Wednesday, April 7, 2010


There is a knock at the door, which is strange. But it is ok, I can answer it.

Mom and my sister CAS have just left to go to Safeway. That left me there in charge. I am so excited. Ten is plenty old enough to be left alone. I loved being alone, it so seldom happens in the small houses we lived in with so many people. And now someone was at the door and I get to answer it all by myself.

I don’t recognize the man at the door. He doesn’t say hello or ask for anyone in my family, instead he quickly scans the room behind me and asks if my parents are home.
“No..” I begin, “That’s Ok, you can help me.” he interrupts as he pushes his way in, and closes the door behind himself.

We live in the projects. Church projects, but projects none the less. They are two-story townhome like units. Four to a row. Living/dining room and the kitchen on the first floor, 3 bedrooms and a bathroom upstairs. Our place is second from the end and closest to the parking lot off the alley. It faces north and is tucked back between the units on either side.

The stranger strides into the house without hesitation. He goes directly through the living room area to the linoleum dinning room table and spreads out a map. He takes out a highlighter and makes two x’s, one on the left and one on the right of the map. He pulls a chair out and instructs me to kneel on the chair and place my hands on each of the x’s. I am in an awkward pose, leaning forward over the table, arms out wide like I am about to do a push up. “Wait,” he says, “let me move the chair.” He rotates the chair so the back of it is on my left and has me put my hands on the x’s again.

The floor plan is an open rectangle. The living room at the front end has the front door and a window. The dining room had a patio slider. The patio faced out to a common area with a building that houses the laundry room. There is a sidewalk that is directly behind our patio door that people used to get to the parking lot or the laundry. Mom keeps the curtains closed most of the time so people wouldn’t be nosy and look into our place.

I am facing those closed curtains now. Everything has happened so fast since this man came in, I am so confused. I don’t know what to make of any of it. He is still talking, fast now. He is telling me I am doing a good job and that I am doing it right but he is only talking about my hand on the x’s. Why are my hands on the x’s? What am I suppose to be looking at? He is standing behind me now and places his hands next to mine on either side. Then he leans against me from behind. I feel something press against my buttocks. I don’t know what it is, I think it is the highlighter he used but it is still on the table in front of me.

Safeway is a five block walk away. There is a small store that is only two blocks away but it really doesn’t carry much and it costs way more so mom tries not to buy stuff there. Us kids go there a lot however for candy or soda. We can also turn in old soda bottles for cash. My sister TJS’s favorite thing there is the burritos. They cook them on a stove they have there and sell them wrapped in foil. My sister is right, they are yummy.
It is a quick walk to the little store but Safeway is a long five block walk, ten blocks round trip not counting shopping time. Mom and CAS will be gone for a while.

His voice changes now, deeper and slower, telling me I am doing a good job and he is moving back and forth behind me pressing harder now. I have no idea what is going on but something is wrong. It all feels wrong. My mouth has gone dry, I am scared and I don’t know what to do. Without thinking I duck under his right arm and am off the chair. “You have to go,” I say. “My mom and sister just went to the corner store and will be back soon and I will get in trouble for letting anyone in.” I lie the thing I hear a thousand times in the projects. No one is allowed in the house if a parent isn’t there. We don’t have that rule at home but it is a convincing lie. And thankfully it works. He quickly gathers up his map and highlighter off the table, is mumbling something about coming back another time when my mom is home and is out the door as fast as he came in it. I lock the door behind him and then I start to shake. I still don’t know what has happened but I know I feel sick to my stomach and I am suddenly cold. I want to go outside and stand in the sun but am scared. I sit down on the couch and stare blindly at the TV.

Mom and CAS come home about a half hour later with the groceries. I help put them away. I don’t tell them or anyone else what has happened. I didn’t want to get in trouble. When I am asked if I am ok, I say I have a headache. No one knows the truth.

A few years later this day makes sense. I understand what had happened. And a few years after that, I understand what could have happened and I realized how incredibly lucky I was.

I see this man once more in my life. I am still ten and some months have passed since I first saw him. I am on the swing set in the courtyard in front of our row of townhouses swinging away. I love the sensation of swinging. The back and forth rhythm and the weightless sensation at the top before falling back again. The feeling of the wind blowing in my hair. I love using the weight if my body and stretch of my legs to keep the constant pace. I always feel so peaceful swinging. There is no one else on the swing set, lucky me; I have it all to myself. Then I get the feeling that someone is looking at me.

I look to my left and there in our next door neighbor’s window, he is. There is a faint smile on his face as he stares straight at me. I am so suddenly and completely scared I almost pee myself. I quickly look away. A thousand thoughts flitter through my mind at once. RUN being the first and most consistent. I am confused again. He must be in the neighbor’s house without their knowing, they are moving today and he must have snuck in. Then the realization comes. They know him.

RUN RUN RUN my brain keeps saying. I slowly stop the swing. I don’t want him to know that I am aware who he is or that I am scared. I want to run but I am afraid that if I do he will chase me. You know, like dogs will do, if you run, they chase you. Instead I walk mechanically to my front door using all my strength to not look at the window again. I am scared he will still be there and I am scared he won’t.

I am back on the couch, staring at the TV, when they ask, I'll say I have a headache.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010


Candy Cigarette
Wax Lips
Charm Pops
Sugar Daddy
Candy Necklace
Blow Pops
Tootsi pops
Bazooka Bubble Gum
Gold Mine Gum
Jolly Rancher Sticks
Wax Cola Bottles
Sugar Babies

Monday, April 5, 2010

The Emergency Room

I am 16 years old standing in the Emergency Room on the phone with my mom. The phone is in my left hand and I am purposely keeping my right hand out of my line of vision. As long as I don't look at it I am ok.

“Mom, I was in a car accident. I am at a Hospital in Aurora.” My voice is calm and even, no crying. I am in shock. The reply I am expecting to hear is she will be right over. That she is coming to take care of me and everything will be alright. Instead she said, “Have them transfer you over to University Hospital. I am here already with your brother.”

I hang up and make the necessary arrangements to have an ambulance transfer me to Colorado University Hospital. Shock or no shock; accident or no accident, it is up to me. Again. I am “the baby” in name only. The youngest of five, but mom is done raising kids. I have become "my adult”, responsible for anything that requires responsibility. I have been that for years now.

My Mom. Born illegitimate in New York City in 1928 grew up to be the smartest person I have ever known. And funny. She stood strong and mighty behind what she believed in. I just wish that she would have picked raising her children as something she believed in.

So here I am, child number five, standing in an Emergency Room, and mom is done doing a job she never really wanted, nor was ever really good at. They put me in an ambulance and sent me on my way. Thirty minutes later I am in a private area of University Hospital Emergency Room waiting for my mom to come down from my brother’s room. Another Emergency Room without my mother. My brother had an abscess in his lung and it kept filling with fluid despite the draining tube he had. When mom comes in I can see her concern. She is unclear about the extent of my injuries. I am happy she is here but am feeling worried that she will be leaving me alone to go check on my brother.

Mom got married at 20 years old in 1948. She had her first child in December 1949; second in June 1951; third December 1952; fourth January 1956 and me in December 1960. My mom, who I believe in my heart never wanted children had five all with a man she didn't love when she married him...or maybe ever.

I am still calm and without tears, but I still keep my right hand out of sight. What I don’t see, can’t be real. I am explaining the ambulance transfer to my mother while the nurse gets me situated. While I am talking to my mom a Doctor comes in and asks if I am ok. He is in a hospital gown and has an IV in his arm the IV bag on a wheeled pole so he can get around. He looks very worried about me. This all confuses me. I am scared now that my Doctor is sick. It is my brother but in my shock I don’t realize it.

I once asked my Mom why she married a man that she had only known 8 weeks and only had seen on the weekends. Her matter of fact answer was, “I was 20 and didn't want to be an old maid.” What I should have asked her was why she had five children but I knew that in the decades her children were born, birth control was almost unheard of.

As I try to understand why my brother is my doctor my sister Colleen comes in. She looks so very worried. I look up at her, hold out my right hand and say “I lost my finger.” and I look at it for the first time. Then I
start crying. Hard. I no longer need to worry, Colleen is there I know that she won’t leave me and that she will take care of me and handle anything that needs to be handled. I no longer need to be brave or strong, Colleen will take care of me as she always has. Colleen, my mother by unofficial proxy. I can now be “the baby” who has a major concussion, lost the tip of her finger and was lucky to be alive after being in a car that rolled over on the highway 60 miles outside of Denver.

In 1964 my dad went out to get a pack of cigarettes and never came back. Literally. Overnight mom was responsible for supporting herself and five children. A task that was barely being accomplished with dad’s help. She later told me that she had a breakdown in the weeks after he left. She went to a psychiatrist who wanted to hospitalize her. That meant that we five would become wards of the court. She would not have us during that time. Maybe never again. Mom told me the only reason she wouldn't agree was she didn't want to be like dad. She didn't want to quit like he did. I waited for more, but she was done. No talk of loving us or not wanting to be apart from us. Mom’s explanation was complete.

I am in the hospital late into the night getting patched up but get to go home when the doctor is done. Over time my finger heals, only a bit of it gone, I never miss it. My brain takes a little longer, but it heals too and most of my memories come back.  Eventually even my fear of cars goes away.

Years later my heart heals too. I come to understand my mom. I always knew that she loved us and I realize that her neglect was never anything personal. While she may not have always been there for us emotionally, she did her best. She always kept us fed, clothed and housed. She taught us the joy of reading and of humor. We learned to stand up for what we believe in. We learned about the equality of all people and to respect the opinions of others. We learned manners and how to behave in public. And somehow, we also learned to love.