Things I Remember

My earliest memory is set in a living room I don’t otherwise recognize outside of old photographs. I sat in a cardboard box, and my dad pulled it around on the carpet like a car or a spaceship or like the little brown box it was.

I remember my dad’s drunk friend showing up every Christmas as Santa Claus, complete with a giant bag full of stuff. He would always pose for photos and pull out a couple gifts before staggering outside. I believed in Santa far longer than I should have.

I remember being infuriated with my stepdad and storming off to my room. I remember shouting “Shut Up” at the door, accidentally teaching my baby brother those same words. I remember frantically trying to get him to forget them.

I remember my stepdad flinging a briefcase down a hallway and catching my mother in the square of her back.

I remember my stepdad hosting a charity drive for poor children for Christmas and how I became Santa Claus for those kids. I wonder if they believed in Santa longer than they should have, too.

I remember my dad taking me on a shopping spree at Toys R Us. I remember how he let me break the spending cap. I remember how he smelled of sweat when he came home from work and hugged me tight, and how much I loved it.

I remember how he swore at me as I begged him to get up from my best friend’s lawn where he had drunkenly passed out in the middle of the day, and how he still swore at me as the ambulance loaded him in.

I remember the drunk, angry voicemail he left me weeks ago.

I remember finding out he adopted me despite knowing I was the product of an affair, and how he did his best to push his demons aside to try to be a father to me while his relationships crumbled.

I remember finding out I was adopted, on Valentine’s Day, days after losing my virginity, days after being broken up with.

I remember the way my grandmother (adopted) paused while getting milk out of the fridge when I told her my mom said my dad wasn’t my dad. I remember her confirming it. I remember every second of the bike ride to the mall to the only friends I had.

I remember telling them, “Well, I’m a bastard,” and my friends saying, “Well, yeah,” before realizing what I was saying.

I remember wanting to kill myself for the first time. I was in elementary school.

I remember the first drink I ever had. I was twelve years old, staying at my stepdad’s place to visit my little brother and little sister. I snuck up to the kitchen, to the OFF LIMITS liquids. I picked the bottle I liked most, a beautiful blue bottle of Bombay Sapphire gin. I remember filling a paper cup with it and trying to drink it like water and feeling like I was dying as it went down my throat. I remember gagging and coughing into the sink and drinking water straight from the faucet. I remember not being able to drink gin again for a decade.

I remember writing my biological father a letter when I was 16. I remember the letter he wrote back, though I lost it, and I should care, but I don’t, but I really do? I remember my mother coming up to my date and me at my brother’s birthday party. “He wants to meet you, but only after a paternity test. But he doesn’t want to pay for the test. I don’t know what to tell you, Jered, but if he’s not your father, I don’t know who the fuck is.” I remember my date taking my hand at that, and I remember falling in love for the first time.

I remember. I remember being bullied for liking comic books, and I remember how bitter I was when comic book movies became regular box office record breakers because now it was popular to like nerdy things. I remember 7th grade and breaking the arm of a kid who picked on me. I felt nothing.

I remember frantically running down the stairs as my (adopted, though I didn’t know it at the time and though it has never changed much in the grand scheme of things, I’m doubly irritated that he leaves angry drunk voicemails for me now) dad tried to escape my abusive stepmother. I remember how I didn’t see either of them for years, and how they put each other in prison, and how they moved to Belize, and how she died and I felt nothing because she was horrible to my grandparents, and because she once tried to gouge my dad’s eye out with a key. I remember how she broke his nose with a lamp while he slept. But she was his soulmate. I get it even while it makes no sense.

I remember moving to Los Angeles with no place to live, no job, no friends but the two men I left with, and hardly any money. I remember thinking I had the world in the palm of my hand. I remember my grandmother.

I remember my grandmother.

I remember how she always blamed an addiction or a circumstance and never a person. I remember when you knew she was frustrated to the point of tears, because she swore, and nothing hurt me more than hearing her swear. I remember her being the embodiment of Christianity, spoiling Christianity for me because I don’t know that I’ve ever met anyone else who had an unshakeable, pure, unconditionally loving nature the way that she did. I remember saying at the church, at her memorial service, that she was the Christian Jesus wanted people to be and that no one else present could come close.

I remember the phone call when I found out she’d had a hard attack, and the last 30 seconds I ever got to speak to her, and how the last thing I told her was a lie: that my books were best-sellers, that I was flush with money, that I was going to be just fine, because I remember, too, that even on her death bed she was more concerned with the well-being of others.

God, I miss her so much.

I remember my grandfather and how he hated driving, and how he was a low-key road-rager. I remember how every time I was about to step out of the front door, he told me to be one of the good guys, and I’ve tried. I remember that my grandmother and I had it out a lot, but it was when my grandfather got mad at me and expressed his disappointment that I felt I had failed the most.

I remember when I was moving to Los Angeles and my grandmother was fretting because my plan was quarter-boiled that my grandfather told me he was proud of me because his children never took advantage of their natural talents and I was trying, at least.

I remember my sophomoric graduation speech. I remember winning Prom King, and I remember desperately clinging to that because I’ve never felt I deserved it, and because it felt for years like proof that people thought I was worth something after years of thinking I wasn’t worth anything.

I remember being broke in Los Angeles. A Canadian lighting tech groupie bought me two-for-one tacos from Jack in the Box so I could eat. I remember taking a British woman to the beach, and vomiting because I was hungover, and burying that vomit in the dirt because I was a 21 year old moron. I don’t think she saw me. She might read this, though.

I remember being broke in Los Angeles and how $25 was two weeks worth of food. Two-for-one cans of pork and beans. I remember my surrogate Colombian family who rented me a room occasionally knocking on the door for homemade food, because they were some of the best people I have ever met.

I remember falling in love in Los Angeles. I remember the first time she told me she loved me, when I was standing between her legs while she sat on a pool table in a bar, just before I left to pick up my friend and bring him out with us. I remember how embarrassed she was at letting it slip, and how she refused to take it back. I remember the weight of her head on my chest as she told me she saw us together for a long time. I remember our terrible break-up. I remember how she told me I wasn’t the guy she thought I was.

I haven’t been in a genuine relationship since, though I remember missing out on some genuinely amazing women.

I remember falling in love. One. Two. Three. Four. Five times, and having so much goddamn love besides.

I remember wanting to kill myself at 22. I remember writing my first book instead, and how I emailed my outline to my Advanced Placement Language and Composition teacher and how he said he thought it might make one solid book, and how it turned into a complex, sprawling half-a-million-words trilogy.

I remember having a fling with a woman in Denver that I thought could be it. I remember finding out it wasn’t. I remember writing my fourth book, one I had never planned on writing, one that I didn’t enjoy, and I remember publishing it, and I remember people seeming to love it while I hated it. I remember not feeling like I got closure at all.

I remember fucking up. A lot.

I remember crying. A lot.

I remember wanting to end it.

I haven’t.

I remember the first time someone asked me for an autograph. I remember the first time someone asked me for writing advice. I remember the first time someone asked me how to get through the day.

I remember the first time she told me she loved me. And the first time she did. And then when she did. And her. Her, also.

I remember realizing that none of them probably did, and that maybe I’ve never been loved.

But I’ve been read. And heard. And experienced, for better or for worse.

I remember every plane ride. To different states, to different countries. I remember every bed, air mattress, futon, couch, and floor I’ve slept on. I remember basically being homeless for two years.

I remember drinking a bottle of 99 Bananas and a bottle of Jack Daniels (right up until I don’t) and sobbing into my knees and passing out on a floor when I found out my grandfather had passed.

I can’t quite shake that one. I called a woman a bitch who didn’t deserve it. I’ve done a lot of terrible things.

I remember looking at myself in the mirror. Tired. Drunk. On drugs. Filled with hope. I remember writing poetry for people. I remember writing poetry for myself. I remember making love. I remember fucking.

I remember going to Red Lodge, Montana and going through thousands of photos in my deceased grandparents’ house and realizing with fullness that they adopted, essentially, a fourth child to raise to adulthood after having their own separate life raising three kids. I remember feeling like I was an outsider, then, undeserving of a family who never planned on but always accepted me. I’ve remembered damn near everything.

Damn near every awful, shameful, accomplished,hopeful, well-intentioned, mistaken, loving, intimate, selfish, charitable, cruel thing that I’ve done. I’ve remembered. I remember.

My mind and my memory never shut

The

Fuck

Up.

“Be one of the good guys.” Bompa, the world is a hard place. I’m just trying to be the best guy I can.

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The Day I Found Out I Was Adopted

First things first, the extremely talented comedian Jessica Michelle Singleton released her debut album last night and it already hit #1 on the iTunes comedy list. I highly recommend you buy it so you have something to laugh at after this depressing fucking story.

iTunes: Please. Don’t. Leave. Me.
Amazon: Please. Don’t. Leave. Me.
Google Play: Please. Don’t. Leave. Me.

Also, I wrote this last night:

“You know, I’m in love with love. I’m in love with falling in love, with that rush that comes from gazing into someone’s eyes, that soft silence before a passionate kiss. I’m in love with the ache of missing someone. I’m in love with inside jokes and surprises and long days spent in bed doing nothing but talking and being wrapped around and through each other. I’m in love with the idea of writing something that’s going to make a woman grin or blush or both or look up to the sky and just repeat the words in her mind.

I’m in love with love. And Lord knows, should their be a Lord or Historian knows – and there should be a Historian – that I spend many a night in the broken, jagged, mocking, echoing remnants of love and it’s a deeper death there, but it diminishes not at all my love for the first time he musters the courage to take her hand, to say her name in his throat instead of off his lips, to the first time he sheds self-consciousness and forgets reality outside of he and her.

I will always, forever, doubtless and without hesitation be in love with love.”

That has nothing to do with the rest of this post, but I thought it turned out well and it’s been a while since I shared anything sappy with my blog followers, so I figured – it being Valentine’s Day and all – that I’d post it here.

Now, I’m not a big fan of Valentine’s Day. I think it’s commercialized nonsense. I think it’s created a ridiculous expectation that gifts should be given or that this is THE DAY to really express your love when I’ve always been of the belief that you should regularly be  showing that affection and surprising your partner with little things. I could also very much be biased because I’m not good at relationships and I’ve found myself single on February 14th more often than not.

Or maybe it’s because 12 years ago today is when I found out I was adopted and so while everyone else is opening their chocolates and their six-foot stuffed bear, I tend to get distracted with other things.

I was fifteen years old. I had lost my virginity a couple weeks previously and because I was still close with my mom and I told her everything, I had let that bomb drop somewhere along the line. I assured her I was being safe.

Immediately afterward, my girlfriend at the time had sex with someone else and broke up with me, which isn’t really the order I would have preferred those things to happen in. So when Valentine’s Day rolled by, I was not only newly single, I was hurt. Betrayed. I spent that day in high school, sophomore year, back when I was still being bullied by the more popular kids. I was surrounded by shit-talkers and happy romances, and I felt absolutely miserable. All I wanted to do was go home and go to my room, hop onto my computer and talk to people that actually thought I was cool.

And I know that sounds weird and lonely, and it sort of was, but I’ve met most of those online friends since then. Those relationships were as real as hanging out with the kid down the street. It was one of the few respites I had from a lot of sadness and anger I felt during that time.

I get through the day. I get home. I sit in my chair. I fire my desktop up, and my mom calls me to wish me a Happy Valentine’s Day. We talked a little bit. I don’t think I told her that my girlfriend and I had broken up. In fact, I’m almost positive, because she said to me, “Hey, so now that you… you know, are with a woman and growing up into a man, I think you’re old enough for me to tell you something.”

“Okay. What is it?”

“I don’t want to tell you over the phone.”

“Mom, you can’t just say I’m ready for you to tell me some secret… and then not tell me that secret.”

We went back and forth like that for several minutes, with me growing more and more agitated. Finally, on the verge of tears, she blurted out, “Rick isn’t your father.”

I had considered some possibilities of what she might say. Maybe there would be the awkward sex talk we sort of skated over before. Maybe she was seeing someone new. I don’t know. Whatever I was expecting, it wasn’t that. It took me a few long seconds to recover.

“Then who the fuck is?”

“His name is John Buchanan. He was a marine biologist.”

It was a fling. My dad (Rick) was away. He found out, of course, and forgave her, and he put his name on my birth certificate and raised me as his own son. My parents divorced before I turned two. I’m ninety percent sure I wasn’t any of the reasons, because both of them fought for custody and settled with joint and treated me as best they could. And when drugs and alcohol came into the mix and they slept throughout the day or they went away to jail or rehab or another state, I never, never thought it was because they didn’t love me.

They weren’t good parents, but they were and are loving ones.

I went to live with Rick’s parents, my grandparents, when I was five. They took me in after raising three children of their own and spent the next two decades raising a fourth kid out of love instead of biological obligation. I know that shouldn’t fuck with me, but it still does.

Anyway, I was silent. My mom was openly sobbing, convinced that I hated her. That shook me back to the present and I assured her that I didn’t, that I loved her, I just needed to get off the phone for a while. I wished her a Happy Valentine’s Day and hung up.

I sat in that chair for a while, staring at my computer screen. Ten minutes. Fifteen. I pushed myself out of it and stepped down the stairs, stomach in knots. I walked into the kitchen; my grandmother had her head in the refrigerator but heard me come in.

“How was talking to your mom?”
“Well, she said Dad’s not dad.”

She froze. I’ll never forget that. It was only for a second and a half, but she went stone still, and then rose up out of the fridge with a gallon of milk as if nothing was different, as if this was a perfectly normal conversation to have, as if my entire fucking life wasn’t in upheaval.

In retrospect, I can’t begin to imagine the thoughts that were racing through her mind. To keep this secret for fifteen years, to have it suddenly and unexpectedly exposed, to be put into the so fucking unfortunate position to have to try to explain why I was only now finding this out. My grandmother was a strong, brave woman.

“That’s true,” she said. Nobody had told me because my dad had asked them not to. He wanted to tell me when he felt I was ready; that would come over two years later, after more prison, after halfway houses, after struggles with sobriety. He sat me down on the couch in the middle of the night, lights off, TV muted, and told me had something to tell me; I told him I already knew and it changed nothing, that I loved him; I hugged him and turned the television back on and pretended not to see him weeping.

“I need to go,” I told my grandmother.

“Where?”

“Out. The mall. I don’t know. I need to go.”

I was a bit of a mall rat at the time. It helped that I worked there, at a comic book and collectibles store, with my best friends at the time. They were all older. I was 15, but I partied a lot, hard, with these guys. When I was 16, I moved out into an apartment with them for the better part of a year. We were thick as thieves, as close as brothers. I went to my first party with them, had my first taste of liquor since I once unwisely tried to gulp Bombay Sapphire from a Dixie cup. They knew the night I lost my virginity. If I could talk to anyone, it would be them.

I locked my bike up to the rack and strode into the mall doing my best not to have a panic attack. The store was devoid of customers and my friends were busy putting merchandise and cards away. I flung my arms to either side.

“Well, I found out I’m a bastard!” I cried.

They turned as one to look at me, look at each other, look back at me.

“Well… yeah.”

I laughed. How could I not?

“Not that kind of bastard. Like, illegitimate child bastard.”

“Wait, what?

I explained. They were as baffled as I was that my mother would think to bring that up on Valentine’s Day. In her defense, she didn’t actually want to tell me until later. My friends were very supportive. We started joking about it, we definitely drank about it, and it just became a thing. When we pooled our money and resources later to start throwing raves around the city, we each donned a moniker. I owned it. I became The Bastard.

Later that year, in June, at my brother’s birthday party because my mom has fucking phenomenal timing, and in front of the first woman I truly loved, she told me that John “wanted” to meet me, but wouldn’t do so until a DNA test was taken that he wouldn’t pay for. Which, look, I get it. But if you thought there was a fucking chance that you had a 16 year old kid whose life you’ve already missed out on, you couldn’t shell out a couple hundred bucks for that? The icing on the cake was when my mom said, “And if he’s not your father, Jered, I don’t know who the fuck is.”

Nice.

I’ve never spoken to John over the phone. My junior year of high school I sent a letter about myself with a picture of me from junior prom. He sent a letter back with no picture. He owned a bike shop in Sacramento. He liked to golf. He didn’t want to talk any further until he spoke to my mom. We never corresponded again and I didn’t keep his letter.

I tried meeting him in 2009 at the age of 21 by tracking down his address. He had moved. I called every bicycle shop in the city but couldn’t find him. I wouldn’t know what I would have said or done had I been able to.

And that’s pretty much it. There have been some residual effects of finding out I was adopted. In my teenage years, I’d lash out sometimes. “Why do you even care what I do?” I’d yell at grandparents that absolutely didn’t deserve it. “We’re not even related!”

On my grandmother’s death bed, we spoke for 30 seconds over the phone, maybe. She spent most of it making sure I was going to be alright, and I spent the rest lying about how well off I was and that I’d be okay. She told me I was as much family to her as any of her blood kin and that she loved me just as much.

As recently as last summer, visiting my grandparent’s home and digging through old photos of the early years of their marriage and the childhoods of my dad, aunt and uncle, of these full lives decades before I was an even an idea of an accident, I felt very much like an outsider. An intruder on this family. The feeling was so severe that I hit a terrible manic spiral and lost myself a few friends through this desperate desire to be loved and accepted. Not my best look.

I have abandonment issues. I have acceptance issues. I have crises of identity and I struggle with the concept of legacy. I don’t feel right living the life I have as a continuation of the Mayer family in the same way I wouldn’t count their ancestors as my own. I wasn’t ever really raised by my mother, so that won’t work either. And fuck John Buchanan.

So I’m left trying to build my own legacy using the shape of my mind and beliefs that my grandparents helped mold, and so I often overwhelm myself with stress and panic when I get set back or I fail. “Is this what people will see when they look back on my life. What am I leaving behind? What have I truly accomplished? Who will weep when I have passed?” I tell you, it goes 0-100 real fucking fast when something goes wrong. I’m working on that.

I guess more than anything, Valentine’s Day just makes me think of John. Why, when he no doubt never thinks of me, I don’t know. But it’s usually today that I want more than anything to live up to the love of my parents who tried to stick around and to my grandparents who didn’t need to but did. Some day maybe I’ll find this guy and tell him I was able to make it, to be somebody, and that he could claim nothing of that except the pathetic brag that he basically donated me to my mom and her husband.

Or maybe he’ll be dead by then and I’ll finally be able to let this go.

Again, go check out Jessica Michelle Singleton’s debut album. She’s hilarious. Happy Valentine’s Day!

iTunes: Please. Don’t. Leave. Me.
Amazon: Please. Don’t. Leave. Me.
Google Play: Please. Don’t. Leave. Me.

The City of Angels Part Five: Awry

The hostel was in my rear view and I was keeping my head down. To my bosses’ credit, when I told them a couple of angry Tongans might come around looking for me and to tell them I transferred to Alaska, they agreed without asking any questions. My friends were gone, I was homeless, I was broke, I was sort of on the run, and I was still excited to live and work and love in Los Angeles.

Part One: Departure
Part Two: A Perilous Journey
Part Three: The First Month
Part Four: Love and Tribulation

Everything I owned was in two suitcases and a box or two. I moved those, with the help of my girlfriend, to my friend Jaime’s place, to crash on his couch. Jaime was good people, nine or ten years older than me, and we had frequent beer pong parties at his place. That was a tense couple weeks because he lived in Inglewood and to get to work, I had to pass the hostel I abandoned on an almost daily basis.

Side-note: across the street from that place was a Louisiana’s Fried Chicken which not only sold, uh, fried chicken, but also Chinese food and it was fucking excellent. They were all over Los Angeles, but that’s the only one I ever popped into, and it’s one of the things I genuinely miss the most.

Anyway, my assistant manager Jenny told me that her family had an empty room they were wanting to rent. I jumped on the opportunity. The house was nice, very homey, and full of people and animals. There was a beautiful, friendly old dog, and something like four or five cats. Jenny’s parents lived there, as did her aunt, grandmother, and brother. We shared the washer and dryer. There was a mini-fridge and television in my room, as well as a desk from which I wrote. Her brother, a couple years older than I and a really cool guy, kept mostly to his room adjacent to mine; we shared the bathroom.

My room had two twin beds in it that I pushed together. The frames pressed against each other, leaving a small gap between the beds that I filled with blankets. Now it was a queen. Fuck yeah.

There were two doors in my room. One opened into the house. I almost never used it save to use the restroom, the washer/dryer, or to talk to Hector. He and I hit it off pretty quickly and would talk about sports or grabbing a drink or  (later) girls. The other door opened up to outside. The house had a gated concrete patio of sorts. I would use that entrance to come in late and to leave for work in the morning without disturbing anyone.

My entire time in Los Angeles the first time around, lasted a total of eight months. The first five were in the Adventurer. Close to three were spent in this house. I loved that family very much, but I liked to keep to myself, you know? I partied a lot and I was so stressed out all the time. I was broke and my girlfriend and I would argue sometimes and love each other other times and I just had so much going on, I didn’t want to bother the family much. But there would be days that I’d hear a knock on the door and Jenny’s mom or her aunt would be there with a plate of homemade Columbian food for me and it was so good.

See, when I say I was broke, I meant it. I may have been even more broke than when I was at the hostel. Pat the Pirate would hook me up with some food sometimes. I had that free buffet full of terrible food. I could charge shit to the room. Living at Jenny’s family’s house, I stretched every dollar out as far as I could. One day I was coming home from work and it was pouring rain. I tried to book it back to the house, but it was pouring rain and I ducked into a business about half way there just to warm up some. That business was a Dollar Store. Alaska doesn’t have those. Did you know Dollar Stores sell food? Hell yes, they do.

I’d use 20-30 bucks to buy two weeks worth of food. My routine was a cup of noodles at work for lunch and a can of ravioli or something at work for dinner. You can get cans of pork and beans two for a dollar. It’s fucking terrible but that’s two meals for a dollar. That’s the situation I was in. And I’m trying to take my girl on dates and trying to do things with my coworkers. I spent more on bus rides to work than I fucking did on food a month.

Nothing too terribly interesting happened during those three months. I worked, I partied with my work friends, I tried to make ends meet. My girlfriend introduced me to a fucking phenomenal comic book shop because she knew how big a nerd I was/am.

At work, a competition was implemented. I mentioned in one of the previous entries that I was really good at selling Black Tie Protection at work. To motivate everyone else, whenever someone sold a BTP, they would print out the receipt and put it in a box for a weekly drawing. At the end of the week, whoever had the most receipts would win a $25 gift card. Whoever’s receipt was drawn would win a $50 gift card or an iPod Touch. The first weekend I won both gift cards. Every weekend I won the $25 for having the most.

And still, I began to grow increasingly stressed and as I stressed, my emotions began to spiral out of control. I became sullen and insecure. I still had my girlfriend’s minor indiscretion in the back of my head and I began to feel I wasn’t good enough for her and because of that, because of the fights, it was only a matter of time before I lost her.

Let me be absolutely clear: outside of that one night and one other instance, she was an incredible woman who supported me and loved me as much as I let her, and I didn’t as much as I should have. She took me to Temple with her and her family, and I genuinely enjoyed it. Everyone there was welcoming and kind. There were food buffets afterwards, sometimes. Bagels with lox and spreads, salads. And liquor. And then we’d go to Pinkberry.

She would stay over at my place regularly. We broke the bed frame once doing boyfriend-girlfriend stuff, something I had always sort of secretly wanted to do until it became a little uncomfortable to sleep in a certain spot.

And what’s funny is one of my favorite memories and one of my worst happened probably within a week of each other. The worst came when we were….drinking or arguing or both. I just remember her saying once that she didn’t believe I would ever be somebody if I didn’t go to college. That fucked me up. Badly. I wrote about it in The Six Year Shadow. Considering where my head was at and how much I was in love with her and how desperate I was for validation and a clean break and a bright spot in my life, that may have been the most devastating, defining thing anyone’s ever said to me.

And despite that, I also remember laying in bed one late afternoon/early evening, her tucked under my arm, her head on my shoulder, her hand on my chest. “I can see us being together for a long, long time.” And yeah… when I wasn’t being manic, I saw that, too.

I was head over heels for her and I was not a great boyfriend at all. She and I recently rediscovered our friendship, and I’m so grateful. I don’t have any delusions about our future. I may never even see her again, but I really wish I hadn’t put her through so much shit. She deserved a better guy than me. I wrote a thing for us recently: “And when they argued, they were brutal and scathing and cut to the core. They wept for each other, for the mislaid lines and frayed edges. They were perfect and terrible.”

I reached a point in late April where I had completely reached my limit. I decided the best decision was to transfer back up to Alaska for the summer, live back at home, and get myself in a better financial state before moving back to Los Angeles. By then I was in a full-blown bipolar episode. I hated myself and I was so anxious and i overthought everything. I broke up with my girlfriend over text. I told her something like I was going through a bunch of shit, I was teaching severely, I was being emotional, it wasn’t fair to her, she deserved better. I drove her away because I felt so poorly about myself. She was pissed. She was so mad that I would break up with her over something as dumb as my being broke. We argued a bunch but she was such a great girlfriend. Jesus, she loved me while I lived in a hostel. I didn’t have a car. I could barely afford to eat. And I broke up with her over my own insecurities. She had every right to be pissed. I expected us to get back together when I got my shit together. Haha, well.

My birthday was right around the corner. I was going to celebrate in Anchorage, but before I left, I wanted to make the most of things. She was tired of my wishy-washy bullshit, and I can’t blame her. Not only was this probably the third time I tried to break up and the first time over reasons that had literally nothing to do with her and 100% about my inability to cope with my living situation, but I was also planning on leaving for four months to a state across the continent.

We saw Iron Man 2 together. We went to a party together. She was super distant with me, even though I was leaving the next morning. I was hurt. She was hurt, too, and she was done with my shit, and she shut me down effectively. And that’s fair! God, it hurt so bad.

And I came home to Alaska for four months to kick off fucking my entire life up. I guess if I do shit, I don’t do it in half-measures.

Part Six: Ruin

Red Lodge Part Four: All the Rest

The last few days have been filled with a bunch of stuff. I’ve eaten at different restaurants every day and done my best to walk off the calories to mixed success, for one.

Tommy and I also traveled to Yellowstone National Park, a trip that started at 8:30 in the morning (I had four hours of sleep by the time I woke up and I wasn’t in a great mood) and ended 13 hours later. It had been years since I had been. I was a kid, traveling with my uncle and his wife, and I remember very little about it beyond him clipping a deer with his car on accident. The deer ended up being fine. So did the car.

I recall geysers and hot springs…or rather the smell of them, that acrid smell of sulfur and the volatile mud and water that made them such a spectacle. Still, I needed a refresher course and Tommy had never been. The Beartooth Highway had only just opened the day I arrived in Montana. As it has hits lists to be known as both one of the most beautiful drives in Alaska and one of the most dangerous, we had to go that way. Of course.

The drive wasn’t terrible. Though we hit elevations where snow was still present in great amounts, the road itself was clear of ice. Lack of visibility in some areas and a variety of tight curves made attention necessary, but between that and a cautious speed, there wasn’t much to worry about.

I made friends at the lookout point…

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And enjoyed the view…

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And once we got up high enough, I found out winter wasn’t quite over for me. I also found an abandoned ski lift post that I had to climb, fear of heights and safety be damned.

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God, and when we got into the park, there were just so many different sights to see. We drove all over that place. The craziest thing was that there was such a monumentally diverse level of scenery. All in the same state you’ve got towering mountains, open fields, rolling hills, rivers, waterfalls, forests and canyons. You’d think you had traveled to any number of places. It was breathtaking. On several occasions, it made me speechless, an amazing thing in itself.

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We saw a lot of animals. The most heavily populated seemed to be the bison.

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Pebble Creek:

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We went up and checked out Mammoth Hot Springs.

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Sheepeater Cliff:

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And even Old Faithful, driving up right as the magnificent bastard erupted. I wasn’t quick enough to snap a picture, but it was a sight to behold.

Fuck, I only just now realized I didn’t even get a picture of the geyser while it was sitting dormant. Ah, well. I did get pictures of a mud volcano, Dragon’s Breath Cave, a sulfur lake, and the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone.

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And though we decided against going back the Beartooth Pass way, opting instead to return to Red Lodge through Cody, Wyoming, the drive out was no less beautiful. We saw sprawling, tranquil waters.

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And beautiful mountains.

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In fact, though we were road-tired as all hell by the time we stumbled into the house, I think it would be fair to say our spirits were invigorated by the sheet beauty we had been witness to the whole day.

Then I stayed up that night and spent some time to myself. In the quiet, there, everything else started to slip away and the gravity of my whole vacation kind of hit. Where I was, why I was there, and what it meant to me. All the emotions I had suppressed came out in a fucking rush for a couple hours. I reached out to the first person who came to mind and they talked me through everything, helped me work through things and swapped stories with me. Eventually I was able to fall asleep.

The next day I made it a point to visit my grandparent’s grave site. It was the first time I had been able to in the nearly three years since my grandmother passed, in the two and a half years since my grandfather passed. I elected to go by myself, and I walked, a good 45 minutes to an hour, up a winding hill and past houses so old they have historical signs out front telling how they came to be.

When I reached the cemetary, the sky was starting to grow overcast, but it wasn’t raining. I was the only one there and, save for the mostly muted sounds of passing traffic, it was deeply quiet. A mountain raised up in the background of where their remains were laid to rest. They were in a family plot, a handful of Mayers and a bunch of Hickoxes, just to the right and back from an old mausoleum. Red Lodge being the one-time wild West town that it is, there were many graves from the 1800s and early 1900s that I walked past. My grandparents’ seemed too new. It didn’t feel right. It didn’t feel fair.

I wept there, alone but not, with them but in a capacity I couldn’t decide on. I wanted so desperately to believe in the Heaven my grandmother believed in, but I was also reminded by what she said: when you pass, it’s like a deep sleep. When the second coming of Christ occurred, you would wake up as if from a nap.

Which means that even if there is a Heaven, she wasn’t there. Not yet. So I was there with memories and ashes, surrounded by the dead and wishing so desperately I had spent more time with them when they were alive. I’ve never felt so alone, I don’t think, than standing in front of them wishing I could ask their advice. Wishing they could tell me things would be alright.

I thought, too, then, about the last time I spoke to my grandmother. She had had a heart attack and I didn’t get to speak to her long. A minute, maybe? Maybe a minute and a half. It wasn’t long. Her first questions were to make sure I was alright and to tell me she loved me. And I lied to her. One of the very last things I said to her was a lie. I told her I was fine. That my books were being published, that I was going to be set for life. That she didn’t have to worry about me anymore, and I told her I loved her, which was true, and we hung up, and she was gone within a couple hours.

I didn’t even get to speak to my grandfather. He was too feeble and delirious to handle a phone. My uncle relayed my love and says he believed my grandfather understood and he let go.

I couldn’t be there for either of them. It had been over a year since I’d even seen them, and I thought about how my grandmother would call me when I was living in Los Angeles and Seattle and want to ask a million questions and I would get impatient and cut the conversations short. I thought about that and I fucking wept again.

That was not an easy day for me, and it isn’t easy now to write about it. I miss them so much. I love them still, so much.

So.

Anyway.

Tommy and I slept in yesterday. I leave tomorrow, so I started gathering up the souvenirs I bought and the things I’ve decided to save. I mailed off one box of old things to someone I think will appreciate them with the love they deserve and I’ll mail off another one to myself a little bit later. And then Tommy and I drove out to a little town maybe 5-10 minutes from Red Lodge, got a steak and a few beers and watched some pigs race. And let me tell you, unlike racehorses, these pigs had awesome names. I mean, look at this shit:

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And I thought they were going to be big ol’ hugs snuffing around the track. NOPE. THEY’RE THE BEST.

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I have a traumatic pig story. This is the exact fucking opposite. Pig races. Montana, you are the best.

I’ll be back in Alaska tomorrow night and blog posts will return to whatever other nonsense I write about. Love and art and angst.

Rest in peace, Jean Marshall Burnside Mayer and Richard Thomas Mayer. Thanks for giving me a life.

Red Lodge Part Three: The Town

The title of this post is a little inaccurate, as I also go over the rest of the house. After my last post, Tommy and I finished going through the upstairs drawers and closets. There were a few more letters, a few more pictures, but the big find of the day was a box containing hundreds of old pennies dating back as far as 1909. Maybe they’re worth something, maybe not, but we spent the bulk of the day separating them by year and mint mark. It… was not an easy task.

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Or rather,  it was easy enough but time-consuming. Tedious. It took several hours, but we finally did it, and we sorted them all into their own individual envelopes. The amount of glue I ingested sealing them probably wasn’t healthy, but those are concerns for tomorrow me.

The only spots remaining to look through were the basement and the brown shed outside. The basement had a lot of boxes, a lot of empty suitcases. There were some old records (mostly Christian music, but also Barbara Streissand) and old books, but I didn’t root around too much. There were spider-webs everywhere, with spiders who wove them. I instantly began feeling things crawling all over my skin, paranoia out to get me. And yeah, har har, grown man scared of spiders, but they have black widows (not Scarlett Johanssen) and shit out here and homie don’t play that.

I would have taken pictures, but I left my phone upstairs to charge at the time and I’m not keen on going back down. There are probably some hidden treasures in those boxes. I’ll never know. I did make out with one thing though:

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Because, duh.

The shed outside was also probably filled with spiders, but it seemed safer. The contents of the house were pretty straightforward, though: loads and loads of old magazines and newspapers. Loads of them.

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I wouldn’t be able to save it all, and I didn’t know where to even start. I left it pretty much alone.

And that was that! The house has been pretty well sifted through. I found some knick knacks to keep, some to give to friends. I realized there was a cuckoo clock missing. It was a broken thing you had to reset by hand by adjusting the chains that hung below it; I was hoping I’d still be able to remember how, but no luck there. I found more personal memories and looks into the past than I think I had prepared myself for. It’s been a good journey. It was time to take to town itself.

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There are a few roads that cut through Red Lodge but most are more for residential zones. There’s one that cuts through the back and has a school, and a pool, a hardware store and a general store. Those two pictures there are Main Street, looking both ways. Most of the gift shops, stores, restaurants and the like are along this road, and you can get pretty much anywhere you need to be by walking. Plenty of people drive, of course, who don’t want to (or can’t) walk, tourists coming in and out, people leaving for other cities for work or coming home. Even so, the traffic isn’t bad, and the exercise is welcomed. Still, if I get tired, there are always free horse-drawn carriage

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rides from 7PM-9PM.

Now, it’s still early in the year, so when I passed the pool by, it wasn’t in great shape. It hasn’t been opened yet, so the water is the kind of green you want your ninja turtles to be and not much else. The diving board had been removed, probably so the heaps of winter snow didn’t wreck it. I took a picture anyway.

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When I vacationed here as a kid, I spent as much time in this pool as I could. I love swimming, love it, and I got to hang out with kids my age and flirt with the teenage lifeguards and pick up a tan. I look good with a tan. I also haven’t been tan in probably twelve years, so you would never know it.

Anyway, pool closed, I thought I would wander around and see what else I could find. Like, for example, a theater playing one movie. Which movie? Do you really need to ask?

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I found an antique store with helmets from WWII, guns from all eras, Native American artifacts, brothel tokens, badges, misfired bullets from Custer’s last stand, and so many skulls.

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Did I mention the jackalope? There was a jackalope.

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I continued on to the library. As a kid, I was always in there, reading every volume of the Hardy Boys mysteries I could find and re-reading the Indian in the Cupboard books. Remember the bathroom I showed a picture of in the last article? I opened up the medicine cabinet and there was – no shit – a plastic cowboy and Indian in there. They never came to life. Magic is bullshit.

I’m not bitter.

I’m a little bitter.

But I was stoked all over again when I found the Candy Emporium. This candy shop is ridiculous. Not only does it have all kinds of traditional candy bars and chewy snacks like 100 Grand and Starbursts, they have dozens of buckets filled with all kinds of taffy and hard candies and fruit candies. Grab a bag. It’s $7.99 a pound. I spent $43 fucking dollars and I don’t even feel a little bad.

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Once I was loaded up on diabetes fuel, I decided it was far past time for an ice cream sundae. I’ve talked about this before, but directly above the candy shop was an old-school ice cream parlor filled with tons of old photographs and Coca-Cola merchandise, a lever-action cash register and a machine that dispensed Coke in glass bottles, something I had never seen in Alaska. My grandfather and I used to go there all the time. I go outside and look for the staircase next to the candy shop that would take me up.

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What…what the hell?! They closed?! And I had given myself a hankering for ice cream that now was plaguing me. I was deeply dismayed. I wanted to sit on the little stools again and buy Coke in a glass bottle just for the hell of it and take a picture of the cash register.

I kicked at the street and headed back home. There was a shop called Scoops that sold ice cream, so I decided to head in there.

There were booths and tables, but no stools. I saw the ice cream selection and got Cookies and Cream from the nice young lady working. Then I… I looked around a bit.

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They had stools after all! And Coke in glass bottles! And that cash register! It turned out they hadn’t closed, but simply relocated and a shock of childish glee coursed through me.

I took my candy home, and my ice cream, sat at the table for a while and listened to the thunder storm I had just missed being caught in (I love listening to the rolling thunder down here), and just relaxed. It was a good day.

After a while the weather calmed down. I started writing this. Now I’m on my way to take a young man up on a drinking contest at the bar. There will be live music and good times, and even though the sheriff side-eyed Tommy and me pretty hardcore our first night in there, it should be fine.

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I think I’m gonna buy me a t-shirt from this place, something I almost never do.

And finally, for putting up with my posts about little ol’ Red Lodge, a place with overwhelming family and personal history, here’s a red-breasted robin, singing spring/summer in and generally not giving a damn.

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Red Lodge Part Two: Upstairs

If you missed the first part in the adventures of my grandparent’s old place, you can read it here: Red Lodge Part One: Downstairs.

My buddy Tommy arrived the next day (yesterday) after a long drive from Alabama, through lightning storms, wildlife and Kansas. I gave him a quick tour of the house, we got everything unpacked and he gave me a gift.

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Now I need to buy a record player. Or date a girl with a record player. Or do an elaborate Ocean’s 11-style heist.

Anyway, we went out for burgers (he got buffalo, I got elk; we both opted in for the homemade potato salad), and then after a short jaunt around town, got to work on the upstairs.

Here are the (definitely haunted) stairs leading up. There’s a little string winding along the rail to pull that turns the light at the top on and off.

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The mirror at the top is so you can see the phantom following close behind. Here’s the hallway at the top.

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To the immediate right is the bedroom I stayed in as a kid. There’s a tiny twin bed and a dresser. Absent now is a glass case that used to be against the wall at the foot of the bed. At the time, it was filled with the creepiest goddamn dolls I had ever seen in my life. It’s a miracle I didn’t develop a complex of some kind. A couple of the dolls made it into the closet, but the room is mostly bare now, save for some boxes filled with old books.

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To the left is another bedroom. It’s the one Tommy is staying in, hence the definitely not-antique bags piled on top of the bed. There was some old sewing equipment in the dresser. In the closet, though, was where the good stuff was. I was only able to go through a bag full of magazines…

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…and one of three or four boxes, but the box I went through had literal hundreds of photos I had never seen before. It was jarring, honestly, and it affected me more than I led on with my friend there sorting through it. I was adopted into this family, right, and my parents have been absent for most of my life, so I spent the bulk of my life living with a couple that had already raised three kids. It’s both stunning and heartbreaking to see the full lives they led before I came into it. It made me feel… I don’t know. Separate. I know I shouldn’t, but seeing how my uncle, aunt and dad grew up (and I mean literally, from baby photos to graduation pictures, to Thanksgiving dinners with first wives and my great-grandmother), seeing my grandparents as a young couple, it made me feel like there wasn’t a part of me in their life.

That’s ridiculous, of course, they were a huge part of my life and I of theirs, but with most of my family dead now, distant or gone, there’s a loneliness in me that was compounded by seeing this childhood and sibling camaraderie that I never fully got to have or understand. My grandparents were loving people and essentially parents who guided me through a large chunk of my life, but they were still an entire generation removed. We played, but never tossed balls. We didn’t go fishing or camping or much of anything, really.

And another part of me sees my dad as a young kid, my uncle teaching him how to play the guitar. Graduating high school, going to the zoo, goofing off, sporting the worst mustache ever. I’m seeing this youthful, cheerful version of him smiling, and it hurts my heart to think of the broken shell of a man waiting to get out of prison – again – next month with dreams of running away to Mexico where no one can hurt him anymore. I thought of him there, in a cell, hurting from a broken back he endured when I was a kid, and I thumb through the  Western Union telegram that my grandfather sent his mother the day he was born: “JEAN HAD SEVEN POUND MINE OUNCE BOY THIS AFTERNOON BOTH DOING FINE BABY LOOKS LIKE JEAN AND CAN OUT YELL DAVID. DEBBIE WANTED GIRL BUT SETTLED FOR BUSTER AND A MILK SHAKE DAVID AND I HAPPIEST FELLOWS IN ALASKA WISH YOU WERE HERE LETTER FOLLOWS LOVE”.

It was sent at 8:30AM, just over an hour after he was born (I found his birth certificate as well). He was so ecstatic and excited for his third child that he rushed as fast he could to let his mom know about it.

These photos were a peek into a history I never got to hear about. Peeks into the past, childhoods of the people who took me in and have tried to ask about me at least over the years. I flipped through countless pictures, setting aside some that I want to take home and hopefully someday share with kids of my own, but I kept going through this massive box of pictures because I knew if I stopped in the middle of it, I might be overwhelmed.

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Further down the hall on the right is the master bedroom, I guess. I suspect it’s the same size of smaller than the room Tommy is in, but it’s where my grandparents stayed and it’s where I’m staying for the duration of my visit. It’s a bed, a nightstand and an (empty) wardrobe. The bed is cozy. Of course it is.

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At the head of the hall is the bathroom, complete with old school red bathing basin with fucking legs hell yeah. Oh, and a too-small toilet that I’m only bitter at because I’m used to more accommodating porcelain thrones these days.

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And to the far left of the hall, across from my bedroom, is a storage room where most of the extra furniture has been moved. There look to be a few things go through there, too. I’ll try to get to that today.

After the photo business, Tommy and I got a bottle of Big Horn bourbon whiskey, which I purchased on the recommendation of the clerk after asking for the best locally brewed dark whiskey. Tommy and I started working through that while catching up on each other’s lives and telling old stories. We hadn’t seen each other in 8 years, but it felt like no time had passed at all.

Eventually we headed to the bar to listen to some live music and try the local beers (which were great). The bartender’s name was Tanner, but I thought it was Nick at some point, so we just called him Nick Tanner the rest of the night and he gave us water so the sheriff wouldn’t think we were being overserved. I gave my number to the other bartender, a fun, flirty, beautiful woman named Megan. I invited her to come over and sort through old shit with me. Why? Big Horn bourbon whiskey, that’s why.

Anyway. I still have some rooms to go through, as well as a basement and a shed. There will be a few more of these, I think. One for the whatever else I find, one for the city, and I think we’re going to try and head to Yellowstone at some point. Hope you’re continuing to enjoy this peek at history and my childhood.

Red Lodge Part One: Downstairs

Around 12AM today and for the first time in 14 or 15 years, my plane landed and I set foot on Montanan soil. I was in Billings, destined for Red Lodge, headed to my grandparents’ home, my grandfather’s childhood home, the house I would visit every summer for a month for several years.

Red Lodge is a small town about an hour, hour and a half outside of Billings. The road there is surrounded by collapsed and abandoned mines and fields full of cows. When the taxi service picked me up to drive me in, he almost hit a baby deer on our way in. It’s old country out here still. Not a lot of people, not a lot of noise. I like it.

The town has just over 2,000 people as permanent residents. It was founded in the late 1800s and had a riotous nature for many years due in large part to an excess of saloons and coal miners, and an uneasy truce with the Crow tribe of Native Americans. The first marshall had a nickname of “Liver-Eater”. It was that kind of place.

My grandfather was born in Red Lodge in December of 1921. That meant he lived through the Great Depression that devastated Red Lodge’s population by around two-thirds, miners packing up and leaving once their mines got shut down.

The population seems to have hovered around 2,000-3,000 ever since, and large chunks of the city remain in the past. Old houses, old furniture, old styles. It’s why I loved coming here as a kid. It was like traveling through time.

I got to the house around 4:30AM. Couldn’t sleep. Decided to walk around, grow familiar with this old building again.

Here’s the house from the outside, along with two sheds I’ve never been inside of, will probably never be inside of, and probably contain lots of cool, old stuff.

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That last picture is kind of awesome. The main door, the only one my uncle has a key for, pulls outwards. It’s  also got a big-ass tree growing in front of it. If anyone ever wants entry, they’ll have to cut the poor thing down and cut the padlock off of the double-doors next to it.

I entered the house and stepped into, uh, a closed veranda, would be the closest way to describe it.

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My uncle and aunt have already tossed or sold a bunch of stuff in the house. In the righr corner,  you can sort of make out some boxes that they’ve packed up. In the white cabinets, there wasn’t a whole lot left. I found a 10 cent novel installment from 1926 that was in excellent condition,  save for some tears at the creases, as well as a mint container from 1907 and holy shit? Prince Albert in a can? I get that joke now.

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I took my prizes (and my suitcase, natch) into the house, which opens up into the kitchen.

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Above the door in the second picture, you can see a little sign that says, “Welcome home, Dick and Jean”. They were married for 63 years.

On either side of the sign, you can see a black and white cow. My grandmother loved – specifically – black and white cows. Our house in Anchorage was lousy with them. Figurines. Plates. A cover for the lightswitch that always made me feel like I was flicking the poor animal in the udders.

There used to be a little table in this kitchen. We would always stock up on cereal. I had many a breakfasts here.

I turned to the right instead of going straight and walked into the dining room area.

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I never spent much time in this room, but my grandmother used to have people over sometimes and they would sit and chat for hours in here. The door you see in the top picture leads down to a basement. Since it’s probably dark and full of spiders (but also fossils), I’m thinking I’ll wait until Tommy gets here before trying to hear down. The little table next to the door used to have a rotary phone on it. My uncle must have tossed it once the phone service was disconnected. Too bad. I’m pretty sure some of my friends and readers have never seen one before.

The cabinet seen in the last photo has a bunch of old, old dolls and some china. My grandmother used to collect all sorts of things like that. I also found a newspaper from 1918, right near the end of World War I, talking about the war. In the bottom of one of the glass dishes, I found a pair of matching matchbooks, one with my grandfather’s name on it, the other with my grandmother’s. I left them there. It seemed the right thing to do.

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This is the living room. The lights are burnt out currently, but my phone apparently has an amazing camera. You can see the piano that has long since been used (but still works and is in tune). The desk next to it with the photos on it used to have a box television with rabbit ears. I sat on that musty looking orange couch and fought against the static to watch the Chicago Bulls beat the Utah Jazz in 1998. Could have been 1997, but I’m pretty sure I recall it being Jordan’s sixth championship.

Lastly, this room, which connects both to the living room and the kitchen.

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That is, indeed, a toilet with a curtain around it. I felt awkward using it as a child and feel awkward about it still as an adult. I’ll stick to the upstairs one.

You can see the bed and the bookcase behind it. That’s where I really found some interesting things. A lot of the stuff on the bookcases were meticulous record-keeping logs. It looked as if my grandfather’s mother may have been a teacher at some point. His father may have been in charge of a store. There is a shop list of how much of a product  (corn, shelled; flour; coal, etc.) was going to which resident at what weight and for how much. There is a log of which residents have how many inches of water to pan from in the river. If you like shows like Deadwood, it’s incredibly interesting stuff.

I also found about a hundred, maybe two hundred old photographs. I mean photographs from the 1890s-1940s. They were in pristine condition. Absolutely stunning, but I began to feel incredibly invasive. Some of these photos were of family members I’ve never known or heard of, whom I would never know or hear of. Others were of… okay, did you know that people would get pictures taken and then put on postcards to send? Because it looks like that’s exactly what happened. I’m not even sure that people were sending postcards of themselves. It’s the equivalent of you going to a store, finding a postcard with a picture of the guy who mows your yard and sending it to your sister in another state with a completely unrelated message on the back.

Then you get cool little peeks into the past like this:

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That last was printed on what feels to be a thin copper sheet. Incredible stuff.

And you know, that’s just the beginning. This town has a lot of little memories. There’s still half a house for me to cover, but this is a lot already. I’ll save the rest for a couple more entries. Hope you’ve enjoyed a little peek at my childhood and the history around it.