True Life Stories


My name is John. This site is about my family, my friends, and my life.

This old Polaroid is the only photo I have of all of us together (c.1976)

My sister Kim and I were born into the middle of our parents’ ups and downs, sometimes feeling like the luckiest kids in the world, and sometimes just hanging on for dear life, wishing we were anywhere but where we were.

I’ve asked myself why I should feel the need to tell such a personal story about my parents and my family. It just keeps coming back to me like this: I miss them and I want them back somehow – sometimes just the way we used to be. It’s impossible of course, but that hardly matters to a nostalgic heart. That feeling of nostalgia ends briefly,  soon followed by a sober second thought: the realization that my parents were deeply flawed, marred by addiction and unmanaged mental illness. As I’ve grown older (and hopefully wiser), I’ve come to learn that every family deals with some kind of trauma. Some families rally their spirit and stay together, and some families just break up.

A huge early motivation for this project was to recreate what I once felt being a son with a sister, a mother, and a father. In sentimental moments, I used to catch myself cursing time for perpetually stranding me in the future. I’ve often wished that I could go back in time and re-live certain events.

I honestly believe that no substantial love can exist without enduring some pain or sacrifice. That’s my early life conditioning and values talking, and that’s how love played itself out for me over my first twenty years. For me, everything sweet seems to be accompanied by something bitter.

Finding a Tone

This project is an exploration of the past itself, mixed in with a current point of view. It’s like a dream where you’re in the dream playing a role and yet remain aware of the role-playing aspect, observing yourself from afar, and wondering where the dream will go next. It’s kind of like being a voyeur in your own mind,and for every voyeur, observation is the key.

I also have found myself feeling conflicted within my emotions. It can be difficult to know how to write about someone when you love them for some of their best qualities, yet have suffered due to their worst actions or neglect. Do you love them more or hate them more? Real life doesn’t provide such fixed points of view, and the big challenge seems to be to separate the person from their actions. Instead of judging a person as being “good” or “bad”, you judge their actions as good or bad, from within the context of their situation.

Every story has a voice that at some level is narrating to you as you read. In this site, that voice is mine, but to keep things simplest, I am going to write using the voice, knowledge and perspective that I possessed at the time that each story occurred. The “John” to whom those things happened didn’t have the perspective he did in later years. I’ll try to  leave it to you to decide if my voice is genuine or not.

What motivates this project?

As a child, I observed my family and always wondered why we acted as we did. Were other families like ours or were they all perfect like I suspected? Were we that different from everybody else? These were the questions I asked when life didn’t make sense – the really big questions, like “Who am I and why am I here?”, or “Why did this happen to me?”

So why tell a story anyway? Why don’t I just find the answers I’m looking for and be done with it? It seemed all too easy to back away from the fear of rejection or “giving away too much”. It would have been so much easier to just trivialize events or say that they weren’t important enough to write about – that a big project like this could never be done.

When I re-read something I’d written after my mother’s death in March of 1995, the whole reason for this project seemed so clear:

“I wanted to get these words down… so that they aren’t forgotten or blurred by the further passage of time. I’m only 29 now, a young man by most standards, but I’ve always felt much older than my years. No matter what form these writings finally take, I hope they can help open some other eyes. Mine are open enough.

Many people have asked me how my sister and I survived our childhood relatively unscathed. Well the scars are there, under the skin. It’s taken me a long time to deal with my own problems and realize how “different” our family was. I, the dutiful son, spent so much time doing damage control and taking care of business that I was not seeing the bigger patterns that I was trapped in. …I have only recently begun to see that the children of alcoholics have as many or more problems as their alcoholic parents.”

Our Dad died in 1989, and when our Mum died in 1995, our immediate family was reduced to just my sister Kim and me. That was when I felt the strongest need to start writing it all down. I wanted to leave a record of everything all in one place. I was ready to trace that elusive little white thread back through time as far as I could, and then come all the way back out again, bringing along everything that I found.

When I first decided to do this project, memories and verbal history alone seemed too transient and impermanent. I needed to create something that would tie all the loose ends together and present a more cohesive, permanent record; something that my uncles, aunts, nieces, nephews, and friends could learn from. I suppose in a way I’m still playing the dutiful son doing something for my family – there’s just not that much direct family left anymore. I guess it’s kind of like constructing a memorial.

I’d be fooling myself if I didn’t admit that this writing and documentation is probably some weird kind of therapy for me. I’ve always shuddered at the thought of seeking counseling or professional advice, as though I didn’t want to admit I needed someone else’s help. And yet, I have had the benefit of friends, most of all my wife who is my best friend in the world.

This is a long-term, ongoing effort and will undoubtedly take many years to complete. Fortunately, I have a lot of raw material to work from. My father, James Evan Love, was an excellent verbal story teller and it is primarily because of him that I know as much as I do about his and my mother’s lives and experiences. My maternal grandfather, Ernest Huntley Clarke, was an enthusiastic and prolific amateur photographer who recorded a great deal of my mother and grandmother with still and moving photography. There are also letters, clippings, obituary notices, postcards, a diary, a great Aunt’s address book, and many other odds and ends that all represent pieces of an enormous puzzle. The trouble is, I don’t know what the puzzle is supposed to look like when (if) it’s completed.

Lastly, there are my own memories, for which I make no great claims of objectivity or accuracy. I can only use them and a little detective work and speculation to fill in the missing pieces.

Where’s it going?

By publishing this project myself on the web, I’m able to treat it as a living document which can always be updated, corrected, or abridged. So, the story isn’t over, the memories aren’t set in stone, and I’m not sure if “True Life” will ever actually be “finished”.

Using the web also allows me to create something that is more interactive than a book. “True Life” is more of a combination of journal, scrapbook, photo album, and family tree. Maybe it can even become something of a community, with its own residents, history, and character.

This is my web shrine to real people and real events. In that spirit, maybe this site will help me to connect with others, and hear their true life stories.

E. John Love
August, 1998


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The memoir and family history of E. John Love