March 2013 Archives

Touched by a Dinosaur

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The pudgy Tyrannosaurus Rex strolled into the apartment like he owned the place, even though he had never been there before. His brown eyes sparkled with self-assurance. He had the teeth of a carnivore, spaced apart like Sookie Stackhouse from True Blood. The apprehension in the pit of my stomach began to fade into a warmth, and I had the feeling I was in for something very unique, and very special.

I, Justin, was born in Manheim, Pennsylvania in 1980. I grew up in that same town of less than 5,000 with my Mom and Dad, brother, and two sisters. All four of us were fairly close in age. This was a family who went to church together every Sunday, and kept the television off most nights choosing family interaction instead. My parents worked opposite shifts for many years though and as an adult I now can appreciate the toll that can take on a relationship.
Our deeply religious family of six gradually morphed into a broken home. While there are an unfortunate number of people in the world who have experienced much, much worse situations, the drastic change from one year to the next definitely had an impact on my life.

My parents officially divorced when I was sixteen years old; however, had it not been for their shared aversion to divorce via religious teachings it probably would have happened about five years previous. They were polar opposites really, and looking back I can't imagine what may have attracted one to the other, even at the beginning. I guess this is how they all look at the end though. I can't say that I have any true emotional scars from my childhood, as both my parents were very loving and did their best to guide us through life. It was mainly the subsequent disappearance following the divorce that I struggled with. At the dividing of the mutual possessions I was placed on my mother's side with my brother, youngest sister, and the house. My oldest sister and my dad's 1986 Ford Thunderbird went to live with him.

After the official divorce began a slow gravitation that seemed to take everyone in one direction...away. I am not narcissistic enough to believe it had anything to do with me, but it affected me nonetheless. Over the next three years, my mother moved a few hours north with my younger sister and brother, and my father and older sister and her husband high-tailed it to Dallas, Texas. My dad would meet and eventually marry his second wife in Dallas a few years later. What about me you ask? Well I ended up fairly sad and very alone, crashing on my grandparents' couch, unable to muster the courage to venture outside the small town of my birth. But that was all about to change, and it began the moment the T-Rex paid me a visit.
My girlfriend and I had met at the hospital at which we both worked several years before. We were friends for a long time, and had been dating only a few months when I had the pleasure of meeting my future nephew. I had heard many stories about him, and he did not disappoint.

He arrived at our apartment dressed as a green dinosaur. It was Halloween 2010, and he seemed unimpressed with me, but he was amicable nonetheless. Thaddeus, clad in dinosaur garb, was running around with just a few, albeit very sharp, teeth and impressive girth for a boy of only 2. He spoke only broken English, but was able to get across what I could only hope was acceptance and approval of my budding romance with his lovely aunt.

Things went well. I have always seemed to get along well with kids and animals, and a two-year-old dinosaur proved to be no exception. I can't take all the credit of course. I had met my wife's sister and her boyfriend, Thaddeus's parents, on a few previous occasions. They were all working hard to make the introduction seamless. I couldn't tell at the time if they were just excited for their sister and rooting for her in her new relationship, or if they were just angling for regular babysitters. It turned out not to matter, as they ended up getting both. I will always remember that fateful Halloween as it will go down in history as the day my new family began to come into focus. The closeness I had originally felt to my biological family had long since migrated away from me the way the placenta carries waste products away from the fetus. To say I was missing something in my life was an understatement.

Thaddeus and I would eventually spend more time together than I could have imagined at the time, and upon this writing he is now four years old. He tips the scales at an impressive eighty pounds and stands over four feet tall. Most people that have the pleasure of meeting him assume he is at least seven, but thankfully his speech is eloquent enough that we no longer worry that random people he encounters will think he is retarded. Thaddeus is still a big fan of dinosaurs, and has quickly become one of my best friends. He now has a three month old baby brother, and so far seems to be adjusting well to the slight decrease in attention from his parents. I like to think that my wife and I (Thaddeus's aunt and I married in March of 2012) have helped smooth the transition and filled in a large portion of the attention gaps.

The only moment that could rival the similar, yet paradoxically wonderful feelings I felt upon meeting my future wife and nephew, is the one at which I had the pleasure of meeting my future father-in-law. Jim is, like his grandson, large and in charge. He stands over 6'5 and has always been known by the moniker, Big Daddy. This doesn't tell you everything that you need to know about him, as he is a complicated man. Jim is the co-owner of a local bar, with his ex-wife who he still lives with, along with her current boyfriend. The situation is more than complicated, but apparently it has been that way long before I was in the picture.

To my wife's parents love was forever, and did not end, even after divorce. Although the affection and desire to be directly involved in one another's lives has taken a drastic hit over the last decade or so, they each remain important and steadfast fixtures in each other's lives. Jim is a "Jesse" of many things. A "Jesse" is apparently someone who really likes to do a certain activity. For example, Jim is a "Drivin' Jesse", a "Parking Jesse", a "Drinkin' Jesse", etc. I believe that the name infers some level of skill is involved, although I cannot attest to that in the driving arena.

Jim enjoys the occasional trip to Florida via his "classy van" which is actually a mid-nineties Ford Econoline van. It does get him from Point A to Point B; however, its classiness is not agreed upon by all those who ride within. Jim always makes frequent trips to nearby casinos, both in Pennsylvania as well as New Jersey. Heineken is his drink of choice and the Beatles are, and will always be, the greatest rock & roll band in the history of the world. If you meet him, say it is Led Zeppelin, I dare you. The man has never lost an argument, a bet, or a fight in his entire life, at least if you ask him. He is outspoken about politics, music, and family. I can say without irony that my wife is just like him; however, only in spirit and not in body, thank goodness.

At the time we started getting to know each other, my wife and I had only been dating a few months. Jim had the bright idea to take a road trip to the western United States, my wife had the even brighter idea to invite me, and thankfully I did not have the foresight to decline. To say it was a daunting trip would be an understatement. We were to hit landmarks in Colorado, Wyoming, Utah, and South Dakota and make it home in just under two weeks. It was an eye-opening experience as to the life that I had ahead of me, if I chose to accept it. There was a lot of cursing, more than a lot of beer, and suggestions of things I cannot discuss in this story. But while it was a challenge, it also taught me a lot about life, and what it meant to accept someone that you love and everything, and everyone that comes with them.

Thaddeus the Tyrannosaurus and Big Daddy are just a fraction of the family I was blessed enough to acquire in the last several years. And, like the one I was born into, I have done nothing to deserve the inclusion. My life is infinitely fuller, brighter and, not coincidentally, has only grown in wealth of experience and fullness of spirit since the moment I became a part of my new family. When I was forced to part ways with the only family I had ever known, I worked to come to peace with the fact that there would always be a hole in my heart. This was true of every aspect of my life, and for every single moment of every single day without fail, right up until the one when a brash little dinosaur waddled into it.

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