Dear Step-son…

First of all, I love you.  You need to know that.  You need to see it written down and really take it to heart and believe it, because I don’t say it very often and you tend not to hear schmaltz (You are 13, after all.)  I also think that you are reluctant to admit that you share my feelings of affection, most likely owing to the very existence of your biological mother. Please know that — contrary to what you probably believe — I understand that you feel pressure to love your mother…both from her and from the universe at large.  I also understand that you’re a teenager, and therefore you automatically want to do that which will annoy your father and me.  You think loving your mother will accomplish that, but it’s not true.  She’s your mother and of course you love her.  What you don’t know yet is that some people don’t get the best moms, and they spend their whole lives wishing they could un-love their mother and undo all the damage she did to them.  I’m so afraid that’s where you’ll end up.  Please believe me when I say that this is my only feeling on the subject.  If you could love her without danger to yourself, all I would have to say is “that’s terrific!” (and to be honest, there are times I could use a break from all your teenageryness).  But you choose to love her up close, to spend more time with her than you should, and in so doing, to put yourself repeatedly and needlessly in harm’s way.  When you come home from there — after several days of bar food, not sleeping at night, and only seeing her drunk if at all — you’re a total shit to us.  I’m sure this is because you imagine yourself greatly inconvenienced to be back again in a house where you are actually looked after and parented.  Regardless of how misunderstood you might feel at these moments, your father and I understand a lot more than we let on.  We try not to pick up the horrible things you say to us, or even all the ways you act out.  We make these allowances (for a little while) because we figure this behavior won’t last forever.  Also because we love you. Both of us, not just the one you’re cloned from.

Have you got it?  Great.

stepson ocean

Now that the serious stuff is out of the way, here’s one of the many reasons I’m writing: Your Axe products are slowly killing me.  Yes, I breathe better now that I quit smoking, but I also breathe better now that I quit smoking, if you see what I mean.  Where I used to only react to about half of the smells in my environment, I am now subject to all of them, at full potency.  When you take a shower and a bath a day and use far more than the required amount of product for both, it makes me think you want me dead and you’ve grown tired of waiting for nature to take its course (or the cat to take his revenge). In retaliation for this everyday attempt to end my life, I have started to rather passive/aggressively do a few things I never did before where you are concerned. First, I no longer go looking for the missing socks and underwear that are not in your laundry basket. This means you run out of both items a few days earlier than usual, and you are forced to make that pouty face because you can’t change two or three times a day.   I am secretly amused by this to such an extent that I find it extremely difficult not to laugh like Renfield and wallow joyfully in your misfortune like Kitty Boy in catnip.  In addition to vowing never again to search for your missing laundry, I have also gleefully stopped making tea.  Admittedly, this used to bother you a lot more than it does now.  But be on your guard, kid; I’m looking for something new and innovative with which to torture you as we speak.

Second, I know you don’t share my opinion on this, but Jesus, Spaghettios stink.  Granted, this is another one of those smells that I notice more because of the non-smoking thing, but they reeked even when my sense of smell was compromised.  But the actuality of the stench is not why I’m bringing this up; please, for the love of god PLEASE, stop making Spaghettios at 3AM.  They wake me up out of a dead sleep, and I have to fight the dry heaves.  The same goes for eggs, although I love those — when you’re sleeping, happily cocooned inside a fluffy cloud of blankets that smell good, anything being cooked is undesirable.  Stop it.  Eat when we eat.  Sleep when we sleep.  You are not a vampire or a drunk, you’re not on mood or behavior altering drugs, and there’s no reason for you to be awake and eating at that time of day.

Third, stop distracting me with stupid YouTube videos.  More to the point, stop distracting me with endless and pointless chatter about stupid YouTube videos.  There’s nothing for me to learn there, and engaging in “conversations” with you about something that took ten seconds to watch and was virtually incomprehensible does not make me feel as though I’m spending quality time with you.  Remarkably, I also don’t find the endless videos of commentary about video games at all interesting.  In fact, I’m not particularly interested in the video games themselves.  Unless you’re talking to me about Final Fantasy or old school Mario Bros., count on getting nothing but a blank look back from me.  Now, if you want to talk to me about the books you read in school or even about South Park and American Dad, I’m there.  Unfortunately, it seems like you stopped watching quality, inappropriate television shows a couple years ago, and the truth is, I am still kind of reeling from the loss of my favorite kid’s perspective on the subject.  Come back.  At least sit on the couch with me for the Trump Show (formerly known as the news) and help me yell obscenities at the screen.  I miss you.

Fourth: boy, I will cut you if you don’t start lifting the lid and hitting the bowl.  Please note that this is a two-part statement.  Both pieces are necessary to prevent my screaming my head off when I enter the bathroom after you.  Now, I understand (from my brief time living in the house with your older brother) that this is some kind of a natural teenage boy thing, but come on.  I knew you two years ago, and at that time, you were perfectly capable of putting your bodily fluids where they belong.  If anything, my presence in your life has made you more civilized, so I seriously don’t understand this recent turn of events.  You are not living in a barnyard, boy.  Get it together.  Otherwise, cleaning the bathroom will become a daily chore that moves over to your list.  Heh….you think it’s hard to get your allowance now.

Fifth: if you’re trying to irritate me with your love of sub-par rap music (when I can barely stomach the really good stuff), you’ve succeeded.  But you should know that if I keep hearing it playing on a loop at a steady and monotonous drone while you’re otherwise engaged with playing a game and chatting online, then I cannot be responsible for my actions.  Your phone (from which the music streams) might just up and disappear. My little brother needs an iPhone, and I know for certain that I can trust him to use it to play decent music.

Finally, please PLEASE make an effort to be the boy I know you can be this year.  Last year, you lied to us about homework, you didn’t study until you had nearly flunked out, and you hung around with the only thug in our corn-fed, miniscule town.  I know you’re smart.  I’ve talked to you.  I’ve nearly fallen out of my chair a hundred times from laughing at some hilarious and undeniably smart thing you’ve said or done.  I damn near have a master’s degree, I’ve read a shit-ton of books, and I have more life experience than I can stomach; you couldn’t possibly crack me up like you do if you weren’t above average.  Please, show your teachers that side of yourself this year.  You’re handsome and you’re charming, and nothing in the world could stop you if you stopped trying to stop yourself.

I love you, step-son.  Get your shit together.
~Step-mom

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The Brothers Three

I come from a big family, and in case I don’t get around to mentioning it very often, they really are an important part of who I am now and who I grew up being.  While my tendency is to talk mostly about Mama (especially when recounting times past), the truth is, the boys played just as big a part in who I am.

When I say I miss my brothers, I mean I miss all of us together, the way we were as children. There are particular things that I miss most. If you asked Mama, she’d say she missed the singing – all of us piled together in “Old Green” (an army green former utility truck of some sort that came to us already beaten and abused, one of the few things the four of us didn’t have a hand in destroying further), singing song after song from the late 60’s and 70’s and marveling at the acoustics. Or maybe she’d say it was listening to the four of us thump around on top of the truck while she drove the five or six blocks from Farm Fresh back to the house on some unbelievably hot summer night when riding in the open air at 20 miles an hour was the only breeze to be found.

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Strangely, though they’re certainly relevant to who I am, these aren’t my favorite memories. My favorites all occurred on some weekend or vacation when Mom had long since gone to bed and the four of us were gathered around the minuscule television in the living room playing some video game on near-mute and trying to be quiet enough as a group that we wouldn’t wake her. I don’t remember any of us every arguing over who got to play next or longest. We just played. And when we weren’t playing we were watching each other play.  (My love of video games endures to this day. And as it was then, it doesn’t matter a lick to me whether I’m playing or watching.) There were a million things feeding into us having a good time on those nights. First, we weren’t supposed to be up so late, and that alone was cool. Second, we only owned one game ourselves, so usually, any time we were up late playing it was because we’d suddenly gotten some spare change and Mom had agreed to rent us a game. (The renting, by the way, was almost as cool as the playing. Nate and I would spend almost an hour poring over titles and back-of-the-box descriptions, making sure that whatever game we ended up getting wasn’t going to disappoint us in the first ten minutes. There wasn’t another one where that came from and we all knew it.) Third, if there was spare change for a game, then in all likelihood, there was also Coke, chips, and sandwich stuff.  (Food was not always readily available at our house.)  And fourth, Dad was never home any time we stayed up late, which meant our house was a fairly quiet place. After all, there was nothing for the four of us to argue over among ourselves.  That fact alone is an amazement to me–four siblings with nothing to argue about?  But back then, it was true.

No matter how we dressed, no matter how our house looked compared to everyone else’s, no matter what car or beat up old truck Mama drove us to school in, I was always proud of the boys and proud to be with them. Though we always had to watch out for the youngest, J (who had a tendency to suddenly disappear or run headlong into oncoming traffic), most of the time we were the best behaved brood of children that I’ve ever encountered.  Oddly enough, I don’t recall any of us believing that at the time.  I think somewhere in the back of their brains, all children must believe they’re inherently rotten, if not for what their parents tell them, then for the thoughts they think at night, in the quiet darkness of their rooms.

Sometimes I think there isn’t anything I wouldn’t give to have us all in one house again. And if I had minutes or years to live over, I’d choose those when we were together every time. There are changes I would make. Maybe I could keep my oldest brother, N, from all the heartbreak and trouble of his mid-teens and early 20s.  Perhaps in a changed and bettered future, it would be possible for all of us to be together in one place without the arguing and ill will that happens now when such gatherings occur. I would have liked very much for all of us to be adults together, for ours to be one of “those families” who stay together, who laugh and play and drink together well into middle age.

I hate that we’ll never be the versions of us that I dreamed we’d be.  And while it’s easy to blame my middle brother, T, or politics, or geography or a million other things, the truth is, I think the blame probably rests with all of us for not remembering the children we were, the things we lived through, or most importantly, that the only reason we made it at all was because at one time we were Angie and the Brothers Three.

**This entry was originally written and posted in 2001.  It has been slightly edited.