear.

So much for “home of the brave,” huh?

Somewhere on Pike’s Peak, on one of the towering rock piles alongside the perilous, switchback-riddled highway to the top, I secured a foot-hold in a crevice, pulled myself up to the next tier, and thought with surprising curiosity and wonder, “Wow, this is the perfect habitat for rattlesnakes!” Only the thought didn’t materialize all at once, like it did just now when you read it. Instead, and instantly after thinking the word for, my body and mind froze. Several seconds went by before I allowed the words rattle and snake to clearly form and combine in my head. I shivered and looked around. Then, I took a deep breath, chuckled, and muttered to myself, “What a dumbass.”

Had I attempted that Pike’s Peak climb on the first leg of my drive around America, I believe my reaction would have been different. As a matter of fact, I think I might have reacted pretty much like so many others did after they learned what I was doing. When I took off from Florida on July 1, I didn’t like snakes. Still don’t, if you want to know the truth. Thing is, something happened to me in the seven weeks that led up to Denver. Somehow, I wasn’t afraid of them, anymore. Granted, I still considered myself a dumbass for climbing to the top of a cliff inhabited by – at least – rattlesnakes and mountain goats. But, after my brain did some quick figuring, the worst possible things that could (really, statistically) happen simply didn’t outweigh the rewards for besting that pile of rocks.

(by L. Barringer)
I'm that little green dot in the middle (by L. Barringer)

I have back trouble, a bad knee, weak ankle, and sinus problems. The joints in both hands are full of arthritis, I’ve got a nasty case of carpal tunnel (or some damn thing I’m busily pretending isn’t there) creeping into my left arm, and menopausal hot flashes regularly kick my ass. Most seriously, if I’m not careful with my diet, I can set off a colitis attack, and those are neither pretty nor fun. Believe me when I say: I have my share of reasons to NOT drive 15,000 miles alone. But, I saw the Grand Canyon. And Yosemite. And Yellowstone and Gettysburg and Mt. Rainier. I stood inside the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. Drove across the Golden Gate Bridge. Plucked an apple from a Johnny Appleseed tree! (With permission, of course.)

I also literally climbed Pike’s Peak. Sure, it was a relatively small, nearly inconsequential portion, and I can’t in good faith recommend you do it, too, given my later discovery. But, I’m totally not sorry I did it.

"the climb"
"the view"

People without guns are afraid of them. People with guns are afraid of losing them. Single people are afraid they’ll never get married. Married people are afraid of being single again. Conservatives are afraid of gays. Gays are afraid of Christians. Christians are afraid of black people. Black people are afraid of the police. And so it goes. In a nutshell, Americans play a never-ending game of avoidance and denial with pain, loss, and discomfort, all while – ironically – being simultaneously awash in pain, loss, and discomfort. Why we don’t break up with denial is a matter of debate, but what I find most disconcerting about the whole business is the possibility that we no longer have enough souls brave enough to step forward and defend our interests as a Republic comprised of UNITED states. Now, THAT is some scary shit right there.

So, what are YOU afraid of? And what are you doing about it?


The things that keep us away from the things we want are mostly within us, and our reasons (or excuses) are largely rooted in fear. Some of that fear is, of course, logical and worthy of attention. But, fear can also be a helpful motivator. For example, I had all sorts of concerns and apprehensions about my trip. Stories abound of hard to imagine consequences happening to women traveling alone. So, I brought a road atlas, a cooler, and a phone charger, and I prepared to the best of my ability for whatever contingencies might arise. At the end of the day, I chose to have faith in my instincts and skills, and I placed my fate in the hands of the road gods. The end.

Fear didn’t stop me.

Don’t let it stop you.

~ Dawn

#AmericanTrip #MLCRoadTrip © 2017 Dawn Scovill

Friday, November 10, 2017

The Indignity of Death

It all happened in a matter of seconds: I turned onto the highway on-ramp, sped up as I rolled into the curve, caught a glimpse of an animated critter on the shoulder, grinned when I recognized it was a prairie dog, then realized there were actually two, and one wasn’t moving.

By the time I merged into the center lane, I was in tears. Okay, full disclosure: I was sobbing uncontrollably. Behind me, there was a living creature trying desperately to revive another living creature. Had they been siblings or mates, I wondered? Friends or foes? How long would the little guy shake his/her companion before giving up and carrying on? Do prairie dogs mourn? Does any animal, for that matter? It’s not like they can tug on an uncle’s shirttail and get the ol’ “They’re with the angels, now” speech. How do animals handle death? And can we learn anything from them?

Imagine if one minute your companion was, and the next minute he wasn’t. No explanation, just…dead. What would you do? After you stopped screaming, of course. You’d likely have questions, many undoubtedly beginning with, “What the—.” If you were in a public place – say, on the shoulder of a highway on-ramp – you’d have to relocate the body. Contacting next of kin would be a priority. Calling an attorney might be a good idea, too; there’s bound to be a lawsuit in there somewhere, what with the sudden, unexplainable death and all. Remember, this is America!

Survivors would want a memorial. Some would need therapy. That prairie dog wouldn’t be getting any of that stuff. Not that it would have mattered for long, given the little guy’s proximity to the white line on a busy on-ramp in Montana. Still, was he suffering? If so, how would he go about getting on?

Here in America, a fair number of us suck at dealing with death. We take pills and opt for surgery to maintain the illusion it won’t happen to us. We whisk dying loved ones off to facilities and hire professionals, so we can pretend the messy bits aren’t real. Living in Florida, I’ve learned people suffer when they’re not prepared. So, how do we stop ignoring death and adopt better ways to prepare for it? How do we handle it more practically? Beyond thoughts and prayers (don’t get me started), how can we as a culture become more helpful to friends and family when they’re recovering from the loss of someone they love?

To me, that kind of information would be invaluable. My dad died on a Tuesday in November. Just like my mom. After the family realized Dad’s condition was rapidly deteriorating, we elected to bring him home to the farm and take care of him ourselves. He was 83, deaf, stubborn, and helpless. We did the best we could.

What we did with Mom is another story for another time.

If I shared all the romantic parts, I might be able to make it sound like a Hallmark Movie of the Week. But, death isn’t pretty and, like Dad would have said, “the sooner you come to terms with that, the better off you’ll be.” He wouldn’t have approved of the way I handled his passing. Or, rather, didn’t handle it. And I was already well into the bottle when, only a few months later, our youngest dog was hit by a car. For a while, I distanced myself from everyone around me. I also drank a lot of whiskey. A year later, I still wasn’t coping well, so I took a drive.

As I rolled by that prairie dog, I immediately thought of our remaining chocolate Labrador, Rocko. He and Roland had escaped through the gate together. It was the phone number on his collar that led the kind people who found them to me. Had he seen the accident happen? Had he hovered over his companion’s lifeless body the same way? Did he have a million questions? Did he look to me for the answers?

Tears, as I mentioned, flowed uncontrollably down my cheeks, all the way to Wyoming.

Death is such a heavy and unpleasant situation, yet it’s equally as guaranteed in life as birth. So, what the—?! We celebrate one, why not the other? And no, I’m not talking kazoos, balloons, and “jolly good fellow” tunes, I’m suggesting we redefine what it means to die with dignity. There’s nothing dignified about taking your last breath in a sterile hospital bed on D-Wing, even surrounded by weeping family members. There’s no dignity in urinals and bedpans, and none in pureed sirloin or rooms with trash cans marked SOILED.

Given that our country’s employers barely allow mothers time off for birth, it might seem a waste of time believing we might one day all be granted the privilege of accompanying our loved ones to the other side without fear of losing our jobs and means of survival. It might also seem silly to think a nation full of self-absorbed consumers could even want to get their hands that dirty, let alone survive the weight of the aftermath. But, we Americans are a hearty bunch. I have faith.

And if, by reading this, one of you is inspired to bring dignity to someone’s last days, I’ll consider the effort worthwhile.

~ Dawn

#AmericanTrip #MLCRoadTrip (c) 2017 Dawn Scovill