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I have been living in this old farmhouse for nearly 10 years now, and this will be my last winter here. The farm is about to be split up and sold, and I will get a few acres off of it to either build on or sell. It has been a hard winter, cold and snowy, and the forecast warns of a blizzard to come this weekend. As I wait, I reflect on my previous battles with winter here. Ten years ago, my grandmother had moved out of the house earlier that year at the age of 93, leaving it vacant after moving on to a retirement home in Virginia to live out her final years. I had fond memories of this old house, of cows and chickens and Sunday dinners as a kid growing up nearby in the suburbs of Baltimore. In my younger adulthood I visited her every couple of weeks to cut her grass, do minor repairs around the house, and take her shopping.

My mission that day was to check on the old house, to make sure the heat still worked, the roof was sound and there was no damage from a recent heavy snow. Most of Grandma's things were still there as well, and she made almost weekly requests for them, and I would drive up from my rented townhome in Glen Burnie to see if I could find them. On this chilly day in early March, the temperature hovered in the lower 20's, and I looked forward to getting into the warmer confines of the house. I opened the door to find the house nearly as cold as the outdoors and the furnace not working. While waiting for the furnace man to come, I looked around at the neglect, the fences unmended, the trees fallen into the yard, the gutters coming loose, and the driveway unplowed. I made the decision that day to move up here, and after discussing the situation with my dad I started to pack away some of Grandma's things and haul my own up here.

I almost felt like a pioneer up here the first summer. I began by planting a large garden like I remembered as a kid, and started to get the house shaped up, including setting aside a room for my ham shack. I had more energy than I had in years, and the commute to my night job was fairly easy, despite growing from 10 to 35 miles each way. As summer faded into fall I was looking forward to harvesting a bumper crop of pumpkins and sweet corn, and being able to talk away the winter in my ham shack with a tower filled with an impressive stack of antennas when the first of two events nearly led me to reconsider my decision.

I had an accident in the yard while digging a footer for my radio tower. I fell and tore up my knee pretty bad, needing to wear a brace for several weeks and eventually have arthroscopic surgery to the knee. The tower never did get erected that year, but I was able to rig up a couple of wire antennas. The knee was painful and stiff for several months afterwards, and has never been the same since. On the heels of the knee injury came the winter of 1994, arguably one of the worst winters I could remember up to that time. No single weather event stands out, except for persistently bitter cold weather and endless days of sleet and freezing rain, which built up in my driveway to a depth of nearly a foot. It was useless to salt it, it was too cold. It was useless to try to plow it, it was a composite as hard as rock. I had two choices, either dynamite it or pave it. I chose to pave it by taking my F-150 to the quarry in Texas, Maryland and loaded it up until the springs bottomed out with a quantity of a substance called anti-skid mix, a sandlike mix of rock dust and crushed stone. Anti-skid mix, along with tire chains turned out to be my savior. A five dollar bill could buy enough of this miracle material to bottom the springs on my softly sprung pickup, and provide me with the needed traction over the rear wheels. It also provided an abrasive surface for my all season tires to try and grip. The GVWR plate on my truck said 5,400 pounds, but I once left the quarry with the scale reading 6,800 pounds, thanks to the stone, full tanks of gas, a toolbox, plus a mix of scrap steel and iron for additional ballast. It all froze into a solid lump that had to be broken up by a sledgehammer. My neighbor and snowplower resorted to paving his drive with manure. I used the tire chains more than once to get up the driveway, which was a steep but short uphill climb. Once I had to negotiate about a mile and a half of freezing slush about 4 inches deep with the chains. I just floored it and made headway about 15 or 20 miles an hour. I dared not stop, else I might be frozen solid into the supercooled mixture. I made it home, and smelled the unmistakable odor of burned transmission fluid.

Spring finally came, though the ice stayed through late March. Three months later, I had to put a torque converter in my truck, whose warranty had just expired.

My persistence and ingenuity got me through, I planted another garden and I got through the next winter with relative ease. 1996 was an unremarkable winter, with the exception of one week in January where the Mid-Atlantic got nearly 40 inches of snow. It was to the top of my snow fence! Most of the snow fell early in the week, with a 30 inch snowfall from Saturday until Monday. Tuesday afternoon I was freed by a local farmer with a front end loader on his tractor. For the next week I fought to keep the driveway open, despite 10 inches of additional snow and drifting during the next week. 9 days later, a wet springlike airmass moved over the area, and it nearly all disappeared in a day. The sudden meltdown was almost more dangerous than the snow. It flooded roads and created a blowing fog so thick that you could not see more than 100 feet.

That was the last truly monstrous winter event. In the seven years since, there have been a few good ice storms, and even a couple of one foot snowfalls, but nothing even remotely as bad as 1994 or 1996. The winter monster has been sleeping soundly the last several years, but now he is stirring, and has already thrown two straight months of subfreezing cold and several major snowfalls already at Maryland. He is carving a deepening low-pressure trough out west, and pushing it east. For starters he is going to serve up about 6 inches of mixed precipitation tonight and tomorrow, then it will get cold before the real storm hits. How bad will it be? The technical analysis states that they expect about 2 inches of liquid equivalent, in layman's terms about 2 feet of snow whipped up into a frenzy by gale-force winds.

Like 1996 I have vowed to be ready. The snow piles from the last storm have been pushed back, and the fridge, liquor cabinet, and pantry are stocked. If I have to go to work, the truck is gassed up, ballasted with additional weight, and tire chains are ready if needed in the emergency kit. After the winter of 94, I made sure that the truck sports real snow tires, the kind with big lugs that howl at highway speeds. Unfortunately, like the last time a blizzard hit, I am on call this weekend.

May the show begin!


Update 15 February 2003 2245Z:

So far so good, the first round is over, with a mere 2 1/2 inches of snow, and I was able to move it out of the way easily. Weather Underground says the main course will be served up later tonight, and will last well into Monday afternoon. The storm seems to be slowing down a little. I took advantage of the break to get in a few more groceries, especially some fixings for chili con carne. The store was almost completely deserted, but several popular items seemed in short supply, though there was plenty of milk, bread, and toilet paper on the shelves. Yesterday was the panic day I guess.


Update: 17 February 2003 1540Z

Its over, at least the stuff coming out of the sky. The Doppler Radar shows the trailing edge of the storm just overhead, and moving northeast quickly. I have taken some pictures of the snow piling up against the side of my pickup as the storm progressed. My Honda Accord is completely buried in a drift, and in the middle of the yard is a 55 gallon drum used as a trashcan, and the snow is up to the second rung of the drum. This means that there is about 2 feet of snow out there, its pretty close to being a record.

Now comes the hard part: digging out. At least the wind hasn't whipped up yet, so I have hopes that one of the good old boys with a pickup truck mounted snowplow plow will be along later and be able to clean snow out of my drive, and I will reward their kindness generously. In the meantime, I will see if I can make at least a little headway the old fashioned way.


Final Update:1940Z February 17,2003

I dug a path about 2 feet wide and about 30 feet long when I saw a backhoe rumbling by. He stopped, we negotiated for a minute, and about 25 minutes later I was sprung from my snowy prison. I was amazed at his skill working within a few inches of my vehicles with that heavy machine. It was the best $50 I ever spent!

When you are living in snow country, as I have spent far too much time doing, there are certain things you prepare for. When there is a major snow storm on the way you know things will shut down. Roads may become impassable, stores may close down, you might have to rearrange your schedule, and in many ways you begin to feel housebound. Unless you absolutely have to go out you don't bother. You hunker down and wait until it all clears up.

It often gives you a feeling of being trapped.

There is nothing quite like the blizzard in my experience, and I've spent a lot of years living in Florida and on the North Carolina coast, so I can tell you with some knowledge and experience that hurricanes are shit compared to big snow storms. They come, they knock things down, there are problems that limit movement and access, but it all passes rather quickly compared to the big snowstorm. Sometimes a really big snowstorm can screw you up for a week. Maybe there isn't as much destruction, but when it comes to mobility and access, the major snowstorm beats all.

The wayward path of my so-called career has led me to become a specialist at being a man who works with psychologically damaged teenaged girls. I emphasize the "man" part because there is a lot more to it when you are an adult male working with damaged teen girls than being a woman doing it. There is a lot of work that goes into building trust with girls who have more often than not been violated in all sorts of ways by grown men over the course of their lives. And many of my girls are caught in what feels to them as a permanent blizzard.

Even in the moments when the snow stops falling, the wind ceases its wailing and the skies begin to clear, they are waiting for the blizzard to begin again. Life provides some temporary shelter but that shelter is not dependable. It comes, but then it goes, and soon the snow starts to fall once again.

I have come to know a disturbingly large number of teenage girls who have been raped by their biological fathers. I've come, over time, to realize that nothing else comes close to causing the depth of psychological damage that comes with this. The relationship between father is daughter is a precious and delicate one. Girls expect their fathers to be their champion and their defender, if not openly then subconsciously. When things go wrong, girls are naturally predisposed to expecting their fathers to swoop in and slay the dragon. This is the nature of the relationship. When the father is the dragon things get very screwed up.

I could talk at length about the girl whose father molested her for years and then killed himself when she reported it and what that did to her. I could talk about the girl who was interviewed at my workplace before being admitted who, in response to a question about whether she was sexually active said, "I've only had sex with my papa." That takes too much out of me.

I'd rather talk about two girls who are sitting by the window waiting for the blizzard.

These are two girls who have never had fathers. One suffers from extreme low self-esteem and is frequently on suicide watch. The other is extroverted, spent time in online chat rooms inviting men to her home to have sex with her, and is always doing something outrageous to get herself into more trouble than she can possibly handle. The only things they have in common are that they are fourteen years old and don't have fathers.

There are a lot of things you can tell a fourteen year old girl. There are some thing that she will believe. One thing you cannot tell a fourteen girl that there is any real chance of her believing is that her father's absence from her life has nothing to do with her. She might outwardly acknowledge the truth in the statement, but inside she's just never going to buy it. You won't find a lot of forty year old women who will truly believe it either, but that is a lot more complicated. When it comes to the fourteen year old girl there is something that compels them to invoke a sort of unintentional enchantment to bring their fathers to their realm. It has to do with the father as champion who slays the dragon thing. And when those enchantments don't work, the self-hatred ratchets up another few notches. "I wasn't worth saving."

In the case of the first girl, the consistently suicidal girl I will call Sunshine, she's mostly given up on being saved, but there is still something in her eyes that says there is something that might happen in life that will make sense of it all. She has three siblings, but they have a different father and he's around. He comes to see them and spends time with them. Her father has been gone for some time and when he was there was physically abusive to her mother and to her. Moonbeam is the name I'll use for the second girl. I almost wish there was a grave somewhere I could take her to where she would discover her father had died in a valiant effort to save others, but she knows he's out there and he exists not that far away. He just doesn't bother. In a way she still somehow hopes he will swoop in at the last minute and save her, but now she's in a psychiatric facility where no one lets her get that far. And to her that isn't really playing fair.

The other morning I did my dashing buffoon act and came into Sunshine's room announcing that I was going to be her sidekick for breakfast that day because, "Sunshine is cool, and I want to have breakfast with Sunshine and anyone who says she isn't can bite me... but not really, because I don't want any of you to bite me because biting is not cool."

"Mr. Keith, you are such a goof."

So I kept her smiling and laughing, mostly at me, through breakfast. It is the least I can do. I'm pretty much paid to be a buffoon. My girls spend their days in classes and therapy session and learning to march from one place to another silently. Someone needs to be a buffoon. Shit gets really serious sometimes and the next snowstorm is always just around the corner. We have a boy at our facility who was doing really well and then found out his father had a baby with this boy's sister and that threw him into a tailspin. Someone needs to be a goddamn buffoon around here.

There is a line I sometimes deliver to girls leaving our facility. It isn't really a line, because I only say it when I actually mean it.

"I'd be proud to have a daughter like you."

There are so many times I want to say it to Sunshine, but I never say it before they leave. It mucks up the works and damages the therapeutic relationship. Sunshine really is cool. We had this discussion once about how it isn't bad to be "weird" because she believes she's weird and I know I'm weird. Her mother took her out of public school and sent her to some private "Christian" school because she believed the kids there would be nice to her daughter, but they tease and bully her more than the public school kids ever did. Those kids just love a kid who doesn't have a father, and her bad acne doesn't help matters a whole lot.

So instead of that so-called line, I told her, "You better stay alive or I'm going to be really mad. If I have to live in a world without Sunshine, I swear I am going to get like really, really cranky ALL THE TIME. Okay?"

"Okay."

See, I don't really do anything. Ever. I just say a lot of shit.

Moonbeam, is a completely different kind of girl. She has this thing where she goes out on them unholy interwebs and tries to chat up adult men. It isn't about the sex and the men. It is about her subconscious idea that if she goes too far out into the chaos her father will show up and save her. I know this, but no one else gets it. She listens to me just a little bit too well and is a bit too compliant with my direction. Despite her history, she seems very willing to listen to me without fading over the line into her hypersexual history. I've become her default father figure. My concern is that she plays it a little bit too well and sometimes I wonder if she is running a game on me.

"Anastasia, you said there were to be three and then I was done. Three became nine and then nine became twenty-seven and then the whole fucking world fell on my plate."

"Had to bring you in slowly. You don't know how fucked up these humans are."

"And the dead have to show them?"

"The dead don't walk around for their health."

The living think they have this thing under control. A little discipline and a little compassion and maybe something works out. They miss the big picture. I have spent nearly two decades dead and nearly that much time dealing with the most screwed up and damaged women and girls on this planet. The living don't know shit. To understand real pain you have to be dead, you have to have gone through some serious shit that fucks you up in ways I can only begin to describe. And there are those amongst the living who know. There are those who have walked through fire and come out of it in three or four pieces. You never come out of it in one. If you are lucky your pieces start to find each other and come together again. Being dead is about finding all the pieces and looking at them in the mirror.

In eight years of working with seriously screwed up kids I've found one common denominator. It always traces back to the parents, whether it is genetic or environmental. The other day I saw a story, some kind of breaking news of how some man raped his infant daughter. Breaking news? I have five girls in my care who have been systematically raped by their biological fathers since infancy and three more who have been systematically raped by their step-fathers since infancy. Bring it up to their later single digit years, seven, eight and nine years of age and I can count fifteen. Bring it up to the teen years and you have most of my girls. We're talking about twenty-eight out of thirty-six girls who have been systematically raped by a caregiver at some point in their childhood.

That doesn't even count single experiences, such as that of Sunshine who was brutally abused physically and emotionally by her father but only raped once, by a mover when her mother tried to take them away from the father. Imagine the psychological pain of escaping from a physically and emotionally abusive father only to be raped by a mover when you got to safe haven.

During my childhood, my parents kept me safe. My father was emotionally and mentally abusive to my mother, and I blamed myself as I knew my conception was the reason two poorly matched people got married. I was qualified as a genius in my grammar school years and my father expected me to excel beyond all reason, pushing me to give up socialization and outside interests to focus on academic achievement. I hated him for it and rebelled hard during my teenage years. I got into drinking, drugs and crime just to piss him off and it didn't stop there. As I got older I turned my criminal skills into a trade and was able to use other people to fulfill my goals. In many ways I resembled a sociopath in my early twenties and it was the realization of this that lead to my suicide in 1994.

Soon after my death I learned of my childhood best friend's suicide and of the plight of his siblings. I was angry with myself for never understanding what was going on in his life. Sometimes I wondered if I turned a blind eye on purpose, perhaps because I was afraid. I knew something was going on in that house that wasn't right, but as a child I never believed I had the right to say anything. My survivor guilt over that probably drives me as much as anything, but the truth was that I never survived it. Everything that happened then wrapped itself into my own suicide, which happened before Bobby's.

I hear my kids telling staff on the unit, "You don't understand," quite frequently. I've never heard them say it to me. I have girls who never talk to anyone, never confide in anyone, talk to me.

I'm the goofball. I make fun of everything. I do it because I have to, for myself and for them.

I told Sunshine not to long ago, "There are a lot of terrible things out there. You can crawl inside yourself and hope to die. Or you can find some reason to laugh at them. I've seen a lot of things, and in the end, I realized they are all ridiculous."

If that one girl grows up and lives semi-happily ever after then everything I have been means something. And I know it does, because it cracks me up every damned day I am alive in your sick, sick world.

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