Tuesday, March 31, 2009

hoarder

Linda sits on the porch surrounded by treasure. Bags and boxes, each filled with tiny bits of glass, broken china, old photos. There's a book about hoarding open on her lap and she's looking at the progression photos to find out where she fits in. We discussed hoarding on the phone this afternoon when she called my shop. I tell her I've got a problem with books and papers; if I didn't have a housekeeper, my house would have trails.

I'm joking but she runs with it. "Just like the Collyer brothers! Oh, they are the example to keep us going, aren't they? How dreadful, to die in one's home, buried beneath one's belongings." Her speech is measured and correct as she sits surrounded by garbage. I vaguely remember two elderly brothers in New York City found dead in their apartment, buried beneath mountains of clutter.

She's tracing through the book with two fingers, maintaining a running commentary about the Collyers and her own downfall. Image 1 is of a tidy house, no clutter, her dream. Image 2 shows a lot of stuff about, but it's easily walkable. Her fingers stroke lightly across the photos, landing on number 9. She lifts the book, holding it close to examine every corner, every concealed table top in the image. Is her house this bad? Is it worse?

Her father was at Iwo Jima in World War II, his prized possession a large framed newspaper photo of the planting of the flag at Iwo, dated 1945. The once beautiful art deco frame surrounding the faded newsprint is flaking away. Rain and weather have damaged it beyond repair. Linda is proud of her father, thinks her brother might want the picture. "Isn't it something? Do you think it's worth a lot?"

Digging through her woven Colombia bag, she offers a book, scrabbling through pages to find the dedication. "Emilia Rosita Ankasia, in memory of our beloved."

"My daughter," she says proudly, tapping the words with her fingers. "My grandmother was a great lady. She put my name on all of these things so I could have them when she left us. I don't know about antiques, what are they worth?"

I look at the Heisey cobalt bowl, the RS Prussia cream pitcher, the tankard from Germany. "Do you think I'll be able to make a thousand dollar donation to my daughter's hospice?" She holds up a shattered Royal Bayreuth vase, "If I glue it back, what could I get for it?"

It pains me to see her, surrounded by her treasures, so filled with hope. I can tell that the house is full too. The windows are covered, but not with blinds or shades. There are stacked boxes and bags pressing against the glass. Linda sees me looking and explains. "I was sick for so long and now I might have liver failure, but talking to you, it helped me. I got a gift for you. Well I didn't get it, but I thought of you because it's what you said."

She digs through the bags, the clink of glass on metal accompanying her burrowing fingers. A cheap blue mug tumbles out and shatters on the sidewalk. She cries out and gathers the pieces, trying to fit them back together with shaking fingers. "I know I can fix this, I got this for my daughter, she loved this shade of blue."

"What do you want for these things, Linda?" My heart actually aches standing here on this sidewalk, watching her touching her beloved objects, the treasures left from her grandmother, each one threaded to a memory.

"Oh, I have no idea, no idea! It's just that I'm overdrawn at the bank and I need to make a donation to hospice. I called my sister and told her about you coming. She asked if I would get the thousand dollars I wanted for the hospice donation and I said I just don't know, I don't know. What are they worth?"

I don't know what they're worth, except not much. I know furniture and I know collectibles like antique canes and potlids, compasses, opera glasses, eyecups. I don't know what these bits and pieces of old china are worth on the market. I know they're worth nothing close to what she expects.

She gazes up at me, long, salt and pepper hair framing her face, her faded brown eyes beseeching me to help her. I don't know what to say. I don't want these things. I wish I'd never agreed to come. I felt sorry for her, my downfall.

"Oh, here's the present I got for you. Well, you know, I had it, but it is what you said to me this afternoon on the phone." She digs and uncovers a motto plaque, a poorly done calligraphy of sentiment in a cheap frame.

"The Love You Give Will Come Back To You." I never said that, yet that's what it says, this thing she hands me. I can't refuse it. I can't refuse the sentiment. I take it from her hand and ask again what she wants for the three pieces standing in the muddy flower bed.

The question is distressing her. She's hugging herself, clasping and releasing her hands over and over, agitated. "I don't know, I just don't know." I decide to spit it out so I can escape. I can't save all of these people, I can't.

"Linda, if I were at auction and saw these pieces in a box lot, I wouldn't pay more than $20 for them."

"Oh nooooooooo! Oh no, I wouldn't dare part with them for that, they are worth so much more than that, I can't part with them. I don't even think I can let you have them at any price. I just can't let them go."

I'm moving to my car, saying all of the nice getaway things, "call me," "we'll talk again," "it was nice meeting you." But I only want to get back in my car so I can be free of this house of pain, of the clinging, grasping woman my age sitting on the front porch, surrounded by junk, by trash.

I crank up my music and open the sunroof, roll the windows down. The spring air washes me clean, blows away the last vestige of the desperation that passed between us. I swerve into a gas station, roll up next to a dumpster. I've got the plaque in my hand, this sad, trite motto from a woman I don't even know. "The Love You Give Will Come Back To You."

I want to throw it in the dumpster but I can't let go, I can't. That's the thing about these people, these injured, damaged souls who find me over and over. The intrusion is forever. A tiny part of me forever bound to the wounded one. I drop the plaque in the back seat and drive on.

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Sunday, March 29, 2009

deaf dog

The second love of my life is curled on a down pillow, tucked into the crook of my left arm. This is what we do before bed: Betty sits on the stairs next to my old four poster, waiting while I fluff her pillow just so. I smooth the pillow and she steps daintily onto the bed, waiting for my hand signal to fall into the feathers. I pull the down comforter over the two of us, Betty snuggles in, making a soft puppy sigh, followed by a cooing sound, like a baby dove.

It is a ritual I adore and my little dog likes it to. Since she came to us almost three years ago, Betty has slept beside me every night.

She didn't look like much the first time I saw her. Thin, long bodied, scruffy, thin hair, with very pink, freckled skin beneath. She was billed as a Westie. That's dog rescue talk for "small white dog of unknown origin." We were looking for a companion for restless Bill, a grouchy Jack Russell, when we went to Yukon.

Anxious to make a match, the staff let us take her. We took both dogs around the corner from the rescue to the hayfield cum dog park and let them loose to run. It was hot that September and mosquitos cruised thick above the puddles in the pasture.

The dogs sniffed one another briefly, then Bill took off. Betty took off. They ran side by side, in tandem, interacting not one bit. There she was, a scruffy, funny looking small white dog who ignored us when we called, who watched balls fly and did not give chase, who ignored her potential sibling. I don't know why we decided to go ahead with the adoption. Something about her, her strangeness, the oddities in her behavior.

In the car on the way back to Tulsa, Betty paced the back seat looking out first one window, then another. It wasn't until we were 30 miles from Tulsa that she settled down and went to sleep.

Pulling in the driveway woke Billy as it always does. We parked, opened the doors, I got my purse off the floor in the back. Betty slept. I called to her, nothing. Finally, I reached in and stroked her head. She woke up looking sleepy and dazed, let me pick her up and carry her inside.

In those first few days, I would often lift her, hold her next to me on the sofa or in a chair. From my first touch, she would move not a muscle and once on my lap or next to me, she'd stare straight ahead. Thin, long bodied, scruffy dog statue. Not a blink, not a twitch, absolutely still.

I figured it out somewhere around the fifth day she was with us. Drinking coffee, reading a book early that morning, Betty was by my side on a pillow. She was looking away and I said something to her. No response. A glimmer of suspicion about this odd little dog, so I loudly said her name. Nothing. I yelled, clapped, "Betty!" Nothing.

"Mike! Betty's deaf, she's deaf!" and I gathered her into my arms to kiss her little head. It's so strange that I felt instant guilt over not having known. All the signs were there from the first day she didn't respond to our voices, when she slept so soundly on the way home.

Mike came to look at her, administered his own tests, agreed we had a deaf dog on our hands. Our thin, long bodied, scruffy, pink and freckled deaf girl. Knowing made me cry. I imagined how terrified she must have been living on the streets of Oklahoma City, at the construction site where she was found begging food. Without the ability to hear, she is at such risk, even now.

And then I thought of what she misses out on. Happy voices praising her, inciting her to play. She can't hear me when I tell her she's the best little dog in the world. She doesn't hear us laughing when she does something funny and she'll never hear my voice telling her I love her.

We called the rescue folks to tell them of our discovery. The director answered the phone, was a little cool as I related our news. When I told her we'd been reading up on sign language for dogs, she began to laugh, then expressed her relief that we were not bringing her back.

Take her back? My skinny, brown eyed, freckled, scruffy haired deaf girl? Not a chance. She is the child I never had. I'm not a mom, never will be, so I laugh when I tell friends that I couldn't love a child more than I love this dog. Mothers all, they laugh along with me, but I am serious. Do you have ~ have you had ~ an animal love, one you couldn't imagine living life without?

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Friday, March 27, 2009

random

David was a smart aleck of the worst kind. I met him in 5th grade, the year I transferred from Lutheran school to public. After Lutheran started taking the town riff-raff, kids expelled from schools for misbehavior, my parents figured they may as well save the money, so surrendered their little girls to public education.

It was daunting for a small school girl to move into that tough kid world, though in retrospect, the toughness of the public schools in that Oklahoma town of 25 thousand is debatable. It seemed tough. It seemed scary. I stayed quiet and devoted myself to my work.

There were a few of us who aced all the tests, who competed hard for top marks in all the major subjects. David and I ran neck and neck through fifth grade. Though there were other kids nipping at our heels, we swapped top spots all year long.

The pinnacle of my public school academic career was achieved at the end of 5th grade, when the top scores on the standardized tests were announced. Nearly all of my classmates turned in anticipation to watch David, sitting in nonchalance, a smug look on his face. Oh, it was so divine when the teacher announced my name. Thirty heads swiveled in unison, eyebrows raised, mouths shaping little round Os. "Lynette!" Yes.

It was down hill from there. I found drugs and the bad kids who came with them. I lost track of David, though I'd see him occasionally at school or we'd pass in the hallways. We shared a math class in junior high, a class I skipped most days so I could read at the library.

I did fall in with Monty, though, David's older brother. Monty ran with my doper crowd while David remained a geeky science freak who never entered my orbit of artists, hippies, drug addicts and thieves.

When I was 16, Monty hanged himself in jail. He had just turned 19, got arrested for possession. Word went around that he was a narc and the story was told that David went to visit him at the jail, told him there were people looking to kill him. Monty was dead the next morning.

I don't know if it was the loss of his brother or a sense that he played a part in Monty's death, but David fell off the planet. He quit school, vanished from that little town. I moved away and forgot about him, forgot about all of the people I'd gone to school with, got in trouble with.

Fifteen years ago, in an AA meeting downtown, there was a guy who kept staring at me over his book. After the meeting, he approached and asked my name. It was David, my arch enemy from grade school, the brother of my dead doper compadre.

David was a drunk like me, and worse. He was living on the street, smoking crack. He rambled and made little sense. I thought he might be mentally ill as well. We said our hellos, isn't it amazing, what have you been doing, all of the superficial pleasantries that pass between strangers of long acquaintance.

A few weeks later, Mike returned from a meeting, said he'd picked up a new sponsee. "Name's David. Lives in an abandoned house down at Haskell and Main. Doesn't have a phone and there's no electric, but he said he's got some gas lamps and we can do the work."

The Work, the 12 steps, the process of recovery. David, 5th grade arch enemy, and my husband, the man who never says no, set to work on the steps. Mike tried. He never quit on anyone. It was David who finally broke it off after almost two years, severed the relationship in a fit of paranoid rage and unfounded accusations.

Isn't life strange? It's been thirteen years now since we've seen David and tonight, just now, Mike came home from a meeting, said "guess who I saw?"

He's got a place to stay, still crazy as all get out. On some kind of medication to control his urge to drink. He's got $40,000 left from his trust fund and he's obsessing about what to do when it runs out, just as he did 13 years ago when he had ten times that much.

David's life trajectory turned and never recovered after a conversation, after one single event. Granted, it was a big event. Suicide is a wretched thing and the loss of a sibling an unimaginable misery. I don't know why some people seem to survive the awful things, to ultimately come through the hard times of life, while others are sucked deep into the vortex of self destruction, never to surface again.

What do you think it is, this resilience of spirit? of mind? I haven't any idea, it seems so random that it frightens me, as if any one of us could wake up one morning, experience a tragedy, and be lost ever after.

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Wednesday, March 25, 2009

breakfast

The day the pony dumped me in a puddle of blood behind the slaughterhouse was the day I learned where breakfast comes from. Morning meals on my uncle's Dodge City farm were extravagant feasts of deep yellow free range eggs, fresh baked biscuits, yeasty cinnamon rolls rich with butter, raisins and sugar, and always, heaping platters of smoked meats and plates of fried, crispy head cheese.

Though I didn't know it at the time, it was head cheese my grandmother was making when I rounded the corner of the slaughterhouse dripping blood. She vaulted to her feet, dropping the hog's head from between her knees and lunged for me. "What happened, what happened to you?," and then, finding me uninjured, "What did you do?"

She shook me ~ hard ~ but I couldn't tear my eyes away from the bloody pig's head that rolled to the ground when she rushed to my aid and I was mute in my shock. It was a grotesque thing, upside down, one hairy ear stuck out to the side. The creature's tongue poked from between enormous teeth and it glared at me with its sole remaining eyeball.

I screeched once and collapsed. I came to surrounded by my kin, half with knives, and all of them grinning. Immediately wary, I sat up and looked for the hog's head. There was grandma, perched on the bench, digging and scraping with her arm buried deep in a bodyless head. She was singing softly in German, the melody of Sunday mornings interspersed with the teeth-on-edge sound of knife on bone.

She caught my eye and smiled. "This is for that head cheese you gobble up at breakfast, and I've got the brains soaking for scrambled eggs tomorrow." Then she winked and my kin dispersed and I was left sitting outside the slaughterhouse, the smell of scalded pig skin stinging my nose, my fingernails filthy with swine blood.

I hesitated the next morning when the platter bearing head cheese passed me, and I have never yet tasted scrambled eggs and brains. But by the end of breakfast, the repugnant realities of hog butchering dimmed and I tore off a piece of head cheese, swirled it through the yellow yolk of my egg and ate.

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Tuesday, March 24, 2009

clamming

We're still on scary stories from childhood. It's all sounding alike to me. My teacher, Miss Peggy, says "Write! No matter what, write!" Okay.

clamming

Margene and I are catching fish in clamshells, our favorite summer activity at 99 Springs. The fattest clams work best because they've got the meatiest insides. We learned this from our teenage cousins who'd stand in the swimming hole clamshells in hand, waiting for little fish to nibble on the pink before snapping shut the shell.

There's no point to it except to be faster than the fish. The catcher whoops and waves the fish, buried to its gills in the shell, then releases the stunned creature back to the water. This year, at six and seven, my sister and I are getting better at it. We've already exceeded the clumsy moves of last year, when we were just babies.

We're supposed to fish clamshells only in the swimming hole with the big cousins around, but Margene and I, we're headed to the Arthur's dock because we've seen bluegills nesting there, silvery scales flashing in the sun.

On the dock, we flatten ourselves to peek through the cracks at the fish below. Dozens of bluegills hover over scooped out depressions filled with eggs, watchful and alert for predators.

Margene drops into the water. I'm scared to go in because it's deeper here and we shouldn't be in the water at all. Our plan was to hang over the edge of the dock. But she's brave, my sister, just 14 months older than I am, and fearless.

I lie flat on the dock, peeking through the crack, watching Margene bend over with an open clamshell in her hands. Tiny fish approach her, but she waits. She wants one of those fat mamas from the nests. I am holding my breath as she is, waiting for the fish to come.

Behind her something moves. It looks like the bottom of the lake is rising. I whisper to my sister, "what's that?" and she says "shut up, I almost got one." I'm riveted by the thing behind her, one braced dock leg over from where my sister stands chest deep in the lake.

Now I can see its head and ancient old eyes peering through slits. Can that be a turtle, that huge ugly thing clawing through the mud toward my sister?

"Margene, get out." My voice is fierce but she tells me to shut up. It is the biggest turtle I have ever seen, at least as big as Grandma McKee's peach basket. Do turtles like clams? They must because it's still coming. "Margene, get out there's a turtle he's huge get out Margene" and she just shushes me. A giant mama bluegill is approaching her tender bit of clam.

The turtle's moving closer and he looks like he could take her hand off. "Margene, now. Get out now. It's coming" but she ignores me, her attention focused on the tentative fish head an inch from her hand. I hang over the edge of the dock and scream and splash my hands in the water. The fish scatter and my sister hollers at me, "I almost had that fish what are you doing?" She's really mad, but when the water clears the turtle is gone. I look for him everywhere. He's really gone.

My sister pulls herself up on the dock and smacks me on the back of my head. "I had that fish, Net, what is wrong with you?" She drops her dying clam on the dock and flounces away, leaving me behind. I stay there, sprawled flat in the hot sun, peering through the cracks, alert to the return of the behemoth in the water.

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Monday, March 23, 2009

baby jesus

In the upstairs linen closet of my uncle's house, a skeleton reclines behind the blankets, a reminder of happy days at chiropractic school. Just one door away, in the attic room, stand the papier mache black-eyed figures of my uncle's Christmas creche. They're scary, those life-size, solemn beings, silent behind the closed door, painted eyes unblinking in the darkness.

On other Thanksgivings, Uncle Jimmy wiggles his eyebrows and his dimples wink as he laughingly urges us to get sheets and blankets from the linen closet. My sister and I, we run shrieking, racing each other up the stairs to get to the skeleton closet first. Dragging the pillows from the cupboard in the attic room under the flat eyed gaze of Mary and Joseph, of the Wise Men, that is scarier by far than exposing the skeleton as we pull sheets from the closet shelf.

On this holiday, though, my aunt's pain has stolen the play from my uncle. Cancer is eating her alive and no matter how sharp the surgeon's knife, how deep the cuts, no matter how much flesh is carved from her body, the cancer survives. It survives and thrives and the sounds of her pain send us running for the stairs.

We're running from my uncle, from the dead look of his eyes, from his quiet direction to make up our beds. We are running from her, our anguished Aunt Leona, once so beautiful and lively, with sparkling eyes and long, curling hair.

My uncle sits staring just outside her door. He's waiting, waiting for death to bring silence to this house, waiting for death to release him from the torment of watching his beloved wife die.

Faced with his suffering, with my aunt's agony, we wish for the black eyes and emotionless silence of the Baby Jesus. We want the comfort of the inanimate, of Mary who cannot feel, of Joseph, his body unchanged from one year to the next. We run to the attic room and we hide, seeking refuge in darkness, in empty figures of paper and paste and wire.

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30 days of writing

Assignment? Thirty days of writing 30 minutes a day. Report back. I started my first writing class tonight. Help keep me honest, because I am by nature a lazy cow. I'll post the assignments here, just count the days and holler at me if I skip.

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beautiful boy


Seven months old, my great nephew.

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Thursday, March 19, 2009

gardening on the white house lawn


There is much to love about these Obama people. Vegetable gardening on the White House lawn? Can we all say Victory Garden! What a perfectly lovely idea. I am thrilled. What better use of public property? I can't think of anything that says self sufficiency and wholesome, healthy food and shut off the fucking TV and get out and do something real quite like an organic vegetable garden. Yay for them.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

life seems too much? well what about bestiality...

Really, as refreshing as my early bedtime was yesterday, finding Joe.My.God. hosting a thread about bestiality was the laugh-out-loud funny I needed today. I love ~ adore ~ Joe's people.

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Tuesday, March 17, 2009

when life seems unbearably grim

When nothing's going right, when all of my dreams of an early (very early) retirement are going up in smoke, when I feel as if life's completely out of control, there's nothing else to do but go to bed. It's 3:00 p.m. in Tulsa. Nighty night.

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Sunday, March 01, 2009

randy

It's a tough thing to wind up in prison, the result of too much alcohol and a run of bad luck with the cops. In Oklahoma, though, where prisons are chock full of dopers and drunks, getting out on pre-release is fast and easy. Just mind your manners and get to some of those AA meetings inside. The concept of born again in this state isn't limited to the church folk.

When I met Randy, he was a born again drunk, fired up about AA, excited to be able to go to "real" meetings, non-con meetings, in the real world at Mt. Zion Baptist Church. The Mt. Zion meeting was for hard cases and our rooms were always filled with folks needing a signature on the judge's slip, not wanting to quit, but in trouble with the law and looking for the easy way out.

Randy was different. He was bright eyed, engaged, he paid attention. He got to meetings early from the pre-release prison a few blocks from the church. He reached out his hand to others. He separated himself from the back rows, where his compatriots huddled in resentful masses, their anger directed at us, the AA folks, as if we'd sent them there.

He started following me in the various rooms, this man. When I chaired the beginner's meeting, he was there. When I spoke at Friday night open meeting, he got a special pass to come. He talked to me between meetings, he asked me to be his sponsor. I introduced him to Mike instead.

Randy was my ever present shadow. He was so happy, so excited, so full of hope about his life, and he regularly told me how my story inspired him, how much it meant to him to hear of someone not drinking and happy about it. Like most folks, I am not immune to compliments and I am drawn to people who think well of me. Lord knows, I've spent half of my adult life dealing with hostility and anger dumped squarely in my lap as a representative of authoritarian unpleasantness: child welfare, juvenile parole. And so I appreciate it when people like me. I liked him back and was happy that he was finding hope in the rooms of AA.

I was on fire with AA back then, living each moment in the glowing warmth of spiritual awareness. I'd worked the steps with such intensity and so many times that I felt as if they buoyed me up, floating through life on a wonderful raft of joy and love, friendship and spiritual connection. I told myself that was what Randy was hearing: a message of hope, that he was finding inspiration in meeting people who were sober and happy about it. He seemed to really want it for the entire year that he was in pre-release. He joined our group, he attended every meeting, he was, as we say, "doing the deal."

And then he vanished. I heard from the other inmates that he'd been paroled, that he left the prison and was free out in the world. Every week, I expected to see him standing at the door, hand outstretched, welcoming people to the group. I was disappointed when he didn't show up, but it happens. I wished him well.

* * * * * *

The case on my desk at the justice center came in just before 5:00 on a Thursday afternoon. Two children, a 5 year old boy and a 7 year old girl, in the shelter with severe bruises and possible sexual abuse. I ran by the shelter on my way home to talk to the kids, to make contact, because ending up there is a frightening thing for most kids.

These little ones, though, they were different. The first thing the boy said was "Do I have to go home?" and the little girl's eyes grew huge as she looked at me and whispered "Do we?" No, not home today. I told them about the center where I worked, how we'd have a doctor take a look at them to be sure everything's okay, that I'd be talking to them some more the next day and they would sleep at the shelter this night and probably the next, at least. Their relief was evident in their smiles. Unusual. Most children are afraid of the shelter, even if home is a horror.

I picked them up the next day and we went for exams, for interviews. The physical abuse ~ the bruising, the scars ~ it was the least of what these kids had been going through. "Pawpaw" had been touching them, more than touching them. Pawpaw put his "thing" in her mouth, in his bottom. He tied her hands and left her in the closet alone for hours. He beat the boy with the buckle end of a belt because the five year old could not stop weeping the first time he was raped. These children were scarred, inside and out. Like many chronically abused children, they detailed the horrors visited upon their small bodies with little emotion, in monotone, as if recounting what they'd seen on television the night before.

It was no TV program, though, that gave these babies an adult's knowledge of sex, of the damage that can be done by a hard cock and no conscience. Their descriptions of Pawpaw's physical characteristics were detailed and both mentioned a mole on the side of his penis, the fact that his pubic hair was gray, that he had a scar on his lower belly. In separate interviews, they described the man in such vivid terms I could almost see him myself: enraged, inflamed with lust, thoughtlessly wounding with no thought for the pain of those tiny bodies.

It was Friday night late before we got done and it was apparent these kids were staying with us. There was a mom in the picture, according to the kids, but she was "afraid of PawPaw too."

I met her Monday morning, a petite, dark haired, lovely young woman with frightened eyes. She wanted her children back. She had gone through a divorce and moved back home with her mother. Everything went okay until her stepdad moved in. At that point, the abuse she had suffered at his hands, abuse for which he had gone to prison, started again.

He had begun molesting her when she was eight. He waited until the day after her 18th birthday to rape her, telling her as he forced her to fuck him that she was an adult now and nothing could happen to him.

Something did, though. She actually told someone, the cops got involved and he wound up doing time for a rape, but not for the 10 years of hell that preceded it. Sherry got married, had two babies, thought she was safe. She never thought he'd do it again. She never thought he'd do it to her children.

In the parlance of child welfare, the stepfather is a third party perpetrator if he doesn't live with the children. In those instances, the police take over the perpetrator interviews. If he is living with the kids, though, then he's a caretaker and subject to child welfare intervention.

He was mine. I called him up. Oh, he was charming, this man named R.L. He missed his babies so much, didn't know what that girl was saying about him, she was resentful and always had been about her mother marrying him. He'd just tried to do right by all the kids and she'd tell the most terrible lies, that girl, terrible.

Our appointment was at 2:00 and I was called from the front desk when he arrived. There are a thousand ways to say "Imagine my surprise," "Not in my wildest dreams," "Who would have thought," "Would you ever have believed" and none come close to the feeling I experienced when my 2:00 appointment ~ R.L. ~ was my Randy.

My Randy. The man I believed in, the one I had such hopes for, the one I laughed with, prayed with, invited into our lives. Randy the drunk. Randy the child rapist. Randy the persistent, repetitive, violent sex offender. After almost two years, Randy again.

I have never claimed to be an excellent judge of character as I've heard so many people proudly insist about themselves. In fact, the grave doubts I've held about the judgment of others have usually arisen out of someone's insistence that I am this great thing or another. Utterly convinced they could ferret out the truth about me, they've no room for doubt.

Those ferreting abilities, though? They've never been a match for my skill in deception, in covering up, in hiding the truth about me, especially when I was using and drinking. I do have character strengths, more evident in the last 25 years, but I would never claim the excellent character others have attributed to me, and I've never really imagined myself a top notch judge of others. I'm pretty good at hiding, it's a skill I've perfected.

And still . . . still, knowing what I know about myself, still I thought I could know someone, could see through the outside just a bit, into the truth of a man's soul. I thought he was a good man. I believed it. I would have told you then that I knew he was a good man.

I'm not sure what that all means or even why I've written this. It just strikes me anew sometimes how we can never really know another, not entirely, not 100%. My sweet man, my Mike, I'd tell you would never, could never do certain things and I believe it, I know it.

I know it.

And then there's Randy. Charming, happy, child fucking, woman raping, ex-con, alcoholic-in-recovery one-day-at-a-time Randy. I think of Randy and I realize I know nothing. I know no one. Not really, not 100%. It's just not possible. And that not knowing, that separation, it feels a little lonesome sometimes.

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