Flap Your Wings

 

Stopping the Cycle of Generational Alcoholism

AlcoholicI was disgusted with my parents’ alcoholism. So this is how I handled it; I took drugs instead. It made total sense to me at the time. Drugs were clean. I could hide them more easily than my mother’s 5th of Vodka. I could take certain types and instead of getting sloppy and mean I could laugh and have fun. And of course, I could stop whenever I wanted. As long as I never stayed with one class of drugs for too long, I would never get addicted.

Of course we all know the folly of that kind of thinking. Drugs just about destroyed me. It clouded my judgement so that I allowed hurtful people to have access to my life. It kept me numb to pain so that instead of dealing with each hurt as it came, I stuffed it all until it exploded into serious mental illness. It took years to recover.

And with all the care I took to keep from getting addicted, the chickens came home to roost many years later when I fell down a flight of stairs and broke my neck. With my brain primed for addiction through the use of drugs in my teens and early twenties, it was no time at all before I became seriously addicted to the opiate pain killers prescribed by my family physician. I soon found out what the hell of withdrawal was like.

Being an adult child of an alcoholic means having to learn new ways of living. It’s not easy, but there are many who have traveled the road before and shine the light so we can follow their path. The video below is a wonderful example.

Did you recognize yourself in her words? If so, reach out to someone for help. Stop the cycle of alcoholism in your own family line. I like to say, “Be a butterfly.” One small flap of your wings can change generations of your family. Do this for yourself, your children, your grandchildren, your great-grandchildren, and your great-great grandchildren. You get the idea.

Can you relate? Share your thoughts in the comment box below.

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Thank you all, from the bottom of my heart

Heart

Hi everyone,

I want to say thank you for all who have stopped by this blog and have taken the time to read the story of my life and even leave comments. You have been so encouraging to me.

I am taking this blog down (it will be up for another couple of months). I have told my story through these “pages” twice through. Writing a blog about your life can be confusing for readers. They come in and read some horrible story about something that has happened and don’t realize that they need to start at the beginning and that there is a light at the end of the tunnel. Many of you have encouraged me to write a memoir, so I am in the process of working with someone on the book version. It will have a lot of more stories and details, and hopefully be more entertaining. One thing is for sure, it will include much more about the “back story,” or I could say, the “unseen” journey of my life. Jesus Christ played such a huge part in how I got to where I am today. His hand was on my life before I even knew him. And once I realized that and actively began a relationship with Him, well, a book could be written just on the many ways in which he helped me through these years. I would not be here if it were not for His help, guidance, and at times, miracle working power in my life.

So dear friends, it is time to say goodbye for a short time. I would LOVE it if you would join my life on two of my other websites…either or both. You can find me blogging about all things mental health and glorious living at www.lindahoenigsberg.com or www.changingyouremotions.com. If you choose this second one, you can download a book I wrote called “The Mindfulness Toolkit: 10 Quick Ways to Reboot Your Brain on the Fly,” and that will keep you in contact with me. It is totally free of charge.

I promise you will be the first to know when the manuscript is done, and if you would like, I would love to have some of you read it first and give me some tips on how to improve it. Let me know in the comments within 50 days (when the blog will come down for good) and I will keep your name.

Again, you have no idea how your comments and encouragement have meant to me.

Take good care of you,

Linda

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.

Making My Move

Injured woman hiding in darkMichael the Archangel and I had finally found our way back to Los Angeles. His mother had allowed us to temporarily move in with her. She already shared the three-bedroom bungalow with her elderly mother, who had lost a leg lifting a car off of a six-year-old girl. We were supposedly saving money for our own place. I had a different plan in mind. I just hadn’t figured out how I was going to pull it off.

The next time I felt Michael’s fury, the blow to my face was so loud it woke his mother out of a deep sleep. She flew into our room, screaming for her son to get out of the house.  Instead, he dashed into the bathroom and ran a razor blade over wrists already scarred from previous attempts. Somehow his mother kept him in the bathroom so he wouldn’t bleed all over the house, but neither one of us made an attempt to call for help. We just stared at each other, as if daring each other to make a move to the phone.

Finally, his mother made the call and an ambulance arrived. This time Michael landed himself in a facility for a three-day evaluation, but as always, he convinced the docs he was ready to face the world again. Looking pale and haunted with his wrists bandaged up, he attempted to gain my sympathy. He related how the EMT told him that if he really wanted to end it, he would need to slice vertically up his wrist, and not waste his time marking up his arm side to side. Information offered too late. For the next several weeks I hid out, not wanting anyone to see my face in public.

As soon as my eye was almost back to normal, I applied for a job where Michael’s mother worked. Garrett AiResearch manufactured and sold turbochargers to the military, so to even get into the plant I had to drive up to the guard shack and show my photo I.D. badge. Once in the building, I felt safe. Michael the Archangel would not be allowed in. But my children were not there with me. So I waited and then made my move.

I was hardly ever left alone, but one day Michael decided he could trust me long enough to take my car to the repair shop. He’d hitch back, so I figured I had about 45 minutes. I carefully pulled the curtain aside and watched as he backed out of the driveway. I waited about one minute and then ran into the kitchen and pulled a large green garbage bag out of the cabinet.  Scarcely breathing, I pulled socks, underwear, pants and shirts for my son, diapers for the baby, bottles, a couple of toys, and tossed them without looking into the bag. I threw the bag into my son’s Little Red Wagon and pulled the baby up onto my hip.  “Come on!” I told my four-year-old. “Follow Mommy!”  “Hurry!”

My son didn’t even question me. It was as if he knew exactly what we needed to do. The three of us raced out of the house, with Michael’s grandmother helpless in her recliner, yelling at us to stop. I walked as fast as I could and still keep us all together. We went around the corner, up a few blocks, down a street, up another block, zig zagging away so as not to be found easily. I was petrified, sure that if Michael found us I would be killed.

I knocked on a door in the middle of a block. A middle-aged woman answered the door.  She took one look at us; me at eighty-two pounds, long, stringy brown hair, shaking like a leaf; my son, a look of bewilderment on his face. And then there was the baby in my arms.  “Could I use your phone to call a taxi?” I said. She hesitated, folding her arms.  Surely she’s not going to say no!  I almost began to scream, “Let me in your house!!”  “Please!”

There are far too many silent sufferers.  Not because they don’t yearn to reach out, but because they’ve tried and found no one who cares.
― Richelle E. Goodrich

She let us in and with fumbling, shaking fingers I looked up the number and made the call.  She asked us to wait on the porch, exposed. I saw her watch me out the window.  Thoughts of being killed in front of my kids raced through my mind but I felt trapped, cemented to the spot. If I left the taxi would not pick us up.

The driver looked incredulous as he lifted the red wagon and the garbage bag into the trunk of the cab. I wondered if he was going to call the police on me, as if I were some fugitive from justice. I gave him the address of a guy I had met at work. He had stopped me in the lunchroom one day and asked me what was wrong with me. Why was I so thin?  Why did I shake? I unburdened myself and he offered to help. I was sure he didn’t really expect me to take him up on it and show up on his doorstep, but I gave the driver his address anyway. It was our only chance. I felt myself begin to breathe again as we drove away, and I melted into the back of the seat.

I didn’t stop shaking for weeks. I never saw Michael the Archangel again…ever.  I never showed up for another day at Garrett AiResearch, and within a week we were living miles away in another city. I heard years later that Michael had died of an overdose in a fleabag hotel in San Francisco. As for me, I made it for another year before I really began to unravel, before I began to lose myself completely. It was finally safe to let go.

 

 

 

 

 

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.

Looney Toons

Looney ToonsPlaying dress-up with my new hippie  friends was lots of fun and all that, but on the inside I was unraveling. Peace and love, along with rock and roll, just wasn’t cutting it for me.  It all seemed like a counterfeit for something else, something more authentic.  I just couldn’t quite put my finger on it.  I needed help, but I was a child trying to live a grown-up life.  My problem-solving skills didn’t quite live up to expectations.

I had made an attempt to get someone’s (anyone’s) attention a couple times before, and this time, right in the middle of a loud party with lots of people around, I snuck off into my bedroom and took an entire bottle of tranquilizers.  I went to bed, thinking someone looking in would just figure I went to bed early, but no, something about that scene didn’t look quite right to one of my friends, and after shaking me enough to scramble my brains and getting no response, I was scooped up and taken to the emergency room of the nearest hospital.

I remember a police officer sitting down beside me.  “I went through a divorce,” he said.  “It’s tough.  But you’ll get through it, I promise.”  I stared at him through glazed eyes, wondering why he would care about some 18-year-old hippie freak chick like me.  I didn’t even like police officers and if he knew what I called them in private he wouldn’t have been offering much in the way of consolation.  Later, my new friends, realizing I was more then they bargained for, called my father to pick me up.  I remember him being particularly irritated.  The next thing I knew, I was being admitted to Norwalk State Mental Hospital in Norwalk, California.

My therapist told me that I over-analyze everything. I explained to him that he only thinks this because of his unhappy relationship with his mother.”
― Michel Templet

I was one of the youngest patients, and they weren’t sure what to do with me, so they decided they would admit me to their drug rehab unit, which was coed and full of other teenagers.  “Cool,” I thought.  But before the transfer, I had to go through the usual process of being evaluated and getting a chest x-ray.  I say “usual,” but it was one of the strangest experiences of my life.  One of the very first things they do to a person entering the Norwalk State Mental Hospital is to make sure the patient will be compliant.  Just to guarantee this, every patient is administered Thorzine, whether they need it or not.

I sat in the day room, drooling and barely able to hold my head up.  I kept thinking I had dropped a cigarette and would jump up and look around the floor for it.  One of the older male patients shuffled over in his bathrobe to help.  I told him I dropped a cigarette and he said, “Oh,that’s the Thorzine, honey.”  The next day about thirty of us had to wait in line for a chest x-ray.  I crawledl along on the floor, leaving a trail of drool, just to keep my place in line.  Somewhere in there I knew I was being overdosed, especially since I noticed that the “real” mental patients didn’t seem drugged at all.

Even after getting on the unit, the staff continued to make me take the Thorzine, threatening to hold me down and shoot me up with the stuff if I didn’t swallow it like a nice young lady.  It was better in drug rehab, of course, with lots of fellow hippies and other colorful folk, like “Wizard,” who had fried his brains with LSD.  Nothing he said made sense and we all loved him for it, watching over him like a baby chick.  The unit psychologist was our version of Nurse Ratched.  Every day at around 4:00 PM we would be forced to sit in a circle while he picked out his next victim.  Psychodrama was his favorite form of therapy.  He loved the empty chair routine.  We didn’t.  One evening it was my turn.  “Well, Linda, you don’t talk much.  I suppose you think you don’t need to be here.  What do you think would happen to you on the “outs?”

“I think I would be fine,” I answered meekly.

“YOU ARE LIVING IN A FANTASY WORLD, he shouted.   “YOU WILL NEVER MAKE IT ON THE OUTS!”

I felt so insulted.  I mean, this guy didn’t even know me.  We had never even had a “session.” I’m blowing this joint…

But not before our field trip to the beach on Friday!  We all piled into the bus and headed down to the Newport Beach, California.  Wizard was in an exceptionally great mood, even for him.  Once out of the bus, we all dropped some blotter acid that someone had scored “on the outs,” where I was never going to make it.  We split up into several groups with a direct care staff with each group.  I felt like I was on a carousel ride and the painted pony I was on was about to jump off and fly away.

We all trooped back for our ride home at around 4:30 PM.  As I climbed into the bus, I saw that Wizard was sitting on one of the bench seats with his wrists tied to the metal bar above the seat in front of him.   Apparently, Wizard’s mind was too blown to handle the acid trip.  Amazingly, the rest of us feigned sobriety enough to pass inspection and rode back to the funny farm with our wrists unfettered.

The next week I signed myself out of the Norwalk State Mental Hospital.  They tried to talk me out of it.  I guess they thought they were really helping me.  Funny.  I had to sign out “AMA,” or, Against Medical AdviceI could so make it on the outs.  Or at least, that’s what I thought at the time.

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.

Child Bride

WeddingDespite the various and sundry crimes my fiancé perpetrated on unsuspecting friends and strangers, my parents caved in to the pressure by his parents to allow us to get married.  Apparently, being the more innocent one in the relationship afforded me a certain elevated status in the eyes of my fiancé’s parents. For them, if there was any salvation for their son, it would come from being married and settling down.

So, I was to be the one to save Ron from ruin, and they didn’t want to wait for me to grow up first. I was only sixteen-years-old. He was twenty-one.

My fiancé’s mother reminded me of what a person would be like if they were an alter ego of well-known atheist Madelyn Murray O’Hare. They both carried the same domineering obnoxious, and controlling personality. But that’s where the resemblance ended. They held completely opposite views of what happens when one…uh…shall we say…passes on.

So, three times a week, during the short respites from burglary and auto-thefts, Ron insisted we attend a little gathering of believers at the home of “Gifford,” one of his mother’s friends.  There I was taught that only 144,000 of us would make it to heaven. This number included only Caucasians, and only non-Catholic Caucasians at that.  Every Scripture was in secret code too, only to be unraveled by one of the 144,000 non-Catholic Caucasians.  We all assumed that Gifford was the one with the key to the code.  She seemed to think so too.

On the infrequent nights we did not show up for Bible study at Gifford’s, my fiancés mom would get one of his sisters to drive her the fifteen miles to my neighborhood and canvas the streets until she found us low-riding in Ron’s turquoise 1956 Chevy. She would then pull us over like a highway patrolman, and lecture us on the horrors of hell until we were sufficiently contrite.  Sometimes this took a couple of hours.

She often claimed to see horrible looking gargoylian demons sitting on our shoulders.  That in itself was enough to drive me running back to the house church, begging for mercy, while the parishioners swayed and shook, jerked and moaned, danced in circles around me, and prayed for my salvation.

I knew my fiancé’s mother was calling my parents on the phone and bullying them into allowing us to marry.  I was still surprised they didn’t put up more of a fight.  It didn’t take long for them to sign the consent.  Not only did they consent, they agreed to pay for an over-the-top garden wedding extravaganza and a formal sit-down dinner at an Italian restaurant owned, by all accounts, by a couple of Italian brothers with membership in the mob. I didn’t think of the wedding plans so much a celebration of future bliss as much as my parent’s celebration of getting my future mother-in-law off their backs.

My father’s mother came for a visit at some point in the planning of this gargantuan catastrophe.  I loved her, but she was not my favorite grandma.  I was much closer to my mother’s mother, who was pretty and brought me Dentine gum every time she visited. This other grandma had bird stick legs and a sour expression. I had overheard my parents discussing her “situation” many times. It didn’t sound good. They had to supplement her income and they weren’t happy about it. It seems grandfather had left her and my dad when he was an impressionable thirteen-year-old, and left for South America to stake his fortune with his brother, who had founded a major import business.  My father never saw him again, except for one brief visit after my father almost burned his leg off in a fire at the plant, saving a young employee in the process.

I was standing in the bathroom trying on my veil, turning my head just so, slight smile on my face.  My grandmother happened by the bathroom on her way through the laundry room to the kitchen.

“Well, if it isn’t the Queen of Sheba!” she squawked.

She had never spoken to me like that before.  Shock and hurt coursed through my body in quick succession.  My mind searched for an explanation for her hostility and came up with one that seemed plausible. Obviously, my mother must have told my grandmother I had been mean to her, and my grandmother believed her. I truly believed that my mom loved my brother and sister and alcohol more than she loved me. I thought everyone saw this as I did and felt sorry for me. Even so, I had been trying to hold on to the slim chance that it might not really be true.

I had always loved all my relatives unconditionally, assuming they felt the same way about me, and I wasn’t prepared to let go of that view in such a quick flash. I thought my mother’s alcohol-fueled diatribes would appear so nonsensical to my grandma that she would empathize with me and feel a sense of concern and obligation to make sure I was all right. At least Ron’s mother cared about my eternal salvation and tried to keep my feet out of hell fire.

I thought grandmothers had to like you. It’s a law or something.

Mary E. Pearson ~ The Adoration of Jenna Fox

The wedding took place on the last Saturday of December 1967, a year and a half before I would have graduated from high school.  I had gotten kicked out earlier that year, so I didn’t have any homework that weekend anyway. Although it was right after Christmas, the Los Angeles weather could not have been more perfect for an outdoor garden wedding. I walked down a curving white staircase on the arm of my father and out into a garden surrounded with ivy covered walls. The guests turned towards me as they stood together, quieting their murmurings about the absence of my mother.

She showed up later at the reception, full of vim and vigor and a good portion of a fifth of vodka. She staggered around the tables, greeting guests in her yellow and cream brocade sheath dress with matching coat and pill box hat, laying it on thick about having had diarrhea while trying to stabilize herself with backs of chairs. I was horrified, and yet felt strangely justified. Only later would I feel a sense of shame and regret so deep it made my chest hurt. All those shoulda, coulda, woulda’s clanging around in my head.

One night several years ago I had a dream.  My mom was in heaven with her family singing a song about the holy Word of God.  She, my grandmother, my great-grandmother, and two of my aunts were using sign language to illustrate it as they sang, and somehow I knew they learned it there. One day on the other side of this life my mom and I will talk again, forgiveness and love will flow, and it truly will be unconditional. I think about that often, and what it will be like. But in the meantime, I have my feet planted firmly on the soil of this side of the divide, and I spend a lot my time trying to make it all count for something good.

 

A Pimp Named Slim

http://www.dreamstime.com/royalty-free-stock-photos-retro-male-image826658One summer day when I was fifteen, I found myself sitting across the kitchen table from a tall, black, big hulk of a guy named Slim, and five, twenty-something white prostitutes lined up on the couch like pieces of fruit left to rot on a weathered windowsill. Slim was an acquaintance of sorts, one of the many I had been introduced to since I met my boyfriend Ron several months earlier.

Ron dropped me off after feeding me his typical line of tommyrot. Insisting he was just running to the liquor store, he left me to sit with Slim in uncomfortable silence. I was surprised by the lack of “girl” talk, and sensed glares coming from the group on the couch, hitting the back of my head. I sat very still, hoping for invisibility.

There was a quick tap at the door of the dingy apartment and a man walked in. He was white and seemed to be in his mid-thirties. He didn’t seem clean and I got the sense he had come straight from pulling an all-nighter somewhere. All five girls looked up expectantly. The man looked over at me and said, “I want that one.”

“She ain’t workin’,” Slim answered. I froze for a moment, then glanced around at the girls.  They stared back, hostility visible behind blank eyes.

“I said, I want that one,” he repeated.

“And I said, she ain’t workin’!” said Slim, as he began to reach under the table.

The man lifted his hands as if surrendering to an unseen enemy and backed out of the apartment.

So this is it? I thought. I’m going to end up sitting on a filthy couch one day, satisfied with a five and a ten? I felt helpless, alone and afraid. I just wanted to go home.

June Cleaver

June Cleaver

Just a few short years earlier I had pictured myself greeting my future husband at the door in a dress, high-heels, and a pearl necklace just like June Cleaver, in the old 1950’s sit-com, “Leave it to Beaver.” What a joke.

I got up from Slim’s dining room table and without a backward glance, made for the door.

“See ya,” I said. “And thanks.”

 

Thinking back on some of the bits and pieces of my early years is kind of like looking into a kaleidoscope; pieces of jagged colored glass tumbling around in my mind.  Most of the time they dance around in the background, but when I stop long enough to examine them, they fall into place, and I write.

 

 

 

 

Lookin’ For Love…

(If you would like to start at the beginning of this journey, please go to the archives on the right and start with “It Was A Dark And Stormy Night”).

1956-chevy-210-chevrolet-archivesThe guy in the turquoise 1956 Chevy was really something!  Dark hair, like my father’s.  Thick lower lip, like my father’s.  Tall and thin, like my father.  But that’s where the resemblance ended.

My father, although he had his faults, wasn’t a convicted felon.  He hadn’t stolen the car he drove to work.  He didn’t watch the game on televisions he acquired by breaking into other people’s houses. He never finagled the driver’s side window of a friend’s car to gain access to his pumped up car stereo system.  And I’m quite sure his crowd didn’t include gang bangers from East Los Angeles, or pimps and prostitutes from South Central.

Back when I was a shy, naive sixth grader at James Kew Elementary, meeting the James Dean wanna-be would have never entered my mind.  My mind was filled with dreams of becoming a great writer, dreams inspired by my 6th grade teacher, Mr. Snyder.  One day he read a piece I had written out loud to the class, a story about Benjamin Franklin and a mouse.  I have a flashbulb memory of the moment he told the class that I had all the makings of becoming a great writer some day. He told them I left him “wanting more,” at the end of my paper.  I still remember where I was sitting as he spoke about me…last row on the right side of the classroom, sunshine streaming in through the open windows, the smell of fresh cut grass wafting in.  My tummy fluttered as his words washed over me and the pleasure of it all made it hard to keep a straight face while my classmates all turned to stare. I recreated that moment in my mind all summer long, and signed up for a Creative Writing class as my first elective at Monroe Junior High.

I dressed very carefully for my first day of 7th grade.  I had on my usual uniform of under things…a white tank top undershirt with the tiny satin bow on the front and lace-trimmed white anklet socks peeking out from white, bright, brand spanking new tennis shoes.  There must have been a memo that had gone out to my elementary school girlfriends during the summer that read, “Sometime this summer, make sure you grow up.  Shave your legs.  Have your mother buy you a tiny garter belt and “suntan” colored nylons. Experiment with make-up, and get a bra even if you haven’t sprouted any yet.”  I didn’t get the memo.  And we had to dress-out for P.E.

The bullying started that first day and followed me through the halls of middle school, filling my skinny, stick straight frame with shame and fear.  At the same time, my creative writing teacher combed through over one hundred student papers a week, and I think writing a “C” caused her the least stress to her wrist.  One fell-swoop instead of the stick straight lines of a “A” or those curly cues you need to master in order to write a “B.”  I decided that Mr. Snyder must have been smoking something that day so long ago, back in the sixth grade, and once I finally made friends with the bullies, I began to experiment myself.

I met the guy in the turquoise 1956 Chevy just two short years later.  After a whirlwind courtship filled with crime and betrayal, we married in a sweet outdoor ceremony under a white arbor, me in white gown and veil and my fiance in standard black tuxedo.  The ceremony took place in a beautiful garden filled with smiling guests who sat in neat rows of white chairs, decorated with little white satin bows.  I was sixteen and he was twenty-one,  and in this forever moment I looked up at my husband-to-be and still only saw the face of my father. But that’s where the resemblance ended.