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SOMETIMES ( part 4 of 8)

by Christine Garza 2 months ago in vintage

A memoir of a kid who changed the way the world was pushing her

SOMETIMES-4

61-My Brother, The Marine, and Some Serious Business

I don’t recall our first night on the road. I wonder if we stopped one night or my Mom drove right through to South Carolina. Could be either. But when we reached Paris Island, where my brother was stationed in the Marine Corps, I was so excited to see him. This is where he lived now, and I would get to see what it was like for my brother to be a soldier.

We took a room somewhere off the base and my brother came to visit. We talked for hours on end with stories of how cool my brother, the Marine, was, and what life was like in a barracks.

Stories of drill sergeants had us doubled up in laughter. He could act out any scenario, and have you mesmerized, while laughing so hard that your cheeks literally cramped up with laughing so much.

At some point I was given a nickel to go and get a candy bar and find a place to sit while the adults talked in the room. I knew the talks were about our adventure and what my Dad was probably doing or thinking at the moment. Whenever the subject of Dad came up, my first reaction was my knees jumping up and down uncontrollably. The muscles would contract and release over and over again. This was the only outward sign that I was nervous at all. I was very good at hiding this. Occasionally, my stomach would do the same, but not always. It was important to me that no one knew my reaction to my Dad’s possible actions. To this day, when I talk about this days, the knees still jump and the stomach still tenses.

The idea that your parent can create those feelings inside of you when they even hint at being angry or the possibility of being angry, is a terrible thing. As I witnessed my sister or brother getting beaten to a pulp, I was a mess. But, I dare not show it. I just learned through them, over and over, not to ever talk back. I learned, for the most part, to be silent around my family. I learned to be invisible.

Mom was particularly nervous and I remember watching her face this one moment while she was outside the car, surveilling the area in her green striped waistcoat dress at the gas pumps, waiting to pay. Women didn’t get out of the car and pump their own gas in those days, but she was out and scanning the area like a hawk.

It occurred to me she was unsure about how this was going to go. I think I had more confidence in her than she had in herself. I realized at some point that she was looking over her shoulder for a little red and white metropolitan to pull up along side of us and the driver pull out his handgun and shoot us all without hesitation, one right after the other.

62-Victim Of Circumstance

I was walking through a popular home store a couple of years ago. It was a small enough store where it wouldn’t be unusual to see the same people in many of the same isles at any time during your visit. Entering into the main isle as another family, I happen to notice the little blonde girl with them. Her hair was shoulder length and somewhat unkempt. She was obviously there with her parents who had other things on their mind. In fact it seemed as if they had other things on their mind for most of the young girl’s life and she was only in their life as a result of one careless or violent night. She was not sad, but very ‘okay’ with what life had dealt her. I think she was pleased to be included in the shopping with her parents, but as they walked along, it certainly was her duty to keep up.

My heart sank to the bottom of my feet in an instance. I can generally tune in and feel the energy of people when I stand next to them, but this was even more overwhelming.

Like a home video running in my brain, I could feel what this child’s life was like. I read into her heart as she passed by. I couldn’t hold back the tears for her and tried not to make a spectacle of myself, but I KNEW exactly what that little girl’s life was, which was much like my own as a kid. I instantly saw myself from a perspective I have never seen myself, but that other people must have seen me. What image you think you give, is not always accurate. Not always what everyone else sees.

I can’t tell you how much I knew that little girl, and how much it brought me right back to myself decades before. I could tell you what her life was like. And I can tell you for certain she saw herself much differently than any one else did.

The image of the little girl, and the look on her face was so familiar to me. It is was me, 60 years ago.

I had not experienced a feeling like that ever before. Imagine, much like Ebenezer, being hurled back in time as he viewed himself as a young man, and, in his case, a happier man. In my case a little girl that was mixed up in a family that didn’t plan on her her, and, by no accident of her own, something the family situation didn’t need.

Just a victim of circumstance, I knew I had little to do with the situation, but was feeling a little like the cause. And maybe, my shy demeanor was a result of some underlying guilt of feeling that I accelerated the cause. I really don’t know. I do know I tried very hard not to leave much of a footprint or make any splashes to make matters worse.

They say that there are two kinds of people in this world. Dogs and cats. Dogs love to please, while cats live to be pleased. It was always my duty to please everyone, calm the waters, and find solutions. While this was a good practice for later in life, as a child, I listened. I watched, I learned and I formed my own conclusions, but no one ever knew what they were, except me. I never really read.

63-Books

Books weren’t so interesting to me. I had all the adventure in my life I needed, every day. I could read well, and I have a decent command of the language, I just never used it. I listened, I watched and I tucked it all away in my file cabinet of a brain. I’m one of the only people I know that remembers so much of their infancy. The sights, the sensations, and the sounds.

My imagination could also take me anywhere I wanted to go. When I watched a favorite program, I was there and indeed a part of the character. Father Knows Best was my ‘go-to’ for what family life should be. I thought that was the family I really needed to live in. But I didn’t. And on some level, I thought I could create that for myself one day.

About the age of 16, things started to change. I became more outspoken and determined to change everything I didn’t like about myself. I could feel the injustice in the world. I started writing poetry and then turning them into songs. I taught myself the guitar and banjo, and played the harmonica. Music was my escape. Writing was second nature. Art was always my soul.

Anytime I was uncertain, upset, or in love with something, I wrote a song. I had taught myself to play the guitar and express myself. Kids my age liked drugs. Everyone was ‘into’ this or that. I smoked pot a couple of times and then decided it really wasn’t something that made me feel better. Having lived my life so far mostly depending on my instincts and intuition, it felt unnatural to not be in total control of my life. Music and Art was enough to take me away. Living in my imagination when life needed a break was a way to cope, and gave me the resources to be as clear as I needed to be at a moment’s notice. Being able to be clear at a moment’s notice….my mantra.

This had become a way of life for me. Friends didn’t understand it, but I suspect friends didn’t understand too much about me, so this was just another aspect. Again, I was an adult, because I didn’t know how to be a child. I found that the people I dated had no clue of what real life was about. I didn’t especially trust people my own age. I had seen too many people I knew lose their lives on the advice of friends.

There’s this standard that children of alcoholics become alcoholics, no matter if they hated the parent that had the problem. Children were expected to pick up the traits of their parents in time. This also went for the children that hated their parents’ for any of their dependencies. The list is never ending.

Mom and Dad both smoked. Mom hated that it had a hold of her. She began at 18 and could never shake the habit. Eventually emphysema and then a major heart attack took her at age 59. Brother and I never smoked. Alcohol was something I truly could never enjoy. For whatever combinations of reasons, I’ve never drank. Mom said it was customary to have a drink in social settings, but I’ve never understood that. When I finally felt I had power over my own destiny, all that was traditional or customary did not apply nor appeal to me.

Many years later when Brother and I got together well after mom passed, I mentioned to him how I hated that people always categorized each other, right down to what was expected of men and women, girls and boys. I explained that we were all people and should be considered as such. To wrap everyone into a prepackaged bundle was silly and at the least, inaccurate. It puts restrictions on people for who they need to be to ‘fit in’. Perhaps my background and the fact Mom did, indeed, step out of the box with her actions for women at the time, gave me the insight to look at this presumption of expectation as a hindrance to a person’s genius. I thought living your life exactly as you saw fit was a fresh, exciting way of looking at life, personally.

Brother looked at me and said, “See how fucked up you and I are because of our family?”

64-Oh Baby Oh Baby OH

For as far back as I can recall, two things seemed to occur to me that, looking at it all now, seem silly. Sometimes. For the better part of my life, not one soul in my family ever asked my opinion about anything. I was The Baby. The Baby had a name, but when introduced to people, Brother had a name, Sister had a name, and I was …The Baby. No name. And it was okay to hear that because I thought it was a special place to be in a family… it was a rank of honor…until it wasn’t.

It finally dawned on me that no one ever thought to ask my opinion, because it would be silly. I was the youngest and I had no opinion, that was worth asking, anyway. I sat in conversation, quiet as usual, time after time, and could not, wouldn’t dare, to add my two cents. Once, or maybe twice, I got a word in, and without hesitation, without skipping a beat, the conversation would just continue on around me.

In time, I came to feel I must be mentally challenged. Everyone had viable ideas and suggestions, but not The Baby. For a good number of years, this was a consideration.

And then, to top it off, when anyone stopped to be nice to me, I was convinced I was going to die soon, and they all knew it except me. Everyone was in on that little secret but me….which almost made me feel sorry for myself. First, I was stupid, and then, second, I was going to die! And they were trying to make me feel happy in my few last days. Well, that was rotten, I thought. I cannot tell you how many times those thoughts crossed my mind. Self pity is exhausting.

Then, when that day arrived that I was being placed in a 5-6 experimental combination class, I was somewhat stunned. I was going to be pushed ahead a year.. because I might be …smart? And I hadn’t died yet, either. I had hit the jackpot!

Although that did raise my self-esteem a bit, I have to mention that those self defeating thoughts still come raging back to me sometimes. We don’t outgrow what was planted early on.

Mom never asked my opinion about anything. Not one thing. Unless it was something like, “What kind of shoes do you want to get for Easter?” (“Sneaks.. can we get some sneakers for Easter?”… “Christine, stop it!”)

This one day, I will never forget as long as I live. Mom and I were going somewhere together on a Saturday, probably a shopping trip to New Jersey where you didn’t have to pay tax on clothing. Mom was driving. I was 21, living and surviving on my own in an apartment in Yonkers, working a 9-5 and creating a small Artsy business on the side for myself with boutiques in New York.

Suddenly the words came out of her mouth.. and into my brain, one word at a time, in slow motion,”Christine, what do you think about ….” And that’s all I heard.

It didn’t matter if it was about the starving kids in China or who was going to win the World Series. She was asking my opinion. It was such a shock, I sat stunned for a brief moment, and then I answered her, like she had been asking me my opinion all my life. From that moment on, I mattered.

65-The Relatives

Yes, Dad’s car was a 1960s red and white metropolitan with white walled tires. A cute car, and perfect for him. He would wear his sporty cap with his grey curls of hair emerging in the front. It fit the rest of his wardrobe which was generally corduroy pants and a checkered shirt of some sort. Very dapper. When he was working around the house, building this or that, he wore a pair of jeans that had a pocket for everything, including his fold-up ruler. Today they might call them painter pants, but they were dungarees in those days.

He was nine years my mom’s senior. He had a good look, no doubt, and the relatives loved him. My other Aunt, Aunt Hannah, mom’s brother’s wife, told me years later that she loved him. She said he was a real country gentleman. She always thought well of him. My mom didn’t fare so well in her memory, though. Mom told the story to me of one Christmas how Hannah gave her a gift of bath towels. The next year, she got the matching hand towels. Practicality I suppose. Mom called it cheap.

Hannah would never allow her husband to talk to Mom if she called on the phone at home. So mom was reduced to have to call her brother at work, Chase Bank, to have any interaction with him. She called him every few months just to catch up and keep in touch. They seemed to always get along well, but it was Hannah, it seemed, that didn’t like mom. These days, I more wonder what kept him from picking up the phone at work and calling her. Probably the very same thing that kept him from knowing enough to get to the hospital when his own mom was dying. Mom had to call him and tell her older brother to ‘Get his ass over to the hospital’... I guess, because he didn’t think to do it on his own.

One day mom and I were shopping downtown, when mom decided to give a call to her brother at work. I watched as she phoned from an old wooden phone booth in a department store in Getty Square. Suddenly I saw Mom start to fold in the phone booth, and I ran over to see what had happened. She got word from his job that he had passed away.

She didn’t know he was ill. Apparently he went into the hospital for an issue he was having, and never came out.

No one contacted her. He was dead and buried and had she never made the call, she would never have known. It wasn’t like they didn’t know her phone number. The family just decided not to tell her that her brother had passed.

Relatives should be the closest people you have in your life. You might not agree or even know much about everyone’s personal lives, but unless there is a danger related to keeping that person close, there is no reason not to keep them abreast of important issues. Hannah was in no danger and personally decided to shun mom. Much later, Hannah lamented to me that she was an only child and wanted so much to have a sister, and was very happy when she heard my uncle had a sister. But then, she was disappointed when Mom didn’t seem close, apparently. I wonder why. Towels and then hand towels the next year? You don’t win races with that kind of ‘close’.

Mom didn’t have an alcohol problem, and she wasn’t a violent person, and she did leave a situation that was dangerous not only to herself, but her children. No one just leaves a marriage that I know of with their children and goes into hiding because there is no danger present in that situation.

I don’t think Mom smeared dad’s name to many people, if at all. Even when she spoke to me, she described Dad as having an illness. She never said he was a bad person. This was a very respectable way to handle family business. Word came back to me that Dad wasn’t as kind. Understandably so, maybe, but that should have remained private. If he was lamenting us, as Sister once mentioned, his conversation with the relatives and friends should have been different.

I saw Hannah a few years before she passed. Both Mom and Dad had already passed many years before by this time. After she ‘went on’ to me about how much she just loved my dad, I felt compelled to whisper in her ear that my dad was an alcoholic and ‘used to beat the shit out of my mom on a regular basis’. I told her to never judge a book by its cover and always remember that you never know a person until you’ve lived with them. I found it unbelievable that a person could live to be almost 100 years old and never ‘get’ that.

So far, in my life, I have met some pretty interesting women. There are those that actually think, make decent choices, and use rationality and reason at most every move. I was taught to be one of those women.

But then there are still some that are of the opinion that abused women had to have done something to create that situation. It takes two. And they immediately side with the man, the abuser. I see it in the news, in politics and in every day life around me. This isn’t to say that only men are abusers, but in the case of a man who abuses or cheats or lies, most women on the outside, often seem to side with them without question.

And how many women I have known that have decided to have affairs with men they know are married. I believe there is some silent war that constantly prevails in the minds of many women with each other. Whether it is lack of self esteem on one or both parties, or simply a challenge that is appealing, it makes women look stupid, while it hurts, destroys and is most frustrating for the wives and families of the men. There is really little or no hope that these women will ever spend more than a few hours at a time with these men. No future in it at all. I suppose it is something some of them count on. I really don’t understand it.

66- Back On The Road

We managed to leave South Carolina in good time and began heading West. I was sort of excited that we were going to drive the infamous Rt 66 that Buz and Todd traveled every week on TV. The change in terrain was slow, but interesting. The change in people and their dialects was even more dramatic and interesting. I was learning.

Mom kept in touch with her good friend in NY and who Dad knew was her confidant. Dad contacted her immediately, and told her the first thing that clued him to the fact that Mom had left him was that the iron was missing. Somehow, in my mind, that wouldn’t be my first clue. Maybe if we didn’t show up for dinner, that might be something to think about. But looking for the iron wouldn’t be my first clue. Or my second. I’m kind of surprised he knew where she kept it.

Anyway, as expected, he was threatening to kill us when he found us. I’m sure that wasn’t an idle threat, and mom told us in no plain words that if he ever showed up and wanted to take us, run away as fast as we could. Do NOT go with him. As a result, I was looking over my shoulder for a very long time after that.

Dad put out a 13 state alarm on us, so we were looking over our shoulder at every turn. We changed our names, changed our history, and paid everything in cash. As expected, dad checked our school records to see where they were transferred. But there was no transfer of records because we made up different names and former addresses. And because of this, I went into 6th grade instead of 7th, come September. They based your grade on your age, and so 6th grade it was. I will say going through the 6th grade was a no-brainer.

67- The Nutcracker

My teacher in 6th Grade/ Boulder City, Nevada, had a guitar he would bring to school and play for us. He also introduced me and the rest of the class to Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker Suite. The music was phenomenal, but I didn’t understand it. He told us all to close our eyes and imagine what we saw while listening to the music sail through the speaker on his victrola. I’m embarrassed to say I had no clue where to go with a visual, but many kids did. I loved music. My favorite was rock n’ roll, a little country and yes, maybe some southern blues. Classical didn’t figure into any of it.

Years later when I was exposed to Balanchine’s Nutcracker, at Lincoln Center, the music made perfect sense. With the dancing and the visual, my heart went on an E-Ticket ride. The tree that grew out of the floor still excites a part of me that brings it all home. I came to find out not long ago that they still ‘do’ that tree the same way they always did. A number of stage hands stand high above the framework of the stage and literally pull the tree up by hand, with ropes, up from below the floor. It is a precarious feat, as it has to be done in unison without suspicion that it is doing anything other than magically growing before your eyes.

When I exited the theatre, I was in total awe of of the performance, and hadn’t seen anything like it in my life. Not even close. I have loved ballet ever since. This was so far from anything I had ever experienced and I was hooked. I had always loved theatre and music and wished I could sing.

68- Prancer

The fact that I had no talent for singing, didn’t stop me from singing.

As a child, I would sing myself to sleep at home most nights, screeching out several tunes at the top of my lungs while laying in bed in the darkened room, until Ginger began to howl. ‘God Bless America ‘ was a real favorite because I could give it both barrels. I really had no clue I couldn’t sing well.

In elementary school, we had a music teacher come around once a week. She had bright orange hair, very red lipstick and always a good, orange tan. She rolled a cart around with every conceivable thing she would need to teach us music. I remember she taught us how to sing in rounds. Row, Row, Row Your Boat was a popular one. I recall that she would reach for her little pitch pipe and then wave her hands, telling one row to start, then another, then another. Fun, right?

One day she rolled her cart in, pulled out the ol’ pitch pipe and we began singing. I did love singing!

I so looked forward to this treat once a week. Funiculi, Funicula was also a favorite. Often times I would make that part of my repertoire at bedtime.

This one week, in my 4th grade class, she began going isle to isle with her pitch pipe in hand while we were told to keep singing, her head cocked to one side, listening intently, until she eventually stopped at our row.

She asked only our row to sing. She paced up and down, leaning in and listening to every child as we were proudly belting out the song over and over. Finally she stopped at me, and put her hand over my head.

I felt so special. “She thought I was remarkable! I was better than I thought!” She put her head down to hear me sing better, clearer, and I began singing even louder. Then she asked my row to sing and asked me to stay quiet. As she listened to the row sing, her head bounced up and down.

Then, to my surprise and embarrassment, she asked me to just ‘mouth’ the words, instead of singing.

Well, that was that.

Remember that film Prancer? When I saw that scene where her teacher did much the same thing, all of a sudden, I was THAT little girl.

69- I Commenced A-Shakin’ and I said, “Ooooh-Weee’

During the day, it wasn’t unusual to see me sneak out my sister’s victrola from our room and hook it up on the outside porch, blasting her 45s while I danced freely and twirled wildly on the outside patio for hours. I created a dance routine that I thought Alvin Ailey would be proud of. When The Purple People Eater became a hit, I danced over and over to that, memorizing every word and step I invented.

One phrase I never figured out until I was well into my 40s was the line was just before Sheb Wooley sang, “It looked like a Purple People Eater to me!”

In conversation with a friend a few years back, who use to be a New Christy Minstrel, the subject of that line came up.

“What is he singing in that line,” I asked, “where he goes, ‘I can lopen schnitzen and a bottle of wee…’?”

He looked at me and said, ”I don’t think I know what line that could be...”

So I sang it again and added ,”It looks like a Purple People Eater to me!”

He laughed and laughed and and asked again what I was singing. Then I sang even more, which was a cruel thing to ask, and finally in between laughs, he said,” Oh... it says,

“I commenced a shakin’ and I said ooooh-weeee”.

I leaned in closer and said,”What? That’s it? Are you SURE? “

He said, “Yes, I’m sure. Can’t you hear it?”

“No, I couldn’t hear it! I haven’t heard it for FORTY YEARS! When did you know those were the words?”

“I don’t know...From when I first heard it.”

“That can’t be! I’ve waited 40 years to know what Sheb Wooley was saying in that line and you just spit it right out!?”

We laughed and laughed. That was a bucket list item...to know what that line was.

Remember, there were no cell phones or internet to look up that information, so a lot of that kind of thing happened for many years.

That was a very favorite song of mine. It still is.

Then there were the other songs I loved... “The little Blue Man” and “The Little Space Girl”

I also loved Elvis, like everyone else. Ricky Nelson, Dion and the Belmont’s, Bobby Darin.... all of them. I danced and twirled and acted them out and sang at the top of my lungs like Ethel Merman on that back patio. Otherwise I was a very shy, almost speechless child.

70-Every Day I Wake Up With A Song In My Head

Every single day, for as long as I have lived or can remember, I awake with a song in my head. Depending on what my latest experience was, or where I heard a particular song, or just because my brain picked something up somewhere along the way. Those little sound bites are called ‘earworms’, and sometimes the same ‘line’ can stay with you for days, until something more appropriate comes along.All through the day, that line repeats itself, over and over in my head.

My voice sounds great in my head, and even so, times when I suddenly belt out a line or two, I feel like a million bucks.

My husband and I had a Main Coon cat, MoonShadow, that I loved to pieces. When he used to hear me start singing, he’d rush over to bite my ankles. He stopped when I stopped, and if I started up again, he’d bite my ankles again.. It made me laugh. But it hurt my feelings a little. Even my cat hated my singing.

In my next life, I swore, I’d come back and sing and play the piano. World watch out! I will be … the next Lady Gaga!

71- Boulder City, Nevada

We landed in Boulder City. I loved Nevada. Boulder City was the Old West I had always dreamed of, and Las Vegas was booming and was very much in it’s ‘Heyday’. Slot Machines or One Armed Bandits ranged from a penny to a dollar, with real silver dollars abound. Real ones. And my allowance had risen to one silver dollar a week.

The casinos on Fremont Street were always ringing and singing and playing tunes. You could hear the jackpots going off and silver dollars flooding out of the mouth of the slot machines as you walked down the street. Dimes and quarters were also silver in that day and they made such a bright sound as they hit the metal tray at the bottom.

There were no doors in the casinos, but instead, wide open entrances so you could see everyone sitting at their slot machine, on their bar stool, doling out coins for that hopeful jackpot of their dreams.

The Pioneer Club on Fremont St. had a gigantic 40 ft. neon outlined winking cowboy, all dressed in jeans, cowboy boots, spurs, cowboy hat, bandana, and a neon cigarette hanging from his mouth, along with an articulated neon arm that waved to you continually. Every15 minutes, everyone in earshot was welcomed with a wave, a moving cigarette in his mouth, and ,”Howdy Podner”, a voice recording of the cowboy heard throughout Fremont Street.

This particular sign stood along side the top of the Pioneer Club and was a sure indication to me that every time I walked down that street and heard his voice, that I was indeed in Las Vegas! I was indeed in The Wild West! I was SOME PLACE SPECIAL!!

Cigarette smoke filled the air, and waitresses circled all patrons, offering free, unlimited mixed drinks continuously, with the hopes that you would spend every penny you had, as long as the drinks kept coming. I saw men in cowboy hats and boots, with big silver buckled belts, and flashy cowboy shirts with pearl snaps.

Free Souvenirs abound in Las Vegas. Key chains, pins, dice, decks of cards used by the blackjack dealers...all free! The big casinos were The Golden Nugget, The Mint, The Pioneer Club, The Golden Gate Casino.... all big casinos that gave away great souvenirs in quantity. Those were the days, and great marketing strategies, I must say.

At first, we had no idea that kids were not allowed on the casino floor, until I was ushered to the sidewalk one day by a very serious man in a suit and slicked back hair and a slight ‘five o’clock shadow’ across the lower part of his face, who looked like he would kill you if you looked at him cross eyed. So, I would wait in the corner, close to the sidewalk, but still in good sight of the slots, and wait for mom to finish off her pennies. Penny slots were her favorite.

I began to realize that jackpots weren’t random. As I stood there, it began to dawn on me that the slot machines gave away much less than they took in. Of course they did, but it wasn’t by chance, it was by design. It was also very unlikely that one machine would spew a jackpot more than once in a night. It seemed, depending on the amount taken in, gave the chances of what it would give out.

The trick, I came to notice, was to grab a machine someone had retired all their money to, and then slip into their seat as they exited, and drop a few coins. As soon as you had more in your cup than you started with, you should move on to another full bellied machine, just waiting to pop.

Once a week, we got to eat at the buffets in Las Vegas. They were so inexpensive. The psychology being that people would spend their money in the Casino if they could eat great food for close to nothing, and spend the day gambling their money in said casino. I had to walk very quickly through the casino to the buffet, looking straight ahead only, and hope Mugsy Malone would not nab me on the way. Occasionally, mom would drop a quarter in a slot as we zoomed by and win enough to pay for the buffet.

72-Memories

Interestingly enough, I have quite good recall of the early days in Yonkers. Sometimes it feels like someone else lived that part of my life, yet I know it was me, so long ago. I don’t know if that’s something that is common to someone going through the turmoil we all did. And yet, I have often heard that many children who go through traumatic times, block it out of their memory. I know some who have done that.

And then, at the time, as much as the fear was real, I didn’t feel alone. I did feel protected somehow. And then there were times I feared that something would happen and Mom wouldn’t make it back to us, coming home from work.

I remember thinking at one point about ‘what if’. What if Mom didn’t make it back? What would happen? The most dreaded thought was that we would have to go back to live in Yonkers again, with Dad. That wasn’t a pleasant thought. It scared me to death.

I recall one night in particular. We were living in Boulder City, and Sister and I shared a bed. I couldn’t sleep that night and tossed and turned all night with the idea that somehow, I would not wake up in the morning. Eleven years old and I was having unnatural fears about dying in my sleep. I finally passed out from exhaustion, but still, I wasn’t yet used to having anxieties about dying. This was all new to me.

One could argue that it was just a moment in time when I was feeling very insecure, which could very well be so. But I remember that when Mom got home late from work, (she was a nurse) I would lay awake listening out the open window until I heard the right car door sound slam on the street. Like a dog waiting for it’s owner, I knew the sound. It was then I could rush back to my bed and rest for the night.

73- Just Nerves

I also had bouts where I couldn’t take a deep breath, and that was awful. As we stood outside talking to people in a group one evening, I was struggling silently to take a normal breath, trying not to interrupt, keeping hope that something would just ‘give’ and that ‘issue’ would go away. I was preoccupied with wanting to take a normal breath. Later, I would explain what was happening to me and Mom would tell me to calm down, ‘you’re just nervous’.

Into my teen years, Mom had been hearing a lot about my aches and pains, and finally mentioned to me that if I just took my mind off of myself and put it on others or other things not related to me, my issues would subside. Taking my attention off myself would help with everything I was experiencing. Being ‘nervous’ was often the reason given for many of my issues, only to find out many years later, I did actually have something called Lupus. But no one was aware of such things at the time, so ‘nervous’ was the only explanation anyone could come up with.

To some degree, Mom wasn’t wrong. I used that theory time and time again over the years, and only when I came to consider the Bradley Method when giving birth to my own children did I realize I had been practicing that method most of my life anyway.

74-Diet Soda

In time to come, I would be preoccupied with keeping a slender figure as most girls do, beginning in high school, and paid little or no attention to nutrition, so I decided to live on diet soda for a few years. Back in the day it was made with saccharine, and no one knew just how good or bad it was for you.

Now into my early 20s, I woke up one day and had no equilibrium. I could virtually hear sounds in my ears every time I turned my head left or right or up or down, like the ocean rushing from one side of my head to the other. When I walked, it felt like I was walking on a deflating air mattress. Needless to say, I couldn’t work or do much at all. Walking was almost impossible by myself.

Mom was concerned, and took me to drs. who took xrays and shot water in my ears while diodes were connected to my head at one end, while connected to a machine to monitor my brain at the other. Nothing. Another Dr. suggested I was allergic to green beans. Brother suggested that I needed to eat and stay away from that ‘diet crap’. Genius.

I began drinking only fruit juices and eating only good food. It started to improve, and it took about 2 years before I could feel completely normal again. Needless to say, I don’t drink or eat ‘diet’ anything any longer. In years to come, I would come to know friends who also had the same issues. They weren’t extraordinarily slender or anything, but they did live on diet soda. Of the several people I explained my experience to, hoping they would take the cue and stop drinking diet soda, two of them later came to me to say,’ Thank You’ and that they thought I had saved their lives. Well, that’s a little strong, but maybe I helped them save their own.

All the aches and pains in my life, the strange little things that would afflict me, were basically chalked up to ‘nerves. I would get ill if I was in the sun too long, or headaches would be so drastic that I couldn’t think straight. Mom thought I could possibly have a brain tumor, so took me to one of her doctors she worked with at one time. It was maybe a couple of years of these headaches before we all thought this could be something ‘real’.

As we entered the doctors office, located in a house on a residential street somewhere in NY, we sat down and talked about my headaches. The doctor explained that if I had a tumor, I would have been dead by then, because brain tumors grow fast. Two years of headaches were not signs of a tumor. We tried glasses for close work. My vision was 20/20, but the glasses did help quite a bit with all the close work I was doing in Art School. I bought good sunglasses, and the headaches subsided to ‘every so often’.

When we moved to Los Angeles in ‘77, mom was visiting and we took a trip to Tijuana to look for tooled leather purses and silver jewelry. We heard it could be very inexpensive. You only went to Tijuana for the day, exiting before nightfall. A town with very direct sun, especially in Summer months, we walked back to the parking area at close to sundown. Customs was easy and quick and it was a good trip. Sitting in a restaurant that evening for dinner, I began to tremble all over my body. I lost all equilibrium and vertigo embodied every part of me. I felt like I could jump right out of my skin, and my body overreacted to every little sound and movement. I couldn’t move without feeling all these symptoms. It seemed very neurological to me.

Making a long story short, we visited the ER in San Diego, only to find...nothing. It took about a week for all the symptoms to fade. I stayed inside and took care to eat right and do nothing strenuous.

75-Finally

During the 11 years of my after school Art program for kids, I came to know a mother of one of my students who had Lupus. When she heard some of my physical issues, including my apparent allergy to the sun, she suggested I go get an antibody test from a doctor. She felt I could very well have Lupus, an autoimmune disease that can attack any part of your body. It is a virus of sorts that considers every healthy organ in your body a threat and attacks it at any given time. You can die from it. Everyone who has it, lives with different degrees of the disease, and sometimes very different symptoms.

Sunshine is a big trigger. Lupus can be inactive for years, and for others, it is a daily issue. So I went to the doctor we had in our group. He refused to do the test because he felt I was very healthy. I insisted. He declined. Then I told him that if I go to another doctor and get this test and find out it was positive, then I would be after him. He agreed to do the test.

A week later he called and reluctantly said it came out positive.

I asked him what the prognosis was for this disease, and he told me, I would have to see a rheumatoid doctor to help me.

I asked again, a different way. “What is the life expectancy of this disease?”

“Five, maybe ten years, if you’re lucky.”

That was a shocker. I went home, cried and then decided that every day I had with my kids should be considered as if it were my last. I looked at the leaves on trees, I searched out a leaf and studied it, and witnessed the life running through it. Each leaf only lasted a portion of a year, yet it was ‘enough’. Same with flowers. I decided every day would never be taken for granted. I had been an adult for most of my life and it was time to enjoy being a child with my kids. Embrace them every day of my life.

It’s been about 25 years now, since my diagnosis. I keep testing every so often, and the results always show coming up positive. I have setbacks, but nothing as drastic as one might expect.

I still feel the same way about life. It doesn’t matter what money I leave my family when I go. We took trips and did things together and lived paycheck to paycheck, but we lived and loved and are leaving good memories. There is much to be said in good memories.

76-Goldstein or Goldman?

Back again to my memory of the kids I went to school with in elementary school, I had a very unusual thing happen to me one night, about 25 years later.

My husband and I stopped at Ralph’s, a Southern California Grocery store one evening. We needed to pick up a few things before starting home. My first born was still young enough to sit in the cart seat while strolling through the store.

As we rounded one isle, there was a young man about my age searching the shelves for some items. As I quickly glanced at him, a silent familiarity went through me. I recognized him as someone I went to elementary school with. Could it really be so? I was 3,000 miles away from New York! And it was almost thirty years later. What are the chances?

He wasn’t a friend of mine in particular, and we never hung out together on the play ground but we were often in the same class. I don’t know why, but I recognized him. After so many years, and so many people in my life, and so many changes, I was still sure I knew him. My husband said I should approach him, but I was too shy and didn’t want to seem crazy, especially if I was wrong. So he did it for me.

“Excuse me, are you from New York?”

“Yes...?”

“Are you from Yonkers?”

“Yes...?”

“Did you go to PS28?”

“Yes....?”

“My wife thinks she knows you, but she is too shy to say anything to you.”

I walked over to him when I realized he was exactly who I thought he was. He looked at me and didn’t remember me at all. Well, I guess I had changed some. But apparently he didn’t. He asked if I knew his name….

“Gary?”

“YES!”

“Do you remember my last name?”

“Um, Goldstein?”

“No, Gary Goldstein was my best friend all through school! I’m Goldmen!”

“Oh, that’s right! Now I remember! Gary was kind of short, right?”

He laughed, “Yeah!”

We talked for a while and I know it freaked him out a little. I explained that I moved away in 5th grade, and hadn’t been in contact with anyone since. It seemed I remembered many of my classmates, but, of course, I was history to them, and there was no need to remember me. One day I just never showed up to class ever again.

We didn’t keep in touch, and I really didn’t ‘know’ him, but I seem to have an uncanny recollection of so many parts of my history. Maybe it was important for survival to remember events and people like that. Maybe my memory was there to serve witness to my existence at all.

I sometimes see people on the street and I know that I know them. I don’t know WHERE I know them from or when, but I know they have crossed my path at some point. I feel an energy or connection that I can’t explain. A familiarity that ties me to them.

It’s interesting when I see someone in Los Angeles that I knew in NY.

While working at JWRobinson’s, I was down on the selling floor one day at our Month End Sale, and across the sale table from me in the men’s dept. was someone I went to high school with. Again, we weren’t friends, but I knew of him. The class clown. I don’t think anyone in school didn’t know this ‘character’. We talked for a little bit and made plans for lunch, but neither of us kept them.

In London, one year, with my husband and kids, my daughters spotted a schoolmate of theirs with his parents on vacation as well. Being that it was the middle of the school year, it was even odder to have met up like that. Most vacations are taken during holidays like Easter or Christmas but I believe this was in early November.

You never know whose path will cross yours at any given time.

Rather than simple luck or chance, I have some idea that the universe is controlled somewhat by energies we have little knowledge of. And maybe it is just the energy we put into our lives that causes us to be in certain places at certain times with certain people. A magnetic force of sorts. Basically our own actions, thoughts and choices have a bigger impact on the universe than we can ever imagine. The ripple effect. Karma is a real thing, and a basic law of energy. For every action, there is an equal reaction. Simple.

Some things don’t seem fair in this world, and the truth of the matter is that the world is not supposed to be fair, but it is balanced. When that balance is upset, chaos ensues. In order to change anything, I believe we need to offset what is causing what we don’t like. Some things, sadly, can’t be changed back, but like the principles of energy, they return in a different, equal form, hopefully.

I’ve often thought about what we term as evil. What is evil? What is evil to you, might save someone else. We slaughter animals to eat. Those animals would consider us evil, because we kill mothers and fathers and children of their species before it was their natural time to go. We don’t need to slaughter as many as we do, so are we evil? I suspect we would fall into that category, yes. If a wild animal kills and eats a person, are they evil? I suspect they are, and we would want to kill that animal. We kill animals for folly, all the time. So, we are evil if all that stands true and equal. Absolutely.

The truth is, what is evil to one is often blessed to the other, and so the balance is created. So, in essence, is there really such a ‘thing’ as Evil or Blessed, or is it something we just made up, a part of categorizing everything in our lives that relates only to us? Perhaps.

77- Life In Boulder City

Mom got a job at the local Hospital in Boulder City, just a couple of miles from Hoover Dam. My sister had a job at the Welcome Center for about two days. I have no idea why that didn’t last.

Money was tight, and we rented a two bedroom apartment on Ave B. It was furnished and ran $80 per month. It had an old washing machine like I had never seen before. It looked like a big white tub with a ringer located just above it to take the water out of your clothes before you hung them on the clothesline. The water from the washer emptied out into the backyard and quickly disappeared into the sandy ground. The sun was so hot that I marveled at the fact that by the time you finished hanging the clothes, the first ones you hung were already dry.

In the bedroom was a swamp cooler. I had never heard of anything like this before. It ran on the idea that adding moisture to the very dry air would make the air feel cold. This was the desert’s answer to Air Conditioning. It worked! The fan was built into the window, with cellulose acting as a filter and retainer for the water being pumped in slowly by the garden hose. It never seemed humid as the air was too dry for that, and the swamp cooler worked amazingly. It was said that an air conditioner would never work in that area. Of course everyone uses air conditioners now.

They also made swamp coolers for cars. A gadget made of a cylinder, one end closed while the other open with a grid of wire to prevent rocks or birds being swept in. It hung in your side window with grate facing forward. You filled it with ice and as you drove, the outside wind went into the grate and through the cylinder, then an opening in the side of the cylinder allowed the cooled air to enter through your window. I remember they were $14, and too dear for us to afford. So we opened the windows and I kept wetting towels and letting the air hit them to make them cool to the touch. And we could keep wiping our faces with them. The air was so dry that the towel did not remain wet for long. And I repeat, everyone uses air conditioning now.

Everyone also toted a burlap bag on the front grill of their car that contained water, should your car overheat in the 100° plus weather in the middle of the desert. Cars always overheated in those days. We stopped many a time when the needle went over into the red and steam started emerging from under the hood of the car. We’d sit at the side of the road for quite a while before we could entertain taking the cap off the radiator to fill it with cooler water. It wasn’t unusual to see people pulled over to the side of the road, just like us, for the same reason.

Mom’s original agenda was to get to Nevada where one could obtain a quick divorce in six weeks. We wound up living there for eight months and got nowhere with the divorce. It was one snag after another. Mom had a lawyer she found in NY that was working for her at his end. I would assume my dad wasn’t buying any of it.

It was imperative to change our last names. Sister decided on a different name than Mom and I. There was something exciting about reinventing ourselves, though it came with a down side, like forgetting the spelling of my new last name at school. That was particularly embarrassing. I swore that someday all this would be over and I’d never have to do it again.

As time progressed, I found it exhausting to have to keep a lie going in my head when anyone asked about who I was or where I came from. I couldn’t accurately tell stories of my real past, and I fell short on making ones up, as I lost interest. I would have to remember them and make them all jive, so I basically never said anything about myself or my experiences. It wasn’t so much fun after a while, trying to fit real experiences into a fake persona.

78- Christmas 1962

Christmas in the desert was interesting. And very different from what we were all used to. We did get a dusting of snow, but nothing like what we always knew. Mom went out and bought some brick printed crepe paper and wrapped it around stacked apple boxes that we kept and used for moving, creating a fireplace. She was so ingenious that she arranged for our portable black and white TV to be located right in the middle of the fireplace! It worked and saved space. Mom crafted some stockings with our names on them and we were all set.

The tree was fresh, with silver tinsel, some glass and homemade ornaments and lights. It worked. Of everything over that time period that might have been shorted or lacking, Christmas always arrived and on time. Mom was not one to deny her kids of that holiday that we grew to treasure. The best part of Christmas was the preparation, as it was usually when we all got along the best. When dad was no longer involved in making lawn fixtures, mom and I became the ‘doers’.

It did snow a little bit and Christmas was joyful in Boulder City. No yelling, no arguments, we visited with friends, and Church wasn’t so formal. The preacher was young, with a new family beginning for him and his wife, and he became good friends with everyone in town. If this wasn’t Little House On The Prairie, I didn’t know what was. Christmas Eve was Christmas Songs and stories in the church. It wasn’t a cathedral, but a quaint new little building still waiting for the pews to arrive when they felt they had the money. Everyone seemed invested in making the new church as nice as it could be; a community supported church.

No one had to wear a hat, and no one needed to wear a dress.

79- Boulder City

One of the big things for myself personally, was a real, honest-to-goodness Rodeo. I finally saw in person what I only saw on TV or at Madison Square Garden. I got to sit on outside bleachers around the dusty arena and watch everything happen in real time. I felt the cowboys pass by with their dirty chaps and spurs jingling in my ears, and the horses snorting, readying for the excitement inside the arena. The cowboys interacting and the excitement of the event was so ‘real’. These weren’t people who never met each other before or were vying for a medal, they were local cowboys who took their event very seriously. They were local heroes. And the crowds cheered. Fourth of July fireworks were held in the same place and we all had ringside seats.

Parades were simple but spectacular, as far as I was concerned. Everyone who was anyone had a horse and all were decked out for the occasion. School bands and horses pranced through town, and every now and then, some bedazzled rider would make their horse rear up and everyone would clap. How exciting it was to see this display unrehearsed and in person. I’d always been a fan of western ‘anything’, and this was closer to my dreams than I ever thought I might get. It was the Wild West on parade!

Mt. Charleston was just over an hour’s drive from Boulder City. We could drive along in almost 90 degree weather, and as we began heading up the mountain, the temperature would change to freezing and there would be snow. We picnicked and rented horses on the mountain, with the ability to ride anywhere we liked. No trail master, nothing. How exciting that was!! I think I could have lived there for the rest of my life.

80- Bobby

A new boy entered my sixth grade class. He was quite handsome with light brown sun bleached hair, a deep tan, and the top of his nose had a pink spot that was peeling from too much sun. Bobby wore bright colored button-down surfer looking shirts and worn out jeans, and Vans sneakers. As he walked into the classroom that day, and took a seat, I felt him staring at me the duration of the day. He turned all the girl’s heads. He became extremely popular, especially with his resume from CALIFORNIA. Almost immediately, he started talking to me, and then eventually asked if I wanted to go to the movies with him. It was somewhat surprising to me, especially because I never thought of myself as pretty or attractive. I had just finally considered that I was relatively smart and liked to laugh. ‘Good Looks’ belonged to Sister and Brother. It was a known fact in our family.

I was reminded by mom that I better do well in school, because my looks alone won’t get me through life. Funny how that is...Later on, when I was in my early twenties, Mom related to me that her friend, an ex-model, suggested that I should model. She said I would do well. Go figure.

Bobby was from California, had ten other siblings, it turned out, and lived in a trailer down by Lake Mead. He had a small beagle dog he would walk six miles up the hill to where I lived. Sister thought he was very handsome and made comments that he was the best looking friend I ever had. Even though that made no sense to me at all, it was something positive coming from her, and I accepted it as such.

Whenever he walked up the hill, six miles to town, to visit with his dog, we always gave him a ride back home. Bobby and I used to talk all the time and go down to the high school and lay in the grass, telling each other about things we did or places we went, laughing much of the time, always making sure I didn’t say anything that would give my identity away.

The highlight of that relationship was when we were sitting in my backyard, which consisted of sand, leaning up against the short cinderblock wall that indicated the only the property line between the small, quaint four family apartment houses.

As we sat next to each other swapping stories, our backs against the wall, knees up to our chins, broad daylight, the awkward subject of kissing came up. He told me he really liked me and we agreed we both liked each other. I was twelve and he was twelve and our conversation progressed. He said he would like to kiss me. I had no idea how that would go, so I said, ”Yeah, ok.” He asked if I would mind, and I said, “No, I guess not.” Honestly, I could feel my young naive heart flutter at a speed of about 200 BPM.

After much hesitation between both of us, he said ,”Close your eyes.” So I did. Then came a small peck on my cheek. Just at that moment, as I opened my eyes, feeling so special, we both heard a screen door screech open from the apartment next door and an older woman’s voice yelled,”Hey, stop that! Get out of here, you kids!” We both looked over in fright, got up and took off. We laughed about it for hours, even days. I don’t think he asked to kiss me again, but we remained good friends, and he gave me a ring with a green glass stone and said we were officially ‘going steady’.

Another girl was in the same class at school and was native to Boulder City. She was quite vocal about finding him attractive as well. She was a bit more familiar with the facts of life and her conversations she had with me were, to say the least, a bit racy for her age. She quickly honed right in on her target and stole him away, I’m sure, with her comments and more. It didn’t do well for my self esteem, but I got over it. I survived.

vintage
Christine Garza
Christine Garza
Read next: Understanding the Effects of Addiction on the Family
Christine Garza

I am an author and illustrator, working in watercolor.

After attending The School of Visual Arts in NYC, I relocated to Los Angeles to find myself in Publishing and then Illustration and Design.

My passion is illustrating and writing.

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