Category Archives: Memoir Pieces

Shaving

One of the sweetest commercials I think I’ve ever seen s a new release…a father shows his daughter how to shave her legs for the first time.  She nicks her leg and her dad is quick to gently apply a spot of tissue paper.

Shaving one’s legs for the first time is a rite of passage for a young teenager.  It is almost as significant as menstruation.  For me, both events were momentous. One an act almost of rebellion, the other nature’s call to a new life, both a personal emergence into womanhood.

My mother didn’t want me to shave.  She never had.  But whereas her legs were smooth, with few hairs, mine were hairy, like my Dad’s.  They may have been golden blonde but I felt like a furry beast.

I was fourteen when I shaved my legs for the first time.  It was the year of my emergence.  I had lost the baby weight, exchanged cat’s eyeglasses for wireless ones, and got my period. I was ready, even if my mother was not and wouldn’t dream of asking for help.

My family was up at our summer cabin and friends of the family were visiting. One day Mom and her friend, Bunny, went out for a few hours, leaving me in charge of six kids.  I snuck into the bathroom and furtively proceeded to butcher my legs.  No shaving cream, no water, just raw steel.  I was bleeding out.  There were tissue paper and band-aids in wide swaths everywhere you looked.

When Mom and Bunny returned, they looked askance at my legs but to Mom’s credit, she didn’t say a word.  I stuttered, “Mom, the razor fell off the shelf and fell down my leg.  When I put it back up, it fell again, running down the other leg.”  They kept straight faces.

The next day my Mom approached me, saying “You do realize you will have to shave now for the rest of your life.”  “That’s quite all right Mom.”  I savored the sweet victory, even as I winced moving around.

The In-Law Wars

“There is a cancer in you I need to cut out,” my Mother-In-Law, Gette, said to me after a particularly brutal day.  As always, she moved her pursed lips back and forth, like she was sucking a bottle. Kneeling beside her lounge chair, knees bruised from the pebbled cement below, I bit down my words, a supplicant wanting to supplicate.  I could only think that if I could placate her enough, swallow myself down deep within me, become a shell without substance, perhaps she would stop this current reign of terror.

Knowing what to do or say was tormenting me.  I didn’t want to have this woman in my home much less subjugate myself to her will. I had the spirit of independence within me. But with each pass of the Seasons, Gette and her husband, Dragos, would arrive in a whirlwind of condescension and fury.  They would stay for 3-6 weeks at a time.  For weeks before they came, I would panic.  When I finally tried to forbid the planned trip, my husband, Alex, replied, “You can leave if you don’t want to be near them.”

Gette would march in the front door, head directly to the kitchen, and start rearranging it to her liking.  She would send Dragos to the market for those items she felt were necessary.  From that moment on, I was forbidden in my own kitchen.

My spirited, wonderful children suddenly fell under the auspices of the Grandparents’ methods of parenting.  This was the supposed Romanian way of doing things.  All my disciplining was strictly monitored; should I do anything not to Gette’s liking, I was subject to discipline myself.  My husband not only abetted it, he did the same, way too many times.  It might be appropriate if I was in any way abusive, but I was not.  What I was, was anxious, frustrated, angry, desperate, unsupported and alone.

The house would revert to Romanian as the language of choice spoken by all adults except me.  The kids didn’t mind.  Their desires were met, their questions and comments answered.  But one time I asked a table of Romanians to please speak in English (when they all could) and my husband responded, “Shut Up!” in front of his extended family. My in-laws told me this was the language they were comfortable speaking although it had been 20 years since they defected, hey had held professional positions requiring English, and it was an English-speaking home.  When seated at the dinner table, I could sometimes understand they were talking about me to my husband in front of my face.

I was, and am, as American as you can be – blonde, blue eyed, previously divorced. . . in their mind lacking in character.  For many years I was a national management consultant, in Who’s Who in America for several years, and a published author, yet Dragos always told everyone I was a secretary.  Romanian women in their circle were doctors, lawyers or scientists.

There is so much talk about multi-generational and multi-lingual homes.  DACA is on everyone’s lips. Immigrants do have it hard.  Many times they come to the U.S. with little to no money, may have to go back to school to retake degreed professional exams for legitimacy in their careers, and may have to start with jobs well below their educational level.  They can be outcasts, will almost certainly face discrimination, and have to undergo huge cultural shifts that can seem to be never ending tsunami waves.

But what of the people who marry into these strong ethnic traditions?  I was terrorized by my in-laws and ex-husband.  Everything in my life was controlled.  Emotional, financial, familial and some physical abuse was rampant.  I loved my husband very much, but his mother had an untreated schizophrenic personality disorder and was given free reign to behave in whatever manner she chose.  She was a spoiled, at times vicious, callous woman in the manner she treated me.  And he followed in her footsteps, very much her favored and only child.

Yet she was a loving mother and grandmother, cloyingly, overwhelmingly so. The kids loved her even as they came to understand her disabilities. Dragos tried to placate me, saying she was a “Good Girl”, I should listen to her.  They only wanted what was best for me.  Other than pertinent information, Alex would refuse to talk to me during the time they were visiting and up to 2 months later.  And within weeks, it would be time for another visit.

One of those things to be changed was an attempt for me to eliminate contact with my family and friends, to which my Mother vehemently and frequently objected. There was a time I gave in and didn’t contact them for three months because my mother was violating boundaries calling Gette and Dragos and working to undermine our marriage from her end, just as strong minded and quite resentful of the situation.  Not a minute went by when I was not connected to them in my mind. My heartstrings were more deeply connected to them if I couldn’t speak with them. My mother even called their home to argue about these issues.  She would call me and berate Alex, sometimes with him standing right in front of me furiously telling me to hang up. Little wonder I was a nervous wreck.

None of the In-laws were behaving appropriately.  One of the main reasons I left the marriage was the knowledge one day I would be taking care of Gette in our home.  I knew her disease would worsen and as they didn’t believe in therapy or medications, there was no hope for the suppression of symptoms.  She would remain the arrogant, controlling woman she was then even as she talked to her spirits.

There were other factors which led to the demise of our marriage but the In-Law Wars were the primary issue.  Had we not been subjected to these pressures, we might still be together. Alex might be more temperate in his need to control me.  We might have enjoyed more limited visits.  But then the “might have been’s” are merely suppositions without merit or reality. Suffice to say I have permanent PTSD from those years which has manifested in restraints to enact on dating or relationships now. And I cherish my freedom.

Mocking Masks

Glazed figurines
of marblesque perfection
in skilled arrangements
cold and impersonal
(number please)

Nodding heads at
wrong moments.
minds spinning –
a hundred questions
flooded with fear.

Speaking at one
while eyes flick
upon each new member
a few pennies worth
of measuring up,
a dime store delight
of tasteless fantasies.

Masks carefully applied
to stunning perfection
concealing humanness,
replacing warmth
with mock conviviality.

Love is . . .

Love isn’t the brassy blare of a band, marching down the avenue on July 4th’s celebration. Oh, to be sure – that is part of it – loud jangles, crash of cymbals, heartbeat of drums. But love has many faces, some apparent, some quite deceptive.

Love is the gentle stirrings evoked by a walk after a thunderstorm’s power, smelling the earth, watching lightening flitter over the New York skyline, curled up on a rock, and telling each other of your pasts, and peoples – speaking in reverence and caring tones.

Love is the sharp pain of betrayal and the shooting stabs of hurt inflicted upon sensitive, fragile egos that make one near in anger and rage – defending yourself at risk of rejection – yet believing, nonetheless, first in your own sense of worth.  Being able to say “fuck you” to the one you love.

Love is the despair and confusion and insecurity brought forth in opening yourself up to another person.  Of being aware of his frailties and still wanting him more than ever – because of those faults not in spite of them. Of seeing the flaws yet not running away.  Of opening yourself , baring your soul when trust is just a mirage, still to become real from knowing your love, facing it and not walking away, and of having to tell that other person that love is there – whether or not he chooses to respond in kind.  Of wanting so much to hear the words “I Love You”, yet not pressing but allowing them to come of their on accord at a time of his choosing – if at all.

Love is passion and the exploration of a body found wildly exciting – seeking those hidden sources of pleasure, being sexually vulnerable.  And love is those quiet ripples that float through your body as you see the one you love or think of him during the course of your day.  Love is giving and taking- together or apart – the stillness of soul touching – the fire of lust, the knowledge that this is something different than any before or any after, but that a part of you, larger than ever before, rests in the hands of another, and you are content, or largely so, to have it that way.  Love is a gift from God to be savored, enjoyed revered, for each moment it is a part of you.

Love is encouraging the strengths in the other, urging him to grow and explore facets of himself.  Being a source of strength rather than drowning him in your need.  Love is knowing the relationship may end yet moving forward in self-determination, with trust and belief gathering your courage about you, a mantle of strength in the storm of emotion.  Love is knowing that love may change in form and substance, devolving into a well of despair, fragmenting, feathering away into a manifestation of a different making – yet Love still.  Love is holding still the trembling of the soul.

Love is the bringing into the world two children to bless this union. Children precious, deserving of all that is good.  Physical manifestations of love and passion.  Children who bear witness of good and ill. Who bear the scars of devastation.

Love is the torture of knowing your love was always far greater than his. Of sustaining emotional scars, physical bondage, inquisitions, blasphemies, of running and hiding to escape his wrath. Of finally, running away, knowing not to do so would mean your death, be it emotional or physical.

Love is the PTSD moments after the Fall. Twenty years later.  The choosing aloneness rather than taking the risk of opening yourself up again.  Of the nightmares that continue, again and again, of what it turned out to be.  Of the ending, cruel, painful, devastating in consequences not just for the two of you, but for the children brought forth from the union of those souls.  Of the never ending trauma that follows in your wake, curling in sadness and despair deep within.

New Neighbors

I stood at the window, gazing down as the cops “escorted” another drug addict from the building.  “Isn’t the first, won’t be the last”, I mumbled as I watched the three of them talking.  “Damn Bryson” I mouthed as I thought how one more time he had found “good guys” to be renters. They were always problems one way or the other, generally met at the local bar.

When I pulled into the driveway just minutes before I could see two police cars in between the drug dealer’s place and this apartment building.  I figured they had come here when I saw one of the guys’ car at a slant, blocking the two other cars in the parking lot. As this was a supreme no,no, I figured the cops were here, at the apartment that had been moved into just a few weeks ago.

Now it was just a matter of getting the story from one of the other tenants. Dee is always the go-to gal.  She knows everything that has gone on in the building for the last twenty years, because she has lived here that long and has a nose for trouble.  Years ago, she had a relationship with Byron so their’s is a complicated story.  She’s the “Building Manager” and handles what emergencies come up unless they require Byron’s hand.  All of her children have lived in the building, at one time or another, with their families.

Dee reported Matt, one of the guys upstairs, had called the police because a guy who had spent a couple of nights was being disruptive and needed to be removed, and not going on his own. Matt is trying hard to maintain some control in an apartment with 2 other guys, both addicts of one kind or another.  Matt has his own issues.  He is the only one working but he is on the slow side. Dee said the police were being real jerks, treating Matt as if he were the issue, frisking him and jeering at his lack of ability to control the situation on his own.

I told Dee about Matt’s car blocking her car and another tenant’s.  She grumpily went up to tell Matt he had to move the car.  She watched out the window as Matt went outside, looked perplexed, scratched his head, and moved the car forward a couple of feet.  Turns out, as Dee and I had been talking, Matt had moved is car to its accustomed place. Dee and I laughed our butts off.

For Better or Worse

His memory lingers
long after the last door slam,
to unsettle emotions
and distort newly held beliefs
His legacy bequeathed
in the divorce settlement
are ripples on a mirror surface. . .
the crinkles of eyes laughing
arms meant for holding,
thoughtful insight of a kind
rarely seen in the eyes of men.
And yet,
the papers speak
of a different reality,
of dreams gone awry,
and a world spinning of balance.
No regrets –
but sometimes, in quiet moments,
when I forget to raise my shields,
the memory of his eyes
as he made love to me
tears at my heart,
that I remember
there won’t be another
such as he . . .
for better or worse.

In times of greatest anger
I find myself wondering
where did that great love go?
It is here, pocketed within secret places,
to emerge in the peace of the night
and remind me
how great the loss was
to walk away in anger
and carry the love.

Sifting through the Ashes

So many years since my parents have died and yet they walk through my life day by day, hour by hour.  Is this so for everyone? Sifting through our ashes, seeing the truths or remolding childhood witnessing into more truthful adult understandings. . . or should they be upended?  Aren’t my life experiences as a child as equal, or more so, than their adult counterparts?

Isn’t the fact my father and I played a game where he blew his pipe smoke in my face because it  made me exclaim for him to stop but we both laughed just as valid as my understanding that it was the underpinnings of my attraction and addiction to tobacco, and later COPD and asthma?  Or my coming in drunk from some beer bash and sitting up with him for hours talking about the world, the universe, my present, later to realize he had been drinking too and it was a tactic acknowledgement of drinking as acceptable, even essential?  Just as Christmas brings misgivings driven both my the year we snuck downstairs to see an entire kitchen and bikes our size as well as the one when Dad knocked over the Tree in a fit of alcohol fumes?

As an adult, I moved back to Connecticut, staying in my mother’s room while looking for a home of my own. Within those walls, Mom and I made peace with each other.  I finally felt her life, what made her, why she was such an angry person much of the time, overwhelmingly generous at others.  I understood why she was angry with me, frustrated at my weaknesses, as she co-dependently made right my many, many mistakes. I forgave her transgressions. And felt her presence at the foot of the bed and with the Shirley Temple collection, the first dolls she ever owned.

Yet these two people gave us such treasures.  As a Minister’s family, we moved frequently, as my Mom did, from one Brooklyn apartment to another when the rent ran out.  So when Mom saw a tiny ad for a 250 year cabin on 50 acres a 17 hour trip away, she bought it sight unseen  so we would, no matter how many times we had to move.

Every summer she would take off work, bringing us up to our spiritual center for 2 months, Father joining us under his vacation. Now I look back to see how hard she worked on the cabin, making it safe and livable for us.  Understand, as a mother myself, the frustration she would sometimes feel as a single mom for such a long time.  Laugh at when she sent my wayward brother to the garden to remove rocks when he did, frequently, something outrageous.

Memories fill the furniture in my apartment.  A teacart given from a barn in exchange for a loaf of bread, now well over 150 years old. The carved, wooden screen behind it, a much beloved piece from my grandmother.  My “distressed” childhood dresser and toddler rocker. The cut glass pieces my mother so dearly collected in a beautiful collection. The painting of “Uncle Willie”, an old hermit who closed off his beautifully furnished  home, save the kitchen, when his wife died; we picked cherries from his trees, mom making pies, jams, and bringing them to him.

My adult eyes stare into the inward memories of my brain to remember. In some places there are causes for anger displaced.  In order, wry comprehension.  In others humble gratitude.  They were not perfect people but they were good ones, who moved beyond the strictures of their memories and life experiences to give us so many precious ones.

Heartbreaker

Heartbreaker – that’s the name,
and some have told me
I’m playing the game.
I don’t seek to bruise
poor puppy egos – but wish only
to live a life of carefree
pleasure and frolicking.

Others are welcome to
join in my dance
or I might choose
to enter theirs but –
if you seek to know me –
watch my dancing
on the floor . . .

Some make mocking derisions
while in others romance seeps
through my pores – yet
all change with a suddenness
overpowering the naked eye.

All I ask is to be me  –
free, single, young and pretty,
uninhibited, running through life
on the tailwinds of a tornado –
my long hair blowing in the breeze.

 

 

 

Musings

The past few days have been hard. We buried my uncle yesterday – a man I deeply loved. Then today, a woman I was fond of died. She had been in a concentration camp, lost most everyone, and was caught in a loop of her terrors most of the time. Her daughter came most everyday to be with her. I know almost anyplace is better than where her mind took her but I’ll miss her nonetheless.

On the other hand, my daughter is getting married in a few weeks. While overjoyed for her, there is a sadness she will be leaving me to go on to a new life that much further away. It is selfish I know, but I gave birth to her and tried to support her as she grew.

The. Changes of Life sometimes spin out of control, leaving dreams of running races, feeling breathless, with my joints reflecting my age.

Life………