Been There…Done That?

I hear ya…

How many times do I have to say it?

How many times do I have to say it?

As I am working on my memoir, I have had to ask myself a very serious question. What theme threads run through the tapestry of my life? Have I experienced things that I’ve learned from? How can this help my readers in some way?

“It is never too late to become what you might have been.” ~ George Eliot

Poor Me!

I actually used to think that I had been through more than anyone I knew, and because of this, I am an authority on the matter of suffering. I wasn’t being arrogant about it, I just knew I could empathize with lots of hurting people. It was because of this belief that I became a psychotherapist. But soon I heard the stories…and then I quickly changed my stance on that subject. Nope! I wasn’t the poster child I thought I was. The world is full of hurting people…and I am just one of them.

But I also recognize that I have been through a LOT, and more importantly, I have overcome a lot…enough that I have hope for others.

My Themes

In my memoir I am going to write about:

Alcoholism

Codependency

Neglect

Juvenile Hall

Teen Marriage

Teen Motherhood

Physical Abuse

Divorce

Drug Abuse

Suicides

Mental Illness and My Experience in a Mental Hospital

Dysfunctional Relationships

Love Addiction

The Church and Bad Advice

A Broken Neck

Addiction to Narcotic Pain Medication

A Brain Tumor

Becoming a Psychotherapist

God’s Love

Healing

Forgiveness

…and a whole lot more!

My articles will discuss things I’ve learned on my own, as well as through education and experience working with others. I really hope you’ll join me. And please leave comments or questions. I will be happy to respond.

Also, for more tips on these subjects and help with challenging life circumstances and highly reactive emotions, come meet me over at http://www.changeyouremotions.com.

Stay tuned and keep updated by subscribing in the box on the upper right. And be sure to download my eBook for free, Becoming What You Might Have Been for some tips on how you can change your life and become all you can be too!

The Beginning of Sorrow

my-brother-and-i1The thing about tragedies is that they catch you by surprise.  You get up in the morning and lazily eat breakfast as if you have all the time in the world.  You pick out something to wear (as if it mattered), and lackadaisically wander through the routine of a morning.  You think your meaningless thoughts, none of them giving you any warning as to what’s about to come.  All the while a tragedy, is secretly unfolding, sneaking up behind you, changing your life forever.

This particular tragedy had been put into motion hours before I found out about it.  If only I had known earlier… If only.

My older brother Robert and I were extremely close.  So close, even his wife was envious of our relationship.  We could be in a crowd of friends, look across the room at each other, and nod, as if to say, “yeah…I get it, I am thinking the same thing as you.”  As my psychiatrist, Dr. Teemis told me once, my brother and I had to be close to each other just to survive our childhood.

We remained close even after I had gotten married at sixteen and was pregnant with my first-born son and he was a world away, fighting for his country and his life in Vietnam.  He was eighteen-years-old.  I tried not to let my worry consume me, but I kept a good luck charm for him on a shelf in my living room.  Some days I would take it off the shelf and hold it in my hands, hoping it was working its magic and keeping him safe.  But fear still gathered in my stomach and buzzed in my ears when I thought of him there, alone, without me to watch over him.

When he got back to the States, he had seen too much, done too much, to ever regain the innocence of youth.  He self-medicated with drugs, and got kicked out of the Army with a “bad conduct” discharge after getting caught stealing pills out of the pharmacy at The Presidio.  By the time he got back to Los Angeles, he was suffering from major depression and the after effects of malaria.  I watched him while he slept with his eyes open.  I worried more about him now that he was home then I did when he was in Vietnam.

Several years went by; Robert had married and I had finally gotten away from Michael the Archangel.  Both of us were suffering the horrible effects of our childhood and our own choices.  His depression was as bad as my anxiety.  He was living with my parents, and I was frantic, trying to get him help.  I took him out to the Veteran’s Hospital, but he was turned away (bad conduct discharge).  I took him to the Los Angeles County Mental Health Department.

Before we went for his appointment, I called and made sure they understood his problem in case he wasn’t exactly open about it.  I told them that he had tried to kill himself by swallowing pills and that I was really worried about him.  When I took him to his appointment, I sat in the waiting room having a panic attack. About an hour later he left that appointment with a 30-day supply of Elavil.  (It is illegal to give a suicidal client enough medication to overdose, and his estranged widow later won a lawsuit involving this error).

A week later, the call from our mother came at around noon. “Linda, I can’t wake up Robert!  I’ve tried all morning long,” my mom said.

“All morning long?  I’ll be right there,” I said.  My legs turned to jelly.  I got my boyfriend to drive me to the apartment, about five minutes from my place.  I ran into the bedroom and shook him.  “Robert,” I yelled.  He was lying on his side with one arm over his head.  He looked peaceful, as if he had just fallen asleep. When I shook him and yelled his name again, he grimaced, and the word “seizure” entered my mind for the first time.

I ran into the living room and grabbed the phone.  I called for a paramedics and waited for what seemed like a half hour.  Once they got there, they took over.  I waited in the living room with my mother and tried to listen to what was going on in the other room.  My fear kept me frozen to the chair.  I kept waiting for one of the paramedics to come out and tell me that he was sitting up and talking, but all I heard was the beeping of some machine they had taken into the room.

“Seizing! Seizing!” I heard one paramedic shout. The two young paramedics burst out of the bedroom, and wheeled him quickly through the living room and out the door.  He looked gray.  One young paramedic attempted to reassure me as he passed by, but even he looked scared.  By that time my father was home and we all jumped into his car and followed the ambulance to the hospital.

When we were about halfway there, the paramedics suddenly pulled over and tried to wave us on.  My father pulled up behind them and stopped anyway.  I was sitting in the middle of the front seat, hanging on to the dashboard, unable to sit back into the seat.  I could hear my heartbeat in my ears and my breath caught in my throat.

One paramedic jumped out of the van and threw open the back doors.  I watched as he frantically pumped on my brother’s chest.  The other paramedic shut the doors behind him and jumped back in the driver’s seat, turning on lights and siren as he screeched away from the curb.

Once at the hospital, I did not see Robert again.  By the time we parked and got through the emergency room doors they had taken him away.  We gathered together in the waiting room.  No one said a word.  Finally, a doctor came in and shook his head.  “I’m so sorry,” he said.

For some reason, all I could think was that I had to call someone, a pastor who had been counseling both my brother and me for free through the Salvation Army.  I had called him as soon as we arrived and asked him to pray.  I stumbled over to the pay phone and placed my quarter in the slot at the top. I needed him.  I needed him right that second. He answered on the first ring.  “Wilber?” I started.  I heard myself start to scream.  “No!!!!” I wailed.  I screamed again.  My knees buckled and the receiver flew out of my hand.  A young woman, sitting by the pay phone, jumped up and ran out of the room.

I stumbled over to the couch and sat down next to my father. I looked up at him, trying to make sense of what was going on.

“This is what he wanted,” was all he said.

What? How would you know what he wanted? I looked down at the tile floor. I tried to breathe.

At that moment a young doctor stepped into the room and told us it would be best if we all went home.  There would be nothing left for us to do there.  We all stood and looked from one to the other, then turned and walked out like a group of zombies. We left my brother in that cold, unfamiliar place, all alone.

Robert Bruce Amthor

March 27, 1950 – August 24, 1975.

Free Fall

(If you are new to this blog, a good way to read it is to start with the very first post, “It Was A Dark And Stormy Night” which I posted in May 2012. You can locate it in the archives. This is a memoir, the story of my life.  If you are offended by expletives, you may want to skip this post.  I do not use them to add shock value, but to just tell the story of what happened as honestly as I can).

Cracked HeartThe terror was relentless. It punctuated every waking moment. On the worst days, I lay on the floor all day long, just attempting to breathe. My thoughts went pinging around my head like a steel ball in a pin-ball machine.  I lost all ability to daydream, as I attempted to control each thought; making sure one didn’t get away from me like a runaway semi-truck. There was no emergency ramp in sight, no way to put the breaks on.  I felt like I was going very quickly and completely insane.  I didn’t understand what was happening, how I could suddenly lose myself so quickly, so easily.  I had no name for it. I knew no one who had ever experienced it. I felt alone in my madness.

I went to my physician and he put me on Valium. He sent me to a psychiatrist, Dr. Teemis.  Every two days I waited in Dr. Teemis’ waiting room until he called me in, holding the door to his private office as I walked through to the inner sanctum for those privileged enough to have gone crazy. Then he shut and locked the door, then shut and locked another door, which was right in front of the first one. I thought all psychiatrists must have double locking doors, although for the life of me I couldn’t figure out why this was so.

I sat in a chair, as far away from Dr. Teemis as possible. Each visit began the same way.  He’d lean back in his black leather and chrome office chair and put his feet up on his desk. He folded his hands in his lap and stared at me from across the room. I would wait for him to speak, to take over, to offer a solution, some answers. But he almost never spoke first. Once in awhile, he broke the silence by asking a question, but he never seemed satisfied with my answers. He asked about my relationship with my parents, the alcoholism, the neglect, and traumatic events of the past. I left every session feeling worse about my life than I had when I was actually living it. There was no way I was going to talk to this guy about Michael the Archangel.

Dr. Teemis always asked what it was that I was really afraid of. I was afraid of being afraid for no apparent reason!  What’s not to get about that?  Didn’t he understand that one day I felt fine and then the next day I felt such horror and dread I thought I would die from it?  I believed Dr. Teemis held the key and was waiting until just the right moment to give it to me. I grew to rely on him to keep me sane enough, to keep me from ending up back in the state mental hospital. I didn’t think he liked me very much but he seemed resigned to see me week after week nonetheless. I was grateful for that much.

As the fear increased, my world narrowed. It became terrifying to drive a car. At first I just stayed in the right-hand lane so I could turn the corner and take the side streets back home if I had to. That worked for a while, as long as I didn’t have to get gas and sit there, waiting for the attendant to take the nozzle out of my gas tank. I was sure that one day I would panic and drive off, pulling the hose right out of the pump. Another day I panicked in line at the market, and I realized that even if I told myself over and over and over again that I could make it through just a few more minutes while the checker rang me up, the truth was, I couldn’t make it.

My fear was that one of these days I was just going to start screaming at her and run out of the store without bothering to pay. I left a full cart of groceries in the middle of the store more than once, and drove quickly home, picturing the ice cream melting all over the floor before the cart was discovered and the food put back on the shelves. Shopping soon became a thing of the past.

Depression piled itself on top of the fear, and suicide became an option. I thought about it all day, and then at night too, when I would wake in a sweat, my breathing shallow, and my heart racing.  The thick wool blanket that felt like the top of my head got heavier by the day. Soon, I spent most of my days in bed, just trying to make it through the next five minutes. I would watch the clock as the minute hand ticked on, and felt good about making it through another day without dialing the number that would bring the paramedics to my door.

During one of our sessions, I began to talk to Dr. Teemis about how these crazy feelings were affecting how I felt physically as well. At times I was sure I was having a heart attack.  I ended up in the emergency room at least twice a month, positive I was close to death. I explained how during the week before, my left leg had felt numb. Dr. Teemis explained how being a psychiatrist meant that he had medical training as well, and he asked me to lay down on the couch while he checked my femoral artery. He pulled down my pants and pressed his fingers on the artery, close to my crotch. He stared into my face, attempting to gauge my reaction. I went stiff and silent. Disgusted, he pulled my pants up and told me to have it checked by my own doctor the next time I went.

I worried about that femoral artery. I was sure it was clogged and I was about to stroke out. That look on Dr. Teemis’ face was proof something was wrong!  Who cares that most twenty-three year old young women don’t have strokes? Maybe it was the years of drug abuse. Maybe it was the blows I took to my face and head at the hands of Michael the Archangel. I had to do what Dr. Teemis told me to do and ask my own doctor right away.

“What did he tell you?” Dr. Hutchinson asked. I noted the tone of his voice and the subtle look on his face but chose to ignore it. I repeated the conversation I had with Dr. Teemis and how he felt my artery with his fingers and told me to have it checked. Dr. Hutchinson paused, watching my face, then quickly looked away and began writing in my chart.  “Nothing is wrong with your femoral artery,” he said. He sounded irritated or impatient.  I couldn’t tell and I didn’t understand. Certain thoughts ran through my mind but I couldn’t let them land. After all, if there was something wrong with my psychiatrist, then I was done. There was no one else who could help me.

Months went by, and I continued to deteriorate. I believed my visits with Dr. Teemis were the thin thread keeping me hanging on to reality. I sat in his waiting room, two or three times a week, trying to make it through the ordeal of being out, away from the one place I felt somewhat safe; my bed at home. One day his receptionist sat behind the tall counter and chatted away on the phone. It sounded like a personal call, but I didn’t care. Where was Dr. Teemis?  Thoughts of suicide had overloaded my brain that week, and I did not think I could live through another day without a session. I waited for 45 minutes and finally got up the courage to interrupt her and ask where he was. She covered the mouthpiece with her hand. “I’ll try giving him a call.”  She hung up the phone and dialed another number. I heard her ask someone if he was there, and a few moments later she said, “Linda is here to see you. She’s been here for quite awhile.” She hung up the phone without another word and told me he’d be there in a few minutes. She quickly redialed to continue her own call.

Another fifteen minutes passed and suddenly the door to his private office opened.  I sighed and smiled as he asked me to come in. As soon as I entered the room I smelled the alcohol. He loosely waved at me to sit, gesturing at me impatiently. He seemed angry. He leaned back in his chair and it tilted back a little too far, forcing him to grab the edge of his desk for support. He swung his feet up on the edge of the desk and laced his fingers behind his head. “How’s the fucking?” he asked. My stomach lurched and I stared down at the floor, unable to speak. “How’s the fucking?” he repeated, more forcefully.  His tongue tripped over the words and it sounded like he had too much saliva in his mouth.

“I don’t know.” I stammered.

“I don’t know,” he mimicked. “What do you mean you don’t know?” He sneered and I looked towards the double locking doors.

“Well, I don’t really feel like it much right now,” I offered.

“I bet you’d feel like it if a sexy neighbor down the street asked your husband to screw her!”

“I guess so,” I said.

“I guess so,” he said. His sneer said it all.

We both grew silent. Dr. Teemis can’t help me, I thought. I was at the bottom of the pit now.  There was no deeper, darker place to go. But unfortunately I was wrong about that.  I had stepped off the edge and was in a free fall. But I was just bouncing off of ledges. The bottom was there, and eventually I would hit.  And when I did, I would lay there for a long while, stunned, and unable to move.

Lunatics are similar to designated hitters. Often an entire family is crazy, but since an entire family can’t go into the hospital, one person is designated as crazy and goes inside. Then, depending on how the rest of the family is feeling that person is kept inside or snatched out, to prove something about the family’s mental health.”― Susanna Kaysen, Girl, Interrupted

Living on the Edge

CliffA year passed, and we were still living with the guy I met at work…the one who rescued me from Michael the Archangel.  We just sort of settled in, pretending to be a family.  Except for flinching every time he tried to put his arm around me, I thought I was doing fairly well, considering.  Then, as fate would have it, I got invited to a Tupperware party.

I really disliked Tupperware parties.  Oh, I loved all the little squares and rounds with their matching, color-coordinated lids.  I just disliked the parties.  I always felt guilty when the hostess looked me in the eye and told me how many points my friend would get if I would just host a party of my own.  I also hated the drive home, thinking about what a disaster my kitchen cupboards were, and how, if I only had a spare $327, I could reorganize my entire food supply.

Weaving my way in and out of the typical Los Angeles area work traffic, I checked my watch.  I hoped my friend Theresa would already be there when I arrived.  I knew that she would be the only person I knew at the party.  What I didn’t know was that after this particular Tupperware party, it would be years before I would go anywhere alone again.

The music I usually enjoyed blaring from the car radio was starting to get on my nerves, so I flipped it off.  The normal traffic noise seemed louder than usual.  I checked to see if my windows were up.  I began thinking of all the excuses I could use to leave the party early.  My husband is ill.  I’m not feeling so great myself.  I need to help my son with his kindergarten homework.  Our pet pig got stuck in the dishwasher.

By the time I pulled up to the house, I had my excuses in order, but I was hoping that seeing my girlfriend Theresa would help me forget about my nervousness and I wouldn’t have to use any of them.  I walked into the house and put my coat and purse where I could get to them quickly.

The women were clustered in little groups of two or three.  Theresa was nowhere to be found, and no one made a move to try to include me in their conversations.  I felt invisible, and alone.

I got up and looked out the window.  Where was Theresa?  What’s wrong with me tonight, anyway?  I began to imagine myself flippantly tossing out one of my excuses and casually walking across the floor, picking up my coat and purse, and heading out the door.  “Ta-ta!  Hope to see you gals again soon!”  Instead I felt glued to the chair.  I was positive that every one in that room would know I was lying and give me a silent glare.  I finally got up the courage and mentioned to a woman sitting next to me that I had to go, grabbed my coat and purse, and almost flew out the front door.

THE EDGE, there is no honest way to explain it because the only people who really know where it is are the ones who have gone over.

― Hunter S. Thompson

As I got into my car, I started to feel as if I couldn’t breathe.  My thoughts raced through my brain so fast it seemed as if I was interrupting myself.  My palms were slippery on the steering wheel.  I pictured myself passing out.

The traffic on Hawthorne Boulevard had gotten worse.  With each red light the feelings became more intense.  My arms and chest began to feel numb.  I wondered if I was having a heart attack, at twenty-three-years old.  The urge to jump out of the car and run down the street screaming for help was so strong that looking back, I don’t know how I kept from it.

I managed to make it home and got into bed, pulling the covers over my head.  My breathing slowed, and eventually I got to sleep.  The next morning, I hit the snooze button on the alarm clock and lay in bed for a few moments, trying to get my bearings.  I had a vague feeling of unease.  Did I have a bad dream?  No.  Is something wrong with one of the kids?  No.  Oh yeah, last night!  With that thought came the memory of the nightmarish rush home from the party.  As I replayed it all in my mind, my breath began to accelerate.  Then my hands went numb. I froze. I had walked too close to the edge one too many times. This time, there was no regaining my footing. I was in free-fall, on my way to being certifiable. I just didn’t know it yet.

Michael the Archangel

Black eye, 3rd day

A chance meeting through the friend of a friend. Our eyes met across a crowded room (OK, there were about five of us and it was on the corner of Pier Avenue and 1st Street). Soon  we became the perfect little hippie couple. But at the end of it all, three years later, I would feel as if I had gone completely mad. It would take a decade to fight my way back from a pit of despair so deep that I still wonder how I survived it at all. And oddly enough, it the madness would start the night of a Tupperware party. 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, moving away made me feel 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. I didn’t sense the set-up. But I already knew I had better say, “yes,” when I knew that’s what he wanted to hear, so I did. “Well, I’m Jesus Christ reincarnated.” My breath caught in my throat, and I stopped and turned to face him.

“Yeah, right,” I said.

I didn’t even see it coming, that 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 my scream and the crack when his fist landed on my face. 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 sense I was lying, confront me with it, and demand an explanation. I wanted someone to take charge and hide my son and me 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. I ran to a friend’s but she didn’t believe I had been hurt at all because my face looked fine. Resigned, I went back home.

I tried to spend most 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 stopped and I watched  while he gathered his “collections.” Later, as I sorted our laundry, I pulled these treasures out of his pockets; stones and leaves, and the olives that fell from the trees on our street. I felt so proud to be his mom, but I was filled with shame at the situation I had put us in.  Somehow, I had to get us out of there; somehow I had to save us.

I was pregnant again and leaving seemed 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 felt trapped and alone.

I was awakened one night to find the police in my living room. A friend had called them after Michael 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.

One day some new friends in fancy cars began coming by with freebies. They made Michael feel as if they would do anything for him…best buddies. Michael began using heroin. I came home one day from a walk with my son and heard voices in the room I was fixing up for the new baby. I found them there, sitting cross-legged in a circle on the floor, handing each other a 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, and tried 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. And 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 “do-over” of sorts. Michael seemed taken with the idea.

But, 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. A constant stream of 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’

UntitledAnother hot, muggy day in the City of Angels; smog so thick my eyes burned. I wiped away another streak of black eyeliner, catching it as it ran down towards my cheek, and I kept walking, keeping time with the jingle bells that hung from the end of the two leather strands I had fashioned into a makeshift belt.

Hitching rides had become routine long ago. 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. I had stopped feigning interest at the cars that whizzed by. The heat rose off of the asphalt, making waves I could actually see. I put my hand on my belly and shook my head, wanting to be sick right there in the street. I imagined each passerby guessing at my dilemma and worrying about the the lone young woman on the side of the road. Unlikely.

A pink Volkswagen bus with hand painted peace signs all over it drove by and honked. “Sorry! We’re full!” someone shouted from the passenger window, giving me a quick peace sign as they flew on by. Gee, thanks. 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. Two children while you were still a child yourself? Not a great idea.

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

The doctor was young, and seemed caring enough. After informing me that I was approximately 2 1/2 months pregnant, he told me that if I was going to “do something about it,” it had 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 to live in the Caribbean. Who was I to ruin his plans?

Roe vs. Wade was going through the courts so the doctor told me I could have a legal abortion. He asked me if I had any suicidal thoughts. “No, not really,” I said, wanting to be honest.

“Well, you need to say you are having suicidal thoughts,”he prompted.

“Oh, ok, well, yeah, I’ve had some thoughts the last few days.” I offered.

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 alone 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 what I had done. 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 into their bedroom to get me a couple of  my father’s prescription Percodan pills. Ah…bliss for about 3 1/2 hours. When my Dad woke up he gave me a few more with the promise that I would replace them when I got my own prescription.

The next morning, I took another cab 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 the baby inside of me. I had a terrible infection.I told him I want a prescription for Percodan.

“Isn’t that a little potent?” he charged.

“It takes away the pain,” I answered,sighing. Moron. He seemed resigned as he scribbled on his prescription pad.

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 seem to be underwater, and yet still able to breathe. I kind of liked it, especially the fact that it made me quit thinking about what I had done. I felt no pain. At last not the physical kind. When I had lied to the doctor that day about the suicidal thoughts, it had never occurred to me that in a few shorts 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 that I made back then, forty-four 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 girl, a pre-teen, an adolescent, and the the beautiful young woman she has become, full of promise, so inspiring to me and others. I stood a little taller as I watched her.

I thought of her two 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 our family. 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’.

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Spare Change?

300px-Hitchhiker's_gestureA simple choice, really. Walk to the bottom of the hill, cross the street, and stick out my thumb 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 sole 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)

A 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 the 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” like me congregated to meet, talk, exchange dope for cash, and just “be.” It was one of my favorite places to meet people. I didn’t really know them all that well, didn’t even know most of their names, but we were compadres. It was us against the Establishment. I gave them names of my own, like “Mickey Mouse Watch,” “The Poet,” and “Freakazoid.” I loved them; they were my people. They made no demands. At least most of them.

Faded blue beater car pulled over at the corner of Pacific Coast Highway and Pier Avenue. He grabbed my arm as I started to open the passenger door to hop out. “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 timed it once) 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. Whatever. Forget breakfast. I need to find “Army Dude.”

I thought about blue beater car and slumped into the first vacant seat in the cafe. Asshole.

A Major Misstep

http://www.dreamstime.com/stock-photo-abandoned-house-image6678140Certain events can change a life in an instant. On the other hand, some things take place over time. Many tiny miscalculations or silly decisions create a chain of events, and suddenly you find yourself staring in the mirror at someone you no longer recognize.

 

I had fled the chaotic confines of Metropolitan State Mental Hospital and planted a mattress on the floor in the spare bedroom of my parent’s apartment, a fresh start of sorts. I tried to make myself useful to my mother, so she wouldn’t kick us out. This time I was going to make it work for me and my sweet little boy.

 

My mom was one who liked to go to the grocery store daily, as if she were one of those lucky European women who stopped at the bakery each day for a fresh loaf of rye. She may have imagined herself lazily plucking through mounds of fresh vegetables and fruit from street vendors…everything freshly baked and harvested. On this particular day, she needed a fresh bottle of vodka, so we climbed into the old Ford Fairlane and drove down to the local Food Giant Supermarket.

 

As soon as we stepped onto the rubberized mat and the automatic glass door swung open, I saw him. Within two skipped heartbeats I had sized up all six foot two of one of the cutest guys I had ever seen. He had wide shoulders and wavy golden hair down to the green apron pocket of his supermarket uniform. The way he placed the milk into the bag first before adding the bread was downright genius! A bag of oranges went in next. Our eyes met. My cheeks flushed and I turned away. I grabbed a shopping cart and walked into the nearest aisle, almost knocking a box of Cocoa Puffs off of the end cap.

 

I was standing with one foot on the bottom rung of the cart waiting for my mom to decide between a quart and a fifth when I felt a tap on my shoulder. A conversation ensued and plans were made for this gorgeous hunk of a box boy to pick me up on Friday night. Once my mom paid for her precious cargo, I jumped onto the back of the cart and let it take me down the slight incline to the car. Whee! I was already imagining my happily-ever-after with a new husband and a loving dad for my little son.

 

“Sometimes something catastrophic can occur in a split second that changes a person’s life forever; other times one minor incident can lead to another and then another and another, eventually setting off just as big a change in a body’s life.” – Jeannette Walls, Half Broken Horses

 

On Friday afternoon I changed in and out of several different blouses and made sure my jeans had the least amount of holes and stains. Finally Sir Galahad arrived in his souped up Corvette and we were on our way. Were we going out to dinner? To a movie?  Butterflies danced around my stomach and I didn’t think I could eat a bite.

 

He turned up the car stereo and reached over to open the ashtray underneath the dash.  “Do you want to get high?” He reached in and grabbed two pink capsules. “Oh!”  I wasn’t expecting that but I was game. After all, pink was lighter than red, so therefore, these pills must be milder than the red ones I have taken before. No harm to come from this. My chin jutted forward. “Sure!”

 

Soon he pulled onto a dirt road that led to what almost looked like an abandoned structure of some sort. Instead of a dinner and a movie, I found myself sitting on the couch in his rented house, which seemed to have landed in the middle of a few acres of packed dirt underneath a freeway overpass. The farmer must have stood his ground for decades while progress grew up around him and the government waited until he ceased to be an obstacle to their plans to get folks from here to there as quickly as possible.

 

I very soon realized that “pink” did not mean “less.” My muscles felt like overcooked spaghetti, my head, the size and weight of a watermelon. I thought we were alone in the house, but suddenly there was another young man there. My date introduced me to his roommate.

 

“Nice to meet you…hey, do you want to see the art work in the other room?” he said.  “OK.” I got up and tried to walk.

 

“You bastard!” muttered my date. I wondered why he suddenly felt the urge to use profanity on his roommate but the connections in my brain were misfiring all over the place.

 

Art work? I got up from the couch and, smiling, the roommate grabbed my hand to steady me.  I can’t walk. Bastard? Why did he say that? Is he mad? Should I not go? What should I do? What is this room? Why are we going in here? Where is the art work? What is happening? Should I run? I can’t run! I feel like I’m walking through water…I’m scared and I think it’s too late to change my mind.

 

I was pushed to the bed and my clothes quickly removed. I looked towards the door, wishing I was back on the couch, not here on the bed. My date peered in and quickly turned away. I heard him making phone calls, and I hoped he was calling the police.

 

My arms were lead, my lungs hollow. My date came back in, then another guy, then another, then another, then another. One, very heavy, apologized. “It’s all right,” I mumbled. It’s all right?  It’s all right!!??

 

I was far from home. When my date offered to drive me home, even helping me on with my clothes, I quickly weighed my choices and accepted his invitation. Much later I stumbled up the stairs to my parent’s apartment, trying to quiet my steps so as not to wake the neighbors. For a moment I thought about calling the police. I pictured the interview. “Why did you date someone you didn’t even know? What were you wearing?  Why did you take the drugs? Why did you go follow the roommate into the bedroom? Why did you let him drive you home? Yes, this was my fault. I deserved this. I’m a stupid girl.  Worth nothing to anyone. I’m giving up. No one will ever know. No one but me will ever know.

In A Gadda Da Vida

http://www.dreamstime.com/royalty-free-stock-image-hippie-van-image20781066I woke up to the sound of rain on the window.  I had cracked it open before I went to bed and the air filtering into my apartment was damp and smelled sweet.  I turned over and tugged the blanket up over my shoulders, attempting to recapture a dream.  But something felt wrong.  I was late…very late!  I jumped out of bed and threw on my purple velvet dress, quickly backcombing a poof into the top of my long, thin hair and drawing eyeliner wings over blue eye shadow before running out the door.  I grabbed my purse, the diaper bag, the baby, the keys.  I had been expected to start answering the phone at my desk at Al & Sons Termite Control Company 20 minutes earlier.

I hurriedly made my way down the concrete stairs of the building, and as I stepped onto the fourth stair tread from the bottom, my foot slipped on the wet pavement.  In an attempt to keep from dropping my 10-month-old, I came down on my knees, hard.  I lay there for several minutes, moaning.  My easy-going son sat beside me on the ground, eyeing me, trying to figure out whether he should be upset too.  Everyone else had left for work and there was no one around to help me.  I literally crawled to the car, managing not to drop the baby.  After I strapped him into the car seat, I crawled back for my purse and his diaper bag, tears running rivets through my beige Mabelline foundation.

My bloodied knees hurt so bad it was hard to put enough pressure on the break pedal to stop the car.  My legs shook under the purple velvet and I thought I would faint.  I drove very slowly to the babysitter’s house so I wouldn’t have to press hard on the breaks.  By the time I got there, my knees worked enough to walk, but the pain was so bad it was a good thing I hadn’t eaten breakfast.  I suddenly felt tired…tired of pretending to be an adult.  Tired of being responsible.  Tired of working to just pay the bills.  Tired of being alone.  I was seventeen-years-old.

A couple of weeks later I got a call out of the blue from an old high school friend.  He had gotten my number from my mother.  Could he come see me?

I opened the door and stared in disbelief.  Bob had changed.  His hair was down to his shoulders.  He wore a puka shell necklace and bell-bottom jeans.  I hadn’t seen anyone who dressed like that since I saw The Beatles at the Hollywood Bowl three years earlier.

The hippies wanted peace and love.  We wanted Ferraris, blondes, and switchblades. – Alice Cooper.

Bob and I began to hang out together almost every day.   He introduced me to his like-minded friends and the music of Iron Butterfly and Alice Cooper.  He talked about peace and ending the war in Vietnam.  He was passionate about things that seemed to matter.  He cared about other people. Every woman was his “sister,” and every man his “brother.”  He talked about love.  He exuded love.  It wasn’t long before I got myself a pair of bell-bottomed jeans of my own.  Because looking for love was what I was all about.

And I Wasn’t Even Pregnant!

http://www.dreamstime.com/-image21478329Whenever I tell the story about my marriage at sixteen, I always feel the need to say, “…and I wasn’t even pregnant!”  It still seems as crazy to me that my parents allowed me to get married at sixteen-years-old as it does to those I tell. I get a lot of wide-eyed looks of disbelief.  I always try to stave off that familiar sense of embarrassment by being flippant.  “Yep…crazy, huh?”  I  picture people thinking, “what, were you stupid?”

 

But, within two months of our walk down the aisle, I did become pregnant. I’m not sure I even understood how to prevent it.  At that time, my husband and I had rented a beautiful apartment with hardwood floors and two large bedrooms. Our only piece of furniture was a king-sized bed, purchased through the newspaper by my mother-in-law.  Maybe that’s how it happened.

 

My husband worked during the day (for a very short time) selling cookware door-to-door. The training program suggested taking off his wedding ring and flirting with housewives who were stuck home all day with nothing else to do. So, while he was out “soliciting,” I sat on the king-sized bed during the day and played with my Barbie dolls. Barbie and Ken became the couple I wished we could be, and they lived out the fantasies I had of married life.

Squeamish Warning….Stop Right Here

 

One night I awoke with a sharp pain, deep and low.  I went to the bathroom and found blood in the toilet and then on the bed.  I tried to wake my husband but he would not wake up so I went across the complex to my sister-in-law’s apartment and woke her.  She drove me to my in-law’s house a few blocks away.  Soon I was writhing on the floor of their bathroom while straining to hear their whispers and phone calls through the closed door. My mother-in-law came to check on me, and told me she and my sister-in-law were going to the apartment to try to wake up my husband, and more importantly, clean the bed she had just bought.  I was left alone on that bathroom floor, pain searing though me like a knife, the cold floor against my face the only comfort. I was so frightened I wanted to scream.

 

 

A couple of hours later, a trip to the toilet produced a tiny little baby. For a moment I stared in awe at the tiny arms and legs, the over-sized head. Then a hot, sharp knife seemed to tear through my insides. Soon I was out of my head with it and heard myself moaning as if from somewhere else, in some other place.

 

I barely heard my mother-in-law came trooping back into the house with my husband in tow. I tried to call out to him, but he didn’t come into the bathroom. More whispered phone calls, and finally in order to save money on a visit to the emergency room, I was whisked up and taken to a doctor’s office across town. He removed the placenta while I grabbed his wrists in agony. My head was spinning like a top. Then everything went black.

 

To be continued…