Apr 10, 2021

Forever Got A Lot Shorter All Of A Sudden

St. Elmo's Fire
Columbia Pictures (1985)
Last weekend, I had an impromptu Brat Pack marathon.  I watched The Breakfast Club and just kind of got in the mood to see more, so next came Pretty In Pink, Sixteen Candles and St. Elmo's Fire in that order.  Out of those four films, the latter is the one that I was the least familiar with, but it pressed my emotional buttons the hardest and sent me down a sad rabbit hole.

I didn't start college until I was 27 and I graduated when I was 30, so while I did make a few friends, I didn't have a group of friends, so I was alone for the vast majority of the times that I was studying, eating, having coffee, or just about anything else.  No one was unfriendly to me or anything like that.  To the contrary, everyone was extremely pleasant and I look back on it as the only extended period of my life where I truly felt like I belonged.  I was about 8 to 10 years older than most of the other students in my classes, so I wasn't invited to parties or anything like that.

However, I could relate to having a group of friends when I was 21 years old, and each of us had varying degrees of life drama and mental health concerns.  It's a bittersweet memory because there aren't many of them who are still alive.  So, maybe it's stupid, but I want to take a moment to reflect on the year of my life that took place from the Summer of 2001 to the Summer of 2002 and to remember the people who were there.

This was the apartment in Brandonville, PA where Megan and I lived.  It's not much to look at, but it was cheap and actually pretty big on the inside.  I think we paid $350 a month and it included all utilities except for phone and cable.  It was also out in the middle of the country with a huge cornfield right behind the house, so it was very peaceful.  I used to lay outside and look at the stars in the middle of the night when I couldn't sleep.

Parked in the grass next to the random garbage can lid is my old Lebaron with the Morton's List stickers on either side of the license plate.

You can only see the far right of the building in this photo.  It was a row home with three separate residences in the building.  Each one had a private indoor porch.  The first floor had a kitchen, dining room, living room and bathroom.  The second floor was three bedrooms, but they were right up against each other with no hallway.  In other words, you had to walk through the first bedroom to get to the second, and through both the first and second bedroom to get to the third.  Each apartment also had a basement that wasn't finished, but it was in good enough shape to use as a room.

When you opened the screen door that you can see in this photo, you were in a surprisingly large indoor porch where had some old comfy chairs and a stereo with blacklights on the wall.  On hot days, I used to like to sit out there, listen to music and write.  If you kept going through the second door, you would be in our kitchen.  It was by far the smallest room of the house, but it was big enough for a fridge, an oven with a stove, some cupboards and an old school lunch counter that we "found" in an abandoned building.  We had it pushed up against the wall next to the fridge and we kept the microwave on it.  There was a door that led down to the basement on the left as soon as you walked into the kitchen from the outside.  Megan was Wiccan and she kept her alter to Athena and other witchy stuff down there.

If you kept walking straight through the kitchen, you would be in the dining room.  To your immediate left as soon as you walked into the dining room was the staircase to the second floor.  We had the dining room walls lined with tall bookcases filled with your books, and in the center of the room was a very large dining room table.  It comfortably seated ten people because our whole gang had Thanksgiving dinner there in 2001.  It really was a very big table in a pretty huge dining room.  We found the table at a Salvation Army and the bookshelves were just those cheap pressed board deals from Wal-Mart, but it looked really nice.

The next room after the dining room was probably supposed to be the living room, but we didn't use it that way.  It was by far the most empty room of the house.  It had a walk-in closet (sort of - the ceiling in there was the underneath of the staircase, so it was sloped) and the door that led to the bathroom was in this room, but we pretty much just had a table with a tv and the Sega Dreamcast hooked up to it.  A few months after we were living there, Megan's cousin Joram came to live with us, so this became his room.  He put a little end table and a futon mattress in the closet and slept in there.  He had the whole room to himself (as long as he didn't mind us walking through to get to the bathroom), but that's where he wanted to sleep.  Joram was a weird dude, but a good hearted one - more about him later.

The bathroom was long and narrow, but it was a pretty decent size overall.  The shower was on the left and the toilet was on the right, but they were kind of separated a bit so that, conceivably, you could use the toilet and not really disturb someone in the shower unless you were going out of your way to disturb them deliberately (which, thankfully, no one ever did).  The other funny thing about the bathroom was that on the other side of the wall was the bathroom to the center apartment where Brad, Margie and Mike lived (more about them later).  It was a pretty thin wall, so you could easily talk to whoever was in there in the center apartment.  Margie and I used to have this weird thing where we'd both sing together in the shower.  We weren't showering together or anything - she was in her apartment and I was in mine, but we could hear each other clear as a bell.  I'm sure it probably got annoying to everyone else, but we thought it was hysterical.

Now, picture that you're turning around from the bathroom and Joram's room and walking back towards the kitchen.  If you walk until you're right in front of the doorway that leads to the kitchen, the staircase will be on your right.  Like I said, there was no hallway in the upstairs - just three rooms smack dab against each other, so Megan and I decided to make the room at the top of the stairs into the living room.  It was just really well situated for it.  We had a sofa against the center of the back wall and a recliner on each side of it.  There was a recliner on each side of the sofa, a couple of bookshelves for movies and video games, and an entertainment center with some video games and whatnot hooked up to it.  The doorway to the next room was at the far end of the room to the left of the entertainment center.  That led into a room that we used sort of as an office.  It's where we had the computer desk, so if you wanted to surf the internet, that's where you had to go.  This was before smartphones or wifi.  I had a Nokia 6110 cell phone, but this was before mobile internet.  All it did was make calls and text, and it didn't even do that very well.  The fanciest thing about it was the Snake game.

The room after the computer room was the bedroom.  None of these doorways from room to room had a door, but we had a thick beaded curtain up in the doorway, so you couldn't see in.  The bedroom was painted in dark colors with lots of her tie-dyed tapestries hanging on the wall.  Most of them were dark purple, except for one that was a lighter color on top of the dresser where she kept her iguana tank.

So, now that I've set the scene, here is the cast of characters who lived there.

There's 21 year old Will, either tired or stoned.  I can't remember which, but give me a break - this photo was taken almost twenty years ago.  I'm not positive, but I'm pretty sure I'm laying on Megan's bed in her room at her parents house the week before we moved in together.  I was working third shift at the Uni-Mart on Route 924 just outside of Hazleton at the time.  That's where she and I met.

The pretty grey animal laying on my face was her cat, Bastet.  Megan named her after an Egyptian goddess who took the form of a cat.  Although she definitely carried herself like a cat that demanded to be worshiped, she was a very sweet animal who fell asleep on my lap or face on a pretty regular basis.

Speaking of cats, there were a few others...

First, it must be said that I am a dog person.  Megan was the cat person.  Guess who won that argument?  That's Bastet on the far left.  The two kittens in the leopard print cat bed came home with us from the Burger's Farmers Market when we went there to get pumpkins to carve for Halloween.  They were in a cardboard box with two other kittens and a piece of paper taped to the side that said "Free".  We took all four of them, but two of them went with Brad and Margie and the other two came with us.  Megan named the darker one Callisto, which is the name of a nymph in Greek mythology (also the second largest moon of Jupiter).  She was like an encyclopedia for that sort of thing.  Callisto became Joram's kitty after he moved in with us.  The little orange guy was my baby.  I named him Shinji after the main character of Neon Genesis Evangelion.  The character is a clinically depressed boy who has a hard time making friends and connecting with others.  Gee, I can't imagine why I'd identify with a character like that.  Unlike his namesake, he was an incredibly sweet and social kitten who used to perch himself on my shoulder when I was laying back in the recliner.  The big orange cat was a stray that we found in front of the house and took in.  We were having lasagna for supper the day that he came to live with us, and I'll be damned if he didn't eat some, so of course, his name was Garfield.  He sort of came and went when he wanted to.  I'm sure he was hunting field mice in the corn long before we ever found him.  However, for most of the winter, he was an indoor cat for the most part.

This is Megan Jais.  I've been in relationships before I met her, but looking back on my life through the eyes of a 40 year old man, I can say that Megan was my first serious relationship.  It was an incredibly toxic relationship for both of us, fueled by the hormones and immaturity of a 21 year old boy and an 18 year old girl, but that didn't make it any less real.

She and I met at Uni-Mart and immediately hit it off.  That photo in the bottom left corner is from the security camera at the store.  My co-worker printed a copy in the office and used it to bust my balls for trying to pick women up at a convenience store.

In retrospect, I would say that we played off each other in the way that a successful comedy or writing team might have done.  I have an odd sense of humor that I rarely find in people other than my father, but she had it too.  We just had a similar thought pattern, so our conversations flowed effortlessly - if you didn't count all of the times we'd have to catch our breath from laughing.  It's been nearly twenty years since I met her and I still can't find the right words to describe it, but if you combine that unique feeling with the fact that we were young, bipolar and physically attracted to each other, you can see where this was headed.

Now, I am very far from perfect at 40 years old, but I'm a monk compared to myself at 21.  I was arrogant, impulsive, self-absorbed, self-destructive, and I could never pass up an opportunity to argue.  So was she, and holy shit, we could get into loud, passionate arguments about literally anything you can think of.  I don't mean to say that we fought all the time because we didn't, but it was like both of us were sitting on a box of dynamite and you never knew when one of us would explode.  The straw that broke the camels back was when I found out that she was messing around with one of my best friends.  I didn't confront her about it, but within two months, I was living in Nebraska with a 30 year old woman named Stacey that I met at a concert in Peoria.  Like I said - impulsive and self-destructive.  But that's another story for another time.

Seriously - I think anyone who took one look at me would immediately know I'm up to no good.

Six years after we broke up, we randomly had a class together in college.  As soon as I saw her, I knew we were both scared shitless.  We had both picked up the pieces of our lives and walked down our own path, and the last person either of us expected or wanted to see three days a week for an entire semester was each other.  However, it ended up being alright.  I don't remember if I approached her first or if she approached me, but it only took a couple of minutes before we were smiling and laughing about our crazy time together.  We were a few years older and wiser and we recognized that we were never a good match.  We were far too similar in all of the worst ways - both suffering from untreated mental illness, and really good at throwing fuel on each other's fire.  By this point, she was getting the help that she needed and she was married to a man with whom she had two children - a little boy and a little girl.  I was so very happy for her.  I wish things could have stayed good for her, but they didn't.  She and I lost touch when I transferred schools in 2009, and two years later, I learned that she had died.  She was only 28 years old.

I couldn't find a photo of Joram.  I sat here for a good half hour trying to think of what image I could use to represent him for this entry, but I couldn't think of a damn thing.  If anyone who is reading this knew him, you know exactly what I mean.

Just in case his ghost is standing over my shoulder as I write this, I want to make something perfectly clear.  His name is pronounced Jor (rhymes with door) um (like yum, but without the y) - Joram.  Nothing pissed him off more than when people would call him "Jerome", which happened often in school - especially if there was a substitute teacher or someone who was reading his name off of a piece of paper.

I met Joram when we were both in fourth grade at Height's Terrace Elementary School, and after all these years, I still don't know how to describe him to someone who has never met him.  This is going to sound like I'm insulting him, and I swear to you that I'm not.  Anyone who knew him will back me up on this.  At some point in his life, Joram was a sweet, friendly, but highly sensitive six year old boy who was prone to temper tantrums and crying fits, and he never progressed very far beyond that point.  I don't mean to say that had an intellectual disability.  I don't think he did.  He graduated high school, and he wasn't stupid.  He just always seemed to me like he was emotionally trapped in the mind of a troubled six year old boy.  The man who I found to be my girlfriend's cousin in 2001 was not much different from the little boy I met in fourth grade.

Joram was prone to making up stories to try to make friends or to impress the friends that he had.  Think of Chunk at the beginning of The Goonies when his friends tease him about the time that he lied and said that Michael Jackson came over to his house to use the bathroom.  Joram's lies weren't just unbelievable - they were completely ridiculous.  He once told he that he removed his own kidney and gave it to a girl that needed it.  If you called him out on any of this, he would get extremely offended and pout about it.  But, here's the thing I learned about Joram - the dude genuinely couldn't help it, and if you took him aside and reassured him that you enjoyed his company and that he didn't have to impress you, he would settle down.  You could almost see the relief washing over his face, and he would relax and just talk.

Now, even when Joram wasn't telling outlandish stories, you could tell there was something off about him, but it wasn't anything bad or dangerous.  At the absolute worst, it was mildly annoying, but usually it wasn't even that.  It was almost sweet and charming.  Like, for example, Megan and I went grocery shopping and we made a point to get him his favorite donut.  When we gave it to him, he smiled like a kid who got a puppy on Christmas morning and held it with both of his hands as he happily ate it.  He'd also do whatever he could to make other people happy, but in ways that made you scratch your head and wonder what was going on upstairs with the big guy.  For example, he knew that I enjoyed eating buttered noodles as a side dish with my dinner, so one day, he made a big pot of noodles as a surprise for me, and when they were finished cooking and ready to plate, he ran upstairs (not walked - ran) and said "Billy, I made you your favorite noodles... with REAL butter!".  He emphasized the word "real" with such enthusiasm that you would have thought we were in some post-apocalyptic wasteland and he found the last real butter on earth to make these noodles.  The light in his eyes and the joy on his face when he told me this was almost beautiful.  Now, I may have been a self-absorbed prick as a 21 year old, and I may have gotten into some shouting matches with his cousin over all kinds of nonsense, but even me at my absolute worst could never have brought myself to say anything to take that smile off of his face.  So, I got up out of my chair and said "Oh dude, that's AWESOME!  Thank you so much!" and I followed him downstairs and had a big bowl of noodles... and they were good.

The paradox of Joram was that for as much of a liar as he was, you could trust him completely.  If you gave him a hundred bucks to put in his wallet to keep an eye on it until you ask for it back, you could absolutely assured that you would get every last penny of it back immediately when you asked him for it... and this is a kid who was absolutely broke.  Not long after we got the apartment in Brandonville, Megan asked me if I would mind if Joram moved in with us, and I immediately said yes.  I think she was expecting it to be an argument (and who would blame her), but I was glad to have him as a roommate and to give him a safe place to call home where no one would hurt him or try to take advantage of his need to please others.

I lost touch with Joram when I moved to Nebraska.  I bumped into him one other time - at Funfest in 2008.  I was volunteering for the Obama campaign to pass out voter registration forms, and I saw him walking around with some of his friends.  He was a big guy back in 2001-02, but he put on a lot more weight.  We talked for a little while and went our separate ways.  Many years later, I bumped into Shawn who told me that Joram had passed away on June 18th, 2017 - just six days after his mother died.  I looked up his obituary, and they either spelled his name wrong or he was deliberately spelling it wrong for all the years I knew him.  Neither would surprise me.

He was a good hearted dude with issues that were well beyond his control - and he was my friend.  I miss him.

This is Joram's little brother, Jeff.  If you met the two of them, you would never believe that they were brothers, let alone that Jeff was a year younger.  Jeff was a very good dude - much more of a laid back and chill guy than this photo suggests, but aside from his good nature, he had absolutely nothing in common with Joram that I ever noticed.

I think I got along with Jeff better than anyone else in our group.  We had a lot in common - similar attitude, same taste in music, movies, books, and a common outlook on the world.  Basically, we were pissed off at the world and sort of happy about it.  He didn't live with us, but he and his girlfriend Steph stayed over our house quite a bit - especially after January 2002 when a 17 year old girl got stabbed in the chest in their apartment.  It's a long story.  If you care to read it, here's the news clipping from the trial.

Jeff and I may have had a lot in common, but one area where we differed was in substance abuse.  I drank and got high once in a while, but I never touched any hard drugs.  I know that he and Megan had cooked up some drug selling scheme, but I wanted no parts of it and I told them both in no uncertain terms that I don't care what they do as long as Megan doesn't get hurt, my car isn't involved, and that they don't tell me the details because I didn't want to know.  Jeff gave me his word, and to their credit, neither of them got busted or hurt, but I'm pretty sure they didn't make anything close to the money they were hoping for, because they were pretty pissed off when it was all over.  The whole incident was a also a big red flag for me that I needed to start coming up with an exit plan.  If Megan and I had a stronger relationship, I might have handled things differently, but where I could deal with the arguing and fighting, I wasn't going to put up with her messing around with one of my friends.  I didn't know if she wanted him, or if she just wanted to fuck with me to make me jealous and inject drama into our relationship.  Knowing her, and knowing how it all worked out in the end after I moved to Nebraska, I tend to think it was the latter, but it didn't matter to me either way.  That's not a game I was willing to play.

I can't confirm or deny that Jeff did anything heavier than weed back in 2001 and 2002, but whether he did or didn't at the time, he had definitely leveled up before the end of the decade.  I also cannot state for a fact that I know the cause of his death on May 13, 2011.  I wasn't there.  I don't know.  I can say that what I was told is that he was living with Megan and her two kids at the time.  Megan and her husband had split up, so I imagine he moved in to help out with the bills and to keep an eye on his niece and nephew while their mother was at work.  I was told that heroin was involved, and that he died in Megan's house, which caused custody issues with her children.  I was told that Megan got involved with someone, and within four months, Megan had also died.  I don't know if Megan's death was accidental or not, and if it wasn't, I don't know if she made that choice or if someone else made it for her.  I won't speculate here.  I wasn't there.  I don't know.  I just know that Jeff should have lived longer than 30 years, and Megan should have lived longer than 28.

The guy on the left is Brad.  The guy on the right is Mike, but we usually called him Ogre.  They lived in the center apartment with Margie, but if you came over to visit the row home on any given day, you might not know who lived in which house because we all pretty much came and went from each other's apartment as we pleased.  There were so many of us that there was always at least one or two of us home at any given time, and we lived in the middle of nowhere, so we didn't even lock the doors.

Brad was kind of a douchebag.  He was Margie's boyfriend, and while he took care of her and kept her safe, he was controlling and manipulative.  Megan and I may have had screaming matches at each other, but we were equal partners and we were giving it to each other in equal measure.  In contrast, Brad would dish out passive aggressive crap, and Margie would just take it.  He was also one of the biggest bullshit artists I have ever met in my life.  I know that I just told you about Joram who made up ridiculous stories and got upset if you called him out on them, and I called him sweet and charming despite it all.  That wasn't the case with Brad.  He would brag about himself in ways that was every bit as ridiculous as Joram, but less over-the-top.  Like he'd tell us about how he was a karate expert and a member of Mensa.  In reality, he was as stupid as a bag of hammers, and everyone in the house (men and women) could knock that wheezing dork on his ass without breaking a sweat.

Ogre, on the other hand, was a sweetheart who treated Margie like gold every time I saw them together.  I don't know this for a fact, but I'm pretty sure he was in love with her.  He was a nice guy in every interaction I had with him.  If it were up to me, I would have sent Brad packing back to Waynesboro or wherever the hell he said he was from and let Margie and Ogre see if they could make it work together.  Unfortunately, it was Ogre who was sent away just a few weeks before I left for Nebraska.  Here's the situation: Brad and Margie had an open relationship.  At least that's what Brad always said.  In fact, he openly bragged about it repeatedly, whether anyone asked him about it or not.  One day, Brad had to leave to go back to Waynesboro with his family for a few days for some reason.  I didn't ask why, and I didn't care.  I was just glad to not have to listen to his mouth for a few days.  Anyway, while Brad was away, Margie and Ogre hooked up.  Margie told Brad about this when he got back (you know, since they had an open relationship and everything), and Brad blew a gasket and kicked Ogre out of the house.  Ogre had about six inches of height on Brad, so seeing tiny little skinny Brad yelling up at Ogre was a pretty absurd thing to watch.  However, out of respect for Margie's, Ogre left.

I don't know what's going on with either of them.  I hope Ogre is doing well, and I couldn't care less what Brad is doing.

This is Margie.  She was a truly special human being.  Most of the people who knew her treated her like garbage, and it still pisses me the fuck off to this day.

Margie and I went to West Hazleton Junior High School at the same time.  We were in 9th grade, but we didn't have any classes together.  Also, I was back and forth between living with my Dad in Florida and my grandparents in West Hazleton at this point in my life, so I wasn't always in school with her.  I never met her.  I didn't know her.  However, I did know her name because everyone in school knew her name.  Her name got passed around that school like a bad joke.  They called her a scumbag, a slut, and much worse.  It was bullying on a scale that I have never seen before - not even in a movie.  Picture the worst things you can ever experience as a 14 year old girl in school and multiply it by 50 - that was Margie's life.  What I didn't know until later is that the abuse she suffered in school was nothing compared to the abuse that she suffered from grown men from before she knew how to walk, and it hadn't ended.

My story with Margie began in February 1997.  I was 16 years old and had been kicked out of school, and I was arguing with my grandmother almost every day.  I finally reached my breaking point, so I packed a bag of clothes and some other things and I left.  I had recently gotten in touch with an ex-girlfriend named Tina.  She was living with her current boyfriend, Jim, in a pretty nice half double in Ebervale.  Jim and I got along pretty well.  He was at least 10 years older than Tina and I, which in retrospect is creepy as hell that he had an underage girlfriend, but when I was 16, I didn't really think too much about it.  Jim offered me a place to stay if I ever needed it, so I decided to take him up on the offer, and he seemed genuinely glad to have me staying with them.

After a day or two, Tina decided to invite Margie over to introduce her to me.  I only knew her by reputation.  When she got to the apartment, Tina and Jim went upstairs and it was just Margie and I in the living room.  Now, if I was a self-absorbed jerk at 21, I could be a downright fucking jerk at 16.  I don't remember what I said, but I know it wasn't nice.  However, what happened next is something that I remember as vividly as if it happened yesterday.  I was in mid sentence of some cocky, arrogant prick thing that I was saying when I looked up at her and caught her eyes and saw that she was holding back tears.  I stopped dead in my tracks and shut the fuck up and just looked at her for about thirty seconds as she stood across the room from me by the sofa.  I don't know what snapped in my head to wise me the fuck up, but I did.  I softened my tone and told her that I was sorry, and then I asked her to come here.  She did, and I stood there with one arm wrapped around her and the other one on her hair with her head on my shoulder.  She didn't make a sound, but I felt her tears on my shirt.

I don't know how long we stood there like that, but it felt like it was a month.  We walked together toward the sofa and sat down.  I was in the corner and she was half laying down, curled up in my lap with her head on my chest.  We didn't kiss.  We didn't have sex.  We just talked for the entire night - practically nonstop.  I don't mean that it felt like all night.  I mean, it was all night.  I remember it was about 9:30 at night when she got there because it was a Monday and I was watching WCW Nitro on tv before she got there, and it was about halfway through the show when I turned it off when I heard the car pull up, and we both saw through the curtains in the living room window that the sun had come up.

That night, I learned who this girl was.  I learned what hell she had gone through in her life, and I was struck by the fact that as she told me things that would drag every negative emotion you have ever had in your life up to the surface, she did so in a voice that was calm, almost a grim acceptance that this life was her fate.  There was sadness in her eyes and in her voice, but it was almost the tone that a doctor would use if they had to come out and tell the family of his patient that they died on the table.  I remember some of the details, and I wouldn't share them here if you offered me a million dollars.  And there was no embellishment or exaggeration to what she told me.  This was a 16 year old girl pouring a lifetime of pain out, but without losing her ability to smile when she told me about the things in this world that gave her joy and happiness.

I have never in my life met someone as strong and powerful and pure as Margie, and I don't believe I ever will.  But she wasn't unbreakable - far from it.  She was fragile, and me being a jerk when I first saw her was enough to break her - for her to say to herself "here we go again; this is who I am, and this is what I deserve".  What made Margie strong and powerful was the fact that every time she got broken, she picked up the pieces and tried again.  And again.  And again.

I stayed with Tina and Jim for about three weeks before I decided I need to go home and work things out with my family, and Margie was there almost every day. She slept over most nights.  By this point, she had quit school, and I don't think her mother cared too much about where she was or what she was doing.  During those three weeks, she and I were intimate.  It was unavoidable.  I was a 16 year old boy, and she was a 16 year old girl who rarely was treated with gentle kindness unless it was in bed (and most times, not then either).

What we had never developed into a boyfriend/girlfriend relationship.  It just wasn't possible.  Although I was always kind and gentle with her every single time we spoke from that moment in Jim and Tina's living room, and while I would never say anything bad about her and aggressively defend her when I heard others do so, I was still the same arrogant prick who had a lot of growing up to do.  However, even if I was a better person, it would not have worked.  Margie was a very social person.  She liked meeting people, and if someone wanted to sleep with her, it was very rare that she would say no.  I won't blame her for that, and I won't judge her for that.  After a lifetime of abuse (and I assure you, whatever you are imagining as you read this, it was much, much worse), she was not usually capable of saying no.  It's not a situation that I was mentally or emotionally equipped to deal with as a boyfriend.  Hell, I couldn't do it now.  At 16, I couldn't even think about it.

I loved Margie, but I loved her as a sister.  She loved me, but she loved me as a brother.  And I'm not going to lie and say that we never slept together after February 1997.  It was less frequent though, and it was always an act of comfort, not one of lust or passion.  One of us (usually me) would be in a dark place - sad, depressed and hating themselves - and she would be there for me.  I remember the last time we were intimate was early in 1998, and I told her that she didn't owe herself to me, and that I would still be there for her.  We stayed in touch after that, but Margie was a free spirit and she went where the wind took her.  Keep in mind, this is in the days before social media and cell phones.  I had her home phone number, and when she left home, she was gone.

We got back in touch after I met Megan at Uni-Mart, and she told me she was in a coven with a couple in Brandonville.  She told me their names and I told her that I knew Margie.  I never told her that we slept together, and later on, Margie told me that I was smart not to tell her because Megan had a habit of getting violently jealous.  There was never anything more intimate than a hug between Margie and I when I lived next door to her in Brandonville, but there were lots of late night conversations and singing together in the shower through our apartment wall.

As much as I disliked Brad, Megan disliked Margie. Margie would sometimes regress to a childlike state for an extended period of time (for example: she'd call her boyfriend "Bwad" instead of Brad), and it drove Megan up the wall.  I tried to explain to her that it's a coping mechanism.  She's trying different things to give her comfort and peace of mind, but Megan wasn't hearing any of it.  More than a few of our fights began when she'd go on a rant about Margie, and I reached my breaking point and responded with something along the lines of "Why do you gotta be such a bitch?".  Yeah, I was a real charmer.  

I lost touch with Margie when I moved to Nebraska.  I think she left the state for a while and came back, but I'm not sure.  I bumped into her in college in 2008. She was dating one of the adjunct professors and auditing a class, which means she was taking the class, but not for any college credits.  It had only been six years since we lived next door to each other, but she looked like she aged about twenty years since I last saw her.  She didn't look bad.  She just looked like a woman who life continued to be unkind to, but she still had that smile and that sparkle in her eye when she saw me and shouted "Billy" before running over to give me a big hug.  

I was on my way to class and we were headed in different directions, but we exchanged MySpace info and talked a few times over the phone and through MySpace.  The last time I spoke to her on the phone was around 2010, and I won't swear that I'm correct, but I think she was dating a truck driver and was on the road with him.  I could be remembering that wrong.  We all get wrapped up in our own lives and people go off in their own directions.  I never saw her again after that day on campus.

One day in 2017, I decided to look her up to see if she had a Facebook page.  I don't know what reminded me of her, but whatever it was, it was a few months too late.  I found her obituary.  She was living in Oklahoma when she died.

She is one of the biggest regrets of my life.  I wish I could have done more for her.  I don't know what I could have done or how I could have done it, but I wish I took the time to at least try to figure something out - some way to give her a safe place to try to figure things out.  She probably wouldn't have stayed anyway, but I wish I had at least tried something.

Margie's gone.  Megan's gone.  Joram and Jeff are gone.  Brad... who knows?  Ogre's probably still around somewhere, but then again, I would have said the same thing about Margie, and Megan and Joram and Jeff.  Out of the four of them, Joram is the only one who was older than me, and not by much.

We always think that we have forever to figure shit out, especially when you're 16 years old... or 21 years old... or 28 years old... or 30 years old... or 36 years old... or 38 years old.  Eventually, forever gets a lot shorter.

Apr 9, 2021

Jai Guru Deva

The Beatles (1969)
Forever thankful for the light in the universe that has changed my world, and forever grateful that this light continues to shine strongly and brightly.

Apr 8, 2021

The Six Bunny Wunnies Join An Encounter Group

Charles Schulz (April 8, 1971)
I always wanted a spin-off series that followed the adventures of The Six Bunny Wunnies.  Here's a list of all of their literary adventures mentioned over the years, along with the dates of the Peanuts comics when they were first mentioned (courtesy of Fandom).
  • The Six Bunny Wunnies and Their Pony Cart (July 26, 1970)
  • The Six Bunny Wunnies Go to Long Beach (April 8, 1971)
  • The Six Bunny Wunnies Make Cookies (April 8, 1971)
  • The Six Bunny Wunnies Join an Encounter Group (April 8, 1971)
  • The Six Bunny Wunnies and Their XK-E (April 10, 1971)
  • The Six Bunny Wunnies and Their Water Bed (April 12, 1971)
  • The Six Bunny Wunnies and Their Layover in Anderson, Indiana (April 13, 1971)
  • The Six Bunny Wunnies and the Female Veterinarian (February 10, 1972)
  • The Six Bunny Wunnies Freak Out (October 23, 1972)
  • The Six Bunny Wunnies Visit Plains, Georgia (September 26, 1977)

Apr 7, 2021

Just Another Ordinary Identity Crisis

This photo was taken at my mothers house on Thanksgiving 2016.  The dude in the white hat on the left is the man that I've called Pop Pop throughout my life.  I was named after him (my middle name), and like all of my cousins on my mothers side, I was given a second Hawaiian middle name.  It's Manukai.  It means "breeze from the ocean".

July 1988 - Mom Mom, Pop Pop, Mom and I in Hawaii
When I was seven years old, I spent a month in Hawaii with my mother, my Mom Mom and my Pop Pop (I had my 8th birthday on Oahu).  While we were there, I was introduced to dozens of aunts, uncles and cousins that I never met before.  He also taught me a lot about my Hawaiian heritage.  Soon afterward, he gave me a home with three square meals and a safe place to sleep when my mother and her new husband decided I was too much to handle.

July 5, 2008 - Mom is on my left.  Pop Pop is on the right.  The 28 year old me is in the center.
When I was 11 years old, I moved to Florida to live with my Dad and I drifted away from my mother's side of the family.  That distance only grew wider with time for many reasons, not the least of which is our differing values when it comes to bigotry, social justice, and... well... everything.  The election of Trump pretty much broke my branch off of their family tree altogether.  However, despite all of the arguments and disagreements I've had with him, I never doubted for a second that he loved me.  Until very recently, I also never doubted that he was my grandfather.

Then, along came the Ancestry.com DNA test.

So, as you might have guessed by now, my grandfather is Hawaiian.  Actually, he's half Hawaiian and half Chinese.  His father emigrated from Canton to the islands when he was a young man.  He opened a restaurant, met his wife, and had a family.  Pop Pop was his youngest son.

My ethnicity is a bit more complicated.  I have always been told that I am a "Heinz 57" because each of my grandparents have ancestors that came from somewhere else: My paternal grandfather was German and English, my paternal grandmother was Italian and Tyrolean and my maternal grandmother was Irish.  All three of them have passed away.  The only one of my grandparents who is still alive is Pop Pop.

When I first looked at this ethnicity estimate, I didn't pay very close attention to it.  Sure, it seemed odd that there it doesn't show Polynesian or Chinese, but it's only an estimate, right?  After all, it's also saying that I have a bit of Northern African, Norwegian and French heritage, and I can't think of anyone in my family who might be any of those.  The 22% Scottish jumped out at me too.  To the best of my knowledge, there is no one of Scottish ancestry in my family, but according to my DNA, it's the second highest part of my ethnicity.

Then, I noticed the section where my DNA is compared to other family members who have also taken the Ancestry.com DNA test.

Katie, Nathan and Casey are three of my cousins.  Up until I first looked at these results, I had always figured that they were my first cousins.  After all, their father is my uncle - my mother's brother.  We have the same grandparents.  Therefore, they're my first cousins, right?  Not according to our DNA, they're not.

While I recognize that these are estimates and not an exact science, this isn't just one person.  It's three people.  In each case, the highest likelihood of our familiar relationship is "Half 1st Cousin", which would mean that we share one grandparent.  Also, all three of them have evidence of Polynesian and Southern Chinese ethnicity in their DNA.  With me - zip, zilch, nada.  I have one percent of Northern African heritage, but not a drop of Hawaiian or Chinese.  I don't know if this is evidence that would stand up in a court of law, but the picture that this paints is pretty clear.  My cousins and I have the same grandmother, who ancestry appears to be both Irish and Scottish.

I had a second test done with 23 And Me just to get a second opinion.  The results are supposed to come back later this month.  Who knows, maybe the folks at Ancestry.com accidentally spilled my Hawaiian Chinese DNA into the hand-washing sink.  It doesn't seem likely, but I suppose it's possible.  However, if this comes back with similar results, this means that, in all likelihood...

  • Pop Pop is not actually related to me.
  • The man that my mother has always believed to be her father is not actually related to her.
  • I never met my maternal grandfather.
  • My mother probably never met her birth father.
  • I am not the race or ethnicity that I was raised to believe that I was (well, at least a quarter of it).

And what the hell do I do about any of this?  Well, you're looking at it.

I certainly can't tell Pop Pop, or my mother or anyone on that side of my family.  My mother is ridiculously close to her father, and I don't think it's a great idea to start making accusations about my dead grandmother to a side of the family that I am already the blacksheep of.  Incidentally, there is zero chance that any of them find my blog.  Hell, if they haven't found it in twenty years, they're not going to suddenly stumble on it today, and I guarantee you that none of them, including my mother, cares enough to Google me.

I don't really have any close friends to talk with about this.  One of my many lovely qualities is that I have a remarkable talent for pushing people away no matter how hard they try to be good to me, and by the time I stop being a jerk and overthinking everything, they're long gone.  Hell, even the casual friends and work acquaintances I've made over the years are all gone since I got rid of social media a few years ago.  I really am a piece of garbage, aren't I?

I tried telling my dad about this, but he's not super comfortable talking about my mother's side of the family.  It was a pretty crazy time in his life, and it ended about 35 years ago, so I guess I understand that.  The reaction from my wife was similar, but for different reasons.  She knows Pop Pop and likes him quite a bit.  I do too.  I may not be close with him anymore (see the above paragraph), but I love him.  I know in my heart that this doesn't really change anything.  He's been my grandfather for my entire life, and he'll always be my grandfather.

The other question this all leaves behind isn't quite as clear.  Who am I?  Before all of this, if I were filling out a bio or introducing myself in the asinine and awkward way that I have, that's always a part of it.  Hey folks, I'm Hawaiian and Italian!  I may be an absolute asshole that you'll want to strangle after a few weeks of knowing me, but check out this cool little fact about me!  All sarcasm aside, it was a part of my heritage that I very strongly identified with for many years.  As a kid, I learned everything I could about Hawaii.  I read books.  I watched movies.  I learned some of the language (and forgot most of it).  I cheered my ass off for Shane Victorino when he played for the Phillies.  Check out our center fielder, The Flyin' Hawaiian!  Hell, I even make excuses for why Spam is a perfectly acceptable side dish with breakfast.  There's not a whole hell of a lot about me that's special, but I always had that.  No matter how low I've ever felt, that was the one thing that this world couldn't take away from me.  Well, guess what... it did.  And as usual, it's my fault.

If only I hadn't gotten that damn test.

Apr 6, 2021

Living The Dream

source: Alejandro A. Alvarez (Philadelphia Inquirer Staff Photographer)
This is Tom Garvey.  He is a 78 year old retired real-estate agent living in Ambler, Pennsylvania with his wife Peggy and his three-legged dog Moxie.  He's been featured in the news over the past few weeks because he has just written a memoir of the three years that he lived in a secret apartment hidden inside Veterans Stadium.

Mr. Garvey was a Green Beret who commanded a United States Army Special Forces camp on the Cambodian border during the Vietnam War.  Several years after he returned home from the war, he began working with his family at the stadium.  His uncles had a contract to run the concession and novelty stands inside Veterans Stadium and the parking lots at the stadium complex, and his cousin had a memorabilia shop inside the ballpark.  While working in various roles with his family, he was given a set of keys to one of the seldom used entrances to the stadium.

One of the many jobs that Mr. Garvey did was to manage a crew to handle the parking lots which were opened for Pope John Paul's visit to Philadelphia.  To make sure everyone was there and ready to work at 4:00 am when the parking lots opened to the public, he allowed his crew to sleep overnight at the ballpark.  To accommodate them, he set up an empty concession stand by Gate D on the 200 Level near left field that was near his cousin's office.  It was a room that was about 60 feet long by 30 feet wide.  He and his friend joked about how cool it would be to live there, which gave him the idea.  After the Pope left Philadelphia, Mr. Garvey got to work.

First, he arranged boxes at the entrance so that anyone who opened the door would see nothing but a wall of stacked cardboard boxes; no different than many of the other storage areas at the stadium.  At the end of the room, he built a corridor of boxes which led to a room that would become his secret apartment at Veterans Stadium for the next three years.  It had wall-to-wall carpeting made up of leftover Astroturf, a bed, a kitchen with a refrigerator, sink, hotplate and coffee maker, and a seating area with a stereo.

This apartment became his home for three years until his uncle's parking lot contract expired in 1981.  He was never caught and no one ever suspected that he was living in a secret apartment inside the stadium.  With the exception of the friends he brought to visit, including several members of the Philadelphia Eagles (including Vince Papale, Jerry Sisemore, and Bill Bradley, each of whom vouch for Mr. Garvey's story), no one knew about it at all.  His job with the parking lot required him to remain at the stadium after hours, and everyone got so accustomed to seeing him that his presence was never questioned - even when he once came out to watch the second game of a Phillies double header in 1980 wearing a bathrobe and flip flops.  Mr. Garvey said that at night when the stadium was empty, he used to roller skating around the concourse, lay down in the 700 level and stare up at the stars, and occasionally get high in the Phillies dugout.

In short, this man was in the middle of living my dream life when I was born, and I am very grateful that he used his time in quarantine during the pandemic to write this book and share the his memories of what had to be a surreal and incredible time.  I took one of my vacation days today to have a four day weekend for Easter and Dad's birthday, so I'll be spending some time this evening diving into this story.  If you found my stupid little blog and you want to read something better, you can purchase this book on Amazon.

Apr 5, 2021

The Reese's Fluffernutter

Reese's Mallow-top Peanut Butter Cups
Hershey (2021)
I'm not sure what to make of these.  They're a pretty decent novelty candy - a bit too sweet for my taste, but not sickeningly sweet to the point where I didn't enjoy it.  I suppose it's the perfect seasonal item because I can't imagine that I would ever choose this over a regular Reese's Peanut Butter Cup, but I could definitely see myself getting them around Easter time.

This isn't the first time that Hershey added a marshmallow flavor to their Reese's Peanut Butter Cups.  In 2006, they made Reese's Peanut Butter Cups with Marshmallow as a limited time product.  However, these had a base of marshmallow creme at the bottom of the cup beneath the peanut butter filling.  The new Mallow-top Cups do not.  The best way I can describe it is that it's a regular Reese's Peanut Butter Cup, but the top half of the chocolate shell has been replaced by marshmallow-flavored white chocolate.  I suppose that makes them less sticky and more resistant to temperature abuse in shipping, but I think I prefer the 2006 recipe.

Apr 4, 2021

From The Osterhase To The Supermarket

Specialty Selected Chocolate Truffle Eggs
Aldi (2021)
The more I shop at Aldi, the more impressed I am with their merchandise.  These truffle eggs are some of the best tasting Easter chocolates that I've ever had.

Apr 3, 2021

Sometimes You Don't Have To Try To Remember

I Hope You're Happy
Blue October (2018)
There is no shortage of breakup songs and songs about lost love in this world, but the vast majority of them fall into one of two categories: they're either a desperate plea to win the person back, or a an angry, sarcastic rant about how glad you are that they're gone.

This song is remarkable because it is neither of those things.  It is a sweet, sincere appreciation for another human being without an ounce of meanness or hidden agenda.  It's a song that recognizes how much someone means to you, how thankful you are that they were a part of your life, and how truly glad you are that they are living a happy life.

Apr 2, 2021

Class Dismissed

This clipping was in a box of old photos that I found over the winter.  I can't say for sure, but I think that it's from an issue of the Grebey Junior High School newspaper from the early 80's when my dad was working one of his first teaching jobs after he graduated from college.  When I look back on pictures like this, I can still remember life as a little boy who was waiting for his dad to get home from work.  Time really does fly.

My dad is turning 62 today and in the last few weeks of his teaching career.  He has decided to retire at the end of the 2020-21 school year.  With all of the chaos in public schools during the Covid-19 pandemic, I can't say that I blame him.  I really hope he gets to do some traveling and enjoy his retirement.  Time flies, man.  It really flies.

Apr 1, 2021

Back To The Ballpark

Today is Opening Day.  It's the one day of the season when everyone still has a reason to hope - even Orioles fans.  The Phillies haven't had a playoff appearance or a winning record since 2011, so they'll be trying to snap a nine year drought starting in Philadelphia at 3:05 this afternoon against the Braves.

The Phillies had a better winter than even the most optimistic fan could have hoped for.  When the 2020 season ended, the front office still hadn't made up its mind on their general manager.  They didn't extend a qualifying offer to Didi Gregorius, and the signals they seemed to be sending about J.T. Realmuto was that they wanted him back, but that we shouldn't get our hopes up.  That all began to change when the team hired Dave Dombrowski to be the President of Baseball Operations.  Not only did he bring back J.T. and Didi to reasonable contracts, but he completely overhauled the bullpen and brought in two quality starters for the back end of the rotation and a couple of quality bats on the bench.

This is the 26 man roster that the Phillies will begin the 2021 season with.  I was pretty shocked that JoJo Romero was assigned to Triple A, especially since it leaves only one lefty in the pen, but I expect they'll have him up with the big league club before too long.  However, I was extremely happy to see Adam Haseley and Roman Quinn lock down the job in center field.  The last thing this team needs is the distraction that Odubel Herrera would bring to the clubhouse, not to mention his weak bat and his drunken giraffe defense.

Bamboo Brad is back with the club.  He can play 2B, SS, 3B and the corner outfield.  He's joined on the bench by 36 year old veteran Matt Joyce.  He was an All-Star in 2011 and has been a reliable power bat off of the bench for many years.  I was at Opening Day two years ago when he came in to pinch hit for the Braves in the top of the 7th and hit a home run to deep right field off of Hector Neris.  I'd love to see him repay the favor today against his old team.

We're going to get a full season with Alec Bohm at third, an upgrade at the back end of the rotation with Matt Moore and Chase Anderson, a bullpen that will include at least one (Vince Velasquez) and as many as three pitchers (with Spencer Howard and Ranger Suarez) who can step into the rotation in case of injury, and four quality relievers with experience closing ballgames (Neris, Bradley, Kintzler and Alvarado).  They'll have the best catcher and the best backup catcher in baseball, and the tandem of Didi and Segura have looked pretty good in the field this Spring.  Both Bryce Harper and Rhys Hoskins will be entering their age 28 season, and Andrew McCutchen quietly had a very impressive spring.

There's a lot of reason to be optimistic about the Phillies chances in 2021.

Update: What an incredible game!  Phenomenal catches by both Bohm and Didi, and Roman Quinn gunned down Ozzie Albies at the plate in the top of the 10th.  Ring the bell!  (photo source: Ben Davis)

Mar 31, 2021

And Then There Were Two

What do Angels DH Albert Pujols and Rays LHP Rich Hill have in common?  They're the only two players in Major League Baseball who will be older than I am when the 2021 season begins tomorrow.  There is one other who shares my birthdate - Twins DH Nelson Cruz, but every other player is younger than I am.

Damn, this getting old thing really sneaks up on you.

Mar 30, 2021

Free Baseball

T-Mobile is once again giving subscribers a free one year subscription to MLB.TV.  Unfortunately, due to the archaic blackout restrictions that Major League Baseball, you've still got to use a VPN if you want to see your local team.

Mar 29, 2021

Dad-a-chum? Ded-a-chek?

Priano Lobster Ravioli
Aldi (2021)
I didn't imagine that my 40's would be a nonstop party, but I also didn't think that my first year would be spent sheltered from a global pandemic.  After I get vaccinated, maybe there will be a bit more than groceries to write about.  As it stands, about 90% of the time I have left the house over the past twelve months have been either to go food shopping or to walk the dog, so photo opportunities have been somewhat limited.

These ravioli really are worth the bandwidth though.  They were very tasty, and while I don't remember exactly how much I paid for them, I know they were very inexpensive - maybe three bucks, give or take.

I did have to laugh at the serving suggestion on the package.  Apparently, their advice is that I skip the ravioli altogether and have a lobster tail with a side of cheese instead.  Come on, Priano.  Have a little faith in your little ravioli.  They're pretty good!

PS: Bonus points to anyone who understood the reference in the title of this post.  Kudos for your good taste in literature.  Long days and pleasant nights.

Mar 28, 2021

Quite Possibly The Coolest Human Being Who Ever Lived

Richard Garriott
Origin SystemsDestination Games
With the exception of playing games like Shanghai, Wheel of Fortune and Police Quest on my grandmother's Tandy, I wasn't much of a PC gamer in the 80's.  However, even though I never played any of the games from his Ultima series, I knew who Richard Garriott was.  Anyone who played video games in the 20th century has heard of him, or at least saw photos of his alter-ego Lord British in gaming magazines.

What I didn't realize until recently is that this guy's fictional personality pales in comparison to his actual life.  He is the only human being in history to have traveled to both the North and South Pole, to outer space, and to the deepest trench in the ocean.

I found out about this on Monday while listening to the Retro Warriors podcast.  At first, I thought they were kidding, but it's true.  In October 2008, the game developer flew on the Soyuz TMA-13 mission to the International Space Station, and last month, he took a seven mile journey to the Mariana Trench at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean.  This most recent journey prompted one of the most entertaining magazine headlines I have ever seen.

The more I read about this man, the more I am convinced that he just may be the most badass human being who ever walked the face of the earth.  If there are any other contenders, I can't think of who they could be.