I'm a little nervous about this. But I have a strange feeling writing all of this down might be good for me. Maybe it'll be good for you, too.
I lived in the house my dad built. Isn't there a famous book that starts out like that? Anyways, my earliest memory involves reaching my arms out for my grandma to pick me up from my crib. I'm not sure I knew who she was exactly, but she seemed nice and my room was really bright with sunlight. My first word was "gee," short for my brother's name, "Gene." I had different relationships with each of my brothers: Gene was my pal, Albert was my teacher, and Rob was pretty much a bully. I understand why now, but it doesn't change the fact he was mean. Sometimes he was nice, though. I'm having a hard time recalling any of those times right now. I do remember us playing in the living room where we had this huge oriental rug covering the floor and the big blue parts were water and the rest were islands. So we'd hop around from island to island and that was fun for us. Anyways, I must've been pretty young and I asked him what his name was and how to spell it. He did and I couldn't believe he had an "R" in his name just like I did. I thought that was my "R." I told him so and he did this snake-eye thing where he squinted his eyes and looked real mean, then walked away. Another time we were playing outside and a robin shat on my hand. Rob told me I was going to die by suppertime, and that I shouldn't tell anyone about it because it'd just make them sad. I ran inside where my mom washed my hands and asked me to help her make blueberry muffins. I was too quiet and she asked me why. I told her what Rob had said and she made a face, then yelled, "Roooooob!"
Albert taught me how to tie my shoes while our parents drove us to Red Lobster in our '76 Lincoln Continental. I loved Red Lobster because it had my two favorite foods: hush puppies and french fries. Sometimes my dad would pass his bottle of Pabst Blue Ribbon to the backseat for Rob. Sometimes Rob would pass it to us after he'd had some. Albert always called my name out loud if I tried to take a sip, then my mom would snatch the bottle from us. I got a few sips here and there. Albert also taught me how to blow bubbles with bubblegum, but we weren't allowed to have gum. So he taught me how to blow bubbles and pop them inside my mouth with my mouth closed, to keep the noise down. He also taught me how to play the piano simply by letting me sit on the bench with him while he played. Then he showed me the C scale. Then he showed me the right-hand part to Heart and Soul. We started playing it as a duet and then made up songs with hilarious lyrics to match. I wish I could remember those; they were really cute. He also joined the swim team, and I decided I wanted to join the swim team, too. So I did.
My mom sewed and made me a purple swim suit with yellow daisies. All the other kids had kelly green Arena swim suits with gold piping. I had purple with yellow daisies. My first swim meet I was 6 years old. I had to swim the 25 yd. backstroke. They made us start in the deep end for some sadistic reason, so I gripped the gutter and held on for dear life. I looked around at the other kids in the pool and felt a little better knowing I wasn't alone. Then the gun went off and I was scared all over again. I proceeded to hit my head on the other wall and got fourth place. My mom came over to my lane with a towel and a big smile and I couldn't understand why she was so happy I'd hit my head. A little while later I had to swim two whole lengths freestyle. My head still hurt and I was cold. I was also too scared to dive off the blocks, so I belly-flopped off the side of the pool. When I got to the other end, I didn't see anyone at the wall like before, so I stopped. People standing around the pool starting screaming, "Go! Go!" so I did and came in first place. Thus began my swimming career.
Gene and I had all kinds of fun. We dug holes in the hillside and made pottery out of mud and grass and sticks. We went golf ball hunting. We played in the sprinkler til our fingers were prunes. We swam at B's pond and threw fistfuls of sandy gray clay at each other. We started The Secret Order of Mt. Olympus and held meetings in the attic and hid our club dues underneath the living room carpet. You can imagine once "Clash of the Titans" hit HBO, we watched it as many times as we could. I distinctly remember watching "Xanadu" nine times. My brothers all made fun of me, but I so loved that movie. I thought Olivia Newton John really was one of the nine muses. I also remember going to see "Grease" at the theater. My dad was friends with the owner of the theater, so we got to sit in the balcony seats. During that part in the movie where Rizzo gets impregnated by what's-his-name in the backseat, my mom leaned over to my dad and said, "Now I see why this is rated PG." I didn't care; I just wanted them to start singing again. I proceeded to watch that movie many, many times and sing along to the songs at Shannon's house because she had it on video. She also had the porno "Taboo" which she found under her parents' bed. We watched about ten minutes of that before deciding "Grease" was way cooler.
Wait, back to my brother Gene. He lived across the hall from me while Rob and Albert lived upstairs. Sometimes I think it was due in part to geographic proximity we became so close. He had the Monkeys' Greatest Hits and I do believe I was in love with Davey Jones. I just saw him on an infomercial the other day. He looks a little different now. Anyways, I used to sit on Gene's red beanbag and listen to the Monkeys, Three Dog Night (the white album with the raised gold cursive letters,) the Beatles (Sgt. Pepper's may very well be the coolest album cover of all time,) Elton John, and Peter and the Wolf. I remember thinking the word "cursive" was somebody's name. I also remember Jo the babysitter telling me I had a good vocabulary. I then asked her what the word "vocabulary" meant. I got the "Lady and the Tramp" album for Christmas one year and used to have to beg Gene to play it. I didn't have a record player in my room. Besides, it was always more fun to hang out in Gene's room with, you know, Gene.
Sometime around here my dad started coming into all our rooms at bedtime to tuck us in and tickle us. Sometimes he shut the door.
My uncle had a farm about a half hour away from our house. Anytime my mom said we were going there for the day, Gene and I packed up our suitcases. I had a pink blanket named "banky" I was terribly fond of which went with me everywhere. I thought it smelled better than anything in the whole wide world. I'd try to put that in my suitcase, but then nothing else would fit. Anyways, I think Gene and I wanted to live at the farm. We used to hang out at the Schuler farm next door to my uncle's because the Schuler's had more animals and Mrs. Shuler gave us butterscotch candy. One spring we found three kittens in the hayloft and spent all afternoon playing with them. It smelled really great up there, and the sun came in through the big opening where they threw the hay. We had a whole mess of cousins, but only the youngest, Sally, still lived with my aunt and uncle. She was Gene's age. We used to stay up waaaay past our bedtime and write scripts for our little tape recorded plays and eat raw instant oatmeal packets. Not the packets, just the sweet dry stuff inside. Then we'd watch The Love Boat, Fantasy Island, and Saturday Night Live with Gilda Radner, Chevy Chase and John Belushi. Those were the days. Then we'd three sit on Sally's bed as she would tell us in detail about "The Exorcist" and "Amityville Horror." We weren't allowed to see those movies, but Sally was.
I started having nightmares. My parents said I wasn't allowed to stay over at Sally's anymore. I cried.
I remember my first day of Kindergarten. I was timid but sat down at a big square wooden table with two other kids. This girl sitting next to me had white blonde hair and glasses. Her name was Shari, but I didn't find that out til later. I looked at her and decided either she seemed nice enough or I was desperate enough so I asked her, "Will you be my friend?" She said "Ok." Later that year, my friend Shannon and I decided we were going to kiss Jack Rosenblum since he was the cutest boy in class. We hung our coats in the cloakroom and spied an unsuspecting Jack sitting at his table. All the kids were in their seats, but the teacher hadn't come in yet. Shannon and I walked over, slowly at first, then quicker until we stood by Jack's side. While she rubbed his shoulders, I went to kiss him on the cheek but got his eyebrow instead. His ears turned red and he just kinda sat there looking dumbfounded but happy. Then I was really worried Shannon would back out, but like a trooper she leaned over and kissed him on the forehead. Some kids started saying "eeeeewwwww!" and other kids started laughing and then the teacher walked in. Shannon and I ran to our seats, looked at each other, and giggled.
Shannon called me when we were in college to tell me that Jack Rosenblum's car had stalled on the railroad tracks. He was twenty.
One day in first grade, mean Mrs. Rasputin got mad at me for repeatedly wiping my runny nose on my wooly fisherman's sweater sleeve. I was too scared to ask her for a kleenex. Then she asked me why didn't I just ask her for a kleenex. The whole class stared and I was so scared I think I started laughing and then got sent to the principal's office.
Second grade we had a really nice teacher named Mrs. McBride. She was a big, sweet woman with a soft voice who taught us our multiplication tables. She gave us gold stars just for trying hard. One day we lined up for lunch and Mark Sheeks flipped his eyelids over his eyeballs and turned around to show me. I fainted.
Third grade I barely remember anything except that our teacher was Miss Sullivan and she was very skinny and very cranky. I used to sit towards the back of the class and daydream I was anywhere else.
I went to church camp in the summer. We played a lot of Capture the Flag and sang a lot of songs about Jesus and ones not about Jesus. One counselor taught us to sing "Hey Jude" which was just fine by me. Most of my friends had boyfriends. I decided I'd have a boyfriend, too, and I named him "Kevin." My imaginary boyfriend went swimming with me in the morning before breakfast, (my coach had written workouts for me to do while at camp,) and always held my hand when we walked together. Back at school I told all my friends about the amazing Kevin with his brown hair and brown eyes and hand-holding capabilities.
In fourth grade I finally had a real boyfriend. His name was J.C. He had brown hair and brown eyes and diabetes. He told me I could come with him to diabetes camp even though I didn't have diabetes. I didn't go. He passed me a note during science and asked if I wanted to kiss by the old oak tree after school. Then he wrote: circle one, YES NO. He was a very sweet boy. He used to call me "bright eyes" from that lame song "Total Eclipse of the Heart" when we passed each other in the hall, and I'd punch him hard in the arm. I think it was the best relationship I've ever had.
I loved playing kickball at recess and wasn't bad at it, either. I could kick the ball far and run pretty fast. One time this sixth-grader named Brady watched me run to first base. He called out, "Wow, ya think ya have long enough strides?" I got real embarrassed even though I wasn't sure what "strides" were. So I asked Brady what he meant, and he said I had really long legs. Then he mimicked me by leaping with one leg, then the other. When the next kickballer kicked, I tried to shorten my stride when I ran to second and was rounding third before I got hit in the thigh with the big rubber ball. I was out.
One day I went to Amy Shriver's grandparent's house to play after school. This was either in second, third, or fourth grade. We walked there together and I just loved Amy a whole lot. She was one of my best friends. She was real quiet during school but afterwards we'd laugh loud and go skateboarding at the tennis courts on those old 70's banana boards and make fun of the boys playing basketball. Anyways, her grandparents lived in a big old mansion. It was white. We were playing in the jewelry boxes in the attic where there were tons of antique dressers and mirrors and dolls. My dad had told me to wait outside at exactly 5 o'clock and he'd pick me up on his way home from work. I would periodically run down to see if he was there, then run back up to play some more. Eventually, Amy's grandma came up to fetch me and told me to go wait outside since my dad had just called saying he'd be here any minute. I saw the Lincoln pull up and I knew instantly it was bad news and I didn't want to leave. Amy looked kinda sad and it was like we both knew it was bad news. I got in the car and my dad started yelling at me right away. I guess he had stopped by three times and I hadn't been outside waiting like I was supposed to be. I said I had been. He called me a liar. We got home and I ran to my room. He followed me and screamed, "I'll give you one more chance to tell me the truth. If you lie to me one more time, I swear to God, I will hit you." He had his hand in a fist. I sort of inched over to the other side of the room so that I was standing with my bed between us. I was terrified. No one else was home. My dad is about 6'2 and 200 lbs. I guess he got tired of yelling and left me alone, but not before he told me to clean my room, which was perpetually messy, just the way I liked it. I had tears in my eyes but was too scared to actually cry because I thought that'd make him even more mad. I picked up a white t-shirt off the pink shag carpet, folded it, and put it on my bed.
But I wasn't the only one. Rob and my dad used to fistfight once Rob hit his teenage years and started smoking pot and drinking and sneaking out of the house. I'd hear my dad screaming at him upstairs and I'd get out of bed and hide under Gene's red beanbag. Sometimes Gene would start telling me stories about Donald Duck, complete with sound effects. He did a really good Donald Duck. I'd laugh between crying and sometimes he'd turn on his antique radio that used to belong to my grandpa and we'd listen to "Muskrat Love" and "That's the Night that the Lights Went Out in Georgia." My dad yelled at Albert and Gene, too. And my mom. One time he was yelling at my mom in the car and she got tired of saying anything back so she just took it and he kept yelling and I was lying on the floor of the back seatI used to love being down there, strangely enough, with my brothers' smelly shoes and the hum of the road not far below. It put me to sleep. But I was awake and I saw my mom's sterile stare as she looked out the window and I saw the door handle and I wondered what would happen if I opened it. I didn't open it. Then I started crying and my mom said, "Are you happy, Mike? You've made your daughter cry." He shouted, "I don't give a damn." And I guess he didn't, because he kept right on yelling.
Much later while in my twenties, I was involved with a guy who started yelling at me in his Jetta as we were driving through Mexico. He had asked me what a typical tip was I got at the coffee shop where I worked. I told him there was no typical tip since it all depended on what the customer ordered. He told me I was lying and that of course I knew what a typical tip was. Somehow it escalated to him calling me lots of bad names and I started looking at that door handle again but he had his finger on the electric lock button so that I couldn't open it. He yelled and yelled and I just stared out the window, wishing I was anywhere else.
When I took a bath as a kid, I'd often do this thing where I'd lie on my back with my knees bent. I'd carefully pull the insides of my thighs together until a water droplet from the left side "kissed" a water droplet from the right side. I'd maneuver my legs to make the droplets kiss over and over again, until they became one and rolled on down my thigh. If I heard anyone fighting in the house, I'd suck my upper lip to my nose and hang out underwater. I stayed underwater for an unusually long time for someone without gills. I think I felt more comfortable there than anywhere.
One late winter afternoon, it had been snowing all day and I was supposed to help shovel the driveway. My mom said we had to get it done before dad came home. I snuck out the back door, ran down the hill, made a snow cave in the bank of our creek, and wedged myself in. It was completely peaceful there. I could hear the water purr under the ice, smoothing rocks into stones. The sky had that pink-blue-gray winter tint to it. I started thinking of ways I could live there forever. After a while, I heard my mom call for me, but I didn't budge. Then I heard her ring the dinner bell, but I wasn't gonna fall for that. I didn't need food anymore anyways, I decided. Eventually I got cold and snuck back in.
Jr. High was alright. I had lots of different friends and never pledged allegiance to any one clique. I was a cheerleader back when that was still a cool thing to be. I ran cross-country and my saucy friend Tiffany and I got rides with high school guys so that we wouldn't have to run the whole damn time. Sometimes we'd go to Dairy Queen, and other times we'd just drive around with them and argue whether or not Jim Morrison was really dead. Running kinda sucked anyways. In eighth grade, I started getting up at 4:30 a.m. to go to swim practice at the high school even though I was only in Jr. High. If I wasn't at practice by 5 a.m., my coach would call my house and tell me to get my ass to practice. I used to fall asleep in history class just about every single day.
I spent the summer swimming in Paris when I was 15. I thought Paris was the most beautiful city I'd ever seen. I swore I'd never go back there without someone I loved. I have yet to go back. I made lots of friends there but my host mom wouldn't let me hang out with these two boys I really liked. They were of Arab descent. She rarely spoke to me in English, but this time she sternly said, "They're not French."
High school I swam a lot, wrote a lot (mainly notes to friends,) and started going to parties during the off-season. I had lots of crushes, but never any real boyfriends. I basically hung out with whichever friends weren't spending all their time with their boy/girlfriends. I just realized I'm still doing that today. I decided I didn't want to be on swim team anymore my senior year. I wanted to play guitar and go out for pizza with my friends. I told my parents this at dinner and my dad told me I was lazy, that I'd always been lazy, and that I was wasting my talent. Then he stopped speaking to me for two weeks until I went back to practice. I won state that year and became an All-American.
Then came college. My parents told me I had to go somewhere in state, so I went to the first out-of-state school that accepted me. I was awarded a few scholarships and headed west. During my freshman year, I had sex for the first time, smoked pot for the first time, and dosed for the first time. I had boyfriends-some serious, some not so serious. For some reason I don't really feel like talking about college right now.
One summer between my sophomore and junior years I worked as a camp counselor in Colorado. We were taking a break from playing Capture the Flag one morning, me and about a dozen eight-year-olds, when Zo� this most adorable girl with skin like obsidian, ran over to me as I was lying down in the alfalfa field and rested her head on my tummy. She said, "It's the perfect pillow."
I started having nightmares during my senior year of college, just like the ones I'd had as a kid. I thought I was just f'd up and blew it off. Then I kept having them, and went to see a therapist after I graduated. I didn't like her or what I was feeling, so I stopped both.
I started to drink more and more during my twenties, and smoked a lot of pot. I had this one boyfriend for about a year and a half named "Aaron." Aaron and I made a point of informing each other at least once a week that we were not boyfriend/girlfriend. Our relationship basically consisted of going out to bars and getting wasted, then coming home and him holding me while I cried uncontrollably. He always asked what was wrong but I never told him because I barely knew what the hell was going on with myself in the first place. Then we'd cuddle and have sex in the morning, go to our jobs, and repeat the whole cycle later that night. He was one of the nicest alcoholics I've ever known.
I tried moving away from him and that sad place, only to find wherever you go, there you are. After dating alcoholic number whatever, I realized that maybe there was a reason I kept falling for alcoholic men. Maybe even more than one reason. I started going to therapy again, found a support group, and quit drinking and smoking pot.
I was talking with my mom on the phone and she asked, "Why are you so angry at your father?" I told her I thought we were better off not talking about it anymore, seeing as he was still her husband and every time we talk about it, we fight. Then she told me I was making things up and that things at home were never as bad as I made them out to be, and that I was so lucky to have had such a wonderful childhood and a roof over my head, etc. etc. And that I have no idea how much my father loves me/I was so lucky to have a father who loves me. That was the proverbial straw. I said, "You've got to be fucking kidding me" and she hung up. That was yesterday morning.
Last night I dreamt I was at a street fair somewhere, maybe in my old college town, and it was really sunny. I was with this boy I have a crush on in real life but we're just friends. I think a relationship for me right now would be pretty damn tricky. Deep down there's something missing. I want someone to love me more than I love myself, and that's probably problematic. I cry a lot, especially at night. Though I don't feel particularly depressed, whatever it is I'm feeling is difficult to deal with, for certain. When I do imagine myself with a guy, I think of resting my head on his shoulder, but even just picturing that makes me cry. Suffice to say, I'm not ready to get involved with anyone right now. But the mind and the heart have a way of acting unilaterally on occasion. I've been in love before, and it was wonderful. He's married now and living in San Francisco. At times I think I'd be better off a lesbian, but I probably wouldn't be and I'm probably not one. Once I made out with a girlfriend of mine when we were really drunk. I was 24, and the guy I was in love with had moved back to Europe. My girlfriend and I were on top of a parking garage drinking Grolsch and throwing the green empties off the roof, gaining extreme satisfaction from hearing them smash in the alley below. But back to the dream. We were at a street fair. My friend and I started to run into all these people I used to party with in college. I didn't want to see them. The next thing I know, I'm in my old bedroom in my parents' house and my friend and I are getting ready to go to the beach. He had on Guess jean overalls, the kind that were only marginally popular in the eighties. They were too tight for him and I remember smiling while checking out his narrow little ass. Then I realized I was wearing overalls, too, but mine were these old Osh Kosh B'Gosh's I no longer own. I had worn them throughout college and several years after. Then Gene came out of his bedroom in his own weird orange and green hippie overalls, and I became disoriented and the next thing I knew my friend and I were at this beach I had been to in real life as a little girl. It's somewhere on an island off the gulf coast of Florida. It was really sunny and we had gotten there before anyone else-the kids from college, my brothers, even my parents were planning on joining us. I didn't want to see any of those people. I just wanted to fold myself into the warm arms of sunlight and yellow-white sand and float on my back in the saltwater. I think I'm in love with water. Can that be? I think of it as a person in a way. Anyways, my sweet friend was like, go, go on and be happy and swim and run around and I'll be here when you're ready to go home. I woke up this morning only to realize that my dream world trumped my waking world by far, so I fell back asleep and went right back into the dream. It was awesome. I didn't want it to end, even though I have no idea what it all means.