IN A world that didn’t give lip service to the idea of fairness, obituaries would read, I suspect, far differently.
Fairness is a bit too real and challenging for most. Hell, look what passes for “news” on social media, or even network television, for that matter. Likewise, most obituaries are little more than propaganda pieces that “celebrate” the life of the deceased. So are funerals. “He was a loving father and provider.” “He was a great man.” “He was virtuous, honest, and hardworking.” “He gave of himself to others,” and so on ad nauseam. The deluded read the obit in question or attend the funeral and listen to the crap and believe it. In fact, they go much further. In their minds they revise history utterly, and then become the deceased’s protector. Fairness doesn’t even come into the equation. Neither does the truth.
Of the truth, few, I’m certain, read an obituary or sit at a funeral and think it. “A loving husband and provider? He cheated on his three wives and abandoned his children!” “A ‘great man’? What? He was a small and pathetic bully!” “ ‘Virtuous and hardworking’? He took most of his life off!”
A woman I know who died recently got a glowing obituary written by her daughter. By the time I finished it I was wondering if the woman I knew didn’t have split personality disorder or a virtuous identical twin, because the woman I knew was a calculating, hardnosed, emotionally detached shrew who had one and only one goal in life: to climb the social ladder and push her husband to work ever harder so she could live in bigger and bigger mansions and driver fancier and fancier cars. She didn’t work; she munched bon-bons all day and socialized with her appropriately wealthy and socially acceptable friends, and concerned herself with such philosophically deep and inspiring things like shopping and traveling.
Death does that to folks, I suppose. It blinds them. It’s the ultimate call to herdthink. Question them or their “memories” and you’ve just made lifelong enemies. Fairness be damned. There is nothing that calls up the animosity of others quicker and for a longer time than looking at the example of a dead person’s life who was their relative or some such, and being fair, being truthful, calling the kettle black.
SO, I suspect, it shall be with me.
I’m prepared for it, and have been since October 25, 1984, when my mother, Kathleen Carol Register, died. That was the day I made up my mind. When the bastard who killed her finally kicked off, I swore that I would speak the truth about him, even though I would be forever the lone voice in the wilderness and doing so would call upon me the wrath of his surviving acquaintances and family, the latter of whom includes myself and my three sisters.
My brother, whom he was also responsible for killing, I shall speak for as well.
This obituary, thus, shall be fair.
LOUIS J. HELBERT, JR., was born in mid-March of 1928. What day precisely I’m not sure of, and never was, even with him in the house. I believe it’s March 19. It didn’t matter then; it doesn’t now; and it never will.
As far as I know, he’s still alive. He’s 88 as I write this, and living in Cedaredge, Colorado, and suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. With any luck at all, he won’t continue exchanging gasses with the atmosphere much longer, and the world will improve that precious moment and beyond, if but a tiny—but very significant—bit.
So why am I writing this now? I’ll tell you. I’m writing this now because I want this obituary posted before the deluded and false ones are. I want the truth about this man told before the lies can be.
HIS MOTHER, my grandmother, escaped the Russian Revolution as a young girl and fled to America. She converted to Catholicism and married my grandfather at the age of 19 and proceeded to shit out seven kids. Louis Junior—Lou—was the first.
My grandfather was a farmer and wholesale bigot and rage-filled drunk. He died in 1967 when I was five. I remember his funeral to this day. There is nothing to say about him save that he was a plodding jerkoff and an utter nobody, and thank God that beyond his decaying corpse, he cannot further toxify the good earth.
Which holds true for good ol’ Grandma too. She managed to get to 94 before kicking it, which is at least fifty years longer than she deserved. There are bad people in this world, and there are awful ones, and then you get into the category that she and her firstborn belong to. I don’t really have a word for it. I don’t think one exists.
In contrast to her husband, she wasn’t a drunk. In fact, she was a teetotaler. She was a bigot and racist, openly and shrilly so, especially if pressed. She rarely used foul language; a “damn” or “hell” could be coaxed out of her, but only if she lost her temper. She was pressed, clean, and proper, top to bottom, left to right. Which is the sign of the cross, which she constantly if figuratively wielded before her as one would at an oncoming army of rapist communist vampires.
Her Catholicism was fanatical.
How she raised her children will forever remain a mystery. Lou never shared any details; and my two older sisters, who, presumably, learned at least a little of what went on, never opened up about it. I suspect, had I a relationship with them, which I do not and never will, they wouldn’t. The closest I got to any information came from another nasty human being, Francis Gaebler, the psychotherapist Lou saw for a year in the late 80s when, for a very brief time, he felt something remotely akin to regret for his many misdeeds.
I was seeing Gaebler at that time as well—one of the bigger mistakes of my life. During a session he said, “If you knew what he went through when he was a boy, you wouldn’t think so harshly of him.”
When I pressed, I was told that I wouldn’t get more than that.
It’s almost thirty years later, and I’ve meditated on those words more times than I can count. Here is my response.
Goodness ultimately comes down to character. There are numberless folks who were raised in horrible circumstances by horrible parents who became monsters. But the opposite is true as well. There are countless folks who were raised in just as evil and oppressive households who turned out to be nothing less than saints. That’s a fact. Do some research if you don’t believe me. Take up reading. Take a history course. Mostly, though, just wake the fuck up.
We are not determined, no matter what the cancer of materialism proclaims. We have a choice in this life for evil—or for good.
Lou’s circumstances are ultimately meaningless when the lights of fairness and truth are brought to bear upon them. Can I imagine the horrors those circumstances might have held and look upon him with a less angry eye? That’s precisely what I’m doing right now, and have done since that session.
You don’t want to read what I’ve got to say about him if I get really angry. Trust me.
MORE ON Grandma Helbert.
Lou despised her. I remember several occasions when he growled, “I just wish she’d kick off already!” He took pains to visit her in Sterling (Colorado), but they were never the visits of a son who loves his mother—neither he nor she knew what love was—but of a son fulfilling a social obligation that would maintain his standing among his family, acquaintances, and business associates. That was it.
Bottom line: He couldn’t stand her.
She was in truth a hateful human being just like her decomposing husband. After Lou left Mom, lovely ol’ Grandma would show up on her—our, his abandoned children’s—doorstep unannounced, and would stay a week or more.
Do you remember Dana Carvey’s Church Lady from Saturday Night Live? She’s shockingly close to how Grandma Helbert was. So close, in fact, that when I first saw “The Church Lady” I couldn’t laugh. It was Grandma fucking Helbert!
She would condemn us, her grandchildren, daily, saying we were “on the path to hell,” and that “Satan finds that funny, but I do not.” She’d go through the JC Penney and Wards and Sears catalogs and tear out the lingerie sections, and then tear the pages until they were nothing more than tiny pieces, in case later we had nefarious plans to puzzle them back together via Scotch tape—all the while, of course, shaking and engorged with sinful pre-masturbatory anticipation. She’d barge in our rooms hoping in fact to catch us masturbating, which, according to her, was “a one-way ticket to Hell.” She’d demand we go to church with her every day of the week and “pray for our lost souls.”
Most importantly, she’d stress out Mom to the point that, inevitably, she’d end up in bed for a week after she left. Grandma Helbert, compassionate Christian she was, didn’t seem to care about that.
She lived life as a nobody and died as a nobody. Besides the seven toxic piles of shit she cursed the world with from her immaculate womb, she gave absolutely nothing to it. She was a cipher, a nonentity—but one who caused untold damage to those she was related to, including Mom, including me, including everybody else who had the misfortune of knowing her. All from the guise of “goodness,” of “holiness,” of “love for the Church,” of “love for God.”
MOM WAS far from a perfect human being. I need offer no further proof of that statement than to cite one simple, damning fact, and that’s this: she married Lou.
I don’t remember their anniversary. I believe Ground Zero occurred in April of 1950. It doesn’t matter. It happened.
Jenni was adopted in 1954. Jenni has had a tough life, almost all of it due to how Lou treated her from the off. She has been a poster child of Stockholm Syndrome ever since. She has spent her life a weepy, mercurial, and tanty bucket of fiercely defended idiocy clamoring endlessly for his affection, which of course never came, and now never will. As his time draws near, she has become probably his fiercest defender, having vowed never to see him as he truly is, and how he truly was during his so-called life. She deluded herself by her own warped revisionist history decades ago.
Shelly came next in 1957. She was natural-born. She has her father’s huge German nose and his acidic bigotry and his petulant and never-ceasing anger, which, also as a Stockholm Syndrome-addled defender of him, she has spewn at me. She has taken no small amount of time to slander my good name throughout Fort Collins and surrounding communities, all for the fact that I have steadfastly refused to come down with Stockholm Syndrome too. Like her father, and like all bullies everywhere, Shelly is at heart a whimpering, selfish little coward with zero spine and zero integrity. It’s how she has lived the balance of her life.
I was next. I too wasn’t natural-born but adopted. As I have since learned, doctors were concerned for Mom’s health even back then, but flummoxed as to what exactly was wrong with her. That was in 1962. I believe they told her around the time of my adoption that she could try for another natural-born child, but that they didn’t recommend it; and if she went through with it and carried it to term, that she definitely shouldn’t have more.
I learned who my biological mother was in 1991. I have regretted it deeply ever since.
Mark was next. He was adopted in 1963, just a little over a year after I was. Mark had a hellish, damned life, which was guaranteed to be so by Lou, who, for kicks, fed him hard liquor at parties when he wasn’t even five, then laughed when he passed out. I’d love to tell you I’m exaggerating, but I’m not.
Mark and I locked horns almost from the moment he was brought home as an infant. He stole from me, and he hated that I refused to become a drug and alcohol addict like himself. He grew to be a positively terrifying man, almost six-three and three hundred pounds, all of it unforgiving muscle. He feared no one—except me. As his alcoholism advanced, he became desperate and ended up on the streets. He died at the age of fifty of advanced cirrhosis of the liver brought on by acute alcoholism. That’s the medical diagnosis, at least; and that diagnosis is fine for everyone who knew him, including his sisters. But not for me. Because, in truth, it was Lou who killed him.
Mary Jo was last, and was natural-born. By then Mom’s doctors had grown increasingly alarmed at her health, and told her not to have more kids.
Mary Jo grew up hanging out with Mark and hating me. Like Mark, she became an addict; unlike Mark but definitely like her father, she learned to hide her addiction well. Mary Jo specializes in drama—creating it and living it. She is a grossly and childishly dishonest individual, most of all with herself. Like her sisters, she too suffers Stockholm Syndrome with respect to her father, who left the family when she was just nine.
THERE IS nothing noble about defending a bad man. Using “family” as an excuse, as in “He’s family!” makes that defense more, not less, profane.
We were never a proper family. I never got to know my sisters or brother as real families do with one another, in that intimate, friendly, and loving sense, and they didn’t get to know me. Lou was rarely there; he was out humping and drinking. The number of affairs he had between 1954, when Jenni was brought home, and 1974, when he left the family, number well over a hundred. That’s a conservative estimate. When Mom nearly died from illness, he became even less faithful. He went crazy. Her care fell into my sisters’ hands. They were at the time teenagers. I was eight.
They resented taking care of her, and after a time refused to do it, so it fell to me and the maid the courts allowed in the divorce settlement, a wonderful woman named Beatrice Lucero. My sisters’ interests were boys and drinking and smoking lots of pot, so that’s what they did, and to hell with Mom.
“Family.” What does it mean? In a perfect world, a family with three adoptees, all from different homes, and two natural-born kids, should’ve been something akin to The Brady Bunch, which as a kid I used to watch, and as a kid couldn’t understand why I always felt so envious afterward.
The Helbert home was the furthest possible thing from The Brady Bunch. It was a home with crippling dysfunction, blatant addiction, neglect, and, at many points, brutal physical abuse. Lou did not spare the rod. He did not spare the two by four. He did not spare his shoe or a wooden spoon or his belt. For me and Mark, he often did not spare his fists.
MOM COLLAPSED in 1969. She died on the emergency operating table four times. Whatever vile disease had been gestating in her for almost two decades had finally come to the fore.
As it turned out, it was a very rare form of muscular dystrophy, one that adults contracted. She spent over nine months in the hospital learning how to do everything from eating to walking again.
What was Lou doing? He was out getting his dick sucked by as many women as possible, loving, caring, attentive, and concerned Christian husband that he had conned the whole of Fort Collins, Colorado, into thinking he was.
I was seven years old, but that entire year was so horrific that I remember it like it happened yesterday. Jenni was fifteen, Shelly twelve, but already I could see their characters, who they really were, and somehow I knew it, even though I didn’t have the language to solidify it in my mind.
And Lou? I spent more time cowering that year than all the others combined. I can still smell the bourbon on his breath as he threw me on my bed and stripped my pajama bottoms off and whipped me with his expensive black leather belt. It became commonplace in its randomness and fierceness.
I began praying that year for him to leave, to disappear, to never return. I prayed for our house. I prayed for peace. I prayed for happiness. It became a daily, sometimes hourly habit, always very private, always on my knees in the dark, many times in my closet, always scared out of my mind, and always with crushing guilt, because Mom, imperfect soul she was, refused to acknowledge that she was married to a monster. If Lou left she’d be devastated.
But she couldn’t be devastated. I understood that. She wasn’t healthy. Devastation would kill her. A broken heart would end her.
Still, I prayed. With those prayers were at least as many pleading that the devastation that would crush her wouldn’t kill her.
I wasn’t allowed to see her while she was in the hospital. I missed her beyond any ability to express it. It tore at me. The scars are with me even today.
Doctors told Lou that Mom was so fragile that she could never have sex with him again. Instead of understanding, instead of sympathizing, instead of any kind of empathy whatsoever, he began calling her “Virginia,” which, in his blackened, pickled, toxic mind meant “virgin,” and which he used almost as often as he used her given name, so often that for a long time I wondered if Virginia wasn’t her actual name and Kathleen a nickname.
HIS NEXT trick was more vile than all the rest. He began employing it the moment he decided to divorce her. That moment occurred the very day she came home from the hospital in late 1969. He began calling her crazy and claiming her illness was all in her head, that she had somehow paid off the doctors to provide a grim diagnosis, that she was in the best of health and was using this “illness” to suck him dry financially.
I’m not kidding. It all happened.
He didn’t leave her—us—immediately. He didn’t even intimate doing such a thing. Looking back on it forty-plus years later, it is quite clear that was his game the moment she got home.
When he did leave in 1974, he began suing her almost immediately after the initial divorce settlement with teams of lawyers bought by his extensive cash reserves, which, of course, none of us ever got to enjoy. Between the years 1974 and 1984, when she died, he sued her more than half a dozen times, each time whittling more and more of the original settlement away and eventually throwing us, his kids, and her into poverty, and getting Beatrice fired. During the last court case, the judge looked down at him and asked, “Do you even have a conscience, sir?” to which he apparently growled, “I don’t need a conscience.”
HIS WORKING life was spent as a masonry contractor, which means he built buildings: government structures, high schools, office buildings and the like.
Again, my research on this is spotty. Why he would choose to make his career secretive is beyond me, but he did. As far as I can tell he worked as a bricklayer for several years, then bought a masonry company from someone who was associated—or was—Hensel Phelps, who went on to become a huge nationwide builder.
He was a union man from the start, contradictorily, since he despised unions. That was the game he was forced to play, I’m guessing, if he wanted to stay in business. So he did.
He became, as Mom used to put it, “a big fish in a little pond.” He made enough money to move us from our little house on Lynnwood Street in central Fort Collins to Country Club Estates five miles out of town and a moderately sized home designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. The home sat at the summit of a small hill on an acre of land and included a barn, a carport, a separate garage, a corral, and a pond in the back yard.
In 1977 he became the National Masonry Contractors of America Union president and became within his profession and the community of Fort Collins a minor celebrity. Everybody looked up to him. I’m sure for him it was a very giddy time. Here he was, making money hand over fist. He was recently married to his second wife, Sharon, who was fifteen years younger and much healthier and more voluptuous than Mom, whom he had abandoned three years earlier. He was just shy of fifty years old and on top of the world.
But like all bad men, he couldn’t find balance in his life, and so couldn’t find himself or satisfaction and contentment. He was an alcoholic and had been so since, probably, World War II. His drinking didn’t stop with financial independence, but increased. He got pulled over for drunken driving at least fifteen times (his estimate), but in Fort Collins back then, being white, male, and rich meant never having to say you’re sorry. He didn’t even have to pay the tickets.
A short aside regarding his drinking. It was always there. I doubt there has been a single day between 1950, when he got married and started his business, and today, bleary-eyed and drooling, when he hasn’t had at least one drink. Unlike my siblings, who have always turned the other cheek with respect to him and his alcoholism (isn’t being in a group fun?), I never could. In 1990 I gave him an ultimatum: Christmas dinner had to be alcohol-free. His prompt response was to disown me. My lovely sisters gleefully joined him. I was out.
Drinking didn’t make him a bad man, as they to this day believe. No, he was already a bad man. Drinking just made him worse. He was a belligerent drunk past a point; before he got there he was merely insufferable. My siblings, even Mark, thought it funny, even endearing. In reality, any sane man or woman would have found his behavior abhorrent and intolerable.
When his term as union president ended in 1980, the year I graduated high school, he did an amazing thing: he dumped his union membership completely and made his company completely union-free. It was an astonishing act of contempt that brought perfect focus to his character, which is to say he didn’t have one.
During that year, he and a friend hosted Ronald Reagan, presidential hopeful, at a home not even half a mile from where we, his abandoned and poor children, lived. Reagan was virulently anti-union, as all Americans tragically learned soon afterward, and was at the time my father’s hero. I’m certain that dinner had a profound effect on him. He went full-in on being an Asshole of Infinite Shittiness. After all, that was what Ronnie Reagan was, so why couldn’t he be one too?
That year also saw him go on an illegal goose hunt in southeastern Colorado with one Dick Cheney, the Darth Sidius of Assholes Worldwide. They didn’t get caught, of course, because Cheney’s many friends in law enforcement, and my father’s, were Super Assholes too. They slaughtered hundreds of geese and their chicks and left their carcasses to rot in the fields.
Lou “worked” another two years, then sold his business to another anti-union pal by the name of Baldwin, who kept him on as a “consultant,” which was rich Republicanspeak that translates to being free to fucking young gold-digging women during business hours. It wasn’t just a reaction to stress, as it turns out, and as he told Mom many times after getting caught. Indeed, he was regularly boning others behind the back of his second wife. The healthy, voluptuous one.
Rowing in a lake of cash, he bought properties in and around Fort Collins, and planes, and boats. He bought eighty-thousand-dollar collector’s edition BMWs and exotic trips around the world.
It was on one of the bigger boats he owned that he killed one of his business associates, a beer distributor named Marshall, after drunkenly ramming into a rock on Horsetooth Reservoir. Of course, he suffered absolutely no consequences for his actions. Not even manslaughter could touch him.
The IRS caught up to him in that time period, as they did with his two closest friends. All three were evading taxes. Lou owed over a million dollars, and shucky darns, he had to sell off a few of his properties and cut his exotic trips in half. He spoke openly at that time about killing IRS agents. That’s what he did instead of taking a good look at his behavior and what got him nabbed. It was always everybody else’s fault.
Then again, he had been literally untouchable to that point. So I suppose his reaction was to some degree understandable.
HIS RACISM was always right there on the surface, ready to be spewed at the world, which he did on a regular and very loud basis.
It came down to this. There was one good, decent race on Earth. The rest were scum that needed to be destroyed utterly. He spoke of “the upcoming race war” that would see the white race emerge victorious after much bloodshed. He longed for such a war to happen. He thought the United States should have supported Hitler, not fought him.
Of war, he served in the U.S. Navy from 1946, not long after the end of World War II, to 1950. Upon returning home to Sterling, he promptly married Mom.
According to him, he served aboard a PT boat that prowled around remote South Pacific islands, hunting for Japanese soldiers who weren’t aware the war was over. With a destroyer tagging along, they’d shell the center of the islands. The Japanese soldiers, terrified, would come running out onto the beaches. Just offshore the PT boats would be waiting and would open fire on them, mowing them down.
Lou was more than happy to kill “Japs” or “nips,” as he called them. He enjoyed doing it. He told me more than once that “they,” meaning us, the United States, should’ve dropped more A-bombs on that nation, “as many as necessary” to wipe out the entire country and kill “every living, breathing, fucking nip there is.” Those were his exact words. I remember them to this day.
He despised hippies and Democrats. He hated women’s rights, and thought that gays needed to be wiped out as well, since they were “defective.” He gleefully passed on his homophobia to his daughters, who to this day share his opinion of the gay and lesbian community. I’m sure he’s very proud.
He wasn’t active politically, despite the whole Ronnie Reagan hero-worshipping bit, but he never hesitated to let you know in no uncertain terms who he voted for and who was worth voting for. When I registered as a Democrat for the first time, he growled in my face, “Just like you, Shawn, to want to vote for a bunch of pussy faggots. I’m beginning to think you’re one, too.”
He laughed in my face, as did my siblings, who couldn’t help but overhear. That happened during my college graduation party.
A large percentage of his employees were minorities—Mexican-Americans, as it turned out.
“Lazy, shiftless freeloaders,” he used to say. “Welfare bums, the lot of ‘em.” And then, of course, the inevitable and repeated solution to deal with them: “We oughta take ‘em all out and execute ‘em. Give ‘em a welfare cigarette and tie ‘em up and shoot ‘em between their beady eyes.”
My sisters and brother always loved it when Lou got his racism on. They would laugh uproariously every time.
OH YES, he was humping more women on the side, despite the fact that he married one of the homewreckers that he humped while married to Mom. He used to tell Mom that he was unfaithful because she couldn’t have sex with him any more, and that it was therefore her fault.
Not just jaw-droppingly vile, as it turned out, but demonstrably false. He just couldn’t keep his tiny little wee-wee in his expensive tailored trousers.
He got to the point that he became fairly open about it. A local Fort Collins eatery, the Charco Broiler, became known as “Lou Helbert’s Plug Hangout.” He’d meet the woman there—a woman who was always at least fifteen years younger and with giant breasts—as in always. He’d ply her with a few drinks, introduce her to a few of his wealthy friends, and then take her out back to his Suburban, where she’d go down on him. This isn’t conjecture or me trying to besmirch his oh-so-clean rep; no. He admitted all this to me in 1995 during a dinner in which I was the sole guest and which he’d invited me to “make up” for disowning me five years earlier. There was no making up, only sordid little tales of his pathetic life—his version of “sharing” himself with me—and of course the calm castigating of my character, of which, according to him, I still had none.
One day in 1985 he walked in to his expensive condominium (he had two, plus another in Denver that he told no one about and was reserved for his affairs) and informed Sharon he wanted a divorce. He had fallen in love with another of his big-tittied bangs. This time, he swore, it was Love.
Sharon, a hateful soul herself, did not lie down and roll over. She wasn’t dying of a wasting disease, after all. She was at least as smart as him, but worse: she had her own money. He challenged her in court, as he did with Mom, and found himself on the wrong end of the stick faster than he could say, “Roll over, honey, and I’ll stick this tiny, cheating, racist bit of flagging moneyed meat into you.”
To save face he gave her everything she wanted and tucked tail and escaped.
He married his new bang a couple of months later—in the Catholic Church. The same church he disavowed after leaving Mom. What blew my mind wasn’t Lou’s blatant hypocrisy in all this, but the Church’s too. They welcomed him back with open arms.
His new wife was named Karen. What a bitch. She had been a high-school English teacher in her younger life (she was 45 when they wed), but got burned out and opened a travel agency. That’s how they met. He wanted to go on another exotic vacation.
In early 2015, Karen told Jenni she wanted to leave him. He was increasingly glazed over from Alzheimer’s, and increasingly belligerent from booze. More importantly, though, he was dead broke. He’d pissed away all his money. He never had any intention of giving any of his kids an inheritance. Now that he couldn’t lavish her with cash (our cash; my cash), let alone keep from drooling as another episode of Murder She Wrote came on, she just wasn’t interested anymore.
Karen always thought she was special. She wasn’t. She isn’t. During that private little dinner he admitted that he’d had “lots” of affairs behind her back. But ol’ Karen was lucky, he quickly added. I asked why.
“Because I’m not going to leave her. Those women don’t mean anything to me. They’re there just for the shits and giggles. It’s nothing serious.”
He told me I needed to espouse such a philosophy where women were concerned, that I had always been “too damn serious” about them. He expressed disappointment that I wasn’t “dipping my wick” in as many women as possible, that marriage was “a waste of time,” and that a good fellator was really a plus “in any bitch.”
All that fatherly advice. I felt regret that I hadn’t bought a pen and notepad so I could collect those gleaming and lovingly offered pearls of wisdom.
I never got to know Karen like I did Sharon. I spoke to her a grand total of three times.
But that’s the thing. I didn’t need to get to know her—not, that is, beyond what I already knew about her. She was, and is today, a golddigger. She was, and is today, dishonest. She was, and is today, a homewrecker. She had a hugely inflated self-image, almost comically so, and still does today. She considered herself a fount of wisdom and gentle motherly advice, and still does. She, like her new husband, was, and is, a bigot. She had money from a failed previous marriage, but was not as bright as Sharon. Lou had learned his lesson.
Big, almost grotesquely large, tits. Check.
Snooty bigot. Check.
Not as bright as Wife Number Two. Double-check.
Not dying like wife number one. Triple-check.
I TOOK pity on Sharon after Lou dumped her. I was the only one who did. That’s an amazing thing, considering that I was Mom’s fiercest—actually, only—defender. If anyone should pity her, it should’ve been the four chemical fatalities posing as my siblings who had bought wholesale into Lou’s bullshit about Mom being crazy and trying to bleed him dry.
I maintained contact with Sharon until 2004 when she refused to help me pay my rent. I had sustained a serious shoulder injury and needed to see a doctor as soon as possible, and asked her for help with that too. It should be understood that she had plenty of money to help with both, but she refused. She saw me as a weak, misguided middle-aged man and treated me that way. The only thing I received from her was a cheap Wal-Mart sling that broke the first day I tried to use it. That was it for me and her.
I have endured no small measure of criticism and condemnation for cutting off from my so-called family, including her. Let me be clear right here and right now, and for the last damn time: I was disowned by that “family” in 1990. And as far as Sharon is concerned, she proved she had no interest in treating me like family.
Cutting off from people is painful and difficult. Cutting off from family, whether or not they deserve the title, can be doubly so, even at times impossible. The Helbert family did me a great service when they cut off from me. I had dreamed of doing just that since Mom died, and they saved me the trouble. I vowed that moment that I would define family in my own terms and no one else’s.
A family member, to my way of thinking, is one who fully, lovingly, and unconditionally wears the C.A.P.E. of friendship. What is the C.A.P.E. of friendship? It is precisely what my so-called family refused to wear, and that Sharon refused to wear. Louis J. Helbert, Jr., failed human being, never had even a tenth of the courage required to wear it.
The C.A.P.E. of friendship is defined this way:
C: Caring. Not selfish “caring,” which isn’t caring at all, but the real article, the unselfish variety. And not caring when it’s convenient, which also isn’t caring, but doing so full-time and with all of one’s heart.
A: Attendance. You’re there for that person you consider family; you actively attend them; and you prove it on a regular and frequent basis. How you define “regular” or “frequent” isn’t your job; it’s the job of the person you claim to care about. If you’re failing their definition, you’re failing them, period.
P: Presence. This isn’t the same as attendance, no. Presence is where you make your physical self close to your so-called loved one on a regular and frequent basis. Again, you don’t get to define “regular” or “frequent.” It isn’t rocket science; it’s Basic Humanity 101. What’s astonishing is how so many fail that course.
E: Endurance. Why is this so difficult for so many people? I’ve never understood it. Endurance is the simple quality of hanging in there with someone for a long time. No, days don’t do it, nor do weeks or months or even a few years. It seems to me five years is the barest minimum to qualify as someone who endures with another. That isn’t much at all. If you think it is, congratulations: you’re an unthinking corporate cog who has been brainwashed utterly by your culture, and are very likely incapable of the CAPE, let alone anything approaching even the barest minimum requirements to maintain an acquaintanceship, let alone a friendship.
My so-called family had no interest in that CAPE. Sharon didn’t have any interest in wearing it either. And so I have walked through this life largely alone. So be it.
THOSE WHO wear the CAPE know, necessarily, how to say they’re sorry when their actions harm their loved ones. They know how, and they follow through when it becomes necessary.
Lou took pride in refusing to say sorry for his actions. He thought that made him a man.
Many, perhaps most, in our culture believe that as well. They believe saying sorry makes a person weak, makes them a wimp, when in fact the exact opposite is true. The media like to celebrate people who abuse that vital relationship tool, who are in fact wimps. When they feature such a person, they almost always color them in the light of valiance, strength, and courage. But in truth they are just as wimpy as the wimpy dude who is willing to say sorry at the slightest slights.
As a result, people don’t just get hurt. Whole relationships, whole families are destroyed.
Lou wasn’t exactly the most self-aware individual, but that doesn’t excuse him. He was more than smart enough to look himself in the mirror and say, “You know, I refuse to be bullied by this culture and its hateful stereotypes of how a man is supposed to think and act. I choose to be different, and will struggle to become so.”
But that’s the thing about Lou and all like him. Mirrors are used by such people to celebrate themselves, not to take hard, honest looks and declare that what they see reflected back isn’t acceptable and that changes are needed. They don’t do that because making those changes is goddamn difficult. That’s the true measure of a man or woman worthy of the title.
The saying goes, “You can choose your friends, but you can’t choose your family.” Bullshit. Any true friend—any individual who dons the CAPE—is family. And any family worthy of the title dons the CAPE and is a true friend. No exceptions. Ever.
LOU HELBERT made millions of dollars during his execrable life. It’s all gone now. All of it.
I learned just two years ago that he never had any intentions of sharing it with us, his children.
He pissed it away on bimbos and booze, fancy cars and airplanes, boats and exotic trips. That was his plan all along.
Consider for a moment the kind of man who would actually do that. Not threaten to do it, but actually do it. Consider then the typical obituary which is going to be written for him. He was a good family man, a valued community member, an “innovator” in his profession, and so on.
Can you see now why I can’t let such lies fly? Could you?
AS I write this, Donald J. Trump is the Republican candidate for President of the United States.
Lou doesn’t know it, but his dream candidate has finally come to the fore: an unrepentant and intransigent bigot. A fascist. A “businessman.” A man who blusters hate and division. A man who longs to use nuclear weapons. A man who will send “them” back across the border, or back across the ocean, or into concentration camps.
I’m certain my sisters, if they vote at all, will vote for Trump. I find that tragic, because Mom would’ve found Trump vile, even though she was a lifelong Republican.
Guess the apples don’t fall far from their true tree.
I GREW up a champion swimmer. Between the age of ten, when I learned to swim, and eighteen, when I graduated high school, I set numerous Colorado state records, was recognized as one of the best all-time athletes in Fort Collins, earned All-American honors, reached a national ranking, and was instrumental in getting my coach, John Mattos, the head coaching position at Colorado State University, which became a national swimming power during his tenure.
Though riddled with a crippling, progressive, wasting terminal illness, Mom didn’t miss a single swimming meet. She organized team trips and events, served on the team’s board multiple times, helped write newsletters, helped to negotiate pool time with the City of Fort Collins, and generally made herself indispensable.
Lou, on the other hand, was utterly absent. He didn’t attend a single meet or practice. Not one. Not even for one second. Worse, he refused at all costs to congratulate me, to recognize my achievements, to even shake my hand. Not once.
I ask you: What kind of father would do that to his son?
IN THE end, it comes down to this: Louis J. Helbert, Jr., wasn’t my father.
I didn’t have a father. The man who dumped his sperm into my natural mother and then bolted wasn’t my father either. I never knew him. I never will.
Both he and Lou are equivalent in my eyes. They are ciphers, zeroes. They are nonentities.
They certainly aren’t men. Indeed, both are soulless, pathetic, numb, and vile black holes of abandonment, maliciousness, mendacity, selfishness, hatred, and ignorance.
I don’t know if my natural father is still alive. Fuck him if he is.
I don’t know if Lou is still alive either. It very much does not matter. Fuck him, too.
I can say this about both, and that’s this: they never were truly alive. That’s the price for abandoning a child. You lose your soul.
My natural father may have had one once. I couldn’t care less if he did. It’s long gone. I’m certain of that.
Lou never had a soul—at least, not as long as I have been alive. I am certain of that, too.
I am of the belief that an afterlife exists, but it’s up to each of us to get to it, to, with our souls, build a bridge to that everlasting life. It doesn’t require religion or even, necessarily, belief in God. What it requires is living the kind of life that enhances and strengthens and enlivens one’s soul. And the only way to do those things is to love.
My natural father, I am certain, has (or had) no interest in love. And Lou? Well, if this account of his life doesn’t demonstrate his hatred for love and what it requires in order to get to the bliss on the other side, then I pity you. Looking for excuses in order to rationalize his many horrific deeds does not make you Christian or forgiving or even decent. It makes you nothing more than his pawn. Truly, again, I pity you.
I promised Mom at her funeral in 1984 that one day I would piss on the grave of the man who killed her. You see, in the end, it wasn’t the disease that took her; it was that devastation I prayed so hard would spare her. I would know. I was at her bedside not long before she died, and I saw it for myself. Oh, the coroner’s report was clear: she died of complications due to a very rare form of adult muscular dystrophy. But that was merely the instrument Louis J. Helbert, Jr., wielded in order to kill her.
HE THREW a party the day of her death: “The Bitch is Dead!” party. He’d planned it for years. He made a big banner: THE BITCH IS DEAD.
Many of his rich friends were there. So were his lawyers—his accomplices. So were my siblings.
I went. I was still just a boy. I hadn’t found my courage or my voice. I needed my brother and my sisters, who were just fine with it all. It stands to this day as one of my very greatest shames, unerasable and eternal.
And Lou? Well, I never saw him so happy before or since.
Let this obituary serve therefore as my piss, and may it stain his grave, and his memory, for all time.