The summer that I turned 17, my parents wanted to make me a ward of the state. A foster child. They had each tried to deal with me, in their own way, independent of the other. Shrinks, family counseling, alcohol, threats, violence–none of it worked, because they wouldn’t work together, wouldn’t put aside their problems with each other to overcome me. Somehow, their mutual hate was renewed, and I as the cause was forgotten. Don’t get me wrong; I spent a lot of my adolescence sleeping in other peoples’ beds. I had enough friends who would put me up for a night or two. And I could always rely on my grandmother.
That’s where I went on the night that my father kicked me out of the house for the last time. (Everytime was the last time for him; but this time he was right.) We hadn’t been fighting that day–I hadn’t even seen him until mid-afternoon. He had come home from school without my brother–it was the week of final exams, and I hadn’t had to go in that day. We sat around the apartment for several hours, reading, not speaking. I could tell he was in a bad mood, but why look for trouble by asking him the reason? I was sure he’d tell me eventually, if he managed to stay sober long enough.
At six o’clock, I started thinking about dinner, so I asked my father where D was, and when he would be home. Dad erupted.
“Your brother isn’t coming back! He left school without me, he’s been lying to me, he failed English, he didn’t write his fucking term paper–he’s embarrassed me for the last time! Why don’t you get out too! Just call up your fucking mother and go live with her! Just get out of here!”
“Dad, what the fuck are you talking about? Where is D? What happened? I can’t believe you haven’t said anything–why haven’t you said anything?”
“Shut up! Just shut up and call your fucking mother and her fucking husband and tell them to come pick you up!”
“Dad I didn’t do anything! You’re such a fucking asshole! All right, you want me out? I’m gone!”
“Don’t fucking be here when I get back. Say hello to your mother for me, and get out of my fucking house!” With that, he collected his keys and stormed out of our apartment. He was too drunk to drive, but I didn’t even try to stop him. At times like those, I used to wish he would get killed in a drunk-driving accident, or at least arrested for DUI. No such luck, though.
The first thing I did was call up D’s best friend, to make sure he was there and to ask him if he needed anything. Then I called an old boyfriend and sometime knight-errant to come to my rescue once again. Finally, I called my grandmother to tell her that I would be over sometime that night.
I went into my room and started to pack, which was a luxury. Normally, I just got thrown out onto the street in the clothes on my back, and a purse, if I had time to grab it. Once, I had gotten kicked out in February, and had had to walk 5 miles to a friend’s house without shoes or a coat. I tried to hitch a ride, but who’s going to pick up a shoeless girl at 11 p.m. in the dead of winter? Now, I had the warmth of early summer and luggage on my side. I packed everything I could think of, because I wasn’t really sure how long I’d be gone, when K came by to pick me up, he laughed at me. “What are you doing, packing for a vacation?”
Granted, 5 suitcases is a lot, but 2 of them were D’s, and as I said–I packed for every eventuality.
September 26, 1989
Sleeping on a couch in a 2-story, 1-bedroom apartment filled with books. My clothes lived in suitcases stored in the dining room. I learned to smoke. I learned to hate my mother. I learned what it was like to have to start over, no friends, just me and D. All the family I ever had or needed.
We walked the 2.5 miles to the mall. We read everything there was, watched inane TV. One day, I got so bored I even cleaned the place. Top to bottom. I even dusted the goddamned books.
Sitting at my father’s kitchen table–it wasn’t a table, really, but a counter made out of milk crates and two newspaper slug drawers covered by a sheet of plexiglass–smoking (trying to smoke) his Black Russian cigarettes. Writing horribly cynical love letters to a guy I had only met once. Moving outside onto the top step of his back stairs to escape the pressing humidity. I tried so hard to pretend my 16 year-old world wasn’t falling down around my feet. Or if it was, I certainly wasn’t going to let it bother me. I bleached my hair blonde, and wished I could bleach my whole body, bleach away my mind, be reborn beautiful and carelessly carefree.
Wrote and wrote and wrote, trying to understand. It’s been five years, and I still don’t understand it all, it may be 15 more before I do. Or never. But at least I’ve finally managed to escape the humidity.
Had an incredibly complex discussion of romantic/supra-realist art today with J. The gist of it was that I realized that, for all my railing against post-modern, formalist art in which no one is a hero, I really don’t write romantically; the things I write aren’t the kind of thing I like to read. Kind of strange that I only just now figured that shit out.
Idaho. What have you done to me?
I can’t help feeling that this place could be a lot better than it is, although it has some major pluses. (Oh, quite profound, self.) It’s full of hicks in pickup trucks with gun racks, but they’re a part of America too.
I’m not into that ‘my country right or wrong’ crap, but we do have to take the bad too. My love of America goes beyond the urban, urbane East, though my experience hardly does. America deserves to be immortalized the way that England was by Shakespeare, and so many others that loved it. Or Ireland by Joyce, filled with love & hate for a place he fled for most of his life.
And I am just the woman to do it.
A night when I was 20 years old. Summer in New Jersey, with all its wrenching humidity. Driving back from Philly on Rte. 130, in the pouring rain. Coming up to the off-ramp for Rte. 1, and a flash of lightning that split the sky into electrified green sections. The crack came, almost on top of me.
Driving on pure instinct, knowing I couldn’t control the car if anything were to happen, unable to see past the hood ornament. Standing in the parking lot of AT & T in a long green dress, welcoming the rain on my body, ratting my hair, smearing mascara. Jumping thru every puddle in the parking lot to meet J. and S.; just boys, frightened by the incredible power the storm transferred to me. Knowing they would never understand my female terribility.