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Sunday, November 21, 2010

Conversations With The Dead: 3/21/1979, Houston, Texas


Dear Teresa,

Got your letter today and thought I'd better get busy and answer it. We had to go buy groceries and get me a new pair of shoes. It rains so much here, the shoes I wear for every day get ruined in no time.

I'm real glad about you getting to work in the hospital as a candy striper. I loved working at the nursing home. But I sure got myself involved with them. Even when I was off work, I talked about them all the time. I think Jimmie even got jealous after a while! I just hope you can go on to be a nurse. It doesn't pay a whole lot of money (more if you go on to be a RN) but it's rewarding in a lot of other ways.

I'm studying to get my GED since I didn't get to finish high school, and when I get it I think I'll go to the VA (Veterans Administration) and see about going to school. You can take just about anything you want to and they pay you $260/month to go. I'm eligible for it because of being Jimmie's widow. As long as I don't remarry, I can go to the base and buy groceries, etc., and I have insurance that pays 75% of all my doctor, hospital and drug bills. Plus the $314 I get a month. So you can see why I don't want to get married. Anyway, I'll get my GED first, then after I see what courses I can take, I'll probably start school. May end up a real "brain child" at 39 years old! Ha, ha.

This summer we're planning on getting a bigger apartment. I sure hope Charlene will let you spend some time with me. Maybe we could take off and go down to Galveston. There are a lot of places to go around here and we could have a lot of fun.

Charlie seems (our dog) to be a lot better, so I don't know if that vet was lying just for the money or not. But I'm still going to take him to another vet and have him checked. Phil's working but I'm still trying to pay off a bunch of bills in Fort Worth with my money (thanks to Buddy!) so it's still kind of tight. As soon as I get those paid off, I'm going to get me a car. Phil's real funny about my money. Won't touch it but by this summer, we ought to be in pretty good shape.

When you write, give me Charlotte's phone number and address. I had it but lost it. And tell the fart to write me. It wouldn't kill her. She was supposed to talk to my lawyer for me and find out some stuff and let me know, but I never heard from her. Tell her it doesn't matter about that now. I talked to Buddy's mother and I can go one of these weekends and get my stuff. I'll let you know when. I think he's already gone out to get his. I hope I have something left. He started "getting his" for being blind this month and she said he bought him a car. Now what does a blind man need with a car? I smell something very fishy. I talked to those doctors myself so I know he was blind. But you can't tell about him. You just can't trust him about anything. But as soon as I can, I'll go get my stuff. Maybe he'll move from his mother's (that's one reason I'm in no hurry) and I won't have to see him. Oh, and tell Charlotte I closed out my bank account. And tell her she'd better write.

I wish I knew where David was. He'll be 21 on his birthday this month. I just hope he's okay.

I'm sorry your daddy's having so much trouble with Patty. But like I said, I'm really glad that you're with Charlene. I halfway raised her because she spent so much time with us when your dad and I got married. I think she was just seven when we married and she didn't get to go places very much so we'd go get her and let her stay with us. I think a lot of her although we haven't been around each other much since she got married and after your daddy and I divorced.

I'm glad you like the poem book. I've written a couple since I gave it to you that I'll send you to put in it.

Well honey, I guess this is all for now. Be sweet and let me hear and be sure and send me Charlotte's phone number and address. Call her and tell her I said Hi. As soon as I can afford it, I'm going to get a phone. But I may wait until I move. It costs so much to move a phone.

P.S. What does W/B/S mean?

Mother & Phil

This letter is postmarked 3/21/79. David's birthday. He'll resurface in a year but for now he's living between Arizona and California. He likes the weather in both states since he never knows when he'll have to make a bed out of a park bench. His schizophrenia is still untreated.

The book of poems you referred to is a notebook you gave me for my twelfth birthday. You filled it with songs and poems you wrote and a few you didn't but that meant something to you. You wrote a personal note to me in the first few pages:

This isn't a very expensive gift but I hope that by giving you a copy of all the poems and songs I've written over the years that maybe I'm giving you a part of myself. They show a lot of my thoughts, joys and fears that I have found hard to express any other way. I hope that you'll read them and know that even though I've failed in may ways, hurt many people, it was only because I'm human, in spite of the fact that I do love the Lord and those close to me.

Teresa, never give up on yourself or give up on God. And I know in my heart that He'll never let you because He's never let me and I've had many a dark place that I don't believe you'll ever have to be in. As I've told you, before any of you were born I dedicated each of you to God and asked Him to keep His hand on you and help you. I believe with all my heart that he will, in spite of me or anyone else. Three different times over the years when I was worried about you kids, I prayed, and just opened my Bible, expecting to see a verse that would be my answer. Three times it opened to this verse in Isaiah 13, "All thy children shall be taught of the Lord and great shall be the peace of thy children." That was no accident.

The last part of this book are some favorite poems of mine that I didn't write but that mean a lot to me. The first one I dedicate especially to you. Maybe this book won't mean much to you now, but I believe it will some day.

I love you very much.


I love you,
Not only for what you are,
But for what I am
When I am with you.

I love you,
Not only for what
You have made of yourself,
But for what
You are making of me.
I love you
For the part of me
That you bring out;
I love you
For putting your hand
into my heaped-up heart
And passing over
All the foolish, weak things
That you can't help
Dimly seeing there,
And for drawing out
Into the light
All the beautiful belongings
That no one else had looked
Quite far enough to find.
I love you because you
Are helping me to make
Of the lumber of my life
Not a tavern
But a temple;
Out of the works
Of my every day
Not a reproach
But a song.

I love you
Because you have done
More than any creed
Could have done
To make me good
And more than any fate
Could have done
To make me happy.
You have done it
Without a touch,
Without a word,
Without a sign.
You have done it
By being yourself.
Perhaps that is what
Being a friend means,
After all.

Roy Croft

Oh, and W/B/S means "Write Back Soon" and just so you know, I haven't given up on myself. I fired God instead. He never returned my calls.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Conversations With the Dead: February 26, 1979, Houston, Texas

Dear Teresa,

I guess you think I'm terrible for not writing, and I guess I am. So much has happened tho and I've had so much on my mind. Life seems to be full of surprises.

The reason we didn't come down as we'd planned that weekend is that Phil got hurt and he's been off work for several weeks. He's always trying to help someone, and always ends up getting hurt somehow. We have a friend that lives in these apartments named Doc and he's a pretty old man and in very bad health. Well, he had a son named Mike that was living with him and he was a real ding-a-ling (Reminded me a lot of Buddy. Poor old Doc was scared to death of him). Anyway, he'd just gotten out of jail and was driving poor doc up a wall, staying drunk and throwing fits. So Doc asked us if we'd invite him up to the apartment one night for a while, just so he could have some peace and quiet, just for a while. So we did, and after he was here for about an hour, he started acting real crazy, insulting me and everything. Just real nutty. So finally, Phil asked him to leave and he refused. Well, Phil went down and told Doc, and Doc said to please keep him up here long enough so he could get some clothes and go over to his sister's. He was really scared of him and now I understand why. Anyway, we did, and then Phil asked him to leave again and he still refused, so Phil literally threw him out. Then he started worrying about if Doc had been able to get away in time and went down to check. Well, Mike was down there busting windows and car windshields with a chair and then he jumped on Phil when he saw him. (You know me. I had followed Phil because I was worried). God it was awful! He was a crazy man! He finally got Phil down and then he started kicking him in the face and looked like he was trying to kill him. Of course I was screaming for him to stop and finally I yelled I was calling the police. So I ran in his (or Doc's) apartment and called them. I was so mad. And of course when I get that mad, I don't have sense enough to be afraid. He came in while I was calling and laid down on the couch, just like nothing had happened. I won't use all the words I said, but I said I was calling the police and using his phone to do it. I guess in a way I was daring him to touch me, which was really dumb but I was too mad to care, and I'd already decided to break a lamp over his head if he even moved. Anyway, he just said to go ahead and laid there. So when I got through, I came back to the apartment to see about Phil and wait for the police. We had him though, because he had started all this here, in Phil's apartment, and then to top it all off, he'd gotten smart with the cops (and Houston police are known for being mean anyway) and they drug him out of his apartment and took him to jail.

But God, you should have seen Phil. His eyes were black and his nose and jaw were broken from all that getting kicked in the face. He's gone through hell the last few weeks and couldn't even eat anything but liquids until here lately, so of course he hasn't been able to work. He's going back this week but of course the money situation money-wise isn't too good, so we're just going to have to wait until we get our bills caught up a little before we can come up to see you. And to top it all off, they messed up on my check and I've had the devil trying to get it.

So all in all, I hope you'll forgive me for waiting so long to write. I've been so durn [sic] worried and had so much on my mind that I couldn't even think straight enough to sit down and write a letter. But do you know what happened to Mike? Of course I feel sorry for Doc, but I can't honestly say I'm sorry it worked out like it did. I guess he just reminded me too much of Buddy and I'm really not over that yet. Anyway, Doc wanted Phil to press charges against Mike but being as soft-hearted as he is, he wouldn't do it. But he died in jail before he got out. They "said" he had a heart attack, but I don't believe it. Knowing how Houston police are, and his big mouth, my guess is that he opened his mouth once too often to either the police or some of the other prisoners. It happens all the time. Anyway, it's all over now but I sure was worried for a while.

Now on top of everything else, Charlie is (the dog) real sick. They say it's heart worms and he's going to have to go stay at the vet for several days and that's going to mean more money. And the treatment is real dangerous and there's still a chance he may not make it. That's all I need -- to loose [sic] Charlie. A mess, isn't it? But it could have been worse. A lot worse. But enough of that. Phil's okay now, and will get it all straightened out in time. Then we can come see you.

I felt so bad because we couldn't stay that weekend we were there. I kept remembering how pretty you were and how you had your suitcase packed and I know you were disappointed. I was too, believe me. But I'd explained to Charlotte that we couldn't spend the night and I thought she'd told Charlene. But next time we'll be able to stay. I want to be with you so much. It's been so long. It hurts so bad that I can't be with you like I want to, and share in your growing up. And I know this is a hard time for you. But I'm glad you're with Charlene and them. Charlene has more common sense than Patty does.

When I was there, you asked me what it was like when I was 14, and I've been thinking about that. That age seems to be pretty confusing for everyone. I went through it and I saw Charlotte and David go through it, and a lot of other kids. I remember when I was that age I felt like I was on a roller coaster most of the time. My emotions were all messed up because your body is changing and that physical upset just naturally messes up your emotions. But it's only natural, except I didn't know that at the time. I thought I was some kind of nut or something. The thing is, you're not really a child, and yet you're not really grown, either. One minute I'd feel so independent, and like I could lick the world, and felt grown, and the next minute I felt real insecure and self-conscious and wished I was a little kid again. The least little thing that anyone said or did could hurt my feelings and make me feel like a clumsy idiot! And not knowing what was causing it I figured I'd feel that way the rest of my life.

But I got it in my head that if I could just get away from Mother and Daddy and get married, it would all change. So at 15, that's what I did, but of course that really only made it worse because your daddy and I were so young, and we just didn't have enough experience at living and solving problems. And of course when Charlotte and David came along, it only complicated it more. Being an only child and not being around babies, I really had no idea what to do or how to do it. And that just made me feel more like an idiot. You see honey, there are no shortcuts in life because there is no way to learn anything except by experience. And that takes time. Had I finished school and dated more (so I could understand people better) I would have learned to cope with people and problems better. As it was, it was all so much for me to handle; I ran from it by taking pills and drinking. And starting so young to run from reality and hurt, it became a habit because I never learned how to cope with life.

Like I said, it takes time and experience to learn that and I didn't do that. So I had no tools to work with. And as time went on I really missed all the things I didn't get to do, like dating and going to dances, etc., but by that time I had two babies and was tied down all the time. That's why I'm so glad and proud of you for wanting to finish school and make something of yourself. I know that in the process you'll have time to build up your self-confidence and learn a little about life and people so you can handle it. Believe me, you have plenty of time.

Well, guess that's all I can think of right now. I hope I answered your question. When Phil and I come up there we'll have a chance to talk. I just want you to know honey that I am very proud of you. Just hang in there. Take care of yourself and write me, and I promise I won't wait so long to answer you. And don't forget to send me a picture of you when you get one. Tell Charlene and Pat "Hi" and tell Charlotte to write me. (Phil says "Hi").

Love, Mother

P.S. I'm real tickled about you wanting to be a nurse. That's what I always wanted too. Good luck!


There are no intervening letters between Buddy and Phil so I must have heard of the switch by phone. It doesn't matter. You moved from a bully to a wussy. We all do that I guess, try to heal from an extreme by moving toward its opposite. A friend of mine called it "the matchbook theory", that when you're bent one way for too long, you have to bend in the extreme opposite direction to self-correct. But I think the binding on your "matchbook" weakened from overuse, became thinned and frayed until your constitution was no more.

You and Phil will last nine months. He'll start drinking again and so will you. Shopping for men at AA doesn't seem to work out well but this lesson you'll never learn. Knowing what will happen, I'll watch your next ten letters for signs that you're drinking again. I don't know why. You're dead. What difference does it make? I guess I need to feel in control because I felt duped every time you fell down and disappointed me. I'd trust you and you'd fall. You would stop writing and I would fear you were dead. I guess now that I'm in control of the situation, your words in my hands, I can manipulate the information. I know, it's dumb, but it's a way of interacting with you without feeling vulnerable again. Funny thing is, I feel vulnerable anyway.

Today was the perfect day to read the words, "Just hang in there." I'm afraid and in pain because one of my children is hurting and his future is uncertain. Feelings of helplessness make me small again. No matter how old I am, I will always yearn for that mother figure when I'm most afraid, for the bliss of unconditional love despite how unpredictable it could be, how short-lived it was. Some would even call your love counterfeit.

I have learned about life and people just as you said I would, but what I've learned is that they are one inseparable variable. We can count on only what we can control which is what? I think knowing yourself is more important, building up your own reserves. Even you, my mother, my safe port, weren't safe enough. But your words are safe now in my hands and they cannot die. I can milk them for all the comfort I need today. I can even believe that you're here in this room, reading over my shoulder, telling me everything will be okay, that I can "handle it". What other option is there? I believe that because you taught me well by example what weakness is, I am strong.

The last sentence in your opening paragraph makes me smile: "Life seems to be full of surprises." Yes Mother, it does.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Conversations With The Dead: September, 1978, Weatherford, Texas


Dear Bug,

Got your letter this morning. That sure was fast. Was so good to get it, and to talk to you the other day. I've missed you so much.

We were going to go pick up a car today but the guy we were going to get it from had a death in the family and is out of town. If he isn't back by tomorrow we'll have to wait until Tuesday because everything will probably be closed Monday (Labor Day).

Charlotte called me the night I talked to you and she and Mike and the kids are coming out Sunday and Buddy's going to barbecue some steaks. It's been ages since I've seen them. She sounds like she's happy. I hope so.

I called David and they said he's been gone from there about ten days. He's moved in with "someone" but they didn't know who. They still have the letter for him that your daddy sent hoping that he'd come back to get it. Just don't know about that kid. You just can't keep track of him.

We got a lot of good rain the last few days and we sure needed it. Helped my flowers a lot. As soon as I get some more film I'll send some more pictures so you can see the flowers and back yard, etc. Keeps me pretty busy keeping all the weeds hoed up and all, but I enjoy it.

When you get your school pictures this year, be sure and save me one (the same size as the last one) and I'll pay Patty for it, okay?

There's a lot of things we're planing [sic} on doing to the trailer as we get the money. Like I said, Buddy's had this place for about four years but only used it on the weekends and stuff. It'll be fun fixing it like we want it. It's got three bedrooms and two baths so we have plenty of room. First thing we're going to do is get some new furniture. All that we have in it now is second-hand.

Well baby, I guess this is all for now. By the way, what do you want for your birthday? Be thinking about it and let us know. Write me whenever you can and call anytime. I love you very much.

Mother & Buddy

The visit with Charlotte and the kids won't go so well. You'll get drunk and Buddy will put his hands on kids, etc. On 10/24/78 you'll purchase a .45 caliber revolver from Weatherford Finance & Pawn with a hot check in the amount of $288. I can only imagine your intent. On 11/3/78 you'll try to sell it back to the pawn shop again. On the original Seller's Bill of Sale is the following information about you: Age - 39, Weight - 125, Height - 5'2. I can tell from the Polaroid of you enclosed in this letter that you're thin. On the back of the photo you wrote that Buddy took the picture while you were talking to me on the phone so in a way, the picture is of us.

It's almost been a year since Jimmie died. I never knew he was only 54 when he died. He looked 100. There was a 17 year age difference between the two of you. On his certificate of death it listed his parents, Elmer and Virgie, both deceased. Jimmie served in WWII. His cause of death was listed as "Medullary Failure/Cerebrovascular Accident". That's the long way to say, "Stroke". He was buried in Greenwood Cemetary in Fort Worth. On 9/22/77, the day after his death, you used a Mastercard to pay for his burial and plot, etc. You lived on that same Mastercard and a Wards credit card until at least Christmas. I can tell from the three-digit codes on the back of your Wards receipts what sorts of items you purchased. There was the $30 pant suit, lots of gas and auto repairs, some pharmacy items and lunches. The credit cards were in Jimmie's name. I guess when you could no longer use the cards and couldn't afford to pay the balances (I read your letter to Wards apologizing for being so delinquent and explaining about your recent hospital stay), you began to write hot checks. You wrote a hot check to your attorney, Frank Coffey, on 10/3/77 in the amount of $100. Many followed that one and soon you were receiving letters from Tim Curry, the Criminal District Attorney in Fort Worth (1/12/78). That didn't stop you. In shaky handwriting you wrote a $110 check (#175) on 2/31/78 to Dr. L.H. Luck Optical on Camp Bowie in Fort Worth. That check was written on a closed bank account. There were also checks written to Big Daddy's Package Store, Safeway and Skaggs. All hot. You opened a joint checking account with Buddy, aka Nathan Graves, and went on a hot check-writing spree from mid-October to November, 1978. Then something happened. Maybe it was Buddy knocking out your front teeth or the barbecue incident with Charlotte, but you'd had enough and finally left Buddy. Then you began paying for all those checks to stay out of jail. I found all the receipts for the cashiers checks and money orders you had to use, and all your lists of check numbers, amounts and recipients. Your loyal attorney, Frank Coffey, would have his secretary (also a Charlotte) write on May 10, 1979:

Dear Rogene,

I paid the money orders to the district Attorney's Office this morning and got the enclosed list of checks (Skillern's Drug Store, Daniel's Drug Store, Early Drug x 3, Eckard's Drug, Montgomery Ward x 4, Buddies Supermarket x 4, Skaggs, Safeway x 3, Piggly Wiggly, Krogers, Pantex foods, Majestic Liquor x 4, Kings Liquor x 3, Land Mark Liquor = $900.95). The money you have sent will pay these off. However, there have been two additional checks to Chicotsky's totaling $58.70 still out there. That will clear up the ones at the main Court house. Frank said there were some out at the Northeast branch Courthouse that total about $300-$400, but those have not been turned in to the main courthouse yet. I can call out there and find out what they have and the total of them if you want me to. I am gald [sic] that you are still doing okay. don't give up.

I also found some medical bills which fill in some blanks. You were admitted to All Saints Hospital after visiting the ER on 9/1/77. The diagnosis is 1. Overdose 2. Depression. You were held for three days. On 1/17/78 you were treated by Dr. James Brooks, our family doctor for as long as I can remember, for a respiratory infection, hormone insufficiency and a vitamin deficiency. Then on 1/28/78 you were admitted to All Saints Hospital with a diagnosis of 1. Acute alcohol withdrawal and 2. Depression. They kept you until 2/1/78. On 2/5/78 you visited Harris Hospital where I was born for x-rays of your forearm, nose, skull, chest. On 2/28/78 you were admitted to All Saints Hospital again with a diagnosis of 1. Alcoholism with delirium tremors, 2. Depression and 3. Fractured nose. You were released on 3/7/78. Since you were Jimmie's widow, Champus/Champva paid for most of these services. These hospital visits and injuries took place during the early days with Buddy, and now I remember the cheap paper on which you wrote me a letter with no return address. You wrote that you were no longer with Buddy. You wrote it from the hospital. All this and you'd not only go back to this monster but marry him. You called yourself "stupid" for ever being with him in the first place. You said it.

Patty and Dad will be getting a divorce soon. I remember feeling bored one evening, wishing a bomb would go off in the yard or the sun would melt. Any change at all. Then a fight broke out between Patty and Dad. The fight was over something stupid, a broken glass and a rip in the upholstery of a new chair they'd bought themselves for their fifth wedding anniversary. Anyway, Dad punched Patty in the face and it was over. Honestly, she had it coming. So your next letter will be sent to my new address in Arlington, Texas. I'm moving in with Dad's sister, Charlene. There are legal documents I didn't learn about regarding this move until after my fortieth birthday, but more about that later.

Once you left Buddy for good there's a letter you saved from Dad written just after Christmas, 1978. He writes:

Dear Rogene,

Hope this finds you well. I noticed your letter the other day at Charlene's and got the address off it. I probably shouldn't be writing to but I get tired of talking to myself sometimes. I often remember the night we had together. It was nice. I won't write much. Don't know if the address is current. Write if you can.

My best,

I don't think he ever stopped loving you.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Conversations With The Dead: August, 1978, Weatherford, Texas


Dear Teresa,

Hi baby. I've been thinking about you so much here lately so I just had to write. I hope you're doing okay and are happy. I sure do miss you. I know you're probably growing like a weed! If you have one handy, I wish you'd write me and send me a picture. (In fact, write me anyway and tell me what all you did this summer. But if you can, send a picture too).

I don't know if you knew or not but "Old Blue" just up and died! Ha. So we're without a car for now. First the transmission went out and we spent $400 to put a new one in and then a couple of weeks later the motor just burned up. So now we have to get a new one. We're going to go see about one this week. It's really nice out here but you sure need a car. But "Blue" was a pretty good car. She just got tired and quit!

I've got me a nice flower garden and I work in it keeping the weeds out, etc. There's a creek that runs behind the trailer and a bunch of shade trees and we like to get out there and barbecue in the evenings (Buddy loves to cook which is good because I don't. Ha. So a lot of the time he cooks and I clean up. Pretty good, huh?). But it's so nice and quiet out here. It's like being out in the country. The nearest store is three miles away so no one bothers you. I like that. I'm just plain tired of cities. I hope you can come out here sometime next summer. They have a clubhouse with a swimming pool and all. And there are two big lakes here so we could go fishing, too. There's all kinds of rabbits and quail, etc. here. In fact, there's a covey of quail (about fifteen of them) that show up in the lot next door every morning. They're so cute to watch. They stop and look both ways before they cross the road and there's one of them that we've named "Johnny Come Lately" that always hangs back and gets in trouble. Then he has to run his legs off to catch up with the rest of them! And sometimes we like to sit in the back under the trees and listen to the radio (we have some chairs and a table out there) and there's the prettiest red cardinal that comes and sits in my flower garden and listens to the radio! He doesn't show up unless he hears the radio.

I guess you're getting ready for school now. Knowing you, you're probably glad to go back. But that's good and I'm glad. I'm glad you enjoy it and do so good.

Have you heard from Charlotte or David? I've tried and tried to get a hold of Charlotte but haven't had any luck. I would have sent her a birthday card but don't know where she is.

Well baby, I guess that's all my news for now. If you want to call me, just dial 0-599-7414 and that way we can pay for the call. Just tell the operator when she answers that you want to make a collect call to that number from Teresa Williams and she'll ring us. Call any time you want to. I'd love to hear from you and so would Buddy. We Got married and we're very happy and we love it out here. It's kind of an exclusive place and no one can get in unless they own property out here, so you don't have to worry about things getting stolen and stuff like that. And by the way, Buddy said to tell you Hi and that he loves you. And I love you too, very much. So write me, honey, when you get time, and call any time.

Mother & Buddy

*A "covey" of quail. Sounds like a word Buddy taught you. You haven't heard from Charlotte or David because you're with Buddy. He put his hands on Charlotte's 10 year-old son, remember? You were drunk and trying to peel rotten potatoes so maybe you don't remember. Buddy wants to hear from me? No, I won't be calling either. And you live in an "exclusive" trailer park? Sounds like another bullshit word Buddy taught you to say. Thanks for the Polaroid of the trailer; maybe you can beat out all the dents and mow the grass once in a while since you're suddenly into yard work. I'm glad you're happy, Mom, or at least think you are. You won't be so happy when your new husband knocks out your front teeth but hey, that day hasn't come yet. One more thing, Mom. Buddy doesn't love me. Buddy doesn't love you, either. He's a clever sociopath preying on your weaknesses out in the middle of nowhere. Help will be hard to come by when you need it most. Buddy is now talking you into writing hot checks for beer and pills, something you'll pay dearly for later on. Soon he'll talk you into buying a gun. The party is just beginning.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Conversations With The Dead: March 17, 1978 Address Unknown

Dear Teresa,

Hello baby. Happy St. Patrick's Day! I thought you might think I haven't been thinking about you because I haven't called, but I have. But I was in the hospital for a week (nothing serious) and then I was out of town for about two weeks. Maybe it's better if I write for a while anyway. I was kind of afraid that calling might upset Patty and your daddy, and I really don't want to do that. I just want you to know that I love you and I miss you an awful lot. And I think about you a lot too.

Also, I wanted to tell you that Buddy and I aren't together anymore. In fact, I really wish I'd never met him, to tell you the truth. It took me a while to realize it (I'm kind of stupid) but I finally did. I'm getting my checks from the VA now (because I'm Jimmie's widow) but I'll probably go to work pretty soon, so I can keep busy. But I felt like you'd like to know that I wasn't with Buddy anymore. I'm sure you were worried about it. And by the way, I am not drinking anymore either. So everything's fine. I just kind of fell apart when Jimmie got sick, because I knew he'd never come out of it. I just couldn't handle it every [sic] well. But I think I can now. I hope you can forgive me for being so weak once again. Seems like your mother has a habit of that, but I don't mean to.

Well honey, I guess this is all. Be as sweet as you always are and remember I love you very much.


*This letter had no return address so I assume you're still in the hospital and Mom, alcohol-related delirium tremens are serious. Your handwriting is shaky. The paper is thin, almost transparent. Your life must feel like tissue paper, too. Yes I was worried about Buddy because he scared me. He threatened to kill Dad. He encouraged you to drink. He'd stare into my eyes and say, "What's wrong? I can see you're uncomfortable. What's troubling you?" I didn't dare tell him he made me uncomfortable. I'm sorry Jimmie died of a stroke but I don't think it was his death that was so difficult for you to handle. You married him on the rebound from Phil, or maybe you just married him out of a desperate fear of being alone. But what you had difficulty handling was what you and Buddy did to poor Jimmie after his last stroke. I'm sure the police wondered for a long while not only how Jimmie made it to the park bench in the shape he was in, but how he ended up completely naked. And in even more alarming news, I know you're not done with Buddy yet.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Conversations With The Dead: Greenville, Texas, 1975


Dear Teresa,

Well, how have you been doing? I know you've been busy since you started back to school. Do you like it pretty good?

I haven't heard from David since he went back to Cleburne. I called him the weekend that he came over to your house and told him he could come back with me, but he said he wanted to stay in Cleburne. I really don't understand why he didn't want to stay here but as long as he's happy there, I guess it's alright.

Well, I got me a little black dog. Her name is "Spooky" because she's so afraid of everything. I spent the night with Betty & James when I was in Fort Worth and they gave her to me. She's so cute. Her tail curls over her back (she's part Chow and part Scotty) and her hair is wavy and she has hair over her eyes and a goatee. She's really something. She's about five months old. I've really enjoyed her. She just has a fit every day when I get in from work after being here by herself all day. When I drive, the traffic scares her, and she lays up in my lap or under the car seat. She's the spookiest dog I've ever seen. But she's a good watch dog. Someone was outside my front door one night and she barked up a storm.

I'll be glad when you can come up again and see my apartment. I think it's real cute. Maybe you can come up for a few days on the Thanksgiving Day holidays. Find out what days you'll be out of school over Thanksgiving and let me know so I can come get you. (Ask your daddy if it's okay). You wouldn't want to spend all the time you're out of school here because you need to spend part of it there with Patty and Jay, but you can spend part of the time with me. Of course it's nearly two months until Thanksgiving and I'll see you before then, but we can go ahead and make plans for Thanksgiving.

I never have gotten that ring fixed but I saw something the other day that I want to get for your birthday. It'll be real cute in your new room (Curious? Ha).

Well honey, guess that's all my news. I just work, come home and eat and go to bed, except for going to church. Phil came up to see me last weekend. He's a plumber and he fixed Betty and Jame's bathroom plumbing last week. He still wants us to get married as soon as I get my divorse [sic] from Sonny. I know one thing, I'd never find anybody that would be any better to me. He really is the nicest person I've ever known, and I've known him now for over a year. That's one mistake I made with Sonny. I really didn't know him long enough before we married. If I had waited and gotten to know him better, I never would have married him. So, I don't know. I really haven't made up my mind about Phil yet. So, let me hear, if you get a chance. Be sweet and don't forget that I love you.

PS Just write me at Nanny's. I don't really know this address yet. So for now, write me in care of Nanny.


Well Mom, it's interesting that you don't know your address yet though it's written on the outside of the envelope. I suppose your apartment was actually Phil's. Your divorce from Sonny will become final just about the time you decide you don't want to marry Phil. Your decision will come during an argument with Phil; he'll call you a "convenience" and you won't like it. Nice guy, huh? He'll leave to go to the store and when he returns, you'll be gone. Almost instantly you'll get married to someone else and announce this by showing me his and hers wedding rings during a weekend visit. Husband #3's name is Jimmy Spinks. I'll get one postcard from you during this marriage, a photograph of Pensacola Beach Pier. You and Jimmy will see a few states during this trip and you'll write that you wish I could see all the pretty country. I kinda doubt that now but, oh well. You signed the postcard as you always did when there was a man in your life, his name beside "Mother". I never got that, not even back then. It'll be 1978 before you write again.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Conversations With The Dead: September, 1975, Greenville, Texas


Dear Teresa,

Guess you're getting ready for school. It won't be long now before it starts.

Sorry I didn't get to talk to you the other day when I called your daddy about David. I talked to David yesterday & he sounds fine. I was going to find out what kind of medicine he was supposed to be taking & get it for him but he said he already had it. He says he'll stay there until I get an apartment. He sounded real good & he's tickled to death that I've started back to church. I'll be glad when I get settled & he can come down.

How is Mac these days? I still don't have the pictures of us yet. As soon as I get them I'll send you one.

I've found a real nice little church that I've been going to. They've been comming [sic] to pick me up until I get a car.

I got a call from Phil the other day. He's moved back to Fort Worth & he's still wanting me to marry him. But I just feel like I need to put the Lord & David first. He's really a good & sweet person but I guess I'm just kind of scared of marriage after Sonny. But I told him we could still be friends & see each other some. I believe he's the nicest person I've ever known.

Well honey, guess this is all. Take time to write me & let me know how you are before school starts & you get to [sic] busy.

I love you,

*I'll be attending another Baptist private school this year, entering 5th grade. Boulevard Baptist School in Burleson, Texas. Joy Baptist closed last year after the minister's wife got into it with the kindergarten teacher. Mrs. Wolfenbarger started a fight in the middle of a service. Next thing we knew, school wouldn't be resuming the following year. I guess no one is perfect.

Mac the Guinea pig is fine but he'll freeze to death this winter. Poor little guy. Ben the hamster had some sort of heat stroke over the summer. I don't seem to have much luck with animals.

I look forward to seeing the pictures of us at Nanny's. I'm glad you found a church and are making plans to be with David. He needs you like I do.

Phil? He's another dead-end, but you'll take any road that keeps you from being alone. I'm learning your pattern with men now, that love for you means longing and need. It's the wrong way to love. It's not love at all.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Conversations With The Dead: July, 1975, Greenville, Texas


Dear Teresa,

Hi honey. I'm sorry I didn't get to call you today but I'm kind of low on money, so I'll just write.

I left Houston & I'm spending some time at Nanny's (in Greenville). I haven't decided yet weather [sic] I'll stay here & try to get a job or move to Fort Worth. Without a car it might be best to stay here a while. Mother said they're hiring at some factories here and that you can always find a ride to work. So maybe I could save enough before long to get me a car. Then I could move back to Fort Worth (you just about have to have a car to live in Fort worth). Anyway, I'm closer to you now & I can get up to see you more often. Of course I don't have a job yet. I'll just have to wait & see if I can find something. If I do get a job I guess I'll stay. If not, I'll do something else. Anyway, at least I'm closer to you. And if I can, I want to get a job at a factory because you have weekends free, where if you work as a waitress you always have to work weekends, & after you start back to school that's the only chance I'll have to see you. And I want to spend some time with Mother Wise. I hadn't seen her in so long & she's not getting any younger. You know when I was a little girl, I lived with her for a couple of years, & she's always been like a second mother to me. After Daddy died, I felt so bad because I hadn't spent more time with him. I don't want to make the same mistake with Mother Wise.

I got a letter from David yesterday. He said he'd get out of the hospital in about a month. He sounds like he's doing o.k. I need to send him some cigarettes. I sure hope I get a job.

Well honey, I guess this is all. Write me here at Nanny's. Have you heard anything from Charlotte? I wish I could see all of them. Well, I'll close now. Write me & be sweet. I love you very much.


*It's good you'll be spending time with Mother Wise. She's in the early stages of Alzheimer's you'll soon learn. She doesn't have long so your instincts were right. I'll spend a month of summer with you at Nanny's. You'll find a job at a nearby factory. During the afternoons while you're at work, I'll watch soap operas with Nanny, help her garden, run errands with her in her Cadillac while Ronnie Milsap sings, "I'm having daydreams, about night things, in the middle of the afternoon...". You'll be tired each night when you get home from work, so I'll sit on the floor at your feet and rub them. They're so calloused but I find them beautiful. My memories of this summer will be full of Nanny's okra gumbo, rhubarb pie, picking tomatoes, petting her cats -- Sam and Bitty-Bit -- and feeling at home with you so close. I've missed you so much and this visit feeds a terrible hunger. We'll walk over to Mother Wise's trailer next door and play the organ and sing. After this visit she'll begin to deteriorate. I'll never see her again. This is also the last time you'll see Nanny until 1983 when she decides to call a truce on your off and on war, and you'll go to her hospital bedside to tell her good-bye.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Eating Her Addiction

I tiptoe behind her -- I'm 9 -- toward an immense room with gunmetal walls, no light, just endless grays and floor to ceiling portraits of ghosts. She feeds me frozen nails and I eat them while she cradles me in bones and paints my tongue the ash color of her words.

I can't separate the mother from the monster, the two from myself.

There's no choice in that room for days, weeks, sometimes years without light. I swallow down nails, coins, a pound of gray flesh as she watches me with staple gun eyes, her hair muddy tinsel, her voice gravel and rocks washed from gutters. It rains day and night, sheets of tin crashing while our tomb's gray-blue gloom rises high enough to know there is no ceiling, no floor, no hope.

When her chains stop rattling I spit out the metal and ash, bury the cold bloodless memories.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Conversations With The Dead: Austin, TX - April, 1975


Dear Teresa,

I got your letter & I sure was glad to hear from you. I know you're real excited about the baby comming [sic]. Little babies are so sweet & cuddley [sic]! I'm real happy for all of you.

I may just be here in Austin a couple of weeks more. I'm not sure yet, but I may move to Houston in a couple of weeks. But I'll let you know as soon as I know & I'll give you my address if I move.

I went to mass Easter & to confession. That's the first time I'd gone to confession in two years. It made me feel real good. Have you all heard from David? I just wonder how he's making it at Charlotte's? Poor kid. He doesn't feel like he belongs anywhere. But I pray for him (& you & Charlotte) every night & I know God will help him somehow. But maybe when I get back to work I can help. Right now it's just impossible.

Well honey, I guess this is all for right now. Be sweet & I'll let you know my address if I move. In the meantime, just remember that I love you very much.




Dear Sweet Teresa,

I just loved the drawing you sent me, & your sweet letter. I love you very much too. In fact, you're my pride & joy. You're a very sweet & good girl. And I'm sure He answers your prayers. (And He'll take care of you too, because I ask Him to every night).

Honey, I wish we could be closer too. I miss you very much. But I'm going to move to Houston this comming [sic] Saturday & go back to work so maybe I can get enough money together to come to Fort Worth some weekend soon. I sure hope so because I sure want to see you. I'd like to spend a whole weekend with you, but I'll have to get the money first. O.K.?

I'm really glad your daddy is building you a room. You'll enjoy it & your daddy is good at building things. Remember Davids room he built?

As soon as I get settled in Houston I'll write & give you my address. Don't write me at this address because I won't get it. Just wait until you get my next letter & I'll tell you my new address. O.K.? And after I go back to work I can call you sometimes too.

Well honey, I guess this is all for now. And I'm going to get a picture frame & frame your picture you drew for me & hand it up in my apartment!

I love you very, very much.


*David is living in a state hospital in Wichita Falls now where other male patients give him cigarettes in exchange for putting their privates in his mouth. David will announce this when we pick him up for a visit in the near future, as if it's normal, funny even. You'll tell him not to talk about these things in front of me. He'll still be smiling, his brain separating more from itself every day. And Mom, you won't be going to Houston just yet. You'll reconcile with your own mother first in Greenville, Texas. I'll see you there.

Conversations With The Dead: Austin, TX - March, 1975


Dear Teresa,

Sorry I haven't been able to call you honey, but I just haven't even had the money. I'm in Austin, Texas & I really don't think I have to worry about Sonny anymore. Since I haven't been able to call you and want you to at least be able to write me (so I'll know how you are) at the end of the letter I'll give you my address. Please write, o.k.?

Well, today is David's birthday. I wonder how he's getting along with Charlotte. Why did he decide to go with them, I wonder? I hope he's doing alright.

How have you been (and your cat, ha)? It won't be long now until you'll have a new sister or brother! Now you'll know how Charlotte was when you were born (she was about 8 years old when you were born). It'll be a little different, but not much.

Well honey, I guess this is all. I just got back from an AA meeting, and it's getting kind of late, so guess I'd better get to bed. Be sweet, and please remember I love you, very much.

Love Mother

*Since you're writing from Austin, you must be in Austin State Hospital again. Your handwriting is a bit shaky. Your sentences are awkward. I guess your waitress girlfriend was a bit too much fun and that first drink became many. Yes, Patty is pregnant and Jennifer will soon be born. She's a half-sister, which must be what you mean by "different". I'll last see her in 1989 when she gives me a pink and gold bird pen for Christmas -- two doves fused together -- and then we'll drift apart because she'll always be more Patty than Dad and that marriage is getting rocky now. Patty dreams bad things about Dad, that he chases and hits her. She dreams something terrible almost every night then tells him about the dreams. And David? He's being examined by psychiatrists. Charlotte and Necho took him to the hospital when he started talking to pictures and taking his pants off in public. He went to live with them because Patty wouldn't let him live with us. She thinks he's how I got my lice and says she's afraid of him. I dreamed the other night that he fell off the back of a truck and cracked open his head. Doctors were trying to save him by stuffing the large hole in his skull with dry straw. He's 18 and broken. I think I'm afraid of him, too.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Conversations With The Dead: October, 1974


Dear Teresa,

I'm taking a chance and sending this to your old address just hoping you'll get it. I tried to call you Sunday so I could tell you I was leaving town & couldn't get anyone. Everything happened so fast & I was riding with this girlfriend of mine and had to leave when she wanted to...

I've been having more trouble with Sonny. His son lives in Fort Worth and happened to come in where I was working & I knew it'd only be a matter of time before he showed up because he's been calling Mother & Mother Wise, trying to make them tell him where I was. He just won't believe I'm not comming [sic] back & he's still drinking & seems to think he can make me, from what Mother said. So, this girl that was working where I was, was going to move here, (she had an uncle here that just opened a place, & he needed waitresses & wanted her to work for him) & she said if I wanted to get away before he showed up I could come too, because her uncle needed about 5 waitresses. So, at the last minute I decided I would, for everyones sake. This time, I won't tell anyone where I am, not even Mother, so maybe he'll give up & stop bothering everyone. If he thinks I'm in Fort Worth & seeing you, he might even start calling your daddy, & Patty, & I sure don't want that. I'm the one that married him & it's my problem, no one elses. And if I can keep working (without having to run from him all the time) I'll have enough money to get a divorse [sic]. Her uncle pays real good, & we share an apartment & ride to work together, so I won't be out much money. And we are close enough that I can come up to see you, every few weeks. I hate having to do it this way because I won't get to see you like I want to, but I don't know what else to do right now. I just hope you understand. Sonny's a sick man & he can't help it, but I know he'll try to hurt me & I can't take the chance of him maybe bothering other people just to get at me. He's just not responsible for his actions. But I can call you, & as soon as I make enough money, I'll come up on a Saturday. (I'll let you know when, ahead of time). And your birthday present will be a little late because I'll have to mail it, but I want to call you first, so I'll be sure you'll get it. (I didn't even have enough money to call you last Tuesday night, that's how broke I was, & I won't get paid until Friday, but I'll wait until Monday to call, to give you enough time to get this. I want to be sure you'll get it before I mail it). I hope you like it. I just wish I could have seen you, before I left. I know it'll be 2 or 3 weeks before I can get back, at least, & it seems like it's been forever since I saw you last. But, like I said, I'll call you & we'll make a big day of it, when I do come. O.K.? I promise honey, I'll try to make it all up to you somehow. Things will settle down some day. And I already feel more relaxed, just knowing that there's no way Sonny can possibly know where I am. I was nervous all the time in Fort Worth, wondering when he'd pop up again. And maybe after I get the divorse [sic] he'll have to accept the fact that I really mean it.

I like my job & everyone is real nice. Kathy (the girlfriend) is a lot of fun & really nice.

Well honey, I guess I'll close so I can hurry & get this in the mail & I'll call you Monday (your birthday!) & see if you got this. If you did, then I'll mail your present the same way. I love you very much, & miss you terribly. Be sweet & pray for me.


*I guess I got my birthday wrong. I'm only nine. I'll be ten in a few days. And I do pray for you, Mom. My prayers go up in the shape of a pyramid. You're at the top. I ask God to protect you, keep you safe. Then I pray for my hamster, Ben, and continue on down the list of important people and it takes me forever to finish. I pray that the communists won't invade our country because the films they're showing us at my new Baptist church are about communists shoving bamboo shoots through the ears of people who believe in Jesus. I don't know if I'd admit I believe in Jesus or not. I'm scared either way. And confused.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Conversations With The Dead: Bay, AR May, 1974


Dear Teresa,

Honey, I was so happy when I got your letter, & thank you for the very sweet mother's day card. It really was sweet. And thank you for your pictures. You're so pretty in them. You get prettier every day. And you look so sweet with your hair long. Sonny just had a fit over your picture, & a bigger fit when he found out you cut your hair (ha). He loves long hair. But I've gotten mine cut too. I still had all that hair that they messed up at the beauty shop, on the ends, & I just had to cut it off. I cut it off pretty short, to get all those dead ends off, but will probably let it grow long again now that that's off.

I'm real proud of your grades at school. You've always done real good so keep up the good work. You'll be glad you did when you get to high school. It'll pay off.

I've been awful sick this past week. Didn't even feel like going to church mother's day. I've had the flu, & one of those bad sinus headaches. It's beginning to ease up a little now, but I sure have felt bad. I've been in bed since Saturday.

Well honey, I guess this is all for now. Thanks so much for the card & pictures. I love you very very much. Stay as sweet as you are.

Mother & Sonny

*I remember that picture I sent you, taken at Holy Name Catholic School, blue and gray plaid uniform. I liked my hair long, too. My stepmother cut my hair -- Patty. I got lice from somewhere and after treating my head with whatever noxious solution, she cut and permed my hair. After we took the rollers out the phone rang, so I brushed my newly curled hair while Patty talked on the phone. When I set the brush down, a flurry of little brown bugs scurried away from the bristles. My stepmother began to cry when I told her, pulled me to the kitchen sink and sprayed my head with Raid. She spritzed between sobs. I felt sorry I disappointed her.

And Mom? Sonny likes long hair because he'll need something to pull you around by later on...

Letters From The Dead: Bay, AR May, 1974

Dear Teresa,

Well, I guess you're tickled because school will be out pretty soon. What are you going to do this summer? Do you ever see Charlotte & Necho?

Sonny & I are turning into real farmers (ha). His uncle wanted us to stay here a while & help him to get his cotton planted & I'm learning all about farm life. I've been helping his aunt around the house while he's helping his uncle. His aunt & I planted a big garden & picked strawberries & all of us killed a hog & cut it up & put it in the frezzer [sic] & I've even learned to drive a tractor! You ought to see me. Really tho [sic], I've been enjoying it. Besides doing all that, we cook 3 meals a day (we get up at 4:30) & carry them water out to the field when they're working. We stay busy all the time. It's a good healthy life tho [sic]. Wouldn't mind doing it all the time if we could find us a place.

Guess what? I got my ears pierced. That'll surprise Charlotte. I got me some real pretty earrings. I want to get me some with a little gold cross if I can find some.

Well, I guess this is all the news for right now. Write me & let me know how you are. I love you very much.

Mother & Sonny

*Charlotte is my older sister who married her high school boyfriend at the age of 16. At the time of this writing, she was 18 with two children and soon to be divorced. And FYI, my mother hated getting up that early, sweating, cooking and dirt.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Letters From The Dead: 4/24/74 (Dedman, AR)

Dear Teresa,

How are you doing honey? It's been so long since I've gotten a letter from you. Why haven't you written? I hope you're not hurt or mad at me, because I couldn't come down there like I'd planned. I really couldn't help it honey, and no one was more disappointed than I was. It seems like the harder I try to get there, the harder it gets to make it. Seems like everything that could went wrong this time, so I'm not even going to promise anymore. I'll just wait until the very last minute, to tell you I'm comming [sic].

How is David doing these days? Is he still with Granny? He hasn't written me since before Christmas.

Sonny and I will probably move away from here before to [sic] long. It's fixing to start their tornado weather any day, and as many as we've already had, I don't think we want to stay. Last year in May one came and blew away half of Jonesboro. They're really bad here. But we haven't decided yet just where we do want to go. I imagine we'll go up to Indiana for a couple of weeks, but if they don't have alot [sic] of work up there, we may move back to Texas. I don't think we'd want to live in a big town tho [sic]. I'd rather live in a small town, and yet be close enough to Fort Worth, where we could see you all. Maybe you could even stay with us some, this summer. I really don't want to move to Indiana. It's just to [sic] far from you all, and I don't even get to see you now. I never would get to there. But we'll know what to do, I guess, before long.

Teresa, I love you so very much. Please don't be hurt at me for not getting to come down. I tried my best, believe me. Surely things will change before long so I can be where I can see you. I pray all the time that it will. I don't know why it's had to work out like this, but it's hurt me more than you'll ever know, because I haven't been able to see you. And please, try to get some pictures made for me. I don't have any of you or David. O.K.?

Well honey, I guess this is all. Please try to write me once in a while, so I'll know you're alright. I love you, and don't ever forget it.

Mother & Sonny

*My mother had just married Sonny Whitlatch, a man she met in Alcoholics Anonymous. They promptly moved to Dedman, Arkansas from Fort Worth, Texas. A year prior she'd left my father after 17 years of marriage (years of depression, drug and alcohol addiction, and suicide attempts). My father divorced her. At the writing of this letter she was 34 years old; I was 10.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Letters From The Dead

There's a brown legal envelope stored in a white cabinet in my office. Inside the envelope are letters postmarked from the '70s, almost a decade's worth. The letters are from my mother. She wrote them while on her "walk-about". She wrote me from various places she lived -- friend's houses, halfway houses, hospitals. Sometimes her handwriting was shaky. Sometimes she wrote as a mother. Sometimes she wrote as a child. She'd ask for my opinion, and I'd feel silly. I was ten. What can a ten year old tell a thirty-four year old? She'd tell me about new men in her life which was always a doomed thing for her -- relationships. She'd meet these guys at Alcoholics Anonymous and their demons plus her demons just made a hotter hell. It never worked out. She'd tell me about brawls she got into or that she'd seen God while she was in the hospital. She often complained about money, how she didn't have enough to see me or even call. Letters were all we had for nearly a decade.

We saw each other once in a while but not often, and there were times she'd say she was coming then something would come up and she wouldn't show. She once disappeared for three months -- no letters or phone calls. Then when she did come around, it happened fast, like a phone call from out of nowhere and, "Can I come pick you up in an hour?" My heart skipped around like I was meeting a lover or something. Complete longing.

I read her letters every few years. I draw a map of her life as I read, rebuild her memory, start the tape of us. It takes a while to hear the soft lilt of her words, to see her frosted mouth speaking. I study the paper she used, pretty stationary or cheap thin white pages. I put the pages to my nose to look for her scent. I follow the path of her ink, place my pale hand on hers as it writes. She crossed her "T's" with a diagonal line through the base. I've never known anyone else before or since my mother who does that. Her other letters were loopy and straight up vertical. They look like lost children to me. Like her.

I think I'll post a few of these letters here. No harm. Her voice is a ghost now. She's been gone twenty-six years. It's strange to hear her voice again, which makes me feel like a child again. It's emotionally dangerous because that longing returns and a heat behind my eyes. My heart races and I'm ten again, she's called to say she's on her way so I pack a bag and wait on the front porch. But she never shows up.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Dumb Thoughts

I have absolutely nothing to say but decided to show up at the page and see what comes out. Often ideas spring up from nothing but not always. And the best way to open the ground is to write about something that happened today. Okay, today I lost my vision for a moment.

I was sitting at my computer and suddenly the words weren't as clear and I mean suddenly. I immediately tried to think of causes and decided the problem could be my imagination or something in my eye so I blinked a few times and peered harder at my computer screen. I squinted then opened wide, several times like an idiot. Same smudgy vision. I didn't have time to clean my glasses right away because my 3 year-old was climbing up my leg, down my back. I considered momentarily that I'd had a small stroke or something vascular in my eye had popped and was leaking rivers in my eyeball -- I can be neurotic. But my son was all over me and I had to get on with the business of life so I dismissed these thoughts and turned off my monitor.

An hour or so later I returned to my computer and noticed my vision was still blurry. I took off my glasses to clean them, first the left lens and then the ri---. Oh....the right lens was missing.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Remedial Parenthood

Richard Bach wrote in Illusions, "You teach best what you most need to learn." Frankly, that scares me.

I've noticed that with my second set of kids, born almost a quarter century after the first set, it's getting easier to teach them things. They still grate on my nerves just like the first set, but I have a sliver of additional patience now, and when I offer some snippet of wisdom or a how-to, it flies out of my mouth like it's been waiting backstage for a long time. Perhaps the information comes from long ago archives when I did all this parenting stuff before, or maybe I've forgotten most of it and am making things up as I go along. I have no clue.

It's a different world than it was in 1987 when my first child was born. I'll have to revise the curriculum. Back then, 6th grade was still part of elementary school. Now it's part of junior high (which was once called "middle school"). Ninth grade is part of high school now though it was once part of middle/junior high. A child's success in Kindergarten is now said to determine his or her success throughout the school years. I don't know why they have to keep raising bars and lowering thresholds. And the tests. Those keep changing, too, and the severity of their import. No wonder kids take Prozac these days.

My youngest daughter starts Pre-K this year and I bought her new backpack and uniforms the other day. It dawned on me that I have at least fourteen more years of waiting for kids to finish school, of intensive parenthood. When it's all said and done, I'll have watched at least 24 school years go by, 24 years of homework, 24 years of parent-teacher conferences, 24 years of shopping for new school clothes and supplies. This wake-up made me panic some. Will I survive all this again?

I vividly remember longing for a reprieve, for the day I wouldn't have to worry about kid's grades and school performance anymore and here I've signed up for it all again. No wonder people called me crazy. So what was I thinking when I signed up for parenthood again?

It could very well be that I didn't learn my lessons the first time. This might be remedial parenthood. My older kids grew up fine, but maybe that was beginner's luck. That was just a drill. This is the real and final test of my skills as a parent. I have no excuses now, can't shuck responsibility and say, "This is my first set and I'm clueless." No more rehearsals or the excuse of ignorance.

So life might just be saying to me as one who writes about life and is in the midst of remedial parenthood, You have a lot to learn. I've been told that more than once. It didn't hurt when I was young. As I've gotten older, it stings a little.

So are all parent/teachers forever learners? And do forever learners teach/learn parenting to the grave? When will I get a break?

The expression, "Learn by Heart" comes from a mistaken analysis of anatomical functions made by the ancient Greeks. They believed that the seat of thought was in the heart. As a species we've made lots of mistakes. We even hang on to illogical expressions because they're "cute" or because we're fond of what's familiar. Maybe I've become a fan of lifelong learning, of living as a child with children.

I'll be almost 60 when my last child graduates from high school. I've learned, at least, that parenthood doesn't end there. I may only be an adjunct teacher once my kids leave home but hey, I'll take any rest I can get.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Writer Bum

I've always had a thing for writer bums, the sort who drink in a crusty bar all day and seem to know the meaning of life but can't manage their own (think Henry Miller). He's the sort of guy who can't hold down a regular job, who's done it all, from taming lions to dressing as a Macy's Christmas elf. He works six to eight months then gets himself fired because he just doesn't belong there between walls and concrete. These guys seem to be onto something, to have a finger on the pulse of what's true and important. But they have no car, bad credit, and can't pay the light bill.

The success of Henry Miller makes me wonder about the fate of brilliant writers who have no money or support. It makes me wonder what's most important in life - the 9 to 5 grind and a nice house or divine-quality thoughts and words - and why we don't protect and support starving artists more. Miller had help along the way, people like Anais Nin who provided money, praise and "extra" things he needed. She and others recognized his gift and protected it, facilitated it.

We seem to live on two planes, the work-and-pay-bills plane, and the heart-of-truth plane. They don't intersect exactly. They bump into each other from time to time and the artist who must hold down a day job longs for those sacred chance bumps. The heart-of-truth plane is where the writer bums go and if they can't toggle between that world and the other, they die there or give it all up.

I tried to rent the movie Barfly today and Blockbuster didn't have it. It wasn't even available to order. Someone recently mentioned it and got me thinking about bums and the writers who were bums. The writer bums have a unique opportunity in the world as a "non-entity" before they're "discovered". He's almost invisible - a fly on the wall or an edge-bird making notes about the crazy flock he left behind. No one expects anything from him, no one tugs on his wallet, hem or brain - except his muse. He has no time constraints or particular hours to keep. Ideally he's open and wondering, like a child traveling on a pollen grain.

Maybe I romanticize too much. Maybe not.

I think like a writer bum sometimes or rather, live on that heart-of-truth plane when no one is watching or tugging on my hem. I initiate more conversations with strangers, take longer walks, drive new routes or visit places I've never been before. I ask more questions with less fear of the answers. A door in the universe seems to open - one that's usually closed or pretends to be, and I experience more connections and synchronicity than I do when I'm tied to my everyday - the kids and dishes and laundry.

The day job is suffering lately because I'm writing more. I look around at all the mess - towers of plates and pans in the kitchen sink, mountains of dirty laundry on the utility room floor, colorful toys scattered all over the den - and I feel a deep sense of satisfaction.

I am elsewhere.

I'm engaged in that writer bum world where it's all about the words and the truth and where the universe wants to take me. I don't want to be intimate with concrete, laundry and electric bills - not today. I want to wonder on my pollen grain, see where the wind takes us. There are so many strangers to meet, questions to ask, words to write before earth and concrete tug on my hem again. I don't want to do or be what anybody says I should do or be.

"Toggle," the pollen grain says, "Toggle between the dreams, truth and earthbound rules."

Okay, but the laundry can wait.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Immortal Frog

Her birthday is tomorrow, 4/21. She would be 45, six months younger than I am, a Taurus to my Scorpio; they're opposite signs on the astrological wheel which might partially explain our immediate attraction to one another.

Her dad called her Frog, her mom called her Dierdre, her friends called her Deedee. My mom called her Deedle-Dee and loved her like a daughter.

I met Deedee in high school, 1980. I could only see the back of her head in first period gym class as we sat on the floor awaiting Coach Ferris to give us our lame instructions for the day. I noticed the thick drape of wavy brown hair cascading down her back. She was entertaining a group of girls, talking with her hands. I remember smelling the clean scent of Agree shampoo and wasn't sure if it was that or something else that made her seem so familiar. It felt like being home.

We spent the early years hanging out at the malls, going to Astroworld. We skipped school a few times to play on Galveston's East Beach, arriving at the building on time and meeting in the gym before making ourselves free of all authority. No one ever questioned our sunburns.

We shared our secrets regarding first boyfriends, first kisses, our lost virginity. I was there for her during the storms of her parents' frequent separations. She spent all night with me when my mother died and we were both too scared to sleep.

She married before me after high school. She devoted herself to being a stay-at-home-mom. I attended x-ray school then divided my time equally between work and family. As the years passed, our friendship deepened and grew to a healthier union than either of our marriages. We moved as a team through losses, family dramas, financial woes and the constant inner struggle to move forward as an individual without leaving anybody behind.

I talked to her on the phone almost every day, usually for hours. We were food for the other, a security blanket and touchstone. She was Lucy to my Ethel, Laverne to my Shirley. We joked about pulling a "Thelma & Louise" if things got too bad, neither of us afraid of the unknown as long as we were together. But because she was such a sure thing in my life, I'm afraid I sometimes took her for granted, returned her calls later than others because I always knew she'd be there for me. She - we, could wait.

We attended the Renaissance Festival every year. We took long road trips to Kentucky to see her family. One trip in particular was a frantic attempt to reach the bedside of a dying relative - Uncle Niles. We drove day and night to get to Bardstown, Kentucky in time for Deedee to say her goodbyes and fulfill her mother's unequivocal imperative, "Deirdre, if you've ever tried to do anything in your life, you better try to do this."

I joined Deedee on the trip to buffer the tension she felt around her family. It was also an opportunity to get away from life as we knew it, to be more ourselves as we traveled away from the "every day". But despite driving without rest, we were a couple of hours too late. Uncle Niles had died only moments after we checked into our hotel. When we arrived at Deedee's mother's house where the family had gathered, we were greeted with cold stares. Our tardiness and the surprise "guest" in tow would set the stage for a humiliating blow-up.

It happened one night following a long talk around the kitchen table between Deedee and her three older siblings. Somewhere in the conversation the old tensions began to melt as the siblings laughed together for the first time in years. It seemed appropriate, I thought, to sing the Barney theme song (I love you/You love me/We're a happy family...). It was about this moment that Deedee's mother, Elizabeth, walked into the kitchen. She was already seething over my presence, my lack of relationship to the deceased. Her daughter had come to fulfill a duty, not make a vacation out of it. Elizabeth directed her anger at me.

"Is that what your family does when somebody dies? Sing about a goddamn purple dinosaur?"

She stormed off to her bedroom. Deedee ran after her to explain the context of the moment. After failing to settle the matter we left Elizabeth's house, both of us crying before we'd even backed out of the driveway. The trip back to the hotel was a quiet ride along dark tree-lined roads. I watched out the window as pines spun like faceless ballerinas with too many arms. We talked all night once in the hotel room, ate a whole package of Reeses miniature peanut butter cups. As always, the problem at hand crumbled to dust when the spasmodic laughter took over. I told her when the laughing became like the snorts and sobs of a choking man, "This is adding years to our lives."

Together we were stronger, impervious, immortal.

Everything was resolved the following day. The late hour and stress of her brother's death had made Elizabeth edgy, at least that's what we chose to assume. Once Uncle Niles was resting in his earthen plot, we returned home.

In May of 1998 I realized Deedee had just turned 33, a birthday I'd somehow missed - a first. The age had been a rough patch for many. My mother left my father at 33, I was leaving a husband; my brother David, John Belushi, Chris Farley and even Jesus died at 33. It was an odd thought process that led to an equally odd warning, "Be careful being 33. Bad things happen to us." She just laughed and reminded me of all the death poetry I'd written in high school.

I took my two children for a haircut the next day. I was feeling exhausted and the black and white floor tiles seemed a good place to rest my eyes, a place to stare at nothing. Then suddenly the air was sucked from the room. The tiles moved, black squares separating from white. I told myself the hallucination was due to exhaustion and my impending divorce.

All the way home I tried to place my empty feelings, the strange compelling vacuum that felt unrelated to my marriage ending. When I entered my house I saw the answering machine blinking. It was another friend asking me to call her right back. When I returned the call I learned that Deedee and her family had been in a car accident, that Deedee was life-flighted to Herman Hospital.

I dialed the hospital number and spoke to an emergency room attendant who told me Deedee had been discharged already. I was confused. "Oh don't worry," he said, "It happens all the time - people who are life-flighted sometimes walk right out of here."

The vacuum persisted. I called the friend back, too scared to cry, "I can't feel her."


On the day of Deedee's funeral I was surrounded by packed boxes. Movers had been scheduled in advance to transport these boxes to my new apartment in Seabrook, ironically in the same hour as the funeral would be scheduled in Friendswood. My compass felt erased. I needed her, her reassurance that I was doing the right thing; I needed more laughter to turn my doubts to dust. I couldn't navigate the space alone.

I sat in a back row at the funeral home while waiting for the service to begin. Elizabeth saw me crying and leaned down to ask, "You gonna be okay?"

I just shook my head.


I remember Deedee when I hear a Ronnie Milsap song. She's one of the pleasant ghosts rattling in the wide halls of Clear Lake High School and along the quiet streets of Quail Walk apartments where we once lived. She watches her children sleep though they're mostly grown now.

She's a constant ghost in my head.

Every Halloween I see her dressed as a "witch" with blacked-out teeth and a face painted celadon green. Sometimes one of our memories steps forward sans any triggers at all. They all want their turn. I don't argue with them.

There's a picture of us taken during a trip to Chicago. We're wearing shorts and enormous smiles, leaning in together as the wind takes up our hair in every mad direction. Deedee is pointing to the center of her forehead, a secret code indicating our inseparability: You're right here.

I am.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Apologizing To Richmond Daisies

I spent half of yesterday driving around the oldest parts of Richmond, Texas, down its narrow streets named after numbers, alphabet letters and big Texas cities like Dallas and Austin.
Richmond will be my new home in about three years when we build a house on what is now just 1.3 acres of tall oak trees, pink Buttercups and a blanket of yellow Butterfly Daisies.

I'm trying to learn the town now, imagine how I'll fit in, where I'll shop for groceries, wash my car or spend free time. Richmond has a much slower pace than the newer parts of Sugar Land, TX where I now live; no one seems in a hurry to get to work, school, or tomorrow. Richmond residents seem less concerned with how they dress or talk and more focused on just being, moving through their days without showy adornment. It's not uncommon to see a man in dirty overalls at Richmond's Newfirst Bank. At any bank in Sugar Land this would be an anomaly.

The Richmond buildings are short and many of the businesses are run out of old clapboard houses - chiropractor's offices, a few dentists and attorneys. I counted seven churches and two schools in just a few blocks.

The residential homes are heavily shaded by trees older than I am, and the worn lived-in look of these houses comforted me like a grandmother's warm hands kneading dough or digging deep in the rich soil of a healthy garden. The homes seemed to possess a wisdom newer homes lack, or maybe what I was seeing was more like a soul. Whatever it was, it urged me to keep driving down the Avenue H's, I's, J's, K's, and then down 1st, 2nd 3rd and 4th streets. I passed an old-fashioned barber shop with a red, white and blue spinning swirl. I saw two men hanging a banner for a bakery debuting next week out of a freshly painted pink house with a cupcake motif. There are businesses with names I've never heard of - Bob's Spirits, Jenny's Office Supplies, Guy Groceries - that sell what the Office Depot, Michaels, Kroger and Specs all sell back in Sugar Land. Richmond feels like a place happily stuck in time, maybe fifty or more years back, and I like that. I felt safe, in sync with their rhythms. In "faster" places I feel lost and dizzy in a disorienting wind that turns me around.

Sugar Land has streets with names such as Palm Royale, Commonwealth, Sweetwater. Along Palm Royale the lots alone are $1,000,000. The houses are magnificent, something you'd see on Lives of the Rich & Famous with tremendous lion fountains and large circular drives partially obscured by imposing iron gates. These fancier homes lack the inviting warmth I get from the Richmond community. Palm Royale makes me feel cold, shut out, detached. The residents in these multi-million dollar homes probably feel that way, too, sometimes. I doubt they'd ever borrow sugar from a neighbor or have a block party with beer kegs and fold-up lawn chairs. And maybe it's just me, but too large an enclosed space is more like a museum than a "home". Even the warmest company in an enormous enclosed space is swallowed up by the static gap and risk of getting lost beneath too-high ceilings.

The part of Sugar Land I prefer is over the railroad tracks which is more like Richmond - old and inviting, soulful. They both have the charm of the elderly, a seasoned warmth and richness not found in the more "self-conscious" versions.

My new street in Richmond will be have a name related to the measured movement of music, dance or speech. The name describes the inherent peaceful rhythm in all forms of life, a soothing heartbeat disrupted only by fear or an artificial environment. The street's musical sound is almost a song itself and inspires me to take long walks among the wise oaks and fragile sprouts of color that bend with the soft breath of a land nature intended to be left alone. I'll have to apologize to the lovely Daisies soon buried beneath a house I hope to love slowly into a home.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Loving Ghosts & Strangers

Love has been defined into pieces, broken, mutilated. It's a gift denounced and mispronounced like a foreign tongue. It must know how God feels.

I've wondered lately more about how love works and less about its particular chemistry or duration. I want to understand more of what forms it takes, how it moves.

This curiosity is due to my noticing frequent BURSTS of "love" for others, near- or perfect strangers when something they've created causes a warm stirring within me, a feeling which ranges from deep enduring appreciation to a brief obsession. I don't have to be physically near the source. I only need exposure to a person's mind which can initially arise from words or any form of artful expression, but once the connection is made, some essences are suddenly free to move about and can appear to me from out of nowhere.

I can feel a person's mind/soul in a painting or essay, a photograph they're in or connected to, an inanimate object they've touched or a song. The feeling can be so strong for these minds I hardly "know" that suddenly their essence envelopes and inspires me to speak out loud to an otherwise empty room, "I love you." It makes no sense.

This phenomenon leads me to believe that love is ubiquitous, a ghostly ethereal breath which flows in and around us when the portals of our souls are open. It is not as a ping pong ball exchanged between a mere two, but an intoxicating vapor infusing welcoming space, free to those who expand comprehension of this love to "All" rather than the weak and fragile "I".

We'll never place this immortal vapor in a jar or hang it on a wall; it is as God has been described, an energy with no circumference but a center everywhere.

Maybe these individuals to whom I feel an immediate connection are other like minds, soul mates, or mirrors of shared traits. In this everywhere of love, these likenesses can share the same space in an instant despite the sometimes great physical distance between them. As Richard Bach once said about loving others, "There's no such place as far away."

The feeling transcends all space/time because I've shared this euphoria with lost loves - a mother, brother, best friend and others - those lost only due to a physical disconnect, which seems to intensify the spiritual connection.

I've felt it when reading the words of those long dead, Sylvia Plath entering my dilated pupils as the intuitive twinge of her husband's infidelity is finally confirmed, "The truth loves me."  I felt it with Henry Miller's admonition to "Forget yourself" in order to be fully present.   I felt it as Michel de Montaigne gripped my soul from his 16th century post, "There is, beyond all my reasoning, and beyond all that I can specifically say, some inexplicable power of destiny that brought about our union."

Invisible limitless transit seems the preferred mode of passage for ubiquitous love - a spiritual plane where our souls move about freely, appearing anywhere sans time. Love has no limits, it cannot die; it needs no words, airplanes or maps. Love knows what it knows without need for proof or reason as it travels along messengers called you and me, tiny familiar posts connecting along the path of forever. This energy surges through us all.

And I love the feeling of being carried away.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Funeral Faux Pas

My sister is almost nine years older than I am. We are opposites and often refer to ourselves as the "country mouse" (her) and "city mouse" (me). We've always gotten along, mostly because I'm affable and forgiving and this allows her to be her grumpy revolutionary self. And I love her, just as a crotchety old man's character is often more lovable because of its rough edges, because of what they hide. We all know that underneath that roughness is a soft sensitive pulp.

My sister recently brought up something that happened at our mother's funeral 26 years ago. My mother had lived out most of her life between two cities, and the plan was to have the funeral ceremony in Houston, Texas where she and I lived, then bury her in Fort Worth, Texas near her parents and other family.

I was eighteen at the time and devastated because my mother had been a troubled soul, in and out of my life, and I was very protective of her. My love felt as much like longing, as if she were a lover always walking away. In her last few years I felt she'd finally returned for good and I left Fort Worth to be with her, to enjoy her presence as the mother I always knew she could be.

Her death was a blow it would take a long time to recover from, and the thought of watching her body placed in the ground was more than I could handle.

I followed the other mourners from Jack Rowe Funeral Home to Interstate 45 which led straight through to Fort Worth. About 45 minutes into the drive I decided I couldn't do it. I couldn't see my mother buried then leave her there and come home, to the city that had been "our" home. I turned around.

Several hours later I got a call from my sister's husband asking why I hadn't come. I couldn't put my reasons into words at the time and felt terrible because my absence not only hurt my sister but disappointed her. This moment was what my sister wanted to remind me of recently, because she's never forgiven me for it.

I'm long past eighteen now and looking back, I'm embarrassed at my immaturity then. I also understand that the girl I was then had lost her mother many times over the years, had watched her hero fall victim to depressions and suicide attempts on several occasions. That girl wasn't ready to see the person she loved most in this world dropped in a black hole and covered up forever.

My mother's body wasn't found for more than twelve hours so her casket was closed which meant I hadn't seen her face for three days. As mourners often do, I fantasized that she was still in this world, maybe as a conscious spirit or an angel. I'm not sure I gave my wishes words, I just felt she was more alive than dead. How could it have seemed any different? I'd loved her for 18 years and she'd been dead for only 3 days. I wanted to argue the matter, deep down, change roles with my sister and be the revolutionary, albeit a passive one. I would deny the death had happened, put off its reality a little longer by avoiding its visual finality.

I don't think I could ever make my sister understand these feelings. She's a take-charge, no-shit girl, a practical warrior who occasionally fights for fun. I feel too much, think too much, and she would consider my excuses soft and selfish. She'd say I need harder edges, a stronger shell.

Of course, I'm older and wiser now, and I would make different choices. I would go to the burial and I would stand there and watch. I would hate it but it's what we're supposed to do and there are others to think about, support. I've been seasoned by other funerals and I know how fragile the dynamic is, how so many are barely holding on and often times our roles are reversed. Maybe that's why my sister is still angry; maybe she needed me there at that moment her soft pulp was exposed.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Last Will & True Testimony

I'm most comfortable writing for no one. I've kept a journal now for 36 years, a private room for just me, paper, and a fast pen.

I only recently considered what I want to happen to my many stacks of journals when I'm gone. Do I want others to see them? Everything is in there. I'm ashamed of some things, embarrassed, even shocked after all these years at some of what I've thought and done (mostly in my 20's but there are a few big blunders in my 30's). It's not that my sins are that awful, I just want to be seen as better than some slivers of my history make me look. If the eyes of others are allowed into my private room, even when I'm gone, is this how I want to be remembered?

Humans aren't considered perfect creatures yet we want others to think we are, or close. We're relieved that our thoughts aren't carried over a loud speaker. But put them in writing and they're there forever.

I'm writing out the fine details of my Last Will & Testament and I recently asked my oldest daughter what she wants. "Well, some personal things and definitely your journals." My daughter wants them? I have to consider this carefully, imagine her cozy by some fireplace one wintry night reading my long gone world. Would she be shocked to learn that I once __________? Or about the fact that I've considered ___________? How about the time I was drunk and ___________? It's all there.

She's an open-minded girl and not a saint herself, yet I'm her mother and held to a different standard. Even as adult children, it's hard to consider our parents as human and just as messed up as anyone else.

The purpose of my journals was to record history - mine, yours', the world's, but it was also a workbook meant to sort things out. The best way to untangle a mess is to study it for a while, really look at it. An ugly knot in the brain can be written into eloquent streams of consciousness, logical answers and real solutions sprouting from the deep dark bowls of our own minds. I've sat down with pen, paper and a weight of darkness only to emerge three pages later enlightened. Some of my worst mistakes reveal the best and deepest lessons learned, the hardest-won wisdom. I will take these gems to the grave with me if I don't allow my children know the whole me, the fallible me.

I owe them my best and my worst.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Is Thomas A Man Or A Woman?

I read a news story today about the 2nd pregnant man who will give birth in February 2010. He's a transgendered male who is married to another transgendered male. His name escapes me, but it's not really important. The 1st pregnant man, pregnant now for the 2nd time, is Thomas Beatie. He's also a transgendered male. I remember his name because I'm more familiar with his story. Because I'm more familiar with his story and he comes across as a likable person, I have some empathy for him, though I still sometimes want to call "him" a "her".

Is Thomas Beatie a man or a woman?

I've heard Thomas Beatie speak. He's intelligent. He articulates his thoughts well. He was once a very beautiful woman and now he's not a bad-looking man.

As I listened to him speak I kept asking myself, Is he mentally right? Could he have actually been born the wrong sex? Is changing what we were at birth wrong? Is altering our looks with surgery wrong? Is wearing makeup wrong? Having our tubes tied? Having a vasectomy? Are you automatically crazy if you want to be the opposite sex?

Thomas Beatie is a person. Let's just assume he's sane - he sounded sane during TV and magazine interviews. I actually liked some of the thoughts he shared. He's thoughtful, sensitive. If he were my neighbor or someone I dealt with frequently, I think I would grow to care about him. I would protect him if I loved him - love is definitely the simplest way to bypass prejudice. I would be partial to his wants and needs, to whatever made him happy as long as no one got hurt. I don't really care what sex he is or was. It doesn't matter to me.

Is it wrong for him to bring children into the world? Will the children be taunted? Tormented? Confused? Traumatized?

Will they need some sort of therapy one day to help them cope with having a daddy that was also their mommy?

Well, MOST kids are taunted, tormented, confused, traumatized from one thing or another. Will the children of Thomas Beatie suffer any more than you or I did as a children? I dealt with some pretty awful stuff. Many of us did. And my parents were in no way as intelligent or articulate as Thomas Beatie appears to be. Thomas Beatie may turn out to be a better parent than most.

Just another thing we can't be certain about.

People these days can get a hand transplant, or a heart, lung, liver, face. Yes, a face. That would disturb me much more than a sex change, but still, I could get used to it. We can also grow a baby in a test tube or clone our favorite pets. Is this stuff wrong?

So back to the original question: Is Thomas a man or a woman?

I don't know either.