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The USSR invades Afghanistan.
Sony introduces the Walkman at a retail price of two hundred dollars.
The price of gas is a staggering eighty-six cents per gallon.
China institutes the one-child-per-family rule to help control the population.
The Knacks are at the top of the charts with, ‘My Sharona’.
Fonzie is king (“Eyyy,”).
Robin Williams is running around in really tight pants, coining phrases such as “Shazbit” and of course “Nanu, nanu”.
In the Sahara desert, it snows for thirty minutes.
The world says goodbye to long-time idol John Wayne.
And, on August 22nd at 12:26a.m I enter the world
OK, so maybe me for John Wayne isn’t the best trade you’ve ever heard of but one would think that at five pounds some odd ounces I was fairly cute at least. I’d like to go on and on about how I was born. I’d like to tell you about how my entire family gathered around, happily anticipating my arrival and how joyous they were when I finally came. How they passed me around from one person to the next, cooing and smiling and tickling my little toes. I’d like to tell you all of these things and more, but I can’t. Although I’m sure my mother at least was happy to see me, this is a story that I cannot tell because it’s a story I’ve never heard.
No one has ever told me about the day I was born. There is no baby book of which I’m aware to record the memories, no pictures that I have seen. The earliest picture I recall seeing of myself was taken when I was nearly a year old, practically bald with a rather large forehead.
I can’t tell you much about my birth but I can tell you this, I wasn’t exactly planned. My mother and father definitely did not sit down one evening, hold hands in front of the fire and say to each other, “Let’s make a baby.” I just surprised them by coming along anyway. I always have been somewhat spontaneous. I can also tell you that there were a lot of people involved who were not very happy to hear about me.
At the time I was born, my mother was nineteen and had experienced one prior miscarriage. My father would turn sixteen exactly nine days after my arrival. They were unwed, which even twenty-eight years ago, was severely more taboo than it is nowadays. Moreover, neither of them was from the most supportive of families. I know for a fact that my mother caught hell when the news was spread. I can imagine that no one on my father’s side really cared. I can imagine also, that my father himself tried not to care, aside from being pissed-off, confused and scared shitless. They probably both were to a point. To have that much responsibility thrust upon you at an age when you yourself are still very much a child is not an easy thing to swallow. Take it from someone who knows.
My mother and father were very different from each other but alike enough in the ways that brought the two of them together. He was the youngest of four. She was an only child. She was raised primarily by her grandmother on a farm in the rural suburbs and then dragged to the city, at age thirteen by a mother she hardly knew. He, as far as I know, did most of his growing up on the streets of Chicago with little guidance and even less discipline. My mother was so intelligent that by the time she was three she could read, and by kindergarten, found herself reading chapter books to the sixth grade. My father never found the drive or desire to learn to read proficiently. They varied in many ways but they were both just a couple of kids that no one cared enough about to make a difference.
My mother never had much of a father figure in her life. At three years old, she was sent away to live on the farm. Her father was a very abusive and dangerous man (and a member of the Mafia); her mother an alcoholic. Neither one of them had the capacity at that point to raise a child. Mom later told me that one of her earliest memories, and one of the few she has concerning her father, takes place on a day when she was five years old. My would-be grandfather, probably in the midst with some argument with my grandmother, had threatened to kill their daughter (my mother) by pouring acid over her head. It was a weekday and the school bus driver, reasonably afraid to take her charge either home or to school, could think of no other solution than to drive the poor child around town for the entirety of the day.
The next memory my mother has of her father takes place in a courtroom when she was nine years old. He had bribed the judge for visitation rights and, of course, won. Nobody in my family ever saw the man again after that. My grandmother has bragged, in a drunken stupor, that she’d had him done away with. No one knows if that’s quite true. I wouldn’t put it past her but I wouldn’t convict the poor woman either. After enough nips at the bottle it’s hard to decipher reality from delusion.
For my mom, life on the farm wasn’t all it’s cracked up to be. She loved her grandmother but she had no parents around. Whatever the reason, her father was gone and her mother spent their visits drunk and in a punishing mood. My mother was a lonely child. She was different from the other kids and even worse, she was smarter. Because of this, she soon became an outcast.
The one thing that a child craves most is acceptance and any child who has been denied this to a significant extent will instinctively turn to the first available source. Being held, being made to feel like they are a part of something as opposed to being alone and in some cases, even being spoken to can go a long way. My mother found her source when, at age ten, she became friends with several of the older girls in town. It didn’t matter that they smoked or drank or cut class. What mattered was that they accepted her for who she was. I think it was the first time in a long time, perhaps even ever, that she felt it was OK to be herself.
So my mother (beautiful, intelligent and starved for attention) started doing what the other girls were doing to fit in. Don’t get me wrong, by today’s standards, they were far from bad kids. They had never seen drugs, or a pregnant teenager, or even a fistfight. You must remember though, that this was thirty-seven years ago and in one of those nowhere-type towns where your neighbors have the tendency of knowing things about you that even you yourself don’t know. They were bad enough to cause a stir.
At thirteen years of age, my mom and her best friend at the time decided they were going to run away. Brilliant, as we all were at that age (you’ll see just how smart I was later on) the two girls packed up their suitcases and boarded the school bus like they would on any other day. They believed that the driver and the other students would be none the wiser. Suitcases? What suitcases? When the bus reached its usual destination, our undaunted duo performed an abrupt about face and, instead of entering the school, went tromping through the cornfields until they reached the house of the friend’s boyfriend. It wasn’t long before two separate squad cars arrived to deport the delinquent teens. The girls were suspended from school and were the talk of the town.
For my grandmother, that was the last straw. She called my mother and informed her, in a slurred speech, that she coming to bring her ‘home’. On the night of March 1st 1974 my mother was already sleeping when my grandmother arrived, accompanied by an unknown man. Too drunk to drive, almost too drunk to walk and falling out of her high heels, my grandmother literally dragged her thirteen year old daughter crying, frightened, barefoot and coatless out into the cold and into the unknown, to a new life in Chicago.
In Chicago, things were even worse. My mother had left behind what few friends she had and was now living with her mother and her step-father, neither of whom she really knew. My grandmother would often kick my mother out of the house, sometimes as punishment and sometimes, it would seem, just because. Once while my mother was setting the table for dinner my grandmother, deciding that having a child in the house was ruining her marriage, turned to her daughter and told her to get out.
Quite frequently, my grandmother would pass out after these incidents and awaken only to wonder where her daughter had gone. Thinking she had run away, my grandmother would call the police to have my mother found and escorted back home. One time, my grandmother chased my mother out of their apartment, running straight through the glass door and shattering it. She later told the cops that my mom had thrown a brick in after her. No one believed this except for maybe my grandmother. The glass was lying on the wrong side of the door.
Just like on the farm, my mother was lost, lonely and rejected. This time by her own family. It was about then that she met a boy. She was fourteen and he was a year older; the type of boy that all of the girls went crazy for, gorgeous and cool with a bit of a bad boy vibe. Five years later that boy would become my uncle Ted1 but back then he was all that my mother had. He was there for her when she needed him. When she would find herself kicked out with nowhere to go, Ted was the one who would stay out all night and keep her company. Once he even stole a room key from the motel his mother (my paternal grandmother) managed so that his young friend would have a place to sleep for the night. The two kids cared about each other very much and would for years to come, but Ted had a girlfriend at the time and mom soon began seeing someone else as well.
My mother knew nothing about sex. At fifteen years old, she had never even kissed a boy. When my grandmother discovered that my mom used tampons she was branded a slut and banished from the house so I can say with a fair amount of confidence that anything relating to sex terrified my mother back then. It’s obvious she had never been educated in such matters. Sadly, she would learn the hard way.
One night, after being kicked out (which was becoming an ever increasing trend), she went to the home of the boy she was dating only to find that he was both drunk and high. The boy raped her and left her to return home, frightened and ashamed and unable to tell even her own mother what had happened. The very same night that she lost her virginity, she became pregnant.
Knowing what little she did about these things, she was clueless as to what was taking place inside her body. Nor did she know what was happening later on, when she began experiencing strong pain and heavy bleeding. She was at a friend’s house when she began to miscarry the child she hadn’t known she was carrying. My Uncle Ted spent the night alongside her, holding her hand.
The next morning, feeling somewhat better, she returned home but it wasn’t long until the pain and the bleeding began once again. On a day in 1975, a frightened and confused fifteen year old girl would, while sitting alone over a toilet in a house where nobody cared, give birth to a barely developed fetus, cut the cord and quietly dispose of the evidence. Not all of the evidence had exited her body however, and she soon acquired a serious infection. Fever, chills, nausea, pain and weakness enveloped her, to a point where she was barely able to crawl across the floor. Worried about my mother, a couple of friends whom she had confided in went to my grandmother in an attempt to get my mother the care that she needed. After all, it was rape. Surely my grandmother would understand and do what was best for her daughter, right? Wrong.
Upon hearing the news, my grandmother once again branded my mother a slut and informed her that she wanted nothing more to do with her. After this, things went downhill. No longer a virgin and desperate for love and affection, my mom started sleeping around. She began stealing money from her parents (though not much and usually for the simple fact that she needed something to eat). She and Ted were still together quite a bit, but somewhere in the mix she ended up with my dad.
I suppose this brings me to my father. There’s not much I know about the boy he was back then. I do know that he didn’t have the best life. I know that he had two older brothers and an older sister and that he and my uncles had a reputation around the neighborhood as the type of boys you cleared a path for when you saw them coming. I’m sure that, being the youngest, he caught a lot of shit from my uncles.
From what I’ve heard, and mind you this isn’t something I heard directly from them, their parents weren’t around much so the boys had the run of the house, as well as anywhere else they chose to go, from an early age. My Aunt Deb was likely left in charge but I doubt she would have any way of controlling them.
I know my father never finished high school, again probably due to lack of control and discipline in his life. I don’t have as many stories about the things that happened to my dad or what he went through but I’m sure there are plenty of them out there. Just as I’m sure that he harbored a lot of pain and confusion and resentment as a result of these things. I wish I could tell you more but my father has never been much for small talk.
Why, you may find yourself wondering, if this book is about my life am I even sharing these things with you? You will probably wonder this even more as you read deeper into the things I am about to tell you. One of the hardest realizations for us to come by, as human beings, is that there are two sides to every tale. In every story, there are at least two separate viewpoints. Even those told first person often have an untold perspective at which we can only guess using the information given to us by the author.
Such is life.
The past, revisited, manifests itself as hardly more than an elaborate tale picked off the shelves of our memory. When examining these tales it can be extremely difficult to see the other side, almost like holding a coin in your hand. You may be aware of the opposing end. You may even have a vague recollection of what it looks like but with no way of viewing both sides at once, the side closest to you will often take precedence.
In order to grasp a full understanding of the whole you must first find a way to separate the parts which make up that whole, thus causing the one coin to divide itself into two or more which can then be placed side by side allowing you to examine much more thoroughly all of the elements contained therein. (Think…”There is no spoon.”) This in itself is not often an easy task. Nonetheless, it is a task that for reasons of my own I am determined to undertake.
Anyone who has ever had a painful or traumatic experience in their life, and tried to rid themselves of the memories by hiding or running from them will tell you that somehow they always catch up to you ion the end. It may take a while but sooner or later, and often when you least expect it, they come back. You can never truly get rid of the memories or the feelings connected to them. You can only quiet them through understanding. Your past, good and bad, is a part of what makes you who you are. Every trial and tribulation, and the choices and decisions made as a result, work together to sculpt the person you become. Running from it is like running from yourself. You can try but it’s pretty much pointless.
Old ghosts can be difficult foes to face but if they’re going to stick around for a while, you may as well make yourself familiar with them. I believe George Bernard Shaw put it best, when he said, “If you can’t get rid of the skeletons in your closet, you’d best teach them to dance.” My take on this is that not only will they then appear less threatening to those around you but you can’t honestly expect to view them the same way either after you have spent several hours shuffling through the cluttered closet of your psyche teaching them to tango.
It’s important for us to remember that we all have skeletons hidden away somewhere. Most of these have developed over time from the borrowed bones of another’s.