Thursday, March 20, 2014

Nature vs. Nuture...daughter of anarchy?

This post has taken me forever and a day to write. I couldn't really figure out if I was telling the club's story or my father's story or my story or what, but I guess that's the point, it's all an intertwined mess that can't be separated. I don't know enough about the club to tell it's story specifically, but I do know my story, as a child of a member of the club, and the ramifications that came along with it.

With the wonder that is Netflix I developed a love of binge-watching shows during chemo (I am a voracious reader but 4+ hours in a chair + IV benadryl = limited cognitive abilities).  I've gone through American Horror Story, the first season of Downton Abbey (bastards went and switched over to Amazon Prime so I'm stuck for now), House of Cards, The Walking Dead, Mad Men, Hemlock Grove (OMG!), The Fall, Top of the Lake, and probably more that I can't remember. TV's great, we get to escape for a awhile, to Regency England, to the 60's, to an insane asylum...well, you get my point. Maybe you see yourself in a character or see a snippet that reminds you of something but for the most's fiction, and that's the point (and great for taking your mind off of sitting in a chemo chair and to drown out the older gentleman "singing" next to you).
So in bed a couple weeks ago I was searching for something new to watch, which if you have Netflix you know is a feat in and of itself. Came across Sons of Anarchy, which I honestly didn't know a whole lot about (for the longest time I think I assumed it was something akin to Duck Dynasty or Appalachian Outlaws, some pseudo-reality show about hillbillies), and thought oh hell, why not. Well. Here's where fiction and reality cross paths. No, I most regrettably do not have Charlie Hunnam riding up to my house, guns literally and anatomically blazing, (omg, have you seen this buzzfeed?? #11, ummm yeah...Charlie Hunnam Queer as Folk or Cold Mountain days, NO, not, omg, I have dreamt about him) preferably speaking in his native accent. I don't even have Tommy Flanagan with that "Glasgow smile" and gorgeous Scottish brogue lilting around my house (yes, I have a serious British Isles accent thing). What I do have is in my blood.

My father - sperm donor, biological contributor, whatever - was a founding member of a motorcycle gang called the Heathens. They started in Southern California, namely Venice, in the late 60's, spread a couple chapters around and sort of flamed out in the 80's. They have regrouped these days and you can actually find a website they run (, but I would gather to say that it's pretty much just some guys flying colors these days and not much else. And there you go - I was raised knowing what terms like flying colors and ape hangers meant (although much hilarity ensued when I was little and mistakenly called them monkey bars). Instead of the Mayans and the Grim Bastards, I knew who the Vagos and the Mongols were (funny enough, small world story - when my husband and I were house hunting years ago, we walked into one house and my eyes went to the huge flag on the wall. I screeched, "This is a Vagos house?? We can't buy this house." The real estate agent looked at me like I was nuts...and kept more than a few paces away from me after I explained what it all meant). Instead of Opie and Juice and Tig, when I was born I was held by people with names like Turk and Hillbilly and Grinch.

These are my "cousin's" parents...we'll get into their story below.
As I started watching the show, I felt things most people probably don't feel while watching a show - I saw, acted out in front of me, things that I knew a family member had done but could only imagine before. I didn't need to imagine them now. Obviously I've seen all of this portrayed before, but not on a show specifically about a motorcycle gang. Because while the show is fiction, many of the crimes were all too real. The drugs, the guns, the gun running, the beatings, the rapes, the murders...I know that I come from someone who participated and committed most, if not all of those crimes. And I don't quite know what to do with that, because knowing it and seeing it are two very different things.

Have no idea who these people are but these were the easiest pictures I could find, the other photo albums are packed away somewhere.
Since most of these people are still alive, and I'm borrowing their story through my eyes, I'll use initials to protect the players. You think the show goes overboard? A little dramatic? Too many people interconnected, a touch incestuous in the dealings? Let me give you the rundown of the people in the first picture above. Big B was married to my cousin L when they were very young. They got divorced and Big B was then with M, who had my "cousin" (always called each other cousins but we are not blood related) Little B. Little B and I grew up together, he is 6 months older than I am. Little B was born with fetal alcohol syndrome and was also born to a mother who had on/off periods of being a junkie and a drunk over the years so he had quite an uphill battle. Big B was not around except sporadically, which was more than most. Little B and I grew up and he tried really hard to get through school but it was very difficult for him.

We kept in contact over the years as we were close growing up and our moms were still good friends, but sort of lost track for a couple years. I went to college, the Marines, Little B worked his way through gas stations but did end up becoming a plumber and making a decent life. I went to his wedding, he and his wife came to mine. When my husband and I bought our house he came down and helped fix some old plumbing, helped us install a gas line for the dryer. Then he and his wife decided to move to greener pastures in Denver, cheaper living, more jobs, bought a house they could never afford here. And I thought he had made it. And then their marriage fell apart, and he stupidly followed her and hounded her and probably harassed her, not violently, but the guy she was dating had connections and he didn't let up. He was convicted of stalking and has been serving the past 10 years in prison.

M's sister S was also married to someone in the club. S and Big F had two kids and moved to Vegas to try and get away from the life. Well, they didn't get far because in the early 80's, during some sort of highly volatile argument, likely drug and/or alcohol fueled, Big F shot S and then killed himself, leaving behind two small children, J and C. M found them. I still remember hearing about that, and really, as a 7 year old, I shouldn't have had to know what a murder/suicide was, and their kids should most definitely never had to have lived it. I saw J and C sporadically over the years...J tried really hard to keep clean and stay out of trouble, and other than the occasional teenage scuffle I think he may have, I'm not sure. C however didn't fare quite as well and last I heard, years ago, was dabbling in drugs and prostitution.

Now I'm not saying these stories are specifically because of the club, but there is an aspect of the life and it's all too real.

I can tell you what wasn't real...stacks of cash on the table and professionally decorated houses. Most of us grew up in shitty apartments, hand to mouth, with single or may-as-well-be single mothers.
As for me, well, here it is. What would not get a second look or thought these days as far as family dynamics go was pretty traumatic 35 years ago. I was the only kid with a different last name than their parent, and I was only one of two kids in my elementary school class (I went to Catholic school so went to school with pretty much the same 35 kids from 1st-8th grade) raised by a single mom. Add to that the fact that my dad was not just gone but in prison for murder (I remember that he, explaining it to me in a letter, said that he "had gotten angry and hurt someone really bad") made it all the more something to hide. I'm guessing not many kids got letters from Soledad when they were 8. By high school I didn't care so much anymore about the circumstances, I just was dealing with growing up without a dad. Although I was actually a really good, responsible teenager, probably specifically because of what I was raised around (I never drank a drop until college), I was quite guilty of playing the card "well, whatever I do can't be as bad as whatever my parents were doing". My mom knew for years that I would race out to get a tattoo on my 18th birthday because "it was in my blood", and it was. I've loved tattoos since I was little, when only, well, criminals and gang members got them. Drinking in, wasn't doing anything as bad as my parents had done!

So, just like Jax on his rooftop perch, I often wondered - is it in me? I don't know. I know that I come with a mighty temper than I could have acquired from either parent. I know that motorcycles enthrall me. I know that I've never been afraid to start shit with people, and have been lucky that's it has never blown back on me. Whether that's luck, or because I look scary when I mean it, I don't know. My mom loves to tell the story about Little B's 3rd birthday party when he got a motorized truck. She says most kids would ride around the park smiling and laughing and giggling, but apparently we got in it, started riding roughshod over everything and mad-dogging everyone along the way, not a tooth showing between either of us.

I also know that I've always been an extremely good student, that the most serious infraction I've had is a speeding ticket in 1997, that I put myself through college and went on get my MBA,  that the thought of being in jail terrifies me, I've always had a decent respect for authority,  and the thought of some of those crimes makes me ill. I was lucky in the fact that regardless of whatever issues my mother had, and there were plenty, I was raised in a relatively stable environment given the circumstances, with a strong emphasis on education. I can tell you that I would tell Tara to take those kids out of Charming and go far far away. So who knows...

And then Jack went to a birthday party a few weekends ago...and picked this out all by himself. Passed up the soccer balls and dragons and turtles...and picked this. And I said, yep, that's definitely my kid. Uh oh.


Thursday, March 6, 2014

The most important piece...

After my little breakdown yesterday, as I sat on the couch last night trying to explain to my husband why I was so sad, why it was one of my bad days, he reminded me that I was forgetting the piece of this puzzle that I have held on to from the beginning, one of the first things my doctor said to me. That even though the medical community is based on a platform of statistics, numbers, algorithms, percentages, and calculations because they have to be, I do not. I am not a number or a statistic. This is my story and as tragic and horrible and awful and unfair as some other people's stories are, as similar as they are to my own - those are not my stories. This is my story and right now my story is that I'm fine. I'm okay.  I'm 39 and I'm a mom and a wife and I've been through some crappy stuff. I'm tired and I lose my patience and I try to figure out this mothering thing everyday, because really, if anyone knows the secret to one and three year old crazy I'd be willing to pay. I'm happy and weird and I like to sing loudly in my car...and at home. I'm super-sensitive and I cry easily at many many things. I do not take shit from anyone very easily and my 5'2" self has been known to scare things much larger. Cancer is part of my story, but I will not let it be my whole story. This is MY story - the story of one.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Never going to be...

It's reiterated over and over again that after this crap that you will have to figure out a "new normal", you will never be the person you were again...and that's true. So very very true. I will never again be who I was prior to approximately 2 pm on July 13, 2012. But then, isn't that true for everyone, at any life-changing juncture? I will also never be the girl I was in high school again, I will never be the girl I was in college, I will never be the person I was before I got married. I will never be the person I was before I had one child, nor will I be the person I was before I had two children. And that's okay. So much has changed and I'm okay with it for the most part.

What they don't tell you about this "new normal'? The your new normal will involve days of being terrified because your back hurts, even though your back has hurt in different places for the last 20 years. What they don't tell you is that even though both kids and your husband and you have been passing around some sort of cold/crud/allergy/sucky thing for a week now, the cough you have, that they all have, keeps you up at night wondering if it's something else. What they don't tell you is that you will stumble across someone's prayer request on facebook, read the story and have it be almost identical to yours - age, cancer while pregnant, left side, may instead of july 2012, triple negative- yet she is at home in hospice right now after stopping treatments last week because they weren't working for the mets in her brain, and you will spend your afternoon in uncontrollable tears, silently raging at God on Ash Wednesday. That is the new normal that I am not okay with.