Tag Archives: mental health

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.


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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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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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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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Investments in Anguish, In Hope

There have been times I have wondered if I would’ve been better off without him. If things would have been easier, or happier. If the lack of anger would have calmed the household. If the lack of money would have kept us on the ranch, or in the house with the bars on the windows. If I would have found myself between combative enemies, or if, quite simply, I would have existed without a father.

I wonder if the scars, once healed, will stop itching. I wonder if the itch will remain as long as he exists, on some levels, as “part” of my life. I wonder if I need to curb the itch, put an end to it – to find a more thoroughly calming peace.

“It’s not about you,” a friend once said. I remember being annoyed by this, and asked her: “how can it not be?” I was living it. Invested to the extent that I wished for my mother to live a life with some semblance of peace and joy. Invested to the extent that I yearned for my father to recognize the pain he had caused.

I was invested in anguish, in heartache, and in the hopeful consequent newness  that just wouldn’t come.

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Alasdair’s First Taste: An Excerpt

My first demon I found the first time I heard about my father’s adultery. And then, even though, at the time, I wasn’t entirely aware of it, at the bottom of a bottle of warm chardonnay. Thirteen at the time, a journey commenced into after school binges, slurping tepid reds and whites atop our roof, and in the woods behind our house; dabbling in the gateway which- as they, the government and all the other collective thinking types, say- led me to branch out into those smelly mushrooms and, on a few occasions, tripping the light fantastic with Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds. Those latter activities were more or less short-lived dead ends. Alcohol was my drug of choice.

And choose it I did. Without a care in the world, and I thought of my father with another woman. I take gulps of Stoli and try to blank it out, an eraser to some crinkled notepad scribbled in permanent ink. But I cannot. It will always be. I thought it then, and I think it now- this demon will either bring me to the door that leads to another path- a path detached, untainted, anew- or it will destroy me.

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In the Stillness, the Noise Stirs

In the early hours of the morning, while the cats slept, and his wife dreamed of sailboats and the big, shining sea; as the dew on the grass rested without stirring, as the sun beyond the hills wiped the crust, the dulling filmy sleep from its eyes; as the silence of the stillness, of the unmoved and bountiful, makes the noise in Hank’s head that much more pronounced.

And amidst all of this silence, all of the beauty of the composed stillness, Hank decides that he will shoot himself in the head before the beauty of the morning breaks into day.

Before his wife stirs, before she slaps the alarm clock into intermittent silences; before the cats wake and stretch their legs beside the windowsill; before the busyness and congestion takes hold in the streets, as the commuters embark upon another droll drive; before the time ticks its slow, persistent, reverberating beat, Hank will take his life.

But the noise persists in the morning calm, and before Hank takes the cold, heavy pistol in his hands, he curses the god of his youth, and the god his wife held onto so dearly. He asks himself, softly, why it had to be so.

And with a breath, he puts the gun to his head.

And pulls the trigger.

Stirrings Before the Dawn

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The Day I Stopped Eating – Volume Five

As I alluded to in Volume Four, I am better for having experienced it. The attempts to mediate the marriage, the depression, the weight loss and near death – these are experiences I’ve gleaned much from. The marriage, regardless of my irrational attempts to save it, was heading for the drain. And I ask myself if I would have changed it or done it differently – or not at all – if I had a chance to do it over.


For a moment I’d like to put aside the underlying martyrdom or pseudo masochism in that  statement, and focus instead upon the practical consequences if I hadn’t tried anything.

To preface, I will say that I am fully aware that my attempts were all for naught. Even when they had to work together to figure out how to keep their son from dying, and while they shared in their general desire to keep me alive, they differed in their respective assessments and approaches.

So I think about the practical consequences if I hadn’t tried anything, if I sat idly by. Would I be the same person I am today? I can’t be sure. I do know that the things I had gleaned and learned make up a great deal of my philosophical take on the life one lives, the inter-relational dynamics they experience and build upon, the religious understandings they abide by, the social constructs they fall into, and the like.

I wonder if I had been more removed from the madness of it all, if I would have a different view of my father. Of my mother; if I would be less a critic of my dad, or less a default (often to a fault) supporter of my mom; if I would feel differently about adultery and its impact on the family; if I would think differently about Christianity, about God; if I didn’t give off the impression that I am the resident relationship guru; if I would be less patient, less guarded; if I would fear less the colloquial understanding that kids take after, and often become, their parents.

So I wonder, and I ponder, and I muse about it all.

I am happy. And if that experience had something to do, on any level (which I am certain it had), with my state of happiness, I am grateful. Because, at the end of the day, it’s really all about how one learns, how one gleans, how one assesses and reacts to the people, the experiences and the world around us.

See previous installments with Volume 1, 2, 3 and 4.

You See? I Am Happy. Happy With Leg Kicks and Beaches and Adorable Dogs.

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