"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?

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