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Thunder Pie | Our Dead Name

The truth is something other than what we thought it was.

“There is something seriously, terribly wrong with a person if they manage to get to a certain age — cross a lot of bridges; bury a lot of friends and enemies and dreams and grudges; look back at the progress of pages that led to this big, fucking book that is your life — and they do not cry readily and fulsomely. Often. You begin to see — I now see — where the dots were or were not connected. I see what made and unmade me. I see what Tennessee [Williams] described to you as the time knot, and, dear God, how much time and oxygen and courage do I have to get things said and done and acknowledged before it all comes to an end? So cry. Cry a lot. You are expressing that your life meant something to you, and you hate to see it drift away.”

Mike Nichols interviewed by James Grissom.

In the car I ask about the old name Violet and Blake tells me that it’s their dead name.

My dead name, they say.

This startles me but I catch myself. Being startled by something your own teenager tells you requires a moment of reflection if you don’t want to sabotage your whole life. This is not debatable. There is no gray area here. Open your mouth and jam your own unique experiences up against the words of your kid and watch what happens. You will go down in legendary flames. I know because I have crashed and burned entire farms and villages on behalf of my own impetuous ignorance many times in the past.

The truth is, and I would ask you to just trust me on this one, but the truth is: we are all wrong. About almost everything. And by almost I really mean absolutely.

“Dead name?,” I ask them. “Is that what you call Violet now?”

They respond matter-of-factly. Yes, they tell me.

“I call it that because that’s what it is to me now.”

Blake speaks in direct reflective tones unlike many people I know. They rarely ever try on angry tones or pissy ones. They do say things that will drop the jaw of people pleasers, bullshit artists, phony Patagonia bleeding hearts, and socially expectant right wing dumb-dumbs (which all told, accounts for just about everyone out there on modern America these days). The reason for this is simple. Blake has no actual yearning to get one over on you/ no desire to take advantage of you/ and no authentic need for you to like them based on any one of the myriad of reasons people suffer everyday/ standing there in the blast of their internal voice hammering their skull with insecurity.

Blake, you see, is some kind of strange honest pure.

This means that when me or you allow my oldest kid’s words or actions to run through the fifty tons of psychological infrastructure that we have built up around ourselves like impenetrable castle walls since we were toddlers, we end up running an ostensibly free-born human being through all the paint and shellac spitting off our lips as we hold court/ extrapolate/ and sandblast the planet with our total and complete bullshit opinions based on nothing other than… what?

Our parents? The way we were raised? Religious faith and our education and all the times we learned about things the hard way?

The truth is harrowing and liberating all at once. If you tell me your name is fucking Jesus Christ Ramone what the hell can I say about it? Nothing. That’s what. Nobody can tell you you’re not a Jesus Christ. And no one should be going around telling people they’re not a real Ramone. That’s a good way to get your goddamn nose broken, if we are being honest.


More than you think, you are a mess beyond repair. Unstable as all get-out. All the pharmaceuticals- if you eat them- they only take the slightest sliver of an edge off your barbaric confidence. It’s like skinning an onion, hoss. The skin falls away and what’s left still makes us weep. It even makes you weep and you’re the one who conjured it all up to start with, you know? The way you see the world and the way you try to gently shove those ideas into the pathways of so many others is enough to make us gasp. You are very good at it, I’ll admit. I recognize your natural cunning as something I myself have been learning at for many a year now myself.

Someone tells you that they are no longer known by the same first name as they used to be known, you roll your proverbial eyes, even if you fly all the right flags outside your house. The rainbow flag and the one that says that all the perfect attitudes about climate change and skin color and all of it lives here. Or, maybe you roll your eyes outright, with no attempt to hide your disdain for the notion that someone might have the audacity to tell you that the name they have always had up until now is no longer in operation.

The hell with that, you chuckle and snicker.

Either way, you are a piece of shit.

But it’s not your fault, I guess. I mean, everyone else is a piece of shit too when it comes to all this thinking and talking and going out in the morning to make money and all.


I fly us over a rise on the valley road and I try to choose my words wisely. But I can’t really even come up with any. The name Violet was the name they were given once upon a time when the world was simpler for me because I was a fool. I didn’t understand just yet that I was chopping people’s heads off with my sword of opinionated destruction. Beliefs, we like to say, are essential to the human experience.

If you don’t stand for something you’ll fall for anything.

I believed all along that her name was her name. And that she was my daughter. And that these were interminable truths that could never waver even under the crushing weight of systemic change. Truth, I told myself (as others had told me), is the invincible dynamic that holds everything together. And the truth, they said, will set you free.

This turns out to be false. You see, the truth is something other than what we thought it was. We thought it was what we told ourselves. But that was not true at all.

In the late afternoon light, as the old fields lay barren of the corn or soybeans that will circle back before long, I sense a seismic shift beneath the car as Blake fiddles with their phone and slips away from me into the distant wilds of the music in their headphones. As paradise wraps it’s ever-loving arms around my first born, I understand intrinsically that if one thing like her name/ like their name/ can come undone/ then anything can come undone.

And by undone I mean the world as you know it is not the world.

I watch them out of the corner of my eye. They are smiling at something in their ears or in their brain. They see with pictures. They move through rooms I have yet to move through. Even out on the country roads, snow flurries falling after school, a bag of hot chips from Sheetz between her knees that she picks at/ there is evidence enough that I have been daydreaming all of this.

There is evidence enough, I believe, that we are both smoke signals sent up by a lost army in the endless wilderness.

I might try harder things as a writer here and there. What have I got to lose, you know? Write the hard stuff that hurts. Who said that? Hemingway? What was his deal? You think he was cool? I wonder. I wonder if he would have scoffed at me if I told him I wasn’t gonna be called Serge anymore. That I was now known as Vivian.

Fucking guy. He probably would have taken a bottle of old whiskey down off the wall and poured us each a couple fingers/ slid my tumbler across the table at me/ fixed his eyes at a 24 inch rainbow trout mounted on the wall behind me/ and lit a Cuban cigarette with matches from the bar in Key West where he drank half his nights away. The same joint where he once wrote his best song as the sun was coming up after an all-night bender.

Wasting Away Again in Margaritaville.

Hell of a tune, hell of a tune,

Some people say that there’s a woman to blame, and I know it’s my own damn fault.

It’s a damn good line. It holds some water. But at the same time, it smells like horse shit. I mean, we all say things we want to believe but, come on. I’m not convinced. Did he ever really admit to himself that it was his own damn fault? I highly doubt it.

We’ll never know.

He died in an airplane crash in the Andes.

A soccer team that was also on board the same jet survived. They ended up eating the gringo legend’s frozen skin after a week. They were near starvation. The truth will set you free.

The goalie reported that he tasted like shrimp.

What a way to be remembered.

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Serge Bielanko lives in small-town Pennsylvania with an amazing wife who’s out of his league and a passel of exceptional kids who still love him even when he’s a lot. Every week, he shares his thoughts on life, relationships, parenting, baseball, music, mental health, the Civil War and whatever else is rattling around his noggin.