Monday, January 29, 2007

I never wanted you anyway

So that meant the violence would end. Well, about 60% of it anyway. After all, there was no getting away from the egg donor. But getting rid of her husband, now, that meant something. He of the belt, he of the complete lack of control, he of the ‘take care of your kids,’ he of the ‘how many do you want.’

They met in California, working for the post office. One of many jobs, and one of many men. Something about this man took with her – probably the stable income. He was older than her, too.

He drove an ugly pale grey Volkswagen beetle that he called Peanuts. He had a disgusting little dog that he called Bobo. Bobo would lift his leg and pee on you if you sat down on the ground outside. You learned to watch for Bobo. But, they weren’t scared of him yet.

His parents and family were in Washington State, so it wasn’t long before she was packing up all three kids and heading off with him, disrupting their school halfway through the year. They rented a house at first, on a corner lot in a residential neighborhood one block off a main thoroughfare. She had her own room for the first time ever. She’d always shared a room with the boys, or slept in the egg donor’s ‘dressing room’ off her bedroom.

She can still remember the two of them waking her up in what seemed like the middle of the night to announced that they’d gotten married. They seemed disappointed that she didn’t respond with some excitement. What did they expect? She was half asleep. And she didn’t even know what married meant –they’d never used the word with her before.

There was a family across the street, and two doors down, and something was always happening there. The middle child didn’t really understand what, but sometimes the kids and the mom would be at her house, and the kids would be crying. She could feel the tension, but couldn’t have said what it was. What she didn’t know was that this was domestic violence let out into the open. What she would subsequently experience was oh, so not out in the open.

They moved the following summer, buying a four-bedroom house at the outskirts of an upper-scale neighborhood. Nothing fancy, just middle of the road. The house is when he began to lose his cool, slowly, little by little. It started with verbal intimidation, as the kids were more and more underfoot. Kids are loud and messy, and that was ok when he was in a good mood, but if he’d had a bad day… Well, they would try to stay out of his way.

But the first time he hit someone, it was the egg donor. He started with her. They could always tell it was going to happen because he would tell her to shut up, but she just couldn’t seem to leave things alone. They’d start screaming, and then he’d haul off and smack her. They didn’t see it, they never saw it – they were hiding. But they heard it, loud and clear, from their hiding places.

But despite the occasional loss of control, the fa├žade of a happy family continued to be presented to the world. The egg donor was set on getting him to adopt her kids. She worked on him a lot, always talking about adoption, because their real dad left them and didn’t want them – or so she said, anyway. Funny thing, they finally had this kind of family meeting where she talked about him adopting and he asked them all if they wanted him for a dad. They were too scared of him to say ‘no.’

So it was legal. He was their dad. But they never, ever called him that. They always called him by his first name. When they talked to him, or about him, anyway. But things didn’t get better with the adoption, they got worse. He felt that the egg donor had tricked him, trapped him, into being responsible for her kids. They were never our kids, always hers. The violence picked up, and now he went after the oldest boy, who tried to fight back and really got it good.

And now the egg donor, frustrated at getting smacked around, was taking it out on the kids, too. She was left-handed, and they learned to beware that hand, and the cutting words that went with it. No one was ever good enough – they were bad kids who took after their dad, the dad that didn’t want them. And in an unexpected turn of events, in order to spend less time with teh egg donor, he took the graveyard shift at work. So they were alone with him during the day. And he was sleeping. The house was like a tomb, but still they couldn't be quiet enough for him.

She remembers hearing her younger brother come home from school, to be met at the back door by himself, very angry...about what, no one knew. She heard it from her bedroom. The punch in the stomach, the noise he made as the air went out, the thud as her brother hit the floor. The yelling at him to get up and not be a baby. The punch, the noise, the thud, the yelling, the punch, the noise, the thud, the yelling. It seemed it wouldn't ever stop.

Sigh. Let’s just fast-forward through the next several years, ok? I just can’t do it all right now. Let’s skip to the end of this little story.

Somehow, sometime, someway, there was a final straw. Something that resulted in him being out of the house, and them going through a divorce. Except that once he broke into the house and stole things. And he went into their joint bank account and took all their money. And they had to go to court. He was fighting for visitation, and suddenly they were his kids too. The egg donor had said it wasn’t safe, he was violent. He denied it. So they all had to go talk to the judge, with the egg donor and him both staring at them. They were afraid of both of them, so when the judge asked if they wanted to see ‘their dad,’ they didn’t know what to say. So they said yes.

And then came the day of the dreaded visitation. He picked them up at their house – a different house, cause they had to sell the old one and get a much cheaper one, across town – and drove them to his house. They sat in the living room, quiet as church mice, not knowing what to say or do, afraid. He didn’t even try to plan anything for them to do together, wouldn't even turn on the television, or let them go play; he made no attempt to make this easy on them in any way. He tried to talk to them, but any responses were monosyllabic. And then he lost control again.

You don’t want to be here, and I don’t want you here. I only went to court so your mom would have to pay the lawyer. I never wanted you anyway, and I never want to see you again.

The egg donor got what she wanted, though. A man with a steady job, who would be forced to pay child support because of the adoption – something she hadn’t got from the first husband. The first one – that’s for another post, another time.

Friday, January 26, 2007

spring is sprung (aka shoes, shoes, shoes!)

According to Payless Shoes anyway. They keep showing PL commercials for the new spring collections, at 30% off. And me with no money for shopping! It's killing me, I tell ya!

But that's ok, cause I'll have my W2 by the 31st, my tax return electronically submitted on the 1st, and my return direct deposited a week later.

Then, my friends, it will be shopping time, oh yes, it will.

I may get these:

I may even get a few handbags:

The problem, though, will be fitting them here:

I suppose I'll just have to buy a new section of shelf space, won't I?! Wonder how high they can go?

Thursday, January 25, 2007

whoo hooo!

I just got a call from the four-year state college, one of the two cv's that I recently sent out. I have an interview on February 14. I sure hope that's a good omen. :)

Friday, January 19, 2007

the (long-awaited) power of peaches

I said back here that I'd be blogging this memory soon, but I was unceremoniously sidetracked by menopause. But we're here now, and better late than never.

When rugrat 1 was headed for kindergarten, I wanted him in a school in my old neighborhood, where I spent my teen years. The public schools in Spokane had a bad rep back then, and private (read: Catholic) schools were the way to go. I knew I could get him into this school and I could do volunteer work to cover the cost of tuition. So I moved us into a small apartment that was part of a triplex, to be within walking distance of the school (we didn't have a car then).

At $225/month, we struggled with the rent, because I was back and forth between work and welfare. Welfare paid $300/month, and $200/month in foodstamps, so $225/month was a lot of rent on that income, considering I still had to pay for electricity, heat, and the telephone.

Toward the end of his kindergarten year, I learned from a girlfriend that her mom was moving out of a house in the area, and the rent was only $125. When she described the area, I realized I knew the landlords from church/school, so I contacted them to see about renting the place. When they realize it was me (the single mom) the rent suddenly and inexplicably was quoted as $150/month. But even that was better than what I was paying, so we went for it.

The house was a small two-room building that a couple had lived in until they died. They had been unable to have children, and when they died, they left the house to their neighbors, the couple from church. The landlords' only change to the place was to add on a small slice of a room to move the kitchen into (the kitchen had previously been in the one room that also housed the living room and dining room as well). The bathroom did not have a shower, but the bathtub made up for it. One of those old, huge, claw-footed tubs with a slanted/slightly reclining back, it's the only tub I can recall that allowed me to soak in a bubblebath to my heart's content. They gardened in the back yard and took care of themselves until the end.

The landlords were throwbacks to the 50's, and called each other 'mother' and 'father.' He was a minor city councilmember, but they believed it gave them status. They were 'pillars' of the church community, very 'moral' and judgmental. They required me to mow the lawn myself, which wouldn't have been a hardship except: the back yard garden had been allowed to go fallow, and grass had grown in without the dirt being leveled first. And they wouldn't let me use their power mower, I had to use the push mower that 'came with the house.' All it took was one attempt at pushing that very old, very heavy mower across the horribly uneven ground to see that this was a punishment for my moral standards. When I wouldn't mow the lawn, they eventually left me a letter saying they would begin charging $50/month more in rent to pay the person they hired to mow for me -- that person was their own grown son who still lived with them, who would come over and mow my little bit of dirt after doing his parents' lawn.

This was the house we lived in when we didn't have access to a washer and dryer. We asked around and managed to get a red wagon donated, and we used that wagon to load up dirty clothes and walk 5 blocks to the laundromat, year-round. Rugrat could sit on the clothes in the wagon on the way to the laundromat, but he had to walk on the way home so the clean clothese would stay clean.

But on to the peaches. Sweet, sweet peaches. This house had, in the middle of the backyard where it would have been surrounded by garden, a peach tree. The landlords mentioned it, but said it had not born fruit for years. So, imagine our surprise and pleasure when that summer, that tree bore fruit. And not just a handful, but scads and scads! Bountiful, abundant, overflowing with peaches -- we were picking them up off the ground, as they kept dropping, ripe, sweet, and juicy. There were much too many to eat right away, and we wanted to eat them all. Nothing went to waste in our house back then. And peaches, fresh fruit of any kind, was out of reach of those on fixed incomes, just as they are today.

I had no idea how to can food, nor did I have access to all the supplies necessary to do so (and couldn't have afforded the supplies if I did have access). But, I did have a small freezer in addition to the freezer in the fridge. It was something a friend had let me charge on their credit card and pay off slowly, so that we could store food when we found things on sale. It helped with the food budget. So, I managed to buy some freezer storage bags, and we spent a few weekends gathering, slicing, and peeling peaches, sealing them in plastic bags, and placing them lovingly in the freezer.

We considered them precious, something we didn't get very often. But now, now we would have fresh peaches all year. And throughout the winter. What a pleasure it was to want a treat in the winter and be able to pull a bag of those sweet peaches out of the freezer. We cooked them and poured them over biscuits, mashed them and mixed them in pancake batter, used granola and made a cruchy peach cobbler.

And as if that weren't enough, the next summer, the tree again bore fruit. Not nearly as much as the summer before, but enough to put some away for the coming months.

We moved away that fall for a job that required relocation to another town, and I heard from friends that the tree never again bore fruit, and eventually, the landlords had the tree taken out to make lawn mowing easier.

But for those two beautiful, precious, magical summers, the tree bore fruit for rugrat and me. And that little miracle is not something that will be easily forgotten.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

living lives

I told you my posts would get back on track. And this one is courtesy of some mashed bananas. Yes, that’s right, mashed bananas. As I was mashing them and preparing to freeze them (because we couldn’t use them right away, and I hated to waste them), a memory came to mind. From that memory, I began to think about some things from the past. So while in the midst of a rather mindless task, my mind was in fact working overtime. I’ll start at the end, and continue in the next post.

I’ve complained a lot lately about not having time to read. Read for pleasure, that is. I’ve been stuck on academic overdrive since I started college at 30, reading for classes, whether I’m taking them or teaching them. Reading, over the last ten years or so, has become a chore, rather than the intense pleasure of the past. When I read in someone’s blog that they’ve read yet another book I’ve wanted to read, the intense jealousy – and even anger – can’t be contained for a few brief seconds.

I keep saying/writing that once I finish the dissertation, things will get better. They’ll go back to normal, I’ll be reading again as I used to. But when I choose to face reality, I know that it won’t ever be like it was if I continue in the career I’ve chosen. In academia, as a professor, there will be constant pressure to publish. And constant pressure to stay as up-to-date as possible with course content. My reading will continue to be reading that is not of my choice. And that really scares me. If you knew what books were for me, to me, you’d be scared too. But I’m the one who chose this path, and I’m the one who must walk it.

Books have been my life, my sanity, my salvation, from the time I was old enough to read. In those horrible early years with the egg donor and her various boyfriends and husbands, I lived in the world of books as often as I could – I’d retreat from my own sad reality, and read about others’ reality, both real and imagined. I can remember classics along the lines of Caddie Woodlawn in the third grade; by the sixth grade, I was reading The Hobbit. (The egg donor thought that giving the boys Hardy Boys books, and me Nancy Drew books, was the way to go for birthdays and Christmases. They were cool for what they were, but the only whetted my appetite.) In high school, I remember reading Anya Seton’s Green Darkness for the first time (I just recently re-read it, one of the few I’ve been able to read lately).

In my 20’s, as today, I favored historical novels, especially when the author paid serious attention to accurate historical detail. In my early 20’s, for about a year or so, I was addicted to those romance novels. Not the namby-pamby ones in which the girl gets a chaste kiss from her knight, but the dirtier ones with details about ‘his rigid manhood entering her moist womanhood’ kind. The more explicit, of course, the better. I could read one of those in a day, if given the chance.

Life as a single mom in and out of welfare actually, believe it or not, left lots of time to read. Partly because I wasn’t one of those moms who spent every waking minute with my kid (it helped that he was very self-sufficient, and learned to read early himself). Partly because sometimes we didn’t have a telly, and when we did, we didn’t have cable. Four channels – ABC, CBS, NBC, and PBS – were it for us, which pretty much meant nothing on during the day or late evening after 11 (except on Saturdays, which was our night for the Not for Prime Time Players). We would go to the library (always the library, I could never afford to purchase) and check out stacks of books – more when I wasn’t working, less when I did have a job. I was a book churning machine, reading one a day, reading until my eyes gave out and I must nap and rest them, then waking up to read more, again.

When I read books for pleasure, I’m doing more than reading – I’m living. I’m living an entire life, the life of someone else, leaving my own behind. I become the character in the book, think like her, and it is my life, for a time. Until the book is over, the story complete. When I come to the end of a book, there is a sadness, an emptiness inside, a tightening of my chest, sorrow. My life, that one that I lived furtively through the book, is over. There is a sense of loss, for what was, for what is no longer. And then I move back into my own life seamlessly, as though I never left. Until the next book, the next life.

And it’s become more than the desire to read, entering into the desire to own. I want them on my own bookshelves, so that I can look at them, and pick them up, shuffle the pages, and read them whenever I want. I want to own them, possess them. I’ve grown to love old editions of books, especially those printed prior to the 20th century. I’ve purchased a few books from the late 1800’s, but anything earlier than that is out of my pocketbook’s reach.

Perhaps this sheds light on the feelings inside when I can’t read for pleasure. I miss the immersion into another’s life, the time to read freely, intently, intensely. It has left an emptiness inside that needs to be filled, as though a piece of me were missing, and I seek it consistently, even when it is pushed to the recesses of my conscious mind. It isn’t a matter of living in a fantasy world to avoid reality – reality is here, it is what it is, it won’t go away, I live with it daily. It is, instead, my way of living my reality. Having denied myself this intrinsic piece of who I am for so many years, I am now finding myself 'sneaking' books for pleasure, at the expense of this.

Next up, the power of peaches.

(photo from here)