For me books represented wisdom, knowledge, and experience which possiblities otherwise unavailable to me growing up. Especially as the current reality I was living in- mom ungrounded, abusive, frantic, desperate and bipolar was survived slinking from one activity to the next, just to stay unnoticed. A contracted existence. Being so sensitive and sensitized, I avoided getting emotionally involved with near anyone. As by basic needs were otherwise met, it was easy to relate somewhat to teachers, with my brain so focused on ideas, facts, probabilities and possibilities. It is much easier to study the human organism from afar, than to actually experience it.
My mother loved books. Her first question whenever I had a new friend was, “How many books do they have?” Unless there were bookshelves of books, I wasn’t allowed back to visit them. So I got to hang out with Mrs. Morton, a mostly alone lady living in a house with stacks of books and papers everywhere. She didn’t mind if I hung out at her table for hours so for a long time, I glued myself to her. As long as there were books, my mother had no care at all where I was, especially when I was nine.
When I was nine everything changed.
My dad, who I adored, stopped engaging in fatherhood. It broke my heart.
That summer was wild. My brother was around for once. Or there was more overlap than usual. For the last couple of years, as soon as we’d get in to Logan, he would be flying to off to LAX. That year, new acquaintances of my father, sons of the visiting neighbors from France, enjoyed a lot of sex play and making movies. We hung out on the roof. There was home-made dandelion wine – my dad was into making beer and wine from roots. It tasted OK, not great. It seemed fun to feel woozy.
Dad had a girlfriend whose mom owned a bar restaurant combo. It was your typical dark New England- a welcoming and cliquy combination of booths, large round tables and smaller squares in between. The waitresses still wore aprons them with a little ruffle along the side of their tight black uniform.
Down the center of the fairly cavernous room was a polished mahogany runway. On Saturdays, a nice middle-aged man would come and play the full-sized organ, while we, some girls the owner knew, put on a fashion show with my dad’s girlfriend. I got my ears pierced for the show. When it was my turn to walk, I wore a pink chiffon negligee with see-through net underpants. I looked really adorable- as my father and his friends looked on. It seemed like the only way for him to give me attention. Inside, I felt so angry and sad.
Even though he was off high-faluting much of the time and most weekends, he often cooked. His specialty, which I have yet to master, is a “hippie-dish”- rice and veggies, which he made in the pressure cooker. It was delicious. It was nutty, al dente and just the right of stickiness to feel totally satisfied but not heavy. He also baked bread every week. His breads were dry and heavy but tasted good toasted, and his granola excellent. Yogurt, which I still love, was delicate and watery. I also didn’t care for the fact that he forced us to drink parsnip juice and black strap molasses, but that shit had been going on for years- never mind the cod liver oil. So that part of fatherhood mostly stayed intact- highlighting the sense of duty he felt while he otherwise engaged in hedonistic activities.
Otherwise, Dad was nowhere to be found if he wasn’t kicking us. We called him mr. Butt. Things got nasty occasionally. Later that fall, in the court house, my brother and I had a fist fight that broke up our previously inseparable bond.
My mother was bat-shit crazy and her parents thought we had driven her to her insanity. They were right (until she moved in with them and they saw who she really was). I was terrible- and I knew it. It was like I had a great demon in me sometimes I guess. Plus I was bossy- the perfect Lucy, Jane, or other bitch* to my brother and sister. Way too precocious, Mother was horrible to me, and there was no justice or revenge to do other than direct it inward. Note: as awful as she was to me, “Sybil” had it worse. My behavior was intolerable for my mom to handle, so she just beat me whenever. Every day at least a few lashes with something belts, cords, hairbrushes…. I guess it made her feel better.
It was a sad time. Lots of shedding and betrayal. We really were living right in the moment, in many ways.
How did I survive this? While my mother would never step into a church, (bless her heart), I got to go to youth groups and other ‘healthy’ activities. I saw beauty where I could in Nature, internalized what brought a sense of hope, and did my work whenever it was given to me to do.
*Somehow being sick with an infection, flu or pneumonia, brought out a kinder gentler me whom I otherwise never saw. While I was sick, a part of me felt so much better- it always piqued my curiosity, even if I soon fell back into my old ruts.