Category: Etc

On the job training

Missed my regular Saturday update yesterday because I thought it would be a good idea to head into work, on a weekend, three days into a five day weekend extended by holiday and PTO, to clean up my office and set up my second bass. I got all that done, but by the time I wrapped up, the reality of holiday travel was in full effect… I couldn’t take the ferry back to Bainbridge Island because the overflow lot was at capacity and they were turning away everyone new who showed up, and the long way around (south out of Seattle, through Tacoma, then back north past Bremerton) was absolutely snarled by traffic. Would have been a nice day for a drive if the drive itself was actually nice, too.

Lately I’ve been working on the Save the Queen content in Final Fantasy 14. Its MMO-within-an-MMO nature has been interesting; there’s a separate leveling system, unique actions, gear bonuses that only apply within content, and a Final Fantasy 12-flavored storyline complete with boss fight music borrowed from the source. Very interesting take on things, with the ultimate reward being a new weapon that will likely have a short shelf life when the next expansion comes out in four months. Such is the nature of these kinds of games.

One of the more unique aspects of Save the Queen is that the game doesn’t really enforce group composition the way it does outside the content. Outside, your four-person dungeons are done with a single tank and single healer; normal raids are a group of eight with two tanks and two healers, and alliance raids are three groups of eight with each having one tank and two healers. In all cases, it’s one healer per four people in the group. But Save the Queen raids don’t place such restrictions on group composition, leading to scenarios where things can be out of balance… like three healers and no tanks, or groups of fewer than eight people…

Or in my case last night, it was a full group with three tanks and one healer.

Things are manageable to start with, even while also covering the raid’s main tank, assuming everyone else knows the content enough not to step in stupid shit. But then the encounter splits into two bosses at the midway point, which means you (and everyone else in the raid) now have to watch for more things than before. To make matters worse, rather than letting another group tank the other boss, a second tank in my group did the honors.

So, to recap:

  • I’m solo healing a group of eight.
  • I’m healing the main tank.
  • I’m now healing the other main tank.
  • I have a lot of shit to dodge.
  • I’ve only done this raid one other time and still don’t know what the hell I’m actually doing.

The results were about as expected… managed somehow, but it was touch and go toward the end.

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Things are heating up

Today marks the first day of a quite sudden and quite severe spike in temperatures, as we’re in for 90+ degree heat for the next days, including one day above 100 degrees. Lack of central air as an amenity in housing in this part of the country normally isn’t a problem, except for when it is. Luckily I have my portable unit deployed and running, so at least the living room is staying livable.

Good thing too, as I am extremely behind on work at the moment and find myself in the position of needing to spend all weekend getting caught up on bug squashing. Imagine this – I have a team of four developers; one of which is busy conducting performance testing for the current release, while the other three were reassigned by the VP of software delivery to participate in regression testing as ‘contractors’ for the QA team to help speed those guys up. So who’s left to fix bugs? Well… uh, nobody. So in other words, I fit that in between meetings and emails and writing annual reviews and tearing various different teams in the building new assholes for putting on a circus act while we’re trying to get some serious business done.


What’s also fun is playing bass, which I had officially taken up as my quarantine hobby while others were busy learning how to make sourdough bread. After about four months of serious practice, close to 80 hours logged in Rocksmith, and once-a-week lessons at the local music guild, I’m seeing some pretty positive results. I’ve progressed to the point where if I set aside an hour or so on Rocksmith, I can bang out simpler songs start-to-finish, and I can usually get the structure (if not the nuance) of moderate-difficulty songs right as well. Then there’s Red Barchetta by Rush, which I’ve been working on for at least three months…

Here’s the full song:

And the bass part in isolation:

In contrast to some of the other things I’ve worked on, this is less of a bass line and more of a melange of uniquely tricky phrases that all need to be glued together to form the entire piece. Part of what’s taken so long to learn this is actually just that I’m an idiot who’s focused on learning to run before figuring out how to crawl, otherwise why would I be trying to learn Rush songs four months into this endeavor? So the rate of progress has actually been gated by an overall lack of experience with the instrument, and the fact that I’m still seeing a lot of things for the very first time.

Rocksmith has been a fairly effective method of ramping up though, and although I didn’t really truly fulfill their 60-day challenge of an hour a day for… you guessed it, 60 days, it was a hell of a lot faster than sitting there with a method book playing whole notes and quarter notes would have been. The ability to dial in the difficulty (essentially taking notes off the chart and adjusting the speed until you’re able to follow along) is great for getting the “easy” rendition of a song down, then you start practicing individual passages and gradually increase the difficulty until you’re playing the full thing at full speed. One thing I’m finding more recently is that playing through a song once at about 30% difficulty is good for learning the feel of the song, but then I need to jump straight to 100% difficulty because how you locate things on the fretboard is very much based on context, and decisions need to be made about playing an C on the seventh fret of the E string versus the same C (albeit with slightly different intonation) on the third fret of the A string. So the speed slider is actually the difficulty slider for me, and I play things slowly until I’ve figured them out.

One thing of note is that while I haven’t devolved into full on guitar-collecting as it seems serious players do, I have already bought a second bass to park at the office. So to add to the Yamaha TRBX 505 that I daily drive at home, I’ll have a TRBX 174 at work to sneak in a few minutes here and there on days that I commute in. The choice of going to the Yamaha well twice is mostly based around the fact that I had a Yamaha clarinet in high school and it played and sounded great. Yamaha basses tend to grade out favorably in reviews for being good bang-for-buck choices, and my experience so far has more or less been consistent with that. A Fender jazz bass seems like a likely next step, although the Sugi NB4 is a rather striking option, even if it is $4000…

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The Sound is nice

I took this picture yesterday afternoon on the ferry ride from Bainbridge Island to Seattle:

A clear but windy day

When I made the decision to move out here in 2016, I did so without a lot of information or even really a clear plan for getting past the first few months, save for a few days on the ground in late 2015 and a lot of time spent lurking on the Seattle subreddit to observe from afar.

I think the only clear driver was more moderate weather; after twenty years, I figured I’d had about enough of the bitter cold and oppressive heat at opposite ends of the calendar. Continentality was a word I learned in college.

I’ve made things work since then. The first six months were a challenge, since I was moving without a local job lined up. I took my old job with me planning to work remote for at least a couple months and did everything I could to make that work, from selling my car to free up room in the budget to living in the cheapest studio I could deal with.

As luck would have it, I found a job within a couple weeks of getting here, at a company with a team that was motivated to expand quickly enough to accept someone who more or less bombed the job interview. The fact that this did not blow up in their faces remains a miracle to this day. The team’s initial objective of building a new product from nothing has been completed, the product launch was successful, and the team is now half as big as it used to be – with me now managing it, which is also something that I remain surprised hasn’t blown up in everyone’s faces yet.

Right before the full panic of the pandemic set in early last year, I started my more-or-less yearly look at the state of things to see if a condo or a house was going to be in the cards after the apartment lease came due. This time, everything lined up exactly the way it needed to, and I found a place on Bainbridge Island more or less meeting the size and price requirements. And not a moment too soon it seems, as the housing market has essentially gone bonkers since then, with what I understand is a confluence of panic-buying and lack of inventory driving the price of everything up. I understand that I could sell now and pocket around $75k, but then I’d have to find another place to live.

Bainbridge Island is a nice little bedroom community on the other side of the water from Seattle. It doesn’t have everything a person needs (Costco for example is half an hour away in Silverdale), but it does have the small town vibe and the peace and quiet on weekend mornings that I’d missed while living in the big city.

The only real downside is the “other side of the water from Seattle” part… the ferry ride itself is 35 minutes from start to finish, then you tack on time spent actually waiting for the boat at point A and time spent getting from point B to where you were actually intending to go. I timed going from the condo to the office one time and the total commute clocked in at around an hour and a half. Thankfully, work hasn’t made the call to require everyone to be in the office every day, and assuming people don’t abuse the privilege, things will continue to stay that way.

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She Just Went to Sleep, Right Here

This is Exam Room 9.

The number nine is an interesting one. The Chinese associate the word’s pronunciation with the pronunciation of another word meaning longevity. To them, it’s an auspicious sign. On the other hand, the Japanese shy away from its use on room and floor numbers because its pronunciation “ku” resembles the first syllable in the word “kurushii”, which translates to pain, agony, suffering and hardship. When I lived there, I was in apartment 110, and my next door neighbor was in 108. There was no 109. Multiply 9 by any number from 1 to 10, and the sum of the digits in the result will add up to 9. A curiosity for the mathematically-inclined, but I’ve been told in some ancient cultures the number was taboo for always showing up everywhere anytime you did basic arithmetic.

We started finding blood on the floor in various spots around the house in late August. As my cat, Waters, and I were sojourning at the house until I could get living arrangements sorted down in Lincoln, that left five possible sources between three humans and two cats, so at first we weren’t sure whose blood it was. A short investigation revealed that the source of blood was none other than Sidney, the old lady who at the age of eighteen was older than all of us by a mile, once you took into consideration that she was a cat.

Eighteen years is a long life for a cat. The last few years had seen her gradually slow down, sleep more, lose some of that mobility that allowed her to survey her territory from any perch she liked. But she seemed to be doing well in spite of general old age and the odd ailment, so the hope was that she would at least make it to Christmas for one last hurrah with the whole family in town. We crossed our fingers and took her to the vet to find out what was wrong. At first, the vet figured it was a simple bladder infection, nothing some antibiotics and painkillers couldn’t fix. Christmas would indeed be within reach, and if we were lucky, she might even see the thaw of spring. Either way, we’d know more after the regimen of antibiotics had run its course.

The laundry basket became her hideout of choice in the final weeks.

The laundry and pantry occupy the same space in the back of the kitchen. We normally keep the door closed, lest our four-legged family member stage a raid and we end up with cans or boxes or bottles or jars off of the shelves and onto the floor. The door was left open one day, and I walked in to find Sid curled up and asleep on a pile of clothes in the laundry basket. She had picked the perfect spot to camp out – away from the daily traffic of humans and the ever inquisitive and playful Waters, always cool, always dark, mostly quiet. And along with her gradually came all of her things. Her food bowl was placed just outside the basket. Her litter box eventually found its way in there too, once it became too difficult for her to make the trip downstairs. The once-forbidden section of the kitchen had become her living quarters.

The weekend after I moved down to Lincoln, I went back home for dinner and got the progress report.

The antibiotics and the painkillers seemed to be working at first. Sid stopped passing blood and the light in her eyes returned. But the infection was actually more than that, and just as soon as she started getting better, things took a turn for the worse. Ultrasounds had revealed a growth in her bladder. The vet began prescribing the kinds of things you prescribe when managing the pain overtakes treating the condition as the top priority. Months had become weeks, and the rules were simple – life would carry on in as close to normal fashion as possible, but we would not prolong things that didn’t need to be prolonged.

A tablespoon of food and a dose of painkillers.

When our mouse Snowball died in 1987, I was too young to understand what it meant. I remember he had a lump in his leg and that made it hard for him to walk. I remember standing out in the yard with my dad and my younger brother and being told to say goodbye to him. His body was balanced on a spoon, and when we said goodbye, we lowered him into the hole dad had dug out for him, and that was that. I probably went back to watching He-Man afterwards like nothing had happened.

When our dog Penny died in 2006, I was too absorbed in my own world to notice. I knew that incontinence, arthritis and loss of sight were all taking their toll on her quality of life. She howled when the house was empty. But I wasn’t there when the family put her to rest. I just remember visiting the house one day and noticing that there was a box on the mantle, with her collar resting on top.

Nor had I been around for the death of three grandparents in the last six years, although I did make it to two funerals. Those particular experiences were difficult for me to assign an emotional value to. As anyone who grew up in a military household can attest to, moving around every so often and never living within easy reach of extended family members can make relationships tough to establish or maintain. I know people who have lived in the same area their whole lives, and to them the thought of not having aunts and uncles and grandparents and cousins around was completely foreign to them.

So I had a strange relationship with death. I knew it existed, and we had crossed paths a couple times, but I had managed to remain at arms’ length for thirty-three years. Nevertheless, when my parents told me the end was coming soon for Sid, I said I wanted to be there. It seemed oddly fitting that my first meaningful experience with death was going to be on account of a twelve pound ball of fur that generally didn’t have much use for me when she wasn’t hungry or didn’t want a lap to sit on or a scratch under the chin.

I got a text two days later asking me to call home. In our family, a request for a phone call usually carries a certain significance. Mom would always text to ask about the day-to-day stuff – what I am cooking, what kind of trouble Waters is getting into, whether I’m working or playing video games on a particular night or weekend. We all lead busy lives and value each others’ space, so calling just to say hi isn’t something we do a lot of. Before I called, I briefly considered the possibilities. Something happened to one of my brothers in the Army. A relative on the east coast was ill. Dad was in a car accident. Things like that. But I think I knew all along that it was going to be about Sid.

And so, on the ninth day of the ninth month, I called home. My suspicions would be confirmed – Sid’s health was deteriorating. She didn’t have months, and she didn’t have weeks. She had days. The blood returned, the pain management stopped managing her pain, she began eating less and suffering more. She refused lunchmeat, previously a highly sought-after snack. The roller coaster, having completed its ascent, was plunging in the other direction at break-neck speeds. Mom told me that the decision to put things to an end had been made, and she asked me to keep things under wraps until the week was out and my brothers could be given the news.

Looking out the window on the final car ride.

Sid was always smart enough to know when something was happening. When the luggage came out, she knew someone, or possibly everyone, was going away for awhile. When the kennel came out, she knew a trip to the vet was in her near future. Everything should have felt amiss to her on that last day. Life hadn’t been great the last few weeks. Tear-streaked faces became more commonplace. Dad was home from work that afternoon. Then I showed up. Then dinner came an hour early, without her even having to pester mom. Then we wrapped her up in a towel and piled into the car, completely skipping the ritual of trying to get her into the kennel along the way. She stood up in dad’s lap the whole way, looking out the window at the things we passed by. It was her first time riding in a car like that – unrestrained, free to move about the cabin. I marveled as I drove the four of us to the clinic at how, through the pain and the painkillers and the uncertainty of the situation, she retained her curiosity. I wonder if she knew something was going on. I wonder if she knew this was her last trip.

The wait in Exam Room 9 lasted for what seemed like years. We took turns holding Sid one last time, and waited in silence after the techs moved her to the next room to insert a catheter. I paced the floor, peeking through the window into the back area to see if Sid was on her way back. Finally, the vet arrived and explained how she would carry out the procedure and what would happen to Sid in the final thirty seconds. She gave us the option to leave the room, and we declined. I can see where people would be coming from if they didn’t want to be in the room to watch their pet die, but I wonder if it’s better for the pet to be in the arms of loved ones in those final moments, rather than being tended to by a stranger and wondering where their humans have gone.

Sid and dad

Those who are old enough to remember what it used to be like to wait at the departure gate at an airport know the rush of emotion that overwhelms you when the final boarding call takes place and you have to get your last goodbyes with your loved ones in before the gate closes.

Mom was always openly emotional, crying at the ends of books and movies or when one kid or another would head off to college or move out. And as for myself, I’d already gone to the tissue box a couple of times. I had held myself in check the whole week, but the reality of the situation hit home when I saw that we were being taken to Exam Room 9.

Dad, on the other hand, looked stable. He never let us kids see him in his moments of weakness. In an earlier stage of my life, I wondered if that side of him even existed at all – and that made it difficult to understand him at times. As time marched on, the misunderstanding turned to respect for what must surely have been the strength and willpower it took to be the source of level-headed thought and rational reasoning in the din of everyday life. I watched him hold it together when he spoke at the funerals of both of his parents. His speech was deliberately paced, punctuated by long pauses. You couldn’t tell if he was fighting to keep his emotions boxed in or simply measuring his next sentence. I tried to imagine if I would be able to muster that amount of strength, and my conclusion was that I wouldn’t.

But when the final boarding call came for Sid, he broke. For the first time in thirty-three years, I saw him cry.

Dad held Sid as the vet administered the dose of salvation through the catheter. Sid, being propped up on her hind legs, curled her head into his chest. I stroked her tail and watched as it swished one last time and came to a stop. The vet checked for a heartbeat, told us to turn the light off when we were done saying goodbye, and left the room. Dad stood there for the longest time, holding on to Sid and rocking her back and forth.

Then through the tears, he said simply, “she just went to sleep, right here”.

The three of us lingered for awhile, then rested Sid on the table and turned the light off on our way out.


On the afternoon of September 11, 2013, with overcast skies and rain showers and the specter of the anniversary of the World Trade Center attacks hanging over the day, the number nine and its myriad associations took on yet another meaning for us. The longevity of eighteen years and the suffering of a few weeks had come to an end. The journey of Sidney’s nine lives was at its conclusion.

Death and I came to terms that afternoon. I learned who had the upper hand, who would outrun whom, who would win in the end. I handled things in the way I think is consistent with the march of technology and society – not quite liveblogging the death of a loved one as NPR’s Scott Simon did in the last remaining hours of his mother’s life, but still with a camera nearby and some brainpower reserved for framing the little details in the context of a story to tell others later – details like the stubborn recurrence of the number nine.

I have, over the course of the last ten years, relied on this website to serve as a personal sounding board whenever I’ve needed catharsis or to talk myself through problems or difficult choices. I formulated this particular post on the long, sad, silent drive back home after Sid passed on, and spent the rest of the night writing it. I thought it helped, and the next morning things were fine. But as the hours trudged on through the day at the office, I found myself absent-minded at meetings and needing to disappear from the view of others several times to pull myself back together. I came home that night and added more details and context to the post, stopping occasionally to watch as Waters joyously bounded from room to room, jumping from one perch to the next, tackling one toy mouse or another, occasionally stopping by her food bowl to reload or by the couch to visit with her human – a sure sign that things will return to normal one day.

When I moved into this apartment just a couple of weeks ago, I informally marked off a section of the living room wall as a section dedicated to the past. CDs, VHS tapes, and classic video games all line up on a media rack in that space, and hanging on the wall above are a picture from high school and a set of keychains an old friend gave me a long time ago. A picture of Sid now hangs on the wall, too – where she can keep an eye on Waters and myself, and where I in turn can continue to keep an eye on her, ever remembering the long hours spent watching TV as she slept on our laps, us kids howling with laughter as mom tried to chase her off of the top of a curtain rod, the midday snacks of lunchmeat and milk and the love affair with vanilla ice cream, chirping at the back door as birds flew by, and the story of how the runt of the litter picked us out at the pet store one spring afternoon in 1995 and graced us with eighteen years of love and joy.

Eyes glued to the microwave as dinner warms up, the way things always were.

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Life Gone Wrong

This one’s a true story – not mindless musings, not a recap of the week’s events, not a brain dump of the most recent weird dream I had. It finds its beginning four decades in the past and continues through to today, with I suspect a few more chapters to be written before it ends tragically (but perhaps not unexpectedly). I’m still trying to figure out if it’s the story of a person who got a raw deal in life and responded in kind or if it’s the story of a person who just isn’t wired properly in the head and therefore is unable to take his place in the world. It seems as the days pass and the disappointments continue to pile up that all signs point more clearly to the latter rather than to the former, but I suppose that depends on your frame of reference.

We start in the early 1970s. He was born to a pair of young parents – barely into their twenties, barely mature, and barely married. The marriage unfortunately imploded on itself just as quick as it came about, and as soon as he was able to call his father by name, his father was suddenly and nearly completely out of his life. He and his mother spent the rest of the decade sometimes relying on family members, sometimes barely making it, but ultimately surviving. He had grown into a bit of a cantankerous kid. Manageable but with the capacity to be the neighborhood terror if left to his own devices with other kids.

Still, this behavior did not scare off another man who had reentered his mother’s life when he was about five. His mother and this new man had known each other back in high school but went their own separate ways after graduation – he into the military (and then out of the military for a brief period before electing to reenlist) and she into marriage. The concept of “baggage” often scares men off from single women with children, but not this one. They were both approaching thirty and decided they could make this thing work – and so in 1979 they married. He wore his uniform, she wore a yellow dress, and the boy wore whatever vest and bow tie combination 7-year olds would wear to church on Sunday.

If you could envision pictures taken at the event, it would look like the beginnings of a horror movie. Happily-married mother and stepfather, and a kid with a twisted look in his eyes. Off-kilter, perhaps even stewing in some form of rage. The new guy wasn’t his real father, or anything like him – this one was more upright, more straight-laced, raised by native Midwesterners who happened to land in Florida after a career in the army. Not the same stock. From worlds so completely different as to be alien. For the kid’s part, having a new father figure in his life didn’t fix whatever was broken, uncross wires that were crossed, or fill any voids in his life. He was a big kid, the kind who wore husky-sized clothes and learned that channeling rage through the size advantage he had over his peers presented him with power over them.

By 1980, his situation at home changed again. Now halfway across the country, mom and “dad” had rather quickly produced a son of their own. The optimist would suggest this was the time for the kid to adjust to the reality that he had responsibilities as the oldest son in a complete nuclear family. The optimist, however, would be wrong this time. The boy’s relentless assault continued in every direction imaginable. He had established himself once again as the neighborhood bully. Nothing his parents or anybody else said to him could straighten him out.

It wasn’t long before the antics around the neighborhood made their way inside the house. His younger brother had become a target as well – damaged in his own way, and no match for an oversized ten-year old. The parents weren’t oblivious to what was happening, either. The younger one stuck to mom like glue, camping out in the kitchen with his He-Man toys while she worked on dinner in the afternoons.

Things kept changing around him. A second brother came along. Then a second move, this one half again as long as the first, clear to the coast. As if the last had been to the other side of the world, this one was now to the other other side of the world. After just twelve years, he had known just about everything there is for a kid to know except for stability.

One day in 1985 things came to a head at home. He had done one wrong thing too many, said one wrong thing too many, become too much of a danger to too many people, and finally the man patient enough to give him a second chance at having a father in his life had had enough. What “dad” probably didn’t expect was the pocketknife. The standoff between a 12-year old with a knife and a grown man three times his age was nothing remarkable in the sense that nobody was hurt, but it did finally signal the presence of a gap between the kid and the family he had but didn’t want.

He may have been a miscreant, but that didn’t mean he was going to be thrown away. The decision was made to get him psychiatric help, which likely would have involved inpatient care. As news spread back to his mom’s side of the family, the grandparents sprung into action. They rather adamantly declared they weren’t allowing their grandson be committed to a mental hospital. If he was going anywhere, they said, it would be back to their home so they could take care of him. Mom and “dad” weighed the options and decided to take her parents up on their offer. So the kid was sent off to live with his grandparents, who had since moved to South Carolina.

To hear the story being told, he had a great time living with his grandparents. School was optional, food was plentiful, and discipline was in short supply. Papa doted on him, Granny was desirous of a more strict household – not unlike how she ran the house when her two daughters were kids – but generally abode his whims.

Life achieved balance elsewhere, too. The younger brother, who had all of a sudden become the oldest son, never took after his tormenter. His parents put him into kindergarten almost a whole year early, and being the smallest kid in class tends to help keep you in line.

1990-1991 was a critical period. The family had since moved yet again, completing a coast-to-coast-to-coast trek in under ten years’ time, and were living a day’s drive north. Yet another son was born, totaling three. Everyone decided collectively to try to put the family back together. The kid, now hardly not even a kid at 17, was taken back in, with some conditions. He could have his own space, but phone privileges were limited and there needed to be an accounting of his whereabouts. The relationship between him and the younger brother he used to torment improved but was still extraordinarily cautious. His stepfather, however, remained just short of distrustful of the kid who had pulled a knife on him.

Trouble continued at school and around the neighborhood, however. Poor marks in class and signs of drug use began to manifest themselves, and it wasn’t long before the parents found themselves at the same crossroads they were at just five years prior – send the boy to get help, or send him away. This time they chose the former, and away he went. Then he came back. Then he went back. Then he came back. Each time he came back with different bottles of pills, none of which seemed to take the edge off. The family was at their wits’ end.

One summer evening in 1991, with “dad” halfway across the world preparing the family for their biggest move yet, an dispute between the kid and his mother flared up. He left the house enraged, heading for his 1983 Mustang. She gave chase, yelling at him not to go. He injured her arm and took off. The second son phoned law enforcement, and they caught the Mustang just as it was about to leave the base. The mother decided against pressing charges against her son that night, but the damage was done. He was sent back to South Carolina, while the rest of the family packed up and headed thousands of miles the other way. What had previous been a gap just six years earlier had become a gulf.

Stories became few and far between after that. Every now and then things would get bad, but the international phone calls all ended the same way – with the mother demanding to know how she was supposed to keep a child she had no control over in line, let alone from another continent. The relationship between her and her family was severely strained, but just short of breaking. The next reunion would not take place for another three years. The family had since solidified without him as part of it. They returned to South Carolina to find him still a bit off-center but at least working. He made himself scarce that week, then off they went again on another assignment.

This business of phone calls from back home still continued. A childhood of making trouble for others had progressed into an adulthood of doing the same thing. Each time he would have done something different – stolen money out of Granny’s purse, bounced a check at a store, gotten picked up by the cops on some charge or another. And each time the conversation would go the same way. Anger on one side, exasperation on the other. This is your kid, they would tell the mother, and he should be your responsibility. He’s beyond control and you’re enabling him, she’d fire back. Sometimes he would call and ask for money, and she’d tell him no. And it would all continue because he had an ally in Papa.

It was therefore a surprise to learn that somewhere in his mid-thirties, he had gained a bit of traction in life. He started going back to school to become a medical technician or some related occupation. He had a steady girlfriend, and he was generally behaving himself. It was assumed by most that he was at long last about to become a productive member of society… until his drug problem reared its ugly head. When the girlfriend caught on to it, she left him. Then he tried unsuccessfully to kill himself. The phone calls from home continued, but his mother had sworn off of helping him and refused to change her stance. Of course, he got better and then resumed the life everyone thought he’d finally put past him.

Things continued to disappear from the house. He would always need money from somebody, saying somebody was out to get him if he didn’t pay them back. The warning signs weren’t being ignored, simply not acted on. Papa had become his only ally, while Granny simply abode. One day in the winter of 2011, she noticed a hole in her bank account and checks missing out of her office. She visited the bank, and they showed her the pictures of the person who cashed the checks.

It was him, finally setting fire to the one bridge that seemed unburnable.

Suicidal, drug-dependent, and looking at potentially years in jail, he checked himself into a hospital. His grandparents, with the help of a cousin who was a lawyer, filed an eviction notice against him. The apartment they let him stay in was sealed and the locks changed – not even the wet clothes in the washer and dryer were taken out. He of course apologized and said he did it because some drug dealers were after him, but his grandparents were adamant in not allowing him back in. They had been taken advantage of for the last time, and finally after a decade heeded their daughter’s – his mother’s – advice to cut him off.

Soon after, Papa died. It seemed the upcoming funeral would set the stage for another awkward reunion, only this time with the kid, now a 38 year old man, in a room completely surrounded by people who had for years wanted him disowned. He didn’t have clothes for the funeral, so Papa’s wardrobe was searched for a suitable set of clothes. He could come by the house and pick them up, then he had to leave. He could come to the funeral, then he had to leave. Few pleasant words were exchanged the first day. He unsuccessfully petitioned for access to his old apartment so he could get things that had been left behind. Things were said, and he left.

The next morning they found the screen door of the apartment left open, with no apparent signs that he’d been able to break in.

The day of the funeral, he didn’t show up. When everyone got back to the house, they found Papa’s clothes thrown on the front porch. This so completely infuriated his mother’s family that if he had any chance of redemption at some point, it was gone. Gas was thrown on the burning bridge. More angry words were exchanged, this time by the convenience of e-mail. He was told he’s on his own from now on. And, for the first time in his life, there was nobody to break his fall.

In 38 years he went from being a kid with a father, to a kid without a father, to a kid with a father, to a kid separated from his family, briefly reunited and then separated again, and then finally to an adult in and out of trouble with the law. Was it the lack of stability in his life? Did the fact that he didn’t have a father around in the first few years of his life so damage him that he was completely irreparable? Or was it the lack of discipline from his grandparents after his parents gave up? Most folks are happy to just get a second chance in life – he had a safety net as sure as the dawn for every time he got into trouble. Or was the turbulent family life merely window dressing for the fact that he was simply wired wrong?

It is expected one day that the arrests and suicide attempts will eventually pile up so high that they result in some sort of tragic ending, and perhaps the sad part is that few will care enough to want to deal with the aftermath. For the family that had long since disconnected from him, particularly for the brother he tormented in the early 80s, he was something of a household pariah, a shadowy figure only spoken of when he had done something wrong yet again. And for his extended family, who cared for him later on, he had committed the ultimate unforgivable insult against the one man in the world who still wanted to help him.

And so, the story of my stepbrother, Mike, continues.

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