Once upon a time, two brothers who lived on adjoining farms fell into conflict.

 It was the first serious rift in 40 years of farming side by side, sharing machinery, and trading labour and goods as needed without a hitch. Then the long collaboration fell apart. It began with a small misunderstanding and it grew into a major difference, and finally it exploded into an exchange of bitter words followed by weeks of silence.

One morning there was a knock on John's door. 

He opened it to find a man with a carpenter's toolbox. "I'm looking for a few days work," he said. "Perhaps you would have a few small jobs here and there. Could I help you?" "Yes," said the older brother. "I do have a job for you. Look across the creek at that farm. That's my neighbor. In fact, it's my younger brother. Last week there was a meadow between us and he took his bulldozer to the river levee and now there is a creek between us. Well, he may have done this to spite me, but I'll go him one better. See that pile of lumber curing by the barn? I want you to build me a fence - an 8-foot fence - so I won't need to see his place anymore. Cool him down anyhow."

The carpenter said, "I think I understand the situation. Show me the nails and the post hole digger and I'll be able to do a job that pleases you." 

The older brother had to go to town for supplies, so he helped the carpenter get the materials ready and then he was off for the day.

The carpenter worked hard all that day measuring, sawing, and nailing. About sunset when the farmer returned, the carpenter had just finished his job. The farmer's eyes opened wide, his jaw dropped. There was no fence there at all. It was a bridge - a bridge stretching from one side of the creek to the other! A fine piece of work - handrails and all - and the neighbour, his younger brother, was coming across, his hand outstretched. "You are quite a fellow to build this bridge after all I've said and done." 

The two brothers stood at each end of the bridge, and then they met in the middle, taking each other's hand.

They turned to see the carpenter hoist his toolbox on his shoulder. "No, wait! Stay a few days. I've a lot of other projects for you," said the older brother. "I'd love to stay on," the carpenter said, " but I have many more bridges to build."

Everyday we have the choice of building fences or bridges. One leads to isolation and the other to openness.


Her name is Tracy. She's my aunt (half aunt, my mother would interject), but I never knew who she was until I was ten years old.
My mother hid her existence from me. Then again, I never had a reason to ask since I naturally assumed that if my mother had any siblings, they would’ve at least been introduced to my brother and I. But she never was, so I figured she was an only child.
But one day, my mother got a Facebook request. I remember her squealing in joy from the living room and I ran downstairs to see what all the fuss was about.
When she saw me, she flashed me a huge smile and said, “My sister requested me!”
I frowned. “Since when do you have a sister?”
She didn’t answer me. Her gaze remained locked on the computer screen as her smile continued to widen by the seconds. It reminded me of a cat’s.
“She wants to talk to me,” she mumbled to herself. The way she said it made it seem more like a question. She almost sounded like she was in disbelief.
She spent the next thirty minutes explaining how my grandmother used to be married to a man named Corey, and the two of them had Tracy together. Tracy had been ten when my grandmother had left him and remarried my grandfather instead. My mother told me that Tracy took off and got married when she was only seventeen years old while my mother was only seven, and that she never saw her nor heard from her again afterwards.
Until now.
I was ecstatic. I’d always wanted to have a sister and since my mother was unable to have kids anymore, an aunt seemed like the next best thing.
I’d called my grandmother, eager to share the news, but when she answered and I told her what was going on, the phone line went dead silent.
A whole minute passed when I asked, “Nanny, did you hear me?”
Another pause.
“Tracy reached out to your mom?” She said the name like it was a social disease.
“Yeah…” I started fidgeting with my sweater. “Why, is that bad?”
Again, another silence. I almost hung up that time because I figured she ended the call, but then she finally spoke.
“Tell your mother to watch out.”
The hairs on the back of my neck had rose and my hands began to shake. “What?”
“And you too.” She sighed dejectedly. “I don’t trust her.”
I never told my mother about the phone call. I’d thought about it, but after my grandmother and I hung up, and I wandered downstairs to see my mother dancing in the living room and smiling like the dork she is, I couldn’t. I couldn’t ruin this for her. It’d been twenty years since she last saw her sister. This meant everything to her. So I kept my mouth shut.
Nanny’s wrong, I’d told myself.
But the way my heart was racing made me know otherwise.
Tracy and my mother made plans for her to come visit our home. Apparently she lived in Pennsylvania with her husband at the time, Frank, and her two sons, Frankie and little Frankie. She also had two daughters: Nicole, the older one, and Chrissa, who was only a few years older than Frankie. My mother said Tracey was bringing them as well.
When they all showed up to my house, the first thing I noticed about Tracy was that she resembled an older wrinkled version of my mother. You can easily tell they were sisters because their faces were almost identical. Nicole, Chrissa, Frankie, and little Frankie all looked different however. I think it would be safe to assume they all had different fathers, except maybe Frankie and little Frankie, but I don’t have proof of this, nor does it really matter I suppose.
Tracy gave me a bear hug the minute she saw me, acting as if I’d known her forever when really it’d been about .5 seconds. She gave me a present, which ended up being these fuzzy, frog princess slippers. She gave my mother something too: a glass sculpture of two little girls, sisters. My mother was in awe at the gift, and even shed a few tears. I never saw her so happy.
Chrissa seemed to be the only talkative one out of Tracy’s kids, and ironically, she resembled her the most. Nicole was quiet, almost too quiet. She was smiling, sure, but it didn’t quite reach her eyes. And the two Frankies were too busy goofing off with each other to really acknowledge me and my brother.
Her husband Frank was sketchy. Sleazy. A scrub. I didn't like him. He just rubbed me the wrong way though I couldn’t figure out why.
They stayed for dinner and left just before dark, but not before inviting us to their place in Pennsylvania. That visit was a lot less awkward. Older Frankie taught me how to play Guitar Hero, and Chrissa let me try on some of her clothes. I had a fun time.
Nicole didn't show that day.
About a week later, my mother started acting different. When I would ask about Tracy, she’d snap at me and wave her off like she was nothing. Like Tracy was a piece of gum on the back of her heel.
This was when I called my grandmother again.
She answered after the third ring.
I wasted no time. “What happened between Mom and Tracy?”
She laughed without humor. “Tracy cut her off again, huh?”
I said nothing. And my grandmother took that opportunity to explain her history with her eldest daughter.
Apparently, Corey was physically abusing my grandmother, which is why she came to the decision to divorce him. This broke Tracy’s heart since she was always a Daddy's girl. She blamed my grandmother for the divorce and grew a resentment towards her for it.
When my grandmother met my grandfather, things just deteriorated from there. Tracy did not like him in the least. She fought with him daily. Begged my grandmother to leave him but she wouldn’t. Aside from the obvious, initial step-parent dislike, nobody knew why Tracy seemed to despise my grandfather so much.
When they had my mother, Tracy was instantly jealous. She felt like she had been replaced and that my grandfather didn’t care for her, and that neither did my grandmother. She began lashing out. Flunking out of school. Doing drugs. Going out with boyfriends at night and not coming home for a few days.
One night, my grandmother had gotten into a fight with Tracy, and it ended with Tracy pulling a knife on her. My grandmother feared her ever since.
At seventeen, Tracy fell pregnant so she dropped out of high school and married her boyfriend at the time. My grandmother attended the wedding but that was the last time she saw her.
They had Nicole, and a few years later, Tracy had Chrissa, and then the older Frankie. Growing up, Tracy had what I would call different rules when it came to Nicole.
For starters, Nicole wasn’t allowed to eat when Tracy wasn’t home. She wasn’t allowed to hang out with friends. She was the one who was responsible for all the chores in the house. And if Nicole didn’t follow these rules, there would be repercussions. These rules did not apply to the other two siblings: Chrissa and Frankie.
Tracy would have Chrissa report back to her at the end of the day like her little spy and question Chrissa in regards to Nicole’s obedience. And when Chrissa would confess that Nicole did eat, that she did see her friends, or that she slacked off on washing the dishes, Tracy would beat her black and blue. Some days, she would ask her boyfriend at the time (this was a different one) to beat her instead with his belt and possibly other items, but I asked my grandmother to spare me the details.
I was appalled.
Suddenly my mother’s lack of affection for me made sense. She’d always told me she never wanted a girl. And now I know it was because of her sister. But I still didn’t understand as to why my mother and Tracy suddenly stopped talking again when she’d been so overjoyed a week ago.
A few years later, I asked my mother for the reason why, and she claimed that my father and Tracy had slept together behind her back (my parents were divorced when she told me this, but had still been together when I met Tracy).
When questioned about this, my father denied it immediately. He instead told me that the reason Tracy hated my grandfather so much was because he raped her when she was a little girl. He said he knew because Tracy and him were supposedly “friends” and that she was “a good person.”
I couldn't imagine someone who had tried to kill my grandmother and almost starved my cousin to death as a good person. But nevertheless, the idea of my grandfather possibly raping Tracy bothered me. So I pressed my mother about the topic, and she became enraged with the accusation.
To this day I'm not sure if either of their claims are true.
Was I ashamed of Tracy? Yes, very much so.
Am I still ashamed of her? 100%.
But I’d be lying if I said I wouldn’t give the world to talk to her again.
She's still my aunt, after all.

Yes! I hired this guy; my boss and I both interviewed him. He was clean-cut, articulate, knowledgeable. We were suitably impressed and offer him more money than normal for the position. Our normal hiring date was two weeks in the future but he asked for four weeks because he had to give notice at his old job and then move from four states away with his wife and their four babies,who happened to be quadruplets . No problem.
On the start day, this guy appears. He was disheveled and had longish wild hair, a half grown beard, and crazy eyes. He didn’t even sound like the same guy. But he claimed to be. We started his orientation and he didn’t seem to be paying much attention but he got thru the quizzes with flying colors. Okay. Still skeptical, we put him to shadowing an experienced call center agent. She reported back to us that he was word inattentive. She told us he said he was ready to take calls on his own by the second day. (Normally we did a minimum of five days, but oh well.) so he started taking calls. He really was a superstar. On his fifth day there we turned him loose to work on his own. I audited his calls heavily and he didn’t miss a beat. I checked his documentation of calls in the call center tool and it was near-perfect. At the end of day five, I did the usual check-in with him about how the job was going and etc. he said everything was fine. He seemed more like the guy we’d hired than we’d seen before. I finally asked him what was going on. He said, we spent 4 day’s moving cross country with four babies, two full cars and pulling a u-haul trailer. We split the babies up every day,two for each of us because four was just too much to handle, especially with the two cats and three dogs. They had gotten in Saturday and had Sunday to unpack. Anything they wanted, they couldn’t locate. He couldn’t find his razor or any of his work clothes. He didn’t have time to get a haircut but he’d do all those things this coming weekend. Now I believed he was the same guy we hired. Monday morning he showed up how we’d been expecting.
But it was kinda eye opening for us. Good lesson.

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