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.




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!

Monday, October 14, 2013

My First Kiss

I'm sure anyone who lived in Bangor, Maine before the Morse Covered Bridge burned down in 1983 has memories of  it as mine. Being there was a rite of passage for the youth of Bangor, Maine or at least for the ones I ran around with long ago.  It was a perfect place to steal your first kiss, smoke your first cigarette or just hang out with your friends after an exciting day of being downtown.  My first cigarette was smoked within the darkness of that covered bridge where prying eyes couldn't scrutinize my actions.  After stealing a couple Camel non-filtered cigarettes from my father, I beelined for the bridge. What an experience that was!  Instead of turning 50 shades of gray, I turned 50 shades of green.  Back then it was a semi hang-out spot for me even though it wasn't anywhere close to my neighborhood.  Perhaps that was its allure back then.  I could be dark and mysterious in the confines of the Morse Covered Bridge. Although I did do what most people did at the bridge, it wasn't where I had my first kiss.  That happened much closer to home.

My first kiss was filled with all the wonderful things it was supposed to be filled with, but it was also filled with a lot of guilt.  Somehow I felt like I had betrayed my cousin, Debbie because there I was tucked away under some trees making out with her ex-boyfriend, George.  I told myself repeatedly it wasn't like they had just broke up the day before.  She had moved on and was with someone new, but the guilt never subsided. And now for the biggest "BUT" of all...but the guilt didn't keep me from wanting to be there or enjoying how he held me as he kissed me. 

Many, many years later after reconnecting with George via Facebook, we finally talked about that fateful night at the Truck Yard, an area in the lower Westside of Bangor that was surrounded by Patten Street, Parker Street and the Gas Patch which had so many contaminants/pollutants that should have made me shake in my shoes and glow in the dark, but the only thing that seemed to matter to me that night was getting lost in a moment...but not too lost! As fate would have it, we never got together.  I guess the planets weren't aligned right or we both assumed things about the other that wasn't really true.  You know how teenage insecurity goes... All I know is that the result of that night did not yield me a boyfriend, but it did yield a very tender memory.

Back in the day, signing autograph books was the rage.  We were all rock stars! Legends in our own minds! Hooligans! Scalawags! While thumbing through one of my old autograph books from 1969, I came across the prophetic words he left me to dwell upon from time to time.  I don't remember if this was written before or after the Truck Yard incident, but I'm sure truer words were never written.

As with anything I write on here, only first names will be used. The last name is crossed out to protect the guilty.  That's my story and I'm sticking to it...  The rest of the story about our state of mind that night brought on by a very popular social lubricant will be for another day.  Right now, I'll just sit back and savor the memory of our first kiss without all the other hoopla associated with it.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Rock On!

My family has a real rock psychosis. Maybe I should call it a fetish to be more polite, but I've always called a spade a spade and in this case, a rock a rock.  I don't know exactly when or where it started, but my first recollection that something was amiss when I found out about my grandfather Ingalls' rock collection.  When my daughter was a young girl, my mother and step-father would take her to Maine when they went.  When she was about 8, she came back to Florida with tales of her great grandfather's rock collection.

He had asked her if she wanted to see his rock collection when they visited him.  What she was expecting to see was small samples of various types of rocks, so when he opened the drawers in the room that housed his collection she was surprised by what she saw.  All the drawers in the room were crammed full of rocks of all shapes and sizes he had found on the ground wherever he went in Maine.  None of them were colorful or in any way special except to him. She concluded her story by telling me that he must be crazy.  Although I did tell her it wasn't very nice to say that about anyone, in reality, she had hit the nail directly on the head. I was silently proud of my daughter for being so astute at such a young age.

As the fever grew and spread, my mother and my oldest brother developed the psychosis.  My mother would bring rocks home for Maine to use as doorstops.  I guess that was acceptable, but when I went to Maine one year and used the car she kept there to use during her extended stays, I found rocks in the trunk and under the front seats. All I could do was shake my head when I made the discovery.  As my mother started her collection my oldest brother started building stone walls on his property at the same time. Everyone was quite impressed by all he had done.  Everyone knows it takes a certain eye to be able to look at a rock elsewhere and know it's just the right shape and size to go in a certain spot in the wall you've been building.  I think the fever really took hold of him when he skillfully lined the ditches in front of his house with rocks.  It looked wonderful, but unfortunately, he was forced to remove all his ditch work due to some ordinance or something.  Big Brother is always watching!  I prefer to think it was probably some jealous neighbor who had rock envy who ratted him out.

Before the fever spread my way, the only rock I ever owned was a rather large piece of pink quartz.  I owned that quartz for almost 40 years before the fever drifted my way.  My psychosis wasn't as random as my mother's and grandfather's and certainly not as creative as my brother's, but  I was very selective in which rocks I hauled back to Florida.  They all had to come from a loved one's yard so each one would have good mojo in them.  It was like bringing a part of that person back with me.  My rocks found a new home in my flower garden. Unfortunately, Florida is rather barren where rocks are concerned, so I have to get my "rock fix" while traveling.  After strategically stacking my rocks and closely scrutinizing the structure, I dubbed it "Old Lady With Sagging Breasts".

Friday, October 11, 2013

A Flickering Light

The house I grew up in was built in the early 1800's. Yes, they don't build them like that anymore! During the winters, it was drafty and hard to heat. We had fireplaces, but my mother frowned upon using them. I suppose she either thought we'd burn down the house or my brothers might try stuffing me up the flue in search of Santa Claus.

While I was a young child, my paternal grandparents lived in part of the upstairs that had been converted into a 2-bedroom apartment. The rest of the upstairs was part of our living area. On our side there was 2 bedrooms and a bathroom with the other bedroom being downstairs. Being the only girl, meant I never had to share a bedroom with anyone. Actually, I think I grew up missing out on the sibling rivalry and camaraderie that existed between my brothers, but never really felt the void until I became an adult. I was almost like an outsider in many instances. A sister...yes, but never a playmate or companion. I never figured out if this was due to gender difference, age difference or if my brothers just didn't like the idea of having a sister.

As my brothers grew up and went away to college and/or enlisted into the military and went to far away places like Viet Nam, I had the run of the house. When my mother would put me on "restriction" I would simply take the phone off the hook when I would come home from school, so she couldn't call me while she was at work to check up on me. Restriction was virtually a non-existent punishment for me, but she never knew that then and of course, I graciously played along as I played by my own set of rules! When she questioned me, I simply told her that I was talking on the phone. That was one privilege she never took away from me as a punishment. In many ways, at that point in my life it was like being an only child. I reaped the benefits of not only being the only girl, but being the last child left at home.

Since our house was so large, I had many rooms to choose as a bedroom as a teenager. In the summer months, I would move into the area that was my grandparents old apartment. The room I would always choose as mine was my grandfather’s old bedroom. I chose this room because it was easy to sneak out at night. It was a room my oldest brother swore was haunted. Many times when he was home on leave in years past, he would claim to hear my drunken grandfather stumbling around ranting. I always thought my oldest brother had an over active imagination or had followed in our grandfather's footsteps with drunken delusions of his own. We all amused him by listening attentively to his tales of voices from beyond.  No one ever told him we all thought he was as crazy as the stories he would tell.

My "summer" bedroom was directly across from my cousin, Debbie's house. Many night's I would hang out my bedroom window talking to Debbie as late as her mother would allow. Each fall, I would move my bedroom back into the main part of the house so my mother could close off that part of the house to conserve on the heating bill. So as soon as the weather would start to cool off in September shortly after my birthday I would drag all my furniture back into one of the upstairs bedrooms in the main part of the house.

During the year of my 15th birthday, as usual I moved my bedroom back to the main part of the house. One day shortly after moving my room, my cousin came up to me and asked what I was doing the night before in my bedroom. I gave her a puzzled look because I didn't know what she meant. She went on to tell me she had sat outside on her steps the night before and tried to get my attention, but I would never come to the window like I always did. She said the light inside my bedroom was faint and flickered like I was burning a candle. She also claimed she could see my silhouette rocking in my Boston rocker. I laughed at her bizarre tale and told her I had moved my room several days before. As I laughed, I asked her what kind of drugs she had been doing. She insisted that what she was telling me was the truth, so I took her up to my bedroom to show her that I had indeed moved back into the main part of the house.

I unlocked the door at the top of the stairs. We entered the chilly apartment and went directly to my old bedroom. It was empty like I told her it was and just as I was about to say "see, I told you so", we both saw wax that had been dripped from a candle where my rocking chair had been. We looked at each other and quickly left the apartment without discussing what we had both seen. The summer of 1970 was the last time I slept in that room. The door was relocked and whatever we both saw was left behind.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Show Me A Sign

As I drove towards Maple Grove Cemetery, I could feel the rage well up inside me.  All I wanted to do was yell at those people responsible for my family not being like the Walton's.  Like dominoes toppling, all the pain of my misspent youth flashed through my mind in a flood of very brief memories. My only problem was that those people could no longer hear my angry voice or see the pain they had caused during their lifetimes. Problem or not, I still had to tell them what I thought and how I felt.  I had to beg them to listen to me.  Crazy? You betcha!  But crazy or not, I had a mission to complete.

I drove slowly as I entered the graveyard.  The paths were narrow, but I was able to maneuver my car and park along side the final resting places of my father, his parents and his sister.  I grabbed the silk tulips I had purchased earlier and opened the car door.  I sat there for a moment contemplating the speech I was about to give.  Tears started to roll down my cheeks as I stood and walked forward.  The sun glistened through the trees atop the hill and a slight breeze welcomed me by chilling my hot tears as they continued to wet my face.

There before me was my captive audience.  I remained silent as I cleaned each grave marker and placed a single tulip upon each.  I sat there for a moment soaking in the sun and the serenity, but got angry all over again when the thought of how unfair it was for these people to be in such peaceful surroundings. Quickly, I scrambled to my feet and stood there looking down at their graves.  The time was now! My speech was loud and emotional.  I waved my hands and even stamped my foot a few times.  I stopped several times to catch my breath and when I was finished I asked my father if he was listening to me.  I didn't expect the skies to suddenly open, but some sign...something small, but meaningful would have been nice. Just as I had expected...as in life, death was no different.  I got no answer. Again, I was ignored.

My next stop was to visit my other set of grandparents.  My visit there would be much different.  There would be no anger...just a heartfelt apology.  I had been such an embarrassment and disappointment to them for several years before they passed away.  This was something I needed to do as much as I had needed to yell at my father and his side of my family. As with my last stop, I rolled slowly into the tiny cemetery and parked next to their graves.  There was no hesitation this time as I opened the door, stood up and walked around my car facing Nana and Grampie's headstone.  I suddenly stopped dead in my tracks and started to laugh and cry all at the same time.  I had gotten the sign I asked for.  Daddy dearest had listened afterall! There atop my grandparents' headstone, was a humongous roll of duck tape.  It was the largest roll I had ever seen and as everyone knows, you can fix ANYTHING with duck tape. I was now equipped with a roll big enough to last me the rest of my life, but the only thing I've had to fix so far was an old pair of shoes as they fell apart while I was working in my garden.