Until I was 9, I had a mother (who stayed home), a father, a sister, a home and no religion but I had faith. Faith in my mother, my father, the regularity of our family and the security of the small, midwestern town where we lived.
I didn’t know it was all about to change.
Then it was spring. My dad didn’t live with us anymore. Mom and Dad were getting a divorce. Mom told me. I wasn’t supposed to tell my little sister. In a week, he was gone. Two weeks later, I turned ten. My mom went to work.
Then it was summer. My mom got married in August in the Congregational Church on the corner. My sister and I were in the wedding. We gave my mom away and carried small versions of my mom’s bouquet. Bob and Sue, our neighbors, stood up for my mom and Dan. We called him Dadiel. My grandmother didn’t come to the wedding. My sister and I didn’t understand why – and my mom was mad. Mom and Dad’s divorce announcement was in the paper the day after Mom and Dan’s wedding announcement.
Then it was fall. Instead of going to fifth grade with all my friends – to the school where I’d always gone. I was going to Catholic school. In Hillsdale. I had to ride the bus. MY school was three houses, a cross street and a playground away – and I now had to ride the bus to a school over half an hour away. To go to school with kids I didn’t know, to the school where they had always gone.
Then it was winter. My dad got married. My sister and I were not invited. We read about it in the paper. My grandmother moved to Florida. My mom and Dadiel gave me a book about my body and how it worked…I took it to school. When I got there, I got it taken away so I couldn’t show any of the other children. I never really did understand why. I guess I do now. Mr. Martin read us a Reader’s Digest story about the spirit of Christmas. It was the day I learned there was no Santa Claus. I didn’t want to go to my dad’s house on Christmas Day – or at all, really. Mom said we had to go.
Then it was spring. I started my period. I turned eleven. I got a crucifix and my door taken off its hinges for my eleventh birthday. My stepdad was not in prison then…
The phone rang on Christmas morning that year, the year I was 11, and Mom answered it. I said something to Dadiel about being up at 5 am the year before and he replied “that’s what your mom said when I called last year”. I flashed back to the phone ringing the previous Christmas and running to answer it thinking it would be an aunt or uncle and having mom brusquely tell me SHE would answer it. It was a defining moment in my life. It was the moment that I realized that my mom had cheated on my dad. Now I knew why my Grama had been mad and had not come to the wedding. As I mature in my life, I realize that rarely is one person to blame for the breakdown and demise of a marriage and my parents’ was certainly no exception; however, the cold water-in-the-face reality is that my mother cheated on my father and had been brazen enough to have her lover phone our home on Christmas morning to interrupt her time with her family to continue their affair.
Somewhere in there, I decided I was Catholic. Or maybe my mom did. The memory isn’t clear now. Not really. I mean…I wasn’t forced. Can an eleven year old really choose a religion? Perhaps that is a question for the ages. At any rate, I was baptized and took my first communion on the same day – during a school mass. My dad was not there. Whether he was invited or not I do not recall.
The Catholic school only went to the fifth grade so I went back to MY school for sixth grade. I was excited to be going back to school with kids I’d always known to the school where I’d always gone. Except it wasn’t. Things never were the same; I missed a whole year of their memories. Made a whole year of my own, different choices. It was more difficult now. Going to school with kids I’d always known to the school where they’d always gone.
By the time I turned twelve, I was visiting my step-father inside the largest, walled, maximum security prison in the United States. Why that matters to me, I’m not sure….he was in prison. For the first time – since he married my mom.
My stepdad was a felon. Before he died, he would become an habitual felon and be sentenced to life in prison. As I understand it, he was eventually paroled and died near his parents. I guess I have some sympathy for him. A child’s mind can only grasp so much – but the stories I have heard tell me that he was a good, smart man who returned from Vietnam changed and unable to stop drinking. His crimes were all white collar – embezzlement, forgery and the like. He once took our car and left for two weeks on a drinking binge; he was in violation of parole. When my mother found him, she asked her best friend, Sue – a State Trooper to be the one to arrest him.
In the next 18 months or so, he went from maximum security to minimum security to the halfway house in Battle Creek to home and a job – back to prison. In that time, we spent hours on the road visiting him in prison. When he was in Battle Creek, we got up at 4am on Saturday to go pick him up so he could spend the weekends at home. On Saturday night, he had to be home by 11 pm. I remember missing fireworks because we had to leave the fairgrounds before they were over. We had to take him back Sunday night. For awhile, he stayed home and kept a job. Then he was gone.
I turned 13.
Then it was summer. The perfect summer. I was too young to understand the full implications of my crazy family life and old enough to spend a lot of time on my own. In that era – in that town. I rode my bike everywhere…we were at the pool everyday and the ball fields every night. I thought my life would always be the same. I was trying to figure out which boy I wanted to marry when I graduated from Michigan State or U of Michigan.
I didn’t know it was all about to change. Again.
Then it was August. And we were moving. Nobody asked me and I didn’t want to go. I was mad and I hated leaving and I hated my mother. I fought the move until I saw how much it hurt her and I just…stopped fighting it, I guess. There was no good reason to move! She just wanted to be closer to Grama – now that she knew Grama was right to be mad at her for marrying Dan! But she was messing up my life! Again! She took me away from MY house, MY school and MY friends. MY life – the only one I had ever known! I don’t know still that I’ve ever forgiven her for that. Even now when I say “home” I’m referring to Litchfield and I’ve not lived there for almost 30 years. I guess that’s kind of warped….
Then I was in Florida. Pensacola. At another small, Catholic school. Going to school with kids I didn’t know, to the school where they had always gone.