How I spent my summer vacation

Part 2 — The siblings, spouses, and kids 

So I flew to Seattle, city where I was born and spent most of my childhood...
Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4

Mom and Dad had six children, and I'm the youngest. Also the fattest, and probably the most immature and irresponsible. Let's meet the siblings, along with their spouses, significant others, and offspring:

Hazel, my sister—
her husband Link, and their son John,
her husband Roy, and their son Roy Jr

When I was a kid she was just Big Sis — the older of my two older sisters. What I remember from then is just laughs, and Hazel getting on my nerves, arguing with Dad, and dating sketchy guys. Your basic sister stuff.

She married maybe too young, and then years ago, in the heat of an argument with her husband, to prove she was right or show her undying love or who knows why, Hazel took half a bottle of sleeping pills. It did a lot of damage, and left her crippled for life.

She lives in a nursing home. She can walk, but it's difficult and she wobbles and it's frightening when she tries, so usually she's in a wheelchair. She talks but it's garbled, and easier to understand if you're accustomed to how she speaks, but I'm not. When she talked, I had to ask her to repeat herself, often, and still I was mostly guessing. She's 40 or so, and has all her wits about her — somehow the pills affected her body, but left her mind intact. She's still my sister behind the damages, but it's gotta be difficult being Hazel. 

She's twice divorced — single, in other words — and Hazel is as footloose and fancy-free as you can be in a wheelchair. My family thinks it's scandalous and avoids the topic, but apparently she's the shady lady of the nursing home. She's been in trouble at least twice, because the morning nurse walked in to find her sleeping with a man from the room down the hall. This is apparently shocking, but so long as it's consensual — Mom says it was, and I sure didn't ask Hazel — it's no concern of mine. What, do they expect disabled people to suddenly become sexless?

I barely knew Hazel's first husband, Linc. They eloped, lived a long ways away, and I met him maybe half a dozen times. He was quiet, and at least when I was in their house, he treated her nice. After she took the pills, he had a nervous breakdown, and they divorced. Last I heard, Linc was in a mental ward, and he's completely out of the picture. Their son is John; more about him later.

Her second husband, Roy, married Hazel while she was in her present condition, seriously disabled. I thought he was a nice enough guy, which only shows how little I know about people. It turns out he had quite a temper, and beat Hazel when he was angry. Our family is big on secrets, so I didn't know about it until years later, after he'd been prescribed some mind-altering drugs that mostly stopped the violence. Still, they divorced, and I don't think Hazel and Roy have seen or spoken to each other in years. Their son is Roy Jr.

Given a choice between my sometimes suicidal, institutionalized sister and her formerly violent ex-husband, your fine system of justice has decided that Roy Sr gets custody of Roy Jr. They live together around Seattle somewhere, and Big Roy is on fairly good terms with my mother. Maybe they have to be on good terms, because she wants to see and loves to babysit Roy Jr.

I didn't see either Big Roy or Little Roy on this visit, though Mom offered many times to drive me over to their place. They're family, yeah, but come on, what's the point? Little Roy was born after I left Seattle, so I've never even seen him, and I was in Seattle for only a few days with a busy agenda, and he's a baby who barely speaks. 

As for Big Roy, I want nothing to do with him. Beating a woman is despicable, beating my sister is unforgivable, and beating my sister in her wheelchair is so low I'd like to punch him in the face, but he'd fight back and beat the hell out of me, so, uh, no thanks on hanging out with the two Roys. 

Hazel's older son, by Linc, is John. He's 20 or so, and was mostly raised by my parents after Hazel was institutionalized. I know him fairly well, since he was at home with my folks often when I came over for Sunday dinner before moving to Cali, so he's maybe more like a brother to me than a nephew.

Like my real brothers, though, we're not particularly close. In his teen years, John was fascinated by the military mindset, couldn't wait to enlist, often used disparaging terms for Asians, blacks, and gays, and just seemed determined in every way to become the kind of man I can't stand.

One of my few attempts to get through to him was when he wanted to see the war movie Platoon. I'd read that it was an effective anti-war movie, so I took him to see it, hoping it might shock him with some tiny taste of the reality of war. But guess what? John loved it, and went back to see it again with his buddies the next night.

I'd considered him a lost soul, and he lives fifty miles away so I didn't think I'd see him on this visit. We got together on the last day of my stay, though, mostly because Mom insisted — and I'm glad she did.

He looks the same, but he's completely different. He never enlisted in the military. Instead he lives in Olympia, where he's attending the hippy-dippy Evergreen College, studying Zen and anthropology, and dating a girl I'm convinced was high but seemed very nice. They're eating a strictly vegetarian diet, and practicing aikido, and — what the hell, my nephew John is kinda cool!

Only problem was, Mom was sitting at the same booth in the restaurant, always interrupting to talk about her daycare work or Dad's cancer or something, so me and John and his floating girlfriend didn't get to talk much about things that seemed of interest to all three of us — seeing through the bullshit, slacking off, and the relative merits of San Francisco and Olympia (a city with a well-known counterculture vibe). At one point I mentioned the word 'zine' and John seemed to know what it meant, but then Dad was back in chemotherapy and Mom was reliving his funeral, so that's where the conversation went, and we the living couldn't get a word in.

I got John's address, though. Well, I got the addresses of everyone in the family, but I'm actually going to write to John.

Katrina, my sister—
her boyfriend, Dave
her kids, George and Kimberly 

My sister Katrina is pushing 40, and I've always thought she had her life together more than the rest of us kids. I still think so. She does drugs, never goes to church, sleeps with her boyfriend without benefit of wedlock, and Mom of course mutters her disapproval of all this, but Katrina doesn't seem to take things too terribly serious, she'd rather laugh than yell, and she's capable of conversations deeper than last week's episode of Frasier or NYPD Blue. She doesn't give a damn about God, works for a living, has a good man, owns the condo they live in, and the night I joined them for dinner she said she leads "a boring, all-American life." That's the dream, right?

Dave, her lover (cripes, isn't there a better word?) is a big but quiet doof, a long-hair who goes for the joke instead of delving deep into metaphysics, and you know, I didn't come to Seattle for the metaphysics. His manner is easy, his jokes are funny, and of course I barely know him but I haven't got a harsh word to say about him.

George, Katrina's son by her late husband, is in his late 20s, and if you do the math, yeah, he's too old to be her son, because he was adopted when he was 8 or 10 or so. Like all kids, he became hell when he hit his teens, and all through high school he was either doped to the scalp or high on Jesus, sometimes both.

When he was about 17 and on one of his binges, his father kicked him out of their house, and I took him in. Silly me, I thought giving him one of the empty rooms in our shared house, where things were more relaxed, with fewer rules, and treating him like an adult, like he was another one of the flatmates, might be just what he needed. 

Well, he lived in our shared house for about a month, drove all of us mental, until I followed his father's example and booted him out on his ass, for smoking my pot, spitting his chewing tobacco all over the living room, making a pass at my girlfriend, and a hundred other obnoxious moments.

Very soon after that, George was arrested for something petty, but it wasn't his first arrest, and a judge ordered him into the Army. Surprise — it's not just a movie cliché. I offered to organize a family pool on whether he'd make it through basic training, but there were no takers, and everyone else thought my idea was in poor taste. A pity, because I would've won big when he was dishonorably discharged.

Fast forward to 1995, and George is doing fairly well. He's in AA, said he's been off the bottle for four months, but he then immediately asked if I wanted to step outside and smoke a doobie with him. He's a Christian, but the kind of Christian who tells bawdy jokes, and doesn't judge me. He drove me to a store and back while his license was suspended.

Mom told me that Kimberly, George's kid sister, was into drugs, too, but when Mom said 'drugs' with that sinister tone of voice, I assumed she meant pot. Nothing wrong with marijuana; it's generally good for you, if used in moderation.

Apparently, though, Kimberly is way beyond pot; she's a month out of rehab for heroin. The Big H. Cripes, that's scary stuff, and she's barely 16. I've seen heroin-addled emptyheads on Mission Street, and that's not what I want for a kid I used to babysit. She's in a teenage version of Narcotics Anonymous, and goes to AA meetings with George, too. Kids today, I tell ya.

She's run away twice, so we have running away in common, but unfortunately, Kimberly and I didn't really talk. Nobody much talks with her. To adults she says a word or two at a time, curt and sarcastic if she's talking to her mother or Dave. She doesn't say much to anyone except her best friend, Sheila.

And everywhere that Kimberly goes, Sheila is sure to follow. They're so very close, it wouldn't surprise me if they're more than friends — matching crew-cuts and purple twists of hair, hand-holding and whisper-talk and giggles.

A lesbian granddaughter would certainly test my mother's faith, and keep the family dysfunctional. I've long thought that someone gay and/or an interracial marriage is all that's missing in our brood. Too bad Sheila isn't black.

Mom said "Praise the Lord" and suggested that Katrina should be sent to a Christian boarding school she's read about, in Kentucky. I said emphatically Don't.

My opinion doesn't matter, of course — I'm barely part of the family, don't know Kimberly at all, and what I do know about her is based on stories from Mom, who's not the most reliable source. Had to say something, though. Kimberly is a teenager, that's all. It's her job to be surly, and she's working on the drug problems. None of that warrants being sent to some Kentucky Christian prison.

I wrote Kimberly a letter several months ago, which seems to have gone down without inducing vomiting. I'll write another. Maybe it'll help. Probably cant hurt.

Dick, my brother—

Dick has a college degree in music education, but he's working on the assembly line at a brick factory. Seems to be doing OK, and seems like he's the same Dick he's always been. He's smart and funny, Christian but not offensive about it, and we can talk, but he never wants to talk about much beyond football and music.

And the mystery remains — why was Dick in prison for a couple of years?

I was away while he was arrested, tried, convicted, and imprisoned, and nobody in the family talks about it, so it remains hush-hush what exactly his offense was. When asked directly, Dick won't say anything, and I only asked once. When he sidestepped answering, that made it, to me, something I won't ask again, because I believe in privacy, even privacy from your brother, and even privacy if you've committed some gawdawful crime.

Whatever the crime was, I do think it was gawdawful, though. Our brother Ralph has been in and out of prison since he was a teenager, and every time he's been arrested, everyone in the family knew the charges: Burglary, auto theft, trespassing, check fraud, etc. Nothing's a secret.

With Dick, it's all a secret, a huge secret, which makes me think he's a sex offender. Terrible thing to say about your brother, of course, but follow the accumulating clues.

Circumstantial evidence: Dick's marriage. Last time I saw him, he seemed to be quite happy, with a wife and young daughter. The divorce came down at about the same time as Dick's court case, and his ex-wife and daughter now live many miles away, with no visitation.

Family members who were here when it happened seem to know the details, but like Dick, they don't answer questions. There are allusions, though, sometimes in words, sometimes in gestures.

Like, at one point during the family barbecue, Dick mentioned his ex-girlfriend. It's unclear to me whether she broke up with him or he broke up with her, but he said, "She was only 19, and I felt like I was robbing the cradle." Bear in mind that Dick is my older brother, and I'm 36. 

At that remark, you could almost hear all the eyeballs in the room rolling, and George indiscreetly excused himself with, "Aw, jeez," and walked out to the patio. I followed, of course, and he said hearing Dick talk about "robbing the cradle" was too much to stomach, but — nobody's told George the actual facts either, so like me, he can only suspect.

Another clue came from Clay. He and Dick have been talking about a trip they might take together, to visit me in San Francisco. Clay's wife can't come, but Clay would bring his two young sons, and the four of them — Clay, Dick, and the boys — would share a two-bed hotel room.

At the barbecue, me and Clay and Dick were talking about this potential trip, and when Dick stepped away to get another hot dog, Clay said in a quiet and suddenly serious voice, "Of course, the kids will share the same bed, and I'll sleep with Dick."

Uh, you tell me, but that sleeping arrangement goes without saying, doesn't it? Unless there's something else that goes without saying. So my suspicion, from all the not-talking about it and from what little I can surmise, is that Dick's crime involved a child, or someone under the legal age. 

He's still my brother, no matter what, but it's unpleasant to say the least. Whatever the specifics, my position is: Dick got caught, spent time in prison, and now he's out, so he's "paid his debt to society" as they say. I'm not interested in giving him any further punishment or judgment. I love the guy, so I'm done asking, but I do remain curious. Obviously. Such are the Holland family secrets.

Clay, my brother —
Karen, his wife
Tom and Michael, their sons

Clay brought his family to visit San Francisco (and me) last summer, subscribers might remember. Their house was my home base during the visit, but I only slept there three nights, and my schedule was complicated, so there was only one meal I shared with them there.

They're a very Christian family — devotions are part of every morning and evening, church two or three times a week, grace before meals, prayers before bedtime, no taking the Lord's name in vain, etc.

Actually, Clay's family reminds me very much of our family, when I was a kid. Mom's proud of him, and Dad would be, too. 

Me, I can't figure out how to relate to Clay. Wish we were closer, like we were before he got all Christian. I blame God, but it's mostly my fault, probably. It's hard for me to relax, when I have to watch my language and censor my wisecracks. In any conversation, give Clay a few minutes and he'll bring up Jesus, or give me a few minutes and I'll say something inappropriate for a Christian household, or I'll catch myself and won't say what's inappropriate, but instead I'll have nothing to say.

Karen is smart, works at some high-science job for Boeing, and she seems a little nervous around me, which I recognize because I'm also a little nervous around her. I'm nervous around anyone if I don't know you well, but knowing you well takes a long time and a lot of effort, and I've never really gotten to know Karen.

She's funny, though, knows how to bring a few words out of me when I'm super-silent, knows how to rein in my brother when he's getting too preachy, and she's really good with the kids, I think. What do I know about kids, though? When she tells them what to do it doesn't sound like she's a Marine, but they do what they're told. That's "good with kids," right?

When Clay and Karen went to some church elders' meeting and asked me to babysit, I thought there might be a chance to get to know the boys, Tom (8) and Michael (5), but nope. Mom invited herself over, or maybe Clay and Karen thought I'd need her help, I dunno, so instead of having some time to get to know the kids, it became an evening of Mom time. I wasn't watching the kids; I was watching Mom watch the kids.

Mom, Tom, and Michael outvoted me, so they watched insipid Christian cartoons on a cable channel. When I couldn't take it any more I wandered into the dining room and scribbled the outline for a short story about an evil mind-eating cyclops that hypnotizes young children and their grandmother, sucks their brains out through their eyeballs, and gives them Bible verses instead. 

Clay and Karen came home earlier than expected, and soon all five of them were in front of the tube watching The 700 Club or one of its clones. I tried watching it with them, but mostly I marveled that adults could choose to endure this. If you can 'splain it to me, please do, but soon enough I said good night and walked down the hall to the guest bedroom, where I closed the door and read the paper until I fell asleep.

Ralph, my brother —
and Anna, his fiancée 

Ralph talks too fast, and it's never so much a conversation as a monologue. He likes telling the story of his life, but that's understandable — he's had an interesting life.

He's been incarcerated a number of times (he may know the number, but I've lost track). He's spent more of his adult life behind bars than in our so-called free society, so he talks like the tough guy he is, through pursed lips and often skeptical eyes, and sometimes he slips into prison dialect that's tricky to decode. Like, "three years and a wake-up call for B & E" — that's breaking and entry, but I never figured out what a wake-up call could be.

We were talking about a TV show wherein one of the characters goes to prison, and since Ralph knows a thing or three about prisons, he mentioned Charles Campbell. I don't know if Campbell is famous outside of Washington, but his crimes got ample local coverage so he's basically a local celebrity. He was a rapist, murderer, and scumbag, executed by the state of Washington last year, but he lives on in my brother's memory, because they were briefly on the same cell block, and Campbell raped my brother, twice.

Immediately before that story, we were laughing about memories of floating down the Cedar River on innertubes. Immediately after that story, Ralph and Anna and I talked about a Chinese restaurant they like. That's the flavor of chatting with Ralph; he's a man of a thousand interesting stories that could pop up at any moment.

Anna is a therapist of some kind, very big on uncovering what you really mean when you think you're just making light chit-chat. She's honest, sometimes painfully so, and it's jarring to see that much honesty around my family.

Like, at the barbecue when my brother Dick was telling me the details of brick-making or some such, she mingled and lingered long enough to say that conversation between long-lost brothers shouldn't be so damned superficial. She was right, of course, and she urged both of us to listen to each other instead of simply talking at each other, and we both gave it a try.

She said stuff like that a few times, tactfully but earnestly, and it always seemed like, frankly, good advice. Unwanted, but good. Not sure I could stand to live with someone as hellbent on honesty as Anna, but seeing her a few times over a week in Seattle, she was always a reality check. Yeah, I like her. Ralph's done good.

He seems to be living a lawful life now, and while I'm rooting for him and don't mean this to sound negative, gotta say — he's seemed to be living lawful in the past, too, until he was arrested.

All that aside, though, he's clever and charming, and he's the family member least likely to judge me harshly for not being Christlike or for moving to San Francisco, etc. Even if he wasn't my brother, Ralph could easily be a friend. Despite the toughness, he's very likable, and there don't seem to be any forbidden topics, so when we get talking we click.

He's proud to say that he hasn't been arrested "on a felony charge" in several years, though there have been misdemeanors, including a DWI for totaling his car last December. He said he's been clean and sober since then, thanks to Alcoholics Anonymous, and when he said that, what popped into my head was that I sure hear about AA a lot in my family. Maybe all the Hollands should go twelve-stepping together.

Addendum, 2022: And that's the last time I ever saw Ralph.

♦ ♦ ♦

Well, that's the family. Now, the friends — some people who didn't seem to begrudge me for moving away, wanted to see me, and provided a fine excuse for a few hours at a time to get away from the Hollands.

Next: Part 3 — Friends, old and new

From Pathetic Life #12
Tuesday, May 16 - Tuesday, May 23, 1995

This is an entry retyped from an on-paper zine I wrote many years ago, called Pathetic Life. The opinions stated were my opinions then, but might not be my opinions now. Also, I said and did some disgusting things, so parental guidance is advised.

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