As stated, her story is not my own, so I will say no more.
When I was about nine we owned a cute little hamster. Mel had bought some yummy hamster treats that looked like chocolate stars. She set me up and told me to try and feed my dad one as a joke. I did. He enjoyed it and asked for another. As he sat munching on the hamster snack, we all burst into laughter, assuming that he would take part in the prank and call it for what it was. This is not how the story unfolded. Dad’s stunted emotional growth left him at a stage of humiliation, unable to advance into a latter stage of seeing the humor in the situation. Soon the humiliation developed into anger and after throwing a huge tantrum, he decided to completely ignore me for about a week. I was devastated. I remember sitting at the breakfast table and crying on about the fifth consecutive day that my dad continued ignore my voice. I had apologized repeatedly but he wasn’t having it, and although Mel instigated the whole thing, she decided to stay out of it.
This has been a standard practice of my dad’s my entire life. He will ignore me if he is unhappy with me. Sometimes he ignores, not because he is unhappy with me but because he has someone else in his life and doesn’t need whatever it is that our relationship provides for him. He has ignored me for up to six years at a time. Today he is ignoring me because I am writing truth. The difference today is that I am no longer a child and I don’t care; I don’t have them time or energy.
It takes an enormous amount of strength to undo the damage and purposefully lead an emotionally healthy life. Many times I really suck at it. I still yell and curse and throw tantrums, but when I do, I know I am wrong. I get that I am limited and it is my responsibility to make it better. My apologies for my poor behavior are for those I have hurt, not for myself. If atonement is required, I try my best. My intent is always for what is best for my own kids. Removing those who function by emotional manipulation from my life has been a good thing.
In my lifetime, there have been many things that have contributed to the loss of my brain cells, as I’m sure those of you who know me would attest. There was early drug and alcohol use, a couple of concussions, countless hours of Gilligan’s Island and of course, as chemist, copious amounts of various chemicals. I have cleaned up a number of mercury spills, smoked PCP and Quaaludes before the age of 14 and crashed my bike into the back of a parked car, resulting in a couple minutes of blissful darkness– not all on one occasion, although that would be a funny story. Hell, I was destined to be a genius, before I intervened.
It’s difficult for me to decipher if certain things like forgetting someone’s name or forgetting how to spell, is due to my advancing age or my past shenanigans. I know I awoke on my 40th birthday needing reading glasses, but other things are just too hard to call. Recently I was trying to spell the word “drop” but I had one of those moments where I was certain I had never encountered the word before. Although I knew its definition, I could not conjure up its image, as if it were completely foreign. No, I wasn’t stoned; it was just me, in all my glory. [Drop]… J—R—O—P… Jrop… Jrop? I jropped the ball? I jropped my fucking brain on the sidewalk? With a glut of options, it’s difficult to identify the cause of such brain farts but one thing for certain, rises above and trumps all of the other culprits.
In third grade we lived with my dad and his crazy wife Mel in Eugene, Oregon. Our house was a small two-bedroom shanty, in which dad and Mel occupied one of the bedrooms and Jason and Jere the other. Jerry and I spilt the couch and the loveseat in the living room. Ok, it wasn’t quite a shanty, I’m being overly dramatic, shit-hole is more like it. Dad had a day job but sold pot on the side and Mel was an over the top, crazy who liked to fight and drive super fast cars, as you may have read in prior posts. Both were fond of altering their realities and taught us too, at early ages. I suspect Mel was attempting to exercise her best judgment as a parent in introducing us to the “Pass Out Game” as a safer way to get high. I mean, unlike the other ways we had all been exposed, the “Pass Out Game” wasn’t illegal, nor was there an age limit restriction. Shit, as far as she was concerned, it was probably part of Sunday school activities somewhere.
Now, without going into the details of how it is done specifically, I will say that it involves one hyperventilating and then cutting off the blood supply to the brain. There is no doubt in my mind that in the long list of brain cell killing activities in which I have participated, this one is the master. If killing brain cells were the goal, this activity would earn an “A”. Killing them softly, each one exhaling it’s last buzzing “wah-wah” breath, as they fade into darkness. A sensation that is a certain glimpse into the big ending, I’m sure. We would spend entire afternoons rotating turns as Mel facilitated our high. When it was Mel’s turn, Jerry was big enough to wrap his arms around her to assist. He did learn to gently lay her on the couch after an unfortunate incident of she crashing on top of the coffee table as her large body went limp beyond his capacity to hold.
Thus brings me to address the title of my blog. In my earliest entries I have discussed the point of the title and it’s certain that the intent can be made from the title alone but the question remains, would I have been better off raised by wolves? I recognize there is the possibility of being eaten or maybe bitten in a tussle with a brother wolf or something, but I maintain there would probably have been some really good moments as well. Romping in a field of wildflowers or sharing a deer carcass as a family? There’s no way a mother wolf would have taught me how to self asphyxiate for the fun of it. I suspect quick thinking and wit are valued in the wolf community and anything jeopardizing survival would be frowned upon.
The pitfalls of such an upbringing have been deep but since passed and I celebrate our survival with my wolf brothers today. The residual effects will linger as I forget more and more words but know that I am healing. As it progresses and gets worse, I might just start telling people I was jropped on my head as a baby.
Labels are bizarre. They allow us to categorize a particular group of characteristics into a neat organized mental package so that our brains are excused from the hard stuff. Like the T-shirt motto, of which I am so fond because it is such an honest, asshole thing to admit, “I like stereotypes because they make my life easier.” We all rely on them- it’s the way our brains classify and organize new information. What do you call a guy wearing Buddy Holly frames, flannel and sporting a long beard? See?
Although labels allow our brains to take short cuts, the problem, of course, stems from the fact that they are also confined to the information we put into them. Limited experiences reduce these schemata to stereotypes and rubrics whereas a plethora of experiences will shatter the stereotypes all together. Think about the last 20 years and the idea of coming out as a gay person. When I was in high school, in the early-mid eighties, coming out was unheard of. The stereotype was strong; limp wrist, lisp, effeminate. Over the past two decades the weak stereotype has been obliterated due to the fact that more and more of our high school friends who didn’t quite fit the mold have come out. It is important to recognize how our understanding changes and how our little mental compartments shift. Some with more ease than others.
Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not promoting the idea of stereotypes and saying, “It’s ok, that’s just how our mind works,” but rather recognizing that once our mind organizes information in a certain way, we have option with how to access it. We can accept the label and confine our understanding within its boundaries or we can recognize, like our mind trying to make sense of an the black and white optical illusion of old woman vs. young lady, that we can retrain our brain to see things differently. I feel very strongly that it is my responsibility to seek God in all people. To recognize the ordering process that my mind has employed and purposefully see beyond it, to recognize and celebrate one’s unique gifts. My doing so connects me with Universe.
“Of course I do this,” claim my most liberal and open-minded friends, “Of course.” I disagree. It appears that most reserve this option for the like minded, or for stereotypes that we have already blown due to the type of interactions in which we engage. We’re set on a criterion of reciprocity, as if others need to expand their own understanding if we are willing to take those steps ourselves. I’m not sure this is the way it works. We each draw from our own experiences, and we all take different paths. I maintain, my journey is my own, and yours is yours (Perhaps a bit too close to I’m OK, You’re OK, I admit.) People come to understandings from different places and at different times in their lives. Ask yourself, would you sit and crack open a Pabst with a guy who sports a Confederate flag in the back window of his truck? Would you have a cup of coffee with a member of the conservative Christian right? Perhaps there’s a Hispter out there who could expand my horizons a bit? Maybe not.
When I was about eleven, Jerry came home with a box of product and asked if I would help him bleach his hair. It was the first time he had dyed his hair, and after laying out the contents of the box he was a little hesitant once he recognized my unfamiliarity with the process. Immediately, he began to change his mind and started to gather the goods, deciding that he would go to a girlfriend’s house for help instead. I saw my window of opportunity closing and realized I needed to close this deal, as the idea of learning how to bleach hair suddenly sounded really fun.
“This is easy,” I insisted. “Stay.”
Halting for a second, Jerry searched for reassurance. “I don’t know, have you ever done this before?”
Now, I’m not sure what he was thinking in asking the question. As if there is a pool of knowledge privy to me solely due to the fact that I possess a vagina, like Judy Blume’s rendition of girl’s swapping stories of getting their first periods, we too must have access to the collective intelligence of hair design. I was eleven– of course I had no experience.
“Yeah, plenty of times,” I persuaded, gently freeing the box from his hands. “I just need to read the directions again.” Good, Kelli, close the deal.
It was these negotiating skills that I would rely upon heavily throughout my life. I recognize my rationalization in specifically choosing the word “negotiating” rather than “lying,” the distinction being that if I knew it wasn’t the truth, I was certain that it was about to become the truth. To convince the manager of the Egg Roll King that I had a worker’s permit, so that I could start my child labor years off in style, reeking of MSG by the end of the shift. To assure my mother that seven was the acceptable age to babysit a large brood of her friends’ kids so that they could go bar hopping deep into the wee hours of the morning. To fend off the imminent danger of a male twice my size whose eyes were filled with dire intent, I created a reality that Jerry’s arrival was certain, just minutes behind me.
Jerry agreed and I proceeded to work my magic. He draped an old towel across his shoulders as I mixed the concoction of developing creme and bleach per the directions on the box. Promoting the idea that I knew what I was doing, I added, “Now you’re not supposed to leave this on for more than sixty minutes,” as if the information had been drawn upon from my own reserves rather than just read from the outside of the box.
Making sure not to bungle the project, at sixty minutes I instructed Jerry to “rinse with warm water.” He was wary that perhaps the color wasn’t quite right and we needed to leave it on longer. I used the instructions on the box to support my own wealth of knowledge in the bleaching of hair and so Jerry agreed. As the water began to run clear, I was hopeful that the bright hue was due to the wetness of his hair and that of course it would lighten as it dried. Jerry wrapped his head in a towel and began to absorb the excess water. I began to pray.
As Jerry dropped the towel, I still recall the stillness in the room, like someone describing their last moments when their life flashes before them. In my mind he had been staring at his reflection for hours when I turned to run, but because of the time warp, my feet were stuck. Words of succor formed in my mind but had somehow warped into a long “aaggghhhhhh” by the time they left my lips. I couldn’t tell from his reflection if he was angry or in shock. I’ve since seen the color on Loreal boxes and have in fact dyed my own the same, ‘Copper Penny,’ but it was clear that this was not what Jerry had had in mind.
He turned to the left. He turned to the right. He looked at me. I shrank into the smallest size I could and trying to save myself, whispered, “It looks really good.”
“Yeah, not bad,” Jerry replied and thanked me for my efforts.
When I was twenty-two I nearly destroyed my knee in a hurdling accident. I like that, hurdling accident; it’s not one of the more common references one might use like car accident or skiing accident. It’s more in line with something like a vaulting accident or maybe curling accident, something not quite so trendy, and I’m sure it will be all the rage in a year or so. A day after the injury, I ended up having my knee reconstructed from my hamstring tendon. My hospital roommate, a pleasant, young woman in her late 20’s, had shattered her pelvis (cringe) in a jockeying accident. It appeared as though the hospital intended to pair the uncommon, up-and-coming sporting accidents together. After hearing her shocking story, I asked the roommate if she would “get back on the horse” and she was quick to answer, “as soon as I can.” She said she needed to face her fears as quickly as possible so that they would not grow beyond her capacity. She also indicated that this was not her first time for reconstructive surgery on her pelvis for a different jockeying disaster. I was flabbergasted and felt certain that there was no way I could face this type of adversity with such grace. She pulled the old, “God won’t give you more than you can handle,” with a warm smile on her face.
Now let’s be clear, my injury was extensive and the pain was nearly overwhelming. I had severed one ligament, halved another and shredded the cartilage nearly irreparably. When I had tried to stand after the incident, my femur and my tibia slid past each other like a slide rule and I was immediately an inch shorter. The recovery after the surgery had been slowed and the pain enhanced by me awakening from a morphine induced slumber and, upon seeing my leg propped atop a pile of pillows, was certain that this set up was the cause of my pain. I threw the pillows and ice packs to the floor and lowered my leg, which resulted in a leg that looked like three-foot shiny purple-brown sausage by the time the nurse came in to check on me. My drugged out antics cost me two extra days in the hospital. It was bad and I kept a vigilant beat on the time released morphine button.
Although I can’t recall her name, I’ve thought of my roommate with the compromised pelvis often and her drawing upon the overused cliché. Certainly, even though it was near the worst physical pain in my life, I knew I was happy to be experiencing mine rather than that of a shattered pelvis. Also, physical pain is a cakewalk compared to other types of pain I’ve experienced. Do we each have a personal limit, some a higher degree of tolerance than others? Like a volume knob, of which I’m sure this young woman’s went to 11? I’m not sure. I know there have been times when I’ve felt it was much more than I could handle, but I suppose I’m still here and I have made it through some tough shit. How is this?
I’ve come to the realization that this journey through life is not a cross-country trip through constant mid-America where on occasion a tornado will ravage the flat prairie lands but more like a back packing trip across the Appalachian Trail. The 2,200 miles long trail is categorized as “easy to strenuous” and undulates over 6,700 feet in elevation. There are times it feels we are coasting, stumbling, climbing and even fighting mountain lions and it appears that the only constant is that things will change. Things will change. On difficult days, like an accident that results in a shattered pelvis (this might align with the analogy of fighting off a mountain lion), it’s helpful to conjure the perspective of the rising and falling hills. Knowing that things WILL get better helps most of the time but I’ve also come to recognize that I have been given wonderful, amazing people and gifts throughout my journey when I’ve needed help the most. Like Haymitch sending Peeta burn gel in his darkest moment, these gifts have been well timed and life saving. It is my job to recognize them so the hardest burdens are shared. God has been good to me.
I have been blessed with brothers who have lightened the load of a difficult upbringing by sharing the brunt, creating structure in disorder and providing endless opportunities to laugh at our dysfunction. I have been blessed with a mother who has grown up and recognizes the healing that comes with writing these stories and welcomes restoration for all of us. I have been blessed with family who stepped up and took me in when my own failed. I have been blessed with friends planted strategically in my life, just when I needed them most. They have been loving, supportive and therapeutic. I have been blessed with people like the hospital roommate who enter my life as a reminder of my strength. I have been blessed with kids who make me laugh every day and give me hope that this story will have a happy ending. And most of all, I have been blessed a partner who, although I do confess I want to strangle at times, has provided me with more stability, structure and love than anyone. It is because of these wonderful gifts that life never gets too difficult and that my pain is temporary. Thank you for these gifts and for the undulating journey. May I always be aware of them.
I have learned to embrace the adjective “crazy” that those closest would effortlessly use in describing me. In prior stories I have differentiated between “good crazy” and “bad crazy” and hope that for the most part I fall into the “good crazy” category, but know at times my cray cray can span the full spectrum.
For the most part I would say that my crazy is a learned behavior. I’ve had so many amazing role models, but certainly my first stepmother Mel was a paragon of crazy. Her crazy also spanned the spectrum and because of this I’m sure my own diversity of outlandish behavior was conditioned. On a few rare instances, my husband will say something like, “Ok, this insanity is beyond Mel,” in a warning for me to come back down to Earth. Usually, the warning scares me enough to listen.
From prior posts you may know that Mel loved fast cars. She had a number of muscle cars in her four year marriage to my father, my favorite being a smokin’ 1970 Plymouth Road Runner. Like Mel who wore long red wigs that were always closer to God, her cars too were always tricked out with huge tires, hot rims and the Road Runner in particular, had a huge Road Runner logo on the trunk that Mel had painted herself. The car was spectacularly fast and Mel took any opportunity to demonstrate her driving skills, accelerating to breakneck speeds and used the trademark Road Runner “Beep-Beep” horn whenever she could. She loved to race trains and never passed up a challenge to drag the fastest cars at the stoplights.
In 1976, we lived in Eugene, Oregon and both Mel’s and my dad’s parents, who we visited on a regular basis, lived about fifteen miles to the west, in Veneta, Oregon. Mel was fond of the trip because she could get out on the open road and lay rubber. The narrow two-lane highway from Eugene to Veneta sported a long stretch over a lake, a perfect place to wide open throttle where no cops could lay in wait on the side of the road as there was no shoulder or turn out for miles. She would pack the kids in the back seat (Jerry would take shotgun), turn up the 8-track of Ziggy Stardust, her favorite, roll down the windows to take in the warm summer air and revel in the power of the engine. Hearing Suffragette City without the bass of the 440 6-pack, I always felt as if there was missing something.
One of Mel’s favorite games, which accentuated her crazy, was messing with any driver who ever tried to pass her, as if it were an insult she had to right. On one late afternoon as we were returning from Nana’s house, a driver tried to pass Mel on the straight stretch over the lake. The car was also a huge, muscle car, exactly the challenger Mel was ready to take on. As he quickly passed us on the open road, no cars in sight, Mel sped up staying neck and neck with the car, not allowing any gain possible for the car to overtake and pass the Road Runner. The car sped up. Mel sped up. The car floored it. Mel floored it.
A crazy maniacal scream, defined Mel’s overwhelming pleasure in the dangerous game. Once Mel had made it clear that the adjacent muscle car did not have the balls to take on the Road Runner, the driver slowed in defeat to fall to safety behind the victor. Unfortunately for the other driver, Mel was not done with the game and she too slowed to match the speed of the driver. He stared at her in disbelief and I recall a sense of fear in his face, perhaps it was the realization of what type of person would play this type of game. We were still a minute or so from the oncoming traffic and imminent danger so not knowing what else to do, the driver once again decided to floor it and tried to gain enough advantage on the Road Runner to put this crazy lady behind him. Silly mortal. Mel, once again, laughing and rallying the children in the back seat, stepped on it and matched every inch of advantage the muscle car tried to gain on her. The driver was wide eyed and was obviously ranting as our cars evened. By this time, the oncoming traffic was getting dangerously close so the driver stepped on his brakes and slowed to a dramatically slow speed.
Now, at this point it is clear that any rational person would have accelerated ahead in victory and let the defeated fall behind in line, but this is not what happened. Mel of course, being Mel, also fell back to the low speed that exactly matched that of the muscle car. Everyone was surprised, the other driver, Jerry, Jason, Jere and myself. Everyone except Mel. She had an agenda. It reminded me of the scene in Mommy Dearest where Joan Crawford reminds, “Don’t fuck with me fellas!”
The fear in the other driver’s eyes was evident and it appeared to throw Mel into a frenzy, like a shark who had tasted blood. It scared me and I was once again reminded that Mel was crazy and this game had bled into the dangerous crazy category. The oncoming car was beginning to slow and we could hear it’s constant blasting horn as a warning. Mel stayed her ground, side by side, not giving an inch. I was sure that we were about to witness a catastrophic death and I began to scream and plead with Mel to stop. At the last second, the other driver slammed on his brakes, threw itself inches from the back of the Road Runner and the oncoming car had slowed to a near stop. Mel accepted the victory and stepped on it, laying a nice “S” shaped rubber pattern for about 20 meters and laughing the entire way back to Eugene.
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