Category Archives: memories

Creating The Villain

They tell me I simply need to let it be; to pay no mind. But how is such a thing possible? The anguish that was caused; the heartache; the grief; these are attributes of my character, in the sense that they have shaped my emotional, intellectual and mental understanding of the world, of people, and the way in which these things interact with one another.

Wait, scratch that. I know it’s possible to let it be. After all, if I don’t, then he’s winning.

But, what if I don’t want to? What if I need him to play the role of the tormentor? What if I need to relegate him to evil, dictatorial villain?

What if I need to know that a person like that will struggle, experience hardship?

Don’t I have some say as to how he does this? Am I not part of the social barometer that demonizes infidelity, abuse, hypocrisy? If not, then who? Not, quite assuredly, god; the latter of which I find to be especially frustrating. To live forever, after this? Really?

Presumably psychologists would say that I was losing it; that I, to some degree, am failing to see the picture. I beg to differ. It’s really quite simple.

A is evil.

A causes B pain.

B’s pain surfaces when A’s damaging effects are witnessed within context of familial structure.

In order to absolve pain, B must do one of two things:

B can steer clear of the rest of family.

B can implement the “A as villain” approach.

If option 1 occurs, B suffers.

If option 2 occurs, B finds solace.

Or perhaps B needs to get over it.

Trying.

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Mom, Dyslexia and How I Came to Perceive Words

My mother is dyslexic. Really dyslexic. Needless to say, this is by no means meant to belittle her. Dyslexia is something she didn’t choose, so I don’t hold it against her. It is, quite simply, a part of her, something she was born with, akin to her penchant for breaking out in song and dance a la Gene Kelly, as I’ve written about before, in a story that I never seem to finish:

It was that way once. Long ago. Lampposts, then, were not just the large candy cane flashlights they appear to be. Then, so very long ago, with a smile on my face and my cheeks as the rosy red warriors they so often seem to be, I swung from those metal cylinders, like Gene Kelly in Singin’ In the Rain. And I reckon, the response is in fact instinctual; or rather, to be more specific, it’s genetic.

I can thank my mother for that. She had a penchant for Mr. Kelly. He danced like one should dance, she had always said.

Anyhow, I bring this bit of information up for one reason: it is through her dyslexia (she struggles mostly with spelling) I learned to look at words in a way I had never experienced before. It was unique. Life-altering. But, of course, I didn’t really know it then. Sure, I recognized that I was learning how to spell. And not just the simple words (although she had trouble with those as well). But the more challenging words too; the ones with the “silent” non-emphasis and the ones that seemed to go on forever and ever without the loving respite of a vowel insertion.

I think fondly of the chores, handwritten, on the sad, yellow legal pad she would give us every morning. Letters traded places with one another, or were never found. But it didn’t matter. For the most part, I could figure out what she was trying to say.

And after a while, I didn’t really see the spelling mishaps. The jumbled letters were (still are) simply a result of a broken filter between her thoughts (always quite clearly articulated orally) and the paper upon which she was writing.

So I became her own personal spelling machine.

And yes, even though the spelling machine poked fun at the dyslexic from time to time, it mostly helped remedy the filter of a mother he loved (still loves!) dearly.

Thank you, mom.

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Spencer’s Story: Volume 3

“What are you doing?” Mr. Grum commanded.

Groggy, Spencer took a moment to answer, to get his bearings. “I was just resting. Just resting.”

“Well get up. Now. We have company.”

A tall man in a v-neck sweater of green stood behind his father, smiling, waiting for Spencer to react.

“Spencer, this is Mr. Blankenship. He’s with the church.”

“Nice to meet you,” Spencer said.

“Very nice to meet you, Spencer.”

Spencer smiled, looking Mr. Blankenship in the eyes. This was how it went with company. Smile politely, make eye contact, don’t step out of line. That line had been drawn in impenetrable stone for as long as Spencer could remember. As much as he tried to forget, his evolutionary mechanism aptly reminded him of its presence in times like these.

“We’re going to be using the dining room. I don’t want any interruptions. You got that?”

“Yes, sir.”

With the church, Spencer mused. It’s always with the church. He had wondered why the church took precedence over family. Why the way the family dressed for church worship services was important enough to scream about, fight over. Why Spencer and his brothers had to be so gosh darn quiet in their company. It was as though, as Spencer had thought before, their Christian development wasn’t matured, or brainwashed enough to fit in.

Frankly, he was sick of it. And he went to bed that evening with a sour taste in his mouth.

The next morning, Spencer woke before the sun came to visit. This was par for the course in the Grum household. Early to rise for chores of cleaning and dusting and organizing. While his brothers still had it in them to whine about it, Spencer had grown to realize that it was how it went. And it wasn’t so bad, he had thought. It usually gave him more time during the day to play outdoors: his most favorite place on the planet.

Later that day, after he had finished his chores, Spencer was given permission to invite his friend Garrett over. And that day, Spencer found adventure in a place hadn’t ever before.

*    *    *    *

Beyond the hill behind the Grum house, horses ran, unsaddled and free. Or at least that’s what Spencer liked to think. He didn’t know much about horses–other than what he gleaned from episodes of Have Gun Will Travel–but he did like to lean up against the fence and watch them as they galloped to and fro chasing jackrabbits and chomped on wild lemon grass in between yearnings to scratch their backs with the crust of the earth.

This one time, however, when he was eight, Spencer and his friend Garrett did just a bit more than simply watch the horses.

It was another one of those sunny weekend days in Southern California: perfect for romping around the neighborhood, exploring new trees to build forts upon, finding new ways to lend credence to the title of hooligan or scoundrel or whippersnapper, terms he heard regularly delivered by Mrs. Walden (for skateboarding “too fast” down the hill near their houses, or throwing water balloons at passing bicyclists).

“Let’s go watch the horses,” Garret said. Garrett lived in a stucco box of an apartment next to other stucco boxes, and didn’t often have the chance to be around animals. Small pets weren’t allowed in his apartment complex. Not even miniature horses.

Spencer wanted to get out of the house anyhow. Miah and Marcus were fighting over the integrity of one another’s building block castle: Miah’s being replete with moat, and imaginary crocodiles for the strict purpose of chomping on intruders, or Marcus’ wandering fingers; Marcus’ castle being the one with the highest towers, or the “better angle to shoot things in the face.” The parents were, as was the routine for Sundays, arguing over bills in their bedroom. They jabbed at each other in exasperated exclamations.

“Okay,” Spencer replied. “Let’s go.”

When they both reached the fence at the top of the hill, they leaned against it and looked out upon the roaming beasts.

“Who’s are they?” Garret asked.

“I don’t know. They’re just here.”

“But who owns them?”

“I don’t know. Maybe no one does. I think they’re just wild.”

A few moments pass before the two exchange grins. The grins, translated, amounted to: They’re wild. We’re wild. Let’s be wild together.

That, at the least, was their collective vision. However naive, it was still theirs. No rules. No parents. No brothers or sisters. Only them, and the wild beasts of the field beyond the Grum house.

Stepping through the barbed wire fence, Garrett looks up, noticing one of the horses trot towards them, only twenty paces off or so. “They’re not going to eat us, are they?”

“Um, no. No, they’re herbivores…I think.”

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Spencer’s Story: Volume 2

When his parents were gone on those church trips, the boys were usually left in the capable hands of any one of the four teenage girls that lived in the neighborhood. But to be capable in his parents’ eyes is to keep Spencer and his two brothers from bleeding from their eyeballs or some such injury that would land them in the hospital. To be capable in Spencer’s eyes was different, though. It was everything.

It meant he didn’t have to scrub the toilet. It meant he didn’t have to find clever ways to avoid his father. It meant he didn’t have to do as Jesus would do. Wine from stone aside, it just wasn’t that appealing.

Miah and Marcus reacted as most kids would. They went crazy. And as long as the messes were cleaned up before the parents’ arrival, and they kept it within the confines of their bedroom, they were free to do what they wanted.

But, one Saturday evening in August of ’92, things turned out differently.

“Alright kids. I need to make a phone call. Keep it down,” Tiffany, the first-year college student from three houses over, said to Spencer, Miah and Marcus shortly after the Grum parents pulled out of the driveway.

“Who are you calling?” Marcus asked.

“Yah, who ya call…”

“Guys, stop it,” Spencer interrupted. “Lets go to the bedroom.”

“But I want to know who she’s calling.” Miah responded.

“It’s none of your business. Let’s go. Who wants to play Monopoly?” Spencer said.

“I do!” Miah exclaimed.

“I get to be the boot!” Marcus replied.

“I’m the race car!” Miah said.

“I’ll be the thimble, okay? Let’s go.”

Monopoly always seemed to work. It was the one board game they owned that still had enough pieces to make it playable. They had a checkers set that was once used as ammunition for the boys’ grossly inaccurate, and mildly racist reenactment of the bombing of Pearl Harbor. The checker pieces that found their way up to the roof never were retrieved.

For the next two hours, the Grum boys sat cross-legged on the floor in their bedroom and played Monopoly. The structure of which typically went something like this:

  1. Game opens with delight, fervor
  2. 30 minutes pass without much change
  3. Miah expresses desire to make his one procured property a “super duper,” that has the power to burn its unwanted occupants with molten lava
  4. Marcus and Spencer roll their eyes and deny the request
  5. Another 30 minutes pass by with a handful of houses purchased, mostly by Marcus and Spencer
  6. Marcus is distracted by Miah’s constant fidgeting and promptly–and throughout the remainder of game–complains
  7. Miah expresses delight at having once again annoyed his older brother. He does so by making “neener neener” faces
  8. Spencer waits patiently
  9. Spencer places mansion on Boardwalk
  10. Miah and Marcus charge Spencer with cheating
  11. Spencer laughs at his brothers’ inability to handle time consumption
  12. Miah calls Marcus and Spencer a “poop eater” and quits
  13. 10 minutes later, Marcus quits for lack of money
  14. Spencer puts the game back in its box, happy to have distracted his brothers for the two hours

For Spencer, the time spent post-Monopoly matches was undoubtedly the best. His brothers, annoyed and pouting, kept mostly to themselves. The babysitter found solace in her phone calls. And he was met with a calming respite from the pressure.

Mostly, he didn’t have to keep up appearances. He wasn’t his father’s little soldier.

He was himself. His own self.

His own self.

His own self.

These are the words that played again and again as he fell to sleep on the floor in the dining room that evening in August of ’92.

When he woke hours later, with a hand around his ankle, the words seemed so far away, so distant and foreign and never to be reached again.

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Spencer’s Story: Volume 1

Spencer slammed the door shut, knowing that he’d hear about it later, but not caring, for in that moment, he was alone, himself.

With each step up the hill behind his house, Spencer could feel the anxiety lessen, allowing for the calming breath of his mind to dissipate the stabbing in his chest.

He climbed.

The long grass under his feet held dew that made his socks all wet, but he didn’t care. He didn’t care that this would be a point of contention later; that the socks, wet and soggy, would somehow find their way into the “reasons why boys need structure” handbook his father so dutifully abused.

At the top of the hill, Spencer looked down into the valley. Horses fed on alfalfa in one-acre lots. Kids ran up and down the street looking for something to prod, someone to play with, some activity to occupy their time. His two younger brothers, Jeremiah (or “Miah” as everyone seemed to call him) and Marcus, played in the oblong patch of grass in the front yard of their home. Spencer, sometimes, was jealous of their innocence. He wondered how they could not know. They lived in the same house.  Slept in the same room. Pooped in the same toilet. Showered in the same linoleum box.

But perhaps they did know, and their alternate universe wasn’t the opposite. Just different. Possibly better.

At least that’s what Spencer wished for.

Something better.

Better like the time he spent the weekend at his friend Micah’s house, when his parents had to make a last-minute trip with the church. Micah’s house, with all of the tasty white bread and sour licorice whips and soda pop, was something better.

Less stabby chest, more sore smiling cheeks.

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Perception. Not In That Way.

I read Stick, a book from Andrew Smith. It’s incredibly powerful and relevant. So much so that I felt compelled to email him, tell him how much the book and its characters meant to me. I haven’t felt that way about a book in quite some time. Not since Janice Galloway’s The Trick is to Keep Breathing. Not since Wilson Rawls’ Where The Red Fern Grows (Andrew, I am so with you on this. I’ve read this book at least a dozen times).

The book brought up all sorts of different emotions and memories. But there is one particular memory. One having to do with what my sister and I had to wear for church growing up. It wasn’t just that we had to wear nicer clothing than the typical garb, but that we had to wear it a certain way.

To him, we had to show the others at church that we were dressed up. They had to see it. And a t-shirt or a pair of shorts spoke of carelessness and non-conformity and being not too serious about the reasons for being at church.

To him, it was about the image we presented–to friends, to acquaintances, to strangers.

We had to (were often forced to) look like a tight-knit, well-oiled machine; perfectly happy and cohesive and strong.

And I think we were in certain ways. Certain, and small, yet meaningful ways. But not in the way he wanted it.

Not in that way.

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Scooby Finds His Wee Wee

So, we have a dog. His name is Scooby and he’s a black Labrador. At four and a half, he’s still very much a puppy, at least in his excitability and playful mannerisms. When I met Jessica, Scooby hadn’t yet reached the age of one. With that said, I can rationally say that I know Scooby well.

I know what he likes and dislikes. I know that he loves to chase rabbits with the sole intention of playing patty cake, or some such innocent tete-a-tete. I know that he loves to retrieve the tennis ball, and then keep the ball in his mouth until he’s certain that the other dogs aren’t cherry picking to get to the next toss first. I know that he was once scared to jump into the Dobson pool, but has since shed that fear, thanks to my patient instruction. Now, he’ll jump, but not before he crouches to ensure he’s propelling himself into the pool with the least amount of air time possible. I know that he loves to get as close to the bed with Jessica and I as possible without actually laying on the bed (a rule mandated by myself; but a rule, mind you, that is often broken in moments of weakness, or moments in which Jessica chooses Adorable over Non’s Allergy Monster). This usually results in half of his body laying on the bed, with his lower half on the floor beside the bed.

Mostly, I know that he is fond of me, as I am fond of him. But the other day, my perception changed.

Scooby and His Ball

I was in the house, and the dogs (Scooby, Scooby’s mom Lilly, Schein, Gamble and Watson) were outside. I looked through the window to see what they were up to, only to find the most revolting thing I’ve ever seen. Before I get to that, I’ll say this. As a young lad, I had to initiate a conversation with my mother for the purpose of asking her to keep the noise level down in the–ahem, cough, shudder–bedroom. It was traumatic, and may have been a repressed memory if she hadn’t laughed and told me that my “grandfather was having sex all the time; and he’s an old man!”

And so, as I peered out into the backyard, I found Scooby humping (I use this term in an attempt to propel the act to some elementary, perhaps easily forgotten level; sadly, it’s already failed) Schein. I must point out that Schein is Scooby’s aunt. His aunt! Okay, incestuous relations aside, the image was still very much awful. But allow me to explain further.

You see, in this moment, we parents (yes, he’s my boy dammit) get a bit irrational, emotional, exaggerating in our interpretation of events. To others, it’s simply a dog humping another dog. That is, they say, what dogs do. But no, I say! Not Scooby! Not the innocent playful pup that I know so well! In that moment, Scooby was not responding to boredom. He was raping his aunt. With his incisors showing and everything. In that moment, Scooby was an aggressor. And, to make matters worse, my mind filled with all these sick thoughts of Scooby doing this regularly, like he’s trying to hide it from me, like he knows that it’s wrong but he just can’t stop his sexual urges.

But I say, it can’t be! Scooby is fixed. He doesn’t even know what’s going on down there! And yet, in my head, he knows exactly what he’s doing. Scooby is his name no longer. Scooby the Rapist, forever he will be.

Shudders.

I love you Scooby. I always will. Even if I know now that you recognize your wee wee.

*Note: While I am surely exaggerating this experience (yes, I know that dogs hump), there is truth to the irrational, emotional reaction that I had.

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Bizarro Sleep Jessica

Nary a night passes without encountering the sleeping, alternative, bizarro version of Jessica. It goes like this: she falls asleep, waits 45-minutes, and then either talks in gibberish, screams out, sits up while talking in gibberish or screaming out or both, or gets out of the bed entirely, only to disturb, frighten and off-put myself and Scooby.

It isn’t her fault, of course. But there does seem to be a connection between her stress levels and these occurrences. And that, I’d claim, is within her control.

To better clarify and depict, I am going to present a hypothetical scenario; something that is wholly possible and very much similar to real life.

Jessica falls asleep at 10:30pm. The pillow beneath her head is a haphazard lump, punched and squished and balled up for maximum support and softness. Non is awake, playing with the iPad, or reading a book by headlamp light.

Jessica: “What are you so there No it’s not going to linens! He’s afraid no carpet peanut butter why don’t you stop but…”

Non: “Jessica, Jessica, you’re asleep.”

Jessica: “What, no. No.”

Non: “Jessica, it’s okay. Go back to sleep.”

Jessica: “What are you, no, he’s down here.”

Non: “Who’s down here?”

Jessica: “But he is. No, jellybeans.

Non: “I love jellybeans. Come on, you’re asleep, you need to get back to bed.”

Jessica is sitting up in bed now, reaching over the side for something.

Jessica: “No, but it’s here. No, what are you doing?”

Non: “I’ll just put it out of its misery.”

Jessica: “No, but it’s scared.”

Non: “Exactly. Scaredy cats must die.”

Jessica: “It’s Marmaduke.”

Non: “Dog, cat, same difference.”

Jessica: “But…the yarn.”

Non: “Yarn isn’t going to help this one.”

Jessica: “….”

Non: “Say goodbye.”

Jessica: “But…”

Non: “Jessica, it’s okay, just go back to sleep.”

Jessica: “But, he’s not knowing…”

Non: “Jessica, he can’t know.”

Jessica: “What?”

Non: “He can’t know. He’s only made of polenta.”

At this point, Jessica is just starting to wake, but is still very much out of it.

Jessica: “What?”

And here she kind of groans.

Non: “Polenta can’t reason. No brains in there.”

Jessica: “Brains?”

Non: “That’s right. Brains are good.”

Jessica: “….”

Non: “Yummy, yummy brains brains.”

Jessica: “….”

Non: “Go to sleep Jessica.”

Jessica lays her head back onto the balled up pillow, squishes her pink face blanket into her cheek. Non goes back to iPad or book.

It’s the prodding that makes it all worth it.

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I Want For Safety

I want for safety, but in the violence of its self-preservation, I find only the eggshells and the discomfort of a foreign mania.

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Father’s Day, Now and Then

In my childhood, Father’s Day was just like every other Sunday. Singing to the great big man upstairs at church where the teacher with her colorful spotted smock pranced from corner to corner of the room trying to get us all to concentrate on the to and fro of “he’s got the whole world in his hands”; dressed up in our “Sunday best,” a sort of masochistic exemplification of my father’s ability to yell and scream and tell us all that our image matters, that we need to look sharp, and that our non-collared, non-ironed t-shirts were just another means to curse our holy father; and rendered mute and cowering as the monumental martyr explained to us that Jesus would be doing quite the opposite of what we were doing.

In retrospect, this is all a bit dramatic and saddening, but that doesn’t really matter much anymore. Today, I have a Father-In-Law.

And his name is Rich Dobson.

He isn’t spiteful. He isn’t angry. He isn’t a cheat or a liar or a bigot.

He is wonderful, and I am thankful to have him in my life.

Even if, at times, it’s difficult for me to show it.

Love you dude.

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