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.


Was Mine a Misspent Youth? Or, a Necessary Evolutionary Process? Chapter 1

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.