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Monday, December 1, 2014

Cats and Cat Catchers

When we were young, we would play together outside. He, two years my senior, and me, precocious, and annoying, and wanting terribly to be like him.

We would play cats and cat catchers while running through the sprinklers in our swimsuits on our front lawn. We were, of course, playing the cats, or sometimes their human allies, and we were striving to evade the cat catchers who wished to lock us away.

I remember walking with our arms straight out in front of us when we had been "caught" by the cat catchers, like the way zombies used to walk in the movies back when they were still slow and only mildly hungry for brains, or the way mummies walked in the Scooby Doo cartoons.

That's also sort of what Puddy looked like when we carried her on rare occasions when she would let us without hissing and scratching and biting. She was a cantankerous old cat who was too big for a young kid to carry normally, so we'd carry her under the front legs, lower legs dangling unsupported. No wonder she was so loathsome towards us.

As the sprinklers cycled through their rotation, our make believe story would play out, and we'd end up sprawled on our beach towels, morning light turning to noon and sun warmly drying the water in our suits. Sometimes the games would continue into the backyard as the sprinkler rotation moved around the house, or sometimes we would have had our fill of the sun and the sprinklers, and would take our games inside. He had a talent for drawing, and he would create our cat and cat catcher characters in paper dolls which we cut out to play with.

Zac was constantly drawing when we were kids. I observed sometimes that he would actually have scenes play out in real time on his sketchbook, the act of drawing becoming the art. I'd watch as his imagination created scenes and characters and battles and scribbled explosions. He would feverishly draw the scenes from his head and their action, and just as quickly blow it up in some glorious battle I could almost hear. I wasn't able to draw like that. To draw actively. To draw what I saw in my head as I saw it, because I didn't really see much in my head. I had vague notions. Some colors or textures maybe. But to put something on paper, I needed to see it in life. I didn't really have a mind's eye. But he did. In a way what he saw in his head sometimes seemed more present and real to him than what was around us, or so I observed.

I always liked to observe him, because he was different from me in the way he approached things, in the way he experienced the world, and it fascinated me. I admired him and wanted to be like him. Sometimes I wasn't the best little sister. I would prod him. I knew sometimes which buttons to push to get reactions from him. I liked to push buttons back then. To know what would happen. We were friends, but I was also a little pest. But he was always quick to forgive me. He was not really capable of harboring ill will toward someone. He doesn't really see people like that.

Eventually I grew out of my pest phase and our friendship evolved. We stopped playing cats and cat catchers and other forms of make believe at some point, the way children just suddenly stop those things. We moved on to other things, like exploring the small wild wooded area in our neighborhood that is now a somewhat more tamed nature park. We played board games and video games and watched movies.

One day, we had grown up and I moved out of the house and went to school, and then to work, and then more school and more work in a different state. I have not been the best at keeping in touch. I'm not great at it anyway, but I also struggle with avoidance as a means of coping with difficult things. And for the past seven or so years, I've been largely avoiding the reality of my brother's cancer that is eating him up. It's taking my brother. My friend. My partner in fending off cat catchers and saving the cats from the evil of the world. He's still here but I don't know how long that will be true. And I don't know how to say to him before he's gone that he's meant so much to me my whole life. And he still means so much to me. And he's a much stronger person than I am for being forced to face daily what I can only bear to avoid. I'm sorry Zac. For how I have failed to do or say or be what I should have. I love you and I love all that you have been in your life and for me in mine. I want you to know that now. I am not saying goodbye. I'm saying I'm here.

Please stay here with me a little while longer.

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Sunday, November 10, 2013

The Revelation

My sister Abigail was 12 years old when I first learned of her existence. I was 22 at the time, beginning my final year of college. She is 10 years younger than me.

The day I found out about her, I had come home from college for a quick visit. When I opened the door to my childhood home, I heard my mother upstairs crying. Dad was in the kitchen with a bag over his shoulder, just about to leave.

"What's going on?" I asked him.

"Well," he began, setting his bag down and not meeting my eyes, "your mother has kicked me out."

"Why did mom kick you out?" I pressed.

Eyes to the floor, voice soft, my dad told me about the affair he had had on my mother many years ago, and revealed that, as a result of the affair, he had another daughter that I had never known about.

My mind spun for a few seconds at the revelation, processing what he had just told me.

I had a sister.

"What's her name?" I asked finally.

"Abigail," he answered reverently. I tried the name out in my head. Abigail.

"Do you see her?" I asked.

He nodded, "Every week for the past twelve years." And that's when the depth of the lie really hit me. Twelve years.

I lost it a little at that point, and I remember yelling at my dad. I remember asking whether we had ever really been a family, or whether everything had been a lie.

He said he liked to think we had been a family, but he understood if I never wanted to speak to him again.

I calmed down a bit at that and said of course I wanted to speak to him. He was my dad and it wasn't like I was going to just turn my back on him. But this was fucked up, and I was going to need some time to process.

He said he understood, and then he left. I went upstairs and found my mother and brother and the three of us cried together and embraced one another.

The revelation was very shocking to me, because I had always so admired my father for being an honest man. A man of integrity. I respected him and looked up to him. And what I was hearing from him when he told me the truth was from another reality that I had never imagined possible. It wasn't that he had cheated on my mother. It wasn't that he had fathered a child with another woman. It was that he had lied to all of us for so long. It was the deception.

It was taking the foundation out from under me, my sure footing, my version of reality, and fucking it completely up. I didn't know what was real any longer. Was our family ever really real? Was my childhood real? My teenage years -- were they real? Was I real? I had been formed in an environment that was a lie. How could I really be the person who I had thought I was?

That's the mental struggle that I would deal with for quite awhile after the revelation. I sought comfort and understanding from many sources -- my friends, my roommates, my journal, and ultimately my school counseling center. I even distracted myself by jumping quickly into a number of fast and dramatic romantic relationships. In a way that was me replacing one pain with others. It took a long time for me to work things out in my head and find my sure footing once more. Healing and forgiveness toward my father came, but they did so slowly over a matter of years.

I thought it would be interesting to share an excerpt from my journal from that time. I wrote the following abridged entry not long after the revelation. I had not been journaling prior to this entry, and took this experience as an opportunity to work on inner healing - or at least inner awareness - by writing. I ended up keeping the journal for about 4 years from 2004-2008, although entries became less frequent when I began blogging in 2006. Most of the substance revolves around the aforementioned dramatic relationships, but ever lurking between the lines is my struggle with the revelation and its aftermath.

Sra's Journal
Nov. 16, 2004
It is a very turbulent time in my life right now. ...

    My family life has turned on its head. I was shocked to learn that my dad cheated on my mom 12 years ago and had another daughter from the affair. The disillusionment is indescribable. You think you know a person, but maybe you never really can. Our reality is perhaps nothing more than our perception. And my reality turned out to be illusion.

    I can’t help but think back on the years of my young life and try to reframe my understanding of what was real.

    I was 12. In sixth grade. Cable had been lost for awhile and maybe even Phoenix was there.* My dad had a 2-yr old.  
    It was 1991. I thought a lot about that year because it’s a palindrome. I was 9 or so. Grandpa Terry had died the previous year. I got baptized into the LDS church on my 9th birthday. My friends slept over that night and we ate Little Caesar’s pizza. I ate the cheese first and commented on how the pizza looked like a brain. My dad would have his bastard** child the next year. He had probably already been cheating for at least 3 years, since I was 6, a kindergartener. It blows my mind.  
    I think it was 1993 that my parents took a month-long trip with [family friends] to Hawaii. My brother and I stayed with Grandma & Grandpa, and Milky*** was there and Don tended us one night and we played a cat & mouse game. Dad had a 1-yr old.
    Perception and reality. How can you ever trust anyone? Sometimes you can’t even trust yourself. But you can’t live like that or you’ll go insane. You have to believe in people, but try to balance that faith with some amount of caution. Balance is the way, thank you, Buddha, but it’s incredibly hard to attain. Oh yeah, my parents are divorcing. So that’s my family situation.

    Luckily, I live with 3 wonderful people ... My roommates, Pla, K-T, & LaNae ...

    LaNae has been an indispensable source of support and comfort to me in this crazy time. She helped me put things in perspective and realize that I’m still me. I am who I am based on the false reality I grew up with, but that doesn’t make me any less real. I know who I am, and that’s a true comfort. ....

                        - Sra

* Cable and Phoenix were two of my four childhood cats. I had very bad luck keeping my cats around for long before they went missing.

** I was deeply regretful when I saw my choice of word here. It was written from a place of hurt and anger meant for my father but misdirected at my sister, who had no fault in the situation. When I started transcribing my journal from this period after Abigail and I had connected, I almost quit the project because of this one word. But it was my goal to create an open and honest relationship with my sister from the beginning. Abigail was very gracious and understanding about my poor choice of words here. 
*** Milky was my brother's childhood cat. He had much better luck with cats than I.

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Monday, November 4, 2013

Filling in the empty spaces

It feels like it's been a very long while since I've blogged anything. In truth, quite a lot has happened in my life over the past 6 months, and I could have written about so much.

The most recent thing is that I turned 31. That kind of blows my mind. Lots of change has happened since I began blogging about 7 or 8 years ago. Lots has changed but in other ways things have stayed the same. I definitely feel older and wiser than the young twenties version of myself. I am a different person in some ways, but recognizable in others. I have changed states, changed professions. But I don't necessarily know any better where life is headed for me. I think maybe that's just the way that life is, and the way it should be really, otherwise what's the point? We always need room to strive for improvement.

The next most recent thing is that my dad was diagnosed with stomach cancer and secondary liver cancer. If you've been keeping track, there are currently two members of my immediate family who are living with cancer, the other being my brother, Broy. He has been receiving treatment for his cancer for about 6 years now, going in and out of clinical trials, as current therapies have not managed to beat the disease for good. So as if that wasn't enough cancer in one family's life, we have my dad's to deal with now too. My dad has started receiving targeted radiation therapy for the liver cancer, and a monthly shot of some drug (not sure if it's technically "chemo" or what -- it's not administered the same way) to keep the stomach tumor from growing. It's hard to say what the prognosis is on that, but I guess the modus operandi, for me at least, has always been to hope for the best and prepare for the worst. For me, it's a little easier to go through the reality of having a family member diagnosed with cancer and face mortality the second time around. I feel like shit for saying that. I'm not saying I'm happy about it. It's just easier to go through the grieving cycle if you've done it before. Anyway, I see this maybe as an opportunity to start thinking about my relationship with my dad, and thinking about the types of things that I would want to say and do before the inevitable, whenever that may be.

Which brings us to the next most recent thing prior to that: I have begun having a relationship with my "long lost" sister, for lack of a better descriptor. It's possible that you didn't know that I had a sister. I, in fact, also did not know that I had a sister until I was 22 years old. I'm going to interject and say that on the one hand I feel like this is private stuff and I should not be talking about it on my blog, but on the other hand, there's really no way to talk about my sister and our relationship without explaining the background. And the background isn't terribly pretty. In life, we like to pretend that everything is pretty. That people always do right by one another. Or that when people do in fact do wrong, only bad consequences follow. In reality, life is shades of gray. And people don't always like to acknowledge that. We like to treat certain things as taboo. We put skeletons in our closets and lock them up. We put on masks and show the world what we want them to see. But the truth is what it is, and I don't think we should have to hide it or be afraid of it.

So, in brief, my sister is the product of an affair my father had with another woman long ago, when he was still married to my mother, and I was still a relatively young child. Although my mother did learn of the affair originally (and my parents stayed together during my youth in spite of it), none of us learned about my sister, Abigail, until I was 22, and my dad could keep his skeleton in the closet no longer. Naturally, there was quite a lot of shit that hit the fan after that revelation. There were lots of consequences. Many bad, others good, depending on your perspective. My parents divorced. My hero pedestal upon which I had placed my father crumbled. My concept of reality shifted into severe unfocus for quite awhile. There was a lot of hurt and a lot of healing that had to happen. For everyone in my family, really. But I can only speak to my own experiences, and that's all I wish to speak to. Others have their own perspectives.

For a number of reasons not completely all clear, Abigail and I did not really connect with each other until June of this year, 9 years after I learned of her existence. There are a lot more stories to tell about that, and I promise to do so very soon (because guess what? I plan to start blogging again -- no, really!).

For now it's enough to say that building a relationship with my sister these past 5 months has been one of the best things that's ever happened in my life. It's enriched me and made me feel whole in a way few other things ever have or could.

She's my missing puzzle piece, repairing me where I am dismantled.

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Saturday, April 6, 2013

It keeps you up at night.

You resist sleep, because sleeping is forfeiting the day until tomorrow, effectively fastforwarding an already brief life via unconsciousness. It goes like this:

One day, you wake up, and you're thirty, and you don't really feel any more grown up than you did at twenty. Maybe in some ways you feel less grown up. But maybe that's because you were never as grown up as you thought you were. You were just precocious back then, and a little naive and idealistic. But the fact that you see that now means you really are grown up, at least compared to twenty.

Though you still like video games. The sames ones you played in your childhood and teens. And you enjoy discovering other games from the same era, because it makes you feel like a kid again, and all nostalgic. But you might have ruined a few childhood memories by rewatching films or shows that were once so good, but now are clearly lacking in one respect or another. So you try to forget the revisit, and reinstall the memory.

You don't have your whole life ahead of you anymore. You only have what's left. And you have less time to get where you're going, wherever that is.

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