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.