Was Mine a Misspent Youth? Or, a Necessary Evolutionary Process? Chapter 2

I was going to write about my marriage and my daughter in Part 2, but after further thought, I feel that’s jumping ahead too fast.  So, Onward and Downward…

The last time I ran away before my parents became fed up and had me made a ward of the court, I was not very far away from home.  On the shore of Fort Funston at Ocean Beach, people had carved out the sandstone on the bluffs, and that place was known as the Sand Caves.  I lived in one for a month, with an Iroquois named Chance.  We had the best time.  I would wake up in the mornings, and look out at the waves, where Chance would be standing in the rising mist, with his arms up over his head, and his long black hair flowing down over his naked bum, welcoming another day.  Bliss, I tell you.  Pure joy.  If I’d run off with Chance, who knows how much sooner I might have woken up, walked the right path, and found the meaning of life?

Problem was, I was not even 12 years old yet, and Dad took issue with that.  So when my sister snitched about my whereabouts (I’ve never really forgiven her for that), Dad came walking down the beach, calling out, and all of the people in the caves peered from their perches to see what was going on.  Eventually he saw me.  We hid in the cave, but Dad climbed up, and said some quite nasty things to my best girlfriend who was visiting me that day. Then he took me by the hair and dragged me down the beach, all the way to juvenile hall.  I spent three days that first time.  I was scared out of my wits, and my first friend inside was a very young prostitute, who watched over me and offered advice on what to do in there.  She was an angel.  These experiences are why I question the norm.  I could never condemn her – she was a victim of greed and mankind’s arrogance, as much as any other.  And we were all being punished for things beyond our control.  I still believe that.  So, I spent three days, but I had to go to court, and the judge declared me “incorrigible.”   Thus I became a ward of the court for the next 5 years or so, and was placed back in a cell to await my designated, arbitrary fate.

Having failed to be the perfect money-making foster child to a woman in Mill Valley, who had made a career of living off the State, feeding her own kids steak while spending as little as possible on her wards, (and me preferring to be at the bongo parties at the Tamalpais Mountain Theater over being there), I transitioned into a Catholic group home in San Francisco.

Have you ever had a nightmare that your family moved away without telling you?  I did.  Actually, it happened.  I was 14, and remanded to live at Mount Saint Joseph’s Home for Girls.  I was there for 10 months, was following all of the rules, and thought that was long enough, as I hadn’t stolen anything, killed anybody, or abused anyone.  I was simply a runaway from a violent situation, but of course, back then nobody listened to the kids.  It was all discipline and no understanding.

I asked some of the nuns (Sisters of Mercy, I have to admit they were nice and put up with a lot of shit from the girls) when I was going to be able to go home – they didn’t have an answer – so I decided I was going home anyway.  I didn’t have a penny for bus fare, and not being at all familiar with the area, I began walking down 3rd Street in the general direction of the ocean.  I knew I’d get there eventually.  It was a long walk, all the way across the City, but other than that guy who stopped his Lincoln Continental Land Yacht on 3rd and tried to force me into his vehicle (he had no idea who he was fucking with), it was a tiring but uneventful journey.

When I finally walked up my steep street to my house, I was exhausted.  I attempted to walk in and surprise everyone, “Hello!  I’m home!”   But the door was locked.  No one answered.  Frustrated, I sat down and waited on the steps, and eventually my neighbor came out and told me that my family had moved south.  Wow.  I still remember that feeling.  It wasn’t pleasant.

I’d never even heard of the town they moved to, because I always hitchhiked north to Marin, Sonoma, Santa Rosa counties and beyond.  It was a sharp kind of hurt, but I should have known very well by 14 that in the scope of life, I didn’t matter to those who called the shots.  So, when my parents were called, Dad came and got me.  I was allowed a brief glimpse of the new house, and then a counselor came from the group home, took me back, and processed me into a nearby lock-up convent with barbed wire, and severe punishment if you went too close to the fence.  Talk about adding injury to insult.

The “new” place was located near a slaughterhouse.  We were required to rise at 5am every morning and attend church services at 6am.  As I would walk through the courtyard to the chapel on some mornings, the air would be thick with blood.  Literally red with it, and the sickly-sweet stench of a multitude of miserable lives and deaths would clog my nose.  I had to OD to get out of that place.  A friend went on a home visit (I was never allowed one) and raided her mom’s medicine cabinet.  I swallowed a large paper cup filled with I Don’t Care What.  In the middle of the night, I found myself crawling on my belly, calling for help from the excruciating pain in my gut.  I don’t remember much after that for awhile.  I heard that the girl who gave me the drugs was placed into CYA.  The California Youth Authority facility was like the Pelican Bay for juveniles.  Everyone was scared of going there.  I hope it wasn’t me that told them, in my painful stupor, who it was.  I will never know.

I woke up in a psychiatric ward.  It was the most pleasant place I’d been in years.  It was comfortable, bright, everyone was polite and careful to not offend, there was good food (in comparison), and comfy beds.  I’ll never forget taking the Rorschach test, and trying my best to shock the therapist.  I was just making shit up.  Did it matter?

One of the best things that came out of my time there was that I met a young girl, about my age, who could have been Janis Joplin’s mini me.  She had an outrageous, boisterous quality to her singing voice, and she played the guitar.  I’ll never forget her rendition of “Yer Blues” by John Lennon.  I’ve always sung it her way since.  She inspired me, and I left there with a determination that I would sing and play guitar too.  All of her songs were sad, but the way she sang them – amazing.  Another person who influenced me greatly – and I’ll never know what happened to her.  I know she was suicidal.  I hope she survived, like me.

Anyway, after they determined that I was nutz in some manner or another, I was transferred to the juvenile detention facility in San Mateo County.  After three months, I was “promoted” to “blue” status, which meant that I was trusted to wander around a bit, watch TV on the main floor, and wasn’t locked up alone so much.  I remember watching the Watergate Trials live, because that’s what they wanted to watch.  I had no interest whatsoever in politics.  All that serious dialogue was boring as hell to me, but it was something to do, other than being alone, scraping long grooves into my wrist with a bobby pin I had found.  I cover the scars with pretty silver bracelets now.

As I mentioned before, I was finally released from juvenile hall for the last time just prior to my 16th birthday.  My Dad came to drive me to their new home.  I still remember vividly the “talk” he gave me on the long ride up El Camino Real from Belmont.  All about not making waves, learning lessons, toeing the line, being “good” (I was so confused about what good really was, it felt like one thing in my gut,  but everyone told me it was a lot of other things); and so I arrived after all these years away.

I was promptly presented with the tiny nursery for a bedroom, as if I were a temporary guest.  There was colorful circus wallpaper and mismatched curtains, and the room was smaller than the cell I had been living in.  And it was dark.  I couldn’t wait to get the fuck out of there.

Now, maybe we can progress to the burning house/future husband tale.


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