Happy Birthday to me
22. September 2009 by Frank.
I don’t usually get personal with these little postings, as hard as that might be to imagine, but this time I thought I would be a little self indulgent. What the hell, right? I have been thinking about writing this story out for some time now, and finally the proper motivation has presented itself. They say God works in mysterious ways, but in my life, God tends to just drop a kitchen sink on my head and laugh at me while I stagger around. No real mysteries here. Today was my son’s ninth birthday. I suppose just his approaching ninth birthday may have been subconsciously stirring up bad memories for me. He was certainly excited about it for quite a while now, and I was happy to see all that excitement pay off for him. He had an absolute blast, and I was thrilled to make that happen for him. We cannot always meet all our children’s expectations in life, and it is a damn fine moment when we as parents are able to literally make their day. So what has me so wound up about this whole birthday thing, anyway? Everything sounds alright so far. Where is that black cloud that seems to follow me around like that kid from the Peanuts cartoon? I was brutally reminded today of my own, very much different ninth birthday. And the continuing fact that I married a woman as much like my own mother as I could possibly find was once again thrown in my face. Don’t take that the wrong way. I am divorced now for some time, but my ex wife is still the woman I married, and she still continues to score off the charts on the mom comparison checklist I have been accumulating for some time now. A day I will never forget. My ninth birthday. Try and bring yourself back with me, if you will, to remember all of the splendid excitement and anticipation we felt as young children, waiting for the big day to arrive. And when it finally gets there? Fuggetaboutit!!! Of the friggin hook, right? That is the way I felt the day I woke up on my ninth birthday. I was instantly awake, full of excitement and joy. It was my birthday. Attention and cake and ice cream and presents were about to be lavished on me, and I couldn’t wait! It was the beginning of summer, as my birthday always seems to be. School was out, and we were staying at our very dear family friend’s farm in
He never says a bad word about his mother. He seems happy to see her most of the time, but its obvious to me that all of her negligence and sideways neglect of him has had its effect on him. Just as much as she cannot seem to be bothered to see him or talk with him on any regular basis, he can no longer be bothered as well. He would rather stay home and watch his shows and play with his toys than make the effort to take a three minute ride to see his sick mother the day before his birthday. And that is a crying shame in my book. ‘Nuff said.
Frank’s Comments on Into the Belly
18. September 2009 by Frank.
Here we are at the bottom of it all, really. This is the piece my mother wrote that Gennyfer didn’t want to write about too soon. She thought it might not have the proper impact without some background information on crazymom. I hope you have all read enough of this crazy stuff to have a true and refined understanding of just how whacked out my mother really was. So without further ado, we delve… Into the Belly of the Beast.
My mother wrote this little bit of insanity about the time just after our father, Frank, had just gone to prison, and my mother carted us off from a quiet town in upstate New York right smack in the middle of downtown Philadelphia. She moved in with a drug dealing friend of my fathers, the man she called Bear. I was almost 4 years old at this point, and Gennyfer was still a 2 year old in diapers. She packed so much crazy into so little space in this little note she wrote to herself, it almost defies description. But here we are, describing all of this madness as best we can.
Here are the real standouts for me. “We are all looking for Charles Manson to tell us what to do.” Now I know you are all relating to this statement as much as I am. When life gets rough for me, I am confused and unsure of what direction to take, where to get the best advice possible, who can lift me up from the darkness and despair that seeks to overwhelm and consume me, my thoughts immediately turn to… Charles Manson.
Another highlight for me was “I remember the night I thought I should walk off the roof of the house. I wanted to die, end it all” I was just three years old at that moment in her life, and Gennyfer was only two. I have a child myself, and as a parent, some part of you puts your kid first, no matter what. But my mom was so wrapped up in her own self centered dramatic bullshit at the time that she was seriously ready to end it all right there. If she had gone off that roof that night, she would have left my little sister and me in the care of some fucked up hippie drug dealer we barely knew, in a strange city while our father was off serving his country in jail. I am sure my mother had no contact with her parents and sister at this point in her life, so I don’t know what this whack job would have done to even try and get in touch with our extended family. We could have ended up wards of the state. Lovely.
Last, and certainly least considering it’s intense competition on this list, is this wonderful gem, “plus the mystery of spending time in jail - What is that appeal?” Someone please tell me, what is that appeal? I don’t know really. Is it a chick thing? I have met a few women in my day who have been in prison, and believe me, they were not full of sugar and spice and everything nice, if you catch my drift. Anyone else’s mom out there have a thing for ex-cons? Fill me in on this one. I am truly at a loss. I do remember my mom always being attracted to the wrong guys, even as she got much older. She was the epitome of the good girl who went for the bad boy every time. I have personally known some truly fine men who loved and admired my mother. She would have absolutely nothing to do with any of them. And thank god for those fine fellows. I am sure it pained them at the time, but they really dodged that bullet big-time.
I will never forget about a year before my mom died, I was at her house helping her to get rid of some old boxes in the closet and consolidate a bunch of her old stuff into a more manageable space. I came across a framed poem that’s title was dedicated specifically to her. I read the thing aloud to her, and there were several personal references to her that were unmistakable. Some guy had definitely had it bad for my mom, and had taken the time to write and frame a very lovely and intimate poem for her and about her. She was always a big poetry fan. I asked her after reading it to her who had written it. All I got in response was a blank stare, and a scratch of the head. She had no idea. WTF! “Mom,” I said, “How in the world does someone write something like that for you, some guy who was obviously totally in love with you, and you can’t even remember his name?” She thought about it for a minute, but could not place who had written it. Wow. I guess unless you were a guy who had been to jail, you got short shrift from my mom in the love department.
Someone who has been reading these little missives asked Gen and me if we experienced some form of personal catharsis from writing these stories out. I immediately denied that what I felt from writing these things down was in any way cathartic. Then I went home and looked it up, and I feel that I was right about that. Catharsis is a release of emotional tension that restores and refreshes the spirit. I am a Cancer, and Gen is a Scorpio, and believe me when I tell you this, we don’t like to let go of nothin’. Confronting these things head on is no easy task, and the rewards from writing these stories down are not a lightening of any burden from the past. I simply want people to know what it was like for me. For us. And, if they can make the leap, and it somehow pertains to them, what it may have been like for them in some small way as well. TTFN
Into the Belly of the Beast
6. September 2009 by CarolesJournals.
Excerpt from Carole’s Journal:
The man I called Bear - another capricorn another father figure I remember thinking
“We are all looking for Charles Manson to tell us what to do” That was probably truer
than I thought - again looking at myself and all this self-hatred - I kept looking for someone
to follow - Bear had it all the Capricorn, testosterone, plus the mystery of spending time
in jail - What is that appeal? that persona that force I was attracted like a moth
to the flame. I was very hurt, disappointed, and numb by Bear and Susie –
I was emotionally gone - dead. I remember the night I thought I should
walk off the roof of the house. I wanted to die, end it all - I was so disappointed,
sad and confused - I didn’t go off of the roof and the next day I met Bawa.
I have never discussed this night with anyone - including myself.
this is important
At issue was Susie and Bear leaving for California. So now I see Abandonment -
neglect - my doing something wrong to cause them to leave me I felt betrayed -
no support I was miserable - going back to B-town. R.R. opened a door -
what was I thinking? He was good looking, very bright, he introduced me to the work
I was attracted to the distraction and the glitter - Being in the center of everything.
Big shot ism at its best
As if it isn’t crazy enough that my mom thought of Charles Manson as someone to look for to tell her what to do. The way she dealt with it was the real crazy making part for me. I remember watching TV with my mom one night when I was about 13 yrs old, and their was an advertisement for an interview with Charles Manson. It seemed like a big deal and I wanted to watch it. At the time I didn’t really know that much about the man or what he had done. I asked if we could watch it, and my mother went off on one her long tirades about how evil he was and how mislead and easily manipulated those people were. How stupid they had been for following him at all, with her ever present air of “I would never do anything like that, I would never not think for myself, I would never do anything to hurt other people so much”. At the time I was disappointed that I couldn’t watch the interview, but didn’t think that much of her over reaction to it.
When Frank sent me this posting it put that night in a different light for me. She was deeply embarrassed that she had thought so highly of Charles Manson, and still pissed off that her friends had gone to California without her. I understand not wanting to admit that she was into the Helter Skelter thing. But what really bakes my noodle is that she was so over the top with her judgment of them and herself that she had to change her life story; to admit that she had anything at all to do with them. But that is, after all, how she rolled. My mom changed her facts and even her own experiences to fit her mood or her current philosophies. Don’t misunderstand me. I’m not talking about normal emotion growth, like learning life’s lessons, growing through your pain and experiences to become a better person. That’s not what my mom did. She would just change her story. Actually, she would change all her stores to make them fit together. There was no admitting she was ever wrong, or even that she has learned something. Just that she was better then everyone else, or that she knew more than others, or that she had all the answers.
Now that I’m older, and dare I say “grown up”, I look back at my childhood with so much emotion sometimes; anger, pity, grief. The list goes on. It’s a wonder that I’m sane at all. And I think that ignorance may have in fact been my saving grace. How else could I have come through? I think that if I had known then what I know now; that my mother, the woman who once slapped one her 5th grade students just for “lying” to her, the person who was constantly punishing me and my siblings for lying to her, never really told the truth about herself or her life. I think it would have crushed me. It’s hard enough to wrap my mind around it now with an adult frame of mind. But as child, it would have been too much bear.
My Evil Step-Father
8. August 2009 by Frank.
I was putting my eight year old son to bed the other night when I had one of those horrifying flashes go off in my head. One of those gripped with awful, overwhelming, paralyzed with terror flashes. You know the kind, right? Happens to you sometimes while reading your kid a nice bedtime story, right? Am I talking to myself here? Maybe so. I, being an expert at awful, overwhelming, paralyzing terror flashes have been there a time or two myself. So I am trying the best I can to not break down into sobbing tears in front of my kid, choke down the world of hurt and anguish that has just bubbled up into my brain, and finish the chapter I am reading to him. He was pretty surprised when I started tearing up at the end of My Side of the Mountain, which we just finished reading last week, so I don’t know if he is ready to see dear old dad blubbering and wailing and running around his room tearing my hair out. Well, I don’t have much hair to tear out, but the rest would probably freak him out pretty badly.
As I said before, luckily? for me, I have been here before. I look at the pain welling up, I recognize it for what it is and where it is coming from, and I smash it quickly into a safety compartment I have handy for just such occasions that can burst open later. I slam the lid shut on those darn untimely feelings of mine, finish the story, and hightail it out of there. There will be plenty of time to cry over spilled milk later. Suppressing overwhelming emotions like this is a real art form, or maybe an athletic skill. I don’t know if you have ever been overwhelmed instantly and incomprehensibly by grief. I can only best compare it to being hit by a wave in the ocean and being sucked under and pinned down by the undertow. Completely helpless and powerless to resist. Our first urge is to fight it, to struggle to get free, but unfortunately for us, the ocean is just a bit stronger than us. Never been pinned down by a rogue wave, you say? Here’s one the we all remember.
Its like fighting back the urge to vomit, feeling that watery, tingly sensation rising up from your throat, and trying with all your might to suppress it, to make it go away. But it doesn’t. Somehow, that feeling gets a grip on you and won’t let go, and pretty soon you are spewing your guts out all over the place. One time I tried to stop throwing up by clamping my hand firmly over my mouth. It didn’t work. The vomit shot right out of my nose. True story. So why am I making this so graphic and gross? I want to try and relate the power of these emotions coming up, and how easily they can overwhelm our flimsy defenses.
Now that we have that settled, you might be wondering what a segment I called My Evil Stepfather has to do with an eight year old boy’s bedtime story, or my sometimes tenuous grip on reality. As I said, this very thing has happened to me before. I sometimes inevitably see myself reflected in my son. The little me that was. And upon occasions such as this one, I make the dreadful leap of seeing him, so sweet and innocent and dear to me, and superimposing what it was like for me at that very age onto him. All that sweetness and innocence and dearness was there in me as well, and I am swept away with the boundless pain of what I suffered. Sometimes it is just too much to endure. My son’s smiling sweetness has given me this bittersweet gift, to look at him and see myself in his eyes, and to know how terribly I suffered.
Let’s have a pity party. One, two, three…. aawwwww. Here is the story that got this whole train rolling. I was eight years old, and it was the winter of my discontent. I was an active child, always up to something. Sometimes those things would get me into trouble, as the side effects of playing too hard or too loud or too long. My stepfather was never one to interact with me in any way. He commanded and we obeyed. I tried to stay out of his way, but we lived in a small row home at the time, and as it was winter, I am sure that I was getting under foot quite a bit, with no where for him to escape to. I still don’t know how this incident started. But the vivid outcome remains seared into my memory. I am quite sure that I was doing something annoying to him. I just told my son today to stop humming loudly some inane tune that was driving me nuts. I told him three friggin times, and even raised my voice the last time. He decided to leave the room then, so I am not sure if the humming stopped, or just continued elsewhere. Either way, conflict resolved, right?
My stepfather had a much more graphic way of resolving these types of conflict. As I said, I cannot recall the nature of my crime, only the severity of the punishment. Boy, you must be thinking, little Frank must have really gotten his ass beaten in this story. I wish that was the case. See, my stepfather was a trained killer. True story. Our government trained him to kill in the Green Berets. It was one of the few things from his past that he enjoyed talking about. Being trained to kill. He would eat live bugs in front of me for kicks. Just pluck a fly out of the air or pull a worm up from the ground and pop it into his mouth and chew. This practice was somehow totally gross and cool to me at the same time. He would talk about his night drops into strange woods during Green Beret training, being forced to live of the land for seven days while hiking back to base camp. All I can say is that if I was ever forced to live off of bugs for a week, I would certainly never want to repeat the experience just for shits and giggles. But to each his own.
He also had studied some martial arts with a few friends of his, and loved to put painful lock holds on my arms. He was constantly jacking me up in a painful martial grip, laughing maniacally at my pain and helplessness. This was as close to any sort of physical affection towards me as he ever came. Thank God for that. So, to get back to the main point of this story, I am sure you have all been thinking a lot about the upheaval in Iran lately. Me too!!! A few of you may even be old enough to remember way back in the day, when we could only pump gas every few days a week, we had a pacifistic peanut farming rocket scientist as President, and a few dozen American citizens were being held against their will by the government of Iran. It all goes back to the seventies, doesn’t it?
This was a momentous time for our country, and certainly a momentous time for me and my relationship with my evil stepfather. It was the only time I ever saw the man cry. Well, not cry exactly, but tear up. There was a definite glistening in his eyes, I am sure of it. Was this man human after all? He got a call from someone, I don’t know who, to let him know that an old Green Beret buddy of his, a man he had known well in the service, had been the commander of a failed rescue attempt into Iran to save the hostages. All of the men were killed, and it actually brought a tear to his eye.
Often we can forget that our abusers are human at all, and that they may indeed have some of the same feelings and heartfelt emotions that we have. Somehow it seems almost impossible to attribute these traits to someone who has mistreated us on such a profound and consistent basis. I will never forget that brief moment when the monster of my childhood shed real tears. It is burned into my memory, just as deeply and indelibly as the moment he decided to execute my childhood.
This was one of those moments you look back on and wish you could forget, or remember every detail, or perhaps imagine that it had happened to someone else. Maybe you transferred the idea of the memory from a TV show? But they don’t put shit this screwed up on TV. Even in this day and age. As I said before, I don’t really recall what it was I did to piss him off, but I did. He never raised his voice to me. It wasn’t his style. He just did things to get his point across. In this particular case, he went into my room and brought back my favorite toy in the whole wide world, and brought it back with him into the living room where I waited.
It was my G.I. Joe with the Kung-Fu Grip, a 12” tall action figure that I had gotten from my grandparents for Christmas that year. I loved my grandparents dearly, and I knew that they loved me, which made the gift even more precious to me. At the time, this was the coolest toy that any eight year old boy could have. Did I mention that it had a grip? A Kung-Fu one? This was hot stuff, and I remember watching my evil stepfather standing over me, holding my now puny looking doll in his big hands, and just going numb somewhere inside. I had a very bad feeling that things were not going to end very well for my G.I. Joe.
My evil stepfather didn’t say anything at this point. He knew that he had my full attention. As he laid my favorite toy down on the chopping block in the middle of our tiny living room, I think I began to shake. Oh, wait. You didn’t have a chopping block in the middle of your living room as a kid. I did. We had a wood stove upstairs in the middle of the living room, with a small chopping block and a pile of wood beside it. And a hatchet. You know, normal kids stuff. So G.I Joe with the Kung-Fu grip gets set down on the chopping block, and you guessed it, my evil stepfather whacked his head right off in front of me with on swift chop. My G.I. Joe fell completely apart, head and arms and legs falling everywhere around the chopping block. One practical thing I learned that day was that most dolls like that are held together by a single extra strength rubber band that runs through the body and holds the head and the limbs together with the torso. Cool. I was completely out of my mind at this point. I don’t think I could have been more deeply horrified or hurt if he had shot me.
But, of course, he wasn’t done yet. He never was. He loved to hammer his points home until the nail was completely driven in. He scooped up all of the limp pieces of my executed G.I. Joe, and marched me over to the bathroom, which was directly off the living room. With me once again watching from a few feet away, my evil stepfather flushed all the pieces down the toilet, not all together, but one at a time. I can still see the head swirling down into the watery vortex, the last vestiges of any hope or joy or love in my young life going with it. That man knew how to cut me to the quick, and he had picked the one thing that he knew was dearest to my heart, and destroyed it callously with extreme prejudice and malice. And then, without a word, he walked away, leaving me standing next to the empty toilet, completely in shock.
As I have said before, different traumatic events effect each of us differently. Some people might not see what the big deal is here. Others might be cringing. I was completely devastated. I can actually remember exactly the point when I went completely numb, and it was miraculously much later in my childhood, but I am sure this incident was a big part of that. I have often remarked to others that I had feelings once, but my parents ran them over with a Zamboni, making sure they went over the rough spots enough times to get one of those smooth, icy finishes. So that’s my story, folks, and I am sticking to it. Tune in next time when you can all go together with me Into the Belly of the Beast. (And yea, this one is going to make the summary execution of my favorite childhood toy by my evil stepfather look like a friggin trip to Disney World.) Peace in the Middle East!!! lolz
3. May 2009 by gennyfer.
The luster of the pearls caught my attention. They lay atop my mother’s dress shimmering slightly when she moved. To a two-year-old a pearl necklace looks like a toy, most jewelry does. I stretched out my tiny dimpled fingers, reaching for the pretty prize around my mothers neck. She brushed my hand away, told me “No.” I pulled my hand back but the lure of the pearls was too much for my toddler fascination. I reached out again and grasped the pearls in my delicate looking pudgy, surprisingly strong, babies grasp. I yanked on the strand, trying to bring it closer. The pearls flew apart bouncing all over the wooden floor, rolling everywhere I could see.
This is just my imagining of the event. Having spent five full years of my life with one two-year-old after another I have some experience with how they explore their environment. I’m guessing I was not an especially precocious or out of the ordinary two-year-old. It’s likely that the way I was at two was similar to at least one of these five children I know so well. My imagined memory is probably close to the truth. I stop there because I do not want to imagine what happened next. If I dwell on it I shudder at the punishment I must have received for this single, very normal childhood misdeed. I do know that every significant misdeed, real or imagined, that my mother lectured me about from that point on, included a mention of the pearl necklace I ruined.
When I brought home poor grades from school, “I should have known when you broke my pearls.” When I didn’t clean my room, it was just another validation about what she should have known after the pearls. When I was a freshman in high school, we got a series of prank calls. I got a serious lecture because I must have given my number to someone. She brought up the pearls. When mom passed away and we read her journal, sure enough the broken strand of pearls was spattered through her writing in the same way they must have spread across the floor.
Among her things, tucked away in her jewelry box, was a bag of pearls, mixed in with the threads that had once strung them together. In the same way that she held on to them in her mind for most of my life she held on to them physically. A simple, not premeditated, annoyance caused by a small child. A broken, easily restrung, pearl necklace.
My husband and I were out a the monthly art walk held in Portland. We came across a crafter selling jewelry. She was chatting with us while casually stringing a pearl necklace. The simplicity of her actions struck me. Sometimes the things we dwell on are the easiest to fix. The walls we construct that imprison us, sometimes this becomes a life sentence, may be as small as a garden border. If we are willing to see them the way they truly are we could just step right over and be out in the world.
This tale, my pearl of wisdom, is what makes me feel the most anger towards my mother. It hurt and carved away at my self worth growing up, this being in an endless “time-out”. At the same time this pearl necklace makes me the saddest for her too. What kind of prison is it to be mentally ill like that? How alone do you make yourself when you can not see past even the smallest faults of the people that love you? She was so achingly lonely, throughout her entire life. I wish that she had been able to heal in some way. My heart aches to think of all the joy she missed imprisoned by her mind.
The Great Fear: A poem & journal entry from Carole w/comments added.
15. April 2009 by gennyfer.
The feeling of Friendship was near.
But as always came The Great Fear.
That old, old wall That is much too tall
Would appear and say, “Now listen hear.
‘I’m right and you’re wrong.”
Is such an old, old Song. and we must
We too belong in - it’s grip.
For to Fight it would mean we must rip
apart some walls.
As soon as one of them falls it may mean that
We might see
And just possibly have to be part of a
The “great fear” freezes me. Resistance, (being uncomfortable) seems to be of help in the thawing process. It provides some type of reminder that it is possible to try – if only for a very brief glimpse. The image of thawing an iceberg comes to mind.
Occasionally there are reminders that it is important to acquire some knowledge: for example via Alchemy, astrology, Tarot - There is surface knowledge and there is a reflection of something deeper. “I” slows down now - Bawa’s letter must be read again and again as it is a strong reminder that provides the emotional center with some type of relief.
Glimpse of body neglect are strong, yet in a strong way they are ignored.
These seem to be my demons, Bawa, and this is only surface.
The opening prayer to God in our behalf. “You alone can bestow that Treasure of Peacefulness and Patience and Tolerance.”
Excerpt from a letter written to one of our Mother’s teachers from the late 1970s:
As a result of your brief mention of the Tarot cards, I am now pursuing the study once again. My task is to study three cards a day. About eight years ago I left the study of the cards, and now it seems that much of the information has dissipated. Consequently, it seems important to pursue the study once again.
I am sure all of you are nodding your heads in knowing agreement after reading this little excerpt from my mother’s notebooks. I imagine all of your parents were rigorous followers of some ancient Indian guru just like Bawa, and spent there down time every night pouring over Tarot card books and Astrology charts. That’s completely normal, right? What? What’s that, you say!?! Your parents didn’t do that? They didn’t constantly have some mystic teacher’s advice to follow. Some ancient form of divination to guide them through every decision in life, some weekend retreat to go off to and get that old timey religion? How could they make it through their lives without an I-Ching coin throw or a tarot card reading or an astrological chart to guide them? It just doesn’t seem possible to me.
To say that my mother was not herself would be putting it mildly. My mother was always dedicated to someone else’s teachings, or readings, or influence. She would not, could not, make a decision or have an original thought on her own. Everything in her life had to be checked and double-checked with a teacher or a guru or the cards or the coins or the stars. In many of my mother’s notes there are I-Ching symbols written in the margins. She even needed some form of divination to confirm what she was writing for herself.
Now I imagine, since we have established that perhaps all of you are not familiar with some of this whacked out stuff I am talking about, that you are scratching your heads right now, thinking, “What in the hell is an I-Ching coin toss, and who is this Bawa guy, really?” And didn’t she mention Alchemy? Most of that stuff you can look up on the internet pretty easily, although I would have to recommend Paolo Coehlo for the Alchemy part. As for Bawa (first up on google search), he was her first Guru, and also one of my earliest memories. I remember what a powerful man he was. He made quite an incredible and lasting impression on me.
My mom had a definite way of finding very powerful masters. I think the frustrating part was that she was never satisfied. If one teacher didn’t give her the answer the way she wanted it, she would find another. The tarot cards not falling the way she wanted? Time to read her palms. Or consult another astrologist. Some of you might glance in the paper at your astrology for the week, or even get updates daily online. My mother took down over 60 pages of elaborate hand written notes on her last astrological charts. 60 pages! Here she was in her sixties, having done countless and extensive astrological charting in the past, still trying to make some sense of it all for herself. That was the problem with her. Enough was never enough. There was no end to it. There were never any answers to satisfy the hole in her soul. Something was disconnected deep inside her, and she was never able to make that connection. In the end, her life looked a lot like a crossword puzzle with a bunch of the letters still missing.
I wonder if she wrote this poem about herself or if it was in frustration with someone else. If it was about her it was perhaps a glimpse she had into how closed off she was from other people. She was often part of spiritual groups. She fled from the values of her family that seemed materialistic to her yet it seemed to me that she never noticed while she was blithely wading in to the next spiritual discipline, that these groups were at least as flawed as the family she came from. She chose people to follow in an endless quest for self-improvement but what she really wanted was to be seen as special.
She would join a group and maneuver herself in to a position of leading in some way. There never seemed to be relationships that were with people she saw as equals. She either followed or led. I don’t think she ever really experienced a “sharing community” even in one relationship. She was often unforgiving and would walk away from these groups and friends over small or imagined slights that would leave people who genuinely cared about her feeling hurt and baffled.
She was intolerant of the messiness of life, she was afraid of the unexpected, terrified of making a mistake or being viewed as wrong. She consulted many divining tools through out her life. Tarot cards, the I-Ching, astrology were turned to again and again to explain anything that confused her and to help her make decisions. I never sensed that she felt she could control the events about which she sought foreknowledge. She just desperately wanted to know what was going to happen.
26. March 2009 by Frank.
A true blue American tradition, like baseball and apple pie. Practiced by every creed and color in the country. You don’t have to speak English to live in the US, but not eating pizza? Fuggetaboutit! Even crazy vegetarians and dirty hippies can eat it. Don’t quote me on this, but I am pretty sure that right after signing the declaration of independence, our founding fathers ordered out for pizza. Could be, rabbit. Some families make it a regular treat. A part of the weekly routine. “It’s Friday night, Johnny. And you know what that means? That’s right. Pizza night!” For other families, it might be a more sporadic but no less anticipated delight. I mean, really. Who doesn’t love pizza? The Taliban?
At this point you must be scratching your head, wondering if my mom was sick enough to deny us this sacred American sacrament? Did she have no shame? Was she a communist? No. We did in fact partake occasionally in this ritual. One wonders, just how do you fuck up pizza night? Let me explain. No, wait. There’s no time for that. Let me sum up.
But first, let me digress. I told my sister Gen what I was writing about, and she knew exactly what I was talking about the second I told her the title of this one would be pizza night. Then she laughed at my intense childhood pain, because that is what little sisters do. Even thirty-eight year old ones. This story is not about her personal pain at all. This one will fall squarely on the shoulders of Mary and myself.
Here’s the windup. It’s Friday night. I am eleven years old. The school week is finally done. The vast and boundless opportunities of the weekend stretch luxuriously out in front of me. I can stay up late and watch some scary movies all night without having to go to bed at any set time. These are pre-VCR days, when I actually had to hold a pillow in front of my face during the really terrifying parts, instead of just hitting the fast forward button. Hammer Films Rule, Baby! Or I might just stay up all night reading the latest Tarzan book I happen to be working on. These were a few of my favorite things.
I wander into the kitchen and ask my mom what we are having for dinner. As our fearless readers have come to know, this was no idle question. This innocent question was like waiting in the doctor’s office while he silently read your test results behind his desk. The doctor looks up at you from behind his folder, and your heart stops for just a moment. Would it be the thrill of victory, or the agony of defeat? Or, as was the case on this particular night, a little bit of both. When she told me that we were having pizza that night, I was immediately elated. I loved pizza. And I had dodged the liver and lima beans bullet. Score one for the home team! That also meant no Hungarian Goulash, Borsht, Onion Soup, overcooked beef roast, hard meatloaf, dried out chicken, or any other of the myriad mystery meat surprises we often had to plow through.
Anticipation built up all around me. My sister’s were just as glad as I was to be getting pizza for dinner. Just as pleased as I was that we would not be eating whatever brown substance was behind door number three tonight. Finally, the moment came. My evil stepfather got home with the pizza. Now don’t get confused here. My stepfather didn’t bring the pizza home with him after a long day of work. He walked about a block down the street and picked it up. That was probably the most he did all day. He seemed very partial in my view to sitting in his corner chair and drinking. We all sat down to eat at the dinner table. Eleven year old me, ten year old Jenny, six year old Mary, my stepfather and my mother. The pizza was the centerpiece of the table, which worked out well, as we always seemed to have a round kitchen table.
Finally the box lid was lifted, and I gazed down lovingly at the object of my affection. There is something truly perfect and timeless about pizza. It looks incredibly appetizing, reassuring tired taste buds that a flavor bonanza was on the way. I always liked my pizza plain, with just three key toppings. Salt, pepper, and grease. Watching the first piece lifted up from its cohorts, melting hot cheese drip sliding down the sides, and that perfect smell fully hitting your nostrils for the first time. How delightful that first piece was. Even if I managed to burn the roof of my mouth for the umpteenth time, it was still a small slice of heaven every time. Even with the extreme heat, it is hard to tell where that first piece goes sometimes. One minute I am savoring large bites of saucy, cheese covered joy, the next I am holding a bit of hard crust in front of my face and wondering what happened.
But on pizza night in my family, I was not allowed this simple, magical pleasure. Under most normal pizza eating circumstances, one wonderful slice would be followed directly by another, and perhaps another, with no pause in the rapturous process of stuffing one’s face with the nectar of the gods. Could anyone reasonably argue that the Ambrosia the Greek Gods spoke of eating on Mount Olympus wasn’t pizza? Instead of enjoying this wonderful, relaxed family moment, I could already feel the sweat breaking out on my forehead. Stress welled up in my chest before I was halfway through my slice, as I gazed around the table in an almost panic to see how my other family members were progressing on their slices.
It boils down to simple math, really. Two adults, three kids, eight slices of pizza. The adults always eat two pieces each. Half the pizza gone right there. Down to three kids and four slices. That means no second piece for two of us. The viscous game of musical chairs had begun. No time to waste, You needed to pound that first piece back so as to not be left staring into the empty box, trying to pick little bits of dried cheese of the bottom while your lucky sibling slowly chewed their prized second slice. Panic sets in as you watch your little sister across the table from you whittling away at her slice. I was lucky in one sense in that Gen was a pretty skinny kid, and was not a big eater at all. She was happy at that age with just one slice. For Mary and me, it was a little different. We were both big eaters. Even at six, Mary could pack it away. When my son was just her age, we could split a whole large pie jut by ourselves, so I imagine Mary might have wanted more than just one slice at that age. I know I did.
Dinner should be a pleasant, relaxing time. Families sharing a good meal and relating the ups and downs of their various daily experiences. There should be no winners and losers. But the worst part about gulping down that first slice and scoring the second one was always the disappointed look on Mary’s face as I snagged the last slice from right under her nose. Mary watching me as I enjoyed that last slice of heaven, while she was left to make a meal of her hard crust and the drippings still cooling on the bottom of the box. I walked away from every one of those meals either still hungry for myself, or profoundly remorseful for taking that last slice away from my little sister, who was going to bed still hungry that night. That’s right, I actually felt bad every single time after pizza night.
Now I have you wondering, maybe money was just that tight. One useless stepfather who never worked, and a mother who worked part time as an elementary school teacher. Not exactly a huge cash flow. But I can tell you one thing about my parents. They never went without their necessities. Cigarettes, because they both smoked at least a pack a day. Coffee all the time. Booze every day. My mom regularly drank a couple of fifths a week, and my stepfather drank beer and the hard stuff every day. And pot. They always managed to have a bag of that laying around just in case, and that shit doesn’t just grow on trees, you know. And my stepfather always had some hidden snack food around the house that only he had access to. That motherfucker wasn’t going to bed hungry on pizza night; I can guarantee you that. But can a brother or a sister get a second slice of pizza, for Christ’s sake?
I gotta tell you, it’s always something. Some children are beaten, some are molested, and some are completely deprived of sustenance. I am not really sure what to call this type of abuse. But it was constant, it was pervasive, and it was completely effective. I talked to Gen about how hard these stories are to write. It reminds me just a few days after my mom had died, and Gen was reading all of her writings that she found. Gen looked at me and said, “After reading so much of this horrible crap, I wish I could bring her back to life so I could kill her all over again.” Sometimes, I guess, all those proverbial little missed pieces of pizza can add up to a heavy, insurmountable debt. Anyone out there know any voodoo witch doctors?