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Joanna Manning is a graduate of Syracuse University and the Rainier Writing Workshop.

Her work has appeared in the Tacoma News Tribune, Travel Tacoma + Pierce County, Seattle Metropolitan Magazine Women's Health Annual, A River & Sound Review, Collateral and in content marketing materials all around the web. 

When she is not spending time with her family, she can be found working in her garden, staring off into space, burning dinner, or unearthing stories from her family history.

A question of nature

A question of nature

So we begin here, in this hospital room. Or do we begin in North Carolina, in the birthing room of my grandfather, who was likely brought into the world in his family home, older siblings peering in at their mother howling, wide-eyed with curiosity and fear?

Or do we begin with me, with the birth of my son, whose arrival ushered in an unbidden but pressing need to know—if nothing else—what his genetic heritage might be?

This is the problem of beginnings: they hinge on an ending that is already known, with a hero who has returned from his journey inexorably changed. What he evolved from is the origin of his story. But what happens when both the beginning and ending are a mystery, when it's difficult to determine just who the hero might be?

What is the story I want to tell you? What is the one you want to hear? Would it trouble you to know that we all will play both the villain and hero in our own lives? It just depends on who is telling the story.

On the rare occasion that anyone mentioned John Laubscher, he was always described as an abusive drunk, a claim that I had taken as fact since it could provide some context for his decision to leave, could even make a blessing of his absence. Those boys are better off without him everyone might have said--I might have even said, had I known to at the time.

Better off. I bristle at that now, given what I know of the story's end. All three of the boys were burdened by the weight of their father's absence, succumbing to drug and alcohol abuse to numb the pain of that first and most devastating rejection.

Better off indeed. 

It's prescription that worries me about my grandfather’s story, that these roles we play, that the best and worst of our own nature are somehow beyond our control, encoded in our genes, in a switch that might flip on against our will.

Take this, for example: Depression and addiction have plagued me just as they have my father and his brothers and, it would seem, their father before them. Was this the inevitable course of some rogue gene bent on immortality? And if this is the case—that we are inherently flawed in a way that our long-suffering mothers and dutiful fathers cannot cure with their nurturing—which is broken in us: the mind or the will? Can you blame me for wondering what follows from this legacy?

Or this one?

 
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Is it more of the same? Are we cast in a mold, fully formed, or are we tossed into the fire and forged into the shapes we take?


 

In the beginning

In the beginning

Into the flames: Red's story

Into the flames: Red's story