It took me a few days to write this, so sorry if it's long, I didn't have time to be brief.
After my mother committed suicide, my life turned upside-down. The county and police thought that my father was still a very unstable and dangerous man, so I stayed at my best friend Kate's house for a while with no real plan. Then, without warning or cause for reason, the school psychologist decided I was suicidal, and had me put in a mental hopsital for about two months. That, in itself, is a long story that will have to be told later, but I was NOT suicidal, hadn't been for three years, and she was an idiot who if I saw on the street today, I would slap her across the face hard enough for her to lose a few teeth. Turns out McLean High had so many suicides in the past few years (three), they were a bit trigger happy. After two months of "observation," it was determined by a staff of psychiatrists who barely spoke English that being depressed after my mother's death was "normal." Of course, ha ha, McLean said I had died. They sent a letter to my father saying I was not allowed on school grounds. Then they told all my teachers I was dead, and not to discuss the matter. Since half the older staff knew "dead and not talked about" was McLean's way of making someone an "non-person," (which included anyone who got pregnant, dyed their hair a funny color, or got a tattoo), they were not very phased by this. Some of the teachers did NOT know this, and so when I returned to school, hahaha... well, let's just say people thought I had faked my own death. Okay, that's really not supposed to be cool, but I'll never forget my Oceanography teacher going white in the face in shock. My father said the letter told me not to return to school, but he wanted to see what would happen if I did. Just as he predicted, the fact that it was a hidden status meant that no one knew it was being violated. In fact, some of my teachers informed me of what they had been told, and said to tell everyone I had a "head injury." So I did.
"Oh no. Oh god. I thought you had... Oh god oh god. I-I... gave away your lab partner and everything! They TOLD me that -- Oh my God! I am so so sorry!" - Ms. Mickinstry, my Oceanography teacher.
So I graduated McLean High in 1987 under the stigma of pulling the ultimate prank, even though I told everyone it wasn't intentional. I had to move out of Kate's house because the whole thing was just too much for her parents to handle, and they feared for the safety of their daughter. Kate and I stayed friends, but it was getting really strained.
Then high school was over. My father sat me down, and said this was the plan: I could live with him, rent free, until he decided otherwise, but ONLY if I had a full time job AND went to college full time. That was his kind of roundabout way of saying "get out." My father had a long history of doing these things; setting impossibly high goals and when you fail them, he says it's your fault you failed. Another one from when I was 8 was, "I'll teach you how to ride a bike if you buy one." I didn't have an allowance, nor a job, so that was out of my reach. There are many more, including goals I DID reach, only to be accused of cheating because I was "lazy." He did that to my mother, too, and I heard he did this at work to his subordinates constantly. So I was used to this. Of course, when I did actually come up with a plan of having a full time job and going to school, he seemed unimpressed, and the whole thing was daunting. College. Job. Living with what I equated to Hitler. Okay, my life sucks, this is just another stone of doom to carry upon my back...
And that's why God stepped in. He, she, or they (I never know, and I doubt it even matters in the end), said, "Hey! No. No, you don't want to do this. I am SO sorry your life sucked for the first 18 years, and we have to change your path to something better. Sorry, kiddo, college is NOT it." The story about how George Mason's brand new computer system fucked up my schedule is a long story, too, which is superfluous to this entry. But I will add the irony is one of the people who designed the computer system that prevented me from going to college AND having a full time job ended up being one of my bosses at AOL. We spent a long time discussing this. And the fact I was a UNIX sysadmin when I discovered this adds more coincidence. But, after I said, "Up yours, Board of Admissions, I am not paying you until you fix it...!" the fine people at George Mason said, "Fine. You don't go to class. Bzzzt!" Since I was alone in the world, I didn't have anyone to tell me how to fight it, or fight with me, or anything. Of course, I cancelled the check, and was happy to find they still hadn't cashed it a month after I had paid them.
But now I had a ticking clock. I had to move out before my father threw me out. Already he was getting more and more abusive, "now that [your mother] isn't around to shelter you anymore." He was all piss and vinegar about how he was finally going to make a man out of me, or something like that. To his credit, he was right, I was 18 going on 13. I was confused, alone, scared, and fearing for my life. No one had taught me to be a man, I was still a boy, and pretty much doing what the nearest authority told me.
God had more tricks. It turns out Bruce and Cheryl Evry, whom I had made friends with in the previous year and made me "Guest Artist" for Evecon 4 (still the biggest title I have ever held for a convention, which I share with wombat1138) were moving. They were moving from their house in Hyattsville to a house in the Mount Vernon area of Alexandria, and they needed roommates. Specifically roommates who could pay rent on time, and not have significant others who ate their food.
Kate also wanted out. Even though our friendship was falling apart beneath the seams, we had made a plan to move in together, share a larger room, and start a new life. She was sick of her parents, I had to move out, we were friends. This could work!
The phone call went something like this:
Young Grig: Bruce, you said you were looking for roomates?
Early Bruce: Uh, yeah. We're not having much luck.
Grig: I have one.
Bruce: Oh, really?
Grig: How about me?
Bruce: [LONG silence] Uh, okay. Do you have a job?
Grig: Yes I do. Do you?
Bruce: Yes. I run FanTek.
Grig: You told me it never made a profit.
Bruce: It doesn't.
Grig: So what do you do for income?
Bruce: I run FanTek.
Grig: No, really.
Bruce: Really. Honest! So you have a steady job?
Grig: Yes, same company for 2 years.
Bruce: Let me ask Cheryl and Liska.
Bruce: Yes, the girl who gave you a ride to the FanTek parties.
Grig: Yeah, I know who she is, she reads Vogon Poetry.
Bruce: Yeah, but don't hold that against her.
Grig: At Opening Ceremonies? Why won't you tell me what you do for a living?
Bruce: I told you, I run FanTek.
Grig: You told me that FanTek loses money.
Bruce: Not always. Look, we'll get back to you...
Apparently, as I would hear later, they had a meeting about it, and I barely got approved. I think it was because they didn't have enough roommates, and were pretty desperate. Here was this 18 year old kid with a bad family background. Says he has a job. Liska asked if I would pay two month's rent as deposit, and I agreed. Since I called that bluff, they said they'd help me move in.
I had a friend who did security checks who owed me a favor. He said if I ever wanted to dig up dirt on anyone, he could give me the details. I won't say what friend or what favor I did for him, but I called him up and told him I wasn't sure about Bruce and his background. So he said, "No problem. This will take a few days." Later that night, he called back and said, "He's clean." I asked him what he did for a living, and my friend stammered and said, "Look, I can't tell you. All I am allowed to tell you is that the United States is proud of the service he's done for our country, and you don't have to worry about him at all. I'll make it up to you by looking up someone else." I called on the favor later on, but that's another story. In the many years I have known Bruce, I have gotten to know his background, and I have to say that while I don't know everything, I know enough to state that... the United States is proud of the service he's done for our country, and you don't have to worry about him at all. :) (Hey, am not betraying his trust or the trust his parents had for me).
Rent was explained to me this way: $200 a room, $100 a person. So one room, one person was $300/mo. So if your SO came by, you'd pay $400 (one room, 2 people). It was simple and effective. Food and utilities were shared, you were responsible for your own snacks and phone calls. I got the smallest bedroom, and shared a bathroom with a girl who came to the FanTek house at the last moment, a girl named Debbie who had just graduated college in Pennsylvania and got a government job.
The weekend I picked was a weekend my father was away on business. The move was done in three goes. Here is where I met Quasi and his girlfriend (at the time). It turns out his girlfriend was a former roommate and the reason they had the rule about significant others (Quasi would show up, stay for days, use their shower, eat their food). Quasi was not a bad guy, he helped me move in his pickup truck.
Sadly, as I would learn in many future moves, you never plan enough ahead. There is always more stuff to move. The third trip back also had an unexpected problem: my father returned home early. Oh crap. So now I had to face him, and he was livid. He yelled at me, insulted me, and generally acted so aggressively that Bruce took him aside to talk to him. Bruce is REAL good at diplomacy. He's got m4d peepl sk1llz I could only dream about. While my father yelled at him, and accused him of all sorts of things, Quasi quietly asked me if I wanted to settle the issue by knocking my father unconscious (in so many words). Like most people, he thought stories about my dad were exaggerated and suspicious until they actually met him. Then they were usually outraged. Maybe Quasi was being sarcastic, knowing I'd refuse, but he was a big dude. I fully believe that Quasi had the physical ability to squash him. I have often wondered how my father would respond to a good beating, and I have had several offers, but I am not a man of violence. At this time, I just wanted to go.
My father then just assumed all hope was lost, and used the "alright, go, you failure, you screwed up now, you will never amount to anything," and so on. I don't recall all he said, but he told me he didn't trust the keys to his house with these "reprobates" and tried to pull the keys from my keychain from around my neck. There were a few problems with this. One, my keys were on a ball-bead chain, two, those were my new house keys, my old ones were in my pocket, and three... my neck was attached to them. He really nearly strangled me trying to pull them off, and I think Bruce thought he was trying to kill me and pushed us apart. I gave my dad the house keys and he wouldn't let me get the rest of my stuff.
I lost only a few things, but the most I missed was my writing. Oh well.
Afterwards, Bruce suggested we go to Baskin Robbins after such an intense experience. Bruce, in his way, tried to say nice things about my father's actions, but Quasi again suggested a quality bashing would be a better release for everyone involved. I hope you don't think Quasi is some horrible brute, he was a very, very nice and sweet guy, and probably still is. He probably would not have bashed anyone if he didn't really have to.
I spent the rest of the evening moving in. I can remember it vividly. No one had moved in yet, except Liska had moved in half her stuff. Liska and I spent the evening talking about what was to be expected, bad roomates of FanTek past, and so on. The house was Bruce, Cheryl, Liska, Debbie, and myself.
My father called me once, and that was to tell me off, and how I should join to Navy and save something respectable of my self-worth. I didn't speak to him much after that. The very next week, Kate decided she didn't want to be my roomate, or be my friend anymore. That was a pretty harsh, but necessary blow. I lost my job two days later. This caused some concern for the FanTek house, but I had paid two month's rent, and I never skipped a payment, to my credit. On top of that, many of my former McLean friends became nervous that I wasn't following the scheduled plan of getting a college degree, so most of them backed away nervously. On his own? Works for a living? Not rich nor has parents who pay for everything? Eungh... n-no thanks. I'll just... go for a while... A few did not, notably my friends Neal, Ellen, Julie, and Jason. Some grew away from me like normal kids do at this time.
The next two months were like a much-needed rest. While I looked for work, I spent a lot of time with Bruce, which was very cathartic. Bruce was a good friend to me during this time, and I helped him do many errands for FanTek and his parents, oddly enough. I got to see a lot of Aberdeen, and was with him when he got his first giant projection screen TV. I also spent a lot of time on the Metro, looking around. There were many visits to the Zoo, which was free, and pretty empty now that winter was approaching. I recall I'd spend hours in front of the seal exhibit, watching them play around, and sometimes it was so empty, I actually got some one-on-one time with the girl who usually did the presentation of the feedings. I learned an awful lot about seals and their habits.
Star Trek: The Next Generation started its first season. I recall the moments we had the huge projection TV set up in the basement, a ton of FanTek people and snacks, and the party we had for the premiere show. Even though I thought it stunk, I felt this sense of being in a whole new world with a whole new batch of people. I had been totally severed from my past. No more ties to McLean. Friends were gone, I had no family, and no job. I was completely on my own, and I have to admit, I was terrified. But being with the FanTek folk helped a lot, even if Bruce made me watch "Cat People" and "Solarbabies."
On December 7th of 1987, I got a job at Crown Books. A few months later, I was promoted to store manager. In 1988, I met takayla. In 1989, we got married. In 1990, we had CR. I lived with the FanTek folk until 1988, and then with some other people in 1989 before moving in with my new wife in the summer.
I have changed since then. Bruce was a great foundational influence, along with Joanne, and of course, my wife and son. I have also picked up bits and pieces of other friends along the way. I have lived surreal experiences, personal dramas, and despite how BAD this story started out, I wouldn't have it any other way. I was a husband, father, in-law, book writer, skit writer, actor, Emcee, Rocky Horror presenter, retail manager, contest winner, programmer, Unix admin, anime judge, convention panelist, teacher, and friend to many. I have traveled to California, Texas, Mexico, Sweden, Indianapolis, Las Vegas, Iceland, Hatteras, and a bunch of other places near and far. I met relatives I never thought I had, and some I thought I had lost. I have lived through births and deaths, and throughout it all, owned many cats.
And a lot is yet to come.