Chapter 7 continues…

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Despite the fact that at this point Trudy’s life was distilled down to being, for the most part, a solitary, eighty-one year old, one hundred and fifteen pound, chain-smoking, finger-pricking, ball of self-inflicted misery, she clung with delusional determination to the notion that somehow she could, she would, reclaim her former and rightful role as the planet around which all of her children used to orbit, just like they did way back when she could pull them with ease, in as close as hostages, to her crazy and needy world through her powerful gravity of guilt, fear and threats of abandonment.

Looking at her irrational beliefs and behavior now after all these years so far removed from those long-lost but not forgotten days when we were all in her and Georgie’s clutches amid the spam, the cockroaches, the beatings, and the head-spinning number of places we’d lived, was it even possible for her to be as oblivious as she seemed to be now about the psychological carnage she and Georgie had committed and for her to not understand that the power of her spells had long been broken?

There may be residual damage, but no one was coming back, at least not in the way she wanted. What the hell was in that woman’s head? Although her psychiatrist explained that her behavior was a classic hallmark of borderline personality disorder, by now her official diagnosis, there had to be some sort of awareness on her part—but there seemed to be none. I suppose there couldn’t be any because her disorder also relied on the ability to induce that sense of fear, obligation, and guilt only in others, all the things that she needed to feel but could never conjure for herself.

Assuming that God had widened the gate to heaven, He is the only one who knows now what had gone on in my father’s head. But together through it all, it was as if the two of them had pecked at our psyches, day after day, like the eagle that ravaged Prometheus’ liver. They couldn’t see nor did they care, that although we were surviving each day, the ever-mounting but suppressed and hidden bitterness and resentment was building over the years, and that their children were navigating through life, essentially blind in a boat with no compass, some having already fallen overboard and flailing their arms for shore, while the rest headed straight for the rocks clinging together in a badly leaking boat.

If asked to try to explain how there can be any level of hatred and resentment directed at one’s own parents, I’d say that for my father it was rooted mostly in the application of his unpredictable and impressive array, and creative use, of physical and psychological abuses he heaped on all of us. As for Ma, it was aimed towards her because of her profound emotional weakness and calculated thievery of so much innocence and her grievous violation of the most sacred of trusts—the kind that should exist between a mother and child and that says ‘I will always protect you.’ The kind of trust that says don’t worry when you fear the dark, mommy’s here and will never leave you and will keep you safe at all costs rather than instead showing the boogey man where you were hiding under the bed.

Maybe it was because she had repressed so much truth about herself, however she perceived it, for such a long time that somewhere along the way she galvanized in her mind that it was she who was the greatest of not only Georgie’s but of life’s “victims,” and always had been, and being such, she couldn’t believe she’d been anything but the best mother she could be under those abusive circumstances and that her narcissistic needs trumped all others’.

Maybe she had to use that classic psychoanalytical defense mechanism of repression to protect herself from something unthinkable, but that unconscious tactic had now morphed into a deeper, crazy way of thinking that allowed her to accommodate the idea that even the emotional blackmail of her own children was more than justified to satisfy her own psychological and emotional needs.

What trauma must she have experienced that shaped her personality and turned her into what she’d eventually become in her old age? It had to be something dark and painful—it usually was. Something had to be buried back there in her past. She was always vague when talking about her growing up years, and my aunts and uncles weren’t much help other than to just shake their heads and say she’d always been the needy and neurotic one.

Personality theorists say that people develop and ‘become” through the forces of both nature and nurture. Nature meaning what is inherited biologically and nurture made up of all and with whom we each come in contact within our environment; parents, peers, teachers and television to name a few. Each of us products of both our own unique DNA and personal experiences, all triggered into motion and solidified by something as simple as a chemical imbalance or a chance meeting.

Maybe that helps explain why in a family like mine, personal outcomes can range in such wide fashion among a brood of eight children. People often asked ‘where’d you come from’ after they’d get to know more about my family, particularly my parents. I used to think of myself as a kindred spirit with the character Marilyn on the old sixties television show, the Munsters. In that household the monsters were the “normal” ones and she felt herself to be the odd one out, a feeling I understood.

To be continued…

Chapter 7, Begins

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Chapter 7

“The past is never dead, it is not even past.”—William Faulkner

“Hey,” I said in an attempt to change the subject trying to distract Ma from her sniveling. “I spoke with Susan earlier and she told me Aunt Betty called to check in on you? Wow, that’s been quite a while eh? How’s she doing?”

Betty was one of only four of my mother’s surviving siblings, all younger, and none of whom bothered with her much, especially Aunt Esther. She and Betty had kept in touch for many years, talking on the phone almost every day and visiting each other maybe once a week for tea and smokes and gossip. In spite of that, I’m not sure it could be said that they were very close. Either way, those visits had stopped years ago.

“Oh she’s not doing well at all” she said failing to sound as sympathetic as she’d hoped.

“She’s on insulin, and big as a house she says, and has a tough time driving with her bad eyes. She’s probably going to lose one of her feet.”

“Why don’t you invite her over to visit, that’d be good for both of you to catch up right?” I offered. “I mean, there are only you, her, Esther, Don, and Evelyn left.”

“I don’t fuckin’ hear from anybody!” she muttered, ignoring my suggestion and already having moved on from any idea of visiting with Betty.

Talking about Aunt Betty made me think again of Nana Bovaird who had lived out her last years living with Betty in Quincy, before dying quietly, really stoically, at ninety-nine years old. Nana was famous in the family for her sewing and embroidery skills, and for making beautiful, embroidered patchwork quilts that she gave out sparingly to various favored members of the family. I was thrilled when she presented me with one when I came home on leave one year. Its individual squares were detailed and colorful, and displayed in intricate detail and featured the state flower and bird for all fifty states. I keep it folded in perfect thirds across the bottom of my bed in the winter, ready to pull on its extra warmth during the cold nights.

Nana loved receiving the post cards that I’d be sure to mail to her from the exotic places around the world that I’d traveled to while in the military, so I guess the blanket was her way of letting me know just how much she appreciated such a simple gesture from one of her scattered grandchildren. She pinned the postcards with scenes from places such as the Appian Way in Brindisi, Italy or an aerial picture of Berlin, Germany, to the brittle plastic on the outside of an old and yellowed lamp shade that sat on the cluttered end table next to her favorite rocking chair. She’d sit there and watch her Red Sox and drink her glasses of Budweiser each game day right up until when she went to the hospital for the last time just one month shy of her one hundredth birthday.

Ma didn’t show much emotion at the news of her mother’s death, but simply announced to me that she’d be going to the wake but not the funeral because of her nerves. So to set that stage she stood in the receiving line during the wake with my aunts and uncles and sniffled as the parade of those who’d stopped by to pay respects filed by them offering condolences. Most paused for an extra moment to provide her comfort because she seemed so upset and distraught, but I could only look over and smirk to myself knowing that this was just another one of her performances to show just how this whole thing had affected her nerves, so of course everyone would understand why she didn’t appear at the funeral. To her delight she knew that all the unknowing and sympathetic people would later say at the reception that followed, did you see poor Gerty at the wake? It’s all just too much for her to handle, poor thing.

Like my mother, Nana could hold a grudge against anyone who she felt didn’t give her the respect and attention she deserved or she felt was misbehaving in their lives. But unlike my mother, Nana was strong-willed and self-sufficient, and didn’t give a damn if they ever came around and I’m sure looking down now she didn’t care what Ma did one way or the other. Some might even say she was downright mean at times, but she was always kind to me. Cripes, with Nana’s genes in my mother’s favor she just might beat some of her siblings’ odds and we could wind up putting up with her shtick another twenty years if we didn’t die first.

“So, why don’t you give Aunt Betty a call Ma, I’ll pick her up sometime if that’d help, I wouldn’t mind,” I said, not letting her off the subject.

“I will, maybe soon once I’m not so nervous” she said almost as a reflex. She wasn’t nervous and she didn’t give a thought about seeing Betty or anyone else that couldn’t do anything for her or who didn’t mean anything to her in terms of her ability to manipulate them. In spite of her constant complaints of loneliness and neglect, there really wasn’t any “company” that she wanted other than getting her children back the way she once had them. Not necessarily because she loved them and wanted their company, but more to control them and put them back into their roles as her fearful and supporting cast.

Oh sure, it was handy to use an Aunt Betty, a neighbor, or even a random stranger that might come to the door to try to elicit their sympathy from time to time, but that was fleeting satisfaction, like a quick high. And besides, if they hung around too long she knew they’d see through her façade like the staff had done at the Faulkner Hospital and that would never do. No, it was her scattered and scarred brood of children that she was desperate to reform into a doting circle at her feet.

To be continued…

Chapter 6 Concludes…

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Update:   Book is with the publisher for final content review, editing, and cover design.  Hoping to establish a firm publishing date soonest!  Thanks for reading!

I shook my head thinking about my conversation with Diane after her latest meltdown with Ma. I could, of course, relate to what she was saying. For those of us still willing to have anything to do with her it was just about impossible at any given time to prevent ourselves from wanting to rage inches from her face to try to get her to see that we saw through her. To make her see that we knew her behavior was contrived and purposeful, and to get her to admit to her part in intending to escalate our blood pressure and emotions.

We were on the phone, and I was trying again to help Diane to understand that it was more that Ma just could not, rather than would not, see the hurtful impact of her bitter personality and constant manipulations on those trying to help her and those she purported to love. I told her again how futile it was for any one of us to lose it and plunge into a meltdown anyway or to cajole and plead with Ma to acknowledge something, anything for her role in causing so much relational fracture.

“I know,” Diane was saying, “But can’t she just throw me one friggin bone, ever, dammit?”

“Look, I hear you,” I said, “But I don’t think she’s ever been sorry for anything. She’s just too far gone, you know?”

“I know, I have to stop letting her get to me,” Diane sighed into the phone.

“Exactly,” I said knowing that that was easier said than done and that we’d be having another conversation just like this one before too long.

I could picture Ma after Diane had stopped her yelling and shouting at her just sitting there, her face glazed over in a comic expression, like a dog watching television, and her head cocked to one side with a look that said, are you the one that’s crazy? I got to witness one of Diane’s previous meltdowns and could only sigh as I watched the veins bulge then recede back into her neck and thinking what a waste of time it was to try to reason with a true narcissist and it just wasn’t worth getting so worked up. I told her all that later but still it didn’t seem to help her control her anger because Ma just made it so hard to ignore because of the bitterness that seemed to ooze from her pores and the way she seethed with resentfulness at the idea that anyone could have a life or interest that took any sort of priority over pandering to her constant and neurotic needs.

Material needs were not the real problem. We plied her with enough orange juice to wipe out the crop of the state of Florida, enough cigarettes to kill a small town, enough KY jelly to lubricate AMTRAK railroad from coast to coast and, of course enough diabetic test supplies to bleed out an elephant. Her real desire ran much deeper than any of that, and I sensed that in spite of anything she said about “I loved you kids,” deep down she resented every single one of us for leaving her true desire for us all to circle back around her, unfulfilled.

But as for poor Diane, in the early years she had been forced to be the one who saw to it that the rest of us kids were taken care of, in any way she could, when my mother couldn’t or simply wouldn’t. Not just because as the oldest was she thrust into the role by my parents, but somehow she had been made to internalize responsibility for the rest of us in some way, although she was still a child herself. She’s carried this inexplicable belief that she had to take care of everyone throughout her life.

At twelve years old she’d make us dinner out of whatever she could scrape together, help us wash our clothes, and make sure we had something to eat for breakfast and school lunch every day. Even if it was just a bowl of thin Cream of Wheat in the morning and a peanut butter or cheese sandwich for lunch, we never left the house without at least something in our stomach and a little brown lunch bag in our hand. She’d use some of the few dollars she made once in a while babysitting to buy a package of cookies so we’d have a treat to look forward to. She’d even pick crab apples from a neighbor’s yard. Every year going back to school we’d beg our parents for a real lunch box with a thermos in it like most of the other kids had in which they carried cold milk or hot tomato soup. Maybe one decorated with The Jetsons or The Flintsones, but we never got one.

My mother would stay in bed most mornings, saying she was fighting her nerves or perhaps the usual headache brought on by another night of what she’d be sure to describe to all of us as some sort of sexual terror behind the bedroom door, so Diane missed more and more school each year until she just dropped out by the tenth grade. Ma was always telling my sisters how horrible Dad had been to her after any given night in the bedroom and describe how she’d “just laid there” and let him do it and how he forced her to put her mouth “down there.”

It wasn’t uncommon for her to do this while holding a conference in the bathroom. She’d seat herself on the toilet and my sisters would line up on the edge of the tub facing her, mouths agape as she spoke. While most mothers’ talks with their daughters were more focused on helping them to learn about life and cope with the pressures of growing up and slowly unfold the facts of life and womanhood, my mother’s “mother-daughter” talks were of a different nature, and not of the nurturing kind, that’s for sure.
It was during those bathroom talks my sisters told me that they learned many things from my mother that no child should ever see, hear, or know from a parent. One of those things Ma felt compelled to share with them was that revelation that my father had torn off her pretty white dress and raped her on their wedding night. But, of course, she said, “What could she do?”

To me, that particular story was nothing more than another example of the types of psychological weapons she deployed from her heavily stockpiled armory of emotional manipulation that she aimed with accuracy at my sisters’ already vulnerable psyches. It was insidious disclosures like these with their sexual overtones that Ma used to subtly and slyly weave over them a smothering blanket of guilt, sympathy for her and fear when it came to my father and men in general, and to strengthen their belief that they had to protect her from some constant threat of harm from Dad lest she leave them, and to steadily build on their ever-growing fear and loathing for him, never mentioning her protection of them.

I’m told a couple of Ma’s other bathroom lectures to further my sisters’ education included a demonstration on how to properly insert a diaphragm, even though she called herself a “good Catholic,” and to explain to them one of her favorite tricks saying that “if you put just a little ketchup on a sanitary napkin you can fake your period so a man won’t want to have sex with you!” She told them that if it worked for her like a charm every time with a man like Georgie, it would work on any guy.

End of Chapter 6….

Chapter 6, Begins…

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Chapter 6 – “Mothers are all slightly insane.” – J.D. Salinger

“Yes, I know, she’s got her troubles, that one,” Ma said talking about Diane while dabbing her puffy eyes with a piece of balled up old bathroom tissue that she then stuffed into the sleeve of her robe.

“Exactly right Ma, please just give her a break okay?” I asked. I glanced out of the picture window, and from my vantage point I could see just the back of Jody’s head, her pretty long dark hair bobbing on her shoulders as she spoke with the woman next door in her driveway.

In spite of my mother’s phony half-hearted sympathy for her, Diane was the one the rest of us worried about most. She was a physical wreck, but that didn’t stop Ma from calling her a dozen times a day to lament her own life and loneliness, and to complain about something or someone. She was relentless in her demands for Diane’s time and attention, and seemed to have no limit to the level of strain she was willing to exert upon her. She’d call and plead with Diane to come over, crying and acting panicky, or beg her to go to the store for her as she was almost out of orange juice or some other unnecessary necessity wailing “please help me!”

As frustrating as it was for Diane, she almost always could not resist. My mother had galvanized her with guilt from such a very young age so I supposed she was just too conditioned to do otherwise. Full of anger, she’d come over to perform her duty by going out to fetch the orange juice or whatever it was Ma needed and bring it by only to have Ma say something like “Oh, I forgot to tell you I needed bread too, would you mind going back out?” sending Diane spiraling into a rage. This scene was repeated at least every other week or so and I’d get a call from Diane wanting to vent. They’d have a screaming match with Diane storming out as Trudy sobbed and begged her not to go saying “please don’t be mad at me!” Ma would then call me blubbering, saying Diane had gotten mad at her “for no reason” and had screamed at her and wasn’t that elderly abuse?

This was a question she’d also posed to a first responder on one of the many midnight rides that followed those occasions when she’d fake dizziness, and or an anxiety attack, and press the emergency services button that was a fixture around her neck. She would do this after feeling particularly neglected or whenever some other family crisis such as, oh I don’t know, say a relative’s death, would take attention away from her.

I warned her after her last episode that if she pressed that button again and generated another needless early AM journey to the emergency room, she’d better plan on staying. I even packed a small red suitcase I’d stuffed with some of her clothing and showed it to her as I placed it as a threat by the front door, where it still sits.

“See this suitcase?” Push that thing again for no reason and I’ll be bringing it to you in the hospital so you’ll have a change of clothes to wear on the way to assisted living!”

This was the only leverage we could try to use to get her to stop her theatrics, but she knew it would never really happen. I’d promised her that as long as she was healthy enough to live alone in her own home, that’s what would happen. She was fine physically. Although she had her psychological issues, she wasn’t the one suffering from any of the effects of those. She left that to the rest of us to deal with.

“Oh no, please, please, don’t put me away,” she’d sob.

“Well, then cut the games out Ma. You’re healthy as a horse and you know it, and those ambulance rides cost over thirteen hundred bucks every time you do this!”

“But I don’t have to pay, right?” she’d ask no real concern in her voice. She knew she didn’t. Medicare and CHAMPVA benefits saw to that. Between her husbands, her children, the state and the federal government, she never earned or paid for a damn thing on her own in her entire life.  She’d had at least six of these jaunts to the Faulkner Hospital in the last couple of years, all unnecessary as it would turn out, and all for attention according to the doctors. Wow, really? She clung to the part of her fantasy, I guess, that saw all of her kids come running to the hospital to “save Ma,” just like she’d, with ease, get them to run down the hall when they were children the minute she was thought to be in any distress.   On one of those bumpy joy rides, the concerned EMT asked if she’d been eating well. In a weak voice she lied to him “No, I don’t see any of my children and my refrigerator is empty most of the time. Maybe I could get Meals on Wheels since my family doesn’t help me?”

The next day I got a call from Elder Services of Boston and another concerned and accusatory social worker asked me if I was aware that my mother had been rushed to the hospital and that she was living alone, helpless, and hungry, and did I want to sign her up for Meals on Wheels? Ma used to receive those but she kept piling them up like cordwood in her freezer because she’d never eat them and considered them “gahbage,” just like Salisbury steak frozen dinners before the gravy was rinsed off of them. I had convinced her that there were truly more needy people out there across the city that would eat them, and since she had enough means to buy her own food which she did anyway, she needed to stop getting them.

I set the social worker straight right away on everything and arranged a meeting at my mother’s house for the following week where I gave the woman a detailed etiology of Ma’s histrionics. We spoke in front of my mother as if she wasn’t even there, and the social worker said she’d spread the word to the Faulkner emergency medical personnel, but I told her no need as they’d already had her figured out as one of their “frequent flyers,” a term they used for people like her. Ma just gave me a dirty look at hearing that but didn’t say anything.

To be continued….

Chapter 5, Conclusion…

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“Excuse me?” I replied, feigning innocence. Guess he must have heard about the Marines and I should have expected this knowing him.
“What’s this shit about quitting school and joining the service?”
“That’s right Coach,” I told him, laying out my plan. “Home has nothing for me, and I know I’ll never get a hockey scholarship with my grades. And this busing garbage sucks. I’ll do my time then go to college using the GI Bill when I get out.”

“Oh really?” he sighed. “Now how the hell are you going to go to college without a high school diploma?”

“Crap.” I hadn’t thought of that.

“Well, you can always get your GED while you’re in the service and hope a shit school will take you with that” he said shaking his head. “But good luck with that.”

He got me thinking. My lousy grades in high school really had nothing to do with my academic ability. I earned my failing grades by skipping class and frequent absenteeism. At that point in my life I was pretty much angry all the time it seemed. I was pissed off at my useless parents, angry with the turmoil at school, and fed up with my rotten and abscessed teeth that just hurt all the time. The only time I felt any contentment at all was on the ice or at Mass, and I hadn’t been there in a while. None of us kids had ever been taken to a dentist, but I figured the Marines would fix me up. I’d get free room and board and medical treatment. They would give me the chance to prove I wasn’t destined to always be an insecure, skinny, kid who might make good someday. I would challenge every weakness that I knew I had both mentally and physically, and return a man in spite of no one, including my own father, ever helping to show me the way. I’d do it on my own. I could see myself coming home on leave in my crisp uniform, a proud and muscle bound trained killer.

“Look Mike, come back for senior year, play hockey, then if you still want to join the service or do something else you can! Busing is easing up, everyone sees that. You’re only seventeen, so don’t rush away your options.” Mr. Lewis picked up my check in spite of my protests and took it to the cashier, paid, and headed for the exit. One hand on the door, he stopped and turned back towards me.

“Think about it Mike. I’ll work with the faculty so you can make up the ground you lost last year. If you’re willing to work, they’ll go for it. The admin offices are open all summer. Go re-enroll.” Then he walked out and back the way he came towards Cleary Square.

I watched him until he was gone out of sight, then slurped down the rest of my vanilla milkshake and felt the brain freeze coming on. I pushed the cold glass hard against my lower left jaw to try to numb the throbbing tooth. I could taste puss. I slid out of the booth and stood out in front of the restaurant and spat a yellow wad onto the ground. Right would take me back to the center of Cleary Square and my bus stop. Turn left, and River Street would wind me around, past the municipal building and YMCA, down to Metropolitan Avenue, and Hyde Park High School.

I turned left.

I moved in with family friends of my girlfriend’s parents that lived two doors down from their house up on the hill on Maple Street across from the Most Precious Blood church. It was arranged under the provision that I went to school and did chores around the house, and with all of their support and encouragement I graduated high school the following June. My girlfriend’s dad, although a former Marine himself who had served with the other tough-as-nails devil dogs of the “Frozen Chosin” during the Korean War, extolled to me the virtues of the high tech training and the much grander quality of life the Air Force could provide, so I switched gears from my Marine Corps idea, and just one week after graduation, on Friday the thirteenth, I flew off to Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas, headed to basic training, my first-ever real dental treatment, and into the wild blue yonder.
“Well, I’m glad your home now,” Dad said startling me. I was taken aback a bit as he’d never said anything like that to me before. Maybe he thought Mighty Mike could fix him too.

Looking at him then, I felt my first sense of pity, for both of us, at knowing he was going to die soon. Unexpected little pangs of regret and sadness came over me as I thought about all the years of not really knowing him and not having had him as the kind of father to whom a son could turn to when he needed him, even if only for a ride to hockey practice or a game of catch. And sadness at being twenty-two years old and unable to conjure up even one happy memory to tell anyone, about some special day we’d spent together when I was a kid much like my Air Force buddies would always do on Father’s Day.
He was the one dying I thought, so stop feeling sorry for yourself. He put food in your mouth and a roof over your head hadn’t he? What more did you want?

“Me too, Dad, me too,” I said.

Chapter 5, Continued..

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I discovered great joy in every smooth stride, the ice crunching under my blades, and in every crisp pass that I sent spinning up the ice or slamming off the boards, or in hearing the sound of the puck caroming of a goal post with a loud clank. Each time I stepped onto the ice on the pond or at the rink I felt untouchable, in spite of the physical play. It toughened me up because I wouldn’t last long otherwise competing among the bigger and stronger kids and no way would I allow myself to be run off the ice. I felt free to fly in a way I could never have imagined and was amazed at the abilities that God seemed to have just reached down and given me in such a swift and unexpected fashion when pretty much every other player on the team had been skating since the age of five or six and spent years developing in local youth hockey leagues the degree of skill that it normally took to become good enough to play in the tough Boston District high school leagues of the 1970’s.

But somehow, it was as though my feet, hands, and brain just knew how to do it. But although I might have looked on the outside every bit as confident as my skills and disposition seemed to imply, no one could see the self-doubt that haunted me as it always had about everything I did to that point in my life. It didn’t matter that I kept repeating my on-ice success and that I was getting better all the time and that I’d fight anyone no matter how big and no matter how many times I may have lost because I had to. I had to fight not only because if you didn’t you’d get no respect and you wouldn’t last long, but I did it more to keep proving over and over to myself that I’d never be like him. No one was going to punch my face through a car window or anywhere else and get away with it.

But deep down I also felt something like a fraud, a Johnny come lately compared to all of those three letter jocks, all of whom it seemed had a real hockey dad who drove them to the rink in a warm station wagon while mine had never even seen me play never mind giving me a ride to the rink. They had the best skates and sticks, while I dragged an old army duffel bag full of smelly used equipment and a couple of cracked hockey sticks held together with tape onto a city trolley that would take me from Forest Hills Station to the stop on Huntington Avenue that was closest to the old and dilapidated Boston Arena, alone. I couldn’t help but feel like I was an imposter. Like they were born rich and had some sort of pedigree and I was a poor relative or some sort of charity case trying figure out how to use the silver the right way at a fancy dinner.

Although I had a couple of close friends, I felt as if I wasn’t one of them although we shared the same passion for the game and the dream to play college then maybe pro hockey one day. It was as though they had a resume that I lacked and I’d be found out and let go. Coach had some faith that I could play college hockey, or even perhaps beyond, if I worked at my academics and got into the weight room for maybe a year or two at a junior college and bulked up a lot. Then, he said, who knows? Though coach’s prediction about my hockey future didn’t happen quite that way, it did turn out, however, that while he didn’t know it, he was the one that had ended up putting my life on the right course. Hell he’d helped save it.

It was July of 1974, in what was the summer of what would have been between my junior and senior year at Hyde Park High School if I hadn’t quit. I was considering signing up for a hitch with the Marine Corps and was setting up taking a physical and some other type of aptitude test. I couldn’t imagine what in the hell the test could be for, when all my seventeen year-old brain could imagine myself doing as a Marine would be to get my head shaved and learn how to pound my fellow Marines with a pugil stick and how to thrust a bayonet deep into the chest cavity of my fellow human beings on some beach head in a place I couldn’t pronounce and I couldn’t wait.

I went around humming the Marine Corps song and I loved their motto Semper Fi short for Semper Fidelis meaning “always faithful” and the fact that only Marines got to say that and wear it with pride. I was hoping the recruiter would give me one of those yellow and red T-shirts with those words printed across the front in bold red, but I knew I couldn’t ever wear it until I’d earned it by completing basic training.

I was hanging out alone in Brigham’s, stuffing down hamburgers and a milkshake. At five foot nine inches, I only weighed one-hundred and thirty-five pounds, and I’d learned I’d need to be at least one-hundred and thirty-eight pounds to be accepted for any kind of final enlistment. It wasn’t until my early twenties that I saw my height jump to almost six feet and when I’d add another forty-five pounds between the gym and the three squares a day I’d get from the military. I was sitting in a booth facing the window and could see my hockey coach approaching from the center of Cleary Square. “That’s strange,” I thought as he walked in. “He lives in East Boston, what the hell is he doing here?”

“Thought maybe I’d find you here,” said Mr. Lewis.

Brigham’s was where a lot of the “jocks” hung out both during and between school years, and he’d join us sometimes after a practice at the MDC rink for a bite or a frappe. My girlfriend worked there part-time, although she was now off duty, and always gave us freebies when her boss wasn’t looking. I always opted for the butterscotch sundae, with vanilla ice cream, extra syrup.

“Hey Mr. Lewis, what’s up?” I said, puzzled.

“You sport, you’re what’s up. Just what the hell do you think you’re doing?” he said, sliding into the opposite side of the booth.

More to follow….

More Chapter 5…..

Readville Sign

I played hooky and spent the next day waiting outside a friend’s house in Readville until he got home from school, and convinced him to let me sleep in the back seat of his beat up Pontiac Bonneville convertible until I could figure something out. I’d been there a couple of nights when Diane came looking and found me and convinced me to come and stay with her and her new friends over near Green Street in Jamaica Plain where they shared a flat, then not long thereafter we all moved over to another place in Cambridge, just behind Central Square. I ended up staying there and commuting to school over in Hyde Park High via an unregistered 1965 Chevy Corvair. I bought it for fifty bucks from one of Diane’s friends. It had a leaky exhaust that gave everyone who rode in it a splitting headache from the fumes, so we had to ride around all winter with the windows open, and it was so small I had to let my hockey sticks hang out the window on the way to games.

I’d only sneak home to see Ma and everyone whenever Dad was at work, and I never slept another night under his roof and didn’t see him again until about a year later when they had by then moved again, this time to River Street in Hyde Park, not far from Cleary Square. He hadn’t once looked for or reached out to me from the moment I was out of his sight that night on Bradeen Street which was just fine with me. I just walked into the house one day to see Ma and there he was at the kitchen table, chomping on sardines out of a can, taking them out one by one with his bare fingers dropping them in exaggerated fashion into his toothless mouth as he made smacking noises. He looked up at me and nodded and with his mouth full said “Hey pal,” but avoided eye contact. Good, he was uncomfortable. I was a little nervous and wary about seeing him myself, but I knew I couldn’t avoid him forever so had made the decision to stop by knowing he was home and by now, harmless to me.

“Hey,” I nodded back and that signified our truce.

I started stopping by some nights to see my siblings and would maybe play a few games of cribbage with him as the dialogue between us increased over time and the tension eased, but we never spoke about what had happened that night in the kitchen on Bradeen Street. My father had no passion for playing sports as I did, but he enjoyed games of all kinds, like canasta or cribbage. I wasn’t much for most board games myself, but we both loved cribbage ever since he taught me to play when I was eight. Little did I know that his old wooden cribbage board with the ivory pegs that he’d picked up somewhere during his time in the military would serve years later as our main diversion from talking about the past or thinking about the present as he wasted away during the final weeks he had left on this earth.

So there I was, living with Diane and her friends, Vicky and Steve, who were a married couple her age whom she met one night at the legendary Can Tab Lounge in Cambridge. They’d hang around there on weekends drinking Budweisers from the bottle, eating bar pizzas and listening to great jazz music. They became very close, and it wasn’t long before Diane and her kids had moved in with them. Her husband, Bob, was over in Okinawa serving in the Marine Corps and she partied a lot while he was away. After his discharge he came back, opened a sandwich shop, and poor guy, only in his thirties, died of a heart attack just a few years later.

After that, at one time or another some of my brothers and sisters had rotated moving in there as I had, and Vicky as we’d come to appreciate became a second mother to us. Hell, a real mother. They provided us with a safe place where there was always rock and roll, the occasional but supervised six pack of beer, a lot of laughter and of course Vicky’s famous pasta sauce with pepperoni chunks. She and Steven were two of the most generous people I’ve ever known, and they made a huge difference at times when some of us really needed it most. This was especially true for my brother David when the time came for him to make his own escape from my crazy parents, and he and Vicky became very close and he still calls her Mom and looks after her.

Even though I’d gone back to school, when I was seventeen I decided to quit although I’d almost completed my junior year, and began plans to join up with the Marines in the fall. In my teenage mind it was screw Boston, screw my family. Forced busing had turned the Boston public schools into a very dangerous place and no one was getting an education anyway between the riots in the streets and cafeterias and the rocks hurled at the school buses. And even if I finished school, there would be no money for college unless I could scrounge a hockey scholarship at a state school where if I was lucky I’d earn a third rate associates degree and then what would I do for the next two years to pay to finish up with a bachelors? Would I even be considered good enough to play hockey in a higher division? I just felt like I had to make something happen as it was obvious that stuff wasn’t just going to come to me.

I was on the high school hockey team and in spite of being, I’m sure, one of the scrawniest, but scrappiest, athletes in school history, I was actually pretty good at both hockey and baseball but hockey was what I loved most, and a sport I took to it at once. I’d laced on a pair of worn out hand me down no-name skates at the MDC rink in Hyde Park a mere four years before, but once on the ice it was as if I were a baby thrown into a pool that started instinctively to swim. I’m not sure why, but I could just skate.

I took to it so naturally that I made the varsity roster after only one year of honing my skills on the reedy ponds by the Fairview cemetery in Readville that would unknowingly turn out to be my parents’ final resting place. We’d play all day on the weekends, then under the bridge’s street lights at night during the week with our toes frozen. And we played pick-up games at the MDC rink where everyone threw in five bucks apiece to rent the ice for a couple of hours after making up sides. It wasn’t uncommon for us do this at three in the morning since ice time was so scarce. In spite of just one year on my hockey resume, in no time I became among the fastest skaters with the slick stick handling and shooting skills to match and people actually wanted me on their team along with the other first players chosen. I couldn’t get enough time on the ice.

Chapter 5 to be continued….

Chapter 5…continues….

Readville Sign

“So, where’s Ma?” I asked.

“Who the fuck knows and who cares?” he lisped, bitterness in his voice and with his eyes maybe even a little teary. “She’s probably off picking up more of her fuckin’ nutty pills at the CVS.” That, of course, would mean valium.
By all accounts, Ma had been doing the best she could to bathe and feed him in spite of his belligerence while enduring his constant insistence that he’ll “fuckin’ show ‘em all” once he got back on his feet and on the job again. Of course, that would never happen.

“So, when are you getting the fuck out of the Army?” he asked, always one of his first questions whenever I came home.

“It’s the Air Force Dad, and I just reenlisted for another four years,” I said. Joining the military as a career wasn’t something I’d really planned, but I knew as the end of my first hitch was coming up that I had to do something since I had no other real plan or else I could still end up like him. Not an abusive bully, but for sure laboring at some minimum wage job at the Westinghouse plant in Readville or some other dead-end factory existence. Nothing wrong with making a living that way, but I wanted more than that for a life and more even more important was the idea of being back home and thus immersed back into the family circus was not only unthinkable but downright terrifying to me in many ways. No, I wasn’t about to do anything but keep moving forward at as great a speed and distance as I could and the Air Force was the way to do that.

Dad didn’t know it but my joining the Air Force was set in motion when I left home at just fifteen after a fight with him, and I ended up moving in with some of Diane’s friends who all lived in communal fashion in a triple decker in Jamaica Plain on a dead end road just off of Green Street, on Greenley Place, not far from the apartment we’d lived in where I experienced that First Communion beating.

It was about two in the morning when the fight happened and when we were living on Bradeen Street, a few streets down from Roslindale Square and just shy of the Jamaica Plain line near Forest Hills. I‘d woken up, startled, to the sounds of my mother screaming something at him from the kitchen. I got up from the couch where I slept most nights covered with a dirty sheet, and went into the kitchen and saw her standing by the refrigerator with a skimpy robe pulled tight around her middle, glaring at him. What was the bastard up to now? Before I could say anything he turned and screamed at me in that lisp, spitting “get back to fucking bed, you little prick, this doesn’t concern you!”

I don’t know what they were fighting about and didn’t really care, it just sounded like from her screaming he was hitting her so of course I clicked into “protect Ma” mode. Maybe it was about some new perversion that even she didn’t want to participate in, who knows, but either way something inside me snapped when he yelled at me like that and I knew in that instant that this would be the last time I was going to let him try to push me around. Reaching down and getting the courage from somewhere, everywhere, I erupted back, my voice trembling but louder than I’d ever heard it. “No, fuck you!” I couldn’t believe I was hearing my own voice.

Things seemed to move in slow motion as he lunged towards me, and with both hands shoved me in the chest harder than I expected and up against the refrigerator as he worked to pin me there with his left hand while trying to backhand me across the face with the other. I was in a full rage and blocked his arm at the wrist with ease, deflecting it away, and charged back towards him screaming “I hate you! You’re the prick!” as I shoved him back in the chest with both of my hands feeling both shocked and exhilarated, but also scared at the rush of adrenalin by what I’d just done.
His expression was more stunned than angry, and he let his arms go to his side as we stood there glaring at each other. All that was pent up inside me for so many years now fueled my anger and my strength and I kept coming at him, wrapping my hands around his neck, tight as I could. Frightened by the ferocity I felt, I flung him off to the side, again with surprising ease, his hip bouncing off the kitchen table as he almost lost his balance. He recovered his footing and rubbed his neck with his right hand, seeming surprised at the sudden counter attack and tried to come back at me as my mother jumped between us, hysterical, pushing him back out of the kitchen a little too easily it seemed towards the bedroom. By now some of my siblings were also up and in the hallway by the tiny kitchen screaming for us to stop.

I could see his attempts to get around her and back at me were half-hearted, and that he had that same look on his face he did the day that man punched him in the head through the car window as my mother continued to coax him back into the bedroom yelling at me to get out. I could also see by his expression and the way he wouldn’t look me in the face that he’d never have the nerve to raise a hand to me again, those days were over.

I had to get away. I ran to the dilapidated black lacquered dresser in the hallway between the living room and the other bedrooms and snatched what clothes I could, stuffed them into a brown paper bag, then bundled it up and ran out to his screams of “get the fuck back here” over my shoulder. I ran under the street lamps of Hyde Park Avenue for about ten minutes then slowed to a walk not stopping until I reached Cleary Square. No one came after me.

To be continued…

Chapter 5, Continues Still…

Readville Sign

A quick note to readers. Publication process is underway. Working with the publisher on book set type, formatting, cover design, etc., and will keep you posted as things progress. Should have more news in a couple of weeks. Many thanks to you all!

“Does he know?” I said in a voice more calm than I felt.

“Supposedly, but the crazy fuck keeps talking about going back to work.” She pulled up at the curb in front of their place and let the car idle in park.

“Aren’t you coming in?” I asked.

“Fuck no. Go get ‘em Mighty Mike” she smirked.

Her bitterness as always on display, still ran deep, and was not unexpected. In talking with her now it seemed to me she didn’t even really feel hate any more as much as it was that she just didn’t care what happened to him.
“Pick me up in an hour then, okay?” I asked. “I’ll take us to lunch at Papa Gino’s in Cleary Square. Can’t wait to get a couple of slices and a coke, I’m starving.” Papa Gino’s was always among my first stops when I came home.
“You got it,” Karen said.

I walked up the creaky porch steps, let myself in, and made my way down the quiet hall to where I supposed was the living room. I could see his Winston glowing in the dark from the silhouette of his “throne” in the corner of the room. Jerry was standing vigilant by its side, as always, overflowing with butts smoked all the way down to the filters. “Fuck cancer” I’d come to learn was his message. Although it was only mid-afternoon, the window shades were down, adding even more to my sense of foreboding.
“Hey Dad,” I said, as I crossed the threshold into the living room as my eyes adjusted to the dark. Seeing it was me, he put down the cigarette and stubbed it out with one jab then pushed himself up with both arms and stood feebly. His gauntness was startling. Seeing him this way, it seemed more like he had six days instead of maybe six months to live.

He had always been considered handsome and was constantly pulling a comb from his back pocket to pull his wavy black hair sharp to the right creating a perfect and even part. He kept a “regular haircut,” and always made me do the same when I was a kid. No “fucking hippies” would live in his house. I couldn’t stand the foul smelling hair tonic the barber would streak down my hair with both hands before parting it on the side with the sharp teeth of his comb, making it look exactly like Dad’s. His hair was now almost totally silver and shaggy and no longer combed very well although I could tell he was still trying.

He stood gingerly and looked at me with surprise, and his baggy eyes were yellowed, fuzzy, and bloodshot. They were a little moist too and his cheeks were collapsed in on his face like two deflated balloons. The effect was even more exaggerated as it always was since he wasn’t wearing his dentures. We hugged awkwardly because I didn’t know what else to do, and I could feel his bony spine through the flimsy blue plaid flannel robe. I couldn’t remember the last time we’d physically touched each other. His breath had the familiar strong smell of a mix of coffee and tobacco. I had to hide my shock at seeing him so deteriorated this way in just the five months since I’d left for Europe. It occurred to me now how I’d noticed the night before I’d left that he seemed a little bit thin.

“How are you feeling Dad?” is all I could muster as he settled back into the taped up recliner while I pulled up a side chair and marveled at his unimaginable transformation from those days when all I saw him as was a merciless, larger than life tyrant into now just a feeble shell of his former self. Seeing him this way made me realize he never really was larger than life at all, it only seemed that way.

“Ah, those fucking doctors put me through hell,” he said. “Sticking needles all over the fucking place—nothing but a bunch of quacks!”
Unlike my mother, Dad had no sense of deference to any kind of authority. He had a special disdain for medical professionals, and scoffed at anyone that did. “Fuckin’ quacks” covered medical doctors, and “fuckin’ shrinks” covered the psychiatric profession—the one in which my mother was profoundly immersed, earning her the title “fuckin’ neurotic.”

Those of us kids, pretty much all of us as it turned out, that went through our staggered bouts of depression and emotional disorder during childhood got that label at one time or another as well. When I turned eleven when living in Mission Hill, I was experiencing what were explained to me as anxiety attacks, when my mother finally took me to see someone at the Children’s Hospital in Boston. I began having bouts of panic accompanied by a strange feeling of what I explained to the doctor as “floating outside of myself.” I became concerned when the counselor explained that what I was dealing with was a short bout of what she called “dissociative disorder,” a term I came to better understand much later. But I relaxed when she told me that it was nothing to be alarmed about, and that, in fact, in my particular case and considering my “family dynamics” it was quite a “functional response” to temporarily step outside of reality for a bit. I didn’t really comprehend this but felt better at the reassurance.

As for my father’s coping with the acceptance of his disease, it’s said that most cancer patients lucky enough to have loving people around them do okay dealing with the loneliness and depression that accompanies it. I’m not sure how it must have been for Dad since taking a look around it was easy to see that loving people were in short supply. Through the years we had all considered our relationship, really more or less our coexistence, with our father as an “us against him” thing, and in the back of our minds as we watched him waste away I think everyone believed that somehow his imminent death was like God’s justice to us—payback time. Ding dong the devil would be dead, right? That is what everyone wanted, right? The suffering would then be over for everyone—most true for my mother, right?

To be continued….

Chapter 5, Begins…

Readville Sign

Chapter 5

Karen came next in the birth order, and she and I were most close having established an unspoken alliance from our youngest years. I think it was because somehow we’d managed to find the humor in most everything and we typically didn’t take crap from anyone. I think it was that humor though that helped us to turn out to be maybe the strongest two of the eight of us kids although I’d use that description for any of us with at least a little grain of salt. Plus, because we stood up for ourselves, we both had enough natural fight wired into us to not get easily pushed around.

Unlike my other sisters Karen, and to a large degree Judy, seemed to have received some kind of psychological inoculation against succumbing to my mother’s best attempts to lure them into taking a big gulp of the potion from her bubbling cauldron of neurotic tea. The one from which Diane and Loretta in particular would, unfortunately for them, be forced to slurp with abandon thanks to Ma’s efforts.

In terms of helping manage Ma’s chronic neediness, Karen would check in and help from time-to-time, but living up in Maine made it difficult. She’d always dreamt of settling there and finally made the move. For years before she’d have nothing to do with the “nut bag” on Sanford Street, but more as a favor to me, she’d put her animosity aside and step in when she could in a clinical but unemotional way which was many times even more beneficial. Growing up, both of my parents knew that Karen was not easy prey, so Ma would just let her run the streets, especially after she’d kicked her out of the house for the umpteenth time, and Georgie knew better than to include her in any of his incestuous fantasies with which he regaled my mother as they made those muffled noises in the middle of the night.

She had carved out a good life near the beach with her husband and her dogs up in Maine, and I was happy for her. Sure, she had her own level of bitterness over the past, but she did not let it affect her life as much as most of the others had. It was Karen who picked me up at Logan airport in Boston when I came back home after getting the unexpected news in mid-October 1980.
I was just pulling the muddy jeep into the parking bay on Flak Kaserne after a long rainy day in a convoy droning down the autobahn with my mobile squadron, the 6913th, as we returned to home base in Augsburg, Germany. We had just completed a two week deployment and were all grateful to be back from our classified location near a forest just outside of Cologne, and very much looking forward to a real shower and a bed more than six inches off of the ground. I cut the choke on the engine as I eyed the operations officer’s approach. After a quick salute and welcome back, he said the First Sergeant needed to see me right away and was waiting in his office.

“Yes, Mike, please have a seat,” said the First Sergeant. He handed me a telegram-like piece of paper, sent by the Red Cross as indicated by the distinctive logo on the heading. I did a quick scan down the yellow paper with the teletype print and saw “emergency surgery had been performed two days ago,” and “your return to home of record is necessary and urgent.” The next day I was high over the Atlantic crammed in a middle seat at the back of a DC-8 that was shuttling soldiers, airmen, and their families back to “the World,” as we called the States, and trying to sleep as a dozen or more babies cried nonstop, I’m sure their ears popping.

Karen filled me in on what was going on during our drive from the airport to my parent’s apartment, yet another home I’d never seen before. Turned out they now lived in a two-family duplex just off of Cummings Highway in Roslindale, near Fallon Field where I’d gotten my first hit playing Babe Ruth baseball in an itchy woolen uniform with “Roche Brothers Butcher” embroidered across the front. It was on a swinging bunt on a fastball that I never even saw that trickled to the pitcher, the ball spinning so wildly he couldn’t field it in time to throw me out. To me, it was as good as a hard shot up the middle and I stood on first base, beaming.

Wow, that must put the moves over a hundred by now, I mused, as I sat in the passenger seat now listening to Rick Springfield singing about “Jessie’s Girl” on WRKO radio. Through the fog of jet lag and as my sister began to give me the details, I noticed the trees were starting to turn to those amazing brilliant shades of red, orange, and gold. It was my favorite time of the year in New England, and in spite of the reason for being there it was great to be back home in Boston. The air rushing through the vents in the dashboard smelled fresh and familiar.

“Well, you know what a stubborn ass he is,” Karen was saying. “He’d been feeling shitty and losing weight for weeks then woke up last week, skin yellow as baby shit. Ma had to call an ambulance because he wouldn’t go the hospital on his own. They just sent him home day before yesterday.”
Karen said the jaundice had been so bad he could barely move. “So what are the doctors saying?” I asked.

Without emotion she said, “Pancreatic cancer. It’s terminal.”

“Wow, nothing they can do?”

“Nope, it’s inoperable. They sliced him open, sewed him up, and are giving him six months to a year, the bastard.”

Chapter 5 to continue….
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