Sunday, August 03, 2014

Cold air and Cigarettes

I used to think that men should smell like cold air and cigarettes, like the scent of my father when he came to pick me up for his weekend visit; or earthy and sweaty, like my grandfather when he came inside from milking cows or baling hay in the hot Texas summer. Dad always smelled like he just stepped out of an air conditioned room or car with a cigarette hanging from his lips, beer on his breath and cologne on his collar. Dad always wore loafers, I never saw him in oxford type shoes. He wanted shoes that he could slip in and out of easily. He seemed to sweep in and out of my life just as easily. Now that he's old, he wears comfortable shoes, but he doesn't seem to be very comfortable in general. He's 6'1", but he seems small and vulnerable now. I don't have much anger left to direct toward him anymore, just pity. He's not happy with himself. I'm the same way. The apple doesn't fall far from the tree.

Papaw smelled like sunlight, tractor grease and freshly tilled soil. He wore cologne only when attending weddings or funerals, also the only times he took his precious Resistol cattleman's hat out of the box. It wasn't a cowboy hat. He wore straw cowboy hats in the hot weather, but cooler temperatures and fancier occasions called for the cattleman's hat and the pointy toed boots. Papaw always wore overalls for work with long sleeves and a neck cover even on the most oppressive summer days. He wore a gimme cap to keep the sun off of his bald head and round toed leather work boots, suitable for slogging around in blackland mud and cow manure. He didn't complain about his life, he just got on with it. He doesn't have to drive his tractor very often nowadays, but he tools around in his scooter and drives his big pickup truck. He enjoys his life. He's worked hard since he was a child. Now he gets to go fishing whenever he wants; not a bad trade off.

I'm glad that I had both my father and my grandfather in my life. They were the male yin and yang in my social awareness. If all men were like my father had been like when I was a kid, I would probably have grown up to hate men.  I also had my grandfather and my uncles in my life,  who were all good, solid men who took care of their responsibilities and treated their loved ones well. They gave me hope that I could someday find a good man to be with.

As I've gotten older, I've come to realize that men are flawed human beings, not terrifying mythological creatures with the ability to wreck my life or make me hate myself. If only men could feel this way about women. We're both human beings and we have only one world to live in, so we have to learn to live together. We also have to learn to be honest about ourselves. That may be more difficult.


Saturday, May 24, 2014

A will to live and a time to die

I'm sitting beside my mother's hospital bed, reading a magazine. Mom was finally calm and asleep, after undergoing yet another pleural draining. A full liter of black, slimy liquid was taken from around her lungs, making it easier for her to breathe, and with the aid of morphine, she had fallen into a drugged oblivion. I read my magazine, trying to calm myself after witnessing the traumatic procedure.  A drain tube had been inserted into her pleural cavity to drain off the liquid, and although heavily sedated, she had moaned and cried throughout the ordeal.
Before she had been wheeled down to the procedure room, I had taken Mom outside to the parking lot. She cried, big tears sliding down her face and wheezed, "If I'm going to get better, I want to get better, but if I'm going to die, I want to go now. I can't take this any longer". She had been ill with ovarian cancer for 2 years then, once going into remission and actually going back to work for a short time. She got to see me, her only child, graduate from college. She told me that it was the proudest moment of her life. We spent the graduation weekend together, shopping and just enjoying being together outside of a hospital room. She felt like she had her life back after venturing too close to the other side. Then, the cancer came back. She had been back in the hospital for two weeks now.
I sat on a bench next to her in her wheelchair, holding her hand. I wiped the tears from my eyes and I didn't know what to say. I knew she wasn't going to get better. People with Stage 4 ovarian cancer didn't get better. I didn't want to lose her. I was afraid of losing her. How would I cope without my mother? She had been all I had for so long, and even though I was married now, I completely depended on her for so much. I had tried for 2 years to prepare myself to be without her, but I could not imagine it. What could I say to her but I'm sorry, Mom. I'm so sorry.

Mom breathed deeply and quietly, sleeping peacefully. I finished my magazine. It was getting dark, so like I had done so many times in the past 2 years, I kissed her forehead and whispered that I would see her in the morning and to sleep well. I walked out to the parking lot and drove home to my husband. We didn't talk much, we just watched TV in silence then went to bed. I slept exhausted but dreamed fitfully.

The phone was ringing. I sprang up out of bed and ran to answer it. This was the call I had been dreading. A nurse told me that I needed to come to the hospital. IMMEDIATELY. That word reverberated in my head. My husband started to get dressed to come with me, but I told him to stay home. He wanted to come with me but I said no. I had to do this alone.

I got to the hospital and stood outside her door, watching 5 people huddled around her in bed. One of them was frantically trying to resuscitate her. Mom's naked left leg was hanging off the side of the bed. One of the night nurses noticed me standing there looking horror struck and she pulled me back towards the waiting room. She told me that Mom had woken earlier that evening not long after I had gone home. She had forgotten where she was and had tried to get out of bed to go to the bathroom. Her heart had given out and she collapsed on the floor, pulling out her IVs. The nurses heard her IV alarm go off. They had almost gotten her breathing again and were still trying. The nurse asked if Mom had a living will or a DNR (Do Not Resuscitate) Order. Mom had filled one out a month before, when she realized that she was not going to get better.
 I whispered to the nurse that Mom had told me that she didn't want to be resuscitated. She had told me that she never wanted to be a "vegetable".  She didn't want to be hooked up to a lot of machines, depending on a mechanism to keep her breathing, a tube to carry away her waste, a pump to keep her blood circulating. That wasn't living, she had said. If it came to that, please let me go, she said.

The nurse told me to wait there. She went back into the room and came back out a few minutes later. She sat beside me and took my hand.
"I'm so sorry. She's gone."

I stared at the nurse uncomprehendingly. My Mom was dead? I had just been with her a few hours earlier and now she was dead? After all the pain and misery she had gone through in her 58 years, after two failed marriages and so many years working hard to raise her only child by herself? She was gone? I guess I should tell everyone. That's what people are supposed to do, right?
The nurse gives me a phone and the code to dial an outside line. I called my Uncle first. He was stunned and asked if I wanted him to come there to get me. I said no. He told me he loved me. Then I called my grandfather, letting the phone ring a long time. He burst into tears, the first time I had heard him cry. I couldn't bear it. I called a couple of others, then I went back to the waiting room and sat down again, staring at the floor.

It dawned on me what I had told the nurse. Had I told them to kill my Mom? They were keeping her alive when I got there, now she wasn't alive, all because I had told the nurse about the DNR Order. A loud moan escaped me and the nurse rushed over. She put her arm around me and said that Mom was not suffering anymore. She wasn't in pain anymore. She said that I had followed my Mom's final wishes to the letter and to not worry. I calmed myself down after a bit. I called my husband and told him that I would be home in a little while but I had to say goodbye first.

I was allowed me to go to Mom's room a few minutes later. All of the life saving equipment had been removed from the room, and Mom was laid out on the bed, covered except for her face by a blanket. Her forehead was cool and smooth and she looked so peaceful. I held her face and kissed her temples, smoothing her hair. I told her I was sorry that I had not been able to buy her the diamonds I had promised her when I was a child. I wouldn't be able to buy her a fancy new car that wasn't always breaking down, like I had planned. I said I was sorry I had worried her so much through my depression and suicidal episodes. I told her I was sorry for everything.

I stayed in her room, my lips on he forehead, for quite some time, until a nurse came in and asked if I was all right. I was not and I would not be for some time to come.

Monday, March 24, 2014

My black dog

I'm not now nor have I ever been wealthy or even middle class. I come from a solidly working class background and that's not a bad thing at all. I know the value of hard work and manual labor, but I'm very glad to have an office job now. I have enough money to live on, if not travel or shop indiscriminately. My marriage is secure and my health, although not fantastic, seems to be holding steady. So what's the problem?

Way back in the pit of my brain, I still need that assurance from other people that I am "all right". That assurance doesn't even have to come from people whose opinions I greatly value. When I look into the mirror, I see a mass of insecurities. I've never felt good enough, pretty enough, smart enough, rich enough. Knowing that I still feel that way at almost 50 years old is disheartening.

When I was younger, I assumed that as I aged, self-realization would finally drag itself through my door like a half-eaten sparrow. That has not happened. It will probably never happen. I've lived most of my life with a mental illness called chronic depression. I usually refer to it as my "black dog" because Winston Churchill called his that and it's an apt description. I've tried to eke out whatever happiness I could from my existence, whilst simultaneously trying to keep the Hounds of Baskerville from swallowing me whole. Sometimes, my black dog snapped at my heels; sometimes it followed meekly behind me. Sometimes, happiness appeared and I was almost able to forget my dark companion for a while. Then years would go by and my existence was just that; existing, gaining no pleasure or contentment from life. I suspect that my outlook may be shared by many, except those who are talented or lucky enough to dredge their happiness out of the smallest things and make it last; or those who can rely on a crutch like addiction or religion to help them escape the darkness. By "crutch", I mean anything that can help you forget your troubles for a while, or something that can give you guidelines on how to deal with living. Crutches can be helpful or injurious, depending on your viewpoint, but we all have them in one form or another.

 I have no escape from myself, so I try to take pride in my stoicism, my refusal to allow depression to overtake me completely anymore. I certainly do not fully trust anyone who hasn't had some experience with depression, whether short term or long. How can you live life and not suffer with depression at one time or another? How can you see all of the evil and injustice in the world and not feel angry? How can people just say that it's "god's will" or "there's nothing I can do about it, so why even think about it"? Anyone who says that they don't suffer from depressive episodes at all is not being truthful. Depression is a part of humanity. It's lodged firmly in our DNA. Humans can be happy, calm, depressed, annoyed, violent; no one is only one of those emotions all of the time. I can be all of them in the same day, the same hour. I've been in the pits of despair when I was making loads of money and I've been happy as a clam with very little. My dark periods help me to appreciate my happy periods more fully. That is a realization that actually did come with age.

Saturday, March 08, 2014

Elementary, my dear!

I moved back to my hometown in the middle of second grade. On my first day at Bowie Elementary, I was wearing my dark blue fake fur coat. I loved that coat; I have a picture of myself in my coat, sitting on the back of a huge Galapagos tortoise. It was warm and cuddly, like wearing a teddy bear. I felt the eyes of all my new classmates boring into me as I took my seat, so I pulled my coat up around my head. The teacher kept asking me to take it off, but there was no way I was going to do that. I eventually lost my shyness and settled into small town life. Some girls wouldn't play with me at recess because their parents had told them not to. My parents were divorced, you see. That somehow tainted me, but I wasn't sure how that related to my influence on my fellow dodgeball players. My Mom and I lived in some apartments directly across the street from my school. She and I were both sick with the flu on the day my 2nd grade school photos were being taken, so I have no photos of my first or second grade classes.

My third grade teacher at Bowie Elementary was a sour faced old woman who was probably only a year or two before retirement. She would always find a way to punish the whole class for the most minor infraction, such as someone coughing during a film or talking out of turn. A girl named Sarah gave us all head lice that year, so Mom had to comb through my short blonde hair with a nit comb and wash the sheets in special detergent. I started hanging out with a girl named Dee Ann, who looked just like Ruth Buzzi. She was a bit too goody-goody for me; she seemed to be mortally shocked by even the least "naughty" things I said.

My mom threw an 8th birthday party for me that year. My friends Cathy and Kim and my step-sister Nicki all came to my party. Dee Ann was out of town and couldn't make it. I had a Pentecostal friend, who came to a sleep over one Friday night. She had been bugging me to accompany her to church, where her father was the Pastor. I kept saying no, because Mom had told me stories about how wild the Pentecostal services were. She and many others referred to them as "Holy Rollers". My regular family life was wild enough for me; I didn't need to go to a wild church as well. My friend was enjoying the sleep over until she asked to try on my new striped jeans. Pentecostal women and girls could not wear makeup or pants, so putting on jeans would be a first for her. She pulled them on and almost immediately burst into tears, blubbering that she was now going to hell. She got so hysterical that my mom had to take her home. I felt so bad that my pants were involved in her downfall into the pits of hellfire, I actually agreed to go to church with her.

Sunday came and we walked into the room for Sunday School. The teacher started to relate the trials and tribulations of Job, with rivulets of tears streaming down her face. My friend and I were still at an age where, if adults were crying, something was WRONG. My friend was crying sympathetically like everyone else in the class, while I stared at the floor and waited for it to swallow me up. My alarm level was already raised but it immediately shot through the ceiling when we entered the sanctuary for the main church service. As soon as my friend's father the Pastor walked to the pulpit, he slammed his fist down on the wooden lectern, looked directly at me in the first row sitting next to his wife and daughter and shouted "YOU ARE GOING TO HELL!!!" The effect was like flipping a switch. All around me, men started pounding the sides of the pews, shouting "AMEN!!", "PRAISE GOD!" and "HALLELUJAH!"; women began to rock back and forth, tearing at their hair, all the while speaking in unintelligible gibberish, moaning and screaming. I was eight years old and absolutely terrified. I crawled on my hands and knees underneath the pews to the back door of the sanctuary. As soon as I saw the door open, I burst through it and ran as fast as I could all the way back home. My mom was frying chicken for lunch when I staggered through the front door, babbling nonsensically about the crazy people who told me I was doomed. She tried her best to calm me down. My friend's mother called later that afternoon to see if I had made my way back home. My mom told her that the experience had been a "little too much" for me.

My Southern Baptist church experience was trying to stay awake through Sunday School (boring), then singing hymns during the church service (not boring, actually very nice). I liked to watch the hands of the little old lady who played the piano for the services. Her gnarled, arthritic hands pummeled the keyboard like she was kneading dough. At the end, we would sing "Softly and Tenderly, Jesus is Calling" and whomever needed "saving" could go down the red carpeted aisle to the Pastor, get dunked and ensure their divine rewards. Any kind of overt emotion was frowned upon. I remember my Mom mentioning that the Pastor would cry during his favorite hymn "Bringing In The Sheaves". She thought that was entirely unnecessary.

Fourth grade was a big change. My teacher was a lovely black woman with a tall bee hive hairdo that landed on her slim shoulders with a small flip. She was my favorite teacher of all time, because she could tell that I was from a dysfunctional background and she took extra care to include me and praise me when I did well on my lessons. On the first day of class, I noticed my classmate Miles perusing a copy of "The Guinness Book of World Records". I asked if I could take a look at it and Miles calmly murmured "ummm...no", never once looking up. Mrs. Gilstrap reprimanded him and he sulkily thrust the book at me. I'm sure if you looked up the definition of "teacher" in the Oxford English Dictionary, there would be a small picture of Mrs. Gilstrap there. She didn't just teach lessons, she taught me Life. She taught me how to listen correctly and comprehend what I heard. My subsequent successes in my school years were entirely due to my year in her class. I was very sad when fourth grade ended and I'd have to go down the hall to Mr. Caldwell's fifth grade class.

Mr. Caldwell was a jovial man with a smile always on his face. He was also a bus driver. We did fun stuff in class, like talent contests and "Bring Your Pet To School". My grandmother brought up my pet coyote to show off and he was a big hit. I can just see my Mimaw driving her huge, boat-like LTD through Greenville, with a coyote in the back seat. On the talent show front,  my pals Jimmy and Miles and I opted to lip sync the Steve Miller song "The Joker", complete with sunglasses and energetic smoking with rolled paper "joints" in our lips. We also had to choose whether we would continue choir or start band the following year. I chose band and although I wanted to play the glockenspiel, I was forced to choose the more lady-like flute instead. I think the band instructor saw my world-class buck teeth and knew that I had a fine embouchure for flute playing. I did eventually get to play percussion, but not until my junior year in high school.

On the playground during recess, the boys and girls were not allowed to play together. All of the girls would run to the merry-go-round or the monkey bars when the recess bell rang, because we got to play on those first. The boys would start playing dodge ball or climbing the flag pole. Then, about 15 minutes later, the PE teacher (?) would blow a whistle and the boys and girls would switch. One day, I was a little too slow getting off the merry-go-round when Mark grabbed my arm and pulled, making me trip and fall to the hard packed dirt. When I got up, I looked down at my left wrist and noticed an S-bend in it that wasn't there 10 seconds before. That sent me screaming to the Office, where a secretary tried to get my mom on the phone to tell her to come and take me to the hospital. Mom was at lunch at the time, so they didn't reach her for another hour. I sat there next to the secretary's desk whimpering with my arm cradled inside an ice bag. Finally, Mom came and we went to the hospital, where we spent another 4 hours in the ER before we got called in, me on the verge of puking and/or passing out the entire time. I held it together until the Radiology technician helped me  stand in position in the X ray machine. He looked at me hopefully and said, "You OK?" I looked up at him, then projectile vomited all over his crotch and legs (he was really tall).

The bone doctor injected me with painkillers, then set my arm in a hard cast. I wore the cast for 2 weeks. I could move my broken wrist inside it, so I thought that I was already healed and celebrated that belief by bouncing a rubber ball on my cast. When I went back to the bone doc for a check up, he noticed in the new X ray that I had knocked my delicately set wrist out of alignment. I waited on the table for another painkilling injection, but instead, very quickly, he grabbed my hand and my forearm and roughly jerked them apart, giving them a short sharp grind before satisfying himself that my wrist was again properly aligned. He had probably learned that technique in 'Nam, or in a Viet Cong prison. I only had time to croak "aaaahh!" , which brought my Mom rushing over, ready to punch the doc in the face. He stepped back and growled, "Maybe you'll remember this the next time you play ball". I was hysterical and Mom burst into tears. A trip by the doughnut shop on the way home helped us both feel better. Years later, I was visiting my Mom in that hospital when I recognized him in the elevator. I held my wrist up and said, "You set my wrist without painkillers when I was in 5th grade." He held my wrist up and muttered, "Did a good job, didn't I?" I wish I had a rubber ball with me then, so I could have shoved it up his nose.

Fifth grade was especially memorable because I met my BFF that year. Misty and her older sister Robin had moved there from Lubbock. Misty and I were inseparable from first sight. She was my secret sister from another mother, my other half. We completed one another like only giddy fifth graders can. We would have slumber parties and walk through the rural neighborhood where she lived. My Mom had started working for Misty's dad at his insurance office, and I loved her mom and her sister, so we made one big, happy family. Misty and I would dance around to her "American Graffiti" soundtrack and her "KC & the Sunshine Band" LPs. We were both closet hams; we would have been welcome on any stage, I'm sure. We could make each other howl with laughter, plus Misty had a Barbie townhouse. We made Barbie and Ken hump enthusiastically on all floors (and in the elevator) of the Townhouse. We would write notes to pass in the halls at school, complete with portraits of teachers we didn't like. Even when I talk to her now, it's like no time at all has passed.

During sixth grade, our little group of friends has broadened to include Sherry, Ann and Pam. Puberty had made us all start to notice boys, but we were still too young to do anything about it. We were all looking forward to junior high the next year....

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

My Musical Education

My 11th birthday was a warm autumn day in October 1976 and I had received enough money from various relatives to afford a copy of the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper album. My mother took me to Montgomery Ward’s, which sported a miniscule record section right by the entrance. As I entered the store, I noticed a blue velvet rope around the record section.
SHIT.
 Those records might as well have been in Soviet Russia; I forgot it was Sunday, and thanks to Texas’ nonsensical Blue Laws, I couldn’t buy records on Sundays. In Texas, until 1985, you could not buy appliances such as washers and dryers, nor could you buy entertainment like records on Sundays, because religious leaders and lawmakers had decided that your time and money would be better suited to church activities. Most stores weren’t even open on Sundays. I bought my copy of Sgt. Pepper the next day, but most of my excitement had worn off by then. Eleven year olds can be very fickle.

I added my new record to my small “beginners” collection, which consisted mainly of 45s. My Beatles record was my second LP bought with my own money. The first had been Fly Like an Eagle by the Steve Miller Band. Steve was a Texas boy and received loads of airplay on my favorite radio station, KZEW-FM in Dallas. My 45 rpm records were mainly soul, disco and pop faves, like the Monkees and KC & the Sunshine Band. I was about to enter junior high school and I knew that “the big kids” (12 years old and older) listened to LPs. I was too young to have bought the Beatles music when it first came out and I wasn’t even born when the appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show in 1964, but everyone I knew of all ages loved the Beatles. My uncle Larry had moved back to our hometown from California and his wife Debbie had all of the Beatles LPs, purchased when she was a kid. They decided to move back to California, so they gave me a waterbed and most of Aunt Debbie’s Beatles LPs. I was thrilled to bits and those LPs still have pride of place in my record collection.

I’ve been a collector for most of my life. When I was a child, I collected stuffed animals (I never liked dolls) and colored or unusually shaped bottles, which seemed to be found at every store back in the 70s. As a teenager, I developed my insatiable urge to collect books and records. I had been playing music since 5th grade, when we were allowed to pick which instrument we wanted to play in the junior high band. My first choice was “glockenspiel”, but percussion instruments were not considered lady-like, so I ended up playing a rented flute, riddled with worn spots where many young fingers had tortuously shrieked out Vivaldi sonatas over many years. I also played my grandfather’s old guitar every weekend I was down on the dairy farm he owned.

My first memories of records were from my early childhood. My grandfather had several Bob Wills “record albums” (from when 78rpm records came in what resembled a photo album) which he would play for me on the hi-fi in their living room. “Take Me Back To Tulsa” and “Cherokee Maiden” were big favorites. My grandfather idolized Bob Wills. He even wrote Bob a letter when the Western Swing King had a stroke and he was so proud when Bob wrote him back. He probably felt the same way I did when Rick Nielson from Cheap Trick answered my fan letter with a couple of personalized guitar picks.

My parents divorced when I was 5 and my mother and I ended up moving to some very sketchy apartments in east Dallas. In the morning when she went to work for the bus company, I went to Catholic school first grade (even though I wasn’t Catholic; that’s a whole other book). When she left for her second job in a department store, I went to the babysitter, a nice Mexican lady with several kids my age. She would play her Mitch Ryder and Ike & Tina Turner records for us and let us jump on the bed; plus she made Kool-Aid, which my Mom couldn’t afford. Despite Mom working two jobs, we were very poor and many times we didn’t have enough food to eat. Mom could make ketchup packets and hot water into “tomato soup” and make it sound exotic. One night, Mom was sick so she didn’t go to her second job. I was running around the apartment driving her crazy when I noticed some commotion coming from the other end of our building. An ambulance crew carried a Mexican man with a butcher knife stuck to the hilt in his chest out of my babysitter’s apartment. Mom and I moved back to my hometown the next week.

My hometown didn’t have a record store and we were too poor to afford records anyway, so whenever I liked a song I’d heard on the radio or see a band I liked on the Ed Sullivan Show, I did chores on my grandparents’ dairy farm in order to earn money to buy the 45rpm single. My grandmother would pick me up from school on Fridays and we would go to the grocery store. I would stand at the magazine rack with my nose buried in an issue of Creem or Rolling Stone while she shopped. Mimaw would buy me a magazine and some Little Debby Banana Twins and I would do little chores like help out Papaw at the dairy barn or clean up the kitchen after supper and give Mimaw a manicure. Greenville did have an 8-track tape dealer, a happening place with a mansard roof, wrought iron railings and lots of zebra print wall paper. As far as I knew, 8-track players were in cars and it would be a few years before I had one of those. What I did have was a cheap plastic kids record player that my Mom had given me for Christmas. I could find the current Top 40 45s at the local department store and whenever I could dredge up 79 cents I would buy one I liked.

I liked most songs on Top 40 radio back then, so it was easy to pick. I would gaze longingly at the LPs and 8-track tapes. My uncle was fond of visiting garage sales every Saturday morning and he bought a huge box of 45s (some even in picture sleeves - drool!). He let me pick out the ones I wanted, so I chose “Strawberry Letter 23” by the Brothers Johnson, “Popcorn” by James Brown, “Potential” by the Jimmy Castor Bunch and some other fab old funk and soul favorites. I had a soul fetish anyway because I watched “Soul Train” every Saturday afternoon. American Bandstand wasn’t broadcast on the Dallas ABC-TV affiliate after 1970. We also had “Fiesta Mexicana”, plus “Cowboy Weaver and His Radio Ranch Hands”, not to mention the “Porter Wagoner Show” and “Hee Haw”. My musical tastes were and still are all over the map.

From my reading of the current rock periodicals, I knew all about Iggy Pop, the Velvet Underground and Patti Smith, but had no idea about where to find those records. They didn’t have them at the Greenville Library, but the librarian did tell me of these wonderful places called “record stores” where you could find LPs and 45s or 8-track tapes of all different types of music, most of which you couldn’t find at Montgomery Ward’s or Sears. Some you could even listen to before you paid for them, just to see if you liked them enough to buy them. Whenever I would see my father who lived in Garland (a suburb of Dallas), I would beg and plead for him to take me to “Peaches”, a store the librarian had told me about, but he wouldn’t do it: “Hell no, it’s full of hippies” was his reasoning. Mom wouldn’t take me to Peaches either because she knew she couldn’t afford to buy me anything, so my consolation prize was a visit to the then new Town East Mall.

I wandered around the food court and the mall stores dejected, but then I saw it in neon, on the lower row of shops: Disc Records: A REAL LIVE RECORD STORE. I told Mom I would be in there, so she could leave me while she shopped. I was in heaven: records everywhere, plus posters and more music magazines that I had ever seen. I couldn’t afford to buy anything that time, but I pestered Mom whenever we were within a 10-mile radius of Town East Mall. One December, Mom had told me I could pick out one LP for my gift. I was in a Doors phase then, so I held up the only copy of “Morrison Hotel” under the Doors placard so Mom could see it as she stood up by the registers. Before I realized what was happening, a woman quickly snatched it out of my hand. Horrified by the turn of events, I quickly spun around to see where the “thief” went, but she had it paid for and out the door before I saw her again. I had to console myself with “Waiting For The Sun” instead.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Sugar and Vinegar

"You can catch more flies with sugar than with vinegar".

As I get older, I find the truth in this old adage. I grew up with a very hostile attitude toward many things: men, authority figures, vegetables and snowshoe crabs among them. The older I got, the more I realized that being rude and snappish wasn't me being sophisticated and intelligent; on the contrary, it just made my life harder than it already was. That period of my life came to a head when I worked at the record store. Daily I dealt with men who could not imagine that a female (especially a blonde female) could possibly know anything about records or music, let alone anything other than manicures or deceiving unsuspecting men out of their hard-earned dollars. The near constant sarcasm and arrogance directed at me made me sarcastic and arrogant. Not that I'm against sarcasm, but arrogance is more problematic. I went into my thirties wondering if I was always going to be this angry......then Mom died.

I know that all Mom wanted for me was to be happy. She had never seen me that way except as a very small child. My parents' divorce, my father's neglect and my sexual abuse by a family member changed all that. When Mom died, I made a promise to her and myself that I would be happy and have the good life that she wanted me to have. My attitude changed almost overnight and my life has been all the better for it. I became conscious that much of my unhappiness was due to negative people in my life; people around who I felt that I could not be myself or who required me to act a certain way. Not that I'm a screaming lunatic in public, but I do not place much stock in "putting on appearances". Why lie when you'll just have to remember what lies you told to whom? This meant that I would be cutting out negative influences from my life. Some people thrive on the unhappiness of others; they are energy "vampires" of a sort. This gives them entirely too much power over those who try to love them. I firmly believe that no one can make you a doormat unless you allow them to do that. I lost a job because the boss wanted me to be a doormat and I refused.

I've also found that being positive and cheerful has rewarded me, both spiritually and emotionally. It really is true that if you smile at someone, they'll usually smile back. If you don't send out attitude, you tend to get less attitude in return. It's so nice to go through a day not incensed over some offense done to me. It's easier to be nice than to try and appear "tough". I know I'm a tough old broad, I don't need to convince anyone else of that fact. They'll find out soon enough if they cross me.....Like I said, I'm a nice person, but that doesn't make me suitable for scraping your shoes on. As long as you don't try to do that, we'll get along fine.

I'm glad to be at a point in my life where I know who I am and who I am supposed to be. I demand a real reason to be upset now, instead of grinding my teeth about everything in my life.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Strange Interlude

About 6 months after I turned 21, I had a nervous breakdown. I had started a terrible production line job on my 21st birthday and the following half year had seen my admittedly never sunny demeanor tank in a black fog, culminating in a month long stay in the psychiatric ward in a Dallas hospital. I don't remember much about my first week there in the locked ward because for the preceding two weeks, I had slept a grand total of 4 hours, so the shrink loaded me up on benzodiazepines. My friend and her boyfriend had come to visit me during that week and her boyfriend was alarmed enough at my soporific condition to suggest kidnapping me and taking me home. I don't even remember them visiting. I do remember checking in and being introduced to my new room mate, a small woman who was so loaded on Haloperidol she fell asleep standing up, like a horse. I had to pick her up and put her in her bed.

After that first week, I was transferred into the "unlocked ward", meaning that I wasn't considered a danger to myself or others and I could leave the ward and walk about if I wanted. My new room mate was a sweet elderly lady who was in the ward because her husband had just passed away and she was depressed. The lady turned out to be both Miss Dallas 1928 and a lady lion tamer with Clyde Beatty's Circus, which I honestly could not have made up if I wanted to; I didn't believe her when she told me so she brought her photo albums up one day to show me. Unfortunately, Miss Dallas 1928 also snored ferociously. Once again, I couldn't sleep, so I usually spent nights in the TV room, curled up in a chair. One day in occupational therapy, I was talking to a woman who had checked in because she was afraid that her husband was cheating on her. She asked if I was married; I responded that I really had not even had a proper boyfriend yet.
"I guess I'm just unattractive to men", I sighed.
Therapy was over, so we all started the walk back to our ward. Two younger guys sidled up on either side of me: one was tall and very large with an almost bull-like expression on his face. He was 16 and in for attacking a Dallas police officer. He was at least twice the size of the other guy, a slender long haired angelic looking young man with dimples and a shy smile. He linked arms with me.
"I heard you saying that you're unattractive, and I think that you should have a better opinion of yourself. I think you're beautiful".

No one (besides my mother) had ever told me they thought I was pretty, let alone beautiful. Not even my father had ever said anything about my appearance, so I naturally thought that I was unattractive. Pretty girls got boys and I didn't get boys, so I could do the math, right? I consoled myself with the knowledge that I was intelligent and had good taste in music.
I blushed furiously and muttered, "oh please!", but the hippie boy pulled me to a stop in the hallway, put his hands on my face and said, "I mean it. You are a beautiful woman".
I stuttered that I would take his word for it. The big guy nodded at the hippie boy and said, "You'll have to prove it to her."

We three started talking, telling each other the reasons for being there: mine was a long history of family dysfunction, depression and an ill suited job; the big guy for literally picking up and throwing a cop over a railing, and the hippie boy had tried to overdose and end it all. I learned that the hippie boy's father was a famous playwright; indeed one of his plays had been on Broadway. Other than that, our frames of reference were similar on many things. We laughed about the same things. We read similar things and we listened to the same music. We made up little catchphrases to amuse ourselves. We talked about everything and went everywhere together: to group therapy, the gym, the cafeteria. The big kid soon went home and it was just me and the hippie boy. We were walking through one of the underground tunnels beneath the hospitals primarily used for transporting patients when he pushed me against the wall and kissed me passionately. Our battered souls came together, if only for a few short weeks. He was a great kisser.

His friendship and attention made an otherwise horrible month much easier to bear. We stole every moment we could for the rest of the month, then I was discharged and had to go home and back to a job that I despised. I needed something to look forward to, so he promised that he would drive all the way out (an hour's drive) to see me when he got out of the hospital. About 3 weeks later, he came out to the trailer I lived in with my friend, who was spending the weekend with her boyfriend.
He seemed very happy to see me, but preoccupied, as I was. Seeing each other "out of context" felt strange for both of us, I think. We spent a couple of hours together then he said he needed to get back home. I didn't hear from him or see him after that, not for many years, after we were both grown and settled in our respective careers and relationships. I did email him and tell him how important he was to me during that time and how he helped me find the self confidence that sustained me until I found the love of my life, to whom I am now married. I was surprised that he even remembered me; he had more experience with relationships than I had had at the time, and certainly no shortage of female attention. Even though we had but a short time together, I hope that knowing me had helped him in some way as well.