Blue Lake Times Three

This was the third summer I was going to attend Blue Lake Fine Arts Camp. This year was different; I wasn’t being sent away to keep me away from my brother. There was no alternative subtext to the joy I felt at spending two weeks in the western part of the state, far away from home and family. There was just pure excitement at seeing and rooming with two of my close friends that I’d bonded with for the last two summers. I was hoping that the good feelings from the experience would help banish the dark thoughts that kept creeping into my head in my quiet room at night.

This year we were finally rooming together. We’d originally asked to be housed in the only tents on the campsite, but the tents had been dismantled that year. In their place, an area of cabins on the “mens” side was opened up for girls. This was amazing, because segregation of the sexes was taken to the extreme at BLFAC, by having all main activities in the middle of the camp and the resident cabins on either edge…a good mile or more apart from each other. Not that that stopped boys and girls from finding all manner of places to sneak hidden kisses and more, but at least the appearance of civility was able to be given to the parents who left their children there.

The three of us were old hands at the camp now and we walked about as if we ruled the place. My natural tendency to hang back was pushed to the limit when amongst my outgoing friends. They led games with our eight other cabin mates like “tell us something that no one else knows about you,” and other games that brought us all closer together.

In the mornings, on the way to breakfast, we started to take notice of the boys who were assigned to the cabins around us. There were tall ones, shorter ones, friendly ones and shy ones, and all were simply amazed that there were girls allowed to be so close to where they showered and shaved. It wasn’t long before they started befriending us and accompanying us to the evening classical music concerts.

I chuckled at the attention the girls gave the boys. I knew better. I’d met my first boyfriend here last year, and I wasn’t about to make that mistake again. I laughed and instead set my sights on the dashing German exchange student who seemed to be popping up everywhere I was. He was smart, funny and spoke with an endearing accent. I decided to put my affections there, because it wouldn’t matter in two weeks when it was all over; he wasn’t going to be calling, he wasn’t going to be asking for anything and perhaps after a letter or two I wouldn’t hear that much from him again soon.

There’s a picture of me and that boy in my scrapbook, me and Ulrich.

Summertime

The summer after my tenth grade year.

Dawn moved to her sister’s house about half an hour away for the summer. Everyone hoped her parents would find a place by the time the fall rolled around, but for now they were still in the cheap day by day motel with no room for a third person. We all agreed that while Dawn and I were close, we were not good roommates, and so her sister decided to take her in and have her help with chlidcare that summer. Dawn could drive, having obtained her license months ago, and she was able to use some of her baby sitting money to purchase a 1968 model Plymouth something to get around town in. The car was older than nearly everyone we knew, but it ran, and it helped Dawn have the freedom she needed to start moving on with her life, regardless of what her parents’ choices were.

As for me, I was starting driver’s ed myself that June. Since my birthday was nine months after Dawn’s, I couldn’t take driver’s ed until a few months before my sixteenth birthday. I was excited to have a few friends in my class, including Karen, who was in the band with me. My old friend Andrea was there too; even though she was a grade behind me, her birthday was early enough in the year for her to enroll. This was good news because the school was six miles from my house and I had no way to get home from the classes. Most of the time I could hitch a ride with Andrea or Karen, though a few times I did find myself walking the six miles home during the dusty, 90 degree summer days.

I looked forward to getting my license. I saw the freedom it was giving Dawn to find a job, earn money and start to feel more in control of her life. I couldn’t wait to be able to take part in after school activities or study sessions again, something I hadn’t been able to do with a mother who worked full time and a sister who did as well. My mother was already shopping for a new car, planning on giving me her cast off after she found something suitable for her long daily commutes downtown.

It really was a tale of two summers for me. I was optimistic for the future but still very, very resentful about my family and my past.

Scary Thoughts

I tried to run away that spring.

I was tired, and angry. It happened one cold Saturday afternoon when my mother was expecting her friend Janice and her baby Matthew for an afternoon of talking and eating and baby time. Dawn was still staying with us. My sister’s friend was still staying with us. My father hadn’t called in weeks and weeks.

I was negative self talking all of the time. I couldn’t appreciate any of the good going on for me and focused only on the bad. I’d lost a writing contest that spring. I was doing well in school but others were doing even better. I wasn’t sitting in the highest place in the flute section. I hadn’t any other boyfriends since I broke up with Jeff. The boy I’d had a crush on all spring was dating some girl who got to sit in the front seat of his car on the days he drove us all home. The teacher I had a crush on was barely noticing me. Rick Springfield never wrote back. I was never going to meet him. I wasn’t losing weight. I was fighting with my friend Dawn.

Looking back on it all now, I was aching for more time and attention from an adult in my life. Someone. Anyone to tell me that I was good enough, smart enough and pretty enough. In the absence of that, I felt that all of the opposites must be true. I waited for someone to notice my unhappiness, like they’d noticed with my brother. But no one did.

So one chilly afternoon, I put together a backpack and disappeared. I was fifteen. I had no idea where I was going to go, or what I was going to do. No one came after me. No one even noticed that I was gone.

After about three hours in the cold, I felt even worse. Stupid. Cold. Numb. Obviously I was going to go home and get in my twin bed that night with the rainbow comforter and sheets and get up again the next morning. But for the first time, and definitely not the last time, I thought about how much easier it would be to stop getting up the next morning.

Therapists In Real Time

Today I went to a psychologist to speak to him about seeing my daughter.

I haven’t blogged here in a while, and it’s been dropping off, because it seems so forced for me to tell my story all in flashbacks. Sometimes I want to tell the stories, sometimes the stories are mundane and they are getting harder and harder to mesh together. When did this happen? When did that happen? How many siblings do you have, are your parents still alive, how many children, where were they born, etc etc etc. All this history is needed to help this guy figure out what is going on with my daughter. It was oddly reminiscent of what I am trying to do with this blog, figure out what is going on in my head and how all of my experiences translate into who I am and how best to move forward.

He drew boxes for men and circles for women on the family tree. Hubby and I first, then our parents. Questions about who was still alive and not, where do they live. Siblings next. Where are you in the birth order? I’m last, hubby is first. How old the sibs? Then our kids. Questions about #1, lots of questions. Questions about #3, different questions.

Then onto the fun stuff: is there anyone in your family who had any issues with substance abuse? Check, on both hubby and my sides. Anyone with any history of depression, ADD, bi polar?

No, nothing like that for hubby’s side.

“Me…well…there is my brother.”

“What does he have?”

Uh, panic. What does he have? I guess it was oppositional defiance disorder, though it was never official labeled. “Well, he has substance issues…smokes of course, and smokes pot a fair amount. Not a drinker, really. Doesn’t have an easy time holding a job.”

“And psychologically?”

More panic. Not sure how much I’ve even told my husband about my brother’s issues. Do I mention he was hospitalized multiple times? That he beat the crap out of me more than once? “Well he’s got some pretty big anger issues, and he…spent a lot of years seeing therapists.” That’s true. A lie of omission in not saying more, perhaps. But that’s true at least.

“He might be bi polar or ADD. He didn’t finish school?”

“Eventually he got an associates and is an IT guy now.”

“Ah, that explains it. Probably ADD. Most IT guys are, if you think about it. You kind of have to be to do that job.”

I wonder, when my mother took my brother to that psychologist so long ago if she sat in a session much like this. What did she say about her family, her parents. Was there a big: “Depression in maternal history” on that therapist’s notes back then? Or the second time she took a child to a therapist, later, when she took me, in eleventh grade. Did she sit in there wondering if every screw up she ever made was dooming her child to a life riddled with trouble?

I wish I could ask her.

Houseguests

It didn’t take long to convince my mother that we had to let Dawn stay with us until her parents figured out what was going on with their living situation. We hauled the extra twin bed from the basement up to my room and rearranged the furniture to fit. We moved Dawn over to our house with one car trip on a Saturday. Her clothes, clock radio, bedding, her school supplies and some stuffed animals were all she planned on salvaging.

She didn’t say much as we set everything up in my room. We spent so much time at each other’s houses spending the night that it didn’t feel all that different to me, but I couldn’t imagine how crazy it all felt to her. When Dawn got upset about something, she grew very, very quiet. So I knew that all of the thoughts swirling around her head could not be good.

A few days later, the rest of her belongings and everything else in the house was put on the curb. Her parents had not boxed anything up or gotten a truck from a friend or anything. They finally contacted some family members and plucked out of the mass the things they felt were vitally important, leaving the rest there on the curb for the entire condo complex to see. They found a room at a hotel about twenty minutes away; one of those circa 1950s places that often doubles for low rent residences during transitions. The set up was clearly for them and them alone; they were happy to leave Dawn in her lodgings at our house.

My mother tried to do small things to help ease her worries and let her know she could stay as long as she needed to. It wasn’t the first time my mother had “taken in a stray” into her home. A friend of my sister’s from her work was holed up in my brother’s old room as well. Transitions were my mother’s specialty.

It’s Not Always About Me

They knew it was coming. And so did I.

Dawn and I were spending much more time at my house rather than her own. Things were getting creepier there; her parents were always edgy and angry about this or that. It was a crap shoot as to whether the power or the phone would be on based on whether or not the bill got paid. The cable was discontinued ages ago because they could no longer afford it. And her father was still out of work.

We had been instructed by her parents to not answer the phone any more. The calls were getting more and more frequent, asking for money for this collection agency or that one. Without the aid of caller ID, it was a crapshoot as to whether or not you’d get one of the scary people on the phone. But what was worse was when the men started coming to the house. One afternoon Dawn and I were in her room, the one with windows that looked out on the front of her house and the parking lot below, when a knock came on the door. Dawn quietly crept to the top of the staircase; her mother was standing at the foot of it, back cowered into the wall, shaking her head up at her to tell her to pretend as if no one was home. After several minutes of vigorous knocking, we saw a dark suited man stride away from the door and get into a car that we didn’t recognize.

After a few more incidents such as that, it was no surprise when Dawn told me one day that they were being evicted from their home. They hadn’t paid the fees to the condo association for years, the mortgage hadn’t been paid in months. A company would come that weekend to forcibly remove them from the townhome that they’d lived in since Dawn was in elementary school. I asked her what was the plan, where were they going to go?

“They don’t know. They haven’t made any plans. They haven’t packed any boxes.” She looked at me with a mixture of anger, frustration and fear.

Dawn had five days left to live in her house and no where to go. And I thought I had problems.

Grape Leaves and Conversation

My mother’s friend Janice had her baby. Tiny Matthew was born that spring, just a year after my friend B’s daughter was born and given up for adoption.

I craved seeing the tiny little boy with blond hair that looked nothing like his Lebanese mother. I wanted to hold him and play with him and explore why this baby was lucky enough to know his biological mother and B’s little girl wasn’t. Janice wasn’t married to the father, same as B. The father wasn’t really interested in the responsibility of a child, the same as B. Janice even had to go move back in with her own father to save money to pay for little Matthew’s daycare. B too would have had to live with her parents.

At the end of the day, the differences were as great as they were inconsequential. Janice was a successful woman with a career and all of her schooling behind her. She didn’t have to rely on welfare or even the kindness of her father to make ends meet; she could do it regardless. Her father offered a safety net that she needed as a single mother in the mid 1980s. There just weren’t too many of them around and she needed all of the help she could get.

My mother and I went out to Janice’s tiny townhouse she shared with her father a month or two after Matthew was born. She made a Lebanese feast for us: homemade hummus, tabbouleh, stuffed grape leaves. Food that I had never experienced in my own small corner of the suburban universe. I played with the baby while all three of us chatted about their jobs, being a single working mother, being a later in life mother (Janice was 35), and how she had options available to her that my mother, just ten years older than her, had not even thought about.

I loved that evening. I loved the stimulating conversation, the trust my mother and Janice put in me to understand their conversation on an adult level, the food that pushed my palate to a new level, the sweet baby that interrupted everything in the most pleasant of ways. Things weren’t perfect for Janice, not by a longshot, but she was making the best of a situation that could have gone a completely different way.

I felt proud that my mother wanted to share her friend with me. In contrast to my feelings about my father and his inattention, it was powerful to think that my mother was willing to give me the gift of not only her own experience, but that of her friends.

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