This shit kept me sane. Little Tragedies by the Avengers- covered by the Puritans (1998), my band.
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The hopped up muscle car came careening to a stop on the wet pavement. Mel left the car running and the cassette tape blaring as she jumped out and covered the remaining distance to the front door on foot. Van Halen, arguably the best debut album ever, provided the soundtrack for the chaotic scene that unfolded on the soggy front lawn. That’s the interesting thing about Oregon, it doesn’t matter what the season, the lawn is always thick and soggy. Mel pounded on the front door in time to the beat. Because music engages broad neural networks in the brain and fixes memories, neuroscientists often use it in therapy to summon ‘music-evoked autobiographical memories’ or MEAMs. The strong memories of this violent yet hilarious scene, ripe in fear, drama and excitement, are activated in my hippocampus every time I hear Ain’t Talkin’ Bout Love.
I was staying with Dad and his new wife, Vicki for a couple of weeks during the summer between my 6th and 7th grade years. Dad had recently divorced Mel and because he wasn’t fond of being alone, had Vicki on the ropes before deciding to make such a move. Vicki was a scrawny, chain-smoking skank with long blond hair and the charm of Tanya Harding. She wore slacks and jackets regularly, as she had an office job and fashioned herself some sort of a professional, but the white blouse and polyester were not enough to conceal neither her pedigree nor her odious personality. She was still young but carried the bitterness of seasoned professional. She hated me from the start and made every effort to make sure that my Dad showed me little emotion. Dad had traded in crazy for evil.
I was sitting at the front living room window when Mel’s car skidded to a stop at the front curb. Vicki had run into the house seconds earlier as Mel had seen her car somewhere in town and followed her home. Vicki yelled something about helping her secure the house as she slammed and bolted the front door shut, but I sat motionless. It was so like Mel to make such an entrance and although she scared the shit out of me, I was happy to see her, in her trademark long red wig. Vicki’s eyes were wide with fear as she moved through the house securing the doors and windows. She grabbed the phone and began dialing. The booming crash of Mel’s fist on the door sent shock waves through the house that bounced off the barren walls and terminated in my spine. A familiar charge of fight-or-flight hormones surged through my veins like a heavy dose of speed and caused the hair on my scalp to stand. Despite the rush, I remained still in my chair.
“I’m gonna break down this fucking door, you bitch!” Mel yelled, “and I’m gonna break your fucking neck,” she continued. The intent was clear and although my heart had yet to form a solid hate for Vicki, I was excited to see Mel follow through. Had we been further in our relationship Mel would have had a devoted ally on the other side of the door.
A lifetime or few seconds passed and Mel finally spied me through the front window. She looked surprised and stalled for a second. I waved. “Kelli, open this door,” Mel cooed icily.
Vicki, recognizing the potential danger, quickly stepped into Mel’s line of sight and stared me down. “Don’t you touch the door,” she demanded yet her eyes gave away her uncertainty. I stared at her in silence, a rapid motion picture running through my head. Quickly I sized her up.
So if you want it got to bleed for it baby,
Yeah, you got to got to bleed baby,
Mmmm, you got to got to bleed baby,
Hey, you got to got to bleed baby
Obviously smitten with the false security she had created behind the locked door, Vicki turned toward Mel and through the clear paned glass taunted, “Fuck off you crazy bitch.” I was amazed at both Vicki’s naiveté and faith in the thin barrier between she and Mel and instinctively grasped my own mouth in fear. The crazy was released. Mel stepped back and started kicking the door with full force, intent on removing the obstacle that separated her from her prey. Three, four, five times. The frame didn’t stand a chance and started to crack. In a panic, Vicki began to scramble toward the back bedroom. Had the cop cars not driven up at that moment, Mel would have certainly broken the door down within minutes.
Mel, seeing the familiar faces of the officers, made a last effort attempt at destruction and started pulling up the two newly planted Rhododendrons at the base of the front steps. Before they could reach her she had uprooted the purple flowering plants and left them piled at the foot of the locked door.
I was once in a gang. It was an accident. For Christmas, 1979, I received a bitchin’ yellow jacket with Egyptian blue accent stripes on each shoulder and graduated blue stripes on the back. It must have been a sale item from the local Fred Meyer as once we returned to school from Christmas break it was discovered that another friend and an eighth grader had the same jacket. Being in seventh grade it wasn’t immediately embarrassing to be wearing the same jacket as one of my best friends, we had options. We used the serendipitous occasion to form a gang and claim the incident deliberate. Another friend in our little group quickly went out and bought the jacket and yet another, whose parent’s would not surrender to the peer pressure, decided she would maintain her autonomy, to throw off our rivals. Renee, Rene, Nina and myself; we called ourselves the Blue Angels, and ignored the jacket’s dandelion hue.
At the Gordon Russell Middle School cafeteria, we had lunchtime meetings to decide our angle. We had all recently seen “The Warriors” and knew we had many options from which to choose. We could be the gang associated with a sport, like the Baseball Furies who wielded bats and ridiculous face paint for battle, but the only sport the majority of our group participated in was 7th grade volleyball and that didn’t seem so tough. The all female gang, the Lizzies was a bit closer, but the use of their main weapon, their sexuality, was beyond us and left us a little confused. We had our colors, now we needed a purpose. Brainstorming over fish sticks, applesauce and small cartons of milk helped us define our struggle. We were a mismatched group of leftovers, except for our jackets, kids who didn’t quite make the cut into other self selected cliques. We had all participated in the junior high drama of trying to be popular and all deemed unworthy of any top shelf clique. This was our salient characteristic, the distinct ability to NOT fit in. We decided we would be the loners, the rebels (in our group of course) and try our best to disrupt the seventh grade social order. Fuck Catherine Williams and her well-coiffed minions, we were here to rumble.
A ragtag group we were. Renee, the natural leader of the gang, was a tall, lean, pretty redhead. She had pale freckled skin and a surly disposition. She was tough and led the volleyball team in kills. I liked her especially because, like me, she followed an older sibling who had taught her how to party and her parents mostly ignored her. Her family was well off and lived on the other side of the school, in the neighborhood of large houses with lawns. Renee was the one to formulate the plans or the first to second my own.
The other Rene was a tiny, dark haired girl with flawless porcelain skin. I’m certain she grew into a classic beauty as she had all the required elements at twelve. She was a good student, in the advanced classes and shorter than me, which was unusual, even in seventh grade. She too lived in a nice house on the opposite side of the school, which had a small Asian themed backyard complete with miniature Japanese maples, a trickling stream and a small stone bridge. She was the one in the group who always felt like she had the most to prove, because she was the closest to making the cut. Because of this she was quick to follow and contribute, usually with strategically interjected curse words.
Nina brought the edgy, bad girl element was to the group. She was a year older than the rest of us, having been held back in an earlier grade and she still struggled with school. She was handsomely plain and tough and was the one to always bring the cigarettes. Like me, she was poor and lived in a sketchy neighborhood off of Stark Street with her father, who gave me the creeps because of the rancid alcohol and stale cigarettes that wafted from his breath, regardless of the time of day. She had an older boyfriend with a car and sadly ended up getting pregnant and dropping out of school before the start of her eighth grade year.
I perhaps, was the connector, the common denominator that tied the group together.
Like the New York gangs that tussled to claim their territory, we too needed to stake out our own. We were so like the Warriors. Truly, it wasn’t much of a conflict as there were excess tables in our new junior high lunchroom, but we claimed the round table next to the gym doors, nonetheless. The matching bright yellow jackets were immediately noticed and the turning of heads momentarily shook my confidence. Renee snarled something sharp and witty at the popular table that caused Catherine Williams and her crew to stop gawking.
I had spent my sixth grade year under the clutches of Catherine Williams bidding for access into this elite group, feathering my hair and trying to be cool. After faking for as long as I could, it soon became clear that my hair was much too thin to pull off a Farah Fawcett look I couldn’t even afford one pair of San Francisco Riding Gear jeans yet alone the entire collection that many in the group owned. For some unknown reason I fell from grace and without telling me, I was released from the group. Catherine ignored me at school and her mother began to intercept all of my phone calls, certain that I was a bad influence on her daughter. I caught Catherine’s eye and flipped her off as I sat down to eat my lunch. War on.
Around the circular plastic table that, by at the end of the day, would be folded into narrow half circles supported by the attached seats on wheels, the Blue Angels sat eating our lunches and collaborating. The lunch area buzzed with fluorescent lights and the high-pitched voices of girls and prepubescent boys. Tables were implicitly assigned by a strong set of rules that no one had ever read yet were well known to all. We had many of the ingredients of a nascent Occupy gathering, young minds ready to buck the system and overthrow the power structure with no clear plans on how to do so. Our only plan was to disrupt with our own form of social anarchy.
Our disruption came in many forms but had only one target, the popular girls. Snide remarks intended to cause humiliation and eating disorders began to backfire as we gained the confidence to throw that shit right back and sling it ourselves. The social royalty were surprised when the commoners in matching yellow jackets began heckling them as they walked through the halls. I was quick to learn that comments about hair, breath or pant size were the best at getting a response and discovered that I was good at being a mean girl as the insults and angst flowed naturally. These little victories were short-lived as I was too familiar with the sinking feeling that these types of hurtful comments caused and I aimed for defense rather than offense. Learning how to ignore one of the most important 7th grade social constructs and be as mean as needed was an empowering and important lesson. Still today I am quick to tell an obnoxious colleague to shut the fuck up and have moved on to a new life lesson, tact.
It was one of those rare moments in life when the boundaries of the dimensions blur, a forbidden glimpse into the ‘what comes next’. Similar to how LSD allowed the cross talk in my brain to see music and hear colors, this cross talk allowed me to stumble across the space-time continuum. Therapists, rejecting a spiritual explanation, call it déjà vu and blame it on PTSD. I can get behind their theory and say that there have been episodes in my life that have been intense enough to warp time, but this wasn’t exactly déjà vu, it was more of a premonition, a discontent of the senses.
We perceive time to be linear, measured in a series of events, but scientists like to describe it as a space-time continuum. Like pulling a string, a world string, of pearls through a clenched fist, we only experience the semi-precious moments in our grasp. The string dangles on either side of the fist in the space-time continuum, one side representing the past, the moments we are familiar with and one side dangling in the future, the unfamiliar. Intense moments cause my fist to clench and the world string sways and tangles in the space-time continuum as the jolt runs through my body; A wrinkle in time, so to speak.
My pathway to the 7-11 was intercepted by his white Toyota pickup. Stopping by the 7-11 or Dunkin’ Donuts was part of my daily routine as a couple of the clerks were friendly and would keep day-olds for me. Mom had been absent for a while and I was squatting in our vacant apartment at night and making myself sparse during the day. I recognized the truck immediately, spun to run in the opposite direction but he had seen me, and our eyes had locked before I could escape. He had been out of our lives for over a year yet still his presence sucked the air from my lungs and caused me to take in the shallow breaths familiar to entering a walk in freezer. He waved and smiled and kept his eyes firmly affixed to mine as he pulled into the parking lot. “Play it cool, Kelli, get rid of him as soon as you can,” I thought.
“Hey, Bob,” I chirped in the calmest tone I could summon, “what are you doing here?”
Bob exited his truck and with one hand swept the unkempt, black, greasy combover out of his eyes and back into position. The smile on his lips read like a danger sign warning hikers to stay on the path for fear of being lost in the thick underbrush forever, their bodies to rot undiscovered. I immediately mapped out an escape route and was sure to keep a few feet of protective air between us. Air molecules with volume and mass, molecules that hold 747s in the air, molecules that take the shape of their container, molecules that fill the space between me and a monster.
“I saw your mother downtown the other day,” Bob cooed through his coffee and cigarette stained enamels, “I was worried about you and Jason.” His eyebrows were arched with a forced concern that came off more maniacal than worried and although I couldn’t smell it from where I stood, I knew his breath reeked of stale Marlboros and beer. The phantom scent turned my stomach.
His divulgence clearly exposed his motivation. He was aware that the thin, semipermeable protective guard of my mother’s presence was absent and he had decided to pounce.
“No, I’m good. We’re staying with some friends,” I lied.
Quickly his body shifted and pushed against the air padding between us, which in turn pushed me a step backward. He moved to get closer but the repulsion was too strong and I continued to move away. I knew he had no chance to hurt me as long as I kept my distance. I also knew that I didn’t want to give him any reason to come looking for me as he knew where our apartment was and I suspected he might come and check it out. I smiled and added, “…really, we’re ok.”
It became clear that he had lost his ability to manipulative me and the hairs stood on the back of my neck as I awaited the fallout. The guy was a fucking psycho and I knew he was capable of anything. I knew kidnapping was not outside of the realm of possibilities as he a number one fan of True Detective magazine and got off on the horrific stories of torture. He was dangerous and I wanted to distract and divert his attention from making me the prey about which he had certainly fanaticized.
“Are you sure? What can I do?” Bob asked with strained sincerity. “Do you need some money?”
Fuck. Of course I did. I looked at the twenty in his hand but knew what a twenty cost and took another step back. Like an abandoned puppy eyeing a tasty morsel thrown by the one intent on capturing her, I looked at the money again. He saw me.
I glanced in his eyes and saw it, the abyss. A bolt of lightening ran down my spine and the two ends of my world string collided and tangled. I tasted blood as I witnessed past events in his dark eyes, like a movie screen. The event pearls continued to slide past each other as the past collided with the future and for a microsecond I could see what would happen. I saw his hand over my mouth as I struggled to get away and felt his strength overcome me. I saw the sweat drip from his nose onto my cheek. I saw him bare his teeth as I struggled. I saw a dark blue vein bulge from his temple. I screamed but no sound could escape. I saw it. I felt it.
I could see in his eyes that he knew what I had seen and it appeared to spook him as he took his first step away from me and the haze in his eyes was replaced by a hint of fear. My world string untangled and my sight returned to the present.
Thank you God for making me white. Life has been hard enough being female and growing up poor, so I just want to thank you for keeping an eye out for me. Always being the new girl at school was hard but I always knew, walking in on the first day, the majority of the kids would look like me, even in Houston- LOL! I was also fairly certain that the teachers wouldn’t prejudge me based on the color of my skin and that school could be my sanctuary. When I was accidently placed in the wrong math lane, I just told them and they fixed it. Ha! Can you imagine? Thanks God!
Thanks for having my back, God. They say that all you have to do is ask for forgiveness and you’re good for it. Thanks again. I now know that in all of my years of shoplifting, even though you didn’t approve of my ill behavior, you thought it best to keep it just between you and me. No use getting the authorities involved, that would have been a fiasco! I was so thankful when that young African American girl came into the Payless behind me that one time so that the authorities left me alone and began to track her. Thank God! I mean, thanks God! I wasn’t sure if I would get out of there, my purse was full of lifted cosmetics!
Also, what a relief that my poor choices in life have been just that– poor choices. I live, I fuck up, I learn. Oops, there I go, cursing again, sorry God. It’s hard enough knowing that you’re probably disappointed in me for dropping the ball so many times, I can’t imagine having my action speak for an entire people. Holy shit, me representing the entire white race? Could you imagine? Perhaps you knew and designed it that way- LOL! Of course you knew!
Thank you God for making me white. I’m so thankful for the opportunities I’ve been awarded and that my race has never been an issue, like the time I argued with the stupid cop who gave me a ticket for “speeding”. Could you imagine trying that shit in middle America as a black woman? Whew, what a relief! Thanks so much that I don’t live in middle America and thanks that I’m white. So much to be thankful for! Thank you God!
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.
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