Writing

Father’s Day? It’s complicated.

Reading this brought up some memories and feelings, more than a few that I work hard to keep burying. (This is your trigger warning.)

“The third Sunday in June is a challenging one for those of us with fathers who were destructive forces in our lives. A missing father leaves a void—a toxic one with life-altering damage.”

Years ago, my father and I had a fight — nothing physical — while doing some yard work at my brother’s new old house. Dad has a strange obsession with work. Workaholic does not describe it accurately. I describe it as puritanical. But even that word does not seem to fully envelop it.

Anyway, I walked off after telling him that I never wanted to see him again. This became even more uncomfortable because I was staying at my parents’ house. I made some desperate pleas to friends looking for another place until leaving for Seattle but I could not find any options and I didn’t have the money for a hotel.

Since then my grandmother has died, which left us an opening for reconnecting. She was suffering from heart failure and Dad had called to let me know that she did not have long. Unfortunately, she didn’t. Thankfully, however, I spoke with her a few times before she passed.

The last time we were together, I was spending the night because she did not want to be alone. Her new husband, who my father hated, was in the hospital. Casablanca with Bogart and Bergman was on TV so we sat chatting and watching. I love that movie. I have so many fond memories of her.

I am glad she lived so long. Living in Seattle and with some serious health problems myself, I did not have the chance to visit her and other relatives in Oregon much, as I did when I was younger.

I did get a few chances to talk with her about Dad. Why was he so violent? Did Grandpa ever hit him? Only once, she said. I have been trying to unravel this for years.

Then my younger brother relayed a story to me. He was in a car driven by our uncle and he shared how our Dad would beat on him when they were growing up. Our uncle described him as the neighborhood bully. And then it all made sense. My father was a bully. He had never grown out of it. He had never grown up.

Now, I had been bullied in school year after year. I was considered a nerd and unpopular. I had friends and a happy-go-lucky attitude so it wasn’t hell per se. I would do my best to laugh off anything negative. And it worked most of the time.

An even bigger problem, however, was my father. He was violent. He was abusive, emotionally and verbally. He stands tall. He is a huge, intimidating man. He remains intimidating to me to this day.

Learning that my father was one of these bullies was a revelation. I pictured Dad as one of the bullies I had experienced in school. He was one of the bullies who targeted people like me. He IS one of the bullies who targets people like me. It is his nature. That is who he is — his natural state, like a wild bear. Of course, this does not excuse his behavior. He needs to act like a man, like a father, not a vicious animal.

After repeated episodes of hitting her and his own damn kids, Mom gave him an ultimatum. We kids did not know that she had. Stop the violence, or she was leaving him. I wish she had. But her threat did the trick. He reformed himself. The transformation was remarkable. He became a better, different husband and father. He stopped being violent with us. His attitude was mostly better, but he would sometimes revert to his old nature. The farther from that ultimatum, the worse he gets, I think.

Unfortunately, he also relapsed into the physical violence a few times, conveniently when Mom wasn’t around. The last time he hit me was August 25, 1993. I made a mental note of that date. I still do not trust him. And the sound of his voice grates on me. I do not like the way he treats Mom. He is so damn condescending sometimes. He can be an arrogant son of a bitch.

I sent Mom flowers and good wishes on Mother’s Day. But I remain confused on what to do about my bully Dad. I cannot stand him. But should I at least send him a card or something? Life is so messy and so damn confusing.

Poetry · Visual Art

Learning to Listen

by Melany Bell

Please enjoy this poem and images on listening, begat from my very own mind in 2022. Thank you for listening…
The images and poetry are by : ©MELANY BELL 2017-2022 all rights reserved  

Artist Statement:

I am an Ambidextrous Painter, Scientist, Step-Mother, Lover of Lady’s & their Others.
A Whore a Coward, Liar a Judas
A Free-dome seeking Teacher of Our collective Futures
Made to own Our GrandCestors spaces
reinterpretation of
Shape, Sound Frequency, re-speculating the birth of WE
I am the Word & World created on a stage, page, tone or face
Representing, & recreating a state of a Mind, for the race to BE Human.
I am Preaching Precious Story’s
Mirrors we’re constantly living up to reflecting on,
Herstory’s. Infinite iNtelligence too deep to be Respected
all to make rhyming come back
like when the Last Poets just met
When lazy Saturdays meant SMURPH’S
Prince had not yet worn their bottomless pants
I am UN-comforting white pages turned brilliant
With beats on the backs of breakdowns
An Ali of mental graphics
Shakespeare of word gymnastics
To art like butter to fat is
No attempt, just doing I.t.
ashe

Photography · Poetry · Visual Art · Writing

The Swing – Childhood Lost

Empty swing

Childhood… for some a gleeful, loving time. For others, endless trauma and despair.

Like childhood, a swing can be a reflection of pure joy, letting a child soar into the sky, believing they can sweep their hand through the fleecy, luminescent clouds. For some children, however, joy is overshadowed by anguish and pain. There is no lasting happiness, only the dark, dripping wet swing mimicking the suffering that marks their daily existence. The swing hangs still, a cold rain dripping despair onto the iron ground.

The joy has vanished like the child who, instead of transforming this scene into a gleeful moment, has been swallowed by the shadowy forest dominating the background.

Participant Artist – Michael J. O’Connell

Writing

Another Planet

By Jason Larsen

Artist Statement: “In Samuel Corales’ Interactive Creative Writing Class this past quarter, he asked us to list three things that we would take to another planet and three things we would leave on Earth.”

Image courtesy of NASA

I have three Amazon Echo smart devices, and I would take them all with me to another planet.  The first thing is a regular Amazon Echo smart speaker.  The second thing is an Amazon Echo Show screen.  The last thing is my Amazon Fire Smart TV.  This is not the 19th century anymore.  It’s the 21st century.  This new planet is as futuristic as can be.  It keeps tabs on everything that goes on on other planets, including Earth.  My regular Amazon Echo smart speaker can allow me to listen to all the music and radio stations on Earth.  My Amazon Echo Show screen allows me to do that, and watch TV on Amazon Prime Video and IMDB TV as well.  My Amazon Fire Smart TV is the same thing, only in magnified form.

I also have a facial hair trimmer, but I would leave that on Earth.  My mom used to force me to shave every morning before I went to school.  She didn’t want me to look older than I actually was.  However, my skin is very sensitive now, and I can grow as full a beard as ever.  On this new planet, it will seem like it’s November forever.  My point is that looks aren’t everything.  Mr. Rogers and Martin Luther King once said that it is nothing specifically immaterial that should drive you to like a person.  Rather, it is the content of their character.

History · Writing

The Mural of Unusual Size

photo courtesy of Angela Michaelina

Everyday when I wake up, the first thing I see when open the curtains of my balcony door, I see a certain mural. This mural is very hard to miss because it takes up the side of three steel-framed, yellow brick buildings, the primary building being five-and-half stories tall. This piece of art is the primary reason why I am glad to have apartment on the side of the building that is located. I know that one of my neighbors is of the opinion that a child designed this, but judging by that comment, I realize that he doesn’t have much knowledge about the technical aspect of art. Everybody’s a critic.

Because of the mural’s enormous scale, the title of the mural is “The Mural of Unusual Size.” This piece was designed and painted in 2017 by HENSE, an artist from Atlanta, Georgia and was part of a project to revitalize blighted properties in the city. The painting required 170 gallons of paint to complete. While I was glad to learn this information, I wanted to learn a bit more, as I’ve never been pleased with answers on a superficial level. In particular, I wanted to learn a bit more about the building.

I knew that the buildings were currently occupied by an audio-visual consultant and an automotive repair garage, but I didn’t know anything about the building’s past. Someone had told me that it was once an old factory, but they did not elaborate beyond that. And for all I knew, what they told me was incorrect. I tried searching for the desired answers online, but I only got articles about the creation of the mural. I knew that someone had the answers. So decided to contact the artist—maybe someone had told him of the site’s history when he took on that job. I sent him an e-mail through the contact form on his site. A couple of days later, I thought of someone else who might be more helpful: the Washington County Historical Society. So I sent them an e-mail, too.

While I still have not heard back from HENSE, the office admin of the historical society suggested that I should check the Maryland Historical Trust’s website. Turns out that that was an excellent piece of advice. Using Medusa’s, their online database, map tool, I found an application from when the building applied for historical status.  I had learned that the building was once the site of D.A. Stickell & Sons Feed Manufacturing. This company was both a flour and feed producer. The building was constructed in 1947 and continued to operate until some point in the 1950s. Through this information, I was able to locate some of the burlap sacks that they used through online antiques dealers:

photo courtesy of powerballteresa

photo courtesy of lowerferryflair

photo courtesy of fordnut88

But to dig even deeper and farther back, another mill occupied the location of D.A. Stickell & Sons prior to its existence. According to the application, the site was once the place for the Anchor Milling Company. Reportedly, one of the old warehouses that stands there belonged to them and is dated as 1919. I cannot find much information about this particular company. I do come across information about an Anchor Milling Company that had once existed in Missouri, but I cannot figure out if this is the same company. What makes determining this more confusing is that I found information about a family that lives in Miller County, the site of the Missouri Anchor Milling Company, who originally lived in Hagerstown, Maryland prior to immigrating from Switzerland, and that people in this very same family worked for the mill in Missouri. I cannot figure out if the connection to Hagerstown is a mere coincidence or not. And what muddies the waters even more is that there was an Anchor Milling Company in Ohio at some point, too. Was that one in any shape or form connected to the other Anchor Milling Companies? Prior to starting this post, I thought I had my dots connected, but a second look has made me realize otherwise. I suppose asking the Miller County Historical Society could clarify matters.

There is even something more baffling that I have come across. I had found an ad for D.A. Stickell & Sons, but it is filed as being from 1915 in the digital library of WHILBR, Western Maryland’s Historical Library. I had originally not noticed that date, and assumed it was from the time frame that was reported on the aforementioned application. But looking a bit more closely at the artwork and typefaces, I highly doubt that the ad was from the 1940s or 1950s and that the year it is filed under is correct. (Printed ad artwork and typefaces throughout history is another subject that would make for an interesting post, but that is aside my overall point.) While the location has a different building number than what the building currently has and was filed as having in the historical status application, I am sure this is for the same buildings. Either the number in the ad is a typographical error or the buildings had a different (but similar) number at that time. I am certain that this ad is for the same location as the cross street that is mentioned is the same one that is where the mural is located. Perhaps these were entirely different structures that had been demolished at one point. But even if that were the case, why does the information in Medusa allude to the Anchor Milling Company being there at that time? For that matter, 1915 predates the existence of the Anchor Milling Company existing in Hagerstown by four years. Did the Anchor Milling Company buy D.A. Stickell & Sons and the former name was kept?

While I am a bit flustered that my question has yet to fully be answered like I thought it was (and perhaps it never will be), the buildings are a bit less of a mystery. Ironically, this newly acquired information does not paint a clearer picture of the artwork itself, and the mystery is as tangled as the artwork itself.

Poetry · Writing

There’s So Much About You I’ll Never Know

by Kristin

CONTENT WARNING: This poem references domestic abuse, family trauma, suicide, and mental health, and may be triggering for some readers.

There’s so much about you that I’ll never know
I inherited your bloodline and self-contempt
Yet I have so little information on who you really were

I remember your gregarious moods, getting the rest of us to laugh uncontrollably
I remember your jazz album collection, from Ella Fitzgerald to Buddy Rich
I remember your immersion in wine culture, the small vineyard and air-conditioned cellar

But most of all I remember the terror, violence and humiliation 
You unleashed on your wife and two small daughters
Time has given me perspective, but back then
I despised you, hatred consuming the young body I inhabited

When Mom broke the news that your dead body had been found
I cried tears for Mom, so in her sobbing, she wouldn’t feel alone
But I was glad to see you go

Your memorial service embarrassed me,
With your friends and colleagues gushing
What a good man you were.
I thanked them politely, thinking “If they only knew…”

1978, the year you gave up on life, was a long time ago
And now my hazy memories feel incomplete
There’s so much about you I’ll never know.

Written by Kristin


If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic abuse or suicidal ideation, please check out these resources:

National Domestic Abuse Hotline: 800-799-7233

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 800-273-8255

Crisis Connections (WA, King County): 866-427-4747