Thursday, July 11, 2019

We Call Them Melons In America

A few days ago, I was practicing my typical morning routine of sitting on the toilet with my phone catching up on the news. In the middle of reading the latest on Black Ariel and the Blue Bell Ice Cream Licker, I got a message from my wife.

I immediately knew who she was talking about. We've been dealing with this guy for the last few days. Right next door to us, a construction crew has been putting up a new building and we share a gate with that property. So, we cross paths with the workers daily. Every now and then, one of them comes to us to use our electricity or inform us of excess noise that day or the shutting off of our water. It is always a difficult conversation since we do not speak the local language and have to do everything through inadequate translation apps.

However, this particular guy is especially "friendly." He frequently wanders over to make small talk when he sees me outside. This usually involves lots of hand gestures and pointing at the construction site with a big smile. I never know what he is trying to convey, but it seems like it is not pertinent information. Just friendly banter. Until he stepped up his game a few days ago.

He sat on our porch one day, so I grabbed a Pepsi and my phone and went to join him. I like to be friendly most of the time. Through our translation apps, we tried to talk to each other. After a couple of minutes, he asked to borrow my motorcycle. I made an excuse about how we were about to leave so it wouldn't be available. So, he asked to use it at lunch the next day. As I was telling him no, I started closing up the house so Red and I could leave. He then asked me how I secure my doors when I leave.

What kind of creepy question is that?

This made me nervous because he basically lives right next to us until the house is built. They always know when we are coming and going. And now he wants to know how well I lock my doors.

Due to my inability to effectively communicate all we can really do is try to be aware.

Not being able to communicate has been a common theme in my life. When I lived in Puerto Rico twenty years ago, I saw a sign on a counter that said CUIDADO: CALIENTE.

This sign made no sense to me. CITY: HOT

I leaned closer to contemplate the meaning and it occurred to me as soon as my arms contacted the metal counter. Cuidado does not mean 'city.' It means 'CAUTION.'

The Spanish word for 'city' is ciudad. They may look similar, but the meaning is quite different.

As I rubbed the aloe on my forearms, I knew I would never forget those words again.

Living in Beijing, I almost did not get my work permit due to a communication error. I was asked to send off for my official Master's Degree for the paperwork that had to be filed. They told me that it must be sealed when we turn it into authorities. I did as they asked and it arrived two weeks later. I handed the envelope to my boss and she immediately ripped it open. I yelled, "NO! It has to still be sealed when we give it to them." She gave me a confused look as I sat and put my face in my hands. I had dropped a significant amount of money to get this and have it specially shipped. She had just ruined it.

She looked the degree over and asked, "Where is the seal?"

After a frustrating back-and-forth, I learned when they told me it must be sealed, what they meant was it must have the official State of Illinois International Authentication Seal. This seal is what proves to foreign governments that this is an official document.

She thought she had communicated clearly and I thought that I had understood. We were both wrong.

I have hundreds of stories like this, but let's come back to the present.

That 'creepy little dude' is now talking to my wife when I am not present and chooses to comment on her 'grapes.' If you have met my wife then you are probably aware that she is quite gifted in the area under her shirt. And in a culture that is known for not possessing those assets, it is even more apparent. But that does not mean he needs to be commenting on her grapes.

I head downstairs to confront this man and in my head I am running how I should play this. Should I be firm or gentle? Should I confront him in front of the other workers (to help keep him on their side of the wall) or take him to the side in private? I don't want to create too big of an incident. We do have to live among these people and we are the foreigners.

We may be the foreigners here but this cannot be allowed to happen?

I get downstairs to discover that is has escalated to the point that another worker is now involved and talking to my wife in the doorway. I start to step in to put an end to this harassment and I hear her telling the new man (who speaks a little English), he said: "Chau grapes are very big." Everyone (including my wife) laughed.

What is happening?

It turns out the 'creepy little dude' was wanting to plug into our electricity because the work site was having some work done and would be without power for a few hours. He wasn't being inappropriate at all. The Google Translate app just sucks when dealing with Vietnamese.

I even learned the reason he was asking about how I secured my doors a few days earlier was because our water pump was being replaced. When he discovered we were leaving for the evening, he was wondering how they were going to test the pressure once the new one was installed. There was no ill intent. We just don't have the ability to fully communicate. The extra speculation and guesswork about intent was misguided…again.

I have been putting off receiving official language instruction, but I believe it may be time to change my stance.

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Hồ Chí Minh Heat

A little over a year ago, Red and I left China and moved to Vietnam. We have been in Hội An since August.

I've written several times about how much better life is here than Beijing. The cost of living is significantly lower. We have cleaner air, live on the coast, people are friendlier, food is fantastic, and (my favorite) it never gets cold.

The winters in Beijing are brutal and when you have to walk everywhere because you don't have a car you have to be very careful not to trip and scratch someone else's car with your nipples.

There is, however, a downside to living in a place where it never gets cold. The summers are on the extreme opposite of the spectrum.

It is so incredibly hot. All the time. Even the nighttime does not give much relief. Sitting in my living room at midnight watching Netflix requires several fans pointed right at me and I will still leave a sweat stain on the couch.

For ten months of the year, it is great to know that you can step outside 24 hours a day completely naked and be perfectly comfortable until the police show up. But in June and July, the sun will fry your dingus off before the police even get their first call.

The sun is the scariest part. It isn't just the heat. The sun is much stronger here. Being so close to the equator greatly increases not only the heat but exposure to the rays of the sun. Hội An, Vietnam is 1,570 miles further south than St. Louis, MO (close to where I grew up). I can feel the UV hit my bone marrow as soon as I step out of the shadows.

Plus, due to my arthritis, I am on a medication that makes me more susceptible to the sun. My doctor told me to avoid direct sunlight. And then I moved to the tropics. Yay, me.

To combat this, every morning I drink a liter of SPF 450-infused tea.

To avoid the heat and the sun in June and July (the worst months), we try to run any errands that need done (groceries, bills, etc) before 8 a.m. and spend the rest of the day at home. Under fans. Due to the architecture here, houses are not air-conditioned. A few individual rooms are, but the common areas are not. And can't be. The space is too open.  This means cooking a meal is quite a treat since we shed our clothes before we start. We just try not to sweat into the food.

We are now reaching the end of June, so we are about halfway through the hottest part of the year. One more month and the temperature will be under 100 again. Not by much, but those few degrees make a big difference.

Thursday, June 13, 2019

Chinese Kidnapping

Red and I have stated many times that we are much happier in Vietnam than we ever were in China. But we have been gone long enough that we often forget how awful some of it was.

This morning, I stumbled upon on old Twitter thread where I live-tweeted the time I thought I was being kidnapped. It all came back to me. One of the most confusing moments I had while living in Beijing.

The school where I worked had put me in a van to be taken to the Entry-Exit Bureau to get my papers completed. Halfway there, I found myself in the middle of a road rage situation. Remember, I did not speak Chinese and couldn't even communicate with my driver.

As has been my experience in most of this part of the world, there is not much accommodation made for other drivers. People stop and sometimes even park right in the middle of busy roads. I didn't know why we had stopped but was very concerned that he had not pulled to the shoulder. We were fully blocking a lane of traffic.

Why? My driver was clearly in the wrong.

I was debating whether I would be safer staying in the vehicle or getting out and standing on the shoulder. However, the lack of ability to communicate often made me give people the benefit of the doubt and just go along with whatever was happening.

OK. I guess I am getting out.

They were both ushering me to the second car. "What is happening? Oh, how I wish I could ask some questions!"

I probably should have been texting my wife in case she never saw me again or texting my school to ask questions, but all I could think about was "This has the potential to become disastrous. I better keep tweeting so there is a record of the events."

 I just resigned myself to the fact that I was along for the ride now. Come what may.

Um…thank you. I guess.

I never did learn what that was all about.

Probably something could be learned here. But it's been over two years since this event and I haven't been kidnapped a second time. So, I think I'm good.

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

My Mind Is Playing Twix On Me

Sometimes, when I sit down to write a blog post, it is not because I have a story that needs to be told. It is because I need to write something to continue my habit of writing every day. This often means that I don't really have anything to say. However, I still need to write something.

So, I use a writing prompt. Today, I am using this one.

This could be interesting because you just might find anything on Twitter. I'm going to pop over to Twitter, refresh my feed and write about whatever post is at the top. Be right back.

OK. Thanks for waiting. I got caught up in a thread about under-employed transgendered pugs. I had to follow that conversation. Anyway, here is what was at the top of my Twitter feed.

I was able to relate to this tweet immediately due to my current life situation. Living in Asia primarily means not having access to any good candy. The Vietnamese don't eat much chocolate.

To be honest, I am not really much of a sweets person. Growing up, I would happily wave aside the cake or ice cream dessert if it meant I could have more of the main course. A steak or baked potato is better than pie any day.

If I'm going to eat cake, this is my preference.

I am not saying I don't like sweets. I do. I'm just not as drawn to them as other foods. Although, I would grab the occasional candy bar at the grocery store. In the States, my default chocolate choice was usually either a Snickers or a Payday with the occasional Three Musketeers sneaking in now and then. I typically ate one or two candy bars each month. Not counting the candy-centric months surrounding Halloween, Easter or Christmas. Those months don't count. It's everywhere. A person just doesn't have much of a choice.

However, living in Vietnam, there is no choice when it comes to chocolate. If you come across some, you can buy it or don't buy. There is nothing to chose from. I ran down to the local market to take a picture of their sweets selection.

Most of the items on this table are fruit-based. They are sweetened by the natural sugar found in the fruit. But unlike even fruit candies in the States, there is no extra sugar added. So, to someone raised in America, the lack of sweetness is blaring.

The above picture is the closest thing to chocolate they have. It is a small cup with little pee-wee cookies and a goober's worth of white something in the bottom. It comes with a Lilliputian spoon to scoop it out. The 'cookies' have ZERO flavor. Think animal crackers but instead of being in the shape of animals, they are the shape of their droppings.

Little rabbit pellet cookies.

The white stuff is a gooey mess that definitely does not resemble chocolate. This little snack is basically a tiny shot of chunky jizz.

If I want to put in the time and effort to venture into the tourist part of town and spend the time looking for it, I may discover exactly three types of Western candy. I have seen Snickers and both plain and peanut M&Ms.

Though in this tropical heat, chocolate does not typically do very well and the mutilated gooey inside of the wrapper is pretty damning evidence of why chocolate hasn't really caught on here.

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Fiction: The Tree

I struggled to keep my voice from cracking as I peered through the branches to yell down to my father standing on the ground.

"I didn't mean to. It was an accident."

My father lowered his head and didn't say a word. That was never a good sign. He was not one of those parents who yelled. He never yelled. He always spoke in a calm voice but if he stopped talking I knew I was in a world of trouble.

I climbed higher to see over the house. The ashes from the pig barn were still smoking. Grandpa was raking out the nails and bits that wouldn't burn. My parents, grandparents, aunts, and uncles had all run out there when it was still blazing to keep it from spreading to any of the other buildings. My cousin Tony and I used that opportunity to scramble up into the tree. The danger to the barn and sheds was over, but that didn't mean I was safe.

Tony had found Uncle Jerry's Zippo lighter in the window sill on the back porch. Grandma wouldn't let him smoke in the house, so he always stepped out back to have a cigarette. My cousins and I usually followed him to see his lighter tricks. He could flick it open with one hand. He could snap his finger and make the fire start. Sometimes, he would hit it against his leg to start it. We loved those tricks and he had a hundred of them, but he would never let us try. He would say, "A lighter is not a toy" and put it back in his pocket. I never wanted to play with anything more than that lighter.

Earlier that day, Uncle Jerry set the Zippo in the window instead of back in his pocket. I didn't notice, but Tony did. He snatched it and showed it to me later. We didn't want to get caught with it, so we went to the old pig barn. Grandpa hadn't kept pigs for years, but he stored a few things in there. We crouched down behind the hay bales to try some of Jerry's tricks. When I dropped the lighter, it all happened very fast.

The hay on the floor caught immediately. Tony and I looked at each other in horror and ran out of the pig barn. My cousins Samantha and Emily saw the smoke and ran inside to tell the adults. We knew we were in trouble and shimmied up the tree on the other side of the house. When Jerry found his lighter in the ashes, they all knew what had happened. Tony and me cowering in the tree made us the prime suspects.

Our parents came to the tree and angrily demanded we come down. We started down despite knowing we were doomed. As soon as Tony swung his legs down, his dad grabbed him and spanked him all the way to the car. He threw him in the back seat and the family sped off. I could hear his mother screaming at him as they drove off.

I stopped my descent and retreated back to my original branch.

My dad narrowed his eyes and glared at me, "Get your butt down here now."

I knew what awaited me as soon as my feet touched the ground. Maybe even before then. "No. I'm never coming down."

Uncle Jerry showed up with a stepladder and my dad started up the tree. I climbed higher. I was younger and faster. He would not be able to catch me. Jerry called up to my dad, "You're just gonna have to wait him out." That was over three hours ago.

Every member of the family came out to coax me down, but I knew what would happen if I did. I didn't even come down for dinner.

By the time the sun set, everyone had gone home except for my family. My mother had begged me to come down and cried when I refused. Dad didn't even try to bargain. He just warned me to come down and take my punishment like a man. A punishment that was growing bigger and bigger the longer I chose to drag this out.

It had gotten very dark when Grandpa came out and set his hand on my dad's shoulder. "It's getting late. Take your little ones home to bed." My dad shook his head, "Tomorrow is Monday. He has school. I can't leave him here."

Grandpa reminded him of the stalemate we were in. My father agreed, but pointed out how happy it would make me to see him drive away. Grandpa said, "Don't worry about that." He pulled out his pocket knife and ambled over to the fence row. He cut off a long switch and whipped it through the air a few times so I could hear it swish. I have felt those switches before. This was not getting better.

Dad helped Grandpa pull a picnic table under the tree for Grandpa to sit at and he got comfortable with a Louis L'Amour western and a pitcher of lemonade. My dad gathered up my mom and sisters and they pulled out of the driveway.

With dad gone, I called down, "Grandpa, can Grandma bring me some of the chicken and biscuits. I haven't eaten since lunch."

Without looking up, he replied, "You grandmother is not talking to you or even coming outside. And you and I have nothing to discuss unless we are face to face." He poured himself another glass of lemonade and got back to his book.

I looked around for a thick branch to get comfortable on. This was going to be a long night.

This is NOT a true story. It was my first attempt at flash fiction. This story is a response to the prompt from the lovely Red at Doesn't Speak Klingon. The prompt was TREE.

Friday, May 10, 2019


Every week, a blog called Sunday Stealing posts a list of questions they found (stole from) somewhere on the internet. This week's questions were found somewhere on Facebook. It is called FILL IN THE BLANK.

The sentences were provided, but with blanks. My additions will be in red.

It's always nice when a new restaurant opens near my house.

Oh, that pizza. Yeah, we've met.

It's a sure sign of hunger when I'm awake.

Are we having vegetables again??!

My heart is immune to bacon grease and donut-related cholesterol.

Do you believe in diets? I agree only under a drug-induced coma!

I'm a gonna have another piece of pie.

I was full, but I didn't know you had ice cream. I'll find space.

 Eat cheese when the moon is full.

When we stack the plate properly, we don't have to make as many trips back to the buffet table.

Paula Deen is the best!

Underneath it all is an OREO cookie crust if it's been done right.

Oh! And thanks for the extra butter and sour cream.

And as for the weekend, tonight I'm looking forward to getting to bed early, tomorrow my plans include traveling to Laos and Sunday, I want to be able to sleep and not work!

I absolutely did not have the "food theme" planned when I started this, but look what happened. I think this offers some pretty deep insight into my priorities.

Thursday, May 9, 2019

Marriage is Work

Red and I just celebrated our fifth wedding anniversary.

Well, not really celebrated. I contracted food poisoning two days before and spent the next three days doubled over in pain. Most of that time spent on the toilet. It was magical.

So, I guess I can honestly say, we survived our fifth wedding anniversary.

I really wasn't sure I was going to make it.

The fifth anniversary is the 'wood' anniversary and I had so many good jokes saved up about giving her some wood for our anniversary, but the sickness killed it. There's always next year. Although, year six is the iron anniversary. The jokes won't come as easily. Especially since I am slightly anemic.

It has been a great five years. And I have no trouble admitting that I am the reason for that. It has been great because I made sure of it. Here are some of the things I do only because I am married to this wonderful woman.

  •  I put my dirty clothes in a clothes hamper. Instead of tossing my smelly unmentionables in the corner (which is more than capable of holding them), I place them in a receptacle that was apparently designed specifically to house them. This is a new practice for me and I don't completely understand the dynamics of how it functions differently than my method, but I do it because it makes her happy.
  • I make the bed. I have always been of the opinion that making the bed is the physical manifestation of a non sequitur. The logic just doesn't follow. However, I have been informed that it protects the bed from dust and a negative state of mind. Two things I had never been concerned about before, but I have learned to avoid the latter when possible.
  • I use a bath mat. I had never owned one of these before. I thought they were for people with sensitive feet who were afraid to touch cold tile after stepping out of the shower. So, even when one was purchased for me, I stepped over it to avoid dampening its fluffy surface. Now, I know it is to catch the drips. Even though I always thought the drips didn't matter in a tiled room. After all, that's why we don't carpet bathrooms (except gross people).
  • I eat a vegetable at least once a week. I only do this one if she is looking. Not going to waste that one.
  •  I don't flirt with other women. Why would I? The last thing I would want is to be successful in my effort and then have two women in my house. That would mean two bath mats, two clothes hampers and two vegetables a week. No…thank you.
I am very happy with my life the way it is. In the next five years, I am aiming to convince her of some stuff.

Friday, May 3, 2019

Thunder, Music, Swinging & Bacon

With the A to Z Challenge finally over, I do not want to just stop writing. I wrote every day for an entire month and would like to maintain that pace, so today I am cheating. Every week, a blog called Sunday Stealing posts a list of questions they found (stole from) somewhere on the internet. This week's questions come from the site Question Meme.

1. What Did You Have For Lunch?

It is still morning, so I have not had lunch yet. Yesterday, I made some eggs with potatoes, onion and fish cake mixed in. I love me some fish cake.

2. Do You Dance In The Car?

Well, I haven't owned a car in almost three years. In China and Vietnam, cars just aren't practical. Although, here in Vietnam, I have a motorbike and I have been known to get a rhythmic bouncing going as I bebop down the road. Now, I just need some music.

3. Favorite Animal?

In general, penguins are awesome cool. I always want to see them first when I go to the zoo. However, I have different favorite animals for different things.

To Ride: Water Buffalo
To Eat: Whatever animals go into sushi
To Tickle: Baby Hedgehog
For Protection: Dragon
For Picking Up Girls: Bunny Rabbits
For Funny Sidekick: Capuchin Monkey
For Midnight Snack: Chicken wings
For a Pet: Three-foot Tall Talking Tarantula
For Riding into Battle: Black Rhinoceros
For Night-time Snuggling: Jessica Rabbit

4. Do You Watch The Olympics?

I got really excited about the Olympics when I heard about Tonya Harding smashing Nancy Kerrigan with a police baton to get the upper hand in the competition. But then nothing exciting happened when the cameras were actually rolling. The best I can hope for is a catastrophic bobsled pileup.

5. What Time Do You Usually Go To Bed?

That actually varies immensely. I am in bed some nights as early as 8:30. However, sometimes I will stay up until 4 a.m. There are many factors that determine what happens here.
  • Sometimes my local Vietnamese friends will not let me go home.
  • How well are the beers going down that night?
  • Is there anything good on TV?
  • Am I still hungover from the previous night?
  • What is the temperature? (I live in the tropics and only the bedrooms have A/C)
  • Am I tied up in a great book?

6. Are You Wearing Makeup Right Now?

Not right now.

7. Do You Prefer To Swim In A Pool Or The Ocean?

I am allergic to chlorine, so swimming in a pool is pretty rough on me for the next few days. I live about a mile away from the ocean (South China Sea - central coast of Vietnam), but almost never go. I don't get excited about the beach and swimming does nothing for me. If I have to choose, I will choose the ocean. But I haven't been in the water since the jellyfish attack I experienced last year.

8. What Was The Last Thing You Ate?

An extremely unhealthy amount of bacon.
NOTE: This side of the planet has no idea what bacon is for or how to prepare it. When I was in China, if I ordered a burger with bacon, it looked and tasted like they had boiled it. It was disgusting. The few places that had bacon for breakfast, destroyed it before bringing it to you. It was such a waste. However, now, I live across the street from a homestay that provides breakfast for their guests each morning. A couple of times a week, I will go over there and buy their breakfast. It is all Vietnamese food except for a huge pan of bacon. PROPERLY-COOKED BACON!!! It is amazing. And since I basically have not had any bacon for the last three years, I figure I can eat a half-pound a day for the next six months before it will be a problem.

9. Bottled Water Or Tap Water?

It is not safe to drink the water here, so we must use bottled water if we are talking about drinking water. However, for bathing, the use of bottled water can get pretty expensive. I use tap water for that. For swimming, I just don't swim. For throwing at the neighborhood children, I use coffee. But made with bottled water.

10. What Makes You Happy?
  • The first squeeze out of a new tube of toothpaste
  • The feud between Martha Stewart and Gwyneth Paltrow
  • Netflix remembering exactly what episode I am on
  • My wife's yoga outfits
  • Bacon
  • Falling asleep with a boob in my hand
  • The moment I realize that I love the book I am reading
  • A really, really good gut-relieving fart
  • Not bleeding from my genitals every month
  • The smell when it first starts to rain
  • Setting up a brand new computer/phone/printer, etc
  • People who are constantly offended
  • Waffles - something we can't get here 
  • A really good horror movie
  • Morning wood
  • Working from home
  • A phone call from my kids (I assume)
  • Being proud of a finished blog post

11. Did You Like Swinging As A Child? 

My parents told me that I would not be able to swing until I was an adult. And, even then, only if I had a willing partner.

Do You Still Get Excited When You See A Swing Set?

I believe I grossly misunderstood the nature of these questions.

12. Do You Work Better With Or Without Music?

Depends on the kind of work. If I'm doing dishes or cooking, music is great. If I am trying to work at my computer, then no music. I can not read or write when there is music playing.

13. Do You Make Your Bed In The Morning?

I do, but only because of the woman I am married to. A made bed means nothing to me, but it makes her happy.

14. Do You Like Your Music Loud?

Totally depends on my mood, the type of music, time of day, amount of alcohol consumed the night before, who else is in the room, the proximity of neighbors, etc

15. Do You Fear Thunder/Lightning?

Much like bears or sharks, I cannot say that I am especially fearful of thunder/lightning. However, if I were to walk into my bathroom and find it in my shower, I would freak out.

That's enough questions for now. Feel free to use these questions for yourself. Let me know if you do. I'll drop by.

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Z - Friend Zone

When I was in high school, I had a crush on a girl. However, she wasn't a girl from afar. She was one of my best friends. We spent a lot of time joking around together and spent time together even outside of school.

Before I go any further, I want to state that this will not be a whiny "woe is me" post. I also want to make it clear that the girl in this scenario did nothing wrong. I am just telling a story about my personal experience.

Kindergarten (1977)
She and I are both in this picture

8th Grade graduation (1985)
She and I are both in this picture also
Ready to start high school

This girl, like me, had gone to the same school since kindergarten. We had known each other basically our entire lives. We weren't really friends until high school but had been in the same classes for the last decade. I don't remember when I figured out that I was "in love" with her, but I do remember making the mistake of confiding in one of my friends about this and he did not keep it a secret. Which today seems like no big deal, but to my high school mind, it felt like the end of the world.

I know she got wind of it, but she never said a word. And neither did I. Things were awkward for a few weeks (or, at least, I perceived that things were) before everything got back to normal. And soon, those feelings slipped away. My theory is that knowing that she knew and did not return any affection meant that it wasn't going to happen.

Looking back on this today, it all seems so silly. Yet, it certainly seemed like a big deal at the time. And, like many of my life lessons, it took several years before I recognized what I can learn from a situation.

In high school, I was in the dreaded friend zone. Many people have talked about this and there are lots of different takes on it. For me, I look back at myself as a coward.

I was not very socially confident. I had never been popular with the opposite sex. I was awkward and a bit of a nerd. There was no way I was going to be comfortable just putting myself out there and letting my feelings be known. And without me being willing to speak up, how was she supposed to know?

Just chalk it up to being another awkward teenage moment. There are plenty to choose from.

I was telling my wife about this and she asked me, "Do you ever sit and wonder 'What if?'"

I didn't have to think long. "No. I don't." Like a lot of my high school classmates, she is one of my Facebook friends. While I appreciate being able to stay in touch with the students from our small school, all that high school stuff is just not part of my mind anymore. I don't still harbor resentment from the bullies. I don't dwell on the archnemesis. I don't have any unrequited feelings for any of the girls I had my eye on at the time.

When you get older, it feels like life was very short. However, as you are living it, it seems much slower. And sometimes, the things you are going through at the time seem insurmountable. However, life actually takes a while and things change with time. That bad (or good) situation you are in is temporary. It will change.

This month, I am participating in the A to Z Challenge. Each day this month, people around the world are writing blog posts and working their way through the alphabet. Each person decides their own personal theme. I am writing about people who have affected my life.

Y - Youth

I have worked with youth in some form for over 20 years. Whether a youth group leader, camp counselor, teacher or youth minister.

Despite all the kids I worked with, the ones I most remember were from 15 to 20 years ago. These were the high school kids who were part of one of the first youth groups I led. And the kids who attended the summer camp where I was the counselor and sometimes the dean.

At the time, I was just doing my job. I did love these kids and poured my heart into serving them, but it was just my life at the time. Planning lessons, counseling, visiting, connecting, going on outings and all the other stuff involved was just part of it.

However, as time has gone by, social media has entered the scene and over the last several years, I have reconnected with many of them. I get to see how their lives turned out. They are married and have children. They've gone off and started their careers. Some of them are doing amazing things.

A few of them are ministers. There are several teachers. One girl is a National Park ranger. Several served in the military (a few did not come back). Many have started their own businesses. Most of them have started their families. And a few of them I am still close enough to that we talk on a regular basis. It has been amazing to watch them all grow into adults.

Now that they are grown, I can't help but wonder what influence I had. Whether good or bad or nothing. I was quite involved in a number of their lives and know that I shaped part of the way they think.

Whatever influence I may or may not have had, today I am just thankful that I got to be part of their journey through life.

This month, I am participating in the A to Z Challenge. Each day this month, people around the world are writing blog posts and working their way through the alphabet. Each person decides their own personal theme. I am writing about people who have affected my life.

Saturday, April 27, 2019

X - Expats

Today I'm not writing about a specific person. This is a group of people who mostly don't even know each other, but they have influenced my thinking immensely.

The Expat Community

Expat is short for expatriate. It simply means 'a person who lives outside their home country'.

When you choose to live outside your home country, you meet a lot of other people who have done the same thing. There is also a special bond that is formed almost immediately upon meeting these people. After all, you have several things in common.
  • You are both foreigners in a strange land.
  • You are both familiar with the struggles of maintaining legal status.
  • You have each struggled to find where to buy items.
  • You both struggle to understand not only the language but the strange events happening around you.
  • You share a common language. (Without this part the bond is rather difficult.)
  • You are both looking for friends.
When over 99% of all the people you meet don't speak your language, making new friends is difficult. So when you hear your language being spoken in the marketplace, it catches your attention. Crossing paths with someone who you can actually communicate with is a big deal. However, there are some drawbacks to this.

Just speaking the same language or being from the same country is not enough for a friendship. There are people I have attached myself to just because they are someone I can talk to outside my home. Within a few days of meeting them, I realized that is probably the only reason I maintained this relationship.

When you are in your own country surrounded by people who speak your language, you have choices in who you hang out with. You form a group of friends you enjoy spending time with. Once you step out of that scenario, you take what you can get. Sometimes you realize very quickly that if you were actually back in the States, there is no way you would be friends with this person. I am not saying anything bad about these people. They are just not my preferred crowd if I have a choice.

However, there is another group that really gets under my skin. In every country I have been in, there is always a group of people who just love to trash the country they are living in. The favorite pastime of many of the expats I have met is complaining about how stupid, uncivilized, unorganized, rude, or dirty the locals are.

I just don't get it.

Sure. I see things now and then that I think could be done a different way. However, I have that view based on the way I am used to doing something. That rarely means that it is actually the way it should be done. It is just the way I grew up doing it. Plus, different parts of the world are in different stages of development, with different cultural systems, different histories, different resources, and many other things. Things are going to be different sometimes out of necessity. And I have many examples of times where I have learned that the "new" way I see something done ends up being far superior to what I grew up doing.

However, my biggest complaint with this attitude is not the unwillingness to recognize the resourcefulness of the locals. It is the overall negative attitude.

Especially since that person chose to live here.

I have listened to literally hundreds of people over the years drone on and on about how much better things are in their home country (Australia, England, Germany, America, etc.) than they are at the place we are sitting. My response is always the same. "Then go home."

There are hardships involved with living overseas. I will never pretend that there are not. However, it is a choice to decide if they are worth it or not. And if a person does not think they are worth it, I have no problem with that. Everyone has their own preferences. But if they think it is not worth it, then leave. Go to a place that is more to your liking. Why choose to be miserable?

A few months ago, my wife made a remark about how much we loved our life here. The woman she was with turned up her nose. "You actually like it here. Why?" Red gave her a list of things we love about this place. The woman retorted with her complaints about the place. However, she had been here less than six months and had already found a job in another country. She was moving on.

I had no problem with that. Go where you are happier. Plus, I didn't really like her anyway, so I had no problem with her moving on.

However, some people will never be happy or satisfied anywhere. The perpetual complainers, the eternal pessimists, and the grumblers will always find something to be unhappy about. And their greatest satisfaction in life seems to be finding others who will help them reinforce their negative outlook on everything. I've learned to watch for them and avoid them. Those people are poison.

Slowly, I have gathered a few people (mostly Aussies) here in Hội An, Vietnam who love living here. These people not only enjoy life (as I like to do) but help each other. We trade secrets on where to find key items, the great restaurants, and coffee shops, tips on how to ship things, travel, get service, etc.

Whether traveling the world or sitting in your hometown, there are healthy and unhealthy people to associate with. It is well worth the extra time to weed out the bad ones and find your tribe.

This month, I am participating in the A to Z Challenge. Each day this month, people around the world are writing blog posts and working their way through the alphabet. Each person decides their own personal theme. I am writing about people who have affected my life.

Friday, April 26, 2019

W - Wheelchair - (Adam)

This one will be pretty short. But it is not short because I don't have much to say. It will be short because I have written about this man so many times before.

For example, our many trips to the hospital:
Our DJ shows
Our Outing Adventures
The apology post he made me write because every time I ever wrote about him it was to make fun of him.
When we first met, Adam was a smart-mouthed teenager about 10 years younger than me. We had a few mutual acquaintances and crossed paths now and then. At some point, he disappeared. I honestly didn't notice. He was a friend of a friend. However, many years later, I ran into him again. He still had that smart mouth, but he moved significantly slower. Probably due to the loss of his feet and not being very good with his new wheelchair yet.

Adam had been through a lot since the last time I saw him and I love a good story. So, we had lunch so I could hear it.

I can't remember how it happened, but over the course of the next year we became close friends and I even became his disability-paid caregiver. I employed him in the tattoo shop I owned to greet customers when they walked in the door and set appointments. We started spending a lot of time together and really enjoyed each other's company.

Due to Adam's new medical issues, I ended up running him to the emergency room several times. It made for great blog fodder (see links above). He even got to return the favor once when I had an emergency and couldn't move one side of my body. By then, he had almost learned how to drive without feet and I really didn't have much of a choice.

Adam eventually started a DJ business because it was something he could do while seated. AND he was good at it. He really knew how to get a crowd worked up. However, he was not able to do all the setup and tear down of the heavy speakers and equipment. That part fell to me. It didn't pay well, but I got invited to every wedding in town and drank for free.

We made a lot of noise everywhere we went and annoyed everyone garnered a lot of attention. We spent a few years just laughing at each other's stupid jokes.

Eventually, we each left Illinois. I met a girl and moved to Indiana. He met a girl and moved to Missouri. Since then, we have each married those girls (he knocked his up - TWICE!) and I have even moved out of the country. So, we don't see each other as much as we would like anymore, but we do pretty good to stay in touch. He even called me the other day just to discuss the most recent Game of Thrones episode. I hadn't watched it yet, so I hung up on him. But he meant well.

Adam, I miss you, buddy.

August 5, 2017

This month, I am participating in the A to Z Challenge. Each day this month, people around the world are writing blog posts and working their way through the alphabet. Each person decides their own personal theme. I am writing about people who have affected my life.

Thursday, April 25, 2019

V - Vital, Vocal

My first job in the public school system was working as a teacher's aide in a "severely disabled" special education classroom. It was challenging, but rewarding work. The class had one teacher and four aides. Plus, there were specialized social workers always coming in and out to deal with particular students' special needs (Braille training, therapy room equipment, computer software, bringing physical therapists, etc).

One of the other aides was a woman who I quickly came to admire and tried to emulate. While many people push people like the students in our classroom to the side, Donna reached out to them instinctively. She loved these kids and they knew it.

If one of them was having a difficult time or was getting worked up about something, Donna was a natural at helping them to become calm again and prevent an episode. She was able to get them to do the work they needed to do when they resisted. She was a calming presence to have in the room for the rest of the aides as well.

However, it wasn't just her gift with the students that I admired. It was her heart, her work ethic, and her determination to advocate for them. She not only knew her job in the classroom, but she had aggressively familiarized herself with government programs, grants, and other services available to help the families of these children. If she saw a need that could not be met by the school, she would make the phone calls and seek the information needed to find out how to meet that need. Then, once she had the answers, she would contact the family to show them how they could be helped.

When I asked her why she didn't just give the contact information to the families, she told me that many of these families were already overwhelmed with their responsibility of taking care of their child. She didn't want this search to be another burden. Plus, sometimes chasing down the benefits of these programs was complex and time-consuming. That's why she continued to assist the families with applying and filing the correct paperwork to apply for whatever help was available. She also pointed out that the children with disabilities as severe as the ones we had in our classroom did not attend public school if their parents had any money or decent insurance. Our school was in the inner city and most of our students came from very poor households. Their parents were often undereducated and rarely capable of navigating the complicated maze of government bureaucracy. Therefore, she guided them through the entire process. (This level of involvement with the families was frowned upon by the school system. This is why I am not mentioning her name in this post.)

She spoke up loudly when the school instituted any policy that did not consider the impact it would have on the students in our classroom. She told the other aides, teachers, and administrators exactly what she thought of them and their handling of any situation involving our classroom. Whether good or bad. She was always brutally honest. She believed mincing words and playing games to garner favor with people cost the kids too much time getting what they needed.

She would often come up beside me to show a better way to connect with a student or get a job done. She quickly figured out with each student the proper use of touch, voice, movements, or words to use in whatever was needed at the moment. And she wanted more than anything to share what she was doing so others could do it also. She was quick to correct her coworkers, but somehow she made us feel uplifted rather than scolded. She was an amazing woman.

She is one of those people selflessly working an underpaid, thankless job in a corner where she will never be noticed. However, she is immensely impacting the lives of dozens of families every week. The world needs more people like her.

This month, I am participating in the A to Z Challenge. Each day this month, people around the world are writing blog posts and working their way through the alphabet. Each person decides their own personal theme. I am writing about people who have affected my life.

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

U - Uncles (Family)

This A to Z Challenge post will be much more generic because I am not going to cover anyone in particular. It will be about my family in general.

I have written so many heart-warming and nostalgic posts about some wonderful people and it just felt wrong to not include the people who are closest to me.

Not everyone has the luxury of growing up near their family. I did. Especially my father's side of the family. We lived on the old homestead that in been in our family for five generations and the children of dad's cousins were scattered all over the countryside surrounding us. Dad's brother also lived nearby and he had two sons. My dad's sister lived further away but popped in three or four times a year with her kids. We all knew each other quite well and had great fun running around together. I have written about many of these adventures in past blog posts.

Sibling Perceptions
Back in My Day
When the Cat's Away
Grand Theft Auto - Kindergarten Style
Family Reunion

My mother's family were mostly congregated in one place, but my mom was the one who left the area. So, seeing her side of the family was not nearly as commonplace. It was a five-hour trip one way to see any of them. With the exception of my cousin Tabatha, that was restricted to about once a year. Yet, when we got together we had a great time.

I grew up in a happy house out in the country with both parents and two brothers. Our childhood was an adventure and there was never any shortage of fun to be had. I believe we pushed the limits on having fun.

I'm not going to single anyone out, but getting to be so near my family and involved in each other's lives had a huge impact on helping shape the way I see and interact with the world. I love my family and where I come from. 

This month, I am participating in the A to Z Challenge. Each day this month, people around the world are writing blog posts and working their way through the alphabet. Each person decides their own personal theme. I am writing about people who have affected my life.

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

T - Mr Tracy

I was never what you would call an exemplary student. In my graduating class of 27 students, I was ranked #14. Exactly in the middle. Now, this only considers the GPA of the students. It's the only tangible number that can be used for measurement.

Despite my ranking, I believe I can honestly say that it did not reflect my intelligence. Of all the students in my class, I tied with another student for the highest score on the ACT. When the military came to our school and gave us all the ASVAB test, I scored well beyond the person who came in second. I spent the next two years fending off recruiters who wanted me to work in their nuclear program.

NOTE: I am pro-military. I just know me. I would never have survived the rigors of military life.

I was the epitome of what adults and teachers like to call "wasted potential." The potential was there and they saw it now and then, but it was rarely tapped into. Although I hated hearing the motivational or shaming speeches at the time, I now know there were two huge reasons for me not striving to achieve.
  1. My extreme apathy
  2. My even more extreme laziness
It was as simple as that. As a teenager, I just didn't care that much. I could not realistically see far enough into the future to understand why the grade I received on a freshman geography pop quiz would negatively impact my chances of getting promoted in corporate America.

I was very good at memorizing stuff, so I nailed those Shakespearean monologues we had to perform in class.

But, soft! what light through yonder window breaks?
It is the east, and Juliet is the sun.
Arise, fair sun, and kill the envious moon,
Who is already sick and pale with grief,
That thou her maid art far more fair than she:
Be not her maid, since she is envious;
Her vestal livery is but sick and green
And none but fools do wear it; cast it off.
It is my lady, O, it is my love!
O, that she knew she were!
She speaks yet she says nothing: what of that?
Her eye discourses; I will answer it.
I am too bold, 'tis not to me she speaks:
Two of the fairest stars in all the heaven,
Having some business, do entreat her eyes
To twinkle in their spheres till they return.
What if her eyes were there, they in her head?
The brightness of her cheek would shame those stars,
As daylight doth a lamp; her eyes in heaven
Would through the airy region stream so bright
That birds would sing and think it were not night.
See, how she leans her cheek upon her hand!
O, that I were a glove upon that hand,
That I might touch that cheek!
I scored a 100% on that monologue and an ovation from the teacher because I performed it so well, but I've never once been asked to do it in a job interview. Which is a shame because I was really good at it for some reason.

I was quite content with my C average. It never bothered me, but sure bothered my parents. In fact, any time I pushed a little in class for the better grade, it was because my parents wanted me to.

I am not getting down on my parents. They were right and I was wrong. I just did only as much as I had to do to stay out of trouble. It was my life philosophy concerning basically everything. Yet, there was one teacher who did not accept it.

Mr. Tracy was the bane of my existence throughout my high school career. He was my biology/botany teacher.

An additional misfortune I possessed was a mother who worked in the cafeteria at my school. With her so close, it was incredibly easy for any teacher to visit her. In fact, they didn't even have to make a speacial trip since they would just see her at lunch time. Mr. Tracy was quite adept at this practice. He kept her informed of every assignment and my grade on each. One year they even had a standing weekly appointment for her to come in and go through my work for the week. It sucks to have a parent who cares about your future so much.

Mr Tracy would keep me after class at least three times a month to discuss not only my poor excuses for homework but also my personal life. He wanted to know what I found so important because it certainly wasn't school.

Mr Tracy was a big believer in the importance of developing your brain, getting a good education, striving for a lifetime of learning. At least once a week he would get frustrated with his class and lecture us about the importance of being a critical thinker. And then, the even bigger importance of having enough information in your head to give you the ammo to be able to think critically.

He pushed and pushed and pushed and never let up. No matter how well you did, he showed you that he thought you could do even better.

One year, the night before the semester exam, I crammed with Stephanie (also in my class) late into the night. We drilled each other on the parts of a plant, photosynthesis, genus and species of various local flora and almost memorized entire chapters of the science book. I knew that material. The next day, I confidently turned in my exam (which was all essay questions; Mr Tracy did not believe you could check understanding with multiple choice or fill-in-the-blank).

Two hours later, Mr Tracy shows up in PE class and asked to see me. I cautiously approached him and he showed me the test. I HAD SCORED A 98! I was ecstatic…until I saw the look on his face. He was not happy.

He drug me out in the hall and told me how disappointed he was. I told him I was happy that I was only two points away from perfect. And he should be too.

He took off his glasses and lowered his head. It looked like he was trying to hold back tears. He said, "You still don't get it. You have carried a 'D average' in my class all semester. And then because of one night of actually putting in a little effort, you get a nearly perfect score. How can you not see what you are capable of if you would only try?" He dropped my test on the floor and walked off.

That was the last time I ever talked to him. I graduated a few days later.

I went to community college the next year and flunked out in the second semester. His words had done nothing for me.

Over the course of the next 10 years, my life just ambled along. I did alright but never accomplished anything noteworthy. Got married, divorced and married again while I bounced from job to job. Eventually, I decided to go back to school, but this time it was different. This time I wanted to be there. After a few papers came back with 'reasonably acceptable' results, a professor left a note on a paper telling me that he was surprised I had not scored better due to the quality of my discussions in class. Suddenly, the despised words of Mr. Tracy came flooding back to me.

All of those speeches and disappointed looks he had given me for four years in high school hit home. I got it. Someone next to me could have probably seen the figurative light bulb go off over my head.

In that moment, my entire approach to school completely changed. The lowest score I've gotten for a class since then was a 97.6. I even went on to get my Master's Degree and graduated with a 4.0.

It took 15 years to kick in, but Mr. Tracy finally got into my head. I am living a dream life today (on the coast in Vietnam) because of the lessons he never gave up on teaching. I did not appreciate it at the time, but for the last 20 years I have always named him as my favorite teacher. It just took me a while to recognize it.

Mr. Tracy, wherever you are, thank you.

This month, I am participating in the A to Z Challenge. Each day this month, people around the world are writing blog posts and working their way through the alphabet. Each person decides their own personal theme. I am writing about people who have affected my life.

Monday, April 22, 2019

S - Salon (not affiliated w/ beauty)

For the two years I lived in Beijing, my main job was working in one of the government schools. However, I had half a dozen side jobs and one of them was the easiest money I ever made.

On Thursday nights, I took a bus to an adult language center in Shuangjing 双井 and got paid to sit and talk to people. This is called an English salon.

Now, if you know me, then you know talking is one of my favorite activities. I've had lots of practice. And I'm really good at it. In fact, I can talk for hours without even having anything to say. It's just second nature to me.

All I had to do was show up at 7 p.m. as their class was letting out and talk to the students. The students were all adults who were studying English. They could all speak English but were far from fluent. My presence was to give them an opportunity to converse with a native English speaker. The school supplied me with drinks and paid me to sit there for two hours and just talk about…whatever.

Since these were not guided lessons, the conversations could take any direction and since I was the obvious foreigner most of the time we discussed the differences in our countries. And there are a lot.

Once we got to know each other and got past the initial talk of food differences and what I did for a living, it got interesting. I went in every week knowing that we were going to talk a lot about politics, guns, and drugs. Other topics were covered as well, but these were the top three.

Now, when I say politics, I mean American politics. Political discourse does not happen in China. Not only is it a taboo topic, but it is very easy to get yourself into a lot of trouble for expressing the wrong opinion to the wrong person. It is safer to just keep your mouth shut. However, it is perfectly safe to talk about the politics of other countries and they always had questions about things they had seen in their heavily filtered news. After doing my best to explain the things they read (to the best of my understanding) and correct the mountains of misinformation they had about things, it sometimes moved to almost being an American civics class. I told them about federal law versus state, city, county, and municipal. We talked about how taxes work. I taught them about the election process. And they always had questions about why I could talk so freely about this stuff. They were fascinated by the idea that a person could insult a public official or even the president right to his face without penalty.

They asked me questions about the American "gun culture". In the year that I attended this class, I only met one student there who had ever even seen a gun in person. The idea that I grew up with guns in my house petrified them. I got the impression that they would be terrified to even be in the same room with one. Despite their fear, they had a lot of questions and sometimes it got technical. After I had done my best to explain the varying philosophies on gun ownership and control, it often moved into gun laws. This always got confusing because it was hard to get them to understand that each state has its own laws. This structure does not exist in China. One guy had heard about "concealed carry" and did not understand why a person who had this special license had to be careful about what part of the country he was in. What is legal in Indiana could get you in a lot of trouble in Illinois. He never stopped asking questions about how that could be.

They had just as many questions and lots of bad information about drugs in America. Drugs do exist in China, but they are locked down pretty tight. And the penalties for violating drug-related laws are severe. Of the people in that class, only two even knew a person who had done drugs. It is not something that is out in the open. However, because of American television, they all believe that in America drugs are everywhere. They are flowing freely at every party. High schoolers trade them in the hallways like baseball cards. Every businessman has a stash in his desk drawer and every public restroom is filled with people lined up to snort cocaine off the sink counter. Once again, I spent weeks just trying my best to explain reality.

These are three big examples, but there were many other topics covered and they were all complicated by the vast differences between our cultures, values, and way of thinking. We talked about parental responsibilities, employer expectations, property ownership, use of free time, educational philosophy, celebrity culture and many more. Every new topic showed me how little they actually knew about us. And also, how little I actually knew about them.

Spending time in a country can help you start figuring out the rules and see how things work. However, it takes a lot more time to start tapping into the reasons things are done the way they are. Everyone has heard of cultural practices from other countries:
  • In Vietnam, do not point with one finger. Use your whole hand.
  • In China, emptying your plate suggests that the host did not serve enough food. They will be offended.
  • In Kenya, you should empty your plate. Leaving any food behind suggests that you did not enjoy the meal.
  • In many Muslim countries, you should not use your left hand for eating. That hand is "unclean" since it is for taking care of bathroom hygiene.
  • In India, always refuse your host's first offer for a snack or drink. You will be asked again.
  • In South Korea, stay very quiet on public transportation. Noisiness is considered to be very rude.
To prosper in one of these countries, just learning the rules will only get you so far. With time (and intentional effort), you will begin to understand the reasons behind these practices. That knowledge can lead to helping a person understand a lot more about what they see around them. Understanding the mindset of people takes time and it involves a lot. Hundreds or even thousands of years of practice, literature, history, weather, politics, entertainment, war, famine, prosperity, diet, and many other things helped to shape the culture and no practice has a "simple" explanation about the why.

I talked to these people every week for over a year and there were many things that I didn't understand even after they explained them. Many times. This is because it takes more than an explanation to understand some things. Our backgrounds and worldviews are so radically different that we are not connecting on the underlying thought process that goes hundreds of layers deep. 

This experience showed me just how different people are and how ongoing communication is essential to understanding each other. Really understanding takes time. Seeing it in such large-scale differences made me realize this is a common problem everywhere and not just inter-culturally. Problems of not understanding where someone is coming from happens at work and even within the same household.

I learned a lot from those people, but my biggest lesson was not about the things they told me. It was about the need to be more understanding of people. We need to spend more time listening. Anytime we are struggling to be understood, we need to be sure we are also struggling to try to understand.

This month, I am participating in the A to Z Challenge. Each day this month, people around the world are writing blog posts and working their way through the alphabet. Each person decides their own personal theme. I am writing about people who have affected my life.

Saturday, April 20, 2019

R - Regret

Everyone has those things they regret. It may be words you wish you could take back, an action you did (or did not do), or a reaction you had to something. I know I have several of those. We've all had experiences that we may wish we didn't have to live through. However, there are always those people who like to say "Well, it is your experiences that made you into the person you are today." or "It was those things that led you to this place."

I don't really curse on this blog, but I have to call bullshit. I can't think of a better word today.

While it is true that the culmination of our choices lead us to our present and bad experiences can make us stronger (but just as often weaker), that does not mean we should have taken that path.

My biggest regret in life involved a five-month-long storm in my normally peaceful life. And while I can say that I definitely learned a lot from this experience, I will not claim that my life was improved because of it.

In my early twenties, I frequented a bar near my home almost every day. As a regular, I got to know one of the bartenders. With time, I got to hear more about her miserable life. She was in a relationship with a guy who was controlling and physically abusive. But if she left, she would have nowhere to go and with two small kids, she felt trapped.

Slowly over the course of a few months, her flirting with me began to work. I don't know how many guys she was feeding this line to, but I was the one who fell for it. I decided I was going to be the one to rescue her. I called a couple of my friends one day to get some help so we could show up at her house, pack all her stuff while her boyfriend was at work and get her out of there. She was coming to live with me.

The guys I called for help were the Crew. My closest group of friends. And all of them but one, said no. They would not help. They weren't busy, they just refused to be part of it. A couple of them even told me not to do this.

I did not heed their warnings. In fact, their reluctance to help ticked me off.

But it was more than that. One of them put his finger in my face and started rattling off all the crazy things we knew about this girl. He told me she would be a nightmare and the circumstances of our new relationship would make it ten times worse in the tiny town we lived in. Everything said was true, but it didn't make me any less angry. I would show him. This girl needed help and I would put up with the inevitable storm to be that man who protected her.

I brought her and her kids back to my house where I still had a roommate that I had not checked with first (he moved out within a month). He was one of the first casualties of collateral damage this decision caused.

The backlash was swift. She lost her job immediately since the bar was owned by the father of the man I had just "rescued" her from. Being a small town with barely a hundred people, it was also the only social gathering place around. And I was no longer welcome.

The gossip around town was in full force and we were the focus of all of it. To get ahead of it, she and I got married almost immediately. I married her despite the fact that she and I were having horrible arguments every day. However, I was determined to show everyone (and it was everyone) that they were wrong. And I chalked her moodiness up to the stress of what was happening around us. I told myself I was strong enough to do this.

I had no idea how bad it was going to get.

It turned out she was crazy. And I don't just say that because she is my ex. She was crazy. She would recount the story of an argument we had to her sister and lie about everything that happened. She would do this right in front of me. I learned quickly not to call her out on stuff in front of people because the scene that was caused was not worth it.

She would fly into rages and physically attack me. One time, while trying to deflect her punches, my finger must have caught her lip. Maybe. I really don't know what happened. She might have even hit herself. But she suddenly threw herself on the ground and started screaming about me hitting her. I couldn't see any mark, but I didn't get much of a chance to look before she locked herself in the bathroom. When she came out 30 minutes later, her lip was bloodied and swollen. I knew she had done something to herself in the bathroom.

The next day, I get a phone call from her sister. Her sister told me that my wife had shown up at her house in the morning to show what I had done to her. And the story was epic. It involved furniture flying around the house and the kids screaming to protect their mother while I locked them in their rooms. This story terrified me because I didn't know who else she was telling these stories to. But her sister assured me that she knew it wasn't true. She knew the kids had stayed with their aunt the night before and she didn't believe I would behave in such a way anyway. She told me that she had long suspected the stories she told about her ex were fabricated as well.

Oh, yeah. This whole thing started because I was rescuing her from an abusive relationship. And now she's running around telling people that I am doing those things to her. And I haven't touched her. I began to see her evil ex in a much more sympathetic light. I no longer knew what was true.

I have dozens more stories about psychological manipulation, complex webs of lies that she weaved through many people, enemies that she made for me, more physical abuse (she couldn't get upset without throwing a punch and she was always upset about something), her purposefully depriving me of sleep to punish me for something, and the loss of my friends who wouldn't come around the house if she was there.

It finally came to an end in the middle of one of those big fights. She loved to find what hurt you and focus all her attention on it. She fought dirty and never had mercy. She had pressed and pressed me since I got home from work and wasn't letting up. She had already thrown things and hit me several times and she started again with her cutting words. She stepped up to me with her fist cocked back and something snapped in my head.

I took a step forward reaching for her to put a stop to this. I can't honestly say what I was about to do, but it was not going to be good. I was in a rage and had had enough. But when I started to surge toward her, I saw a glint of glee in her eyes.

She had done it. She finally broke me and she knew it. I was seconds away from sealing the deal with whatever I was about to do to her. And once I did it, she would own me.

This entire realization came crashing down on me. Months of psychological and physical torture had worn me down. I couldn't take it anymore. She had pushed and pushed and pushed and was never going to stop. I knew that sooner or later, I would hurt her. A person can only take so much. I couldn't do this anymore.

I stepped back and felt this sense of relief wash over me. I was done.

Her anger stopped for a moment as she looked at me and I think she sensed what had just happened. Her face contorted into wrath I had not seen yet. She started throwing everything she could get her hands on. She tried to scratch out my eyes. She punched and bit me. I ran out the door and left in my car as the contents of our living room started getting thrown out on to the yard.

I didn't have a plan, but I knew I could never spend another unaccompanied minute with her. Who knows what she might try to claim I've done to her. Getting out of this relationship without further damage would require witnesses from this point forward.

I was driving around trying to figure out where I was going to spend the night when my phone rang. Since it was her, I wasn't going to answer and listen to her apologies. However, she left a voicemail saying that the excitement of the evening had sent her son into an asthma attack. She was going to the hospital. I suspected that this was not true. She loved using her kids as pawns for guilt.

I didn't know where she had gone, but I used the opportunity of her being out of the house to go change the locks. Before the night was over, she showed up with the man I had "rescued" her from. A few threats were thrown around (by her, not him) and just like that, she was living back in his house.

We were legally divorced a week later.

As bad as this situation was, believe it or not, I have not put the worst stuff in here. I have a limit to the darkness I will post on my blog. She is a deeply disturbed woman.

As with every other post I have done this month, I will wrap it up by telling how this person affected me and what I learned from it. Some of this is difficult to admit.

First, I severely damaged my reputation in that small town. That bar where I met her was the only place in town to hang out and meet people and it was permanently off-the-table for me. I don't live in that town anymore, but I'm not sure I would even be welcome there today and it's been over 25 years.

After coming out of such a one-sided controlling relationship, I over-compensated when I later got married. I was so determined to never be taken advantage of like that again. It took a few years to shake free of the baggage I brought into my second marriage. I was super-sensitive about any type of criticism toward me. I did not like to be questioned about anything. I almost wonder if it was a mild form of PTSD. It was a five-month nightmare and I did not come out unscathed.

My friends started coming back around once she was gone and they got to hear the stories about what went on behind closed doors. And I told them that I was hurt they abandoned me. They rightfully defended themselves. They hadn't abandoned me. I had abandoned them. And there was no reason they should be expected to have to sit in a room with a person they hated just to show loyalty to me. They were more than happy to hang out with me anytime she wasn't around. And it's not like I didn't know where they were. But she had worked to alienate me from my friends and I unknowingly let her do it.

They also reminded me that they had all told me to steer clear of her. None of them saw a happy ending to this and I had chosen to ignore them. That is the biggest part of what I take away from all this.

When everyone can see something except for you, you might want to accept that it is you who is blind.

I saw the warning signs before I got married. I saw a few of them before I even "rescued" her, but I decided I knew better than everyone else. And I mean EVERYONE. So many people were against us that I was determined to make it work just to "win" and shove it in their faces. I honestly believe that if no one had said anything, I would have backed out on my own before it was too late.

LIFE LESSON: If you have surrounded yourself with good people who you respect, then their guidance and opinions should carry some weight. Otherwise, why are they your friends?

Thank you to all of you who had my back. I am so sorry I did not listen.

This month, I am participating in the A to Z Challenge. Each day this month, people around the world are writing blog posts and working their way through the alphabet. Each person decides their own personal theme. I am writing about people who have affected my life.