"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, 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.