Some still further evolving thoughts on veto and metamour relationships

I have spent a lot of time thinking and writing about metamour relationships and veto in polyamory. And everything I’ve written about this in the past was not only wrong, but wrongheaded. Just about everything you’ll see about this in poly forums and communities is wrong, wrongheaded, or both. I don’t think there’s a graceful solution to this problem, and if there is, the entire poly scene has yet to find it.

Buckle up, this might get long.

So first, what I’ve said about this in the past:

A long time ago (late 80s/early 90s), I would have said the answer to a situation where you're dating two or more people who absolutely positively cannot get along is veto. You create a situation where if your “primary” partner has an issue, you have a mechanism where your primary partner can put the brakes on, say “I cannot be happy if you’re dating so-and-so,” and that’s it. This mechanism is simple, it protects your existing relationships, it’s clear, and it’s easy to understand.

It’s also, as I learned through bitter experience, tremendously destructive.

For one thing, it doesn’t acknowledge basic human nature. People fall in love. If you are in love with someone and you lose that relationship, you end up with a broken heart. Giving someone the authority to say “I require you to break up with this person you love because I say so” is pretty much guaranteed to end in a broken heart, and breaking your lover’s heart—even if your lover agreed to give you the power to do so, is not a good long-term strategy for the health of your relationship.

Some non-monogamous folks try to deal with this by adding the hilariously wrongheaded idea “you aren’t allowed to fall in love.” As if emotions could obey rules… If that worked, you could simply say “let’s pass a rule forbidding feeling jealous” or “let’s pass a rule forbidding feeling angry” and be done with it.

It’s obvious why that won’t work, yet people think a rule forbidding falling in love will? Really? Ooooookay, then.

What’s worse is veto intrinsically rewards bad behavior. If I don’t want you dating so-and-so, for whatever reason, then I can pick fights with so-and-so, antagonize so-and-so, and then say “We can’t get along, I veto so-and-so.” See, the thing is, sometimes the problem is the “primary” partner. When that happens, a veto in a literal sense rewards poor behavior.

So if not veto, what then?

After my now-ex-wife vetoed someone I was deeply in love with many years ago—a veto that directly caused the chain of events that ultimately led to divorce—I went the other way. My new policy became “All models over 18.”

That means, basically, all the people I’m involved with are fully grown adults. Fully grown adults are capable of working out between themselves how they interact. For me to try to tell two other human beings that they have to get along or that they should be friends is controlling, intrusive, creepy, and gross.

And, like veto, it ultimately doesn’t work. You cannot tell Bob and Jane they have to like each other. Bob and Jane are human beings—real, actual people—not lifestyle accessories. They have their own desires, motivations, strengths, weaknesses, internal awareness, history…it’s not my place to tell them what kind of relationship they must have with each other. That’s for them to work out. I can’t control them.

That works right up until it doesn’t.

My most recent ex didn’t get along with my other partners, to the point she was actively abusive to my partner Zaiah. She did some incredibly toxic shit, up to and including writing Zaiah a letter—an actual pen and paper letter—shortly after my ex and I started dating telling Zaiah she didn’t like her, didn’t want to be in the same room with her, and henceforth they would have separate relationships with me.

And this wasn’t in response to anything Zaiah said and did. My ex simply reacted that way from the moment they met.

The fact they weren’t talking to each other, however, didn’t prevent my ex from buying self-help books and giving them to Zaiah, telling her “I think you need this”—which was itself controlling, intrusive, creepy, and gross. And also weird. Really, really weird.

That ex ended up being controlling in general, eventually micromanaging my life to the point she controlled the food I ate and the shoes I wore. She was also prone to violence, starting about six months after we began dating, at first confined to smashing my stuff or hitting the wall next to me, though of course that escalated over time until finally she hit me. Looking back, her reaction to Zaiah should have been a red flag. (And it wasn’t just Zaiah. She spent hours telling me that my other partners weren’t good enough for me, even saying I didn’t really love my wife and wanted to leave her but was too afraid to. I archived tons of text and FB Messenger messages where she would complain about my other partners, about how they didn’t treat me right, about how I shouldn’t be with them.)

So veto isn’t the answer, and telling your lovers they have to get along isn’t the answer, and focusing on your own relationships with the assumption that your lovers are all grown adults who should be able to sort things out themselves isn’t the answer.

Talking assumes everyone is coming from a place of objective rationality, not emotion. Have you seen people? It also assumes everyone is acting 100% in good faith 100% of the time, so the solution to problems is simply more information, and again, have you seen people? If the problem is not “they simply lack information,” then “if we talk about it and provide the missing information, everything will be okay” won’t work.

Yes, I know poly people say “communicate, communicate, communicate.” Yeah. Here’s the thing: solutions to complex problems that are short enough to fit on a bumper sticker almost never work.

So what is the solution?

¯\_(ツ)_/¯ Fuck if I know. I’ve been doing a lot of re-assessment of my own behavior and the things I believe in the time since I left my abusive ex. This is, as it turns out, precisely one of the questions I’ve been focusing a ton of attention on.

Fact: You can’t tell grown adults what to do, and you can’t tell grown adults they have to like each other, or even get along.

Fact: Saying “I demand you get rid of this partner I don’t like” is harmful not just to that person, not just to your lover, but to you and your relationship.

Fact: Problems between people are often rooted in a complex snarl of emotions, jealousy, envy, personality conflicts, differing values, differing motivations, differing upbringing, different assumptions, and maybe even good old-fashioned pheromones, so pithy bumper-sticker solutions like “communicate, communicate, communicate” aren’t likely to succeed. They’re just deepitudes—platitudes that sound all nice and shit, but aren’t nearly as profound as they seem.

Fact: You can say “I won’t be with people who don’t get along with my other lovers,” but that opens the door to sufficiently skilled manipulators to exercise indirect control over your other partners. My ex had me three-quarters convinced my other partners didn’t treat me right and didn’t love me like she did, because she’s the most skilled manipulator I’ve ever met.

Fact: Prioritizing existing relationships over new can reward bad behavior and can prevent new partners or potential partners from saying “hey, there is legit something unhealthy going on in your current relationship.”

Fact: You can set boundaries like “if you argue with each other in my presence I will leave the room,” which might help protect your own mental health, but it doesn’t actually solve the problem.

Fact: Saying “not my circus, not my monkeys, you folks sort this out” and taking a step back and lead to you becoming a non-player character in your own relationships, something that happened to me (and that, after I left my toxic ex, my current partners rightly called me on).

Fact: Saying you won’t involve yourself in relationships that have too much arguing or fighting leaves you open to what I call Veto By Drama: Even if you don’t have a veto, don’t like veto, don’t ever want to be involved with veto, one partner can do a Veto By Drama simply by making another relationship so volatile and drama-filled you throw up your ands and say “that’s it, I’m done.” And if you have one or more manipulative partners, it can be pretty tough to identify the source of the drama!

Fact: You can say “One of my selection criteria is that I’ll only date people who fit well with my existing partners,” but again if your existing relationships are unhealthy that simply rewards bad behavior, cuts you off from people who might legit be able to point out the unhealthy dynamic, and it becomes mathematically untenable for n>3 or 4 or so.

Where does that leave us?

Beats me. I don’t have a solution, but I sure do admire the problem.

"Support Our Police," the Thin Blue Line, and the hypocrisy of the right

The American Republican party portrays itself as the party of law and order, the party that supports the police, the party that understands the thin blue line that stands between anarchy and chaos. "Vote for us! We stand against the anarchy of the liberals!"

Yet when we look at right-wing media these last few weeks, we see the forces of American conservatism, the "law and order" party, blasting the Capitol police who stood against the rioters and insurrectionists on January 6. Night after night, millions of Americans tune in to watch right-wing talking heads vilifying the police for hours at a stretch.

What gives? How can this be? Isn't this the rankest, vilest sort of hypocrisy, so blatant that even the strongest partisan must be appalled to see it?

No. I don't think so. What we're seeing is something else, and within the context of the alt-right, their behavior makes a warped sort of sense.

To understand what is happening now, and why the American right doesn't consider their vilification of the Capitol police hypocritical, I think we need to understand John McClane, the Hero’s Journey, Rugged Individualism, the American monomyth, and authoritarianism. Those are the ingredients that make up that particular toxic brew.

Many people, especially those who lean toward social hierarchy, want to see the police as the classic hero, waging epic battle against the forces of evil like John McClane in Die Hard. Free of the entangling bureaucracy of a stifling and incompetent bureaucracy, they can take the fight directly to the baddies.

Why is this necessary? Look at the Hero’s Journey. It’s a fundamental part of the Hero’s Journey that the hero is set apart from society during the great conflict. The police hero as an archetype transcends the normal rules of society. He works outside the rules because the criminal works outside the rules.

This whole concept of heroism is deeply, deeply steeped in rugged individualism. The hero engages in single combat with the forces of darkness. The hero stands or falls on his own. The hero depends on his own resources and wit. Think about all the classic hero tropes: the sheriff from out of town in spaghetti westerns who rides in to save the townspeople unable to save themselves, Arnold Schwarzenegger going toe to toe with the predator in some far off jungle, everything about Batman…in their role as hero, they transcend the normal rules to fight on their own, self-reliant and solely responsible for deciding the rules of engagement.

We (meaning Smericans and those influenced by American culture) are steeped in this idea of heroism and the Rugged Individual because it’s woven deep into the American monomyth, and has been since the days before the United States was the United States. John Galt is a clumsy, badly-written, lowbrow-posing-as-highbrow interpretation of the American monomyth, created by an American immigrant as an unironic (but still unintentionally funny) expression of all Ayn Rand believed was good and strong in the American character.

When American conservatives refer to police as “heroes,” they don’t mean “people who work for the community.” They mean something quite different: the archetype of the Campbell hero, the hero of a Hollywood big-budget action flick, Arnold going after the Predator. That kind of hero doesn’t obey the rules. They mean "hero" in a very specific and literal sense.

In fact, it’s insulting to think that kind of hero even should follow the rules. Rules are for the weak, for those who don’t have what it takes to be heroes. That kind of hero understands what needs to be done and is willing to do whatever it takes to git er done.

Why do we like that image?


That mentality of police relies on the idea that police are the heroes keeping the forces of evil at bay. They protect our freedoms from the Other, and our sacred freedoms must be defended through strict order and harsh justice.

It’s why American conservatives can say they support our men in blue and fly thin blue line flags, then turn around and ridicule, attack, and condemn the Capitol police who fought against the insurrectionists. To reasonable people, that looks like hypocrisy. To the people who do it, it’s not. Those police weren’t heroes. Those polce stood against the heroes, against the people who went outside the system to right an “injustice” and git er done.

It’s also why they celebrate police who kill unarmed Black people. There’s a deep element of racism writ in this mindset. The police went outside the system to confront the Other, the enemy within us who is not of us, the people who don’t obey the rules, who don’t know their place.

Seen in this light, it's the Capitol police, not the insurrectionists, who broke the social contract. They aren't the heroes of this story. By acting against the heroes, they deserve condemnation.

As weird as this mindset might seem, it's what a lot of conservatives truly to believe, and it's why pointing out the apparent hypocrisy of flying a "thin blue line" flag whilst throwing the Capitol police under the bus won't gain any traction among the American right.

The crowdfunding for Divine Burdens is now live!

She had been in exile for three hundred and seventeen days when everything changed.

Her exile from the City happened with little fanfare. A somber group of High Priests, Priestesses, and Clerics representing the major temples in the City informed her that she was to be banished. They gave her durable clothes, a few simple tools, and a small amount of food and water. They told her the Providers throughout the City would no longer respond to her. Then they escorted her to the shield. She stepped through, condemned to spend the rest of her days wandering the Wastelands. There were no friends to see her off; by the time she was exiled, she had no friends left.

For the first few days, she treated it like a game. She had always thought of the Wastelands as some vast, barren desert, but once she was past the enormous automated farming towers with their spiraling ramps loaded with crops, she found an endless series of rolling hills, lush and forested.

She spent the first couple of days near the City. She tried to steal food from one of the tower farms. The farm drones blocked her, giving her unpleasant shocks whenever she tried to force her way past them. She threw rocks at the drones, which bounced off their outer shells with no effect. On the third night of her exile, she attempted to sneak back into the City. The shield, which for all her life had been no more a barrier than a fog bank, became as hard and impenetrable as stone.

Divine Burdens, the second book in the Passionate Pantheon series of far-future, post-scarcity science fiction erotic novels I've co-authored with Eunice Hung, is now available for pre-order on Indiegogo!

This novel is a bit of a change from The Brazen Altar, the first in the series. While that book was Utopian science fiction kinky erotica, this one is dark erotic horror.

Eunice and I think that science fiction can be used to explore the edges of human sexuality, just as it can be used to explore other aspects of what it means to be human. The world of the Passionate Pantheon is a post-scarcity wonderland ruled by AIs worshipped as gods by the citizens, largely through ritualized group sex. You'll find tentacles, runs through a forest that bends to the will of the AI gods, sacred parasites that grow inside a host and exude potent aphrodisiacs, and kinks so exotic they don't even have names.

Plus if you back the crowdfunding, not only can you get an eBook or a signed paperback of Divine Burdens before publication date at a super-cheap price, you can also get a kazoo ball gag inspired by the drone on the cover! Back the crowdfunding now!


New book crowdfunding coming soon!

What a strange few years it's been.

In 2010, I met Eunice Hung at an orgy in a castle in France. (Not a sentence the ten-year-old me ever expected the adult me to type.) We kept in touch with each other after that, occasionally brushing past one another at poly network get-togethers.

In 2018, at another orgy (this one in a manor house in Lincolnshire), we decided to write a novel together. Eunice had created a magnificent, wondrous far-future post-scarcity science fiction world ruled over by benevolent AIs who the people worshipped as gods, primarily through ritualized group sex. She told me about it, I said "that would be a marvelous setting for a book!", and the world of the Passionate Pantheon was born.

In 2020, we finished three books set in this world. The first, The Brazen Altar, published last May.

The second, Divine Burdens, publishes this October. It's a radical shift from The Brazen Altar—where that book was upbeat Utopian fiction, this one is dark erotic horror.

The third, The Hallowed Covenant, publishes Spring 2022.

Writing these books has been an amazing experience. You can read them on the surface level as far-out super-kinky porn (seriously, these books have kinks so exotic they don't even have names), but hidden in the subtext is a lot of philosophy and some very complex worldbuilding.

We just finished the first draft of a fourth novel in the series, tentatively titled Unyielding Devotions, and we've sketched out a fifth book we'll be working on when the other two novels we're currently writing in completely unrelated genres are finished.

The first book is selling quite well, despite the fact it was banned from Amazon for sexual content, or so they say. (Apparently books like Daddy Don't Pull Out and Stretched By Daddy at the Waterpark are okay with them, but Utopian science fiction theocratic erotica is beyond the pale. No, I don't understand it either.)

Anyway, starting this coming Sunday, July 18, 2021, you'll be able to pre-order Divine Burdens on Indiegogo at a reduced price.

And just because it's completely absurd, one of the backer perks you'll be able to get is a special edition Passionate Pantheon kazoo ball gag, inspired by one of the drones on the front cover!

Eunice and I are also doing a virtual book event on Saturday, July 17, 2021 at 11:00 AM Pacific time/7:00 PM London time. Save the date! You'll need Zoom to attend. The last virtual book event we did was scheduled for an hour and a half but ended up running four and a half hours as we did a deep dive into everything from the writing process to the philosophy of the Passionate Pantheon to post-scarcity societies. Bring questions!

Plugging Ahead with Sex Tech

Quite some time ago, I posted about an idea for a sensor-equipped strapon that the wearer could feel as part of their own body. I later received a patent on the idea and I've been grinding away at making it a reality since.

Progress was slowed for a few years due to a legal dispute over ownership of the company with my ex. The legal dispute has now been resolved, so I've been back to work on the project. In the meantime, I've also been improving my skills at sex toy design and exploring the frontiers of bizarre sex technology.

I built a prototype sensor-equipped sex toy designed to be usable long term and discovered a problem with the sensors. I cast the dildo with the sensors at the surface and then skinned it with a thin (0.1mm) layer of silicone, but discovered that the skin is extremely fragile. Because the silicone doesn't adhere to the sensor, it peels and tears with use, exposing the sensor. Needless to say, this is unacceptable:

I've built a new prototype with the sensors located under a 2mm thick plug of silicone, which should solve the problem:

In my quest to develop ever more goofy sex, I also designed a ball gag with a built-in kazoo. This prototype kazoo gag went over rather better than I expected, because really, who among us hasn't secretly wanted a kazoo ball gag?

Kazoo Ball Gag

It works better than I anticipated: any sound the wearer makes, however slight, becomes "Brrt! Blllt! Hrzzzzt!" (One beta tester says she took it to a play party and someone tried to buy it from her on the spot.)

I just finished 3D printing a whole bunch of molds and ordered a large number of kazoos (metal, not cheap plastic...this is a premium kazoo sex experience, thankewverymuch), so I'll be putting an announcement here in the near future about how you can score a kazoo gag of your very own. Stay tuned!

Fake social media profiles

Content warning: Rape and death threats

For the past few years, an aggressive, sustained pattern of abuse, harassment, and doxxing has been directed at me and people around me by a person or group with, it seems, far too much free time on their hands. This harassment, which includes doxxing, rape and death threats directed at me and others, and impersonation, has taken place primarily on Quora and, to a lesser extent, on other social media sites like Twitter and Facebook.

Part of the harassment includes private messages to people who respond to my social media posts  that include threats of violence and general nastiness from fake accounts designed to look like mine. Part of the harassment includes questions about me on Quora, doxxing on social media, and threats of violence directed both at me and at others.

The harasser is creating anonymous accounts on the question and answer site Quora to ask questions about me that look like this:

My reaction to these has mostly been ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ I mean, clearly I'm living rent-free in someone's head, but by and large, the questions are absurd enough I'm really not to fussed about them.

In the past year or so, this campaign has escalated into doxxing. I've deliberately cropped tis screengrab and removed the account name of the person who posted it:

The person behind it has also created fake social media profiles in my name using my avatar, primarily on Quora but on other social media sites as well.

If you look at the accounts, it's pretty easy to tell they aren't mine.

These fake profiles are generally used not to harass me, but to harass other people. This can happen in public comments on sites like Quora:

and in private messages and DMs, some of which are quite violent, to people who follow me on Quora, Twitter, and Facebook. (I have chosen not to show the DMs people have reported to me; they're quite horrific.)

They're also used to answer questions in y name on sites like Quora and to post content elsewhere that looks like it comes from me:

I have reported these to law enforcement, which generally didn't seem too interested. I have also spoken to an attorney about my possible next steps going forward.

If you receive a harassing, threatening, or abusive message from "me" on social media, please check the account carefully. It isn't from me.

I have a suspicion, based on the timing of these posts with another social media account belonging to another individual, and based on the fact that they frequently coincide with attacks on my Web sites from IP addresses I log, who the person responsible might be. If you're one of the people affected by these attacks I've been talking to in the last few weeks, I would ask that you not try to retaliate against that person. Doing so will not accomplish anything, and I would prefer to investigate legal ways to deal with the situation.

If you follow me on social media, particularly Quora and Twitter, please be aware this is happening, and don't assume that any messages you receive from "me" actually come from me. On Quora, I am /profile/Franklin-Veaux, no numbers. On Twitter, I am @franklinveaux, all lowercase, no spaces, numbers, or other characters. On Instagram, I am @franklinveaux, no numbers or special characters. On Facebook, I am /franklinveaux, no spaces, dashes, underscores, or numbers.

“She only hit me once:” Why I stayed as long as I did

As I write this, it’s been three years and sixteen days since I escaped my relationship with Eve Rickert, the woman I thought I would be with for the rest of my life. It simultaneously feels like it happened a lifetime ago and just yesterday.

When I stepped into my therapist’s office for the first time, the very first thing I said to her, before we even did any paperwork or introduced ourselves, was “I’m not okay.” Months had gone by since I’d left, and I was slowly dragging myself, step by step, nightmare by nightmare, from my state of shell-shocked disbelief. It was only just starting to hit me how poisonous and abusive my relationship with Eve had become.

Had been from the beginning, if I’m honest with myself. And god, that was so, so hard to admit.

By the time I left, I’d ceded so much control over my life I barely knew who I was any more. Inch by inch, I’d allowed Eve to assert control over everything I did: what I wore, what I bought, what I ate, when I saw my other partners. She’d inserted herself into every aspect of my life, taking control of things I’d done long before I ever met her. Midway through our relationship, she demanded that I turn control of my long-running polyamory website More Than Two over to her company, that I let her redesign the site, and even that I changed the software it was running on. She even changed the Amazon affiliate links to her links.

I knew something was wrong early on, but I stayed. I didn’t assert boundaries. I don’t think I even realised I was allowed. Bit by bit, I backed away from my own choices, and yielded myself to her. It’s taken me a long time and a lot of therapy to begin unpacking why I did that, and I’m still not finished. Eve manipulated those tendencies in me, but she didn’t create them.

A lot of people who’ve never experienced abuse will ask survivors, “why did you stay?” I ask myself that every day. Even now, in spite of what I know, I blame myself for staying for so long.

Back in the Before Times, whenever someone emailed me or asked me at a conference why people stay in relationships after they turn emotionally or physically violent, I’d repeat the standard narratives: abuse is about power and control; the abuser isolates the survivor from family and friends, leaving them no sources of support; the survivor can internalize responsibility for and shame about the abuse; the abuser can control the survivor financially; the survivor can fear retaliation if they leave; the survivor may not recognize the abuse...all the things you read in every book on abuse.

But I didn’t really understand it. I didn’t feel it. I couldn’t see it when it was happening to me.

I think...I think I didn’t want to. The problems started early—minor boundary violations that became angry outbursts that became physical violence—but every time, I convinced myself that it wasn’t real. She didn’t mean it. It was an accident. I must have caused it somehow, I deserved this, it was my fault.

It became very, very easy to tell myself it was my fault.

I didn’t see the pattern because I didn’t want to. I didn’t want to believe that this wonderful, smart, creative person I loved so much was also the angry, violent person prone to outbursts of jealousy and rage. The standard abuse narrative says “the survivor may not recognize the abuse,” but every time I saw that, I imagined it meant it was because they weren’t capable of seeing it. Not like me. I was much too smart for that. I’d never fall into a trap like that.

Turns out I wasn’t too smart for that. The truth, at least for me, is I didn’t want to see it.

I convinced myself, over and over and over again, that this outburst, this consent violation, this time she broke things, was an aberration. She’s not like that. This isn’t her. I just need to hang on until it’s over.

I know why I did it. I did it because the image I had—the image society taught me—of “people who abuse” is wrong. We make them out to be caricatures of demonic evil, all grotesque features and malevolent cackling. They aren’t. It would be so much easier if they were,

Most of the time, my relationship with Eve was wonderful. And I refused to see the toxic elements—the control, the emotional and verbal abuse, the steadily escalating violence—because I didn’t want to lose her.

When she stormed from the room screaming and rammed her fist into my stuff over and over because I got a text message from another partner, I called it an aberration and let it go.

When she erupted into screaming at me in the middle of a conference because the speaker was talking about WordPress and she thought I should have raised my hand to speak, then followed me down the road screaming at me when I walked out of the conference, I called it an aberration and let it go.

Each time she kept me up until 2AM yelling at me and hitting the wall next to me, I called it an aberration and let it go.

When she told me—on many occasions—I wasn’t allowed to spend time with my other partners, and tore them down in front of me, I called it an aberration and let it go.

When she had a screaming, crying fit and demanded I stop messaging a fellow poly organizer and activist, I called it an aberration and let it go.

So many incidents, so many aberrations. I let them all go.

I called each one an aberration and let it go because after these episodes, the other Eve, the Eve I adored, always came back. She always told me she was sorry. She always told me how ashamed she was. And I didn’t want to lose that Eve.

That’s the thing I didn’t see described in the books I read, and the thing I didn’t resonate with in the standard narrative about abuse—that overwhelming desire to keep the parts of our relationship that were wonderful.

And they really were wonderful. There was so much good and amazing in my relationship with Eve, so much that was incredible and joyful, it became easy to focus on that and let the rages and the violence slide. I convinced myself that if I could just be the right person, make myself small enough, do what she told me to do, be better, I’d get to keep the wonderful Eve, the Eve I loved.

And I mean, it wasn’t like I was really being abused, right? I’ve met abuse survivors. I’ve talked to survivors. The things they talk about always sounded so much worse than what I experienced. They had bruises, scars, broken limbs. I didn’t. How dare I even think about calling myself an abuse survivor, when other people need—and deserve—the support so much more?

Yes, I know exactly how cliched that sounds. Sitting here now, looking at what I just wrote, I realize that I never understood it before. Not emotionally. Not as lived experience. Not as a gut punch and the crack of my heart breaking all over again.

I always believed her when she said she was sorry. I always thought, it really won’t happen again.

I kept doing that even after the night she hit me.

That night is branded on my memory. It was August 11, 2017. It happened near the end of a blissful week with my wife and all my partners except Eve, who’d been invited but declined to come. We were on our way back from a wedding ceremony at my wife’s parents home in California to do a handfasting at a dance retreat in Washington. Eve drove down from Vancouver to the retreat, and that night, as we sat in the back of her van, I confessed that I’d screwed up the schedule and my partner M would be staying in the US a day longer than I thought. I told her I wanted to spend the extra day with M, as we normally lived a 14 hour journey apart.

She screamed and yelled and, finally, hit me. She picked up her laptop and slammed me with it.

I froze. I was in shock. I couldn’t believe it had happened. I felt the world drop out from under me. That didn’t just happen. She didn’t just do that. She didn’t mean it. She was trying to hit the wall beside me, she does that all the time. She was trying to hit the bed next to me, she does that all the time. She couldn’t have done that. She wouldn’t. She loves me. This isn’t real.

The instant she did it, she burst into tears. She said “I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” over and over again. And the weird thing about that, the thing that really got inside my head and twisted me up, is I felt bad for her.

She cried and she yelled and she told me she couldn’t breathe, and I felt bad for her. My first reaction was to reach out to her, to try to make sure she was okay.

My therapist calls this a “fawn response.” I’d always heard about the “three Fs” of fear—fight, flight, or freeze—but some people placate their abuser, trying to please them, hoping to fend off more attacks.

I just wrote “some people.” I keep catching myself doing that. Me. I am those “some people”. I do that.

She left me there that night. We’d planned to stay in her van together for the dance retreat. Instead, she dropped me off at the hotel room of E, a long-term friend, at four o’clock in the morning and drove away.

I walked through the retreat in a daze the next day. My wife and I had a handfasting ceremony, but all through it, even as I smiled to hide the panic, I kept thinking, What just happened? What did I do wrong? How do I make it up to her?

I talked to my wife and my other partners and I said “I think Eve and I just broke up.” It didn’t seem real. Everything was confusing and uncertain.

And yet…

When I returned to Vancouver, everything was fine. The Eve I loved was back. We went on a trip ourselves, just the two of us, to watch the solar eclipse, and it was as if all the bad had fallen away like it never happened. She blamed the smoke in the air from forest fires around the dance retreat and I...I wanted to believe her. I wanted to believe her so badly. Having something else to blame made that easy, even the flimsiest of excuses would do. Oh, it was the smoke, it gave her an anxiety attack, it wasn’t her, she would never do that.

It was always wonderful when it was just the two of us. The first book tour with her was one of the happiest times of my life. Eve spoke about these times often, about how we created a ‘bubble’ that was just the two of us, separate from the world; about how she felt the most safe and secure in that bubble.

Her other partners were invited into the bubble. Mine weren’t. She invited another lover with us on our European book tour, but when I wanted to invite one of my lovers to join us for part of the tour, that provoked a huge fight.

Well, I say fight. It really wasn’t. It was Eve demanding that I absolutely under no circumstances bring my partner with us, and me quietly acceding. Looking back now, I can see the pattern: when my other partners made their presence felt, that was when the cycle of rage would start again. She isolated me from them, to alienate me, telling me how bad they were for me, how she didn’t see why I wanted them in my life. When I left her, I downloaded the history of my chat logs and Facebook Messenger with Eve and going back through it is like waking from a dream...I keep asking myself, How did I let her talk to me this way about people I loved? How did I not see this?

Later, of course, she would claim I turn my partners against each other.

E came and stayed with Eve and I for three weeks, some months after that. Later, when she returned home, she told me she felt that she had to make herself small, contained, around Eve. Nothing overt, nothing aggressive...but Eve made it clear to her they weren’t friends. She was my guest, not Eve’s.

She also raised, in her gentle way, some questions about the things she observed about Eve’s level of control over me. My long-term partner M had done the same thing much sooner, and much more directly. Weirdly—and I realize this sounds completely backward and mystifying—the fact that M was so much more blunt—‘Franklin, this level of control she has, this isn’t really healthy, she’s telling you what to wear for God’s sake’—was easier to dismiss than E’s ‘I don’t understand these things I saw, what’s happening here?’

I’ve spent a lot of time unpacking this with my therapist. Why didn’t I pay attention to M (and others!) who were expressing that they thought Eve’s behavior was problematic? I’m not sure I really understand the answer, even now. Part of it, I think, was that wilful blindness, that desire not to believe this wonderful woman I loved so much was controlling me, manipulating me, abusing me. Couldn’t they see? Couldn’t they see how awesome she is? Couldn’t they see how amazing she is? Eve, this wonderful person I love so much, controlling me? That can’t be right!

I rejected their attempts, I think, because I believed that they didn’t see her virtues, didn’t see her the way I saw her. I was, I thought, the only person to see her truly. They were biased, they were misunderstanding her, she was a passionate person but creative people often are! That’s not her fault, they were just being too harsh on her.

If she was abusive then clearly she couldn’t also be wonderful. And I knew that couldn’t be true.

E’s gentle interrogation left room, I think, for both realities: Eve was an amazing, smart, creative, wonderful person who also became controlling, angry, violent, and abusive when she felt jealous. Often, we caricature abusers, constructing slaving monsters that lurk in the closet, cartoonishly evil villains without redeeming features. I think maybe that black-or-white thinking comes from a desire to feel safe: the abuser is a Bad Person, and if we can just get rid of all the Bad People, we can make our communities safe. Our loved ones can be safe. We can be safe. Problem is, this all-or-nothing, black-or-white thinking makes it easy for abusive people to hide in plain sight.

People are rarely only one thing.

The questions E asked, the room she left for both sides of Eve, were the start of the long and painful process that finally led to me climbing on a bus with everything I could carry packed into my suitcase and pulling away from Vancouver on that day. I knew, when I stepped on that bus, it was over.

It still took everything I had to take that first, tentative, shaking step.

That was three years and sixteen days ago. I still don’t completely understand how I let it get so bad. But inch by inch, one step at a time, I’m getting there. I’m getting me back.

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Opening up

My hands are shaking as I write this.

I still have nightmares, multiple times a week.

I’ve struggled to get these words out of my head for more than a year now. I thought I was ready a while back to talk about all this, but I guess I wasn’t. Maybe I’m still not. This is by far the hardest thing I’ve ever written, but I can’t stay silent anymore.

On one of my first dates with my ex Eve Rickert, as we walked down a road that would later inspire the name of our publishing company Thorntree Press, Eve told me, “I am not a compassionate person. When I get angry, I get mean. I do everything I can to destroy the other person. It’s like I’m standing outside myself watching myself do it, but I can’t stop.”

I didn’t understand, then, what she meant.

A few weeks ago, I signed a legal settlement agreement with Eve. We’ve been involved in a legal dispute for more than two years over ownership of the businesses we co-founded and the books we co-authored. Shortly after I left my relationship with her in 2018, Eve demanded that I give her my shares of the company, and hired a lawyer to threaten to sue me for them. When I refused and hired my own lawyer, Eve went on the attack with a scorched-earth social media campaign that rewrote our relationship into an inside-out, upside-down mirror world that I didn’t recognize at all.

Many people believed her. Even I started to after a while.

I tried to get my memories out about a dozen times or so. I talked very little about my experiences. I told myself it was because my lawyer advised me not to, which is true. She did. But that isn’t the whole truth. Even now, after we’ve signed a settlement, it’s still almost impossible for me to talk about this. I am still, after all this time, struggling to say the things I have to say. This will probably be disjointed, and I may not say everything perfectly. I’m still trying to piece it all together. I can only work on this essay for twenty or thirty minutes at a time before I feel myself start to shake. My therapist has diagnosed me with C-PTSD. “Textbook symptoms,” she says.

I’ve been in therapy since I escaped my relationship with Eve. I’ve spent a lot of the last two years trying to figure out what’s real and what’s not. In this weird, up-is-down narrative, there are supposedly eleven of my “exes” who have “come forward” with stories of how I’ve abused them. The head-bending thing about this is, I don’t have eleven exes.

There are “survivor stories” from people I’ve never been in a relationship with, never had sex with, never had any sexual or romantic contact with. How do you respond to something like that? There have been moments I seriously thought I was going insane. I remember talking to my therapist about this: am I delusional? Did I manufacture an entire history that doesn’t exist?

And always, always, underneath the terror and confusion: Were they right? Am I a monster?

The stories that come from people I have been involved with are just as surreal. One of my exes, “Amber,” claims I abused her because she “couldn’t properly consent to BDSM,” she was too young and inexperienced to consent to BDSM, and she won’t have anything to do with BDSM now..

I remember reading that story with a stomach-churning sense of horror, like I was completely losing my mind. The way I remembered it, early in our dating she showed me her collection of expensive high-end BDSM gear she’d bought when she was with her ex-husband, long before the first time we’d ever met or talked. She brought part of her collection of leather bondge gear to my place and asked me to use it on her.

When I read that she felt like I’d been the one to “get her into BDSM,” I felt like I’d fallen through a hole into an alternative world. I thought, could I really have been that wrong? I even unearthed my old digital archives to search through our conversations—I’ve saved nearly every email I’ve exchanged since 1992—and asking myself, with ever-heightening panic, did I imagine it? Did I invent false memories of her showing me her bondage gear collection from before I ever knew she existed?

Recently I found some of her old boxes from when she’d planned to move in with Zaiah and me to finish her Ph.D. One of them was filled with old DVDs belonging to her...and some of her bondage gear. I sat down right there on the floor in the basement, clutching a spreader bar that had been part of her collection, and I cried. I shook, and I cried, and all the time I remember thinking “this is real, I’m not delusional, she really is gaslighting me.”

Sometimes, where there’s smoke there’s fire. And sometimes, there’s just smoke and mirrors. But it turns out you can still choke on that smoke, all the same.

I haven’t talked much about this experience. I honestly don’t think anyone will believe me. And the narrative that was spun about me is just so absolutely relentlessly bizarre, so utterly divorced from the reality I recall, that it doesn’t make sense. I seriously thought I must be losing my mind.

If I can’t trust my own mind, my own memories, why on earth would anyone else?

And honestly, I’m scared. I’m terrified of how Eve will react. After the numerous heavy legal letters: threatening to sue me into releasing her and anyone who’s ever written a “survivor story” about me from all future liability for defamation or slander, and threatening to sue me over a nonexistent verbal “non-compete agreement,” I find myself shrinking, shriveling up, retreating from connections to other people. I flinch in ways I never used to. I second-guess myself in ways that don’t feel like me.

And I’m physically afraid of her. Our relationship was one of steadily escalating physical violence. She screamed at me. She smashed my stuff. Time and time again I was kept awake into the wee hours of the morning for arguments, prevented from sleeping, from taking a break, from escaping. I never really understood how breaking stuff and punching walls were acts of violence towards people until I experienced this for myself.

Finally, she hit me.

I didn’t—I still don’t—think people will believe me. I talked about this with my therapist, back in 2019. She was quite upfront with me: she said quite plainly that the poly scene, for all its talk of ‘egalitarianism’ and ‘empowerment,’ still holds tightly to sexist ideas that abuse is something that is only done to women by men. She told me I could have video of Eve hitting me and there would still be people who didn’t believe it. There was a time in my life when I would have assumed that was hyperbole.

Somehow, we’ve also figured out that if a woman gives in to sex after saying “no” ten times, that’s not consent, but we haven’t applied that lesson to anything else. For my entire life, I have kept my distance from recreational drugs. I have always been firm that I did not want to use them. But despite repeatedly, directly saying “no” to drugs, the pressure to use them with Eve was too great, and at the age of 46 I caved. Eve coerced me to use street drugs with her.I even enjoyed some of those experiences. But I was always aware that there would be a consequence for saying no.

My experience of our relationship was a story some people might find all too familiar. I’ve read it in other people’s accounts before, but it always seemed like a literary device to me—the kind of thing that inspires dramatic operas and novellas. Until I lived with, ate with, lay in bed at night beside a lover who seemed like two people at the same time.

One of those people was someone I was so absolutely head over heels for that I wanted to spend the rest of my life with her. The other was dark, angry, prone to violence. The one who destroyed my wedding portrait in a self-described fit of jealousy. The one who raged at me without provocation. The one who screamed at me in the middle of an editor’s conference, following me down the street yelling at me when I tried to leave.

I didn’t recognise that one.

So I tiptoed around. I savored each moment when it seemed like the smart, creative, wonderful person I adored was there, basking in the joy of her presence, but constantly fearing when she would go away again, when I did something—I must have done something, right?—to make her invite the other one back.

When she enrolled in anger management classes, I was awash in feelings of relief and hope and adoration. This was it! This time would be different! She was actively getting help, and I could prove my love for her by supporting her through it and then I would get to spend the rest of our time together with the amazing person I fell in love with.

But it didn’t seem to help. The mask fooled a lot of people—even me, for a long time—but the mask always came back off when we were alone again.

So I made myself small. I squeezed myself down tight to fit inside her idea of me. I tried not to antagonize her. I tried not to contradict her. When she abused my other partners, I did nothing. I kept thinking, if I can just survive this storm, it will blow over, and the other Eve, the one I love, will be back. And maybe this time she’d stay a bit longer.

The problem always got worse when I left town, especially if I was visiting another partner. After a couple of days away, like clockwork, Eve and I would fight over text or IM. She told me after one of these fights that there was a version of me that lived in her head, and whenever she was angry or I wasn’t around, that version of me would change, morph into something else, something ugly that would replace her memories of who I am in her head. Then the real me would be on the receiving end of her anger toward the made-up version of me in her mind. She even bought me a stuffed hedgehog—to remind me, she said, that when she was prickly at me it was only because she couldn’t remember who I was. So I needed to be kind to her, to remind her.

And the weird thing is, that felt normal. It felt right.

I believed, I really believed, that all I needed to do was accept this is how she was. Nobody is perfect, right? Everyone is flawed. We don’t give up on people we love just because they’re imperfect, right?

Even when other people close to me expressed concern about the unhealthy level of control Eve exerted over me in nearly every aspect of my personal and professional life—control that extended to her telling me who I could and could not talk to, who I should invite on dates—I didn’t see it. I didn’t want to see it.

So inch by inch, I ceded my boundaries and my control over my own life. By the time I left, I was no longer allowed to choose what food to eat, what shoes to buy, what clothes to wear. Things that, when I look back now, I would have described as major red flags if they were happening to anyone else, I simply dismissed as little quirks.

When I left, the only thought in my mind was “escape”. I didn’t just leave, I fled—not just our home, but the whole country. I hid. I curled myself into a tiny ball in the back of a corner and hoped it was enough to just be left alone. But I kept getting pulled back. Every time I thought I found enough distance, she tried to drag me back into the darkness, confusion, terror and pain. Then the nightmares followed for a few more weeks before I could start to relax again.

We went through a mediation process to unwrap our business connections. At that mediation, she demanded I sign new coauthorship contracts. I was shocked to learn that I was expected to hand over my shares of our publishing company without payment. I was dumbfounded when she said she intended to block my Canadian immigration as long as I remained married to my wife. Her exact words were “unless I see a certificate of divorce, I will make sure you never get in.”

I disengaged. I retreated. She accused me of abusing her. She demanded I take part in a “transformative justice” process. I said no, partly because my lawyer made it very clear in no uncertain terms that I should avoid any contact (this happened just as Eve issued the first of many threats to sue me), and partly because she claimed I did things that just never happened and “transformative justice” is not equipped to handle situations where the facts are disputed. But mostly I said no because I was terrified of her. I am terrified of her.

I finally understood what she meant when she first told me she will do anything in her power to destroy someone who makes her angry.

Of course, that ended up being retold as “Franklin doesn’t want to be accountable for his sins.” When your abuser is skilled in the language of social justice, this spin is easy. It’s easy to wear someone down, then when you leave them running away in fear, claim that they are “avoiding justice.” When all you want to do is flee and lick your wounds somewhere safe, and the last thing you want to do is re-engage with the person who hurt you, the only narrative that’s out there ends up being a story of “lack of accountability,” rather than avoidance of pain.

And the thing is, it’s not like I didn’t do anything wrong. We’re all born of frailty and error. If there’s anything good that’s come from two years of harassment on social media, it’s that I’ve worked with my therapist to unpack all the things I did do wrong and the ways I have fucked up in my relationships.

And I have genuinely done some really shitty things. They simply aren’t the things I’m accused of. There’s too much to get into in this post—it’s already longer than I intended, and you deserve more detail than just a paragraph or two—but I’ll be addressing it in another essay. Probably a few.

I am profoundly grateful to be surrounded by friends and lovers who have helped keep me sane through this. Some of them have been part of my life for decades, and they’ve been able to help give me reality checks: “no, I was there for that thing that person claims happened and it didn’t happen that way at all. You aren’t going insane and you aren’t deluded.” I honestly don’t know what I’d have done if I hadn’t been able to find old emails, talk to long-time friends, and hold tangible objects that showed me that yes, my reality is real. My memories are real.

That’s the thing about gaslighting: it makes you question your own reality.

I am also deeply grateful for the strangers—some of them with many years of experience in surviving abuse of their own— who have messaged me to tell me they’ve read the survivor stories and ended up feeling they didn’t recognise the voices of abuse survivors in those narratives. I’ve had many people tell me they also don’t feel safe saying so in public. When Dr. Elisabeth Sheff, who initially agreed to be part of my accountability pod, released a statement that, in her professional opinion, the “survivor stories” failed to rise to the level of abuse, she was attacked and had her professional standing threatened online. A lot of folks got the message loud and clear.

I am still terrified of Eve. I still wake from nightmares every week, my heart pounding and my hands shaking. I still remember the night she hit me, the disbelief, the attempt to justify it to myself as acceptable. I know this essay is disjointed and fragmented, because whenever I try to write about my experiences, I have anxiety flashes and panic attacks. I couldn’t even sit through it long enough to write it all out; it’s taken me many sessions to get through each part, and a lot of work with my therapist just to get to the point of being able to start. I’ve never truly understood what it means to be “triggered” before all this.

For the past two years I’ve done nothing. Eve Rickert published baseless stories about me and I did nothing. She fabricated a narrative about me and I did nothing. I withdrew from communities I’ve been part of for decades. I wanted nothing more than to get away from her. I’ve kept my head down and tried to build a new life away from her, even though that meant losing my community, losing people who meant something to me, losing people’s trust and faith in me. I walked away from spaces I’d spent literal decades building. I risked my livelihood. If that’s what I had to do to get away, to get a little peace and calm to heal, it was worth it to try to reclaim my sanity.

I expect that by publishing this, I will likely be attacked again.

I’ve started to write about my experiences several times; I even set up a website to do that. I wrote a little bit, and then panicked, chickened out and didn’t tell anyone about it. I’ve tried different approaches, different angles, different mediums, and still I’m afraid to show the world anything I write.

I keep thinking I’m ready to share what happened, then slamming into the barriers of my own trauma. I’m not ready. I may never be ready.

But I can’t sit by and keep doing nothing. Eve is now representing herself as an “abuse expert.” The woman who verbally, emotionally, physically, financially abused me—who smashed my stuff, screamed at me, controlled my life, gaslighted me, suppressed survivor stories from her previous exes, and hit me—is presenting at conferences about abuse.

I know there will be many people who don’t believe me. I expect more legal threats, more attacks on social media. I know there will be more online harrassment—more personal abuse, more detailed death threats, more viscerally explicit rape threats. I know I’ll keep having panic attacks and nightmares.

These are incredibly painful, but they don’t change the truth. I know what happened. I know who I am now. And I know I can’t  be silent any more.

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What is the Hunter Biden story?

Note: I originally wrote this as an answer on Quora

The Hunter Biden story is a fascinating piece of disinformation and agitprop.

I’ve been following it closely, partly because it’s an interesting political story and partly because I’m an avid infosec enthusiast and I actually know how emails work.

I was, to be honest, surprised when the “Hunter laptop” scam first began that anyone actually believed it. If you know even a little bit about how email works, it’s plain as snow in December that the story was fake. The supposed “Hunter Biden emails” that were released were released as PDFs, with no headers, from email domains that do not exist. I was like “Really? People are falling for this? God damn conservatives sure are gullible.”

But in the time I’ve been in Florida helping to care for my mother, I’ve realized that isn’t fair.

My dad is older (he’s 82), he uses email every single day, but he has not the slightest clue how it works and he cannot define the word “domain,” much less explain what a domain is or spot an invalid email domain.

And honestly, a lot of people, on the left and right, are that way. It’s not that conservatives are stupid, it’s that to most people, email is magic. And they don’t ever see email headers, so it doesn’t look suspicious if someone shows them a fake email with no headers. And, like my dad, they don’t know what a domain is, so if you show them an email with a clearly bogus “from” address they don’t even blink.

In that sense, what looks like a crude, hamfisted attempt at second-rate disinformation is actually pretty savvy. It’s propaganda aimed at a very specific audience: an audience that is not technically savvy, but—and this is the important part—has also been indoctrinated to distrust “elitist experts” who think they know better. So this audience (1) doesn’t have the technical skill to see through even a very crude, simplistic scam and (2) will automatically respond to anyone who points out the scam with “neener neener I don’t believe you!!!”

It’s been a very interesting lesson in 21st-century propaganda. Forging a real email is hard. Email is trackable and traceable. It passes through many computers and it leaves traces in every one. You can not easily forge a realistic, believable email even if you have nearly unlimited resources…

…but you don’t have to.

If the target of your propaganda is people with the limited technical knowledge of my father who have also been told to distrust experts, it’s not necessary.

Now, having said that, parts of the scam are very sophisticated.

This is Martin Aspen.

Martin Aspen wrote a 64-page dossier documenting corruption in Hunter Biden’s business dealings in China, which was released by security firm Typhoon Investigations.

Martin Aspen does not exist.

Typhoon Investigations does not exist.

The photograph of the person you see here is not a picture of a person. It was created by a GAN—a type of deepfake machine learning computer program.

If you’re not familiar with these, I recommend you visit the site This Person Does Not Exist.

Every time you refresh the browser, you will see a photograph of a different person. None of the photographs are real. None of the people exist. The photographs are all created by machine learning deepfake programs.

Anyway, back to Martin Aspen.

Martin Aspen does not exist. His photo is a computer-generated deepfake. His resume lists companies he’s never worked for, universities that have no record of him, and security firms that don’t exist. The entire dossier was faked.

Fifteen, twenty, thirty years ago, this level of fakery would require the concerted effort of a nation-state’s intelligence team to do. Today, a single reasonably skilled person can do it. I can do it. You can do it.

How a fake persona laid the groundwork for a Hunter Biden conspiracy deluge

And the thing that’s most fascinating about all of this, besides the fact it shows how fragile and easily manipulated the public perception is? Proving that the document was fake will not change a single mind.

The Hunter Biden saga has revealed two things:

  1. Small groups of individuals, even a single person sitting in a bedroom, can create agitprop and disinformation campaigns that would only a short time ago have been the envy of entire government intelligence teams.

  2. People want to believe. They’re simply looking for an excuse. Modern propaganda does not need to be subtle. It doesn’t need to be well-done. It doesn’t need to stand up to any scrutiny. It merely needs to give people an excuse to believe what they already want to believe.


A frantic flight

A bit over three weeks ago, I got a frantic call from my dad. My mom had been hospitalized after she complained of a headache and then collapsed. The doctors, he said, were investigating, but didn't yet know what was wrong.

A few hours later, he called back choked up. "You better get down here," he said. The doctors had found an aneurysm and rushed her into emergency surgery. The surgeon was unable to repair the aneurysm because her arteries were too fragile. She was not expected to survive.

I made the fastest plane reservation I could find. A day and a half later, I was in the air, headed to Florida. I met my wife at the airport and we went to my parents' house in Cape Coral, where I'd lived from the time I was in high school until I moved out for good, nearly 40 years ago.

Florida is, I'm told, the world's #5 hotspot for COVID-19. Southwest Florida is deep, deep Trump territory: pickups with enormous "TRUMP 2020" flags, huge "Trump!" signs along the side of the road, and not a mask in sight. These people believe, I mean really believe, that COVID-19 is a Democrat hoax and masks are a ommunist plot.

And they're dying for that belief. Visiting my mom in the hospital was like stepping into the set of a disaster movie, or maybe a developing nation. So many patients, the hospital was parking people on stretchers in the halls.

By the time I got to the hospital to see her, my mom had been moved out of the ICU, because, they said, they had 30 people in line for that bed behind her. When I visited, she was awake and alert, and her mind was still as sharp as always. (She had some scorching things to say about late-stage capitalism vis-à-vis American healthcare, in fact.)

She improved rapidly over the next few days. When her doctor was convinced she was no longer bleeding internally, he sent her home--not because she was ready to come home, but because they needed the bed.

My mom has two gorgeous Tonkinese cats.

Her cats were overjoyed to see her, even though she was weak AF.

My sister, my wife, my dad, and I all helped care for her. The doctors had told us to expect the worst--"She could go to sleep and never wake up," her surgeon said--but my mom is a resilient woman and she doesn't follow anyone's script. I went down to Florida believing I would never see her again, but it turns out it's dangerous to count her out of anything.

five days after being released from the hospital, she was already up and around, reading and cuddling with her cats.

Two weeks after she was released from the hospital, you'd never know there'd been anything wrong with her.

Health care professionals are still visiting her at home--they did release her from the hospital way before they should have, after all--but man, I gotta say, my mom is awesome.

Her cats decided my jacket was theirs.

The entire time I've been down here, we played a game called "Franklin moves his jacket somewhere the cats can't get to it and the cats find it and sleep on it."

The kitchen in my parents' house has recessed, indirect lighting in the ceiling. Whenever I went to cook, one of her cats, Thelma (they're called Thelma and Louise, for reasons that are obvious when you meet them), would jump from floor to chair to counter to refrigerator to lightwell and sit in the lightwell watching me. Silently judging me. Inspecting all that I did, which clearly did not rise to her standards.

I am not very good at handling grief. My girlfriend Zaiah says I share emotions like joy and excitement easily, but I have very little experience with things like sadness and grief.

I've been incredibly fortunate. I've never lost someone close to me. I've never attended a funeral. I think few people my age have been so fortunate.

My parents are both in their 80s. There will come a time when they are no longer here. The older I get, the more grateful I am to them; they did a bang-up job raising me. Even though I only see them once every few years or so, I'm still not sure I'm ready for a world without them.

Right now I'm in Orlando with my wife, working on an RV we hope to drive cross country late this year, stopping at abandoned amusement parks to do photography along the way. Next week I fly back to Portland.

I am so incredibly relieved that my mom is doing well that I can't even express it in words. I am profoundly grateful for the time I've been able to spend with her.

Mom, you're awesome. Thank you. For everything.