book reviews, celebrities, homosexuality

Repost: A review of Meredith Baxter’s Untied

I originally wrote this review for Epinions.com in March 2011. I am reposting it here, as/is.

As a child of the 1980s, I would have had to have been living under a rock not to know who Meredith Baxter is. The beautiful blonde actress had made her mark back in the 70s with television shows like Bridget Loves Bernieand Family, but I knew her as Elyse Keaton, feminist matriarch of the Keaton family on NBC’s hit sit-com, Family Ties. In those days, she was known as Meredith Baxter-Birney, having married her Bridget Loves Bernieco-star, David Birney. Baxter and Birney later divorced; recently, Baxter made headlines by coming out as a lesbian. I learned about all of this and more by reading Baxter’s brand new memoir, Untied: A Memory of Family, Fame, and Floundering (2011). I purchased this book for my Kindle last week and found it a quick and interesting read. 

Meredith Baxter’s beginnings

After a brief introduction, explaining how she came out as a lesbian, Baxter begins describing her childhood. Meredith Baxter’s mother was an actress named Nancy Ann Whitney, who later came up with the stage name Whitney Blake. From a very early age, Baxter was required to call her mother Whitney, because Whitney didn’t want people thinking she was a mother. Baxter’s father, Tom Baxter, was a sound engineer specializing in live television and radio. Though her parents were married for ten years and had three children, their union ended when Baxter was just five years old. After the divorce, Tom Baxter remained a very small part of his children’s lives. Meanwhile, Whitney remarried twice.  

Baxter grew up in southern California on the fringes of show business. Her first stepfather, Jack Fields, was an agent who helped Whitney Blake get parts that later blossomed into a successful career on television. Baxter describes Fields as cruel, manipulative, and strict, but it was Fields who helped Baxter with her own foray into show business when she was a child.  

A complicated life

Though Meredith Baxter grew up to be a beautiful young woman, she comes across as a bit mixed up. In confessional prose, she admits to dabbling in drugs and alcohol, half-heartedly attempting suicide, and getting married for the wrong reasons. Nevertheless, she was both lucky and talented and eventually started working as an actress. She had two children with her first husband, Robert Bush, and three with her second husband, David Birney.

Bitterness toward Birney

Meredith Baxter has a lot to say about her second marriage to David Birney. Baxter was married to Birney for about 16 years. Their union lasted three times longer than her marriages to Robert Bush and Michael Blodgett. However, the added length of the marriage seems to have tripled Baxter’s pain. She makes some very unflattering comments about David Birney and basically describes him as an abusive narcissist.  

A book about Meredith Baxter, not Family Ties… 

Though Meredith Baxter does dish quite a bit about being on Bridget Loves BernieFamily, and Family Ties, as well as a few of her better known made for television movies, I want to make it clear that this book is really about her life. And she has led a very complicated but interesting life, fraught with struggles, including alcoholism, breast cancer, and coming to terms with her homosexuality. But while there were times I kind of cringed while reading this book, I do think that ultimately, Baxter has put out a very positive memoir.  

Toward the end of the book, Baxter writes about what it was like to meet and fall in love with her current partner, Nancy Locke. Though she is “out of the closet”, I still get the feeling that being out is kind of hard for her. She very candidly explains how difficult it was for her to admit and accept her feelings for women. She also explains how hard it was for her to come out to people she loves… and how their reactions to her big news were surprisingly low key.  Untied also includes plenty of pictures.

Overall

I enjoyed reading this book, mainly because I’m a child of the 80s and I love biographies. I think Meredith Baxter did a fairly good job writing her life story. She really comes across as extremely human and somewhat down-to-earth. I do think she’s still in some real pain over her relationship with David Birney, but she seems to have learned from the relationship as well. I think Untied is worthy reading for those who are interested in Baxter’s life story.

As an Amazon Associate, I get a small commission from Amazon on sales made through my site.

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family, healthcare

Instant karma’s gonna get you… UPDATED

Last night, Bill and I sat at our kitchen table, nervously watching the political headlines. We were sharing a laugh, because the other night, I got a private message from a relative who had commented on a picture I shared of our latest addition, Noyzi, the Balkan pandemic pup. He happened to be standing next to our booze cart when I took the photo and it was visible, so my relative added, “Wow, that’s quite a collection of booze, btw.”

I’m not sure how she expected me to respond to that comment. It’s true that we have a lot of booze on our booze cart, because Bill and I do like our libations. Moreover, my relative knows full well that in our family, there are a lot of drinkers, depressives, Republicans, and conservative Christians. She knows we’re not teetotalers. And how many bottles constitutes “quite a collection”, anyway? Two or three? I’d put them in a closet or a cabinet, but closets and cabinets are pretty rare in Germany unless you purchase them separately. Just having a lot of bottles of alcohol is not necessarily an indication of a problem, especially when a lot of them are still full or unopened, as is the case for us.

So, I decided to respond with a matter-of-fact “Yup. We are lushes.” I suppose if I really had wanted to be funny, I could have added this clip, for good measure. She wisely didn’t respond to my quip. I’m not sure if she was just surprised by my response, or got the message that she needed to mind her own business.

I do love my family, but this is really more me before a family gathering in which politics and religion are discussed.

I certainly don’t mean to make light of alcoholism. It’s not a laughing matter at all, and everyone in our family has been touched by alcoholism, even if most of us drink, anyway. But I think it’s rude to make pointed comments about the contents of a person’s booze cart, unless you’re complimenting it. Besides, a lot of the stuff on that cart is either a mixer or really old… or it’s a really old mixer. We have several bottles of stuff I bought about five years ago that probably need to be tossed, if only so we’ll have more space for stuff we’ll actually consume. In any case, our drinking habits are not really her business, particularly since I know she’s no angel in that department herself. At least neither Bill nor I have never been arrested or had a DUI.

So anyway, we were laughing about my relative’s comment and subsequent radio silence. Then, I decided to look up my cousin, who recently died. This relative who had been chatting with me had missed our cousin’s funeral, which had been posted on YouTube. By the way, I think that’s a great way to do funerals, even when a pandemic isn’t going on. I would not have been able to “attend” the funeral, if it hadn’t been videoed.

I thought the video was taken down, but I eventually found a link to the service and sent it my nosy relative. In the course of looking for the video, I noticed that my cousin had been journaling about her experiences with colon cancer. I decided to read her comments. The longest one was about her initial diagnosis. In her entry, she detailed how she found out that she had cancer. She mentioned that she had been experiencing pain for months, but blew it off. She had thought she was getting an ulcer, but neglected to see a doctor. Why? Because she didn’t have health insurance and was waiting for Medicare to kick in. One night, her body made it very clear to her that she was in serious trouble.

As I read her story, I felt a mixture of compassion, sorrow, empathy, and anger. Because as sad as I was to read about her diagnosis and suffering, I also couldn’t help but remember an “argument” we got into a few years ago on Facebook, when some friends and I were having a discussion about the extortionate prices of prescription drugs in the United States. I had initially written about that argument right after it happened in January 2016, when my cousin was still apparently “healthy”. She’d pissed off a bunch of my friends by lecturing us about how Big Pharma was poisoning people. We all just needed to eat right, exercise, and use essential oils. Then she proudly declared that she refused to get health insurance, opting instead to pay a fine. I thought that was crazy, and said so.

In May of last year, I found out that she’d been diagnosed with cancer and remembered that conversation from 2016 in an updated blog post. I knew that she didn’t agree with getting chemotherapy, since her parents had both had it when they got cancer. I can understand and respect that. I fully agree with people making their own healthcare decisions and living their lives. I also agree that many health conditions could be minimized or eliminated if people took better care of themselves, to the extent of their ability to do so. However, I also think it’s very irresponsible not to have health insurance if you can afford it. Nutrition, exercise, and essential oils will do little for you if you have an accident, a congenital disease or birth defect, or are just plain unlucky. And when you do need to access the healthcare system, as she eventually did, and most of us also will, your bad debt will be passed on to everyone else if you can’t pay your medical bills. And that will make healthcare cost even more across the board.

It’s true that our healthcare system is really screwed up and extremely overpriced. Health insurance is also very expensive. But we have to do something in order to make the necessary changes, and the Affordable Care Act, as screwed up as it is, is at least a step in a direction of some sort. You can’t make an omelet without breaking eggs. I live in a country where healthcare doesn’t bankrupt people. It’s pretty damned nice!

I think if we had lawmakers who were actually concerned about serving the people instead of making names for themselves, lining their pockets, and staying in power, we might be well on our way to healthcare that everyone can access and afford when they need it. I get that conservatives don’t like it when the government taxes them or regulates businesses (which is what healthcare has become), but it’s gotten way out of hand in the United States. There’s a lot of greed in healthcare and it’s causing huge problems, particularly as people are dying of COVID-19 and healthcare providers and systems are being stretched to their limits.

Last night, I read about how my cousin had let her disease go unchecked for at least six months because she didn’t have health insurance and was waiting for Medicare to kick in. The dramatic event that led her to her sick role had occurred in May of 2019, but she’d had Medicare coverage since late October 2018. As of May of 2019, she’d experienced severe abdominal pain for over six months. Still, she’d ignored it, dismissing the pain as a potential ulcer until she was passing bright red blood rectally in the wee hours of the morning.

I’m actually surprised that my cousin agreed with using Medicare, since she was a proud Republican and a Trump supporter, and a lot of Republicans seem to think Medicare is a socialist idea. If she had seen a doctor right when the pain started, would she have survived 2020? Would she have had another Christmas and New Year’s with her family? Would she have made it to her 70s and been there to see her grandchildren come of age? We’ll never know, but I suspect that she would have had a much better quality of life and a more favorable outcome if she’d been able to see, and pay for, a doctor much sooner than she did.

Both of my cousin’s parents died of different forms of cancer. I can understand that she probably feared a diagnosis of cancer even more than most people do. She’d seen her parents go through chemotherapy years ago, and she no doubt knew what that experience would mean for her. But I’m still flabbergasted by what happened in her situation, and she felt entitled to criticize my conversation with friends about the need for reasonably priced prescription drugs and healthcare for Americans. In the end, she turned out to be a bit of a hypocrite who probably could have stayed around a bit longer if she’d had better access to affordable care and availed herself of it in a timely manner. I’m truly sorry that she died, and wish it hadn’t happened the way it did… and I hope she is in a “better place”. She wrote this in that first entry of her journal:

A lot of people who upon hearing the diagnosis “You’ve got cancer” recall being horror stricken, bowled over, in a crisis and while these are words no one ever wants to hear, I simply recall wondering, “Lord, how do you plan to use this?” 

I’m sure if any of my family members read this, they might be offended. But I hope they’ll stop for a second and consider our relative’s words. “Lord, how do you plan to use this”… and realize that perhaps her case is an invitation to re-examine their ideas about politics, particularly regarding healthcare. We all need it, and it ought to be available, accessible, and affordable to everyone. And I wish my cousin had been able to do that for herself and her family, whom I know are all missing her very much.

And… to my other nosy relatives who want to comment on my booze cart, this post should serve as a reminder that I’m not 12 anymore.

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family, memories, musings

The Heavenly Thanksgiving Party…

Thanksgiving has historically been my favorite holiday. For years, I loved it because it meant going to my Granny’s house, hanging around my mostly fun extended family, seeing the mountains of Virginia, and eating good food. Then afterwards, we’d have a party. There are a lot of musicians in my family, so on Friday after Thanksgiving, there was typically dancing and live music. I remember a few post Thanksgiving Friday night “hops” over the years that were real “barn burners”. Almost every year, for as long as I can remember, there’s been a big Thanksgiving family reunion party at Granny’s. It was something we could all count on, except for a couple of exceedingly rare years when it didn’t happen. 2020 is one of those years.

I haven’t been home for Thanksgiving since 2014. I went there to sing at my dad’s memorial service, which was held over Thanksgiving so more people could come to his memorial. He actually died in July 2014. Since then, a lot more people have passed away, but living in Germany has kept me away from home for their funerals. Some deaths have hurt more than others.

I’m not a very religious person, but I do like to think that Heaven is a real place. I imagine my cousin Karen, who died on Saturday, arriving in Heaven, being greeted by long lost loved ones like her parents and our grandmother. I think of my Aunt Jeanne and Uncle Bob waiting by the Pearly Gates, ready to embrace her and lead her to see Granny, who passed away in 2007.

I love Rhonda Vincent’s music… even when she sings about Jesus. I picture the Homecoming kind of like this.

I like to think of the arrival of a new soul in Heaven as a big party, like the ones we had years ago at Granny’s house, when everyone was still young enough and healthy, and wanted to stay up visiting. My mom would have a couple of drinks and get on the organ and play with my Uncle Brownlee’s band. Or my Uncle Steve would play trombone. There was a lot of dancing and singing and drinking too much… Maybe that’s what homecoming was like for Karen and my other relatives. Maybe they’re all sitting around a big table, as if they’re waiting for more people to join the party up in Heaven.

Actual footage from one of our Thanksgiving parties… That’s my niece dancing with one of my cousins. I’m pretty sure the music was live, too. It usually is.

I picture my Aunt Nance serving turtle cheesecake that has no calories. I picture my Uncle Kenneth sitting at the table telling stories with my Uncle Carl and his wife, Aunt Betty. I think of my Aunt Susan, who died in 1962, healthy and making up for lost time with her brothers and sisters who have finally passed the bar. I think of my Uncle Brownlee playing organ while my dad nods along approvingly. I think of Granny and Pappy looking on adoringly. No one is drunk or angry or being obnoxious. Everyone is having a great time, just like we did at so many Thanksgiving parties over the years… and they’re all waiting for the rest of us to arrive.

Thanksgiving 2014. A number of the people in this picture are no longer with us. They’re at the Heavenly Thanksgiving Party.

Then I start thinking about all of the people I’ve found as I’ve searched our genealogy. I wonder if they’re at the party, too. Will I somehow know my ancestors in Heaven? What about people I’m related to by marriage? What about Bill’s dad, who died just nine days ago? Somehow, I think if Heaven exists, he’ll be there. Because anything is possible in Heaven, right? And there will be no worries about not enough bathrooms, cleaning up the mess the next day, lack of parking spots, or paying for anything. There will be room at the table for everyone; everyone will be heard and appreciated; and there will be no talk about politics or controversy. And no one will be sneakily taking any unflattering photos, either. 😉

Me and my sisters in 2014… this picture was taken by my cousin, Karen, who just passed away a few days ago.

My Uncle Brownlee was probably my favorite relative. We had a lot in common. His birthday was the day after mine and we shared a love for music and off color humor. He died in 2019. I couldn’t be at his funeral due to the logistics. Now that we have COVID-19, it’s even harder to go home. And even if we were in the United States, people would probably shame us if we tried to have a gathering this year. In fact, attending Thanksgiving with a bunch of relatives on Earth might hasten our own arrivals at the Heavenly Thanksgiving Party.

I don’t think about God as much as a lot of my relatives do. Some of my people are super Christian types. They don’t curse and they go to church a lot. They figure cursing offends God. Personally, I think if God is as perfect as people claim, S/he (does God have genitals?) is probably above being offended. Being offended is a human thing. I don’t think God is human. Humans aren’t perfect. I’d like to think that God is nothing but wisdom, kindness, and love, but that’s probably too simplistic of a description. The fact is, I can’t imagine God, although I’m not quite at a point at which I don’t believe in God. But even if there is no such thing as God or Heaven, I do think that concept has inspired a lot of people to do incredible things. And that’s mostly a good thing. On the other hand, the concept of God has also inspired some pretty horrible things, too… albeit for very flawed human reasons.

Granny’s house… it’s been the family homestead since the 1930s.

Anyway, as Thanksgiving approaches, I am picturing my long lost relatives, all of whom loved being together on Thanksgiving (I presume, anyway), and enjoying the holiday up in Heaven, eating, drinking, laughing, singing, dancing, and visiting, with no worries about anything. They could have that Heavenly Thanksgiving Party forever, if they wanted to. Because Heaven is a perfect place, where there’s no suffering. Or, if they hated parties on Earth, maybe they’re somewhere they loved to be. Sitting by a quiet, rushing brook in the most beautiful place, with nothing but the company of beloved pets… actually, that sounds more like Heaven to me. Ditto if I’m surrounded by books and music and maybe enjoying the company of my favorite person, Bill.

Maybe this perfection doesn’t exist. Maybe death just means cessation of life. In that case, it means there’s no more pain or problems. That’s not a bad thing for the person who’s gone. It’s bad for the people who miss that person, left here on Earth, stuck in a cumbersome body that eventually fails for everyone. But eventually, everybody gets an invitation to the Heavenly Thanksgiving Party. Or so I’d like to believe. And I find it comforting to think of my relatives and friends enjoying their time at the Heavenly Party, waiting for the rest of us to join them in the fun.

As for our 2020 Thanksgiving celebration, it promises to be as quiet and peaceful as the last five have been. We’re just not going to cook. This year, we’re ordering a Thanksgiving takeout meal from a restaurant. It makes sense– less cleaning up and leftovers, and we do our part to keep the restaurants going until we can get a vaccine against the dreaded COVID-19 virus. I expect our 2020 Thanksgiving will be much like our anniversary was yesterday… kind of boring in some ways, but extraordinary in others. Bill’s daughter wished us a happy anniversary yesterday and even sent us a gift. Up until a few years ago, I never thought she would speak to Bill again, let alone acknowledge our anniversary. So even though our 2020 celebration had no naked dips at Irish Roman baths or palatial accommodations, it was remarkable just the same. We had originally planned to see Keb’ Mo’ in concert in Mainz. Naturally, that concert has now been rescheduled twice, thanks to COVID-19. I expect we’ll still be here when it finally does occur… at this point, in September 2021.

The featured photo is my dad and his mother… looks like maybe it was taken at my sister’s wedding, which was also a pretty epic celebration at Granny’s house. My dad died just seven years after he lost his mother, so they probably had a pretty awesome reunion in 2014.

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Bill, Ex, family, Trump

Things are getting pretty surreal…

I’m not surprised that things are surreal… Trump is doing all he can to hold on to his power and people in his base are talking about taking extreme measures to keep him in power. And yet it’s very clear that Trump has lost the election and will be forced to leave the White House. Biden is projecting calmness and maturity and other world leaders are looking to him. News sources are showing less Trump more Biden as Trump continues to whine about non-existent fraud and refuses to cooperate with the transition. It feels a lot like breaking up with a narcissist.

To be clear, I never dated or married a narcissist. Bill did, and she employed similarly “nuclear” tactics on a much smaller scale. The damage was pretty extensive and extraordinary and the bitterness lasted for many years. It’s really only been in the last few years that things have started healing.

My husband spoke to his daughter the other night, just before we knew his dad had passed away. She wisely brought up the logistics of going to Ray’s funeral and how it won’t be possible for a lot of people who otherwise would have gone, mainly due to the raging global pandemic. This is a scenario we never could have foreseen even a year ago. I have been wondering how the inevitable funeral for Bill’s dad would happen. Now, it appears it will happen without Bill due to circumstances beyond anyone’s control.

Last night, Bill got an email from his daughter and she made it clear that she could now see how the explosion of her parents’ marriage had affected so many people. It didn’t have to be this way. I think younger daughter now sees more of the truth, which often happens as people grow up and their perspectives broaden.

The same is going on as Trump is forced to reckon with the realization that he has lost. I have read articles about how he’s now talking about a run in 2024. God help us! But I think it won’t happen because there are other people who want to run… people who hitched themselves to Trump’s star in a bid to further their own careers. And once Trump is cast out of power, he’s only going to find allies in true right wing nutjobs who continue to worship him despite his tantrums. This is what tends to happen to narcissistic types in the long run. They typically don’t have a pleasant end.

I am hoping the garden variety conservatives who supported Trump have had their eyes opened. I’ve seen a lot of people commenting on how “dirty” the Democrats are. I won’t argue with that point. Pretty much all politicians lie and make deals. It comes with the territory. But there are definitely degrees of depravity. I never saw Obama stoop to the levels that Trump has. I never even saw either of the Bushes doing that… or Bill Clinton. Trump is truly in a class by himself, and it’s alarming how much he has divided the people. It’s not unlike a really nasty divorce, complete with false accusations, DARVO, and gnashing of the teeth. It’s embarrassing and horrifying to watch, even from abroad.

Last night, I read a rather poignant opinion piece on CNN written by Richard L. Eldridge, a journalist whose family pretty much disowned him over his negative views of Donald Trump. I could really relate to what Mr. Eldridge wrote, especially these parts:

“Over our love-filled 50-year bond, you chose a hate-filled New York millionaire who has never spent a moment with you, cried with one of you when your dad died, hugged another of you at your mom’s funeral or otherwise cared about you.

I know his supporters, you included, see the version of Trump he claims to be. Here is who I see. A man under seemingly constant investigation while in office. A man who brags about grabbing women by their genitals. A man who — though he denies it — others say calls members of our military “losers” and “suckers.” A morally bankrupt, impeached and now lame duck President.

A man who refers to members of the press — my chosen profession for the past three decades — as “enemies of the people.” A man who mocks the disabled, who basks in the adoration of a crowd chanting his name as he engages in cruelty.”

This is what divorcing a malignant narcissist looks like. When you break up with one, they become very nasty. That’s stressful enough when it happens in a one on one relationship. It’s especially horrifying when the malignant narcissist happens to be a world leader who doesn’t care about anyone but himself. I suspect the coming days will be very scary and surreal, and I pray that people with decency and integrity do what is necessary to contain Trump and his minions before much more damage is done and we become a nation that is literally divided, much like my husband’s family was. If that happens, we most likely won’t be reuniting after fifteen years of silence.

As for my father-in-law… I really wish there was a way we could have been there for him and his wife. I am hoping the funeral can somehow be Zoomed or at least recorded for Bill. He truly adored his father, who was a man worth adoring. It’s breaking his heart that he can’t be at the funeral. At the same time, this morning he told me that he was glad he was with me instead of his ex wife, who would be making the whole thing about her and forcing Bill to calm her hysterics rather than giving him the support he needs and deserves.

I think America needs calmness, love, and support, too… It’s nice to see leaders of more sensible nations offering it to Biden in the hopes that we can all come together and live peacefully. I’m going to try not to be distracted by Trump’s tantrums or disturbed by the delusions of his base… but I can’t help but be very concerned about what’s going to happen before January.

Mary Trump talks frankly with Katie Couric about her uncle’s loss.
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family, psychology

…Put up, show up, shut up…

Some people think I’m not a very “nice” person, mainly because I often speak my mind and don’t roll over to their demands. I think it’s better to be kind or good, rather than “nice”. There is a difference. A “nice” person is pleasant to be around and doesn’t make waves. They usually have self-serving reasons for being “nice”, which range from simply wanting to be liked by others, to actively wanting to take advantage of other people.

A good person with kind intentions might make waves for the good of all, even if it causes temporary strife. A good person does things that might not be popular with the crowd, but are ultimately in everyone’s best interests. A good person has mercy and compassion and thinks of the big picture, even if it means temporarily pissing off other people.

Nice people often end up screwing over the unaware, even if the screwing doesn’t cause any pain at first. Superficial charm can be a valuable weapon against the weak. Someone who is pleasant at first can easily end up turning into a nightmare, leaving others bewildered, shocked, and reeling from the surprise pain they cause. But good people are sometimes abrasive for the right reasons. What they say and do might hurt at first, but they take those actions because they want to minimize pain in the long run.

Sometimes I feel badly about being less likable than I could be. But then I realize that Bill loves this about me, because I encourage him to be assertive and stick up for himself and others. Also, since I don’t need to be liked as much, I often have a broader perspective than he does about some things. He rules more with his heart and emotions than I do, and that sometimes leads him down the roads to Hell. However, with me around to be firm and offer another perspective, he’s often more able to make decisions that hurt fewer people. Sometimes those decisions are unpopular and make people angry, but in the grand scheme of things, they turn out for the better.

Yesterday turned out to be kind of a yucky day for Bill. He had a very busy and frustrating day at work. Then he came home and found out that his dad is very sick and in the hospital. How did he find out? Through that ever popular medium, Facebook… and it was a family friend’s post that alerted him that something was wrong, not his sister or stepmother.

I think he was hurt that his family didn’t tell him before the news wound up on Facebook, although he wasn’t surprised. This is not the first time he’s been left out of the loop, although in fairness to the family, we are pretty far away and he is a product of his father’s first marriage. My husband’s stepmother doesn’t like Bill’s mom and was jealous of Bill when he was a boy, taking his father’s attention from her. She also doesn’t like me, because I don’t let her push me around and she doesn’t think I’m “nice”. Still, Bill has always loved his dad and has done his best to be a good son. So he was saddened that no one bothered to let him know about his dad’s situation.

Mood music for this post. I was introduced to the magic of Lyle Lovett by a Mormon couple I knew when I was serving in the Peace Corps. I consider it a gift they gave me far more valuable than the Book of Mormon.

I am familiar with this kind of pain myself. Last year, my favorite uncle passed away suddenly, having suffered a stroke. I found out about the stroke, not from a family member, but from a friend of the family… someone I don’t know personally. She’d posted her best wishes to my cousins. When I later asked my cousin why I had to find out about her dad on Facebook, she claimed she’d asked my sister to tell me. That made me sad, since I’m not that close to my sister. In fact, before this happened, I would have thought I was closer to my cousin than my sister. But I guess she didn’t have the same regard for me that I did for her.

About a week or two later, when my uncle died, I did hear about it from a relative. This time, it was another cousin who told me… one of the few who talks to me anymore. I remember when my dad died, I didn’t hear too much from most of my family then, either. I’m beginning to feel a bit divorced from them. I guess I can’t blame them too much. It’s been awhile since we last saw each other, and my outspokenness about politics has turned off a lot of them.

I still couldn’t help but remember back in 2017, when a very old and dear friend of mine took the time to send me a private message on Facebook to tell me that her dad died. She said he’d always liked me and she didn’t want me to read about his death in the paper. It meant a lot to me that she’d had the regard for me and the consideration to tell me about that, rather than letting me read about it on a public social media posting. It was more consideration that I’ve gotten from my own family when relatives have gotten sick or died.

This morning, Bill was getting updated on his father’s condition. He’d had to ask his sister about it after seeing the status update from the friend of the family, indicating that something was wrong. She has kindly been explaining the situation. It turns out Bill’s dad may have been exposed to COVID-19, so he’s currently in isolation. He’s got some underlying chronic health issues that could make him less likely to recover from this illness, especially if he’s had the virus. They are testing him now to determine if he has. At this point, he’s still lucid and seems to be feeling better. But he’s in the hospital and is showing some signs that he might have been infected with COVID-19 and possibly gotten over it while, unbeknownst to him, sustaining lung damage.

Naturally, that led to us thinking about what we should do if he doesn’t get well. This would be a difficult problem, even if there wasn’t a global pandemic going on. We live in Germany, and our families are in the United States. Going home means being on a plane for hours. Going home during the pandemic means being on a plane for hours, masked and exposed to strangers, and dealing with whatever COVID-19 policies are in effect in the United States. Then, once it’s time to go back to Germany, quarantining… but only after being exposed to people who lived with a man who may have had COVID-19. That means Bill might be be exposing people who are also in transit, then coming home to our neighborhood, which has many elderly people in it. I have asthma, although I don’t take medication for it. I’m also pushing 50 and overweight. It wouldn’t be good if I got the virus.

We are so lucky to live in Germany, which so far has not had the horrifically high number of COVID-19 cases the United States has had. But living in Germany comes with a cost when it comes to seeing family, especially in times of crisis. I suspect that if the worst happens, there could be quite a shitstorm. I advised Bill to think long and hard about whether or not he should risk possibly going home at this time, given how many people could be affected.

Bill’s stepmother is a difficult person. She has a tendency to think mostly of herself. She’s quick to take offense without looking at the big picture. I’ve written about this situation a few times over the years, but for the sake of clarity, I’ll write about it again.

In 2004, my husband’s ex wife decided to try to force us all to spend Christmas together at Bill’s dad’s house. She claimed she wanted the children (from three different fathers) to feel like we were all one big happy family. I thought it was a terrible idea, but no one consulted me about it. I was simply informed of the idea and expected to put up, show up, and shut up.

I was newly married to Bill at the time, and Ex probably figured that she could try to pressure me into being “nice”. But I knew that if I went to that gathering, it would be a shitstorm of epic proportions. I have experienced many epic holiday shitstorms with my family of origin. In fact, I had experienced one the year prior. And in 2004, by golly, I wanted to have a relaxed Christmas with no fighting. Moreover, we were broke back then and couldn’t really afford the trip. I figured no one in that group needed to see me, especially the kids, who typically don’t care about their stepmothers so much. Given the difficulty of the situation, I opted to stay home. Bill went to see his kids– for the last time, it turned out. Since then, he’s only seen his younger daughter in the flesh once– and that was in March of this year.

Bill’s stepmother was very angry that I didn’t show up. She thought I was snubbing the family. She took my absence as a dig– and was probably spurred on to think that by Ex, whose plans to humiliate me were dashed when I didn’t show up and no one told her I wasn’t coming. Meanwhile, I was thinking that what I did may not have been “nice”, but it was ultimately the kindest solution, since I knew that if I had to spend days watching my husband’s toxic ex wife in action, I’d probably want to kill her with my bare hands. I doubt it would have been a civilized scene. I figured Bill’s dad and stepmother just wanted to see the kids and Bill. Ex had made it clear that no one liked or cared about me, anyway. So I stayed home, saved the money on airfare and dog boarding, and drank lots of wine. Later, I was blamed for how shitty the gathering was, even though I wasn’t there and it wasn’t my idea to plan it.

Several years later, I did explain to Bill’s dad and stepmother my line of reasoning. They seemed to accept it, once they heard me tell them what my reasons were for not attending. While I was thinking of my own mental and physical health, as well as our precarious finances at the time, when I opted out of that gathering, I was also thinking of them and the kids. The kids were especially innocent in that situation. It was Christmas, and I thought they should enjoy it without seeing their mother and stepmother seething at each other. Moreover– I didn’t plan that gathering. I wasn’t asked how I felt about it. I was simply expected to put up, show up, and shut up, as usual. I might as well have been a cardboard cutout of a woman, with no thoughts or feelings, and no right to an opinion.

Unfortunately, even though we explained why I did what I did, other situations have since come up in which Bill has been yelled at by his stepmother for not showing enough deference or regard for his father. She also does this to Bill’s younger daughter. Stepmom is very good at shaming and blaming other people when things aren’t to her liking. And this situation with Bill’s dad, especially if it ends up having the worst outcome, will surely invite drama. Bill will be expected to make a trip to the States if the worst happens. But I have already told him that I think he should consider what going there would mean for other people, to include some who just happen to live in our neighborhood.

Bill thanked me for offering that perspective to him. He said he needed to hear it. I’m sure I will be blamed for it if he chooses not to go, but that’s okay. Lots of people think I’m a bitch. As Ex once famously said, I can’t help how other people feel. Moreover, if stepmother does crawl up Bill’s ass for not showing proper respect by jumping on a plane to see his father, he can tell her that she never even bothered to tell him he was sick in the first place. Respect is a two way street. And while going to comfort her would probably be the “nice” thing to do, it would not be the good or kind thing to do for the vulnerable people who live and work with Bill every day. Even if he did go, she probably wouldn’t appreciate it anyway.

In any case, we don’t yet know if Bill’s dad has been exposed to COVID-19. He might not have been… although being in a hospital during a pandemic isn’t really being in a safe zone, either. And he might very well recover, which would be the outcome we’re all hoping for.

For some reason, I’ve found myself in the crosshairs of a lot of manipulative people– women, in particular– who try to pressure me into being “nice”. But, as I said before– it’s better to be good and kind, rather than nice. And being good and kind doesn’t always feel “nice” to others, even if it is the best thing in the long run. I have resolved not to “put up, shut up, and show up” anymore in order to avoid other people’s wrath. I have my own wrath, and my own right to make choices that work best for me and others around me. If other people choose to be loyal to themselves, why shouldn’t I? Why shouldn’t anyone? Especially a man as lovely as Bill is.

ETA: COVID-19 test was negative.

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