Dreams are torture for me. I often dream of things that mirror some of the traumatic experiences in my life. My most recurring dream is that I am still working for Mr.”S”. My 25 years of working with this controlling, lecherous, gross old man haunt me in my dreams at least 3-4 nights a week. I have no control over these nightmares, which causes me to feel as though he still has control over me.
I was such a young, independent, trusting free spirit when I met Mr. “S”. I went to work for him in January of 1986 and it was just the two of us in the office. Many people questioned why he would hire such a young, uneducated girl such as myself to run his office and take on all the computer and tech jobs for his company, but I was smart and highly capable, What I didn’t know was that he essentially hired me for my looks. My brains were a bonus for him. My youth was a bonus for him. He could mold me and groom me and that’s exactly what he did. He paid me well, complimented my work, gave me gifts. Within a year of going to work for him, he, 25 years my senior and a married man with three grown children, told me he was attracted to me. I had no idea and told him I certainly hoped I hadn’t done anything to encourage those feelings. The whole conversation was so disturbing, and I just didn’t know what to say. I tiptoed around him for a while and then he was suddenly diagnosed with prostate cancer which resulted in him having his prostate removed thus rendering him impotent. This only served to make things worse. He was a desperate man by this point, and he was convinced that only I could solve his problem. It was all so gross, and I felt humiliated.
This was long before the #MeToo movement and I was a single woman on my own with a great paying job that I couldn’t afford to lose. I rebuffed his advances constantly, steering him in other directions (escort services and the like) but it never ended. Even after I married, it continued. During my pregnancies, it continued. I was constantly shocked at his bold behavior. I was so naive! Did this man have no shame? After 15 years it just became untenable and I decided to quit, declaring that I wanted to spend more time with my children. He was very angry and hateful about it and begged me to work from home on a very part time basis, which was a financial relief for me, but it wasn’t at all what I’d hoped. There was no escape from his controlling ways and now his anger was present in all our dealings. He resented me so much for no longer serving in his presence and punished me greatly for it.
This went on for ten more years until finally he was forced to retire due to health issues. By this time, I was jaded and bitter and angry at myself, I never told a soul about his abusive behavior, and I was filled with shame as so many women in my position are. While nothing physical ever happened, thank God, I carry this shame to this day. It was a horror story for the better part my my career and I’ve never been able to resolve it. I sent him a letter eventually, confronting him with everything he did to me, but I never heard from him again. I check the obituaries every single day, waiting for him to die, hoping my nightmares will die with him. As it is, I only find relief upon waking, knowing that my dreams are not true, that I’m not still working for this hideous person, but it takes me awhile to sort out my thoughts and get on with my day. No one should have to go through this, and I remain angry and resentful to this day. I’ve been diagnosed with PTSD, and it makes perfect sense to me because it was truly a traumatic experience for many years. I am afraid I will be plagued by these dreams for the rest of my life, and I have no control over that. So, there is no end to this story. It’s ongoing.
When I first met my husband on a blind date over 30 years ago, I was at a point in my life completely bereft of any hope or expectations. I was 30 years old and had spent 15 years in and out of relationships, not all bad, but none ultimately successful. I really felt hopeless and was going through a period of self-reflection whereby I truly wondered if “It” was ever going to happen. I’d been in love, and been loved, but never concurrently. I’d been hurt, disappointed by others and also by my own actions. I’d made good decisions, followed by bad choices. I’d lost or let go of several of the potential “Ones” and had reached a place of extreme self-doubt and discouragement. This upcoming blind date didn’t feel very hopeful, given my propensity of failures. I had no expectations whatsoever. The only reason I agreed to the date was to oblige the friend that was setting me up, a new friend who didn’t really know me at all. But I was, for all my despair, a trooper, and gave it a go.
This man, Alan, was painfully shy. I knew right away that he had roughly the same level of expectation as I did, which was to say, not much at all. He agreed to the date for the same reason I did and he was also not well known to the fixer-upper. Given my many years of experience, I carried the date along through conversation while he remained rather quiet and not terribly forthcoming. We had opposite personalities; I was outgoing and by all outward appearances optimistic while he was terribly shy and seemingly without a lot of confidence.
The date was okay, as blind dates go, and again, I had no expectations. Imagine my surprise when he called me the next week for a second date. Very unexpected!
Our second date was a bit more successful and I could tell we both began to feel a level of comfort with each other. I kind of actually liked him, but I still felt hopeless that this would turn into anything. Too many bad past experiences had cured me of any idealism that this guy would be any different, But in his shy, quiet way, I found him to be so kind, so solid, so uncomplicated and organically authentic. Over our next few dates, I actually began to feel a bit of hope. Could he be the One? I began to see him as someone who was real. Really real. Like, everything out on the table real. No games, no flip-flopping, no drama. I’d never met anyone like him.
Luckily, the feeling was mutual and by gosh, we fell quickly in love! At the same time! How could this be? This man, Alan, my future husband, had given me the gift of hope. He’d gently taught me the joy of expectation of having and deserving a good life partner. I’d never felt those feelings before in a relationship and I admit I was a bit gobsmacked. He was genuine! He was real! And he was mine for the choosing, and I chose him. I chose to accept his humble offer of hope, positivity, and a future. I was able to believe that it was okay to have high expectations. Alan has given me 30 years of high hopes and expectations and he has never failed me.
I don’t think there was any time in my life when my self-expectations were so high as when I had my first child. Up until that point I had pretty much coasted through my life with little to no expectations except to make enough money to live, literally. I didn’t follow the somewhat standard path of my peers by going to college because that opportunity wasn’t available to me. Nothing was really available to me that compelled me to create any type of expectations; I simply had to go to work and get through each day.
So it wasn’t until I had my first child that I was hit with this myriad of self-doubt. Am I doing this right, should I be do more, less, something different altogether……Even my marriage was easy because my husband and I had a great partnership, complete with a lot of love, trust, respect and like-mindedness, so while there were certainly new expectations in my life once married, they were easy to meet.
Once we had our first child, a girl, born in 1995, I was, as most new parents, completely overwhelmed and absolutely gobsmacked at the flood of feelings of incapability, lack of knowledge, and total confusion at the idea that I didn’t have some semblance of control over my situation on a daily basis. I didn’t really have any role models, and my husband was just as overwhelmed as I was. Of course I read all the how-to books, subscribed to every and all the baby and parent magazines, (I was even published in one of those magazines!), followed my pediatrician’s instructions carefully, but the only thing I had any confidence in during the entire time of raising what would be three children was that I loved them fiercely and unconditionally. That was a true blessing because the expectations I put upon myself beyond that were ridiculous.
I was the PTA mom, the classroom mom, the over-the-top birthday party and Christmas mom, the Sunday school teacher mom, the fundraiser mom, the field trip mom, and on and on. All while working full-time. I was the mom who took her children’s teachers out to lunch at the end of every school year, I went to all (well, most……some, actually) sporting events, I read every book to my kids, I bought them every book they ever wanted once they were able to read on their own, I took them to counseling when they appeared to have anxiety or specific discipline issues that I couldn’t resolve, I took them to church, cultural events, concerts. I traveled with them by train, plane, boat and car, together and separately, on vacations to expose them to cities and states across the U.S. including New York, Chicago, Boston, California, Florida, Washington, DC, Atlanta, Ohio, Seattle, Las Vegas, (when they were older), the Bahamas, and many east coast beaches, They went on church mission trips, special educational summer trips, alone, to college campuses when they were still in elementary school. One rode with Santa in the Christmas parade, one spoke live to the astronauts on the International Space Station, they were all published in the local newspapers for special achievements…..Oh my gosh, it just went on and on.
And I know I’m not special or extraordinary. Most parents do the very best they can for their children. But oh the expectations! They are crushing! Will it ever be enough? We live in a world of FOMO and YOLO, (fear of missing out; you only live once) and time is running out every single day. I have no regrets; I don’t think at this point in my life that I did too much or too little and fortunately for me, my kids have gifted me with a semblance of proof of that. They are all well adjusted, happy, educated and highly functioning adults. And I love them as fiercely and unconditionally as I did the day they were born. And I suspect that could have and would have been enough.
Today’s prompt is to write about the loves of my life. That seems a bit treacly. Doesn’t every writer write about their great loves at some point in their lives? For example, for me, that would be the love I have for my children. It is the most intense, unconditional, and mystifying love I’ve ever known. It’s simply inexplicable, impossible to put into words. How about if I talk about the lack of loves of my life? The experiences I’ve had in my life that have shaped me due to the lack of love I received? If I’d been loved by my parents like I love my children, my whole entire life would have gone on a radically differently trajectory. I had multiple opportunities to be loved by a number of parental presences, namely my biological parents, which included my mom and dad, then my adopted dad, once my biological dad left the picture, followed by my stepmother, after my mother stepped out of the picture leaving me with my adopted dad and his new and very young and hopelessly unprepared wife. Once that fell apart, as we all knew it would, I was shipped off to my maternal grandmother, who, to be fair, did love me, but very conditionally. So from birth, I think it’s fair to say that I was unloved by my parents. Alas, they would loudly disagree and that is their right to do so, but I know what it feels like to love and be loved, and I was absolutely unloved and certainly not prioritized by any of these people whose task it was to love me. Growing up unloved is an extremely lonely existence. I didn’t know any different of course because I never experienced being loved to begin with. I suffered greatly from that lack of love and concern for my wellbeing and it manifested itself in many different ways, both mentally and physically. I had constant anxiety and brain chatter; I had stomach and digestive issues,; I acted out emotionally, especially during adolescence; I attempted to look for love in inappropriate places; eventually I tried to buy their love. But nothing ever really worked. It wasn’t until my mid-thirties, when I began to have children of my own that I came to grasp what I’d missed out on. I’d missed out on a lot of encouragement, a great many hugs, a tremendous amount of validation, recognition of my physical and mental ailments which could have been addressed at a much younger age, saving me years of heartache and pain in my adulthood of trying to heal. And I’ve had to accept that some things never heal. That’s been the toughest part of all. I’ve been told, in words, that I was loved, but I’ve never seen or felt any proof of it. All I ever saw was reticence, giving up, walking away. I was too much trouble to put in the work. I was damaged goods. And my perception is my reality. It’s often said that a parent has but one single job: to keep their child safe, I never, ever felt safe, I never knew where I would be living and with whom from one day to the next. I never knew if I would ever see a particular parent figure again once they abandoned me. It is a very sad childhood to live through and it’s not much fun as an adult either, I think all children crave love, attention, validation. I know I did. I know my kids do, and they get it from me every single day, even as they are well into their adult years. Perhaps one of the saddest parts of this whole situation is that I never was able to cultivate any kind of love for my various parents. I don’t feel the love for them that I know my children feel for me. How I would cherish the feeling of loving someone my whole life who loved me back. That seems the loneliest feeling of all.
A few years back I had all my old VHS tapes converted to digital and placed in a cloud account for which I pay an annual fee to have access to anytime I want. It was a great idea and it was and is money well spent. My third and youngest child, a daughter, was finally able to see herself on video as a baby and child and she screamed with glee, “I’ve been waiting for this my whole life!”.
A couple of years ago I did a ridiculously over the top Easter egg hunt for my now adult children and once again, my youngest, with the joy of a five year old (she was 20), ran around in circles apoplectically yelling, “I’ve waited my whole life for this (which I have captured on video, to come full circle). You’d think that the poor third child never had a childhood and didn’t even exist in her mind until these events.
How often do we say, “I’ve been waiting my whole life for this?” I find myself, at age 60, saying it almost daily. “I’m living the big life now baby!”. “I’m having the time of my life!”. “I’ve been waiting for this my whole life!”.
But it’s actually true. It’s a real thing! It’s an authentic emotion and I’m very present for it. I’m basking in it. Everything up to this point has been geared towards getting to this place.
So where am I? What’s so great about my life now? What was lacking before? What was I waiting for? And what do I have left to look forward to now? Lots of heady questions, I know, but I have all the answers.
I am happy. I am (still) in love with my husband of 29 years. I have three grown children and not a dud among them. I have modest financial security barring the unforeseen. I have good health, physical and mental. I am retired after 45+ years of working to live, in a miserable career, not working for a living. We recently moved to what I call my bucket list dream house which is a darling tiny little house in a charming little town where I can walk everywhere and I am much closer geographically to my kids. We left a big beautiful house that we built, lived in, and raised our children in for 29 years but it was time to move on-be closer to where the kids had moved to, downsize and purge, go from an empty nest to a love nest. We’ve found a perfect church, made new friends, decorated our little nest just so and visit with the kids often. We had the most wonderful first Christmas here a few months ago and there was no sadness or remorse over the “old” days of yore. We are making new memories. We spent the night before Christmas Eve walking down to the local pub and eating fried pub food and taking shots all night. There won’t be an Easter egg hunt for the first time in their lives-we don’t have the space. But that’s ok. We’ve moved on from that. We’ll hopefully convince the kids to come to church then go out to a nice brunch, who knows? If they don’t, that’s ok.
I travel a lot, wherever I want, whenever I want. I see old friends I haven’t seen in years who are also now retired and have grown kids out of the house. It’s so much fun, this life! I read all the time; I write when the mood strikes me; I walk my dog and learn about my new neighborhood. I host charcuterie lunches on my big front porch. My husband and I went out for a fancy Valentine’s Day dinner like when we were just starting to date. I take a nap with my loving dog every single day. We eat whatever we feel like whenever we feel like it. My husband is also retired but like most men, he still works doing contract jobs and couldn’t be more fulfilled. He’s had more fun fixing up his office/man-cave than he ever had mowing the three acres of land we once had.
All three of our children graduated college and have good jobs in their field, and my youngest, who still calls me first thing every single day, is getting ready to start grad school. They all live in close proximity to each other and hang out together and genuinely enjoy each other’s company. They take care of each other and they take care of us. I’m learning how to work within their boundaries a bit slower than they’d like; at least I didn’t move to their city, just close enough to visit for a day. They invite us over and their friends like us. They think we are the fun, cool parents. Because we are. We are having a lot of fun. More than I ever expected. I’ve been waiting for this my whole life. Honestly, I couldn’t be happier. What comes next? More of the same! I plan on living out my remaining days, my many fewer tomorrows than yesterdays, just as I am right now. I see no problem accomplishing that. I pray for continued good health for all of us, and I pray, every single day, for another day just like yesterday.
Adolescence should be outlawed. It has the potential to truly ruin your life and carry trauma with you throughout. And so many parents have no concept of this! Did they not experience adolescence? It’s not something you go through then conveniently forget about, much like the unbelievable pain of childbirth, after which one forgets the pain and chooses to go through it again and again. I don’t know anyone who would choose to relive their adolescence and I really don’t think I know anyone who had many positive experiences with that period in their life. I remember distinctly, as a parent, when my oldest child, a daughter, was beginning the adolescent stage. We’d gotten into a huge fight, butting heads about something she wanted to do or believed to be so and I was not going along with her train of thought or frame of mind. She was literally screaming at me that I had changed and I had become a different person, with no resemblance to the Mom she once knew and loved. I tried not to get drawn into her dramatic stance and I tried very hard to explain to her that it was she who was changing. I tried, unsuccessfully, to explain the life changes that were happening to her and she insisted that she was exactly the same and I had become this horribly changed person, disallowing her to be who she always was. That was the first of many such arguments and we went through some particularly hard times. In juxtaposition of that, it was I who had gone through a truly terrible adolescence with a life filled with chaos, where my daughter’s life was relatively normal. Her parents were still married; mine were not. In fact I had stepparents by this time. She’d lived in the same home her whole life; I’d moved 10 times by the time I was 10 years old. My parents were terribly mentally ill, suicidal, with addiction issues; my husband and I were relatively healthy although I would later succumb to severe mental illness as a result of the trauma of my own childhood. No, it was simply a matter of normal development that my daughter was going through and I thought I was prepared for it but apparently I failed. My husband was and is a passive observer. He was supportive of the idea of the two of us providing a united front as parents and we did, but he most often was standing in the background just nodding his head, not contributing any words of support or wisdom. This is not a criticism of him, it’s just the way he was. He didn’t have a lot of experience with the female psyche and didn’t know how to navigate this young daughter’s attitude towards his own wife. Some people, like myself, never fully recover from the trauma of adolescence; others eventually come out the other side relatively unscathed even though the experience itself was horrible. I think my daughter falls somewhere in between, but I don’t really know because while we have a very good adult relationship, she’s not interested in discussing uncomfortable events in her life. She represses it and I worry about her. Time will tell. Meanwhile, adolescence is the worst, yet most necessary period of life to go through. I wouldn’t wish my own experiences on anyone and I wish I’d done a better job with all three of my children but I do know that I did my best to guide them through this time. My parents would probably argue that they did their best as well, but the circumstances of the time far outweighed any chance of me getting through that period with any sense of contentment or growth. I had a therapist tell me some 30+ years ago that I had the EQ (emotional quotient) of a 13 year old and I can still feel the pain of those years. It takes nothing to bring me to tears when I think about those years and for a long time I believed that time would heal those vicious wounds. I’ve now matured enough to accept that sometimes, time never heals and that has brought a level of acceptance to me that is oddly comforting. At this juncture I can safely say that all of my children matured beyond an EQ of 13, and are in fact fully functioning and happy adults. I’ve observed that when uncomfortable issues come up for then, they seem to navigate through it with aplomb but I know better than to take any credit for it. After all, as parents we get all the blame and none of the credit. And that’s ok with me as long as my kids are ok. And they are. They are remarkable people and I couldn’t be prouder. So kudos to them for making it through it all. I still think the whole season of adolescence should be outlawed. It’s a grossly unfair process to go through and surely there must be a better way to evolve into adulthood than going through all that angst.
The worst vacation was the one that never was. One year, in the late 2000’s, I scheduled a dream vacation for my family of five: my husband and three children, who’s ages were probably 14, 12 and 9; I’m just guessing here. I don’t remember those details as much as I remember the tremendous disappointment in excruciating detail. You see, I planned to spend New Year’s Eve in Times Square in New York City. It had always been a dream of mine and this seemed to be the perfect year for it. In doing my research, I discovered that if you wanted hotel reservations you had to make them by April. I definitely insisted that we stay in a hotel for this event because I wanted to have the comfort of my own warm space with a freakin bathroom! Plus, depending on the weather, we could literally watch from the comfort of our room. I didn’t necessarily need to be outside among the tens of thousands of people although that was the main plan. When I go to New York City I always stay at least one night at the Marriott Marquis, right smack in the middle of Times Square. It’s a high end, very fancy huge hotel and needless to say, very expensive, but I was pleasantly surprised at the rate I was offered as I made that early phone call in April. So much so that I decided to get two rooms for our family, adjoining of course. I made the plane reservations and that price was also reasonable for five people. The main caveat was that all of this was non-refundable which I totally understood and was fine with me considering the relatively low cost. I’m going to guess here, but I think the total airfare and rooms was in the range of $7,000 which is of course a lot of money but this was a bucket list dream for me and I wanted to have this experience once in my life, with my family. It would be something we would never forget. I think we planned on staying two nights, maybe three, and we would definitely plan to hook up with our friends Joe and Valerie and their two young daughters. They lived right across the Hudson in Hoboken, NJ and I’d visited with them often, every time I went to New York City. They were wonderful hosts during every visit and we would have been welcome to stay with them for free, but as I said I wanted the comfort of my own room and bathroom right in the middle of the whole thing.
The trip was paid for and anticipated for several months. Somewhere around October, I unceremoniously lost my job and therefore half of our income with no hope in sight for replacing the income I was earning prior to my being let go. I’d become obsolete in my position and it really shouldn’t have been a surprise in hindsight but I was gobsmacked. Truly horrified at this complete 180 of my entire career. I no longer had a career! I was probably somewhere in my late 40’s and could in no way retire so I had to find a job and given that I’d been with the same company for 25 years, and I didn’t have a college education, I knew that I would be starting from scratch at a low paying administrative/bookkeeping job. But that nightmare is a story for another time,
I distinctly remember thinking that there was no way we could take this longed-for vacation. No one but me really cared; Alan never wanted to go in the first place and the kids didn’t know what all the excitement of being in Times Square on New Year’s Eve was all about. We’d do something else for the holiday, something more reasonable. I felt like I had to take responsibility for this debacle and figure out a way to cancel this trip. I was beyond devastated. It went against every fiber of my being not to go, because I live by one of my favorite mantras which is that I only regret the things I don’t do. How could I give up this trip? I knew the opportunity would never come again (and it hasn’t and it won’t at this late stage of the game, some 10-15 years later; we’re definitely too old for this type of debauchery) so I had to try to get my non-refundable money back. I tried, to no avail. Both the hotel and the airline were having none of it, no matter how much I cried and begged. So I took it one step further: I called and wrote to, as I like to call them, Mr. Delta and Mr. Marriott directly, I went straight to the top of each organization and pled my case (knowing full well they could sell those airline tickets and those hotel rooms for quadruple or more than what I paid for them by this point). And I waited for the final answer. Was I going to be awarded the refunds and replenish our rapidly depleting coffers or were we going on this vacation with heavy hearts and a mountain of guilt?
I remember sitting in a Subway sandwich shop when I got the first call. “Yes, Mrs. Clapp, we will refund your money with no fees. We hope you can join us another time”. The second call came subsequently with the same answer. So what did I do? Did I raise my fist in victory? Was I proud of my going the extra mile (excuse the pun) to get my money back? No indeed, I did not and was not. I sat there in that Subway shop and cried. Not tears of relief or happiness. No no no. I cried like a baby because I wanted that vacation more than anything. And I knew now that it was never going to happen. Sure, we’ve taken fun vacations since, but this whole experience was such a shitshow that I never recovered enough to try it again. It is the one and only regret that I have in my life. The one thing I didn’t do. I’ve never gotten over it and I suppose in the big picture it’s not that big of a deal but I’ll never forget the huge ache of disappointment and I regret it to this day, even though it was of course the right thing to do,
From the Prompt “Acts of Service” in theDailyOM.com
I have found that my generosity towards others doesn’t stem from the need for validation or return on my investment but rather from the need to make someone else’s life better. In my formative years, I never experienced generosity towards me; quite the opposite in fact. I was pushed away, never truly loved and I don’t recall anyone ever doing something for me out of the goodness of their heart. I’m sure there are those who disagree, but my perception is my reality and I truly don’t remember a lot of goodwill coming my way. I feel like if I had, I’d remember it.
As I grew into my adult years, my generous nature was a result of my losses as a child. I tried to buy love by giving, giving, giving, all the time. I gave my money, I gave my time, I gave my love, all freely and filled with hope. Hope that I was making someone happy and hope that I could fill the void of feeling unnecessary. So maybe a part of it was the need for validation but not in the way of “I give to you, you give to me”. I never needed kudos or acknowledgement for the kindness I shared, I just needed to be needed.
Later, I learned the gift of generosity from my friends who gave of themselves like no others I’d ever experienced. I marveled in this gift of receiving and it made me even more generous. It truly gives me no end of pleasure to make someone else happy and I’m so grateful that I’m able to do that with my time, talents and finances.
There is no question that I am an empath. I feel things so deeply and intensely and when I’m feeling happy and upbeat I want the same for the people that I love. If I can do that, it heightens my mood and my purpose.
My first and possibly biggest act of true generosity was when I volunteered to be a Big Sister with the National Big Brothers/Big Sisters organization. I was matched with an 8 year old black orphaned girl named Darlene, who was in the process of being adopted. She was the single most delightful and sweet child in spite of all she’d already suffered: no father, and a mother who died of AIDS. But she attached herself to me right away, and I to her. We became very close despite our 20 year age difference and now, almost 33 years later, we remain as close as ever. I would argue that I benefited more from this relationship than she did, but we disagree on that all the time. I know that I enhanced her life and broadened her horizons but she absolutely did the same for me. I wouldn’t be the Mom I am today to my children if not for the early experiences with her. I love her as much as I do my own children and am as proud of her as I could possibly be. It was never a chore, rather a privilege, to spend time with her when she was young and now that we are adult contemporaries, we are the closest of friends. I consider her my family, and have known her longer than I’ve known my own husband and children.
In further reflecting on this prompt of Generosity, I think my greatest gift is empathy. I’ve been through so much in my own life and there are not many shoes I haven’t walked in. I am able to understand and empathize with so many situations and people, and the irony is that I do not take on their pain, (I have enough of my own, thank you) but rather I learn from these experiences which only serves to further enhance my gift of giving. Maybe I sometimes come across as a know-it-all, and I know that I can be off putting and even unhelpful. But my heart is filled with love to give away, and the more I give, the more I generate, both internally and for others. It is with great sadness that I find myself unable to help someone or improve their situation but that certainly does happen and I’m still learning how to process that feeling of loss when I feel I’ve let someone down. I know, deep down in my heart, that my gifts are directed honestly and with no expectations and I will never stop giving. For me, it is a part of my self-care lifestyle. I hope everyone in my life is aware that I am always available to them. And I look forward to the many new shoes I will walk in throughout the remainder of my life.
An Unconventional Event
From a writing prompt in TheDailyOM.com
In 1976, in Columbus, Ohio, when I was 14 years old, I was not a great teenager. I caused my parents no end of trouble with my mouthiness, my rebellion, my general unhappiness of my home life. In retrospect, I was a normal teenager, wouldn’t you say? But I did a very abnormal, unconventional thing that was unplanned and impulsive. I ran away from home. Far away. For a long time, relatively speaking, that is, two whole weeks.
It all started with one of my best friends, Patty, who was 13 and in the 9th grade and I was in the 10th. I wanted to skip school again, which we did rather frequently (even though I’d always continue to have good grades, lucky me), and Patty said if she got caught skipping again she’d catch hell to pay from her parents so our only choice was to just run away. It was really that remarkably simple. We thought it would be a fun adventure and we set about making our plans.
Patty had what seemed like a huge savings account at the bank for the times and for our age, $700! It was a fortune and it would carry us so far! I contributed my paltry babysitting savings of $30. We walked to the bank and Patty withdrew all of her money, no questions asked. These were different times, the 1970’s.
We packed up a few items, clothing, mementos, things that seemed critically important to take with us, and while Patty had a nifty suitcase, I crammed all my stuff into a paper grocery bag. Patty left a note for her parents; I did no such thing. We then took a city bus to Northland Mall, where there was a Greyhound Bus hub and to fulfill Patty’s wishes, we bought tickets to the first stop in Florida which was a town called Jacksonville Beach. Not to be confused with Jacksonville, FL proper, but Jacksonville Beach which was primarily a navy town, and not considered a safe place to be for young runaways. But we didn’t know and we didn’t care. Again, no questions asked at the ticket counter of two teenaged girls buying bus tickets bound for Florida in the middle of a school day.
Oh, it was so exciting, so novel, when we boarded that bus! The whole process had been so simple and we were giddy! This was so freaking cool, no? Definitely yes, indeed, it was.
We were on that bus for 24 very long hours my friends. I’d been to Florida before, but I’d never taken a Greyhound bus anywhere. We just sort of winged it as far as eating at the various stops, being very careful with our financial windfall stash, and no one bothered us, made us feel uncomfortable or really engaged with us. We were just doing our thing.
We arrived in sunny hot Jacksonville Beach and debarked from the bus for the final time of the long trip. We went into the ladies room to freshen up and I remember there was a man in the ladies room, looking for trouble. That was our first sign that maybe Jacksonville Beach wasn’t the best Florida town to come to but again, we didn’t care. This was way too exciting! We were here and Patty’s lifelong dream had come true. Florida was somewhere she’d always wanted to go. By this time in my life, I’d lived many places, Missouri, New York (twice), Florida and several homes in Columbus, Ohio so I considered myself seasoned.
Of course our main goal before any other was to see the beach. I don’t remember how we found ourself there but we did get to the beach before doing anything else. Then we decided we needed a place to live. At this point, in our minds, this was a permanent situation and we needed to make well thought out, good choices.
We rented a studio apartment (once again, no questions asked) that had roaches and no air conditioning but as with everything else, we didn’t care. We were moving forward with our plans and making accomplishments. We were still so giddy and proud of ourselves, but not in a gloating way, rather a more of a validation way, where we were proving that this was all a great idea and everything was going so well.
The next day, we met some of our neighbors, all navy men and their wives or girlfriends and we fell right in with them. They were in their late teens and early twenties and we all formed a quick and warm friendship, Patty’s and my ages notwithstanding-we didn’t hide it. I met an 18 year old guy named Chuck and immediately developed a crush on him-these were my boy-crazy years after all.
The naval guys had a band that played covers from the popular group called Bad Company and they took us down to the local USO to see them play. Nary a thought to us about getting into a car with these relative strangers. They were, and continued to be, very kind people. I still have a photograph of the band playing that night; Chuck must have given it to me at some point.
Within a couple of days, Patty was starting to feel homesick for her boyfriend, Corky, a ne’er-do-well from our friend group-we were all basically anti-establishment and did everything our parents disallowed or disagreed with. We were, after all, I must point out again, teenagers. And most of us were from dysfunctional homes; I know I was. We decided to write letters to all our friends and let them know what we were up to, just newsy letters like you would write to a friend or relative who lived out of town, assuming that our running away was a big deal to them because they weren’t with us and we wanted them to know we missed them but were doing great! We even put our return address on the letters! Never occurred to us that might not be a great idea. We were already gone for good in our minds and nothing could stop us now. This was our life now. And our friends wrote us back.
On the way to looking for a job, I remember Patty buying a record player because music was our thing, like any teenager, and we’d brought our favorite 45’s with us as essentials. So the record player was not considered an extravagance, but rather a necessity. We applied for jobs at McDonald’s and were hired on the spot pending a work permit proving we were 16 years old. This would prove to be a problem since we had no way to get such a permit but we knew we’d figure it out somehow.
So we had our apartment, our record player, our jobs and our friends, all within a few days. I never experienced a moment of homesickness and this life was definitely my new normal. Patty, on the other hand, wasn’t faring so well. Mainly, she just really missed her boyfriend and the novelty was wearing off for her, I could tell. We continued to hang out with our friends, go to the beach, go to the USO, listen to records and ponder the whole work permit issue, but we had plenty of money. I was having a blast. This was heaven for me considering what I’d left behind. I saw my whole future here, especially with Chuck; as by this time we were definitely an item.
One day, two weeks into our adventure, two police officers came to our humble door and that, of course, was the beginning of the end. I was devastated! Who would rat us out? Surely, none of our likeminded friends at home? Our new friends in the apartment complex? To this day, I’ve never known.
We were unceremoniously escorted to the police department, paltry belongings in hand, and immediately separated. I wouldn’t see Patty again until we reunited in school back in Columbus. We never saw our local friends to say goodbye. It was just over. I particularly remember the policeman remarking that I was lucky to be alive considering how long we’d lasted in this dangerous situation and unsafe environment. Who knew? I just cried and cried. This was my first and fortunately only time spending the night in a group home associated with social services. I just remember being so incredibly sad, disappointed and scared to death to go back to my unhappy home in Columbus. I knew I’d be in a world of trouble.
I was flown home the next day and my parents immediately took me to a therapist which was of no use at all because I was so embittered and wasn’t having any of it. Within a week, a violent fight broke out between my dad and me and I was sent to Patty’s to stay until I could procure yet another person to take me in. My mother refused, as she had done several times previously when I requested her to take me back in, my dad and his wife wouldn’t allow me to come back so the plan was to send me to a juvenile detention center. Yes, this was the plan. No one in my family was willing to take care of me. In retrospect, this was extremely traumatic and has affected me my entire life-this life of constant abandonment and giving up on me. I was a relatively normal, smart, friendly, outgoing teenager with atypical problems at home through no real fault of my own. My actions were a result of the constantly dysfunctional circumstances I was exposed to going back to when my biological father left me at 18 months old and subsequently signed adoption papers when my mother remarried. Then she divorced, and made me go live with my adopted father and his 19 year old wife when I was 11. My mom kept my three siblings and I never lived with them again and that was truly traumatizing. So by this time, there had indeed been a lot of disruption in my life and clearly I was acting out as anyone my age would. But I was a good person and it took me years to finally realize that it wasn’t my fault.
Meanwhile, in a Hail Mary attempt to find someone to take me in, I called my maternal grandmother who had recently moved from Ohio to North Carolina with her youngest child, my 18 year old uncle. She agreed to take me! It was bittersweet because I was once again saying goodbye to all my friends, going to a strange place into a strange situation. I remember crying on the plane the entire way down to NC to my seatmate and I wonder today what that poor woman must have thought.
My grandmother saved my life; I have no doubt of that. It was with pure love that she allowed me to come and live with her. We shared a room in a two bedroom apartment until my uncle moved out on his own. We had a lot of fun together, I must say, and I felt safe and loved by at least one person on this earth. She saw to it that I paid Patty back every penny that we’d used to run away and she taught me so many things about unconditional love which I’d never experienced. I also stayed in touch with Chuck and he even came to visit me in NC which was very cool. Sadly, I dumped him for a loser boyfriend and I regretted how I handled it for the rest of my life. I was actually able to track him down fairly recently and I apologized and he was fine, no regrets, no worries, so that was satisfying,
I lived with my grandmother for over a year, until I finished high school. I got a full time job at age 15 working in a diner, and mainly couch-surfed for awhile with my co-workers. I stayed in touch with my Columbus friends, and actually saw Patty many years later when I was visiting Columbus with my future husband. Patty has since died, of an alcoholic overdose. Her life never really recovered after our adventure. I, however, look back on this time with joy and astonishment as I know now that it was a truly unconventional, ballsy and dangerous thing to do, but I will always remember it as a grand adventure.
From a prompt in a series of journaling I am doing presented by TheDailyOM.com
I am the oldest of five, 3 of which are half siblings. My first 10 years were the precipice for the greatest decline of a halfway decent life. The first 10 years were just OK. My biological father left me when I was 18 months old, my mother remarried a minister who adopted me and my brother when I was about four years old. They had two children in rapid succession and we moved seven times over the 6 year period they were married. Both of my parents were profoundly depressed and were hospitalized just prior to the divorce. Those first 10 years sadly qualify as the best, most stable part of my childhood. At age 11, my mother sent me to live with my (adopted) dad and his new 19 year old wife. It was horrible because my mother was abandoning me and I was afraid of my dad-he was mean when he was unhappy and that was the standard. I never lived with my siblings again after that except for a brief stint with my brother living with us, but he was invited back to Mom’s. I never was, even though I begged on more than one occasion. Luckily, I didn’t have to change schools (yet) as the years of age 11-13 were extremely formative in terms of adolescence, physical and emotional growth, etc. I was shorted a mother’s guidance and I floundered. But I always had my friends. Until we moved. I attended two different schools in the 8th grade alone, as we kept moving and moving back. It was excruciating every time I had to leave my friends. I never got over it. If there was any resilience-building time period in my life, this was it. I was able to make friends easily and did well in school. But I learned to not be able to trust any relationship or situation in any given moment which was off putting to the people I cared about and it was just chaos the entire time. I graduated high school early after a move to NC to live with yet another person, my maternal grandmother, and worked full time at a diner then a retail store until I turned 17 and then I quietly slipped out of town, basically unnoticed, to move to another city with a man I would marry at 18 and divorce at 19. My childhood sucked on so many levels and I didn’t even realize the extent of the damage until I was a mother raising my own children in a happy home. It is truly astounding how important those early years are and how critically they shape your entire life. Add to that a group of adult caretakers who seemed not to have ever gone through childhood at all as they had no handle on what was happening to their own children. I have trouble trusting any of my parents, I suffered physically and emotionally from untreated anxiety and depression, and I didn’t know true happiness until I got help with a great therapist and medication. I resent everything that happened to me in my childhood. A parent has one singular job when they decide to have a child: Keep that child safe. I never felt safe. I never felt loved, I never felt wanted, and I didn’t even know any different. The older I get the more resentful I become because I’m constantly realizing something new, every day it seems, about how shitty my childhood was when compared to others, including my husband and my own children. I lost out on so much. And I blamed myself for so long. I was unlovable, therefore I was doing something -everything- wrong. I’ve spent my whole life trying to buy love and I’ve failed miserably. I give too much away because I’m striving for that acceptance and validation but still not getting it. The past can’t be undone and there are no do-overs.
Right now, at age 60, I’m on a very difficult journey of trying to learn forgiveness, not to benefit those whom I’m unable to forgive, but to release myself of this burden and find peace. I fear I will not be successful in this journey, and I’m fighting it completely alone, abandonedment issues rearing their ugly head as I delve deep into myself and try to heal. I’m not even close and time may run out before I am blessed by the grace of God by that peace I so desperately covet. But I’ve learned a few things, mostly about boundaries, mindfulness, and who I am as a mother. This, along with a patient, supportive and loving husband, who understands that he can’t fix me, has been helpful in this continued journey. I just don’t know if I have the time left or emotional energy to see it to its fruition.