…. Condensed Version of My Life — The Early Years (Mostly)
Let’s be real here. Even a condensed version of the life of a 48 yr old woman is going to be lengthy. I’ll try to keep this shorter than War and Peace though.
I grew up in Detroit during the race riots and white flight. We would have fled, but we were too poor, so we stayed. I watched my neighbourhood go from all white (with one mixed couple.. white wife, hispanic husband, five kids), to 90% black in a relatively short period of time, but I’m skipping over early childhood. I remember loving animals.. the zoo was one of my favourite places as a child.. I loved the lions and tigers best of all, while my brother was fond of the hippos and penguins. I remember begging my parents for a dog or cat, but they always refused, until I was about 10, when a neighbours cat had kittens and I brought one home… I named him Napoleon before I knew he was really a Josephine. Napoleon was the beginning though… my mother was always fond of cats and had one as a child. It was my father who didn’t want pets, but he rapidly saw the charm in the silly creatures and Napoleon was soon followed by Caesar, Cyclops (he had one eye), and Sparky (named after the football coach Sparky Anderson).
I’ve never been without a cat for longer than a few months ever since. I currently own three of the little monsters… Yuri (Gagarin) who explores everything and used to climb as high as he could with his brother when they were just kittens, alas, I had to put his brother Neil (Armstrong) to sleep when they were just two… he was a non-responsive to treatment epileptic who had grand mal seisures twice a day minimum. Yuri was broken-hearted for four months.. wouldn’t eat, walked around howling, so I had to get him a new playmate.. enter Jack (a half Siamese with one eye who LOVES jumping up walls and crawling in boxes… Because of Cyclops long ago, I’m a sucker for a one-eyed cat… and his was blue!)… they get along great… it was love at first sight for both of them. Then I came across a kitten… white, with not one, but 2 beautiful blue eyes and 7 toes on each foot. I brought him home and both Yuri and Jack mothered him. Because of his extra toes, I named him Darwin, and the three of them are the best of pals and are usually found in a big furry heap somewhere or other… they hog the bed at night. But enough about them…
I have no idea how far most people memories go back, but I only have snippets from before I was about 5 or 6. Like skits in an old-time vaudeville show really, and I’m not even sure about them to be honest. Are they memories, or only memories of stories I was told while looking at old photos, or had gleaned on my own at a later time? I remember tanks in the streets, and soldiers, but I don’t know if I actually remember seeing them, or were they on the news, or maybe just what I’ve learned from historical research.
I can’t remember not being horny, but I can remember not knowing what it was I was feeling. I remember asking questions.. probably not really intelligent questions since I had no way of knowing what to ask, much less how to ask to get the right answers. I also remember getting no answers and getting a ton of weirdness for asking such things, so I learned not to ask, but being the have-to-know-the-answer type of person… I snooped and eavesdropped and everything else I could think of to find the answers I sought.
Before I talk about my parents, I want everyone to understand that I understand them — now, but I didn’t then, and I think that’s normal. I mean, does a teenager really understand gas bills and mortgage payments when a parent says they can’t afford to buy them a $150 pair of shoes? Like I said, now I know where they were coming from, but then I had no idea. I also like to think that while my parents did a lot of wrong things in raising us, they also did a lot of right things, and I accept that they were human… just doing the best they could. I also forgive them for what they did wrong, at least, I like to think I do.
One of the snippets I remember is constantly being scolded for masturbating, and I did that a lot. I remember her scolding me once for doing it in a department store, but I have no idea how old I was… 3? 8? No clue really. She was shopping, I was bored, so I climbed into the center of a round rack of clothing and sat down and started to go for it… she found me there and swatted me and dragged me out of the store complaining about how I’d embarrassed her.
I had an older brother, whom I hated and still don’t get along with. We weren’t exactly Irish twins (Irish twins are usually defined as being born less than a year apart), but we were born exactly 25 months apart. I also had an older half-brother (9 years older) who went to live with my grandmother when I was young, again, how young I have no idea. I also have an older half-sister (13 years older), that I didn’t really realise was a half-sister until I was a teenager, but she lived with “Aunt Dottie” whom I didn’t realise wasn’t really my aunt, but my father’s ex-wife until I was a teenager.
Mostly it was my brother and I. My mother never wanted kids, and probably shouldn’t have had them… not by today’s standards of parenting anyway. She didn’t do anything cruel, don’t get me wrong, but she didn’t acknowledge us kids except as burdens to deal with, though my brother could do no wrong in her eyes… I could do no wrong in my father’s so it was a wash. She and I get along real well now that I’m an adult, and she’s no longer financially responsible for me. Something both my brothers seem to have NOT learned. Mark (my brother) expects her to pay for his visits to see her, and while he’s there, he expects her to outfit his kids with whatever they currently need. Alan (my half-brother) is in his mid-50s and drives 300 miles to visit…. bringing his laundry with him for her to wash, because he can’t do it (he weighs in at over 300 pounds and has some serious health issues because of it)… Mark is a fitness junkie btw.
I think that relates to how I am now though, because to this day I can’t stand the thought of being considered a burden to someone. It’s probably why I’m so good at being self-reliant about most things. I mean, I’ll support a man before I’d let a man support me. However, I digress…
My mother never showed us love in the form of being held, or touched and kissed, which is probably part of why I’ve always craved it, but she taught us some really great skills, and was real big on expanding our intelligence. We both knew how to read before we went to Kindergarten, but she later told me that she did that so we could entertain ourselves… had no idea back then, so she taught us something good, but for a selfish reason. I can’t fault her for that. I was always the “why is the sky blue” type of kid… curious about the world and wanting to understand things. I probably drove her insane with questions she couldn’t answer. She introduced me to the library, and that solved one problem… my father found a set of Encyclopedia Britannica (missing the K/L and Sa-Sh volumes), and brought them home… they got a lot of use due to my curiousity.
Mom was always busy trying to make ends meet. My father was absent much of the time during early childhood because he was a long-haul truck driver. I do remember him being hurt somehow and being unable to drive after that though. That put the financial burden on my mother, who worked one full-time job at a pharmacy, and did all sorts of other odd jobs… she was great with math (so am I), so did taxes and books for the neighbours. They also delivered phone books and anything else they could to earn some money.
My father, after whatever it was happened to hurt his back, tried many jobs. He was a groundskeeper at a golf course, a superintendant of a condominium complex, and basically a Jack of all Trades. He was good at fixing things… so am I. He was in the Army during WWII, and was promoted up to sergeant twice, because he was busted down to private for punching a leutenant… twice. I don’t know this for certain, but I think it’s a safe bet that he couldn’t keep a regular job because idiots upset him as much as they upset me… only instead of punching them out as he got older and wiser, he just quit or mouthed off and got fired.
My father was Irish as I said, and my mother stems from Danish/English folks, who are mostly unflappable, and I got a touch of both. I have an Irish temper, but you have to really rile me to get it to show (and these days I ride that edge and can’t seem to back off of it enough for the temper to NOT blow at the least opportunity). I’ve seen it happen to me too often to not admit it. I take it and take it and take it (whatever “it” is) until the boiling point in reached. One second I appear fine….. the next?
BLAMMO… off I go, tearing someone a new asshole. I’ve tried and tried to curtail this, but somehow I always end up trying to communicate a problem to someone unwilling to listen or compromise.
My father’s mother was dead long before I came on the scene. His father was your typical Irish drunk, but I was his favourite grandchild, and the favourite of all the neices and nephews…. Dad had four brothers and two sisters, and was the only one of them who had less than six kids, so I have a huge family on that side.
My mother’s parents were divorced long before I came along, and my mother was their only child… so long in fact that her youngest half-brother is three months younger than I am. Her father remarried and started a new family right about the time my mother got married her first time (dad was her second husband… she’s had two more since then… so she’s a three-time widow… her first husband walked out on her when she got pregnant). Her mother was a complete and total, drunken, miserable bitch. Grampa once told me that he divorced her because she “chased anything on three legs,” so I guess I got my sex drive from her, though you also have to factor in the fact that my mother couldn’t go without either, and my great-grandmother worked in a whorehouse. I guess it runs rampant in my family, though my mother denies it vehemently. Grandma HATED my father… to the degree that she paid no attention to my brother and I because of our last name. My half-brother got all of her attention (why she loved the guy who left her pregnant daughter, and hated the man who stuck by her and tried his best to care for her child by that asshole is a complete mystery to me). Grandma died when I was in my teens and left all her riches to Alan so that my father couldn’t get his hands on it. I don’t know her reasoning. Dad wasn’t a compulsive gambler, or anywhere near the drunk she was, so what did she think he’d do with her money? Mom’s father was too busy with his new family to pay much attention to his grandkids.
That side of the family is very proper. The boys are cherished… girls were just there, so it’s really a good thing for him that his new wife had the good fortune to present him with three sons. Side note: Grampa died about 5 years ago at the age of 97… and had quite a bit of money… each of his three sons got a quarter of a million dollars, while he left his first child (my mother) 80K. My mother inherited some of that thinking due to her upbringing, and it showed in the early years, not so much now. She helped both of my brothers earn their college education, while the child who had the brains for it didn’t need to go to college because she was only a girl…she apologized for that long ago, and I understand her actions because of her upbringing, and I really don’t resent it because I probably would have ended up in the corporate world….a world I left by choice 10 years ago for many reasons. Mom’s even told me that I’m the only child she had that she can honestly say she’s proud of. My brother is an asshole, my half-brother is a bigger asshole… Alan wants his mother to get out of that bad neighbourhood, and could EASILY afford to buy her a home in a nice suburb (in Detroit that means about 50K, but he won’t do it. If I had the money, I’d do it in a heartbeat. Hell, if I thought it would work, I’d burn the house down around her, forcing her to come live with me, which would drive me bonkers, but I wouldn’t have to worry about her getting mugged in her own driveway (something that’s happened twice), but I digress…..
My mother was mostly in charge of us kids, and she did what she could to give us a well-rounded upbringing. She took us to the zoo on free day, and the museums, and ballgames and such when she got coupons or free tickets. She took time off of work to do so, and, by design or not, she ended up with two kids who are voracious for information of all types as a result. Information is a good thing. From her I learned responsibility and thriftiness.
I can point at a few things she did wrong. She didn’t encourage us creatively. I remember how I used to love to colour and draw and instead of praising every piece of artwork, and hanging it on the fridge, she’d say things like, “cows aren’t purple,” or “cats don’t have five legs.” Since I couldn’t please her, I stopped drawing. I was (and am) more of an abstract type of artist than an impressionist… Monet is her favourite artist, while I prefer Dali, or Kandinsky.
My father on the other hand, was always bringing home miscellaneous stuff that he’d found or been given. I remember him bringing me a bag full of yarn that also included crochet hooks and knitting needles and other odd things, and I remember it seemed like days before I got it all untangled, but I taught myself to crochet, and to knit eventually. Once he brought home an antique sewing machine (with a treadle rather than an electric plug), on which I taught myself to sew, after I’d figured out how to make it work right. From him I learned to expand my knowledge of how things work. I’m great at McGyvering things, and looking at the inside of a broken toaster and seeing why it’s broken (maybe not being able to fix it… but at least knowing why it no longer functions).
So while I didn’t get verbal encouragement from my mother, I got tacit encouragement from my father by way of him bringing me beads or yarn, embroidery needles and stuff. Once I got good at it, my mother appreciated all the things I could make for her. She still has the first pillow I ever embroidered, as well as my first afghan, and wall hanging decorative hooked rug.
Meanwhile, the neighbourhood was changing and becoming a very unsafe place to live (and it’s only gotten worse over the years…. avoid Detroit, it’s not a healthy place), and heard my parents complaining about not being able to afford to move to a better location, “the spics next door can afford to move,” “the fucking Italians (white, but immigrants) can afford to move,” “do we really want to live with a bunch of fucking niggers?” but I also saw that the people they were complaining about… afraid of.. were really just like us… only darker. So while bigotry ran amok, I like to believe that it didin’t take hold in either me or my brother (he married a black woman, and the fact that he treated her like dirt stemmed from his view of women, not the fact that she’s black — nowadays, he’s a mail inspector in Dallas… divorced with custody of his two sons)… nephews I’ve never met.
My father was the enforcer of the family, and both my brother and I got the occasional spanking at his hand, while my mother would send us to our rooms to separate us… only resorting to spankings every now and then when we were truly evil (I pushed my brother out of a tree…. he disabled the brakes on my bike.. we did shit like that ALL the time… I’m surprised we both survived to adulthood)… like I said, for whatever reason, we hated each other…. probably commonplace sibling rivalry taken to an extreme because neither of us got enough love and affection.
I grew more and more frustrated as a child, because I had this ache inside me that I’d learned not to ask about, but was more and more difficult to cope with. I was actively chasing men by the time I was 12. It wasn’t until I was 14 that I found someone willing to fuck me, and then it was only some random boy interested in getting his rocks off…. more sexual frustration, but as I saw it, progress was being made — I was closer to a solution for that damned itch.
I was always a chubby kid being told, or hearing my mother be told that I had to lose weight. Eating disorders that I’ve since learned to identify… you want ____, but you can’t have that, so here, eat these potato chips instead. Since I was a fat kid, I didn’t fit in for many reasons… I was white, while all my playmates weren’t, and my parents never approved of my friends until much, much later in life (late teens). I was fat, wore glasses, and had curly red hair and freckles during a time when long and stringy was the popular style, and my mother was always after me to wear lipstick, and try to fit in and be popular. I didn’t fit in at school because I was an excellent student, and since I sunburned easily, I couldn’t play with the other kids during recess… they’d jump rope or something and I’d be standing watching in the shade of the only tree in the playground.
I screwed anyone who asked, because, while I still didn’t get it… why people were so obsessed with sex, it felt better than not having sex because it scratched some deep place inside me that needed scratching. It wasn’t until I was 18 that I found someone who knew what he was doing, and damn was that man good at it! For the first time in my life, I was truly content.
I had few friends because I was always different. Wrong colour skin, wrong ideas, didn’t want to play with Barbies, or talk about boys in a sweet, innocent, teenybopper kind of way. I didn’t go for sports (that was my brother’s schtick). I was fat and didn’t like make-up. I didn’t care who was dating whom, or if Shaun Cassidy was hunky or not.
I excelled in schoolwork, doing my math homework while the teacher was teaching English, doing English homework while she moved on to History, etc. So that put me apart from other kids too. They wanted to jump me a few grades in school, but my mother wouldn’t let them because she didn’t want my brother and I in the same class. She thought it would cause more problems between he and I, so as a consequence, I was bored to tears in school, as often as not reading through this lesson or that lesson because I only had to be informed once… not over and over again… most times, it was something I’d already learned on my own out of curiosity.
When I graduated High School I was a size 16… I’m skinnier now than I ever have been as an adult. My best friend as a small child was the half-hispanic girl next door named Lisa, who moved away, leaving me friendless for the most part until I went to High School. My best friend as a teenager was a gay boy named Thomas. Tommy and I remained friends right up until his death of liver failure about five years ago (he’d had a liver transplant back in ’90 and the anti-rejection drugs finally stopped working).
I got my first job at 15, working at a pizza joint, but that didn’t last long because the manager was a lazy idiot who pissed me off. I segued to a job as a file clerk in a doctor’s office… they were changing their files from alphabetical to colour coding. That fit my compulsive tendancies to organize things and put them in order, and I did well there until the job was completed. After that I got work as a waitress after school.
When I was a teenager, I thought I wanted to get married, settle down, and have a ballteam full of kids. I’ve always looked at it like some young boy wanting to be a fireman when he grows up, but ended up becoming a lawyer instead…. just a dream of childhood that falls by the wayside because you grow up and discover new ideas, new interests. I learned that I don’t have any more patience for questioning children than my mother did. I consider myself lucky to have discovered that BEFORE I found myself with children to raise.
I got increasingly frustrated as a teenager and turned to drugs, and I spent most of the time from 15 to 17 stoned off my ass on one drug or another (that’s why I needed a job… to support my habit… even then, I was responsible for my needs and saw to them on my own)… I also maintained an A average in school… no one had a clue how drugged out I was all the time. I OD’d my senior year, and came to my senses after a near-death experience and gave up all the drugs but for marijuana (because it helps/ed me sleep)… that was when my grades started slipping and everyone at that point started worrying that I was on drugs.
I’d learned somewhere along the line that getting caught was a bad thing, so I’d gotten good at hiding every emotion and every action that would get me in trouble… I’m still excellent at it, but no longer bother too much…. you don’t like me or what I do? Your problem, not mine.
So I graduated, but couldn’t afford college. Just about then, a neighbour of ours got divorced and he got custody of his two kids and needed someone to watch them, so I became a nanny by accident. It was supposed to be a short-term thing until he found a proper nanny, but I worked for him for a little more than a year until he got reassigned to a new district and moved too far to commute. The kids were heartbroken… Little Darryl actually thought I was his mother (he was 15 months old when I started and just a bit more than three when they moved).
It seemed to me that I enjoyed being a nanny… but really what I enjoyed was playing house with Bob… he was the first guy who got me off, and we fell into a regular thing. I was wife in all but the legalities. He’d turn over his paycheck to me, trusting me to pay his bills, buy food, clothes and whatever the kids needed, pay myself my salary, and put the rest in the bank. I did all those things, and did them well.
That brings us up to just past High School…