Wednesday, September 25, 2013

The King's Vampire

One of my teachers in high school claimed to have been babysitter to a young Stephen King. He told us that even as a boy, the best-selling author of horror was a "weirdo." I wasn't completely convinced that his claim to have known Mr. King was true because he was drunk most days of the week, and therefore spent the better part of class time wandering between moods of nostalgia, indifference, and belligerence, and lecturing us accordingly.

I read a lot as a teenager, but I didn't read any of King’s books. The made-for-TV adaptations of his works were a series of cheesy disappointments that didn't send me running for the library to check out an armful of them to read. It wasn't until a vampire drove Elizabeth into my arms that I took an interest in the "weirdo's" macabre scribblings.

The first movie Elizabeth and I watched together as we were dating was Disney’s animated version of “The Jungle Book.” Not exactly a roll-around-on-the-couch-and-make-out flick, but more a sit-close-and-hold-her-hand-to-prove-that-you-would-make-a-kind-and-sensitive-husband-and-father movie. (It worked.)

The next movie that we watched together was suggested by Elizabeth herself, with the disclaimer that it had always frightened her to a thrill. I began to realize that she wasn't anything like the girls I had been running with, and looked forward to sitting beside her when she got scared.

“Salem’s Lot” is another of King’s TV adaptations, and although it is dripping with cheese, if you watch it in the dark after the sun goes down, it leaves a mark on your soul. (You’ll please excuse the pun; David Soul of Starsky and Hutch fame stars as the hero.) There are a few terrifying moments spent with the vampire, but the best is when he confronts the family’s priest, who has come to talk sense into the teenage son that believes that a vampire has come to their small town. Moments after the mother tells her son that “nightmares seem real,” the creature rises from the floor like a black curtain of death hoisted by Satan himself. The pale undead skin of the vampire’s face stretches tight over his ancient skull, his eyes glow bright yet lifeless, and his fangs appear as a work of disgusting, terrible, yellow beauty.

Elizabeth sought shelter in my puny arms, and I have loved that vampire ever since.

After watching “Salem’s Lot,” I read a lot of Stephen King’s books. I liked most of them, and learned a greater appreciation for him as a writer. Prolific, yes, terrifying, yes, twisted, most definitely; the drunken declarations of my High School teacher seemed very plausible. Stephen King was most certainly a weirdo, but he was a weirdo that I could admire.

Years later, Elizabeth began to tire of my own constant and vocal wishing to someday become a writer. The trouble was that I almost never wrote, and when I did it never amounted to more than a page of dreadful musings. Having no writing discipline, I had no claim to the title of writer.

That all changed in a moment, however, on the day that Elizabeth said to me, “Would you please either start writing, or shut up about becoming a writer!?”

Her words were not harsh in their honest delivery, but still I felt hurt and humiliated for a moment, before realizing that she was right. I didn't start writing, but I did take to thinking more about the actual writing process and promised myself that I would start writing very soon. I just needed more time.

But I wasn't allowed any more time. Elizabeth didn't stop with her demand that I pen up or shut up. She found a local writing group that met every month at the Wiggin Memorial Library in Stratham, New Hampshire.

And then she had the nerve to make me join it.

I wrote a story about "durt" and the group loved it, in spite of it being almost fifteen pages of terrible writing. They voiced their praise along with a few edits, and in one hit the writing group became a drug. I couldn't wait for the month to pass so that I could get my next fix. I started to write almost every day, even if it was just a few lines at a time.

Still, Elizabeth didn't stop there. She also bought me a book; a book about writing, written by Stephen King. More a memoir than an instructional text on how to become a writing legend, the book put my dream into perspective and inspired me to keep at it. I was encouraged to learn that Stephen King had not just fallen out of the black sky at midnight with an armful of pre-written best-sellers and a fat stack of cash in his backpack.

No, he didn't succeed out of nowhere; he labored at it. He wrote. And wrote. And wrote. And while he wrote he lived, and while he lived he worked, suffered, loved, laughed, cried, survived, and went a little crazy. But through it all, he wrote. Even after being hit by a car and suffering debilitating injuries that left many unsure as to his continued success as a best-selling powerhouse, he wrote.

So I kept on writing. And while I wrote, I lived, and while I lived, I suffered, loved, laughed-you get the idea.

Then Jared died.

So I wrote. And went a little crazy.

Crazy enough that it came time to move. We needed to find some happy in a new and unfamiliar place, a place where we could drive for miles without passing the dark forest where we had found Jared. But halfway through our move west, with houses nearly sold and bought, I started to panic at the thought of leaving a successful business, a beloved neighborhood, and a number of dear friends for a new life which promised no certainty other than challenge. Elizabeth's response over the phone while house-hunting 2,500 miles away left me with no doubt that we were doing the right thing.

“If we don’t go for it now, we never will,” she declared, adding, “I want you to come to Oakley and take a break. No job, no worries, just writing,” she said.

“But-“ I began to worry at once.

“No buts!” Elizabeth sliced my worry in half with a gentle shout. “We’ll make it work. I’ll find a couple of jobs if I have to. Enough already; you need to finish this book! If you don’t finish it now, you won’t ever finish it, and then you’ll always wonder if you could have done it, and so many people will never hear Jared's story,” she concluded.

So we moved to Oakley. I finished the book. It’s called “Westof Independence.” That’s it in the picture, sitting on a library shelf beside one of Stephen King's.

So I write, but not to have my book(s) beside Stephen King’s. I write because I love to, even when it’s hard to. I write because it gives so much back to me, even when the readers are few and the sales are slow. I write because my little brother Jared died of loneliness, and I feel terrible at how I treated him, believing that he would always come back to hug me and hang out with me in spite of my abuse, self-righteousness, and callous indifference to his suffering. I write because I want my kids to know that no matter how impossible your dream, you have to try, because if you don’t try you have already failed.

And I write because a vampire chased a beautiful woman into my arms.

Thank-you Mr. King.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Affirmation Repayment Plan

I do not belong here, and these are not my people. They don’t want to read my book, and they are too wrapped up in their own moments to share one with me. How did I let Elizabeth talk me into this?

These were just a few of my nervous thoughts as I sat behind my assigned table at the Affirmation conference for LBGT Mormons and their families this past Saturday. Tucked back into a corner, further away from the foot traffic than most ware peddlers would want to be, the seclusion of my location was quickly becoming a comfort. I watched as gays and lesbians passed by on their way to workshops and speakers that were surely far more informative and experienced than myself and what I had to offer. Most of them were well-dressed men with perfect hair and broad smiles, and all of them appeared to be content, even confident, as they walked gaily past my table without so much as a glance.

There were a few that stopped (perhaps out of pity) to look at the photos of Jared, the Tribune article, and the reviews that Elizabeth had printed out and slipped into brand new clear acrylic display frames. I sat with my Mac on my lap, ticking away at what I hope will be my next book, trying to look legitimate and qualified as an author while feeling crippled with inadequacy. Unlike my father, who could sell life insurance to the already dead, I am not a good salesman.

I got a bump around 10:00 am when Carol Lynn Pearson, who was speaking at the conference, came and met me. She has been reading “West of Independence,” and to have such a giant among writers and poets hug me and tell me that I was doing a good work was rewarding, a real dream come true.

But soon after Carol’s visit the morning was dragging on, and were it not for my two fellow table-bound peddlers David Moore from Safe and Sound and fellow author Jeff Laver and the deep discussion we shared about so many things including God, gays, and redemption, I would have lost all hope, gathered up my wares, and left for good.

At last Elizabeth returned from the “Out of the Darkness Walk,” which she had done in memory of Jared. With her she brought me some sustenance, and not just in the form of food. She has long been my buoy, keeping my pessimistic head above water when all I see about me are heavy seas and wind driven rains. We eventually sold all but two of the copies we had brought with us, and handed out several “West of Independence” information cards. Things are always better with Elizabeth beside me.

The evening events started with a social hour, and the large room quickly filled to capacity with happy, smiling, eating gays and lesbians, some with parents and siblings, others with partners and friends, and still others with their adopted children. Elizabeth and I sat amidst the cheerful banter and watched as people connected and reconnected all around us. I felt a bit like Mr. Scrooge looking through frosted windows at happy Christmas families, wishing to be a part of the celebration but somehow unable to knock on the glass and selfishly draw their attention.

The social hour ended, and a testimony meeting began. For those not acquainted with the LDS faith, this is a meeting that is typically held once a month within each congregation. It is a chance for those who feel so inclined and inspired to stand up and share what they know and feel and believe to be true.  In this particular testimony meeting, I sat and listened as people stood and wept, overcome with emotion in a moment that for many was the first time they had felt able to bear their testimony in years. (Many gays and lesbians have been dis-fellowshipped or even excommunicated from the church, while others fear isolation should they stand and share their true selves with fellow members.)

I wanted nothing more during that hour than to stand and share Jared’s story, and to ask them for his forgiveness by proxy. My back began to ache with the stress of it, and I stood in order to pace at the back of the room. As a young man from South Africa stood to share his personal convictions and hope for the future, I felt crash over me a powerful wave of embarrassment at the realization that I have many times taken for granted the opportunities I have to worship, to learn, to serve, and most of all, to fit in at church. Rather than take time away from those that had been given the rare opportunity to stand and share their feelings, I chose to pace at the back and wish away a past that I cannot change.

During the very moving testimony of a man from South Africa, I recalled a particular moment of my past that has haunted me for more than two decades, and felt a tear-filled compulsion to send a letter of apology to my older brother.

The moment went like this: My brother (I call him Harrison in the book) and I were arguing about something quite forgettable in the upstairs hallway of our home in Connecticut. I had recently discovered the fact that he had “decided” to be gay. Pride and anger dictated that I had to win the argument, and so I uttered with great disdain a word that I knew would cut him to the quick.


Cut him to the quick it did; I saw defeat and despair in my brother’s eyes. Over the next several years my behavior towards my two gay brothers followed suit.

Standing and pacing at the back of that testimony meeting, I realized that I had never truly apologized to Harrison for that moment. I left the meeting and made for my table of solitude.

The evening program was about to begin, and people began to once again pass by the peddler’s tables. A woman approached my display, and after a moment stated that she would like to buy a copy.

“Do you have change?” She asked, pulling a fifty from her bra.

“There’s something about a woman that keeps money in her bra,” I remarked.

“Can you trust such a woman?” She asked.

“I’d probably trust her more for it,” I replied while counting out her change, grateful for the light-hearted moment.

I carried the last copy of my book into the large conference room and sat beside Elizabeth. We began the meeting with a standing congregational hymn entitled “The Spirit of God.” It was loud, and it was proud! I began to feel a comfortable welcome creep into my veins.

A man wearing a Hawaiian lei stood at the pulpit and recited a blessing in his island tongue. He then spoke about his first Affirmation conference some thirty-plus years ago, and the immediate feeling of belonging that he had felt for the very first time as a gay Mormon. It was very moving, but he didn't stop there. He then remembered and spoke the names of some old friends that had since passed away, and invited anyone who wished to stand and speak the names of loved ones gone but not forgotten. Without so much as a hint of trepidation, I stood in turn and with what I hoped was enough conviction and power to mask the complete sadness I felt at having to do so said aloud, “I remember my little brother Jared.”

As many others stood to remember loved ones, it became clear to me that Jared was not alone; he was not the only one who had taken his life after suffering rejection, confusion, and depression because he was gay.

The feeling of comfortable welcome was more than creeping now, it was rushing.

The program continued, and a woman named Judy Finch spoke to us about her own trials and joys of being a mother and grandmother to gay boys and men. It was of some comfort to hear that her own initial reaction to such a challenge had been similar to mine, but the greater comfort came upon hearing that time, faith, experience, and love had eventually won the day. She is now a pillar among the people, a champion for the good cause, and a true example of loving motherhood. A remarkable woman indeed.

The evening continued, and Steve Young (yes, that Steve Young) spoke. Being a Cowboys fan, I can still respect all that the man has accomplished on the field, but I honestly had no idea that he was such a true champion off the field. He spoke candidly about his own fears, his own weaknesses, and his own trials, and how he has learned to turn them into strengths. He spoke of “throwing without knowing,” which was something he had to do many times because at 6 feet (and three quarters) he was much shorter than many other great quarterbacks, and was therefore unable to see his receivers. He confessed that one of his greatest moments was hearing a stadium filled with opposing fans settle into silence as he lay underneath hundreds of pounds of defensive players; the pass he had thrown in faith as he went down had been caught to win the game. He was humble, honest, and hilarious, and I admire him for the good work that he does.

And then Barb Young, Steve’s wife spoke. Beautiful does not describe her, inside or out; she stood up and glowed. Her love and spirit were tangible; they seemed to fill the room. I somewhat irreverently pictured her warmth piercing the hearts of everyone in attendance, like the lightning at the end of “Raider’s of the Lost Ark” but in a good and kindly way. She moved us all from laughter to tears and back again, sharing her deep feelings of love, admiration, and hope for her beloved LGBT family.  What a pinnacle moment, to hear her share her convictions and love with such energy and sincerity.

To conclude the meeting we stood and held hands while singing the children's song “Love One Another.” I held Elizabeth’s hand and felt her tremble when the tears came. I thought back to growing up beside my sweet little brother and how as we grew older I had not lived the words of the song, in spite of a constant self-assurance that in rejecting him I was in fact, loving him. I bowed my head under the weight of a familiar sadness, lost in grief for a moment.

And then I looked up and around the room. I saw hundreds of people holding hands and singing words of love with powerful yet gentle conviction. My eyes were suddenly wet with happy tears, and I felt sure that Jared knew my heart. I felt sure that I belonged there in that moment, singing words that had never before meant so much to me.

The meeting ended with a prayer of hope, and people began to mill about and chat before reluctantly saying goodbye. I watched a mob descend upon the Youngs. They were all smiles and hugs, posing for photos and chatting quite comfortably with everyone who approached them. Elizabeth and I sat there for a few minutes, wondering if we were going to do the same, when we saw a break in the wall of people that had rushed to greet and thank Judy Finch. We stood and made our way over, hoping to thank her for her words. I carried under my arm the last copy “West of Independence,” with the thought of possibly gifting it to Barb Young should I suddenly become courageous enough to approach her.

Judy Finch was an absolute doll. She took our hands and thanked us for being there, and we traded kind words and smiles before she asked what had brought us to the conference. I shared with her our story and told her about "West of Independence." She saw it under my arm, took it from me gently, and asked if she could buy it. I gifted it to her immediately. She asked for a way to contact me after she had finished reading it, to let me know what she thought. We said our thanks and goodbyes, but before leaving I had to share one more thought with her.

“I’m not gay,” I said, “but I have to say it; your hair is fabulous! You are a silver fox!” And she is.

We milled about the room some more, and I finally met John Gustav-Wrathall, who was a source of inspiration and comfort in the months following Jared’s death. His powerful testimony and endless service to others are benevolent forces to be reckoned with, and his words and faith blessed our lives in a time of great trial. I am sure that I was unable to communicate that effectively to him, but perhaps he will read this someday and know what he has meant to Elizabeth and to me.

Elizabeth then sent me over to meet a woman named Wendy Williams Montgomery while she stayed put in order to meet Barb Young. I walked shyly across the room and stood alone outside the circle of people that were hugging, laughing, and taking photos with a woman whose love for her gay Mormon son roars like a lion. After a few minutes I gathered up my courage and reached out to touch her shoulder.

“My wife sent me over here to meet you,” I said. “She says that you read my book after meeting her on Facebook.”

She had read it, and she loved it. I was in a weird way honored to hear her tell me that it moved her to tears. She pulled her husband Thomas over to meet me.

“Remember that book that I read, the one that made me bawl my eyes out? He wrote it,” she said by way of introduction to a man with whom I can relate in more ways than one, and hope to get to know better one day.

We chatted away like old friends, and I loved them both in an instant. Elizabeth made her way over for a hug and some happy conversation, and we took a photo together. They are special people; their courage as parents is infectious, and they will long serve as an example of unconditional love.

From there Elizabeth and I moved closer to Steve Young. The crowd around him was much smaller now, comprised of just a few men.

“How was Barb?” I asked, while waiting for a window.

“She was sweet, I am glad that I met her,” Elizabeth admitted.

“Screw it, I’m doing this,” I finally said, making my way over to shake Steve’s hand.

And to tell him that I am a Cowboys fan.

(Personal Note: when meeting a Super Bowl MVP and star quarterback, there is no need to inform him that you are not a fan…)

I recovered quickly by telling him that my Uncle Freddie “The Giant” had been a huge Forty-Niners fan.
And then I went in for the hug. Yes, I hugged Steve Young without warning.

“Hey look, six feet tall,” I then said like an idiot, waving my hand over both our heads.

I am pretty certain that Elizabeth made in that moment a conscious decision to keep me clear of heroes and celebrities.

But she did let me meet one more, and I am grateful. I walked over towards Barb Young with confidence, and then melted into a six foot tower of warm candle wax as I approached her. I felt like an idiot, out of place and naked. I stepped forward nonetheless, and was greeted by her dynamic, even explosive smile.

“I just wanted to thank you for your example,” I think I said.

She said something in reply, but my ears were burning with red-hot intensity as they often do when I am nervous, and so I can’t be sure of what she said.

I managed to tell her that I was like her friend, a former “sign-pounder.” In her talk, Barb had told the story of her Mormon friend from California that had pounded a “Yes on Prop 8” sign into her front yard. This sign pounder had subsequently learned a valuable lesson of love from her lesbian neighbors when she came to them literally on her knees and weeping to ask for their forgiveness when Prop 8 passed. They had held her close, forgiven her, and told her “all that matters is this moment.”

I told Barb about Jared’s suicide, my great shame, and my hope for redemption through “West of Independence.” Her reaction was unforgettable; she took my face in both her hands, her eyes conveying an empathy that I have not often seen in others.

Tears welled in my eyes as she said, “All that matters is this moment.”

We shared a hug, and I thanked her. I walked over to Elizabeth, and was at once welcomed into yet another happy conversation with friends that I hadn't yet met.

And then it struck me.

I had started out that morning feeling alone, unwanted, and afraid, surrounded by strangers that belonged with each other. I had watched them, envious at the comfortable way that they gathered together in a purpose that they loved and in which they believed. The isolation that I had experienced was but a fraction of what these same people often felt whenever they dared cross the threshold of their local Mormon churches in order to worship, learn, and grow.

I was lucky; it had only taken a few hours for me to be accepted, welcomed, loved, and taught by these wonderful people, while they have waited for years to enjoy the same from a church that they patiently love. And their wait goes on. I felt like a thief, having taken from them more than I think is possible to repay.

But I have to try, because all that matters is this moment.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Shadows Land

The following is a chapter from West of Independence. It conveys a pivotal moment in my life. It is a moment that I cannot take back, a moment that casts a shadow over who I am. I can't say with any amount of certainty that had I acted differently, had I been a better man, had I reached out with love, Jared would still be here today. What I can say with absolute certainty is that I would not have known the terrible regret, shame, and self-loathing that accompanied (and clouded) my grief, loss, and sadness when my little brother Jared took his own life.

This Saturday I will be taking part in the "Out of the Darkness Walk." But no matter how far I walk, I know that I have to do it under the shadow of how I treated Jared.

Chapter 14: January 1995

“Is Jared gay?” Our friend Jessica’s question more than caught me off guard. It struck away my powers of speech and thought.

My mouth hung open and wordless in reply, my eyes wide and unfocused. After an awkward moment, I managed to pry the lid of my brain open, and let slip the first thought to escape.

“No, he just dresses well.” I blurted.

“But you don’t think he’s gay?” Jessica pressed.

“No, he’s not gay, my older brother Harrison is,” I offered, as though it were both an excuse and a compromise.

There could be no more amount of gay in my life. Harrison had already laid claim to the one gay spot allotted our family.

“And that means Jared can’t be gay? Do you really believe that? I would think that one gay brother increases the odds, wouldn't you?” With her first question Jessica had pressed the knife between my ribs. Her second question twisted it.

“I would know if he were gay, he would tell me. He’s my brother.” The look in my eyes closed the door on any further discussion, and Jessica dropped the subject.

That night, in the darkness of our bedroom, I asked Ella what she thought of Jessica’s line of questioning.

“Would it matter if Jared were gay?” She countered, avoiding a direct answer while quietly laying the burden of any response to Jessica’s question at my feet. I had been hoping for reassurance from her that Jared was straight.

I didn't answer her question that night, and in time the topic was pushed aside by the worries of life.

Several days later I returned home after a long day of dirty carpets to find Jared and Ella sitting together, tears in their eyes and tissues in their hands. The closing credits to a movie rolled up the TV screen. I took a few steps across the room and picked up the video case sitting on top of it. The movie was called “Shadowlands” and starred Debora Winger and Anthony Hopkins.

“Matthew, you have got to watch this movie.” This came from Ella, a runny-nose sound to her voice.

“Why? You don’t look very happy after having watched it.”

“No, Matthew, she’s right. You should watch it,” Jared said.

“Isn't this movie about C.S. Lewis, the guy that wrote ‘The Chronicles of Narnia?’ Doesn't he die at the end? No thanks, I don’t want to watch a sad movie about death,” I laughed.

“Don’t laugh! Yes it’s sad, but it’s also beautiful. And for your information he doesn't die, his wife does.” Ella wiped her nose, dropping the tissue into a pile already on the floor.

“He finds the one true love that he always wanted, and they are so happy together. Then she gets sick and dies, and he is lost without her. I want to have love like that someday, to find someone I’d be lost without.” The look on Jared’s tear streaked face told me that to poke any more fun at the movie would be a mistake.

I dismissed Jared’s usage of the term “someone.” I was unwilling to entertain any more thoughts about him being gay, and was not about to ask him about it directly. I went to take a shower, and by the time I came out the movie and its case had been hidden away.

We continued to live, work, and play together, the three of us enjoying the limited freedom that comes from living on an hourly wage far away from the pressures of family.


Note: Today is "World Suicide Prevention Day." Let it be the day that you decide to always act out of love rather than fear and ignorance, so that when your moment arrives you will be ready.

Take it from me; once that shadow lands, it never leaves.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Reading About Me

The large auditorium was filled with tables, every table was filled with books, and every book was filled with words. My two sons and I wandered about, picking and browsing our way through it all. We had been at the Park City Library book sale for about twenty minutes when it happened.

“Dad, come here,” Caleb said, his hand reaching out and pulling lightly on my arm.

I turned, and found myself facing a familiar and very formidable enemy: Self-Doubt.

Caleb’s presence crackled beside me as I reached out and picked a copy of my own book, “West of Independence” from the table of books in front of us.  It felt heavy in my hand, so much so that the bones in my forearm threatened to snap under its weight. My heart dropped into my gut, and the air around me grew thick with the syrup of dread. I suddenly found it difficult to breath.

“Bad enough to see it here, but please don’t let it be the library’s copy,” I prayed without words as I peeled back the cover.

It wasn't, but that did little to keep my spirit from slipping further down the treacherous slope of failure towards the dark and depressive despair waiting below.

Standing beside me was one of my biggest fans, one of the four living people that I hate to disappoint. In the long moment that followed, I wondered what it meant for Caleb to watch me pluck my work from a library book sale table; did he feel sorry for me? Would this be the moment that changed forever the way he felt about his father? Was I as much a failure in his eyes as I was in mine?

I swallowed hard and said aloud with feigned confidence, “Someone must have read it, and then donated it to the library for the book sale. That’s nice.”

I stuck the book between two large hardcovers that I had already picked from another table. I didn't want anyone to see my picture on the back cover and feel sorry for me.

“Are you going to buy it?” Caleb asked.

“Sure, why not? I’ll buy it and sell it to someone else, or your mom can send it to someone for a review,” I answered, turning away so that my son would not see the forced optimism in my eyes.

I wandered in and out of the tables, trying to ignore the heavy burden I carried with me. Within the short course of a few minutes, I had rifled through piles of my favorite authors, looking for anything they had written that I hadn't read.

And then it hit me…I was rifling through books written by my favorite authors, in the same book sale where my son had found a copy of mine! I felt my self-worth claw its way back to the top of that slippery slope and up over the edge. Exhausted, he lay on his back and sucked in the sweet air of victory.

Between the three of us, we picked out two bags of books. Together we made our way to the checkout table, where a woman offered to help us tally what we owed. I emptied the first bag and handed over the stack of books.

“Do you have to pay for it if you wrote it?” I asked, a joke in my tone.

“Oh? Did you write one of these?”

“Yes, I wrote that one,” I said, pointing at “West ofIndependence.”

“Oh my, I've been reading about you, and I have been wanting to read this!” The woman exclaimed, dropping my fellow authors onto the table so that she could cradle my work in her hands.

“Well, that’s kind of you to say, let me buy it and I will give it to you,” I offered.

“Oh, no, I want to buy it. Would you sign it for me?”

So I did. With my sons watching.

Suck it, Self-Doubt.