The summer after my 16th birthday, my brother invited me to his house in Healdsburg, on Chalk Hill Road, right on the Russian River. I threw my backpack on, and was there in a flash. I have no recollection of whether I found a ride or hitchhiked. I simply remember being in his house. It was a great, rambling old place, filled with antiques (TWO grand pianos for my bro to play!), and he had several roommates. I met his friend Steve that weekend. Steve had gone to school with Kevin in San Francisco, before Kevin also became a ward of the court and was sent away from home. Steve and me did not hit it off very well. Actually, I didn’t think much about him, and when we did converse, it was only with some “I’m just his friend’s little sister” -type banter.
I only spent two days there, and then the house burned down. It started in the basement, an electrical fire. The wires were old, and had not been replaced since the house was built long ago. I remember that my brother was in the shower, and he had to run out onto the road with nothing on but a towel. I was the one that called 911; standing in the living room, watching the smoke billowing in all around me where the walls met the floor. Then I ran outside, too (luckily I had my backpack handy, so I didn’t lose everything like Kevin).
Kevin was a composer. His teacher at The Conservatory of Music had likened his compositions to Bach; he said that if he didn’t know any better, he would have thought they were lost works. Many of Kevin’s creative endeavors were stacked in the piano bench in the living room. They didn’t survive the fire, and to me that was the most tragic loss that day. We were in unincorporated lands, so the Town of Healdsburg didn’t deploy their fire department, even though they were right across the river and would have taken only a few precious minutes to arrive. The emergency vehicles had to travel from Santa Rosa, which took 20 minutes at full speed. The house went up in 20 minutes, and a large portion of the slope down to the river was burned and charred. The only survivors were us, the brick chimney, and the weed crop that had been ready to harvest, growing on the riverbank – and now dried to perfection.
But, something happened during the fire that was even more unexpected. As I waited for the fire department, I became hysterical. I was not in control of my senses at all – there was something so visceral about watching the place go up in flames, watching Kevin’s possessions burn to ashes, and realizing that this “escape weekend” was just another disaster in a long string of unbelievable events in my life. I was screaming and yelling, condemning the absence of the firefighters, over and over again.
At some point, my brother said to Steve, “Go shut her up.” So Steve walked up to me, locked me in a big bear hug, and kissed me. I shut up. It was quite the long, lingering kiss, too. After he kissed me, we looked at each other, and I believe that was the first time I really noticed him. He was handsome to me, a tall man, long blond hair, blue eyes, sharply in contrast to my features. I thought he was a god, right there, at that moment. And he gave me something to think about that was much more pleasant than the present situation.
Suddenly, we became inseparable. It was weird, to be immediately connected that way. It was as if we were old friends, joking and playing around with each other, acting as if we were family already. My entire future changed that day. He had decided at the moment we touched that we were now together. I was champing at the bit for change and adventure. I had no idea what I was doing.
Some friends downriver took us in and threw a “survivor party” because we now had garbage bags filled with ready-to-fire-up weed. So I spent my first night with Steve, and we talked about our lives, telling our stories and aspirations for the future. What had seemed to be total destruction on that day had metamorphosized into something else.
Well, Kevin survived his losses, moved on to his next adventure; I began staying with Steve more and more until I finally said goodbye to my Mom and Dad in no uncertain terms, so happy to move out of that dark, tiny nursery! I was still 16, luckily nobody thought about statutory rape. I guess they finally figured it out – that it’d be more trouble than it would be worth, to continue attempts to control me. Good, for all concerned.
Steve had a tiny studio apartment at 16th and Valencia, in the Mission District of San Francisco. I became a burrito aficionado in no time at all, due to the fact that there was a taqueria on just about every corner. Steve had a pretty good job for his age (he was 20), and I didn’t have to lift a finger. Looking back, this was a huge setback in my growth. I was indulged to the best of Steve’s ability, so I jumped on the bandwagon to see what would happen next, still in survival mode, gobbling up all the fun. I really didn’t know any better, then. And I certainly had no idea what love was, except for what I had shared with my Grandma, which couldn’t be the same kind of love, could it? I know better now, but then? Not even close.
What followed were some good years, and some pretty bad ones. Even though I loved Steve as best I was able, he wasn’t as strong or passionate as I had first thought. He was a good man, though, with a great heart. He really loved me, and gave me a home and sheltered me from the world. I believe that he entered my life so that I could see that love was possible and real and tangible – because up until then, I rejected those notions, just by virtue of my collective experience with humanity thus far. I embraced Steve’s offers of home and affection, but only to a point. Beyond that, I was always looking outward for something else, another possible future.
That didn’t bode well for a happy marriage, but after I turned 18, we simply woke up one morning, he asked me if I were ready, and I said “Yes!” With no plan whatsoever, we went to a Presbyterian church in the Richmond District, and asked the pastor there to marry us. Steve was Methodist, and I was Catholic, so that seemed a highly logical choice of venue. Everything was a joke then. The pastor told us that our desires were “highly unusual,” but agreed to perform the ceremony. We had no witnesses with us, so he asked the church secretary and another employee to witness for us. I was in my hippie attire, a long floral skirt and sweater; Steve had more conservative garb, a flannel plaid shirt and slacks – and we were married on that day in, if I remember correctly, November 1976.
The reception was interesting; we were close to my eldest sister’s place of employment, King Norman’s Kingdom of Toys, on Clement Street, so we dropped by and told her what we had just done. After she got off work, she stopped at a local bakery for a cake. I believe that she bought some champagne for a toast. I do not remember who attended our “reception” at such short notice, because we have no pictures of the event. I think that my sister took some that day, but I don’t know where they’ve gotten to. There are very few pictures of my life during those years, so I have to rely mostly on memory. Cherish pictures from your distant past, people – they’re instant memory-boosters, and you’ll never forget a face, no matter how much it changes over the years.
So I became a wife, and while he worked, I played. Shortly after that, we moved into a flat in the Sunset District with my brother Kevin, and one of my sisters. It seems that I was partying just about every day, and there was a live band in the living room almost every night. My brother had chosen to play a lot of blues and rock n’ roll, rather than classical, and he was extremely good at it. He still is. A local legend in these parts, he has toured the world, is still playing the clubs, performs at private parties at wineries and homes all over the Bay Area, and records in studios with various artists. I could name a pretty impressive list of people he’s played with (and for), but you wouldn’t believe me anyway. I became very close to Kevin. I roadied for him as much as possible, even though I wasn’t 21 yet, lugging his amps up stairs and onto stages, and dancing like a fool with the audience. What fun we had! Most of the time.
We were on the road at 4 am, coming home from a gig in Ukiah one morning, when we decided to stop at the Jack-in-the-Box on Lombard St. There were a couple of young men that must have visited San Francisco with the sole mission to find someone to gay-bash, because they arbitrarily decided Kevin was gay and I was lesbian. They began yelling it at us in the parking lot. One of them knocked Kevin out, and he fell partially under their car, and then they advanced on me, calling me a dyke, telling me I didn’t deserve to live – I thought I was going to die, I thought Kevin was dead – I was so panicked. It brought back to me so many instances when I was not in control of the situation, when someone wanted to do me harm for no good reason – I seriously do not remember what happened next. This has occurred a few times already in my life, when the stress was so great that I either just blacked out or saw red until the situation was over. All I know is that my brother had revived, the violent, evil, bigoted jerks were driving away, and I was unhurt. We didn’t stop there again.
I still wonder what the hell is wrong with people that feel the need to gang up on complete strangers, simply to feel powerful and validated. They need to go do something heroic – not evil, to reach that place. One thing I never did, that I wouldn’t allow myself to do, was bully someone. Some people would disagree, because they don’t know the difference between bullying and a good, rousing argument. But I know the difference, and I would never set out to hurt someone deliberately. I never stole anything from anyone, either. I know what it’s like to have nothing, and to work for something, and then for someone to come along and claim it as theirs, or simply take it. I don’t understand people who don’t hesitate to cross that line.
There’s an argument that some have a genetic disposition to do this or that, to be empathetic or incapable of compassion – from my perspective, it’s hard to fathom. Aren’t those people considered sociopathic? Shouldn’t there be some sort of intervention when a person goes out of their way to harm others? So many are walking the streets today, with so many more being birthed every day, because their parents are afflicted with the same disorder. No wonder the world has gone to hell. After all of the hard-won advances in civil and social rights of the 60′s and 70′s, corporate rule is dissolving the laws that protected us from another’s greed, hatred and ignorance, and everyone’s now living in survival mode, in their own little bubble, insulated from reality, plugged into the Matrix of media and entertainment and marketing tactics, not wanting to step outside the bounds of what they’re used to – even though it’s not real, not healthy, not natural, and not where humanity needs to be heading as a whole. So many are socked into this “alternate reality” that anyone who reminds them it’s not real is ridiculed, even brutalized. The people in the Matrix are actually supporting the destruction of our infrastructure and social welfare with their votes, because they’ve been convinced by media that night is day, and the sky is pink. They’re literally angry at the weak, needy, and almost anyone who is different, and lately, to the point of promoting violence. If you’re not exposed to alternative media, you won’t understand or agree with a word of this paragraph, most likely. I plan on getting more in-depth into social politics later, so be warned.
I think that the above was a deliberate diversion from the subject. Back to my marriage. To be honest, I lived as if I wasn’t really married, which goes back to the wall/disconnect I had created in the past. I know my husband was devastated when he realized it, a few years into our union. I was always looking for affection, and I know that my behavior stemmed from my childhood experiences. Though I did not deliberately set out to hurt Steve, I succeeded in doing so, and quite thoroughly.
By the time I walked out of his life for good, he had hit bottom. I can’t get into the details, it would be too painful; but it was as bad as it gets, and after attending Narcotics Anonymous for awhile, he cleaned himself up, found a woman in the program that would love him for who he was, and asked for a divorce through his step-father, who was an attorney. We were together for, at the most, six years, but married for sixteen and a half. Neither of us filed for divorce during all that time, maybe with him thinking I might grow up, and me thinking that he was still connected to me somehow, which made me feel safe, for whatever reason. I was actually pleased to receive and sign the papers all those years later, in hopes that Steve would have a chance at happiness, finally. He moved to Oregon with his new wife, by all accounts, and I never heard from him again. I search sometimes online for his name, hoping not to discover an obituary or other bad news, but there’s nothing. It’s as if he never existed. He’s probably very happy with that. I truly hope so. He was a good man surrounded by a shitload of crazy people and situations. Some thrive in that environment, but not Steve. Well-wishes, wherever you are. BTW, I still use your last name.