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From Braids to Baccaluereate

One woman's journey out of the gutter.

By Susan Eileen Published 2 years ago Updated 2 years ago 11 min read
From Braids to Baccaluereate
Photo by Clarissa Carbungco on Unsplash

I have wasted both time and affections on poorly suited lovers, so I will spend little time speaking of them, with the exception of my two husbands. In fact, I grew both tiresome and a little more than mildly irritated even thinking of them. I scarcely think of a term of endearment for either. One was a fantastic father and a terrible husband. The other was successful financially, but emotionally retentive to a fault. In fact, my ex-husband’s temper made my heart rearrange from love to fear in four short days after the wedding. His heart went black and never did come back to me. I am blessed with two beautiful daughters from those marriages but little else.

My childhood is important in that I never had a dream as a child. I lived in survival mode. When your basic needs are not attended to - when you need food, shelter that would be considered first world, and a shortage of everything from vodka and cigarettes to role models, you just try to get through the day.

From a young age, it was obvious that I was both a curious child, ill-most of the time - and of mildly superior intellect, excelling in almost subject that could be taught with a book. I am extremely awkward to this day. I was painfully shy. Part one of a twin set, my brother Marty was ten minutes my junior. Born premature and in an age when ultrasounds did not exist, I was the runt of the litter, the only girl in a family of four.

I was a play in the dirt kind of girl and born in a generation before cell phones. Some days we played unsupervised in a quarry some thirty minutes away. We hitched rides where we could, and I picked up hitchhikers routinely. I was quite naive, assuming that my family was the norm. But in fact, my parents were peace, love and rock-n-roll all the way. The love was pretty easy what with the mind-expanding drugs in a consequence free environment. Addictive pills were dispensed readily to people in a misguided attempt to help. In fact, my family was a family of helpers, helpers to a fault, which includes me to this day.

But I digress, I was born in a little town in Massachusetts. However, one my favorite memories as a child is canoeing in the cuyahoga river. Cuyahoga is the Indian name for crooked; the cuyahoga River is quite literally, the crooked river. Before environmental protections, the river burned from the pollution that was dumped from the factories up the river. Summer had long since vanished and it was a beautiful autumn day. My father, quite the adventurer and a perpetual wanderer, packed us into the car away we went with the canoe in tow for a lazy Sunday in the wild.

I knew my family was different, but I didn’t realize how different until I had two failed marriages. My parental role models included couples that constantly screamed at each other, fidelity didn’t exist, and the relationships boomeranged back and forth. My parents divorced when I was four - this was quite unusual for the seventies. I made friends with people so dim that they were entirely unforgettable. Many of them died from alcoholism or drug overdoses. They all grew up in alcoholic homes such as me. All broken homes such as mine. But my home came with a heavy dose of alcoholism, extreme bipolarity in my mother, and marriage vows that were broken before the ink was dry on the wedding invitations. There was a stark contrast in navigating the love of raising children and the hatred of a toxic marriage.

Until my parents died, I was too angry to reflect on the pleasant memories in nature, even playing with my friends. I remember vividly the day I learned my middle name in pre-school. I wrote EILEEN in big capital letters and ran to my mom, who was on the phone at the time, “My name is Eileen!” As if she didn’t know. So many good memories wasted on a petulant child.

My mother grew up in a loveless home as far as I can tell. (She has now been deceased for some time). She was a beautiful woman with blue eyes, flaxen hair, and the typical pale skin of the Irish. She grew up painfully shy and without self-esteem.

As my father tells it, my mother and he happened to be at a school dance. During a dance, my mother asked him to hold her cigarette. For my father, it was love at first sight. He would often say that my mother was the most beautiful woman he ever met, not that this kept him faithful. My father earned a PhD in Astronomy. My mother’s parents were not quite pleased with this as he was not Catholic, however, he did have a college career path and he too was exceptionally good looking. They made quite the couple.

Having a father with a PhD in Astronomy greatly affected my life and gave me a head start in almost every area.  Education was highly emphasized in my household.  We watched PBS shows like 3-2-1 Contact, a science education program that greatly affected my interest in geology - which became my minor in college.  There was an abundance of books to read, and I became a voracious reader at a young age.  Teaching at a university also had the added perk of free tuition for his children. While not all of us went there, it still was a great benefit. 

 His contract with UMass required him to teach 30 weeks of the year.  This left plenty of time for travel and experiential education.  He routinely went to Arizona to use the Kitt Peak Observatory for his research.  (While in Arizona, I became acutely aware of the plight of the American Indian.) 

He also did contract work with NASA in California, specifically to locate the center of the Milky Way galaxy.  While in California, he took me to the Winchester House of Mystery because I had seen it on Ripley’s believe it or not. He had friends that worked for SETI (the search for extra-terrestrial intelligence) and on the Hubble Telescope, further increasing my knowledge of the universe.  Finally, he was very interested in visiting the homes of former Presidents.  One of my favorite memories is visiting Sagamore Hill, the home of Teddy Roosevelt, who started the National Park system among other

I didn't realize how cutting edge my parents were. My mother was born Catholic, which would end up being one the cumbersome difficulties that would burden my mother. The house I grew up was very different from the average town in Northfield. There were a lot families that were here for factory work that came from southern states while I was from Massachusetts, but both my parents were both children of Cleveland Police Officers. My mother wanted to go to college but her father told her educating a woman was a waste of time and money.

My mother fell in love with my father. She was Catholic and he was masquerading as a Methodist for a few short years before "coming out" as an atheist. They moved to Michigan for my father's grad studies and they moved into a trailer park. There my mom met her best friend Joyce who was Jewish. Joyce would later marry a black man. I cannot even begin to tell you how horrified my grandparents were. But in reality, they scarred her for life in so many ways.

They then moved to Massachusetts where my dad was hired as the observational component of the just founded team of Astronomy, the other astronomers hired were theoretical. My father always said that my mother never felt comfortable in Massachusetts for many reasons. Catholicism wasn't big in New England, she felt far less educated than the crowd she was newly a part of, and my father grew tired of the practice of Vatican Roulette because birth control would send you straight to hell if you're Catholic. She really should've felt more comfortable because apparently she wanted to push boundaries. My father coached the first the black person with a PhD in Astronomy at UMass.

My father became friends with a man who was a professor of Tibetan Studies. My father was soon fascinated with that area of the world not only to climb Mt. Everest but he spent some summers teaching English to children in Nepal. My parents divorced, my mother moved back to Ohio to be by her parents who perpetually shamed her for being a divorced woman in 1973. My parents however remained best friends and neither ever remarried. It was very strange to everyone in the neighborhood that my parents would live together for part of the year when my father had breaks in teaching. Then of course my mother's had an interracial family visiting. To recap she was divorced, sometimes living with ex, and a multicultural group of friends in 1973.

Most of the nation was not ready for this. My parents were also so liberal that today I'm sure they would be considered communists. My father did vacation in the USSR during the cold war so maybe they weren't far off.

As children, we had zero exposure to guns in a very hunting focused part of the country. In my father's many travels, he would prepare to speak their language, with Berlitz records playing in the living room. He knew a minimum of eight languages. I remember raising awareness of global warming in the 90's and I had a shirt that said save the planet in ten languages. As family was in line at a ride at Geauga Lake, my father was explaining to my ex that the translations were not exact on my shirt because he could read all ten languages on the shirt.

But the fact that they divorced and remained best friends caused a lot of chaos in the house I grew up. It basically felt like they were in an open marriage with my mother on the losing end, but no matter who dated who they were best friends for life and my father never recovered my mother's death in 2009.

Even with the chaos apparently the importance of education was ingrained. Three of my father's children have Master's Degrees, the only one with a Bachelor's is working for Draft Kings, in case you're into gambling. I plan to earn my PhD in geology, but could just be an idea of the day, but I am learning to actualizing my goals with the 3VQ method that will be outlined in this book later.

My father wanted me to attend to an all girls college in Massachusetts where he lived. However, I got pregnant at 19. This obviously revised my life plan. I do remember that I was terrified of being an unwed mother and how would my parents react. I’ll never forget the look on my father’s face when he heard the news. He was so happy. I was truly surprised because of the circumstances. This was to be their first granddaughter. My mother was beside herself with joy. Her life revolved around children - the grandkids were replacement kids for her. My daughter Savannah formed very strong bonds with my mother.

As I said, there was money for the big things, not the poverty starter pack of cigarettes and alcohol. I started drinking and drugging early. I ran with the wrong kids. I was on a path to nowhere. My parents enrolled me in all girl Catholic High School in attempt to change my surroundings. In fact, the more things changed, the more they stayed the same. I, apparently, like drinking and drugging and while I would hold it together for some 15 years after high school, the addiction, like a boiling pot, was on simmer. My first rock bottom was in 2012, and I graduated high school in 1988 - the separation of 24 years was a tumultuous time, good times, accomplishments, and tragedies that are practically Shakesperean in nature were waxing and waning in and out of my family’s life.

In the end, it was my bravery, zest, appreciation of beauty, and love of learning that saved my life. I earned my undergrad at the University of Akron - I accomplished this feat in record time. This should have been the first indication that I was hypomanic - not quite full mania, a less destructive force to be reckoned with. Chronically hypomanic people came of as Type A personalities, amassing as credentials as possible. The chronic focused insomnia has lead to a great many degrees, memories and traveling. Like my father, I am a perpetual wanderer too.


About the Creator

Susan Eileen

I am an aspiring writer currently writing a book on the Sober Revolution we are in the midst of, a book about essays that will change the way you think, and a novel about a serial killer. I am also working on a book of poetry.

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