There were so many times that I should have just died, or been killed, or lost for good. Somehow, miraculously, I have survived to the ripe old age of 55, with only a minutia of scars, and my reason intact – or so I believe it to be so. Even though my brain doesn’t jibe with today’s society – I’m appalled by the easily manipulated masses, and their laser focus on inane and irreverent life choices – I feel that I have more clarity about the meaning of life, and true wealth. It’s not the pursuit of money, or possessions, or power. It’s a full and open expression of love, and simplicity, and compassion, that brings contentment and happiness into being. It’s what will save the world, this environmental hell we can only blame ourselves for creating and maintaining so very carefully. Do you wonder how a person gets to this state of mind? Here’s one story.
I was “on the run” at 11 years old. Sticking my thumb out at the busy intersection of 19th Avenue and Lincoln Way in San Francisco, with only a vague idea of where I wanted to eventually land. I performed this act several times over the course of a couple of years, not returning home for months at a time, my mother dreaming of shallow graves and all manner of horrors in my absence, but I didn’t know or care – I was running on survival. My home life was like a scene out of hell. Too many kids, not enough compassion – my parents were completely inept, and used the simple-minded teachings of the Church to attempt to raise 7 kids – spare the rod, spoil the child – in San Francisco, in the 1960’s, a block and a half away from Golden Gate Park, a mile from the Haight, and just a quick jump on the N Judah to Ocean Beach. There were too many avenues of escape, and I believe to this day that I would have been a complete idiot not to utilize them.
You can only imagine what life was like, unless you were raised in our house, and even then, everyone’s perspective was skewed by their own personal experiences. For me, it was a giant fog of violence, sex, anger, religious fervor, over-the-top discipline, and very few declarations of love or affection. Back then, the “fix” for anything wrong was to ignore it, and punish the victims if they didn’t just shut up and let the problem die without resolution. My parents should have been incarcerated on many occasions for the things they did to us, but instead they were icons in the Parish, or so it seemed to me at the time. I don’t understand how anybody could think this was the right way to raise children, but there it was.
There was always music in our house, though, which made the reality of living there even more surreal. Mom was a piano teacher for the community, with my eldest sister assisting; my brother was a very promising protege at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, (I attended there as well on Saturdays). We had a big, sleek, black Steinway grand piano that took up a great portion of the dining room. I hid under there on many an occasion. So on the one hand, we had all of the great symphonies on vinyl, recitals at home, even a few trips to the SF Opera House for performances, which was a very dear thing for my mom to do – my parents didn’t make a whole lot of money then. And on the other hand, we had Dad’s big band obsession. He had a reel-to-reel he was very proud of, and we listened to Glenn Miller and Harry James, Sinatra and John Gary ( http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-giH9a0cxa4 ). Music, I think, was one of the two enormous factors that saved me from jumping off the roof back then.
The other major influence in my life, and without it I would not be the deeply empathetic, discerning, no-bullshit person that I am, was my sainted grandmother. Eleanor Alice Banner Abbott was the only natural, wonderful, REAL human being in my life, and I am grateful still, every day, that she offered to share with me her love of Nature, the sanctity of life, the wonder of creation – she would take me out of the City and we would get lost in state parks, wandering down paths and marveling over a wisp of moss or a color-changing rock in a stream. I had piles of rocks, twigs and moss from our adventures, in a pathetic attempt to bring something beautiful into my house. Mom had painted everything white, with gold trim. There was nothing sacred in our home, unless you counted the portraits of the Virgin Mary and Jesus over the fireplace mantel in the living room. The kind whose eyes follow you around the house. You decide if that’s creepy or not.
Even in the years where I was incarcerated in this or that juvenile hall, group or foster home, Grandma would send me little “care packages” and beautiful cards with awesome words of encouragement. She never forgot me like everyone else did. I hardly ever saw visitors, and I didn’t get “out” for good, until just shy of my 16th birthday. Grandma was my light in the darkness. I could never have had enough of her presence. Thank you, Universe, for her. She provided the jumping-off point for my metamorphosis, though I didn’t recognize that fact for another few decades. We were all saturated in ignorance, traditional mindsets, and social manipulation then – and any attempts to break out of the little dark black box of the norm was met with ironclad resistance. Which is why it was believed by “those in power” that I so needed correction rather than understanding. At the tender age of 11, I was jaded with the ways of humanity, having been drugged, raped, and/or abused in some manner by many of my neighbors and acquaintances. All of this occurred in a close-knit, Catholic parish, and no one ever came to my defense. I look back and think, “How the FUCK did I survive? How does anybody ever figure this shit out, and get beyond it to what’s important?”
So many of the people that I DID like either didn’t survive that era, or simply disappeared. My best friend from Catholic school, for instance – the last time I saw her, she unexpectedly knocked on the door of my other BFF, looking for drugs – any drugs. We turned her away, told her it was inappropriate to come there and ask that (heaven knows why I was so fucking judgmental, I was doing everything under the sun). I never saw her again, after years of hanging out together, and have no idea where she went next, or what happened to her. Or her family; she had a daughter, and a younger brother; her parents were gone, she was a mess, and I still wonder what’s going on with her. Then there was a friend of my brother’s, who had given me CPR and saved me when I OD’d on coke after a three-day, all-you-can-snort binge – who died a couple of years later of an overdose, alone. What was I saved for? What did he die for?
Then there was Theresa. When I was released from juvenile hall for the last time, I was placed in a local “day care” psychiatric group therapy center, to keep me “safe” after school every day. I met Theresa there; she was from a family very similar to mine (Catholic, authoritarian, unflinching discipline), though different, in that they were 100% Maltese-American, and we were from Genovese/Tennessee Hillbilly stock. They ate octopus and stuff like that. ew. Though I did learn about polenta from them. Now THAT’s good food, even today.
So Theresa and I became the very best of friends, and she was my companion through many adventures over the years. We hitchhiked up to the Columbia River with a buddy of hers once; I got in an argument with her friend, crossed the road, and hitchhiked back to San Francisco alone. That wasn’t the best decision I ever made, but I did end up flying First Class into SFO from Medford, Oregon. But I digress. When all was said and done, I ended up marrying my brother’s friend when I was 18, and Theresa married a member of the Aryan Brotherhood, who had just been released from prison, and who recognized an easy mark, moved in on her like a starving shark, married her, made her deliver packages for him even after he was re-incarcerated – and, as far as I’m concerned, had her killed when he found out she had begun seeing a person of color in her futile quest for love and affection. She was found, 10 months after her disappearance, thrown into a shallow grave on an on-ramp in East Palo Alto. A message.
No one knows what she endured but her abusers. No one knows how long it was into that 10 months that she died. There were syringes in the grave with her; the police never talked to me; her mother was convinced that her new boyfriend was the killer, and attacked me at her funeral, in the mistaken belief that I had introduced them to each other. What a mess. To top it off, when “Bobby” got back out of jail, he showed up at my work (instant, flashing migraine) and asked for a place to stay until he got on his feet. I was scared shitless (I had just had a baby then, and was alone), so I said yes. He tried to play the same cards with me that he had with Theresa, but I wasn’t having it. I just kept my cool, and a month or so later, he moved in with a neighbor of mine, who was a good friend and knew that I was suffering by just looking at Bobby’s face. I remember reading his Tarot for him, and time and time again, turning the Devil card over, the only card in the major arcana that means a complete lack of control over our fate, the only card that scares me. After that, I moved away and never saw him again, thank the Universe. There’s a lot more to the story of Theresa’s life, and I wanted to put some of it down in memoriam. She was a great, honest person; transparent and believable, and easily used by bad entities. I remember her often.
And so, it seemed in my foggy state that the good people all died/went away (except Grandma); my parents only grew more judgmental, angry and distant, and I wasn’t a highly aware being at that point in life – just taking what I could get in order to feel alive, and pursuing fleeting happiness, not really connected at all to anything or anybody. That’s survival mode. I had been living it since day one, and it would take many more decades before that thick, encrusted wall would come down.
Part 2 will be about my fantastic, insane, short-lived marriage. And my beautiful little girl, who opened my heart.