communication, family, holidays, karma

Thanksgiving thoughts… or, why I like holidays in Germany.

Here’s another too personal, introspective story about my psyche, and why I am the way I am. It’s probably not very interesting, but it’s what’s on my mind. The featured photo is of me in 1979, visiting Granny’s house. It was probably for my maternal grandfather’s funeral. I see there’s snow on the ground, but I’m not wearing a jacket. Seems pretty much par for the course. 😉

Traditionally, Thanksgiving has been my favorite holiday. I grew up going to my Granny’s house in Natural Bridge, Virginia, where my dad and his brothers and sisters were raised in a cool farmhouse by two creeks and surrounded by mountains. Granny died in 2007, but my Uncle Brownlee and Aunt Gayle have kept the tradition going. We lost Brownlee in 2019, which was very sad for me. Brownlee was probably my favorite relative. Gayle and my cousins are still throwing the annual shindig, which will no doubt include good food, dancing, singing, live music, and card playing… and probably some beer drinking. I wish I could be there, but for obvious reasons, I can’t… And actually, given the politics that are going on right now, maybe it’s for the best. I come from a long line of Trump admirers. 😉

Today, we’ve been invited to go to one of Bill’s co-worker’s homes for Thanksgiving. This guy is kind of special, because he’s someone Bill knew when they were both in the Army back in the late 80s. They served in Germany together, back when they were young and single. Now they work together again, and get along great. It was because of Bill’s co-worker that we were able to spend our 20th anniversary together in France and seeing James Taylor perform. Otherwise, Bill would have been in Las Vegas at a conference.

Bill will repay the favor to his friend for Christmas, since we almost never go anywhere for the holidays. The lone exception was 2019, when my hometown friend, Audra, invited us to France. She lives there, but we met in Gloucester, Virginia, when we were in high school. I have another hometown friend who lives in Stuttgart now. We met in the third grade at Botetourt Elementary School, in Gloucester. Sometimes I wonder if my hometown friends moved to Europe for the same reasons I did. I suspect at least one of them did. 😉

The funny thing is, I think we only spent one Thanksgiving in Gloucester out of the 19 years I lived there (Mom and Dad lived there for about 29 years). The rest were spent at Granny’s house… except for one year I went to a former friend’s house. I was 17 years old at the time. I remember my dad gave me a ration of shit for staying home that year, even though there were many times when he acted like, and even outright stated, that he couldn’t stand me. He was mostly concerned about what other people would say, worried that he would “look bad”.

I called my mom yesterday. She sounded terrible. She said she thought she had a cold, having been out with some friends of hers. She said she tested for COVID and the result was negative. Frankly, I suspect she didn’t wait long enough, especially since she said she had no energy. But aside from having a scratchy voice, she didn’t sound super sick. And she said she would be making herself a Thanksgiving dinner and eating it alone, since she doesn’t know what illness she has. She has plans to go to my sister’s house for Christmas next month.

We mostly had a good talk. She said she enjoyed my song for Bill… the one I did last month, not the more recent “Secret O’ Life”. Then, as I was about to sign off, she said she would like to see me. But then she said, “I know that won’t happen, though.”

I said, “I never said I wouldn’t come home. I said I didn’t know when we could come.” She hasn’t specifically asked me to come home, either… although maybe she asked my sister to invite me to Christmas. I had to decline because of Arran’s chemo, and because boarding the dogs at this late date would be a challenge.

Mom said she loved me and to take care of Bill and the dogs. Then we ended the call.

When our call ended, I kind of sat there dumbfounded. My mom isn’t usually one to pull guilt trips. It’s one of the things I like about her. She’s very pragmatic. I have explained to her that I find family gatherings very stressful and overwhelming. But I also remember how, when I needed understanding and support as a young woman with crippling anxiety and depression, she kept telling me she wanted me to leave. I actually wanted to leave, too. No one wanted me to move out more than I wanted to be gone. But she was very vocal and impatient about it. Now, that I’m gone, she wants me to come back again.

I am grateful that she and my dad let me stay in their home when I needed treatment for depression and anxiety… although I probably could have used that treatment when I was still a minor. A lot of it was caused by growing up in a very dysfunctional, alcoholic home, and having parents who made it clear to me that I had disappointed them. I know they love(d) me in their own ways… but breaking out of that place was very hard to do, and one of the best things I’ve ever done.

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized a lot of things… maybe I’ve just become pragmatic like my mom is. I realize people are often disappointing on many levels. One of the great things about being an adult is that you don’t have to stick around or show up for disappointing people. I don’t like being around people who can’t accept me for who I am. My mom is probably more willing to accept me now, since we’re both a lot older… and I’m happily married and no longer a burden to her. I’m still a little traumatized by the past, even though it’s been 8 years since I was last “home”. I don’t want to spend hours on a plane to go back into a toxic situation. That’s less likely with my mom than it would be with my mom and my sisters together. But there’s still a risk.

I would like to see some of my family members. Some of them would probably like to see me. I would like to see my mom, too. I know I’m running out of time. But it’s kind of like making an appointment to see a doctor. Sometimes, it’s what you have to do for your own good, even if it might be unpleasant. I could probably use a doctor’s appointment, too. I have never been one for taking care of my physical health, because it wasn’t really a priority back when I was a child. It’s easier to stay where I am and just ignore everything…

Anyway… I’m sure we’ll have a good time with Bill’s friend. He lives in a beautiful home, and I remember him to be a lot of fun. Hopefully, Arran won’t get into any trouble while we’re out. I’ll still miss my family today. I do love them. Maybe someday, I can go home again. It’s not going to happen this year, though.

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Military, modern problems, true crime, Virginia

Mass shootings in the United States have become almost banal…

The featured photo was on Facebook last night. There was a time when I would have found it funny, but I have to admit that I was actually a little triggered seeing it… Given all of the gun violence these days, it’s hard for me to laugh at jokes involving weapons, even if the actual joke is about men peeing and missing the toilet. But at the same time, I no longer feel “shock” when I read or hear another story about someone dying due to another person’s hatred, rage, and inability to control their violent impulses.

Yesterday morning, I was reading about the terrible mass shooting incident at Club Q in Colorado Springs, Colorado. There were many people at the club, there to have a good time watching a drag show. Suddenly, 22 year old Anderson Lee Aldrich burst into the venue and started shooting, eventually killing five people and wounding at least 19 others. He was tackled by Richard Fierro, a man who spent fifteen years as an Army officer and went on four combat tours to Iraq and Afghanistan. Mr. Fierro left the service in 2013, just a few years before he would have been eligible for retirement. I don’t know the circumstances of why he left the military. My guess is that the repeated war zone deployments had a lot to do with it.

On Saturday, November 19th, 45 year old Mr. Fierro had gone to Club Q with his wife, daughter, and his daughter’s boyfriend, who would sadly perish in the chaos that erupted that night. The family was having a good time watching Fierro’s daughter’s friends perform in a drag show, when Aldrich ruined everyone’s evening with his AR-15. Without a single thought, Fierro leapt out of his seat and charged toward the hulking young man, said to weigh at least 300 pounds and wearing body armor. The combat veteran tackled the gunman, throwing him to the ground as the AR-15 clattered out of his reach. Aldrich pulled out a pistol, which Fierro immediately relieved him of and began beating the shit out of Aldrich with the gun until he was bloody. Another man grabbed the AR-15, while a drag queen stomped on the man with her high heels.

As the wife and the daughter of men who went to war, I have seen what time in a literal war zone can do to a person’s psyche. Fierro went into action because of his training, and because he spent a long time in combat, training himself to go on autopilot when violence erupts. He didn’t think. He simply reacted to the indoctrination that he had to kill or be killed. This is an instinct that never really leaves a person. I saw it in my father, who went to Vietnam and came home with post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). My husband, Bill, also spent time in Iraq during the war. Fortunately, he wasn’t involved in any war zone violence; he just had to work with a malignant narcissist, which was certainly triggering enough. But there were still some lingering effects from his time downrange. War changes people.

In this case, it was a lucky thing that Mr. Fierro had been to war and had the reflexes and will to take action. He is a genuine hero. However, I know that this incident will traumatize him. He’s not at home enjoying his hero status. I know that all he wanted to do was go out with his family, and have a good time. He never should have had to use those sharply honed war zone skills again. He did enough for his country, having earned two Bronze Stars. And now, he’s going to have to live with the trauma of what happened at the Q Club, where people had just wanted to dance and have a good time. I fear that he’s never going to feel safe again… not that he necessarily did before this tragic incident occurred. I pray that he’s able to access adequate mental health services. I’m sure he’s going to need them.

Bill and I talked about Mr. Fierro over breakfast yesterday, not knowing that today, November 23, 2022, we’d be hearing about another incident. This time, it happened at a Walmart in Chesapeake, Virginia. I happen to know Chesapeake, because I grew up about an hour away from there. I have friends who live there now. This morning, my friend Mary Beth posted on Facebook about a shooting in her town… and then I saw the news.

Not to be outdone by Anderson Lee Aldrich, a man believed to be the store manager at a Walmart in Chesapeake, opened fire in the store and killed six people and injured more before killing himself. The man who did this has not yet been named, as, at this writing, the crime happened only a few hours ago. It does appear that, at this point, the man acted alone. Naturally, there are a lot of “thoughts and prayers”, which do fuck all to stop the violence. I guess it sounds nice to offer up prayers… but what good are prayers when someone suddenly loses their parent, child, or friend to gun violence?

Leo Kosinski, a spokesman with the Chesapeake Police Department, said “I mean it’s sad, you know we’re a couple days before the Thanksgiving holiday.” As if it wouldn’t be just as sad in the middle of September or March? Okay, I guess a mass shooting does cast a sad pall on the holiday, especially for those who lost loved ones in these horrific attacks. Still, I find that statement kind of shocking in its banality. I think a lot of us are just numb to the violence. I haven’t set foot in the United States in 8 years. I haven’t seen most of my family in the time I’ve been away. You’d think I’d miss being “home”, but home is becoming less recognizable by the year, as more people go off the rails and kill perfect strangers with high powered weapons.

Meanwhile, there’s a whole contingent of people who are hellbent on forcing women to gestate, no matter what. And there’s no shortage of internet based idiots who want to argue– even with board certified OB-GYNs like Mama Doctor Jones– about what constitutes abortion. I ran into one of those idiots last night. She was relentlessly arguing with people about this subject… shaming Mama Doctor Jones for correctly referring to treatment for an ectopic pregnancy as an abortion. That is PRECISELY what it is, by the way. Abortion is not a dirty word. But these folks refuse to understand that, and they want to pass barbaric laws that will KILL women. Or force them to birth babies they aren’t ready to raise… which will lead to a childhood potentially full of poverty and abuse, as well as escalating violence from gun toting right wing nuts. Below is what one idiot posted to Mama Doctor Jones’ Facebook post about treating ectopic pregnancies. She was taking on all comers, berating them for pointing out her lunacy.

Abortion is directly related to the uterus. Literally. Once you started with that lie that treatment for ectopic pregnancy is abortion in order to minimize actual induced abortions, I stopped watching. Do better.

Reading these kinds of moronic comments enrages me… but still, even as angry as I get at people who want to deny freedom of choice to women and spread LIES, I don’t wish for them to be blown away by the gunfire from an AR-15. How is it that the people who claim to value the lives of the unborn so much, are so unwilling to do a fucking thing about the gun toting wackjobs? And they want to send people like my father, my husband, and Richard Fierro into war zones, so that they come back traumatized to the point at which they willingly hurl themselves into violence?

I haven’t even addressed the recent gun violence at the University of Virginia, where three football players were murdered by a former football player who opened fire in a garage. Yeah, I saw the headlines and the photographs of three smiling young Black men, wearing their orange and blue striped neckties. But again… I feel so numb. Because there have been SO MANY shootings. A person in the United States can’t even go to the damned grocery store nowadays without having to worry about being shot! And yet, some folks want to bring more innocent souls into the world, with no plan for supporting them, nurturing them, and protecting them from crazed lunatics with guns, invading churches, movie theaters, nightclubs, schools, and grocery stores.

When did our society become so incredibly hateful and violent? More importantly, WHY are people like this? It’s just so sad. People just seem to hate each other so much now. I kind of wonder if it’s because of social media, to be honest. It’s like we can’t stand to be so exposed to people who are different than we are… and that somehow translates to feeling like murder is the answer.

Anyway… I think I’ll take care of some chores so that we can enjoy Thanksgiving, such as it is celebrated among Americans in Germany.

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dogs, healthcare, music, YouTube

Today’s a big day for Arran…

I’m sorry to report that the cancer is starting to take its toll on Arran. He’s in some pain now, and can’t move as easily as he could a couple of days ago. I went to the vet yesterday and got some pain meds for him. They seem to help, although I still need to give him a boost on the bed, which isn’t pleasant for either of us. He seems to feel better later in the day. Last night, after his second dose of pain medication, he was actually begging and jumping for food, catching it in his mouth. But this morning, it took a couple of hours for him to get going, and he produced a rather disgusting, slimy poop that looked slightly bloody. Sorry, I know it’s gross, but that’s the honest truth of canine cancer.

In any case, at 3:00pm, Arran has his first date with chemo. Hopefully, it will help him feel better for awhile. If not, I figure we’ve lost nothing but the time and some euros. If we don’t do anything, he will die. If we do chemo, he’ll still die, but it might be later. And even though he’s not as perky as he was a week ago, he still puts on appearances. Below are some photos I took last night. Yes… three different photos. I was hoping to catch him with his head cocked. No luck. Arran still looks good for his age, though, cancer or not.

Right now, he’s parked himself behind my chair. I couldn’t get him to eat anything until after a rather low energy walk. But once he had the walk, he was ready to have a pill and some chicken. Last night, he even ate some kibble, which was surprising. That medication must stimulate appetite.

I hope Noyzi stays out of trouble while we’re rendezvousing with the vet. I don’t look forward to being there, and I’m a little nervous about how he’ll take the treatment, especially since I’m alone until tomorrow. But if the medication helps him feel better in the long run, I’m game. Everything I’ve read tells me that the side effects shouldn’t be too terrible– certainly not like what humans on chemo experience. And there’s a very slim chance that he’ll have some kind of catastrophic reaction, but it’s much more likely that at worst, he’ll feel like he already does. Maybe with some puking added…

Anyway, if you have any good vibes to share, I’d appreciate them. This morning, I decided to record a song… one that I’ll probably use when the time comes to make a video (or two) for Arran. I am a realist. I know he doesn’t have long. Even if he didn’t have lymphoma, he’s nearing the end of his time. But we want to see if we can delay the inevitable a bit.

Today’s musical project.

The other day, I ran across a very good article written by a vet from Charlottesville, Virginia whose elderly dog had leukemic lymphoma and got chemo. His dog was diagnosed in summer 2009 and lived an amazing 16 months. The vet who wrote the article explained that age is not a reason not to do chemo, especially when you consider that, for a dog, even a month extra is significant time that they can spend with the people they love. And if some of that time is spent feeling almost normal, it’s certainly worth it to try– if you have the means. We do, for once, have the time and the financial means to do something. And even if the worst happens, it’s still more chemo experience for the veterinarian who will be helping us today. So… we’ve got nothing significant to lose, and potentially more time and love to gain.

I think Arran senses something, too. Before we took our walk, he came over to me and starting licking my leg, looking at me with so much love. I hate cancer so much. But maybe, as my late cousin, Karen, once said, taking care of Arran when he needs it most is a blessing bestowed by God. Karen was a very religious person. I’m not, necessarily, but I did grow up in a musical, religious family… hence today’s musical selection.

Well, it’s time to practice guitar, stir the chili, and steel ourselves for what’s coming in the afternoon. Fingers crossed… Good news is, tomorrow Arran’s favorite person will be home for the weekend. Maybe instead of an Alison Krauss song, I should have recorded “Hold On” by Wilson Phillips. 😉

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memories, nostalgia, tragedies, Virginia

German road signs that make me fall down rabbit holes…

A few days ago, when Bill and I were heading home from our trip to the Black Forest, I looked up and noticed a road sign for a town called Hirschberg. Google tells me that Hirschberg is a town in the northwestern part of the German state of Baden-Württemberg (as well as a place in Thuringia). I’ve never been there, and before Monday, I had never noticed that sign. But seeing the name of that town brought back some very old memories from my hometown of Gloucester, Virginia.

This is something I’ve noticed in Europe and the United Kingdom. A lot of the place names here, and in my home state of Virginia, come from surnames. A lot of places in Virginia, especially, are named after places in older establishments. Take, for instance, the town of Kilmarnock, Virginia. It shares that name with a place in Scotland. I guess people from Scotland settled the town in Virginia and named it after their original hometown across the pond. I have to agree, having been to both places, the landscapes are kind of similar.

In any case, when I saw the name Hirschberg, I was immediately reminded of a tragic story from my childhood, over 40 years ago. The date was March 23, 1981. I was eight years old, and a third grader at Botetourt Elementary School. In March 1981, I had only lived in Gloucester for about nine months. My parents bought their business, The Corner Cottage, in the spring of 1980 and we moved to Gloucester on June 21st of that year, the day after my 8th birthday. I experienced quite a culture shock in Gloucester, because we had come from Fairfax, Virginia, which is a MUCH more populated place. And we’d only been in Fairfax for two years; prior to that, we lived on Mildenhall Air Force Base in Suffolk, England. In 1981, I still felt kind of like a foreigner in the United States, having spent three of my conscious years abroad. I wasn’t fitting in very well in Gloucester and, truth be told, I hated it there.

My next sister, Sarah, was sixteen years old on March 23, 1981. She was soon going to be 17 years old, and she attended eleventh grade at Gloucester High School. I would graduate from there myself in 1990. In 1981, 1990 seemed like a million years away. And in 2022, 1990 seems like it was yesterday.

In 1981, the principal at GHS was Mr. Donald W. Hirschberg. I didn’t know anything at all about him, but I do remember Sarah talking about her life at GHS. She probably mentioned the principal, too. She seemed so grown up to me at that time. I remember she was studying French and was even allowed to come to Botetourt to “teach” French to some of the gifted kids. At the time, one of my friends was one of Sarah’s “pupils”.

I don’t think Sarah was at Botetourt on Monday, March 23, 1981, though. That was a day that is still remembered by a lot of my peers because it was the day that Mr. Hirschberg’s wife, Nancy, and their twelve year old daughter, Julie, would die in a horrific car accident. I’m not absolutely certain, but I think another child also died in that crash. I make that assumption because I found a Facebook post about the accident that mentioned another girl who died. Strangely, I don’t remember hearing as much about her.

I was still very new to Gloucester in 1981, so I never had the pleasure of meeting Julie. She was three years older than me, and went to what was then called Gloucester Middle School and later became an elementary school (after I had finished GMS myself). I do remember the accident, though. It happened at a time when Gloucester had very few traffic lights. I know it’s a cliche, but in 1981, that county was still very much covered in farmland. We had a McDonald’s and a Pizza Hut that served the whole county. The water in Gloucester Courthouse, which is about a mile or two from where I lived, had really disgusting water that tasted like sulfur. Our house had well water, which was only marginally better. I remember turning on the taps and seeing rusty water.

I’m not totally sure where the fatal intersection was, but I know I drove past it many times. Route 17 runs from north to south through Gloucester. It’s the main artery through the county, and it’s virtually impossible to avoid driving on it if you’re traveling through Gloucester. I actually think the intersection was one very close to my home. For years, there was nothing but a stop sign there, where people would wait as traffic coming down Route 17 barreled down the highway. Since 1981, the farmland has been turned into a huge Walmart complex. People probably don’t zoom past that intersection anymore, because it’s now heavily moderated by traffic lights. If that wasn’t the intersection, then it was one not far from there, and I would have passed it many times over the 19 years Gloucester was my actual home.

So there I was on Monday, October 3, 2022, speeding down the Autobahn, suddenly remembering Gloucester in the early 80s. I saw that sign for the town of Hirschberg in Germany, and it made me think of twelve year old Julie… a girl I never knew, but heard a lot about when I was growing up. Knowing how Gloucester was in the 80s, I feel very sure we would have probably met at some point. Back then, Gloucester was the kind of place where most people knew each other. I don’t think it’s like that anymore, though. I do still know a lot of people who live there, as a number of my classmates either never left or have returned with their own families.

I got curious about Mr. Hirschberg, too. So I looked him up, and discovered that he died in 1998. He had moved to Poquoson, a city not far from Gloucester, and remarried a woman with the same first name as his late first wife’s. Mr. Hirschberg, at age 61, wasn’t that old when he passed. I wonder if he never got over the grief of that terrible accident. People on Facebook were still discussing it as recently as 2011, with some saying they would never forget that night. A few said it was the first tragedy of their lives, and the first funeral they ever attended. Some said that they still think of Julie and the other girl who died every time they go through that intersection.

I think about the fact that Julie was just three years older than me, and it appears that she was a very popular girl with a lot of promise. She was involved in many community activities and probably would have gone on to live a very productive life. It amazes me that her life ended the way it did– so suddenly, tragically, and randomly, it seems. It could have been any one of us who met that fate. I wonder what she would think about me– someone who never met her, but was one of her contemporaries– thinking and writing about her 41 years after her death, reading about her on the Internet, which didn’t even really exist for regular people back in 1981. I wonder what she would think about people in the “You grew up in Gloucester” Facebook group, still remembering her in 2011 and posting about that dreadful day in March 1981. Julie never experienced Facebook, but I bet she’d know it well if she had lived to see adulthood. I never knew Julie, but I knew a lot of her friends, and they still miss her so many years later. That amazes me.

I haven’t been to Gloucester since 2010, when my mom finally sold the house I grew up in. I was astonished by how different Gloucester was then. It was weird to walk through the house and see things I hadn’t seen since we moved in back in 1980. Our house was old, and kind of weird, so there was a big plumbing pipe coming up through the floor in the tiny room that had served as my bedroom in the early 80s. It had been covered by my twin sized bed for many years. Now it was laid bare, looking as strange as it did in 1980. Even our house is very different now than it was in 1980. My parents doubled its size in 1984, when they added on a new kitchen and a knitting and needlepoint “shop” for my mom to run. My dad had a new custom picture framing “shop” built in 1997, knocking down the weird building that was erected there some decades before. Now, it’s owned by the lady my dad hired in 1989 to help him frame pictures.

Isn’t it funny how the most random things can cause a person to fall down a rabbit hole of memories? Or, at least that’s how it happens for me. I used to wish I was born in 1968, so I could be closer in age to my sisters and have more of a relationship with them. But now I’m glad I was born when I was. I think it was the right time. I don’t know why my mind takes me on these tangential rides, but I have a feeling someone else out there still remembers Julie. I’ll probably be “visited” here by people from Gloucester, who can recall the spring of 1981, too. I am not a Gloucester native, but I know a lot of people are, and they have long memories.

I was pretty fortunate to grow up in Gloucester, even though I hated it in the 80s. My sisters were all Air Force brats, so they were moved constantly. I don’t know if they really feel like they have a “hometown” like I do. They’ve settled in different places, but their childhoods were nomadic. I used to be envious of them, but then I became an Army wife and experienced that lifestyle myself. I think it would have been hard for me as a child. It’s hard as an adult. It’s nice to know that there is a place where people remember me, even if no one in my family lives there anymore. I’m glad to have some roots… although I doubt I’ll be moving back there. I don’t think I fit there anymore. It’s like the old Neil Diamond song, “I Am… I Said”, when he sings:

Well I’m New York City born and raised
But nowadays
I’m lost between two shores
L.A.’s fine, but it ain’t home
New York’s home
But it ain’t mine no more

Yeah. I can relate to that.

Just because it’s a great song that still works in 2022.
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condescending twatbags, Military, overly helpful people, sexism, social media

“Virginia Military Institute routinely turns out bullies and domestic abusers…”

Here’s another post for the “stupid shit I learned in the comment section of a newspaper” file. I got so fired up after an exchange I had in the comment section, that I just had to write another blog post today. So here I am, venting my spleen. If you came here to read this and then straighten me out, just know that I agree with you that it’s bullshit that VMI turns out abusers. My father, uncle, and several cousins are VMI graduates. At least two of my aunts and an uncle were employed there for many years. I know about the culture at VMI. I am also an Air Force brat and former Army wife… although my husband still works for the Army, so I’m still in the culture.

Apparently, I’ve been living in the Twilight Zone, though… unaware of what REALLY goes on in the military and at military colleges. Why? Because I didn’t condemn a photo shared by the Washington Post in an article about the 25th anniversary of allowing women to attend. I will admit the photo is shocking. I have run out of free articles, so I can’t unlock this one for my readers, but if you click the link, you can see the alarming photo. It’s a picture of 18 year old Megan Smith of Colorado, who was one of 30 brave young women who matriculated at VMI in 1997, when it first admitted women. She’s tiny, and surrounded by several large young men who are screaming at her. This is a scene that has played out at VMI since 1839. My father went through it, as did my uncle, and at least four cousins. Most of them went on to serve as officers in the military, although my dad was the only one to stay in long enough to retire with full benefits.

Megan Smith is now married, and works as a European Patent lawyer in the South of France, near Marseilles. She was extensively interviewed for the article, and several photos were included of her during her time at VMI. I didn’t get the sense that she blamed VMI for any trauma. In fact, she outright stated that everyone was being treated in the same way. I’m sure some of her male Brother Rats were not much bigger than she was, either, and they were getting screamed at, too. I would also bet that learning how to deal with high pressure verbal confrontations has served her well in her law career.

I don’t think I would have enjoyed VMI myself. Personally, I don’t like being screamed at or berated. I would consider it verbal abuse. But that’s me… and I know that many people who have gone through VMI came out of it absolutely LOVING the school. My dad worshiped VMI. He was tickled pink that I got married there, even though Bill isn’t himself a graduate. Thousands of people went through exactly what Megan Smith went through at VMI. Many thousands more have endured the same treatment in basic training for one of the services or at other military colleges. Or… maybe they’ve gotten it in other training. I’ll bet many a physician has gone through their share of abuse during their internships. For some people, it’s a rite of passage. For others, it’s traumatizing. But isn’t it nice to be able to choose which path one wishes to take?

Well, some guy named Kent decided to take me on. He claimed that the type of training at VMI attracts psychopaths and abusers, and then sanctimoniously lectured me about how just because it’s “tradition”, that doesn’t mean it’s not damaging. I will agree. To some people, Hell Week and being on the Rat Line probably is traumatizing and damaging. But that’s not everyone. If you think about it, my two years in the Peace Corps might have traumatized some people. I grew from it, but others might not have been able to hack it. Not everyone is cut out for the Peace Corps. Not everyone is made for military life. It is what it is.

When I didn’t agree with Kent, he started to mansplain, which immediately turned me off. I can’t stand people who try to lecture me, especially when they make assumptions about who I am, what I know, and how I think. So I told him I didn’t appreciate him trying to tell me what I do and don’t know, especially since we’re strangers. Then I advised him to have a good day. Most people would naturally take that to mean the conversation is over, but not Kent. He came back with two more paragraphs of the same drivel. So I wrote, “I said I was done. You are not very respectful yourself, are you?” (In fact, I would call it abuse)

He came back with another two or three paragraphs that were rude, dismissive, and insulting, complete with sarcasm and lecturing. I guess he didn’t realize that as he was lecturing me about abuse, he had become rather abusive himself. So I blocked him.

Then I got a comment from a woman named Sherry, who told me that abuse always comes from the military. I told her she was wrong. Then she laugh reacted and wrote, “You must have never been in an abusive relationship.” That comment was surprising. It was if she almost would have hoped I had been abused by Bill. Like, it’s a negative that I have a good marriage! And no, I haven’t been involved in domestic violence at his hands, but he was in a domestic violence situation with his ex wife, and she was the aggressor. She was NOT in the military. He’s not the only one, either. He’s known people in the military who were abused by a spouse who wasn’t serving. I didn’t respond to her comment, other than to ask her not to make assumptions about people she doesn’t know.

Then I got another comment from someone named Diana, who also felt I needed schooling. She was basically respectful, but once again, I failed to understand why so many people seemed to NEED to correct my opinion. As if being browbeaten and harassed by a stranger in the comment section of a newspaper is going to make me “see the light” somehow. She lectured me about herd mentality, and how it leads to abuse, after I had already bid her, too, a good day.

So I came back and wrote that I think the VAST majority of people commenting on that article didn’t read it, because it’s behind a paywall. They are reacting to a shocking photo. Most of them have zero experience with the school. I am writing as someone whose uncle actually renovated the barracks for the women in 1997, as he was in charge of the physical plant at the time. No, I didn’t attend VMI, but I have many relatives who either worked there or went there. And I have firsthand experience with the school and its graduates. I would not pay to go to VMI. It’s not for me. BUT– I did go to Longwood University, a coed school, where I experienced unwelcome and inappropriate interactions with people sometimes. But you know what? I have experienced that multiple times in multiple situations. Unfortunately as much as we’d like it not to be so, sometimes abuse is part of life. And part of life is learning how to deal with it and move on.

I also explained to Diana that I have both a MSW and a MPH, so I know something about abuse. I don’t need her to explain it to me, nor does she need to tell me about “herd mentality”. I just wanted to make a simple comment as someone with some applicable ties to the school. My comment doesn’t give people license to preach at me, diagnose me, or make erroneous assumptions about my life experiences.

No one is forced to go to VMI or any of the other military colleges. No one is forced to stay there if they hate it. No one is forced to join the military or be a police officer or do any other job they don’t like. Frankly, I think that learning how to cope in stressful situations is a good thing. At least if someone goes too far at VMI, something can be done about it.

Moreover, that exchange really, once again, reminds me why Donald Trump got elected. People don’t like to be lectured by people who don’t know what they’re talking about… or make assumptions that you don’t know what YOU’RE talking about. My father was a VMI grad, and he was a veteran. And yes, he was abusive to me at times. But I think he would have been that way regardless. In fact, I was telling Bill that I think that if my dad hadn’t joined the Air Force, he would have been worse. My dad’s drinking and abuse didn’t get especially bad until he was in business for himself, facing the stress of making enough money every month to keep the business going. Granted, the PTSD he suffered in Vietnam didn’t help, either. But he also had PTSD from being raised by an abusive alcoholic. That wouldn’t have changed if he had gone to a regular college and stayed a civilian (not that he necessarily could have in the Vietnam era).

Wouldn’t the world be a boring place if everyone felt compelled to say the same thing as their neighbor says? Or think the way their neighbor thinks? I don’t think any of my comments were that out of line. They were based on a lifetime of actual experience with people who legitimately know VMI intimately, and my own personal experiences, not just a news story and a shocking photo. It makes me sad that people feel like they need to correct other people’s opinions and make assumptions about them, especially when they are total strangers. I just wanted to leave a comment, for Christ’s sake. But I guess that’s another lesson that it’s better to keep quiet, lest you get sucked into stupidity.

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