The raging fire burns

I left shortly after I put my clothes back on. I was ready for bed. I thought I would check Facebook one last time as I waited for Paul to come back home. Facebook, that is where I learned that our previous family business was on fire. Paul arrived home after 10 PM tired without even eating yet. I left without him in great urgency as if my presence would stop the raging fire from burning.

Inside that building is where my family members lived on in my memory. My great-grandparents built the business 100 years before. Like a family farm, all of the family members lived next door or down the road. In my mind they worked together in a steady hum like a colony of bees. I don’t remember any conflict just hard work.

My grandpa and uncle Harold fixed cars. There were several other mechanics too that they treated like family. I remember Harold laughing and sharing stories with customers in his quiet way. My brothers and I were always running through the garage as kids only stopping to buy a bottle of soda from the machine for 25 cents. It was a magical place, a place where broken things got fixed. I loved the smell of tires and even the scent of gasoline because it only brings back good memories.

My aunt Grace did the bookkeeping with the help of my grandma. I can still see them pouring over the paper files and counting money in the antique cash register. It’s the one place I remember them all being together busy and productive.

I was pouring over these thoughts as I got closer to the scene. Roads were blocked, sirens blared and I was the only one from my family that was there. My parents were up north opening the cabin for the season. My brothers and I should’ve been there but even that is changing because of the conflict with my dad. The times at the cabin together as a family might have come to an end too. After not speaking to my dad for 5 months, I called him late that night to tell him the old family business was on fire.

I stood on the side street for over an hour and a half watching the orange glow as fire trucks steadily poured in and out. I talked to the only person watching with me, a stranger. At 1 AM, I told the stranger I was going home which wasn’t exactly true unless you consider home my parents house. I had to go to the bathroom really bad by this point.

My parents locked their house before leaving but they always have a spare key in the closet if you can find it. My parents could be considered hoarders. Their closet had 4 levels of tightly packed shelves of odds and ends. I found two keys, but they didn’t fit. I searched my purse hoping that I still had a spare but the keys I had didn’t fit so I left them. Finally I found the right key in the closest and let myself in.

I wasn’t ready to leave yet. I had to get closer to the flames. It was drawing me in like a June bug. I left my car in my parents driveway and decided to take the trail into town the back way. It was very dark and I felt anxious running down the road and trail by myself in the middle of the night. But I shown no light since I didn’t want to be seen. I was a little afraid of bypassing the police cars and sneaking in the back way. I was afraid of night animals but I figured the fire probably already scared them away. I ran without seeing what was ahead of me fighting my fear.

I couldn’t see the fire any better than before. There were trees in the way. I didn’t want to get any closer because there were many people there fighting the fire. There was another man leaving the area from the back way. I was afraid because I was alone and vulnerable, but the man meant me no harm.

I got home late that night. After a couple hours of sleep I awoke and went back for more. My parents came home early the following morning and found themselves locked out of the house. In my panic, I left the house keys in the bathroom and my own set outside the door. When I’m really stressed my mind stops processing the details which I so obsess over in normal times. I find it bizarre that the strongest part of my brain just quits working.

The building may have burned to the ground, but the memories of my family working together will always live on in my mind.

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Sick as a dog

Right before everything shut down I foresaw the last window of opportunity to get things done. Paul and I had one last lunch date at the Chinese restaurant before it closed its doors maybe for good. I returned some Amazon items at the mall. I knew that once the school closed the mall would shortly follow. I got fingerprinted for my census job as soon as I could then found out later that I did it on the last day they kept fingerprinting open. It took 3 weeks later to get my background check back. Because of this I would be surprised if I start my census job much before summer ends.

One of the first things I did after everything was shut down was to buy some heartworm pills for my dog. Would it be bad to say that I took a risk for my dog? I have geriatric pets. My dog is almost 13 and my cat somewhere around 14. I try not to keep a large supply of expensive pet products because, well…

So I wandered out that day to buy heartworm pills. I saw a dog with heartworm once. It looked pretty miserable and I didn’t want the same fate for my dog. I even saw a dog with rabies once but that was so long ago.

The dog with rabies was sitting by the burning barrel. Did you have a burning barrel as a kid living out in the country? This really brings back childhood memories. We would take our garbage out to the burning barrel. This was years before recycling was even a thing. This was in the days I had trouble lighting a match. I was always afraid to light the fire.

When the burning barrel was lit we would put a grate over it so fiery pieces wouldn’t fly out and create other fires. As kids, this allowed us ample opportunity to play with fire. My mom gave us her old pots and pans. I created rock soup with dirt. It didn’t taste as good as I was expecting. Neither did grass. Sometimes we would take rotten vegetables from the garden like zucchini and cook them on the fire in a frying pan. I guess I was a child once but I don’t think children would be given the task of starting a burning barrel fire today.

That is where we found the dog with rabies. My mom drove in the driveway with all of us kids in the car. We saw the dog crouched next to the burning barrel snarling and foaming at the mouth. We were scared. I remember the fear. It was hot sitting in the car waiting for my mom to decide what to do. Something was wrong with the dog. It wasn’t our dog. We never saw it before. My mom thought we could make a run for the house to call for help.

By the time the man arrived with a gun, the dog moved a little further from the house. Mom told us to stay inside and I was big enough to peek out the bathroom window. I saw what happened to that dog.

I have seen a dog with fleas, heartworm, and even rabies in my lifetime. Yet I don’t know anyone who tested positive for coronavirus. It’s interesting to see how our experiences shape us. I had to make sure that didn’t happen to my dog, but at the same time I wasn’t too worried that something would happen to me.

Luke’s visit, part 6

I don’t like it when people touch me, neither does Mark.

Luke has always been an affectionate guy.

Maybe it just boils down to personal preference. We had the same upbringing.

We remember the bite marks on our arms, the scratches, head butts, eye pokes, kicks, punches…that we received from our autistic brother Matt.

My dad seemed afraid to hit or hug me. He would tickle my brothers and I which was miserable because he just wouldn’t stop when we told him to.

Touch was not usually a good thing, but I did like my grandma’s hugs.

My dad was not gentle in any way. He would squeeze my mother in hugs too tight until she would cry out…stop you are hurting me. Her cries would draw in my little brothers. They would jump on my dad and try to get him to let go while he swung at them like pesky mosquitoes. It was all a game.

Now Luke was a mama’s boy, which really seemed to bother my dad. If anyone tattled on Luke, he would get it. Mark and I never got spankings, but Luke always seemed to get in trouble. He hated my dad and did a lot of things to bother him like cutting the cords on his electronics. Mark and I never really did the things that would fuel my dad’s anger.

There are some things I feel bad about. Sometimes my dad would fly off the handle with Luke about minor things that I tattled about. There was also a period of time that Luke looked to me to be a second mother. He clung to me and I pushed him away.

There were times when my dad was a little rough with Luke and Matt. But most of the scars came from Matt. He would out of the blue attack someone. It would bother me that no one told him what he was doing was wrong. In fact, if we tried to defend ourselves or retaliate, we were punished. He couldn’t help it, but we could.

It was always hard to see Matt hurt someone, stranger or friend. Sometimes we could see the signs beforehand that he was was agitated. I always felt guilty that I couldn’t stop it from happening. Sometimes I felt responsible for it. Maybe if I noticed sooner, I could’ve stopped it. Why should I feel responsible for my brother’s actions?

His actions had a direct effect on my life. It was the reason that friends weren’t allowed to come to our house. It was the reason I lost friends. It was the reason for my isolation. Matt was so violent that he wasn’t allowed in school for 3 years. A teacher came to our house for Matt. My mom pulled us all out of school. I spent one year of middle school and two years of high school at home. I only saw my friends a couple times a month.

My cats became my friends. Sometimes Matt would hurt them. If they tried to come in the house, my dad would pick them up by the tail and throw them out. But I always let them sneak in my bedroom window.

There was nothing normal about my childhood. Yet here I am trying to live a normal life.

 

Luke’s visit, part 5

I don’t understand why he did the things he did. I don’t like to think about it, much less write about it. It makes me feel incredibly sad to tell you all of these things.

We didn’t travel much as kids. The only place we ever went to was the family cabin up north. I can’t even remember one family meal at a restaurant. Matt’s violent and disruptive behaviors made it nearly impossible to be welcomed anywhere.

I didn’t like the weeds in the water at the lake. Oftentimes, we would walk to our neighbor’s cabin nearby to swim. They raked by their dock giving them a sandy beach. They knew my parents and were okay with it, although I never remembered asking and they always glared at us.

There was that one time that my brothers and I thought it would be a great idea to throw the neighbor’s decorative rocks off the end of their dock. They were so angry. We were too little to get them out of the water at the end of the dock, the water was over our heads. My mom didn’t swim.

After that unfortunate incident when my brother almost drowned, we were always watched more closely in the water. It was my dad’s idea for my mom to put me in charge as a 6 year old of my 3 younger brothers in the water. They thought I would holler if something went wrong, but instead I froze when Luke went under.

After that, my mom would sit on the neighbor’s dock in her lawn chair to watch us swim. Sometimes if my mom wasn’t able to be there, she would send my dad. He was never really happy about that.

We didn’t have fun playing in the water with dad. He would grab our ankles while we swam under water and yank us back making us choke, sputter, and gasp water. It was all a game, like tag, you see. He seemed to think it was fun.

He thought it was terribly humorous that I was afraid of weeds. He grabbed my little body and planted my feet far away from the sand into the weeds. The few minutes he forced me to stand there seemed like hours. I was so terrified feeling the slimy weeds and what I imagined slithered underneath. Even to this day, I rarely like my feet to be uncovered.

I cried in terror and when he finally let go, I ran as fast as I could through the weeds to shore. All the while, he called me names and threw mucky weeds, a dead fish, and sticks at me. Then he swam back to our cabin through the weeds. He said that I was such a baby for being afraid.

But I still loved the water. I wanted to learn how to swim really good. My mom gave us basic swim lessons so we didn’t drown but said I couldn’t take the advanced class because they had doctor bills to pay for Matt.

Last summer I swam across the lake up north. I swam right through the weeds even though I was scared. I even competed in a Half Ironman. But I always remained a beginner swimmer.

My brother Luke’s daughters are really good swimmers and are on the swim team. My oldest niece, who is just 10, competed in her first triathlon this year. Luke set up a mock triathlon course for his girls up north. At least I am glad that he is the father that our dad never was. They have been given so many opportunities. They don’t have to grow up being afraid.

 

Luke’s visit, part 4

When we were young, my dad was a very cruel man. He is not like that anymore.

Luke said what terrified him the most was the train. It was one of his earliest memories. He remembers dad inching closer and closer to the tracks while the train was passing. He hid crying in the back window of the car as my dad and brother Mark laughed. He said I wasn’t there.

I don’t remember this being an isolated incident. I was there. I almost forgot about this. The train did not terrify me. I liked to wave at the man in the caboose when mom took us on walks. As kids, we lived near the railroad tracks. I found the sound of the train’s whistle to be rather soothing at night. We even saw a train derail in our lifetime, but not on those tracks.

I remember my dad doing other things like crossing the tracks right before the train passed. But I think he found much more satisfaction in waiting for the train to pass. He inched closer and closer until the front of the car seemed to kiss the side of the train car.

If you get really close to a train, it is squeaky and loud. The cars teeter and rock back and forth making an awful grating noise. Sparks fly. It seems like it could come off the tracks at any moment and destroy the car in a big ball of fire. My dad took the opportunity to scare Luke or any of us whenever he had the chance. I remember this happening several times with the train. I was there, but Luke does not remember that.

We couldn’t comfort our terrified sibling otherwise it would probably be our turn next. Compassion and empathy were not rewarded. In fact, they were more of a weakness. Laughter was probably the safest response. If you laughed or acted like it didn’t scare you, he wouldn’t do that to you. I often responded with no response. But Luke was terrified and I think he was too little to hide it.

My dad did other things to scare us in the car. He drove fast and laughed at us if we tried to put on our seat belts. He drove fast over hills. He would taunt us by saying that he had no idea what could be waiting on the other side of the hill. I was big enough to see out of the window, maybe they weren’t. There could be a family walking on the other side of the hill….a dog…another car and he wouldn’t be able to stop from hitting whatever could be on the other side. Sometimes he would drive up hills on the wrong side of the road.

I’ve had nightmares about him driving fast or going up steep hills not knowing what could be on the other side. I think it was also the root of my struggles with a fear of driving, especially hills. I was afraid of hurting someone. I was afraid of not having control over that. I couldn’t see what was ahead of me.

Today I am obsessed with conquering my fears. If the fear wins, so does my dad.

I built a big wall around myself. I have a thick shell. But maybe somewhere inside is that little girl who is kind and caring.

I don’t think that my mom even knew about the things our dad did when she wasn’t around.

 

Luke’s visit, part 2

I suppose since you have a big house now that you will be hosting Christmas this year.

It wasn’t the first time I heard this comment…

I told Luke that I didn’t really like an aunt and uncle of ours.

Why?

Because of the time that they came over for supper when we were kids.

What about it?

They had the house with the piano. They wanted us to come live with them if mom and dad left us forever. That evening while we were eating, Matt hurt our aunt. It wasn’t unusual for Matt to hurt someone.  It was our aunt who was acting strange. She locked herself in the car crying hysterically. She could not be comforted. I’ve never seen her so upset before or since.

Suppose that our aunt was attacked and Matt triggered her memory of it.

Aunt left and didn’t come back. They said that they didn’t want us to come live with them in their house with the piano anymore.

Who told you that?

Mom. She cried and said that no one cared. She said things would be different if her mom was still living.

How old were you?

I don’t know, maybe 8 or 9.

You were too young, why would she tell you that you were unwanted?

Something strange happened in the course of our conversation. For the first time I was able to see the event through adult eyes.

I was able to let go of the rejection of 30+ years. My aunt has always been kind to me, but I didn’t trust her since that night. Other family members cared. They were busy living their own lives. Some were only a few years older than me. They saw what was happening but didn’t know what to do about it. Some lived far away. The ones that were near did help.

My mom just needed more help than anyone could reasonably provide.

So I became the helper. I became the adult.

I have forgiven my family.

Someday I will forgive my mother too for my lost childhood and for giving me this heavy weight to carry. I think it is time to start unpacking my baggage.

 

Grandma’s rocking chair

My eye hurts really bad. It feels like it is on fire as the tears roll down my face.

Matt is screaming again. He poked me in the eye on purpose. We are both screaming now.

I told Grandma that I hate Matt.

She didn’t tell me that I should feel lucky that I am normal. Nor did she say that I shouldn’t be upset since Matt can’t help it. She didn’t tell me that Matt has it harder either. Those were the things that Mommy and Aunt Grace said.

She didn’t push me away to comfort Matt.

Instead, Grandma picked me up and rocked me in her gentle arms. She sang me beautiful songs until my tears dried and I fell asleep.

Back to the past

Over Thanksgiving we played the game Loaded Questions. It is a great group get to know each other kind of game. Perfect Christmas gift idea. You’re welcome!

The main object of the game is to ask a question in a category and try to guess who wrote what response. Every player gets a chance to be a judge.

When I was a judge, I asked the question…If you could live in a past time period, when would it be?? Paul said it was taking him awhile to write a response because he was having a hard time spelling his answer..

Here were the answers:

1960’s

1970’s

1970’s

1980’s

1980’s

The Renaissance period (obviously Paul’s answer)

An hour ago so I wouldn’t have to play this lame game (obviously my son)

I found the answers interesting. My mom and Darryl wanted to go back to their teenage/young adult years…but what I really found interesting was that 3 out of 4 teens wanted to live in the time period that I grew up in…I was shocked..

But, but, but, but…there was no internet back then.

The teens said that they didn’t care.

I asked my daughter Angel about it later…Why did you pick that you wanted to live in the time I grew up in??

She had two answers. First, everything today is fake. She said that she knows of an ultra thin uTuber that spent hours posing with an ice cream cone that she never ate. She said that although she is a normal weight that it made her feel fat. Also, people only post good things about their life…which makes her feel like her life is boring or that she is not happy enough. (At this point, I should’ve shared with her about all of the personal posts here on WP but I missed the opportunity to tell her that other people’s lives do suck sometimes).

While we were in conversation, she took my picture with her a couple of times for snapchat. People were sending selfies back with little comments on it. She said I should join. Why would I want to send pictures of myself back and forth to people all day?? I don’t understand.

Second, my daughter said that all of her social contacts are on her phone. I guess that means instead of hanging out with friends in person, they send pictures back and forth all day or play games. She said that putting her phone away for a short time would mean that her social interaction is gone. She talked about a challenge at college that included giving up a phone for one day. Teens become a slave to their phones. Funny thing is…I never see them use their phone as a phone.

This is what it was like growing up in the 80’s…

 

The weekends always held a sense of adventure. After watching the Saturday morning cartoons, the neighborhood kids would ride around on bikes without helmets. Sometimes our chains would fall off or we would fall off our bike miles from home. We had to work together as a team to figure out how to fix problems. No one ever knew where we were.

I really loved the monthly trips into town to go to the library. Sometimes I could read a book a day. I would drool over the new releases that could only be rented for a few days. I couldn’t wait until that book was out on the shelves. I always checked the return pile for coveted books. I loved the silence and the smell of musty old books. Sadly, I haven’t been to a library in years.

It was exciting to hear a new song on the radio. I would listen for hours just to get the chance to pop a cassette tape in and record the song. Of course, I rarely got the whole song on tape. I had a weekly date with America’s Top 40. The weekly countdown was big excitement.

In the evenings, we would go on walks to visit with our grandparents or great aunt and uncle. I think I miss this the most…just walking in as if expected…unannounced visits. People just would stop in and talk for hours. People would drop whatever they were doing and listen. There was never a ‘let me check my schedule’.

We loved playing outside making forts out of wood or in the snow. We were never in a hurry. I loved going to the post office to see if I got a letter in the mail. We would pretend to ‘smoke’ candy cigarettes. We played in the sprinkler and drank water out of the hose. We ate raw cookie dough and ate homemade meals every night. We only had our picture taken on special events. I loved the big poofy hair and the big boxy cars.

We had a computer at home that I learned how to make my name scroll across the screen. It was exciting! Sometimes I would even change the color of my name. I loved to play Donkey Kong. We had an Atari and a VCR. I had a Michael Jackson record player from when he was still black. I spent hours playing with Barbie and Ken. I could spend hours watching a slinky go down the steps. I loved the game of Life. We never heard bad world news, unless things were really bad the adults didn’t tell us.

The strange thing is, although you might say that there was nothing to do, I can’t remember ever being bored.

I would challenge the young folks to spend a weekend without their phone to see what kind of adventures are out there..

What were your favorite memories growing up in pre internet era??

 

 

 

 

Autism’s sibling, journal 3 part 1

Now I am ready to tell you about myself, my family, and you will understand everything..

Everyday Matt would be violent. He would bite me and claw up my arms. I have the scars to prove it, although they faded a little because he’s a little better. But it was awful. Everyday he would be uncontrollable. It was always me he hit.

Once he had this thing about men with beards. He would scream and be awful. Once Matt, mom, and I went grocery shopping and Matt saw a guy with a beard. He got really mad. When mom was checking out, she had to hold him down on the floor because he could hurt someone. 

Or how about the time when we had to move the knives because he took one out and threatened to stab my eyes out.

Or when my mom got a bloody lip because he threw his head back on her. She started crying and it really upset me when I heard her say, “What kid would do this to his mother?”.

The stress was unbearable.

I couldn’t have any friends over because they might have on a fragrance and he might react. So you could say that I never really had many friends over because he would hurt them or me. I couldn’t wear any hair spray or anything with a fragrance.

Other times he would hurt small kids.

We had to do different things. We had to get unfragranced soap, shampoo, deodorant, and laundry soap. We had to close the windows when there was an east wind because the auto exhaust would bother him.

He couldn’t leave the house. He had to eat special foods. We never had anyone over because Matt might hurt them.

He can’t read and when he was younger, he couldn’t talk. He would do weird things like grind his teeth and hit his head. He broke about 5 stereos, one of mine, one of mom’s, and the rest were his.

He couldn’t go swimming because of the chlorine. He would be wild for two or three days in a row. He threatened to run away.

Alissa, 1990

Over time, I have forgotten the magnitude of the stories written by a younger me.

To be honest, something has been scratching at my mind since I stirred up my demons.

My last post was on locker rooms of all things..Talking about locker rooms seemed to bother me more than it should have..Memories swirl through my mind. My mom taking a too old Matt into the girls locker room? There weren’t options back then like there are now. A too old screaming autistic boy in the ladies locker room would have been memorable back then, but I don’t remember more than a flicker.

There are whispers quietly echoing through my mind, but I can’t make out the words.

I am nervous as I type.

Do I really want to remember?

Suppertime sadness

The tool box clanks on the floor…It’s 6 PM…Dad gets home from work…Supper is on the table…Matt and Luke are tied to their chairs with my mom’s apron…otherwise they don’t stay…

Dad bangs his fist on the table…This dog shit you call supper…He roars as he walks away…The TV is turned on in the next room…laughter on the screen…laughter from my dad…my mom cries…The boys struggle against their restraints…

My stomach hurts…I don’t want to eat…But I have to stay until all of my food is gone..