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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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Saturday, December 1, 2012

Passed, Lawyered, Employed, Phew! Oh yeah, and an exciting tale of riding the bus.

Whoa, I've really kept things suspenseful on the blog, haven't I? Last I wrote, I was still waiting on my bar results, and I said that if you don't hear from me for awhile, it's probably because I didn't pass.

Well I hate to break expectations, but my silence has not been because I didn't pass. I did, in fact, pass my bar exam, and have been sworn in as an officer of the court here in Oregon. So, yeah, I'm a lawyer now. Yay!

I am also gainfully employed, though not strictly as a lawyer. I think I mentioned in my last post that I was working a temp job at Nike world headquarters. That temp job has been upgraded to a full time W-2 style position. I'm working in the procurement department, which is fancy business speak for sourcing of commodities for Nike. The group I am working in helps procure service contracts/deals for Nike's business groups. So it's law-related in that negotiating service contracts is involved. I am liking it pretty well, and am excited by how much there is to learn.

Legal education is very theoretical. Too theoretical, if you ask me. What I'm doing right now is much more practical and results-oriented. So it's a different perspective for me. Even pre-law school, I worked in law firms, which largely live in a theoretical world.

So everything seems very new, and I'm having to learn a lot of business jargon. For instance, you might be interested to know that it is not uncommon for business people to use the word "ask" as a noun, similar to the nominal use of "request". "Here's our ask on this..." one might say. Business people also like to "escalate" things up the chain of command. "Escalate" might also mean not punting up the chain of command, but increasing the sense of urgency that one has about a matter. Depends whom you ask (in the verbal sense). Business people also "push back" when someone has an ask that they are totally not amenable to.

And acronyms! My god, acronyms are all over the damn place! The alphabet soup is crazy in the business world. Things are promised by EOD (end of day) or maybe COB (close of business). A cost might be capital, but it also might be OPEX (operating expense). Contracts come in MPSAs (Master Professional Service Agreements), MSAs (Master Servce Agreements), NDAs (non-disclosure agreements), WOs (Work Orders), COs (Change Orders), and so forth. Compensation might be calculated on a T&E (time and expense), otherwise known as T&M (time and materials) basis. And of course there will probably be SLAs (service level agreements) in your EULAs (end user license agreements). I can handle that kind of talk, because it's part of legal jargon, too. But when people start going on PTO (paid time off) instead of vacation, I get a little batty.

The good thing about gainful employment is that I should be able to buy myself a car soon. The bad thing is that, due to my overwhelming amount of student loan debt, and the fact that I am only recently empoyed, I can't get the credit without Mr. E's co-signature. Normally I would strongly advise against co-signing loans, because you get all the personal responsibility without any of the fun, but Mr. E and I, we're like a team, see, and I can't keep taking the bus to work because it's taking close to three hours out of my roundtrip day, which is very exhausting and soul-crushing.

Speaking of the bus, let me tell you a little story about my bus ride this morning. I ride the same bus route every day to work, and it's pretty much the same every day. I board the number 62 crack of dawn bus at the local mall after connecting from my village, and ride  almost the whole route up to Nike. It's typically a 45 minute ride on that leg. The bus typically sees the same faces everyday, and people pretty much leave each other alone. With the exception of a few odd days, my morning ride almost never fills to capacity. People do that thing where you sit one to a row on each side, with an extra space, and then when everyone is evenly spaced, newcomers have to start sitting next to someone (the horror!). But in truth, my bus nearly never gets so full that people must sit together.

I ride with my new leather satchel briefcase (graduation present from my lovely family), and so I typically lay it on the seat next to me while I read my Kindle, listen to my ipod, or snooze against the window. On the extremely rare occasion that the bus fills, I will put it on my lap so someone can take the seat next to me, but that has only been necessary about two times in the past 3.5 months.

Today, I'm sitting in my usual area toward the back, reading my Kindle, when this frequent rider boards the bus, bypasses a number of open seats at the front of the bus (granted, they were all neighboring other people), walks back to my row, points at my bag and says, "I'm going to sit right here. This bag has no ticket."

I glance at all the empty seats in front of me and over my shoulder and say, "There's plenty of open seats on the bus."

Again, the man insists, "This bag, no ticket."

"I understand that, but there are plenty of available seats for you to choose from, why do you need to sit here?" I ask, even as I drag my satchel onto my lap while he plops into the seat next to me.

"No one tells me where to sit. I sit where I like."

At this point, I'll mention that this guy is black, and I got the impression that he was somehow defensive about being dictated on where to sit on the bus, which is something that frankly hasn't been an issue in my lifetime, but it's the vibe he was giving off.

"I'm not telling you where to sit, you don't have to get contentious," I said, "I just don't understand why you must sit here when there are plenty of available places to sit on the bus."

He began to lecture me some more about how my bag doesn't have a ticket, and I cut him off, "You know what? you can sit here," I said, "excuse me, please." And I let him have my row and moved to the back of the bus where I squeezed with my bag on my lap between one of those annoyingly placed poles on my left and a lady on my right. "I'm sorry," I mumbled to her as I sat.

"That's alright!" She insisted.

"What a psycho." I muttered, and I took her silence as agreement.

I went back to reading my Kindle, but no longer found enjoyment in the novel I was reading, so I switched to a book on technical contracts. Dry subject like that is just perfect for a morning that was just asking for clinical detachment over emotional connection.

Oh, and the guy who ousted me? He sat on the aisle side, and laid his own bag on the inside seat next to him. I thought for a moment about yelling to him that his bag didn't have a ticket and he should put it on his lap, but I didn't want to mirror the poor behavior of a hypocritical asshole.

And you know, even if there were all those open seats on the bus, if he would have come to my row and said, "May I sit here please?" I would have gladly moved my bag onto my lap and said, "Sure." Then I would have returned to my book. Almost everyone gets off at the train station 5 minutes before my stop anyway, so soon I would have my row back to myself.

I think really the guy just wanted his own row, and he couldn't very well demand that someone without a bag move for him, but when I have a bag, all of a sudden there's a philosophical argument about who and what are entitled to a seat.

I'm really not one of those people who strives to deny people a place to sit. If the bus is full, I will accommodate your needs. But when there's plenty of room, and I have a 45 minute ride, yeah, I'm gonna lay my bag next to me.

So sue me.

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