And so it goes

You may have noticed I have not posted in a while. We recently moved from Michigan to Texas and during that time, I let a few lesser commitments slide. That is not to say I do not value my blog, I merely value other aspects of my life more1. Now that we are settled and some of the more frantic aspects of the move are over with, I thought it appropriate to get posting again and began crafting my next entry in my series on Octokit. However, there is something more pressing that I have to share first. I want to tell you about someone very special.

In 2001, a few months after having graduated from university and moving to Cambridgeshire, my housemate, Adam, and I decided to check out the local pub2. It was on that first visit to the Red Lion in Stretham that I met Mary, who at the time was working behind the bar. She was joyful, sparkling, kind, and funny. Like the most excellent of those who work a bar, she made us feel welcome, like we belonged. For the first time, I felt like Stretham was home.

The next time I remember seeing Mary was a day or so later when Adam and I were walking across the village green. She came walking towards us, holding the hand of a little girl.

Adam memorably said, “Is that yours?”

“That” turned out to be Mary’s daughter, Jordan. It also turned out that Mary, along with her adorably cheeky daughter, lived next door to us and over the months to follow we became friends. Most Thursdays3, Mary held her “Top of the P, Top of the I” club4 where we would share a drink, a smoke, and a lot of laughs, often while watching “Enders”5 or some other nonsense. I have many fond memories of us sitting in her lounge, kitchen, or backyard, in the pub, or in the beer garden behind it; all of them with Mary smiling and laughing and sparkling.

Mary and Chrissy

When I was happy, she would laugh with me. When I was sad, she would sit with me. When I was stupid, she would tell me. Mary became the best of friends; unafraid to be honest, never judging, always supportive. A counsel and a partner in crime (I suspect this is the case for many of her friends). On the day I left for the US, it was Mary that stood in her dressing gown in the backyard of her house to wave goodbye, smiling and sparkling.

On return trips to England, I always did what I could to get to Stretham and see all my friends, stopping by the Red Lion for far too many drinks and never enough good times. I did not always succeed. For those that live far from their friends and family, it is an all too familiar experience to never have enough time to see everyone. On one occasion I visited Cambridgeshire but could not see Mary, she understood.

“Next time,” she said.

And so it was that earlier this year, Chrissy and I stopped by Stretham to see Mary and Jordan. Though we spent some time at the Red Lion catching up with some old familiar faces, it was back at Mary’s I remember most. There we met the amazing young woman Jordan grew up to be, we shared stories of the times we had shared before6, and we got to know Russ, the love of Mary’s life. We spent as much time with them as they could stand and it was wonderful. Jordan was sarcastic and sassy, Russ was witty and wonderful, and Mary was smiling and sparkling, more than I ever remember her doing before. There was even one surviving PEPSI glass from the “Top of the P, Top of the I” club and we put it to good use. The time we spent with Mary and her family, seeing her happier than ever, surrounded by love was one of the highlights of our trip.

Mary and Family

"It takes a minute to find a special person, an hour to appreciate them, and a day to love them, but it takes an entire lifetime to forget them."

And so it goes. Yesterday, a dear friend reached out to me and informed me that Mary had died. Some time, while I was asleep or doing something else unremarkable, the world lost some of its shine. No reason. No fanfare. No sparkle.

Russ, Jordan, and the rest of Mary’s family and friends are grieving and I with them. There’s nothing more to say about that.

Every day of our lives, we carry our friends with us, no matter where they are. They are there when we cry and when we laugh, when we have to make difficult decisions, and when we just want to reminisce. I am grateful for the moments shared with my friends and for them making me a part of their world. Mary was one of a kind and everyone that knew her is better for it.


  1. like food, shelter, and love 

  2. I do not remember why we had not gone there sooner, nor the impetus that led to us going for the first time, though I dearly wish I could 

  3. I’m pretty sure it was Thursdays…my memory fails a little to be certain 

  4. Named after Mary’s PEPSI glasses, that had letters on the side making convenient measures for the mix of Bacardi and cola that we drank 

  5. EastEnders 

  6. like when Chrissy and Mary held me down while an 8 year old Jordan bound my hands with Selotape for no good reason other than “just because” 

Forgiveness

This is a long time coming. I have thought about writing this for as long as I have thought about having a blog. I have tried writing it in stories, lyrics and poems. All have fallen short somehow and I have similar expectations for this, but I need it. I need to find a way to reach myself and let myself know it is okay.

When I was a kid, I was confident. I was funny. I was naive. I was sensitive. I believed that people were kind and forgiving and that the world was safe…not such terrible things and perhaps a starting point for every child. I wasn't perfect, obviously. I was mean sometimes, I talked too much. I was snarky and loud. To those that know me, this may sound familiar. I'm still that person. Turns out you can't much help being who you are and that is just how it should be. You should be you. As Alan H. Stevens said at KalamazooX, "you don't need anyone's permission to be you". As a kid I inherently seemed to know this, but as I grew older I began desperately needing someone's permission to just be me, so much so that I lost sight of who I was because I so desperately just wanted to be liked. No, to be loved.

It all changed because I was bullied. I was beaten, called names, and ostracised by my peers and others. I was even made to think that my suffering was not worthy of help because others suffered worse than me. I don't know when it started but I have distinct and painful memories that are as strong now as they have ever been. Like when painting at nursery school and being very publicly derided by a supervisor for painting the wrong part. I am sure I messed up and I was probably not being at all graceful about it, but I was three or four, I had things to learn. And then there was the time at primary school when, after a particularly vicious break where even my friend had been participating in the name calling, he approached me and said something like, "I'm sorry, but I have to join in or they'll start on me. You understand, right?" I dutifully agreed, grateful to have a friend at all and feeling my friend's dilemma. And then there was high school, the church choir and my first job at the local pub where I was gay, smelly or the reason my sister wouldn't date someone1; I was bullied in many ways by many people for a long time, so many incidents that I could write more than just a single blog about them. Still, I do not want you to think that I am removing myself from any responsibility here. There are things I could have done to not be such an easy target (oh how I hated that phrase, "don't be such an easy target!"). I was a fat kid with a smart mouth; quick witted, cutting, but too damn slow to run away. I was certainly not street smart enough to realise the correlation and keep my mouth shut. Yet just because I perhaps did some things that enticed bullying, because I liked being the centre of attention, does not mean I am responsible for the actions of others.

I doubt my experience is unique. Many kids are bullied. Like me, they may not look for help for fear of being passed off with advice like "avoid them", "don't be an easy target", and "fight back", or because of threatened retribution by their abusers. Seeking help can be incredibly daunting, but reaching out will help and it will get better (there are links below where you can find numbers to call or email addresses)2. Eventually, we get to leave behind the petty-mindedness and surround ourselves with those who value us for who we are.

For me, that started at university. I had been there for two years and had made some good friends, but I was still lacking confidence or a sense of who I was when I decided to take a year out to get some work experience. There, I met some new people and got a chance to “reset” who I was. By the time I got back to university, I found the confidence to join a band, get on stage and sing. It was amazing and before long I had my first proper girlfriend where I didn't flinch at every moment of physical contact. I wasn't fixed, but I felt more myself than I ever had before.

You are worthy of being loved. You are worthy of being you. You are not responsible for the actions of others.

Repeat that to yourself as often as you can. I still need to repeat it to myself because even though I know it to be true, I still struggle with accepting it. I still feel responsible. I had a smart mouth. I talked back. I used words where others used fists (and still do). I was fat. I challenged. I made myself an “easy target” and I struggle to let that go. I am a victim and yet I blame myself for how I was treated more than I blame those who abused me. It makes no sense, but that's their legacy and the only way I can get past it is to face it and forgive them, and you must find a way to do the same.

For most of my life, I did not understand forgiveness. I was too angry. Too angry at myself and the world to realise what it really meant. “How can I forgive them? Look what they did to me. Look what they've done to me!” I was so wrapped up in being a victim, fighting to get my confidence back and fighting to be loved that I couldn't focus on anything else. It was making me bitter, arrogant and nasty. It was making me hate myself. It was making me a bully. In struggling to deal with my own experiences, I let it infect me to the point where I bullied others because I felt worthless and unloved. How could I forgive anyone that had made me feel this way or do these things? But I had forgiveness all wrong. Just a few years ago I learned forgiveness is not about accepting what happened as being justified or okay, forgiveness is about letting go. As I sat with my wife watching Madea Goes To Jail3, forgiveness finally made sense to me:

Forgiveness is not for the other person. It's for you.

The longer you hold on to it, the longer you hold onto the pain and the past and the hurt, the longer you hold yourself back from being free.

– Madea

Forgiveness is hard. I don't know if I am there yet, but I finally understand where I need to be. I refuse to justify my actions because of something someone did when I was kid, when they were hurting, trying to gain control of their own lives. These painful memories will always be a part of me — they are anecdotes when I want to relate, they are lessons when I want to help, and they are inspiration when I want to write, but it is time to stop letting them be shackles that hold me back.

I cried eight or nine times while writing this. If you had asked me a few years ago, I would have said it was because I was bullied, but I suspect the real reason is that I am empathetic. It is just a part of who I am. I am also a funny bastard. A funny bastard with one imaginary kid, two cats (one with opposable thumbs and a smoker's voice) and an amazing wife who sees me as I always was.

If you are struggling with abuse of any kind, reach out. There are people who know what you're going through, there are people who love you and there are people who can help you.

National Bullying Hotline (UK): http://nationalbullyinghelpline.co.uk/

It Gets Better: http://www.itgetsbetter.org/


  1. The real reason was that she had some level of taste. 

  2. Unfortunately, for some kids, it is too much and they give up, an all too familiar and unnecessary story. 

  3. Seriously. In fact, being in an interracial couple means I have to watch Tyler Perry movies or they revoke our marriage license. 

Shattered

I go to sleep and dream of broken glass.
It sparkles in the sunslight like diamonds,
And dances across the floor like a million tiny bells.
Such beauty in something so painful.
Walking barefoot across it is like being close to you.
You're beauty is all devouring as you cut deeply,
With the words and actions you choose to employ.
Like a thousand tiny fragments of glass in my feet, you slice,
And I can't walk away.
Like the glass is stuck in my feet, you are stuck in my soul,
The pain following me no matter where I tread.
It's comforting to feel it, I should miss it if it were gone,
But oh, how it cuts, how I bleed.
I don't know how you came to be so broken, so shattered,
But like the glass, I don't think you can be repaired.
I wish I had the strength to turn and walk away,
But the pain would be too much, so like you, I stay;
Slaves to each others flaws and free only to do what we've always done,
Carry one another's scars as our own and dream.

October 2006