At What Price Silence?

“A woman is like a tea bag. You can never tell how strong she is until you put her in hot water.”  Eleanor Roosevelt

Silence. It happens for so many reasons. Writer’s block, death, speechlessness, imposed. I have not written in almost three months and not doing so has undoubtedly inflicted upon me more inward contemplation, self-flagellation, and despair than one should endure. My lack of writing has, to be fair, been more so a combination of a few factors rather than any single one. I’ve been going through something about which I, for a long time, only told my immediate family and closest friends, and even to them, I did not impart the most grotesque of details; I wasn’t ready to talk about it yet, though I have alluded to it in some prior blog posts, albeit in veiled terms. In addition to my own reticence, due to ongoing legal wrangling, I did not want to jeopardize any position or disclose any information that might negatively affect the outcome. Then Thursday happened. Now, I simply no longer care.

Context:

I will still, to protect myself and the integrity of the ongoing legalities, not entirely expose the details of my situation, though I feel not only that the man in question deserves public humiliation, but feel as strongly that the company who employed him and who is now spending a small fortune on limiting their exposure deserve public derision and ongoing – if not permanent – devaluation of their brand. There simply is no excuse for the human resource failure and entire lack of oversight that led to his hiring in the first instance. No reason except that like many industries, the one in question is male-dominated and misogynist, but in this one, they’ve all known each other for years – or even decades – and as a result, are all seemingly admitted to this particular club on the basis of “what you know about who you know” rather than merely the less insidious, but still offensive “who you know.” It’s a case of inclusion via mutually assured destruction based on the “you stab my back, I’ll stab yours” mantra.

I wrote about this culture way back in May of last year, but the person to whom I sent it to for review told me that even by my standards, it was harsh, and indeed parts of it were. The part which remains relevant, and especially to the issue at hand, is below.

Excerpt from ‘Shut Up and Play:’

I’m good at what I do. Even people who loathe me will – I think – begrudgingly admit that I know my stuff, and even in some aspects, extremely well. But unfortunately, this isn’t enough, being exceptional at what you do. It’s also the one thing that good, decent, honest, hard-working parents never think or know to teach their children: sometimes skills don’t matter and you just have to shut up and play the game.

Neither of my parents was university educated and in fact, both of them came from below average economic situations. What they did have, though, were incredibly strong families with bible hewn morals and unwavering ethical standards. They were also examples of work ethics that almost no longer exist today, at least not in the main and not for anything today’s society would perceive as being “worth the effort.” They taught us as literally as one can possibly imagine that all we had to do was work hard every day, strive to be the best at what we do and that everything else would fall into place.

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LEND ME SOME CHANGE

About four weeks ago after a long day out with friends, we rambled into a few different restaurants in the now gentrified, formerly funky part of town while trying to get a table for four without a reservation. It was a busy day in the city center with both football and rugby matches taking place, and these small, but desirable establishments were all full to bursting. Fortunately for us, the couple we were with that night reside in the neighborhood and whereas most people would think of our final attempt – a modern Indian place – as a treat, they think of it as their second kitchen. So when we walked in soaked from the rain and tired from wandering about, they quickly accommodated us with a table in the front and brought us our drinks within minutes.

The dinner was as lovely as the hours which preceded it had been: great conversation, easy rapport, great friends and good food. If you are a regular reader or follow me on Twitter, you know that we only recently returned to the UK after a fourteen-year absence. Reconnecting with some people – like the friends we were with that night – has been easy and delightful. Others I have either approached with caution or avoided altogether, with a small group in the middle whom I’ve left to fate a la, “if we run into them, it’s meant to be. If not, oh well.”

One of my closest female friends when we lived here way back when was a woman named Jan. Jan is beautiful; astonishingly, naturally pretty, and married to a multi-millionaire businessman who is one of the nicest, most down to earth souls one could ever hope to encounter inhabiting the realm of the wealthy. As we were getting ready to leave the restaurant that evening at almost 11pm, I took one more run to the ladies’ before venturing out to find a taxi and on the way back to our table to join our group and depart, I saw Jan – plain as day, almost unchanged after so much time – sitting with her adorable husband having a meal. Unsure of whether I should approach her, I went back to my friends who insisted that I do just that. I walked up to their table and apologized for the interruption, and almost immediately, Jan yelled out my name, stood, hugged and kissed me and invited us to sit. We did not accept, not wanting to intrude, but we had what on first blush was a polite, warm ten-minute exchange before she put my number on her phone and we said our goodbyes with a promise of meeting up again sometime soon.

Except that we won’t; though I have likewise hardly changed on the outside, I have changed spectacularly on the inside. Based on the evidence of that evening, she has not. During our brief talk, she made two back-handed comments which were actually quite cutting, one of which was accompanied with an overt and prolonged eye roll. The first comment and the eye roll were to do with me and my past as a driven workaholic bitch; the other comment was about my sister. Jan had not – has not – changed; she is still beautiful, rich, married to a wonderful man with whom she shares two gorgeous children. And she is still a sniping, incomprehensibly ungrateful and ungracious wretch. But standing there that evening, she assumed that I was – am – as frozen in and by time as is she.

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The Exclusionary Arrogance of Western Feminisim

Re-posting from January of this year

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fem·i·nism

ˈfeməˌnizəm

noun

the advocacy of women’s rights on the basis of the equality of the sexes.

If the above is the simple definition of feminism, the women marching across our country today — and indeed in major Western cities across the world — are not feminists in the true sense of the term. As many before me have asked without reply, what rights are there from which we as American women are restricted? Again perfectly manifesting the left’s inability to see irony in any of their deeds or words is the fact that they, as women, are being allowed to freely march in cities across our nation unrestrictedly, despite the fact that doing so greatly inconveniences many who simply wish to go about their day or earn a living unimpeded, and also alienates those of us who are secure enough in our ability to steer our own ships that we shun such efforts wholesale.

If this march was stirred because of fear of losing funding for programs such as planned parenthood — and I can think of no other single perceived women’s issue that was discussed during the campaigns — then these women are selfishly appropriating that as a singularly female issue, ignoring the fact that men, too, are offered services by PP, and only further highlighting the narcissistic vapidity of their effort. But why bother with an inconvenient truth when baseless hyperbole is so much more effective for their cause.

Also asked of those participating in and defending #womensmarch is why they do not apply similar zeal, resources and attention to the legally and culturally oppressed women in countries around the world who not only do not have the equivalent of something like planned parenthood, but who cannot even turn to authorities or even family members in the case of rape or assault because their societies are conditioned to immediately cast them as Jezebels who brought said offenses upon themselves. Freedom of speech for any sex is likewise illegal in many of these same countries, the combination thereof creating the most toxic environment possible for the most vulnerable amongst their populations. Yet my gender marches, shouts, cries and inspires celebrity outcries and support for an entirely imaginary lack of rights in our nation. Which brings me to this:

What exactly is it that Katy Perry, America Ferrera, Chrissie Teigen, Madonna, Julia Roberts and others who have more than ample resources do with their time when they are in other countries that has made them so willfully blind to true oppression of women? One not need go far to witness it, and quite contrarily, one would have to go somewhat out of their way to ignore it, even and perhaps especially in the finer hotels of that most frequent destination of left luvvies, London. I lived there for 8 years and go back almost every month; I saw a frightening example of it over the course of those 8 years and witnessed it again as recently in September of last year, and when I am reminded of it I am both frozen to the core and heartened by the fact that I am protected by the passport I carry, by grace of birth, which is a shield these women cannot employ.

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The Ties that Blind

Re-publishing this from the original writing on February 4 of this year.

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We are imploding, self-devouring and it’s only a matter of time, it feels before we are required to wear badges which denote our political affiliation of choice. Race is no longer as dividing a topic as politics — despite the fact that we can choose not only our affiliation but how we approach and manifest it — but we are not given the ability to choose the color of our skin. I was brought up in a city that is majority African-American, yet I am cotton ball white, blonde hair, green eyes and all. I never, though, really give it much thought. In the city of my birth we are blessed to have things which unite us like our NBA team, music, food and spirituality; of course, we are different and thank God for that. I’ve always felt that our city is more interesting and — unlike that bastion of white hipsterness in the center of our state — possesses a soul and a heartbeat all its own because of not only our African American population, but because of the similarly, wildly diverse influence of the considerable Jewish, Greek and Italian communities with which we are blessed. I read on the Twitter profile of someone last night who was tweeting about our team during their game (yes, OUR team), something along the lines of “Memphis born. Wherever I go, Memphis always.” To understand that, I suspect you would have to have been born here or at least have lived here for a large part of your life. I’ve lived all over the world, but Memphis is home. It is inexplicable, gut-wrenching, liberating, unique and at times frustrating. The first time I came home after moving to London almost 20 years ago, I remember flying over my alma mater on the descending flight path, as so many planes do, and the tears welling up uncontrollably and without warning in my eyes. I could not wait to get out of here, both as a child and in the early years of adulthood, so this unconscious reaction to returning to the city which I now recognize holds my roots — the true source of my spirit and fire as an individual — took me by surprise and caused me to question all that I had thought I knew of my home’s influence on me as a person.

I am a Grizzlies fanatic, often flying home from cities distant to make it to important games and always finding a way to watch, regardless of where I am in the world. I am also, as my son would tell you, at times embarrassingly passionate, yelling at refs for what I see as biased calls or scolding our players for blowing a screen or squandering a full shot clock with an attempt at a 3 when everyone knows your strength is defense (Ahem, TA). When we sit shoulder to shoulder, as close to floor level as we can get, I never give a thought to the tone of the skin of the person sitting next to, in front or behind me; the only thing I notice is whether or not they are wearing the colors of my team or if they are an opponent import who is likely to wish me dead by halfway through the first quarter. We are not black, white, yellow, purple, gay, straight, whatever — we are Grizz fans and largely, we are Memphians. The same sort of dynamic can be seen in some of the best restaurants in town or in the church pews of any number of congregations, and it does not necessarily depend on generation. My son’s generation, I am proud to say – though rife with liberal faux righteousness – is as color blind as any ever born. My 70-year-old mom, born in rural Tennessee to a father who freely made use of the N-word, truly believes that Zach Randolph, Tony Allen and Mike Conley are her kids, despite her being a size zero white woman. I can tell you that she would, without hesitation, throw me over for any one of them on any given day and would nag them to within an inch of their lives with her motherly orders just as she has me every day of mine. She would also, it must be added, give a kidney to marry me off to Vince Carter. I am not saying we are immune to divisiveness or that it isn’t more prevalent for or to others than it is to me; I’m saying that there is a sense that the toughness that comes from having been brought up in a place like Memphis, — and the reputation we have amongst outsiders who have never spent time here — gives us the bond of a siege mentality; “Memphis vs. Errbody,” as our growl towels and t-shirts proudly state. Prejudice exists – I’m not denying that – but the transcendence of it is possible, if only momentarily, and it is often in spite of all other obvious attributes that would otherwise divide.

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The Poison of Pretense

Or What Happens When The Polite Right Meets the Loved-up Left

I woke up this morning to the news of the lovely candlelight vigil on the campus of the University of Virginia. Concerned that their opposite-viewed peers would not be able to see during their protest over the presence of a Confederate statue, a group of civic-minded individuals gathered to help light the way. In the end, there was some amount of discord but mostly because the fumes from the torches were a bit overwhelming and things got a bit crowded and heated. Nothing at all out of the ordinary, just some high-spirited, start-of-term camaraderie. As you were.

Isn’t that what happened?

No. But why tell the truth when pretending is so much more convenient and digestible? Of course, no news outlet actually covered the events of last evening in anything remotely resembling the summary I just provided above, but would it be so unbelievable if one had? Twenty years ago, yes. Today, no.

I was brought up in the South; not the polite, “butter wouldn’t melt in my mouth” South, but the ballsy, say it like it is, don’t waste anyone’s time, don’t make an ass of yourself, don’t whine and never, ever let the neighbor boy borrow your quad bike South. A South that is all but gone, replaced slowly, almost imperceptibly over a number of years by the “polite” South whose habits and graces are built around religion, manners and the ever-present concern of the perception of “the right thing” to say or do. “Isn’t she a sweet little thing” is commonly known to mean, “What an insipid little dumbass.” Of course the more infamous and widely known, “Well bless your heart,” basically means the same thing, but is far more wide ranging and can be anything from, “Oh sweetie, your husband is gay. You know that, right?” To “Even a plastic potted plant has a higher IQ than you.” But why don’t we just say it? Because it wouldn’t be “nice;” it’s “just not done.” Or my most derided, “How would that look?” Well, the truth, as it was once known, used to not only be done, look just fine and be nice, but it made for a far more efficient and straightforward way of life.

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They Say It’s Your Birthday

Yep, I do. I’m forty-eight years new today and consider that, on balance, I now spend only about twenty-five percent of my time being naive and neurotic as my second greatest accomplishment after my son. If you read this blog (and if you don’t, well, you’re already here so you’d may as well) you know that I’ve parted with my expensive things, moved to a village in Wales and have generally rediscovered what it’s like to simply not give a damn, and it’s lovely. It’s so lovely, in fact, that I have a difficult time getting fired up enough to find topics about which I am passionate enough to write. Maybe this is what Eminem meant when he said that once his struggles were over, his creativity deserted him. Now that I’m not part of the stress-hewn populace of the never-ending marathon to who can be most frayed in the good ole U S of A, I’m just not that pissed off anymore. About anything. So yes, Em, bro – I got you. We’re just alike, you and I. Well, except for the upbringing, addictions, crazy mom and misogynist lyrics. But the loss of good material and the pale skin thing I can totally relate to. We must at least both share an almost constant need for SPF 50. But I digress.

As I sneak up on fifty from behind and hope that it does not notice that I have somehow managed to go so far untouched by things most others suffer from age, I have chosen to do so in a way so as not to anger the gods that have allowed me to remain largely preserved, and I have also become more reflective. I’ve thought a lot lately about how I ended up this way; here, metaphorically and practically, in this space metaphysically and in Wales geographically and how it is that I managed to survive given how many people I’ve pissed off along the way. You see, if it weren’t my birthday this entry would instead be entitled, “Parents, Teach Your Children Well,” except that it would be a caveat emptor to doing so too well, as my parents did. My parents = two of the most decent, honest, hard-working people who ever lived. Period. But they were also, I’m afraid, incredibly naive, and in bringing my sis and me up with certain beliefs or standards, also set us up to be almost constantly at odds with something or someone or the universe at large. So as I scrape the bottom of nearing fifty, it occurs to me that an alternative parenting guide might have just made my life a bit easier, made me a bit more patient and calm, and would have kept me from being able to anger people who otherwise have the temporal constitution of the Dalai Lama himself.


Revised Parenting Lesson 1:

My parents, for example, when it came to honesty and hard work repeated such trite phrases as “it doesn’t matter what you do, do it better than anyone else.” Or, “as long as you work hard and do your best at whatever you choose, life will take care of you and we will be proud.” And then there was “take pride in your work and be sure you know your job better than anyone else.” Or the most often conflated and abused, “hard work pays.”

This is why I am good at what I do; I do work hard and I do try to ensure that I know more about my given field than anyone else, or at least better than the clients who pay me their hard-earned money to instill upon them skills they do not themselves possess. It is also why I, almost daily, want to reach through a phone line or across a sales counter and strangle customer service representatives at almost any number of companies. Because I know an increasingly astonishing amount more their goods or services than they do, and I also seem to care more despite being their customer rather than someone who is – I don’t know – paid to work for and ‘service’ the needs of said company’s clients. So no, mom and dad, other children were not taught the same standards we had instilled in us by you and if you really wanted to help us, you would’ve said, “hard work pays, but there are also lots of idiots out there and the real world is a minefield of laziness and willful ignorance wherein yes, you will excel, but only because your competition is so entirely unprepared, uninformed and stoned on sugary treats their parents let them have but of which we deprived you in place of spinach which made your neurons super-connected and has made you this hyper-efficient nerd ball of excellence. But you also be occasionally tripped up, blown off course or even blown to bits by one of these idiot-mines, so never go anywhere without your bullshit repelling flack-jacket. And a really good and loyal attorney.” But they didn’t, so here I am. Warning you to do so for yours.

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Lonely or Alone

And if the night runs over
And if the day won’t last
And if your way should falter
Along the stony pass it’s just a moment
This time will pass

~ U2, Stuck in a Moment

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Bono has been quoted as saying that he wrote the song Stuck in a Moment about an imaginary argument with his late friend Michael Hutchence, an argument in which Bono would have been trying to cajole him or “slap him around the head a bit,” to talk him out of committing suicide.  I wonder how many people know how it feels to wish they had said or done something – or even known – about someone close to them contemplating the most final of actions.

I have never spoken about the suicide of my friend earlier this year. I was standing at baggage claim at DC’s Reagan National Airport texting back and forth with my very best friend of more than forty years, talking nonsense, really, interspersed with tidbits about my godkids or when I would next be home to visit when out of the blue one of the texts popped up unceremoniously and like every other before it except that it said, “Oh my God, Wagner killed himself.” I didn’t skip a beat. I closed the text window and called my friend and said, “Why are you just now telling me this?” To which she replied, “I literally just found out the second I told you. I’m sorry. I’ll find out what I can and let you know. Are you coming home?”

No. I wasn’t going home.

In retrospect I suppose what I was experiencing was shock of some variant; I didn’t feel anything. I got into the Uber as I always did – almost every week in the same spot – and road in silence to The Jefferson, was handed the key, made my way up to the suite to which I’d been upgraded – my favorite, they know –  threw my things on the floor and went about my evening as though nothing had happened. Except that it had. I changed into my running clothes and left the hotel taking a right heading down toward the White House and the mall beyond. When I returned I retraced my footsteps back to my room, went directly into the bathroom, disrobed, stepped into the oversized shower and as soon as the water hit me, I came undone. I cried so convulsively I could not stand and instead ended up sitting on the floor of the shower for what seemed like an hour, but I had and have no concept of the time that passed. When the water began to run cold and the well of my tears had seemingly run dry, I stood, turned off the water, wrapped myself in a towel and then a robe, took my usual place on the large, stuffed-mattress bed, ordered my dinner and went back to work.

My emotional fallout from his death and from the utter wrongness of it by virtue of it having been choice remained in that shower, in that cube, washed down the drain with the sweat of my run and collective grunge of my travel as though it never happened.

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Everyone’s Weird and So Am I

Once right after we first moved back to the US from Hong Kong, we were sitting in a bar in Nashville on a warm Summer day with my sister who already lived there and some of her more Bohemian – yet connected – local friends when out of the blue one particular friend looked at us both and blurted out, “You’re both princesses. You’re, like, from another planet or something. Like if someday you call me and say you’re marrying an actual prince, I won’t be remotely surprised.” It was typical of her, to be sure, but not typical based on what I thought or think of myself by any means. Yet if I were capable of being removed, objective and entirely honest about myself, I would say that there probably are times people have looked at me or my sis or my son or some combination of us and thought, “I want what they have,” in the way I’ve looked at others and thought the same. Except that no. No, you don’t.

I have thick, curly, shiny naturally strawberry blonde hair that makes hairdressers drool. I also have every other genetic quirk that comes from having been born a true ginger aka I can’t be outside in sunlight in any months other than December and January without turning purple. I am prone to skin cancer, my sister and I both have that scary womany cancer gene which we inherited from our mom, I was down one ovary by the age of 35 because of a predisposition for ovarian cancer based on the pumpkin patch of cysts it had grown over the years + that whole gene thing, and my IQ is so high and my memory so exact that I understand everything and forget nothing which means I torture myself 22 hours a day and sleep maybe – if I’m lucky – the other 2. No one can lie to me because of my memory – it’s impossible – and because I’m also an INTP, I trust no one and think that marriage is a legalized form of indentured slavery (it totally is). I make disgusting amounts of money and though I am exceptional with numbers, I spend massively because I’m bored and also because – I suspect – I subconsciously push the envelope of earning in order to ensure I have some sort of ever-present challenge in my life. And lastly – given the choice – I’d happily live alone in our little house in Wales, speak to no one, write, have sheep as pets and never shave any part of my body again.

But if you saw me – trust me – not one of those things would occur to you as even the most remote of possibilities.

One of my bosses was a CEO named Drew. Not really, but I think he’d either sue or kill himself if I used his real name, so we’ll stick with Drew. He’s a pretty good-looking man when he isn’t overeating and overdrinking, which he almost always is, and he dresses impeccably. He’s pretty bright, though chooses talk over application, and he also has one of the best personalities of anyone I have ever met in my life.  When he’s not on a “low.” And he’s neurotic. Not just sort of neurotic, but diagnosed paranoid bipolar who should be on a cocktail of drugs but does not “like the way they make [him] feel,” so he is off them far more often than on them which leads him to have worse judgement than a virginal, pubescent boy in a whore house. He is so paranoid about his various and sundry transgressions that he’s just sure it will all be taken from him at any moment. Without warning and as punishment for all that he has done. As such he does really strange things like leave airports if he “senses” something wrong and instead rents a car to drive as much as 16 hours to reach his destination. He’ll skip meetings if he thinks there’s someone in them who knows something about him no one else does because he’s convinced that they are actually only there to get even with him and that they will blurt out everything they know about him in front of a room full of C-level executives. He’s been married three times going on six because he humps everything with a vagina but plays the doting, perfect dad. Oh, sorry. Did I not mention that he is also a malignant narcissist? Yes, that, too.

But if you met him in first class on a plane, you might well be giving him a lap dance before wheels up, even if you’re a straight dude or a nun. But he, my friends, is the world’s greatest mask covering perhaps the world’s biggest natural disaster. One that always and inevitably takes down everyone and everything around it when it falls.

Then there is another boss I had who only works where he does because they did not – at the time he was hired – do background checks. If they had – or if they had taken a peek inside of his car – they would have discovered that he was convicted of felony reckless endangerment for his sixth DUI in which he did gross bodily harm to the person in the car he hit. He also has two outstanding bench warrants in two different states for reasons not entirely clear to me, and for the first three years of his employment still had a sobriety-check blow ignition on his car. But he was hired as an SVP and eventually made partner because he’s a dude, he’s non-threatening, he plays the game and – I suspect – knows that the married CEO and married Creative Director of the agency in question are actually in a long-term, extra-marital gay relationship.

One of my roommates in college was a runway model. She worked in Milan, Paris and New York and was signed with the Ford Agency. She was and is one of the sweetest people I’ve ever known, but also by far the most insecure. She thought she was alternately ugly, fat, had bad skin, wasn’t terribly interesting and had nothing to offer, none of which was true. Her nose, though, is the work of a good surgeon, as are her perfect boobs.

Another guy who used to work on one of my teams should be getting royalties from The 40 Year Old Virgin franchise. He comes across as macho, rugged and distant but is actually very quiet, bright and has a massive collection of action figures and lunch boxes still in their original packaging. But that would be the very last thought you’d have about him if you were to come across him in a bar.

One of my closest friends is also a former beauty queen who is now married to someone who has a Grammy casually sitting on the piano in their family home. I’ve held her hair while she puked and we have lengthy conversations about our respective relationships with our aging moms and our own issues that arrived along with our late forties, and pretty much everything else on earth.

My very best friend’s brother is now her sister and my military boarding school, VMI attending ex-husband is camp as Christmas. But really bad at it to the extent that I’m pretty sure their team would like nothing more than to trade him back, but he chose and you’re keeping him. So tough twinkies.

One of the wealthiest men I know – five homes across four countries, yacht, countless cars – hates his life, cannot stand his wife and is disappointed in his sons. He’s also increasingly vulnerable about his age, his virility, his desirability and every other personal attribute one can imagine. And he is constantly, 100% of the time, miserable.

No one is perfect. There is no such thing as “baggage;” it’s called life and the richness of it – the ups and downs – are what make us who we are. Striving to be something we are not or pretending to be someone we never could be leads only to disillusion, unhappiness and ultimately, a potentially wasted existence. Be who you are. Fly your freak flag, wear your nerd badge, flaunt your flaws. Life is short and that isn’t just something people say. It’s the truth.

Empathy for the Devil

A 22-year-old young man arrived back home last night to his parents after more than one year of indefensible imprisonment by a megalomaniacal dictator. At least he’s home, one could think, were it not for the fact that he is in a coma and most likely has no idea that he is now back in the presence of his loving family.

In Pennsylvania, another group of young men are on trial for the fraternity hazing death of a young pledge; the accused, who had just testified, were seen laughing and smiling outside of court afterward.

Somewhere in Syria, an idiot boy nicknamed “Jihadi Jack,” who is actually a middle-class Protestant child from bucolic England has decided that playing with ISIS is no fun. He “hates them now” and “wants to come home.”

Three families have lost their sons of all approximately the same age, in various ways and to varying degrees.

The first should have never happened and our government should have intervened to ensure he was safely returned so that his homecoming could have been long ago and far more celebratory. They did nothing. Yes, I squarely blame the impotence of the Obama administration, but not just for Otto Warmbier’s situation, but for its flaccid continuation of the “well, they aren’t really hurting anyone” attitude toward North Korea and the cartoon-like, round, troll dictator Kim Jong Un. And where were we, the American public? Why weren’t we more up at arms? We all have kids; we are all someone’s kid. It’s not partisan, surely. It’s not like Democrats have daughters and Republicans have sons.

The second is a result of the illness in our society and our tendency to overlook the abject debauchery-fueled behavior of college kids, especially if they’re privileged and white. Yes, I really said that; yes, I am a Republican. And yes, I am also the mom of one very white and quite privileged fraternity member son. I would never, though, say something so stupid and invitational of cosmic retribution as, “but my son would never,” because that’s what everyone thinks. That’s what creates the bubbles of excusability that produce boys such as this; kids who would inflict heartless abuse on one of their own; one of their “brothers.” No one teaches their kids anything that remotely resembles empathy anymore. I am by no means a religious person, but that’s possibly because as a child we were in church every time the doors opened; I suffer from permanent Southern Baptist hell, fire and brimstone fatigue. But guess what? Some of it stuck. Two things of the greatest importance in my life, and one of which would have served these boys well both in this instance and were they to read and absorb the story of Otto Warmbier. Or if they are forced to face the actual reality and resultant consequences of their own despicable actions: “There but for the grace of God go I.”

The third is a manifest example of the modern day laziness that is now pervasive in parenting. Whereas the privileged white American kids may have a bubble that at least keeps them from thinking that beheading innocents in a desert halfway around the world sounds like a good Saturday night, the children of those too absent to care and too distant – and frankly stupid – to see what their kids are doing online and in their free time are enticed by precisely that. They have no grounding, no roots, no identity, no spirituality, no goals, no motivation and no capacity to even realize that the absence of even one of these – let alone multiple – is in itself a reason for concern. “Well, I just want him to be who he will be,” or, “I just don’t want to box him in. I shouldn’t really even say ‘him;’ that’s too gender-identity-definitive,” and, “I’ll just let him discover. I love him, I do, but we’ve all got to figure out things on our own.” In this case, their precious darling will, if he’s every captured, be discovering the inside of a British high-security prison cell. If he’s not intercepted, he’s likely to figure out how unforgiving his once beloved brothers-in-arms can be when one of their converts reverts.

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The Unbearable Pressure of Being

Last Saturday night, we were invited to a small party in honor of our son’s best friend who had recently graduated from college, as had mine. For us, it was a celebration for all of our sons – four in total – of a tight-knit group who actually only became friends because of our boys and the unbelievable bond of friendship they share. Over the last eight years, their relationships spread to us and we often spent Thanksgiving, Christmas and even Summer vacations abroad together, so synchronous was their friendship and our ease with one another. Last weekend would be no different, and perhaps even easier than ever before; the hard part was done, we were all relaxed, caterers and bartenders had been hired and all we had to do was sit on the expansive deck in the perfect Southern sunset and enjoy our wine and conversation.

Before the sun said its goodnights completely, at which point the boys retired to the pool below as we held our position at the candlelit tables above, I sat with the four of them and discussed their pasts, their futures and genuinely soaked in the joy of each of them and the power of that as it was multiplied exponentially by the concert of their camaraderie. I am blessed to have the son I do, and he is multiply blessed with these friends for life. Privileged? Perhaps. All of them products of a great private school in a well-known Southern enclave, each with parents whose cosmopolitan diversity and success is surpassed only by their respective love for, and devotion to their children. Indeed, it could be this above all that bonds us: to have experienced and enjoyed all that we have in our lives, we are parents first, above all else.

That night we stayed with our friends as we now always do, given the distance between the cities we currently call home. The boys, too, stayed the night, five of them in total squished together in a human puzzle on the large, field-size sectional sofa of the theater room, just as they had so many weekends when they were in high school, and so many holidays when they were in college. When my friend and I made our way downstairs around 11 the next morning, still in our PJs, coffee cups in hand, all of them were up and playing, save one who had arisen early and made his exit. He is our favorite – we all admit it – the happiest, most open, loving, free-spirited among them, and we bemoaned the fact we did not have the chance to bid him a proper farewell and enjoy our tight “other mom” hug.

My son and I drove home later that day, both of us a bit hungover, but recharged with humanity for having spent time with true friends rather than merely existing among those who think they know us but are aware of only what we are prepared to present or they willing to see. We need that, we humans, more often than it is availed and far more often than we admit, especially in the increasingly inhuman and virtual times in which we live. To be reminded that we are not alone, that even those who appear most perfect have issues and frustrations and things they would rather not drag into the light of day, but occasionally do when they are in the rare company of those of kindred spirit and unwavering trust.

The next day at home we started the ugly business of moving as we prepare to return forever to the rural shores of our beloved Wales. It has long been my dream and a promise I made to my son, so to have it come true has infused us both with a heady tonic of tolerance and determination for tasks we might otherwise find tedious and tiresome. But whereas I awoke alert, energized and ready to tackle whatever obstacle needed tearing away to reveal the view of our long-imagined future, my son was subdued, quiet and averted my gaze. I went through the day going from conference call to packing and back again, and he said that he was merely tired and would recover once he’d enjoyed his daily run. He headed out around 2 in the heat of the day and returned shortly after 3, a smelly, humidity soaked mess. He stood at the bar of our kitchen stretching and sweating as I dabbled and chatted, but rather than seeing that the veil of funk had lifted as it usually did post-cardio on days such as these, I detected a heaviness which could not be heaved loose by mere physical jostling. He looked at me directly and said without affectation, “Alex’s mom died.” I replied, stunned, “What? When? We were just with him Saturday night. He was perfect and happy and…”

“This morning, apparently. I don’t know anything more except that it was the result of some addiction,” he said.

Alex is the lovely kid; our favorite, the lightest of heart and most nimble of mind. The one who arose early Sunday and darted from the house before we could say goodbye. My son was mistaken as a result of the shock of the news and we later discovered that she had indeed be found on Sunday morning by Alex’s sister while he was still slumbering between his friends, safely downstairs, below and protected by others who love him as their own. That anything had been wrong at all, I would never have known. That something so dire had transpired left me and our circle in a state of uncomprehending disarray.

We never knew. It had been going on for a number of years. You never know.

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