Michael the Archangel

Black eye, 3rd day

Black eye, 3rd day (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A chance meeting through a friend of a friend.  Our eyes met across a crowded room (well, I think there were five of us).  Soon we became the perfect little hippie couple.   At the end of it all,  I would be completely mad.  It would take a decade to fight my way back from a pit of despair so deep that’s it’s a miracle I survived it at all.  And oddly enough, the madness would start with an invitation to a Tupperware party.  To this day, I don’t like Tupperware parties…but I digress.

I thought he was gorgeous (they always seem to be gorgeous).  Michael.  I thought of him as Michael the Archangel.  He was poetic and spiritual.  He was calming.  He was smart. He took over the parts of my life that I couldn’t seem to manage on my own.  Everyone around us seemed to be as drawn to him as I was.  My Svengali.

He talked me into moving away, making the break from Los Angeles and most of my friends and family.  Technically still a teenager, I felt like a grown-up, striking out on my own.  Only I wasn’t alone.  I was with Michael the Archangel.

The first time it happened we were walking down the street talking.  The conversation seemed to be going well enough, although I had been feeling more and more uncomfortable with the topics he brought up.  Lately he had been telling me about his foray into white magic.  At times he didn’t make any sense at all.  At other times, I felt a definite darkness in my spirit, as if someone had turned off the lights.

“Do you believe in reincarnation?” he asked.  It seemed like an innocent enough question at the time.  I didn’t sense a set-up or anything.  But I already knew I had better say, “yes,” so I did.  “Well, I’m Jesus Christ reincarnated.”  My breath caught in my throat and I stopped, turning to face him.   “Yeah, right,” I said.

I didn’t even see it coming, an explosion of pain and blackness.  My face went numb and I thought my eye had popped out of its socket.  I screamed.  Horrified, I tried to run, but he caught up to me and pulled me by my blouse.  I thought someone would have had to hear the crack when his fist landed on my face and I hoped someone would come out of their house and rescue me, but the silence, other than the barking of a dog, was deafening.  Suddenly, a beautiful sunny summer day turned gray.

“I ran into the kitchen cupboard,” I later lied to my friends.  They just stared at my face and turned away.  I wanted them to know I was lying, confront me with it, and demand an explanation.  I wanted someone to take charge and hide us somewhere safe.  But no one did, and I kept silent, and I was 360 miles away from home.

Once you tell your first lie, the first time you lie for him, you are in it with him, and then you are lost.

Anita Shreve, Strange Fits of Passion

There was calm after that storm but it was just the eye of the hurricane.  One night soon after, I was beaten while the soundtrack of “A Clockwork Orange” played in the background.  I was left with lumps all over my head that were covered by my hair.   A friend didn’t believe I had been hurt at all because my face looked fine. Resigned, I went back home.  And of course, that wasn’t the worst of it.

I tried to spend my days taking my son to the park or long walks downtown, anything to keep us away from home as much as possible.  Every so often we would stop and I would watch him while he gathered his “collections.” I pulled these treasures out of his pockets before I did his laundry and it was one of my greatest pleasures.  I never knew what I would find; rocks, leaves, olives that had fallen off of the trees lining the street on which we lived.  He was a little over two-years-old and so funny already.  One day, I flipped a cigarette into the street.  “Does that look like an ashtray?” he quipped.  I laughed out loud and stared at him. He’s only two and he’s already got our family’s sarcastic sense of humor!  I felt so proud to be his mom.  Somehow, I had to get us out of there; somehow I had to save us.

Soon I was pregnant again and leaving was out of the question.  There was no way my parents would take me in again and all my friends were Michael’s as well.  I was awakened one night to find the police in my living room.  A friend had called them after Michael had slit his wrists and smeared his blood all over the walls, throughout the house.  The police coaxed him off of our property by telling him the neighbors wanted to ask him a question, and took him to the hospital.  It took me until dawn to wash the walls before my son woke up and saw it.

Then there was the problem of the heroin.  I watched his addiction happen just like in a film we saw in middle school.  New friends in fancy cars came by with freebies.  They made Michael feel as if they would do anything for him…best buddies.  I came home one day from a walk with my son and walked into the bedroom I had fixed up for the baby.  They were sitting cross-legged in a circle on the floor, handing each other the syringe.  A drop of blood marred the brand new crisp white of the Winnie the Pooh rug they were sitting on.  I fled to the garage, blood pounding in my ears.  I stooped forward, trying to catch my breath, hands on my swelled belly.  I suddenly knew what it was like to want to kill someone with my bare hands. I began planning our escape in earnest.

The next morning, I casually mentioned how fun it would be to move away, to begin again; to be closer to our parents and friends.  Maybe after the baby is born.  A “start-over” of sorts.  Instead, another year of hell followed me like an angry bee, sometimes stinging me, sometimes leaving me alone, but always buzzing around, too close, keeping me on my toes.  Adrenaline released into my bloodstream, attempting to keep me safe.  The trouble was, there was no where to flee…not yet.

I’m Just Sayin’

Our first clear view of Haise Baby Zero

Another hot, muggy morning in the City of Angels, smog so thick my eyes burned.  I wiped away another streak of black eyeliner running from the side of my eye and kept walking, keeping time with the jingle bells hanging from the end of the two leather strands I had fashioned into a makeshift belt.  Hitching rides had become routine.  On this particular morning, I had been hitchhiking for over an hour already, and I was tired of it, so I walked along the side of the four-lane highway, not even looking towards the cars as they whizzed by.  The heat rose off the asphalt, making waves that I could actually see.  I put my hand on my belly and shook my head, wanting to be sick in the street.  I imagined each passerby guessing my dilemma and worrying about the lone young woman on the side of the road. Unlikely.

A pink Volkswagen bus with hand painted peace signs painted all over it drove by and honked. “Sorry!  We’re full!” someone shouted from the passenger window.  I saw this was getting me nowhere so I crossed over to the other side of the freeway off-ramp, turned to face traffic and stopped, sticking my thumb out in the traditional hitchhiker’s stance.

The year was 1971 and I was on my way to the Los Angeles Free Clinic.  I was hoping against hope that my fears were unfounded; that it was some mysterious flu bug and that I was not really pregnant.  Again.

There must have been twenty-five to thirty of us in the waiting room.  There were few chairs, so most of us sat in various positions on the dirty tile floor.  I made myself small against the dingy walls, gray with the exhaled smoke from cartons of cigarettes smoked on an hourly basis.  I wanted to be sick again.

The doctor was young, and seemed caring enough.  After informing me that I was approximately 2 ½ months pregnant, he told me that if I was going to “do something” about it, it better be soon.  I did want to do something about it.  I was only eighteen-years-old and my son was only a year and a half.  The father of this baby had finally sold enough drugs to fulfill his fantasy of life halfway across the world in the Caribbean.  Who was I to ruin his plans?

Roe vs. Wade was going through the courts, so the doctor told me that I could obtain a legal abortion.  He asked me if I had any suicidal thoughts.  “No, not really,” I offered.  “Well, you need to say you are having suicidal thoughts,” he prompted.  “Oh, ok, well, yeah, I’ve had a thought or two about that these last few days,” I lied.

The next couple of weeks were a blur of appointments.  I had to see a social worker and two other doctors.  The day finally arrived and I took a taxi to the hospital for a quick D&C.  Nothing to it.  In and out.  All alone.

A week went by uneventfully, and I tried not to think about anything.  One night I woke up from the sound of someone screaming.  I felt a white-hot pain centered in my abdomen and realized the screaming was coming from me.  I clutched at my belly and began to rock myself furiously, afraid of waking up my Dad.  My mom heard me and came in to see what was wrong.  She ran back to the bedroom to get me a couple of my father’s Percodan pills.  Ah…bliss for about 3 ½ hours.  My Dad gave me more with the promise I would replace them when I got my own prescription.

The next morning, I took another taxi to the gynecologist’s office.  At first he acted like I was overreacting to normal pain.  After an examination, he discovered he had left a piece of my baby within me.  I had a terrible infection.  I told him I wanted a prescription for Percodan.  “Isn’t that a little potent?” he asked?  “It takes away the pain,” I answered, sighing.  Moron.  He seemed resigned as he wrote out the prescription.

I took another taxi home, too tired to try to hitch.  I took two Percodan and sat in the orange Naugahyde chair in my parent’s apartment for the rest of the afternoon, experiencing what it felt like to be underwater but still breathing.  I kind of liked it.  I felt no pain.  At least not the physical kind.  Another kind of pain was waiting in the wings.  When I lied to the doctor that day about my suicidal thoughts, it never occurred to me that in a few short years they would become my constant companions.

It is poverty to decide that a child must die so that you may live as you wish.
- Mother Teresa Of Calcutta

I have never forgotten those few weeks and the decision I made back then, forty-two years ago.  The other day I was with my grown daughter.  I looked at her and in a flash I saw her as a baby, then a toddler, then a young child, a pre-teen, an adolescent, and then the beautiful young woman she has become, full of promise, giving so much to the world, to her family, and to my grandsons.  I stood a little taller as I watched her.

I thought of her brothers, my sons.  My children are the deepest, most profound blessings of my life.  They give me my greatest joy.  They are each different and unique, yet we share blood, genetics, and a sense of humor that just won’t quit. I thought of that one person that is missing from my family line.  I often do.  That baby from long ago who would now be a man.  I wondered about him, who he would have been, what he would have looked like, what his voice would have sounded like, and all the missed kisses and hugs between us.  Yes, it would have been hard at the time.  But who ever said life was supposed to be easy?  I’m just sayin’.

Spare Change

English: Hitch-hiker's gesture Русский: Жест а...

English: Hitch-hiker’s gesture Русский: Жест автостопщика (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A simple choice, really.  Walk to the bottom of the hill, cross the street, and stick my thumb out to hitch south to Hermosa Beach, or, keep trudging down the hill with my arm out towards the street, my thumb hooked forward, hoping some poor soul would be turning south at the bottom of the hill anyway.

My bare feet were like leather soled shoes now, but not quite thick enough to stop the burning pavement from keeping my steps light and quick. My thoughts were molasses oozing slowly out of a jar, so I kept walking with my back to the traffic, and stuck out my thumb.

I will hail them, my brothers of the wheel, and pitch them a yarn, of the sort that has been so successful hitherto; and they will give me a lift, of course….
– Mr. Toad, The Wind in the Willows (Kenneth Grahame)

The faded blue beater car pulled over and a guy in a sweaty, white, short-sleeved shirt leaned over and yanked open the passenger door.  I jumped in.  “Thanks,” I offered.  “Going as far as Hermosa?”

I was on my way to “The Zoo” as the locals called it.  Someone had even spray-painted the words on a low wall that separated the sand near the Hermosa Beach pier from the strand, the sidewalk hundreds of people strolled every day of the year.  The wall was where the “freaks” congregated to meet, talk, exchange dope for cash, and just “be.”  It was one of my favorite places to meet people.  I didn’t know them really.  I didn’t even know their names, so I gave them names of my own, like “Mickey Mouse Watch,”  “The Poet,” and  “Freakazoid.”  I loved my new friends.  They had no demands.  They expected nothing of me.  At least most of them.

Faded blue beater car dropped me off at the corner of Pacific Coast Highway and Pier Avenue.  He grabbed my arm as I started to open the door.  “Ya wanna go somewhere?” he asked.  He had a wad of cash rolled up in a rubber band in his hand.  I yanked my arm away.  “Go buy yourself a decent car!”  I scrambled out the door and slammed it shut.  Asshole.

I walked over to the corner and began making my way through the throngs of tourists and locals already out and about.  “Spare change?  Spare change?”  “Thanks!” I said when I felt some coins in my hand.  I snuck a glance, hoping to meet a friendly face.  Most looked away, disgusted.  Within about six minutes I had enough for some breakfast and some “red devils,” usually prescribed to help housewives with insomnia.  Mother’s little helpers.

The breakfast would fill my belly.  The reds would fill my emptiness.  At least for a little while.  Long enough to forget that no one cared.  Long enough to forget that I didn’t care.  WhateverForget breakfast.  I needed to find “Army Dude.”  I thought about blue beater car and slumped into the first vacant seat in the café.  Asshole.