Wednesday, April 27, 2011


A chunk of you know where I've been for the last six weeks and what has happened in my life.

For those that don't know, my mom died on March 15th. It was sudden and there was no indication that anything was wrong with her, no warning signs that could have helped us prevent what happened to her.

She went into cardiac arrest that afternoon and died.

I was extremely close to my mom, moreso than my dad. Probably the only other person that I can say that I'm as close to is my sister, April. So you can understand that how hard this has hit me.

In the aftermath, my sister and I decided we wanted to get out of Duluth. We wanted to start fresh or somewhat, anyway.

And the place that we chose was Milwaukee, where my mom's family still resides.

In order to make this happen, we needed help and we got help in the form of money sent to rent a U-Haul. We packed everything that was ours, everything that was our mom's and everything that belonged to our deceased sister and made our way to Milwaukee, making excellent time.

Almost immediately, everything that we were promised on the phone by the family in Milwaukee turned to shit.

We had been promised that we would be taken around the city to familiarize ourselves with it. We were promised that they would help us find an apartment and take us around the city to find jobs. When I mentioned that I was a writer and that I had done work as an editor and that I'd like to find something in this line of work, they scoffed. In fact, they made a mockery of reading books, as if it was beneath them.

We told them that my sister and I get ill whenever we're in contact with secondhand smoke. Three of the four residents of their apartment smoke and did so wherever they wished, with my sister and I sucking up the smoke and, of course, getting sick from it.

We were made to sleep on the living room floor eight out of the nine nights that we were there and, by the time we actually got to sleep in a bed, we had already decided we were leaving.

We were apparently brought down there to be live-in babysitters of our cousin's children, one of which is four years old but violent as hell and does not listen to anything that anyone tells him. We still have the bruises as proof of his violence. He kicked my sister in the jaw on the first day that we met him. Nice, huh?

By the second or third day that we were there, we were told that, while they weren't telling us where to work, we should consider getting jobs at the mega-casino because "it's got good benefits". One of these benefits apparently was being able to suck down as much cigarette smoke as you could in an eight-hour shift.

We were never shown the city, as I mentioned above, keeping to one extremely small portion of the place.

When I asked about Crimespree Magazine, which publishes out of Milwaukee, and inquired about whether it might be an address that it publishes out of or whether it was a mailing address, I was told, "That's in the ghetto" which was then revised to "Oh, no, wait, that's in the Spanish-speaking side of town." As if this was supposed to discourage me from wanting to see if Crimespree might need someone to, who knows, work the mailroom or something. God, no, Spanish-speaking people? Run!

It gets better or worse, if you're at all sane.

We were constantly warned that there were dangerous parts of the city.

One of these dangerous parts of the city?

The north side.


If you're following along, you probably know the reason.

Because the predominant color of people's skin on the north side is black or brown.

And, apparently, if you're not black or brown and you go to the north side of Milwaukee, you will be killed or raped or raped and then killed or something.

When we finally decided to get the fuck out of Milwaukee, we had to travel to the north side to pick up another U-Haul truck.

Guess what happened?


We saw black people. We saw brown people.

We didn't see one gun or one drug deal or one hooker or one rape or any of what we were warned about.

We walked into the U-Haul facility and rented a truck from...gasp!...a black woman.

We drove back through the north side of Milwaukee and...gasp! lost. And we ended up driving through the real downtown Milwaukee. Previously, we had been told the downtown Milwaukee was, you guessed it, the mega-casino. Which, having been to Milwaukee when I was a twenty-plus years younger, I knew to be a lie. My sister, who is a couple years younger than me, didn't remember that we had driven into downtown Milwaukee back then so this was all new to her.

We didn't get shot, we didn't get stabbed, we didn't get carjacked and we didn't get accosted.

If I could have stayed in Milwaukee, I would have spent most of my time downtown. Probably getting lost a lot, too.

Whatever amount of time we spent on the north side and in downtown, working our way back to the other side of town where we had a hotel room, was the best time in the ten or eleven days that we spent there. For a journey that was supposed to be our destination, I think that's a pretty sad commentary.

The last six weeks have been both painful and eye-opening and most definitely have flipped my world upside-down but I'm happy to say that they haven't changed me in any of the ways that really matter.

I've learned who I can and cannot trust and what family really is and what friends are all about.

ATON will get back up and running as soon as possible. In the meantime, I would ask that everyone check out what has already come before, check out all the links on the sidebars and enjoy themselves.


pattinase (abbott) said...

Wow, Chris-I am so sorry to hear about the hell you've been through. Hard enough to lose your mother without this followup. Hope things turn around soon.

Chad said...

"When our biological families no longer function, the only option is to create a family of choice—a family defined by shared purpose and mutual respect, not ties of blood."
--Andrew Vachss

Peace, brother

Sabrina E. Ogden said...

Chris I'm so sorry to hear about the loss of your mother and the stuggles that you and your sister have endured since then. Sending prayers and good thoughts your way and hoping things turn around for you both soon.

AC said...

Chris, that was one of the most horrific ordeals I've ever read. I think you're going to emerge from this with the emotional equivalent of a suit of armor (if you haven't already been forced to build one...) I wish you the best in getting through this.

Naomi Johnson said...

Chris, I am so very sorry for your loss. And terribly saddened by what you have learned about those who should have been most helpful and sympathetic to you. Hang tough, please. I'll keep you and your sister in my prayers this night.

David Barber said...

Chris, condolences on the loss of your mother. Sending love and best wishes over to you and your sister. Hope everything sorts itself out soon for you both.

Families? It's the old adage: you can't pick your family but you can pick your friends. Good luck, Chris!


Laurie Powers said...

Chris, I am so sorry for the loss of your mother. This other craziness also seems like it would be the last thing you'd need right now. Stay strong and keep writing. I'll be thinking about you.

Chris Rhatigan said...

Sheesh--to lose someone you're close with is tough enough without then being treated like dirt. No one needs that. I hope things brighten for you soon. We'll all be here when you get back.

Eric Beetner said...

Chris -
Sad. Tragic. Rage-inducing. And most definitely Noir. Hang in there, man. It sure as hell sounds like you're dealing with it head on and that's all you can do.
Don't let the shit rise higher than you can step.
Take care -

Paul D. Brazill said...

Jesus,mate. What a rough ride. All stuff to learn from, though. Take it easy, mate.Keep on keeping on.

Col Bury said...

Jeez, Chris!

My dad went the same way - sudden, unexpected, heart attack. It doesn't give you chance to say, 'Goodbye'...

As for the shit you experienced in the aftermath - remember, we can't choose certain members of our family, but we can choose our friends. And you have many good ones throughout the blogosphere to support you through these dark days. Remember that, bud. And cherish those good times with your Mum.

Thinking of you.


Ps. You know where I am.

Alan Griffiths said...

Oh, Chris, so sorry to hear of the tough times you've been going through. Hopefully you are out of the tunnel and better times are ahead. Best wishes.

Sean Patrick Reardon said...

Sorry for the loss of your mom Chris. I dread that day. Keep the faith, better days are coming your way.

Naomi Johnson said...

Hoping things work out for you real soon, Christopher. Please let me know how I can help.

Kathleen A. Ryan said...

So very sorry for the loss of your dear mother, Chris. I'm saddened to hear of the nightmare that followed ~ what a shame. How true your statement is, about finding out who you can/cannot trust, and who your friends/family are when tragedy strikes.
I wish you and your sister many better days ahead.
Not to worry about your ATON fans ~ we're not going anywhere. We'll be here for you when you're good and ready to return. ATON has plenty to keep readers busy!

skees said...


Sorry once again for all that has happened and by reading this post there was much more to it than what we thought we knew.

There really isn't anything worth a damn I can say to make it better, so I'll simply wish you well. Do the best you can do with everything and just, be well. - Jim

Tommy Salami said...

Chris, I'm new to your site but offer my deep condolences for your loss. Going through that runaround after your mother's passing is terrible.
I grew up in the burbs near Newark NJ and got told horror stories like your relatives did about Milwaukee all the time. Then I went to school there, and worked there, and sure there is crime but nothing you can't avoid. To this day crime stories that try to talk about "oooh the bad part of town where whitey can't goooo!!" turn me off...
I hope things get better for you, now that you left town. Sorry it sounds like you didn't get to see Crimespree.

Michael Solender said...

Holy F$%K! To have this experience and be treated this way by anyone let alone family is truly sad and lame. To have it come upon the heels of the tragic loss of your mom is really lower than low. My heart goes out to you and your sister Chris - you are good people and deserve - and will receive - much much better than this. Know that you have many friends out here who will do what we can, even if it simply offering encouragement and support. Take time to grieve and recover the best you can from your loss and put yourself in a space and place where you can succeed and grow personally and professionally. Your virtual pals will be out here - knowing you'll be back when you can. All the best man, I know good things are around the corner for you. keep those other peeps in your rear view mirror.

AJ Hayes said...

Stay strong my friend. Like I said, you're back where you need to be and out of the shit hole. Good things from now on.

Chris Benton said...

Been thinking about you man, figured it must have been something sudden and close. Sorry for your loss and subsequent nightmares. Nothing more intense than family drama, except perhaps, marital strife. Anyway, good to hear from you again brother, you take care of yourself.

Best to you and your sister,

Kieran Shea said...


I am so sorry and anything I can say will seem so small with what you've been up against. There's a way, somehow there's a way. Stay strong.

Jane said...

Echoing so many others, Chris, about the way things unfolded after the sudden and shocking loss of your mother. That Andrew Vachss quote that Chad posted is something I remind myself of frequently. And as Kathleen Ryan and Michael Solender say, your ATON family and virtual peeps are and will be close by.

Kelly Whitley said...

OMG and holy f---.
I echo Michael.
You've been through the proverbial wringer in the last few weeks.
Here's hoping you find a pleasant and secure place to land. Take care of yourselves.
Cheers, Kelly

Frank Bill said...

You've had more than your fare share of abuse and loss. I have a hard time believing a family could live with themselves after treating you and your sister in such a callus way. But family can sometimes be nothing more than self-centered mongrels. Really sorry for your loss and the abusive hand you've been dealt. Hope brighter days are a head.

Cormac Brown said...

I am very sorry to hear about your mother and my condolences.

"You can choose your friends, but you can't choose your family."

-Old proverb

At least they showed their true colors, though sooner rather than later, would've been better. It sounds like they did give you plenty of material for future tales.

Al Tucher said...

Everything your friends have said here, let me second. We're pulling for you and your sister, Christopher.

David Cranmer said...

I'm very sorry to hear of your loss, Christopher.

Rich Katz said...

Chris, So sorry to hear what you and your sister recently went through. I lost my Dad in December, my Mom a few years earlier, and there's been the family "troubles" since, so I'm a little in touch what you've been through. Others may disappoint but you and your sister together are stronger than that. Wish you only the best.

Julia Madeleine said...

“All that is gold does not glitter,
not all those who wander are lost.
The old that is strong does not wither,
deep roots are not reached by the frost.
From the ashes a fire shall be woken,
a light from the shadows shall spring.
Renewed shall be blade that was broken,
the crownless again shall be king.”

-J.R.R. Tolkien

Wishing you and your sister peace, love, and comfort.

Julia xo

Anonymous said...

Christopher as you know because we have been speaking on the phone I am right behind you guys. You'll get back on track soon I'm sure.