05 January 2020

The Story They Won't Tell You

Have you ever heard the saying, “life is hard, but it’s harder if you’re dumb”?

I firmly disagree. My life would make much more sense if I were too dumb to know any better. The fact that the universe never gave me credit for the things I could be capable of is a little disheartening, but I suppose things could always be worse.
After two decades of searching for answers, I found my biggest clue on the front page of an old black and white copy of a Boonville Herald Newspaper. I was searching old news with my family last names and happened upon this gem. In big letters is my mother’s maiden name followed by, “TO WED”.
“Weird,” I thought. Especially considering the fact she’s only ever been married once, and that was in the year 2000. The man in the photo is very obviously not the dad I grew up with. This man was older than my mother by about 15 years. He was college educated and from out of state. I can’t make out much more than that due to the condition of the photo. A lot of detail was lost when they scanned the papers into the electronic system.
Very clearly though, at the top of the newspaper scan, I can read the edition date.

It was from May of 1990.
Seeing how I was born in December of 1990 and all.

I’ll will be honest with you so that maybe you can understand how something like this feels. When someone close to me gets upset and wants to hurt my feelings, there are very few ways to achieve it. For that reason they will take jabs at how “alone" I am. I've had very, very few "close" relationships. Growing up I can remember a lot of times when my mom would drop me off someplace to chase my dad, and my dad would chase the NY Yankees. My maternal grandparents and my aunt never seemed to mind my being around all the time. I have very few memories of my first “home” and even less of my little sister and I being there at the same time.
Lizzy was born 4 1/2 years after I was. I don’t remember much that changed when she arrived, besides the constant screaming. While she was inside rocking away her ear-aches with our grandmother, I would be outside working with my grandfather. I would remember it this way until I was about 10.
One summer night my mother put my sister and I both in the backseat of her car. Dad ran after her yelling, but I couldn’t make out the words. For some reason my parents splitting up also meant I wasn’t going to stay with my grandparents any more. Adjustments were made and life went on anyways.
There was no family court. When dad called to see if anyone wanted to spend the weekend at his house, I would always go.... Most of the time Lizzy would skip. She was 3 1/2 when the split initially happened, but she would keep this stay away mentality up throughout her entire childhood. She’s 24 now. Dad never said anything bad about mom, and when I asked him details about their relationship that I couldn’t get out of my mom, he’d rarely answer me either. He did slip up once though and I found out that they first met at a local laundry mat. It wasn’t the fairy tale I had hoped for, but it was honest and that was good enough for me.
In middle school science the teacher was teaching us about punnet squares. The Punnett square is a square diagram that is used to predict the genotypes of a particular cross or breeding experiment. It is named after Reginald C. Punnett, who devised the approach. The diagram is used by biologists to determine the probability of an offspring having a particular genotype. It is fairly simple science, and I am an A+ student.
At the end up the week, I bring in my personal punnet square chart filled in with my parents genetic characteristics. Beside each chart I put what genetic traits I actually display out of the possible outcomes my parents could’ve made.
Mrs. Reed tells me I’m at risk of failing the assignment. None of my displayed traits are possible options off of the square of my parents.
All of Lizzy’s are shown though. Blue eyes...freckles...widows peak hairline...can’t roll her tongue..

I have no widows peak, my eyes are green and I can roll my tongue. I also have super double jointed elbows, and knees.

I debate telling Mrs. Reed that she’s obviously dumb and needs to do better research in biology. But, instead chalk it up to a misunderstanding on my part. Maybe I misrepresented things like my parents real eye colors.... I feel idiotic that I don’t even know either of them well enough to know that. I will never say it, but I envy everyone else’s punnet squares. They are all simple and make sense without struggle.
Like everything else in my life, mine is a shit show. What a mess. 
I will try to vent to mom about this misunderstanding after school, but at 4pm when I arrive, she’s obviously cracked open a Mic Ultra or two. Instead of asking how school was she told me to sit down at the table so she could tell me how her grandparents died.
“You don’t know how lucky you are right now, but you’re grandparents are going to die too.” I am 12 and the whole situation makes me uncomfortable. I can’t listen to her stories the way my little sister can. Even as a preteen I know people can’t live in perpetual darkness.
When she’s not talking to me about how everyone I ever love will die a painful death, she’s reminding me how often my father isn’t around and the workload he left her with. As I get older; the visits happen less, but still, he never talks bad about her the way she does him.
One Christmas I felt so worried that he was going to die alone that I went and took all of my change to the Boonville family dollar and bought him any house necessities I could afford. Toothbrush holder, soap dispenser, trash can. I know it probably wasn’t anything he wanted, but it’s what he needed and I wanted him to know that I knew that.

Once I’m old enough (about 17), I reconnect with my older half sister. Half sister on my dad’s side. Not my mom’s. She is 10 years my senior. She tells me stories over spinach dip of how my mother stole her dad away from her and her mother when she was young and that the whole town said he left his first family for a woman with a baby that wasn’t even his. 
This is news to me and I feel somewhat offended. I’m not sure if that’s what I’m supposed to feel, but there it is. I can’t help what happened between our moms and our dad. I feel badly for hurting her. Even if I was just a fetus at the time. I would make her feel better if it was possible. After we finishing our spinach and dip at Applebee’s I make a mental note to start researching all of these things.
Has anyone ever talked to me truthfully? It doesn’t feel like it.
A few more years will pass before I have the time to work at this.
I am 23 and on the verge of a nasty divorce when I finally find the newspaper article on the computer that I told you about earlier.

Everyone told me to let it be. That what I was chasing, was only in my head. Of course my father was my father. “Are you stupid?”, they’d say.
I took the printed out engagement announcement to my mother first. I calmly asked her if she could explain the person in the photo and the date in the corner. She lit a cigarette quicker than I had ever seen before. She takes a long drag. She opens her mouth. “Get the fuck out of my house!”

With tears in my eyes I watch from my car window as she runs to my step-father. I will find out later that she told him I fabricated the entire engagement story to try and make her drink more. He’s clearly upset with me. If she had been engaged in her past, she definitely would have told her husband about it.
There is nothing here for me.
I do not see dad often but he’s always been more honest than mom, and for that, I appreciate his insight. I call once I’m alone and tell him what I’ve found.
He sounds surprised and asks what my mother told me about it. I explain the episode to him and in return he tells me that, “This was taken care of a long time ago. It’s nothing you should be worrying about now.”

I don’t know how you’re feeling,
But, with replies like this, Houston we have a problem. 

There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you..

03 April 2019

Units of Measurement

My father rarely had toys at his house when I’d go to spend a weekend with him. He was always a collector of sorts. Encyclopedias, triangular prisms, top-notch recipes. I always admired his willingness to admit that he was in a constant process of learning.
One of the things I marveled at most was his miniature Galileo thermometer. A fascinating glass tube, especially to an adolescent.
The Galileo thermometer consists of a vertical glass tube, typically filled with water, and sealed glass bubbles containing colored water or alcohol. Each bubble is also attached to a specific mass (labelled with the temperature it represents) to calibrate its density (the amount of mass in a given volume). The temperature can be read by interpreting the distribution of these bubbles. The principle of buoyancy states that if an object is less dense than a liquid, it floats; and if the object is denser than the liquid, it sinks. 

When the temperature of the liquid in the glass tube begins to warm up, it expands; hence lowering the density of the liquid, as its mass now occupies a larger volume. The opposite occurs when the temperature cools (ie density of the liquid increases). Therefore, if a bubble becomes denser compared with the liquid, it sinks; and if less dense, it floats.
It’s appears simple from afar, but if you really get close to it, the science is fascinating.
I know what you’re thinking; -“I bet she breaks it!”.
Unfortunately, I never broke the Galileo.
I knew how much my father cared for it. I had no reason to want it broken. I enjoyed its presence in the apartment too.

Without realizing I was having a bad day, I found myself on the internet. A dreaded place to be in the wee hours of night. The kids had endowed me with their shopping list for science fair shenanigans due next month. Once I carted the necessary items, I took a look around. It’s very rare for me to have an “urge” to buy myself something. There is very little I ever find myself actually “needing”, so why buy it?
Tonight however, I am in search of my very own Galileo. I do not have a good reason. I just desire it. What a strange feeling. I settle on one that’s about 20 inches tall with a cherry case around it. It is similar to the one I remember my father having, but yet completely its own style. No-one else has to like it. This one will be important to me.

One week later, Sunday:
I’ve worked for a year on a big project for my honors capstone research at college. After multiple college board reviews and professor oversight I have been cleared to release my survey to the public. A huge evening for everyone around me. I feel like I’ve been waiting on this forever. Before I release it to the public, I send the survey link to all of my family members; even my little sister. Even if they don’t exactly understand my excitement over the project, they each applaud my efforts and choose to be in the first group of participants. Their answers are strictly anonymous and I will never be able to read them. Just knowing they shared involvement in my work fills my heart to the brim. Maybe this is what pride feels like? But, I can’t be certain. I was sick with what felt like the bubonic plague a few days before.
My text tone sounds with the response of my last family member. Pride is short lived and expectations are hell. My heart sinks as I read the words of my father telling me that he has nothing to contribute to my project.

Suddenly I’m 8 again admiring his little Galileo on the table.
I wonder what it’s like to be that fragile. To only exist under the law of constant, consistent protection. In the deepest part of my heart, the glass inside me rattles against the incoming cold. My delicate is busted and the precious liquid is seeping. I’ll surely never be able to measure emotion correctly again. Maybe this is female overreaction? Disappointment, however, is no stranger to this system. It was never about the answers of my family....it was knowing they cared enough to partake in it for me.

(Today) AKA 3 days later:
I receive notice that there’s an extra large package waiting for me at the post office. I miss the open window hours, but they leave it in a parcel locker so that I can still pick up my inconveniently sized box after work. I spoke to my survey mentor, in the 3 days since its release we’ve had 112 participants. An astonishing number for what they were expecting from my little hometown. There are still 7 days to go.
I get the kids situated so that I can open my box without error. There are fragile stickers covering every corner. 
Inside, is my cherry framed Galileo thermometer. It sets near the window, a beacon of hope. I feel eerily satisfied. It's taken me 20 years to understand what I've been measuring. 
I’m going to admire my own damn bubbles from now on.

28 January 2019

Anger Management

This man looks how mothballs smell.

If you could see him, you’d understand.

They told me it would be “zen”. At best, the room reminds me of one big dusty book. It may hold treasure for someone. It’s just not me. Mr. Rowling was the embodiment of what I imagined an appropriate middle aged father was supposed to act like. Maybe I dodged a bullet there.

Mom never comes in.

If the floor is lava than the counselor's office is the volcano. It’d take a court summons to order her to talk to a shrink. She’s likely ventured off into one of the local shops. Pretending she leads a seemingly normal life I suppose. Maybe she’s making a hair appointment for the next time we’re obligated to be here. Or maybe she’s at the pub. I couldn’t blame her if she was enjoying an afternoon Budweiser.

Unfortunately, I’ll never know.

Perplexing as it is, neither of us can talk to the other one. Not even about how we spent our afternoon.


Which brings me back to this bare bones chair bullshit. I’m to do 8 sessions with Mr. Rowling. 60 minutes each. “Anger management”, they call it. I’m 14 and I tend to think I’m fairly average. The puberty stricken boys I see putting dents in the school lockers are a far cry from my situation. Nonetheless, I am here. I am unable to tell you what it feels like to be "a little" mad. My emotions work as if controlled by a light switch. I'm either fine or I'm out of control. I once spilled a container of thumbtacks and got as angry at myself as I did when I blew the transmission on my first SUV. If I'm under the impression that there are Doritos in my cupboard, then realize that there in fact are none, there's a high probability I'll be as sad as I was at my cat's funeral.

In other words, my reactions aren't proportionate to the things I'm reacting to.

It's something I've been working on...

“It’s like hammering a square peg into a round hole every single day,” I say.

“I just want to know who I am.”

“No one knows who they are Samantha. Adults 5 times your age are still figuring out who they are. It's part of the process. Feeling enraged at the fact that you haven’t grown into your persona yet is unfair to those around you. And wrong to expect at a mere 14,” he scolds.

He doesn’t get it. The expensive paper hanging on the wall is supposed to be proof of his excellence in this field and show how qualified he is to handle little hiccups like me. And he literally doesn’t get it.

I can feel my cheeks going red.

The sheer frustration of knowing exactly what’s going on, while everyone else refuses to acknowledge you...

You’d get aggravated from time to time too.

Mom was late to pick me up. Against the protest of the lady at the desk, I swing the exit door and walk myself out. I don’t need to look back to see the expression on her face. I can feel her judgement. She’s wrong too.

Mom finds me a few doors down sitting on the large stone steps of the library. I secretly find myself hoping that the secretary is still watching; In awe of the fact that I wasn’t caught rolling joints or smoking crack. There’s no conversation on the ride home. I’ll run a mile, bike a mile and eat a bag of Banquet chicken tenders. I couldn’t even guess what the calorie count is on a bag of those suckers and truthfully I couldn't care less.

Fast forward a decade.

Work has brought me to Mr. Rowling’s doorstep. I recognize the name on the mailbox.

I want so badly for him to appear. For him to remember my face and my struggle that he could never solve.

I want to tell him that I’ve found all of the answers and that I was right all along. I need to tell him about the eyes I’ve looked into and the pieces of soul I’ve replaced. The places I’ve traveled and the love I have found. The searching I did for the answers I've sought. That he was ignorant in his old age and that my youthful self was justified in her quest....

I set down the large package and get on with my job.
Maybe he doesn’t deserve to know. For him, I was just a folder. This is my life.

Trying to make sense of other people's responses to us is a basic human activity. Accepting anyone's anger by concluding that it is justified, is a way of making sense of a difficult relationship.
But, this acceptance comes at a great cost.

03 July 2018

The B-word

B is for Bitches, but today it's for Bomb.....

It's only my second day back to work after a pretty sweet vacation in the Caribbean. The first day back was a jam packed ten hours. Today was proving itself to be an even bigger beast.

I started working as a rural carrier about 7 years ago.
I promised myself I'd go and get my college degree if I didn't get hired at the USPS.
It was one of the only career paths that made sense for someone like me. With 4 young children, daycare can be hard to find. It's an even bigger task if you're only making minimum wage. Carrying mail would allow me to work outside of the home and still make a decent wage even after the
babysitting fees were deducted. Starting pay was $18/hour plus the vehicle allowance for your gas. I accepted the position the second they offered it to me. I've never regretted my choice and love many aspects of my job. With my schedule and support of my Postmasters I've also managed to go to college full time.
I now have a surplus of postal stories.
These are impossible to make up.

A few years back the Federal government was pushing the "See something, Say something!" initiative. Telling the public that with their help, eyes and ears, they could aide us in catching crimes or illegal acts in progress.
If there's one thing you learn quicker than anything else in the post office it's that you NEVER EVER say the B-word.
 B stands for bomb. And we don't mess with that.
Even the mention of it is like walking into the bank with a black ski mask on. You don't even have to make a threat. The word itself scares people shitless. We are all routinely trained and reminded of the things that warrant cause for concern or when red flags should be raised.
The public seems to be even more sensitive about mail tampering.
In the winter months I wear blue latex gloves because they actually keep my fingertips from freezing off. Much better than their fleece competition. It always catches me off guard when people ask if it's because,"I know something they don't" or "Anthrax is back".
They put things together that I can't even fathom.

I was pulling into my second office of the day. Many mail routes and offices had to merge together when the USPS started losing volume due to the increase of things like email and UPS. So, many routes consolidated to also include any small neighboring town's mail.
I have to go into my second office, case the mail and packages, lock up and start delivering again. It is fairly simple and rhythmic once you get a routine down.
 I'm already behind time because it's Monday. Upon trying to pull in I have to maneuver around a couple pick-up trucks. I know I shouldn't be irritated by something so minor, but it hasn't been my day.
I park and do my usual dismount anyways. One of the older gentlemen stops me before I can get to my office keys....

"Ma'am, I've been here about a half hour now and I've already called 9-1-1. I noticed the package shortly after the window clerk left and didn't want anyone to get hurt! They're sending the Bomb Squad. It's right there by your door!"

I am initially disoriented. I'm trying to internally process the situation, "Shit. He said the B-word. There is a "suspicious package" ten feet away. There are people all over the parking lot. The office closed an hour ago so there's no other employee here. Keep it cool. Keep it cool. You've been trained to deal with this......Shit!"

I inhale deep and assess the situation for myself.

I then notice that the "bomb" is in fact the door stopper that the office workers use to get the mail carts in and out of the building. It is typically left right inside of the heavy door. Our clerk is somewhat new and unfortunately his habits are different than those of the girl that worked the office before him. One of these habits is leaving the door stopper outside. (Shit)
A simple mistake. I would show you what it looked like, but of course this all had to happen on the one day I'm not carrying my cell phone. (It took a dip in the Caribbean Sea)
It is the size and weight of a cement block. A bit uneven though because it's filled with metal slat dividers and then wrapped like crazy with red and white postal tape that says "Priority mail" all over it. There is no address on it and is a beaming example of exactly what a danger package looks like as described by the US Government.
Today is not my day.
Certain of the fact that someone just left the door stopper outside, I (semi-embarrassed) grab the suspected bomb and rush into the office. Of course it is lunch hour at my main office and I didn't have my phone to text my traditional Post Masters. I called the nearest clerk with management experience and sought out her advice and made the situation known. I think she thought I was joking at first. She took care of the other phone calls for me. I'm trying to call my family (that has scanners) to let them know I'm not in any trouble since I can't answer anyone's text messages. Before I can make my call, the huge siren down the road starts to blast the sound of it's people. Emergency Services are in route.
 It doesn't matter if there's an emergency or not...
We are raised on the notion that siren=bad. I was starting to feel bad.
To save myself the pain of customer questions I remained behind my locked office door until the State Troopers came knocking. They needed to see the "device" and all employees...there was only me. They seemed somewhat skeptical of my door stopper story. Somehow the 9-1-1 dispatched the emergency as if it was called in by a postal employee and a confirmed bomb.
I didn't even have a phone, and the clerk had been gone for at least an hour. Something they were able to pull up and see that it was in fact called in by a civilian. They watched as I took the corner off of the thing. Just as I thought....a bunch of wrapped up case dividers. We fill out the necessary paperwork and exchange the necessary numbers. I call management...who's instructed me to make sure that thing never sees the light of day again. I'm pretty sure everyone ended up with an email about what constitutes a proper door wedge.

There's another light tap at the door. The people who called it in were waiting for the explanation they deserved. While I instantly knew what the object was, they did not. And they were right to call it in. It's exactly what they've been asked to do.
It looked so believable that two men stayed over a half an hour in 90 degree heat just to keep any customers that showed up away from it.
I explained it all to them in the most delicate way possible. It was a simple error on our part, but we would always rather have people looking out for each other than turning a blind eye.
"Keep up the attentiveness and thank you for all of your time!!"
There wasn't much else I could say to make it all seem worth their efforts. The crowd starts to disperse once they share the news that the door stopper isn't going to be exploding anytime soon.
I'm finally back inside. Alone. Safe. And very late.
If chaos is a necessary step in the organization of one's universe, then I am well on my way.

15 April 2018

I am Sam: Piece Four

           There were horse ranches of immense size all around us. I never would've guessed crop farming and animal husbandry would be such a big theme outside of upstate New York. Small side roads cut in between the agricultural masses. Curvy and cracked, we manuevered our way to the designated coordinates on the GPS. We affectionately call her "Karen". At times Karen tells us to, "....get out of your vehicle and finish walking to your destinaton". That's either a really good or really bad thing to hear. Dependent upon which kind of adventure we're having of course.
This morning isn't one of those adventures.
 I've got very little information to go on. An online website, two addresses and some input from Eric was about all I needed to deem it worthy of at least, an attempt.
   The last driveway at the top of the hill was where we needed to park. I am sweating bullets inside. No matter how skilled you are at small talk; convincing strangers ~that do not know you're arriving, to share personal information with you, is a bit intimidating.
 I will start with what I know best, "I am Sam." Eric convinces me that exactly that will be enough. We turn the jeep off and head for the door.
   At one time I think someone loved the property. There is evidence all around of gardening and typical miscellenous home projects left unfinished. Bird feeders hang sideways from willow trees.  All appear empty. A wood splitter hiding under blue tarps, ripped and frayed. Such a cute little home, drenched in abandon. After the initial walk up nerves, I finally settle into my skin after no-one answered the door. Eric, a bit more cautious, advices me to get out of the windows.
Still, he asks what I see inside. It looks as if someone had vacated the place back in 1980. There are shades of brown on everything. The floor, the couch, the wallpaper. It's all super retro. "This" would be the perfect house for a single cat lady.
Interestly enough though, that's the exact opposite of what I am looking for. I am seeking an aged man. Big stature and about 60 years of age. His parents were immigrants from Poland. I had found the records from Ellis Island. An attribute only rare names can offer.
I traveled a long ways to find an abondoned house with a "bird sanctuary" surronding it. Adjusting from the varying levels of anxiety and curiousties, we both plop a spot on the steps of the failed house. There's something okay about taking this break. Maybe while we sit someone will come along and claim the property. At this point I'd even take a tresspassing risk to get another lead. Stubbornly defeated, I rise to make my departure. I feel somewhat at a loss. Eric again- ever so clever, has a last ditch attempt to make sure someone knows we were here and what we are looking for. Even though we don't know who will find our note of desperation, I attach it to the squeeky front door. Head down, I take a big breath and clear my mind for the next address on my list.
         This time we are looking for a woman. I have no idea what she looks like, nor how old she should be. I have only a name...which indicates to me that she is married and a news article about events in the area that she lived in. The drive is not far. Maybe 20 minutes from our current location. We are coming down from horse land into what appears to be a more developed area. Churches stand ornate and strong, on many of the street corners. I wonder if this is how everyone feels when they're searching for something.
An unexpected sadness creeps in.
I do not know these places. I have never been to this state.
But, it feels as if I've missed them.
People would say that you can never miss that which you never knew. I disagree. With enough subconcoius proof now to back my beliefs up, I will find everything that's been buried here. In college once a professor told me that, "...a lie stuck to, is as good as any truth." Getting to this point has been like seperating salt from ocean water. I believe that as long as you're in control of the lies, you can shape them into whatver you like. But, it takes only one other person to unbind it all. Human error can be vile and atrocious. At the right time however, this will lead to something beautiful and tragic. This time the stories are me.