Narcissism-Scenes From the Front Line — The Trailer

Once again, my sister Vicki and I found ourselves without food in the house. The difference this time was that we knew where there was food. My parents owned a tent-trailer. The shell of the trailer was made up of metal. When open, the top of the shell became the roof. It was held up by four folding poles that could be locked into a vertical position. When the roof was up, the width of the tent trailer could be expanded by opening two tent pieces that housed a bed on either side of the body of the tent trailer.

My parents would take us camping at a beautiful campsite, across the river, in the US. Originally we had a large tent and later we got this new tent trailer that seemed so much more modern and convenient. Once my parents had set up camp, my sister and I would be left at the site while our parents travelled back and forth across the international bridge to work and whatever else they felt like doing. I have very little memory of them being at these campsites because they would often leave and not come back until the evening.

At the beginning of each camping trip, we would drive to a grocery store near the campsite and buy all of the food that we needed. I remember Mogen David wine, frozen hash browns, eggs, milk, bacon and little individual servings of cereal housed in their own boxes. These boxes could be opened at the top along perforations and be used as bowls, but I digress.

We would buy so much food that it would overwhelm the small fridge in the trailer, but there would be good eating for a few days. Now we were home and there was no food in the house.

I know my mother was out drinking because I managed to get her on the phone. She explained that she was not coming home soon. Vicki and I both knew that there was food still left in the refrigerator of the tent trailer, but it was now closed and in the yard. We had witnessed the mechanics of how the lid of the trailer was raised and thought that it was worthwhile to try to open it ourselves.

The problem was that we were simply not strong enough to lift the top of the shell by ourselves. Driven by determination and hunger, we both did our best to push the top up. We discussed the fact that it did not have to go all of the way up for us to get into the fridge and get some food out. So we both used all of our strength to lift the lid.

Problem was, we got it up enough to unfold the poles and then our strength ran out. The lid came down and Vicki’s hand was caught in the fold of the poles. She screamed and I was worried that the weight would sever her fingers from her hand. I panicked and used all of my strength to re-lift the top. Vicki removed her hand and we both fell to the ground crying. It wasn’t worth risking another try.

I don’t remember how severely my sister’s hand was hurt. I know that she did not lose any fingers for sure. The trouble was, even though her hand was going to heal eventually, we still had been unable to get to the food and there was no telling when a parent would be home.

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Narcissism-Scenes From the Front Line — The Drive

Narcissism-Scenes From the Front Line — The Fax

Narcissism-Scenes From the Front Line — The Interview

Narcissism-Scenes From the Front Line — The Call

Narcissism-Scenes From the Front Line — The Cavity

Narcissism–Scenes From the Front Line — The Funeral

Narcissism-Scenes From the Front Line — The Pants

Narcissism-Scenes From the Front Line — Biking

Narcissism-Scenes From the Front Line — The Doctor

Narcissism-Scenes From the Front Line — New Job

Narcissism–Scenes From the Front Line — The Call

IMG_0640Vicki, my sister and I, were both in the hallway near the doorways to our bedrooms. I was sitting on the floor crying and upset and Vicki was way past upset. I could hear deep sobbing sounds coming from her. I was too distraught to offer very much comfort.

We were about 10 and 12 years of age and it was about suppertime, which is not accurate, because there was no dinner. We had both been hoping that this was one of the evenings that my mother would appear with leftovers from the Legion. She liked to volunteer at the Legion.

The Legion was a gathering place for people of her age. They would get together and play cards, listen to music, drink and sometimes dance. The building boasted a nice dining area and they would often put on meals for weddings, meetings and special occasions.

This was wonderful in our home. My mother did not cook. But these ladies at the legion could cook! They made mashed potatoes, gravy, stuffing, hams, beef, turkey, corn and every other type of vegetable that could be boiled until done. On many occasions, there would be so much food left over that they would send it home with the women that had helped serve and clean up. My mother would bring this fantastic food home — but not tonight.

She has just called. We were both hoping that she would show up instead, but she had not. The call had been to tell us that she might be bringing her boss home. This was the seventies and women generally did not work, but my mother did. This was one of her most recent jobs and she wanted to impress her boss.

She explained that she did not want him to think less of her because her house was a mess. It was important that she “look good” when he came around. The question of why her boss would be coming over to the house was never breached.

So we were distraught. Once again she had forgotten that as children we would require food. Well, that and some parenting. Instead, she had called to ask us to help her “look good”. Of course we would. We had no choice. Once we calmed down, we started to clean.

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Narcissism-Scenes From the Front Line — The Drive

Narcissism-Scenes From the Front Line — The Fax

Narcissism-Scenes From the Front Line — The Interview

Narcissism-Scenes From the Front Line — The Cavity

Narcissism–Scenes From the Front Line — The Funeral

Narcissism-Scenes From the Front Line — The Pants

Narcissism-Scenes From the Front Line — The Trailer

Narcissism-Scenes From the Front Line — Biking

Narcissism-Scenes From the Front Line — The Doctor

Narcissism-Scenes From the Front Line — New Job

Vicki Remembered

Image Today would have been my older sister’s 55th birthday. She will however, remain forever young, because she was stolen from me at the untimely age of 36.

I miss her more than anyone knows. I long for her company during those good times when we could while away the hours, talking about nothing and everything. I know that she would have enjoyed many aspects of my life now, sharing them with me, adding her insights, humour and support. I miss her dearly.

For the first part of my life, she was my greatest cheerleader and closest confident. I hope that her passing took her to a better place where she is happy and joyful. Happy Birthday Vicki, I wish you were here to share in the cake and turtles.

With Friends Like These…. — Chapter 1

My mother was still on a quest for status and it had occurred to her that one of the most prestigious things that she could do was to buy a racehorse. She envied the people that could enter the members’ only part of the racetracks and she wanted to be hob knobbing with the upper class. Unfortunately for my mother, she did not end up getting to know this elite group of people, she fell into the company of the trainers and the people that took care of the stables.

I guess in hindsight, as I write this, this must have been about the time that the settlement for the divorce had come through. New house, racehorse, she was swimming in money and had decided that she would spend it however she wanted to. With little or no consideration for the fact that she did not have the earning potential to sustain this type of lifestyle, she went full force into flashing her money around.

I don’t think that I need to connect the dots here, but I’ll set the stage. You have a newly divorced woman that has no understanding of money and how to manage it. She is desperately seeking validation and trying to impress people. She falls into the wrong crowd and bam…..

She could not have chosen a worse group of people to befriend. Among this group of characters there were about a half dozen men. Most of these men had been to prison. They all did hard, injectable drugs. Not just drinking and smoking pot, but lets really get wasted type of drugs. The one man had gone to prison for wife abuse. In the 1970’s this was unheard of. Looking at this situation from the perspective of the year 2011 does not do it justice. Men could hit their wives then. The whole “rule of thumb” was a recognition that you could use a stick to hit your wife as long as it was not larger than your thumb!!

My mother had always attracted attention and sympathy by being the sick little girl. Born with a deformed right foot and the youngest girl in a family with nine children, she had been made feel special and cared for by the fact that she required help to get around. I heard stories of her being pulled around in wagons, walking on crutches, needing braces and I remember multiple surgeries to help build her foot up, when I was a child. She apparently won a beauty contest in high school partly by playing the invalid card.

She used to demand attention from my father by being ill and she had learned how to fake a heart attack, long before medical tests could prove otherwise (as far as I know). I actually believed that my mother had suffered multiple heart attacks, which I know now would likely have killed her. 20130807-215449.jpgShe would go to the hospital often because of migraine headaches and would count her friendships by how many people came to visit her during her various stays.

My earliest memories include my mother being in bed and my knowledge that I was not supposed to wake her. At one barbeque, that was put on by the refinery that my father worked at, she made a particularly embarrassing scene. Everyone was there. We were at a beachfront park that was huge. These events had hundreds of people at them and the entire picnic area had been reserved for this gathering. Six people were all sitting at a picnic table. I was sitting beside my mother and I believe that Vicki was on the other side. The three people on the other side of the table got up at the same time and the three of us fell back wards when the table tipped over.

I got up and laughed. It was outrageous that this had happened and everyone was joking and apologizing and my mother would not get up. She started to make distressing sounds and would not let anyone move her. She lay on her back, at this picnic, with her legs in a peculiar position, until the ambulance came. I do not think that anything was wrong with her. She just saw the opportunity to elicit a lot of sympathy. I wanted to run away and pretend that I did not know whom she was.

This particular pattern of attention seeking turned out to be quite dangerous for me. One evening, she had invited her “friends” to the house. I had plans with my friends to go out to a dance, just outside of town. When her friends said that they wanted to come to the dance, they made the mistake of not begging my mother to come with them. She said that she didn’t want to go, but what she wanted was to be begged. They took her statement that she didn’t want to go at face value and went to the dance without her.

When I arrived home, slightly after her friends had already arrived at my home, I came in to find out that she had hospitalized herself for one thing or another. So, I’m a sixteen year old girl. It is late at night and my house is full of men that I wouldn’t want to speak to at all if my mother had not invited them in. I’m having trouble writing at this point. My heart is pounding and I just thought that maybe it would be a good time to make more coffee…..

But, I’ll continue. It became immediately obvious that I was outnumbered. I was already in the house before I realized that she was not home. None of these men were sober or reasonable. A flash of a worse case scenario zoomed through my consciousness and I immediately realized that I needed an ally. One of the men had made it known that he fancied me so I made it immediately obvious that I was with him. This was a good move. That took me out of “free game” and into a relative position of safety.

I went upstairs and locked myself in the bathroom and tried to sleep in there. I had a hope that they would all pass out or forget that I was there. It never occurred to me to go somewhere. Where would I go? The guy that I had aligned myself with started to bang on the door and I down played it and told him to give me a minute. Worried that he would crash through the door, I came out.

I went into my room and he followed me. Nothing I said would discourage this guy’s advances. He had obviously been with a woman that liked to play hard to get and took it as a game of me saying no and him pushing forward. At the decision moment when I was looking at being penetrated by this guy, I chose to bite his shoulder hard. I was rewarded with a right punch to the side of my face that resulted in a black eye, but he stopped. I guess the pain in his shoulder was severe enough to cut through the alcohol and drugs and convince him that I was not a willing participant in this adventure. He stayed in my bed for the night but did not try anything else.

The next day my mother came home from the hospital and made a comment that the black flies were so bad this year. She could tell that because I had a severe reaction around my left eye. She never asked. She just stayed with this explanation.

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Absence of Parents — Chapter 1

IMG_3554The remaining memories of Oak Street were mainly of being alone. Unlike in the A-frame house, I have no memory of having a family dinner in the kitchen on Oak Street. I have no memories of watching television with my parents and I only have a few memories of playing outside. I don’t know if this was an age thing or if my parents simply were never there anymore. I have very few memories of them. I had lost my grand backyard, so that likely explained why I was never outside. Instead, I lived on a corner at an intersection of a small side street with a four lane road.

I used to lie on the living room floor on Saturday evenings doing a word search puzzle and watching a variety comedy show hosted by Carol Burnett. The show was composed of several sketches. The regulars played characters that would repeat. There may have been other entertainers on as special guests. At this time in television, variety shows were the norm because it was expected that the entire family would sit down and watch the show together. It was important that there be something for everyone. This is in stark contrast to today’s programming where the entire demographic could be as small as a couple thousand people. The rotisserie channel for instance, who watches that?

I have no idea where my parents were on these Saturday nights. I may have known at the time, but I don’t recall now. I know that my father used to work shift work at the refinery. He loved this. He worked three, twelve hour shifts and then had four days off. He felt like he had one the lottery because he had more days off per week than he actually had to work. Occasionally, he would work four shifts in a row so that he averaged a fourty hour workweek. The fact that this meant that he was never on the same schedule as his family did not seem to concern him. I understood that he was either at work, or sleeping because he had worked all night. I’m not sure how the four days off fit into this.

I don’t know where my mother was. She did hang out at the Legion. It was a place where people her age drank, played cards and danced. Some of my happiest memories from this time are when she worked at the Legion, putting on a wedding or a dinner and brought home large containers of mashed potatoes and vats of gravy. Delicious gravy. This was exceptional food.

Otherwise, normal food was distinctly missing from my life at this point. As I’ve mentioned, I made KD and I had learned how to make Hamburger Helper, when it was available, but I also have memories associated with eating the dessert topping that we were supposed to have delivered door to door. I learned how to soften spaghetti by soaking it in water (before I learned how to boil water) so that it would be possible to eat it. I don’t remember having breakfast. I do remember getting up and going to school without seeing anyone.

My sister Vicki was often around. She had friends that she would visit and she dated as well. But, on Saturday nights I always watched Carol Burnett alone.

Another way that I experienced the absence of my parents was through being locked out of the house. Who were they trying to keep out? If someone had wanted to rob us they could easily have broken a window or pried one open. These options were not available to me. I would be there, and not wanting to break in, I would be stuck outside until one of my parents returned, which was often very late. I remember going into the garage. It had a large upstairs room with an open floor and at least one sofa. I would wait in there for them to come home.

I never considered calling anyone and I’m not sure that I knew who to call or where my parents were anyway. Needless to say, most of my memories of Oak Street were not pleasant. I do not, however, remember my parents ever fighting. I just did not see them.

It may have been valuable to me as an adult to know what caused my parents to break up. As I tried to navigate my own marriage, it would have been nice to have been privy to what went on. It was strictly understood, at this time, that any conflict was not to be mentioned in front of the children. This apparently was meant to protect the relationship between the parent and the child. The actual result was to simply distance the parent from the child. It presupposed an ability to have a normal relationship with your child and not speak to them about something significant that was happening in your life. This also explains why some children are totally confused when the parents “suddenly” announce that they are getting a divorce.

In today’s terms what I have described here would have been classified as neglect. What people fail to understand is that I knew no other way of being. There was no set of criteria against which to compare my life. This was my normal and I was no more prepared to recognize it as dysfunctional than my parents were prepared to take responsibility for it.

Keep Reading: Crushing

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They say when a door closes, a window opens. This telecourse provides some light to guide you between the door and the window.

Back To Work — Chapter 4

IMG_3467Now the pressure was on. I had no income, but I had a job. I could go back to the job whenever I “wanted,” so Bob was constantly explaining how much money we were wasting with me not back at work. He saw no value in me staying home with the girls. He knew that we could pay someone a fraction of what I made in order for me to go back to work.

I was not going back while I was still wholly breastfeeding. I completely ignored the baby books on this one. There is a lot of pressure to start feeding cereals and formula to babies. It comes at you from all directions. One of the ways that mothers are persuaded to feed cereal is with the promise of the baby sleeping through the night. Formula is marketed as a way that dad can help out. Even he can sit and hold a bottle to a baby’s mouth!! If someone was going to actually help, wouldn’t it be nicer to have them do some of the more unpleasant jobs like changing diapers or doing laundry?

I decided that the information from our society had been so wrong about birth that it was probably wrong about how to feed a baby as well. When I look around now and see how many children and adults are afflicted with food allergies, I have to wonder how much of this is created by the way we are taught to take care of our babies. So I decided that we were probably designed perfectly. I would breast feed completely, until the baby was able to pick up food and put it into her mouth herself.

This worked quite well for me. Not only did I never sit and spoon goop into a child’s mouth, but I was putting her in complete control of what she ate, what went into her mouth and when it went in. I had been given a baby grinder from some friends so I would mush up whatever we were eating into particles that were not smooth but were too small to choke the baby.

These are the sort of details that you cannot control if you go back to work. I can feel the anger as I write this because this was very important to me and I had to fight with Bob about it. None of my children have any chronic diseases or allergies at all. This may have just been luck, but I did my best to ensure that they received the best care that was available.

By nine months, he had me worn down. They placed me in a slaughter plant that was in another city 60 miles or 100 kilometers from where I lived, driving into a large city. Every time it snowed, the highway would slow to a crawl or a complete stop. It was relentless. We had more single snow falls that winter than I ever remember. One day it took me over three hours to get into work.

I was beside myself. I almost ditched the car on the way to work one morning because I had to leave before the plows were on the highway. I was miserable. My entire life seemed to be fighting traffic to get to a job in a slaughter plant. I started to apply to other jobs within the government that were closer to where I lived.

I got screened into a job that was in a town 18 miles (30 km) from where I lived. I had an interview set up. It was a job interview that required a lot of studying. It was a program that I did not know and the way that the interview was conducted was more like an oral exam. I sat on my breaks at work and studied for this exam. The person organizing the interviews explained that I would receive a document before the exam and I was to read it and to be able to comment on it for the interview.

It was arranged that the document would be faxed to the house. We did not have a fax machine, but Bob’s computer could receive faxes electronically and then they could be printed out or read on the computer screen. The fax never came.

I went into the interview knowing that if they had not sent the fax, it was their oversight and that once I explained that then something would be worked out. Unfortunately, this turned out to be the fourth time that Bob had actively interfered with my career. He had “lost” the fax and was amazed that he had actually received it. He apologized. Everyone can make a mistake right? As I said, individually these all seemed like unfortunate accidents. It was not until hindsight that I realized that they were part of a larger pattern of sabotage.

The universe was still protecting me though. I made a decision one morning while fighting traffic that I would rather be unemployed. I would face Bob and just tell him that there was more to life than driving all day to a job that I didn’t like. I knew that I would be the target of his anger and his need to control me. I knew that it would make things tense at home. I knew that he would be verbally abusive and would let me know how useless I was, but it was my life and I wasn’t going to spend it this way.

I had three children under six at home and I intended to be there. I made the decision to quit. Before I had the opportunity to discuss this with Bob, something strange happened. The slaughter plant that I was hired to work in decided to close permanently. This interesting fact meant that I was “surplussed”. Surplussed is one of my favourite words.

As a government employee there are all kinds of regulations about job loss. If there is a job available, it has to go to someone that is already employed. So, by being surplussed, it meant that if any job became available it was mine. It also meant that I was eligible for a cash-out. How convenient. They would pay me the equivalent of sixty percent of a single year’s income to just walk away from my job. Done.

Keep Reading:  My Sister Vicki

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The Great Train Accident — Chapter 2

IMG_0874My closest cousin became engaged to be married and asked my sister, Vicki, and me to be bridesmaids. This cousin was the daughter of my mother’s brother. I never really knew him very well, but I did know that he owned a monkey. When he was out of work for a while, he came to live with us briefly and brought his monkey.

Haven’t you always wanted a monkey? This monkey was horrifying and used to hiss and spit and was not “house trained”. I don’t actually remember having the monkey live with us, but I do remember hearing about how horrible it was to have it in the house.

The weather has suddenly turned cold outside. I can see the wind blowing the leaves of the trees around in my front yard. The geese are starting to fly in ever enlarging groups and although they don’t actually migrate anymore, I think that they still like getting together this time of year to talk about why they don’t bother to fly south.

I haven’t noticed any leaves changing colour yet, but it was really hot until last Friday, so the leaves really shouldn’t be starting to change yet.

My sister was still living in our hometown and I was now in second year university. The university town was two hours away from where I used to live, so we came up with a great idea. We would meet half way, where coincidentally there was a large city, to co-ordinate bridesmaid’s dresses and accessories.

We had a plan. I would take the train to the city and Vicki would meet me at the train station. Something went wrong with my train. I’m not sure what. Nothing significant. There may have been a minor accident with a car at one of the crossings or perhaps an engine problem, I don’t actually know, but I was late arriving.

The train station, like most buildings of this nature, had a large open floor designed to accommodate the people as they enter when the train arrives. The space is generally mostly empty, but needs to be large to allow the passengers and their families to enter all at once. As I entered the train station, I saw Vicki sitting in a small dining area at a table on the other side of this large open space. When she saw me enter the station she jumped up and ran across the open area towards me and threw her arms around me. She said something about my being late and I told her that something had happened and she exclaimed, “I knew you were in a car accident and that something terrible had gone wrong!”

I hadn’t said this. It was very abnormal for my sister to be this emotional when she saw me and it was very peculiar that she nearly shouted this when she said it. I decided that she must have just gotten nervous waiting for me in the railway station and had started to worry. It would have been a long day for her already because she would’ve travelled an hour to get there as well.

The place that we were going to, to have our dresses fitted, was downtown. Like most cities, the original design was to have the train station right downtown and this city was no exception. We had about three blocks to walk down the street and around a corner.

So, we started to head towards the doors. In Canada, most of the public entranceways are composed of two sets of doors with an area in between. I believe this is to stop wind from blowing directly into the building. The floors in this area are often equipped with drains, or grating at least, so that snow can fall off here and melt instead of being carried into the main part of the building.

We went through the first set of doors just as a woman came in the other set. There was a moment when we were all in this entranceway together. My sister grabbed the woman’s arm and said, “Your son is about to die.” Judging by the reaction that this woman had, she did in fact have a son.

Well, my speculation about Vicki being tired and perhaps worried certainly did not explain her spouting prophecy. I became quite nervous. She did not calm down. We walked the three blocks to the dress shop, tried on our dresses and found matching shoes and she was tense and freaked out the entire time.

Luckily, she did not alarm anyone else with her predictions, but she was definitely not behaving normally.

When I arrived back at home I called my father. I had barely spoken to him since I had left with my mother. He had called a couple of times and I heard that he had brought up my mother’s erratic behaviour during the divorce, but he never asked me to visit nor did he visit me.

The excuse that he had always used was that in order to speak to me, he would have to deal with his ex wife and that he found that this was enough of a barrier to not bother. So, when I left her house I called to let him know that I was no longer living with her. He assumed that I had called looking for money and had made it clear that he was not going to give me any. I decided to just let it be and did not bother him after that.

So, I got my father on the phone and did my best to try to explain to him what had happened on my shopping trip with Vicki. I expressed my concern about her mental well being and asked him what we should be doing. He essentially told me that it was all in my mind and that I was exaggerating and that it was nothing to worry about. How I wish he had been correct.

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The Only Thing Constant is Change — Chapter 1

IMGP4598I am in my office again. I just finished a pretty hard week at work. I was covering at least two desks, and three for a little while, which meant I had to constantly stay focused on the work. This is not normally necessary. There are definitely ebbs and flows of work and this was a particularly heavy ebb.

I have decided to sit in my office to write. I was going to sit outside but I am finding that I have had too much sun lately. This is always a good sign because it means that it has been hot and sunny enough for me to get tired of it. So, I’m sitting inside even though it is hot and mainly sunny outside.

The disappearance of my parents was not the only change during this time, or any time since for that matter. If someone were trying to assess your level of stress they would be interested in how many significant life events you had experienced lately. These would include things like: death of an immediate family member, change in home address, change of jobs, graduating from school, marriage, separation, divorce, birth of a child, a child becoming an adult and moving out of your home…that sort of thing. Since this first move I’ve averaged one of those every six months. But, I’m getting ahead of myself.

I only ended up staying on Oak Street until my 15th birthday. Actually the day of my birthday. For the final time, my mother was telling my father that she was going to leave him. This had happened before. This time my sister had said that she was staying with my father. I think there was a sort of recognition that my mother had left and returned before and Vicki thought that she would just stay put this time. Perhaps Vicki just recognized that my mother was unsuccessful in managing the last time she left and Vicki was curious whether or not my father had experienced a similar difficulty.

I was not saying whom I was going with. I knew that making my choice known and then having to live with the other parent would be potentially very uncomfortable, so I reasoned that when my mother actually said what day she was leaving, I would just go. I did not know when she was moving out, but I was pretty sure that she was not going to go on my birthday. I was wrong.

I came home from school that day and she was in the middle of the move. Significant disregard for the feelings of others is a sign of narcissism, but I didn’t know this yet. In this instance she was deciding that instead of acknowledging that it was my birthday, she would make the day about her. Anyhow, my boyfriend at the time, who was three years my senior and had his own car, helped me pack up my stuff and move into my mother’s place.

She had not considered that I was going with her. Maybe that is why she chose to leave on my birthday. Things like holidays punctuate our lives. She knew that I would want her around on a significant event, so she was removing herself from my life when I would most feel it. The facts are, I came home from school and I needed to move out if I was going with my mother, so I did.

The apartment that she got had been carved out of an old house. It was composed of the basement, the majority of the main floor and none of the upstairs. So there were people that lived right next to us and above us. One day someone was either really drunk or fighting or both and came crashing through a door that went right into my mother’s bedroom. In the original house, her bedroom would have been the living room, at the front of the house, and was right beside the main front door. Other than that, I did not notice that we had neighbours.

I made my bedroom in the basement. Since the walls were concrete I took my mother’s good draperies from the last house and hung them in a way that created a small room for my bed and my things. It seems odd now that she would take the curtains with her. They were sized for the house that she had left and unlikely to fit any type of window, with the exception of one identical to the one that they were made for.

I recognize here that I can try to explain why I think that she took them but what would I gain? I would be telling myself a story in an attempt to explain what happened. I could cast my mother as a villain and say she took them out of spite so that my father could not sit comfortably in his living room until he replaced them.

Or, I could make her seem thrifty and say that I think that she was going to alter them to fit another window and that she had that skill and inclination. I could argue that she may have had help to move and the movers had assumed that everything was going, including the window treatments, but I don’t know. I just know that they were in her apartment. I know because I found them in the new place and used them as walls.

This is the first time that I recognize eating to calm myself down. My boyfriend and I spent a week or so at this point eating fresh strawberry jam on toast with butter. I remember knowing that I was eating too much but needing to relax so desperately and not knowing how to accomplish that. I also pierced the upper holes in my ears by myself. I guess I am not the first person to discover the satisfaction of making an alteration to your appearance as a way of marking a change in your life.

Keep Reading: Oak Street

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Everything Changes — Chapter 1

IMG_0500The most discreet and defining change in my life was about to happen shortly. My mother was very socially conscious and living in a wartime home was simply not good enough. She wanted to be looked up to, envied and seen as having it all. With this in mind, my parents set out to buy a new home.

The purchase of the appropriate home was essential to how they saw themselves, or at the very least how my mother saw herself. My mother’s family was farmers by spirit, but my grandfather had taken a factory job. I don’t know the details of when they left the farm or when they moved into the city, but I do know that they always managed to live well, despite food stamps and the recession. They always had an abundance of food and enough money to buy what they needed.

The way that this was explained to me was that certain allotments of food stamps were for cigarettes and alcohol. Since my grandparents did not partake of either of these, they would trade these stamps for baking ingredients; sugar and flour. My grandmother could bake. It is not adequate to say that she could bake really well, because that cannot possibly describe how her fudge would melt in your mouth, or how a mouthful of butter tart was so delicious that you simply could not speak while eating one. She gave out fudge for Halloween and I witnessed a man that had drove from a neighbouring city to visit her house on Halloween in order to receive a piece of her fudge. She sold these baked goods for a tidy profit.

My father’s family was city folk. His father was in the police force and his mother, his father’s second wife, was a schoolteacher and significantly younger than her husband. I still don’t know how many half cousins I have on my father’s side because there was an almost complete split between the two families. My father had not gone past grade twelve himself. Not because he was not capable, but because it was not necessary.

We lived in chemical valley where crude oil is converted into gasoline and other products. He was hired full time right out of high school and was doing very well financially. This had to be demonstrated to everyone by the type of home that we lived in, or so my mother felt.

We visited these gorgeous places. I remember running around the schoolyard describing beautiful homes to my friends. I had to tell everyone. There were patio doors that looked out onto landscaped back yards, there were pools, there were large rec rooms and finished basements. The possibilities seemed endless. We were moving out of our old home, that was heated with a stove that sat in one corner of a livingroom, into places with central heat. I didn’t know what central heat meant but it sounded exciting to me.

The visits to the homes for sale went on long enough that my friends started to not want to hear about it anymore. Lost in the excitement of the move, I had totally missed the fact that I would be leaving most of these friends, to never see them again, or only see them in passing. That did not concern me very much.

When new students came to our school, they were celebrities. Everyone would flock around them to try to get to know them first. They were coveted potential new friends and everyone wanted to meet them. I assumed it was like this at all schools.

The conflict between my parents was unseen by me, at the time. My father was a very practical man. I know that my father wanted a garage and that he wanted to deal with the issue in a logical way. My mother wanted some place extravagant. I don’t know if money was an issue. The house that was decided on, my father explained to me, was largely because the person selling the house would also buy our A-frame from us. This was practical and straightforward. It was important to my father that this detail be taken care of. I don’t know if this purchase preceded the ability to put an offer on a house conditional on the sale of your other house, but if it did, that would explain my father’s decision. To be stuck with two homes would be a problem for any family, at any time.

My mother was not happy with the house.

I was not happy either. It was terrible when I realized that I was losing all of my friends, my backyard, my maple tree, my large bedroom, my tree lined neighbourhood and my family as it turns out.

The new house was a three bedroom bungalow, situated on the corner of a very busy four lane road, in a newer part of town. It was a block from the school. My father had to back out into traffic in order to get the car out of the driveway. There was no backyard because it was a corner lot and the large two-story double car garage took up most of the yard and blocked out any sun that may have entered the small sliver of lawn. There was no room for a pool, or a garden and there were certainly no trees of mention.

Vicki and I flipped a coin for the large bedroom and I lost. The room that I was now in was so small that my bed needed to be replaced with a single bed because there was not enough room for the old one. The basement had been divided into several small rooms, so even though it had a rec room, it was not much of a room. It was also uninviting in a way that some basements are.

So, in the summer of 1971, I found myself a freshly minted nine year old that did not have any friends, any backyard and no place to spread my toys out to play. To top it off, my cat did not make the trip. I heard that there was another nine year old girl on the block and I decided to go down and introduce myself. Now all I had was to go to the new school in September and see how that went.

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Martha Beck teaches you how to navigate the ever changing landscape of your life.

The Swing of Things — Chapter 1

IMG_0571I have moved back into my office. It is a Sunday morning and the Rose of Sharon in my yard has recently begun to bloom. The flowers out front are all associated with bushes or plants that need little or no care. I had stipulated this when I had the gardens done. I also said that I enjoyed flowers. As the summer passes each of the plants takes turn coming into bloom. There are several plants that bloom and all of the flowers are pink.

What I remember most about my first home was the great expanses of time that seemed to be structureless. There was a lot of space and there was a lot of free time and I have very few memories of adults being involved.

The backyard was a wonderful place with lots of room to move and play and climb. I also had a very best friend. She was born a few weeks after me, a few doors down from me. We used to sit together in my sand box and have intense conversations about what kindergarten would be like and the new clothes that her older sister had bought. Sometimes we would even have the company of some of the neighbour children.

Occasionally, we would go over to her house and play. I remember that her older sister and her sister’s friends could colour really well. The shading was so neat and professional, it made me wish that I could colour in the lines like they could. When I contemplate these memories it makes me wonder if my children ever felt this timeless feeling of doing very little. I have a few memories of television programs, mainly cartoons, but I have way more memories of just paying attention to whatever was in front of me be it toys, crayons or friends. It was a feeling of falling out of time. These memories do not seem to be bracketed with limitations. There was no thought about when dinner was or when a show was going to be on television or even when we needed to be ready to go somewhere. We stayed outside until we were called home by our parents or when the streetlights came on.

This was a common curfew for us and all of our friends. We could all stay out until the streetlights came on, or rather until it got dark. This is so different from my view of the lives of my own children. Not only did they seldom play outside, requiring me to call them to come home, but also they were certainly never told to be in when the lights came on. For most of the evenings of their lives they were already in the house, or out at some supervised activity like hockey or soccer. At home they would be either in their rooms, watching television or sitting on a computer, not out playing kick the can, tag, hide and seek or any of the other group games that we used to play with the neighbors.

Even at this early age I thought that it was disappointing that there were two school systems. There was a public system and a Catholic system that effectively meant that you only got to go to school with some of the kids in your neighborhood. It seemed wrong to me then, as it does now, that we are not working towards building a system that brings our children together but rather one that separates them early in life into ‘us versus them’. But, for the purposes of hide and seek, everyone played together.

A key feature of our neighbourhood was our swing set and one of the coveted experiences was the underdoggy. For those of you that were not children during this time, the underdoggy is the ultimate push for someone on a swing. Anyone, including parents and grandparents can stand behind a swing and give it a push and then repeat with the same enthusiasm as the swing approaches each time. This is fun and adequate for the person on the swing, but it can only go so far.

The underdoggy is only for the enthusiastic and the agile. My father first showed me the thrill of it in our backyard. Instead of simply standing behind the swing and pushing it when it comes to you, the underdoggy goes one step further. You run with the swing and keep your hands on it until you have lifted it above your head. Then, you continue to run forward as the swing progresses way up, further into the air than you could get with a regular push. This results in a spectacular swing of great height and speed.

My sister decided to try an underdoggy with the glider. The glider was much clunkier than a normal swing and much heavier. She convinced me, after some discussion, that it was going to be great fun. At this point of my life I had yet to recognize the importance of that grey- army green feeling that I sometimes get in the core of my body. I know now that it is a significant red flag that could be loosely interpreted as, “Run Away!, Run Away!” But I did not know this yet and even though I felt it at the time, I still got into the glider. Vicki positioned herself behind me and tried to gain enough speed and height from a stopped position and failed. Then, she decided to work up to the underdoggy by allowing the glider to pick up speed over several pushes. She gathered her resolve and tried again.

With all of her effort she managed to push the glider up and over her head. And then she stopped completely. Exhausted from the push and lift it never occurred to her that in the next moment the glider would reach its full height, return to the starting position and come right back at her full force with the weight of her little sister added to the weight of the metal frame.

I hit Vicki full force in the back of the head causing her to fall flat on her face. The glider was going too fast for me to get out right away and it went back and forth over her one more time before I could get out. Hearing my sister scream, my mom came running out of the house. There was a large V-shaped gash in the back of Vicki’s head that was gushing blood at an alarming rate. The next memory that I have was of being at the hospital. This was a familiar setting for me because my mother liked to be at the hospital so we were often there.

Vicki received several stitches. I don’t recall if she had to stay the night or what was said about the injury and I largely forgot about it until she was about 22 years of age. I don’t think that I’ll ever fully be able to forget that I knew in the pit of my stomach that I should not let Vicki do this. I did not know why or how I knew, but I know I knew. A majority of my memories, despite what I have recalled here, were not about accidents but were rather about walking to school, playing in the school yard, playing outside and having pets.

Keep Reading: Everything Changes

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