Conditioned.

 

I’m hurt.

I will react.

I’ll scream in anger.

I will tell you that I’m in pain.

I’ll tell you (loudly) that you’re wrong.

I’ll forget myself and feel all that is true inside.

I’ll show you the fear and rage and pain that you caused.

And then I will immediately change my mind.

I’ll remember what I am allowed to feel.

And I will remember what I am not.

I’ll tell you that it is not your fault.

I will tell you that I am sorry.

But I’m not going to be.

Not really.

***

 

 

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A Running Revelation

***

I glance at the clock. Only three minutes left. Three more minutes until I can shove all these files back into their holders and shut down this glaring screen. Three more minutes until I can push the paperwork aside and head home to throw on my running shoes and see the real world–the world that exists outside my window as I sit trapped behind a desk.

I’m a real estate paralegal. If you ever buy, sell, or refinance a house, I’m the face behind the paperwork. Sooo much paperwork. Legal terms, rights of way, percentage rates, amortization schedules, title insurance, property taxes – it all stacks up to the ceiling in my office.  Or at least it seems that way some days.

(Okay, it doesn’t really. I’m neat to a fault when it comes to my office. Things are so organized and put away where they belong that I don’t want to disturb them. Thus feeding my procrastination tendency. But anyway…)

Escape is near. T minus one minute. Organization complete, files and papers where they belong, tabs all closed, computer shut down…5:00 p.m.!  See y’all tomorrow.

My car rushes home to beat the sunset. (There just aren’t enough precious daylight hours this time of year.) A rare, warm late February day is screaming my name.  I’ve grown tired of the treadmill. My running shoes are begging for asphalt, and I plan to oblige.

I race into the driveway, run into the house to throw on my running clothes (a tank top! In February!), grab my headphones and hit the road.

I tune in to an audiobook, my preferred listening material for runs. I’m reading Uncommon Type, a collection of short stories by Tom Hanks. (Yes, that Tom Hanks.) As the crunching sound of my footsteps hitting gravel-filled pavement takes me along the curvy, country highway near my home, I keep Tom Hanks talking in my left ear as my right ear stays tuned to traffic. It’s not the best way to listen to a book, but even divided attention is enough for a book this good. And besides, safety first. I’m sure Tom would understand.

I continue on. Find a good rhythm. Crunch crunch crunch.

I round a corner and notice an old, abandoned home on my right. You see a lot of these out in the country. I always wonder what happened to get them to this point – what is the story that caused everyone in the family to pack up and leave the place that once held all their memories?  And could they (if “they” still exist) possibly know that a lone runner passes their land almost daily making up possible scenarios to explain their forgotten property?  As a writer, these untold stories tumble in my head, yet rarely make their way to the computer screen once my run is complete.  I wish that weren’t the case. I wish I could be like Tom Hanks – I wish I could see mundane things and put them into a collection of brilliant stories for some runner to listen to as she pounds the pavement.

But, alas, I’m just me.  I have great ideas, and then I forget them.

I need to do better.

Crunch crunch.

My attention returns to the abandoned home on my right. I’ve run by it hundreds of times as I’ve run this route, but today something is different. The bushes are cleared. The lawn has been mowed. A new sign has been added reflecting the home’s address.

Work trucks are sitting nearby.

It is winter. I haven’t run this route in so long that I didn’t notice what was happening. The cold and snow had kept me away but now the sunshine has led me to the change.  Then, as I look more closely, a sun ray lands on the newly-added numbers on the run-down home. An address.  My running route’s abandoned home now has four simple numbers adorned on a post outside. So someone can find it.  The mailman, perhaps?

Well, how about that!?

Crunch crunch.

Then, suddenly, from out of nowhere, those four random numbers strike a chord in my memory. What am I remembering? I know these numbers somehow.  What do they mean?

It hits me!  I did the work for this house.

This house.

I sat there months ago looking at yet another mound of paperwork that resulted in this! I didn’t know that the people buying a house to fix up (yet another house in a string of houses that fill my working days…) were actually buying this house to fix up.

Wow.

Look at what I’ve done. Look how important I am.

Crunch crunch.

As Tom Hanks fill my left ear and my right ear stays on guard for oncoming traffic, my inflated ego surveys the product of my handiwork. My profession has just become three-dimensional. I see the product in real life. It’s no longer just a bunch of words and numbers and plat drawings. It’s a renovation. It’s a renewal. It’s someone’s hopes and dreams.

It’s no longer a house. It’s a home.

With a satisfied smile, I continue running.

Crunch. Crunch. Crunch.

As Tom Hanks proceeds to regale me with everyday life happenings turned into the poetry known as short stories, I feel the inklings of my own story beginning in my mind. The story of a mound of paperwork turning into a home. The story of the real life that lies beyond the papers and the computer screen.

When I get home, I’ll start my story. But where should I begin?  Eh, I’ll figure it out. This story will make it to the computer screen this time.  Not like the others that disappear before I slip my running shoes off inside my front door. This one is good.  Too good to forget.

I run.

I look.

I listen.

Crunch.

Tom Hanks is still talking, his stories are still flowing, and yet. Yet. I feel like my story is just not good enough. Something isn’t right. So I saw a house that I did the paperwork on? Big whoop. Why does this matter?

What am I missing?

In the midst of my conundrum, my right ear detects a truck heading my way.

It’s an old pickup truck–faded red paint and a loud muffler. Typical transportation for this country area. In the distance, I can just make out the area on the front bumper where the license plate should be (a spot that renders itself useless in the state of North Carolina where you only need a back license plate). Squinting in the late evening sunlight, I see what the owners of this truck have done with this rectangle of unused canvas.

They have adorned it with a rebel flag.

A rebel flag.

Thoughts of any ego-filled, renovated house stories take a prompt backseat as my liberal blood boils. No, a rebel flag is nothing unusual to this area. We are in the bible belt. The “south.” Even as a transplant, after more than four years of living in this area I should be used to these sights by now.

But I never get used to it.

Angrily, my feet take me closer to the truck heading my way in the distance.

Crunch. Crunch. Crunch.

Who is this person? Has he never picked up a book? Has he never known a person of color? Listened to their stories? Learned about their ancestors and the struggles they had to go through just to survive? The inhumanity, the suffering…has it all fallen on his deaf ears?

The offensive truck comes closer and, as it nears, veers well over the centerline of the road into the oncoming lane to give me a wide berth.

Interesting.

As a runner on narrow country roads, this unfortunately doesn’t happen often. Some drivers seem angry that I’m sharing their space and will refuse to bend the rules of the road to slide over to safely pass me. In fact, some will even angrily stare at me as they glide by, refusing to budge even an inch outside their allotted, rightful lane.

But not rebel flag man.

No, rebel flag man not only surprises me by getting over but, as I start to make out his face behind the passing windshield, also smiles.

And then waves.

Waves.

What do I do? I’m not going to wave at a man sporting a rebel flag on his truck. It represents everything I’m against. It stands for all that I deem wrong with our country.

And then, it hits me.

(No, not the truck. An idea.)

That license plate is two-dimensional.

It’s “paper.”

Much like the things I see on my work computer screen, that little rectangle probably doesn’t tell the whole story. In order to fully see the man behind that wheel, I’d have to know more than just the information presented to me on the “screen” at the front of his truck. I’ve only seen the outside of his “house,” I haven’t seen the “home” that lies underneath the paperwork.

Suddenly, this thought process transcends well beyond a miniscule runner on a country road faced with a rebel flag toting truck driver.  So much of what we see in this current world is two-dimensional. Words seen on a screen; snippets of a remark seen on a news reel; a status posted on Facebook. It’s all “paper.” None of it has depth.

What if we could see it all in 3D? Would it look different?

My mind has considered all this in the few seconds as the truck begins to pass. In a last minute decision, my eyes meet the driver’s and I do what I didn’t think I would do. What I didn’t think I could do.

I smile.

And then I wave.

And then?

Well then, life goes on.

Crunch. Crunch. Crunch.

There it is. That’s it. Simple as that. This is my story.

Both my feet and heart quicken their pace. We have things to do.

I rush home, throw off my shoes, and open my laptop.

***

Lather, Rinse, Repeat

Another shooting.

More senseless deaths.

More Facebook warriors demanding justice. “More mental health awareness!” “More gun laws!” “Less gun laws! Second Amendment, by Gawd!” “Get God back in the schools!” “Get God out of schools!”

Lather, rinse, repeat.

We all get so desensitized to what is happening because it happens SO OFTEN. We are a country where a mass shooting headline on the news is just another mass shooting headline on the news.  “Oh man, another school shooting. That’s so sad. Thoughts and prayers. Let’s see what’s on the game show network…”

Look at who we are. Look at what we’ve done.

And note that I say “we.”  Not “you.” I’m including myself in this. I’m just as guilty.

I sat and argued on Facebook this morning. I think that no one – a person with mental health issues, a criminal background, or none of the above – should have access to automatic killing machines. I’m a big ole liberal. Guilty as charged. And if you are hugging your guns and spouting the 2nd amendment after something like this happens, I truly think you suck.

But after a few pointless comments here and there pointing all that out, I stopped.

It doesn’t work.

NOTHING CHANGES.

Instead, I changed gears.

I started reading about the victims.

As I started scrolling through the names that have been released so far, I, for once in my life, didn’t just skim them. I really read them.  I read the names. I looked the pictures. And I saw their stories.

I saw beautiful, 15-year-old Alyssa Alhadeff. Her long dark hair reminded me of my long, dark-haired 15-year-old step-daughter Lauren.

I read about Nicholas Dworet. I saw that he was a swimmer and that his swimming had improved dramatically over the past few years.  He even got a swimming scholarship and was headed to the University of Indianapolis after graduation. My thoughts immediately went to my 17-year-old step-son Riley. I thought about the awards ceremony we attended last year where he was chosen as the representative for the “Best of the Best” swimming candidate for our county.

Then I saw little Cara Loughran with her red hair and freckles. And suddenly I was looking at my own little redheaded, freckled 18-year-old daughter Kelly.

And then?

Then I looked at the 19-year-old perpetrator. 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz. A 19-year-old boy who will now be charged as a man who committed at least 17 murders.  And as angry as I am at him…as absolutely furious as I am that this man took the lives of all those poor innocent people…I can’t help but see something else.

I have a 19-year-old son too.

And while my 19-year-old son Jeff is very mature and a great kid, he’s still just that. A kid. This was not a man that committed this act. This was a child.

A messed up child just grabbed an automatic killing machine and took out 17 people while we were sitting here wondering what our significant other was going to get us for Valentine’s Day. Or while we were sitting here moaning because we were single on Valentine’s Day. Or while we were sitting here groaning at all the lovey dovey couple stuff posted on social media and raising hell about this Hallmark holiday that is just a money racket.

While we were living our every day, mundane lives that we take for granted, hundreds of lives were just completely changed forever.

So.

What is the answer?

What will stop this?

I don’t know.  I have theories, but what the hell do I know?  What do you know?  Yes, you, Facebook warrior. What do you know? What is the answer?

WHAT IS THE ANSWER?

Dear God, I don’t know.

But here’s something I do know.  And that is that there are parents sitting somewhere today who don’t need the “what ifs.” They aren’t comparing these children to the ages of their children like I am. Why?

Because these were their children.

This isn’t a what if. This isn’t a it could have happened to us. This is the real deal for them. Their babies are gone.

THEY ARE GONE.

And we’re not doing a damn thing about it except fighting on Facebook.

We are a bunch of friggin morons.

Sorry, nothing Earth-shattering in this blog. No answers to be found here.

Just one mother who knows, without a shadow of a doubt, that I am the luckiest woman on the planet to be able to go home and hug my babies today after work.

And who also knows, without a shadow of a doubt, that this could have been my family on the news today.

And until each and every one of you out there, greedy NRA ass-kissing politicians included, realize that fact too, nothing is going to happen.

Nothing.

***

‘We can say, yes, we’re going to do all of these things…thoughts and prayers, but what we really need is action. PLEASE. This is the 18th [shooting] this year. That’s unacceptable. We’re children. You guys are the adults. You need to take some action and play a role. Work together, get over your politics and get something done.”
– David Hogg,
student survivor of the Margory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting
February 14, 2018

***

 

Text sent during a 2014 shooting at Florida State University

Loving Lenny

“Until one has loved an animal, a part of one’s soul remains unawakened.”
– Anatole France

“Something is wrong.”

It was three years ago today on a bright, cold winter Saturday morning in February. I had popped out of bed early and hurriedly thrown on a pair of old jeans and a comfy sweatshirt, excited that this much-anticipated day had finally arrived. After six full days of this animal-lover’s pleading and begging on Facebook for someone to adopt a sweet, lonely pit bull mix that had found his way to our local animal shelter, my prayer had finally been answered. Little “Lenny” (the name I promptly bestowed upon him after observing his ‘gentle giant’ ways that mirrored his namesake in the classic Of Mice and Men) was going home! And who had adopted him?

Lenny’s shelter photo – Facebook, Feb 2015

You guessed it—me!

After seeing that there was no public interest in saving this sweet boy from his ever looming demise date, my big-hearted husband finally gave in. Lenny was coming home to join our family. Lenny would be pet number five.

The only problem we faced was timing. The shelter (which was unfortunately not a no-kill shelter) had scheduled sweet Lenny to be put to sleep on Friday. But because of mine and my husband’s out-of-town work schedules, neither of us could work it out to go pick up our sweet boy before closing time on Friday. So, the shelter graciously agreed to extend his date to Saturday—with our promise that we’d definitely show up by the time they closed at noon. No problem! I rose with the sun with my happy heart pounding out of my chest. Our baby was coming home!

And then I walked into the living room and everything changed.

There lied my precious fat calico kitty Patches on her little pet bed, struggling for air.

“Something is wrong.”

At first the words came out in a whisper, but as I realized the seriousness of the situation, they gained strength.

“Something is wrong!”

I called out to my husband, “Richard! Something is wrong with Patches!”

My husband came into the room and said, “Let’s get her to the vet. Hurry.”

I began scrambling for my shoes and for a large towel to wrap my sweet cat in. We rushed to the car and started the thirty minute drive to town, with me all the while holding my fluffy girl like a baby in my arms in the passenger seat. We made it to the emergency vet and while my husband ran to the counter to explain what was happening, my beautiful cat’s gentle sweet soul left her body as she lay in my arms in the waiting room.

My girl was gone.

The last photo of Patches – February 6, 2015

Just like that. This day that was supposed to be filled with such anticipated joy was just bombarded with a soul-crushing sadness that I couldn’t possibly have seen coming. I heard voices swirling around me, offering help–burial services, cremation–but all I could do was look at the lifeless eyes lying in my aching arms. My sweet girl had seen me through so much over the past few years. She had watched my children grow with me. She saw my marriage fall apart. She saw me fall in love again and welcomed this new, amazing man into our world. She had been my constant through all the changes swirling around me.

And now she was gone.

I looked up into my husband’s empathetic eyes and saw the pain I was feeling reflecting back at me. He gently took my arm and led me to the car. I wouldn’t let Patches go. I held onto her lifeless body and couldn’t bring myself to put her down.

“Honey. We have to get to the shelter.”

My husband’s sobering words pulled me out of my stupor and I glanced at the clock. 11:00 a.m. In the rush of the morning’s tragic events, time had slipped away from me. We lost my baby that morning but we still had work to do. We didn’t have time to take my sweet Patches home and bury her and come back to get Lenny. We had no choice. We had to go straight to the shelter or we’d be too late.

We pulled into the parking lot of the shelter and my strong, stable husband finally convinced me to turn my kitty over to him. He gently took her from my arms, covered her lifeless body with the towel, and placed her into a box. We had no choice but to lay her sweet body in the trunk until we could get her home to her proper burial. After we got her in place, my husband took my hand and walked me into the shelter. There, we found our Lenny.

And he was terrified.

My eyes locked onto his and I saw his fear of the unknown. I saw the uncertainty and questions that I was feeling too. Could I do this? Could I switch gears so suddenly? From the heartbreaking pain of loss straight into the joy of a new adoption?

No. I couldn’t. And my sweet Lenny didn’t expect me to.

Dragging our terrified new pet to our car, my husband placed him in the backseat. And, in a last minute mindless decision, I climbed back there with him. We both cried all the way home. Both of us were scared. Both of us were leaving what was familiar to us and embarking on a journey where nothing would ever be the same. Both of us were shaking, sad, and weak.

Lenny’s ride home from the shelter – 2/7/2015

We needed each other more than ever.

Now, three years later, here we are. We’ve adjusted. My sweet Lenny helped me through one of the hardest days of my life back then. And I think I helped him through his, too. We snuggled on the couch on that cold Saturday back in February until our pain began to subside. We held onto each other until we realized that our broken hearts had just enough room for each other. My gentle giant coaxed me back to happiness and taught me to open my heart to another furry soul. And I taught him that some people just won’t ever leave you.

They just won’t.

We’re a team now, sweet Lenny and me. We didn’t have the happiest of starts, but we’ve promised each other that we’ll have a happy ending. Instead of me saving him, he saved me.

Someone told me once that they believed that my precious Patches chose February 7, 2015 to leave me on purpose. She knew that this would be the day that I would be able to accept her departure. I don’t know about all that. But I do know this.

A whole big furry ball of gentleness and love immediately filled the spot that she left behind. Was that divine intervention? I don’t know.

But I certainly know who’s a good boy.  My Lenny, that’s who.

Lenny and mom. February 2018.

***

“When we adopt a dog or any pet, we know it is going to end with us having to say goodbye, but we still do it. And we do it for a very good reason: They bring so much joy and optimism and happiness. They attack every moment of every day with that attitude.”
– Bruce Cameron

Untold Tales

“There’s tales I’ll tell and tales I won’t.”
– Lee Smith

Lee Smith, a local North Carolina author, visited our little mountain town a few months ago for a literary festival. Although I missed getting to see her and  hear her speak, there were some bookmarks left behind in her wake. When I saw them at our local arts council, I immediately grabbed one and have been using it as my bookmark ever since. On it was the above quote – “There’s tales I’ll tell and tales I won’t.” There was just something about that simple little quote that spoke to me. I thought it was because I’m a writer myself and I understand the decision process that goes into what you’re going to put on paper and what you’re not. But lately I’ve been thinking it hit a little close to home for a different reason.

I too have tales I won’t tell.

Yes, even me. The girl who vomits her life out onto a blog or status message each chance she gets. Even a big mouth like me has untold tales.

You know how people portray themselves in the best light on social media? Ever find yourself looking at other people’s lives or relationships and comparing them to your own?  Wondering why you don’t quite “stack up?”

Well, guess what? I’m one of those happy posters.

Guilty as charged.

But here is my confession: life isn’t always great.

I wouldn’t call myself a “liar” per se. The things I post are true. Good things do happen to me. They happen to all of us. I do have great kids and a marriage that has its great moments. And I have amazing friends. When good moments happen, I post them. I’m happy to share them because it makes me proud and I want to look back and remember this some day.

But sometimes there are things that happen in between those moments that just aren’t Facebook or Instagram worthy. You know?

Facebook is kind of our modern-day photo album. Think about it – if you go visit granny and look through her old albums, what are you going to see? You’re going to see the happy times. You’re going to see smiling faces looking at the camera. You’re going to see family with their arms around each other.  You’re going to see happy wedding photos.  You’re going to see laughing kids with ice cream and church Easter egg hunts.

Now, how do you think granny would feel if you said, “Hey – wait. Where’s the picture of that time you had me go outside and get a switch so you could beat my a**?” Or, “Hey, Granny, I’ve looked all through this thing and I can’t find a picture of the night Uncle Bob spent locked up in the local jail for that DUI…”

Um, yeah. That’s not gonna happen.

There are some memories that you just don’t want to preserve for posterity.

And is that granny’s fault?  I mean, are we seriously going to fault granny for not snapping photos during those moments? Of course not. Granny wants to forget that blot in Uncle Bob’s life. She’s not going to brag about it. She’s not gonna frame it and set it on the mantle.

So many times, we fault people for “pretending” their life is great on social media. But that’s not fair. They’re not pretending. Those things are true.

At the moment.

I think if there’s any blame to be placed, it should be on the perceiver. That’s us. We’re the ones looking at that life and thinking it’s perfect. We’re the ones looking at their happy moments and comparing them to ours. We’re the ones thinking that only bad things happen to us and they never happen to those perfect lives we see on Facebook. But that’s not their fault.

It’s ours.

I don’t know why I’m writing this. I guess I’m just going through a down time and I want to talk about it. But then again, I don’t really. I don’t want to take a picture of what’s wrong right now and put it on Facebook. I just don’t. And I’m not gonna. Uncle Bob’s night in jail is just gonna have to stay in the family this time, you know what I mean?  But I also don’t want you to look at my happy pictures and think my life is perfect and yours should be too.

It’s not.

But those happy times? They’re real. I’m not pretending. Most people aren’t. We’re just choosing what we want to remember.

But this down time? I’m just hoping this one will fade into the recesses of my mind and never be brought up again.

Give each other a break, ok? Share in the happy times and be glad they exist for one another.

Okay, that’s all the rambling I have for today. This tale is as told as it’s gonna get.

***

“Sometimes you go through things that seem huge at the time, like a mysterious glowing cloud devouring your entire community. While they’re happening, they feel like the only thing that matters and you can hardly imagine that there’s a world out there that might have anything else going on. And then the glow cloud moves on. And you move on. And the event is behind you. And you may find, as time passes, that you remember it less and less. Or absolutely not at all…”
– Cecil Baldwin

 

 

 

 

I’m a Vigilante. And Here’s Why.

“Sometimes justice is better served by those who have experienced the pain.”
― Mark W. Boyer

October 1. We all remember it, and will for years to come. The day that a lone madman decided to rain down bullets on an unsuspecting crowd of country music fans at a concert in Las Vegas, killing 58 people and injuring hundreds more. Our hearts broke for our brothers and sisters as we could only imagine what they must have been going through.

And then, as some idiots among us never fail to do these days, some decided to turn this horrid, random incident into a political one. No, not just to discuss gun rights (which is a worthy discussion that needs to be had) – but to place the blame on one “side” or the other.

Cue a local preacher rant.

I live in a small, highly conservative town in North Carolina and one man – a man of “God” – decided to post on Facebook about what happened. He posted a news link to the shooting and used the following words as his caption:

“Welcome to multiculturalism. Thank you Democrats, the media, and liberal education.”

Okay, let me give you a minute to let that sink in.

Take all the time you need.

Yes, my friends, you read that right. This PREACHER – a man of “God,” – decided to place the blame for this lone, white, unaffiliated, non-religious madman’s actions on multiculturalism (different races and religions living amongst one another), democrats (you know – most of whom want to tighten gun safety laws), the media (because um…yeah…I got nothing), and liberal education (whatever the hell he wants to claim that is – acceptance of LGBTQ? Beats me.)

So, needless to say…this pissed me right the hell off.

I screenshotted this atrocity and shared it on social media. I posted it to the church’s website (to no avail because it didn’t seem to bother them).  I contacted the preacher directly who told me, and I quote, that this was “none of my business” and that he would not “stand by and watch liberals destroy his county.”

*Ahhem.*

And then, as some would enjoy telling me over the next few weeks, I became a “vigilante.” I continued to post about it – to remind people of who this man was and what he was teaching his congregation. I continued to post on the church’s website, even though they continued to delete my posts. I even thought about posting a sign on their church to show them who their preacher was. (I decided against that one because it was blatantly obvious that the powers that be didn’t care who he was – they apparently agree with him. Or at least they don’t disagree with him enough to do anything about it.)

Eventually, I was told even by people who agree with my stance on this that “vigilante justice” was not the way to go.

Now, before we go any further, I have to just go ahead and admit that I’ve never been one to listen to anyone else when they try to tell me what to do. Whether they’re on my “side” or not, and whether they’re even “right” or not. Is it healthy for me to continue to feel this anger towards this preacher? Maybe not. Is it productive? Maybe not.

But am I going to stop? Nope. And here’s why.

You know what “vigilante justice” is? I looked it up. While it’s often accompanied by ‘destruction’ (I haven’t torn anything up…yet…) it’s basically just simply taking “justice” into your own hands….whatever that justice may be. It’s also defined as being rationalized by: “the concept that proper legal forms of criminal punishment are either nonexistent, insufficient, or inefficient.”

Okay. I can dig it.

So, basically, what everyone is saying is that since there is no “law” against what this man has done – then I’m taking the nonexistent law into my own hands and seeking some other form of “punishment.” Some other rectification.

Well, hell yeah!

That’s exactly what I’m doing.

This man is leading a congregation. He is shaping minds. Some minds are already formed and agree with what he has to say, but the ones I’m concerned with are the ones that aren’t shaped yet. The young minds. The children.

Let me tell you my story.

I have two children. I have a 19-year-old son and a 17-year-old daughter. For a large part of their childhood, I was a single mom. I was tough and I did what had to be done, but I’ll admit it: I was lonely. I was lost. I had a very religious grandmother who had a large hand in my raising who had instilled in me that it would be wrong of me not to raise my children up in a church. So, for the most part, I did just that. Now, granted, I skipped around to different churches and never really found one that suited me or my beliefs so I didn’t stay in any for very long. But I did go. And I drug my kids along with me.

My daughter? Let’s just say the church thing never really stuck with her. She has always been wise beyond her years and was always a ‘questioner.’ She was a bit like her mom – just didn’t quite “fit it” anywhere. I’m not saying she doesn’t believe in a higher power – that’s between her and her god if she chooses to believe in one. I’m just saying that she was always a questioner of the “rules,” – especially the ones that didn’t make any sense.

But my son? Now that was another story. I honestly thought (and still do sometimes) that he’d end up becoming a preacher. He has such a deep sense of belief and a black and white sense of “right” and “wrong” that leaves no room whatsoever for questioning. He knows what “is” and “isn’t” and that’s just all there is to it. Period.

So here I have two very different children, now almost grown adults.  One who’d end up leaning towards the conservative, Christian way of life, and the other who’d lean toward the progressive, open-minded way of life. One strict rule follower and one champion of the underdog. Very different people, to put it mildly.

And then…bam. A few years ago, my daughter announces that she’s gay.

Suddenly, momma has to put her money where her mouth is. I’d spent my life running from this religious teaching that being gay was a “sin” because I just didn’t believe it. And now, I had the chance to look all that indoctrination right in the face and decide, once and for all, what I was going to do with those heaps of spoon-fed “knowledge” I’d been given all my life.  What did I choose?

To hell with it.

This was a turning point for me. No longer would I drag my children into a place that was going to tell one of them that she was “dirty.” No longer was I going to open up a dusty old book written by men a couple thousand years ago and that told me that my child was going to burn in hell. Screw that noise.

I’m out.

But that posed a problem. I still had a son.

As of this writing, I have not seen my son in a month. We have not spoken – in person or by text – in over two weeks. He has decided (after a multitude of disagreements – not just his sister’s sexuality) to “cut ties with his liberal family.”

I’m not going to sit here and tell you that I don’t care. Because I do. When I allow myself to think about it, I can’t stop the tears. But here’s the thing. I’ve spent my entire life overcoming men who have told me who and what to be and think. It has taken me years to discover who I really am and to teach my children to be who they really are. Am I going to undo all of that so my son will love me?

I can’t.

I just can’t.

So, why am I so angry at this preacher?  Why can I not leave well enough alone and let it go?

Because I’m angry at myself. I want to prevent other mothers from making the same mistake I did. I want the scared, lonely single mothers of the world who are looking for a place of refuge to know that places like the one where that man spouts off his vile hatred have the capacity to turn your children against you. I want to give them the knowledge that I didn’t have. I want to stop them from leading their child by the hand into a place that tells them that their cult-like beliefs are worth more than their own family.

I want to stop them from doing what I did.

Vigilante justice, huh? When you have a personal connection to something, you are more passionate about it. I am a Hodgkin’s lymphoma survivor. When I hear of a fundraiser to raise money to help fight this disease, I’m more apt to donate to it because of my personal history with the disease. Am a “vigilante” against lymphoma? Sure. There’s no “law” against lymphoma, but you can bet your tushy that I’m going to fight it when and how I can, even if it’s just with a small donation when I can afford it.

The same goes for bigotry.

If you’re an individual who believes in everything the Bible says – if you believe that homosexuals are going to hell and “liberals” are evil – then here’s the thing: I’m just not going to like you. That’s all there is to it.  I don’t think you’re a good person and I don’t want to be your friend. Sure, you’re allowed to be who you are. Go ahead. But I don’t want to be around you and I don’t want you to be around my children. However, my children aren’t children anymore.  They are grown and they can make their own choices. My son can make his own choices and he might very well chose to have people like you as his best friend. And he can choose to shut out the people like myself and his sister.

But would he have made these choices if I hadn’t exposed him to this line of thinking?

I don’t owe anyone an explanation. But here it is nonetheless. I just can’t stand down. I can’t watch this man slowly inch his way in between more mothers and sons of the world. I can’t watch him welcome more innocent minds into his cult and not at least warn them about it before they step into his fold.

I just can’t.

Call me a vigilante if you must. But I want to stop this from happening anymore than it has to.  If I prevent just one child from being indoctrinated into that madness, then I will have done what I set out to do.

I miss my son.  And this is all I know to do.

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