For Zachary

There are only two people I am aware of named Zachary Proser, with that exact spelling. This article is only for Zachary Proser, but it is published live on the internet for other reasons.

Zachary, when you are older, it is my hope that you will find this writing in some form and be able to better understand me through it. I left it solely for you and solely for that purpose.

The swirling orb of light

I was born with fiery drive at the core of my being. I have always felt it, and pictured it as a small orb of white and gold fire that I had to hide and keep safe from everyone around. That is what drove me through the experiences I'm about to share with you. I was able to see inside myself what I could make using this light, but nobody else could see what would be lost if the light went out. That is the only reason I am here and able to write this to you.

There is the abusive tier of fathers, and the shameful tier of fathers, the absent and the stealing tiers of fathers, and the tier of fathers who make their families feel unsafe. And then there's the garbage-band of fathers below these. Your paternal grandfather was below all of these, in a liquid dogshit tier all to himself, which combined and expanded upon all of the tiers above.

Your paternal grandmother was at her core a sensitive and kind woman, but completely broken by trauma and other transgressions against her before she ever met your grandfather. What kindness and nurturing behaviors I have came from her, but unfortunately being with him only further injured, insulted and ultimately broke her, too. She told me when I was eleven that she had wanted to get away from him but was afraid.

This piece is important: the horrors of the human world stem mostly from an epidemic of unhealed trauma. Hurt people hurt people. This trauma is an inheritance we mostly receive from our parents.

Your grandfather was a deeply injured, totally broken, angry, drunk, distant, depressed and highly anxious person. In fairness to him, his father was an even bigger piece of shit from all accounts; a mobster and frontman for the mafia who helped them open and run nightclubs. Your grandfather told me stories of not seeing his father for months at a time, then being surprised to see him come home, usually drunk and temporarily flush with cash, carrying groceries and vegetables from the farmer's market for him and his four brothers.

Inevitably, within another couple of weeks, he'd have disappeared again and your paternal great grandmother was totally out to lunch on pills and alcohol, so my father said he would be embarassed yet hungry enough to go knock on his neighbors' door and ask if he could eat some chef boyardee with them.

I remember the regular drives my father and mother would take me on to Pennsylvania where we'd visit his mother in the asylum. It always smelled like diarrhea, distinfectant and the rotting flesh of dying people, and I always came into the room with him and saw how further broken he was to see his vegetable mother babbling in the hospital bed, calling him by a name that none of his five brothers ever had. When my father was at home and not in a warzone for months on end chasing a story or working the exact late shift that made it impossible to be present with my mother, myself and my brother, he'd sometimes get calls from that asylum because the nurses were legally obligated to tell him that his mother had fallen down. I overheard about a hundred of these calls over the years.

The most important memory I have with my father was when I was just a couple years older than you are now, and we were out in the middle of nowhere in the farmhouse he had bought to try to reproduce his family home, and he and I were sitting in the living room and I was playing with blocks while he sat on the edge of the table because my mother had told him to spend time with me. He was still skinny because he was in his late 20's, and he looked absolutely miserable.

Playing with blocks

I was playing with the blocks the way you do now, and in my excitement one flew out of my right hand and caught him on the edge of his forehead. He didn't react much, except to sigh deeply and allow his face to sink even deeper into grief as he stared at me, and even at that age I could read his innermost thought as "How in the fuck did I end up with a fucking kid?". I knew at that moment he didn't like me, and we never got past that event, whether he realized it or not.

I spent the majority of my childhood in a state of fear or anxiety. When I would play little league baseball at seven years old, I had stomach pains so intense that I would drink an entire bottle of adult-strength Mylanta to get through a normal practice. The coach and other adults found it humorous and repeatedly chided me for turning the team into "The Mylanta Braves".

There is one thing my father said to me that appears to have been true:

"It's all about the compound interest." He meant this in the sense that if you save a small bit of money early in your life and forever afterward continue to sock away more in an account that earns interest, you'll eventually have a lot of money. But his words were true in the perverse sense for my entire late childhood and adult life - wherein the fraudulent debts that he forged in my name continued to earn interest making them inescapable even when making the monthly $650 payments on one of them.

When I was 17, I started getting letters in the mail from corporations I didn't recognize, asking for payments on loans I knew nothing about. At this time I was working in my friend Tom's landscaping business for $10 an hour and occasionally doing moving jobs for up to $15 per hour.

My father had written at least $80,000 of bad debt in my name, by forging my signature despite the fact that I was minor at the time, and following in his own father's footsteps as a fraudster. For 17 years, the bills kept coming in and I kept paying them as my father and mother insisted, and, for years, my mother insisted she had no knowledge of the bad debt or where it had come from. To this day, despite all the therapy and self-work, I am unable to receive physical mail without some panic, and I bristle when someone asks me for my phone number or, far worse, gets it from somewhere other than asking me and uses it to contact me.

In my mid 20's I made the profound error of marrying the wrong woman, who was a tormented addict like me and therefore felt like home. We never should have been together. If I had had a healthy sense of self-esteem at that time I wouldn't have seen her a second time. Instead, I ended up marrying her, losing six years of my life to her abuse and the abuse of her ignorant, broken, alcoholic family. When we were going through a divorce, her parents had nothing better to do than hold hostage every painting, drawing and half-finished canvas I had ever produced in my life, out of pure spite, because I'd made the mistake of storing all my artwork with them when we drove across the country and visited them.

Eventually, in my early 30s, when I had become an unwilling old-hand at extracting information from corporations, suing them, and being sued in return by them, I was able to retrieve the original paperwork for the many loans my parents forged in my name, and saw that, in addition to the loans that my father had forged my signature on, there were some loans my mother had also forged my signature on. What hurt me the most is that I had been making artwork and signing it with my distinct signature and giving them some of it for several decades by that point, but neither of them even attempted to make their handwriting look like my signature. Perhaps they didn't know what it looked like.

While we shouldn't ever have gotten married and would have ended up in the same way regardless, I'll say that we spent years of youthful evenings and weekends fighting bad debt and fraud that both of our families had doomed us to. If you truly wish harm on someone in this world, you should not break their bodies but instead simply steal their identity.

It is a horror that perpetually births additional horrors. I know that the worst part of not having enough money is the way people who don't know you talk to you and how corporations treat you. From teenage years, through my thirties and sometimes still to this day, I will "wake up" from a flashback of pure rage and realize that I'm standing on a street corner having forgotten to cross, or that I'm walking down the aisle of a store in such a fury that I want to beat a stranger until their head comes apart in my hands.


My mother also had a rage issue, which I now understand given what I know she had lived through, and once almost blinded me by driving me home from where she lost her temper in a state of pure fury, doing double and triple the speed limit, running red lights and then, when we retured home and I fled upstairs to my room, hurling her giant mass of keys and other metal objects the size of a softball at the wall right next to my face. If she had found her target I wouldn't have been able to write all the software that paid for the alimony and most of the bad debt.

I could have forgiven my mother. Despite her issues, she had shown me the only tenderness I had known in my childhood and we had long periods of being very close, left alone together in the large house in the middle of nowhere for months on end. However, I was so enraged at my father and so desperate to get my pound of flesh and to injure him in return in this life, that I buried her in the ice along with him, and I told them that I didn't want to hear from either of them ever again. I knew in my heart that she would do my work for me. In her grief at losing me as a son, she would remain the thorn in his flesh for the remainder of his life, and my desire to harm him exceeded what love I had left for her at that point. Zachary, this is what rage is capable of doing. Never underestimate the force of rage in a human being.

In the final analysis, the story of my parents and I became the story of learning to hide my fiery orb of creative drive, flying under the radar, learning to keep my actions, movements and intentions concealed, until I was able to break away, survive them and ultimately abandon them completely. Most people I've tried explaining this piece to do not understand, but for me this was a truly a matter of deciding whether or not I would be destroyed or survive them, and removing them completely was the only way I was able to ensure that I would come through with the ability to still create and eventually heal. Nobody else understood what was at stake if the orb went out, but I could see inside myself what I could make using it - what works could come to be, if I lived, that otherwise would remain unrealized.

Hiding the orb

Like your grandfather, I was born with atrial fibrillation. When I was three years old, I complained of "heart races" but my parents mostly thought I was just anxious. I was given Holter monitors to wear for 24 hours, which didn't pick up the "heart races". I was an athlete for most of my life until my mid 30s when careerism and high functioning alcoholism replaced my workouts.

I used to walk myself to the emergency room in Berkeley, California at 3AM because I was always awoken at that hour by my heart beating so erratically, sometimes slamming in my chest near 180 beats per minute, then going 3 seconds or longer in stillness. By my count I did this at least 13 times in my early 30's and I was still unable to receive a diagnosis. I was told by the doctor on-call one evening that there was nothing wrong with my heart and that I needed to get help with my alcohol problem. He glared at me with contempt and disgust.

My primary care physician that Kaiser assigned me also was unable to diagnose me successfully, and spent years telling me that I had a nervous disorder that made it feel like my heart was beating out of rhythm.

Eventually, when my workaholic tendencies met with a very intense tech job, long hours, high functioning alcoholism, and an utterly savage four year divorce process where my ex would show up to work and regularly harass me, and show up to our court hearings at 9AM too drunk to respond to the judge verbally, the scales were finally tipped on my body. I was diagnosed in the same week with Grave's disease and atrial fibrillation. Perhaps mercifully, it was becoming completely hyperthyroid that finally exposed my arrythmia long enough for the emergency room to catch it on an EKG and tell me what I had known my entire life: I had progressive heart disease that was quickly worsening. I was 34 years old.

One of my worst fears up until that time was having to go through the same heart surgery, Radio frequency or RF ablation, that I had watched my father undergo and fail to obtain any relief from. He was also a totally recalcitrant patient, and refused to stop being sedentary, drinking daily to the point of blackout, smoking cigarettes, eating red meat and cheese and remaining steeped in his anger, rage and unaddressed wounds. For some reason, my mother and father paid a cardiologist to counsel him unsuccessfully for decades but she was ultimately unable to reach him. Due to his poor example, I was able to eventually pull myself away from all of the habits he and I shared and do things in the opposite way. I had my heart arrythmia successfully repaired by undergoing the same surgery when I was 35 years old. As I write this, I've experienced two and a half years of my heart beating mostly in rhythm, something many people take for granted, and my autoimmune disease is in remission.

For myself, I found sobriety on my eighth attempt to stop drinking, with a great deal of therapy, reading, and self-reflection. I was able to stop for good after I met and was with your mother and when I decided that it was more important to me to reach my full potential creatively and professionally and emotionally than it was to continue to be able to drink alcohol. This is a large part of the story around why I've been so intolerant about adults with unchecked substance abuse issues being able to visit with you when you were growing up.

There are two times in my life that I came close to bowing out, having felt that I had reached the limit of my pain tolerance. The first was following a bad drunken fight with the woman I mistakenly married first. I found myself in the woods off the sidewalk of downtown District of Columbia, leaning against a tree and looking for a sharp enough rock to open my veins.

The second time was during the worst of the divorce that buttressed perfectly my finally getting out of debt after 17 years of struggling with it. I stood in the bathroom of my bachelor's pad in Berkeley, California, and held my loaded Glock all the way into the back of my mouth with my index finger wrapped around the trigger. It was dark and I stood in front of the mirror, thinking about it silently for a very long time. Even then, feeling the most broken in my body and mind, I had some inclination of the fiery orb of light that I had been entrusted with, and the feeling that it perhaps encompassed something even larger and more important than just my creative abilities. Perhaps it was just the heat of being hyperthyroid for who knows how many years?

But I couldn't allow myself to put everything down at that point, for reasons I don't truly understand myself. I felt compelled to see through whatever my internal drive to keep going was trying to tell me.

Several times, people who came to understand a significant portion of my life, such as co-workers who came to know me well, asked how it was I was able to keep going through the multi-layered hardships I had while still pushing myself so hard to learn and improve. Often it was physicians or medical personnel, who were able to see my medical records and understand the number and severity of the injuries I had sustained and the stack of chronic illnesses that I had learned to live with, who expressed the most incredulity. I didn't have a way then to talk about the fiery orb of light and I wasn't sure that it was okay to share anything about it.

And of course, there were life's own vicissitudes. I've had pneumonia five times, once with a fever of 104.7 which caused me to hallucinate. I contracted the parasite Giardia when living in India after one careless, exhausted early morning flick of my toothbrush through a local tap instead of bottled water. They gave me pills with "a lot of heavy metals in them" which also caused me to hallucinate. I have walked away from five car accidents so far, one of which was a hit and run and the latest of which was fatal, when an older gentleman in a mustang failed to stop at a red light on the two lane highway we were driving home on from our beach vacation. His car went inside of the SUV in front of him, inches away from your mother, who was still pregnant with you. People have tried, and failed, to mug me while I was taking public transit in San Francisco; more than once. I've spent long hours unconscious on the street abroad in various countries - and somehow always woke up.

And now, at the end of my 37th year on this planet, I am in better physical and mental shape than I have ever been before. I will never drink alcohol again. What helped me the most was regular therapy with an excellent therapist, a lot of reading about PTSD, trauma, healing and emotional intelligence, occasionally medication where needed (specifically for insomnia - there's no other way for me to fall or remain asleep), and lots of support from good friends and the love of your mother. Above all else, I am now focused on protecting and raising you and teaching you everything that I know. I have only two goals for your youth, after which everything you do or become will be up to you:

  1. That you will never understand what it means to have an absent or abusive father
  2. That you will not develop PTSD in your childhood

More than anything, I wrote this for you because it is important to me that you understand what you mean to me, personally.

Zachary, when I am with you, holding you, or playing the games we already have together, or walking with you through the woods and teaching you words, I can feel my brain re-wiring itself.

Rewiring my brain

I can feel, for the first time in 37 long years, the hint of a salve being applied to a wound that I could not get at with decades of therapy, or intermittent meditaton, or traveling the world, or blackout drinking, or drugs, or any other form of addictive self-soothing behavior. And you can be certain that I tried them all.

You and I, together, Zachary, are finally undoing a cosmic ill, addressing a core grief permeating all of my cells, that has bound both sides of our family tree in a cycle of suffering for countless generations.

Ask your maternal Grandfather how I looked at him the last time he was drunk around you in our home and he will tell you that I am willing to kill for you.

Ask your mother how many times I have raged about some perceived slight against the sanctity of our family home or a possible threat to your well-being, and she will tell you that I am willing to die for you.

But for you, Zachary, and for you alone, I am willing to do something even harder: remain. At long last I have come to understand that fiery orb of light was not just my own drive to survive and create. It was you.

The light was you