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!