The bulk of this post is a Facebook note I wrote a while back. I had a really miserable time copying it in here (a process which is often very easy). That means I had more of a chance to correct spelling, mechanical and minor factual errors than usual because I spent longer reworking it. However, I know from experience that there may be a gross error of continuity from pasting parts together and have lots of irritating glitches. I hope not. If you read it and wish to comment I will try to address errors and questions.
What I know is that my life has been a journey in a very literal sense. When I graduated from UL I went to work that summer for the law Firm of Mangham, Hardy, Rolfs and Abadie in the offices near the top of the First National Bank Tower in downtown Lafayette. It was as close as I have ever come to feeling like my life was on a smooth and established track and not a trek through dangerous places. I was headed off to Tulane Law School in the fall. A lot of people in my life who have always behaved badly toward me when they were around chose not to that summer. I had been on television and in the newspapers a great deal when I won the Outstanding Graduate award and it seemed like I would be given some space to do things one step at a time in a way that I have never really known at any other time.
My time at Tulane Law School that first run was one of the worst times of my life. That is from my point of view saying a great deal. We lived next to a family who were in charge of our floor in student housing and screamed and roared many hours every day. Michelle never found any job of significance which wrecked our financial plan, I got hit in a horrible traffic situation and got the ticket, I was chronically sick, we had several family crises. Someone who owed me a substantial amount of money skipped out on payment and it was an informal exchange without legal recourse. Those patterns were established early on and then there were a lot of other bad things. Michelle told me she was pregnant fifteen minutes before my first moot court competition and that she was not (either never was or had lost the pregnancy) just in the middle of my real examination preparation. Then my relationships already included a lot of people who were the opposite of supportive. Despite being a harsh, grim and critical man my grandfather Frank W. Summers I came across as a major source of counsel, social and financial support. He and I had been close of years and this put a strain on our rebuilding relationship but it was a time when he really shone in several ways. When Michelle and I left Tulane after a semester and a bit then in almost every way the life I had sought to graduate into was dead. The journey since then has been an entirely different journey.
When I left Tulane we engaged in that activity my associates in life often refer to as “licking one’s wounds”. That took a few weeks. Then I was working in seafood sales and brokering as I had done many times before including even during my time at Tulane Law. I went down with the owner and chief sales manager of the privately held company that was my employer on a buying trip to Merida. This was typical of a lot of things about my seafood crowd. The owner paid for four tickets, four registration packages, four hotel and food packages and in me provided one of the two or three best interpreters on the trip. However, the trip was supposed to be a sales trip sponsored by the US Department of Commerce and we were there buying. While that exact event was unique it somehow encapsulates all of my considerable experiences in the fishmongering world. While there Lieutenant Governor Paul Hardy presented me with the honor of Honorary Lieutenant Governor of Louisiana. He gave me a very large and beautiful certificate that I was proud to display as I was to mention the honor on my resume.
When I got back I set up those purchases and set up a series of chain and institutional sales for catfish and catfish products of sizes which were not in the main stream of demand and commerce. That was about all I did before quitting my job and going to work for St. Thomas More High School. I knew it would annoy him but I left my employer with a proposal for changes needed in the company. From a distance over the years I watched many of them take place. (Since I wrote this note however the company has closed because it imported much Mexican labor after the ties established on this trip and has had trouble gettibg the paperwork in order in recent years according to one of the former owners).
My story must return to the subject of St. Thomas More High School. My Mom had helped me hear about and get an interview for the job at STM and I took Sarah to school there as I commuted to work. Michelle soon found a job in Lafayette in a career field she would follow in for a good while. I added a part-time job as youth minister at St. Mary’s Parish and then we moved from Mom and Dad’s neighborhood in a rental house to an apartment in Lafayette. Mom and Dad soon moved to house only a few miles away. My sister Susanna was registered to go with Sarah to STM the next year. However, by that time I would be a Board of Regents Fellow at Louisiana State University. Michelle had a good job in Baton Rouge with the same company she had worked for in Lafayette and I had the fellowship money and some other sporadic income. We were pretty happy and pretty successful as far as living in a rental townhouse can be considered successful in America. We had two new vehicles we had bought new and although I was getting really fat for the first time since early adolescence we were more in love and happy than at any time since just after our wedding. So if Law school was really brutally bad then graduate school was pretty good. I was tired and stressed but not as alienated as I have often been. It was a time for maintenance and restorations. Then two things did happen when I was in Grad school at LSU that had a big impact on my life between the two of them. One was that my half-brother Paul Nicolas Jordan came into my life. The other was that my grandfather Frank W. Summers I died. These things and earning my Masters really defined those years.
Paul came into my life as a huge surprise since I had been assured of his impossibility. I had devoted a huge portion of whatever positive focus of energy there had been in my life to being the oldest sibling of seven and an older brother. I had become involved in a whole web of transgenerational things on all sides of the family to pass them on to another generation. When Paul came many of relatives who have always perhaps been happy to make me uncomfortable liked to point out that he was both older and my sibling. All the ways this was done I will not get into here. It so happened that my grandfather Summers was not related to Paul by blood, marriage or memory and was busy dying. I had worked for him, lived with him when in from the Franciscan University of Steubenville, bore his name, had discussed genealogies, family traditions and acts and orders of chivalry. He had brought me into some secret and other semi-secret groups and other groups with tasks that were not entirely clear to me and I had tried to humor him even when it was tough. So at this time we drew closer together. His mind, body and poise were all failing but they all were a noble ruin. Old men I had never met came and began to ask me questions about him and some of our activities and talks together. Many of those men I never saw again.
I undertook a research task or two in Acadiana at the time to deal with these odd meetings and with my dying grandfather. I had often been angry with and resentful of “PauPau” as I called him.When he did die I had seen him dying only a day before and the pain was raw and shocked me in its intensity. There were reasons for that which I will not go into here but the biggest reason was personal loss. I was the only primary pall-bearer with streaming tears and shaking sobs as we gave that last shove of his coffin into the elevated stone mini mausoleum where his remains rest. Typical of he and my grandmother there was a space beside him with her name on it and four other spaces for some (but not any dead) who might need a resting place in our extended family. My grandmother was there and many others and my wife. But I felt a loneliness I had not known before, it may not have been my loneliest moment but it was a very lonely one. I pulled through that semester, took my general examinations and went through commencement. I thought I might go to LSU Law school but I would work in large scale food sales again before returning to Tulane Law School. My marriage was almost suddenly falling apart in real earnest.
During the year I worked we still had some good times but by the summer before Law school we were seldom together as I worked in a law office in Lafayette and she lived in Baton Rouge. Then we moved into a town house in Kenner where we last lived together. This time at Tulane things were smoother in some ways but smoothly bad. My first time at Tulane I had organized a petition and a protest along with other woes and distractions and I am quite certain some faculty there still had it in for me. My relationship with my nuclear family was strained, I missed my grandfather, he had promised me several keepsakes when he died all unsolicited by me and I got none of them just as had happened before when his mother died. My marriage was for the first time cold. It is unacceptable to talk about sex between married couples but our sex life had always been very good by all standards that can be quantified or verified. Now it was not. We were sentimental about splitting. We seldom discussed it and when we did it was usually over a nice dinner calmly. We knew it was coming and I began to seek treatment for depression. We both sort of moved from not quite newlyweds to forty years of marriage in our frank awareness of the opposite sex. It was clear that we would not be happy together and we had tried Marriage Encounter, made Engaged Encounter before exchanging vows and read books as well as making a couples retreat. We had no kids or prospects of having kids soon. I had some concerns my grandfather had entrusted me with that we could never really discuss. My relationship with her parents got pretty bad and hers with mine was not good. None of this was all that obvious or even serious in a certain sense.
I am adding this paragraph for no particular reason to the original note in my Facebook page. I was never sexually involved with anyone while married to Michelle. That is an absolute fact and in addition I did not pursue things that came up as that marriage ended. However, it is dishonest ( by my high standards of candor) to leave out the fact that I did meet a woman at Tulane the second time who made a big impression on me and she seemed to feel something too. We have never seen eachother since then and I really did stay with a miserable and hopeless marriage instead of a new and compelling relationship. I am not even the tiniest bit ashamed of her, my behavior, or of Michelle and I being old fuddy-duddies who tried to play things by the book.
Suddenly I was out of law school, legally separated and living with my parents in a two storey thatched building overlooking Micronesia’s Truk Lagoon as the GIs knew it on the Island of Weno in the country of Chuuk. Another point of no return had been crossed. Another re-invention of a life and a future. Among the markers of that transition I had a truly horrific sunburn that almost defied description. I have been hospitalized twice for sunburn and none of those burns were in the same category as this. I think I could easily have died except that a clinic there sold my mother a few hundred dollars of Silvadene cream for a few dollars. The agonizing physical pain and baseball size blisters were oddly soothing to my shredded soul. I healed and snorkeled again as I had that first burning day. I ate Eggs Benedict overlooking the gorgeous lagoon, spent time with my brothers and sisters and found a job teaching at the local community college which I never undertook because I left before school started. I heard rumours that made me think a reconciliation might be possible and decided to come home and try. However, I have never seen Michelle since the day we were separated. I have never spoken to her on the phone or seen a convincing video of her. Except for third person testimony I have no reason to believe that she is not dead. I now reached a place in life where I was not to cut my hair or shave for about three and a half years.
When I was in graduate school at LSU I published one book review in the Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television as well as two note length letters to the editor — on in Time and one in Newsweek. I did a lot of writing during my marriage but what was most notable was how little publishing I did. I wrote novels, plays, short stories, book length rough drafts on international law, rocketry, ethnicity and theology. This was in addition to countless papers, exam essays, lesson plans at Saint Thomas More, tutoring materials and half of the catechetical materials Michelle and I used together to teach our faith in two dioceses and sales materials as well. But now, in the wandering in the desert phase of my life (involving very few deserts) I began to fill composition books titled as journals. With hair down to my waist almost and long journals to write Mom got me a chance to work out every day almost at Olympus health club in Nunez which is a small community with a gymnasium (in the old sense), a steak house, a gas station and a lot of houses and fields. I got into pretty good shape while not losing weight. In my journals I was able to deal with the absolute and enormous wrongness of nearly everything in the world of humanity from my point of view. It was amazingly soothing to say what was wrong and what might be done about it even though it would not change anything. In many ways life was more hellish than it had been in my worst nightmares but I could at least express that thought in an environment not entirely toxic. I might fell that I was living a nightmare but at least I could say so in peace. I do find the world to be a kind of nightmare made real as much as I find it to be anything else.
I acquired some land from my father after a few years and began a very small business. I did a wide variety of odd jobs and my parents donated mortgage payments on the land to me this was our symbiosis. When they were paid off it was about the year 2000. I also had started a small business subsidized by payment made for driving a few people back and forth from jails and hospitals and other government agencies. My little business was distributing books, cards, prints, jewelry and prints produced in Acadiana or by artists connected with Acadian in a surprisingly large number of the United States, countries and cities. But my income was not nearly (not even approaching nearly) enough to live on.In the year 2000 I returned to the Catholic sacraments after having been a regular mass goer who never received communion, I cut my hair and shaved my beard, I took out a $10,000 signature loan on the land and I applied for and got a substitute teaching job starting in the fall in the Vermilion Parish School board system. Most of this happened in May of 2000. Then I went up to New Haven Connecticut for my sister’s birthday and my brother in laws graduation from Yale Divinity School. I had a wonderful visit with Sarah, Jason, Alyse and Anika as well as others gathering there. However, I did sense before I left that there were serious problems still in their marriage which had been evident last time I had seen them. Some of these and other tensions spilled over into the latter part of a great visit. However, for me this would be a blessed renewal of a closeness with Sarah and her children which would be a large comfort of the following years and had always been there largely. I stopped in at EWTN headquarters in Birmingham, Alabama and at the home of the relative who owned the adjoining piece of land and lived in Virginia. Both these stops and a stop in New Orleans were on the route of my round trip Amtrak ticket and were a mix of business and pleasure.
For three following years I devoted myself to family affairs, kept my little intellectual properties distribution business going, built fences and acquired tenants for all the land while maintaining the mortgage. I also did a great deal of substitute teaching sometimes a week and a half for each week or even more after storms like Hurricane Lilli closed down facilities and caused schedules to be consolidated.
I also began to write again publishing sports pieces at the Daily Advertiser, sports and feature stories in the Abbeville Meridional and features and a column in the Bonnes Nouvelles (Vermilion). Meanwhile, I continued researching, filling composition books and writing a great deal on topics related to my first big efforts in doing my own thing when I left Tulane. About the end of that time a lady I liked ( and might still like) a whole lot and I really pronounced the death of a long term on again and off again relationship.
Towards the end of that period I considered and sort of attempted to return to graduate school in a different discipline. Then I traveled around to see my sister now living in Mexico and to look for a job. I also had applied for a teaching job in China. As it turned out I did teach there in 2004 and into 2005. It was a very powerful experience that deserves more space than I have here so I will skim over it. Having graded dozens of term papers, directed numerous student workshop dramas and advised hundreds of students I returned here because of paperwork problems. I saw many terrible problems in China and faced many but they did not oppress my spirit in the way that the woes of my homeland and of my life in this land have oppressed it.
I got back in time to settle in and then took a job caring for my brother Simon Peter in a home health agency. This went on as I also volunteered during hurricane Katrina but ended with hurricane Rita. I left badly injured to in California and to look for a job. When that failed I spent a very nice few months with Sarah, her children and the missionary team in Mexico. It was on that trip that we took the pictures in Zacatecas which I have included here. My last paycheck, an anonymous gift and some FEMA money went far in Mexico. They would have gone farther if I had not spent so much in California.
I got back healthy for Christmas and have not really been gainfully employed since then but have lived here at Big Woods. Nor is that the extreme underemployment the only lack in my life. But I have gone on with my life each day doing a variety of things. When I think back on the last twenty years since my graduation there are many events not mentioned in this note. Many blessings and joys as well as many horrors and woes. While I have used the skills and knowledge I gained in the university studies I completed twenty years ago many times this is not a career that sounds like a career.
Now I am coming up on twenty years since graduation. I feel very much the absence of many things. I have no legal marriage certainly, no net worth, no significant US credit or income profile or ownership of a car. My views of many institutions is very dark and my interpersonal relationships are perhaps possessed of some of the worst qualities of the modern and some of the worst qualities of the ancient. Yet there is some good in them as well. I have been to pretty many of my alma mater’s homecoming games but not to any organized class reunions. Despite advanced credits and generally good grades I had distractions and preoccupations which prevented me from graduating in four year and that lessened my ties to the people I actually graduated with although not my ties to the school. Now I wonder what the twenty year mark will bring.I doubt I could some these years up to my satisfaction in a single line or a one paragraph program entry. Yet I do note the occasion and find that it commands my attention. I am aware that twenty years as an alumnus only comes once and there is no guarantee that the multiples will come at all. So I look towards May’s anniversary and October’s homecoming week with a varied mix of emotions. Life does not delay so we can explain it well.
END OF FACEBOOK POST
Now, those who really know this blog will know that I correspond with some influential and privileged people and believe in leadership. However, there is a tone of resentment and profound unhappiness with the status quo that is hard to miss in much of what I write and say. First, I would remind people that although the Baron of Louth and I (for example) may correspond it does not mean we are really living in the same circle. Second, this tension (which some see as a contradiction) has been a part of me almost all my life. In an age where people who are unhappy with Bishops join a church with no bishops I choose to complain (when I have reason to) about the episcopacy. While I could have found a way to leave many ties of my youth behind I tend to stay and raise a little hell about the things I dislike. Those who know me best no that my self-concept is very distinct. I am far from perfect but not at all inclined to give up all that I am for some lie about equality and sameness which is not even understood by its advocates. So this is my thinking about this twenty year milestone.