I Feel Selfish

indexFor a lifetime, I have wanted so much for others.

When I see homeless people, I long to give them food and shelter and to help them learn to live with any mental health issues that may have caused them to exist in a life on the streets.  I want to pass out my phone number so I can help with any program to free those people who have suffered by being wrongly convicted as I learn about injustices.  Every scrawny dog I see wandering the streets garners my empathy and a place in my heart.

I used to purchase lottery tickets each week when I lived in Nevada; I would go with a co-worker once a week to the California border.  We would drive the 10 miles to the California border each talking about what we would do with the money if we won.  While I cannot recall what she would do with the money, I would talk about how I would hire an attorney and find a way secretly to pay off the bills for my parents, brother and sisters since they were not speaking to me.  However, I knew they were all struggling and could use the infusion of cash.

After I ended my second marriage and started a new relationship, I made a myriad of mistakes.

My ex suffered from Chrohn’s Disease and, at times, was gravely ill; it was part of the reason our relationship continued as long as it did.  I told my new love that if my ex ever underwent one of the prescribed surgeries removing parts of his intestines and needed me, I would go back, regardless of the fact that he had treated me very shabbily.  I knew he would have a challenging time in future relationships due to his abrasive personality and social awkwardness.

Additionally, my new love’s ex-wife had an instance a few months into our relationship when she believed she had breast cancer.  She received some test results indicating she had to undergo further testing to determine the issue.  She was understandably upset.

Despite her previous attempts to run me over with her car and get me fired from my job when she thought I was having an affair with her husband, I encouraged my boyfriend to go to her side.  I thought she would need him; after 18 years of marriage, I thought it was his place to be with her.  My rationale was love and commitment simply did not stop with divorce and he must surely still have some feelings for her and not wish her to suffer alone.

He thought I was nuts, not compassionate… with both of our exes.  Fortunately, neither situation presented, and we were spared.

When my mom killed my dad, she was ill prepared to face the world as a convicted felon.  She had a 10th grade education, no coping skills, and had lost her job and her home.

I wanted desperately to do something right in her eyes and to provide for her in the only way I knew how.  Using the contacts I had through two internships and school, I found a way for her to get her GED and counseling, but she turned down all of my help.  My husband was able to get her a job at the plant where he worked, but only making less than half the pay she was used to, and the work was monotonous.  We offered to sell our home and purchase one with a mother-in-law quarters, opting instead to stay with my other siblings in spare rooms.  However, I really wanted to do more.

My girls…

I could write an entire book of things I want for my girls; but, I am afraid the tears would start to flow and I could not stop.  Therefore, I will say only that I love them and wish for them all of the love and happiness in the world.  Material things are not enough for them; they deserve the riches of the heart.

***

My life has been filled with wants for others, but I find myself at a turning point of sorts… I want.

I want for me; just me.  I want happiness, happily ever after, love, life, fulfillment, joy, laughter.

It does not mean I do not still want for others, I do.  Though, now, I want for myself as well.

But… I feel selfish for wanting.

Family Ties

imagesSo this is Christmas, I thought to myself, looking around the room at cousins I had not connected with for almost three decades.  I wasn’t certain what to expect when I invited myself to spend a few weeks with my uncle and he suggested we visit another uncle and my cousins for Christmas Day.

While I have always felt like an outsider in my family because they thought I felt I was too good for them, or better than them, when I really just wanted to escape; my mom has always felt as if she was the outcast in her family.  Her three brothers were all professionals who went to college, purchased homes, and traveled the world; conversely, my parents didn’t finish high school, moved their family around not very close to our cousins, and I did not see them after I was 10 except the rare business trip when my oldest cousin would breeze through town; twice maybe.

Growing up, I heard about my cousin’s adventures; one traveled to Australia to play soccer and got to go watch the Olympics with his dad; one studied for a year abroad in Spain; they all spent summers taking swimming lessons and going to camp; all three of the girls had big, beautiful weddings with white flowing wedding dresses, pictures on the beach, their blonde tresses flowing in the wind; there were trips to foreign countries, too numerous to name; ski vacations with their friends to the family cabin in the mountains; they were everything our family was not.

As adults, I had heard their lives were just as spectacular; much different than the disaster mine had been.  Each one was successful, happy; the girls married lawyers and other professionals; one of the boys married a very successful executive for a major network and owns a house overlooking Sea world; they own houses, have blonde haired blue-eyed children who adore them; they have loving spouses; and, they love their parents and are an intact family unit.

Needless to say, I was somewhat intimidated to visit for the holiday, even if it was only one day.  I had not seen them in years, but they all knew what my life had been like, up to and including all of the latest family drama.

Having already spent Christmas Eve with my uncle catching up and making the traditional secret family bread; we headed up the mountain early Christmas morning to visit my other uncle and my cousins.  Everybody would be there except two of my cousins, one of the twins, and the younger girl; however, the cousin I had been closest to when we had been young was going to be there along with her husband and kids.

When we walked in the door, I was overwhelmed by the warm hugs and welcomes; I was introduced to the spouse and girlfriend of my cousin K and M respectively, and reintroduced to my cousin B’s wife A whom I had met in 2001.  I barely recognized my cousins, but they warmed me and graciously invited me into their parent’s home.

There were children running all over the place opening gifts, screaming, playing, and taunting each other; it was after all, Christmas morning.  I went into the kitchen and greeted my uncle B while he was making a big breakfast for everyone; then turned around and saw my aunt P.  It was a crazy and fun madhouse.

As everyone settled in, my cousin’s K and B and Aunt P stood in the kitchen drinking mimosas cooking and catching up; they wanted to hear some stories about my life both as a child and as an adult.  I told them story after story; they were not surprised, they were somewhat saddened, though.  While my aunt knew we had a difficult life growing up, some of the stories were beyond what she saw as an outsider.

Later, my cousin K and I sat and talked for hours; she listened as I told her my woeful tale of feeling disconnected and flat, of not being able to love.  She looked at me with tears in her eyes; she stood up and hugged me, warning me to tread lightly with my relationship so I don’t end up alone.  We talked about how many times I had been in the area and had never seen or called anybody in the family for the past 20 years; she implored me not to continue the behavior.

K stood up and hugged me and I let her.

I felt incredibly warm and accepted by them, although I missed my family; my girls, my mother, sisters and brother.  The day was good, and by the time I left, I was no longer intimidated by them; they were truly no different from me.  We all embraced and said goodbye, I promised to keep in touch.

Before I left, I went to the restroom; my cousin’s 4 year-old boy was on the stairs, I asked how his Christmas was, he eyed me suspiciously and said, “I don’t like you.”  So it goes, so it goes.

Just Me and My Mom

indexWhen my girls were little, the Mercer Mayer books were some of our favorites; Just Me and My Dad, Just Me and My Mom, and Just Shopping with Mom; they were all warm and fuzzy and carried a thread of family togetherness.  I adored my girls and we loved reading; sometimes we would sit together with stacks of books, a bowl of popcorn, unsweetened iced tea, and read for hours.

Back then, I was naïve enough to believe I was creating memories with them that they would remember for their entire lives; memories I didn’t have a chance to cultivate with my mother.  I wanted them to remember the silly preschool songs I taught them about monkeys jumping on the bed and hot dogs frying in a pan, or that I taught them to write, their colors, numbers, and the alphabet, all before kindergarten, instead of the memories I had of my childhood.

I longed to live out the fantasy life of the Little Critter mom in the books as my girls and I giggled our way through the stories, trying to forget my past.

***

My mom and I never had a very good relationship; I always had the feeling I didn’t belong, and that she simply didn’t like or didn’t want me.  I wasn’t special or unique in the family; I wasn’t the oldest like my sister, not the youngest like my other sister, and I was not the only boy like my brother.

I was just me; I talked too much, asked too many questions, and I was a picky eater; when I came in from school I would ask in one word “What’sfordinnerIhateitandIamnotgoingtoeatit.”  When we sat down to eat, I would move my fork through my food trying to make it look like I was eating; often gagging, and sometimes throwing up at the table.  It was a battle scene every night; meals were tense, to say the least.

The rest of my life was just as stressful; I didn’t get new clothes, as my sister was only three years older, I had to wear her hand-me-downs, but I was the only one.  My brother was the only boy so there was nobody to hand anything down to him, and my younger sister was 10 years my junior.  Needless to say, I felt singled out by the process; it could be that was just the way the cookie crumbled, but it felt bad.

Out of four children, I was the only one who excelled at school; I enjoyed being part of the academic world, and loved being away from home any chance I could.  I loved my teachers and they loved me; I never skipped school and didn’t cause any problems, except talking excessively.

***

When I started playing the flute, I was excited that I seemed to catch on quickly and had somewhat of a talent for the instrument.  I loved the way it felt to hold the beautiful instrument in my hands and play; it made me feel cerebral and elegant as I stretched my arms and fingers to reach the keys and hit the notes properly.

I finally convinced my parents to allow me to take private music lessons after school from my music teacher every Tuesday after school.  I would go directly there after classes and my mother would pick me up when I was finished.  I was in junior high school, but the music room was at the high school so I would walk across the field to his class, take my lesson, and then sit on the curb and wait for my mother.

Usually, I would get out five minutes early so I would be waiting for her and not have her waiting for me, as she had a tendency to be highly impatient with me.

One afternoon, I was sitting on the curb at 3:25; 3:30 being the appointed time she was to pick me up that day.  I waited for her and time wore on; it started to get darker and colder.  I looked at my watch, petrified to move and look for a payphone, afraid I would miss her; it was 4:30.  As it got later, I was afraid she had been killed in a car accident and that my brother and sister had perished as well.

5:00, no mother; 5:15, 5:30, 6:00; I was terrified that my father had come home in a drunken rage and had killed them all and that I would be left a 12 year-old orphan.  I was sobbing when she finally pulled up in the station wagon; she was furious with me.  “Get in the car,” she demanded, “Where the hell have you been?”

I was stunned; I had been sitting on the curb the entire time.  “Mom,” I cried, “I have been here, on the sidewalk.”

“No you haven’t,” she threw the car in drive and peeled out, “You little liar.  Wait until I tell your dad what happened.”

“Mom,” I begged, “I was here. Mom, Mom…”

“I have been driving up and down this street, around the block,” she lied, “I went to your school. You are in big trouble.”

I clung to the door, looking out the window and cried all the way home.

***

From as early as I could remember, my dad used to say to me, “You are so beautiful and talented; you are going to be our little model or movie star.”  My mom would just roll her eyes or glare at him.  I don’t know why he said it, I never professed a desire to do either, but he was insistent; a few times my grandmother commented as well because I was “so tall”.  I was the tallest in the family, but certainly short by most standards; as a full-grown adult I am now 5’4”.

When I was 12, my dad decided I should go to modeling school; he found one in Salt Lake City and enrolled me despite my protests.  It wasn’t something I particularly wanted to do; at 12 I still played with Barbies, rode my bike and played with my stuffed animals.  The last thing I wanted to do was go to modeling school.

However, my dad was determined that I was going to be the next Brooke Shields; I started attending the school 45 miles away every Thursday night.  My mom had to drive me every Thursday after school; I would attend sessions for four hours, from 5 until 9 at night.  She would pick me up and we would make our way back home where I would have to do homework and go to bed; often times waking up exhausted on Friday mornings for school.

Some weekends I went out of town for photo shoots, or did local shoots around town; I was told to drop weight from my slender frame of 90 pounds, and I was overloaded with heavy makeup no 12 year-old should be wearing.

One Thursday evening when class got out I sat on the stoop of the building and watched the women from my group leave, one by one; then I watched the instructors leave; and finally, I watched the janitorial crew leave.  I sat and I waited in the darkest industrial area of Salt Lake City I had ever seen; nobody seemed to care that I was 13 (by this point I had turned 13) and sitting alone outside in a bad area.

It was almost midnight by the time my mother pulled up; she was drunk and angry.  I silently slid into the seat.  She sped home; I watched as the speedometer reached speeds in excess of 100 miles per hour, too scared to say anything; half wishing we would just die in a fiery car crash and get it over with, and half wishing we would just make it home alive.

***

The summer I turned 15, things with my mother and I had reached a boiling point; she was through with me in every way imaginable.

I cannot even recall what we were arguing over, but the fight escalated to the point where she attacked me; she began hitting me with everything and anything she could grasp.  At first it was just her hands, her fists, then it was a wooden spoon, a long stick kept in a planter to keep the plant growing straight, a handle of a broom, and finally a yardstick.  I had crawled underneath the kitchen table and she was hitting me with it and screaming for me to come out.

Later that evening, she called her friend; she was the wife of a co-worker of my father’s.  She asked the woman to come and get me and take me away for a while because she could not have me there anymore, she just couldn’t deal with me.  I was standing in the stairwell of our split-level home; I had a cut just below my eye and my back was welted from the broom and yardstick.

The next day her friend came to pick me up; she told me to pack my bag for a few months because we were leaving for Canada.  I begged not to go; I didn’t understand what I had done wrong, I didn’t want to leave, but I wasn’t given a choice.  I wasn’t wanted there.

***

Just Me and My Mom

 

Three Things I did Right as a Mother – the Challenge

imagesRecently, a reader posted a challenge to me to write about three things I did right as a mother; I honestly did not think it was going to be so difficult, however, I can think of two things fairly easily, but the third one is going to be a challenge.

As my children have fairly unique names and I would not want anybody to read this allowing it to get back to them, as they are already embarrassed by me enough, I will call them X and Y; X being 15 months older than Y.

***

One

When X and Y were around 2 and 3, I took a part-time job working two days a week for a manufacturing plant working in their company store.  The plant was extremely progressive boasting an on-site daycare or I never would have taken the position since it was mostly a wash on my salary.

Both of the girls hated going to the daycare; they were used to our days together of playing in the parks, water coloring, or going to the library or free museums.  I took advantage of anything free in our small community; as we lived on an incredibly tight budget.

A few months into my new work experience, the receptionist was terminated; the plant manager asked if I could step in while they looked for a replacement.  This would mean full-time daycare for X and Y, but it also meant a full-time paycheck; at least for a few weeks.  I had not worked since I had been a teenager, so I was excited but apprehensive; still, I accepted.

My two-week stint as the replacement receptionist turned into a full-time gig and I became the receptionist permanently.  The girls were miserable; frankly, we all were.  The extra money turned out not to be very much by the time daycare was taken out of my meager entry-level salary; and, I missed so much work because the girls were constantly sick from the daycare exposure.  I still had to pay all of those days, though.

I was exhausted, too; I worked all day and then still came home and prepared full meals from scratch every night for the three of us, and sometimes four if my husband was home.  I was still responsible for the cleaning, laundry, and grocery shopping as well; not to mention the entertainment schedule for X and Y.

One day, while driving home from work, I was just too tired to make dinner; Y was a little older than three by then.  I decided to stop by McDonald’s and buy the girls the famed Chicken Nuggets; they had never eaten there.  Take-out was a luxury we couldn’t afford, but I decided we had a little extra money by then, so what the heck.

When we arrived home, I spread the food out on the table and tried to make it exciting for the girls with the tiny plastic toy that came with their meal.

Both girls just glared at me; however, it was Y who got up from the table and got a cookbook out and brought it to me begging, “Mommy, can’t you please just make a recipe?”

Their entire lives we rarely ate fast food; even years later when I remarried and we could clearly afford to.  I cooked for them every chance I could, trying to teach them it was better for them, and showing them I loved them with what I made.

Years later when X and Y were 19 and 20 and I lived thousands of miles away, Y called to tell me she was helping X move to a new apartment.  “Mom,” she spoke into the phone, “I just looked into X’s freezer.  She has all kinds of frozen meals in here.  Pizza, all kinds of junk.  Do you know she eats out at fast-food places all the time?”

I was stunned, I didn’t know what to say, “Y, I am thousands of miles away, and she is an adult, what do you want me to do?”

“I don’t know, Mom,” she replied, “Talk to her, we weren’t raised this way.  It’s wrong.  I make everything from scratch.  I could teach her if she needs me to.  She is just being lazy.”

I had no answers for her and she finally hung up the phone on me.

***

Two

When X graduated from high school, I took her on a trip to Minnesota to go to the Mall of America; everybody said, “Oh, you have to go, once in a lifetime shopping trip.”  Wrong.  Basically, it is a huge mall with several of the same stores over and over again.  Besides, I have no idea what I was thinking, as we are not really people who shop for no reason; I do not window shop, and I did not raise my children to aimlessly mill around if they were not purchasing something.

Still, we were there for five days; so we made the best of our time in the area.  We did go to the mall twice.  Once we were there for four hours and another time we went back for three hours.

The rest of our time in the area we went sight-seeing; we went to an old historic battleground, Fort Snelling something or other; we went to a castle; we went on a Mississippi River boat cruise; and we went to several museums.  Our days were filled exploring the city.

One of the best nights we had was going out to a fancy dinner where we delighted in paying $8 for a glass of tap water, and $10 to park our tiny rental car blocks away from the restaurant.  We enjoyed each other in a way we hadn’t in months.  She had been a pain since turning 18 and deciding she no longer had to follow the house rules; needless to say our home had been tension filled.

There was a lull during our trip when I turned to her and apologized for the trip not being as exciting as I had hoped; it seemed it was a little more boring than expected.  I was happily surprised by her response, “Mommy,” she has always called me Mommy, “You raised us to never be bored.  Only boring people can be boring, I am having a great time, thanks for bringing me.”

We went on to talk about what life was like when she was little; how I often times had to do so much with so little, making everything from scratch.  We laughed about how I would buy sheets from the thrift store for $0.50 and make matching outfits for her and Y.   We talked about how I made Barbie Doll clothes one year for them for Christmas, and how challenging it was to sew them because they are so tiny.

She seemed really appreciative, until our flight was cancelled; then she flipped out and became hostile at the airport, but that is an entirely different story.

***

Three

On December 31, 1994, X and Y’s dad came to me and said, “I don’t want to do this anymore.  I don’t want to be a dad or a husband.”  With that, he took two boxes of his things and drove away.  I later found out he had a 17 year-old girlfriend who was pregnant with his baby; he was 27 and we had been married for 7 years.

I moved in with my parent’s two states away; I immediately got a job and applied for college.  Other than my brief foray as a receptionist, I had not worked since I was a teenager; but I did not have a choice now.  My future ex-husband never sent a dime to support X and Y from the moment he walked out the door.

A few months after he left, he called and wanted to reconcile; we had gone back and forth as teenagers, but I was done playing games, I just couldn’t do that now that X and Y were in the picture.  As soon as I declined, he started to get nasty; the police showed up at my parent’s with a warrant for my arrest for kidnapping my children, and I had to get an attorney to defend myself.

As the months wore on, the fight got uglier, but I continued working and going to school; all the while, trying to maintain as much normalcy for X and Y as I could.  When their father would call, he would start to curse and tell them ugly things about me, so I would gently take the phone and hang up; leaving them in tears.  They were still very young, Y was just turning 5 and X had turned 6 by the time our divorce was finalized.

By the time everything was over with him, he never voluntarily paid anything for their support.  As soon as the child support order went into effect, he quit his job; so his unemployment was garnished and the kids did get something until it ran out.  After that, they would get checks for $2 to $0.32 for the next few years; then three years after the divorce, he finally terminated his parental rights.

My second husband adopted the girls and their biological father rarely saw them afterwards.   He simply was not a very good father; he did not provide financially, and when he saw them or spoke to them, he was high and belligerent.

However, during all those years, I never spoke one demeaning word about him.  I always believed the girls had a right to determine who he was on their own, that it was not my place to run him down.  I felt if I had issues with him because he was not right for me, I did not have to burden them with my bad feelings; that would serve no purpose for them.

I think that is something I did right.

Cinnamon – the BLM Donkey

This is not Cinnamon... but looks a lot like her

This is not Cinnamon… but looks a lot like her

When I was young, I was crazy about donkeys; I had seen one when I was very young on a trip to Tucson, flinching as it bit me, one of my favorite books was Brighty of the Grand Canyon, and my two favorite stuffed animals were donkeys.  Whenever we traveled, I would select a trinket or knickknack with a donkey on it whenever I could; my collection included a donkey holding toothpicks, one made from granite, another carved out of wood, and a plastic one covered in suede like material.

One summer during my annual trip to my grandmother’s home she was reading the newspaper and saw an article regarding burros and mules that were rounded up by the BLM and being adopted out.  She showed me the two-page spread, probably not realizing the level of enthusiasm I had for the four-legged creatures.

I eagerly cut out the piece and saved it; then I penned a heart-felt plea to my parents begging them to adopt one of the donkeys for me.  My letter went on to explain how I would take care of my new pet; watering it, feeding it, and walking it.  I was only ten-years old; I clearly had no idea what it would entail to take care of a donkey.

When I arrived home shortly before school started, I was surprised to learn my parents had approved my request for the pet; they would be travelling to Arizona to pick up the donkey as well as two others for our veterinarian.

Cinnamon was the smallest of the three; she was scared and wild when she came out of the horse trailer, her big brown eyes nervous as she walked around our New Mexico yard.

She settled into her new life quickly; spending her nights in a cozy stall next to my mom’s quarter horse, he was probably four times her size, and her days were often spent in a field next to our house along with the horse.  However, she was allowed to walk around our yard and she soon became friendly with the menagerie of dogs that were part of our family.

As Cinnamon became more domesticated, she started to take on more goat-like qualities; she often dug through the trash, scattering it all over the yard, and if the dogs did not eat their kibble fast enough, she was finishing their dinner.  Often, when we left the kitchen door open for fresh air, she would walk right into the kitchen and just stand there or start nosing around the counters, looking for food; and, if you have ever tried to move a donkey, it is next to impossible, they are incredibly stubborn.

I was in the fourth grade and my school was not far from the house, I would sometimes cut through the field to get to school.  During recess, I could see Cinnamon in the yard, but mostly I could hear her braying.

One day, there was a huge commotion in the school yard while I was in class; I kept working, not really concerned with what was going on.  Then came the knock at the door and I heard my name called out, “You’re going to have to come out here, your donkey is on the playground.”  That was only the first of many times Cinnamon had come to school and found her way to my classroom; I would have to be excused so I could lead her home.

Once, I was watching television after school, and I had just kicked Cinnamon out of the kitchen when I heard horns beeping in front of the house; when I looked out the front window I saw the root of the problem, it was her, standing firmly in the middle of the street.

I loved her with all my heart; I would feed her every morning, clean her stall, and haul water.  Along with her came the duties of taking care of my mom’s horse; my sister would sometimes help with the horse because she rode him every few months, but mostly the horse was a giant pet, like Cinnamon.

A few months after Cinnamon came to live with us, I got a tiny saddle and my parents started pressuring me to “break” her.  I was more than a little terrified to ride her; she did not like the saddle and she preferred to go for walks.

I would put the saddle on her and she would rub against the side of the house, trying to rub it off; when I tried to get on, she would buck wildly.  Our relationship became angst-ridden and frustrating.  Where it had been one of friendship and love, I now hated being with her; and I suspect she hated seeing me coming at her, saddle in hand.

My mother started to make threats, “If you don’t start riding her, we’re sending her to the glue factory.”  I would beg and cry, pleading with her not to let my beloved Cinnamon be turned into glue.  It would work for a week or two, and then the threats would start again.

One day there was a horribly violent fight at our house, nothing particularly unusual; just another Saturday night.  I went outside to get away, and I was talking to Cinnamon.  One of the officers came over and started to talk to me, “You know why they have that cross over them in their hair, don’t you?” he asked me, pointing to the markings on Cinnamon’s shoulders.  When I shook my head no, feet scraping the dirt, he went on to tell me a beautiful story about the baby Jesus and Mary.  It was nice, I realized he was just trying to distract me from the chaos, but I never forgot his kindness to me and Cinnamon.

I came home from school one day the following week and Cinnamon was gone; her saddle was gone, there was no trace she had ever existed.  I burst into tears as I asked my mother what happened, “I told you if you didn’t take care of her that she would be taken to the glue factory and turned into glue.”  She walked away and left me sitting there, crying.

Every time I used glue afterwards, I was sick to my stomach, thinking of my beloved Cinnamon.

A few years later, I was still angry with my parents; my mother laughed it off saying, “Oh, god, did you really believe that?  We gave her away to somebody.  You weren’t taking care of her, you wouldn’t ride her.”

True, I did not ride her; however, I did everything else for her, and, if we wanted to discuss not riding an animal or taking care of them, my mother rarely rode her horse, and my sister and I took care of him.  Still, nobody ever threatened to send him to the glue factory.

Years later, I was walking in Virginia City, Nevada, and saw a man walking his donkey, she looked just like Cinnamon.  I gave him a dollar, his donation request for taking pictures, but instead just gave her a carrot, we talked about Cinnamon, “Oh, no, hon, they don’t like to be ridden.  But they’ll pack your stuff for miles,” he grinned his toothless smile at me, “And they are more loyal than any dog.”

I guess Cinnamon was more loyal to me than I was to her.

Discovering my Family was Different

abuseI remember the day I discovered my family was not like every other family on the block; I was 15 years old.  We had moved around quite a bit when I was younger, by the time I was in the tenth grade I had already lived in five states and had attended my fifteenth school, so to say I had been around the block was an understatement.

My experience with close friends was limited; I had a sort of “love ‘em and leave ‘em” attitude when it came to friendships; why bother getting close to somebody when we would probably be moving in the next few months anyway.  However, by the time I was a sophomore in high school, I was told we were going to “settle down here at least until you kids get out of school.”  Where had I heard that song before?

So, I had a rocky start; my cavalier attitude and propensity for dating other girls’ boyfriends made me an unwelcome and unpopular choice of a friend among my school mates in my new high school.  As the months wore on and I realized we really were staying, my prospects for friends seemed to diminish; until one day, the new girl came from California.

She was different, sort of quirky; she wore cowboy boots, but had a haircut like one of the guys from Duran Duran.  We hit it off instantly; she was the new kid, and so was I.  Where she was shy and somewhat nervous around boys, I was outgoing and could talk to anybody about anything.  She kept me grounded when I was manic and had crazy ideas, like stealing her dad’s Corvette to cruise the strip; and I pulled her out of her shell.

Soon, we spent every weekend together; either she spent the night at my house, or I spent the night at her house.  We watched MTV until the early morning hours, then we would get up and make “Egg McBreads” our version of the Egg McMuffin; egg, cheese, and bacon, on a piece of bread.

She was part of my family and I was part of hers; I had never felt anything like it.  I thought I knew everything about her, and she about me.

One weekend, she was with my family as we spent the day in the foothills of a historic mining town just driving around looking at old mines.  My parents were drinking as they usually did.  They started to banter; they banter turned to fighting; nothing unusual.

By the time we got home it was a full-blown police intervention weekend.  It was about time, it had been a few weeks.

My father had been antagonizing my mother; well, everybody actually, by poking her with his cane.  She was aggravated and asked him to stop.  He would not.  By the time we got home it had escalated to the extent that when he walked into the house she walked up behind him and crashed him over the head with a rock.

He never saw what was coming.

He staggered to the side somewhat, but continued into the duplex, his head bleeding profusely.  By now, my brother-in-law, both sisters, brother, my friend, and me had gathered on the front lawn and were yelling at them to stop.

My mother followed him inside and the fight continued down the hall as evidenced later on by the trail of blood on the walls.  My father walked along a bar of antique glasses and with one fell swoop, wiped them off, crashing them to the floor, breaking them to bits.  This enraged my mother, she took a stick that had been holding up a plant and began beating him across the back.

I do not know who hit whom next or the exact chain of events, but there was quite a bit of blood all over the walls and the household contents were in disarray and destroyed.  I ran in to use the phone to call the police, but the phone had been ripped from the wall.

So, I ran down the street looking for somebody; luckily, we lived in a bad neighborhood and a policeman was driving down the street a few blocks away.  I was able to flag him down and get him to come over to our home.  Upon questioning the family, everyone except for me claimed my father had started the melee.

True, his antagonistic attitude had begun the arguing, but if my mother had just let him walk into the house and go to sleep, it would have ended.  In my eyes, she had started it by cracking him on the head with the rock.  I was outvoted, and my father was arrested and taken to jail.

Of course, back in those days he would only be held for as long as it would take to “sleep it off” and he would be released.  It would not have mattered anyway, as my mother would move earth and sea to bail him out anyway.  The whole matter was an exercise in futility.

We all got back into my sister’s Bronco and headed to Burger King; we ordered our food, and sat down to eat.  It was then that I noticed how stunned my friend looked, she had been so quiet.  My brother-in-law broke the silence as he dipped a fry into the ketchup, “Hey, doesn’t this look like Dad’s blood when mom cracked his skull?”  He was simply trying to lighten the mood, we all accepted it.

My friend stood up, in the middle of Burger King and screamed, “What is wrong with you people? Are you all nuts? What just happened?  You are sick!”  Then she just sat back down in the booth and started crying hysterically.  It was my turn to look at her, stunned.

Later, when we left the restaurant, my mom said, “Okay, I need somebody to volunteer to sleep at the house,” she went on to explain, “When your dad gets out of jail, he is going to be mad and I don’t want him to come home and destroy the place.  I can’t come home until he calms down. You can have a gun.”

I volunteered my friend and me to spend the night; we slept in the living room amongst the broken glass, shadows cast over the bloody walls.  As we sat there, I shoved the gun under my pillow and said, “I don’t get it, your parents must have fought.  They’re divorced.  Isn’t it like this for everybody?”

She looked me straight in the eyes and said, “No, not everybody lives like this.”

That was the first time I knew.

On Being Judged

I recently discovered I do not like being judged by others; I get enough from myself.  Every day, I scrutinize every inch of my body in front of a mirror and scold myself for every stretch mark, every bulge, every blemish, every scar, and every mole.  Then, since I have not mocked myself enough, I take out my handheld mirror with three times the magnification and I continue the process so of picking on me. Of course, the day would not be complete without hours of ruminating over my personality and character flaws, not to mention my parenting and partnering skills.  With two failed marriages and two children who do not speak to me, those are difficult to overlook.

Yet, daily, I invite others into my life to pass along their judgment on me as well; it seems my daily rituals are not enough and I need to allow somebody else to beat up on me as well.  The black and blue marks around my eyes are not from sleep deprivation, they are from being boxed around until I am blue in the face; figuratively speaking of course.

As I walk into the gym each day for three hours of working out, I see the judgmental eyes staring my way; are my arms jiggling?  Am I wearing last year’s colors?  Is my hair mussed?  I look over at the man on the treadmill next to me, he is around my age, not bad looking, but he has a gold loop earring. YIKES!  I pass my judgments on him.

Later on in the day, my mother makes her weekly phone call to me; “I told your kids you don’t want them to have your new number.  They really hate you now,” she announces.  Thanks, Mom, I think to myself.  “You know, they say you never respected them.  You were not a very good mother, anyway,” she continues.

“Yes, I know,” I answer, thinking, and neither were you; passing my judgments along to her now.

I come home, settle down in front of the computer and read a review of a story I had posted online.  A reader blasts me, not for the story or the writing, but me personally; I feel hurt, attacked.  I read the review, pick apart the grammar, the spelling, and judge the reviewer.

Honestly* I try very hard not to judge others; I have even said many times that I have changed my outlook on judging others, holding back my opinions and reserving comment because “I wasn’t there” or “I don’t have all the facts”.  However, that was as a result of my mother’s trial for the murder of my father; I typically mean regarding scenarios such as guilt or innocence.  Though, I do not intend to be so judgmental.

Perhaps, I should simply sit home, stare in the mirror and judge myself more; although, I am fairly critical and nobody could hurt me more.

*Caveat… I abhor using the word honestly; it looks as though I have to announce when I am being honest, as if I usually lie.  I don’t.