Family

Election Day, 2008, Echo Park California
Election Day, 2008, Echo Park California

Election Day.

95 degrees in sunny LA. I came back from a short run, took a shower, and turned on the TV, looking forward to the end of this awful election, history being made with the our first woman President, who aside from being female was as absolutely mainstream an insider as you could find. Once history was made, it would be the same old same old, but it would be worth it, I guess, for the symbolic victory, and anyhow it seemed that anything would be better than Trump.

The polls were barely closed on the east coast, but already things seemed wrong. An hour in, they seemed desperately wrong. We were still voting here in California, but it wasn’t going to matter. It was over. Somehow America had done the unfathomable: we had elected Donald Trump.

Before this Tuesday, I don’t think I’ve ever felt frightened by an election. I’ve felt saddened, hopeful, disappointed, but never actually afraid.

This election left me frightened.

The Guy Who Might Be My Nephew.

A few days later I find myself on facebook. I have a half brother I haven’t spoken to in over 30 years. I think we talked on the phone once in 1986. I haven’t seen him since I was 3. I’m 56 now. But we are friends on facebook.

Every so often I look at his page. I’m wondering what people are doing in Minnesota after this election. A guy posted “Happy Birthday, Unc!” I have a half sister, too. I guess that guy would be her son, which means he would be my nephew.

I don’t know what ever happened to my half sister. The last I heard was in the late 80s. She was the guardian of our grandmother, who had alzheimers. She moved her out from Billings, Montana to Minneapolis. A few years went by. Some old friends of my grandmother – people she had sponsored when they immigrated from Hungary to the United States in the 1950s – had stopped by to visit while in Minnesota, and were horrified by what they saw.

The court transcripts were sordid. It looks like my sister abused our grandmother, and pretty much stripped the estate. The caregivers were all frightened of her. They claimed in court or in depositions that they feared for my grandmother’s life and, sometimes, for theirs.

My sister never bothered to show up in court. There wasn’t much money left in what had been a not inconsiderable estate. Her guardianship was summarily revoked. My grandmother’s Hungarian friends moved her into a home back in Billings, Montana. She died a few years later.

It seemed like there were drugs and criminality. I thought I’d heard that my sister was not a model citizen. She was already getting high back in 1962, or so I’d been told.

This guy who might be my nephew, he looks like he’s been down a rough road. He looks like a Trump voter, actually, but I think that of all rough looking blue collar rust-belt guys, especially ones who spend a lot of time hunting and fishing. This is me stereotyping. Minnesota went to Trump. I think he has a kid with autism. Does it run in the family? My presumed nephew is about 8 years younger than me. His last name rings a bell.

I look up my sister again. I do this every few years, and I never find anything new. Looks like she’s living in an old folks home now. She must be around 70. I see a marriage record, and I see a divorce record. 1977, it looks like. She was 28 and he was 30. This is my nephew’s father, which is why the-guy-I-think-is-my-nephew’s name rings a bell.

My sister and me, 1960
My sister and me, Devil’s Lake North Dakota, 1960

Life in Prison, No Parole.

I google my sister’s husband. There’s a little more info on him than there is on her. This is entirely because he is serving time for murder. He and his buddy held up a bar, and he shot a guy. They were caught 20 minutes later. The cash was in his bedroom. The guns were in his girlfriend’s purse. He says he’s innocent.

They caught him so quickly because he used his own car for the robbery, and his car was a distinctive piece of junk. A detective recognized the description of the getaway vehicle. He was already a suspect in a bunch of other robberies. My brother-in-law was not a skillful criminal. His ineptitude would be comical if people hadn’t died, but there’s nothing funny about a murderer.

He’s serving a life sentence plus 25 years sentences. He went to prison in 1986. I don’t think he will be getting out any time soon.

My sister and her husband married in 1967, two months after their son – my nephew – was born. He was 20. She was 18. They divorced in 1977. A few months later, he disguised himself as a woman, taped cotton to his nose, borrowed his girlfriend’s car, and he a buddy pulled off an armed robbery of a pharmacy, stealing money and cash. He pistol whipped one of the pharmacists, held his gun to the head of another and threatened to blow his brains out. They were caught soon after, the cash from the heist found in his girlfriend’s apartment.

He served 6 years in prison.

Not long after he was released from prison he was convicted again, this time for swindling. And two years after that, the barroom robbery, murder, and life plus 25 years.

These are drug addict stories. Tweaker, probably. I see his mugshot online. Not a bad looking guy. This is all straight out of Larry Clark’s Tulsa, except that it’s taken place in Minneapolis.

My brother once described his life as something from a Larry Clark photo. I’ll have 20 years sober in a few months. I didn’t get sober because I was on a health kick, that much you be sure of.

I had no idea when I woke up this morning that I had a brother-in-law serving time for murder in Minneapolis. This is my fractured family. Maybe we are emblematic of something profoundly fucked up in America. Maybe not. If we are, it’s nothing new.

It all begins with a young man from North Dakota who went to war, and returned a few years later not quite right. That was our father. Everything after that seems touched by violence. Everything after that seems touched by alcoholism and addiction. Not always just touched. Sometimes walloped. Sometimes the people ended up in the hospital. A few others ended up dead. At least one is in prison.

And we just elected Trump two days ago.

The election was a shock. It seems that none of us saw it coming. Suddenly, I’m living in an America that is darker, meaner, much more violent than I’d ever thought possible. It scares me, and it saddens me. And every time I dig a little deeper into the family tree it seems I find the same thing – something a little darker, meaner, and more violent that I’d ever though possible.

This is the only America I’ve ever lived in, and this is the only family I’ve ever had. They haven’t changed. Only my awareness has.

And this is why they say “ignorance is bliss.”

Down in the mud.
Down in the mud.

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