February 20, 2020

“We’re here for an 11:00 a.m. appointment,” I say to the receptionist as we check in at the Center for Senior Health and Memory Care. We’ve been referred by Mom’s primary care doctor after several months of concerning behavior.

We have had one situation in the fall, after she had traveled with my brother and his family to Virginia, in which she exhibited very odd behavior. My brother had noticed it during their ride home, but the following evening, while making dinner, as Hanna and I were in the kitchen helping and keeping company, she asked us three times in five minutes whether we wanted rice or pasta as a side dish.  I finally stopped her and asked if she was okay. I explained to her that she had asked the question several times, took her blood pressure, gave her water, and sent her to bed, thinking perhaps she had overdone it during her time away.  I had also scheduled an appointment with her doctor, who sent her for an MRI given her history of strokes.  But the MRI came back clean, and after consulting her doctor, we took it as perhaps a sign that my mother had been overtired, had perhaps eaten too many salty foods (she was a very healthy eater and almost never ate fast food), and over the next few months, I kept a watchful eye over her.

There were many episodes of forgetfulness that I mostly chalked up to old age. She would forget having told us something, or that she had seen our daughter, Brittney’s, wedding dress, which was hanging in my closet. But there was nothing overly concerning until around Christmas, when she could not decide whether or not she wanted to visit with Jim and his family over the holiday, as she has always done. I kept reminding her that this was a tradition she had always loved, and that nothing had changed, but she was newly resistant to leaving home. In the end, she agreed to go, but was anxious and continued to waffle until the moment I dropped her off.

Then, during a weekend trip to an historic hotel with Michael, the girls and I, she kept calling me to tell me the heat wasn’t working, but each time I went to her room, I found that she had turned the thermostat as far down as she could; I would reset it to a normal temperature, and the room would heat back up, and then a few hours later, she would call again with the same scenario.

In January, Michael drove her out for a visit with Jim and Grace, and on the way out, she received a text from their son that she had forgotten to pay his monthly rent. According to Michael she began to panic, started pulling her purse apart as though she could somehow fix the problem then and there, and was in tears. She explained the situation to Michael, who tried to calm her down by suggesting that once she arrived at Jim’s, she could give him a check, could perhaps call the landlord in Virginia and make a credit card transfer, or even a bank transfer. 

Mom finally did settle down for about five minutes, until she looked at her texts again, saw the text from my nephew, and, apparently having forgotten the entire episode already, began to panic again. This having never happened before, Michael was understandably shaken, but managed to calm her down – again.  This same series of events occurred three more times until Michael pulled over, gently took her phone away from her, took her hand, told her everything would be okay, and then drove her to my brother and related what had happened.

When Michael related this incident to me, I scheduled an appointment with Mom’s primary care doctor, Cindy, who was a kind and caring physician who was always extra compassionate and patient with Mom.  During a late January appointment, after testing Mom’s vitamin D level and ordering test for UTI, she administered a mini MOCA to check Mom’s mental function. It was a Friday, and I had my four month old granddaughter with me at the time. “I think you might want to get a further evaluation,” Cindy said, looking at me meaningfully, and I felt my stomach drop.  I nodded my head, and later, at home, made the appointment.

A few days later, Mom came downstairs at dinner time quite upset. Grace had texted her that the rent check had not showed up as promised, and what was she to do? I hadn’t been privy to the new arrangement, but I immediately texted Grace that I would take care of it the next day, which was a Friday, my day off. I got up and went to Mom’s room to write a check to Grace; I found Mom sitting at her desk crying.

“What’s the matter, Mom?” I asked her.

“I don’t know what I’m supposed to do,” she said.

“About what?” I asked.

“About anything,” she replied.  I have not often seen my mother cry, even when her father died, even when my father died.

I sat with that for a moment or two, and the penny dropped. I remembered someone saying to me, “when your mother dies, that’s when the rubber meets the road,” and I thought, “THIS is when the rubber meets the road.”

“Do you need help?” I asked.

“I need help,” she said.

So I helped.

And then, a week later, we were there, at the doctor’s office, checking in for our appointment with the gerontologist, who would, an hour and half later, after administering many tests and taking a full history, say to me the thing I knew she was going to say, that is, that my mother had dementia.  She called it Alzheimer’s, though we would later receive a more accurate diagnosis – vascular dementia (the name was different, but the diagnosis largely interchangeable, as the two diseases are so similar). We went to have a few more tests, and then I took my mother to lunch.

Later that afternoon, Mom down for a nap, I texted Susan and Jim to tell them Mom had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. Susan called me immediately. We hadn’t talked for a long time; she was still angry with me about a fight we’d had over a year before, and even though we had made nice at Cait’s wedding that August, she was still pissed at me, and I was still pissed at her, but the minute she got my text, she called, and I cried, and I kept repeating, “I hope she doesn’t forget who I am.” My father never had.  Susan was about as comforting as she could be, promised to help as much as she could, and told me I was going to have to ask for help even though she knew I never did that. I promised I would, and that was that.

I didn’t hear right away from my brother, who is not a texter, but when I did, he was sweet and sympathetic, and said all the right things. What struck me later, when I thought about it – and I’m not sure how to feel about this, even now – was that, for the first time in their lives, the reaction of both of my siblings was to be concerned about ME. Neither of them seemed to be all that sad about Mom, or how this was going to impact them, or her, and perhaps this was because they assumed I was going to be caring for her for the rest of her life, which meant that this really wasn’t going to have any real effect on them. But their concern for ME – that was surprising.  Still is.

In the time it took for a doctor to put a name on my mother’s diagnosis, she changed forever.

She went from being someone who sometimes forgot things to someone who suddenly had no short term memory, who remembered nothing, who could not be left alone – for any period of time. She suddenly became restless, sitting down to do something, then stopping abruptly after a few moments, then moving to another activity, then doing something else.

She no longer wanted to eat.  If food was put in front of her, she picked at it, yet she began to hoard food in her room.  She would come to me to ask a question, leave, then come back, and ask the same question. This could go on for hours.

She did not understand why she could not drive any more.  She would ask over and over again why she was not allowed to drive. She did not understand. It was unfair. How would she get anywhere? Who would do the shopping? How would Allie get to the barn?

Two weeks after her diagnosis, the world shut down.

April 3, 2022

My sister calls Michael’s phone around 12:15 p.m. “Hi, Susan,” he says in the tone he uses whenever she calls. I try to gauge whether she’s making any attempt to be pleasant, or if she’s in full-on bitch mode.  “Uh-huh,” he says.  “Do you want to talk to Wendy?” He hands me the phone.

This is the game we play. She calls Michael, who always ends up handing the phone to me, even though neither one of us want to speak to the other.

“It’s Susan,” she says, as if I don’t already know that. “I’m calling about Mom. I know you have her birthday all planned for today, and I’ll get her up and ready, but she’s still sleeping. She had a really busy day yesterday, and she’s very tired.”

A busy day. Of course. I stay silent.

“Jim and Grace and Jay were here. We went out to dinner, and we didn’t get back until around nine. So, she was tired getting to bed. You know how tired she gets when she goes out.”

I’m still silent. Because of course they went out. And of course they didn’t call me to invite us to join. Even though that’s all my mother wanted for her birthday – her three children, together, in one place. Also, there’s about a 97% chance my Mom’s credit card paid for the meal. 

“So, anyway, I can get her up and showered and ready, if you want, but she’s gonna be tired.”  Her voice is defiant, a challenge, like, what kind of a daughter would I be to force her to wake up my poor, tired old mother, on her BIRTHDAY, no less? Even though we have shopped specially for her dinner, made a cake, and have all the kids coming over to celebrate. There are gifts, flowers, and the table is already set. 

But I can already see where this is going. When Mom is overtired, she doesn’t do well. Her dementia is worse, she gets more agitated, and she starts asking about when she’s going home, even though she doesn’t even know where home is. She starts asking for her keys, which she no longer has, because she doesn’t drive, then wants to know where her car is, then mistakes my car, or Hanna’s or Kyle’s, for her own, and demands to know who took her keys.  If I drive to Susan’s, which is half an hour away, collect Mom and bring her home, back to my house, and try to have a party, there’s a good chance that the busy-ness of eight adukts, two large dogs and a toddler are going to overstimulate her, and they she’s going to get even more upset, and right about the time Michael’s putting a beautiful seafood dinner curated just for her on the table, she’s going to tell me she needs to go home NOW.

I sigh.  “Nope, that’s okay,” I say. “I ‘ll come over there and bring lunch. We can celebrate with her in her room. I’ll bring those cookies she likes. Let her sleep.”  Michael looks at me with wide eyes.  I shake my head.  “I’ll be over in about an hour,” I say.

“You can have her if you want,” says Susan, as though I am somehow being unreasonable, but I can hear her inwardly crowing. She has won this battle. She is the one who is going to get the credit for Giving Mom the Best Birthday, and who knows? This might be her last.  She’s the one who took Mom out to dinner, with two of her three children.  She’s the one who made sure there was a cake, and presents, and flowers – all things I planned for, too, along with grandchildren and a made by Michael, who’s a really good cook. 

But it’s not worth it to fight with Susan over this kind of nonsense, because insisting on exercising my visitation today (every Sunday from 12 – 5) isn’t worth it; in fact, it will probably back-fire, and anyway, since it’s Mom’s birthday, I should be doing what will make her happiest.  She’s tired, and still sleeping, and probably wants to spend the day in bed.  It is, after all, rainy and cold outside.  So, I’ll pick up lunch, and bring “The Sound of Music” DVD, plus her birthday gift, a linen dress I’ve sewn for her, plus some I’ll pick up her favorite cookies.  Of course, this means I’m going to miss the afternoon with my kids, but that’s just the way it’s going to have to be. I start to gather my things together as Allie grumbles about Susan and how she really needs a visit from the Ghost of Christmases Yet to Come, and I agree with her, as I always do, and after I’ve packed a bag, I climb into the car, drive to the store to pick up cookies, salads, and other treats, and then drive to Susan’s.

She meets me at the kitchen door, pretending to be apologetic; she offers to bring Mom downstairs, but I shake her off.  I head upstairs with my various bags, go into Mom’s room, wake her up with a kiss, and wish her a happy birthday.  She is surprised to see me, and we sit and talk, eat lunch, and talk about her birthday. “How old am I?” she asks me.  I tell her she is 88.  “Piano keys,” she says. “It’s my piano keys birthday.” She unwraps my gift, and says, “Oh, Benny,” and oohs and aahs at the workmanship of the dress, and I tell her it’s a pattern I made from a dress I bought in Paris that I love. It’s roomy and has deep pockets, and accommodating of not-so-flat stomachs and middle-aged thighs. She says she can’t wait to wear it. 

We snuggle in bed and begin to watch “The Sound of Music” – our favorite movie ever – but before Maria has even had time to teach the children how to sing, Mom is asleep. I watch all the way to “The Lonely Goatherd,” and when it’s clear that Mom is going to be napping all afternoon, I turn off the TV, tidy up, gather my things, kiss her goodbye, and tiptoe out.

Before I go, I knock lightly on Susan’s bedroom door. She’s inside napping, but I want to let her know that I’m leaving since Mom is asleep.  She’s got some catch a predator show blaring on her television, but jerks awake when I knock a second time.

“I’m leaving,” I say.  “Mom’s asleep.”

“Oh, okay,” she says, wiping sleep from her eyes. “Thank you for coming over.”

“Well, what else was I going to do?” I ask, which is probably a little confrontational, but I am still annoyed.

“Jim and Grace wanted to celebrate with her, too, what was I supposed to say?” she says.

“They could have come for lunch,” I say. “Or you could have invited Michael and me to join you.”

“They don’t want to see you,” she says.

“I don’t want to see them either, but it’s not about them,” I say. “It’s about Mom, and it would have made her happy. It says a lot about two people that they can’t make pleasant conversation for two hours. My god. What, are they eight years old? After all Mom has done for them?”

Susan tells me they went to a local steakhouse.

“Why there?” I ask. My mother is not a big steak fan.  She loves seafood or Italian food.

“Because that’s what Jim and Grace wanted.”

“But it was Mom’s birthday.”

“I know, but Grace kept insisting on steak.”

“I guess I would have told her that when it was her birthday, she could have steak.”

“Well, you weren’t there.”

“Uh, yeah, Susan…we’ve been over that.” I am never like this with anyone but Susan.

I turn to go, but then I say, “You know, this stupid case needs to be settled now. You have no case. This is such a huge waste of money.”

She sits up and says, “I’ve been trying to settle this since September.” I find this hard to believe. I, too, have been pushing for a settlement since this whole thing began, and she’s the one who won’t even consider a reasonable resolution.

“Well, then tell your asshole attorney that,” I say. “It’s not rocket science. You know, he’s probably the shittiest attorney I think I’ve ever met.”

“Well, you’re attorney is a total bitch.”

“At least she know what she’s doing,” I retort. “You attorney is a fucking idiot.” Again, I never talk to anyone else like this. Ever.

She doesn’t say anything. I try a different approach.

“Susan, this thing is killing me,” I say. “I’ve almost killed myself twice.” This is a little dramatic, and only partially true. It feels true, though.

She actually gasps. “What?” she says. “Oh, no! Wendy!” She actually sounds concerned. This is surprising.

“Yeah. Well. Consider your behavior. Do the math.”

She immediately switches to victim mode. “You’re not the only one. I have no money. I’m gonna have to sell the Audi. Sometimes I think I should drown myself in the canal.”

“Well, don’t do that,” I say, although what I really mean is, “Yes, do that. Please.”

“It’s so hard, taking care of her,” she says.

“You think I don’t know that?” I say.

“She falls all the time,” Susan tells me. “She fell down the stairs last month. She tripped over the dog. It’s just all the time.”

I think about the year I took care of Mom with no help at all. Susan has an in-home aide 8 hours a day, and my Mom sleeps late and takes a nap every afternoon.  No shit, I want to say. 

“Well, then just be reasonable and settle the case!” I am so exasperated.

“You stole her money!” she hurls at me.

“No, I didn’t,” I shoot back. “I stole nothing. And you know it. I stole nothing.”

“Well, I’ll talk to my attorney,” she says.

“You do that,” I reply, picking up my bags. “You do that.”

She gets up and hugs me. I stand there, still as a statue, but I say, “I love you, And I miss you. But I stole nothing. I did what Mom wanted, and the only money I spent while I was her POA was for her taxes and for Jay’s tuition and for her expenses. I took nothing for myself.  I stole nothing.”

“Whatever,” she says, dropping her arms and getting back into bed. I turn around and walk out.

Stuttgart 1970 – 1972

I hated Stuttgart. We lived at Patch Barracks, in White Village, in an apartment building that housed twelve units. Each building had three floors with two stairwells, two units on each floor and a basement with storage cages for each unit.  Our apartment for five people had three bedrooms, one bathroom, a galley kitchen, small dining room, and living area. I still remember it as small, and I was only six then, so it must have been miniscule. I remember my mother taking it in and noting that she wasn’t happy.  We had just left a two-story duplex with a front yard and back yard in Fort Leavenworth, and although it, too, had only had one bathroom, it had been far more spacious and upscale. This looked like a place that enlisted people lived.

But you live where the Army puts you, and we settled into a routine of taking the bus to school (it was on a different base), getting to know the locals, and learning where the commissary, the PX, and everything else was located.  I still recall that the officers – the high-ranking ones, anyway – lived on Florida Strasse. Sometimes, Susan and I would ride our bikes down there and gawp over what appeared to be huge houses, although my mother had explicitly instructed us not to do this – it would have been akin to talking about money or buttering your bread instead of breaking off a piece and then just buttering that piece – something that was just not done.

There was a family that lived on the second floor above us – the Turners – and they had a daughter Susan’s age. They became friendly, although I recall Kathryn being somewhat nasty from time to time to Susan. I also recall Sylvia Rabinowitz, a teenager who lived on the third floor who, my brother told me, had “great tits.” He was in sixth grade at this point, and this statement turned out to be a not uncommon sort of thing during the time we lived in Stuttgart. It became a hyper-sexualized period of time for me, for reasons I do and do not understand. It’s quite troubling.

It quickly became clear that my father’s posting at this time was not working out. It should come as no surprise that the Army expects its ranks, especially where its officers are concerned, to follow orders with a “Yes, Sir!” My dad had a tendency to do a lot of challenging and boat-rocking. If something made no sense to him (and based upon the television series “M*A*S*H” and other conventional wisdom, I am led to believe that the military often makes some questionable calls), my dad pointed it out, over and over and over again, becoming more vocal each time he was shot down. This kind of behavior, I also understand, is not terribly popular in the Army and is not likely to move one up the ranks. 

In any case, it was my sense during that time, even at the tender age of 6, that my dad was having a lot of issues at work, in part because he used to come home so mad, and in part because he was drinking so much. My dad’s drinking was nothing new – he’d been drinking a lot in Kansas – but this was drinking at a new level.  He had also started binging, and when he was one day 2 or so of a binge, he would get really weird. He would walk around in the black and white checked bathrobe with nothing else underneath (the robe would often fall open – ewww), or he’d lie on the sofa, and you would have to avert your eyes.  My mother rarely said anything about this, or she wasn’t around.  I often ask myself, “where was she?” It was a small apartment.

One thing that happened during the time we lived in Stuttgart was that the musical “Jesus Christ Superstar” came out, and my mom bought the original cast album, and for what felt like the next year, that was all we listened to – mostly the pop songs and such – but when my dad was binging, he’d put the really deep stuff on – the stuff where Jesus is in Gethsemane, or hanging on the cross, all that stuff.  Or he’d put on “I Don’t Know How to Love Him” and make my sister and I sing the song, solo. His assessment?

“Susan has a better voice, but you remembered all the words.”

During this particular binge, I also recall my father making my sister and I both touch his penis – I don’t know why – but I do remember it. As for my mother’s whereabouts, I do recall that she was in Pennsylvania tending to her father, who was very ill at the time.  At some point, my father’s mother and her husband arrived, but they were as helpful as a bag of wet socks, and what happened next made me hate my grandmother for the rest of my life.

My sister had done something to anger my father, which at that point (he was on a binge) could have been as simple as a bad grade at school or sassing – who knows.  He made her sit down and, while everyone watched, he cut off her hair, which was the only part of her physical features which she liked. He chopped off hair from here and there and made it look awful. I stood up and said, “you can’t do that!” and was crying, but no one listened, and my stupid grandmother, who could have taken the scissors and said, “Jim, that is not going to happen,” just sat there. I knew at that moment what it meant to hate someone so much you wanted to kill them, and I never forgave her.  I still hate her, and she’s been dead for thirty years. To this day, I hope her death was slow, painful, and lonely.

When my mother came home from Pennsylvania, she asked what happened.  I didn’t say anything, because I wasn’t sassy yet, but I wanted to tell her everything. I don’t know what she was told, but she did take Susan to the hair salon and evened out the cut.  I am not sure in my life that I have personally witnessed another act of such abject cruelty.

One night, I was asleep in the room my sister and I shared.  I was having a nightmare: I was in a smallish white boat with an ancient fisherman, and a huge spider twice the size of the boat climbed out of the water and climbed into the boat, coming right at me. I woke up shaking and was about to cry out when I saw my father walking out of our room. He was wearing the horrible robe.  I remember wondering why he was in our room, in his robe. It was the middle of the night. I froze and pretended I was asleep. Something told me to be quiet and play dead. I knew it would be dangerous if he found out I was awake.

Things got worse. The kids had pretty much free reign when we weren’t in school. I tried to stay out of my apartment whenever my dad was home, and it didn’t matter if I was with my sister or not. I had my bike, I knew how to get from point A to point B (the village wasn’t that big), and I wanted to be wherever my father wasn’t. 

My brother had a friend named Frankie Satherswaite; his family was British. The lived across the parking lot in another building, and had become pretty tight. I remember one day Susan and I were over at his building in the attic with Frankie and my brother – I don’t know why. Another girl named Anna was there, and maybe Kathryn, too.  I was up in the attic in bare feet (my default whenever possible), and everyone but my brother and I disappeared. I was picking through all the junk that was lying around and was having a great time, but then there is a blank, a void.

The next day, my dad, who was binging, put my sister “on restriction” and confined to our room (we shared) and only allowed bread and water. The ostensible crime was that she had written “hell” in chalk on the sidewalk. She later told me that she, Anna, and Kathryn had gone downstairs to Frankie’s apartment and undressed in front of him, and that my brother had told my father.  This punishment lasted three days. From time to time, my father would go into our room for a while, and then come out. During this time, I was sharing a bed with my seventh-grade brother.

The whole time, I knew what has happening in my room.  I knew, and I assumed everybody else knew, and it made me very angry that no one was doing anything.  It was at this time that I started to take an interest in my father’s Playboy magazines. I knew he had them, and knew what they were, because my mom bought them for him at the newsstand. And so for a time, I would ask to look at the Playboy magazines, and I would look at these women, most of them blonde and busty, and I would think, “I want to look like that!” (Too bad for me, I was a small-busted brunette).  I even told my mother I wanted to be a Playboy bunny when I grew up and assumed she did, too – what else would a woman want to be?

All of these memories indicate to me (and, of course, my therapist), that our home was hyper-sexualized and that something was definitely going on that was triggering my odd behavior, but, unsurprisingly, no one tried to untangle that, and we just pretended like nothing was amiss. Not too much longer after all of this, my father was given a transfer to Karlsruhe, and just like that, a lot of things changed.  I stopped sharing a room with my sister, my dad stopped letting me look at his Playboys, and his drinking improved markedly – for a while, anyway.

I remember our time in Stuttgart as suffused, bathed in a cloud of ick, as though some pervert had jacked off on every surface he could find. I hate thinking about those years, about how my mother wasn’t there, or simply didn’t protect my sister or me (a theme that would become all too familiar), how my brother’s sexual talk was supposed to seem cool (but was really just gross). I have always wondered about that void in the Satherswaites’ attic, and the feeling I have had since then (and that recurrent dreams of discovering rooms in my house that I never before knew were there) that there is something I know, but don’t know.

Welcome to My Family

My childhood is divided up into postings: Rockville, Fort Belvoir, West Virginia, West Point, Panama City, Fort Leavenworth, Stuttgart, Karlsruhe, Pennsylvania.  Most were United States military bases, until Pennsylvania, when my dad retired from the Army, became a civilian, and immediately went back to work for the government as a civil engineer, first for the Veterans Administration, and later, for the United States Navy. He spent two of the first five years of my life overseas, first in South Korea, and later, serving in the Viet Nam War. 

Our family was an Army family, and we were used to being uprooted every year or so, moving house over the summer, with a new school each fall. It was harder for my siblings, Jim, who was five years older, and Susan, who was three years younger than he was. By the time my father retired in 1973, I was only 9, and I hadn’t made that many moves, but I was already a product of Army Life, and I instantly hated the alternative. If it had been up to me, I would have spent my entire childhood as an Army brat, moving to ever more exotic locales. As it was, the biggest adventure had been three years spent in West Germany in the years before German reunification. The older I get, the more grateful I am for those years I lived abroad without a clue how lucky I was for such an experience.

Growing up, we weren’t rich, but I never wanted for anything. My parents, who had been raised in, if not poverty, than in very modest circumstances and during the Depression, were frugal people. They had benefitted generously from life in the Army, and by the time they were ready to buy their own home in their early 40’s, they were able to put down a substantial deposit (since they’d never had to pay for housing before), at extremely low, Army-underwritten interest rates. They paid off their home in 15 years.

Their incomes, though not exorbitant, paid for all of the needs, and since they were frugal (they always bought used cars, never bought new anything, never went on vacation, and saw no need to pay a repair person to do what my dad always figured he could do himself), their money grew and grew and grew.  One goal my parents both shared was to be able to afford each of their children a college education. This dream – and it was, truly, a dream – stemmed from the fact that my father had only been able to manage college by going to the United States Military Academy at West Point (hence the Army Career), and my mother, who had always wanted to be a journalist, and was a brilliant woman, had been able to attend Penn State for a single semester before her parents could not longer afford the tuition.  I think that may have been her biggest heartbreak. Since there weren’t student loan programs back then, she had to drop out. Throughout her life, my mom took college courses wherever we lived, and by the time she retired, she probably had enough courses to satisfy a backelor’s degree.  Still, she never got that piece of paper.

And so, my parents told us kids that all we had to do was graduate from high school, and a college education would be waiting. My brother took it for granted; my sister, who was not a strong student (because, I believe, she likely had an undiagnosed learning disability and probably was unable to successfully complete most of the work as a result), was not interested in college; but for me, it was always in the back of my mind, probably from about the age of 8, and by the time I was in junior high school, every move I made was with my college education and post-college career in mind.

We were lucky in that respect. My best friend from high school recently told me, forty years after the fact, how lucky I was that I had parents who set the bar high and expected me to be academically rigorous in high school.  Little did she know that, while my academic ambition was in part the result of my parents’ expectations, it was also the means to putting as much distance between them, and my siblings, as possible.  But to the outside world, our family probably seemed pretty normal. We were a solidly middle class family, three children, two professionally employed parents, three kids, living in a four-bedroom, two and half bath colonial in suburban Philadelphia.  Most of our neighbors and school mates were White, Christian, professionals, also middle class, and went to clean, modern, well-funded public schools.

Our family had health insurance. We had new clothes when we needed them. We had food on the table, cars available for use (older cars, and never our own cars, but cars we could use to go to work or band practice), and we lived in a neighborhood where the “worst” thing that ever happened was that someone’s mother once died by suicide.  There was no crime, you could walk to and from a friend’s house after dark and not worry that you’d be kidnapped, and hanging out at the Mall on Friday night was a safe and fun activity for teenagers who couldn’t yet drive.

For two parents who had grown up in something of a dead-end town, with few prospects, my parents ended up making good. My dad’s career, combined with his frugality, had made him a rich man (though you would never have known it to look at him, or our house, which, thirty years later, still bore the royal blue plush carpet – bare to the canvas backing in some areas – which had been put down by the buildings in 1969, when the house had been built). My father was the classic “it may not be pretty, but it works” engineer, who saw no reason to replace a perfectly good sofa, even if it was hideous and forty years old, and renovating a bathroom just because it was outdated would never have occurred to him in a hundred years.  “It works, doesn’t it?” he would have asked.

Being able to provide his children with “good meals” every evening (this was a man who often went hungry due to an unreliable, Lothario father who was as likely to be out Tomcatting with someone else’s wife as home with his own family, and whose alcoholism made him a spotty earner), and with a new set of clothing at the beginning of each school year must have made my dad feel a bit like Aristotle Onassis (the billionaire of our days), and he frequently found his children to be spoiled and ungrateful.  They did not understand what it was like to watch your father regularly beat your mother in front of you while you tried to keep your younger brothers from seeing, or try to intervene when he broke your mother’s arm. They had no idea how it felt when your father ran off to California and never came back, having died in a brothel from a fire he set with an errant cigarette.  They didn’t know what it was like to have to work every day of your life thereafter, starting at age 8, to help support your family, while also earning straight A’s, playing three sports, being the class president every year, starring in the school play, and playing in the high school band, and editing the newspaper.  That’s what you did when you grew up on the wrong side of the tracks and had no father and wanted a shot at getting anywhere in life.

My father’s children probably were spoiled, when you line them up next to that, until you consider the things my father didn’t, which was that in addition to the material things he gave us, he also brought so much unaddressed trauma – the abusive, alcoholic, neglectful, and, ultimately, absent father; his own alcoholism; his molestation by an uncle when he was under the age of six; his exposure to Agent Orange during the Viet Nam war, not to mention whatever other happenings during his tour may have caused him to suffer PSTD – he also brought a simmering, uncontained and uncontrollable rage to his particular brand of parenting; a rage which manifested itself in so many egregiously destructive ways.

My father was a deeply troubler, difficult, vicious man who rarely allowed the depths of his love, caring, and kindness to shine through, although it was there and showed itself to me on a few rare, but deeply meaningful occasions.  He died at the age of 83, in a memory care facility, having been diagnosed with either Lewey Body dementia or Frontal Temporal Dementia.  He was a man who was never able to address his trauma or make peace with the great sadness and terror of his life.

My mother, on the other hand, was a woman who stuffed down pain, difficulty, discomfort, or conflict, with a ramrod.  She was the queen of denial, refused to acknowledge the reality of our family life for fear that it might kill her even though my sister and I have candidly spoken to her about its impact upon us, and despite my having shared with her how it has informed a number of difficult decisions I have made in terms of how I have managed my own family. My mother has always hoped that if she just didn’t speak of it, it would go away and it never happened. She was raised by two alcoholics – a tannery manager who married a woman I never met, because she died of cirrhosis a the age of forty-nine.  My mother, until she developed dementia, always filled out medical questionnaires listing her mother’s cause of death as “breast cancer.” She just couldn’t tell the truth.

My mom’s family also moved around a lot when she was young, from tannery to tannery – and not because my grandfather, or “Pop,” was doing such a good job, he got promotions – it was the opposite.  He kept getting demoted, mostly because he drank too much, and wasn’t running the tanneries optimally.  When he landed in Curwensville, where my father lived, he was given a home owned by the company that also owned the tannery, and what a fine house it was. It was huge – but also very expensive to furnish and heat. My mother told me the blocked off most of the rooms and lived in only about three of them, though many people in town thought the Hoblitzell family must have been loaded.  They weren’t.

Years later, when my grandmother Phoebe died, my mother helped her father clean out the house.  There were bottles everywhere – hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of empty bottles of booze.  She was a true alcoholic, through and through, a woman who neglected her children. The only real measure of “care” my mother could remember was that each night when she came home from school, her mother would take the shoelaces out of her shoes and wash them, and also shine her shoes.  That was it.  It’s not surprising that my mother, most of her life, was not a warm and fuzzy person and was always the first one to break the hug.

But our family seemed normal enough. Father, mother, brother, sister, sister. Nice house, good jobs, eventually, a dog.  Two cars, kids who had activities and music lessons, a son who excelled in cross country and track.  We looked like the all-American family.

Which is how you knew that there were secrets, plenty of them, and that everything was being held together with alcohol and lies.

We Need To Talk About Andrew Tate

I’ve recently read several articles discussing the uncomfortable issue many elite schools in the United Kingdom have been grappling with of late, that concerning the extent to which teenage boys of privilege seem to be enamored with the likes of Andrew Tate. If you don’t know who he is, you can Google him, but he’s a former kickboxer who found even greater fame with his online porn sites where girls will tell you what you want to hear. He’s made at least enough money that he can buy flashy cars and live the sort of arrested development lifestyle that would appeal to, well, a teenage boy, none of which would be all that concerning, except that he also happens to be a world-class misogynist who regularly spouts nonsense that women are chattel that belong to men and should not work outside the home. He also doesn’t believe in the concept of consent, which is probably why he’s currently in jail in Romania on human trafficking charges.

He’s a delight.

What’s upsetting to the teachers (and presumably the parents) of the privileged teenaged boys who can’t get enough of Andrew Tate is that THEY’RE SUPPOSED TO KNOW BETTER because they have been TAUGHT better and their parents have ROLE MODELED them better, and who would ever have thought that this sort of toxic masculinity would even find a foothold in young men who have been counseled all their lives that girls can do anything and no means no?

Well, apparently these boys who have been instructed that they must be properly respectful and not misogynistic (and also not racist, or xenophobic, or homophobic), and also that the White Male Patriarchy has been responsible for some bad shit throughout history, are feeling…sad. Unsure. Powerless.

They don’t know where they fit in.

There is no clear path for them anymore.

They don’t know how to approach a girl they like, or how the physical part of the relationship will or should go.

They worry they will be humiliated by the opposite sex if they “do it wrong.”

They feel the world treats them like second class citizens.

Wow, I thought, as I put the magazine down, wiping tears from my eyes and logging on to my computer looking for the GoFundMe page for these lost youth. This is terrible. Why, it’s almost like they’re experiencing a teeny tiny fraction of what it’s like to be a GIRL, or a PERSON OF COLOR. I was really upset.

In an effort to cheer these poor guys up, the teachers have been hosting special day-long panels where they tell them that it’s okay to feel uncertain, or to have questions about sex, or to wonder about how the world is changing and to feel frustrated about the blame that is being heaped on White Men. They’re trying to help these boys feel more self-esteem, but also reinforcing the concept of respecting all people.

I guess we should all feel sort of bad for all of these Royal-adjacent youth, forced-fed political correctness when all they want is a fast car and a hot girl who thinks they’re the business. I mean, they live in a country that rains all the time, and where I hear the native cuisine is something no one likes to talk about.

For thirty-five seconds, maybe. And then they can go clean up after the Queen’s corgis, or decorate for the coronation of Charles III and his White Leather Toilet Seat, because I am all out of f***s to give for a bunch of spoiled boys who worship at the altar of “no means yes and yes means anal.”

Because however sad these boys may feel about not being able to tease girls about their too-small or too-big boobs, or give the smaller kid a swirly after gym class, or call people “gay,” meaning stupid or dweeby or generally uncool, or use racial epithets without consequence (and I have to admit, those WERE the good old days!) it’s STILL harder to be a woman (and I’m going to just focus on being a woman), and here’s how I know:

-Because there AREN’T places in this world where boys have their genitalia mutilated so they will not feel sexual pleasure, and will therefore not become sexually promiscuous.

-Because domestic violence ISN’T one of the leading causes of death for men.

-Because becoming a parent DOESN’T negatively impact your career when you’re a man.

-Because when money is allocated to study a disease that affects men and women equally, the bulk of the funding ISN’T spent on women.

-Because men DO having 100% control over their reproductive rights.

-Because the vast majority of violent crime against men where a suspect has been identified IS prosecuted and no one ever suggests that the man either “made it up” or “was asking for it.”

And that’s just a few little clues that helped me to understand that it is indeed just a wee bit less optimal to be a woman than it is to be a man.

So, boys, forgive me if I can’t manage to muster much sympathy for you, or your parents, that, bereft of a role model you could identify with – in a world that has produced the likes of Nelson Mandela, Abraham Lincoln…sheesh, even Tom Hanks, for Pete’s sake…you chose a miscreant whose need to troll Nobel nominee Greta Thunberg may have been the reason he got arrested in the first place (immediately prior to his arrest, Tate posted a video taunting Thunberg which showed pizza boxes from a Romanian pizza chain, thus confirming that he was in the country at the time).

The thing is, Tate’s message – that women are second class citizens who belong in the home and shouldn’t be allowed to drive – is one that doesn’t take root in a home where children are taught and shown to honor and respect women; where the equality of women is the reality and the truth of their lives, not just lip service. If you teach a child this lesson just as consistently and thoroughly as you teach him not to touch a hot stove or to wash his hands after using the bathroom, his response to the likes of Andrew Tate and those who idolize him will be something akin to disgust.

Many say that women should be treated equally, but it’s not the truth, in many families, in the workplace, in government, in society. Women are still fighting for equality, and instead of wringing our hands over a bunch of schoolboys abroad, perhaps we should be worrying about the fact that women are still fighting the same battles they’ve been fighting for 50 years, with little sign of improvement.

Except that those earnest (and, likely, poorly paid) teachers who are trying to de-program these little Andrew Tate wannabes know that these children of money and connection will grow up to be the kind of men who make laws and control policy. Certainly, it’s better that such men not harbor opinions such as that women “are given to the man and belong to the man.”

I’m going to be 60 next year. When I graduated from Mount Holyoke, full of feminist awareness that I have carried with me all my life, I never thought we’d still be fighting these battles 40 years later. I certainly never believed that some of the most vocal opponents would be other women.

There is still a lot of work to do. I’ve done my best to raise my girls as feminists, with a husband who is acutely supportive of them as women. We all have a hand in this.

Teach your children well.

Karlsruhe 1972 – 1973

We have so much freedom on the Army Base. We hop on our bikes in the morning and go, our only guideline being, “be home when the streetlights come on.” We also have at least a little disposable cash from doing chores around the house. My dad has come up with a price-per-chore remuneration system: Fifteen cents for cleaning a bathroom, ten cents for cleaning up the kitchen after dinner, fifteen cents for vacuuming the rugs, ten cents for dusting. If my brother, who is totally into Nazi memorabilia and has found a local shop that sells it, is really keen to buy a new piece, he will hog all the chores, which at times is a comfort (since I’m pretty lazy when it comes to housework). Somehow, I always manage to have enough pocket change to buy comic books and candy come Saturday morning, and it’s unusual for me not to hop on my bike and ride to the PX or the Commissary at the grand old age of 7 to buy whatever I like.

I love living in Karlsruhe. I have freedom, I have wheels, I have discovered the love of reading (and Beverly Cleary!). I can go wherever I want, and there is a big sandbox in the middle of the circle we live on, and plenty of kids to play with. Military kids are so used to moving every year that we make friends quickly. Our standards are low. You’re in my same grade? Perfect. Let’s be best friends.

Our next door neighbor is a major who has married a German woman I have come to understand is a bombshell, although I don’t really understand what that means. They have a son my age, Randy, who never wants to play Marriage or anything like that, but when he talks to his mother, he uses this sissy-boy voice, like he’s three years old, and I find it cloying and stupid. I decide he’s of no use.

My favorite times involve climbing up the metal clothesline and perching there (because I can), and playing in the sandbox, where I can build things and no one bothers me. I can play there for hours, and have the mosquito bites to prove it. I love to read. In the winter, I plow through a book a day. I’ll come home, plop down on a high stool next at the counter next to the stove and put my feet against the radiator while my mom makes dinner, devouring another biography about Our American Heros.  I can disappear into my books.  No one bothers me.

Sometimes my sister and I go to the movies. They show oldies at the theatre for a quarter, and a bag of popcorn is a dime.  We go a lot on Saturdays.  The “new” movies, usually at least six months past their original release dates, are never kids material, although I remember my dad taking my brother to see “The Godfather” and hearing all about the horse’s head. I love the movies, too; another place I can escape from my everyday life. There’s a lot to escape from.

There’s my dad’s drinking, which is unpredictable but frightening. He can go weeks without touching the stuff, and sometimes, a night at the Officer’s Club – dinner and two or three martinis – can end peacefully enough; maybe he’s hungover the next day, but that’s the worse of it. The really bad times are when he goes on a binge that lasts all weekend, sometimes even into Monday. It starts out well enough on a Friday night, although by the time we’re living in Karlsruhe, even I, at the age of 7, am savvy enough to know that the Friday night martini, or bourbon, or glass of wine, is the beginning of what is going to be an unpleasant weekend.

After one drink, my dad gets charming and expansive. He’s funny, he tells jokes, he seems interested in his children (a rare occurrence). After two drinks, he’s even more charming, but starting to get a little slurry; by the third drink, he’s sloppy, and if we happen to be out at a restaurant, there’s a good chance that he’s being really inappropriate with the waitress, no matter her age or appearance. 

By the time he’s hit drink number four, he’s starting to get angry and belligerent and starts to recall how the world has done him wrong in so many ways – and to be honest, it has. My dad experienced a lot of trauma, with no support whatsoever, and no clue as to what to do with it. Most of what he inflicted on the people around him was no doubt a result of that trauma, but of course I didn’t understand that then, and even if I had, it certainly wouldn’t have made his behavior any less scary or more palatable.

After belligerent comes weepy and pathetic, and at this point, I don’t even think he knows who he is anymore. I think it’s this stage that I hate most, in part because it’s during these times that he’s likely to insist on cornering one or more of us to sit and listen to him talk, and talk, and talk. Most of what he says makes no sense at all, although I’m sure to him he is speaking the great truths of the world. A lot of what he says is also completely inappropriate for his kids to hear. He says things to me like, “well, your mother has always loved your brother the most,” or “when we get divorced, you’re going to have to decide who you want to live with.” Those are the kinds of things that really fuck with your mind.

When my dad isn’t drinking, he is all business, all the time. He’s a rigid, tightly-wound guy who does not tolerate nonsense. He is exacting in everything he does, and there is never any excuse for not doing everything right the first time. Age is not an excuse, lack of experience is not an excuse – if he tells you to do something, whether you understand it or not, you do it. Of course we are expected to do well in school, because he did, and to do well at most everything, because he did, without the benefit of a father, with two younger brothers he helped his mother support from an early age. My dad had no money for college and completed a year at Penn State while waiting for his commission to West Point to come through; he was only able to afford that year in State College by working in the kitchen at a fraternity house (which is how he ate) and working late at night cleaning printing presses at a newspaper (which is how he paid his rent and tuition.

All of which is impressive and could help one understand why he is so tough on his children and has quickly formed the opinion that they are spoiled, except that we all do try hard to please him. The problem is, nothing pleases him, because he is, at bottom, a desperately anxious, depressed person. 

And the drinking doesn’t help.

I am terrified of my father, and my response to him is to avoid him as much as possible. I am deeply attached to my mom but could pretty much do without my father altogether. I pretty much view him as an interloper in our otherwise happy home. When my dad is around, there is yelling and tension and anger. When he isn’t, things are easier, and tend to go more smoothly. We are happy. We don’t need him.

Of course, that’s not the entire truth, because after all, there’s my sister. My sister can take any birthday party and turn it into a dog fight, any sunny day and transform it into a hurricane. If she is in a bad mood, she makes sure that everyone else is, too. My sister is impulsive, emotional, and frequently out of control, in a way that makes no sense to me at all. Her feelings are so entirely disproportionate to any situation, and she is utterly ill-equipped to deal with frustration or disappointment. Living with my sister is difficult and unpleasant.

She picks fights. She hits me. She criticizes me mercilessly. She gets angry with me for no apparent reason.

She gets into trouble with my parents so regularly that it is hard to keep track of when she is “on restriction” and when she isn’t. When she is caught misbehaving, her response is to object  loudly and long about how unfair it is, and to argue that she hasn’t done anything wrong. I hate the noise, the drama, the hysteria. I hate how long she goes on. I hate that she puts my parents in such a bad mood.

These eighteen months in Karlsruhe are the happiest of my childhood, despite my sister’s behavior and my father’s drinking, both of which are a constant of my life.  For this brief period of time, I have one wonderful year of school with the my favorite teacher of all, I have a space of my own to dream and be alone, and my mother takes us on adventures in France, the Netherlands, Austria and Switzerland while my father is away with his battalion and not able to join us. My brother had not yet begun to manifest the issues that will break my parents’ hearts, and my sister has not yet begun the psychological warfare that will largely influence the next fifty years of my life.

Somehow, I know to hold on to every day of those eighteen months, and I do. I live every day with every single ounce of myself; it’s like there’s this tiny window of something resembling a normal family, or if not that, a time when I can take what I need and only think about what I want. I worry only about doing things that make me happy, a concept that will become so foreign, it will take decades to reclaim it.

January 1972

Our first evening in the new house in Karlsruhe. Quite a step up for our family from the apartment in White Village. It’s a duplex, yes, but in the nicest part of the barracks. Four  bedrooms, a living room, dining, room, two bathrooms and a “powder room” downstairs, a designation that always conjures up images of glamourous women in ball gowns, holding their glittery compacts dabbing their noses in a plush pink parlor bedecked with poufy chaises. The reality is a disappointment. These new quarters are a bit of a surprise given my father’s recent performance – weeklong drunks and what I assume has been gross insubordination when he shows up to work. I’ve known he has been very unhappy at work (hard to hide when sharing a miniscule apartment with four other people)…and now this! He’s been named a battalion commander, a big promotion, and here we are, my mother, brother, sister and I, rattling around our as-yet unpacked home (the furniture will arrive tomorrow), and my mother is downstairs taking stock of the household she has been waiting for all these years.

We are left to ourselves, at the ages of 7, 9, and 12, to wander about, pick bedrooms (my brother gets the biggest, my sister gets the next biggest, so there’s really no “picking” for me), and poking about. It’s the first time I won’t be sharing a room with my sister. It’s the first time the whole family won’t be sharing a bathroom. My room is little, but it’s mine.

After a while, tired and hungry – it’s after 8, and although we may have eaten dinner at the old house before we made the trip here, we are cranky and bored and anxious to know what happens next – we sit at the top of the stairs. I’ve got my back to the top stair, when my sister, out of nowhere says, “let’s pretend we’re babysitters and we push Wendy down the stairs.”

And with that, her arm reaches and and pushes. Down I go, my head cracking on the corner of a metal inlay for the door mat, causing a pretty deep laceration I don’t feel but which bleeds profusely.  I’m mostly stunned when my mom comes around the corner at the sound of the thumping, and when she sees me lying there, blood everywhere, all hell breaks loose. I don’t remember much of what follows except getting into the Ford Falcon station wagon with my mother and my brother (I guess we left my sister at home) and driving to the infirmary, where I got stitched up and was told under no circumstances that I was NOT TO TELL DAD WHAT HAD HAPPENED.  And I didn’t. As far as I know, he went to his grave never knowing.

This is probably the part of the story that I should relate that my father had begin molesting her within the last year or so, and that I was aware of it, because it was happening in the room we shared while I was in the room we shared.  My mother denies having any knowledge of this, but she was aware that my father’s punishments of my sister (who was always getting into trouble) were far more harsh than they should have been, and correctly intuited that, had he learned of the stairs incident, who knows what he would have done. 

I have a lot of theories as to why my sister pushed my down the stairs that evening. Because she knew the abuse was likely going to get a lot worse now that she had a room of her own. Because she deeply resented me (and always had) for so many reasons. Because she was already deeply troubled. Because she was trying to impress my brother. Because because because.

What I know for sure is that some part of me knew she was dangerous, and it was later that year that when I heard my mom mentioned Harvard College – the first college whose name I had ever heard, I said, “that’s where I’m going to go to college.” My mom said, “I don’t think women can go there,” so I said, “where do women go?” and she said, “Radcliffe,” and I said, “then I’ll go to Radcliffe.”

I didn’t know then how academically rigorous Harvard and Radcliffe were, and I ended up nowhere near Harvard/Radcliffe material, but recall that moment, sitting in the living room of the house with four bedrooms and a powder room that I was going to college so I could get the hell away from this family that touched people where they shouldn’t be touched and pushed people down stairs.

April 6, 2023

You hurt me.
You HURT me.

I loved you more than anyone.
I did everything for you.
I did whatever you asked.
I always let you have your way.
I put up with everything.

I always bent to your will.
I always let you go first.
I always let you pick first.
If I got to pick first, I never picked the thing I knew you wanted, even I if it was exactly what I wanted.
Even if there were two of something, and you wanted one, I wouldn’t get one, because you always had to be the only one who had something.

You hit me.
All the time, you hit me.
I could just be sitting, reading a book, and you would just come up and hit me.
You beat me.
You were a bully.
You destroyed things of mine that I cared about.

You bossed me relentlessly.
You mocked me and the things that were important to me.
You told other people embarrassing things about me.
You told me I was ugly and dirty.
I believed you. I believed I was dirty and ugly.

You called me the “N” word and made me believe that was a bad thing.
You told me I was an abandoned orphan.
You told me mom and dad were not my real mom and dad.
You told me I wasn’t real member of the family.

The only thing you could never say about me was that I was stupid, so you said I had no common sense.
You said I couldn’t cook.
You said I couldn’t sing.
You said I was lazy.
You said I was uncool.
You said I had no fashion sense.
You said I was a bad driver.

When I went to college, you called me a snob, materialistic, shallow, full of myself.
When I went to law school, you said I thought I was better than everyone else.
When I met got married, you said I didn’t care about my family any more.
When I got pregnant, you said I shouldn’t have children because there were already too many people on the planet and I wasn’t meant to be a mother.
When I had a family, you said I was selfish and only cared about myself.

You stole from me.
You were cruel to my children.
You were evil to my husband.

You defamed me.
You betrayed me.
You tried to ruin my career.
You tried to take away my integrity.
You told people I was a dirty, unsanitary person.

You hurt me.
You hurt me.
You hurt me.

I loved you so much.
I adored you.
I worshipped you.
I would have done anything for you.

When no one else believed you – not our brother, not our mother –
I did.
I believed you.

Our parents abandoned me for a decade
Because I believed YOU.

You abused me.
You tried to destroy me.
You almost killed me
Except you didn’t.
And now you don’t get to have anything.

Not my time
Not my laughter
Not my joy
Not my silliness
Not my children
Not my husband
Not my happiness
Not my warmth
Not my creativity
Not my brain
Not my protection
Not my legal services
Not my financial support
Not my elbow grease
Not my companionship
Not my support
Not my advice
Not my comfort
Not my love
Not my love
Never, ever again, my love.

And the Librarians Shall Lead Us

I recently listened to a fabulous (albeit, disturbing) podcast on the most recent, and most virulent form of all of “cancel culture” currently being waged by the conservative wing of the United States of Our Kind of America – Moms for Liberty, book banning, and the whole-sale closure of public lending libraries.

That a group that seeks to define what the entire community may read can, with a straight face, call itself the “Moms for Liberty” begs the question – does this gang of self-righteous women who know better than everyone else (and have zero respect or tolerance for values that don’t line up with their own) actually have a sense of humor?

While it’s discouraging in the extreme to hear that a coalition that represents perhaps 30% of the American public has been surgically successful at removing books like “Gender Queer” and “Not All Boys Are Blue” – perhaps the only texts available to young people questioning their own gender identity – I look back at the arc of American history and the efforts of the haves to oppress the have-nots.

It is undoubtedly true that we still live in a country plagued by systemic racism, sexism, anti-Semitism, misogyny, and xenophobia -we can thank the flatulating water buffalo who likes to call himself 45 that most of the country now mostly understands what those last two words mean. Add to them transphobia, body dysmorphia, gender reassignment surgery, and perhaps we are even richer in our vocabulary.

To be a person of color in America today remains dangerous. To be a woman is to see years of progress tossed into the trash like yesterdays’s lunch.

To be gay is to continue to fear rejection by one’s family and community, be fired from one’s job (even though that’s illegal), and yes, even 25 years after Matthew Shepard was tied to a fence and beaten until he died for the sin of being gay, be killed for it.

To be a member of transgendered community, though…that’s the new precipice. If you really want to show what you’re made of. I currently know 2 whom I count to be adored, adopted sons, and their honesty, courage, and determination to live authentically is of the kind we should be lauding the way we do Ivy League admissions, NCAA championships, and Silicon Valley IPOs.

I’m not going to go long or deep on the bravery it takes to set aside all everyone has ever know about you and say, “that’s not who I am, it’s never who I was,” and know that even the most loving and supportive people in your life may have to take a deep breath and sit with it for a while, not because they don’t love ever particle of your being, but because it just never entered their mind that you weren’t who they thought you were, and that is an adjustment.

Others are far less understanding, kind, supportive, or aware that your decision is not a statement about them, their values, their sexuality, or their god, because it doesn’t, and if they’d met you after, as you are and we’re meant to be, they’d never think twice about who you are.

It’s appalling, and wholly unconscionable, and unconstitutional, and contrary to the principles upon which this country was established by founding fathers who could not have fathomed hypocrisy the size of mega-churches, or the Moms for Liberty who recruit women who have never read the books they believe are intended to indoctrinate the precious children they have no problem exposing to violent and oversexualized media from a very young age (Toddlers and Tiaras, anyone? Seen a pageant where 6 year old girls shake their booties, have you? Watched the kind of videos your kids are playing by the age of 10?)

A thoughtful liabrary in Ferndale, MI got smart and organized with the same Union as the Detroit Free Press, then implemented a book challenge protocol that puts the burden of proof on the challenger – not the library – and requires the challenger to write a three-page report setting forth specific complaints as to why the book is not of value to the collection or the community and requires the challenger to certify that they have actually read the book. The challenger must also include reviews of the book, pro and con, as to why the book does, or does not, deserve a read.

Brilliant, and something librarians in Florida might want to think about adopting, lest that state be slow-walked to the swamp of defiant ignorance into which some seem so determined to lead it.

Right now, the focus is on drag queens and the transgendered, and I will admit, with some degree of embarrassment, that drag queens make me very uncomfortable. I don’t know why, but I do know that it’s NOT because a drag Queen ever followed me into a restroom and tried to assault me, or ever did anything to me, because I’ve never actually met a drag queen in person. Whatever the reason, (1) that’s for ME to work out; and (2) it’s NOT a reason to limit what drag queens can and can’t do as drag queens.

But here’s the good news (though it might not sound so great right now, and it’s spoken by a straight white woman):

The “haves,” however you define them (white, male, straight, Christian, cis) have always tried to keep the “have-nots” down.

Things are not perfect. Problems remain. There is so much work to be done.

But the ”haves” trying to keep the “have nots” down?

It hasn’t worked.

Barack Obama. It took too long. It’s not enough. But it happened.

Four women on the Supreme Court (okay, one’s a bot). It took too long. It’s not enough. But it happened.

25% of the 118th Congress is made up of POC, and 44% is female. 13 members are members of the LGBTQ Community. It took too long. It’s not enough. But it happened.

And so on, and so on, and so on.

In fifty years, “white” will be a minority race in the country. Women will far outnumber men in the C-suite. And it will be Dobbs that gets tossed out like yesterday’s lunch.

It’s coming, because it always does. The human heart is born understanding that it is meant to be just, and fair, and helpful whenever possible. As Rogers and Hammerstein put it so well, “You Have to Be Carefully Taught.”

Given a normal person a neutral situation, and they will act justly. There is still evil and injustice and always will be, but for the last 3,000, we have mostly, eventually, gotten it right.

We just have to do it better, and faster.

So, Moms For Liberty, you can try to take our books. Go ahead. You aren’t going to stop people from reading, or trans people from living their life authentically, or librarians from fighting back, because as between a Mom for Liberty with a printed set of talking points downloaded from the internet and a librarian, I’ll bet on the librarian every time.

When I used to go to church, the service would end with the celebrant saying, “now, go in peace, to love and serve the lord.” I’m pretty sure the lord would consider it a better use of my time to read to my grandchild, walk my dog, visit my mom, work in my garden, put new books in my little free library, take a little snooze, text with Hanna, or snuggle with my kitty, than exert myself trying to get books banned, which was something Adolph Hitler did, and while the lord may have loved Adolph Hitler because I guess that’s the lord’s thing (love the sinner, hate the sin), you can see how this could be a hot button issue for the lord, because burning books is in oh so many instances the first of many steps towards the formation of a totalitarian regime that singled out the “have nots,” and, well, you know what happens then…

Don’t be a dick and make sure everyone gets fed.

Support your local library.

Trans people really just want to live their lives without having to answer the questions no polite (or even borderline rude person) would ever ask someone else. Yes, they pee and poop, too, the end, infinity.

Have a great day.