My family was your typical white, working class family in a rundown ex-factory town. My mother was single, and my grandfather, who lived with her, me, and my two younger siblings, filled in as our father. Our mom was harried, cranky, and very young to have three kids of her own. She worked 40 plus hours a week at a low wage job, and we made it by the skin of our teeth. But we did make it. By the time I was 15, and my siblings were 11 and 3, she secured us a house on the border of the good and bad side of town. Though we had to share bedrooms, it was much safer than living in the Vermillion Gardens housing project, where I spent the majority of my childhood. We were finally safe, and while we didn’t have the kind of prosperity I thought we should of (compared to my some of my classmates at school) among my mother’s friends and their children, we were looking pretty good. Our house became a safe haven. Kids would be dropped off with short notice, because I would babysit for free (not exactly my choice). My mother knew what it was to struggle, and she would open the door for any friend or relative in need.
My favorite house guest of all time was Lorrie Jane. She showed up, completely at random, before the time of cell phones and the planning and checking in of every single life moment. I still don’t exactly know why she came to stay with us, besides just plain needing somewhere to stay.
Lorrie was one of my mom’s coolest friends. She had a sapphire blue 1977 Pontiac Firebird convertible. It was never clear exactly what she did for work, but she usually went to tanning salons or massage parlours to do it, and now I am aware that she was more than likely some kind of sex worker. To us she was wild, exciting, sexy, and free.
She had brought all of her belongings with her, in black plastic garbage bags and cardboard boxes. Most of her things went into the basement. She didn’t have very much stuff. I remember her lacy thong underwear hanging on the clothesline we had strung by the washer and dryer. It was the first time I had ever seen underwear like that and I was scandalized. I could never figure out which side was front or back.
Lorrie was everything that my mother wasn’t. She was kind, fun loving, understanding, energetic, childless. She made all of the same kinds of mistakes as my mother did, living a wild, biker chick lifestyle, but for whatever reason she seemed to handle her life choices with more finesse. I say this even though she had to humbly ask my mom for a place to stay. Having her around never felt like an inconvenience, because she brought such joy into our lives. My mom now had a built in friend, she had so little time and energy to get out of the house, and I know that she genuinely enjoyed having Lorrie there. I always thought, if I can’t be like some kind of full fledged upper middle class lady when I grow up, at the very least, I hope I can be like her.
Our couch was her bed for at least two, maybe three months. I don’t remember exactly how long, the summer I turned sixteen was a massive blur, so much was happening. Her being in the living room gave my little brother an automatic playmate, in the summer time he stayed up late into the night gaming on his PlayStation. I remember the two of them, being loud and rowdy playing some kind of racing game, and me yelling at them to keep it down, because I was trying to sleep. At one point I went out to the living room to really tell them to shut it down, and I saw their silhouettes, sitting cross legged on the floor, not more than two feet from the television screen, engrossed in battle, laughing and happy. No one spent time with my little brother like that, not since I had discovered boys anyway. I left them alone after from then on.
Another perk of having her around was that she let me drive her Firebird. It had no insurance, not even plates for that matter, and I only had a learner’s permit, but when our movies were due at Family Video, you bet that I was given permission by both her and my mother to drive down the street, little brother in tow, to return them. It was absolutely exhilarating. I decided that my first car absolutely must be a Pontiac Firebird. I asked her if she would sell it to me, and she said no way in hell. My little brother and I both eventually owned Pontiacs.
Unfortunately as time went on, tension grew between Lorrie Jane and my mother. Mom was a fearsome parent, she ruled our household with an iron fist, until she ran out of energy, and then we pretty much did whatever we wanted, but when she was paying attention, she could be scary. Lorrie didn’t like seeing mom be so strict with us, and I admit, at times she was downright cruel. I could see her watching when mom was yelling at us, trying to weight the benefits of saying something. She was there by the grace of my mom’s kindness after all.
Things reached the most escalated point on my sixteenth birthday. Mom had a party for me on Saturday, but my birthday was actually on the following Tuesday. The guests were my boyfriend, and a couple of other friends, so like five kids including myself. I went to drivers ed in the morning and got into a fight with mom after that because I was on my period and very cranky. I blew out my candles on my Scooby Doo cake. I think the best part of the whole deal was the fact that my mom rented a rug doctor, and we cleaned the carpeting. It was the cleanest the house ever was, and probably was until my mom sold it in 2004. After cake, pizza, and Men in Black, things wrapped up by about four or five o’clock… in the afternoon. So, on my actual birthday, my boyfriend wanted to take me somewhere nice, The Beef House.
I was talking to my mom about my plans for the evening, and she said, you’re not going anywhere, I have a date tonight. You have to babysit. I collapsed onto the couch, crying as quietly as I could. Then Lorrie came home. She asked me what was wrong. I said nothing, I just wanted to go out to dinner tonight, but I can’t because mom has a date and I have to babysit.
That’s when Lorrie finally had enough. She let my mom have it. How could you not let her go out on her birthday? Her 16th birthday? My mom retorted that I already had a party, and that she never got to go anywhere or do anything. Lorrie said Jesus Christ Melissa, I’ll baby sit. My grandfather even came in, hearing the commotion from the other room, to back up Lorrie. He sometimes stood up for us, but was careful because it usually ended with us in even more trouble. Now mom was clearly out numbered. She glared at me, and I was started wishing that I was just going to stay home and babysit. But Lorrie had my back, and she said come on, let’s go get you something to wear. We went to the mall, and she helped my pick out the most girly, cute outfit I ever had in my life. In my little flowered powder blue mini skirt, and white ruffle sleeve tank top, and strappy pink sandals, with the kind of wedge heel appropriate for a 16 year old girl, I looked more pretty and womanly than I ever had.
That day she became a hero to me. Eventually, Lorrie had a baby, in her late 30’s, and she went back to school to become a nurse. She married, and owns a home, and I get to see pictures of her beautiful family on Facebook. She is still an inspiration to me.
Isn’t that how the song title goes?
I have been bouncing back and forth, like a slutty ping pong ball, between the same two men for like… five years now. That’s obnoxious.
I don’t really want to get into the details, but there are codependency issues with all parties involved. On some days it is very hard for me to not hate myself.
I know in my heart that the best possible thing, for me, is to be single right now. I know, in my brain, that I will find someone, someday. It will be down the line when I have grown a bit, that someone will be better suited for me, and at that time I will not regret this decision.
Unfortunately, right now I regret so many things. I miss the comfort, warmth, and security of being in a relationship. I loved, so deeply, both of these men, and I am ashamed of how entangled and complicated our lives all became. I wonder if I made the wrong decision, or if because of my indecision, I threw love away.
However I am sitting in my apartment, back in the city, which is where I want to be. I am doing work I want to do. I am getting myself back in tip-top condition, because I am going to the gym almost every day, and eating a diet of my choosing. I am, in this moment, spending time on writing. These things I cherish, as they are what make me myself. In all of my past relationships, I compromised myself to conform to my lover’s lifestyle, I really feel more and more as I have been aging. Thinking about that makes me glad that I am single. I’ve had enough time to mourn the love lost. It’s time to reach out, and grow into the person that I truly intend to be.
This Thanksgiving has been the most relaxing one that I have ever had. It has also been the only one where I actually cooked the whole dinner for the household, and while that took some work, there was quite a bit of comfort that came with that control.
When I was a child, my family always put together a large feast, no matter what, and while we had our traditions (that I do hold dear), something about the food I made this year seemed cleaner, and more vibrant. The level of hygiene in our relatively modern suburban apartment kitchen is much higher than that of the 100 year old farm house kitchen of my (later) childhood. The tile and cabinets in that old house were from the 1940’s. One of our double (very chipped) white porcelain sinks was hooked up to a decades old garbage disposal- which was out of commission, and I can guarantee it was never really cleaned out or sanitized after we broke it.
We had mice, crickets, and other various, more minor, vermin, but somehow we managed to never have a roach problem. I would, from time to time, scrub the kitchen with bleach, making everything as white as I could get it, but in a house with three growing children, an elderly person (who shared the mother role with a teenager) and a mother (in the role of a provider and who was always worn out), two ill trained dogs, and a menagerie of passers through, nothing ever stayed clean for more than a day.
My grandfather was the neatest of us, but he was getting too old to keep up with the constant mess making. My mother, who is hopelessly messy, usually only added to the problem. My younger brother and sister were not much for sharing in chore duties. After the dogs used the legs of our kitchen table and chairs as chew toys, any neat and tidy illusion I could create in the kitchen was completely lost.
The dinner itself took place in the dining room. The house we lived in matched well with the location, as it was on the brink of falling apart. The old couple that sold it to us managed to clean it up and make it look pretty decent. However a growing, rough and tumble family made short work of destroying it. We did have a nice set of dining furniture, handed down from my great aunts, remnants of a bygone time of near affluence in my family. My great aunts came from the same depression era brood as my grandfather, but with their good looks and sparkling personalities, they were able to marry up a class. The best option my grandfather saw was to become a soldier, and he was eventually shipped off to fight in WWII.
Grandpa managed to become a decorated war hero, which we never knew until after he passed away. He was never proud of being a soldier. The experience haunted him deeply. He suffered from severe PTSD, which he used alcohol to cure. While he did kick his alcoholism later in life, he never managed to work his way out of poverty. He had a daughter, who began having children while she was still a child. We all used to live in a government funded housing complex for seniors. When they changed the apartment complex into general public housing, transplants from the closing Cabrini Greens housing project in Chicago started moving in. What was once known as Vermilion Gardens eventually came to be known as the VG’s. We started hearing gun shots at night. My mother started coming across used needles and condoms in the parking lot, on almost a daily basis. Now in her early 30’s, she was established enough at her job to buy us a little house on the edge of the good and bad side of town.
So, our little broken family, with nice, antique furnishings would have our more fancy dinners in our beautiful dining room. The carpet was old, ratty, matted brown shag that was popular in the 1960’s. My mother wanted to replace it when we moved in, but never got around to it, I’m assuming because we couldn’t actually afford to do such a thing. While my mother did us a solid by moving us out of that dangerous housing complex, I don’t think that she understood that keeping up a house that you owned, and not rented, took money and time. Because of this, when the already old fittings and furnishings in the house were sullied or broken, they did not get replaced. We trekked around the house, our shoes full of mud and dirt, and it got so you would rather not remove your shoes inside. The dogs were not avidly potty trained, so a faint smell of dog piss was almost always present. We had a little piano, with broken keys, that didn’t make much noise because it needed work. This was also a gift from deceased aunts. It was never worked on, and it became a fine home for some of our many families of mice.
While my grandfather did most of the everyday cooking, my mom seemed to relish in preparing holiday meals. I think he was a bit too frail for heaving around a turkey, as well as spending the hours in the kitchen it took to prepare such a feast. She developed specific methods and recipes that my sister and I carry on religiously. In the morning, you make a cheesy potato dish that my mother refers to as “company potatoes.” There are recipes for this online, but she has her own special way of making it that is perfect. You must brine your turkey, and stuff it with apples, oranges, and spices, not stuffing. (This year we were given a free turkey from my boyfriends side of the family: precooked! I was horrified.) The stuffing must come from a bag, not a box, and you mix it with crumbled breakfast sausage, brown sugar, butter, chicken broth, sage, and maybe some nuts. Relish trays must have whole pickled beets on them, as the sliced ones do not taste as good.
We also ate the other holiday meal staples, like mashed potatoes, and yams, and deviled eggs. We used the nice china that our aunts left us for awhile, until the serving bowls were all broken, and then we just used old margarine tubs. Nothing was wasted in our house, and we saved every bit of plastic and glass that came through the door. We never purchased a single piece of Tupperware. I continued to do this until the practice was shamed out of me by the more cosmopolitan friends I made, after leaving home. Even now, my boyfriend heckles me if I try saving a nice jar that some over priced spaghetti sauce came in.
No, this year, there were no dogs, with long nails and ill manners, scooting underfoot looking for scraps. Our food was served in lovely fiesta-ware vessels; there was not a single up-cycled margarine tub in sight. Heck, there wasn’t any margarine period, as everyone I know now much prefers butter. No mice were skittering in the background. I cooked my meal barefoot, and we ate in the living room, which has clean, new beige carpeting, no one thinks of keeping their shoes or socks on for any reason. We made the stuffing as my mother does, I have already mentioned the turkey outrage, but it wasn’t that bad, really. My yams were fresh instead of canned, and they tasted amazing.
I don’t yearn for those dirty days, but I reflect on them. The nature of my rearing has determined my trajectory for life. It helps me understand why I am where I am today, but what I don’t understand is why the vision of how my life would turn out was so very askew from how it actually did. Not that I would change anything, I would not trade a shred of wisdom gained for any sort of comfort or affluence I might of had if I did the “right” or “better” thing. But still I wonder, where am I going? What is the purpose of my life?
I feel incredibly grateful for the comforts that I have, but there is a nagging feeling that I obtained them at a price. Maybe that price is simply giving up some of my bohemian tendencies. I have experienced so much crazy in my 34 years, I feel like I could write ten books, easy, based on all of the experiences I have lived. It’s a strange feeling for me to even be able to spend a nice holiday weekend inside, because for most of the past decade I’ve spent the holidays working as a commercial horse carriage driver.
I think I can come to see this stage in my life as a quiet resetting of myself. If I am going to write some books, it will be helpful to have a nice, comfortable place to write them in. I have kicked some really bad habits, and I am working on reintroducing more healthy ones back into my life. I have to keep reminding myself that it’s okay to be stable. If anything, I am rebuilding myself for new, and better, adventures.
I can always tell when I am spending too much time on Facebook. We’ve all read the articles: Facebook causes depression. Comparing ourselves to glorified versions of our friends, coworkers, and former classmates is a bad idea. Yet, I find myself compulsively checking my news feed, more and more, looking for a little nugget of acknowledgement or approval. I become addicted to validation.
And then after realizing that no one is paying any attention to me, I catch myself judging other people, sneering silently, or, when feeling pressed to create some attention for myself, I may even leave a snarky comment. Of course there is the other side of the coin; when I can tell others to think me inferior, or when I feel like something I said or posted was misunderstood.
Social media is a weird, weird world. I’ve had a rocky go at Facebook from the start. I made a late transition from Myspace. One of my friends had to help me figure out what the point was. Sometimes, it’s awesome. I used to have a really interesting, picturesque job. That was a great time for me on Facebook, it was great to share all of my fun photos and experiences. But aging, changing to a more low key method of bill paying, and difficulties in my personal life have made it significantly less thrilling to share myself on social media. I have changed my life so much that my circle has drastically shifted, and shrank. I have had to unfriend and block many people. Accidentally happening on posts or comments from of these now “non-friends” stirs up uncomfortable feelings. I am still Facebook friends with people who wouldn’t have a real conversation with me in real life.
I started this post before the election. Since we now have a new president, social media has gotten even more twisted.I really thought that after the election, things would quiet down, but was I ever wrong.
I am inspired though, to become a more politically active person. I think one of the best uses for social media is to argue politics with other people. By that I mean engage in active conversations, not post fake, inflammatory, memes and stories. (That’s called propaganda FYI, and it’s nothing new.)
So here’s hoping for an engaged 2017, where I will worry more about who I am and what I stand for than how cool I appear to be compared to my friends.
While working on my novel this morning, I began drawing from my experiences as a french horn player in the school band. I chose to play french horn because the school provided it. My mom was never going to buy me a musical instrument, we were too poor. This is usually my train of thought: I didn’t get this or that, be it the attention I needed, the lessons I needed, I didn’t get to pick what I actually wanted to play because we were poor, blah, blah. Then I realized- my school had a band, and an orchestra! I got to play (albeit badly) in them. I was there, I did it. My grandfather did not even get to go to high school because his family was so poor, it was the great depression. Many schools today don’t have music programs because they can’t afford them. I am lucky!
It paradigm has shifted… I’m almost dizzy. I really need to stop taking my experiences for granted. I have blessings.
Yesterday was my final day of work at my minimum wage job. Monday I start working some place new. I switched jobs because the pay; even with all of the fabulous vacation time and insurance and 401K, $8.25 simply isn’t enough to allow me any living beyond my basic necessities. I stayed for four months, hoping for a raise or promotion. Most of the people there do not speak fluent English, or have even a high school education. The only language that I can say I speak is English. I have some education beyond high school, and even some work experience that, in my eyes, would make me a good prospect for a leadership position. I gave my best effort, and was told often that I was very smart, and I felt incredibly valued there. My coworkers loved me, I have made many good memories working with them, and even though we could not always communicate verbally, we came to know each other.
The only person who made me feel vaguely unwelcome was my supervisor. Besides myself, he was the only other white person in the department. I think that the company keeps the assembly department staffed with people who don’t speak English, and/or who aren’t educated, with purpose; this means they have an excuse to keep paying them a dismal wage. The more apparent my capability became, the more uncomfortable he seemed to be with me, and I really feel that although he paid me many compliments and was very kind when I left my notice, he was relieved in some sense.
This would only be the third time in my life (and out of probably 20 or so jobs) that I have left a notice. Usually I am terrible with goodbyes. A recent boss baited me with raises and promotions, and said everything he could think of to make me feel guilty, until I agreed to stay on. Said job, and many others, I have disappeared from, leaving tearfully, in some kind of conflict. Handling the social awkwardness of quitting is a new skill in my tool kit. I can say that making the effort to properly disembark has paid off.
It took four months for the employment agency to get back to me with something worthwhile. I applied there before I began working this most recent job. They only had second of third shift positions available for me, and I am done working nights. So I agreed to sign on at the company where my boyfriend works. Whenever they need people (which is often), he mentions something to me, but I never went for it, because what person over the age of sixteen wants to make minimum wage? I’ll tell you who, a desperate person- when it was harder than I anticipated to find something reasonable, I said okay to $8.25, eight hour days with no overtime (aside from the occasional Saturday), air conditioning, a chair to sit down in, paid vacation, and health insurance. Honestly, I thought it was a pretty good deal considering the easiness of the work.
I received a call from the employment agency a couple of days ago. I didn’t anticipate anything worthwhile, but I thought that I would at least see what they had. It turned out to be $12.00/ hour, and first shift. I had to agree to come in on Monday (three working days away), or they would give the job away to someone else.
After I took a drug test and went over the specifics with the manager at the employment agency, I was on my way to tell my current boss that I would not be there on Monday. I had intense butterflies in my stomach; I had no idea how he would react.
He was understanding, and said that I did a good job and that they would miss me. But it really didn’t appear to bother him at all… like I said I think he prefers to keep the department homogeneously immigrant.
My other coworkers were surprisingly emotional. Tears welled up in their eyes, and mine in turn, as I explained to them the best that I could that I would no longer be working with them. I had no idea they are as fond of me as I am of them. They asked, “more money?” and I nodded in response. They are happy for me, and proud of me. They told me that I am so smart, a very good worker, and that I am sure to succeed in my new endeavor. The more matronly ladies made sure to tell me how sweet I am, that I am very cute and have beautiful eyes, and that they love me. I made a giant batch of cupcakes for my last day, and they fed me lunch when I realized that I hadn’t made myself one because I spent all night and morning baking and frosting.
I have never had such a send off. I have learned the value of taking time to say good bye. And I will miss those people. They were so kind and welcoming to me, and so proud and grateful to be here in America.