Category Archives: dysfunctional family

Looking Back Through the Window

DAILY PROMPT
Window
Write a new post in response to today’s one-word prompt.

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As the emergency alert sirens blasted through the neighborhood on Saturdays at one in the afternoon, I looked through the window. When I was young, I waited for my father to come by and pick me up for his four hours of custody time on those Saturdays. Never 5 hours, 3 hours, and not even 4 hours and one minute. My mother made it clear that he had only four hours a week and only between the hours specified by the court system after the divorce.

So I waited by the small, rectangular window looking out the front door for his car. He would be there on the dot at 1 p.m. just as the testing of the emergency sirens started to sound. Or he would not. Then the phone would ring as my mother answered and he told her he was not coming that week. That happened quite a few times.

One time I was surprised to hear my mother and grandmother, who were usually hateful toward my father, express sympathy toward me when he failed to show up. I was left looking out the window for nothing and they felt kind of sorry for me missing out on the time with my father. Sympathy and nurturing were never their strong suit, so I still remember their kind words.

My father found a girlfriend and liked to spend time with her rather than me. I guess I understood. Later when I had a child of my own, he said that taking care of a child was a lot of work. I can’t imagine how he would know. He spent such a small part of his life with me. When I got to be an older teenager, he didn’t come around for over five years.

I try to forget the past, but too often memories flood through my head. Even today, the sirens still sound their alarm on Saturdays warning us of potential disasters.

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Fanny Hill Meets Soul on Ice

I keep thinking about Andy Miller’s book “The Year of Reading Dangerously.” I started reading dangerously at a young age.

When I was eleven years old, I picked up an old paperback copy of “Fanny Hill, or Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure” in a used bookstore. This is an erotic novel published in 1748 that became a best seller even though its publication was illegal.

When I read it, I not only didn’t understand many of the words, I didn’t comprehend many of the concepts. A lady of pleasure: I only had a vague concept of what  this possibly meant. The author, John Cleland, used tons of metaphors instead of direct prose when describing sex. It was difficult to decipher metaphors for things I was mostly clueless about.

I reread the book about ten years later with a much better understanding of what that pleasure was all about. I realized that commerce was involved along with the sensation.

At the age of twelve, I read “Soul on Ice” by Eldridge Cleaver. Eldridge was a black man in a Civil Rights era America that made him dangerously angry. He ended up jailed for rape. In his eyes, he rebelled against the white man’s law by raping white women. He exacted revenge for the the way some white men historically debased black women.

In high school, my English teacher began talking about appropriate and inappropriate books for children to read. He was all for anyone reading anything and everything.

I mentioned that I read “Soul on Ice” quite young. He said that this is proof that reading never harms a person.

Ah, but he did not know the depth of my wretchedness. I escaped my own personal hell by reading books, and Cleaver and Cleland were welcome reprieves.  Would my teacher appreciate the comfort I found in depravity?

Sixteen and Counting

Write a post inspired by your sixteenth birthday.

I was sixteen and neither sweet nor kissed. It had been a few years now that no one wanted to be around my mother and me. Mostly it was my mother, I was just collateral. She alienated everyone in our family by now. She made her best girlfriends turn away from her. My father stopped coming by to see me. He could have met me somewhere, I wouldn’t have told. Besides my mother didn’t care what I did and where I did it. But he didn’t come or call.

One of the most enjoyable evenings I spent when I was sixteen I spent in gluing together colored strips of contact paper into a huge chain. Each link represented one day until I turned 18 and could be free from her. I draped it all around the furniture of my room. She didn’t know or care about this odd bit of decorating. Removing one link gave me some comfort.

One time she told someone over the telephone that she could kill me if she wanted since she gave birth to me. I angrily confronted her later on. She said it was none of my business.

I survived to marry a great guy, have a great child, and write this blog. My biggest regret lies in my lack of a worthwhile career. Three out of four ain’t bad.

Libraries Saved My Life Or Why Kindle Won’t Do

When I was growing up, I found refuge in a library. Home was often chaos, and a walk or a bus ride to a library saved me. I escaped to the library building and within the covers of each book I checked out.

I discovered all sorts of books by accident as I wandered the aisles of shelves. I could pull down and examine any number of books at my leisure and take them home for free. Good deal since I had more curiosity than money.

I discovered different cultures. At home, the only place I found culture was on a carton of buttermilk.

One time, I found “The Source” by James Michener and I thought I found the most profound book ever written. Later on, when I found “The Master and Margarita” by Mikhail Bulgakov, I began to scratch the surface of a world of truly great books out there.

The library arranged books in nice, organized  rows on identical shelves. Unlike home where stuff was strewn all over and never put away.

I loved the quiet in a library. Home had loud, senseless drama.

An e-reader has no shelves to wander around. It has no walls, no chairs, no tables. It has no spines to glance at as I meander.  It has no old or new paper smell, nor atmosphere. It is no place.

Even if e-readers existed back when I was young, I would not have been able to afford one. I wish people would wake up to the power of knowledge that a free library offers to even the poorest person. It’s not boring, it’s freeing.

So many people question the value of a library building today.  There is no question in my mind that value exists within those walls. I still go and find gems. I don’t always know what I’m looking for. Sometimes it finds me instead.

The pleasure, knowledge, and peace I have found inside a library will keep me one of its biggest fans. My kind is rare today, I hope I don’t become the last card-carrying member.

The Philosophy of Parakeets

When I was young, a neighbor friend of mine had two parakeets. The family was tired of these birds and since I always enjoyed them, they asked me if I wanted to keep them. I said yes.

These neighbors were German, or I should say they were Americans with German ancestry. They gave the birds German names: Nietzsche and Schopenhauer.

Now those were some complicated names for a kid and a couple of parakeets. My friend’s brother explained that they were named after some kind of philosophers. At the time, that explanation didn’t mean much to me.

The birds kept those names. I spoke endearing little things to Nietzsche and Schopenhauer every day.

I ended up being interested in philosophy. Recently, I read The Birth of Tragedy by Nietzsche and enjoyed it.

It didn’t start out that way. I tried to read it about two years ago and couldn’t get past the language and ideas. But if I put a book down and restart it at a later date, I discovered that not only can I get through it, I often have a good reading experience after all.

The first thing The Birth of Tragedy reminded me of was Camille Paglia. She also wrote extensively about the division between Apollo and Dionysus. And this Nietzsche guy was writing this way before her! How fun. I love to make connections between the past and present.

Also it reminded me of an English professor that taught 19th century American literature. He used to drop philosopher’s names in class in order to illustrate some point. I wanted to know more. I had already read some literature from the 19th century and loved it; his class increased that love. I still reread sections of Moby Dick as if it were scripture by just randomly pointing to a sentence in the book and going wild with the implications and deeper meaning. The 19th century Nietzsche with his deep and dark is right up my alley.

Back to reality. My mother used to force me to call my father. She wanted me to beg him to come back to her even though she divorced him. Between the calls she made and the calls she forced me to make, he was getting in trouble at work. I started to refuse to call him. After one such refusal, she grabbed one of my birds and threatened to kill it if I didn’t call him. She eventually released the bird, and I did not call.

I never knew which bird she grabbed. Was it Nietzsche or Schopenhauer that nearly bit the dust? A question for philosophy.

I must continue my readings.

Blood and Toys

Three years old on the kitchen floor

Pulling a toy at top speed

Snapping plastic pieces in the air

Clacking colorful shapes together

Too mesmerized by play.

Going somewhere.

The angry red jacket

One arm in, drop toy

Soon ready to go.

Zip zipper onto neck flesh

Angered by this business of childhood

A bandage to cover the pain

Out the door.

Telephone Nightmares

I remember our old rotary phone. This phone was a rectangle box firmly attached to the kitchen wall. It was butterscotch yellow and the only phone in the house. Our next door neighbor shared a party line with us, making any private conversations awkward if not impossible.

vintagerotaryphone.com

A relative of mine lived on a farm and had four party lines. Not only could all her party lines listen to each other, everyone’s phone rang at once alerting one and all that someone was getting a call. She knew the call was for her if the phone rang with three quick rings in row, that was her signal. At least our phone rang only at our house.

When I was young, I heard my mother get out of bed at night and go to the kitchen and start dialing on this phone. Now the sound of a rotary phone is unmistakable and loud. Some kind of gears inside that machine would churn and churn in order to move around the dial for each number. So I could hear her dialing and hanging up. Over and over again. Later on I found out she was calling and hanging up on her sister and my father (her ex).

When I confronted her about this midnight habit of hers, she denied it. I insisted that I knew what she was doing and to whom, but she didn’t care. She told me to butt out since it was her business, this business of aggravating other people.

So I wanted to ignore the phone call she made to my school when she called them to send me home immediately. I refused. All the other kids were shocked that some kid wanted to stay in school when they had the option to leave in the middle of the day. But a parent trumped the teacher, so home I went.

But I knew what was in store for me. Dialing that phone. She repeatedly forced me to call my father at home or work and beg him to come back to me and her. My mother was the one that asked for and got the divorce. Now it was crazy town and somehow I was to get back the husband that she dumped over a decade ago. My father wanted nothing more to do with her. So I would dial him up, ask him to come back to us (with absolutely no sincerity) and hang up after he refused.

She was disgusted with me. I was her ace up her sleeve but ended up being of no use to her. One time she pulled the parakeet out of the cage and threatened to kill it if I didn’t make that call for her. I was horrified at first and screamed. Then I just gave up. I told her to kill the bird, kill me, I didn’t care anymore. She put the bird back in the cage and I had a bit of a reprieve.

Until the next time the phone would toll for me.