To The Family Tribe of the Other

Hi. If you read that long epistle I wrote and got really irritated and bugged and kept rolling your eyes or thought things like, “it’s not that bad,” or “she’s exaggerating and it’s disgusting,” or “we’re not like that at all,” then rest assured it was not for you! Congratulations! You are not the Other in your family. Your knee-jerk reactions of anger, frustration, disgust, and fear are totally normal.

It’s ok to feel threatened. It’s tribal. Let me just assure you that I’m not trying to make you do anything. I know how deep your feelings of protecting your tribe go.

If you find as you read this piece that you kept thinking of someone in particular or maybe one of your tribe members sent it to you personally, you may want to consider how that person feels like the Other whether or not you think they should.

As you read above, this is a deep and authentic tribal behavior we do as mammals. Owning that you may be a part of this dysfunctional dynamic in your own tribe does not make you a bad person. It makes you an unaware person. And now that you’re becoming aware, what will you do?

As you engage in the habitual thinking you’re accustomed to, where “they” are doing things that drive you crazy and why don’t “they” just stop and/or grow up, try switching just that one word to “we.” Why don’t we just stop and/or grow up? Why don’t we try harder? Why do we keep getting stuck in these bad habits? What are we afraid of? What’s the payoff for me believing that Brian is being such a screw-up? How am I benefiting from this broken dynamic?

Here’s the big secret (that’s not a secret): There are no Others. We’re all just us. You’re all just You. Your tribe is all one tribe and what’s happening to the lowest and poorest and lowliest member of your tribe is happening to You. Own it. And then make strides to change it to something healthier.

I know you can change this part of yourself if you want to because of The Benjamin Franklin Affect. Now, it should be noted that BF was a real jerk and many people despised him, but that’s what makes this so interesting. You can read all about it here, but the cliff notes version is thus: serve those you don’t like because your behavior changes your attitude. (“We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be.” – Kurt Vonnegut) And when we find ourselves in situations where we feel or do or say things that we aren’t proud of, we turn it around on the Other person and make it their fault by justifying our behavior. “Well, I never would have said that if she hadn’t said what she said first. And anyway, it’s probably for her own good. Someone needs to tell her the truth.” Stop trying to make “your view of the world fit with how you feel or what you’ve done.”

Now, think about the Other in your family. How have you created them to be an Other? What stories do you tell yourself and the other members of your family about them? How are you keeping yourselves safe? What would it take to be brave enough to bring them back inside the fold? It can start with just you. You can do it. You can make the change. Serve them and love them with no reservations of Other. See them like you see yourself – imperfect but basically good and doing the best you can. And even when you don’t believe it, act as if you do and visualize why you’re right to act that way, and then the feelings of real love and acceptance will come.

But wait, Leah, you want to yell. You don’t know what my particular Other has done, you want to explain. And I’ll tell you, it doesn’t matter. Most differences between us are entirely arbitrary and meaningless.

We’re all fighting to be included. No one wants to be the outsider. It fills us with dread and keeps us up at night starting around age three and can continue until we die because being included means survival and safety. What an extreme waste of time, resources, and energy. If you’re on the inside and you’ve felt like an outsider from time to time in your life, how much more fear, dread, shame, and sadness does your family’s Other feel?

Fill this need by rooting for your favorite baseball team, not standing against an individual, especially if they’re in your own family. Just think what we could change in the world if we could figure this out in our own families, then friend circles, then neighborhoods and workplaces etc. We could literally change the world to be kinder and more inclusive.

If you keep trying, you’ll both get better at this. The minute you start to think about how you can change the other person, you know you’ve wandered down the wrong path. Eyes on your own paper, please.

Also, CoDA.

The Harm of Othering

(Are you a Person of Color? You will see the * periodically throughout this piece. Please know as you read I am talking about family dynamics and not systemic racism, which is a completely different kettle of fish.)

I’ve been thinking about you. And about me because I am you. And about how all of us fit together in this Earth Experience, this thing called, (as Prince said), Life.

I don’t love labels so I try to avoid them, but sometimes they are helpful when you’re trying to get down to the nitty-gritty and see what’s what. There are other words we could use like “crazy” and “lazy” and “selfish” or “difficult” and “stubborn” and “insensitive” or “damaged” and “outcast.” “Other” tends to cover it all.

Chances are you live differently than the rest of your family. Like, they’re all really religious and you can’t stand church because you feel like they’re all a bunch of hypocrites. Or they’re all into outdoor sports and being competitive and you’d rather stay in and watch movies. Or they all love getting together for holidays and weekend meals and you dread it with the fire of a thousand suns because you know the conversation will eventually turn to you and how you’re failing at oh, well, just about everything. This topic, the one where you don’t perform how they want, is one of the most conversed subjects and they don’t ever seem to get tired of talking about it. Plus, bonus points for how many times someone asks why you don’t even care how much you’re hurting your parents/grandparents. You’re the cautionary tale. You’ve probably used drugs or alcohol to cope. You might have been abused as a child, which no one wants to discuss and everyone wants to pretend didn’t happen and they wish you would “just get over it already.” If you’d only try harder. (SIGH)

You probably have one sibling or aunt or cousin that you can talk to. This person is the only person in your family that kind of “gets you.” They act as a go-between when conversations about future plans or other necessities need to take place. They walk the tight-rope and do a lot of explaining on behalf of everyone else and translate what you say back to the family and vice versa. And yet, rarely do they stick up for you in the moment you need them to in a group setting. They shrug their shoulders as if to say, heck I would if I could but these people, you know?

It’s Not Really You

Here’s some truth: You are not the cause of the problems in your family. You are the result. Your family is dysfunctional and they have chosen you to be the receptacle for their garbage. The good news is that you are not alone. In fact, almost all families have a You in them. I know that might not make you feel any better, but it might at least help you feel like you belong somewhere. Congratulations!

There have always been outcasts because we as humans have always been in tribes. In order for tribes to feel strong and cohesive and SURVIVE, there had to be an US versus THEM mentality. Not many of us actually need this dynamic anymore, given that we live in homes and have food on the table and our actual physical survival isn’t brokered by creating bonding rituals. And yet, these old patterns persist.

In the 50s, you would have been called the “Identified Patient.” You’re the reason your family doesn’t have to deal with any of their real issues. You’re a convenient scapegoat and as long as everyone can point their fingers at you and talk about you and feel bad about you, the dysfunction continues and it gets to be all your fault. It’s not like they all got together without you and said ok look, now we’re all going to decide together that Ralph is the bad one in this family and no matter what he does or how he tries to improve we’re going to see him as different than us and basically a loser. No. For the most part it’s completely subconscious. And for all your family’s tears and lectures and begging you to change, they’d have no idea what to do if you were actually different than how they see you, which is why you can’t BE different. No matter how you try, you slip right back into that rut of the screw-up. Because why try if they’re never going to see you as different? This is called hamster wheel thinking.

Families are just like any other group or tribe of people in that you usually have a leader, some followers, and often, the punching bag for morale. Degrading the out-group person has a positive impact for the core group. Having that person to compare the rest of the group to brings everyone else closer. This isn’t really a surprise. We as humans like to make comparisons. That’s basically how our entire world is run.

Have you seen The Office? That person is Dwight. Did you watch Family Matters? It was Steve Urkel. Or maybe you’ve watched Parks & Rec. That person is Larry/Gary/Terry/Barry/Jerry, whom everyone delights in shaming and calling names. And L/G/T/B/Jerry just takes it all in stride, sometimes playing along with whatever the running gag is. He doesn’t seem to get offended, but instead understands the psychology of group behavior and rarely takes it personally, despite the fact that he’s actually very talented in many ways, quite smart, has a beautiful family, and is economically stable. You see, this is a primal thing we do. It’s been bred into us for so many years that unless we’re willing to really step back and take a fearless accounting of how we contribute to the dynamic, it’s almost impossible to be different.

It’s biological. When we lived in actual tribes, these behaviors were helpful. The closer-knit your tribe was, the higher chance your survival rate was. It was crucial to know who was US and who was THEM and to always be assured that you were on the winning aka surviving team. This is hard-wired into our brains. It feels like relief to be surrounded by people that are LIKE you. And if someone threatens that safety? You create the Other and every time you reinforce that perception of Other, your brain rewards you with endorphins that feel like safety. So, if you have to sacrifice one tribal member but that means that the rest of you are safe, well, I guess that was worth it.

We still like to make someone the Other, mainly because that means we aren’t that person. Othering is when we distance ourselves from someone or a group of people who we don’t want to see any similarities with and think of them as distinctly different than us. We make them less than us, and in our minds, that means less than human, which helps us justify our actions and beliefs.

It doesn’t always look like a major thing. No one in my family came right out and said, Leah, we just don’t think you’re one of us. But I felt that way. You notice the eye rolling and crying in frustration and sarcastic comments more than anything else. Most of the time, the comments and gestures “of love” that were heavily laden with religion and hard-wired with strings were the hardest for me to stomach.


Let me give you an example of how this tribal dynamic works. One day I was reading a final draft of the first book I wrote, Not Otherwise Specified, to some of my siblings as we drove for several hours to a family gathering in another state. The passage I was reading was about sexual abuse to me done by a stranger when I was very little. One of my sisters interrupted me and asked, “Why didn’t you stop him?” Another sister asked, “Why didn’t you just run away?”

Let’s explore what happened. I’m a member of a family. They are my tribe. They are listening to a younger member of their tribe talk about something horrific that happened to her and it’s deeply upsetting and brings up fear, anger, and probably other gut emotions that are unclear. In the heat of those uncomfortable feelings, they say certain things but really, they mean something else entirely. Sister 1 is really asking, “How can it be that a member of my tribe had something so horrible happen to her and why did that happen and why didn’t I stop it from happening and could it have happened to me and is it my fault?” and sister 2 is really asking, “How can these things happen in my tribe and if it had been me would I have been able to run away because if she didn’t, maybe I couldn’t have, but that’s too scary to think about so it must be her fault.” Neither one of them said, “It was your fault.” And yet, the feeling they projected to me, out of fear, was that it was my fault. To think otherwise would put the tribe in danger.

Let me give you another example. When I was a teen, my father came to a meeting with my therapist who proceeded to tell him about a rape that had happened to me a couple of years earlier. The first thing my father asked was, “What what she wearing?” Here my father was clearly suggesting the rape was, at least partially, my fault. Putting aside the religious upbringing my father had and the generational beliefs about men, their urges, and women and their responsibility for those urges, my father was also saying, “How could this have happened to a member of my tribe and what does this say about me as the leader and am I responsible and if so, that’s terrifying and I’m not as good of a protector as I thought I was so it must be her fault.” Coming from that point of view, he remained a successful leader of the tribe and no one else was in danger. It should be noted that later in that same conversation my dad pointed out to the therapist that none of his other seven children had any of the problems I had, so therefore, it must be my fault I was the way I was. Classic!

I’ll give you one last example. In my first marriage, my ex-husband’s family exhibited classic tribe behavior. You were either “One of Us” or you were not, and to be “Not” meant being at the sharp end of all the “No, we’re just kidding, we didn’t really mean it that way, you’re too sensitive” jokes. I watched family members scramble to get In after being kicked Out over and over. I had the unique perspective of never really fitting In in the first place, so while I was tolerated for several years, I didn’t ever feel that need or urge to jump through hoops to get or stay In. Plus, I had an entire childhood of being the Other under my belt, so I had a lot of practice when I got married at 17 at being the outcast. My ex-husband, however, had been unconsciously playing this game his entire life, so being married to me could have been quite a liability, but instead it was a bonus. He got to play the “married to the crazy lady” card pretty much always, which worked to his benefit. He always looked like the good guy, the long-suffering guy, the aw-shucks I’m just doing my best guy. And his tribe enfolded him in their tribal love where he was safe and supported.

So, now that we’re all clear on what’s really happening, the logical question is would you like anything to change? You can’t change them, so don’t even try. But, you can change you.

It can feel deeply satisfying to continue being angry and frustrated at your tribe’s lack of empathy and demonstrate that outwardly with your choices and behavior. No one can take that sense of justice from you if you want to keep it and I’m certainly not judging that choice.

But, I am all about holding my own power and Acting on Purpose, not Reacting, whenever possible, so if you do want things to change, here’s how I did it and it might work for you, too.

Identify What’s Really Going On

It can be super tricky to separate what’s actually happening in the physical world from what’s happening just under the surface where all the feelings and energy and things-with-no-words are taking place. That’s the crazy-making part. That’s why your tribe can tell you that you’re making it up and all they want is for you to be happy and then you start to second guess yourself and think man, maybe I AM crazy!

Until you figure out how to see with both sets of eyes, it’s going to be confusing and you’re going to be moving through your life mostly just on instinct.

Here’s what your family is Feeling: fear, anger, frustration, disgust, pride.

Here’s what your family is Projecting to you: Guilt, blame, sadness, disappointment, embarrassment, anger.

Here’s what is Real: They feel fear, anger, and are stuck in a pattern they aren’t even aware of and will not confront so there’s no way to fix it.

Here’s what you can Do: See them with compassion, empathy, maybe forgiveness, set good boundaries, cut ties when necessary, focus on yourself, and get free of your old patterns.

When I was young, I wouldn’t clean my room or do any of my chores in a timely manner. It was like it was just beyond me. This wasn’t because I couldn’t clean my room. I knew how and I was really good at organizing, actually. My mom would have to remind, remind, remind, and ultimately beg me to do my chores. Meanwhile, my other siblings had finished ages ago and were off playing outside or with friends. And there I’d be, downstairs in my room, sprawled on the floor atop mountains of toys and clothes and unable to move a muscle. Sometimes crying, sometimes spacing out, always in my own little world.

As an adult I’ve had time to process this behavior and I realize that the core feeling of being “bad” was just too strong for me to do anything “good.” Doing my chores the first time my mom asked would have implied to my tribe that I was “good.” I felt NOT good. I felt very, very bad and in some weird sense of authenticity, I chose to stick with how I really felt and acted bad. I didn’t want to lie with my actions and be good. Which meant, in the long run, I was reinforcing the belief I was bad over and over again which made them see me as the Other.

Understanding this as an adult helps me deal with the gut-instinct that will surface occasionally that is completely contrary to how I’d truly like to be. I can see it as my Little Self trying to be authentic and I can instead choose to be authentic in a different and more constructive way.

See Yourself Differently

The message from your family is that you are a screw-up. Being the screw-up can be a comfortable shell because it’s so familiar and no one expects much. If you want to see yourself differently, you’ll need to do it without needing to make them see you a new way, because if you’re waiting on them, it won’t happen. That’s a beautiful self-sabotaging setup to get caught in and it means things will never be different. You wait – they withhold – you wait – etc.

It can also feel good to be different than the tribe that shuns you. This can make you go to extremes in behavior to distinguish yourself. Remind yourself that you don’t have to be a polar opposite to those in your tribe to be yourself. You probably have things in common with them that you’ve been stuffing down. It’s ok to be like them in some ways if you’re comfortable with those ways.

You’ll need to let go of the need to be “special” in this way. Being the Other means you get to sit back and look at the group and say, I’m not like them. They’re all hypocrites/lemmings/monsters and I’m nothing like them. This creates the feeling of being special and it can be hard to let it go because if you eventually fit in with all of them, what would be so great about you?

Seeing yourself differently means seeing things as they really are: you have some good points and some strong points and a lot of things you could work on. Also, no one is better than anyone else, which means your tribe is all equally as good or bad as you in their own ways. Chances are you’ve been so busy and working so hard at being different than your family, you don’t even know who you truly are deep down anymore. As much as your tribe has been caught in this primal game, you have been, too. It can be scary, but take some time to figure out what’s working for you in your life and let the rest go. You get to choose who you are. People can always, always, always change.

Change Victim Mentality


Man, this one is hard. There’s no blame here. It’s a continuous journey to stop playing this part but you can do it. You will never have the life you want if your life is always happening TO you. You can only have the life you want if you are the protagonist in your story. Be the lead. Be the main character. Make the choices. Make decisions on how you want to act and represent yourself. When things go terribly wrong, make level-headed choices, don’t simply react with primal emotions (fear, anger, frustration, disgust, pride).

There are absolutely horrific things that happen to people in this world. The playing field is NOT level. Things are not now fair nor have they ever been so. Sometimes you are stuck in a situation that affords you no relief from abuses. You will not have your needs met. People will fail you.

Take the time to process the feelings that come along with these things if they are or did happen to you. Stuffing them will not help you long-term. And once you feel those feelings, get them out because they will make you ill. They will fester. And if they keep happening, keep processing.

Stop telling yourself the stories about yourself that don’t help and are only partially true, like “everything bad happens to me.” Be fearless in making these changes. Make your life what you want it to be by setting boundaries with those that hurt you and holding others accountable for their actions, all while finding that center inside yourself where you can build peace to sustain your life of intention.*

Were you abused as a child? I was, and this can be particularly challenging for you, but it can be done. You were, in fact, a victim and that can stick to your inner self despite your best efforts. It sets off chain reactions of “life being unfair” and life complies by being unfair. When you’re ready, you have to look around you and decide that whatever happens from this point forward is on you. You need to see your future as your own, no matter what happened in your past. You have to change the way you talk to yourself so that you own everything. From this moment on, so-and-so didn’t do something to you.* So-and-so didn’t ruin your day.* They didn’t make you do anything.* YOU chose to do whatever it was you did.* YOU chose to have a day that was ruined.* No one can make you feel or do anything.*

There is so much freedom and happiness in claiming your life. Your life up until this point may have been the worst and most unfair life in all the unfair lives ever to have been lived, and STILL you can have a wonderful and happy life starting now, even if terrible things happen to you again.

Notice when your tribe isn’t sure what to do with this change and do it anyway. If you manage this change, it is going to send some of them for a loop. You may see them reaching to find someone else in your tribe to make the Other. But, you’ll call them out on it, right?

Find Your True Tribe

Find your people. I know you might be used to spending lots of time alone and isolating to limit the amount of horrible days in your life, but it’s time for some fresh air. Somewhere near you are others like you. They are quiet or smart or interesting or outgoing or writers or photographers or into horses or producing music or fermenting food or outdoor sports or whatever it is you’re into. They exist. There might only be one or two or who knows, dozens, in your area but you have to make an effort to find them.

If you don’t feel good about yourself when you’re with someone, then they aren’t your people. Your people should be lifting you up and making you feel like yes, I can do this. Keep exploring until you find the tribe of people that matches your intentions and your heart. They encourage you to improve and want to see you succeed. They’re happy when you’re happy for yourself. They don’t make jokes that belittle you. They don’t tell you you’re always overreacting. They don’t try to make you second-guess yourself and they don’t find it entertaining to keep you on your toes by making you feel uncomfortable.

Get To Know Yourself

You’ve been taught to doubt your own judgement. You’ve been reminded of your mistakes over and over again. You’ve been told you’re bad or no good and that you’ll never change. None of that is really you. It’s your tribe’s perception of you.

Who you are is perfectly flawed. Everyone makes mistakes. Everyone. The difference is in what you do next and how you choose to NOT make that same mistake again. Having an awareness of why something happened is a way to arrange things so the same thing won’t happen again.*

What are you good at? What are your strengths? What do you want to spend you life doing? How are the habits you engage in daily affecting where you want to go in life? Do you dare care?

Who and how you are is a gift to your family dynamic. They might not see that, but that’s ok. You bring something new to the table when you sit in your own strength and stop reacting to their unconscious barbs.

How will you learn your strengths? By spending time with yourself and feeling and thinking and tossing the junk. It’s hard work, no lie. But the reward of owning your life is immeasurable. I try and do a daily self-care activity so I can keep up on any unresolved stuff coming up. Walking, painting, writing, yoga, or pretty much anything you love that feeds your soul or strengthens your body, allowing you time to release, feel, and work through those feelings will work.

Don’t stop bringing up things in real time when you see an old behavior happening. Your brother makes a snide/sarcastic comment or someone tries to box you in with a Never or Always statement and you react like your old self, saying something harsh – take a beat, breathe, decide how you want to Act on Purpose and speak the truth. “I just said something I don’t really mean and I’m sorry. I’m learning how to change that about myself and it’s taking some time. Thank you for being patient while I learn a new skill.” And then get up and leave the room if you need to.

Don’t worry about what they think about you. You can’t change them or how they think or feel. You can only change yourself. One of my favorite quotes is by Martha Graham: “What people in the world think of you is really none of your business.” Stay on task – that task is you. You’re the only one you’re responsible for.

The more clear you are, the better chance you have of them understanding you. Don’t bring them into it by adding anything along the lines of, “you made me so mad” or “because you said.” You’re only talking about you and the changes you want to make for yourself.

Set and Keep Better Boundaries

So, this is a new one for you probably. If you’re anything like me, I hadn’t denied myself anything in years. I had just gone here and there and everywhere, following every unnamed feeling I had that I was or wasn’t aware of because it didn’t really matter what I did or didn’t do anyway. I was always the bad guy. There’s not a lot of motivation in that scenario to make me care to change anything.

But that meant I wasn’t doing anything On Purpose. I was just doing and doing and digging myself into bigger holes everywhere I went and wondering why nothing ever worked out for me. I drank often and a lot. I used drugs, sometimes compulsively, to numb. I started things and then didn’t finish them like college and jobs and projects. I kept erratic sleeping habits and somehow felt it was an accomplishment when I would stay up all night not realizing I was upsetting my body rhythm and it would take weeks for me to set it right again. And guess what I was doing in those weeks? Yes, I was drinking and using and trying to not feel anything at all. I was avoiding my tribe and seeking out superficial relationships that brought me no happiness and sometimes put me in a lot of danger. I was spending too much money if I had any money at all. I was blaming others for everything that went wrong in my life. I was depressed and unhappy and felt abandoned by everyone including myself.

What I finally had to do was have a long talk with myself. I told myself that for a long, long time I had been trying to cover up all the crappy feelings inside my core by using substances and not sleeping and basically treating myself like a real piece of garbage. And I asked myself if I wanted things to change. I told myself that I was going to try and do better and I made my very first set of lists of “Stuff I Like” and “Stuff I Want To Do” and “Stuff I’m Going To Change.” And then I told myself that because I was trying to learn to love myself I was going to try and be present in my own body and stop running away. I was going to parent myself with love and set good boundaries for myself, things I’d never allowed my own parents to do and had never done for myself up until that point. Things like eating better food and going to bed before midnight and getting outside more and saying nice things to myself and learning something new and maybe, more importantly, things like not hanging out with people that made me feel bad about myself including some members of my family and avoiding opportunities to get trashed and maybe getting a haircut.

And I tried to stop seeing my tribe as Other and to find our similarities. The magic of energy is that if one side changes, the other side has no choice but to change with it. If I become more positive, they have a choice to become more positive as well or more negative. But, either way, I’m more positive and that brings me more happiness. No one else in this life is in charge of your happiness and no one else in this life is in charge of your success.*

This is a lot of hard work and you have to really want it. It takes practice and you will fail a lot. But if you keep getting back up, you will succeed because that in itself is success. Of course, if you’ve cut ties with your family permanently for good reasons like physical/sexual/verbal abuse, you’ll need to learn this stuff on your own. CoDA would be a great place to start.

Also, I love you.

Also, CoDA.

Also, also, here’s a post for your family. xo

Slowly Fading

You wake up and everyone is outside picking peas in the garden. It’s the morning at your parent’s home before the morning you’re going to leave and go home. This visit was too short and you won’t see them for a few months. Again. Maybe six or seven. Maybe eight on the outside.


Mom’s the fastest pea-picker. She’s got the most experience. Joe tries to keep up, but her fingers are defter and have years of practice.


Dad is pulling up weeds, then pea plants. Occasionally he looks over, evaluates what Mom is doing and then, copying her, manages to pick a pea pod and put it in his bowl. He’s unsure about what they’re doing out there, but wanting to be a part of things, he carries on.

You snap a few photos because that’s what you do and there is a safety, a distance, at watching your father fade away slowly through the lens of a camera. You can hardly make yourself look straight at him this trip. It takes a herculean effort to stare straight at the sun, eyes never wavering, and accept and love and hold him in your heart because it doesn’t even feel like him anymore. He’s almost not there at all but what is there still looks like him and smiles like him and smells like him, mostly. There’s a new scent about him now on top of the other more familiar ones. You can’t place it but wonder if it’s just the smell of getting older. It’s still him, just not quite him.


The cousins do a puzzle in two hours flat and when you interrupt in the middle to corral them outside so you can take photos, they roll their eyes dramatically like you’ve just asked them to hike Mt. Kilimanjaro in clown suits.


But, they oblige with some good-natured, dramatic protesting, then ham it up for the camera.


Your sisters are some of the most beautiful people you know and they let you snap their photo.


And so do your brothers and your husband because recording every dang moment together feels important right now. Ever more important.


Most of the garden beds are flowers this year. What once held tomatoes and lettuce and carrots and other things that needed constant tending now hold wild flowers because there isn’t anyone with enough time and energy to tend them anymore. It’s beautiful and truthful and hard and sad. Dad can’t tell the difference between weeds and vegetable plants and Mom spends her days and nights watching over Dad.

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She helps him with everything. Everything. You hear her in the other room reminding him to do the smallest things that you know he’s done millions of times in his lifetime, but now they are just beyond him. She gets him his snacks. Helps him take a nap. Reminds him who all the people are in the house that he doesn’t know. And a few seconds later he’ll ask again where the pretty flowers on the table came from and Mom will explain, again, that they are from the pretty bush he loves and planted in the front yard. You’ll smile, again, and tell him they smell lovely. Dad will nod. And then ask again in a few minutes. With every rotation of the conversation you can feel your heart hurting and it’s also just the way it is, so you deal with it and feel glad he’s still there to ask about the flowers at all.

Dad reads the paper. *You watch him turn it this way and that way, folding and unfolding, staring and looking and reading the same articles over and over. You look away because you remember what an avid reader he once was. You remember him reciting from memory poem after poem while you sat in mortified silence because you were embarrassed that your dad was such an old, stodgy nerd that would read those old, fogie poems and take the time to memorize them and then make you sit there for minutes on end, nay, all of eternity, while the phrases of Rudyard Kipling’s If rang out of his mouth, loud and clear, commanding the room at every family function.

What you’d give now to hear him be able to recite anything. Or even remember who you are. And you have pains in your soul in a way you can’t even describe. Too bad you didn’t pay attention to any of that poetry. That’s probably where the words are that escape you and you’re angry at your teen self for being so short-sighted and wasting valuable time being so…so…teen. Even with the confusion of all the hard things that were between you, you love him deeply and wish you could have a conversation about something, anything, even if it was hard.


You ask Mom if she’s lonely. You want to make sure she’s ok, that she doesn’t feel isolated or left too much alone, without support. She says she loves Dad as much as she ever did and considers this the next part of their partnership. She says she’s fine, that she takes care of herself along with Dad and not to worry. You worry anyway and you love her fiercely in a way that you didn’t know possible and the grief rises a little and you wash a few more dishes and wonder what you can do to be more supportive from hundreds of miles away.


You take out your camera for the annual photos for next December’s Christmas card. You snap shots, this way and that way, looking at your parents through the lens and wondering how things can be like they are. The frustration at how unfair it feels fades away as you do what comes second-nature. You check the light, check your f-stop, check for dust on the lens and realize there’s nothing on the lens that keeps making things look blurry, that’s just you. You stare with the safety of the lens into the eyes of your dad and try to find him in there.


Then, your husband grabs the camera and takes a shot of the three of you and you see you, with them, and maybe some of who the man your dad still might be deep inside himself looking back at you. At least you want to think so when he gives you a hug and says, “Thanks. Come again sometime soon. We like it when our friends come to visit.


You wave goodbye to Mom who is standing by herself outside where they both used to stand when you left, blowing kisses and waving. And then you cry. And promise to come back soon before he fades too much further away. You hope. *And wouldn’t it be nice to believe that someday, maybe in heaven, Dad will be like he used to be or even better and you reconsider your non-belief of religion.


You get melancholy and your almost-twenty-year-old youngest son makes you laugh by buying a tshirt with a cow on it because it’s kinda funny and takes photos of it in bathroom mirrors where, as he says, all tall guys have problems seeing their heads.


You make friendship bracelets with him on the long drive home and think about how you don’t want to waste any moments and you realize he’s probably just humoring you, making knots and spending time creating “manly jewelry,” but you don’t care and you eat it up like it’s the best food you’ve ever eaten.


And you smile because he’s there and you’re with him and what else are you going to do, anyway, if not try to enjoy every moment possible before they fade away.

(*This was slightly edited after publishing.)

Remember That One Time? When I Had Lupus?

Here’s the skinny – I have lupus. Here’s the story, and it goes a little something like this –

Lupus affects skin, joints, blood, and kidneys – for me specifically = pulmonary hypertension and pleurisy/chest pain 3 winters in a row in 2001-03 and now off and on, swollen lymph nodes, memory problems, confusion, headaches, high fevers, behavioral changes such as depression and bipolar, personality change and psychosis***, fatigue, painful joints, anemia, rash on forehead and beginning on cheeks, sun sensitivity, hair loss, abdominal pain, nausea, and vomiting, abnormal heart rhythms, blood in the urine and long-term elevated white-blood count since a child.

The Lupus begat

Fibromyalgia, a full party on its own including widespread musculoskeletal pain, more fatigue, sleep, memory and mood issues, more headaches and irritable bowel syndrome.

The Lupus also begat

PCOS -cysts in my ovaries causing pain, miscarriages, hormone disorders (more headaches, exhaustion again)

Hashimotos -hypo-thyroid, male-pattern baldness, weight gain, also exhaustion (I’M TIRED, OK?), more depression, mania, sensitivity to cold and heat, constipation, migraines, muscle weakness, cramps, memory loss.

And last but not least, The Lupus begat

Barely working liver and spleen, kidney issues, food sensitivities.

The DID is a separate issue, but by this time, your head is probably spinning and it might be hard to distinguish one thing from the other. Get out your punch card! You’ve all won a free hoagie!

And all because of a kitty that didn’t want to have a bath. Yes, my docs believe I have lupus because of an ornery, panicked kitty with bacteria on his claws that punctured me in the back and activated a lupus gene lying dormant inside me in 1997. And the leg bone’s connected to the brain bone. Who knew?

SO anyway, at this point I give you permission to use the phrase, in the most sarcastic voice possible, “Thanks A LOT, The LUPUS!”, every time something in your life goes wrong, because the kids and I are getting quite good at it. Example being, you all pile in the car to go out to dinner and someone forgets their wallet, well, Thanks a LOT, The Lupus! Or you knocked over your glass of milk. Or forgot someone’s birthday. Or stubbed your toe. Seriously. Try it. It’s good fun. The possibilities are endless.

Lupus is kind of scary. Here is a good website with lots of info. I have Subacute Systemic Lupus, meaning it’s not full blown, if you can imagine. And actually, I can. It could be so much worse. Lupus in an auto-immune disease, so basically, your body eats itself up acting like your organs are foreign enemies that must be obliterated. Friendly fire, if you will.

In Acute Lupus, you’re losing parts or whole organs, taking steroids to slow the process and getting your affairs in order. You are your own worst enemy.

In Subacute, your body is just waiting for an excuse to be a real jerk, but it’s not quite there yet.

So, YAY for Subacute!

And here comes the boring part, mostly for my personal history record. I have a lot left to learn about lupus. I could be wrong about some stuff I think I know.

My plan of attack at the moment is building, not detoxing. My spleen and liver couldn’t handle it and my intestines aren’t working, so if I get more toxic, those toxins would just go round and round in my body killing me slowly with their song. I need to get stronger and help my immune system work if at all possible. I can’t stay in the sun very long. I can’t exercise vertically. So I have to get creative.

MY TEAM of docs and heathcare providers include

Yoga Instructor

My Rheumatologist and Homeopath have given me mostly the same diet suggestions, which follows closely to the Blood Type O diet found here. Heavy on the protein and dark green veggies, very, very low on the carbs and starches, light on the fruit and dairy. No sugar, caffeine.

What I currently take daily –

-Prescribed Meds
Synthroid 112 mcg/morning
Trazedone 100mg/night
Lamictal 100mg/night
Prilosec OTC 1/night
Acetaminophen as needed, up to 3000mg/day

Next week I will add-
And one of these – Mobic, Naproxen, or Relafen.

-Current Supplements
The Blood Type Diet “O”, Live Cell
The Blood Type Diet “O”, Polyvite
Nordic Naturals, Balanced Omega Combination
Dr. Clark Store, Allied Amino Acids

Next week I will add-
PepZin GI
Digest Gold

Also next week I will have more tests with the OBGYN and get a sense of the damage done to my ovaries, kidneys etc. It’s the missing piece of knowledge. Once I have those results, I’ll pretty much know exactly where I am and how far I need to go to get stable.

***YES. THERE IS A LOT TO PROCESS HERE. I HAVEN’T EVEN BEGUN TO FIGURE OUT HOW I FEEL ABOUT THIS. That is why it’s down here at the bottom and not explored in this post.

The Real World

My life-coach, Piper, told me about a used bookstore downtown that would give you store credit for used books. I decided I would go there and see what I could get in exchange for some airplane novels I had hanging around.

Venturing out into the world that day was hard. Since I was released from the hospital, I haven’t gone and done much of anything besides going to my support groups, appointments and meetings. That morning, everything sounded overwhelming and I didn’t even want to get up. I called Piper to tell her I was staying in that day and she basically said, “Get your ass out of that bed, woman!” and so I did.

Then I called Piper back. “OK. I’m up. Now what?”

“Get in the shower, dumb-ass! And I’ll save us a phone call – after your shower, GET DRESSED.”

After completing those tasks, I grabbed the box of books and went to find the bookstore, armed with my printed GoogleMap. Miraculously, I found it with no problem.

I looked for parking and found some parallel spots in front. I’ve parallel parked before. I know the drill. I’ve been an expert at it since I was 15. I’ve amazed people with my ability to snug a large vehicle in spaces a large vehicle has no business being. Seeing the open spots didn’t even register as anything that might be a hard thing. I pulled up to the parked car, swung the backend towards the curb and proceeded to place Bessy in between the cars. Only, I ended up not in the right place and my car was about 3 feet still in the driving lane. No worries. I pulled up and did it again. Same result. This time, I was embarrassed. SOMEONE was watching from SOMEWHERE on the street and they were laughing at me. I couldn’t see them, but I knew it.

I then began one of those endless up, back, up, back, up, back things where you do move closer to the curb each time by about 2 inches, but it’s very unsatisfying. I paused, looked around for the laughing people, and noticed a space that had opened up a few spaces up. The space looked bigger! I was saved!

I pulled out of the stupid space that wasn’t working and went up to the one that was bigger. Bigger enough, in fact, that I could just drive nose in first and swing the back in afterward. I thought. And I thought wrong. SO THEN I had to back out of THAT space and try to parallel park in it. IS THIS GETTING BORING YET?

I finally got the car’s tires only about 3 inches over the line and said GOOD ENOUGH, grabbed the books, wiped the sweat from under my pits with a slightly used napkin from Sonic, took some deep breaths and went in.

Inside was a woman furiously going through boxes of books and setting them into piles. She looked busy. She was busy. But, she saw me standing near the door watching her and correctly assumed I was weird. Then she held her arms out for my box.

As she started going through them, I noticed that the middle book of a trilogy was in the wrong spot and she wouldn’t know they were together. I reached my hand into the box and pointed.

“This one right here…”

“Yep. I see it.”

Why didn’t I stop there? She said she saw it. But I thought maybe she SAW it but didn’t LOOK at it and didn’t realize it went with the other two. I stuck my hand back in the box and pointed.

“Right, but this one right there, it goes with these two.” She continued going through the box, but replied, “Yes, I know my job. I got it!”

She wasn’t really mean. She was busy. And I was fragile in the middle of a really hard day where I was summoning courage I didn’t have to venture out in the world. And I even knew that at the time logically. She was doing her job, she was busy, and I was making her job harder and longer.

I straightened back up, leaving her bent over the box to finish and to my horror, I started to cry. Like, chin wobbling, crocodile tears and drippy snot cry. I stood there like a statue, 1. because I didn’t want to call attention to myself and 2. because if I left, I wouldn’t get my little red card with my store credit amount and I would never get a book there and I would NEVER come back in because I would be so embarrassed. So, I stood there. And I WILLED myself to stop crying.

The lady stood up, grabbed a card, glancing at me a few times, wrote down $27.00, and handed it to me. I took it and tried to smile.

“Um, are you OK?” I nodded yes and wiped my nose on my sleeve. She walked from around the desk and came in to give me an awkward hug. And then I cried harder. With noises. I was so horrified that I couldn’t stop and I had no idea why I was crying in the first place.

I decided to act normal. Why not? It couldn’t get worse. She asked me to follow her as she walked around the store pointing out things I might like based on what I had brought in. I kept sniffling and nodding and wiping tears. She patted my arm and went back to the front of the store and left me looking at Guide to Holistic Medicine. Being alone was nice, with no one looking at me. I kept trying to get it together, man, get it together! A few quiet moans came out followed by one semi-loud one. I was so glad no one was there to hear me.

I kept staring at the book, not comprehending what I was seeing and I finally put it back on the shelf, and decided to leave. I turned around and bumped into a short Asian woman who was trying to look over the Self-Help section. She looked at me with concerned eyes. “I don’t know what is making you so sad,” she said, “But whatever it is, you need lots of hugs.” Then she leaned up on her tip-toes and gave me a huge hug. And I gave her one back and it felt so nice. It didn’t feel awkward at all which surprised me. She rubbed my back and said, “There, there.” I thanked her and walked out the door, to the car, where I found that all the surrounding vehicles were gone, giving me easy access to leave.

I got in the van, locked the doors and called Piper to tell her how mean it was that she made me get out of bed and showered and go out in the scary world, but I was crying so hard that all that came out sounded more like the seals and whales talking together.


And I’m pretty sure she laughed. And today, I can laugh about it, too. But I don’t know if I’ll be going into that bookstore any time soon.

Slip Slidin’ Away

I know in writing this out in the open, I will lose readers. And that is alright, readers that want to leave. I totally understand. I’ll also turn potential employers away. And that is alright, potential employers. I totally understand. No one wants to read about someone else’s misery. It sounds pathetic, self centered, whiny and stupid. But, write I will, because today I still can.

The thing about slipping away, slipping under, the light getting smaller and smaller, is that you don’t realize it’s happening until it’s too late.

You’re going along, not thinking about how things are getting incrementally harder because you’ve always had days that are harder. And then get better. And then harder again and then better again ad nauseum until you are pretty much used to the ride. You don’t consider it remarkable anymore because it’s your “normal” life.

But the black hole is sneakier. The days get harder and harder. You’re waiting it out. You know if you just get through another day, things will get better again. So another day passes where you’re holding on with both hands. Then one hand. Then a few fingers. Then you notice your fingernails are torn and bloody stumps and finally, FINALLY, you realize you’re not going to be able to get back up. You are losing your grip completely and it’s too late to take precautionary measures. Way to late for that.

It becomes a life of lying under the water, looking at the world through goggles and trying not to think about all the ways you could die. Accidentally, of course.

And then it becomes a life of trying not to think of how to die on purpose. And you can’t even see out of the water anymore. Someone turned out the lights. You can’t hear or see or feel anything but extreme sad and bad and guilt.

“I’m trapped!” I yelled at the psychiatrist yesterday, “I can’t stay here and worry everyone while my mother-in-law has stage4 cancer and I should be taking care of her! I can’t go see family because they would worry the whole time I’m there! I can’t stay alive because this is how things will be the rest of my life – up, down, up, down – I can’t do it anymore! And I can’t kill myself because my kids would never get over it!”

It feels like I’m trapped in hell.

A med change is underway. I don’t feel better, I feel weird. Even more distant from my surroundings and I care even less.

I can write this because I’m a writer and this is what I do. I can’t change anything in my brain because this is how I am. I haven’t stopped crying for over 2 weeks and I shake all the time. I don’t want food. I only want to drink and fall asleep. But I don’t. I just think about it. Because maybe I won’t wake up. That would be nice.

My husband says, “There are lots of people who want you around, and alive. I love you Leah. You are valuable and precious.” I hear it but I can’t hear it because it feels like a lie. I didn’t think I would get married again after my divorce in 2002. I figured no one should be married to the mess that is me. But, I did marry. And he’s wonderful. And I fill his life with stress and drama and worry. In loving him I’ve ruined his life. If I really loved him, I would leave him.

This is the black hole talking. In this flash of sanity, I know it. But, sometimes the black hole just takes over everything and reason and sanity are nowhere.

This Post is All About Me. Seriously. Me. Me. Me.

This is a post all about me and it’s filled with photos of me and I’m going to be talking about me and pretty much only me. Feel free to move on if this doesn’t interest you. And let’s be honest – it probably only interests me.

I’ve never been happy with the way I look. Ever. I hated my fat arms and thighs when I was around 8. I hated the shape my legs made when I sat on a chair and I tried to not rest all my weight down so it appeared (probably only to me) that I was thinner. I’m the short one on the left –


In high school, I spent hours not eating and then hours puking if I did eat. I spent hours thinking about which foods had the most fat grams and how many pieces of popcorn I could eat and not reach 100 calories. Hours spent self-harming if I failed and went over. I was the fattest person in the universe. Here is what I looked like –

wow. i have no words

When I got pregnant at 17, I gained weight like crazy. Crazy! Like, 50 pounds in the last 3 months. After I had Devon, I looked like this and as you can tell by my bershon face, I thought my life was pretty much over.

sarah, i may have found another bershon.

After my four kids were born, I lost some weight. From the waist up. I tried to make sure that all photos of me were of my shoulders and above because I was a HIDEOUS size 16. Too large to fit most clothes in the department store. It really was the end of my life.


And now? My thinking hasn’t changed. I’m the hugest. Ever. Than anyone in the entire world. I have fat arms and neck rings. Tree trunk legs and squishy belly. I’ve spent too many days trying to figure out how to look smaller, prettier, firmer in photos to represent myself to the world as a different person. I was only fooling myself. As if this carefully crafted shot done in my own studio represents the real me. Still employing the shoulders and up rule, many of the photos I take of myself are fuzzed to oblivion because OH NO my skin has dark spots everywhere. And freckles. I love how this photo from a few years ago has the same bershon face as above. Trying to hide by chopping off the rest of my body.


So, ready? This is what I look like, me. Look at it. Why can’t you look at it and see how great the family looks together? Do you have to pick yourself apart, me?


Still looking, me? Good. When I drink, I look like this –


and this –

Leah’s here!!, originally uploaded by Aubs.

Here I am double fisting –

, originally uploaded by LeahK.

And you know what? That is fine, me. It’s ok to look happy about wine if you want to.

Here I am in the morning, hungover.

Leah, originally uploaded by s myrland.

And another hungover morning, also just fine. I don’t have to look sprightly in all photos, right me?

Ariel and Leahpeah, originally uploaded by crazedmommy.

This is me when my vest is too tight standing in front of a room of people. Yes, it doesn’t look as good as I thought it did when I left the house that night. That’s alright. Everyone makes clothing mistakes sometimes, me. Try to do it without hating yourself.


I look like this in a cowboy hat, all squared face. And yes, I was attempting to look cool.

IMG_8315, originally uploaded by katester.

Sometimes, me, I take horrible photos which accentuate my chipmunk cheeks, neck rolls and jowls while standing next to really cute people. This is fine.


When I’m leading a craft panel, and someone takes a photo of me from a lower angle, my legs look enormous and look at those dimpled elbows. My, my. Me, I can see you wanting to crawl under the table. Don’t do it. We’ll get through this.

Crafts Session Panel, originally uploaded by crazedmommy.

And when shooting photos with my friends, I will quite possibly always be the Giantess in the group –

Pretty much, I’ve spent my entire life hating the way I look. And I’m tired of it. I want to love myself just the way I am, large or not, with neck rolls, size 26 pants and boobs too large to do anything with. I want to look in the mirror and not worry that those people around me are looking at me in disgust and revulsion. Or disappointment. Are you on board, me?

I want to love me with a receding hairline and skin blotches


and chubby hands and fingers


trying my darnedest to look good using the Myspace angles and liberal amounts of lip gloss

leah 016

sitting a little too snugly in the chair doing interviews


letting it all hang out with friends


acting silly

Leah!, originally uploaded by MaggieMason.

and looking insane due to accidental oversmile.

IMG_8339, originally uploaded by katester.

All of it. All of me, me. Got it? I don’t look perfect. I will never be able to compete with porn stars. I might lose weight and I might not be able to. I know it’s hard with the medication for my mental health, me, but I can feel good for trying, right? In any case, let’s do one thing right and love us.



If they came and kidnapped me right now and blindfolded me, gagged me
stuck me in the trunk
I would stay calm
because I know the roads.
I would know where they took me.
Quick left, quick right, quick left
to the freeway
or the other way.
The slow S shape
winding back and forth.
They won’t go 35 and 45.
They are in a hurry.
They will push it and speed.
And when the orange sign warns that going over 30 round this turn will lead to death and it will be your own fucking fault
they won’t listen.
They will go as fast as they want.
But the car won’t flip or crash because the guy driving the car is a professional.
I’ll use my nose to figure out where we are.
The smells go like this
City, people
Less city, people
Rich, rich soil
Soil and garden
Onion rings?
Cars, industrial stink
too much.
And Joe says
You Don’t Ruin Everything
Don’t say that anymore, Leah, it’s not true.
And I hear him from far away.
I’m not really in the trunk
but I am bound and gagged.
The buildings and the streets
they are neon pink and orange
It’s not true, I know.
But I still see it.
I’m not in the trunk.
I know I’m sitting next to Joe in the front because from my vantage point in the back seat
I see him holding my hand.
There are tears running down my cheeks
for no reason at all.
But my mouth is trying to smile and feels like nothing is wrong.
They aren’t connected to each other.
My mouth says
Gatorade powder
toilet paper
milk and I smile
and my eyes cry
for some unknown reason until I need a hankie or tissue.
In the isles I can’t stop staring.
The boxes, the floor, so sharp, so blurry
all so beautiful in neon.
The colors are almost overwhelming plus I know they aren’t there but, they are and I can’t stop staring.
Everything should cost a dollar.
Things are so expensive.
Joe gently guides me along
and when I say to no one except the cereal boxes that I like Honey Nut Cheerios
he says
Yes You Do. You Like Them.
And grabs my hand to look at canned beans.
There is a family with four kids.
Both parents are wrangling two.
Line the kids up and they make a stairway just like my kids did.
But my kids are old.
I don’t get to nurture them like that.
And I can’t even have a dog.
Would my pet dog be neon red, too?
And glow and look like fire?
The dad looks at me in surprise
and then pity.
I’m walking next to me
and I see what he sees.
I have the look of a crazy person.
My hair is unwashed, clumped and stuck in all kids of directions.
I’m wearing Joe’s Hawaiian shirt that has the same leaf colors as the bird’s poop and it hangs over my bra-less front.
My jeans are sagging, top button undone.
I’m shuffling
and my eyes are puffed, tearing and have red rings like clown makeup.
Next to myself I see this.
Back walking in myself I don’t know it or care.
And the floor is orange now.
The air smells so good on my face on the way home.
I love air.
I tell Joe I Will Be Better Tomorrow. Joe says I Know.
And Joe is helping me make nachos with cheese and black beans.
I eat them.
I vomited all morning.
My tummy feels humming but it doesn’t kick the nachos out.
And Joe gives me warm kisses on my cheeks and eyes and lips.
I feel them.
And I feel them.

Short Update

Things are hard right now. I can’t talk about any of it at the moment but I feel a post coming soon. Thanks to those of you checking in on me. I appreciate the love.


Now Shhhh

“Now shhhhhhhh,” she says, “you’ve said it all once and now you’re repeating yourself. It’s time to listen to someone with some age on her bones.”

I tried to stop the pointless murmuring coming from my lips and tune into her voice. The phone was slippery against my wet cheek and I pushed it closer to block out the sound of my brain.

“Now, you listen to me. Life is hard. It’s hard for everyone and if it wasn’t this it would be something else. The trick is to be thankful for your own set of troubles because believe you me, you don’t want someone else’. Yes, you’ve got it hard and I know it. Your mother knows it. And I get so mad when I think of all the things we need answers for that we don’t have here on this earth.”

“But, Gramma, how come you can call me on the phone? You aren’t alive.” I held my breath and waited for her answer.

“Don’t worry about that. The important thing is that you can hear me. So, listen up. Now, I know God has a plan and He loves you very much. You are a strong and beautiful person and a treasure to me, Grandpa, your parents, your family – even those that have gone on before.”

“But, Gramma, I don’t believe in all that church stuff. I don’t believe there is some plan. I have no idea what happens when we die but I don’t think it’s that churchy stuff.”

“You can go on thinking whatever you want. And I’ll keep telling you what the truth is. Now, here’s what you’re going to do. You’re going to look in the mirror and tell yourself that your Grandma loves you more than you’ll ever know. Next you’ll tell yourself that your Grandma knows you can do whatever it is you have to do. And that you’re strong. And special. I know! You don’t believe it about yourself but you DO believe that your Grandma does. So, you just keep repeating that. Your Grandma knows and she loves you. And I can’t touch you right now but you better believe that if I could I’d be squeezing the stuffing out of you. And that will have to do.”

And then I woke up.

A Decision

And then he started yelling No! His face turned dark red and his hands squished his cheeks forward, moving all around his head, messing up his hair, then back to his cheeks. He was so overcome with emotion that the only word he could get out was No! No! He nearly lept out of his skin – I saw it begin to happen and then recede. His body could have charged a car battery.

I watched in disbelief, then horror. And then I refused to see it anymore.