SPODE’S TOWER

Blame it on my upbringing, the odd traditions of my mother’s family. Basically, we say “I love you” by giving each other stuff. All kinds of stuff. Art, furniture, gadgets, clothing, books, whatnots. We were never a touchy, feely, huggy family nor verbally effusive. We rarely said “I love you.” I’ve had to learn to say the words. I’d still rather buy you a present.

spode's tower plateOver the course of life with my family, I got clothing (used and new), pottery (ugly and uglier), jewelry, paintings (“No, really, it’s okay … you keep it … please!”) and whatever else came to hand. If someone had a sudden unplanned attack of the warm fuzzies, they might give you the nearest small object — ashtray, silver cigarette holder (from my mother, who never smoked), old souvenirs from Coney Island, empty cigar boxes (Uncle Abe). No wrappings or bows. Spontaneity precluded amenities. It was my family’s version of a hug.

One time, my dearest favorite-est aunt gave me the coat off her back while crossing 6th Avenue in Manhattan. It was mid-winter in New York and definitely not a good time to be coat-less, but I had said I liked it and she needed to express her love right then and there.

“Please, Aunt Kate,” I cried, hoping the people swirling around us didn’t call the cops, likely thinking I was mugging my elderly aunt. “I am wearing a coat. You gave me this coat years ago. I wear it all the time. I love it.”

Which only made it worse. “That old thing,” she cried. “You need a new coat.”

“When we get home,” I promised. “You can give me the coat at home.” And she did. And I wore it. For many years until it fell apart. I knew I was wearing her love and it kept me very warm.

When I lived in Jerusalem, I bought a box of odds and ends from a little shop on Bethlehem Road. They had been cleaning out their back room. They said “We don’t know what’s in here, but you can have it for five dollars.”

I took the box home and began to sort through it. I found tiny carved ivory elephants, amber beads, buttons from dress shirts, old agora and a green, crusted thing I was going to throw out until a friend said “Hey, that’s an old coin.”

I stopped. Looked at it. “How can you tell?” I asked.

“That’s what old coins look like,” she said. “Soak it in lemon juice for a few days and see what happens.”

I soaked it for two weeks and it still looked like a piece of green crusty metal. Finally, using a toothbrush and copper cleaner, I extracted an ancient bronze coin, circa 77, the second year of the First Jewish War Against the Romans. The date was on the coin in old Hebrew script.

I had the coin appraised at the Rockefeller Museum. It was the real deal, but not worth a fortune – maybe a couple of hundred dollars, if I could find a buyer. So I turned it into pendant and wore it on a ribbon. When my mother came to visit, she admired it. Of course I gave it to her. When my mother died, my father gave it back to me, but it disappeared. I suppose it will turn up someday in another box of odds and ends and become someone else’s treasure.

You had to be careful in my family. If you admired something you were going to own it. There was a hideous pottery owl that looked like its eyes were bleeding. Chartreuse with scarlet eye sockets. I was caught staring –and had to say something. It was a masterpiece of sculpting, but the overall effect was gruesome. So I said: “It’s … really interesting.” It was, in a ghastly way.

“It’s yours!” cried my mother. I detected a note of triumph. I still harbor a suspicion she had gotten it from some other family member and was just waiting for the chance to move it along. Tag, I was it.

The ultimate example of family love en passant were the dishes. It was my fault. I started it. I bought them from a barn on a back road in Connecticut in the early 1970s. I was poking around a room full of pottery and turned one over. It was Spode. The markings looked to be late 19th century. Eighty-six pieces, including a chipped sugar bowl and eight demitasse cups minus saucers … and a set of saucers without cups. In pretty good condition, all for $30.

Spode's Tower

It turned out to be Spode’s Tower. The dishes were old and delicate, so I never used them fearing they’d get broken. They stayed in the closet and gathered dust. Years passed.

One day, my mother admired them. Faster than you can say “Here, they’re yours,” I had those dishes packed and in her car. She loved them, but they were old and, it turned out, valuable. So she put them away and never used them. One day, my Aunt Kate admired them, so Mom gave them to her. Kate then gave my mother her set of bone china for 12 which she didn’t need any more, the days of big dinner parties being long over.

My mother didn’t need such a large set either, so she gave Aunt Kate’s set of 12 to my brother, who gave my mother his china for six. My mother gave my brother’s dishes to me while Aunt Kate traded my Spode for Aunt Pearl’s old china. Aunt Pearl packed the Spode away in a safe place, because they were old and valuable and she didn’t want to break them.

Twenty years later, Garry and I went to visit Aunt Pearl. She had the Spode, carefully wrapped and boxed. She gave it back to me and we took it home. She had saved them all those years. Of course, I never used them. I eventually gave them to Owen and Sandy who had the sense to sell them. They knew they would never use them and neither would anyone else.

Love can be wrapped in paper and carefully protected. There is love. There are dishes. And there are memories of my family, carefully stored, ready to be given. To you, if you like.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY, MOM!

Dear Mom,

It’s Flag Day for most people of a certain age. Mom, “people of a certain age” is a not so subtle reference to anyone over 60 these days. But for anyone in your immediate and extended family, today is a celebration of your birthday!

It’s a celebration of your life and the nurturing given to countless people. Many still refer to you as “Auntie Esther.” It’s hard to separate fact from fiction when listening to stories people tell about you. I say print the legend!

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It’s been a busy year, Mom. Your great-granddaughter Kaity is a high school graduate — with honors. Headed to college in the fall, with nursing as her major. You could probably tell her stories about your days as a nurse. Kaity has a lot of your grit and determination. You would be proud of her. She calls Marilyn and me the “old people.” You were right when you said “what goes around, comes around.”

You were right about a lot of things, Mom. I remember the look you gave me when I spouted all that college stuff about world-changing events and how “old people” should keep up.

You and Daddy are probably grinning at the accomplishments of your “old age” son, Anton.

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“Tony”, as Daddy called him, is celebrating his 25th anniversary as conductor of the St. Olaf Choir. Anton is mentoring a new generation of chorale musicians. He has brought diversity and creativity to the St. Olaf Music Department. Your “baby” is now an acclaimed international figure in his profession.

Anton and Garry

Honestly, I love teasing Anton. I remind him — publicly, when I can — of when I used to change his diapers. I’m sure you remember  that I wasn’t happy with my “big brother” duties. All my friends were outside playing baseball and I wanted to be there, too.

Mom, will you not interrupt me when I’m talking? Please?

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Where was I? Oh, right. Billy. He’s doing okay, enjoying his first full year of retirement. I’m not sure he would use the word “enjoy” but he’s maintaining the family home. Speaking of home, our house is turning 60 next year. I remember when it was brand, spanking new. We had just moved in. It had that great “new house” smell.

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Hold on, Mom. I’m not finished yet. No, I’m not interrupting. Yes, I know who brought me into this world. No, I’m not giving you a “look.” Just one more thing …

Marilyn and I will be celebrating our silver wedding anniversary in September. Yep!! 25 years — up and down — the best years of our lives. Yes, Mom, Marilyn is the girl — forever.

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We’ll be in Cooperstown, New York, for our anniversary. I’m still a passionate baseball fan and it seems just right to celebrate at the Hall of Fame. Marilyn made it her business to learn baseball after we got married because she knew how much I love the game. Now she is a very savvy fan.

That’s it, Mom. We’ll toast your birthday with PowerAde and PowerZero. Betcha that’s a surprise, Mom.

Please tell Daddy we miss him, too.

Happy Birthday, Mom!!

Love,

Garry

SERENDIPITY PHOTO PROMPT 2015-9: BITE OF THE SPIDER

SERENDIPITY PHOTO STORY PROMPT

WEDNESDAY – June 10, 2015 #9

Welcome, again, to Frisbee Wednesday. Today I have wonderful pictures of my favorite local dam. And a story to go with it. Two of the best pictures were taken by Garry.

You may write about any of these pictures. Or any of your pictures or someone else’s picture. Write a little, write a lot. At your pleasure.

The picture for this week is by Garry Armstrong, who is coincidentally, the subject of today’s story.

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Please add your own ping back (links) or put your link in a comment, then link back to this post so other people can find you and me. My effort for this week follows.

BITE OF THE SPIDER
Garry as John Ford

Garry as John Ford

Garry has been feeling unwell. Something happened and it started with a bug bite. My first guess would be a brown recluse spider, but according to the authorities, that’s impossible because “they don’t live here.” We do have black widows … even the experts admit that … and giant wolf spiders (let us hope I never encounter one because I would probably die of fright) …  but no brown recluses.

Whatever it was, the bite was painless and the culprit got away. The experts get to retain plausible deniability for their contention “it didn’t really happen.”

Only the spider — if it was a spider — knows for sure, and he isn’t talking. Yet.

Garry started to feel not-so-good shortly after Kaity’s graduation. He was energetic during the event, the picture of a proud grandfather with field producer experience.

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The day after The Big Event, a different story emerged. His left leg hurt. Shooting pains. He was limping. Both of us assumed (never assume) this was because he’d pushed too hard the previous day.

That wasn’t it, because it got steadily worse. On Thursday, while towelling off post-shower, he noticed something nasty on the back of his left calf, down near the ankle. He showed me.

Garry at Manchaug

It was an ugly wound. Two areas affected, the larger one had two big gray-blue, oddly shaped blisters surrounded by dark red inflammation plus a smaller version lower on the ankle. I lanced the blisters, cauterized everything with surgical iodine, slathered it with antibiotic ointment and bandaged him like a wounded soldier on the battlefield.

He said he felt better. Friday passed, but on Saturday morning, I didn’t like the way it looked. It seemed redder and the area of redness had expanded. I called the doctor. Drove him there.. Brought him home, then went out to the pharmacy for antibiotics. It was the first time I had driven since before the heart surgery in March 2014.

Just a day later — Sunday — the weather being fine and Garry feeling a little better, I suggested an airing. Manchaug. I’d drive. It would be low impact.

The shot for which life and limb were imperiled.

The shot for which life and limb were imperiled.

I should have known better.

I left with Garry, my husband, but arrived in Manchaug with director John Ford. Squatting in the tall grass to get that great shot of the dam with the wild daisies in the foreground, leaving me wondering if he’d be able to get up — as I pondered how many biting insects were hiding in that grass. I would have thought he’s had enough of getting bit. But it’s not about me. Who am I to keep an artist from his moment?

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The doctor was worried about Lyme. Although I saw no evidence of a tick, that doesn’t mean he wasn’t bitten by one or several. Ticks drop off when they’ve completed their meal and Lyme is endemic to this region.

I’m counting on it not being Lyme. Or anything serious. Because the maestro needs his space — and I need the maestro.

HAPPY EVER AFTER – MOSTLY

HAPPILY EVER AFTER? GIVE OR TAKE A LIE OR TWO.

We’ve coming up on anniversary number 25, which is a big one. We have plans. These plans involve baseball. And a bit of traveling. I digress because I wanted to make sure I include all the facts and nothing but the facts.

A note from a long and much-married woman: No marriage is happy all the time. There are fights, times when one of you is snippy, snarky, unhappy, frustrated and you take whatever is bothering you out on your partner. Marriage is a never-ending negotiation to achieve perfection. Finding perfection is impossible, but trying to achieve it can be fun.


I was 18 when I married the first time. It was my senior year. I was working at the college radio station. Jeff was the Station Manager. Garry, my once and future husband, was Jeff’s second-in-command — the Program Director. The two were also best friends. Most of the people I came to consider real friends worked there, too. We were having a great time doing weird, creative stuff. Life as a permanent party … or so it seemed.

Gar and Mar in Dublin 2000

Aside from the stuff we did at the station, we held an annual Fall of Sauron Day party — scripted, costumed, with special effects. We were young, healthy, could party all night, yet rise up and go the work the following morning. Looking barely the worse for wear. Ah, youth.

I married Jeff in August 1965. I spent the next year finishing my B.A. and having my spine remodeled, so it was a few years before I got on with life. Owen Garry was born in May 1969, Garry being his godfather. Fast forward through a non-acrimonious divorce from Jeff. I later realized if you just give up everything and walk away, it’s easy to remain amicable. It’s also something you will probably regret — eventually.

Off to Israel I went with The Kid. Not too long thereafter, I married in Israel. The less said about this mistake, the better. In 1983, a state visit from the ex and (now) current husband (they rode together), showing up right in time for war in Lebanon. It ruined our plans to visit Mt. Hermon and the Galilee, but created great anecdotes which Garry and I tell after dinner around the fire. I have one (fuzzy) picture of me, sandwiched between Jeff and Garry, all arm-in-arm, the Dead Sea behind us. The picture was taken by husband number 2 (the one I don’t want to talk about).

August 1987 – THE RETURN

I’m back! Garry and I are an item. Having been apart for so long brought us closer together than we’d imagined possible. The previous decade hadn’t dealt kindly with either of us and we saw one another with new eyes. I think we’d always been a little in love, but there were an endless number of reasons why it wasn’t the right time to do something about it.  Now, shortly after my Israeli divorce from husband number 2 was finished, Garry and I got married.

Here’s the back story. Give or take a lie or two.

I’d been away for two weeks in California on business. I had come back early because I got sick, came down with the flu. Just as well, because an earthquake — the one that stopped the World Series — occurred the following day and if I’d stayed, I’d have been crushed under the collapsed highway.

Garry was glad to see me … until I coughed. Then he wasn’t so glad. If you want to know the definition of “mixed emotions,” it’s a man overwhelmed with joy to see the woman he loves — but knowing the first kiss will include influenza. The definition of true love? He kissed me anyway. And got the flu.

So after we both stopped coughing, Garry took me out to dinner. He was nervous. He was driving and we went around Leverett Circle at least half a dozen times. He kept missing the turn off. Meanwhile, he was explaining how he’d had a conversation with his pal about real estate, and how prices were down, and how maybe we should buy something. And live together. Like maybe … forever? Was forever okay with me?

So having listened for a pretty long time, I said: “So let me see if I’ve got this right. You want to buy a house? Move in and live together? Forever? As in married?”

“All of that,” he said, and drove around the loop one more time.

“I don’t know about you,” I said, “But I definitely need a drink.”

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The following morning, I asked Garry if I could tell my friends. He said “Tell them what?”

“That we’re getting married,” I said.

“We are?”

“You said we should buy a house and live together forever.”

“Is that a proposal?”

“It is where I come from,” I assured him. Wouldn’t you think that was a proposal? I had to remind him about buying a ring, too but eventually, he got into the groove, realized all he had to do was tell me what he wanted and show up in a tux and he’d be a married guy. Piece of cake.

We got married 6 months later having known each other a mere 26 years.

I declined to have my first ex-husband as best man at my third wedding. We did, however, have the “real” reception at his house. There was the official one at the church, but the fun event, with all the friends, music, wine and sharing … that one was over at the old house where I used to live with Jeff.

Garry and I will celebrate our 25th anniversary next September. When you find the right one, time flies.

PASS THE ALUMINUM FOIL (DIRECTIONS INCLUDED)

You think you know someone. You hang out with them, exchange emails, jokes, and anecdotes. Maybe you even work with them. Then, one day, out of the blue, you discover they believe you are going to Hell. Perhaps a conspiracy theorist or a believer in the upcoming zombie apocalypse. Or the next Messiah.

I lived in Jerusalem for almost 9 years. Big surprise, you meet a lot of people who are sure they are Jesus Christ come back to finish his work on Earth. One of them worked at the local pizza joint and seemed perfectly normal, until in the middle of a casual conversation, he would drop a bomb about his mission. And there you were, transported to wacko central.

I had a casual friend who was a piano player. He sang and played at fancy hotel bars, like the Hilton Hotel lounge. He was an American, so it was inevitable we would meet. We struck up a little chatty relationship. One night, he called and invited me over. He had something important to tell me.

aluminum foil 1

Important? Our relationship consisted of reminiscing about life in the U.S. in the 1960s — and I’d done his horoscope. I was (coincidentally) the astrology columnist and managing editor of a short-lived English-language weekly. Please, let’s not discuss astrology or my psychic abilities (or lack thereof). You don’t want to know and I don’t want to tell you.

Having nothing better to do at the time, I walked over to his house (just around the corner) and we got to talking. Suddenly, I knew. He was going to tell me one of two things: he was an alien and came from on another planet or galaxy … or … he was Jesus Christ.

It was the latter. Another Jesus. He wanted me, because of my brilliant psychic abilities, to be Paul and spread the word. I worked very hard to tell him that his timing was off and I would be sure to advise him when the right moment arrived. Then I fled into the night and home. He was one of several people who convinced me there was no future for me in the psychically predictive arts.

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Then there was the guy I worked with at one or another of the many high-tech companies at which I was employed, who one day informed me of his intention to quit his job and move to an underground bunker. In anticipation of the coming apocalypse. I hadn’t even done his horoscope.

Not surprisingly, a series of these unwelcome surprises has made more than slightly wary of prospective friends. I’m afraid of what will be revealed as we get to know each other better.

The thing about people who believe in cabals, believe they came on an alien space craft or will be leaving on one shortly, and they are all sure God has assigned them a mission.

You can’t argue with them. They believe what they believe. Absolutely. Don’t bother with facts, their minds are made up.

What if they decide I am one of their (many) enemies? Pass the aluminum foil. I think I need a new hat.

SERENDIPITOUS PHOTO STORY PROMPT – I SHOULD STOP TRYING

SERENDIPITOUS PHOTO STORY PROMPT –
WEDNESDAY – 2015 #5 – I SHOULD STOP TRYING

I’ve decided to do this once weekly. I will publish it out every Wednesday (because Wednesday is the middle of the week). Yes, that’s the real reason.

Please try to add your own ping back (links). If you aren’t sure how to do it, put your link in a comment. That works too.

Every Wednesday or until I throw in the towel, I’ll publish a picture and write something about it. You can use any of my pictures — or one of your own — as a prompt. If you find my subject interesting, by all means, extrapolate. Any length is acceptable from a couple of sentences, to a chapter from your upcoming novel.

Please link it back to this post (ping back) so other people can find it.

What do I mean by “story” and “pictures”?

Story. Words. Poetry, prose, fact, or fiction. A couple of lines, a fanciful tale.

Pictures. Video if that’s your thing. Scanned pictures from your scrap-book. Weird pictures from the internet. Cartoons. Pictures of your family vacation and how the bear stole your food. Any picture you ever took and would like to talk about.

SIMPLE

It sounds simple. It is simple. Every picture has a story or ought to. There are no rules. Follow my lead, ignore me, follow someone else’s idea. Any picture plus some text. Short or long, truth or fiction. Prose or poetry.

One final thing: If you want to get notices of these posts, you’ll have to subscribe to Serendipity. I’ll try to title relevant posts so you can easily recognize them.

My effort for this week follows.


 I SHOULD STOP TRYING
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Garry took the picture that first warm day of spring, the first warm day since winter. It was our first photo excursion, the first time anyone could go out in short sleeves. The snow was gone. Finally. No leaves yet, but you could see buds if you looked carefully.

Two weeks later , the leaves have exploded. Even the oaks are in full leaf, heavy with foliage. The lilacs are blooming, tulips are bright in the garden. The sun filters gently through the trees.

Garry is in New York, visiting one of his brothers. I am not invited. We will have been married 25 years this September and somehow, I have never managed to become part of the family. After all these years, you’d think it wouldn’t hurt so much, wouldn’t you?

It’s time for me to stop trying to fit in. Fit into what? I don’t even know what that means. I’m too old for this nonsense.

FINALLY UNDERSTANDING MOM

I don’t remember how many times my mother told me this story, or how many times I have told it to you. It bears retelling.

marilyn birthday writer

My mother, like many young women of her generation, had wanted to attend high school. And college. But the family was poor, and there were many mouths to feed. In the end, she had to quit school after seventh grade to take a job. She worked as bookkeeper. At 14, my mother was respectable. Also naïve and innocent.

The first place she worked was a music publishing house on the Lower East Side where she had grown up. She was there for seven or eight years and finally decided to get a better job.

Immigrant children had trouble breaking into the workforce. Of course, my mother had the additional burden of being female at a time when women were not considered equal. There was no “political correctness” to protect them.

My mother was blond and green-eyed. At 5 foot 7 inches, she was tall for her generation. Her English was better than most of the family since she had been born “on this side” of the Atlantic and had all her schooling in New York.

She was ushered into a room to be interviewed for the job she wanted. A few questions were asked. A form was handed to her and she filled it out. When she came to the box that asked her religion, she wrote Jewish. The interviewer looked at the application, said: “Jewish, eh?”

He tore the application to pieces and threw it in the trash in front of my mother. She said that from that day forward, she wrote Protestant so no one would ever do that to her again.

Finally, I made a leap of understanding. I connected this anecdote to an aspect of my mother I never “got.”


Mom1973PaintMy mother wanted me to get a nose job. When I turned 16, she wanted me to have plastic surgery to “fix” my nose.

“It’s not broken,” I pointed out.

“But don’t you want it to look ‘normal’?” she asked.

“It’s looks fine to me,” I said. I was puzzled. My sister took her up on the offer. I continued to say “no thanks” and my nose is the original model with which I was born.

Since the last time I told this story, I realized my mother wasn’t hinting I wasn’t pretty. She was asking me if I wanted to not look Jewish. Remarkably, this thought never crossed my mind. Until a few weeks ago.

I know many children of Holocaust victims refused to circumcise their sons because that’s how the Nazis identified little Jewish boys. I know non-white mothers frequently sent their light-skinned children north hoping they could “pass” for white. But never, until recently, did it occur to me my mother was trying to help me “pass” for non-Jewish.

I never considered the possibility I was turned down for a job because I was, in the immortal words of Mel Brooks, “too Jewish.” I always assumed it was me. I failed to measure up. I was too brash. My skills were insufficient.

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I told Garry about my revelation. It was quite an epiphany, especially at my advanced age. I needed to share. It left me wondering how much I’d missed.

I told him I’d finally realized my mother’s persistent suggestion to “get my nose fixed” was an attempt to help me fit in, to not look so obviously Jewish. I had never considered anyone might not like me for other than personal reasons. I said I thought perhaps I’d been a little slow on the uptake on this one.

Garry said, “And when did you finally realize this?”

“Yesterday,” I said.

“Yesterday?” he repeated. Garry looked dumbfounded.

“Yesterday,” I assured him.

He was quiet and thoughtful. “Well,” he said. “You’re 68? That is slow. You really didn’t know?”

I shook my head. I really didn’t know. Apparently everyone else got it. Except me.

DON’T FORGIVE, DON’T FORGET – HAND IT OFF

Christians have a handle on the forgiving thing. They understand there’s no “human” forgiveness involved. Your job is to recognize you can’t forgive and no one can really forget. So you say, “God? I give this burden to you. Apply your justice and take this bag of rocks off my back.” And voilà, he does.

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The important lesson — whether or not you buy into Christian theology — is you don’t have to like the person you “forgive.” You don’t have to invite him/her/them over to hang out or feed them a meal. Or even talk to them civilly.

You dump your pain, grief, obsessive reliving of whatever happened, into the lap of your higher power, Karma, or whatever you call it.

It works. You don’t have to sign up for the whole package to recognize a good concept when you see it.

Carrying around a ton of anger and pain kills you. It grinds you down, makes you obsess on injustice. Plan revenge — which most of us would never really actual execute.

The most important point is simple. The person at whom you are angry is not suffering. You are suffering. You are not beating him/her/them up. You’re beating on yourself. So not only were you wronged, but you’ve taken over their role by proxy and continue to hurt yourself.

People who’ve had abusive relationships (child, adult, both) are particularly prone to defining themselves by the worst stuff that ever happened to them. To the point where can’t remember anything good.

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You don’t need to forgive or forget. Recognize Karma, God, Allah, Jesus, Buddha, Chronos — something or someone greater than yourself. Hand off the pain, the anger, the hurt. You don’t know how much weight you’ve been hauling until you let it go.

Alternatively, you can hire a trained assassin and burn the bastard. That works too. Just don’t get caught.