Sunday, June 21, 2015

Father's Day .....

Today -- June 21, 2015 -- is celebrated as Father's Day here in the U.S.  So I thought I'd talk about my birth father.

Very early in this blog, I shared the little I know about his life prior to and during his marriage to my mother.  They were married for a few years, and most of the time he was away at sea.  He was home enough to sire four children (twins in 1956, me in 1957, my younger brother in 1958), but walked out on our family sometime between my birth and my brother's.

A few years ago I came across a handful of photos that my mother had sent to my grandparents. Included among them were some pictures of my birth father doing various activities (in one he was hanging wet diapers on a clothesline and was captioned something like "And he swore he would never wash diapers").  I kept them for a while, then sent them all to my sister.

I did keep one photograph, though, just so that I'd have something to remind me where I come from.  Every now and then I pull it out and stare at it. Do I look like him?  Do I act like him?  What part(s) of me came from him?

Dear old dad, circa 1955

Just do it .....

Although I thought, and wrote, multiple times about suicide, I never actually attempted it.  However, I did attempt to attempt it once.

I'm not sure the exact date, but it was prior to the wedding of my uncle's daughter, because she was temporarily living at home.  She wed in June, 1971, so I was 13 years old -- 14 at most.  What precipitated the attempt is lost to me now, as is why this one night was so much worse than any that preceded it.

What I do know is that on that one night, I was lying in bed and crying so hard that I was unable to sleep.  I was tired of crying ... tired of being miserable ... tired of everything.  I got out of bed and went to the bathroom. Years later, my uncle's daughter would tell me that she always knew where her mother's pills were kept, in case she ever decided to make an attempt herself, but I wasn't that savvy.  All I knew was that in the bathroom, I'd find the key that would let me escape my unhappiness.

The key

Friday, June 19, 2015

Nancy and me .....

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I wasn't able to take showers while living in my uncle's house.  There was a bathroom on the top floor, where the kids' bedrooms were located, but the shower head had been removed and therefore the tub was only usable for baths.  Even now, I don't mind an occasional long soak, but I'm simply not -- now or then -- the kind of person who enjoys a daily bath.

Before moving there, I'd showered every night -- long and hard -- often using up all the hot water.  Then suddenly that pleasure was taken away from me, and I was extremely unhappy.  So I stopped bathing.  I'd run water in the tub, then sit on the toilet reading a book for 30 minutes or so; I'd then put on my nightgown, go downstairs and proclaim that, yes, I HAD taken a bath.

My uncle's wife was no fool and she rarely believed me.  The first time I tried to pull this off, she stuck her hand up inside my nightgown to see if my skin was damp.  I was shocked and, I believe, said something snarkily inappropriate.  Other times, she would simply walk into the bathroom, unannounced, to see if I was actually in the tub.  The times that I WAS in the tub, I'd make a similarly snarky comment.

While I understood that she wanted me to bathe, I didn't believe her methods were appropriate.  I also didn't believe that it was fair that I was being forced to do something that no one else was required to do.  (And if they'd simply allowed me to shower, it wouldn't have been an issue. Really.)

My uncle regularly threatened to cut my hair if I didn't keep it clean.  My hair, strawberry blonde and hanging to the middle of my back, was my one good feature, and I angrily warned him that he'd better not touch it.  Fortunately, he never did.

Baths, and my lack of cleanliness would be ongoing issues for quite a while.

Sometime prior to moving in with him, my uncle had given an idea to artist, Ernie Bushmiller, who drew the "Nancy" comic strips.  Bushmiller used the idea and sent the original artwork, autographed,  to my uncle. He had it framed and displayed it proudly.

For my 11th birthday, the first in my uncle's house, I received a gift that was long, narrow, and fragile.  When I opened it, I found a framed, autographed, Nancy comic strip of my own.  In the first frame, Nancy is sitting in the bathtub, and says "I hate taking baths."  The second frame adds "Every day is too much!" In the third frame, she confronts Aunt Fritzi with "From now on, no more baths!"

And the final frame:

Ha ha ha that's SO funny.
As my uncle laughed heartily, I curled my lip in a sneer.  It wasn't funny to me then, and it's not funny to me now. Even at 11, I recognized that they were mocking me and having a good laugh at my expense.  I didn't appreciate the "humor" and HATED the gift.

Of course, that didn't matter; they just continued to believe that I was ungrateful and spoiled. My uncle hung the comic strip on the wall in my bedroom, where I was forced to look at it on a daily basis until they shipped me away a few years later.

I still have that comic strip, though I took it out of its frame years ago.  I thought perhaps I could sell it as comic art, but apparently no one else thinks it's funny, either, and I've never received an offer.  It's currently hidden away in a drawer, and I think the next time I stumble across it I'll take it out and burn it.

Did I mention that I HATE it?

Friday, June 12, 2015

Ding dong .....

My uncle's wife, what more can I say?

When my brother and I got in trouble for something, she took away our music lessons -- the one thing that meant more to me than anything else. My brother was later allowed to resume his lessons, but I never was.

When I disobeyed her, she didn't just send me to my room -- she locked me in there. Had there been an emergency, I would have been trapped on the third floor with no way out.
When the local schools changed their dress codes to allow girls to wear pants, she refused to buy me any. I was forced to wear (ill-fitting) skirts, accompanied by long-out-of-style bobby socks, while my classmates all wore slacks whenever they wanted.  She also (falsely) informed me that jeans were not available in my size.
When I was violently ill one night, she didn't bother to get out of bed to check on me. "Just get in the other bed" she said. When I accidentally threw up in that bed, too, I knew better than to wake her again. I spent the night curled up in a dry corner of the bed, periodically vomiting into a trash can.
When I needed to stay after school one day, she gave me permission, but said I'd have to walk home  -- a distance of approximately three miles. I did so, in my stacked heel shoes, because those were the only shoes I had.  It took approximately an hour and she was furious with me when I finally arrived, because it turns out I had an appointment with the ear doctor that day and we were late.  [For the record:  a) I didn't know about the appointment and b) if she wanted us to be on time, she should have picked me up.]
Detailed in an earlier entry, she did agree to pick me up one day after school, then left me sitting for two hours with no explanation or apology.
In high school, during one of her typical "you never do anything for anyone else" tirades, I said I'd like to volunteer to work with the elderly.  She drove me to an assisted living place where I did, indeed, volunteer.  I'd ride the bus from school, help out for a couple hours, and then walk home (again, it was at least a three mile walk) because she wouldn't give me a ride.  I lasted approximately a month, and then quit -- which I'm sure pleased her greatly, since I have no doubt her goal was to demonstrate how worthless I really was.

When a friend of mine got a job waitressing at Friendly's, I asked if I could do likewise. I even said I'd walk home. Although she'd long told me if I wanted to buy anything I'd have to use my own money (of which I had none), she refused to let me take the job.

When I said I wanted to go live with my birthmother, she told me my birthmother didn't want me.
When I ate without her permission, she punished me.
When I gained weight, she did her best to humiliate me.
When I defied her, she beat me.
When I finally stood up to her, she sent me away.
There's no sugar-coating it.  My very presence was abhorrent to her.
It was no secret to me that I was neither wanted nor loved.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Recruited .....

In the summer of 1980, I was (temporarily) a student at New York University.  Between classes, I often sat on a bench in Washington Square Park, alternately studying and people watching.  One day, I was approached by a clean-cut fellow who appeared to be in his mid-20's.  Hovering a few feet behind him was a young woman of about the same age.  She watched, smiling rather nervously, as the man started to talk.
He greeted me and said that they were members of an eclectic group of people who enjoyed music and art, were interested in social activism, and hoping to make new friends. He invited me to a potluck dinner the next weekend and gave me the address in Brooklyn.  I thanked him and said I'd consider it; he and his companion then headed towards a bench where another student was sitting by herself. They started talking and, I assume, she was extended the same invitation.
I admit, I was curious. I was also a little concerned for my safety, but assumed everything would be fine, since serial killers don't travel in pairs, right?
Good food, good music, good friends -- what could possibly go wrong?