"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

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.


  1. Wow! I know how minds work when we are young. How the feeling that there is no where to go when something is so wrong. But the human spirit is so very strong that we can overcome so much it's amazing. You are amazing.