It used to freak dad out when I could draw the floor plans of the apartments we lived in when I was two to five years old (2 different places). I was well into my 40s at that point. I remember trivial things, as well as some things that have partially defined me. Some are good. Some, not so much. But in a lot of ways, I’m glad I have a fairly complete ‘data base’ in my head. There are some exceptions to that.
When I think back about some events-whether personal or not- I first ‘see’ where I was living or the situation. That narrows down the time frame. In photos (and I used to take a LOT of photos- at family parties, I’d hear “how many rolls of film did you bring?”), I could tell the year by the home/apartment I was in, both before and after moving out as an adult. I moved a lot when I lived in Texas- sometimes just to go somewhere else, and other times I moved between the city and a smaller town. I had something like 17 addresses in 17 years, and mom started to put me in her address book in pencil.
Like the bomb threat to our house, called in to dad during a church service. He was pulled out of the service to get the call- unheard of. The pastor offered to let us stay at his house, but dad said no- the police had cleared the house, and I was told not to get the mail for a while. I was 12 and terrified. I still came home to an empty house after school. I couldn’t touch the mailbox next to the front door. Something could blow up.
With traveling, I remember food (and many other things, but a lot about food… probably relates to elements of the Keys Study). In St. Moritz, I was so ‘done’ with looking at antiques that I told my folks I was going to find ice cream. Normally, that wouldn’t have been allowed from a ‘don’t get fat’ standpoint, but in Europe, it gave me something to do, and I was walking a lot (when not in the car- we did 6000 miles in a month). I’d been walking up and down the main street, and finally found a tavern that also had ice cream, so I joined the guys who were drinking, and had my bowl of ice cream (dad was a great ‘bank’ for exchanging currency- he always added a bit extra of the currency du jour, so I carried my own money). That’s where they found me. I was thirteen years old. Keep in mind, I had a key to the house when I was six, so taking off on my own was ‘normal’. Being in another country, where I didn’t speak the language, didn’t bother me in the least. I picked up enough by visually seeing words to get my point across. And a lot of people spoke English well, so it all worked out. On the boat from Calais, France to Dover, England (this was 1977, long before The Chunnel), there was finally somebody serving up the food in the ferry’s cafeteria who I understood. I asked him if I could please not have any peas with the fish and chips, and he replied with words from God (to me anyway) “Then you must need more chips”. My hero. Normally, French fries were only allowed on the pilgrimage to McDonald’s after I’d gotten my report cards.
In Sweden, my great-aunts met my folks and me for the first and only time. I knew very little Swedish (can read a little now, and speak enough to be polite and not end up dehydrated), and it sounded like a trio of Swedish Chefs from the Muppets (mom knew more than she spoke). Now and then it would sound like “Urdah woo dee, Yill, ha ha” … they were talking about me. I ended up talking to the donkey at the farm next door- he seemed to like the attention, as he was always by the fence when I walked outside, after seeing me from across his pasture the first day. Anyway, they lived on Öland, and kroppkakkor was one of the area staples. It’s essentially a large potato dumpling stuffed with salt pork and spices- and a gut bomb. But something I had now and then growing up, thanks to some old-school Swede’s who ran a little mom & pop grocery store. In Northern Sweden, near Umeå and the midnight summer sun, where the other Swedish roots were, I remember the ‘saft’ (soda). I didn’t recognize the flavor, but loved it- I think now that it was blackcurrant. On tours through various breweries in Europe, I was the only kid, so at the ‘sample tables’ after the tours, I ended up with all of the soda- mostly tasting some flavors i’d never had, and settling in on one bottle that was vaguely familiar or delightfully new.
In Paris, there was a little tiny storefront that sold various street-type food, and pizza was the only thing that I’d touch- it was about 5 inches across, with black olives and a dead fish in the middle, and he always baked it too dark. We ate there every day in Paris, much to my horror. (It was still a break from the peanut butter mom had packed for frugal meals; buy a loaf of bread, and eat along the roadside). I also scared mom and dad half to death in Paris when they thought I’d been kidnapped (after being ‘loose’ most of the time the previous three weeks). I was so exhausted from the sight seeing that I wanted to take dad’s single room in the ‘attic’, instead of mom waking me up when she came back from a boat ride on the Seine to our double room. I was out cold in minutes. The next morning, they told me they pounded on the door of this little 7 x 9 foot room, and I heard nothing. After yelling my name, they got the manager to open the door, where I was still dead to the world. The Voltaire Inn, now called Hôtel Paris Voltaire… across from the Louvre. That’s also where I saw the newspaper about the new Swedish princess, who was born a couple of weeks after we were in Sweden. Crown Princess Victoria Ingrid Alice Desireé.
Along the Rhine in Germany, we’d stopped for lunch at a place with outdoor tables. The views were incredible as we approached Bavaria, though the “look, another castle” was getting a bit old (they really were gorgeous). I ordered soup (of some sort) and more fries. The soup came, and a bit later, a platter of fries showed up. The three of us couldn’t put a dent in them (mom was always avoiding ‘fat foods’, so it was mostly dad and me making potatoes its own food group). In Amsterdam, it was the great continental breakfast of outstanding bread and rolls, good butter and jam, and cheese.
In Monte Carlo, it was spaghetti at an outdoor restaurant, after mom and dad had gone in to see one of the casinos as I sat on the steps out front. In England, it was the horror of going to St. George and The Dragon (built in the 1300s if I remember that right- historical dates aren’t my strong suit), and dad asked for…wait for it…. French fries. This was a fine dining place. No fast food fluff. Mom and I were ready to take the car and leave him there. Then to Simpson’s on The Strand in London for a proper roast dinner (more peas- still don’t touch those things unless they’ve been split and dried, preferably the yellow ones). In Germany, it was the undercooked eggs for breakfast (I don’t ‘do’ moving food), but also a very funny innkeeper who brought us something to drink after we’d checked in well after dark, and jokingly put one of the beers in front of me, before laughing and giving me the soda. In Denmark, it was the ice cream at Tivoli. In Salzburg, it was the pastries when we met a neighbor’s sister for a visit. We flew through Italy too quickly to do more than survive the traffic in Milan as we tried to get from the parking area across from the cathedral to getting inside of the cathedral, and La Scala Opera House. Mom and dad had already ‘done’ Italy further south, so Milan was a place they wanted to add to their pins on the map of their trips. I lost eight pounds in Europe. I remember that. I also still have the map with the pins.
I remember wanting to go swimming in the Mediterranean when we were in St. Tropez. Other people were changing into their swimsuits on the beach, but I was mortified by the thought at 13. I’d do it now, shimmying under an oversized t-shirt (I never know my actual size in clothing, as I don’t like it touching me that close; back then, I was most at home in a skating dress and tights). But I did at least get my feet wet, so another body of water done and dusted. It’s not like I ever would have seen any of those people again, and they weren’t there to see some freaked out kid. But, I was 13. And didn’t want my body exposed.
Then there are the not so great memories. Most of the time with X was great. I was the only kid on that entire branch of the family tree, and had the run of the place. In every room I spent any time in, there was a drawer or basket of stuff to play with just for me. In the winters, if the yard froze up, my folks would take me over there so I could skate. But there were some secrets going on there. Some had me watching from out of body, from a corner on the ceiling. I didn’t acknowledge it until my late 20s, years after being raped for 6 hours, beaten, and tortured (in Texas), and then going to therapy, where I got a list of types of abuse and boundary issues. That was hard. It involved more than one family member, and I was pretty much in the care of one or the other until I was 15. It was harder than the rape, even when a police sergeant shot the rapist in my bedroom (I’d finally had the chance to escape by then), and I had to testify at the trial (he was a moving target, so wounded, not killed). A five-minute acquaintance doesn’t mean much when stacking him up against family.
One of my last memories of her before she got terminally ill was the Saturday morning she came over and asked if it was my skating coach whose six kids had been murdered by her husband. I was stunned, and glued myself to the radio and next day’s newspaper to hear of any news of Ann. I also knew her eldest daughter peripherally from the rink. She was 13 and a talented ice dance skater. I was 14. I cried for weeks on and off. I was told to knock it off. It had nothing to do with me. Message received: don’t show feelings.
Ann was more than a coach. She knew I existed, and never hurt me. When I’d fallen extremely hard on my HEAD during ice show rehearsals the year before, she wanted to call my folks to come and get me but they were in Brazil, and being hurt wasn’t OK (still not sure how I could be going through a warm-up on my skates, to out cold on the ice- the only thing I do remember is skating backwards, and hearing a crack; not the fall or impact– and the ice was fine). I wouldn’t give them my caretaker’s phone number. My caretaker would have been beside herself if I got hurt on her watch. SO, I stayed in the back room on a cot, and Ann got a random doctor from the public skating session going on (I’d been in the studio rink) to check me over. (I started skating at age 2 1/2, first lessons at 4, then some years doing other things, and resuming at about 11 years old- and continued through the time after the murders when Ann was at the rink again; I was getting ‘good enough’ to be scouted for ice dance).
She stayed back from a party to make sure I was OK. She got my skates off, as I was dazed. I’d been carried from the ice by the ‘rink refs’. I was woozy for days, had been unconscious, and they wanted to pull me from the ice show. But I had to make the ‘appearances’ OK (probably helped when coaches wanted to see a skater who didn’t wuss out after an injury). Thankfully, the routine was light on tight centrifugal force maneuvers. A neighbor was bringing her son to the show (I babysat for him, and many, many families). So, I skated the routine with my group for each of four performances that weekend, and Ann waited by the edge of the rink to wrap me up in her fur coat to get me to a quiet area so I could rest. She wasn’t afraid to put her arms around me. She wasn’t just a coach. She was a role model, and cared. She even called me when I was babysitting to make sure I was OK, months after that fall. The murders defined a huge part of my life. I ‘lost’ Ann when she understandably moved away from here after the trial. Every kid in town who had any knowledge of the killings, or the six murdered kids, knew that if parents got mad, they might kill. One of my blog posts has many comments about those same feelings. Kids in other states and countries had heard about the murders, even before 24/7 news coverage. Today, it would have been on every major news outlet for days to weeks, with updates for the trial. I found out a couple of years ago that she had been married to the man I knew from the rink/ice show, and had been loved during her last 35+ years, before dying of cancer. I still have a photo of the two of us on my dresser, where it’s been for 43 years.
I remember being four years old, and my mom instructing me never to ask anybody for anything. She was sitting on the end of her bed, explaining rudeness and manners. I was also to keep myself occupied while she was doing homework (she took classes at the community college when I was very young, and then to a local university where she ended up becoming a teacher). I was taken to her psych class for an experiment meant to show that kids would respond to positive reinforcement quickly once they found the ‘right’ answer. I remember a light being involved, and having to say numbers. I quickly found out that a specific number (5) resulted in the light going on and a piece of chocolate being deposited in a bowl, via a chute of sorts, that was to be mine at the end. I didn’t want to be rude (I was about 5 or 6), so I avoided the number, saying it now and then just to keep things believable. The professor felt bad when I said I didn’t want to be rude- he knew I’d figured out the number within a minute, and gave me the whole box of candy. Another time, I broke down in tears (age 5) after I’d asked a neighbor for a piece of paper so her daughter and I could play tic-tac-toe. I was also responsible for mom’s emotions. I had to be ‘good’. Fortunately, I didn’t have any desire to be difficult. It was my early and ongoing independence that got me in more trouble than anything. There were never rules at home since I pretty much regulated myself.
Later, I was told to tell anybody who asked that I was ‘fine’, even if an arm was dangling by one bit of muscle. That was after becoming very depressed during my Junior year in high school, when I had 8 classes, no lunch during the weeks of driver’s ed, and I was crumbling. I confided in a teacher monitoring the halls that I wasn’t OK. Huge mistake. Dad was the principal of that school… his kid couldn’t be a train wreck. But I got to drop physics when that teacher went to my guidance counselor, who had been a family friend since I was a toddler. I also got a huge lecture at home. When I got dud grades (after the murders and death of X), my books were thrown out of my arms across the room, and I was told that if I didn’t have any intention of using them, not to bother bringing them home. I was ‘too smart’ to be doing so poorly- and that triggered nothing about me needing help. After a “you don’t need therapy, do you?”, it was a definite “nope. I’m fine.” I was not quite sixteen years old… how was I to know what I actually needed? I knew what I didn’t want– and that was to cause trouble. I couldn’t even describe what I felt, and didn’t dare tell them that I’d been using over the counter cold/allergy medications (yay, babysitting money) to numb myself. I tracked down that teacher a few years ago to thank her for her kindness and for sticking her neck out. She was grateful for the call. She ended up getting transferred to another school the next year and I always wondered if it had been my fault.
One of the biggest influences was something that wasn’t spoken, or even implied. My folks lost two newborns, born just early enough to succumb to Hyaline Membrane Disease because their little lungs weren’t developed enough. There were no NICUs then. The babies survived less than 2 and 6 days, two years apart, and likely struggled to breathe for their entire short lives. Mom never got to see them (they were going to die, so the view back then was to not allow bonding…. too late- she’d felt them for over 7 months). It absolutely broke her, and I can’t even begin to imagine what she went through. Their birth certificates are now out of a file box, and framed so they’re not hidden away from other family photos. I was the ‘answer’- adopt a baby. It was described in a social worker’s evaluation of my folks when I was in my first eating disorder inpatient hospital as “‘urgent’ to have a baby”. But then she was afraid of getting too close. She did a lot of things that revolved around getting me to every kind of lesson under the sun, fancy birthday parties with the cakes decorated to match the napkins being used (yawn, crayons in the basement would have been fine; didn’t need puppet shows at the Women’s Club), and ‘little secrets’ from dad (mostly about buying clothes, or getting pre-roasted chickens at the store for dinner- he didn’t know that she’d never roasted a bird until I told him after she died- he laughed). But there wasn’t physical or much emotional closeness.
It took me into my 30s to understand that it had nothing to do with me. But for decades, I had felt an unspoken need to ‘make up’ for two sons. I grew up in their shadows. Nobody ever told me I was a ‘replacement’, but in my pre-school mind (when I found out about the babies), they died and then my folks adopted me. And, being adopted, there was that child’s view that if I was given away once, I could be given away again. Had I not eventually figured out that it wasn’t my fault she was distant, I never could have moved back to my hometown after 17 years away to help my dad take care of her as the dementia from brain radiation progressed. Sadly, she died unexpectedly after she wasn’t treated properly at a hospital during their winter in Arizona… dad had to fly her back emergently, leaving the car and belongings in AZ, and we got her to a local hospital so her own doctor could treat her. She was too far gone, and died within 48 hours of returning home. The hospital here was great- letting me see her lab work so I could explain to dad what was going on. If he didn’t hear it from me, it wasn’t real. (He did that when I lived 1250 miles away as well). He also deferred all care decisions to me- she was already a ‘no code’, but some things weren’t going to be fixed, and just made her wince even after going into a coma, so there was no point to subjecting her to anything that wasn’t for comfort only. Dad didn’t know what was or wasn’t absolutely necessary. I told the nurses to do whatever vitals required for charting, and otherwise just let her be. I did piss mom off (sort of) when I agreed to an air mattress to protect her skin… she was still conscious (sort of) when they had to roll her to put the overlay on the bed. I talked her through it the best I could with a septic person with dementia. I sat with her over the last full night, and told her that it was all OK; we were OK. I loved her. And I meant it. It was also the night Elizabeth Smart was found alive. I cried for joy for her, and cried for the years lost to dementia with my mom. And for a mom who had never been allowed to grieve children she never saw. Her own mother never visited her during those hospitalizations. How could I expect her to be more than she could be?