Thursday, March 30, 2006
Wyatt Earp, Annie Oakley and Me: II
Wyatt Earp, the great, great nephew of the Wyatt Earp of American West legend, is a man whose heritage enters a room ten feet ahead of him. But aside from being the Midwest’s living link to Tombstone, Arizona and the OK Corral, he is a former coworker and dear friend of my Other Half.

Not surprisingly, he is also a master of firearms – a self-defense and safety trainer. Our reasons for wanting to meet one another were twofold: he wanted to meet his friend’s love interest and I wanted to overcome a fear of guns that was nearly phobic, compliments of a childhood trauma.

Wyatt arrived at the shooting gallery ahead of us. We entered the building and he emerged from the shadows at the far end of the room. There was no piano music in the background or swinging saloon doors. He wasn’t bedecked in a ten-gallon hat or spurred boots. But, he did sport a .45 caliber aura and very Earpish mustache. The small, humid gallery was, obviously, his playground and comfort zone. And, the staff made it clear he carried something like celebrity status there.

He and the Other Half exchanged sarcastic quips, introductions were made and the three off us settled into a plush sofa in the trophy room. As the two men visited old times together, with the kind of comfort and ease good friends share, I was happy to simply observe, in awe.

I’ve had similar experiences – and perhaps other adoptees have as well. There is something about seeing the physical resemblances between family members that will sometimes strike me as simply amazing. I perceive it almost like it is an anomaly, perhaps because it is so foreign to my frame of reference. While no one would pass my Wyatt Earp on the street and make an immediate connection to his uncle, connecting the genetic dots was easy for me to do. You could see it in his eyes and in his mustache-framed mouth. But more substantially there was just a cadence to his whole being; his speech, his mannerisms, the way he carried himself that simply dripped history and heritage.

I was probably cured of my phobia before we ever entered the shooting range. Nothing inspires one to leave their gun fears at the door more than having Wyatt Earp hand you his shotgun and say, “lets see what you can do.”

But, prior to my first trigger pull, we shared an hour of training: the psychology of using a gun, the way to do it safely and within the law, the idiocy of bluffing and the power of conviction. And as he shared his philosophy of gun ownership it was obvious the wisdom he imparted was from more than training or experience. His knowledge was also rooted in biology and history, the culmination of growing up an Earp, surrounded by tradition and the story of his elders.

While I made tight patterns on targets and blew away silhouettes, it was clear I’d accomplished more than overcoming a fear. I was good. I kept up with my experienced companions, much to their surprise. But bringing home my trophy targets was the least substantial experience of the day.

When Wyatt looked at me and said, “I think I’ll have to start calling you Annie Oakley,” it finally happened. Time collapsed and, for the first time, with Wyatt Earp unknowingly loaning me his heritage to use as a bridge to history, I felt grounded in both the past and present in the same moment. The experience is now filed away as one of the most memorable of my life.
 
Rhonda Ruminated at 11:16 AM | Permalink | 11 People Ruminated links to this post
Wednesday, March 29, 2006
Wyatt Earp, Annie Oakley and Me
PART I

Heritage: adoptees covet it, are puzzled by it and even sometimes dismiss it. People who don’t lack a bloodline, who simply harbor it, like blue eyes or broad shoulders, might never consider heritage because it’s always been there. And they don’t always understand an adoptee’s quest to connect with their own. “What’s the big deal?” some ask, “It never mattered to me.”

I question that.

Perhaps heritage is something not missed until it’s lost; not coveted until it’s been taken away, isn’t even considered because it doesn’t have to be. It’s like breathing. One doesn’t think about taking a breath and then exert the effort to do so. It just happens, it just is – until it isn’t. And then, suddenly, it becomes the most important thing in the world.

Growing up adopted, claiming a heritage has never been a rote exercise for me. It has always been a surgical, copy and paste exertion. The experience of feeling simultaneously grounded in history and existing in the present has always evaded me, despite all the mental gymnastics I’ve attempted to make it otherwise.

My adoptive relatives were gurus of their heritage. Every household was a shrine to it, every wall and bookshelf a museum of photographs, family trees and memorabilia. My aunt and uncle – who I lived with much of my childhood – lived in the same farmhouse and worked the same land built and cultured by their Norwegian ancestors. I grew up in a literal historical landmark. We even had tourists.

I pasted myself into their bloodline, in part because it is human nature to want to connect in such a significant way and, in part, because it was expected of me. I was chosen for this family based almost solely on my purported Norwegian background. They, perhaps, needed to legitimize our connection as much as I did, so insisted somewhere back in time our respective ancestors merged, thus legitimatizing our connection to one another. So I called myself Norwegian, and when the tourists rang I could impart the family history pitch as well as my legitimate cousins.

In my first conversation with my natural mother, I learned I wasn’t one stitch Norwegian. Of all the fictional character traits of my father she’d given the social workers to throw them off track, this one carried the steepest consequences. As an infant, I’d been slated to leave foster care for adoption by another family. But when my very Norwegian adoptive parents’ file landed on the social worker’s desk, she changed plans. She was a woman revered for creating the perfect adoption matches, for blending families by their physical and biological similarities so well that a smooth transition for the adoptee was almost guaranteed.

I struggled with the realization the abuse I suffered in my adoptive home might not have occurred had the word “Norwegian” never been uttered in front of a judge. But the bigger struggle was managing the erasure of something that had become a central part of my identity. No longer Norwegian, I tried to adapt to learning I am instead Ukrainian, Swedish and Welch (while being told to “pay no attention” to an obviously Polish name on my new family tree – or to my birthfather’s unmistakably German name.)

When my birthmother prepared a traditional Ukrainian meal to celebrate my first post-reunion birthday, the maternal side of the family gathered around a table scattered with traditional fare. They shared memories of gatherings past. They told stories. They knew how to pronounce the names of the dishes we ate (and giggled at me uncontrollably when I continually botched attempts to do the same.) They spoke of their Ukrainian grandmother, the old farm, the Old Country. Their words filled the room around me like a thousand snapshot images. I grasped for something recognizable, something to seize and call my own.

The idea I would ever feel legitimately connected to my heritage slipped away somewhere between the borsch and the knydli. I felt like an intruder, an imposter. Sitting in the midst of birthfamily tradition, I felt no less disconnected that I’d felt with adoptive family.

Growing up, my adoptive family graciously shared their traditions with me, but I lacked the bloodline to solidify it into a heritage. In reunion, my natural family genially accepted me into their bloodline, but I lacked the history bloodlines are meant to entail.

There are some things relinquishment and adoption tear apart that reunion just can’t piece back together. Part of the “adoption journey” entails letting go of the things we’ve lost, sorting out the carnage from the clash of fantasy versus reality and finding a balance between the person you might have been and the person you’ve become. At some point in the journey, you come to realize you can’t be given the things you are missing by an external force – or family. And, you learn to cherish the moments you are able to capture the sensation of historical and biological connectedness, even if its delivery is non-conventional.

That connectedness eluded me until the day I met Wyatt Earp . . .

(continue reading this piece here)
 
Rhonda Ruminated at 1:33 PM | Permalink | 7 People Ruminated links to this post
Friday, March 24, 2006
An Epiphany, of Sorts
I am touched. I really am. My email box and comments sections filled with words from people who understand when I posted about our loss of Scout. Your collective words truly moved me. Some of you reached into your own memories and accessed the hurt of your own losses to share in ours. It would have been easier not to do so, I know. But, I am glad you did. And to those of you who truly understand the value of not reducing an experience to an anecdote, I am grateful.

Our dogs are central to our lifestyle. We’ve lost as many as we’ve loved and, each time, it both challenges our faith in the gods’/goddesses’/Universe’s plan and inspires us to commit even more fully to having some part in caring for the critters and creatures of this earth. It may seem like a small thing, but it is meaningful to us. Kant says the meaning of life is being a part of something larger than yourself. He also says most people find their meaning within family. Since this is a loaded proposition for two adopted people, devoting ourselves to our critters works for us, however unconventional. I used to feel we were totally alone in this endeavor. But, since Scout’s diagnoses of hermangial sarcoma (cancer) eleven weeks ago, I have learned differently. I learned a lot about dogs. I learned a lot about cancer and its treatments. I also learned a lot about people.

I learned all it takes to screen a good veterinarian from a bad one is what happens when he enters the exam room. If he sits on the floor with you and your dog, petting, scratching and cuddling your furry friend while talking to you, you are in the right place. My thanks to Dr. Ulbright, Dr. Bryan and Dr. Buss for doing just that.

I learned not to judge a book by its cover, or more specifically a pet supply store by the elite neighborhood it sits within. I went there in need of an immune boosting food for Scout, dragging my feet and expecting expense and snobbery. Instead, I met Pat, the owner, who herself has ten dogs and took to Scout’s plight like she was one of her own. She repeatedly went above and beyond her job description to aide in Scout’s recovery. She brought in supplies for Scout on her day off and we never left the store without a jar of cream, an extra bag of food or just a whole lot of empathy – free of charge.

I learned there are others like us. I sat on vigil at the University of Missouri Animal Hospital, sometimes for days at a time, sharing a waiting room with people doing the same. There, I saw a family offer their home to another family, knowing nothing about them other than that they love their dog. I met an elderly couple who just wanted one more month with the last pet they will ever own. I met a breeder who couldn’t bear the idea of euthanizing a litter of puppies born with cleft lips, so brought them all in for surgery, knowing her breeder peers would call her crazy for doing so – and not caring at all.

And, one day, I spent twelve hours with the family of a 180 pound, limping, mastiff. As each of us received updates on the testing of our dogs, we laughed together, cursed the gods together and cried together. And we shared a hug of joy at the end of the day when we were both able to bring our dogs home with enough good news to carry us through the next few weeks. I never even knew their names, but I think of them often.

For a thousand reasons, I am often guilty of underestimating other human beings. The past three months have challenged many of my stubborn suppositions and offered a kind of therapy. While I can’t parlay that feeling into giving Scout’s loss meaning, I do hope to hang on to it.
 
Rhonda Ruminated at 10:24 AM | Permalink | 4 People Ruminated links to this post
Wednesday, March 22, 2006
Still No Words
I don’t feel like writing. I’ve started several pieces the last few days, none of which are flowing, none of which are finished and most of which are going to end up in the recycle bin.

I could declare “writer’s block” and buy a few wordless days. But, it isn’t writer’s block. What’s keeping me from writing is that the thing I want to write about sounds silly and dramatic. I don’t expect people to relate. There is only one solution, of course: turn into the skid and write the very thing I’m avoiding.

Our household is wracked with grief. When we aren’t doing something to distract ourselves, we are close to inconsolable. We’ve lost a family member – not someone who is “like a family member,” or “like one of our children,” but an integral part of our unit, our team. We buried Scout in the midst of a spring snowstorm, then couldn’t sleep because it felt wrong to leave her outdoors, in the cold she so hated. I spent yesterday fighting a no longer necessary routine. I cried in the grocery store because I didn’t have to hurry home to check on her. I cried every time I looked at her empty spot in our bedroom. I cried when I fed the rest of the pack and her empty bowl remained on the counter.

Nothing seems to work. I can’t “let go and let god,” find solace in a poem about a rainbow bridge or dedicate a park bench in her honor to subvert this experience.

I could get philosophical about why our pets are so important to us, but I don’t want to digress into some intellectual rubbish to explain away our feelings, or Scout’s importance to us. I refuse to write off our reaction to losing her by basing it on our own pathology.

And, I don’t necessarily want to feel less miserable right now. Our tears are a symbol of our love for her – and her love for us. Each tear is a memory. It will all fade soon enough.
 
Rhonda Ruminated at 9:57 AM | Permalink | 3 People Ruminated links to this post
Sunday, March 19, 2006
The Box

In Ghosts of My Fathers, I wrote about the box in my closet. A box containing the memorabilia of my father, a man I never knew but have tried to meet by collecting pieces of the one tangible thing I know about him: that he was a decorated WWII veteran.

The box contains an incomplete collection of his medals, replaced by the U.S. government on the basis of my blood connection to him; a strange event in and of itself considering the same government does not permit me access to my original birth certificate or adoption files.

Alongside the medals is his complete service record, a cruise album from the aircraft carrier he served upon, an aerial movie of his ship entering the invasion of Iwo Jima and several long, hand-penned letters from men who served with him. These sweet men, all closing in on 90 years old, wrote to me, sharing their photos and stories, on the basis of my blood connection to a soldier they served with. They call themselves his “brothers” (although none of them literally remember my father) and call me his “daughter.” They feel it is their duty to answer my questions because of this brotherhood. They feel I am part of a legitimate connection to them, one of their own.

It is a strange experience for me to be embraced by these men and their families. I would love to say “they welcome me with open arms and I feel at home,” but that would be a half-truth. They do genuinely welcome me, but I feel like a fraud. I am his daughter, but not. I don’t feel deserving of acceptance into this brotherhood. I don’t feel legitimate because I am not. It is conflicting, complicated and bittersweet to know so much about a short period in the life of a man I should know everything about.

And so the box containing my father’s memorabilia sits in the closet, incomplete. I treasure everything in it, yet neither complete the collection nor display it. And, for the most part, I have ceased my quest to add to its contents. Everything about my father and his belongings is conflicted for me. It is never simple. It is never natural or normal.

And, the more I fill the box, the less full it feels.

My son returned home from his first semester at military school last Thursday. How he got there is a story in and of itself. To make that story short, I dropped off a kid at military school three months ago – a kid with no confidence in himself; who walked with slumped shoulders, staring at the ground; a kid who has struggled with learning disabilities his whole life and, despite my fierce advocating from preschool forward, entered high school not believing in himself or his ability to accomplish anything of significance.

I expected to pick him up and be immediately met with old behaviors and routines. I figured within moments of getting in the car, he’d be on the phone making plans with friends. Once home, I imagined he’d be playing videogames, cranking his stereo and turning his room into a disaster area in three seconds flat.

We were barely out of the parking lot of his school when he said, “Mom, when we get home, can we get the box down?”

“The box?” I asked, not thinking he was talking about the box. My box. My father’s box.

“My grandfather’s box,” he said. He has never referred to my birthfather as his grandfather. He has never shown any real interest in my birthfamily or my adoption, other than express bewilderment about how such things come about in the first place.

“Sure we can,” I said, “What do you want to see?”

And with total conviction he said, “I want to read his citations and see his medals. And, tomorrow, I want to go the military supply store, buy the missing medals and put them in a case. And I’d like to bring them back to school with me.”

I had a moment of thinking I couldn’t part with them, couldn’t risk losing them. And then I looked at my son, bedecked in his uniform, looking me square in the eye, sitting there with his shoulders back and his chin up. A young man full of confidence. “Okay,” I said, “We’ll go first thing tomorrow.”

We coordinated the trip with a good friend. Sam did two tours in Vietnam and is a decorated former prisoner of war. He wanted to see my son’s transformation and to help us figure what we needed to complete my father’s collection.

My son was up pacing the floors, ready to go before bugle call hour. And he was wearing his uniform.

We pulled into the military supply store lot. Sam got out of his car. My son got out of our car and they walked towards each other in the parking lot, stopped and saluted one another.

I cried.

It took about an hour to piece together the collection and place it in its order in a display case. We left a spot to add my father’s photo in the center. My son carried it on his lap on our drive home, all abuzz about where he was going to display it in his room at school and whom he would show it to.

I asked him why it was suddenly important to him. “Because he’s my grandfather. Because my teachers and commanding officers will see it and tell me I came from a good man who served his country well. And because I’m proud he did.”

I cried again. And then, I started to explain why it isn’t that simple, how I never really knew him. He quickly interrupted. “Mom, it is that simple to me. I’m his grandson. He’s my blood. I’m just like every other kid who didn’t have the chance to know his grandpa. I don’t have to think about all that stuff you do. It just is.”

He was right, of course. It is that simple. He can connect with his history, and with his grandfather, without the conflict I experience.

They can simply be family.

There is no longer a box in my closet. I’ve passed its contents down to the next generation, sooner than expected, with a little bit of sadness over seeing it go.

And a whole lot of pride for the grandson of a veteran.
 
Rhonda Ruminated at 5:45 PM | Permalink | 6 People Ruminated links to this post
No Words
 
Rhonda Ruminated at 4:39 PM | Permalink | 5 People Ruminated links to this post
Artificial Intelligence
Grab a bottle of bean-o and pull up a keyboard, it’s time for the first installment of . . .
Reviews are subjective things. I have a history of loathing movies that later become Oscar nominees, so I write this fully anticipating being the voice of dissent among my fellow gasbags.

The message (that artificial intelligence is – or perhaps one day will be – the spawn of natural stupidity) wasn’t lost on me. I can even appreciate the creators’ ability to make robots seem more human than humans. I just have a natural aversion to movies based upon disposable, replaceable children. I know what you’re thinking: C’mon, Rhonda, this isn’t a child – it’s a robot, lighten up, you issue-laden bastard.

But he isn’t a robot – he’s a roboy, a futuristic Pinocchio capable of human love and heartbreak. Procured by a grieving mother desperate to replace her comatose son, David joins the family. Plot logic blunder number one: if they could create almost real children from a pile of medical waste and a few computer chips could they not fix her kid? Cram a microchip into his brainmush or something? And frankly, they should’ve pulled the plug on the real kid. When he returns home following a miracle, we learn he’s a sociopathic little shit.

So what is a mother to do when her real kid doesn’t like his expensive store bought brother? Why, drop him off in the middle of a dark forest to be bot-napped and sold into the future’s equivalent of the tractor pull, a grizzly freak show where unwanted robots – even little boybots with human emotions – are sprayed with acid, impaled by machines and shot from cannons.

That BITCH!

Fortunately, boybot is rescued by Gigalo Joe, who leads him on a journey to find The Blue Fairy – a magical creature rumored to possess the ability to turn boybots into real boys. Gigalo is, as the name implies, a boytoybot for hire. Okay, this is a concept I can wrap my mind around – a handsome manbot programmed to please who will never leave the toilet seat up, fill the bathroom sink with shaving stubble, snore or launch deadly gasbombs under the covers. Ahem, I digress.

So robokid spends the next 237 years waiting to become a real boy in effort to win back his mother’s love. As the storyline drags on, you begin to wonder if AI doesn’t stand for Artificial Idiocy and start rethinking your initial repulsion with tossing boybot into an acid bath. When the movie finally ends (it’s almost three hours long), you’ll feel like you really sat through 237 years of tail-chasing frustration.

So, next weekend, if you think to yourself: I’m really in the mood for a movie that views like Brothers Grimm meet Robocop at Moulin Rouge where they steal ideas from Pinocchio, Wizard of Oz and Peterpan and write a sadistic screenplay with an ending so syrupy I’ll vomit, then Artificial Intelligence is your tub of popcorn.

Otherwise, skip the trip to the movie store and do something less painful and annoying – like running your fingernails across a chalkboard or standing beneath the hum of bad fluorescent lighting until your eardrums implode.

**************************
Would you like to be a gasbag contributor?
Wander over to Atilla's place and sign up!
 
Rhonda Ruminated at 12:50 AM | Permalink | 6 People Ruminated links to this post
Wednesday, March 15, 2006
The Perfect Match
di-vor-ce n

1. The ending of a marriage by an official decision in a court of law
2. A complete separation or split

Well, Webster is half right. But, when you are divorced with children, there is no such thing as a complete separation. Despite a filing cabinet full of legal documents saying you are split, kaput, finished, your lives remain intertwined. You are court ordered to cooperate, to include your ex in all major decisions impacting the children.

For example, I cannot move out of my zip code without giving my ex the chance to contest the decision. If I hire a babysitter, send the kids to camp or bring in a tutor, he must approve. I’m not complaining. I think co-parenting is important and having input on where your children are and who is spending time with them is vital to their wellbeing.

Recently, my ex’s fiancé called off their engagement. I don’t know who was more upset, him or me. It isn’t that we were buddies. But, I knew what I was getting with her – more specifically, I knew what my kids were getting and she was decent step-mom material, not ideal, but decent.

Now, my ex is one of those people who can’t be alone for a minute. He’s ferociously loyal when he’s partnered and ragingly desperate when not. He’ll choose warm body over alone every time and wonder later what went wrong with the relationship. Since he’s on the market again, and since I love our children, this concerns me.

Recently, the ex boasted he’d registered for match.com and that his broad partnering criteria returned 3,700 potential matches within a 30-mile radius of his home. Great, I thought to myself. 3,700 opportunities to guarantee my children will need therapy well into their fifties.

So, I did what any concerned mom would do – checked out his match.com profile.

When my sides stopped hurting from gut-splitting laughter, I picked myself up off the floor, crawled back into my chair and thanked the gods and goddesses that I am in a relationship and don’t have to sort through the self-appreciating bullshit on match.com.

My ex’s profile displays him bedecked in his Sunday best, standing in front of a crackling fireplace. 3,700 women are thinking this is what they’ll get. He “loves travel and the ocean,” “owns a boat,” is a “meat and potatoes kind of guy.” While all of this is true, I can guarantee you reality wont match the visions these words put in the minds of his potential matches.

Let me paint a clearer picture, ladies. That dapper man in front of the fireplace, when not posing for a match.com portrait, can normally be found walking through the house wearing only tighty-whities and socks, with one hand scratching his ass and the other shoving “meat and potatoes” into his mouth and letting the spillage dribble down his chest. His claim to fame in high school was clearing out a whole classroom with one enormous fart. Yes, he has a boat. It was built in 1972. It sits on a trailer in storage with its transom rotted out. Oh, and the ocean travel? It’s his job. He’s a fisherman who is gone 9 months a year. Still interested?

Suddenly, it dawned on me. Custody law harbors a glaring inconsistency. If divorced parents have joint decision making authority in all areas impacting the care of their children, how then can exes be excluded from deciding who becomes their child’s stepparent? In the child’s best interest, I submit, the laws need tweaking.

Just think of the possibilities. Were I in charge of my ex’s match.com profile, I could scare off 2,699 women with my experience and honesty. The single remaining woman would be his perfect match! She’d tolerate the ass scratching, the money dumped into a boat that will never again float and the lonely months he’s gone “traveling.” She’d probably even be into the tighty-whities with white socks look.

With this in mind, I’d like to take this opportunity to announce the launching of a new internet dating site, scratch.com:

 
Rhonda Ruminated at 11:26 AM | Permalink | 10 People Ruminated links to this post
Tuesday, March 14, 2006
I Was in the Neighborhood . . .
Suburbia, with both its conveniences and irritants, has completely encroached upon our five little acres. Being a transplant to both Missouri and the suburban lifestyle, I spend a lot of time griping about suburbanites and dreaming of retreating to a mountain hideaway – a lifestyle I am much more accustomed to.

Despite all my complaining, I secretly cherish the convenience of suburbia. When a convenience mart was built two blocks away, I wondered how I ever survived 30-mile emergency runs for toilet paper. Now, I can leave the house and return with a steaming cup of fresh coffee faster than it takes to brew my own.

I’m a regular. They know I like my coffee with cream and sugar, prefer Coke to Pepsi and suffer the occasional midnight hot chocolate craving. I’ve been a faithful customer since their grand opening.

Concern washed over my beloved convenient mart upon groundbreaking of a Super Convenient Mart a block away. The owner worried about losing revenue and the clerks worried about losing their jobs. “You’ll still shop here, won’t you?” the owner asked me. Of course, I promised my loyalty, asserting something about how I couldn’t be romanced by a super sized store. I simply am not that shallow.

All I did was stop by for their grand opening. They were giving away coffee, for god’s sake! Who can blame me?

I’ve been unfaithful. I’m a miserable cheat, a louse. It’s been two weeks since I’ve gone to the old convenience mart. Guilt stops me from pulling in their lot. I don’t like conflict and know I’ll be confronted. As I drive by my old haunt, I practice my excuses.

But, it was just so young and fresh. I was just curious, is all.

I think they spiked the coffee. I don’t remember what happened.

It tempted me, lured me in with its deli and ice cream bar.

Of course I don’t like it better there. It just happened. One thing led to another and . . .

It isn’t serious. Hell, the place is servicing the whole neighborhood!
 
Rhonda Ruminated at 3:27 PM | Permalink | 9 People Ruminated links to this post
Monday, March 13, 2006
Confessions of a derelict
There’s a reason I’m not in a bowling league, book club or even a therapy group.

I’m a derelict. I don’t play well with others, never read the directions, forget all about deadlines and sometime run with scissors.

Consistant with my flawed character, this post is overdue.

Announcing a new club, imprudent enough to accept me as a member, so therefore willing to accept anyone – even you! I bring you:

Join Now! And receive the above tasteful banner and your very own Proud Member button, free!
 
Rhonda Ruminated at 10:44 AM | Permalink | 5 People Ruminated links to this post
I Can Quit Anytime
I like to think I keep my mind busy, exercise my imagination, stay up to date with current events, do a lot of reading and am, generally, well informed about current happenings in my world.

Just this week I learned how it feels being the product of donor conception and that Arizona has had a 143-day drought. I enlarged my vocabulary with the words absailing and potholing, discovered there is a brand of toilet paper on the market that is to die for and studied up on which saints to pray to when.

I joined a club, did some artwork, visited both Scotland and England and learned and laughed about relationships. I wrote about my life and even took the time to open the windows and enjoy a little thunderstorm.

Then, yesterday morning, a friend called. She wanted to know if I was okay.

I’m thrilled that anyone cares enough to pick up the phone and check in. It calms my fears of dropping of a heart attack and not being discovered until the dogs have picked my bones clean. And, well, it’s just nice to be loved.

“Of course I’m okay,” I tell her, “why do you ask?”

“I was watching the news,” she said, as if that was self-explanatory. I considered uttering the things one utters when they have no clue what their part of the dialogue should be: ummhm, ah-ha, oh that’s right, you don’t say . . . but I opted for honesty instead. Well, sort of. I told her I’d been busy writing, as I realized I’m not sure I’ve left my chair all weekend. I had no clue what was on the news.

Evidently, the thunderstorm I celebrated yesterday was something close to a natural disaster. That’s right folks, I blogged through a tornado warning. Fortunately, touch-down was nowhere nearby.

Clearly I have a problem. I’ve hit blogging rock bottom. And, I know what I need to do:

Go wireless, so I can blog from the storm cellar.
 
Rhonda Ruminated at 1:33 AM | Permalink | 3 People Ruminated links to this post
Sunday, March 12, 2006
Search
[Preface: My search began with a quest for my father, but it was a relentless dead end, based on a file full of lies about him, nearly resulting in me contacting the very real person his “profile” was modeled after in my records. I’ve purposely left that part of my search out of the following tome, mostly for pragmatic reasons.

Despite diligent editing, this is a long post, so my apologies for being verbose. I’ve divided it into sections and will soon post a complimentary reunion piece.]


I have only told my search and reunion story in contextual, fragmented bits and pieces on message boards and to the curious friend or stranger. Perhaps it’s never made its way to paper because it is accompanied by emotions impossible to capture; nuances of obligation, guilt, excitement and hope. Maybe it’s because after all these years, the strength in which the journey grabbed and held me seems silly in the way only hindsight can illuminate something, or because I grieve the hope I carried then, sometimes finding it preferable to the reality into which it all has settled.

The birth of my son washed away the defenses programming me against search. Those defenses; some built by me and some by my adoptive mother, always offered answers to “Don’t you want to find your real parents?” They were planted so long ago, and at a time I was so vulnerable and readily willing to exchange my needs for any sense of security I could latch onto, my answer was always ambivalent, at best.

But my natural parents became real the moment labor pain subsided and I held my son in my arms. My need for answers; to connect with myself, my people and the circle of life that pushed my son into the world, finally emerged from the dark, private place where I kept them secluded and protected.

For me, the decision to search was a war between terror and desire. On the threshold of such a journey, I stood to lose everything; my very identity, shabbily constructed as it was. My volatile relationship with my adoptive mother was functioning for the first time years, though it was only pasted together by my fear of being entirely alone in the world. The truth – my truth, my story – threatened to dismantle the foundation upon which I’d built my sense of self. I knew I’d constructed a house of cards, adorned in fantasy and hyperbole. And, I knew the truth would send them tumbling down.

Sheer will might begin a search, but indignation propels it forward. In one conversation with the clerk playing gatekeeper with your sealed records, you are reduced from being the adult who finally emerged from her childlike dependence on her adoptive family, grabbed hold of her desires and set a course for her future, to an infant again. For the first time, it hits full force that society views you as a perpetual child, incapable of making her own decisions about the adult relationships she’d like to pursue; because you are adopted and because society views adoption as a fairy tale of saviors and waifs.

Worse, you discover this soul-journey; this thing of courage you thought you’d never muster; is viewed as an act of selfish rebellion reeking of ingratitude and dripping in insensitivity. You are lectured and questioned. You are dismissed.

Back then; search began in a phone book. It involved phone calls, letter writing, networking and long waits by the mailbox for packages carrying the potential to deliver a clue capable of unraveling a lifetime mystery. I am grateful the clue that cracked my case wasn’t delivered over high speed DSL. Once your clue arrives, you are swept up in an unstoppable current.

I poured over my package: six pages of twenty-two year old court records with names scribbled over in sharpie marker, in my “own best interest,” of course. I learned for the first time I had siblings – three, at least. It never occurred to me I wasn’t a firstborn. I stared at the details, the story of my coming to being and having my life inexplicably changed in the same moment. I tried the information on like pieces of new clothing: Daughter, little sister, Ukrainian.

When the shock of new awareness began to ebb, tiny clues within the paperwork began to come into focus. Either by oversight or compassion, someone left enough fragmented information in my “non-identifying” records to form a clue. The missing piece, on it’s own insignificant, looked like this:
Ten minutes elapsed from the time I entered the courthouse research room to when I returned to my car with the copy of a divorce decree providing me the name and birthdates of my mother and three siblings. I stopped at the closest phone, dialed information and spoke my mother’s name out loud for the first time. Her number was unlisted, but the numbers of my brothers were not.

I did not pick up the phone and dial. I needed to think; to plan; to breathe for a while. I carried the numbers around with me for at least two weeks before making a move.

[to be continued . . . ]
 
Rhonda Ruminated at 12:13 AM | Permalink | 4 People Ruminated links to this post
Saturday, March 11, 2006
Kiss The Rain
It is pouring right now.

Rain coming down in delicious buckets, chasing the unseasonable humidity that leached in this morning away. Thunder cracking. Lightening striking. My windows are open.

It smells like Seattle. It sounds like Seattle.

I wouldn’t care if it never ended. It is my favorite sensory experience.
 
Rhonda Ruminated at 7:05 PM | Permalink | 2 People Ruminated links to this post
Friday, March 10, 2006
Turning Over a New Leif
Fourth Grade, circa 1970’s:

Bell bottom jeans, Teen Beat Magazine, Love’s Baby Soft perfume and Pop Rocks.

But, mostly, the seventies were about the Farrah Feather and our beloved boy pop stars.
For those who don’t remember the Farrah Feather, it involved big, round brushes and turbo hairdryers. The result: hair so flawlessly feathered it formed what looked like a butt-crack, right down the back of our nearly shellacked with hairspray heads.

On good hair days, we put our comically large Goody combs in the leg pocket of our bell bottomed painter pants and walked off, oh so cool, in our Nike Cortez sneakers, our satin jackets swishing. We’d find a place on the playground and talk and giggle about Andy Gibb, Leif Garrett and Shaun Cassidy.

We bought their albums, wore their tee shirts and plastered our walls with their posters. We never imagined what time would do to our beloved one-boy bands.

Now we know.


 
Rhonda Ruminated at 7:57 PM | Permalink | 2 People Ruminated links to this post
Thursday, March 09, 2006
Just a Moment
I can trace my first thought of adoption to when I sat with my adoptive parents in a cheap motel waiting for a social worker to deliver my new brother.

The visuals associated with the memory are only three feet high. I see dresser drawers, but not the television that must have been perched on top. I see my adoptive fathers knees, flanked by the legs of the chair he sat upon, protruding from a dark corner of the room. Looking down, my feet hang above a shag brown carpet and my legs rest upon a garish orange and brown bedspread. My mother’s arms come into view as she places a pillow – a pillow almost bigger than me – upon my lap, telling me to wait. Be patient. I will be the first to hold him.

When the door opens, I see sensible black pumps, legs wrapped in shiny, thick nylon and a tan, wool skirt. This is it, this moment that’s been promoted as my moment. The day I am getting a brother.

And then, he’s in my lap, perched precariously atop the pillow. Two things happen as camera flashes light up the dark room: I become a sister and I realize babies don’t fall from the sky into their families, that I wasn’t plucked from a bassinet, in a row of other bassinets, to come home with my family. I became a sister and realized I came from other people, somewhere else.

It was just a split moment, a heavy feeling of responsibility for the squirming baby in my lap combined with a huge sadness that his people – and thus my people – were elsewhere. In the midst of my brother’s transition from one life to another, I realized I came not from some heavenly place with winged cherubs, fluffy clouds and flying storks, but from people. My people.

I was three and a half years old.
 
Rhonda Ruminated at 1:40 PM | Permalink | 3 People Ruminated links to this post
Wednesday, March 08, 2006
Home Improvement
Co-habitation is an entirely new concept for the other-half and me. I’ve been, essentially, on my own since sixteen, followed by a decade of marriage to someone who worked out of town up to nine months a year. The other-half built the house we live nearly 20 years ago and has been a bachelor all that time.

He hadn’t done much to the place before my arrival. He had no furniture, unless lawn chairs and exercise equipment count. The walls were white. Not Dutch Boy semi-gloss antique-white, but the primer dry-wallers shoot from pump cans like insecticide white. That’s okay. I’m an artist and starting with blank canvas suites me just fine.

I soon discovered my Mr. Wonderful is not Mr. Home Maintenance. His maintenance plan is simple: If it’s not working right, throw it out and buy a new one. His back-up plan: If it’s not working right, take it out back, shoot it and leave a gaping hole in the spot it used to occupy. His alternative back-up plan: If it’s not working right let it sit there and call it furniture. So, what happens when one moves into a never touched by repairmen bachelor pad closing in on its twentieth birthday?

She gets blamed for EVERYTHING that goes wrong, as things are likely to do in a 20 year old home.

Some little gems over the years:

***

Me: Um, the county is coming out to inspect the septic tank. Guess the construction workers next door suspected a drain-field problem.
Him: *#$&#!@!! It’s your fault! With all the showering, cleaning and flushing you do. I didn’t have a septic problem until you moved in!
Me: (Contemplating my conservative flush-only-when-necessary, turn the water off between rinsing nature) Maybe it just needs to be pumped. When is the last time you had that done?
Him: Had what done?
Me: Had the septic tank pumped.
Him: You’re supposed to pump septic tanks?

***

Me: (Pushing random buttons on the dishwasher the week I moved in): The dishwasher doesn’t work. It doesn’t seem to be getting any power.
Him: Well, it had power before you started pushing random buttons.
Me: (Opening dishwasher) It did? These dishes look like they’ve been here since the advent of the Bee Gees.
Him: Well, it just never worked right. I’ve thought of getting a new one but it’s brand new. I’m not sure I’ve even used it once.
Me: (Realizing he just got a new dishwasher – me!) Can we get a new one?

Me: (Two years of hand-washing later) I had to pull the dishwasher out to grout the kitchen tiles. You’ll never guess what happened.
Him: What?! What’s broken now?
Me: Um, nothing. I fixed the dishwasher. It works!
Him: How’d you do that?
Me: Did anyone tell you dishwashers actually require a power supply?

***
Me: Is it getting hot and muggy in here or is it just me?
Him: It’s 100 degrees out. Even with the air on, it isn’t going to be comfortable. I’m fine. It’s just you.
Me: (From the mild Pacific Northwest and totally uneducated about air conditioners, having never had one): Oh.

Me: (An hour later, miserable and dripping in sweat): I think the dogs are dying.
Him: &$%*)! Did they get into something?!
Me: They are panting and their tongues are hanging out. Does it feel hot and muggy in here or is it just me and all the dying dogs?

Me: (An hour later, talking to the a/c repairman.) Well, what’s wrong with the thing?
A/C Man: Can’t find a thing wrong, but the fan doesn’t seem to be working. Why don’t you check the inside unit and make sure the filters are clean.
Me to Mr. Home Maintenance: A/C man says nothing’s wrong and that I should check to make sure the filters are clean.
Him: We have filters that are supposed to be cleaned?

I could continue this, but I love the guy too much to be so cruel. And, he does so many things for this household and our wellbeing; picking on him for his home dis-improvement doesn’t seem fair. But, stay tuned for the next episode, Honey, Why is There a Bullet Hole in the Refrigerator?”


[Interesting factoid: Spell-check doesn’t recognize the words “adoptee’ or “blog,” but it corrected my spelling of the “Bee Gees.”]
 
Rhonda Ruminated at 1:15 PM | Permalink | 4 People Ruminated links to this post
Tuesday, March 07, 2006
In Other Words
Relinquishing Renee may read like fiction, but it is true. From the name of the nun, to the song on the radio from which my mother chose my name to the tears my father shed on my birthday, it is true. It is my story. It is my father’s story. It is my mother’s story – as she told it to me. I was merely the narrator.

But, I did some editing. I left out many of the realities that were, for me, hard to swallow. Or, perhaps I left them out because they are realities about the relinquishment experience during the “Baby Swoop Era” that are, in some adoption circles, vehemently denied. Maybe I excluded them because they are so often met with disbelief or the accusation of skewed perception on my – and my mother’s – behalf.

My mother chose, free of coercion, to relinquish me. There were no potential adoptive parents with greedy arms waiting by the phone to hear she’d delivered. There was no social worker touting the advantages of walking away from her fourth child. She didn’t have a lover threatening to leave her if she “didn’t take care of it” or an absent baby’s daddy. There were no parents threatening disinheritance or clergy threatening excommunication.

My mother was, in her words, “hell bent” on relinquishment because she “didn’t want another teenager to raise.”

Not one person who counseled her during the pregnancy believed adoption was the right thing for either of us. So determined was she to disregard her counsel, her second and third trimester were spent tangled up in a web of lies she created to keep her goal within reach.

She told the ladies at her new job she was married to a soldier fighting overseas. She showed them her ring. And, when they threw her a lovely baby shower, she opened each present and oooh’d and awwww’d as expectant moms should. When the hospital nun snuck me into her room against procedure, hoping to change her mind, she resisted.

She told the social worker her lover, a married man who drank too much, had left her. And, when the judge insisted she at least provide the background of the unnamed father, she invented his profession, ancestry and attributes because she was “afraid someone would find him waiting in the parking lot and ask if he wanted to parent.”

And then she went on with her life, married my father and tried her best not to think about it.

Did she have regrets? Oh, yes. When she saw me place a rose on my father’s grave twenty-two years later it was so painful she couldn’t remain in the cemetery. She had dreams in which he came to her saying, “why didn’t you tell me she’d come back?” She was angry with him for missing our reunion. And, with the hindsight of more than two decades she said, “I wish we’d raised you.”

Am I angry about the lies, about her sheer determination to walk away? I have been. I sometimes still am. But as my children enter their teens, I can almost wrap my mind around what happened. Almost. Mostly I see my mother as human and am sad for everything we missed – and all the things we can’t regain.

Because of a choice.

[My late night/early morning blog travels resulted in something unintended: this post. I had other things in the works, dammit. Serious things, less serious things, non-adoptiony things. At any rate, you can find what flipped my trigger in the comment section of fauxclaud's blog, Musings of the Lame - a read-worthy blog, by the way]
 
Rhonda Ruminated at 3:16 PM | Permalink | 6 People Ruminated links to this post
Monday, March 06, 2006
An Honor to Serve
I have won the civil service lottery. Pack yer bags, Rhonda, you’ve been called to serve your country! Yes, that’s right folks; from now on please call me, victim of involuntary servitude, juror number 0086.

I entered “jury duty” in the blog search mechanism, to see what other people are saying about their anointment into the world of $6.00 pay and $7.00 parking. In return, I received a plethora of nauseatingly positive adjectives:

From the patriotic: duty, honor, pride, privilege and opportunity. (duty to sit there, pride of mastering sleeping with your eyes open, privilege of getting screwed out of the ability to pay your bills and the opportunity to see how many hours it takes your ass to go completely numb.)

From the painfully naïve: exciting, dramatic, suspenseful and challenging. (Turn off CourtTV, drop the remote and step away from your televisions, people.)

Pardon my judicial pessimism. The likelihood a summons will result in actual deliberations isn't overwhelmingly great. Still, the moment I saw the summons staring menacingly at me from the mailbox, I was searching for an excuse. It isn’t that I take citizenship for granted or harbor the narcissistic belief my time is more valuable than anyone else’s. It’s that I am a hopelessly odd duck. If you’re looking for a “jury of your peers,” I am not your gal.

Years ago, some friends and I took the Keirsey Temperament Test. It revealed the essence of my personality matches less than one percent of the population. Another personality test done in a clinical setting (and no, the setting wasn’t a psych ward, for those of you wondering) ranked me unusually off the charts in the area of abstract thinking. What that means in a nutshell (or nut-head, as it were) is that I see infinite forests but fail to notice trees. I think in metaphors and abstractions. And, sometimes, I am so busy contemplating every intricate nuance of an issue I forget all about my obligations in the literal moment.

Keirsey considers me an Idealist/Healer. Citizens, you don’t want one of those in your jury pool, especially one lost in abstract thought. While my fellow jurors and I might agree the plaintiff is an unsalvageable sociopath deserving no mercy, I’ll be wondering: How does it f-e-e-e-e-e-l to be an unsalvageable sociopath? And, I will not feel any bit of contentment until I have unearthed the holy grail of sociopathology itself. In fact, I’ll . . . Vote? Verdict? What verdict? Huh?

Your honor, my presence in this courtroom cannot possibly benefit society. I am a hung jury waiting to happen – and I have the test results to prove it.

That’s my excuse and I am sticking to it.
 
Rhonda Ruminated at 4:38 PM | Permalink | 2 People Ruminated links to this post
Saturday, March 04, 2006
Ghosts of My Fathers
I grew up with two fathers, but my interactions with both were mostly limited to fantasies.

My adoptive father abandoned us when I was only five or six years old. He left behind a mental filing cabinet of contradictory images: sitting together on the back porch during a thunderstorm while he explained how lightening worked/pointing a hunting rifle at my head and threatening to kill my mother and brother; letting me ride shotgun on the combine and overflowing the catch bin so peas filled the cabin like green snowdrifts/bringing him home from the police station drunk tank; watching him shave in the bathroom mirror/hearing my mother cry all night when he disappeared for days.

When I was a little girl, my adoptive father was my hero. He was also my terrorist.

But, for the most part, the filing cabinet of my early childhood is full of empty folders. In all honesty, those empty files scare me more than the ones stuffed with terrors.

Until my late teens, I explained my disconnect with the world by the absence of my adoptive father and presence of my crazy mother. Issues surrounding my adoption bubbled beneath the surface and, though they boiled over occasionally, they didn’t wear labels, so would simmer down, unidentified.

At 17, I searched for, and found, my adoptive father. We met at his kitchen table and the room filled with cigarette smoke and excuses. I walked away from the meeting fatherless. Not connected by blood, and lacking history, the small man in the smoke filled room put an end to my fantasies. I suppose that was the kindest thing he’d ever done for me, even if it wasn’t intentional.

Also unintentional was the rattle in my subconscious, shaking loose thoughts of my birth father. Following the meeting with my non-father, fantasies of my birth father grew larger-than-life. Over the years, he’s been many things: a Vietnam Veteran, taking his last breath on a hill at Khe Sanh, never knowing I existed; a Woodstock hippy, high on LSD, making love to my birth mother in a flower-painted van; a married man of affluence who abandoned my birth mother in her hour of need. I have loved him, hated him, blamed him and forgiven him, sometimes all within the same moment.

Of course, my father was none of those things. He was married – to my birthmother. He was a military veteran – in World War II, not Vietnam. He probably never experimented with drugs and he definitely didn’t abandon my mother.

My search for my natural father ended at a tombstone, but my quest for him did not. All these years later, I am still guilty of chasing his ghost. The result is a collection of memorabilia: Navy photos from the battle of the Pacific, the cruise album from the aircraft carrier upon which he served, his ribbons and medals (courtesy of the U.S. Government), his military records, a few photos and even a video of his ship, taken from one of the ship’s bombers during the invasion of Iwo Jima.

Each of these trinkets has come to me via U.S. mail. Each arrival follows giddy anticipation – the sense of something wonderful, even miraculous, about to happen. I tear open each package and pour through its contents. Then, it happens: I am taken over by the heaviness of disappointment and the anxiety of things unsettled. Whatever I was hoping to capture through this ghost hunt slips through my fingers. I add my new trinkets to the growing collection – in a box, in the closet – and his ghost fades away again, for a while.

I have been through this little exercise enough times to have learned my lesson – and resolve a thing or two about my birth father. While I haven’t come to know him any better, I have discovered what I am looking for: some sign he didn’t want to walk away.

Rarely, is healing about filling a void – or a box in a closet. Mostly, it’s about letting go.
 
Rhonda Ruminated at 9:07 PM | Permalink | 13 People Ruminated links to this post
Friday, March 03, 2006
January's Karmic Ka-Ka
I hate January. It is, traditionally, the month when bad things happen in my world. This January, for instance, my son had a major crisis, my high school sweetheart was killed in Iraq and my dog was diagnosed with terminal cancer. And, this all happened before the 15th; the anniversary of a fishing accident resulting in the death of six friends. Happy Effin’ New Year. But, this post isn’t your personal invitation to my pity party. As my January subsides, I can usually find some humor in whatever karmic ka-ka I’ve managed to step in. And, since I’ve shaken my emotional hangover from January ’05, it is probably time to make lemons, find silver linings and all that shit people who live charmed lives say to people who don’t.

So I take you to January ’05. I was beyond stoked for an upcoming trip home to Western Washington. Four years prior, I’d put my life in boxes and moved halfway across the country to shack up with my soulmate; the love of my life; the ying to my yang. Under the hard-to-argue auspices of returning for the ten-year anniversary memorial for my fishermen friends, we’d managed to coordinate schedules and holidays to make the trip happen for me. That isn’t easy when your soulmate is a busy physician, you are a single mother and the two of you keep a virtual zoo of animals at home.

My girlfriends and I planned a weekend on the ocean (following the memorial, of course). There would be catching-up, pampering, a bit of drinking and some high-caloric dessert eating. Then, introverted loner that I am, I planned to escape the socialization, head to the mountains and commune alone with nature for a few days; soaking up my fill of fresh air, cedar trees, Pacific Northwest wildlife and solitude before returning to the barren-by-comparison Midwest. I couldn’t wait. I packed a week before the trip and tucked my plane ticket into my brand new luggage. With a vacation in my future and not a funeral notice in sight, I pretty much forgot that silly thing called Rhonda’s January Karma.

A few days before my trip, I joined above-mentioned soulmate and some friends for a little game of pick-up basketball. Playing posed no threat, even with bad karma considered. I was the youngest person on the court and the only female. My teammates and opponents were a bunch of ex-jocks who had already come to terms with their aging joints. No one was aspiring for the NBA. All of us were simply hoping to avoid leaving the court in an ambulance – or hearse. For the uninformed spectator, the games look like The Senior Citizen Special Olympics.

My opponent was the recent recipient of a brand-new, titanium knee. The guy who plays center gets from car to court with the aide of a cane and gut load of vicodin. The team captain is awaiting a hip replacement. We have a blast on the court, despite the fact our games probably look like slow-motion replays.

I’d give a play by play, but the ball wasn’t in play when it happened. Someone on my team aimed, fired and missed the game-point shot. I turned around to locate the guy I was guarding (Mr. Knee Replacement) so I’d be ready when the action started. But somewhere between turn and around, something went horribly wrong. My leg bent in a direction legs are not meant to bend. My calf momentarily pointed north while my thigh pointed northeast. Simultaneously, a loud POP! reverberated through my body. I was down. I was in a world of hurt. I knew my knee was blown to bits and my trip cancelled. Hello karmic ka-ka, goodbye vacation.

My concerned teammates gathered ‘round; one ran for an ice pack. I was less concerned about my injury than I was totally frustrated about losing my vacation. Then, I noticed my soul mate making his way across the court to come to my aide.

I’m a pretty independent chick. This would be the first time in our relationship he could play the hero and I could be the damsel in distress. This thought provided a mental image to lift me from my cancelled vacation funk. I saw him pampering me through surgery, recovery and rehab. I saw my knee propped up on freshly fluffed feather pillows and heard him say, “Can I bring you another cup of coffee? A newspaper? Would you like a backrub?” It wasn’t a Pacific Northwest vacation, but with pampering still in my future – and from the man I love – I grabbed hold of my silver lining and wrapped it around me like a blanket. (Okay, that warm, fuzzy feeling was probably shock setting in, but I’ll take euphoria any way I can get it.)

He reached my side, I grabbed his hand and braced myself, knowing when he carried me off the court it would be painful, but romantic . . . oh so romantic.

My soul mate; the love of my life, the ying to my yang, my hero, leaned over me and looked into my eyes, witnessing the twisted expression of pain chasing the color from my face. He glanced at my rapidly swelling knee, put his hand on my shoulder and returned his gaze into my eyes. His face carried an expression of concern and urgency I’d never before seen. It was a tender moment; one of those times you just know you really are the center of someone’s universe. There was an audible “awwww” from my teammates. God, I love this guy, I was thinking as he leaned in close, so close I thought he might kiss me, and said:

Hey, are you playing or not!? For God’s sake! It’s game point!
 
Rhonda Ruminated at 11:29 AM | Permalink | 2 People Ruminated
Wednesday, March 01, 2006
Deadliest Catch
Last week, I purged my soul of a dark secret: the time I spend watching true crime. It’s time for a full confession: I have been known to watch Discovery Channel. More specifically, I have a fascination with Deadliest Catch.

But, unlike the wannabe adrenaline junkies; the teenaged boys dreaming of quick money and life on the wilds of the Bering Sea, the dreamers who think Midwest bass fishing with uncle Joe qualifies them for a position as deckhand on a commercial crab boat, my interest is personal.

I can’t sit through a whole show. I catch re-runs in bits and pieces; they hook me as I pass through the living room. As soon as the initial “Hey, I know that guy!” reaction wears off, a knot of emotion begins to travel from my stomach, to my chest; catching in my throat.

My fifteen-year-old son doesn’t miss an episode. As I watch from the kitchen, his silhouette becomes part of the show. His father is a crab boat captain. I was, for fifteen years, a “fish-wife.” The Bering Sea has taken six of my friends; my ex-husband’s sister-ship; my best friend’s husband, and left too many children I know fatherless.

As much as crab fishing has slipped into my past, I’m afraid it will be part of my future. My son has the fishing bug. Worse, he’s been to Alaska, worked all summer, and not shaken the bug – a sure sign that he has what it takes to be a Bering Sea cowboy. I suspect my days of hoping the coast guard doesn’t call my house are not over.

On the lighter side of the issue, a quick browse of the internet for Deadliest Catch fodder unearthed a disturbing reality – groupies. Aside from the teenaged boys smitten by the danger and profits of crab fishing, a plethora of women from all age groups are going ga-ga over captains and deckhands alike.

Ladies, let me tell you something. There is something television – even reality television – cannot convey.

Crab stinks. Bait stinks. Boats stink. Things that rise from the bottom of the ocean stink. Therefore, fishermen stink. That grizzly outdoorsman you first saw on Discovery who has now been cast as the main role in your fantasy? If he were your man, the first sign would be the intermingled smell of diesel, ground herring and old, warm crab entering your front door ten feet ahead of him. Worse, that smell will remain long after he’s returned to his real love – The Bering Sea.

If that doesn’t dissuade you; if you are still waiting and hoping for your ship to come in, I have some advice: make sure you use your own restroom before you leave home.

Imagine. Six men sharing a bathroom; a very small bathroom. Now, imagine those men, sleep deprived and in a nearly hypothermic stupor, trying to aim their manthings at an 18” target while the ship reels up and down, back and forth, in 25 foot seas. It ‘aint pretty. It’s downright scary.

Discovery film crews must do some housekeeping. The galley table on every edition is strangely void of standard commercial fishing vessel contraband. What contraband? The kind that keeps a young man faithful to his girlfriend or wife while they live apart 6-9 months a year: good old porno movies. It isn’t the porn that’s disturbing, it’s that it generally is kept in the common area – the galley table, where the men gather to eat, drink coffee and shoot the shit during the rare break from hauling crab pots. So, if your dream comes true and a burly fisherman invites you for lunch on his vessel, I have this advice: volunteer to wash the galley table. You really never know where it’s been. And, you don’t want to.

If you are still on board, remember, you’ll have to live with another woman – the Sea. She will come first. He’ll run to her when she offers up her profits no matter if you are in the kitchen scrambling eggs or in the delivery room bringing his firstborn into the world. He’ll spend more time with her than you no matter how poorly she treats him, no matter if she causes him physical pain and financial hardship. If you’ve snagged your fisherman hoping someday he’ll get a desk job, put that idea to rest. Once a man has survived his first crab season and returned for another, it is what he will do until the day the Sea has beaten his body into submission or swallowed him for all eternity.

These aren’t the ramblings of a bitter divorcee. The Bering Sea didn’t sink my marriage. I actually liked the lifestyle – and even miss it sometimes. But, I can’t tell you how many times a new deckhand brought his enthusiastic young girlfriend aboard and she’d turn to me and declare “as soon as he saves some money, he’s going to give up fishing and stay home with m-e-e-e.” Those relationships never worked. I have never met a crab fisherman who voluntarily gave up fishing – ever.

So, if a Deadliest Catch groupie is reading this – and hasn’t yet given up the fantasy – good luck to you. I hope your ship comes in. And, if it does, may it travel safely and without incident, especially if one of the men aboard ends up being my son.


Addendum: I wrote this full aware I was avoiding writing the difficult article I need to write – promised to write – about losing The Northwest Mariner and the men aboard her. Sarcasm is easier. Still, look for a tribute post in the near future.
 
Rhonda Ruminated at 11:45 AM | Permalink |