"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

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Latchkey at Last

When I was in 3rd grade, Julie was finally potty-trained and my mom was able to send us all to daycare - or rather, daycare for Julie and after-school care for me and Matthew.  It was at a Presbyterian church that I walked past everyday.  After school, a van from the program would pick us up and take us to the church.  It wasn't a religion-based program.  I think they just rented the facility during the week.  It was way more fun than having a babysitter; there was more freedom to do things, more activities available to us.  It's where I learned how to play piano by ear.  I learned "Fur Elise" by one of the counselors named Craig who taught me the keys and I memorized it.  They were nice there.  Most of the kids were nice, too, although there really wasn't anyone my age.  I was one of the older kids.  There were two girls, Melanie and Kristy, who were in the grade below me, but we didn't always get along.  Melanie liked to pick on me sometimes and together, they would make fun of me.  But sometimes we played together because there really wasn't any other choice. 

The first year we were there, the daycare arranged to make a movie (remember, these were the pre-camcorder days when film projectors were used in the classroom) for Christmas about the nativity.  I wanted, of course, to be Mary, but was really surprised when the counselors asked me to be.  This made Melanie and Kristy jealous, but by then I didn't really care.  I was picked to do something special.  We went out "on location" and shot film of me on a donkey and whoever the boy was who was playing Joseph.  There was no sound of course - a narration or music must have been added later.  I still look back in amazement that I was given something I wanted without having to ask for it.  Or possibly, it was evident on my face when the announcement was made.  I'm a typical Leo, always wanting to be the center of attention, at least until I learned how important it was to be perfect; then I ran the risk of failing and so it was easier or more comfortable to be somewhere in the middle, "under the radar" as people say so much these days.

By fourth grade, I stopped going to the church after school and a latchkey kid was born.  I must have liked the independence because it was at this time that I tried to visit my dad, would stop at 7-11 on the way home (where my friend Sharon taught me to steal candy until we got caught and were properly shamed).  Sadly, this would not be the last time I ever shoplifted.

I don't know what much more to say about this time.  It was the calm before the storm in so many ways.  I hadn't reached adolescence yet.  Life was generally stable.  I was too young to understand the kind of lifestyle my dad was beginning to create.  I felt generally protected, and yet there was still a sense, still a need to help keep the order of things.  I took being the oldest very seriously, in fact wanted the title of being "in charge" validated by my mom.  I was bossy at first to Matt and Julie and later on a bully.  I wanted so badly to make my mom and dad happy.

For Mom's birthday, I planned a surprise party for her.  With the help of my friend Dindi, Matt and Julie and I made dinner (I picked up, that is bought), whatever necessities I needed at 7-11 with my allowance.  We might have decorated.  We set the table.  When my mom's car pulled into the driveway, we turned out all the lights and threw rice on her when she walked in, yelling "surprise!".  She was amazed at the effort we went to.  I was only 9.

We watched TV together.  In the late 70's, the mini-series "Roots" aired on network TV and we watched it as a family (sans father, that is).  I remember being horrified at watching the Africans being kidnapped and taken from their families by the white people, being sold at auction as slaves and later how they were abused by their white American owners.  I couldn't believe it.  I asked my mom during the commercial break, "Did this really happen?"  And her answer broke my heart.  I cried the way I cried at the age of 5 everytime I saw or heard the soundtrack to Jesus Christ Superstar.  How could people be so cruel, to mistreat someone because of the color of their skin, or kill someone for their beliefs?  What other unkindnesses lay out there?  My only consolation was knowing that slavery had ended and surely people would never treat others this way again.  It panicked me, this uncontrollable inhumanity.  Even when I was in college in Northern California watching the LA riots that followed the Rodney King verdict, I felt panicked and distraught.  With tears and a fierceness in my voice, I adamantly proclaimed, "There's going to be a revolution!"  My two best friends couldn't help laughing at my passionate outcry, but I like to think they loved me for it, too.  I still hope for a revolution of the masses, the underdogs, an outpouring of empathy and kindness toward our fellow citizen, a true sense of social responsibility and an actual desire to carry it out.  But again, I digress.

Mom went out dancing a lot on the weekends.  Sometimes she had a drink after work with some friends.  She always called.  On the weekends, we usually had a babysitter, but maybe not so much later on.  She had a boyfriend for a while.  Leroy was black.  It didn't bother me that he was black.  He didn't come around too much anyway.  Maybe she was worried about imposing a relationship on us.  I don't know.  She has her own story to tell about Leroy, with whom I learned much, much later, she was really in love.  It ended badly.  He was into some bad stuff, I think, and my mom made some bad decisions.

Mom really tried hard to make life seem normal for us.  As I said, we did family things like going to the beach, bowling, sometimes out to dinner.  I am proud to say that I saw the original "Star Wars" (which I know is actually episode 4 for my "Star Wars" fanatic friends out there) in the theater.  I have to say that at this time, she tried really hard, put a lot of effort into our family life, and her personal life never interfered.  She could be relied on.  And my dad - well, he could do no wrong so far.  He made life fun and funny.  There was an underlying sadness though that in retrospect I realize I didn't understand.  I actually thought I could control it by being good, being perfect.  Yes, I was building my future as a codependent, heading down a rocky road, and I had no idea what was about to blow up.

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