Wednesday, December 11, 2013

My First Day Of School

As a child my birthday always felt more like a curse instead of something to look forward to each year. Other than my mother, how could anyone be excited by the hallmark of that day?  Public schools always went back in session the day after Labor Day.  That meant many times the first day of school fell on my birthday, September 5th.  My very first day of school when I entered kindergarten at Vine Street Elementary School was much more memorable than any of the others because of the events that unfolded.  My birthday had been the day before, so this special day as I began my educational journey remains etched in infamy as being showcased by the fancy footwork of an awkward 5 year old klutz.

My next older brother is 4 years older than I am.  He had been delegated the responsibility to walk me to and from school until I got old enough to either walk by myself or in a group with my friends.  Since we went to the same school, it shouldn't have been that big of a deal to him, but anything involving siblings has a funny way of becoming complicated and drama-filled.  His biggest issue was having to deal with the shame of walking his kid sister to school.  Oh, the horrible things our families cast upon us, but like I always say, "what doesn't kill us, only makes us stronger".  I'm sure my brother is a much better person today for having had to deal with all the responsibilities of being an older brother to a pain in the ass like me. 

We both were decked out in our fine new first day of school apparel as we left home that day.  The journey up Walter Street seemed like such an arduous trek for a five year old child. The route contained two hills, Little Walter and Big Walter, crossing a sometimes busy Third Street and navigating Vine Street to arrive safely at school.  As we walked down Little Walter, I discovered many other children doing exactly the same thing we were doing.  All the older brothers and sisters were walking just ahead of their younger siblings prompting them to stop being so slow.  

As I walked I wasn't paying attention to what I was doing or where I was going. Before my brother noticed and could redirect my focus, I fell face first into a rather large pothole in the sidewalk. It all happened so fast that I didn't even have time to put my hands out to help break my fall.  BAM! My nose and forehead took the full impact of my fall. As my brother helped me up and took me home, he bitched at me the whole way there. I had blood and tears running down my face, but to hear him tell it, you would have thought I had planned the whole thing out just to embarrass him and to make him late for school.  Contrary to popular belief, I may have always had a devious streak in me, but not that devious!

Our family doctor, Dr. Dearborn looked me all over and patched me up.  My nose wasn't broken, but I had two black eyes and my forehead had been split open. My face was a mess for awhile and that was no way for a shy, little girl to start school, but I developed a great poker face at a young age so no one knew just how deeply that fall had hurt me. I like to say I learned to watch where I was walking, but that skill was developed at a much older age.  The only real lasting effect from my fall was the daily ridicule I endured from my brother as we walked to school.  I was so glad when the city finally patched that hole and my brother stopped tormenting me.  We laugh about it now, but I often wondered if any of my brothers ever realized how inferior to them I grew up feeling.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Thanksgiving

I don't remember any one particular Thanksgiving while I was growing up.  It's more an accumulation of them all rolled up into one pleasant memory that makes me smile. The song "over the river and through the woods to Grandmother's house we go" definitely was the theme of the day for my family.  Yes, over the Penobscot River and through Brewer to picturesque country of Holden was the route to my grandmother's house where a feast always awaited us.  Sometimes winter had already begun and the landscape was delicately draped with snow.  My brothers and I were filled with anticipation of the exquisite meal we would eat and the days ahead that led to the grand finale, Christmas. 

Nana's house was filled with delicious holiday aromas from pumpkin and apple pies.  My guilty pleasure was the suet pudding soaked with hard sauce.  The dessert was so rich and flavorful, I could only eat a small serving even though I always wanted more.  Cinnamon and other spices masked the smell of the turkey roasting in the oven and the medley of vegetables on the stove. Native grown McIntosh apples would fill the apple pies and sweeten the day as their flavor mingled with the vanilla ice cream slowing melting atop the warm pie.  Their aroma is so distinctive that I could always tell if they were being sold in a store and now whenever I smell them, I'm instantly transported back to autumn in Maine when the orchards are bustling with business. There with her colorful apron on, Nana was the captain of her kitchen and always busy making sure everyone present was thoroughly sated. She rarely used a recipe, yet everything she made was baked to perfection. Her culinary expertise was strictly from instinct and the experience she had mastered many years before made her like some legendary figure from a Norman Rockwell illustration in my mind.

My choice from the turkey was always the wings, but when my Great Aunt Leah, my grandmother's sister dined with us, I had to share because they were her favorite as well. I never minded and to this day, I always announce out loud that this one is for Aunt Leah as I eat one wing for me and one wing for her.  I know she'd like it that she's still remembered and included in all our holiday meals. Nana piled our plates beyond capacity, but no matter how much we ate it, everyone always had room for a little dessert and then a nap before going home. Nana always told me that my eyes were bigger than my stomach.  I suppose she was right, but on holidays even a child can have a hollow leg and be a bottomless pit. 

As the table was cleared and the food put away, my brothers and I did the dishes while the adults went into the living room to take a much needed breather. Nana always saved the paper tablecloth so I could cut out the turkeys and other Thanksgiving pictures printed on the tablecloth.  By the time I was done cutting, it was late in the afternoon and time to return home back through the woods and over the river to Walter Street we would go, but each time I went to Nana's house before I would leave, I always made sure I signed her guest book she kept on the desk in the corner of her living room. Doing that always made me feel as special as the others who had been guests in her house.  I'm sure the thought never crossed her mind to tell me not to do that because it was only for guests.  After all, I was her only grand daughter and I'm sure she indulged me in many, many ways.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Words

I remember the sound of his voice as he spoke to me. If I "flow" with the moment instead of trying to fight it, I can remember the instance the words were said and what kind of impact they had on me. I can remember how those particular words felt like a slap in the face. It was a well-deserved slap, but at that moment it felt like he was kicking me while I was on the ground bleeding.

Words do many things, but what I've found most intriguing about them is how some words have the ability to stick with a person. I have to admit that there are some words I wish I could forget. I wish I could pretend that they were never spoken and forever remain as just unspoken thoughts until they fade away completely. I remember too well the sting my oldest brother’s words had on me as I lay in a hospital bed wondering what my fate would be.

As he entered my room, he stopped and looked at me with complete disdain. The only thing he managed to say before abruptly leaving was "the next place you're going to land is on a cold slab in the morgue".   No hug! No “I’m so glad you’re alive!" No "what can I do to help you?" Just reality or "straight talk" as he came to call it many years later. The moment was brief, yet it has lasted a lifetime. His words were true, yet a little harsh for a 15 year old to hear, especially one in the process of shutting down emotionally. I remember how his words played over and over again in my head until I couldn't stand it any longer. I had to admit he was right even though that admission was never heard by anyone, but me. The reality of his words scared me. It scared me enough to make me break away...to leave and to only look back when I was far away from those things that caused me pain.

Many years later that same brother once again gave me words that I know will also stay with me the rest of my life. When the truth finally dug its way out of the nasty little grave buried deep within me, when my erratic behavior during my teenage wasteland years all of a sudden made sense to him, how I was perceived immediately changed. All the rebellion and defiance now seemed like a journey that was meant to happen. I was a just another victim and not some half-crazed perpetrator. I no longer was the black sheep. Suddenly, I became a helpless, lost lamb, but in that instance I was finally able to stand strong knowing that the worst had happened.  The truth had finally been revealed.

At the point of truly understanding something, when empathy crowds out all logic and a person truly feels someone else's pain, the only words spoken are those of acknowledgement. Sometimes that acknowledgement is no more than a nod of the head or eyes filled with tears.  He acknowledged my pain by asking me how I've dealt with it all these years. My life quickly passed before me and I knew in that instance that I hadn't handled it very well, but I was still alive. I had survived the emotional holocaust. He wanted to know because the truth hadn't set him free. It had imprisoned him into realizing that the few minutes he had known my truth were a few minutes too long. Mine had been a lifetime of living with that ugly cesspool called the truth! He couldn't handle my truth, yet there it was staring at him making him want to run away just like I had many years ago.

Pain dulls in time, but the words remain...always! For a moment he was just my brother before retreating back into the psychologist mode where it was safe to view the ugliness of life in an impersonal way. Yet what he didn't know was that the brief intimate moment he had given me of true empathy, of just being my big brother more than made up for the slap in the face he had given me many years earlier.

That same brother amused me by his epiphany about me several years ago. After a period of contemplation, he revealed that he had really expected me to be backpacking across Europe or doing something equally adventurous during my “empty nest” period. I thought about how he perceives me and at that moment I saw myself clearly. The next morning I flew to Alaska just because! It seems I've spent my entire life exploring, searching and running away, yet the only place I've ever called "home" is Maine. I often wonder if all the years I spent in exile were just another self-destructive act in the very long list of self destruction I sometimes call my life.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Why The Caged Bird Sings

I originally wrote this post in 2005 and each time I've reposted it, it always makes me feel as it did the first time I typed these words...empowered.  Anyone who has lived with a secret knows how alone and different having a secret can make you feel.  When that secret no longer exists it allows the person to finally live a life void of lies and avoidance.  What a liberating feeling that can be!  I know some of my friends and family had a difficult time when I finally came out of the closet and confessed to being a "nonbeliever" (please insert your label of choice here) after struggling with it for many years. Sometimes I still feel a little awkward when situations call for some reference to God or religious faith and I have none to offer, but I muddle through those times and become stronger and more at peace with myself in the face of adversity.  At this point in my life all I hope for is that the people who love me and who have journeyed through life with me can feel the same amount of tolerance towards my beliefs as I have for theirs.  The following is a short example of how my words and actions allowed a caged bird sing and how they deeply influenced someone without me knowing it.
The cage bird sings for freedom. It sings as a disguise. It sings because if it remains silent, it will fade away and die. Many times I have tried to place myself in other people's shoes especially those people who feel as if they have to hide or cover up who they really are or conceal the lifestyle they have chosen to live because they fear the stigma and rejection attached to it. I grew up being the black sheep of the family, but even the antics of a black sheep doesn't come close to the type of reaction created by someone who is homosexual. I can almost understand why some people try to lead a straight life, be something they are not and never feel comfortable enough to reveal who they really are. The inner turmoil must be devastating. Yes, I know all those who say horrific things about homosexuality. I've heard all the arguments...all the pros and cons!!! I guess my rather liberal views on the subject allow me to see the person as a human being and not as some perverted demon or freak of nature.

Several years ago my mother made a strange statement to me one day. She told me that I had changed her views on homosexuals. Me? I'm straight....how did I do that? She asked me if I remembered the day I first learned that one of my female cousins was a lesbian. I thought back to that day 30 something years ago and vaguely remembered what an uproar within the family that announcement had caused. Hey, at the time I probably felt relieved because the focus wasn't on me and the gossip was centered elsewhere! Yes, I remember being told! My mother asked me if I remembered what I said to her when she told me about my cousin, Paula. I thought back, but I couldn't remember my initial reaction. My mother refreshed my memory by telling me that I kindly informed everyone in the room that my cousin was the same person as she was the day before they all knew she was a lesbian. As far as I was concerned, nothing had changed.
 
My mother said my words stuck with her and she knew what I had said was true. She stopped labeling my cousin and allowed her to continue being the kind, loving person we always knew her to be. That acceptance broadened in time and allowed my mother to view others with different preferences and lifestyles as being just as human as she is and it made me smile knowing that black sheep of the family can be pretty sagely at times.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Quinine and Barbie Dolls

Children are such curious creatures and often times find their parent's bedroom a cornucopia of hidden treasures. As a child, I would often sneak into my parent’s room which was located right next to mine to "explore".  It always seemed so dark and inviting in there, plus the element of it being forbidden fruit made it even more appealing.  Many treasures I found remained veiled in mystery until I was much older. Now, as I get flashes of memories from my early childhood years, I ask my mother to help me fill in the blanks.  She was stunned one day a several years ago when I asked her what those brown glass bottles containing yellow "goopy" liquid were that she and my father kept hidden away in a dresser in their bedroom. She told me that it was my father's quinine that he used to treat the recurring bouts of malaria he had.  He had fought in the South Pacific during World War II and like so many others he fell victim to a female Anopheles mosquito.  I discovered those bottles the same day I discovered rain coats for my Barbie's in my father's nightstand.


As children, my friends and I would play with our Barbie dolls by the hours.  We would create elaborate story lines that kept us amused and allowed our creative juices to flow free. We never knew quite where a story would take us nor did we ever seem to care.  One rainy day, my mother walked into my bedroom while I was playing Barbies with a neighborhood friend. I  proudly held my Barbie up to show my mother the rain jacket I had designed for my Barbie. I thought the transparent slicker was beautiful and quite functional keeping Barbie dry when the weather was stormy. 

My mother almost feel over when she saw that my Barbie was wearing a unused condom I had snagged from her bedroom. I had cut the top off so Barbie's head would fit through the opening and then I cut two small holes in the sides for her arms. It fit her like a glove or I guess I should say it fit Barbie just like a condom should.  It's a shame I didn't hold onto that idea for a few more years so I could market life-size condoms for adults going to Mazola oil parties. I could have been rich and not just beautiful!  Somehow from an early age, I think my mother got the inkling that her youngest child and only girl was going to lead a very creative life.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

The Box

I don't exactly remember how old I was when I decorated the inside of the box transforming it from being an ordinary cardboard refrigerator box into my own little world.  My mother and father had just purchased a new refrigerator and I claimed the empty box as a playhouse.  I remember it seeming like it was huge inside so given the length of my ever-growing, lanky legs, I couldn't have been more than 7 or 8 years old. 
 
I worked diligently on coloring and drawing all over the inside of the box while the outside stayed deceptively plain.  I invited my friends one by one to visit me inside the box.  Everyone seemed thoroughly impressed by the wonderland I had created and they put their own mark in it as well by drawing a little something on the wall.  Because the box was too large to stay inside the house, my mother made me keep it beside the house in an area of the yard that the separated my house from my cousin's house. 

Each day I would race outside to check on my box and each day it was still there untouched.  And then it happened!  One morning I raced outside after eating breakfast and it had rained sometime in the night.  When I tried to crawl inside the box, it collapsed on me.  It probably was a funny sight to see a huge cardboard box with a set of skinny legs sticking out. 

My cousin, Debbie laughed hysterically at me.  I kept thinking that she's laughing at me because I hadn't invited her inside the box.  The longer she laughed the more it hurt my feelings.   The more it hurt my feelings, the angrier I got.  Finally, I accepted my refuge was gone forever and I stomped back to my house breathing fire as I went.  All I could hear was laughter resonating in my ears as my anger quietly boiled over.  When I went to shut the kitchen door, I slammed it as hard as I could. When I did that, I put my hand through a pane of glass. 

I immediately had a "uh oh" moment when I looked down and saw glass all over the kitchen floor.  I knew I was going to get in big trouble for it.  I hated my mother yelling and so did the whole neighborhood.  I knew this little fiasco was going to stir her wrath.  There was no way I'd catch a break and she'd just let me slide.  She didn't let anything slide!  Maybe a miracle would happen and  I would become deaf so I wouldn't have to hear her yell. The odd thing about it  was that I was completely oblivious to the fact that my hand and arm was bleeding from getting cut on the broken glass as I pulled my arm back through the door.  While I bled, all that seemed to concern me was having my mother yell at me, having to face my cousin, Debbie again and being embarassed from having the whole neighborhood know what stupid thing I had done now as my mother announced it like she was yelling through a megaphone at a football game. 

It wasn't until my mother came running to see what all the commotion was and her bellowing, "What in hell have you done, Karen?" (an understatement, no doubt or maybe just a premonition of my misadventures ahead) that I realized I had been physically hurt.  All my pain until then was internal. She attended to my cuts first which weren't too bad before cleaning up the mess I had made.  The bandages on my arm made my injuries look alot worse than what they really were.  My wounds didn't require a trip to the doctor or stitches, but the gauze bandages that decorated my right arm was a constant reminder of what a dumbass I was. I still invoked laughter each time I saw my cousin for days after that.  Each time it still hurt to be laughed at, but each time I got a little tougher until it didn't matter anymore.  I may not have found a way to turn my hearing off, but I certainly found a way to turn my heart off so it would stop hurting.  That discovery was a Godsend to me !

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Sinnin' With Lynne

We meet many people throughout our lives and some of those people have a profound effect upon our lives. Some people enter and remain with us always while others enter and exit remaining just long enough to alter the path upon which we walk.  Although Lynne faded from my life, the footsteps she left have remained with me.

I was in awe of Lynne...everyone was! She was the quintessential woman every young girl dreamed of being. I remember the first time I ever saw her. When I opened the kitchen door and walked inside my house, I heard voices coming from my brother's work out room.  Ever since he had come back from Viet Nam he was obsessed with three things: boxing, body building and women.  My middle oldest brother was Mr. Body Beautiful of Bangor, Maine so he spent a lot of time lifting weights so he'd have a perfect physique and oh how he loved the females to admire him! I opened the door and poked my head in to let him know I was home and also to be a little nosy. I wanted to see what female he had back there trying to impress with his biceps.

When I opened the door, standing in front of me was a vision of everything I thought I wanted to be. She was a tall, dark haired beauty with beautiful brown eyes.  Her body was perfectly shaped and she stood confident in her hip hugger bell bottoms and a shirt unbuttoned just enough to show some cleavage.  The shirt was tied up around her midriff in a knot showing off her abs.  Later, I found out she was a go-go dancer at some nightclub and that's how they met. She smiled at me as she eyed me up and down.  I guess I passed inspection or maybe I failed because she immediately took me under her wing. I thought it was only because she was dating my brother, but opportunities like that don't come often, so I just played it cool and went along for the ride. Whatever the reason she had for befriending me didn't matter to me.  I was just a kid, but the road I walked on with Lynne gave me an education I'll never forget.

Shortly after meeting Lynne, my brother told her to NEVER give me any drugs. NOT EVER!!!At 14, I was already experimenting with most substances, but the availability seemed to widen immensely as soon as she came into my life. Although she never gave me any hard drugs, being in her inner circle gave me the contacts to get anything I wanted. She and I would occasionally smoke a joint together, but that was more a social thing to do than it was to get high. Smoking dope for me was never really any big deal...it was just something everyone did.

When my brother and Lynne broke up, we continued being friends. In fact, we spent most of our time together. I was blinded by Lynne's influence over me, but I doubt if I had seen my role in the grand scheme of things it would have changed anything. I saw Lynne as my ticket out of Bangor, Maine and so when she suggested leaving, I jumped at the chance. She was several years older than me and knew the streets. I felt safe with her and as long as I was with her everything seemed to flow in what appeared to be a positive direction.


Lynne and I developed a strange relationship. I could do as I pleased without any questions asked, but she always insisted on knowing where I was. I complied with her request because she took care of me and I was grateful. The streets of Boston became my playground and Lynne became my guardian angel and surrogate mother. I watched how Lynne operated and she did whatever she needed to do to support us.  I was on a need to know basis and I didn't ask questions, but on some level I must have disapproved.  I started doing stuff to piss her off.  I pushed her buttons often, but rarely got angry at me.  I certainly deserved a swift kick in the ass, but she never gave me one.  One evening while she was out, I got into a poker game with a group of people who lived in the same building as us. They liked to party and so did I.  When I lost all my money, I used Lynne as a bet and I lost. Oh shit! I couldn't believe I did that! I really caught hell on that one, but she paid off my bet and made the winner a very happy man. I never played poker with that group again, but was frequently asked to do so. Go figure!

It was a fast crowd and although I was readily accepted into it, there was an unspoken rule that no one was to mess with me in any way. I simply became the one who everyone liked to laugh with and hang out with and get high with.  Lynne was the one they all lusted after.  I accepted my role and knew my place. I never tried to actively change it, but the day did come when I was noticed first and Lynne was invisible. That day immediately changed our relationship and the path I was on.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Wintertime Flu Equals Wintertime Blues - Part 2

Scene: 14 year old during Christmas vacation with Hong Kong Flu.  Temperature: almost 105.  No voice.  Strep throat which made it painful to swallow.  Dizzy and passed out a few times upon standing.  This all meant I was SICK and not able to run around like everyone else!  This also meant I was avoided like I had the plague.  Being sick is bad enough, but being sick in isolation really sucks. 

I took the usual over the counter medicines people took when they had the flu plus I had to take antibiotics for my strep throat so it wouldn't linger and cause heart damage.  My mother who is a nurse was instructed by my family doctor to paint my throat with this awful looking brown stuff.  (She just told me it was iodine) She had me sit at the kitchen table and instructed me not to swallow any of it because it was poison. 

WTF? Did I hear that right?  How am I supposed to tell you if I swallowed any if I can't talk?  Wait a minute!  I've got it!  I'll just kick you in the shins if you poison me! 

I finally started to feel better the weekend before school started back.  Why I pushed it to get back to school is beyond me, but probably had to do with feeling so isolated while I was sick.  I walked to school Monday morning.  The bitter cold had finally dissipated, so the 10 minute walk to school was bearable. By Monday afternoon, the school nurse called my mother to inform her I was sick again.  The walk home wore me out so I went directly to bed when I got there.  I had a relapse and had developed pneumonia according to my doctor.  I was out of school for almost a month.  Ordinarily I would have enjoyed being out of school, but not under those conditions.

I was back to my good old self by concert time in February.  That's what mattered most to me!  After the concert, a few friends and I went riding around.   Most of the neighborhood gang were older than me, but never treated me like the baby of the group.  Somehow I just fit in and was part of the gang.  Because Jimmy was one of those people going for a ride and I had a wicked crush on him, I would have moved a mountain in order to go along.  Luckily, I didn't have to do anything that strenuous! The vehicle was a truck so most of us had to sit in the back.  Of course you know, I was one of the ones in the back as we sped through the crisp winter air.  Isn't it nice to be young and invincible?  If I had a brain then I probably would have been dangerous!

Friday, November 8, 2013

Wintertime Flu Equals Wintertime Blues

So many times in my early years I was my own worst enemy.  I don't know if I didn't develop common sense early on or if I just didn't care about mundane things like dressing properly.  The year was 1969 and the winter had been a brutal one.  I was so excited when my mother told me I could go to a concert.  I probably should rephrase that because I know I would have found a way to go whether she had said yes or not.  Let's say that I was excited because my mother had given me the money to buy my ticket. 

During Christmas vacation the temperatures had dipped below zero and those were the days before a wind chill was factored into the temperature.  All I know is that when it gets that cold, it hurts to breathe and ice forms on your eyebrows, eyelashes and nose hairs if you remain outside for more than a few minutes.  The best rule of thumb is to remain inside when it's that cold, but I chose to go downtown to purchase my ticket for the James Taylor/Carole King concert while it was 25 below zero dressed in thin cotton pants and a jean jacket.  Walking to downtown wasn't too bad because I was walking with the wind.  I really didn't notice how strong it was until I left Viner's Music Store after purchasing my ticket.  The wind immediately went right through me and  chilled me to the bone.  I had to stop in every other store along Main Street to get warm. 

Between the last store and my house was about a ten minute walk if you're hoofing it right along and not lollygagging.  By the time I got home I was just about frozen, but I had tickets in hand for my first concert.  That's all that mattered until I open the kitchen door and went inside!   That first burst of heat that met my chilled skin caused me to have a headache so severe I had to go lay down.  I fell asleep for awhile and when I awoke I was running a fever.   I don't know what the incubation period is for getting the flu, but the Hong Kong Flu had run rampant the last two winters and that's what my family doctor said I had. As my flu symptoms worsened, I got sicker.  Strep throat and laryngitis to go along with the Hong Kong Flu was a miserable way to spend the remainder of my Christmas vacation and to launch into 1970.    Thank goodness the concert wasn't until February.  I had plenty of time to recuperate or so I thought.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Who Is That Girl In The Dark Green Coat?

The thought of organizing my early life in a story that follows a straight line from beginning to end, just isn't me.  Skipping around is more my style and I find it easier to write when I just go with whatever memory pops in my head instead of  trudging through a what comes next storyline.  So here I go jumping from my first memory at age 3 to another false alarm that happened while I was in high school. 

Sometime during Jr. High School or Middle School depending on what part of the country you live in, I knew school and I weren't meant for each other.  I frequently skipped school, cut classes and stayed high most of the time.  When I reached high school (appropriately named) I rarely attended classes.  I might go to school, but my days consisted of sitting in the smoking lounges provided for students who smoked.  I "smoked" or did whatever I felt like doing, but going to class was rarely on my schedule! 

One day after Christmas vacation, I had a terminal case of the munchies. Cafeteria food was pretty disgusting even to someone with the munchies, so I decided to hike down the street to the golden arches.  After going to my locker to get my coat, I figured going out the front entrance of the school would give me the best chance of not being stopped upon leaving.  Just as I was about to leave, the fire alarms went off in the school.  Immediately, about 2000 bitching kids emptied outside.  It was the dead of winter and very cold, but there we all stood in front of Bangor High School. 

The bitch fest about being outside in the cold grew pretty loud until little by little it quieted to complete silence.  When I realized why everyone had gotten silent, I felt a hand on my arm.  The principal said, "Come with me!"  Out of 2000 people, I was the only one wearing a coat. 

I tried explaining I was just cutting school to go get something to eat and didn't have anything to do with the false alarm, but the principal didn't seem interested in hearing my story.  He poked me in the records room and told me he'd be back in a few minutes to deal with me.  I had been instructed to sit in a chair at the large rectangular table in the center of the room.  File cabinets holding all the students' school records lined the perimeter of the room.  I was pretty pissed off and decided this would be a perfect opportunity to get even.  I opened a random file cabinet, grabbed some files and then went to the window.  After opening the window, I liberated the records by tossing them outside into the snow.  I repeated this until the file cabinets were empty.  I shut the window and sat patiently in the chair waiting for the principal to return.

Once in his office, I didn't get much of an opportunity to speak. He suspended me from school, yet told me I had to finish out the day and return the next morning with my parents.  WTF? No time off??? I marched out of his office and straight back to the smoking room where I remained for the rest of the day.  At the end of the day, when I was leaving school I walked by his office and noticed no one was in there.  I slipped in and out quickly leaving him a present.  As I walked out of the building, I had a smile on my face.  I knew how rattled he'd be when he returned to his office and sat down at his desk to see a joint staring at him.   

Of course the next day, I was questioned about the school records and the principal's present.  What school records?  No witnesses, no proof...so what if they had put me in that room!  I bet they wouldn't make that mistake again.  And as for alleged drug abuse, I certainly wouldn't waste a joint on a straight person...that is if I did drugs!  I often wondered if they recovered all the record or how many the wind scattered into no man's land.  Unfortunately mine stayed intact and contains my colorful history of being oppositionally defiant.  I know that principal was glad the next month when I overdosed on barbiturates.  I was taken to the ER and never returned to school after that.  False alarm? I don't think so! I just don't think anyone was really paying attention or knew where the real fire was! 

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

My First Memory

I have glimpses of memories from my early years, but the first thing I actually remember well is when my Aunt Nancy (my father's youngest sister) got married.  It was a few months past my 3rd birthday on a cold December day when all the grownups gathered in my living room.  Because I couldn't remember my brothers being there, I just looked up what day of the week December 12, 1958 fell on.  It was a Friday so my brothers would have been in school.

Everyone was dressed up like they were going to church, but instead of going to church they stayed in the living room for a party.  I sat quietly on the sofa being the silent observer, a role I've played often in life.  I didn't know exactly what was happening, but I knew it was important and everyone seemed happy. Although I had been included in the festivities, my real interest wasn't on the people in the room.  I was focused on the wedding cake strategically positioned on the buffet.  I wanted so badly to ease over to it and stick my little fingers in the frosting, but I knew I wasn't tall enough to reach the cake so I patiently waited. When the cake was cut I finally got a piece of the cherry nut cake with white icing my mother had made for the occasion.  The roses she always made to decorate cakes were fabulous.  Each year as I blew out the candles atop the birthday cake she had made for me, I always wished for next year's cake to be completely covered in roses, but that wish never came true.

As I look at the few pictures there are from that day, I see my parents being playful with each other.  I have to admit that I'm glad there was a time they liked each other and enjoyed each other's company, but time has all but wiped those days from my memory.  I'm sure there was alcohol involved to heighten the joy of the occasion.  After all, it was a wedding! And alcohol is a great social lubricant...until it isn't! I can't help but smile at the smile on my mother's face and the silly look my father had while he was looking at her while they danced.  Those were the parents I wish I had!  Where did they go and what happened to their happiness?  I do know the answer to those questions, but can it really be as simple as alcoholism raising its ugly head? Certainly everyone including me knows there's nothing simple about alcoholism.  It's a beast that devours everything good in its sight.

The pictures show my grandparents participating and interacting with the group.  Everyone looks as if they like each other and that confuses me. Although my grandparents lived in the same house as me, I have very few memories of them.  It was almost like they were invisible and I never understood why it was that way.  After a certain point and it probably wasn't too long after this wedding, all the adults stopped talking to each other.  There was a dirty little secret no one talked about and when asked no one seemed to know what that secret was.    The family has remained shrouded in mystery and tainted by a disease called alcoholism and whatever the secret was each one of them took it with them to their grave.  Who knows what actually did or didn't happen?  But like them in time, I began not to care! 

Sometimes as I played in the dooryard, I would look up at the glassed in sunroom and sometimes I would see my grandmother sitting there looking out at me.  She didn't wave.  She didn't smile.  She just stared.  When I would play on the lawn next to the sidewalk sometimes my grandfather would pass by me on his way to the neighborhood bar.  He would walk right by me.  He didn't speak.  He didn't smile. He didn't look my way.  Some things become glaring apparent even at a young age.  No, they weren't invisible! It was me no one seemed to see! 

My Aunt Nancy was never that way towards me, but she got married and moved far away.  I always used to giggle when my mother would refer to her as "the only smart one in the family".  Yes, she left but she took her share of the misery with her. The years had taken their toll on her, too and she lived with the horrendous guilt of leaving.  Her life outwardly was what we all wanted ours to be, but buried not too far from the surface were her inner demons waiting to come out.  She wanted nothing more than to be a good wife and mother and that she was, but she was never appreciated or recognized in a way she deserved or needed.  Like the rest of us, she learned how to suffer in silence.  In that silence, she always longed to be good enough to be loved by all.

In part, I think she was a victim of the era in which she was raised.  She never felt like an equal.  She was just another woman...nothing really all that special! She felt uneducated, unrefined and ungraceful.  Of course that was hogwash, but try telling that to the adult child of an alcoholic.  My Aunt Nancy has a heart of gold and is as beautiful on the outside as she is on the inside, but what good is me saying that unless she can see and believe the good things about herself?  While she sacrificed to give her children all the things she never had, her son became her only ally while her daughter learned by the example to treat her like hired help to be kept both emotionally and physically at a distance.  She was corrected whenever she mispronounced a word or told her version of a story that wasn't exactly the way the rest of her family remembered it.  Yes, she felt stupid and ugly and not good enough.  She felt she was looked down upon with shame and she still lives with those scars.  And knowing how she feels, I hurt for her, but I feel thankful she is and always will be a part of my life. 

Sunday, October 27, 2013

It Was A Dark And Stormy Night

I just looked back over the things I've posted since I started HANDPRINTS IN THE ATTIC earlier this month and smiled when I realized how disjointed my posts are.  Perhaps I need to go back to the beginning and put my life's story into chronological order so it makes more sense.  Being scattered is indicative of what lurks just below the surface.  It's like a game of dodgeball.  Being scattered makes the reading more difficult and the reliving it even more difficult.  I tell one story, but I skip over the before and after...those parts are most likely more important than the story I selected to tell.  Those parts were the true catalyst for what drove me, so here's my second attempt to right a wrong by starting my story in a better spot.  

I was born into a family with a mother who was a seamstress, a father who was a fireman and three older brothers who were jocks by the time they reached high school.  That sentence depicts a rather normal family, but the period after the word "jocks" is where the normalcy ends.  I look at photos of myself from my childhood and I never see what I would call a happy child.  I never smiled except during school photos and then it was forced.  I felt ugly and awkward growing up.  I was always the tallest in my class.  During that era it wasn't fashionable for woman to be tall, so when I started wearing jeans I had to buy boy's jeans to get the inseam long enough.  I bought Levi's at Freese's Department Store on Main Street for $4.95 a pair. I can remember licking and sticking green stamps in books so I could buy blue jeans that fit my curveless physique.  I was so relieved when tall super models hit the scene and changed perceptions of what beautiful looked like. 

I don't ever remember being teased about be tall or for wearing glasses except from my brothers.  They would tell me I was going to be 6 feet tall when I finished growing.  I would cry and feel like a freak.  They made it seems like I'd never be called beautiful or looked at by a boy.  In fact, they made me feel that I looked like a boy.  I was doomed to be an old maid!  Perhaps that's a brother's job to keep their sister from getting too full of herself.  If so, mine were excellent at that job.  I do have to reveal that their prediction about my height was wrong.  At my tallest I was 5'10 and now, I've begun to shrink.  The last time I was measured I was 5'9".   By the time I'm an old woman, I might be considered of average height.  Horray for the golden years!

Looking back, I don't know why my mother didn't take me under her wing and show me what girls are supposed to do.  She dressed nicely and wore make-up, but by the time I reached my teenage years I wasn't interested in learning to be prissy.  I always hated make up and rarely wore any.  I hated the way it felt on my skin. My closet was full of nice clothes my mother had made, but I wasn't interested in dressing to the nines.  A pair of holey jeans and a T-shirt seemed to suffice.  When mini dresses were in style I wore them, but I was never comfortable with showing off my long legs.  I never felt like I had any redeeming physical qualities because no one ever told me I did.  I just assumed when you look like me people say nothing to be polite. When you look like me, you have no reason to primp or smile.  You just learn to keep it all in and suffer in silence.  When you look like me, every other female in the world is prettier.  You envy your female friends and feel horrible because you can't hide the ugly you were given.

The same went for all my other qualities and potential talents.  I never realized I was smart and that not everyone was capable of getting A's.  I just assumed because I got A's, everyone else did too, but by the time I reached 7th grade I knew I'd never finish high school.  It was like a dark cloud hovering over me preventing me from seeing the good in myself.  I longed for recognition, but I wasn't good at doing anything.  I was never patted on the back and told "hey kiddo, I think you have something there.  Maybe you should pursue that."  When the dark side took over completely, I discovered I was excellent at hate, discontent and sorrow.  I had a gift for getting into trouble and being outrageous.  Ah! Finally recognition!

From a very early age I loved to write and often times sat in my room writing little stories and drawing pictures.  Paper was in abundance at our house because my grandfather worked at the Eastern Papermill in Brewer and one of the perks was free paper. As I wrote and drew, I always felt as though I was just wasting paper and that it was awful being so wasteful. I tried to hid how much paper I used by stashing away everything I created under the bed, in the closet and in my drawers.  Surfacely, my room looked presentable, but like my life it was actually cluttered and disorganized. As I wrote and drew, I assumed everyone could do the same.  It wasn't until much later in life that I made a startling discovery and at that moment I was filled with so many emotions I thought I was going to lose my mind.  I was angry because I didn't receive any encouragement when I was growing up and I was sad because I had wasted so much time living behind a wall. I made myself remember how my creations were never showcased, but thrown away each time my mother decided my room needed a thorough cleaning.  Our refrigerator door was bare except for the occasional newspaper cartoon that was tapped there.  The void I grew up in wasn't loud and maddening.  It was dark and cold.  There was no praise and encouragement.  There was only waves of pain and disappointment.

As I got older and could no longer avoid making certain realizations, I felt worse the more potential I discovered I had.  You would think a healthy person making those types of discoveries would feel elated.  They would open their wings and soar amongst the clouds.  Not I!  I stopped writing and drawing about the same time I stopped doing drugs around age 30 and didn't start again for almost 15 years. I had this overwhelming need to punish myself, to stifle myself and to deny myself any recognition for a job well done.  I called myself stupid I was for not seeing obvious things and for allowing my inner demons run amok.  I hated being weak and I hated me!  

Saturday, October 26, 2013

My First Love

Wayne wasn't the boy next door.  He lived across the street from me. When I first learned his family was moving into my neighborhood, I threatened to move out the neighborhood and if I did stay, I knew I'd never accept him into my circle of friends, the sacred neighborhood gang.  I took all the neighborhood loyalty hype seriously and knew that it just couldn't work out having someone from another neighborhood infiltrate my cozy little nest in which I grew up.

I still remember the day Lisa told me that her family had sold their second house atop little Walter, the smaller of the two hills on Walter Street. The look she had on her face as she said, "you'll never believe who's moving into our old house" said it all. I stood looking at her for a moment trying to determine if she was just trying to get me riled up or if she actually thought finding out about this new someone would bother me. When she told me who the new kid on the block was going to be, I walked away muttering about moving far away.  How could something like this happen? The neighborhood would never be the same!

I avoided him for several weeks after he moved in until he discovered the neighborhood hangout one day. The Pizza Roma, a local pizza joint was where all our best times were had. To my shock there he was one day when I entered the front door. What made it worse was he had already ingratiated himself into our group. I walked past the group saying hi to everyone, but him.   A little pinball would work off my frustration. That day started a ritual for us that took a path that neither of us expected.  Each time after that when he saw me playing pinball, he'd come stand next to me and silently watch me. He would watch my hands as they worked the flippers. He watched the expressions on my face and the movements of my body as I shook the machine just enough to finesse more points, yet kept the machine from tilting and losing the game completely.  I was always aware of his presence, of his eyes on me, but I never acknowledged him. I never allowed myself to gaze into his eyes to see what was there.


One day several months after he had become part of our gang, I made a quick appearance at the Pizza Roma on my way to babysitting one evening.  Sharon was the cool new lady who lived down the street and didn’t mind my friends keeping me company while I babysat for her children.  I quickly slid into the booth and began talking since I only had a few minutes to spare before I had to leave. Within seconds “he” slid in next to me.  I had no way of escape.  He was forcing me to interact with him. 


What I did next, was done out of instinct, but not from any prior knowledge or real experience. Before Wayne, all the experience I had with the opposite sex was one brief make out session with George at the truck yard on Patten Street, a few kisses in the backseat of car while riding around with my cousin, Debbie and some guys she knew and of course, chasing after Jimmy like a female dog in heat, but not knowing exactly what I would have done if I had caught him.  Jimmy and I were friends and spent a lot of time together.  I chased and chased, but he never let me catch him. I was just a fourteen year old kid and had never had a boyfriend. He was 19 and smart enough to keep me at a safe distance.


Without looking at Wayne, I placed my hand on his inner thigh. He had a small hole in his jeans and I began to outline the hole with my index finger. No one else sitting at the booth with us could see what was happening nor did my expression give any indication that I was engaging in some risky foreplay for a fourteen year old.  I did this for several minutes before announcing I had to leave and invited all present to join me if they had nothing else to do.  Of course, he used this as a way to finally get me to speak to him. I had to ask him to move so I could leave.


When our eyes met, something frightened me. Something in me stirred. Something I wasn't familiar with feeling. He smiled as he slid out of the booth and gestured as a knight would bow to a princess. I coyly smiled and then winked at him as I slid out of the booth. Within minutes Greg, Joyce and a few others had followed me, but he lagged behind.  I felt almost a disappointment when I thought he didn't accompany the rest of my friends.

When I saw him, my heart raced with excitement. I was sure everyone there could see my pulse quicken and would notice the way he and I were looking at each other. There was a definite hunger... a spark... a curiosity. Raging hormones, no doubt! I think they must have noticed something was happening because one by one each person left early that evening. Before long we were alone with the music playing in the background. That night he became my boyfriend and I went home with lips so sore it hurt to move them. He walked me to my door and kissed me one last time before bidding me adieu. I raced upstairs to my bedroom to look out the window so I could see him cross the street and go inside his house. I laid in bed, touched my lips and hungered for much more.  Yes, Wayne was the boy who lived across the street and he was my first love.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds

I don't remember exactly when it happened or exactly how it happened.  All I know is that it did happen.  As far back as I can remember, I felt different. Not the kind of different that gets a person labeled as someone to be avoided, but different in the sense that I completely understood myself at a very early age and for the most part, I was okay with it.  I always did what I wanted to do and rarely did what I was told to do. Like it or not, I knew what didn't kill me would only make me stronger.  Some things I realized about myself were hard to accept and seemed almost like a bad dream or some chaotic prophecy waiting to be fulfilled, but somehow I was still okay with it.  Some might say I bravely walked right into it without reservation, while others might speculate that mine was a path chosen for me or cruelly forced upon me. Whatever the real reason for all the how’s, the why’s and the when’s paled in comparison to the experience, insights and education I gained along the way. After all, isn't it said that it's not really the destination that's important but how one gets there?

Of course, it all must have started on some dark and stormy night, but weren't they all dark and stormy nights during that period? That inner instinct that made me eventually flee was like a compass pointing to my true North. Although my actions may have seemed erratic and my course without any direction, that facade slowly crumbled away to reveal that all steps forward were aimed at a slow, self-destruction. That was my fate at hand.  I never blamed others for my plight even when it was obvious that the avalanche started when I was very young. Perhaps the “it” was a simple as being product of a dysfunctional family or maybe "it" was just the way I was created.

They tell me I was a shy child and wouldn't talk to anyone, but my family members before the age of five. I don't remember that, but wish I could. I was told that I blossomed once I started school. When I discovered I had a voice, I got dubbed as being "chatty" or "gabby" and then slowly my voice turned sarcastic with a witty twist...just enough to get a well-timed laugh at the most inappropriate moments. Every class needs a clown, doesn’t it? And like I always say, "it's a hard job and someone had to do it!" So why not me?

Most of my early behaviors were aimed to see what reaction I could get from people whether it was from some childish prank I played or a fake emotional outburst over something that didn't warrant  an outburst.  Perhaps I should have become an actress because it seemed I had a flair for the drama.  I remember times when I sailed smoothly through everything and then later wondered if I was clever or if others were just blind, stupid or perhaps apathetic. I always took everything I did one step past its limit ...just because I could. In my youth, before it got too out of control, I would defy simple rules. For example, if a person skipped school for one day, I would skip school for 3 weeks.  Why? I suppose it was a combination of things, but the why isn't important now. The why stopped being important as soon as things got complicated and the harsh reality set in.

Don't we all learn that when you play, you pay? Well, one payday came abruptly when I gallivanted home during one of my periods of not feeling like I wanted or needed to attend school. After all, I had more important things to do than get an education.  As soon as I opened the kitchen door waiting to greet me were my mother and the truancy office, Mrs. Thibodeau.  They were sitting at the kitchen table and obviously had been chatting about "what to do with Karen". In those days, it seemed like that was such a hot topic and one in which many people had brainstormed for an effective solution. Often times, I felt as if I was a disease with no cure. I was examined, prodded, probed, quizzed and carefully scrutinized. Times of "remission" did occur, but those periods were getting shorter and less frequent.  Apathy was taking its place and spreading rapidly .

As soon as I entered the house, I was asked to take a seat and was interrogated for answers and to those same questions I was so frequently asked.

How?

Why?

When?

And let’s not forget “where?”

Blah! Blah! Blah!

"Not today, ladies!"
I thought as I drifted into deep thought contemplating the swirls in the formica tabletop.

The acid I had dropped a few hours earlier gave a surreal feeling to being interrogated. What was next? Bright lights and rubber hoses? As the acid peaked, all I really wanted was a serene place to groove to some tunes. Yep! Tune in!  Turn on!  Drop out!  I had accomplished that and my wish was finally granted when I was sent to my room.  As I unapologetically ambled away to the tower to await my beheading, under my breath I whispered, "Let them eat cake!"

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Come Walk With Me

As an adult, the cruelty of childish pranks never ceases to amaze me.  I have to admit I played my share of pranks early on because I was fortunate enough to find a kindred spirit and partner in crime living next door to me when I was a preschooler.  Where some people might have to really beat the bushes to find a suitable counterpart, I grew up having one a stone’s throw away. Lucky me! From an early age my friend and I would terrorize the neighborhood with our creative naughtiness. Margo and I looked liked we could have been dubbed the original "Odd Couple" not because our behavior was at opposite ends of the spectrum, but because she was short and blonde and I was tall and brunette in comparison.

One of our favorite things to do was to give other neighborhood kids wanting to be considered part of our very elite group a proper hazing before befriending them.  We would blindfold the lucky candidate and then walk the person through the endless mountains of dog feces left by her grandfather’s dog.  The breed was what we called a "Heidi dog" because neither of us could pronounce "Weimaraner".   The dog was a  prolific shitter of legendary status.  I’m sorry, but this trait is most likely listed on the AKC’s description of the dog as a caution to potential buyers... smooth, silky coat, loyal, good with children and a prolific shitter! 
  
Neighborhood mothers, including our own hated our pranks especially the stroll through poop we took their children on.  The pungent aroma could never be completely removed from their shoes unless thrown in the washing machine and hung out to dry on the clothesline, but not all play shoes of that era were made to be washed, so they always had a slight "earthy"scent after that.  We discussed making everyone take their shoes off before entering her back yard, but for some reason we thought it was a better idea for them to keep their shoes on their feet.

A few years ago, I talked to Margo's mother.  She laughed when she started recounting what she remembered most about our antics.  My lawn always had an abundance of dandelions growing on it between cuttings, so one day Margo and I decided to picked all the dandelions to change the color of Margo's white porch.  When her mother came out to see what we were up to she had a fit.  We had stained the white porch bright yellow as far up as we could reach by rubbing the dandelions on it.  We thought it looked good, but her mother didn't seem to have the same appreciation for our paint job.  She brought us two buckets of hot, soapy water and made us wash the porch until it was white again. 

Our reign of terror permanently ended when her family moved when we were in the 3rd grade. Looking back on it, I could in all likelihood have seen us going on to legendary status of our own being the first Women’s Tag team from Bangor, Maine or being the masterminds behind Spencer's stores where gag gifts are sold.

Monday, October 21, 2013

My Quest For God - Part 1

My first exposure to religion was as a small child. At the age of 5, I was baptized into The First Congregational Church of Brewer, Maine. For all those not familiar with the Congregational Church, a quick history lesson might refresh your memory. Does the word Puritan and Pilgrim mean anything to you? My church was a quaint white church overlooking the Penobscot River. The beautiful stain glass windows illuminated the interior as the morning sun rose high in the sky. When I attended church with my family on Sunday morning, I sat quietly on the pew mimicking what the others did when they did it, yet I can't remember a word of what was ever preached in that church. The singing was nice! The peaceful atmosphere was nice, but my only true memory was the feeling that there was more to it than what I was being told and I personally wanted to be touched by the hand of God.

By the time I was 11, often times I walked to church alone or occasionally with a friend who I asked to accompany me after our usual Saturday night sleepover at my house. One Wednesday night she asked me to go to church with her. I remember thinking to myself, “It’s Wednesday! Who goes to church on Wednesday?” I soon found out the answer to that question! The Baptist preacher bellowed from the pulpit condemning all sinners to burn eternally in the flames of Hell. As he spoke and thumped his fist on the pulpit to drive home his words, I knew he was speaking to me personally. I was doomed to burn in Hell if I didn't seek out Salvation, so when my friend asked me to attend Bible camp with her during that summer, I eagerly accepted.

We were divided into groups and met in tents outside the church for various religious classes and activities. We were expected to memorize a new Bible verse each day. Whenever that feat wasn't accomplished, off the unfortunate person went to see the preacher. They always would return subdued and very repentant. When they upped the verses from 1 to 2, I seemed to have difficulty focusing and remembering the words. I froze when asked to stand and say my verses. My mind went blank and the interior of the large tent darkened and filled with impending doom.

I felt true shame as I walked to the preacher’s office inside the church. I remember my long, slender legs shaking and feeling weak as I entered his office after knocking. I stood humbly before him looking down at the floor. At first he spoke softly and I lifted my eyes to meet his. It felt as if he peered into my soul and I shivered. He finally stood and walked around me, then laid his hand on the back of my head. I trembled as he prayed for me and it seemed my fear ignited something in him. His voice slowly became louder and louder until it filled the whole room. I was a sinner and was going to burn in Hell.

The tears ran down my face and when I was instructed to kneel, I felt almost relieved. I cried and prayed and asked God's forgiveness. My pleading was frantic. I asked God to enter me and fill me with His Spirit. I truly wanted His Grace, but the only Grace I would receive that day was being bent over a desk and receiving what Grace there was in being spanked. As he spanked my bottom, his voice trembled as he prayed for me. Each time his hand met my backside, it lingered for a moment. When he finally stopped, he stood behind me while I repeated the verses. I could feel the intensity of his eyes gazing down upon me. Each time he said "say them again", his voice trembled and his breathing quickened. Suddenly his voice changed and the words that came from him were ones I had never heard before. Finally there came silence. It was over! By the time I stood erect, my bottom was so sensitive it hurt to have the fabric of panties brush across my cheeks.

As I walked back to the tent, the realization that “something” had just happened filled me with trepidation. Had I finally been touched by the hand of God? It wasn't until many years later when I awoke screaming from a nightmare that I realized what had actually happened and I wondered how many others had been touched by God via the good Pastor. 

Saturday, October 19, 2013

The Sister I Never Had

Margie came into my life at a turning point. We were still children by society’s standards, but in today’s world we would have been looked at as something a little more. We weren’t small, innocent children, but we far from being experienced adults. We were thrown together during that awkward stage of life when very few things make sense. It was definitely a time of turmoil for both of us, but our friendship blossomed and somehow kept us both afloat. Although we both had “best friends” before, our friendship seemed to transcend the normal boundaries of friendship and crossed over into what I imagined sisterhood might be like.

Together, Margie and I looked like Mutt and Jeff.  I was a tall, lanky-legged preteen and Margie, a couple years older than me was much more developed. She was short and petite with long, silky, dark brown hair that formed a “V” as it draped down her back. Mine had been cut short because my mother thought the Twiggy look was cute. What I thought at the time was that my mother truly hated me and was trying to sabotage my whole femininity by branding me with a fate worse than death. It only reinforced those feelings of being unwanted. After all, I was supposed to be a boy, wasn't I? And what I ended up looking like was a shapeless preteen boy. It was then I vowed to never have short hair again.

As we spent much of our time contemplating the complexities of the opposite sex and thinking up creative ways to stay in trouble, we rarely opened up and discussed the issues that really held true urgency in our lives. Sometimes, people just can’t find the words for the horrors they’re living. Sometimes just getting through another day was all anyone could do. Yes, some things were certain...the sun was always going to rise, the winters would be extremely cold and Margie was always going to be there for me and I for her.

Oh, but how things can change as life takes its unexpected ups and downs and twists and turns. Not only can friendships change, but so can the ways people protect one another. I was never really a bad kid...spirited maybe and always quick to be the first to do anything. I always was eager to push the boundaries and test the limits of everything. Consequences never seemed to be foremost in my mind. As I grew so did my impaired judgment and my thirst to explore new things. My mischievous pranks gradually morphed into acts with serious outcomes. My friend, my newly found sister didn’t deserve to become another one of my ugly battle scars. I was sure of this. She deserved better. She deserved friends who could be strong and weather the storm with her. I really didn’t know how to protect her from the inevitable...my spiral down the path of addiction.

All it seemed I had to give as my life darkened was pain and disappointment. How could I be a rock when I was quickly stepping towards having a complete emotional shutdown? How could I save her when I no longer had the strength to save myself? When cancer finally claimed her mother's life, I knew I couldn’t be the person to comfort her. As I look back now, I remember little surrounding that actual event. By then I was gone...completely gone. I had nothing left to give. Would it be cruel to back away? Wouldn’t it be more sister-like to fade away into the oblivion I had found? I could spare her the agony of watching yet another slow demise and so I did. I faded away and Margie, like so many others was left with only nagging questions regarding my disappearance. Margie not only lost her mother, but she lost her closest friend as well.

Now, many years later, a lifetime actually, we’ve been reunited. Although our lives took two completely different paths, the closeness we once shared immediately returned. What I discovered was that true friendship does withstand the test of time and distance and of pain and suffering. Just as hope springs eternal, so does true friendship and for that I am truly thankful.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Is There A Jimmy In The House?

When my mother was pregnant with me she did something quite stupid. She let my brothers pick out my name. Since my brothers didn't want any stinking baby girls in their house, they only picked out a name for their new baby brother. The consensus was that the newest member to their band of brothers would take his rightful place amongst them with the name of Jimmy. When I arrived that Labor Day many moons ago, much to their surprise and disappointment, I was that stinking baby girl they didn't want! This created a dilemma of coming up with a name to put on my birth certificate. No, "Shithead" wasn't in the book of baby names that year or else I'm sure that would have been my name. Why my mother didn't have them pick out two names (just in case) is beyond me. Why she didn't encourage them to be more receptive to the possibility of having a sister is ludicrous. Why she didn't just name me Jimmy anyway or maybe something close to Jimmy like Jamie to ease the sting my brothers felt has always puzzled me. It was almost like they were set up to resent me right from the start. My mother even bought into the whole idea of me being a boy by not having a secret back-up name picked out for me if I was a girl. WTF? Welcome to the family, you stinking baby girl with no name!

When my mother started having children, she claimed if she ever had a girl she would name her Debbie. Is my name Debbie? No! The reason I wasn't given that name is because my aunt had a girl a year or so before I arrived and named her Debbie. Since the rulebook clearly states that there can only be one Debbie per family, it was back to the drawing board when it came time to name me. I guess that rulebook didn't include chapters covering things like choosing a back-up name or selecting a middle name either. Where my mother came up with the name Karen has always been a mystery to me. Was it one of the "hot" females names that year? I guess picking the name Karen was such a grueling task that no one could come up with or even suggest a possible middle name to go with it. Throughout my life I have gone through the list of female names many times and have found a handful that would have fit nicely with Karen. Each time I find one that "fits", it makes that old nagging feeling of being unimportant rear its ugly head and makes me wonder why my own family couldn't have picked a sweet little name for their new bundle of joy.

One of the many reasons I grew up feeling like a freak was due to my lack of having a middle name. I guess it may seem trivial to most people, but most people have a middle name. Most people are designed to fit in right from the start and were not
given an instant
conversation piece. Whenever asked what my middle name is, I always get that "are you kidding me?" look when I tell people I don't have one. Most people immediately think I'm lying to cover up the fact that I got stuck with some horrendous name like Gertrude or Bertha (my apologies to all the Gertrude's and Bertha's in the world, but your name sucks). When left to my own devices (which is a dangerous thing to do), I gave myself my own unique middle name. My story of having a mother who craved Ovaltine while she was pregnant with me is a much nicer one to tell people than describing how braindead my family can be at times.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Spin The Bottle

By the time I got to 6th grade, Mr. Honey (pronounced Hone-ey) was not only the principal of Larkin Street School, but he was the 6th grade teacher as well.  I guess he figured all 6th graders at his school needed a special kick in the butt before entering Junior High School and he was just the man for that dubious distinction.  For the most part, I'd give him an A for being a good teacher, but an F for being a horrible, hardass principal. 

Our class was probably average sized for that time period.  There was roughly twenty of us to his one.   Class sizes had shrunk considerably a few year before when Dow Air Force Base was decommissioned.  Out of those 20 or so in my 6th grade class, today I can only remember a handful of people's names: Mike, Rod, Noreen, Margie, Sherry, Dana, Nancy, Bart, Junior, Carol, Cheryl and Colleen.  I guess that's a pretty big handful, isn't it? 

On many occasions Mr. Honey not only taught us the standard 6th grade curriculum, but he tried to prepare us for life as best he could. I remember him telling us that statistically speaking one of us wouldn't make it to adulthood. What? One of us would die?  His words, I'm sure, were said to make all of us a little more watchful of our own actions and the actions of others, however; I doubt his words were remembered by many after he spoke them.  After all, at that age, aren't we all invincible?  His words have definitely resonated in my head a few times along the way and for awhile I believed I was going to be that statistic.  But lo and behold not only did I fool myself, I fooled many others who had the same thought.

Sixth grade was definitely a year of spreading my wings and learning to think outside the box.  Until this point I was a good kid and a good student.  Sure, I was a little on the chatty side and my mouth seemed to always be described in detail in notes on my report cards.  I even earned the nickname "Gabby" when I was younger and thank God it didn't stick!  I had in many instances learned that clowning around and running my mouth was a good cover for what was really going on underneath.

Mr. Honey fell from my grace the day he suspended several of us from school because he knew all of us would have to face our parents as well.  Kids rarely use their brains when being mischievous especially kids with poor impulse control.  Planning things out is a learned behavior and comes with experience.  A bunch of us had decided to play spin the bottle after school with a stolen milk bottle from inside the school.  We selected a secluded corner of the schoolyard in back of the school for the spot to make our circle.  None of us gave a thought to teachers still being inside the school.  We all thought the spot we had selected was safe from any prying eyes.  In reality, I'm sure whatever teacher witnessed this spectacle was amused by what she saw, but such unruly actions had to be severely dealt with by administering a punishment that would keep us all from doing anything like that again. Suspension was what Mr. Honey selected and all that did for me was make me want to test authority all the more.

Addendum:  I can't count this as my first kiss because I didn't get kissed because the game was rudely interrupted before that could happen.  The woes of being as "numb as a stump"!

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Run Van Run

Memories of my father are vague. In hindsight, he was merely the man who lived at my house... a non-participating parent. He was a stereotypical drunken Irishman who possessed virtually no parenting skills.  I'm sure he had good qualities, but those qualities weren't shared with his children. This tradition was unfortunately passed down throughout the generations on his side of the family and even reared its ugly head in the generation of his offspring. Three of his four children grew up to have substance abuse problems, but we all managed to fight that demon and to break the cycle so history wouldn't repeat itself.

My mother was the "head" of the family and dished out the discipline in the family as we needed it usually in a very democratic way. If one of us did something, we all got in trouble! She never had the patience to investigate a wrongdoing and found punishing all of us was the easiest way of punishing the guilty party. My only memory of my father disciplining me was over an incident that happened while I was in 6th grade. This one time my three older brothers had nothing to worry about because I was the held accountable for my own actions.

The neighborhood I grew up in was like many of that era. Generations lived in those neighborhoods without ever leaving. Each neighborhood had several features in common: a family-owned store (forerunner to a convenience store), a neighborhood bar, a local hang-out for the kids and teenagers (usually a pizza parlor with pinball machines) and a park. The young people of each neighborhood were very loyal to their "gang" of friends and mostly mingled only within the group they were born into until a little later in life when it was acceptable to have "outsiders" as friends. A definite code of silence was learned at a very young age and the rite of passage was simply acquired by showing loyalty when a situation arose requiring it.

One afternoon, 4 of us (Noreen, Lisa, Margie and I) were out taking a walk. Before we knew it we were in the next neighborhood over (Noreen's corner of the universe) from the one in which 3 of us lived.  My 3 friends were thirsty and wanted to stop at the store located on the corner of Cedar Street and Second Street for a Coke. While they were inside, I remained outside half daydreaming and half watching the world go by. My back was to the store, so as the other 3 exited from the store, I wasn't aware that they had come back outside. All of a sudden I heard a fire alarm go off and my natural "fight or flight" instinct put wings on my feet and I flew away from that location ASAP. Behind me were my 3 friends, laughing, running, and talking about pulling a false alarm.

When the fire trucks arrived and found no fire, they returned to the fire station, but the police scoured the neighborhood for the 4 girls who had fled. When they found us hiding in some bushes close by, we were brought to the police station and then subjected to a rather lengthy lecture about being responsible citizens. One by one, each of us were asked our names and addresses. One by one, each one of us were taken home in disgrace to face our families. I was the last one of the group to be questioned. When I revealed my name, the captain of the police department smiled and told me I wasn't going to go home. Instead, I was brought to the fire department where my father was working and had just gone out on that false alarm call.  I'm pleased to announce I'll be getting off restriction any day now!