"If writers possess a common temperament, it's that they tend to be shy egomaniacs; publicity is the spotlight they suffer for the recognition they crave." Gail Caldwell, from her book "Let's Take The Long Way Around"

"To look life in the face, always to look life in the face and to know it for what it is. At last to know it, to love it for what it is, and then, to put it away. . .always the years. Always the love. Always the hours." From the movie "The Hours", based on the book of the same name by Michael Cunningham

"Do not read beauty magazines. They will only make you feel ugly." Baz Luhrman, "Everybody's Free (to wear sunscreen)"

"A writer can do nothing for men more necessary, satisfying, than just simply to reveal to them the infinite possibility of their own souls." Walt Whitman

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, ‘Who am I to be brilliant or talented?’ Actually, who are you not to be?” Marianne Williamson

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Ghetto Girl

I am irritated.  I am tired.  Christmas in retail is finally over except for the after holiday rush of returns and customers in need of electronic device support at a store that does not specialize in electronics.  Have you noticed that the more advanced electronics get, the smaller the instruction manual is that comes with the device?  When I bought my smartphone - my first one ever - it included the equivalent of a double-sided quarter-folded piece of glossy paper.  I get more instructions when I buy a box of hair color.  And it doesn't help that most of my customers still think they are in the age where you just plug in the nice shiny box with the knobs and the picture appears.

So after another long day of dealing with someone else's emergency after another, I come home to this dismal dwelling we call home, this apartment that we have come to dislike so much (thank you, higher power, for finding us a house to rent on the street where we used to live), I walk into the kitchen to see that one whole side of the counter has been cleared; there is paint or drywall or something above and under the top cabinet and as I look around I see that everything that used to be in that cabinet is on the other 2 countertops, cluttering up the entire kitchen. 

You see, we just discovered a few days ago that our kitchen had a giant leak from outside that had started to mold over.  Yeah, nice.

Maintenance got right on it, and I understand that they had to empty the cabinet, but does the management staff realize what an inconvenience this is?  I'm not Martha Stewart or Marion Cunningham but maybe I would have liked to have come home and cook dinner, as I do on many occasion.  As it was, I could barely access the microwave, cringing as I am forced to pile things on the electric stove top (what if somehow, something made it turn on and the kitchen burned down?)

Well, at least there's the toaster, set up nicely in the tiny dining room with the mugs and the plates as though one would enjoy her morning coffee with a slice of toast and jam; but no, the toaster doesn't work either because the electricity to the outlet has been turned off to prevent electrocution of the nice maintenance men.  So, having experienced this phenomenon once before in this apartment, I am forced to move the toaster to some nonexistent space in the kitchen because I know it will work plugged in there.  And are the dishes in the dishwasher clean or dirty?  I can't tell because they are all wet but have a vague sense of being not clean.

Yes, I know that Mom will no doubt remind me of the time we - well actually, she and Direll and Julie and Matthew (I was in the college dorms by then) - used to make meals nightly in the motel room using an electric frying pan for cooking and a cooler for the perishables.  She will say it with a laugh, the way people laugh about mishaps and missteps years later ("someday we'll laugh about this"), and with a certain degree of pride at her ingenuity.  I'll grant her that.  Whatever the situation, Mom made it work.

But I don't want to be reminded of those times.  I don't want to remember the ghetto lifestyle that is part of me.  It's the part that has made me strong, a survivor, but I don't need that anymore.  I am, after all, my grandmother's granddaughter:  elegant, artistic, well-mannered and proper; never a hair out of place is how my husband describes her.  I deserve to have nice things and live in a nice place.  I am the one who pays attention to the last detail, who picks precisely the right gift for the right person, who adds the finishing touches to the small but carefully orchestrated get together.  There is a difference between kalamata and black olives, and certainly one can appreciate the baked bried en croute, but why is it the guests always go for the chili and velveeta slow cooker dip instead?  And don't get me started on the wine.  Suffice it to say that it does not count if it comes in a box.

I am tired.  I have used up this post for venting and ranting and now I am spent.  All I really want is some kind of gesture on the part of this apartment management company acknowledging our inconvenience.  Of course, we don't want mold poisoning, but just because it's Taco Tuesday doesn't mean I automatically head for the drive-thru.  Sometimes I actually make tacos with homemade shells (thanks, Mom!).  Maybe they will consider this when it comes time to reconcile our broken lease.  One can hope.  In the meantime, once I have resisted the urge to go to Starbucks instead of digging my way to the coffee grinder and maker in the morning, I guess I'll have to consider what fine fast food establishment our dinner will come from tomorrow night.  Any suggestions?

Thursday, December 16, 2010

My First Real Crush (the first of many)

Remember your first crush?  Do you remember how it happened, how it felt?  The butterflies, the inability to formulate words, the idea that you could will someone to look at you and the moment they did, the whole world stopped for a moment.  How long could you hold their eyes before you had to look away out of embarrassment at being caught?

My first crush happened in Mrs. Wolfe's English class in 8th grade at Sequoia Junior High.  I didn't even know I liked boys yet - Paul had simply been an experiment that completely failed.  I had no idea at that time what a crush, infatuation, love at first sight felt like until that fateful day when I was sitting in class and I looked over at the same boy I'd been sitting near all semester and suddenly I noticed him.  I mean, really noticed him.

I think anyone who knew me in 8th grade knows who my first crush was.  Should I say?  Would he be embarrassed or does he even remember me?  This is where my mom gets nervous because I have used people's real names; but in every autobiography, don't we use real names to keep it real, unless we are trying to protect the innocent (or ourselves, I guess)?  For the record, though, I invite anyone who has been named in this blog to message me and request that I change your name, innocent or not.

This being my story, I'm going to keep it real, so here's to you, Arash Majlessi, for being my first crush, for inspiring in me the butterflies and daydreams adolescents have about what true love is like.

I had never spoken to him before, but I was in love.  Or in like, as we used to say.  "Who do you like?" we would ask each other.  Back then, liking someone was like saying you had a crush on someone.  It was actually too lame to use the word crush.  It was old-fashioned, like saying you were sweet on somebody.  If you "liked" someone, that said it all. 

Arash was beautiful, dark-skinned, brown eyes, mysterious, and he already had an admirer.  She had the good fortune to sit behind him and was the opposite of him - pale skin, red hair.  She reminded me of Pat Benetar.  Everyday I watched her flirt with him, and she was good at it.  It didn't take long to figure out that they were going together or that he liked her back.  I was devastated, but I wasn't giving up.  It happened that his best friends had lockers right next to mine so it wasn't unusual to see him there, and I had other classes with him.  At the time that I discovered I was in love with Arash, I was still friends with Lori and her group.  Maybe they were sick of me mooning over him, too shy to actually talk to him, but one day Lori told Arash and his friends about my infatuation.  I was so embarrassed, but you know, when you're that age and you are "in like", you want to keep your crush a secret, but at the same time you want him to find out.  Because, then of course, he would realize that he was in love with you, too, and had just been waiting for the right sign to walk over to you and tell you he'd been waiting for you his entire life.

Okay, so I was/still am a hopeless romantic.  It's just that at age 13, I didn't know that love happened any other way.  It's like Rosie O'Donnell says in "Sleepless in Seattle" to Meg Ryan, "You want to be in love in a movie."  Well, that's all I had to base love on; that and soap operas and the young adult novels I read about "love, oh, love" as my dad used to tease me.  I wasn't interested in sex, but I was interested in being suddenly kissed by the boy of my dreams.  I wanted to be romanced, and for all of us who have been 13, male and female, we know that that is not going to happen.  Romance is the last thing on a 13 year old boy's mind.  At least, that's what I've heard.  Those of you with experience, feel free to dispute me on that.

So now Arash knows I like him.  I even remember the little smile he gave when Lori pointed me out to him, but it wasn't the smile I wanted.  I was mortified, especially when time went by and there was no indication that he was interested in me.  So Lori's next method of offense was to tell him and his friends that I didn't like him anymore.  Well, then I was mad.  How could he fall in love with me if he thought I'd given up on him?  Maybe that was the end of our friendship.

The one time I thought maybe there was hope was after school one day.  I was there late for some reason, but noticed that so was he and he was talking with his friends and he looked upset (I was quite a distance away, so don't ask me how I could identify his facial expression), and somehow I knew that he and Pat Benetar had broken up.  And then he looked my direction.  Maybe they broke up over me!  Or maybe he realized he did love me but was upset because he thought I didn't feel the same way.  Oh, the daydreams I had, the scenarios I made up.  They were fairy tales.

Things like this happen the other way around, too.  You find out that someone likes you and while it's flattering, he's not The One.  This happened to Tami.  This boy who liked her actually had the guts to tell her and gave her a vinyl single of "The Reflex" by Duran Duran (who, ironically, was the favorite band of the boy she ended up dating throughout high school).  The "Reflex" boy might have even asked Tami to a dance that was upcoming, but my friends and I all knew at the time he was not boyfriend material, poor guy - just too awkward, too 13.  Adolescence.  Who in their right mind would want to go through that again?  I'm sure this person grew up to be very happy and married to the woman of his dreams.  You saw my 8th grade photo.  I wouldn't have dated me either.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Sequoia Junior High School, 1983-84

Sequoia Jr. High was my new school after moving to Reseda in 1983.  Sequoia was a campus that was adjacent to, or more specifically, shared a campus with another school, Sherman Oaks Center for Enriched Studies, or CES as we called it.  CES was a 6th through 12th grade school, if I remember correctly, with smaller class sizes and overall a smaller student population.  We called them "CES snobs" because apparently the year before I arrived there was a decision made to close Sequoia so that CES could expand and take over the entire campus.  There was a whole movement called "SOS" or "Save Our School" that occurred while I was in 7th grade in Santa Monica.  It's funny because a lot of my friends that I ended up going to high school with after Sequoia mistakenly remember me as having been part of their 7th grade class.  I think it's funny.  At any rate, as I mentioned in my earlier post, by the time I started 8th grade it had already been decided that Sequoia was closing and I would be going to high school at Reseda High for 9th grade.

1982 - New school, new perm. 
Notice the coordinating
purple eyeshadow.
 Once again, I was the new girl, and I guess "new girls" gravitate toward other new girls because at 13 years old we are desperately looking for friends, or rather not wanting to appear as though we don't have friends.  I think I met my first friend, Lori, in PE class (that's Physical Education to those of you who grew up going to "gym class"; California lingo, I suppose).  She was in 9th grade and we became fast friends, but it's sort of like your first college dorm roommate.  If you don't instantly hate each other, you become inseparable until you become comfortable with school life and figure out that you actually have nothing in common except a room, or in the case of an 8th grader, being new at Sequoia Junior High. 

Since she was a year above me, we didn't have any other classes together, so I was faced with walking into each new class with a brave face, but shy as can be, hoping someone nice would talk to me.  This shyness was new to me, but given that I had started keeping my innermost thoughts to myself and had a guard up all the time, it's not surprising that I was always about to jump out of my skin if anyone talked to me, especially a boy.  Being fair-skinned, I am so prone to turning red at a moment's notice, a physical reaction I have for the most part, managed to control by now but I am still cursed with it (although now I can laugh about it.)

Lori and I became friends with 2 other girls, Ruth and Jennifer.  They were all three obsessed with boys and constantly made sexual innuendo.  I laughed along but I had yet to have my first crush and while I was curious about their discussions, I was apprehensive.  I sooned learned as well that some things were shared between some members of our foursome, but kept secret from other members. 

In the movie "Mean Girls" there's a scene where the girls are 3-way calling each other.  I can't remember what they called it in the movie - an ambush, maybe?  Anyway, 3-way calling was relatively new in 1983 and we used it all the time.  One time I was on the phone with Lori and Ruth and I had to excuse myself for a moment to do something.  When I came back on the line, I listened to their conversation before I said anything.  They were talking about sex, how far they'd gone.  Lori finished by telling Ruth not to say anything to me about it.  Ouch.  That's when I pretended I had just come back to the phone.

They introduced me to a boy named Paul and decided that the two of us should start "going together".  That's what we called it back then.  Paul and I talked on the phone a few times.  He was cute, again a year above me.  Someone told me that he wanted to teach me how to French kiss.  Eeww.  But when he asked me to go with him, I said yes, but nothing happened.  Basically, in 8th grade, and you go with someone you basically spend breaks together, maybe holding hands.  Nothing physical ever happened between us and I promptly broke up with him because I hardly knew him.  That kind of thing happened all the time.  I don't think I knew anyone who had a real boyfriend.

As I started to realize that these girls were way too fast for me and that we had nothing in common, I began to withdraw and spend time with girls I met in class, in my own grade.  I started making actual friends is what happened.  That's when I met Tami Paperno who became my best friend for many years to come.

Tami and me
8th Grade Graduation

Tami and I clicked instantly.  At the time, her best friend (the label of "best friend" was so important back then), was another girl, Kristi, but I had started having lunch with them.  I don't think Kristi was too happy about it.  In the end, I think she thought I "stole" Tami from her.  But the nicest thing that happened was that Tami and I had started being friends right before her birthday in November, and at the last minute she invited me to her birthday sleepover. 

It was amazing.  Her party reminded me of the sleepovers I'd had with my friends in Santa Monica.  And her mom was hilarious.  They had baked individual cakes and had a table full of icing and toppings for us each to decorate.  Tami and her mom laughed so easily.  It was contagious, and the other girls I knew mostly from my classes at Sequoia.  They were all so nice.  They taught me how to do the 80's dance - oh, how can I describe it - help me out, Nik.  I guess the best way to describe it is in technical dance terms (you'll have to look them up).  It's a pas de basque except you stay in one place and the movements are smaller.  You have to catch the rhythm and then you just go, repeat, repeat, repeat.  No one had ever taught me how to dance before, other than the few ballet classes I took when I was younger.  But this was popular dance.  This was the way people danced at school dances.  I was being immersed in early 80's adolescent culture.

Speaking of culture, one of the gifts Tami received was the newest record (yes, vinyl) from Culture Club (who?  Boy George?), and we listened to Karma Chameleon and Miss Me Blind all night.  It was the first time I actually felt comfortable at Sequoia.  I had friends.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Why I Love Christmas (or whatever you prefer to call The Holidays)

Okay, have I mentioned lately that we are in December now?!  I can't believe today is December 2, 2010 and while I have had a firm resolve not to let the holidays interfere with my blogging, I guess they have a little.  As most of you know, I work retail, so my time is taken up working, as opposed to the pleasantries of holiday decorating, card sending, shopping for those I love (okay, well, I've done a little shopping.)  Bottom line is I am still getting over the busy-ness of the retail weekend after Thanksgiving.

I do have a post in progress, but it is not done or ready to be seen by any other human eyes yet, so I actually have been working on it!  I had plans to continue my progress on that post today, but I realized that I need to clear out some of the cobwebs in my brain, so to speak, so either bear with me or just skip this post.  I won't be offended.  Ha, I won't even know, really.

I'm preoccupied with thinking about the limited time off I have this month.  That will be nice for the bank account but in the meantime, how do I appreciate this holiday I love so much?  It has been a challenge almost my entire working life. 

For me, Christmas is not about presents.  I long ago let the frenzy of shopping for people out of some kind of obligation slip away.  The best Christmas Deril and I ever had was the year we decided not to buy any presents, period.  We instead spent whatever money we had on our lovely dinner, decorating the house and treating ourselves to things we might not normally do.  Deril and I have also given up the pretense of shopping for each other, firstly because Deril does not shop, secondly because we usually don't have the immense cash flow needed for such extravagance in one month.  As he pointed out one year, with no kids, we pretty much get whatever it is we really want or need throughout the year.

I do love shopping for the people I love if money permits.  If it doesn't I find some other way to appreciate those people.  I have a knack, if I do say so myself, for picking out just the right gift for just the right person.

But truly, I love the spirit of the season.  I love the idea that for one month out of the year it is generally acceptable to focus on hope and the miracles that the universe has brought us or might bring us in the year to come.  I am truly blessed.  I have a loving husband - the man of my dreams - a loving family, a roof over my head, a job and food to eat.  I am so much more fortunate than so many others in the world, than so many others just down the street from me.

In this economy, while I hope for all of us it is turning around, my wish for everyone is that they take care of themselves this year.  By that I mean, don't max your credit cards.  Don't go gift crazy.  I know it's hard if you have kids and I certainly don't want to deprive them of the magic of the holiday, but if you are able to pay a bill that is long overdue instead of participating in that office white elephant party, then pay the bill.  Give yourself and your family the peace of mind that comes with taking care of your financial business.  Spend time together, reminisce together, create a tradition.  Donate canned food.  Pay every creditor you have $5 if that's all you can do, but take care of yourselves.  You deserve it.  You have worked hard this year, and I certainly would not want to be the reason you can't make your car insurance bill this month. 

Miracles can happen, and there is hope for peace on earth.  And karma will come back to you in ways you can never imagine.

PS:  If you can find a copy of Baz Luhrman's "song" "Everybody's Free" (also known as "The Speech Song"), get it.  I listen to it everyday to remind myself of what is important.

Happy Holidays!

Friday, November 19, 2010

I Will Buy You a New Life

While she skirted the question of whether Direll was moving with us to The Valley, Mom assured us that the cockroaches wouldn't.  All you have to do, she said, is make sure that you pack very cleanly, wash everything and they would stay behind.  As it turned out, the threat of execution by drug dealers prompted her to pack in lightning speed, literally dumping drawers into boxes, trying to get the hell out of there.  So much for leaving the roaches behind.

She moved into the condo in Reseda while we were at Dad's house.  We had a new phone number and she bought an answering machine to screen calls since for a while, Direll did not live there.  She had everything ready for us when we came to our new home.  She even hooked up the VCR, only calling my brother, the arcade game master, once for technical help.  "Okay," he started, very patiently at age 10, "is the power turned on?", to which my mother answered with a simple, "Oh."  Voila!  The miracle of technology.  Sorry, Mom, but everyone I know has a story like this :).

Our move-in was not the first time we'd seen the condo.  The owners invited us over for a barbecue one weekend so us kids could check out the place, get to know the condo community.  They had a daughter who was around my age who would be going to the school adjacent to mine.  The condo was something else and by that I mean...really something else.  I'm not a designer so I can't quite put my finger on the decorating era - circa 70's bright green and white bamboo design wallpaper in the living room and a canary yellow kitchen.  And a mirrored wall, I suppose to make the living room look bigger, but all it did was reflect the ridiculous green wallpaper.  Fortunately, this design theme was confined to the downstairs.  Upstairs was all your standard white walls, stucco ceiling.  Don't worry, Mom said, we own it now, we can decorate it any way we like.  But the green and yellow motif stayed and stayed and stayed.  Another blemish on my hopes for a new life by living in a new home.  And when I asked Mom how to spell Reseda, she told me.  I was disappointed.  "So it's spelled just like it sounds?" I asked.  I wanted it to at least be spelled in a posh kind of way, like Racita or something like that.  But no.  Something else I should have seen as a sign of things to come.
There was one bright spot.  I found out that the junior high I would be attending, Sequoia Junior High, was closing and so there would only be 8th and 9th grades there.  At the end of my 8th grade, I would be starting high school as a 9th grader!  That's very common now, but in Southern California in the 80's, most high schools were only 10th, 11th and 12th grades.  I could officially be called a Freshman, something I had learned from reading the Betsy-Tacy books by Maud Hart Lovelace.  If you're not familiar with this series, I suggest you search it out.  It is a charming series that starts when Betsy meets Tacy at age 5 in their small town of Deep Valley, Minnesota in the early 1900's.  They make it all the way to high school where they start as Freshman.  High school was what I had been waiting for my entire life, ever since I used to slink through the halls of Crescenta Valley High School as a shortcut home from elementary school.  Important things happened in high school, and the social possibilities seemed endless.  Cheerleading, football games, parties (and by that I meant innocent parties where a boy approaches you from across the room and asks you to dance because he has fallen in love at first sight - I was so naive), clubs and pep rallies.  My mom thought I'd be disappointed to miss out on being a ninth grader in junior high, but I couldn't be more thrilled.  I just had to get through 8th grade first.

Eighth grade started, no Direll.  It lasted that way for a few months and then my mom got sick.  She collapsed at work and was rushed to the hospital.  She had a tubal pregnancy, from which she almost died.  One of her friends came to stay with us for a few days and then my grandparents, her parents, from Arizona came out to stay and take care of her while she recuperated.  She almost died.  Dad took us to visit her in the hospital.  I don't really have a memory of any feelings I had.  I didn't know at the time that it was a tubal pregnancy, and I couldn't really comprehend the idea of her dying.  I'm sure the adults kept a lot of it from us.  Thankfully she recovered, had her tubes tied, and then we thanked our lucky stars that she wasn't actually pregnant.  A baby with Direll would have tied us to him forever.

The thing about Direll not moving in with us lasted until my mom was better and my grandparents left.  He gave her hell about "killing" his baby.  As if it was even a viable pregnancy, nevermind the fact that it almost killed her.  At any rate, he convinced her that he was clean and through with the old crowd.  It was like sitting on pins and needles waiting for the decision to come down, and when it did, it was not in my favor.

Supposedly, he was not using anymore but he would still take the car out at night, all night, to do who knows what.  He'd sleep all day.  In all the years they were together he never had a job.  Occasionally, if Mom demanded that he "man up" and do something to help he'd come up with some cash.  For all we knew he was selling drugs; probably he was.  Or he stole it.  I hated him, hated that he lived with us.  I was always on alert, every time he used the phone I would listen for drug talk.  One time, a man came over and he and Direll talked for a while.  I didn't understand what they were talking about or who he was, but I set up our tape recorder on the stairs to try and record their conversation.  There was nothing about drugs that was outright said, but why else was he here?  Direll was up to no good.  I called Mom to tell her what was going on, and when she finally confronted him, he denied everything.  Smooth talker.  Con artist.  I guess she thought it because it was easier to believe him than not.  I could never understand why he was in our lives.  What did she see in him?  Was she that afraid of being alone?  Later, years later, she told me that they only got together because she lent him money and wanted to be paid back, but I know it goes deeper than that.  It always does in these situations.  She thought she could change him, could force him to be a man.  She always said you can't get blood out of a turnip.  Why couldn't she see that he was just a big, mean turnip?

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Me Time

Once again, I have gone too long without writing.  How did I let time and life get the best of me?

I have been given several reminders (some not so subtle) to schedule "me" time.  I understand the concept - I suppose - but how can I schedule "me" time when I have never done such a thing my entire life?  What exactly is "me" time?  I mean, what does it mean for me?  I know for some people it is taking a long luxurious bath.  Mmm, not really that appealing for me.  I get the water all hot, put the bubbles in, grab a book, maybe even light a candle.  I get in the tub and it's nice, granted, for about, say, 5 minutes.  And then I'm bored.  Or rather, I'm anxious.  How long does one have to stay in a bathtub, enjoying their so-called pampering, this guilty pleasure?  I get restless, think of things to be done, thinking taking a bubble bath is not so much something I relish although I am supposed to relish it because isn't that what all women dream of?  Every friend I ever had would sigh at the idea of taking a bath (Calgon, take me away!).  No, I would much prefer a hot shower, immensely more enjoyable, shorter and more productive (I can wash my hair, shave my legs, check one thing off my list of things to do before going to work at 7am tomorrow morning).

I try to think of what I would do for "me" time.  Sometimes, it is writing, taking a few hours to go to Starbucks and sit in the chaise longue, sipping my favorite drink (yikes, the price) and write.  At least with the blog I have a purpose.  In years past, I would ready myself for some inspired writing, only to find I am stuck and now wouldn't it be better to make a shopping list or balance my checkbook instead?  After all, that $5.00 drink has got to be accounted for as I am not independently wealthy.  It is a splurge to go to Starbucks, especially when I could go to my place of employment and purchase an equally enjoyable beverage for half the price (but who wants to go to work to relax?)

"Me" time has invariably meant spending money.  I enjoy shopping but always find that I want to buy something, and maybe I do, but then have to return it a few days later because we really don't have any extra spending money these days, and the cable bill from the old house still isn't completely paid off, not to mention the stack of doctors' bills that remain unpaid.  So going to the movies is out usually (besides, I'll feel guilty about the popcorn as well as the money).  I couldn't find a library if I wanted to (well, that's not true, there is the internet), but I have books at home to read.  There is no park and if there was, it's only good for about 4 months of the year in Arizona.

I often wonder if "me" time includes cleaning my kitchen or doing laundry or organizing the mess on my desk.  It would definitely make me feel better to get those things done, but something tells me that is a reaction to my anxiety and that I only want to do those things because that is what should be done; it's what organized, put-together people with class do, and that's who I want to be, in spite of, because of, the fact that I once again am living in an apartment that is not quite up to standard, but it is cheap (relatively) and it seems I will always find myself living somewhere that does not completely rise to my expectations of where I should be living.  It just brings back all the memories of all the homes we didn't live in.  Apparently it is true that I hit my residential pinnacle when I was in college, in my sorority, when we rented a huge house on a hill that overlooked the Santa Cruz bay.  On Wednesdays in the summertime, we could see the regata from our living room surrounded by windows.  You can see that house driving up Bay Street toward the campus, a monstrous looming structure that turns out was not quite built to code.  I always said, in my unassuming, self-deprecating way that it was the nicest house I would ever live in.  Argue your limitations and sure enough they're yours.

I found a yoga class that is inexpensive.  I like yoga and I guess that counts as "me" time.  Now to get myself out of the apartment and to the class, that sometimes is a challenge in itself.

I don't suppose lying on the couch watching Lifetime TV counts as me time.  Sometimes, watching TV can count as "me" time, but generally vegging out, numbing out, in front of mindless television does not count as recuperative activity.

I never had "me" time growing up.  I did not allow myself to have "me" time.  I don't think I had ever heard the expression.  Sure, I would write, listen to music, daydream about how life could be but wasn't.  And sometimes, I enjoyed just staying in on a Friday or Saturday night, but I was forced to justify it.  My best friend, Tami, could never be still, not out of anxiety, but out of true desire to go out and do things.  I wanted to be like her, but really, I'm a homebody, even when the home is not so great.  Yes, I can be a social butterfly, the life of the party and yes, sometimes the thought of going out still thrills me, but overall, I am happy to just be at home with people I love.

Or was I worried about what would happen if I left?  If I went out too much.  Occasionally, I would be busy all weekend and my mother would say, why can't you just stay home once in a while?  Why do you always have to be doing something?  Maybe she didn't want to be home alone, or maybe she wanted to go out and do something fun.  I don't know.

I do remember a time when I was a senior in high school and I had spent most of the weekend at Tami's house.  My mom and sister came to pick me up.  I immediately sensed that things were not right, that the weekend had been disruptive because of Direll, of course, who was now displaying constant, intense cocaine psychosis.  He no longer lived in reality, and home had become somewhat of a war zone.  We, all of us, were constantly being watched.  You could feel his eyes on you everytime you walked across the living room into the kitchen.  If you opened the blinds, he insisted you were signaling to someone outside.  If you closed the blinds, you were doing the same.  He saw a nail sticking out of the overhang outside our front door and insisted it was a listening device, a bug.  Our whole apartment was bugged, according to him.  We were all spies, and my mother and I, in particular, were involved in very illicit activity, making pornographic movies in our spare time.  He knew because he had seen these movies, of course.  It was ridiculous, there was much eye rolling on my part, but it was also like living in a prison.  Freedom was granted only to those of us who had someplace else to go and the transportation to get there.  I never thought of it this way, but I got out of there every chance I had, under the innocent guise of having plans with so-and-so, or going to my part-time job.  Relief at home came only when Direll went out, but with that usually came a fight before hand, again with Mom insisting he stay home once in a while, trying to control his activity by refusing money, only to have Direll dump out her purse and take it with a grin of satisfaction.  He was a number one asshole and that's putting it mildly.  I could fill a page with insults and derogatory names and they still wouldn't be enough to qualify the way I felt and still feel about him.

I digress.  Mom and Julie picked me up from Tami's and we went home.  They had groceries in the car.  I started up the stairs first to our apartment, reached the front door first, which was usually unlocked.  I couldn't open it.  The handle would turn but something was blocking it.  Frustrated, I kept pushing while in the background I started to make out my mother telling me to stop and to turn around and go back with her.  Her voice was urgent, slightly fearful of what lay behind the door.  Julie started in but I couldn't stop what I was doing fast enough.  I hadn't been home all weekend to understand that things had been really bad this time.  Just as I started to back away, Direll opened the door, his teeth gleaming in a smile (maybe I'm making that part up - the big, bad wolf characterization).  On the other side of the door, our apartment was ransacked.  I knew it was ransacked because all my life I had been reading about ransacked rooms in my Nancy Drew books.  Direll said that men had come over, looking for things to implicate my mother and me in some kind of conspiracy or crime.  But we knew the truth; we knew he had done it himself.  He was crazy.  I went to my room to check its condition.  Fortunately, the ransackers had kept their business in the common areas of the apartment.  A fight, an argument, broke out between him and my mom.  I snapped.  In the bathroom, in the midst of it all, I broke down in tears, and just like in the movies (although I didn't stage it this way), I sank to the floor and covered my eyes and cried hysterically that I just couldn't take it anymore.  Over and over I said this.  My baby sister, now 12, came to my side.  I can't imagine what she thought, or if now, she even remembers.  My mom came briefly, I think, at the sound of my wails, but Direll interfered as usual with my mother's parenting.  My tears turned to rage and the next thing I knew I was on my feet, standing as close as I could to Direll, face to face, yelling at the top of my lungs.  He wagged his index finger at me, tried to loom over me in intimidation.  I wouldn't have it.  I grabbed his finger and shoved it out of my face.  I wanted to hit him, I may have and he backed away.  I might have dared him to hit me.  I was not afraid, I was not going to be afraid, and I was not going to be bullied by him.  My mom freaked, fearing for my safety, fearing that I was escalating the situation, and distracted him away from me.

I don't remember how it ended.  He may have left.  It may have all quieted down at that point.  Maybe I did surprise him with my verbal assault.  Maybe I seemed a little crazy.  I felt like I was crazy, like I was going crazy and would go crazy if this went on much longer.  It was the first and only time I completely lost my grip, lost my self-control at home.

So there was no "me" time.  There was no time for "me" time, not when I had to be on alert at all times.  "Me" time is not "me" time when it is spent hiding out in my bedroom all night, the music turned up enough, but not so much that my well-trained ear couldn't catch the sound of another potentially physical fight.  Maybe that's why I can't sit in the bathtub longer than 5 minutes.  I was only allowed minutes at a time for "me" because there was always, always something more important, something bigger than me that I had to pay attention to.

Tomorrow, I go to therapy and have to report on my "me" time.  My therapist says I have to take the little girl out to play, meaning me.  I still don't know what that means, but I will dutifully report that I went to yoga once and have intentions of going again, and well...I guess I'm going to have to figure out how and what else to schedule that might count as "me" time.  I'm pretty sure it doesn't include cleaning the kitchen.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Of Ice Cream and Cockroaches

I often wonder as I've wondered about many times in my life, what would have happened if we had stayed in Santa Monica.  School wise, it would have been more stable, more comforting to be going into high school with an established group of friends.  I might have been popular.  I might have been a cheerleader, had a boyfriend.  But then again that all might have depended on what was happening at home, and in 1982 there was no sign of Direll stopping his drug use, or leaving us alone.  It was around this time that I started eating ice cream for breakfast.

I had dabbled in cooking, as I mentioned before, mostly baking but I wanted to be self-sufficient and learn how to make stuff.  I liked reading cookbooks and testing myself to see if I would be able to accomplish a particular recipe.  My mom, while she had all these cookbooks - well, an appropriate amount of Betty Crocker for a Mormon newlywed - was a terrible cook, it turns out.  She would cook for us and it was definitely edible but she was by no means interested in making anything new or different.  We had our regular staple of meals:  spaghetti (sauce made from a packet), meatloaf, tacos (she did make her own taco shells), hamburger hash (ground beef with fried potatoes), and roast beef (which usually dried out because it was cooked in foil with the seam face down, letting out all the juices).  Everything she cooked was on high, a sure sign of inexperience or impatience, as I know now from my Chef husband.

I already said that she didn't prepare lunches for us, preferring to give us lunch money instead; and we definitely did not have breakfast together.  If you were hungry, you made sure you were ready early enough to have it.

By 7th grade, I was the one getting everyone up in the morning.  I set my alarm with plenty of time to get dressed, make my lunch, whatever.  At some point in the morning when it was clear no one else was going to get up, I made the rounds to my sister and brother and my mom, telling them gently what time it was.  It usually took a couple of tries.  Why I thought this was my responsibility, I don't know, but no one else stopped me from taking that initiative so I embraced it.  Now all I had to do was convince my mom that we should have breakfast as a family (excluding Direll, of course).  My idea was nixed the very first morning I tried it.  Not only would Matthew and Julie not come to the table, my mom said as nicely as she could that she just couldn't eat breakfast, thanks anyway.  So there I was, my setting for four, and just me.  Ice cream for breakfast was sounding better and better.

I would get up before everyone else, clock radio tuned to the AM (I mean AM radio not the a.m. radio as in morning) station "The Mighty 690."  Everyday I would wake to Juice Newton, or AC/DC, or the Cars, slip out of bed, sneak downstairs and fill up a bowl with mint chocolate chip ice cream, or whatever kind we happened to have.  Sometimes I'd have seconds if I could get away with it.  It was probably the first time I consciously made the effort to eat in private, without anyone knowing.

Of course, there are a lot worse things that could have happened if we stayed in Santa Monica, other than me getting fat on ice cream for breakfast.  My mom could have been killed.  One of us could have been molested by Direll's drug buddies.  I could have rebelled and acted out since the friends I had at that time tended toward the "wilder" side (if that meant having a boy/girl party and playing kissing games in 8th grade, which they were planning to do the year I moved; was I disappointed to be missing it or relieved?).

I could have been eaten by cockroaches.

This is true, as our town home had become infested with cockroaches.  I had previously never seen a roach before except one time in La Crescenta when I spent the night at a friend's house.  They had roaches that would come out at night and then scatter when we turned the lights on.  We made a game of walking around the room on furniture to avoid the creepy, ugly creatures.

Three years later, we had our very own monstrous pets.  Mom said it came from living in a shared building, like apartments; that even if you fumigated or doused the place with Raid, they would eventually come back as each tenant went on the attack.  In my mind, they just travelled from town home to town home, looking for a place to stay.  They seemed to stay with us quite a bit.

I hated it and I knew my dad hated it, because we all equated roaches with filth and we were not filthy people.  My mom did regularly clean house, as did I and sometimes, Julie and Matthew.  We occasionally left food out, but not excessively, but either way, these roaches had decided that our digs were good enough for them to inhabit regularly.

At first it was just a few, some in the kitchen, maybe the bathroom, hardly ever anywhere else.  I squashed them any chance I had.  We set up "roach motels", the revolutionary product by Raid which promised that "roaches check in, but they don't check out."  Essentially, it was a small open-ended box with adhesive on the inside so that when a roach did step in, it literally couldn't step out because it was glued to the inside of the box.  Yes, this was considered advanced pest control.

Other than that, we didn't try very hard to get rid of them; that is, Mom did not call in professional services.  Store bought pest control products were rather simple:  buy can, spray poison on offending insect and hope it dies.  No killer food would be brought back to any roach nest, killing the rest of the lot.  One by one they all fall down, except if you know roaches then you know how they multiply.  And multiply.  And multiply.  It's practically a losing battle.

It was for us anyway.  The bright spot in our moving was that we had a chance to leave the roaches behind.  But Mom, in her frenzy to get out of Santa Monica, threw all our belongings and wares into boxes and got the hell out of there, bringing with her all our little roomies.

If the roach situation was bad in Santa Monica, it got worse in our new condo in Reseda.  We had created our own roach-scatter-when-the-lights-are-turned-on situation.  You had to be careful when entering the kitchen at nighttime for fear of a creepy crawler getting under bare feet or crawling over you.  I remember standing in the dining room and reaching around the wall to turn the kitchen light on before entering.  And they're off!  Roaches everywhere.  It was truly disgusting and yet we lived with it.

The most disgusting thing that ever happened was that Mom discovered that there were roaches in the sofa cushions.  This is the sofa we had had since Mom and Dad were married in La Crescenta.  She had the idea to spray the arm of the sofa with roach killer, right where the upholstery met the wood end of the arm.  She sprayed and suddenly an army of roaches came screaming out of the couch.  There were so many I couldn't believe and I think I never sat on that couch again.  So many.  It was unreal.  I had no idea at that age that roaches got into everything.  That they could live on anything, and would breed everywhere.  Even in sofas.  Just one more thing to be embarrassed about at home, another reason why friends shouldn't come over.  Please come in, just don't mind the scary giant black man snoring half-naked on the sofa or the roaches climbing over him.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

1982-1983: Disconnect

As Direll's cocaine use escalated, so did his immersion in the gangster world of drug dealers.  If he wasn't using at home or sleeping it off, he was out and mostly he was out at night, all hours, all night.  Fortunately, at that time, Mom could walk to work if she had to, and we were walking to school ourselves.  We didn't have to rely on the car being available.  The phone would ring night and day for him.  Direll himself ran up charges on the phone so high that phone bills were often $700 or more.  He would call collect, bill calls to our phone and straight out talk long distance.  At that time, in the early eighties, LA and its suburbs had only one area code (213) but many calls were considered "toll" calls depending on where you were calling.  Santa Monica might have had its own area code at that time - I don't remember.  Within a few years though, areas became broken out and area codes like "818" and "310" were created and counted as long distance.

In seventh grade, I started asking my mom for my own phone line.  At first, she compromised and bought me my own phone for Christmas or something - a beautiful, old fashioned looking phone which suited me perfectly and I loved.  Eventually, she gave into giving me my own phone line (how cool!), but I realize now she was only preparing for the inevitable:  the main line would be disconnected for non-payment and only the phone in my room would work.  I woke up at least once in the middle of the night to find Direll, sitting at my desk (gentle with the broken chair!) and talking on my phone, loudly, having no consideration at all of my privacy or the fact that I had to go to school in the morning.  The next day, I would always have to wipe the dirt and scum off the mouthpiece.

That's me at the top, mouth open, eyes looking up, having
the time of my life at one of our sleepovers.

I loved seventh grade.  I was in junior high then - John Adams Junior High, and felt so grown up going to different classes with different teachers throughout the day.  I finally had friends - a large group of friends - who embraced me and loved me for who I was.  We had great sleepovers (except at my house) during which we would often go TP someone's house.  We played "scary" spirit games like "Light as a Feather, Stiff as a Board."  We watched movies.  We had a blast.

I became recognized as a top student as well and was placed in honors classes.  I took pre-algebra which by today's standards is nothing special but it was in 1982.  We even got to learn a few things about computers which I know is hard for some of you younger readers to fathom, but it was very new to us and not every math class in the school got to use the computer lab.  It was hard; sometimes I didn't "get" the equations, but later it proved very helpful to me to have taken this class.  I would never struggle in math again, thanks to Mr. Green.  I struggled a little in science class, too, making a meager showing with my science project (remember I said I hated those?) but redeemed myself immensely with my leaf project, the final project of the year.

The leaf project.  Have I ever mentioned that I am a horrible procrastinator?  I'm better now, but it's something I struggle with all the time.  Most projects, most papers I ever had to make or write, I waited until the last minute, usually the day before they were due.  The leaf project was one of the first major projects that I let go until exactly the day before it was due.

I did have some foresight.  It was a weekend we were going to dad's house and I managed to check out from the library a book on leaves to help me identify them.  I don't know what I was thinking.  I had to collect, I don't know, maybe 20 different kinds?  Then I had to identify them, say something about them and display them in my notebook.  There was no faking it here.  No leaf meant no dice.

My dad was awesome.  He said he was sick over the weekend, but I'm pretty sure now that he was either drinking or hungover or coming down from something.  Or maybe he was legitimately sick.  Drug addicts and alcoholics don't exactly have great immune systems. 

Anyway, Sunday came and he drove me all around on his motorcycle to collect leaves.  He was a good sport about it.  Everytime we saw a different kind of tree or plant, he pulled over to let me collect it.  When we got to 20, we went back to his condo where he was living and I went to work on the project.  I was pretty sure I was going to get a C on this one (shameful!), but I dutifully worked until it was done (it was worse to not turn in an assignment at all).

Here's the coolest thing:  Mr. Hansen, my science teacher, loved my project so much that he told the whole class how great it was.  I got an A+ on it and he was hard-pressed to give it back to me.  He wanted to keep it.  Maybe I let him.  I don't know where it ended up if I kept it.  All I knew was that by some miracle, I had pulled it off and it got me a B, maybe an A in the class by the end of the year.

Here's where my timeline gets a little confusing to me.  By the end of seventh grade, I knew that we would be moving out of Santa Monica.  Mom was going to buy a condo in Reseda, the San Fernando Valley, home of "the" Valley Girls.  My friends and I had spent an entire year making fun of valley girls and their sayings:  Gross me out the door!  Gag me with a spoon!  Like, for sure!  Now, I was about to become a valley girl and my friends teased me to no end, although they definitely expressed disappointment in my moving.  I was disappointed, too.  I didn't want to leave these great friends I finally made.  Socially, the Santa Monica years had been hard!  But part of me, a little part, was excited.  Maybe Direll wouldn't come with us.  Maybe things would be better at home in a new place.  Maybe, maybe, maybe.

What prompted the move though was this:  one night at home in the Santa Monica townhouse, while the four of us - Mom, Matthew, Julie and I - were watching TV and having a normal weeknight while Direll was out, a bunch of strange men came home with Direll.  They took over.  They went into the kitchen with canvas bags and started unpacking them.  I believed they were coming over to do drugs.  That was what upset me.  I started to cry.  I wanted to ask my mom what was happening, tell her I was upset, beg her not to let it happen.  She was caught up with Direll and asking her own questions.

One of the men - he was big, white, with a beard, kind of scary on his own - he came over to me and tried to tell me everything was okay.  I don't know why.  It turns out they weren't coming over to do drugs.  They had guns which they'd unpacked from their bags.  They were coming over to execute my mom and Direll for something Direll did, probably stole drugs or money from them, and yes, I said execute.  My mom begged for her life, for the sake of her children.  They let her go, but took Direll with them.  Direll eventually returned, but all was not at peace.  One of his cohorts had his house shot up in a drive-by (a newly-coined term back then).  I guess that's when Mom decided for sure that we had to get away.

When school was out, we went, I think, to my grandparents' house in Phoenix - just us kids, maybe for a week or so.  I can't remember if it was pre-planned or a last minute decision.  Mom was very cool-headed - or rather she maintained a cool-headed facade - while all this was happening toward us.  She acted like always, like this lifestyle was no big deal and nothing significant had happened.  I, in fact, didn't know the whole story of the home invasion until years later when Mom was able to talk about it.  I'm pretty sure now that we went to Phoenix to keep us safe. 

In the meantime, while we were gone, there were more threats.  This may have been when Direll's partner/cohort/whatever had his house shot up.  What Mom remembers most and which still makes her visibly physically ill is that one of the men later said to her, "It was especially nice meeting your daughter, Shelley." 

When we got home, Mom told us not to unpack.  After driving around a lot, we ended up in West L.A. where we stopped at Jack in the Box for lunch or dinner.  I had no idea what was going on - I am so disconnected from those feelings of that time.  My memory of that outing is that at Jack in the Box, I spilled hot sauce on my white sweatshirt, my favorite white sweatshirt, and I was more upset about that than anything else.  We ended up at a motel that night in the same area.

Why were we spending the night in a motel?  Did I ask that question?  Did I just keep quiet to be good and mindful and keep Mom happy?  Direll showed up at the motel that night which was mildly upsetting.  I thought we were getting away from him.  Maybe that's why I don't remember being worried or upset.  He didn't stay, but during the time he was there, he and Mom were in the bathroom and I could hear voices but not make out the conversation.  I had started becoming good at eavesdropping and making sense of things unspoken, feeling the atmosphere and knowing whether something was really wrong or not.  I was slightly concerned that he had drugs, but knew that Mom would not get high with him.

He left and I guess the next thing that happened was that me and Julie and Matthew went to Dad's house for the next month. 

Here's the thing about my dad:  he was using drugs just as often as Direll.  If it wasn't cocaine, it was marijuana and who knows what else.  And he was drinking.  Direll wasn't a drinker, strangely enough.  But where Direll was violent and loud and abusive, Dad was sensitive and still loving, funny and fun to be around.  We always looked forward to seeing him and going to his house for the weekend.  Unless he was depressed, which he often was.  Or he happened to have an opportunity to freebase, which occasionally he did.  For the most part, he did try to keep his drug abuse hidden from us, although I remember one time, his drug buddy, Jeff Brown, showed up at Dad's condo with cocaine and another person and immediately the three of them were sitting around the dining room table getting high.  Dad might have told us to go in the other room but I'm not even sure that transacted.  At one point, Jeff went into the bathroom and vomited violently, then went back out to continue smoking.  Dad had no idea he had even left the table.

It was impossible to ignore but impossible not to pretend it wasn't happening - all of it.  I would get angry, but I stuffed it inside.  I would turn to Julie and Matthew and try to distract ourselves.  We didn't talk about it among ourselves.  It was just the way it was.  If anything, I turned my anger and fear about the drugs into anger and frustration that Dad wasn't spending time with us.

Everytime he did get high when we were around, the next day, when he was coming down, he got incredibly depressed and would feel terrible about himself for having used.  He used us as a crutch, would talk to us about how he felt, how awful he felt and we would comfort him and tell him it was okay.  I have this vivid memory of him curled up on the floor in a blanket, nose sniffly from crying, and the three of us sitting around him.  "Just don't do it anymore, Daddy," I advised, as though it were that simple.  And it was, but it wasn't.  He was sucked in.  He was an addict, severely depressed and at times, suicidal, with no emotional support to fall back on.  No one understood the devastation of the cocaine/crack epidemic at the time. 

A few years later, he would have us believing he had quit using cocaine, and we believed him.  I believed him.  What I found out later was that he only became good at hiding it from us.  It was a problem he would live with for the rest of his life.

At the end of that month - or one of the months anyway - when Mom came to pick us up, Dad cried openly about being sad to let us go.  Seeing him cry made me cry and I felt so guilty about leaving him.  His behavior made my mother angry because it upset me so.  She knew he wasn't perfect, she knew him as one adult to another, but he was untainted in my eyes.  I didn't love him more than Mom or less than her; I always loved them both the same.  Dad was just really good at allowing us to parent him, rather than him parenting us, and it stayed that way, even after he got sober.  There's only one time that he stepped up and acted like my parent, but that story comes years later.  There's so much in between.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Back to Life, Stuck in Reality

In sixth grade at Grant Elementary School, I was free of Melinda.  She was in a different class.  So was Michelle.  I started to be friends with different people.  I was best friends with a girl named Paula for a while.  I also met Leah Melber and Jennifer Peterson, who would later become part of a larger group of my close friends.

In sixth grade, I was put into a group of GATE students (Gifted And Talented Education).  Every Friday afternoon a small group of us - maybe 15 - would do creative writing for the last hour or two of school.  I loved it.  Creative Writing was perfect for me.  It was also the first time I was selected for a group of smart students, my first exposure to an "honors" type class.  And Melinda wasn't in it.  Gradually, through sixth grade, I started to believe in myself again, started to feel okay about who I was.  I got to play the lead in our class play.  My mom made me a beautiful blue dress for me to wear.  It was exhilarating to be in the limelight.  I really enjoyed acting and even thought I was a little good at it.  I have to thank Mrs. TenBrink, my teacher, for helping me that year, and maybe she didn't even know she did.

She gave me the responsibility of going ahead of the class after lunch or recess to unlock the classroom door.  I would race ahead to the door and unlock it, pretending to be Nancy Drew, pretending I was sneaking in somewhere, looking for clues.  I would pretend to look through the easy reader files, creating a sense of urgency and suspense, knowing the class would walk in anytime.  And as soon as I heard them arrive, I would race to my seat.

Once we were reading on our own after lunch or something and I accidentally fell asleep.  Mrs. TenBrink came quietly over and woke me up.  She sent me to the nurse for the rest of the afternoon.

Maybe she knew something was wrong at home.  Maybe she'd heard about the Melinda situation.  I don't know, but looking back, she really took the time to make me feel special, even though sometimes I thought she didn't even like me.  She probably had to be sure she wasn't treating me like the teacher's pet, but grown-ups can tell, I guess, about some kids.

My dad came once to talk about his career as a lawyer.  It wasn't the first time he'd done this.  In La Crescenta he came once and talked to the class.  At Grant, he arrived after lunch.  Mrs. TenBrink told me someone was waiting for me in the classroom, so I dropped the Nancy Drew act that day and ran into the classroom to find him.  He was hiding in the closet.  I opened the door and gave him a huge hug.  I was so happy to see him.

Later, kids in my class wrote letters to him, thanking him for speaking.  My dad kept those letters, but who knows where they are now.  Most of his possessions were kept from us after he died.

Home.  Do you see how even at age eleven I had two separate lives?  I guess I compartmentalized the two.  maybe even three, since life at my dad's was totally different as well.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Define Sensational

I have been told through sources (forgive me M. and M.) that I am not being "sensational" enough in my re-telling of stories, of life events; but what constitutes sensational when your everyday life includes on a daily basis arguments over money, the final act of just taking Mom's purse and withdrawing the cash from her wallet; walking in on Dad while he's cleaning his crack pipe, or discovering that once again Direll is freebasing in the downstairs bathroom and Mom can't do a thing about it or is willing to believe or accept Direll's denials.  It becomes slightly more sensational when you wake up one Saturday morning and Mom has a black eye, except the look on her face says don't even ask about it.  What is truly sensational is when Direll is finally gone for a period of two or three peaceful, glorious months; when life becomes truly normal and calm and there is no fear of what lies behind the front door when you come home from school; when Dad is finally in rehab and recovery and you find out one day that he believes - truly believes - in a higher power, and gives you advice that you will carry with you for the rest of your life, and even more so, that that advice includes prayer.

The sadness in it all is that there is no expression, no acceptable expression of sadness over the drug abuse, the violence and chaos and desire for meaningful interaction with one's parents and siblings.  The sadness comes out in other ways:  the knickers (by this I mean American knee length pants that button, not the British kind of knickers) that are so in style, that you finally got so that you can pull your knee socks up under them, shrink in the wash and no longer fit.  Or maybe it's that they didn't shrink but I expanded in the waistline.  Gouchos, or coulottes, are no longer as chic.  I want the knickers; I want to fit in, and suddenly the shrinkage of the pants are the most horrible, worst thing that could ever happen, worth tears and tantrums and upsets that no one can fix.  The sadness is in the disappointment that the cardboard replica of Parliament required for my report on England does not match the picture in my head.  It does not sparkle like gold; it is a sad cardboard box cut-out, done at the last minute because I had no parent to guide me or help me.  Where was the mom who helped my make the incredible dioramas in 3rd grade?  Who showed me what could be achieved with styrofoam balls and shapes and a little paint and material?  That is the sadness of a 10-11 year old's life and it shows itself in the form of a mean older sister, a sullen, sulky pre-adolescent who feels as if she has no allies when it comes to science fair projects (yuck), homework checks (who cares?); no after school programs or ballet classes for me.  Only the TV with its soap operas and Oprah and Phil discussing topics I can't quite understand.  There is nothing spectacular about that.  Nothing spectacular at all.  I am merely a codependent person in the making and god-willing, a child who will grow up perfect and good and get herself through school and into a good college all on her own, without any physical bruises of her own, merely the internal damage that fortunately no one can see.  And it isn't until 33 that I realize my childhood was not normal; that I am not crazy to feel as if I am going crazy, and no wonder I had no boyfriend in high school or college, or that I was afraid of my own shadow.  Broken, forging on, but really just managing, hanging by a thread and unable to access the true feelings that were covered up by the disappointment of social failure.  That can only go on for so long.  If only, I always said and then tried not to imagine "if only" because of one thing I was sure:  "if only" was never going to happen, at least not through any of my efforts.  And it certainly seemed as if God wasn't listening, no matter how many times I resorted to prayer even though I wasn't religious, per se.

I could have gone to a school counselor, a teacher, the detective who came to our apartment to investigate a "domestic disturbance" and gave me his card.  But CPS, the dreaded CPS, was possibly an unknown more frightening than the norm.  I don't know how I got through it, what got me through it.  I don't know how my brother and sister came out so together, even though I see the scars.  I am the only one willing to beat a dead horse, it seems.

Maybe there is room for sensational later in my story.  What you've read so far is child's play.  It is mere foreshadowing, for there is still time to get out!  To stop using drugs!  To get help!  To think of the children.  Oh yeah, the children.

Tale of a Fifth Grade Nobody

In the Fall of 1980, in the wake of all that was going on at home, I was in fifth grade in a new school, Grant Elementary.  My teacher was Mrs. Hoyt, and I liked her.  I was quiet, suddenly shy - anyone who knew me back then would have called me withdrawn.  Like I said before, I had never been that shy before.  No one knew anything about my home life, except the basics.  I started out being friends with a girl named Stacy but it didn't really stick and there was some jealousy on her part over a boy in our class who liked to follow me home after school and tease me.  I was definitely not ready for boys even though I could admit that some were cuter than others.

No, the friend I really bonded with was Melinda Lee, a smart, fun Asian girl (although we didn't say "Asian" back then and more specifically, she was Chinese).  She had great imagination and was a lot like me in some ways:  the way she liked to put on plays and create parties and be the leader of fun games.  This part of me had faded a little in the wake of all my uncertainty and insecurity.  It is what attracted me to her and why we became best friends.  Every now and then I would get a warning from someone that she was going to "burn" me but I didn't really know what they meant and found it hard to believe anyway.

Melinda and I shared a desk in our classroom.  Another girl we were friends with, Michelle, sat on the other side of Melinda.  She, in fact, was one of those who'd warned me about Melinda, but suddenly it seemed that we were in competition for Melinda's attention.

Things were okay for a while.  We ate lunches together (mine were always weird because I had to make them myself; I remember once I brought sauerkraut and cinnamon toast).  We played handball, 4-square (one of my favorites because I was good at it), hopscotch, and on the high bar where we would spin on one leg and try tricks like a cherry drop.

Then Melinda began to be critical.  She would comment on my "weird" lunches that were either brought in an "uncool" lunchbox or a too big paper bag.  We couldn't afford the nicely sized brown bags and were lucky if we happened to have sandwich bags, but never the Ziploc kind.  I was usually pretty grossed out by my lunches, too, which explains all the after-school foraging.

One of the more hurtful things she did was when she used her index finger and thumb to make a circle to demonstrate the size of our waists (me, Michelle and Melinda).  Michelle was a tall beanpole; Melinda was a little shorter than me.  Here's how it went in her exact words:

"This is Michelle":  circle small, thumb and index finger overlapping;
"This is Shelley":  circle big, thumb and index finger not touching;
"This is me.  I'm normal":  a perfect circle, just the tips of her thumb and index finger touching.

That hurt.  Actually, that doesn't even describe how it made me feel.  I think I swallowed the lump in my throat and tried to move on to the next topic of conversation or activity, pretending it didn't hurt.  Despite the designer jean debaucle, it was really the first time anyone ever came even close to calling me fat, much less suggest that I was not normal.  In fact, I knew I was not normal because of my mother and father and Direll and the rampant drug use and chaos in my home.  But I thought I hid that pretty well at school and tried to fit in with every other kid.  It was the first time I felt not okay about who I was, just being me.

Then one day, suddenly out of nowhere, Melinda hated me.  I don't remember the exact day, how long we had been best friends, but suddenly I walked into the classroom, sat at my desk and Melinda hated me.  Maybe she just wouldn't talk to me, her chair turned fully to face Michelle.  Maybe she just kept saying mean things to me.  Maybe she excluded me from conversations.  I just knew somehow that she wasn't my best friend anymore.

She would accuse me of trying to cheat off her and would cover her paper with her arm in such an obvious way.  As if I needed to cheat off of her.  We were both smart, two of the best students in class, but she accused me nonetheless, made fun of me any way she could. 

One day, I came in and she had drawn a line with her pencil down the center of our desk.  Everytime my elbow happened to cross the line (she sat on my right; I'm right-handed), she would draw a star right next to the line.  It was just so petty.  I tried to ignore her.  I really did.  I knew it was stupid and that I should rise above it and not get my feelings hurt.  I tried to tell my teacher, whom I think cared, but in the end just wanted me to grow a set and get over it.  I hardly had any other friends in the class.  I became something of an outcast.

Even though at this point we were clearly not friends, Melinda would do weird things like invite me to her birthday party; or one time, she decided that the three of us - Michelle, Melinda and me - should have a "dinner party" with boys, like a triple date.  I vaguely remember who might have been there.  I wasn't exactly interested in boys at that time, although I was starting to think some were cuter than others, but that was it.

One time, earlier on, she wrote me a letter - one of many - wherein she listed all my  negative traits and compared them to all her outstanding qualities.  I remember she said that she was a "jack of all trades" compared to something like I wasn't good at anything.  The letter was downright mean.  I showed it to my mom who called Melinda's mother, but nothing really happened to change anything. 

I started to act out.  I didn't want to go to school.  I tried to be sick and ask to stay home.  My mom had a firm rule that unless we had a fever, we couldn't stay home and miss school.  (Interesting fact:  throughout my life, I have rarely been feverish although there have been plenty of times I have been legitimately sick.)  One time, I left, pretending to go to school.  I must have sent Julie off with Matt, or maybe I walked her to a point.  Then, I waited for my mom to leave, and I came back home.  I called her, of course - or maybe Direll called her because I was supposed to be at school.  An argument ensued, but what could she do?  She was at work, I was at home.  She let me stay.

Another time that I fought with her about going to school, I left the house in a tantrum, probably saying I was running away or something, but I was definitely not going to school.  I walked around, then down to the park.  I wanted her to find me.  I wanted the attention I was so lacking.  I wanted someone to understand how desperate I was, how terrible it was, being at school with Melinda.  She found me and scolded me for leaving without saying where I was going.  She sent me home.  This went on and on.  At one point, I think she gave up.  Maybe we had a heart-to-heart.  I cried all the time.  Everything was so wrong in my life - Direll, the drugs, Melinda, Mom paying no attention except to the drama that Direll created.  The only way to get her attention was to create my own drama.  But I desperately needed someone to address this situation with Melinda, and no one would.  My teacher, Mrs. Hoyt, gave up.  I think every adult's response was to just "buck up" and fight back.  I was being overly sensitive, wimpy, a sissy.  Just ignore her, they said.  But it's hard to ignore someone who is constantly in your face telling you that you are lower than low.  This was 1980, long before "Odd Girl Out" and "Queen Bees and Wannabes" were published, long before Columbine and long before anyone really addressed the issue of bullying at school.

I ended up staying home for like two weeks.  Mom finally ended up talking to Mrs. Hoyt who called to see what was up.  When I finally came back to school, Melinda and Michelle were moved to different desks.  I can't even remember who ended up next to me.  Maybe some boy.  I don't know, but I was relieved.  Melinda still tried to torture me from her new desk, but the letters stopped, and I managed mostly to ignore her.  The rest of my fifth grade year finished uneventfully, at least as far as school was concerned.  I had no friends, but I was left alone, which is how I wanted it.

In the meantime, home life sucked.  It was clear that Direll was not leaving.  He would take Mom's car and go out all night and sleep all day.  They would fight.  I think I mentioned the laundry room episode.  I guess I didn't.  I was eleven, in sixth grade by this time, so he'd been living with us for about a year.  They were fighting, as usual.  He backed her into our tiny laundry room and shut the door.  I knew instantly that was wrong.  I ran to the laundry room and opend the door.  I don't remember what I said, but I wanted him to know that I was going to protect my mom at any cost.  Mom always told me not to get involved.  She was probably trying to prevent us from getting hurt physically.  That laundry room incident was the first time there was any indication that he was physically abusive, but it wouldn't be clear to us for several years what was going on.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Here, then, am I

I'm back.  It feels like it has been ages since I've blogged, but really it's been, what, two weeks or so?  That is ages.  Life got a little ahead of me, but now, I think I am here in the moment. 

I just finished reading (what a perfect joy!) "The Hours" by Michael Cunningham.  I love, love, love the movie and can't believe now that I waited so long to read the book.  It's stunning.  It draws you in and the writing, though a little difficult at first because it is so rich in detail, becomes like liquid and you are swimming in it - or drowning, maybe, like Virginia Woolf herself.  It's lovely.

If my writing sounds contrived, forgive me and humor me just a bit.  I am still caught up in the language of the book; I can hear it in my head, the way he writes.  If you've read the book, you can understand:  Here then, is my apartment with it's antique piano and it's small space, my husband in the bathroom, shaving at five o'clock in the afternoon on a Saturday, two cats lounging on the sofa and the table.  It's a beautiful day - the reason one lives in Arizona.  The air is still and fresh, only 80 degrees or so which is warm by most standards for the end of October, but which is perfect today in Arizona.  There is still the scent of Fall in the air, the faint hint of a cool breeze, which promises even cooler weather, which I will savor in the moment when I am most cold because it is so hot for so long throughout the year.  Deril has found it in him to carve a chicken and boil the carcass for broth which is now simmering on the stove with bay leaves and onions and celery root.  And I am on the sofa, feet curled under me with a blanket, the first blanket I ever made, neither square nor rectangular but some other polygonal shape - I can't remember the correct name from geometry class.  Here, then, is the moment, the perfect time of day, just before the sun starts to set and night falls and the day begins to end with tomorrow looming ahead; but for now, it is this moment.  It is enough.

There, then, is my tribute to what is now one of my most favorite books and its brilliant author.  There is so much to read  - I still have two other books going, but I am now driven to read "Mrs. Dalloway" and of course, Cunningham's new book, just out, with which I indulged myself and bought in hardcover, even though I could have easily borrowed it from work.

Next post, I promise, will continue my own story - and I won't wait so long to do so.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010


It's not too late, only about 20 min to 11pm.  I'm off work tomorrow and Deril is horribly sick with the flu or pneumonia or some kind of infection he'll be diagnosed with tomorrow afternoon because his immune system is shot.  I'm only minorly fighting the sniffles, but now I find myself fighting the sniffles for other reasons and it's a hard feeling to shake off.  I can't do this without a glass of wine.

I just finished watching "Reviving Ophelia", one of Lifetime TV's better book-based movies (another one is "Odd Girl Out" which is also very meaningful to me and should be watched by all parents of daughters).  In a nutshell, "Ophelia" is about a teenage girl who is being physically and emotionally abused by her boyfriend.  It all ends in a neat and tidy and I guess meant-to-be-feel-good way, but I can't help being saddened by it.

I'm diverging from the chronology of my main story a little here, but please indulge me.  When I went to college and I left my mom and brother and sister with Direll, I went through a sort of - who's kidding here? - post traumatic stress.  I lived in the dorms and girls were constantly running through the halls at all hours, laughing and squealing as teenage girls do.  At nighttime when this would happen, while I was sleeping, I would wake suddenly to their noises and immediately react as though it were my mother screaming in pain and fright at being hit by Direll.  I reacted in such a way that upon waking, I didn't know where I was at first and started to get out of bed to defend her, when I would realize that I was safe in the dorms and it was just silliness going on outside my room.  I was so used to being awakened by the sounds of Direll beating on her, bullying her and their constant arguing that I expected it, waited for it in the night.  Toward the end of high school and the summer before college, it was uncommon to get a solid night's sleep.  If nothing else, we were all sleeping on edge, waiting for Direll to come home at some point, shuffle around the kitchen, maybe make fried bologna and rice, pots and pans clattering.  He was in full-fledged cocaine psychosis by then, paranoid, talking to himself.  He would creepily walk to me and Julie's room and look in on us while I pretended to be asleep.

Anyway, what I started out to say was that when I went to college and my mom finally left him and moved to Arizona, secretly with my grandfather coming to get her, people would ask me why my mom stayed with him for so long.  This was, of course, after I tentatively started telling people the truth about my life.  The thing is, I don't know and yet I do know.  I mean, I understand how women can be belittled and emotionally beaten down to believe that they truly deserve to be treated like dogs, worse than dogs, and that it somehow is their fault for letting it happen.  The physical abuse hurts, leaves visible marks, but the emotional abuse and manipulation is the most harmful.  "Reviving Ophelia" (the Lifetime movie - please withhold judgement here on my choice of TV entertainment) depicted this very well.  It just happened to wrap it up all nice and neat in about 2 hours.  It took my mom 10 years to get out of her relationship and sometimes, 20+ years later the scars still show.  It makes me angry that Mom stayed with Direll for so long, that she made the choices she made, but it makes me angrier to hear people judge women who stay with men who abuse them.  It's a slippery slope (excuse the cliche) but I learned at a point that my mom was not going to kick Direll out until she was ready to do it.  Like any addict or alcoholic, she had to hit her bottom and it took her a long time to bottom out.

I got a couple of responses to my last post about Christmas from friends who expressed sympathy and empathy to me about my experiences.  I so appreciate that people are following this blog and that in some cases, people can identify with what I went through in their own way.  That is always helpful to find someone who has a shared experience.  All I can say is that it only gets worse from there.  I used to joke, in my cavalier way, that I could never turn my life story into a book because people would never believe the things that happened, they are so outrageous.  Or rather, what seems outrageous is that all these things happened to one family.  But if they happened to mine, then they happened to hundreds of other families in the world.  And then, when I think I had it bad, I watch a movie like "Precious" which is technically fiction, but clearly a compilation of many realities, and I think, I didn't have it bad at all.

I guess it's all relative, no pun intended.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

The First Christmas

It became pretty evident that we were on our own.  No wonder we ate so much candy, as the only meal we could count on was dinner.  I started to learn/experiment in the kitchen.  It wasn't that I loved to cook or anything, but I liked trying recipes and really, it was out of necessity.

Matthew stayed out of the house a lot, playing with friends.  Eventually, our grandparents (my mom's parents) bought us an Atari and that helped pass the time and keep us occupied.  Julie and I spent a lot of time together.  As mean and bitchy as I could be sometimes, we were really close and even though I didn't think of it this way at the time, she was like my baby.  I would walk her to school everyday and drop her at her kindergarten class.  She cried every time I left her, which made me cry as I would rush off to my fifth grade class.  I still think of her as my darling, sweet baby sister, even though she is now well grown up, married with a young son and new baby daughter, a strong woman who has had her own share of troubles but has overcome them.  I couldn't be more proud of her.  I am tearing up now at the thought of her as a child with virtually no voice at all.

As kids at that age, at that time in Santa Monica, we retreated into an imaginary world, a total escape.  We called our blankets "akies" and suddenly started giving voices to them.  They became real to us.  Just like kids play with dolls, I guess, we created this whole world of "Akie Land."  Matthew participated a little but he didn't really have a blanket that was "the" blanket, and I didn't really welcome him.  But he and Julie played, I think.  My akie was a yellow and white handmade blanket that by 10 years old was tattered and torn.  Julie's was blue and pink and a variety of other pastels, and at 5 was in much better condition.  My akie's name was Akiana and Julie's was Akiella.  We also had little stuffed animals that we included.  Mine was a little pink elephant named Effie because Julie used to say "efelants" instead of "elephants."  Julie had a brown monkey named Kiki.  Kiki and Fe (that's how we decided to spell it) were best friends and boyfriend/girlfriend but in a very innocent way.  Since we were our akies' mommies, our akies were cousins.  I could go on and on.  We had special names for everything.  We would talk in high pitched voices and play for hours.  It bonded us, and this game went on forever, until I went to college, I guess.

I also turned to books.  I would read voraciously and visit the library often.  Judy Blume was a a favorite.  I was also in love with the Betsy-Tacy series by Maud Hart Lovelace, and of course, Nancy Drew.

All of this helped when sudden disruption would occur at home.  The first time I ever suspected Direll of hitting Mom was when he backed her into the laundry room and shut the door.  I immediately ran to the door and flung it open.  Mom didn't like me getting involved, but there was no way I was going to sit by and let him beat on her.  He never touched me in a violent way, but he bullied and beat on my mom for 10 years.  He tried not to do it in front of us because I think he wanted us to think he was okay and that it was my mom's fault anyway.  She often provoked him, but I certainly don't blame her for his violence.  There was nothing good about this man.  He had no soul, probably a sociopath.

One of the first Christmases in Santa Monica - probably the first Christmas - we had a logistical issue dealing with my dad coming to our house Christmas morning.  He had always done so in the past since the divorce, but we had lived so close by.  I don't know.  I'm sure this was all an excuse, planned out.  Anyway, Dad came over on Christmas Eve, dumped all our presents under the tree (usually he held them back under the pretense that Santa brought them, even though we knew better by then).  He came over with the sole purpose of getting high with Direll.  They were up all night, freebasing, but I didn't know it until this:  I woke up, in excitement of Christmas, of course, like I always did around 3 in the morning, wanting to sneak down to see the presents "Santa" brought.  I walked downstairs with Matthew.  All the lights were on but no one was in sight.  We sat on the couch, intending to stay up until the "reasonable" hour.  Suddenly, Dad and Direll came crashing through the living room, frenzied, high (although I didn't understand).  He yelled at us for being up and sent us back to bed.  My feelings were hurt, and of course, I knew something was very wrong.  I think this was the first time I had ever actually witnessed Dad using coke.  They freebased all night.  The next morning when Mom was up, and it was time to open presents, I don't know where Direll was.  Dad was crashed out on the sofa, strangely depressed and quiet, coming down, obviously.  Mom tried to make things nice, said he was sick.  I know she was mad about the whole thing, but she tried.  The day was colored gray for me, not the normal excitement of Christmas.  I was only 10 but things were not right with the adults in my life, and I did not like where it was going.

My explanation of this Christmas is all in retrospective understanding.  I really only vaguely understood what was going on at the time.  I didn't want to believe anything really bad was happening.  I just wanted to pretend.  Pretend and forget, or rather pretend and deny.  I couldn't forget.  The images would play through my head over and over and I would have to push them away any way I could, whether it was by reading, immersing myself in Akie Land, eating, or just trying to make everything perfect for my parents.  I wish my parents - at least one of them - had recognized what I was trying to do by being so good, but I think it was just easier to let me make things easier for them, their lives were so chaotic and stressed out.  My mom was already calling me her "near perfect daughter" and saying I was 10 going on 30.  She said it in a complimentary way, a proud way, but in the end, it only put more pressure on me to be that way.  I just didn't know it at the time.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Mom's Rule #2: What's the Worst That Can Happen?

I was SO shy when I was a kid.  I know, those of you who know me now and have known me since college are laughing and don't believe me, but it's true.  I was mortified if attention was brought to me, and at the same time (probably the Leo in me) I was dying for attention, just the good kind.  I was the kind of kid who, all through high school and most of college, that if I was called on in class or pointed out in some way, I couldn't speak without blushing and turning beet red.  My heart would race.  My face would get hot.  My voice would make that embarrassing hiccup sound because I wasn't getting enough oxygen to my head and lungs.  It was horrible.  I hated walking the halls at school, passing people I sort of knew and not knowing if I should smile, say hi, or look away.  I'm sure other kids thought I was a snob many times, but no, I was just shy.  (Today, I really am a snob, just ask my husband.)

As shy as I was, I guess I made friends pretty easily.  There was always some nice girl to ask me questions about where I was from.  I made friends pretty quickly with a girl named Stacy.  She was new, too, if I remember correctly, and I think I sat next to her at first in my fifth grade class.  Mrs. Hoyt was our teacher.  She was very nice, kindly, a motherly type in that soft 40-something way.  I'd never had a problem with teachers liking me.  I was good in school, well-behaved, not very good at P.E. (that's Physical Education for those of you who had "Gym").  I was always picked last for team sports because I was not athletic and even though I kind of liked regular dodge ball (the circle kind you play in elementary school), I really hated anything else that required athletic ability.  And I wore dresses a lot which didn't make me look like a good choice for your kick ball team.

When we still lived in La Crescenta and my parents were married, they signed me up for Tball.  I liked playing with my dad who taught me how to catch grounders with my mitt.  But when it actually came to being on a team with a coach I barely knew I was scared out of my mind.  I also got hit in the forehead with a softball (it would not be the first time).  Eventually, the coach came over to the house and talked to my parents and I was off the hook, didn't have to be on the team anymore.  It was clear I didn't want to be there.

There was a change in me in fifth grade.  It is easy to attribute it to one thing in particular, but in actuality, it has to be attributed to many things and changes that were taking place in my/our lives.

Direll was living with us full time.  As I mentioned before, every time I asked my mom when he was going home, Mom avoided the question.  Now she bluntly, flatly stated that he was living with us.  I felt blindsided.  Shouldn't she have checked with us first?  Isn't that how things were supposed to happen?  (The Brady's would have had a family meeting.)  She'd always said that we were the most important things to her in her life.  I naively took that to mean that we had a say in her life and how her decisions affected us.

I hated Direll.  I still do.  I don't use that word lightly here.  I use it with the full meaning it was intended.  He smelled bad.  He slept all day on the living room couch and snored so loud it seemed the condo would shake.  We learned a trick (me, Matt and Julie) with the phone.  We found that if we dialed our own number and quickly hung up, the phone would ring.  It was the only thing that would wake him up.

He was basically home all the time.  He didn't have a job or a car or ever really a wardrobe.  If he wasn't sleeping, he was on the phone talking incessantly in his street slang, incoherent string of words.  I didn't hate him because he was black, or even streetwise.  It was that he was ignorant and uneducated and could be surly or a comic depending on his mood.  He was a con artist.  He could fast talk his way into anything, or out of anything for that matter.  I refused to be drawn in.  I refused to give him the benefit of the doubt.  I was suspicious and judgmental  and untrusting.  I just wanted my family of four back together.

A lot of it was that I didn't want my mom to have a boyfriend, but honestly, her choice in men, other than my dad, sucked.  I remember later in the 80's seeing Huey Lewis and The News on TV and thinking, wishing, fantasizing that Mom would meet and marry him.  He just seemed so normal, straight-laced and nice.  But it was just another one of those things that no matter how hard I wished or prayed, it wouldn't come true.  It was also one of those times I felt my heart would break knowing it wouldn't happen.

It's amazing to me what an optimist I am, considering how bad things were.  I guess that's just how I figured out how to survive.  What's the worst that can happen?  If you can live with the worst, then you're doing okay.

I don’t know when the drug use started.  It feels in my memory like it was right after moving to Santa Monica.  I knew Mom and Dad smoked both smoked pot – Mom more occasionally that Dad, whose use was daily.  But it was the early 80’s and cocaine was in the scene.  I walked in on my mom snorting coke in her bedroom one time.  I don’t remember how it was explained to me.  It was definitely downplayed, but I was uncomfortable.  I’m uncomfortable now thinking about it.  My heart is racing a little and even though I have never touched cocaine or knowingly been around it in my adult life, I have had many a drug dream where I’m using and can’t stop and even feel the depression of coming down.

No one ever snorted coke in front of me other than that time I accidentally saw Mom.  But it doesn’t matter because snorting quickly escalated to freebasing, and according to my mom it was my dad who introduced both her and Direll to freebase.

This is all really hard to write about, I guess partly because it’s from a child’s perspective or a child’s memory.  Suddenly drugs were such a huge deal in my parents’ lives, and it didn’t feel the same as my dad smoking pot although by then he was growing his own plants.  It wasn’t unusual to find him drying buds in the oven.  I don’t remember the marijuana bothering me so much, but it certainly took center stage.  I guess I can equate it to being a non-cigarette smoker around a cigarette smoker where every activity is interrupted by the smoker’s need to smoke.

Cocaine scared me.  I don’t even know how I knew about it.  Maybe it was Nancy Reagan’s say no to drugs campaign.  Maybe it became more ubiquitous on TV, although TV was certainly more censored back then.  (I remember the nation being shocked when the word “bitch” was uttered on Dynasty, the first swear word on network television.)

I just knew cocaine was bad, and now that I think about it, I couldn’t understand why it was necessary.  WHY did drugs have to be a part of our lives?  And it was such an adult thing and to be honest, adult things scared me.

So suddenly I was coming home to Direll in and out of the downstairs bathroom with the fan on – from the bathroom to the microwave – back and forth, and I knew he was smoking cocaine, and I hated it.

It wasn’t just that.  Mom and Direll fought a lot.  She seemed so unhappy sometimes.  She would come home tired from work.  We would be all over her and finally she said, “I just want five minutes to myself.”  She wanted to go change her clothes, change gears.  She was under a lot of pressure.  We couldn’t afford our bills.  I think she filed bankruptcy.  As previously mentioned, her attitude was “there’s no debtor’s prison (which is true except for tax evasion).”  I used to worry for her though.  She seemed so stressed out.  Direll was sucking her dry as far as money went.  Dad was having a hard time paying child support which back then was hardly anything.  Mom and Dad would fight on the phone about child support, and that would upset me.  I just wanted peace.  I wanted a Brady Bunch fantasy family.  Pretty much I hated real life and couldn’t accept that things couldn’t be perfect.

The answers seemed so simple to me.  Kick Direll out; Dad, stop taking drugs.  They just couldn’t do it.

Once, my mom found out that someone had stolen money out of her bank account through the ATM.  It was almost everything which wasn’t much because she lived paycheck to paycheck, but it was all we had.  She was sickened with worry and devastation.  When the bank investigated they showed her the picture of the person at the ATM.  It was Direll. He had stolen her ATM card and had her PIN.  She wouldn’t press charges.  I even argued with her about it.  Here was her out!  She just gave out and let him keep on sucking her dry.  He was a vampire.  I hated him.

Drugs were center stage.  It was miserable being at home when he was there.  My mom was a slave to him, and sometimes she actually acted like she liked him, like we were supposed to be some kind of family.  She was entirely focused on him.  She believed every fucked up con story that came out of his mouth.  He was so freaking ignorant and uneducated except he insisted that he grew up in New York with his mom who had money and sent him to some kind of great New York university.  He claimed to own property in Northern California - Aptos, which is south of Santa Cruz/San Jose - and yet he owned one cheezy pimp daddy burgundy suit and maybe one other pair of pants or shirt.  His hygiene was repulsive.  He had a terrible body odor, as I've said, and we (the kids) would cringe every time he slept on the couch and God forbid happened to sleep on one of our "akies" (our name for our baby/security blankets that we all still held tight to).  If Febreeze existed back then, Matt, Julie and I would probably have pooled our money together to buy some.

I understand now in a way that my mom focused so much on Direll in order to channel his attention toward her and away from us.  I don't know if she ever thought he would hurt or abuse us, but I think somewhere inside her, she probably feared the worst.  By taking it from him, she was protecting us.  It's just too bad that it affected the way our relationships were built with her.  Well, mine, that is.  I can't speak for Matthew and Julie.  While the circumstances of the time were the same for all of us, they have their own stories to tell and their stories of course branch into a different direction from mine by the time I went to college.  But college was 8 years away and a lot would happen between now and then.