Stephen Bell
Folly Beach


© Copyright 2021 by Kamuka

Photo by Bre Smith on Unsplash
                                                                   Photo by Bre Smith on Unsplash

Travel is about so much more than external travel. I was born in South Carolina but I grew up in Wisconsin and have lived in New York City for 30 years. Time travel seems impossible they say, but the past is always with us. Iíve always wanted to connect with South Carolina where I was born.

Folly Beach is aptly named. A small beach community outside Charleston, formed by the confluence of the Ashley, Cooper, and Wando rivers. Charleston is named after the King of England at the time it was founded. In Charleston Iíve been to the slave market there, and the museums, walked around and looked at views and houses. Fort Sumter is where the Civil War began. It was a very important city in early America when coastal towns were where it was at.

One year when we went to a plantation someone whined about how Sherman decimated everything. Like his cruelty was worse than the cruelty that necessitated his cruelty--slavery. OK, so if thatís what you want to focus on, go ahead. When you read about Frederick Doughlas seeing a slaved killed as though it was nothing, you canít really imagine slavery needs to be abolished naturally. John Brown did some horrible things, but was that what was necessary to uproot the evils of slavery?

I canít really abide people using my sensibilities to try and decimate them. You donít like a world where Sherman comes through smashing everything, then maybe donít succeed from the union to try and keep slavery.

Iím pretty sure if I lived in South Carolina, I would feel differently, make my resolution with the history of the Civil War in a more indigienous way. I mean nobody is perfect. Everywhere we stand in the USA is stolen land.

I find it amazing that people want a participation trophy for losing that war, but pride is important if you can find it the right way. The legacy of slavery isnít the thing to latch onto in my opinion, and the flag that represents that. The south has plenty to offer besides that. I like the great writers from the south: Faulkner, Flannery OíConnor, Eudora Welty, Zora Neal Hurston, Harper Lee. My uncle Scott met Harper Lee in NYC. Theyíre both gone. I really like the southern gothic aesthetic.

I donít experience that much difference throughout America, itís all the same corporations in the strip malls and the mean poverty the system engenders. You get most of your culture from your family. My family are Klingon warriors.

A good old boy who got Dís and Cís in high school, but went to medical school because his father was a prominent doctor, is a nephrologist. He visited us. He said he wasnít a democrat or a republican, I was grateful he didnít perpetuate the great lie. My aunts thought he was depressed, but he seemed sane and centered to me. Not super thrilling or exciting, but I thought he had a core, a heart and intelligence. He was our one visitor, actually from South Carolina. I should have spent more time with him but I ran off to the beach with my cousins, their wives, and my sons.

I wanted my sons to get to know my family more. Folly, I know. Steve is a senior in high school, and is applying to college, and wants to study history and film. Andrew plays for his high school soccer team and got me into soccer when he got into it so long ago. Weíll watch some of the World Cup qualifying games together, and the European championship, my cousins and my son Andrew. Iíve always thought sports is a good object to relax men so they can talk to each other.

The last family reunion was 12 years ago. When my grandfather was alive he tried to have a family reunion every year. Lots of drama and people storming off, or refusing to come. And he's been gone 20 years. And he's still with us. Every time I ate something my aunts or mother would say something. Like weíd grown up during the depression, like my grandfather did. I fight the paradigm of scarcity, instead see abundance. There is way too much. America has no sense of proportion or sense of themselves in the world.

I cleaned some blueberries, and offered them to everyone. My aunt told me my other aunt Ophelia likes fruit, not to eat them all. Iíd rinsed half and tried to get everyone to eat some fruit. So when they were left at the end of the reunion, I was chagrined. I cleaned them and offered them to those left at the end, after the three Macbeth witches had left. ďFair is foul and foul is fair.Ē The family has a way of enforcing falsehoods as truths.

I sat down to eat some leftovers, and my mother commented to me to not eat up all the leftovers. I was chagrined again. So I blew up at her, but I can't help but think now with distance that my grandfather grew up during the depression and had such a vigilant approach to communal food. You get a comment eating, that is the price you pay for being so selfish as to eat when you are hungry.

Another legacy of coping with trauma is substance abuse.

My mother barged into my room while I was sleeping and turned on the light, because she "didn't like the way we ended things." She'd spoken some hard words to me and wanted to undo it. Always believe people when they betray their real thoughts. I knew Iíd have to eat a lot of humble pie, but Iím striving to be more humble, so I welcomed it. My higher power isnít the usual one, but the act of standing in awe of the universe and seeing how puny we are seems about right.

I'm pretty sure my mother was reenacting something there, coming into my room drunk, wanting to unburden some feelings she had, not really noticing I was sleeping. When I think about it, that must be how my grandfather raped and molested her. My mother told me she is a survivor, which is often another way of saying survivor of sexual abuse/trauma. Sheís never told me about the abuse she suffered, not sure she has to tell her son the story. Sheís just signaled something happened.

My aunt Ophelia kept bragging about how she used to work 120 hour weeks, with slurred speech because she was smoking pot, eating edibles, and drinking beer all day. When I think about Opheliaís motivation of going into recovery, I worry she doesnít have much life left. Grandma went into recovery at the end, and she quite liked it in her remaining years. She used to talk about the other people she liked in the meetings. How many times did my grandma drive me to the pool half crocked when I spent my summers with them in Murphy North Carolina? Iím glad she didnít ever kill anyone while drunk driving. Things could have been worse.

My aunt Lena is in recovery, and we talk a lot about recovery. We used to. But instead of being present for her children, or supporting my recovery, she chose to chase the camaraderie of substance abuse with her sister Ophelia. She smoked joints with her, and she took an edible that was 10X what she usually takes, and felt sick. People say one of the virtues of marijuana is that you canít overdose, but she seemed to overdose. Lost an evening to it. Took turns laying down because she felt dizzy and eating leftovers in the kitchen, while someone propped her up.

I felt victorious coming out of the family reunion sober, without a relapse, and more confirmed in my sobriety. I saw the contraction of the soul and selfishness in substance abuse, the inability to work towards transcending character defects, the missed opportunities. Dan said he'd wished his mother Lena was more present to spend time with him. That right there speaks of the loss in substance abuse. I canít pan that off, brush it away.

Ophelia's daughter Kimberly hasn't talked to her in 2.5 years. Evan and Dan chose to live with their father when their parents split up, not to live with their mother Lena. It's a sad legacy of being successful at work, but not so much with family and children. My Klingon Aunts identified with the father, not the alcoholic mother, except they were functional alcoholics.

You canít tell someone they have a drinking problem in AA, you just support people if they ask for help. We end each meeting with a prayer for those still sick and suffering, then the serenity prayer. You can only really get yourself sober. AA only works for 10% of the people who try it. Covid may be the new plague, but substance abuse has been a plague since the dawn of time, and Americans like to be judgmental about it. In the disease model, people canít help it, and need support to actively embrace recovery. They send people to AA where paradoxically you have to choose it. 90% of the people choose not to use AA. I feel like people judge so they donít have to support, supporting others is too much for them. We build so many walls. Iíd like to choose being supportive over judgemental. When my AA friends relapse, I hold them closer, not push them away.

The good part of the trip was walking on the beach, being with family, playing board games with family. The family plays this quick card game called Pounce. My sons got into the game, and the cousins and their wives played. The three crones played a game before everyone was there, but stayed away after that. I remember as a kid watching them play that game, and wanting to join in. That game and alcoholism are my family legacy.

I swam in the ocean, saw an old tree the locals think is the oldest tree east of the Mississippi, but Wikipedia contradicts that. We went to the north east tip of Folly Island, and saw a lighthouse off in the water, you couldnít get to at high tide. We played lots of frisbee. Love the Spanish moss. Plovers and seagulls on the beach. I sat in the backyard and watched a red shouldered hawk soar, gliding on the updrafts.

My cousin Dan's wife Carmen worked all the time, she was on conference calls in front of her computer the whole time. Covid wrecked her wedding in Puerto Rico. If theyíd planned it a month earlier, or later, they could have pulled it off. Instead they slunk off to the bureaucratic office. I was glad to meet her, and we explored the lost opportunity of a family wedding.

My aunt Ophelia didnít recognize Carmen as a lawyer, she just said there was one lawyer (Evan) at the dinner table. I joked that Carmen didnít count because she was Puerto Rican and while I got laughs, her face didnít say she thought it was funny, and I regretted it. I betrayed my value of other cultures, my value of cultural humility.

I spend time in the park watching my daughter and talk to Albanian, Polish, Ukrainian, Russian, and every kind of Asian and Hispanic immigrant. Thereís even a woman from Ivory Coast. I met a Druce woman once. I love Carmenís culture, and wish my sarcasm gave a hint of not valuing other cultures, not being inclusion. I tried to drum out sarcasm years ago, but itís a hard habit to break. I hope to drop the rock, be willing for my character defects to evaporate through character development and virtue. In sobriety, Iím disliking cheap hits like that. Iím trying not to say provocative things to get attention. Too desperate. An outsider. I apologized to her later, but I donít really believe in apology. Living amends means you donít have to apologize later when you realize what youíve done is wrong. Just stop doing bad things. I donít have to hurt people for a laugh. Everyone talks about how you canít get the pillow feathers back easily when you open the pillow. Be careful what you say, you canít take back everything.

My cousin Evan's girlfriend Erica is of Korean heritage, and sees Evan and Dan as "too nice". She was hassling me to get off the property when our time was up, but I'd talked to the owner and she said take your time, so I ran over 5 minutes putting on my shoes. I felt like she was a bit of a busy body, hassled me unnecessarily.

Earlier, I asked Erica which was more crazy, her family or ours? She objected to the term crazy even though I'm pretty sure she uses it in her head. I donít believe in the term either, here I go again betraying my values. ďCrazyĒ feels like something you say in a middle school playground, not a dignified concept for an adult. But I think it accurately describes family behaviors at times. If you say it in a loving way. I was trying to include her in the family, join families.

Ericaís unwillingness to engage with me was her choice, and I have to respect that. I was ashamed by her micro-rejection. Shame is an attack on the self, but it can be useful if you use it to grow in a positive way. ďI want to be better,Ē isnít an attack on the self, itís a positive expectation. I try to dance with the dialectic. I'm mostly good, but there is room for improvement, which out of strength, not weakness being described, I can embrace.

Evan and Dan bought BBQ one night. My aunt Ophelia wanted She Crab soup, she said it was authentic South Carolina food. She couldnít wait for tomorrow, she had to have it tonight. In her pot and beer haze she said to Lena, ďyou told me to go with the flow, and Iím going with my flow.Ē She told me how they get female crabs who have just created eggs, and make a soup with the crab and the eggs. Seemed brutal to me. Pregnant and post pregnancy crabs are a delicacy? Thatís the kind of lack of empathy Iím trying to avoid.

I asked Lena if she thought a more empathetic approach to Opheliaís daughter would yield a better result for Ophelia, but my aunt Lena defended her sister. Her daughter was crazy. Crazy can be used to cut off empathy, whereas I think itís the reverse, people need more empathy when the judges start abandoning them.

I enjoyed taking care of my sons, cooking them breakfast, checking in on them, tending to them when they didnít feel good. Andrew had a headache one night. He thinks he might have been dehydrated. I kept making sure he was hydrated after that.

I told my sons that the safe word for the vacation was ďaubergineĒ. If someone heard that word, we needed to gather around and protect that person from the emotional attack. Steve said he almost said it when my mother was making him do an online application for college.

My mother started an application for the University of New Mexico at Albuquerque with my son Steve. He's a senior and needs to figure out what he's going to do. I talked a lot to him about the importance of making choices, versus drifting, and unmade choices making the choice.

I had my cousins talk about how Evan chose Vassar and Dan chose Cornell. Dan started out with architecture, to be like his father, but switched to polisci. He works for the foreign service now. Evan went to law school. Dan did a masters in international relations.

My second wife called me Cinderfella because I went to bed early. Usually I didnít stay up playing games. Saw a bunch of amazing sunrises at the beach. I won the chess tournament. I beat everyone multiple times, and tied Dan once. Dan beat Andrew, so he got second. Andrew was game to play against everyone, nobody else would play chess. Participation medal.

I had a lot of memories of past family reunions. One time in Nashville, I was looking at my aunt Ophelia's photo albums. There were pictures of my aunt with strange men, and my uncle with strange women. It was their swinging photo book. Just left out for everyone to see. John was her first husband, Steve was her second husband, the father of her daughter. She has a new boyfriend now. I'm all for sensual sexual women, not a problem with me.

I remember a reunion in Myrtle Beach when my grandfather showed me a picture of his first wife, a surprise to me because I'd never heard about her. Children always think the world begins when they come onto the scene. Grandma had been a constant if not alcoholic presence. When she went into recovery, that is when I heard her laugh. She never laughed when she was drinking.

I have fond memories of just floating in the ocean with my grandfather who's been gone for 20 years. He joined the military when they still had a cavalry of horses. He went to Japan when the USA occupied Japan after World War Two. My mother and aunt were born in Japan.

One reunion my stepfather John told my uncle Scott that he needed him at the reunion, they were both secular jews who married goyim. Anyway, by the time Scott got there, John couldn't take it and had left already. Scott felt a little bit betrayed.

I would have left if I'd had the means. I'm thinking now I'm not going to a reunion unless it's a sober healing reunion. I don't think I'll see Ophelia ever again. My fond memory of her is that she sent me great gifts in the mail for my birthday when I was a kid. I appreciated that. Scott was another absence I felt at the reunion. I listed all the people who werenít there, dead or choosing not to attend.

Driving the Uber was a fellow who was from Baltimore, moved nearby recently. I told him I went to an Orioles game in the 70ís with my great grandfather. He said Baltimore changed. I interpreted that as subtle racism, but instead of seeing if I was correct by exploring more, I just let the comment stand. I donít have any confidence in persuading people any more. Iíd done enough digging at the reunion and wanted to be superficial and just try and keep my judgmentalism in check. Who knows what he really thought, not me. I thought about Anne Tyler, the famous novelist from Baltimore. Just read her wikipedia page, sheís from all over, but sheís also on a list of Baltimore writers.

I took a class once where we talked about writers of place, and I never really saw great examples of the idea. We live so much in our heads. I should keep it on the I. I live so much in my head. Wish the emotional dramas of the family reunion evaporated and I was more sensitive to where I was. Folly Beach really is beautiful. Cool, quaint beach community.

I'm grateful I could blab about this to someone, unburden myself and say what I really think. I wrote a letter to my good high school friend. Usually I just try to get along with everyone and donít feel my narrative is important. One day I woke up and found myself an alcoholic. The shame of that can sink some people, but I want to live in the solution. Thank you for your interest in my experience.

I went to a meeting after getting home, and came away feeling like I need to focus on myself instead of interpreting others for my convenience. I know my narrative is one of many, and like everyoneís has an aspect of self serving to it. I need to force myself to share at meetings, hiding was part of my addiction. May I accept the moment which allows judgment to become discernment. I have great pictures of sunrises at the beach to help me remember the reunion.

Former teacher and psychotherapist

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