The Whole Life

When I was younger, I thought all the older people had ‘given up’ if they didn’t seem to be as passionate about whatever cause, or particularly interested in what was going on in the world, or new discoveries. I also thought that it was selfish for them to be like this, kind of reverting back to childhood- in the way that babies and toddlers are mostly only interested in what their next need was and who would give it to them- and it did pay for babies to be like that, they might otherwise die if they didn’t whine and scream to remind people to feed and change them. I would bring up topics to people who were happy to talk at length about things they lived through in the past, whether that be war or protests or their childhood but they seemed less and less interested in the rest of the world and more and more interested in the smaller details that affected them directly.

“Are you following what is going on in Greece? Or that poor girl who got shot by the ferry building in the city for no reason by some random illegal alien guy? Do you care about the next presidential race?” I would ask them, thinking if they didn’t know, they would want to.
“No, not really.” or “That’s terrible.” they would say and then “Oh, are you going down to the shopping center at all today? Could you bring me a coffee? The tree trimmer guys have been here all week, the noise is annoying… Did you hear the Denny’s is closing? The neighbor has had to take off work because his wife has post-partum depression… I can’t believe how much our cable bill is…”

I was starting to think that feelings one’s mortality more and more as time goes on might be akin to living in Weimar Germany in the sense of bread being one price in the morning, another in the afternoon, and money losing value all the time. You wake up, having slept poorly more often than not knowing that something would start hurting at some point, and no matter how you tried to keep things in reasonably decent working order, little pieces here and there were going to keep falling apart and/or causing one pain/bread was going to cost more later in the day. It was harder and harder to worry about what would happen too far down the road, especially when you realized how far down the road you already were.

It wasn’t quite like the aforementioned ‘chicken coop mommy syndrome’ of previous posts. I wouldn’t say it was quite giving up either. I saw the beginnings of this tendency in myself as well, not because I no longer cared or was not interested, but because some of what I had done had begun to feel inefficient. How much more ‘good time’ did I have left and what did I want to spend it on?

I had never previously much understood all the self-help books or what I estimated to be sort of eastern-y religious stuff telling everyone to ‘let go’ or ‘not be attached to outcomes’ or as some guru proclaimed on the cover of one of my parent’s books ‘Be Here Now’, shoved in next to the Horizon journals, National Geographic and Gary Snyder. It sounded flaky and worse, undoable.

To me all this and the things I mentioned before, all the hippie crap sounded like an excuse to not give a shit, and worse it was telling other people not to give a shit. Maybe I felt this overall philosophy influenced them to not act like parents, but being like that was the popular thing at the time I suspect. Because you wouldn’t want to be like The Man and oppress your own children with any sense of normalcy. I suppose it was a rebellion against the other way taken to the extreme where they have 50 thousand kids and make them wear dirndl skirts and be super religious. Not that anyone was doing that out here.

Now I was starting to understand the older people- what they were doing, perhaps without even realizing it. It wasn’t disaffection, it wasn’t exactly disinvestment. It was a kind of detachment but not completely guru-on-the-mountain nor the kind that carries resentment. Or perhaps it was simply an ordering of their attachments and seeing the BS political phraseology that over time, ultimately rings hollow, though it does continue to ring- perhaps it sounds different to the trained ear. You also see people going though phases of accumulating and then getting rid of much they had accumulated, knowing that all this stuff was yet another distraction that began to feel like it was weighing them down to this material plane.

Perhaps this is where we all ended up, the ones having the ‘whole life’ maybe ended up there first, or perhaps they didn’t ever need to detach, because they had everything right to begin with.

I wasn’t sure if I envied them or not, but the fact that I questioned it, meant on some level- I did. The people who had a ‘whole life’ had all the pieces of their life mixed together. Or at least they were tied together. They were one person- and I don’t mean this as opposed to multiple personalities- I mean it as they were one person across all the different areas of their life. These people were not disaffected or apathetic. In fact, they volunteered more often and were usually more conscientious than people not in their ‘club’- they usually did more than what they were asked and did it happily. They had friends that cared about them, they seemed always to be getting together to celebrate something, they wouldn’t understand people blowing off birthdays or holidays. In their world, if people were shitty to someone, they probably deserved it- because that made sense, and most things in their world did make sense, so they used that filter and it worked, mostly. When it didn’t, they would think lousy things about people who didn’t deserve it, or who were not wholly bad.

These folk, they weren’t mincing, evasive and cheap with their personal information, they wanted to share and they wanted you to share back and if you didn’t they usually took it the wrong way, like you were being standoffish and rude purposefully, because why else would you not want want to blab about your life unless you just hated them? Why else would you not be signed up to everything they were, and why else could you not always participate? If you put up a good enough front, they simply would just dislike you. If you didn’t put up enough of a good front, they would then pity you and avoid you. They knew people at their children’s school. They socialized with these people on occasion. They would be hanging out at the pizza place after a kid’s little league game. The They weren’t afraid of having identifying stickers or symbols on their car.

They wanted people to know who they were-they had the little stick figure people on their minivans with the names of who was on-board- they were into hanging out in groups, either their immediate family and maybe also a couple of families or having other people’s kids over. They were not hiding. They liked meeting new people, because they were not afraid to explain their life- there was nothing to explain because they were what they seemed. They were not afraid to be seen with anyone across various parts of their life- and they were friends with others like themselves, people who had nothing to hide, past or present.

Sometimes it was easier to be friends with total narcissists because everything was about them. You didn’t have to share anything with them, they didn’t care and most of the time, they didn’t ask- and even if they did, it was still asking because the answer was about them, what you could do for them.

You could just let them talk and talk and that was good enough for them and at the time, a reasonable facsimile of a friendship, or whatever it was. They thought they were so clever when they lied and believed. Like I said previously, they almost have to lie, because everything is a lie to someone who has no core, everything is made-up, everything is borrowed, copied, re-arranged. It’s the equivalent of watching bad TV, or eating junk food, or hanging out with lousy ‘friends’. You knew on some level the food would make you gain weight, or the shitty friends would steal from you, be it your time, your bike, money, ideas or even some joke you told- but you were too depressed at the time to see this, or worse, you took it as flattering you had something worth stealing.

Whatever you revealed to them, they likely wouldn’t judge 1)because again, they didn’t give a shit and even if they did have an actual opinion-2) why risk making at best pissing you off and worst, an enemy out of you when you could still be useful, right? 3)they also don’t judge because they don’t see right and wrong the way the whole people do.

You could never really be ‘real’ with these people anyway, because as real as you were, they would never be able to understand what you meant no matter how articulate you were, they just didn’t have that sense. You didn’t want to talk about people who were assholes, because you would find out, in their little delusions-of-taking-over-the-world-but-really-feeling-in-reality-like-an-ineffectual-wuss-and-hero-worshipping-creeps, it would just be another creep for them to admire. Yay a tough guy, wish I were him! It was almost like these people were disabled on some level.

‘Why don’t you come back’ they cajoled, trying to get me to take part in some online thing I once was all gung-ho for, but that had lost its luster for many reasons. ‘No one will know it’s you, just make up a fake name.” As per usual, they missed the point: I knew it was me and that was reason enough. I resented the style of invitation for what it was pretending to be blind to, or maybe it wasn’t even pretending- and this blindness, real or pretend- made the whole thing so much worse. I couldn’t decide whether the blindness was real, part-real or feigned in order to be able to say something to the effect of ‘ Jeeze, I was only kidding’, or a dismissive ‘oh pssss that doesn’t/shouldn’t matter anymore.’ But it did. I could not now contribute in the way I once wanted to when it wasn’t for someone’s lulz or profit, a hustle. Here’s a little story for you, it’s kind of a math problem, like those ones in the tests they make you take when they think you might be smart, like if all zaggles are ziggles and all zigs…

You throw a unique ball out in a specific direction, a bunch of dogs run after it going one way and yet a little while later another dog brings it back from an entirely different direction, you can safely assume that the dog that brought it back somehow is connected to that other pack. What is interesting is, years ago you introduced a different dog to that pack, which means that dog and the pack and the one who brought it back are all maybe buddies or at least connected somehow even if all the arrows showing connection don’t go both ways. What is funny to think about is at one time you couldn’t imagine these dogs getting along and maybe they still growl at each other in public- but apparently they do get along- on some level.

The good, the salt-of-the-earth, the whole life people would never have a little story like that about the dogs. Or likely many stories like mine.

That said, I was almost like these people at one point in my life, though it didn’t last long. There was once a time where the stories that needed to be hidden weren’t so bad or so many, or I could tell a couple people a couple things. Now there is no way I could find my way back. I do have to recall it though, because I still see these whole life people almost every day in the way that a person recalls a dream and it reminds me of the fact that no matter how long I have been here- that I will always be a stranger. I have almost completely accepted it. Almost.

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People-Watching

The Question of ‘Hate’

Never mind that I thought it wasn’t cool that some people thought any kind of criticism was ‘hate’. I was so guilty of hating and not because of anything people usually railed against. I knew what it was to hate people you were supposed to love. I knew what it was to look at total strangers in traffic, maybe their bumper sticker said ‘coexist’or ‘bad ass boys drive bad-ass toys’ or they had zebra seat covers or they sang along with Celine Dion with their windows open at stop signs. It was that feeling that hit you that you would not get along with these people,
and you didn’t want to bother trying.

The lady on tv speaking in a high-pitched squeal, trying to sell me little plastic containers so that I could create little organized and labled stacks everywhere: socks, paper clips, hair ribbons, towels according to use and color. The ever-perky ‘volunteer management’ moms at the school for sending happy face icons with every email about whatever thing they wanted me to do. The telemarketers who spoofed their phone numbers so I could not call them back and troll them, though I eventually found a way to kill off 99% of them. Nomorobo. Google it. The guy who made a big display of coughing like he was going to die and bitched that I was not far enough away from the cafe door when I had my one smoke.

The attention whores, male or female, it didn’t matter, on social media who thought they were funny or cute who posted stupid platitude posters between endless photos of themselves either in the bathroom or their faces shoved up next to their friends partying, their faces distorted in an ‘I’m having SOOO much fun, whee look at me!’ fiercely smiling. You think everyone cares, but they probably don’t. Give it a rest.

The screaming kids running unsupervised in whatever stores and their parents who seemed like they not only did not give a crap but seemed to revel in the fact they were annoying the hell out of everyone else. The guy in the cafe, whom when witnessing some angry guy yelling at a woman outside and seeming like he might hit her, said ‘ I’m not going to let it ruin my day’. The old lady in line taking forever to find 16 cents in change and another one filling out every field on her check in slow motion. The chatty cathys talking to the clerk about something inane very loudly and animatedly and the nosy parker clerk for asking us if were were ‘traveling’ even though we came in there every week.

The guy who hung around the local shopping center, always with the compliments and vague Shakespearean garbage ‘and a good day to you M’lady, might perchance you have an extra cigarette?’ I had to learn ways to avoid most all of these people, but just when I thought I had avoided them all, new ones sprang up, a many-headed Hydra of annoyance.

The people tailgating the shit out of me in the slow lane or in a 25mph residential. I flipped my mirror bitchily as if to say ‘Now I can’t see you, so it’s not going to do any good’ and then alternated speeding up on the downhill and creeping on the uphill. It was too much work to flash my brake lights. I don’t see you, you don’t exist you entitled shithead.

Speaking of entitled shitheads, I hated the workers who either pretended they didn’t see me, or said ‘ I’ll be right there when I’m done sweeping’. I hated them even more when they could not seem to complete the tiniest and easiest task, such as putting a straw with a drink or not forgetting something every single fucking time.

The moms at the school who noticed little details, such as one’s shoes or whether one’s bag was genuine from the stitching, or kept track of who volunteered for what and who didn’t- chickens pecking at the ground, seeing only what was directly in front of them- and never any overall situation, always the trees, never the forest.
The moms reminded me of commenters on the internet who would pick apart the most inane of television shows- and when you thought it could not be more of an exercise in pointlessness- the universe of stupidity would groan and expand like a belch from an overweight cal-trans worker or cop at a hof brau, making room for more.

“Did you see what the t-shirt said that the kid was wearing?” “that car seat was facing the wrong way” and then they would congratulate each other on it: ” IKR!? good eye IronicScreenName!” “just wow, DevilDolly, you catch everything!” or the ubiquitous non-statements like “I just…can’t” . I was always afraid one of these would hold me hostage in real life and tell me some long-winded and detail-laden story, of which I would have to follow enough to act as if I were paying attention- knowing there would be no point to it, not even like at the end of a lifetime movie where some banal and sickeningly predictable tale always led to ‘closure’.

There were no end to this clucking. I knew from watching others, I was supposed to be enraptured, that I was supposed to make my own little clucking noises back to them, to show that I understood, I could relate- that there were places in these
birdsongs that I was supposed to react, to make faces-but it almost hurt to try to listen, like fighting a dose of sodium pentothal. It reminded me of the feeling I got when I discovered another one of the things I was never taught by my mother, that I learned for myself as I went along. Like how to make a bed properly or iron something. At least since I started cooking for myself probably under age 10, I had developed a decent sense of what seasonings worked with whatever food.

I hated that maybe these chicken-people could tell that I wasn’t doing the correct thing naturally, that I was doing something else. “Don’t stare at people” one of my parents had said. But I had to stare- like a feral animal, it was my way of better figuring out what they were, if they were threatening or threatened- if they were fun, or sad or if they was anything at all interesting about them, and what that could be. I thought that maybe I hadn’t always been like this, but I no longer could recall what being any other way felt like, nor could I attribute/blame any pharmaceuticals or substances.

Why should I try to keep talking about stupid little things with them when I could get close enough to them to catch their scent, or watch they way they moved or memorize the particular way they walked, whether there were patterns to the way they did things- some would look around when they stopped walking, some would look up or down, some would fidget with their hair or their possessions. The rise and fall of their voice and the pitch. If their walk was smooth or mincing or plodding or bouncy or awkward. There was so much you could tell by just watching. This instinctual way of observation often worked much better and was more accurate than anything people might say. People-watching was very instructive.

I didn’t hate these individuals, I hated all of them who had certain characteristics, like being loud all the time. People who tossed their McGarbage out the window, or left their horrible children’s dirty diapers in parking lots. People who had to blast their music and sit there with their car door or front door open so we could all suffer. And why speak at a normal volume when YOU COULD BE YELLING?

There was the special ones- special because they caused others pain and just didn’t care or actually were amused at hurting them. In this category I wondered if I might have some relatives as well, but I was still willing to give them a partial benefit of the doubt that they were maybe simply neglectful rather than the bad kind of sadistic. They were still somewhat hateable just because they were neglectful and selfish. I looked at these types as sort of unfinished somehow, like they never really evolved out of a miserable stage of toddlerhood, when you realize throwing a fit doesn’t get you that far.

Maybe it wasn’t even true hate in all cases, but it was at best annoyance and at worst vitriolic contempt and disgust. Then eventually even that would dissipate and a sense of just getting to the surface for some air would take over. You couldn’t even throw them a life-jacket- they wouldn’t want it.

Then there was what I call the Internet Netherworld.

Here everyone wanted a label because no one seemed to know where they belonged on their own. There was no inner core to these types, it was all about superficial bullshit all the time even when they pretended it was otherwise. Occasionally someone would make a pronouncement, similar to ‘children should be seen and not heard, only it wouldn’t be children, it would be someone else. Usually there would be a news story to try and back up this premise. It seemed at times this was intentionally done, in order to create a controversy- a desperate bid for attention. A few sycophants who would use their own examples, either from life or yet more news stories. Usually they were boring and sucked. Then someone would post a silly picture, or a horrific one. I have never seen so many grown men caring about what anonymous strangers thought, and getting upset to the point of grade-school ‘call ya down’.

The outer world could fall away in this murky swamp, it was a place where real life wasn’t, and that wasn’t a good thing. It wasn’t like being on vacation, which was still another facet of real life. Here you could give someone crap, or have them compliment you, but there was a firewall of sorts. Even if you portrayed yourself and your life accurately, it was still not like someone really seeing it, or you no matter how much ‘proof’ you could come up with. Those that lacked the inner core would happily just go along with whatever the last person they talked to, or the last opinion they hear. Spending some time to let it rattle around in their heads that hmm, maybe I’m looking at this the wrong way, maybe I’m giving credit to the wrong person, or maybe I’m attackding or looking down my nose at the wrong person. Nope. That would take way too much effort. Isn’t it just easier to go along, to just put up your sail and do what’s easiest?

Legions of these ridiculous screen names would throw some crap out there and then wait-the flies would come, some who portrayed themselves as on the side of whatever the original article or post was about, but it was obvious they were there to troll. It was obvious it was just stirring the pot. Others of course would not get this and take offense, then the first troll would relish in the either stupidity or naïveté of the offended person and troll more, unless they were both in on it together as some kind of short-bus in-joke. Usually it was not a funny one, more like pathetic. Some of them even knew it and though they tried to still contribute, you could tell their hearts weren’t really in it- they had seen too much and for too long, it neither angered or annoyed them. It was more like a mixture of resignation and boredom.

Curiously, the lackeys and hangers-on respected some of the trolls, even as they didn’t get what was going on, they mistook these people’s realization of wasting time as suspect- it could lead to maturity, or worse. Going to these people with anything, a legitimate gripe, advice: either giving or asking, or a plea for help , it was all so useless and sometimes even engendered hostility, as if you had broken through the two-way mirror and they figured if you were smart enough to see what was truly going on, oh no, you might even figure out even more than that-your being there was a threat.

There existed a true grade-school, and I mean young grade-school mentality in this world because although you could be somewhat anonymous, all the other stuff was out there for those who were looking at what made you react and what that meant. Being the outlier wasn’t going to pay in this world, but neither was totally sucking up. The only way to win was not to play, as having what I talked about earlier, a strong core, was usually perceived as threatening, whereas if for whatever reason you did not have a strong sense of who you were, or a need to be accepted- well, that was good news to them, because then you could be shaped, you could perhaps serve a purpose.

Most of us were ‘broken’ or at least scratched up in some way in this world. You could really see how people devolved to animal-level behavior when cornered. Some ranted and raved, some withdrew, some yelled and stormed off. Some started their own separate campaign, feeling slighted and needing to prove someone wrong, or simply take away their toys because they just hated them. Almost all of them seemed to lack social skills, even very basic ones, the other parts of their brain were compensating madly.

You could stand stock-still and not evolve in the slightest, and attract the same, or you could continually re-invent yourself to fit whatever was the popular thing at the time. Re-inventing not to be confused with actually evolving. Either way, you would get your ‘haters’ or your followers. There would always be one or the other, and either way it could serve you, as either way, it kept you out there, kept you ‘relevant’. Maybe there really was ‘no such thing as bad publicity’.

Some in this world had remarkably good memories, while others just kept copy-catting or saying the same things over and over in different ways, as if it were some bizarre kind of OCD competition, maybe mixed with some paranoia and hostility. Was thinking that looking that afraid or even crazy somehow translated to ‘badass’? The ‘logic’ in this world was strained and would change regularly. There were stealth trolls, who tried to pretend they were like most of the others, but would give themselves away. It was interesting to notice who gave them up or called them out and who would defend, downplay or ignore them so they could continue covertly insulting and undermining people.

Some would start off as friendly, in retrospect almost too much so, and then would say something that seemed ‘off’, something that seemed designed to piss someone off- the backhanded compliment or shallowly-buried insult-you could see them licking their chops and gloating in their own little world ‘oh look at all the retards that don’t get it, and we’re laughing at them behind the scenes’. Sometimes one of these would go too far and then would back-pedal, reverting to singing the praises of those they were sucking up to, or making one of those lame coated statements, like So-and-So IS a total dick, but I’ve never known a more (insert whatever other worshipful adjective or phrase)…

The ones who did this usually overestimated their own cleverness- this only served to make others suspicious rather than reassured. It was obvious in the non-responses to this crap, or the half-assed reply, that didn’t thank the person for their ass-kissery, but simply the act of any kind of acknowledgement made that ass-kisser grateful. Either that or the ass-kisser was actually trolling the person in charge, and having a laugh of their own. You couldn’t even tell if their words or behavior was consistent over time as things they said disappeared, their names or sign-up dates changed, their words changed around or edited. What you could tell, though, especially over time- was that it was mostly all BS.

There will be more.

Janitor

I didn’t even understand what we were doing was wrong. I figured, if I tell my mom, hey,I’m going up to the school (the school I attended) to have a smoke with 7th grader groper and she let me, either she was cool with it, or I must be that grown up, that it wasn’t wrong. Back then no one was getting classroom speeches about molesters or inappropriate touching- years later I heard his house, fell off a cliff into the ocean. I remember what he looked like, I remember his real name- it rhymed with a bad word.

The next year, 8th grade, it was late spring- it was storming and he was clearing the storm drain next to my parents house and was pissed off because he thought this was out of his job description. I would have thought he would have been friendlier and nice to my parents for some reason-but he wasn’t. What was weird was my parents were totally friendly and nice to him, but that was probably because they didn’t want a mudslide coming down the hill on their house than anything having to do with me. I wonder if he thought that if my parents got mad at him if he didn’t clear the drain, that I was so loyal and adoring of my parents that I might be all, ‘yeah, he sucks, he did this and that..’ But no, I was too busy feeling bad for him that the school wasn’t paying him to do that, back when we used to have torrential rains here and the drains would flood, stairs to the school would become waterfalls…

He had a red truck, not fire engine red, more like a faded red, closer to the bricks of the school. I didn’t pay much attention then to makes and models of cars but I knew it had writing across the back, light colored letters and they were much longer than four letters so I’m thinking it was a Chevrolet and not a Ford. I remember one of his front teeth kind of went to the side a little, and how he sunburned very badly, and that parts of his hair were yellow and parts were sun-bleached white.

I remember seeing him years later at a local outdoor mall, I said hi to him like everything was fine, Because I hadn’t actually gone all the way with him, I supposed I couldn’t be that upset about what did happen, even after I figured out that it’s not normal for 30 year old’s to want to make out, smoke cigarettes, get high with and confide and cry to 12 year old’s. I know I was this age because of when it started and because I started school early at 4 going on 5 and my birthday is late in the year so when I left that school, I was going on 14 that fall entering high school. How did I not know it wasn’t normal? I guess I thought I was sort of his girlfriend. Did I look older? Probably, I know it was after all the puberty stuff had kicked in but not much after. I don’t remember him being there at the school before all this, there was some old black dude who was older than my parents and didn’t talk to anyone.

The worst questions I ask myself now are about how my parents, well my mother for sure knew I was up there and didn’t think there was something weird going on. He could have done worse to me physically, so I’m grateful he didn’t- but it was almost every single day and it was a lot of listening to his life and problems, the wife who left him, that he had a little boy that was like 2 or 3. It’s weird to think that kid is like 10 years younger than me now. I saw the kid’s photo.

My one other friend knew about this, maybe not every little detail but she knew the general thing that was going on. This wasn’t the one with the parents who hated each other and the weird skin disease thing, this was the one whose parents never fought and watched Lawrence Welk. Occasionally she would also hang out with us up there too. She was a year older than I and taller than I-we were like opposite hourglasses, for me it was always morning/afternoon and her it was always afternoon/evening. I liked to read, she would rather listen to heavy metal. She hated writing reports and English homework; I could do it in my sleep. She was good at artsy-craftsy things, I was good at breaking things. She liked to drink, I was the one who wanted to go home early. I liked to cook, she would burn boiling water…etc.

He would sometimes put things through the air vents in the front of my locker, sometimes I could tell they were things he found around the school, like a kid’s valentine card from one of the kindergarten or first graders. Or weird things like a stamp torn off an envelope, or one of those old pennies with the leaves on the sides. Sometimes there would be a cigarette. He smoked a common brand so maybe he didn’t think it would be automatically assumed it was him if they searched lockers, but they never did search your locker there unless you were a Known Bad Kid and Had Already Done Something. If he couldn’t be there that day or there would be other teachers still around or his schedule was different we had a code for when I shouldn’t come up there. Occasionally he would forget to do the code or I would come up anyway or sometimes I wouldn’t be able to make it but we had an understanding no one got mad about it.

I thought initially he would have liked my friend better- as I used to think men liked blondes better, but he actually told me he liked brunettes. I didn’t believe him at the time even though it was me who was up there alone with him every day until I saw his ex at the school once- she didn’t see me-she looked sort of like an older and cooler rock-chick with perfectly blow-dried straight hair worn Manson-girl style. I could tell even by the way she walked that she might be angry, or that she was kind of a tough chick or both. I wondered which parts he said about her was maybe exaggerated and which not. I thought some might actually be true, because he would have beer up there at the school, and I at least knew even though teachers could and did smoke at the school and sometimes during class, no one drank openly at a school. So they probably both drank together and smoked pot. Apparently he didn’t get that it was weird that he would bitch about her drinking and fighting with him, while he was telling me this, while he was drinking at his job.

There were times when, even at this young age when I was still relatively innocent, I knew enough crazy shit from listening to my parents and their friends that I knew when a story sounded off, how it sounded when there was this plaintive ring to the voice that started someone was either telling stuff that was true initially and then started adding to it to get extra ‘oh you poor thing, that’s too bad, you didn’t deserve that’ or to get people on their side and against the other person- the way a liar will tell more than is necessary, not feeling confident in their own bs, the way a salesman will keep pressuring or copying small things you say and do… and while I didn’t know if I would even like him or his ex as people if I were their age and could hang out as Official Adults, I started to feel a little bit bad for this woman- but I never said that. I also started to feel bad for the kid. I only half-assedly believed him when he would talk about how he missed his kid, because he seemed to hate his ex more than he loved his kid. I also started to feel a tiny bit afraid of this guy because I noticed he was different when he was high or had a few beers.

I wondered if he had a Problem With Alcohol. My mother was different when she had been drinking- it was one of the few times she would get all mushy and sappy with my sister and I. We could tell, we could smell it and it made the sentiment feel sloppy and insincere. Maybe she did mean it but couldn’t express it when she wasn’t loaded. Point being, she was ‘different’ when loaded, and so was he. I saw other people drink and they weren’t really that different from their regular selves, just more obnoxiously themselves.

I can’t remember if or how we officially ‘broke up’. I remember him trying to go too far and stopping him- He did stop, but the next time I saw him, he was mostly worried that I had told someone about the last time I had seen him, about how long I had been going up there after school, about all of it.. I reassured him I had not. He then started semi-crying and talking about how he went to confession. By this little show of his, it seemed to cheapen the confidences, the friendship I thought we had, and also make it wrong. What was he this sad about- just because I stopped him? He didn’t need to be this sorry, I thought.

Funny, he had not mentioned church at all before this. I wasn’t even sure what ‘confession ‘ was other than I knew it had something to do with church and of course, confessing something. I was scared that he had told someone now that he was scared that I had. I was upset that he was this upset, in my 13 year old brain I was confused and sad that he was this upset, that he seemed for the first time, not like the co-conspirator he had always been, but guilty. Which made me feel as if I had made him do something bad, which made me also feel guilty- as if I had led him into stealing candy bars and then one day he had an attack of conscience even if I hadn’t. That our being together in some way was bad, that invalidated the whole thing- my parents and their friends had tons of secrets, but secrets weren’t always a bad thing, were they?

I listened more than I spoke with him, wanting to hear his tales of adventure, places he had seen, what his parents were like- I let him talk way more than I talked to him about my life- not because I had not much to tell, but because I thought it wouldn’t look well on me if I told him the truth. He probably knew something was wrong at home simply because I could be up there and eventually I think he knew my mother knew I was there. Actually I’m not sure he did know she knew until the second year- he asked me where I said I was, as if I would have had to lie. I had lied to him following his lead but I had told my mother the truth initially- then somehow he started kidding with me sarcastically about what story I had told today, as if he knew I hadn’t made up one- the school was very close to our house and at times I wondered if he wandered over to the fence and had seen or heard things . I wasn’t understanding why I would have to lie, and figured that myself and my parents were just so mature that I was trusted to do whatever- they acted like I was an adult- that must be why he liked me as well.

I got that he didn’t want to lose his job, but he made it sound like he would get fired because it would look like he wasn’t working and he was slacking off if he was talking to me after school-but not because of things we did. Several years back there was some political scandal about something even weirder than this and it got me thinking about that 2-year period and it made me really mad at the time. Mostly now I’m glad it wasn’t worse but I kind of think him pathetic. I guess this whole episode got kind of buried or rewritten, like when files on a computer are renamed 000001000 even though the actual file is still there- when worse things happened later with someone else. Don’t get me wrong, this guy is still a perv for going after a 12-year-old.

Occasionally I still think I see him at the grocery but I’m not sure if it’s him, because he is only a few years younger than my parents. What would it even matter now to say anything to him? I did see him for sure once after I had graduated high school and was going to the bank or something at a local outdoor mall. He was friendly but seemed a little freaked out. It made me feel bad that he looked around to see who was around. I didn’t fully get what that meant at the time but I thought it strange. I still sort of wished he seemed at least happy to see me on some level, but as he talked he kept backing up and we didn’t say too much before he drove off. I bet he moved at some point because I still live in the same area and people pass each other here all the time because of the way the roads are laid out, where the grocery is and so on and I didn’t see him after that, unless that man that I saw in the grocery months ago really was him and he kept his head down.

At the time, I was more upset that I had lost someone to talk to, someone who would talk to me- someone to whom I thought I mattered much more than the ‘breaking up’ part-and somewhere to escape to. He didn’t get that I knew I was going away to high school and would leave him behind, but what about the friendship part of it?

Worse, the main concern seemed to be getting in trouble, and that was totally like being a kid, I thought. Being scared about getting in trouble or just plain scared is also a kid thing. Another strike at adulthood. Man did this all seem so skeevy.

This made us both like kids instead of making me more grown up. All this time I was reading my parent’s books and years of hearing all this hellish and endless fighting/random drama/more stuff than I ever wanted to know from them and their friends and all their beatnik poetry and weirdo astrology stuff (My dad on the janitor ‘he’s an Aries- an Aries is the baby of the zodiac..’) and my 30 year old ‘boyfriend’ is ‘dumping’ me because he is going to get in trouble. Great. There is no real freedom, even when you’re an adult.

Some Old Ghosts

In this strange past place lurked many a ghost. A childhood friend was there from elementary school- this is a different one than the one I mentioned before. She had an unusual name and an even more unusual skin condition, and parents who openly hated each other. I can’t remember much about the father other than the fact he looked like he was going to work even when he was not, sort of like Darren on ‘Bewitched’ but somewhat sloppier. He seemed to stare at all of us girls but not in a pervy way, more like a combination of suspicion and resentment, as if we were secretly in cahoots with the mother, and we would all decide we needed to do away with him, and he would wake up from falling asleep on the extend-rocker only to find himself tied and surrounded by gasoline-soaked rags.

The mother was tall and large-boned, and had a sensible, slightly longer than chin-length blunt cut- her hair was that thick but super-straight heavy kind like my sisters, so you could see how it all separated when she moved and every chunk knew just where it needed to return. I found it fascinating that it seemed to not have any ‘fluff’ to it. None of those endless little baby waves close to the hairline, and her hair never seemed to change with the weather, collecting all the fog in it and turning it into this wavy matted mess, like mine. I knew she probably couldn’t do anything with it, the way my sister’s heavy straight hair could not take a curl or even a permanent.

I remember thinking more than once, I were her size, which was likely close to 6′, no one would ever kick my ass again, I wouldn’t care that I would have to wear sucky clothes, maybe special ordered from the women’s big and tall store catalog, I was already wearing sucky clothes. Her voice was on the deeper side with a slight accent from somewhere I couldn’t place- it wasn’t from anywhere in the West, or south and it wasn’t anything I could remember from TV. Now I think it might have been Northeast. Her voice when irritated would seem to make this accent gear up and she could reach a pitch that would make me cringe.

I remember thinking hmm this is a different kind of fighting than my parents. They scared me but I liked the way at least their fights had an end. One would slam the door or leave or tell the other one to go to hell and then there would be quiet.
Even though I was a witness to it, I also thought at least they had the decency to get their bullshit over with during the day, instead of keeping their kids up in the middle of the night, having conversations where both sides seemed like they were not heard or understood no matter how much yelling, crying, asking what the other wanted, apologizing, winding down, starting back up and nothing ever really getting resolved. At least her parents fought neatly, it was during the day and it was short, At the time, I didn’t think they also could be fighting in the middle of the night. Their style seemed to be a constant undercurrent of contempt, marked by abrupt nastiness in small bursts.

In this fucked-up attic of the distant past lurked the various houses my paternal grandparents lived in, the house my maternal grandparents lived in San Francisco, which now sits empty. Some people like to deny history, like the time I found the gun in a metal box under this dresser-like thing that held all the ‘good china’, next to a bunch of crayons. I brought the box to someone, I can’t remember if I got yelled at or not. Why the youngest aunt, the one only 7 years older than myself- to this day denies it happened.

Yes, I was a kid, but I knew what it was, knew that it was real,and I knew it was dangerous and I shouldn’t play with it. I remember thinking that they were either stupid or crazy to have a gun like that on the floor next to the stuff my sister and I played with. Many times I thought the adults that surrounded me were stupid or crazy or both. Then I felt bad for thinking this, but it made me not trust them insofar as trusting the whole concept that adults had their shit together and knew what they were doing.

At that same grandparents house I was trying to skate outside their house although it wasn’t easy on sloping hills. I got thirsty and there was a metal frozen orange juice can with the top off on the workbench, I thought it was water inside, but it was turpentine. I remember not being able to talk but bringing the can up and pointing to it. They made me drink milk, I didn’t get sick. I think someone yelled at me but I don’t remember who. They mostly all gathered around and stared at me and talked about it. I can’t remember if they called to ask advice. I know I didn’t go to the dr.

The time my sister did something to herself on these awful metal playground bars when she was probably about 7 or 8, hurting herself. My parents thought it was maybe her getting her period, but I had not gotten mine, and I was 18 months older than her. We had some kind of insurance through my father’s job, but it seemed they always waited forever to take us to the Dr. She kept bleeding and bleeding until finally she had to go to the emergency room and get stitched up. As different as my sister and I are, and as much of a pain in the ass she can be, I often think that she could have bled to death and how angry I would have been at my parents for not wanting to pay the ER co-pay, and this was with them having decent insurance from my dad’s job. I would have known, ok this kid is too young, it’s not her period, she said she hurt hurt herself on the bars, this is definitely a doctor visit.

Another time, when my parents were asleep one morning, and this is when we were very young, I might have been maybe 6 and she 4 or it could have even been five and three- she was playing with a kaleidoscope and had opened it up. It was one of the things I couldn’t stand about her, she was always breaking everything, every time she borrowed my clothes she wrecked them, or spilled stuff on my books or puked on my favorite blanket. Her endless ear infections and high fevers and carsickness. We both cut our heads on a sharp ended low coffee table as babies or toddlers. How did my mother not get it to get rid of the table with kids that close in age?

.

I was probably like 4 or 5. Even at that age I knew she had fucked up badly. It looked like in getting the kaleidoscope apart, she had about cut her little finger off. I remember thinking, great now I have to wake them up. I kind of don’t blame them, I’m a night person myself, we all are- except for the being the kid part. I knew I had to, it was bad, but they hated being woken up and feared they would not believe me, or not take me seriously when I said her finger was hanging off, that she had almost cut her finger off. I used my most serious little kid voice and didn’t try to hide how freaked out I was. I may have even had to say ‘please go look’.

I guess one of them must have gotten up and saw the horror. The drive to the hospital, the white kitchen towel with ice and blood. I remember being pissed off that I had to go too, when I wasn’t the one who was always doing these kind of things.

Like the other time when she was running down our steep hill like a rhinocerous straight into someone’s open car door and put a gash in her head. Why she was doing that I don’t know. She was officially a girl but she always kind of seemed like a boy, and she didn’t look like me or either one of my parents really, she looked like my mother’s father, the one who alphabetized his classical music collection and talked to his bird more than anyone else.

Yes I did overdose on flintstones kid vitamins and also baby aspirin when I was pretty young. Too young to know what would happen, but old enough to climb onto the kitchen counter and go in the cabinets. I didn’t have to go to the hospital though, I just got sick and that was that. Aside from the hives and the ODing on good-tasting goodies found in the cabinets, I can’t remember many injuries or even very many sicknesses of note, I just wasn’t as rough and tumble as my sister.

I guess I thought no one’s parents watched them and all this was normal. The time I had hives really bad back when I was allergic to chocolate. The hives were not small, they were like raised continents. I got dragged to dinner at some people’s house that my dad worked with. Why it was such a big deal to have to go there I don’t know, it’s not like they were closing a deal. The guy worked at the same place as my own father, the wife dressed up more than my mother and wore more makeup, but they lived in a similar crappy tract house subdivision not a mile from us.

I remember taking a bath there while I was over there covered in hives, one of the adults thinking that would help. I had the hives before we even left our house. Of course at the end of the night, when it was clear it wasn’t going to go away, the ER as last resort on the way home from the oh so vaunted Weinberg’s (not their real name). A shot. They said it would make me jittery. If it did, I didn’t even care at that point, I wasn’t afraid at all. I was relieved that it seemed at least temporarily, I was in the semi-care of sane, rational people. I kind of didn’t want to go home. I didn’t care anymore about never going to Disneyland, I probably wouldn’t like it anyway.

I regularly wondered why my parents sort of worshipped one or another of their friends,and whatever friend or friend rotation drama was going on seemed to eclipse everything else in their life at the time. My kid self wasn’t really all that bad of a kid. Thinking back, I am lucky my sister and I survived my parents. Not because they starved us and beat us but by not really paying attention, being so absorbed in their own stuff, their friend’s stuff.

This large group of weird hippie friends would hang around the house , drop by whenever, and worse, sit and drink with my mom and go on and on and it was all so vague and spacey, I hated it. They thought they were speaking in ‘adult code’ so either myself or my sister, who had zero interest in listening to them ( but used every drawn-out drunken-hippie conversation to get away with something) would not be able to figure out what was really going on. Of course then I didn’t know as much about them as I do now, but although I could easily tell the ‘code’, listening to them only served to enrich my overall disappointment in adults.

I don’t know if I even can accurately portray the type of roundabout, airheaded, go-nowhere conversations they had. Knowing how my mother is now, I pretty much know she either envied these people’s problems, thinking that their lives contained more adventure or something than her own, or by turn had contempt for them and thought them stupid or boring, or just didn’t care-or maybe it she was so bored it was something to do- like a soap opera, days of our wine-fueled, post-shit-war-had-two-kids-too-close-together-wish-I-had-been-a-painter lives.. but she could smoke and drink wine while listening to their bullshit and my dad wouldn’t rag on her for drinking if she was ‘being supportive of a friend’- at least not while the friend was there. How they could sit there and go on and on with my mom being, well, my mom, not really empathizing with anyone but asking informational questions, I don’t know.

Perhaps they saw it as she was trying to be neutral like a shrink, because that was the good way to see it. Maybe that’s why sometimes I don’t know how to respond the approved way to people’s problems verbally with something like ‘Oh I’m so sorry, I’ll pray for you..” and instead want to feed them or hug them or rub their back or make them laugh or just let them rant, or affectionately tell them they are being crazy or agree with them that whatever it is royally sucks. I don’t know, maybe that is good enough.

“I just don’t know what I want, you know Lisette? I love Werner, but I need my space to be Gayle..it’s just the energy of all the water because I’m a Pisces, and he’s a fire sign, I mean, I’m just not used to all the intensity..when I was with David and he would have his poetry blah blah blah blah”..(or gee Gayle, maybe it’s because Werner is probably still hung up on my mother- I don’t know why except for the fact she probably didn’t expect much from him and probably wasn’t that attached to him either- from when he lived with us with his kid after he got out of Vietnam . Of course this was probably when my dad was busy with Sue or Marge..or weirder, maybe Gail did know this since all of them were always ‘oversharing’ and that’s why she thought she would come to my mother for advice, which would be the worst possible idea). Sometimes I wish I could be selective about which memories to lose or rather specific information. Just because you can now make better sense of things doesn’t necessarily make anything better.

My sister made me not want to have kids and so did my own parents but I did anyway. Is consoling myself with the ‘at least I’m not like them’ not such a good thing? I have my faults – not anything that would make the news or cause child protection to come out, more like I just hate schmoozing with other moms and talking endlessly about stupid shit like shoes and ombre hair and if corn syrup is more evil than gluten and hate making art collages of presidents and annoyance at the schools changing the way they teach basic skills every couple years and all the lame cutesy things they feel compelled to rename everything. “oh we don’t call it sounding the word out anymore, we call it ‘word blending’ and crap like that. I know I’m not like my mother as unsocial as I can be, people say I’m not cold. I used to think I was like my father, but now I’m not even so sure of that.

Little Bones

The lies people don’t tell. Some might say they are socially phobic, to cover that they are hoarders. Some say they want you to come over or invite you out to lunch, only to ask you to drive them somewhere, or ask you to pick up their dry-cleaning the next day and then there will be something after that. They call and ask you what you are doing, not because they are curious, but because it establishes where you are, and where you are not and what you could be doing for them. They throw test statements out to try and see what your ‘code’ is, and then they will ask pretty much the same question using different examples, to see if you waver. They don’t want to hear about your real life, they want a profile, a dossier.

They always seem to manage to take more than they give, be it time, or resources. They talk much more than they listen. They throw subtle and sometimes not-so-subtle hints about things they want, but can’t afford, or wish they had someone to do whatever or complain they haven’t had their nails or hair done in months, when you have never had your nails done, and you have not been to a salon in years, and color your own hair at home- but your suffering or your lack has no bearing at all on asking you for a pint of blood- damage. Sweat- free work- or tears- pain.

Of course, at the rate you had been going, just struggling along to appear a normal person and hardly speaking to other adults for years, you might overlook a lot of things- without ever having been- developing a kind of prison mentality- something- even something kinda fucked-up, is better than nothing at all. Is it though? Tap Tap Tap on the wall? You hear me, comrade? knock-knock… You might overlook some crazy just to be able to sing a song from the past, to find the same things funny, to hear a true compliment. To have someone who would talk to you during the times having locked yourself in a room scared to death of the yelling and sounds of things breaking. They didn’t know what your life was like and maybe they wouldn’t believe you. You thought not many would. So you spend time proving things to them.

You feel you have to prove things because some people take whatever they don’t like about you and decide you deserved whatever bad has come your way, or laugh at your predicament or are relieved it isn’t them, or make fun of you or are simply scared and trying to shield themselves from anything unpleasant, or think somehow it is catchy. It is the very rare person who cares, and even rarer those who might offer help.

You can tell the people who have mostly had people who care in their lives. They reach out because they haven’t experienced these other things, because they are surrounded with other good people. They get upset easily as they expect to be treated decently. They take people at their word. They are still surprised and angry when someone doesn’t live up to their words, or their deeds don’t match their words. They see your caution and mistake it for something they should be scared of as they are so used to sincerity, they see wariness as a sign of something illicit.

When you visit some of the other kind of people, the shallow ones- they make a point to show you all their material things, as if that somehow takes the place of real interaction and conversation, yet they covet what small things you may have, or pretend to,thinking that is a compliment- and that too takes the place and fills the space of non-real conversation. What I have. What I want. What you have. What you want. Look at all my stuff. They also are very good at taking notes on your life, even if you don’t tell them much. Even if you don’t have much- they might feel you have something they don’t- and it might not be a physical thing, but some other part of your life makes them want to take it away from you, even if it is something they wouldn’t know what to do with if they had it. So yeah, maybe rationing information is a good thing.

They reveal little, yet constantly fact-gather, garnering information as it may serve them. It does not do well to make excuses, or be vague as they will still keep asking, consuming, as if you are a bottomless well they need never replenish- and it hasn’t rained in a great while. Give me more attention, give me more adulation, meanwhile they will keep hinting about things that are in the land of make-believe that they have or at least once had, thinking this will impress you.

They make great mention of the little bones they throw you, even if they are leftovers, things they don’t want, even if some of them had actual value, they want to be rid of it- perhaps they are superstitious. You don’t owe them though-in fact, you have always given more if one was keeping score, but they want you to feel like you owe them. Same with if you ever piss them off. They want you always trying to get back in their good graces.

They are generous with other people’s money, and are likely even to consider using some other person’s resources as ‘paying you back’ for all the times you have helped them, thinking that gets them off the hook, while in reality it only serves to indebt you to this third party, if only by proxy, while it lets them off the hook. Again, they are big on recycling, so to speak. Lots of your ‘rewards’ are leftovers from a bigger reward someone gifted to them.

They place great stock in their image, and spend an inordinate amount of time on their clothing, their hair, their bodies and in general what people think, though they may claim they don’t care. The truth is of no consequence, as long as you didn’t ‘tell’. For this is how they imagine their worth. I asked one of these once, a woman-why does this guy buy you all these clothes? That was a small lie of my own. I meant to say, ‘why does he bother with you? You don’t do anything for him at all?’ The answer she gave was ‘I edify him’. As if just being in her presence was enough of a gift, as if he had to kind of ‘pay’ her for her time, though she did not pursue the friendship, or anything further than that at all.

To these people, every little scam pulled off, every little ‘take’, was a win because someone else had given much more or lost much more. So their losses was counted as part of the win. All those silly things like trust, investment, joy reciprocation, annoyance, sadness, and all the many things that made us human beings were not ‘real’ to them, like flavors to someone who never had a sense of taste. It was only our utility, only things we could do, and only things they could hold that mattered. It was useless trying to talk to them about your life, they had not the attention span, even for a short confidence, or they would reduce everything to its pragmatic lowest common denominator, and take everything back to themselves.

‘So, does that mean you won’t be giving me a ride on Thursdays?’ It was best in general not to reveal too much about how you felt about anything to them, for in their world, emotions were a kind of currency. They would take note of what made you afraid, what your fears were, what made you cry. Then they would try subtly to play upon these things. Sometimes not so subtly.

Even they had patterns though. Even they had ‘tells’. Sometimes it was the tone of their voice. Not only the intonation, the cadence but the actual pitch and the sound of scratchy alcohol, the shaky, febrile tone of a small kid telling fibs, even about things that wouldn’t get them in trouble. They almost have to lie, even when they’re not- because of that problem of unoriginality, and they despise you because for all the things you can’t do as well as they, you can do that. You can do something that you came up with, that wasn’t just adding a different flavor to a jello mold. So you really can’t trust anything they say, they are happy to let you complete what would make sense in your own head.

The more ‘advanced’ ones would try to triangulate, without you even knowing it. This meant bringing up the name of someone, and pretending they didn’t like them, making fun of them. Even if you had said good things about the target, those things could be twisted. “No, that person doesn’t mean what they said, they were just flattering you.” They would then would expect you to join in their crusade to ‘prove your loyalty’ to them, though they would never say this outright.

It would become one of those things that people who have no real core find entertaining and you, well you thought it was actually something shared that was funny, even if it was a little mean or stupid, and even if it wasn’t mean on your part, you knew it was mean on theirs, and though you were too weak at the time to not participate, or didn’t fully even understand the purpose of it- you tried to soften whatever this person was doing, even by playing to their own self-interest.

But doing that didn’t work either, because the goal was you under the bus, you out of the way and maybe the target too, although if it proved useful, either of you could be played against each other, even if you never had any bad feelings toward the fake target, you would at some point see the target looking at you in a strange way, and you would know. Saying good things about the target or trying to get the first one to stop, none of those things would matter, as long as there was some kind of ‘proof’ that you were a jerk and maybe a bigger jerk than the other, as you would appear to be two-faced, while they appeared to be the honest shithead.

Down the road, you would hear that target regurgitate some of the other’s pablum and know that you would soon connect the dots, but still left wondering- why was I considered ‘in the way’? Why was I, in any way, a threat? Perhaps as simply a tool to isolate the target, to use me as some kind of pseudo-betrayer, to take things said out of context and create fear and doubt, perhaps even contempt in the target. You might have tried to protect the target thinking they may be worse off in different ways than you were by making the target seem like a formidable threat. But now, it is likely the target and the first one have reached if not a bizarre intellectual romance, than at least some uneasy truce.

The fact that the self-interest thing even worked some of the time to get them to stop obsessing or to force them to calm down after an irrational tirade of delusional craziness spinning out showed they weren’t as good at controlling themselves or even at reading people as they thought they were, because picking up things often by almost scent- is not the same thing as verbally manipulating them.

They might know where the target was weak because they were weak there too, I knew this even as I soothed that oh no, that couldn’t be the case- and the grade-school bully thing was not so much a cry for help as much as a cry to stay in the game, to stay..I believe the word is ‘relevant’. The irony being that you would be associated with this nonsense, playing this game, even though you were the one who tried to stop it, or soften it. Whatever stupidity you participated in would be copy and pasted, just as so many times it had been copy and pasted to you, unsolicited. Thing is, you had nothing to gain, but these people see anything anyone else gets as something taken away from them. They are the ones who stand to gain out of these games. Or at least they believe they are.

Of course they would not share the part where you were asking ‘why do you even care? this is stupid and makes you look bad.. why do you have such a problem with this person?’ No, because that would not serve them. The whole exercise was to make you the target, or at least a bad guy to the actual target- to be dragged out later like a moldy polo shirt in the attic ‘can you believe he actually wore this awful thing? can you believe she actually said that? omg what a douche.” If they sense you are catching on, or smells something off, they can always say “I was kidding, jeeze….”

The third person, the target- the one who had a teensier slice of the pie than the instigator- would believe all this, and think that you, not the instigator, were the true bad guy, no matter if whatever you had said was said kiddingly or had been goaded out of you. And you would actually look like the bad guy, as they then ran to that person, perhaps in a fit of paranoia, and threw you under the bus they were driving. Still, what did you get again?

In truth, the instigator doesn’t like either one of you (and maybe never did), you are both but tools. No matter what devastation- personal, financial, or otherwise was left in their wake, there was always a comeback such as ‘well if they were dumb enough to fall for it, then they deserved it’. In other words, you had to agree to have been at best gullible or naive and at worst stupid to have believed them, thus perhaps elevating their cleverness in relation to your (now perceived) foolishness. By then, they have decided you have outlived your utility, and if you go, they suffer no loss.

Indeed, it is fitting punishment for not going along with whatever their previous plan was, usually involving having you work for free in some capacity, with no compensation save that of having the association with the liars, because somehow magically, that made you special and important. The line from the 1932 movie ‘Freaks’ comes to mind. “One of us! One of us! We accept you! One of us! Ogga booga!” It’s a privilege to serve me, not a right. I’m like the DMV!

If you were actually at a low point, or you truly were isolated already- what does that make them for coming to you for ‘help’? Do you go to a broken vase to hold water? Would that be weakness on their part, or simply evil and low? And if you were so isolated and beat-down, how was it that you were a threat? Were they in some unnamable way, worse off than yourself? Perhaps they wanted you in that same boat they sat in, and resented you not needing a reason- the same thing as being envious of that teensier slice of pie that the other target had. Maybe they were dissatisfied that they actually weren’t capable of fully destroying you or had taken everything that was worth taking. Little kids are sometimes like this- they act out on whoever is closest as a stand-in for the thing or person they can’t get to.

In reality, beyond the delusions of the soulless thing itself, it always needed you more than you ever needed it- it needs you to steal from, whether it be your talents, your words, your trust or like a rat, whatever it can get. It has to steal because it has nothing of its own, its act is unfailingly and entirely derivative of things they have picked up from others, or TV, something they read, or even other real people they know. They are probably repeating something someone else said, thinking they said it better right now.

Anything this swirling void will try to trade for what was lost will always be a knock-off or something it got for free, or something it wants to be rid of. To an endless void, anything that gets sucked in might be valuable- no matter how noble and true- or foul and defiled it is. A pawn shop of the soul, a glue trap for sanity- and where intangible gifts ultimately die.

Writing Again: Drowning

Now it was all making sense, or at least I could see how everything lined up. The childhood that seemed so dramatic, The parents who alternately tried to come off normal and then were unapologetically super crazy. The many lectures about how it was the fault of my younger sister and myself- the endless lectures that seemed to go on for hours. Eventually my sister would rise up and spout something like “fuck this” and disappear downstairs. If she went downstairs to escape, that must have meant she was already old enough to be downstairs in a room off the basement. What age was I when I moved downstairs to one of those rooms? I know I was there in high school but when did I end up down there? Why can I not remember simple things like that?

A few years back, I had an operation. It wasn’t life-threatening but it was last minute. That same week my second son’s grandfather died. The following week my parents took my older son and went to lake Tahoe. I begged them to please take his little brother, who was then 8 years old -not that I needed to explain, but because everything was fairly hellish. Of course they said no, it would be too much work. He was an average 8 year old, no special needs or other health issues.

I made the mistake of staying at my mother’s house after the operation- I seemed to be ok, I didn’t even stay the night, but her house was closer to the hospital if I bled too much after. I remember her saying at some point during one of these late-night smoking sessions in their back room, at a point where I finally felt maybe I was getting somewhere with her, like maybe she cared about what happened to me after all. She said “Is your helping us when we’re old dependent upon whether we help you now?” It was a weird statement/question to ask then and it has only gotten weirder over time.

Is it normal for a mother to ask things like that? It sounded like lawyer-speak. It sounded like hedging her bets. It sounded like any hope I had for escape I could kiss off. The morning of the third day, the day I was supposed to go back home she started in about how I shouldn’t get comfortable and that I couldn’t stay (this was never the plan, it was only about recovering from the operation, if I was bleeding badly to be nearer the hospital. I felt like the nights we stayed up talking, about what I’m not sure about now, I can only remember the things I really had questions about, she would only get all uptight and say things like ‘I’m not going to talk about that. I listened to her go on and on about her father and how she missed him and how she felt my grandmother and her two sisters excluded him and didn’t treat him as well as they should have, and whatever other things were bothering her. I started to feel like I was getting somewhere with her, maybe.

When it came to my turn to tell her things I was having problems with, she didn’t want to hear it. I felt like she wanted to relate to me as if I were a friend- and not in a every-kid-grows-up type way, but as if I never had been raised by her, as if we had no history, as if we were at some kind of bar or coffee shop and she could spill her guts anonymously, without explanation, without investment. God, I remember how that feeling sucked. I didn’t want her to be my friend, I wanted her to be my mother, or at lest act like a mother, even retroactively. Maybe even to cop to things like the middle-school janitor thing (I’ll tell you about that later) and other lousy stuff she either did or didn’t do but show in her actions she did care about me now.

We would be driving somewhere and she would say “see that little studio up there, that’s the kind of place I would do my painting if I hadn’t had kids.” She did paint though, she painted at home. I don’t know if my sister felt like we had stopped her from some great mission, but I did. I didn’t feel guilty though or sad, I felt angry. I still feel angry. Just like when she had to tell me the story of how she used to let me cry in my crib until I threw up when I was a baby. It didn’t even sound like she was telling me this because she felt bad about it, like a confession, it felt more like she was complaining, like what a needy pain in the ass I was. I saw photos of myself as a baby. She told me she couldn’t breast feed. Ok but how could you let me look like that? It’s hard to think about it now. Was she that clueless? I looked like I was borderline starving as a newborn.

It’s really true as a kid you don’t really know how good or bad you have it because it is all you know, you have no comparison until you see other families or have your own. You don’t know it is horrible because you think it is normal, or you say to yourself, well, here I am, it must not have been that bad, ‘cause here I am, I’m alive, aren’t I? Or ‘oh my poor mom, she must have been pressured by society to breast feed blah blah’ or’ oh I feel bad for her, because of me, and my dad avoiding the Vietnam war, I ruined her life as she saved my father’s. And perhaps I saved him too, because at one point being a college student or married wasn’t enough, you had to be married and have a kid to get bumped down the list.

I don’t look at my own shortcomings as her fault or whatever I have done or neglected to do as completely because of her, like you see at AA meetings or in a shrinks office. I see her total weirdness as something unto itself and yeah maybe I would have been different but who knows? I know I’m at least mostly not like her, although I don’t want to be like my dad either. He’s not like her, but he is deathly afraid of any kind of conflict. No matter how crazy, mean or childish, he goes along to get along.

I don’t know if my paternal grandfather beat the crap out of him or exactly what happened. Pretty sure it was more along the lines of some kind of punishment and not anything molestery. When my parents used to fight, he would go into some kind of weird coughing fit like he was going to choke to death if he had to stand up for himself about anything. I learned that he would sooner say ‘maybe’ or put something off indefinitely than say no at the outset, which only made the disappointment worse, because there was hope.

I think they both kind of hate me now because I figured out all the crap they were up to back then. That and they know that I know that they will never help me and have written me off, though I was never in trouble with the law or drugs or did anything bad to them. I’m either just not loved, not worth it and/or my dad would rather keep what little peace there was to keep than oppose her, even if I could help them as time goes on, even though it is in their interest to help me.

If they didn’t want me to figure things out later, maybe they shouldn’t have told me things like “oh your father is going over to so and so’s house, because she has lost her tampon inside her” WTF My dad was not a doctor. If I asked her how my dad was supposed to help I got no answer- I wasn’t even sure what a tampon was at that point, I was too young. Was this a passive-aggressive move on her part, so that I might have asked him about it. I can’t remember if I did or not. By the time he got home she was probably too drunk and likely they had another fight, which would either be about her drinking or things we couldn’t understand. All of these people were younger than I am now when all this was going on. But they were old enough to not have dragged kids under 10 into it. As fucked up as I am in some ways, I look back at them and say, well gee, at least I never dragged a kid who had hives all over them to someone’s house for dinner, when it was so bad that after they left, I had to go to the emergency and have a shot.

I had a best friend, whose parents were much older than mine- her mother would be watching Lawrence Welk on tv when we would go over there after school and they actually had certain foods for dinner according to what day of the week it was. My friend thought they were boring and terrible, even as she for years would write down the top 40 in a binder every Sunday for the four hours that Kasey Kasem would be on and she was borderline OCD about her stuff and how we did anything. I liked the quiet predictability of her house.

They were nice to me. There was no drama there ever. I think they were from Minnesota or South Dakota. They didn’t seem especially fond of my best friend but at least it was peaceful and that was enough for me. I thrived on their boringness. When she would complain about her relatives coming over and her mom making some awful jello thing and how lame it was I was jealous. I loved that they could be counted on for routines, that her dad wore this grey outfit for working in the garage and that her mom seemed eminently sensible and never said inappropriate things or took jibes at us. They didn’t fight like my parents did. When they seemed exasperated about something or would sigh, it seemed like something to hope for rather than what later I would learn was looked at as par for the course of long-term marriage/suburban ennui. They were not into any of the hippie stuff that my parents liked. It was ironic that while I’m not sure they met my parents in more than passing, they were probably worried that because my parents were relatively young in comparison to them, that maybe I would be a bad influence when in actuality it was my friend who was the party-till-you-puke girl and it was I who had to drive everyone home, or pretend to be the mother calling people in sick to school or otherwise devising a plan.

My mother would ask us weird things occasionally like “if you found out me or your dad were with someone else would you hate us?” or later “Do you enjoy (insert whatever sexual thing). If we said yes, she said we were like our father. I kept thinking in my head, my mother is missing something- why does she always look like she is fake smiling in photos? why does she only get nice or sentimental to my sister and I when she drinks? I hated the smell of wine on someone’s breath for years because of that. How did I not know that using sun-in and having partially bleached hair wasn’t cool? How did I not know that I wasn’t really the school janitor’s sorta girlfriend and it wasn’t ok? I mean, if my mom knew I was a 12 year old up there at the school alone, it was because it was OK, right?

And why was the Vietnam vet guy living with us with his toddler when my sister and I were in the early years of grade school? The guy with the plate in his head who also used to drink? Why did the mom leave? Was she dead? why when I came back from school was he sitting on the sofa in a towel and you could totally see his junk. Why did he have a special name for my mother, the name of a flower? Why did he act so familiar with my mom and make stupid jokes I didn’t get? Why did my sister and I have to drive up to this farm up in the north bay and sit in the car for hours while my parents took turns talking to this couple they were friends with, the woman was the one with the stuck tampon. Why did so many things never seem to make sense?

What was wrong with my mother I still don’t know. The strange childishness, the mood swings, the staying in bed all day, the calling me by the name of her youngest sister, whom she did not like, or by the name of someone whom my dad was probably seeing or once when I was sick, she called me ‘Carmen’, some character from an opera. She was the same physical type my dad had a thing for. Probably the same type he was hoping my mother was, maybe Ingmar Bergman or a Hitchcock blonde or a Julie Christie- but it turned out mother wasn’t actually the type she looked like. Once she said wasn’t I glad she married my dad because what if she had married so and so and then I would look like my best friend- whatever that meant. They both attributed much to astrology, but I thought whatever was happening was way beyond the stuff my dad was into with his charts and discussion groups.

At times I thought she actually was pleased that she ruined something of mine, once it was a plant I was growing in a bottle, once it was a pair of pants she bleached a hole in, once it was a magazines featuring my favorite band that she gave away. I learned not to talk about anything that mattered because she kept track of everything. It was as if one side of her brain was all but dead, the one that would have been ‘a normal mom’- but the side that was practical and could remember every detail was working overtime. She knew I wasn’t like her, that I could see the details she could, but I could also pick up all these things she was blind to and it seemed she both resented me and feared me, though what could I do?

There were a couple occasions where I wished out loud something would happen- one was a drive somewhere, I can’t remember where it was but it seemed like it was out in nowhereland of northern California. My father seemed to like the driving somewhere better than the actual getting wherever we were going, whereas I hated it. Wouldn’t you, with a younger sister that was prone to carsickness in a datsun 210? Though I was never great at math I could tell by the signs and his speedometer we weren’t actually going anywhere, or in the time he stated it would take.

In any case, during one of these drives, I wished something would happen like the road would be closed, or we would have to turn back, anything to stop the endless driving. I can’t remember exactly what I said but I made the mistake of saying it out loud. We got to this area which looked like a dead end, I don’t remember if we had to pee or why they even thought we should all get out-even get out. It was hot, there was all this dry wheaty type grass stuff, it sucked. I was really feeling bored, mad and like my parents were stupid for even liking to do this.

We got out of the car, it was quiet and hot. Well, it was quiet for about 10 seconds maybe. We started to hear a sound, it started low and became louder. I thought I knew what it was, I could not believe my parents didn’t know right away. “Kind of sounds like snakes, rattlesnakes ” I said. My mom actually attributed the snakes to me and was mad, though of course she was mad like a little kid as usual, her mouth all tight. Unexplained things always happened in our house, I didn’t care what caused it, lightbulbs exploding, stuff falling out of cabinets. Of course I didn’t believe I was doing anything, or had caused the snakes, but weighed if her maybe believing it might somehow help me make her less crazy- mind you this is someone who acted as if inanimate objects ‘wanted’ to be placed here or there, or had opinions or liked or disliked other inanimate objects, like stuffed animals or salt shakers.

How he could not notice what she was like when they met I don’t know. I guess because they weren’t living together first, or maybe he did notice something was ‘off’ but so desperate was he to avoid Vietnam that he didn’t care- and I don’t blame him for that. She probably looked like an ok deal compared to swamps, bombs, entrails.. My mom wanted to move out of her house too, she even said she was tired of looking after her middle sister, whom she told some story about how when she was born the nurses tried to hold her in because the Dr wasn’t there yet- (how could they make a woman hold a baby in anyway?) and her youngest sister, who is only seven years older than myself.

I did feel bad for grandpa, her father. He seemed like a decent guy, if a little eccentric, possibly a touch autistic and set in his routine. He kept his classical music cassettes and albums alphabetized. He used to give my sister and I life savers when we would stay over and sleep on the fold out couch in the living room at the San Francisco house and say ‘good night boys’. Maybe he was disappointed at the second generation of girls but I don’t think so, rather it seemed to be his only joke. We would lie on the fold-out sofa and watch the lights of the cars go through the metal blinds and across the plaster-textured wall, across all the Catholic stuff my grandmother had in the little indentation above the fireplace.

I still remember when he died, about ten years ago-how he was on a respirator. I think he is the second person I have seen on one of those things. It seems like it’s horrible. My sister and I were on either side of the table/bed thing he was on in the ICU each holding his hand – we were saying for him to get better and we loved him and were waiting for him to get out of there, He was shaking his head back and forth like no and squeezing our hands.

None of his side of the family was there when they took him off the respirator. True to form, my mother made my dad go alone. None of them said anything when he passed at the funeral. It seems like it has become my job to write something and get up and read it when anyone goes. As time goes on and all the grandparents have passed it has made me wonder if they all secretly hated each other and that is why no one gets up to say anything but me. I get really mad when I think of how he was supposedly in bed for like a week and no one made him go to the Dr, they called my mother when apparently he got really bad and they needed to call an ambulance.

The fact that they called my mother when things got bad (of course at the last minute) was worrisome, why would they call her, she rarely even goes over there. She used to call them when she would panic about something. Then she was mad at them for not helping him. I try to look at it like he still won, because he used to smoke and drink until the dr said when he was in his 50’s -if you don’t quit you don’t have long, but he lived till he was about 85, limiting himself to one smoke a day and like one highball.

It’s like all of them are afraid to do anything, even if it is something that helps someone. Maybe especially if it helps someone. They all prefer to quietly whisper and conspire and basically not do anything. I told them years ago to stop telling me horrible secrets (like the thing about my mom and the vietnam vet, or that one of my aunts has the blood type of grandpa’s brother, or that grandpa’s father, my great grandfather was married three times to women with the same name and they all died). I told them that from here on out if they kept telling me things I would not at all promise to keep it secret.

I want to try and hold on to the good parts, or the parts that at least save them in my head-the parts that while not absolving them made them at least interesting but it seems like when I try to it’s like I’m drowning and the bad parts keep filling my pockets with rocks and my throat with tears sucking me down. Ok back to the ‘good’ they were educated, they had friends over to discuss writing and poetry, the solstice parties, that both of them had published random things or taught writing classes, that there was always tons of books around, although I probably shouldn’t have been reading Heller’s ‘Something Happened’ when I was like 9 or 10, not to mention the Shere Hite books.

No one could say my sister and I could definitely say we were not spoiled, not in the least little bit, or that we never learned how to entertain ourselves, although because they didn’t get up in the morning likely led to me overdosing on Flintstones vitamins once and baby aspirin as well as finding my sister with a taken-apart kaleidoscope, her pinky finger hanging by a thread and blood everywhere.

They would eventually take myself or my sister to the doctor and fed us. I know and hate the fact that either my dad didn’t leave because of my sister and myself, or at least I like to think that, it’s better than thinking he was just too afraid. Maybe he couldn’t afford to leave. I remember during their fights hearing him threaten to and half rooting for him, half hating him for not inviting me to escape with him, but I knew the hope was fake, as were the threats to leave.

They didn’t make us go to church, though when I stayed with my paternal grandparents I actually didn’t mind that much, as the orthodox church on Brotherhood way in SF was quite beautiful. That and my Yiayia made clothes for my sister and I. I remember staying with them and not wanting to come home. It makes me feel better to think of the good points or sometimes think them both into an alternate universe where we are all someone else’s who aren’t somewhat fucked up , even if that meant wishing away the Vietnam war, my parents getting together and my own possible existence as this version of myself.

Into the Ether

The man walked across the crosswalk, in the intersection. He had the look of someone one might see in a mugshot- he was a white man, probably late 30’s or 40’s, he had a shirt with a collar, with some kind of pastel-colored striping on it, but it was untucked, messy. His eyes  deep-set, focused off in the distance and  seemed  mismatched with the features of an aquiline nose and the  puffy dark lips of a puglist, or someone deprived of oxygen- a color I had only seen in a child with asthma, or one getting out of the large local pool, which was very cold. The look on his face was more fiercely determined than would be necessary to cross while one had the light.

His hair was a little bit longer than what would be considered clean-cut, and also had that messy look, but a groomed messy look, as in those print advertisements where attractive people lounge amidst horses and sports equipment, though all of his separate pieces did not add up to anything resembling that. Those ads made certain everything was congruent to the smallest detail. One could practically catch a whiff of pipe tobacco, leather and maybe a faint whiff of horse manure. Observing from the car waiting at the light, I imagined he may have smelt of BO, some kind of vainglorious, overly-priced after-shave and a faint whiff of this morning’s hangover puke. The light changed and I drove on.

I was driving to a place I frequented more and more, so much that I was afraid I may have to abandon it for a new place that felt like ‘somewhere else’. For now, it was still in the border limbo-land of the known/unknown. I measured out the amount of time I would spend there, how much I wanted versus how much I could reasonably get away with versus chances of being recognized.  Conspicuous, conspiracy, conspirator. Conspire: “to breathe together.” It really was an art to be invisible, or be seen without really being seen. To hide so well one didn’t feel one was hiding.  Perhaps even, to cease  to care.

I purchased the few things I usually did. Salt, soap, a sandwich, a few rolls, milk, a can of soup. The things I used like a ritual when I felt this way, good, somewhat dazed.  This feeling reminded me of so long ago, when the constant demands of simple things kept the darkness away- taking care of someone else- and in comforting and caring for him, somehow it seemed to comfort me, it was the only comfort I had, then- that part which had been buried so deep it was mostly unremembered. If the bad guy was now in a dungeon, somehow it was easier to unhappen it : What was for a snack, what needed to be washed, what time would we go to the park, what time was the bath etc etc. It filled up so much of the time- and there were no computers then. Yes, there was TV but we made much of our own entertainment and were quite happy with only that. Reading, playing, the trees and sand. The feel of ice cubes in a bowl. You once asked me if people had to put salt in the sea to make it so salty, when you finally did talk.

I brushed my hand over the silky purple flowers. I was old enough to know these things were still with me, that they sort of dangled off my shadow, like a thread unraveling off a dress, like a gnat hovering over a piece of fruit. But they were small and trivial now compared to the monster which they had collectively gestated for so many years-,  a cursed leather knot , like shoes tied together of the drowned, now dried and so very hard to untangle..it never totally went away and it had even been added to, by others- but sometimes it could be ‘handed off’- a  kind of baptismal release.  Was I cured? Was it now ‘gone’?

How was it that although I was not a great, hulking woman, certainly i was not all that delicate- how was it that I felt lighter?  That even much of the physical pain was gone? What was it that went into the ether? When I felt light like this I needed less sleep – I dreamed so deeply I felt as though I floated the entire night through. Yes, I did think part of this was that I was now getting closer to death than life- in years at least- but somehow being reminded of this was not always altogether terrible. Bittersweet is still partly sweet.

When as children we watched magician shows, we didn’t need to believe it was ‘real’- it gave us a sense of wonder. Perhaps because we find out that it pretend, when we are older we tend to view anything that makes us wonder as ‘a trick of the light’. The large shadow that a moth flitting inside a lampshade casts upon a wall. The moth itself is still real, as is the light. As is the shadow itself. We hear the howl of the coyotes, not dog, not wolf- they are unafraid of us. Standing on a cliff, looking out at rocks at sea, and yet looking back at still more cliffs, in between what had been and what would be soon washed away, and what would stand, beautifully albeit precariously, an unknown amount of time.