My Last Thanksgiving at Mom’s

“The weak fall, but the strong will remain and never go under!” ~ Anne Frank

Even though I was in my own home, sitting in my own bedroom, I felt uncomfortable. I didn’t like the atmosphere that was in the air, the tone that was suddenly being set. It was dirty and I could hear it and it made me feel uneasy.

My bedroom didn’t have a door. It seemed like every bedroom I had in all the apartments growing up on Magnolia Avenue, it was always my bedroom that never had the door. The only privacy I ever had came from a makeshift sheet that was usually tacked up with a bunch of nails. This was always my bedroom door. There was never any way to block out the noise from the other rooms. There was never any knocking to announce that someone wanted to come in. Instead of twisting a doorknob to enter, it was always a sweep of the arm to push the curtain aside. There was never any privacy. My bedroom appeared to have been built as an afterthought, as drywall was slapped up into the main living room to try and create another room – my bedroom. However, the wall was never completed. At the end of the wall there was a small area of approximately four feet tall by one foot wide that wasn’t drywalled, as if they had plans to tuck something within the space. Not wanting to have a gaping hole looking into my room, I took a very large board and placed it up against the hole. I drew the “Love Is” characters on it so that it didn’t look unfinished. The board didn’t cover the hole completely, but it worked enough. Once again, my privacy as a young teenager was sacrificed.

Thanksgiving was upon us and my mother was at the grocery store buying food for Thanksgiving Day dinner. Mom had received her welfare check and she was buying groceries to fill the cabinets and fridge for the holiday. This usually meant we would have a treat of chocolate chip cookies or Neapolitan ice cream. We would also have a fat turkey for Thanksgiving, with all the trimmings, canned cranberry sauce, breaded stuffing that would be made from scratch and, eventually, shoved up the turkey’s tush to cook all day. Mom would make real mashed potatoes and not instant like we normally ate. Corn from the can that tasted more like tin than corn, salad, which consisted of only lettuce, drenched in Miracle Whip salad dressing. Dinner would end with a store-bought pumpkin pie with a dollop of cool whip. This menu was a yearly traditional meal that we all looked forward to having. Mom took her grocery list and food stamps and was off to the store to buy all the holiday fixings.

Mom asked me to stay home. She asked me to wash the dishes that were in the kitchen sink while she was at the store. I hated washing the dishes, mostly, because mom never bought normal dish washing soap. Trying to save her pennies, we washed our dishes with laundry detergent. The soap would never dissolve properly and I felt as if I was washing the dishes with pellets of sand. My brothers weren’t at home. Most likely, they were with their friends playing a game of tag football at Truman College, which we lived almost directly behind. I was left at home with Melvin and a man named Butch. Butch was a family friend, who we met and knew while living in another building years before on Sheridan Avenue. I remember Butch having two daughters, Maria and Sonia, both which seemed to have been slightly off not only in the looks department, but in the personality department as well. Maria and Sonia were mentally challenged to a degree and both lived in a home that offered assistance to their kind. On occasion, they would come to visit their father, spending the weekend with him. They were larger women and they always sat outside on the building’s front stoop. Maria, the redhead, was mean and feisty, while Sonia, the brunette, was more easy-going. Her personality was much softer. She would sit there and play barbies with me. Once, Maria picked me up and literally tossed me into the air and across the sidewalk. I fell into the dirt and landed on my knees. She said I was in her way, therefore, she decided to toss me like a ragdoll so she can get down the front steps. Their father, Butch was short and chubby himself, looked like he had no teeth when he talked and always wore his hair short, like a crew cut. He seemed to have a stuttering problem, where his words took forever to say. His wardrobe consisted of only white T-shirts and Dago T’s. I always found Butch to be on the feminine side, especially by the way he talked and presented himself. He was very flamboyant and liked to dance around the room to his radio. It was hard for me to picture him as a father. I would listen in on conversations between mom and Melvin, where they would comment that Butch was a queer and would suck a dick a mile long. I was old enough to understand what that meant. He liked men. However, it was obvious that he had a relationship with a woman at one point in time because he had two daughters. Butch also had a brother named John. He seemed to be the normal one of the family, that is until I woke up one morning when I was younger and saw him boinkin’ my mother on the side of the bed. Waking up from sleeping on the floor in our one-room apartment, I asked her what was she doing. She told me to lie down and go back to sleep, which is exactly what I did and I never mentioned it again. It seemed like this family, John, the girls and, in particular, Butch, had followed us from neighborhood to neighborhood and somehow was always in our lives from the time we lived on Sheridan throughout the time we lived on Magnolia. I didn’t understand it at the time, but I do now. Now that I was older, I knew exactly what was going on, especially between Butch and Melvin.

I had finished up washing the dishes. I wanted to get back to my room and not be around Melvin whatsoever. The utter sight of him made my skin crawl. Him sitting there in his recliner chair, smoking, polluting the air that I breathe, wearing his creepy little shorts. I even noticed that they were hiked up more than usual that day. Melvin and Butch were watching TV. They were eerily quiet and said little to me. Leaving the kitchen, I crossed their path, walking back into my room. Even though I had no bedroom door to shut me out of their existence, I felt relieved to know I was in my own space. Standing in my room, I was in front of my own TV, flipping channels and trying to pass the time until mom got home. She had just left for the store and I wished that she were back home already. Melvin and Butch were in the living room. The living room consisted of two twin beds, which was sort of set up as a bedroom, with the beds up against the walls. It seems like we never had a formal living room either. Most likely, because mom and Melvin could only afford a one-bedroom apartment and my brothers always got the bedroom… and the door! As Melvin sat in his recliner chair, Butch was sitting on the edge of one of the beds, the one closest to Melvin. I could hear both of them starting to talk, their voices low, almost whispering, as if they were trying to hide what they were saying. I started to get that uncomfortable feeling again, that same feeling as when I knew Melvin was about to touch me, my breasts and, eventually, my vagina. I felt like I was in the middle of something that was wrong, something that shouldn’t be happening. As I stood in front of my TV, I turned down the volume slightly so I could hear what was going on in the other room. I was hesitant with my thoughts. I was hoping I didn’t hear what I thought I did. In between the whispers, there were noises coming from their room. They were sexual. I started to make noise of my own in my room, moving things around my dresser, banging books, trying to remind them both that I was still in the house and only a few steps away. I was hoping that they would stop whatever they had started. Did it work, I thought? Unfortunately not. They both ignored me, as if I was the Wizard of Oz himself… “Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain!”

Moments later, they continued with their groping one another. By this time, I was so uneasy with them being there that I yelled from my bedroom, “You two better stop because I can hear everything that you’re doing!” Silence filled the living room once again. When is mom getting home, I thought. For some reason I knew that they would stop once she got home, as I knew what they were doing was behind her back. They probably couldn’t wait for her to leave. On the other hand, did mom know what they were doing and, most likely have been doing, for years? Is this why she asked me to stay home with them, in hopes that they wouldn’t do anything with each other while I was in the apartment? I had a strong feeling that mom knew many of the inappropriate and crude things Melvin was doing, but just kept them all to herself.

I heard them start-up again. I could hear the wet noises coming from their privates, the slapping of skin back and forth. I could hear their whispers. By their conversation, I was under the impression that Butch couldn’t get it up, as Melvin kept asking him, “Are you sure you don’t have to go to the bathroom? Well, let me try again.” With that comment, I had heard enough. Swinging open my curtain, I stepped out into the living room. Melvin and Butch did some shuffling with a jacket that lay over Butch’s lap. I told them that they were both sick fucks and didn’t they realize that I was just in the other room? I also told them that I was going to find mom and tell her what was going on and what they were doing. With that, I stormed out of the apartment and headed to the grocery store up on Sheridan and Montrose, where I knew mom was shopping. Was Melvin nervous that his dirty little secret would be exposed? Did he even care?

As I ran to the grocery store in late November, I realized that I should have worn a jacket, as it was quite chilly outside. However, I left the apartment so quickly that I didn’t even think. I just knew that I needed to get out of there. As I was racing to reach the grocery store, my mind was having a race all its own, thinking of what I had just witnessed back at the apartment. Why can’t I have a normal life? Why do I have to live the way I do? Why do I have to run looking for my mother and report to her what I had just witnessed? Would she believe me? I never ever shared with mom the sexual abuse that Melvin did to me. Not only did Melvin like little girls, he also liked older men. Would this open up something that I knew was going to be just awful? I didn’t want her to know what Melvin had done to me. I didn’t want to disrupt our already dysfunctional life any more than it was. I didn’t want to be in trouble. I rehearsed in my mind how I was going to tell mom once I found her in the store, that Melvin was having sex with another man and while I was only in the other room.

I felt like I was running a marathon, as I ran down Montrose Avenue, past Racine, Clifton, then underneath the El tracks and then finally past Kenmore. Just up ahead there was the Jewel grocery store on Sheridan Avenue where mom was picking out a turkey for a family dinner. A dinner where we were all to sit down and be thankful that we were together, a family that doesn’t harm or fault one another, a family that doesn’t allow sexual abuse in their lives, even though I knew it was all lies.

As I walked around the store, I took a look down each of the aisles looking for mom. One after another, I knew she had to still be in the store somewhere. Finally, I found her. By the look on her face, I could tell that she was surprised to see me there, especially since she left me at home. She could tell from my own face that I was upset. I began to get angry, which made me start to cry. All my emotions were trying to spill out all at once. I tried to keep my voice down and explain to her what was happening back at home. The more I talked, the more upset I got. I told her that Melvin and Butch were doing things to each other in the living room and that they knew I was in the bedroom. She told me to stay with her, as we went to check out and buy the cart of groceries.

Mom hailed a yellow taxi, where we put all the groceries into his trunk. I remember sitting inside the cab, with its huge bench seat from window to window, looking out the window, trying to anticipate what was going to happen once we got home. Instructing the driver where to go, mom and I didn’t say a word all the way home. The palm of my hands were sweaty, as I rubbed them against my pants. My heart began to pound faster, as we pulled up in front of our building. We unloaded the groceries from the trunk and made our way up the stairs and into the apartment. Once inside, we both realized that Butch was gone. He left, leaving Melvin sleeping in one of the beds in the living room. Mom instructed me to put the groceries away, while she sat on the other bed, lighting up a cigarette. I could see her sitting there, puffing away madly, as she watched Melvin sleep and half-undressed, her head sagging low. I went into my room shortly after I was done putting all the groceries away. The silence was nerving, so I turned on my TV. I never heard another word again about the incident that happened that one holiday afternoon. I don’t know if mom ever confronted Melvin about the situation or if she kept everything to herself. Most likely, if she had brought it up to him, he would have denied it, calling me a lying whore. However, if I knew my mother, she didn’t open her mouth whatsoever. She didn’t like to confront Melvin, as he was abusive and violent. Surely, this was one of her own secret tortures within. Oh, how that asshole controlled her.

That year, Thanksgiving had come and gone, without a word being said of what had happened just days before. We continued on with our holiday meal as if we were the perfect family, smiling, laughing and joking. As we sat at the table pretending as if nothing was wrong, I would try to make my brothers giggle during grace. Grace consisted of just a few generic words. We never said grace at any other meal except for Thanksgiving. “God is good, God is great, let us thank Him for our food. Amen.” Done. As my brothers would recite the grace, I would extend my legs underneath the table, so my naked toes would reach their side of the table. As their heads were bowed low and praying, my toes would creep up from underneath the table, where they would be just inches away from their faces. Their eyes closed, my toes danced directly under their noses, wiggling them back and forth, slightly skimming the tip of their noses. We tried not to laugh out loud because the atheist in the room would have gotten pissed off because we were giggling during grace.

Melvin had sexually abused me when I was younger and it was a dirty little secret that only he and I knew. However, that day with Butch, I learned of Melvin’s other dirty little secret; that he liked to fuck men, too. Sadly, it appeared that mom had her own secrets of Melvin already scared deep within her mind that she kept there until one afternoon where she no longer could.

I found mom sitting on the back porch one summer afternoon. I came home and, as I always did, I asked my usual question… “Where is Melvin?” It was a pleasure when he wasn’t around. The atmosphere was more at ease, my brothers and I were more at ease, comfortable, as we didn’t have to whisper or walk on eggshells, tiptoe around an abusive drunk. We didn’t have to watch what we said, especially in front of Melvin, where it would trigger an argument or an ass beating. “Where is Melvin?” I asked again. “He’s sleeping in the garage.” My mother responded. I could tell mom was hiding more information than Melvin just sleeping in the garage. I questioned why he was in the garage sleeping when he had a bed in the house. “He’s in the garage sleeping and has locked the side door. I couldn’t get in, but I looked through the window. Melvin is sleeping with his pants half down, next to another man.” She quietly confessed. I thought to myself, was it Butch? But, it wasn’t. Then, she proceeded to half-ass show me a set of pictures that she found of Melvin, where he had taken at one of those photo booths in Woolworth’s. Melvin had pulled his pants down and took pictures of his genitals. I could tell that she was upset, but I wasn’t sure if it was more over the found photos or of Melvin being in the garage sexually with another man… again. Surely, it had to be both.

I wonder what mom would have thought if she knew I was on Melvin’s long list of weird sexual antics. Would that put her over the edge? Would she have cared? Did she already know? Did mom just accept Melvin’s sexual preferences? Would she finally kick him out, I thought? Being sexually abused was my own little secret and I had no intention of releasing it from my frightened mind. I was so afraid that the family we did have together, my brothers and I, would disappear, just like the little girl, Judith, who we knew growing up in our apartment building. The Department of Child Protective Services came and took her because her parents were unfit, or so they said. This had always been in the back of my mind that they would come and take my brothers and me away, never to see each other again. We were young enough to be tossed into the system, but not old enough to be on our own. Therefore, I always kept my mouth shut. My brothers and I lived at home until we were old enough to make our own decisions and move on.

It was years later when I finally had my own studio apartment, I announced that I would cook my first Thanksgiving Day dinner for everyone. I invited my brother, Jeff and my mother over to spend the day with me. Mom knew enough not to ask about Melvin’s invite. My brother, Steve, was living in Michigan at the time and unable to attend. I wanted to have all the trimmings to my dinner just like mom always made. I lived in a one-room studio apartment that consisted of a small kitchenette, bathroom and walk in closet. The appliances were small, particularly the stove. It was one of those small apartment stoves and was half the size of a normal one. It was difficult to cook a regular meal on, let alone a ten pound turkey in the oven! However, I still tried.

“On Thanksgiving Day we acknowledge our dependence.” ~William Jennings Bryan

Following my mother’s tradition, I set my alarm for 4:30 in the morning to prepare the turkey so that it can be popped into the oven by 5:00. Mom shared with me on how to make the stuffing and prepare the turkey, step-by-pain-in-the-ass-step! Getting up this early in the morning to prepare a turkey wasn’t exactly my ideal way of starting my day. I was so tired that I prepared the stuffing between yawns. The onions weren’t diced to perfection, they were more like chopped into chunks. The bread looked as if it was hacked by a hatchet than torn into bite size pieces. As for the celery… let’s just say that they would have looked better in a tall glass of Bloody Mary’s!

The stuffing was finally prepared, with its seasoning of sage that seemed to permeate my hands, along with the onions. Shoving the stuffing into the turkey’s cavity between slitted eyes, I packed it as much as I could. As I tied the legs up with twine, as to make sure the stuffing didn’t’ have a chance to escape, I maneuvered the pan into the small oven at 350 degrees. The turkey was in the oven to roast by 5:00 a.m. It was shortly thereafter, that I popped myself back into bed to continue my dreams!

Hours later, I woke to the smell of turkey wafting in the air. It seemed more pungent than ever, most likely due to my small apartment. Cracking open a window, I began to prepare the rest of the meal; potatoes, corn and, of course, that overly drench Miracle Whip salad. Jeff and Mom arrived a few hours later, where we sat, chatted and waited for the turkey to be done. I checked the turkey and basted several times throughout the morning. By 1:00 p.m., we were all getting hungry. Mom commented that the bird was in that oven for almost eight hours now and surely it would have to be done. She was the expert, I thought. Turning off the stove, I pulled the turkey out and oven to make its grand debut.

What an entertaining disaster, I thought! The turkey that had been bathing in its own juices for almost eight hours wasn’t even near done! It was so rubbery that it could have bounced its way back to the farmland from where it came! Mom and I came to the conclusion that it was due to my “Easy Bake Oven” of a stove. Because it was so small, the oven must have not been able to accommodate the size of the turkey. My first Thanksgiving dinner was a flippin’ flop! Laughing our way through the rest of the meal that we could eat, I had to make the best of the moment, so I took pictures of my first attempt at cooking Thanksgiving.

My attempt at cooking a turkey!

My first attempt at cooking a turkey! Circa – Early 80’s

It may not have been the traditional meal that we were use to having, but we made the best of what we had. In the end, it’s not about the meal and what you cooked or how much effort you put into it, nor is it about what went right or even what went wrong. It’s all about being thankful. My last Thanksgiving at my mom’s house with Melvin’s behavior is a memory that will always be in my mind, but I believe it’s an experience that made me stronger, not only in values, but in beliefs. My life growing up was full of challenges, but it showed me how important family is and to let nothing stand in the way of relationships. Family doesn’t hurt family, family is love and, when you have love, hurt should never exist. Simple.

Thanksgiving and the holidays are all about being together, together with family and friends and the ones you truly love. Sharing time with one another, laughing, joking and experiencing a joyful moment that will all too soon be a part of the past. We need to seize all the memories we can, holding each one of them close to our heart because as our years move on into the past, the making of memories become less and less.

Although my first turkey was a failure, I would like to think the moment of being together was a memorable success.

“As we pause to thank Him for the blessings of the past year, we must not forget to thank Him for the lessons we have learned through our difficult times. We are not to be thankful for just the pleasant, easy things, but ALL things.” ~ Millie Stamm

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A Soul’s Connection: A Special Friendship

Jack and Donatta in 8th Grade - 1977.

Jack and Donatta in 8th Grade – 1977.

“A good friend is a connection to life – a tie to the past, a road to the future, the key to sanity in a totally insane world.”  ~Lois Wyse

It was the seventh grade. It was a brand new school. It was a time that would change my life forever.

I went to a grade school called, Stockton, on Montrose and Beacon in Chicago; the same school where my teacher would let me out early to run home so that I wouldn’t get my ass kicked after school.  I was happy that I wouldn’t be going to that school any longer. I made not one friend there. At the time, Stockton School only went up to grade six, therefore, I was being transferred to a brand new school, Joan F. Arai Middle School, which was down on Wilson Avenue and Hazel Street. Here is where I met my best friend, my kindred spirit, my soul’s infinite connection, Donatta Erzic.

We both had an immediate connection with one another, sitting together in class, laughing, joking, creating a friendship. I remember when Donatta would go into one of her laughing spurts, she would laugh so hard that she would fall off her chair, sliding herself down the wall and onto the floor, while her legs continued to rest on her chair. Giggling with her, I would try and help her up off the floor, as the teacher, Ms. Gold, would instruct us to get back into our seats.

The hot show at the time was a cop show, Starsky and Hutch.  Donatta and I would pretend to be these television characters, passing notes in class and solving crimes, with her being Starsky and me being Hutch. Donatta would wear the big sweaters like Starsky use to wear, too. What a great time we used to have in class.

Starsky & Hutch

Starsky & Hutch

Our seventh grade school year was soon to be over and summer vacation was on its way.  Every summer, my brother and I would go to Wisconsin to stay the summer with my grandparents on their farm and I knew that I was going to miss my new found friend.  Before the school year ended, Donatta wrote me a sweet note, letting me know how much fun she had, committing to a friendship between us.

Donatta's Letter

Donatta’s Letter

I wrote to Donatta every week and, as promised, she replied back. We had a ritual with our letters however. Because my granny was nosy and wanted to know what I wrote about, I wrote one general very vague letter, which was the one that granny always read. But, on the side, I wrote my “real” letter, sharing with Donatta more personal writings and things I wanted to share with Donatta only, not my grandmother. Walking to the end of the driveway to mail my letter to Donatta, I would quickly place my secret letter inside the envelope so that granny wouldn’t see. Sealing and tucking my letter inside, I closed the lid to the mailbox.  Raising the red flag, signifying that there’s a letter to be picked up, I waited for the mailman to take my letter that was soon to be on a journey to Chicago. Days would pass, as I watched for the mailman.  I couldn’t wait to get a return letter from Donatta.

Day after day, I would wait for the mailman to bring the mail.  Once he drove off, I would grab the mail, looking to see if I received a letter and, soon enough, there within the other envelopes, was a letter for me! Upon receiving my mail from Donatta, I would immediately open the envelope, sneaking one of the letters into my pocket.  I shared with Donatta that my granny read all our letters back and forth to each other, so I asked her to write two… one for granny’s eyes and another for me.  We continued this correspondence throughout the summer until we could see each other again when school started.

Eighth grade had arrived, where Donatta and I shared, once again, the same classes and homeroom, where we became closer as friends and sharing secrets, as young girls would often do. This was the year that I met her family and she met mine, accepting where and the way I lived, the way I was being raised, accepting the horrors that I lived every single day of my life.  I was able to share anything with Donatta.  She was a person that I knew I could trust and she was the only one in my life who knew my deepest and darkest secret… that I was being sexually abused by the man who was labeled as my step father. I have always felt that Donatta was meant to come into my life for a reason, to be there with me, for me, to protect me. Her arrival couldn’t have been any more precise.

“Friends are kisses blown to us by angels.”  ~Author Unknown

 Donatta was true to her words, “Once I meet a friend I like staying pals for a long time.” The year was 1976 and, 38 years later, we are still friends, best friends and even more.

Donatta wasn’t only my friend, she was my teacher. She taught me many things that my own mother could not.  She took me to the next steps of feminine hygiene, where she showed me how to use a tampon. “Girls don’t wear pads anymore, they wear tampons,” she said.  Buying my first box, she demonstrated with a tampon and her fingers, showing me how to insert and use them.  Later that evening, Donatta gave me a call, asking how I was coming along wearing tampons, making sure that I had no questions and that everything was working out okay.  Proudly, I told her that it was going great and how much easier it was to use tampons… except for one thing.  “What’s that, she asked?”  I shared with her that it’s nice using tampons, but I have gone through a whole box already and that I’m almost out. “How can that be?” There’s like 24 of them in the box?” Donatta said.  I told her that I pee a lot and that whenever I went to the bathroom, I’d pull the tampon out so I could pee. “Oh my God! You don’t have to pull the tampon out every time you go to the bathroom. Don’t you know you have two holes down there?!” Embarrassed, I told her no, I didn’t know that and every time I went to the bathroom, I’m pull it out. I thought the tampon was like a plug… how can the pee come out if I’m all plugged up? Once again, Donatta was my teacher. This has been our little joke between us for the past 38 years.

I remember the time when Donatta said she would take me to go and see my grandmother.  My grandfather had recently passed away and Donatta was gracious enough to drive up to Madison, Wisconsin so that I can spend the weekend with granny.  It was also the day that Donatta found out she was going to have a baby, her first. Here we are both sitting in the car, driving the highway, while my best friend had morning sickness – a severe case of morning sickness.  Between dry heaves and several cans of Sprite, we finally made it to granny’s place. There, Donatta sat recovering from her three hour ordeal in the car. We decided to get comfortable for the evening and snapped a few pictures while granny sat watching her television shows.

Granny had bunny knick knacks and behind her back, we tied a lace around the bunnies neck.  This was Donatta’s way of telling the world that the “rabbit had died!”

The Rabbit Died!

The Rabbit Died!

The next morning, I decided to make breakfast for us all.  While Donatta was in the bathroom, dealing with her morning sickness no doubt, I started cooking.  The moment that Donatta walked out of the bathroom, she said, “You made bacon?!” Surely, it was the last thing she wanted to smell as she tried to settle her queasy pregnant belly, but always a memory for me whenever I cook bacon today.  She did all of this for me so that I could be with my grandmother.

Donatta and I had decided to take another trip to granny’s after Emily was born. Emily was just a couple months old at the time.  Granny was excited to meet baby Emily and we thought granny would get a kick out of meeting the little one who was inside Donatta’s belly, making her nauseous just several months before.

Donatta knew how eccentric my grandmother was and that she was in a world all her own at times.  I’m not sure if granny didn’t think about her actions or she just didn’t care what others thought. Such as, whenever granny would go to the bathroom at home, she would always pee with the bathroom door open, holding a conversation with you every tinkle of the way; something that I even catch myself doing to this day.  I don’t know why she never closed the door for privacy.  Perhaps, it’s the same reason why I leave the door open myself; comfortableness with the person you’re with.

As we settled in for the evening, Donatta prepared Emily for bedtime, hushing and lying her down in the portable crib that we brought with us. As if on cue, granny strolls to the bathroom to do her business, while leaving the door open the whole time.  Granny lived in a small apartment that consisted of only a living room, bedroom and a small kitchenette.  The bathroom was in direct contact with all three of these rooms, so no matter what room you were in, you were able to see and hold a conversation on with granny while she sat on the “pot” as she called it.  Sitting in the living room with a direct eyeshot of granny in the bathroom, Donatta listened to every squirt, plop, and splashdown that granny was creating, as well as every sound effect that granny chimed.  It was at this precise moment that Donatta spun her head around and looked at me, whispering underneath her breath, “Your grandmother is taking a major shit with the bathroom door open!” Giggling to myself, I shared with Donatta that granny must have felt very comfortable with her if she didn’t close the bathroom door, making it sound as if it was some sort of honor or privilege!  Once granny was done with her chat on the pot, she strolled back into the living room, into her chair, where she restfully took a nap.  I immediately went to the bathroom and tried to mask the smell, looking for the bathroom deodorizer.  Unfortunately for us, there wasn’t any.  The only thing I could find to spray down the bathroom with was granny’s FDS spray, which stood for Feminine Deodorant Spray. Now, we were sitting in a room that smelled like someone who took a crap in a baby power factory! To say the least, between granny’s dumps and chronic cough throughout the night that kept waking up baby Emily, it was an unforgettable visit!  Memories in the making.

Jack and Donatta Young

A couple years later, I went with Donatta and her parents to Cancun, Mexico, along with that precious little baby girl Emily.  To sit on the darkened beach by moonlight, drinking Tequila Spritzer shots with my best friend, who was constantly asking for “another” was a memorable vacation of a lifetime! We shared bread, we drank and we talked about our past, our present and our future.

Emily in Cancun

Emily in Cancun

Jack and Donatta in Cancun

Jack and Donatta in Cancun

Beachin' It!

Beachin’ It!

Donatta has not only been my best friend and angel, but she has been my nurturer. When being in the hospital from my motorcycle accident and unable to walk, she made sure that I was comfortable and content. While visiting me in the hospital, Donatta shaved my legs, which always makes a woman feel her best. She also made sure that my body was clean, helping me wash myself, when I hardly could not. In my eyes, this is a definition of love.

 “It takes a long time to grow an old friend.”  ~John Leonard

Throughout the years, Donatta and I have shared many celebrations and experiences together, birthdays, holidays, graduations, weddings, births of our children and, sadly enough, many deaths. Donatta has always been there for me through the good times, as well as the bad, as I have her. She laughs, I laugh and when she cries, I cry. We have always had this underlying connection between us, that without trust and respect, a friendship would not be there. My wish for all is to experience a friendship like I have with Donatta.

There are times when I think of Donatta and I can’t help but to cry, not tears of sadness, but tears of joy and blessings. I think of Donatta through hearing a song, through a movie, and even through special thoughts. I’m blessed to have such a wonderful person in my life, someone who accepts me for who I am, even though I can be a little eccentric myself at times, with tattoos, piercings or even with my candid openness.  I love her to death because she accepts me for who I am.

“A true friend is one who thinks you are a good egg even if you are half-cracked.” ~Author Unknown

Donatta and I may not share the same opinions or agree on a certain subject matter, but we love and respect each other enough to accept each other’s beliefs, without shedding insult or disapproval.  Donatta is an honest, faithful and devoted friend and this is why she has been a part of my life for almost forty years.  We have experienced and shared a life time together and I am honored to be a part of her life.

“The best kind of friend is the one you could sit on a porch with, never saying a word, and walk away feeling like that was the best conversation you’ve had.”  ~Author Unknown

Jack and Donatta

When we met back in grade school in 1976, we always said we wanted to have our own commune together, living off the land, while our babies ran around naked. What a dream that would have been, huh? Although a vision of the past, it doesn’t stop me from dreaming about the future, where we would live side by side on the same block, sharing food from our gardens in which we had planted just the spring before.  As for having our babies run around naked… well, they have gotten too big for that now, however, it is my hope and sincere dream that we are able to sit in the yard as the sun sets low, sharing a bottle of wine together, while we watch not our children, but our beautiful grandchildren run around naked instead…

I love you my dear friend. Although, I am fourteen days older than you, I will always look up to you.  I wish you a wonderful birthday and look forward to the many more we share together.

Always,

Jack

 “When we honestly ask ourselves which person in our lives mean the most to us, we often find that it is those who, instead of giving advice, solutions, or cures, have chosen rather to share our pain and touch our wounds with a warm and tender hand.  The friend who can be silent with us in a moment of despair or confusion, who can stay with us in an hour of grief and bereavement, who can tolerate not knowing, not curing, not healing and face with us the reality of our powerlessness, that is a friend who cares.”  ~Henri Nouwen

Surviving… It Made Me Stronger

Jack Growing Up Circa 1972

Jack Growing Up
Circa 1972

Not only was I being sexually abused by Melvin, but both my mother and Melvin had decided to place me in the hands of another child molester.  Whether they knew that at the time, I couldn’t say.  It’s my hope that they didn’t. His name was Leroy and that’s all I knew about him.   He was somewhat tall, his hair was buzzed short, and he had a drifting eye. Thinking about it now, he looked like the lead singer from the band, Men at Work, Colin Hay.  I had never seen this man at our home before. The day that I was sent to Leroy’s apartment was the first time that I had seen or even met the man.

We lived in an apartment building on Sheridan Avenue, just off Irving Park Road in the early 1970’s, where I was around the age of 10 years old. I remember it being a warm summer afternoon and me, along with Steve, who was around 9 at the time, were outside behind our apartment building, playing.  We were suddenly called into the house to get ready, as it was decided that my brother, Steve, and I would spend the night at Leroy’s home, a strange man’s home that we had never seen before.  Steve and I were told that his wife would love to have two young children in the house for the weekend to help her cook and spend time with. I never understood why we were going over to this strange man’s apartment. Why was my mother sending us there? Not questioning my mother, we threw some clothes into a suitcase and off we went to Leroy’s apartment.

Leroy lived in a corner apartment building that was located in Uptown, an area that one day would be very familiar to my brother and me.  The same corner that Steve and I would, years later, drag two shopping carts of dirty clothes to, which was by the laundry mat that was located directly on the corner of Leland and Racine. However, it was also the same neighborhood where Leroy lived, the stranger, the man who would eventually try to rape me.

Leland & RacineChicago

Leland & Racine
Chicago

Arriving at Leroy’s apartment, which was located on the second floor, Steve and I hauled our suitcase that we were sharing up the back porch stairs and into his apartment. I immediately realized upon entering the kitchen that the apartment was not only small, but quite, empty.  Immediately, I questioned Leroy, asking where his wife was, as I didn’t see her in the apartment once we arrived.  He had told Steve and me that she was still at work and that she would be home very soon.  Feeling somewhat at ease by his words, I continued walking through the kitchen and into the living room, where Steve placed our suitcase.

Making small talk and getting us to settle in, it wasn’t long after we arrived at Leroy’s apartment that Leroy asked Steve to go to the store to get some ice cream, for later that evening, he said, for after dinner.  I knew then that I didn’t want Steve to leave the apartment.  I didn’t want to be left alone with a man that I didn’t know. I even said that I would go with Steve, but Leroy was reassuring that he would be right back. It was then that I tried another approach, saying that we didn’t need to have dessert; that it was okay, that Steve didn’t need to go to the store. However, Leroy was being adamant about Steve leaving to go and get ice cream, convincing me that the store was down the block and that Steve would be right back.  All I thought was… I lost; I had no more excuses to give Leroy. Handing Steve some money for the ice cream, Steve walked out the back door, heading to the store. As Steve leaves the apartment, Leroy immediately locked the door behind him and, with a twist of his hand, bolted the lock shut on the door.   Feeling uneasy, I made a comment that there was no reason to lock the door, as Steve would be right back, but Leroy said that he would unlock the door once Steve’s back from the store, letting him in. Instinctively, it was then that I started to feel uncomfortable, as I started to feel that something bad was going to happen. I still didn’t understand why we were there, with Leroy.

“Intuition is a spiritual faculty and does not explain, but simply points the way.” ~Florence Scovel Shinn

Making my way back to the living room, I pulled out paper and pencil from the suitcase we brought and sat in the armchair and started to draw. Anxiously, I sat there listening for Steve to knock on the back door, waiting for him to come back from the store.  Leroy was now sitting on the couch across from me. Scribbling on my paper, Leroy asked if he could see what I was drawing. Holding up my pad of paper to show him, he wasn’t satisfied, and asked me to come to him so he could see it closer. Now standing before him, I showed him once again what I was drawing. Looking at it, he tells me that he would show me how to draw better.  Picking me up, he places me on his lap. I knew I didn’t like what he was having me do. It reminded me of Melvin. But, I was taught not to question adults, so I kept myself quiet. Taking the pencil from my hand, he begins to draw on my paper, creating little hearts.  Leroy settled me more into a cradle position across his legs and, it wasn’t long after that, that he placed his lips on mine, kissing me. I told him that I didn’t like that and asked him to stop and said that I wanted to go sit back in the chair. I didn’t want to be there! C’mon Steve, where are you?  I immediately left his lap and walked back over to the chair where I was previously sitting.  I felt safer there, as the arms of the chair protected me. I sat there with my legs crossed, tightly closed, a position that I knew all too well.  I continued sitting, waiting for Steve to come home from the store, wondering why it was taking him so long. I sat there, quiet and continued to draw. Something inside me told me that Leroy had other intensions. I was scared. Once more, I asked when his wife was coming home, knowing I would feel much better, safer if a woman was in the apartment with us, with me.  Leroy kept telling me, soon… soon.

Leroy noticed that the suitcase we brought was lying on the living room floor, just outside the bedroom door.  He asked me to pick it up and take it inside the bedroom so that it was out of the way.  Knowing that I didn’t want to step foot into that bedroom, let alone get out of my safety chair, I gave him an excuse. “Oh, Steve will probably want to get something out of it once he gets back from the store. I’ll move it to the bedroom then.”  Leroy was pressing though, as he kept insisting that I take the suitcase and place it inside the bedroom. Again, I was taught to listen to adults, so my mind started thinking fast. Something inside me told me that I should NOT go into that bedroom. Again, this time more demanding, Leroy tells me to move the suitcase.  I told myself that if I quickly pick up the suitcase, I can toss it inside the bedroom and I will be out of there in no time.  Hesitant, I said, “Okay.” Tucking my paper and pencil within the folds of the chair, I got up from the chair and walked directly to the suitcase.  Picking it up, I walked as swiftly as I could, taking the suitcase directly toward the bedroom, which was only a few feet from my chair.  Standing in the doorway of the bedroom, lights were off, it was dark, but I was able to see enough to know where I could place the suitcase.   I stepped a few feet inside and literally tossed the suitcase onto the floor. I was trying to make it a quick trip, within seconds, to put the suitcase down and get out, unfortunately, I wasn’t quick enough because as I was about to turn around, Leroy had his right hand over my mouth, making sure that I couldn’t scream, along with his left hand around my waist.

“Trust instinct to the end, even though you can give no reason.”  ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

Leroy pushed me further into his bedroom. My hands are now trying to pry his away from my face, my mouth. I definitely knew what his intentions were now and that was to rape me. I was struggling with him, as he tried to gain control of my body.  I stood at the foot of his bed, which had a vintage rod iron footboard, the kind that if you hit your head would surely leave a lasting impression.  Leroy managed to grab me tighter around the waist, lifting me, he throws me onto the bed, where I bounced a couple times, landing on my back.  The back of my calves hit hard against the iron frame, stinging with pain.  I use the same iron footboard to slide myself away from Leroy but, within seconds, he was making his way on top of me.  I felt like I was in a one of those dreams where you try to scream, but nothing comes out of your mouth, no noise whatsoever, just silence. I tried to catch my breath, so that I could let out a scream, a cry for help.  With my legs above me, I started kicking Leroy as hard as I could in his chest.  I wore shoes that looked like Oxfords, where the heal was thick; something that looked like a nun would wear. I kept kicking him to keep him off me.  It was at that moment that I felt something warm, something wet.  I had lost control of my bladder. I urinated all over myself, as well as his bed.  I was crying hysterically, screaming very loudly, still kicking his chest, fighting for my life.  In my mind, it appeared as if everything was happening in slow motion, but knew it was all taking place within seconds.  As I continued to scream at him, yelling, “No! Leave me alone!” it was at this point that I heard Steve at the backdoor, knocking, banging on the kitchen door to be let in.

Steve had heard my screams all the way from the bedroom.  He was home from the grocery store.  As Steve banging harder on the backdoor, the glass in the door was rattling, making his pounding sound louder.  Leroy stopped what he was doing to listen to the banging at the back door.  With one last kick into the chest, he rolled off me. I scooted as fast as I could to the end of the bed, where I made my way over the hard iron footboard, the same footboard where just moments before I was being flung onto the bed to be raped.   I made my way to the kitchen, running to the back door, trying to get the door open.  Crying hysterically, I can see Steve through the door window, holding a container of ice cream, watching me.  Steve’s frantically turning the doorknob, screaming back at me to unlock the door, to let him, but I wasn’t able to unlock the door. I see Steve’s eyes drifting away from mine, only to stare at what’s above me, behind me, which was Leroy.  He was now standing behind me. I take a step back and through numerous tears and sobs, I scream at him, demanding him to unlock the door.  Thinking back, this is why Leroy locked the door behind Steve as he left to go buy ice cream.  He wanted to make sure that Steve was locked out, incapable of entering the apartment while he raped me.  Leroy had it all planned.

“As we grew up, my brothers acted like they didn’t care,
but I always knew they looked out for me and were there!” ~Catherine Pulsifer

 Steve, who is still on the other side of the door looking in, is now as hysterical as I am. I scream again at Leroy to open the door.  Reaching past me, Leroy makes a few turns of the deadbolt, unlocking the door.  Steve taking only a few steps into the kitchen and asked me what had happened. As Leroy stood before us, I shared through my sobs that Leroy was trying to have sex with me in the bedroom and that he wouldn’t let me go.  All of a sudden, Leroy asked me what was the matter with me and why was I screaming like I was.  I told him that he knew what was going on and why I was screaming, reminding him that he had asked me to put the suitcase into the bedroom and, when I did, he was behind me, placing his hands over my mouth so that I couldn’t scream for help. As if protecting himself, Leroy commented that he was in the bedroom because he wanted to grab the radio from the shelf.  I asked him, “Why did you put your hands over my mouth then?” He said, “so that you wouldn’t scream.”  At this point, Steve instructed me to head toward the door so we can leave the apartment, so that we can find our way home.  As I was walking to the kitchen door to leave, the radio that Leroy was claiming to grab off the shelf in his bedroom was actually sitting underneath a utility shelf in the kitchen the whole time.  It never was in the bedroom.  Leroy lied.  His intention was to try to get me into the bedroom and he succeeded.  Steve and I left our suitcase behind and we literally ran all the way home from Leland and Racine all the way to Sheridan, where we lived. We rushed home, running for blocks as fast as we could.  My clothes were soaked from urine, from when I got so scared and peed all over myself.  I was hoping that nobody noticed the stain on the back of my dress.

Finally making it back to our building, we run up the front steps. As my mom stood in the doorway to our apartment, she was surprised to see us. I felt such a relief to see her, I now felt safe. Although, upon seeing mom standing there, I started to cry uncontrollably, where she couldn’t understand a word I was trying to say. It was one of those deep cries where you had trouble controlling your breath, as your lungs try to suck in as much air as possible between every frantic sob you let escape.  I tried to get closer to my mother, where I was hoping she would take me into her arms to console me, to make me feel safe, to reassure me that all will be well. However, instead, she got very angry with me, shaking me and then slapping me across my face, hard, where I felt the sting against my wet tears that rolled down my face.  It was then that I was commanded to be silent. Perhaps, the slap was mom’s way of getting me under control.  It worked. I stood there before her feeling as if I was the one who had done something wrong. Mom asked me why I was home and not with Leroy and his wife.  I told her the whole story, where Leroy’s wife was never there and that he tried to have sex with me in the bedroom.  Steve shared his side of the story, too, where Leroy made him go to the store to buy ice cream, leaving me alone with Leroy. Now standing inside my own living room, I explained everything in detail to now both mom and Melvin. I was still half hoping that mom was going to scoop me up into her arms, to embrace me, telling me that everything would be all right, but mom being herself, she never did. I was instructed to go wash up and change my clothes.

The next morning, I was told by Melvin that we were taking a ride, heading back over to Leroy’s apartment, where he could confront him about what had happened, as well as to pick up the suitcase that Steve and I had left behind. I told mom that I didn’t want to go back there, that I was afraid and to please don’t make me go.  I didn’t want to see the man again, face-to-face, who tried so hard to rape me. I asked, “Why do I have to go back there?”  Mom simply said, “Because Melvin said so.” What about what she thought? Did she not have any protective instincts for her children? Did Melvin want to prove my word over Leroy’s?

Driving back over to Leroy’s apartment, I felt myself getting nervous sitting in the backseat of Melvin’s car, as the images of just the day before were forcefully being replayed in my head.

As Melvin knocked on the kitchen door, we stood there waiting for Leroy to answer the door.  Peeking through the window, Leroy sees Melvin standing there, only to realize that I was falling directly behind. Leroy let us both in, where we walked into the living room. It was here that Melvin asked Leroy what had happened just the day before. Leroy tried to tell Melvin that when I went to put the suitcase in the bedroom I got scared when I realized that Leroy was standing behind me, therefore, he put his hands over my mouth so that I wouldn’t scream. Melvin turned to me, asking me if that’s what had happened, as if to suggest that I could be lying. I said no! I told Melvin that Leroy made me put the suitcase in the bedroom and when I did, he was behind me, covering up my mouth and then throwing me onto the bed. He said that he was looking for a radio, which I pointed out, that was actually in the kitchen, sitting underneath a cart. If the radio was in the kitchen, then why was he looking for it in the bedroom?  Melvin confronted Leroy and asked what he was trying to do with “his daughter,” which left me somewhat confused. It was as if Melvin was protecting me, like an animal guarding their young.  However, why was Melvin getting so angry and interrogating a man for almost raping me when he was doing the same thing himself, molesting a young and innocent child?  Perhaps, Melvin thought that someone was going to steal his prey away.  I felt as if Melvin was scolding Leroy more than threatening him. Needless to say, conversation was short, no yelling, no fist throwing, no authorities being called, no police to file a report, absolutely nothing was done to protect me, the victim. Sadly, they let another child abuser escape, only leaving him to hurt and abuse others. We walked out the door never to see Leroy again. We went back home and, as history always repeated itself in the Lambert-Acker home, not another word was ever said about this unpleasant experience.

I never did find out what my mother’s intentions were by having my brother and I stay overnight at Leroy’s apartment, placing us both in the hands of a complete stranger.

It was later that I found out that Leroy’s wife had left him. There were never any expectations of a wife coming home that night after work, while Steve and I were to stay over that fateful night.  My thoughts stem back to what could have happened if we stayed the whole night… what I know would have happened. Instinctively, I knew enough to fight off my attacker. I didn’t want this man to hurt me, rape me. But, why couldn’t I fight off my primary attacker, share with my mother that Melvin was doing the same? What Leroy aimed to do, Melvin was already doing. Was it different; was it the same? Was I afraid of losing the only home life I knew, afraid of being taken away from my mother, my grandparents, never to see any of them again? Is this why authorities were never called so that our own dirty family secrets wouldn’t come seeping out of the cracks, out of me, if I was talked to enough? Perhaps, my mother was just as fearful as I was, of something like this happening, therefore, both of us keeping our mouths shut.

I have learned from my horrible past. I have become stronger through my weaknesses.

I have learned to speak up when something isn’t right. I have learned to voice my issues and concerns. I have learned that I will never allow anyone else to physically or mentally hurt me again. I have instilled this same belief in my children.

“If you always watch the demons behind you, then you will never see the angels ahead.” ~ Author Unknown

Being a parent today, it’s my own responsibility, my deepest inner instinct to protect the ones that I love, my family, especially the lives of my innocent children. There’s nothing I wouldn’t do to protect my children from the hands of another person or a complete stranger. We instill in our children that nobody, under any circumstances should ever touch them and if so, to tell, to divulge, to share with us that that they are being violated. Teach them how to protect themselves. We are their teachers and if we don’t teach by example, then how can we expect our children to carry on the tradition of being strong, courageous and open individuals? We need to educate our children that it’s okay to speak up, to question, to scream. It’s more important for our children to question an adult and to tell someone than to have our children end up being another victim on a crime list, another statistic.

Was this potential rape to be one of my “learning lessons” in life? Was it meant for me to experience in order to learn to become stronger, to fight, to protect what was mine, what I loved and cherished close to my heart so that I could be the best person, the best parent there is?  Did I suffer so that I was taught to pay attention to my intuitiveness, to believe in my inner instincts when they speak to me?  Yes, I do believe so. I believe this experience taught me all the latter and then some. I am proud to say that I broke the mold. I broke the mold of sexual abuse, physical abuse, mental abuse. I broke the mold that was shaping me as I grew up in the unhealthy environment that I lived.

For those individuals who have also encountered such a tragic experience, the same as I, I’m sorry that you had to endure such violence, to go through such suffering.  My heart feels your pain.  But, please, know that it wasn’t at the fault of yourself, but from the fault of your attacker. We are never to blame ourselves for something that another was responsible for creating. We did not ask for it. As it can be devastating to our inner self, there must be something within you, me, all of us to learn to rise above, to conquer, to be stronger than our attacker. We must choose to be a survivor, to continue to exist in life and never succumb to defeat. Otherwise, our attackers, our abusers, are the ones that claim defeat and we can never allow that to happen, never giving them the satisfaction.  We must prove that we are capable of moving on, that we are stronger, that we are, indeed, survivors.  Because it’s up to us to teach and to share with others that they, too, will make it, that they, too, will get through it all, that they can and will survive, just as we have.

“Though I can’t change what happened, I can choose how to react. And I don’t want to spend the rest of my life being bitter and locked up.” ~Tori Amos

The Spiral Notebook…

Messages

Messages

 “Death is a debt we all must pay.”  ~Euripides

Death. Death has no discrimination; there’s no escaping it and each and every one of us will have the opportunity to experience it. Whether you are a person, an animal or a living flower, we will all at one point find death and, to be completely honest; it scares me. This was another reason why I decided to be baptized.  I wanted to make sure that I secured my place in heaven, right next to God and my family who are there now. I do believe with all my heart that there is a place for me in God’s Kingdom, but I am still afraid of the dying process and how I might get there. Surely, a common thought to most. In my dreams, I always die by electrocution; to the point where I feel my body vibrating, pulsating to every electrifying current, only to wake up before death finds me. Nobody ever wants to think of their own mortality. This is something that I have been trying to work within myself for many years.  I meditate, focusing on the heavens above me, the people and serenity that surround me. I watch God’s beauty, feeling comforted, safe and an indisputable believer of what waits for me. I believe in after death communication (ADC) and near death experiences (NDE) and have read many books on the subject. I believe that our loved ones can communicate with us after they have passed on. These are the beliefs that comfort me.  Still, there are times that I can’t help but to have some unpredicted fear about dying.

It was a Sunday evening on September 9, 2001, when I had received a phone call from the Chaplain at Weiss Memorial Hospital.  Hearing her introduce herself as the Chaplain brought immediate concern. The Chaplain was informing me that my mother was brought to the emergency room and placed in intensive care and was on a ventilator.  She shared with me that my mother wasn’t doing very well.  Not knowing exactly what she meant by “not doing very well,” I had asked her if this was a situation where I needed to contact other family members and the Chaplain said, yes, it was.

I was actually surprised that I received such a call from the hospital, as I knew my brother, Jeff, was listed as the next of kin in my mother’s medical chart. The second name listed in mom’s chart was my own. But, Jeff didn’t have my phone number to call me directly and, because of HIPAA laws, where a patient’s medical and private information is protected, the Chaplain legally could not give out any information that was detailed in my mother’s chart, my telephone number included. Therefore, the hospital had to call and tell me my mother was in the hospital.  Jeff didn’t have my phone number because we hadn’t spoken to one another since 1993, almost 8 years.

Upon hearing that mom was in ICU, I made a phone call to my brother, Steve.  As I was dialing, I remembered the last time I had informed him of a death; his own precious grandfather’s years before. Now, here I am again, notifying him that his mother isn’t doing well and that her chances for survival were basically hopeless. We chatted for a while about the seriousness of the situation and I told him that he may want to consider a trip to Chicago. We both came to the realization that this may be the time for our mother’s passing.  Steve and his family were making arrangements to drive to Chicago from Bay City, Michigan, and that we would see them most likely in the early morning hours, as it was approximately a six hour drive.

Frank and I also shared the news with our children.  At the time, Arlaraye was nine years old and Tanner was five.  Both old enough to realize what death was and what saying good-bye was all about, they were both sad to learn about their grandmother’s condition but, at the same time, they were vague with their emotions.  Mom never had a close relationship with either of my children for the fact that she never made an effort to bond or connect with them; a pattern that she had once shared with me.

Throughout the years, mom had been in and out of the hospital quite often; mostly brought on by her own health habits.  My mother wasn’t in the best physical condition. She didn’t eat properly and was overweight, needed the aid of an oxygen tank on a daily basis and was a chronic smoker. She was diabetic, had high cholesterol and also had high blood pressure.  In the past, mom was always being admitted to the hospital, as her immune system would be low, causing her to get lung infections.  She would stay a couple of days, get cleared up and then was released home.  This routine went on for many years.  Mom admitted that she would even feel better promising to work on her health, but always went back to her unhealthy behavior.

I had learned from the Chaplain that my mom wasn’t feeling well, so mom called my brother, Jeff, letting him know that she wasn’t feeling right and asked him to come over. It was apparent in her voice that she wasn’t herself, therefore, Jeff instructed mom to call an ambulance to take her to the hospital.  Once the ambulance arrived at her building, they found mom almost unresponsive.  This was when mom was rushed to the emergency room, where she laid in a sedated coma.

On Monday, September 10, while Steve and his family were on their way to Chicago, Frank and I went to the hospital that afternoon to see what information we could find out about mom’s condition.  I called into work that day, informing them of my situation and that I would not be into work.

Once at the hospital, Mom’s doctor met with Frank and me.  The doctor confirmed that while at home, mom had developed a blood clot in her leg. The doctors ran a battery of tests and it appeared that mom had a DVT, a Deep Vein Thrombosis.  A DVT is the formation of a blood clot in the deep vein and is a dangerous condition because the clot can travel up to the heart or lungs and block a vessel feeding those organs, causing cardiac or pulmonary ischemia, cardiac arrest and even death. Mom had one in her leg, which traveled directly to her heart; most likely caused by her sitting and inactivity for a prolonged period of time, her extreme weight and excessive smoking. Over the next couple of days, the doctors were going to perform additional tests on mom to find out the extent of her medical condition.

We met with the hospital Chaplain, who had originally informed me that mom was in the hospital.  She asked me if I had any other siblings and I told her yes, my brother, Steve, who was on his way from Michigan with his family. I also relayed that I had a brother, Jeff, but we weren’t on speaking terms. The Champlain shared with us that because of my mother’s serious condition, there was a possibility that a life or death decision may need to be made; the possible decision of taking her off of life support. I told the Chaplain that I didn’t want to make that decision on my own and that I would need to discuss this with my brothers and, if needed, obtain their consent.  I remember asking her for Jeff’s phone number so that I could speak with him regarding my mother.  But, she told me that she couldn’t give me his phone number, due to the HIPAA laws, the same reason she couldn’t give my number out to Jeff.  But, she was happy to make a call on my behalf.  I said thank you and asked her to have Jeff call me.

Frank and I arrived back home that Monday evening and we were mentally exhausted. The realization of my mother’s pending demise was weighing heavily on my mind, not to mention the fact that I would soon be in contact with Jeff, who I haven’t spoken to in over eight years. We left our relationship not on the best of terms and I couldn’t help but to wonder what it’s going to be like when we do speak again.  Not only did Jeff and I go our separate ways, but Jeff also severed all ties with Steve. It was almost as if Jeff fell off the face of the earth. I can understand where he and I had differences, but Jeff made the same effort in distancing himself from Steve, as well.

The last time that I had communication with Jeff was the evening when Jeff hung up on me during that one revealing evening back in 1993. It was a couple days after Jeff’s father, Melvin, died and mom called me, letting me know that Jeff would be contacting me, as he was going to ask me for two hundred dollars to help cremate his father.  I informed mom that I wasn’t about to give Jeff any money toward a cremation of a man who treated me like shit all my life and whose last words to me were calling me a whore. I believed my reasoning’s were justified. I could tell that mom didn’t want to discuss it, making her feel uncomfortable. My words and anger left my mother silent.  Mom knew how I felt about Melvin and just bringing up his name to me was a touchy subject.  I asked mom to have Jeff call me and I would be happy to explain to him why I wasn’t going to give him any money. It was at that moment that I made the decision to tell Jeff the true reason why I wasn’t going to hand him over any money. There was no way that I was going to give money to help lay to rest a fucking child molester.  Jeff could have cremated him in a garbage can with a can of lighter fluid and a book of matches for all I cared!

About an hour later, Jeff called me and the demeanor in his voice sounded as if he didn’t want to make any small talk whatsoever; he wanted to get down to business… money business.  As far as I knew, Jeff did not know that Melvin had sexually abused me as a child.  Nor, did I think he realized that Steve was also one of his victims.  If Jeff ever had any concept of us being abused, he never made it apparent to either Steve or me.  My thoughts were once I explain everything to Jeff, he would truly understand, if not respect, why I wouldn’t give him the money to help cremate his father.  Jeff immediately asked me for the two hundred dollars.  I told him that I wasn’t going to give him any money to help bury his father. Jeff couldn’t understand why I was being so adamant about the situation and he started debating with me.  It was at that point that I said to him, “Jeff, this is the reason why I’m not going to give you the money for Melvin.”  Just as I was about to spit out the words, “It’s because your father is a filthy child molester,” Jeff hung up on me, ending our conversation with an abrupt dial tone in my ear.  It was at that point that I became very livid, thinking, how Jeff dare hang up on me.  Frank was standing by my side and I told Frank that Jeff just hung up on me and he wouldn’t even let me explain to him why I’m not going to just hand over all that money. I started crying and, the more I cried, the more upset and pissed off I became.  I was outraged at the fact that he wouldn’t even give me the opportunity to let me explain why.  I dialed Jeff back and I was going to scream as loud as I could in his ear that his father liked to fuck little children and that he doesn’t need to be cremated because his ass is going directly to hell and the devil would do it for him!  But, my mother answered the phone instead. I shared with mom that Jeff hung up on me and I asked to speak with him.  He refused to come to the phone and talk to me, only making me angrier.  This is when I lost it and said to my mom, “You can tell your prick of a son that the reason that I won’t give him any money for his father is because Melvin was nothing but a child molester.  And if he doesn’t believe me, then he can call his brother in Michigan and ask him, too!”  It was then my turn to hang up the phone.  I immediately hung up on my mother and started crying all over again. It was done, finished, my horrible secret that I had been carrying around inside me for over thirty years had finally been revealed, not only to my brother, but to my mother as well. It wasn’t my intentions to blurt out to my mother that Melvin sexually abused me and my brother, Steve, ever since we were young children.  I had plans to never share that with my mother or any other family member. It was my own horrible little secret. I was so upset over the fact that Jeff didn’t give me enough respect to even try and listen to me. Everything was always about Jeff and his own world.

As one would imagine, my phone started ringing immediately, relentlessly, but I wouldn’t answer it.  It was my mother calling, surely trying to figure out what the hell just happened.  I was so upset that I just couldn’t even talk with her.  She tried calling all night, so much in fact, that I had to take the phone off of the hook.  Eventually, I knew that I would have to speak with her.  I did my best to avoid her phone calls all evening.  I went to work the next morning and this is where mom caught me.  She dialed the main number and asked to speak with me. I knew that it was something that I had to do.  I went behind a closed door in one of the offices and spoke with her privately.  Mom had asked me why I never told her what was going on between Melvin and me.  I shared with her that young children just don’t tell… they just don’t say anything to anyone, they are afraid to, it hides deep within them, never to be mentioned or revealed. During our whole conversation, not once did mom tell me that she was sorry; that she was sorry for what Melvin had done to two of her beautiful and innocent children and everything that we had went through. Not once did mom curse Melvin to hell. Not once did mom make an attempt to defend me or Steve. Not once did mom say she would have killed him if she knew. Not once did mom share one word of remorse with me.  Our conversation was as if she called to tell me that she had burnt dinner. As always, mom showed no emotion whatsoever.  I was hoping that at least now she would show some anger, some hatred toward Melvin, knowing that he had sexually abused her children throughout their young life. I would be screaming every obscenity there was; telling my child that I was so sorry for what they had to go through, shedding tears right along with them, but my mom not once shed a tear.  Instinctively, it was at that precise moment that I was absolutely convinced mom knew all along about the sexual abuse and what had happened to me and my brother so many years before, even knowing when it happened and where it happened.  Mom never worked, rarely left the house, and basically was always home.  Surely, she had to have her suspicions about Melvin always wanting to take us with him everywhere. All that my mind could think about is how could she not know? Her lack of response and her quietness about the situation truly led me to believe that she knew about all the abuse that Melvin forced on her two children. She had finally been relieved of her own torture that she had kept deep within her heart and soul. The guilt of not protecting her child, not one, but two children, from a sexual predator must have been an unspeakable torment in her own mind.  To spare us both further discomfort, I told mom that I don’t want to talk about it, it was all in the past, done and over with and there was absolutely no reason to relive it. We both never talked about Melvin sexually abusing me ever again.

Needless to say, Jeff never did get the money that he wanted to help cremate his father. I don’t even know if mom ever shared with him exactly why I wouldn’t give him any money. Knowing Jeff, he probably thought Steve and I made it all up. It didn’t matter because I didn’t want anything to do with Jeff from that moment on. He wasn’t a brother to me at that time, the time I needed him most.  We both stopped talking with one another. He led his life, I led mine and we both went our own separate ways.  I stopped acknowledging him as a brother, as a family member. Over the years, I learned from my mother that Jeff got his girlfriend pregnant, moved to Wisconsin with her and years later, after having more children, they eventually married.  Unfortunately, because of Jeff’s actions that evening, our relationship was never the same and this was the reason why that I did not see or talk with Jeff in over eight years.

It was shortly after Frank and I arrived home from the hospital that evening that I finally received that phone call from Jeff.  Hearing the phone ring, I was anxious, nervous, as I wasn’t sure how Jeff’s demeanor was going to be. To my surprise, Jeff was very compassionate and sensible. Our conversation between us was short, but very at ease.  I relayed to Jeff that Steve was on his way to Chicago.  I asked if we could all meet at the hospital the next morning to find out what else the doctors had found regarding mom’s condition. Jeff agreed and we left the conversation on a mutual and sensible tone.  Hanging up the phone, I shared with Frank that the conversation went a lot smoother than anticipated.  Even though Jeff was disrespectable to me eight years prior, I wasn’t going to demonstrate any anger or bitterness.  There wasn’t time for that.

I poured myself a well deserved glass of wine and worked up my courage as I realized that I now had the heartbreaking responsibility of contacting my grandmother who lived in Wisconsin.  Granny was now in an assisted nursing home in Portage. Granny had no idea that her second born, who is now on life support and fighting for her life, will most likely pass before her. The thought of telling granny that she may lose another child just broke my heart.  Her son, my uncle Bob, passed away in 1997, where he was having a heart attack, drove himself to the emergency room, only to pass days later. He was only 59 years old. I decided to contact the social worker at the nursing home instead of speaking with granny directly.  I was in fear that such news would jeopardize granny’s own health. I shared with the social worker what was happening and that I would contact them once I find out further information from the doctors and mom’s additional testing.

Waiting for Steve and his family’s arrival, Frank and I set up the basement where they could rest comfortably until the next day when we all headed to the hospital. I finally had a moment to myself, to reflect on what was going on and what could possibly happen.  I couldn’t believe what was put before me.  As a child, one never thinks about the time when a parent will pass away, how it will happen, or even when.  Sitting there, it all seemed so unreal to me, as if I was on the outside looking in, watching someone else’s family tragedy, but realizing that it was actually my own.

It was 1:00 in the morning when Steve arrived with his wife, Mary, and their three children, all exhausted from their long ride in.  We set the children up for bed in the basement and they fell quickly back asleep.  The adults headed to the living room, where we started to express our thoughts and feelings.  Like me, Steve couldn’t believe that this moment had finally arrived, where we would be making a life or death decision.  I told Steve that I spoke with Jeff and that we would all meet at the hospital the next morning around 11:00 a.m. After another hour of chat, we all headed to bed, as we knew that the morning would be fast approaching.

As suspected, the morning rolled in a lot faster than I wanted it to.  It was Tuesday, September 11, 2001 and in a bittersweet way, it was the most beautiful day outside.  I could see the sun shining through the bedroom windows and I couldn’t help but to think how I was admiring the summer morning when I suddenly remembered that mom was lying in the ICU hooked up to machines and tubes. It was around 8:30 a.m. and Frank was still sleeping so I decided to get out of bed and start my day.  I went to the kitchen and started a pot of coffee for everyone, thinking that we were surely going to need it.  I laid out coffee cups, sugar and creamer, along with the breakfast goodies I bought the day before.  Knowing that I had to make a phone call, I headed to the living room to call work, letting them know that I would not be in again that day, as my family and I had plans to meet with my mother’s doctors.  I heard Nikki, our receptionist, pick up my call, greeting me as she always did.  I told her it was me and that I wouldn’t be in to work.  This is when Nikki asked me if I knew what was going on in New York.  I told her I didn’t and wasn’t sure what she was referring to.  Nikki advised me to turn on the television.   Turning it on, I suddenly became aware that the news station was showing live footage of the World Trade Center in Manhattan, New York. Smoke billowing out from the top floors of the building, along with flames that seemed to be licking the building on every floor.  I could see people hanging out of the windows, screaming for help, as they waved cloths to show their existence against the massive silver building. I could also hear the panic and distress in the reporter’s voice.  I knew that whatever was happening, it wasn’t good.  I was starting to become concerned and frightened and asked Nikki literally, “What the fuck was going on?!”  This is when she shared with me that an airplane had crashed directly into the North Tower of the World Trade Center.  I could see the destruction that the airplane had left behind and knew that many lives were already lost.  I hung up the phone with Nikki and immediately went to wake up Frank.  I told him that something was happening in New York and that I felt it was best that he get up to watch, as something serious was going on.  It wasn’t shortly after Frank came into the living room that Steve and Mary followed behind.  All four of us stared helplessly, watching the TV with horrible blank stares on our faces.  It was only moments later that we saw on live TV another airplane flying into the World Trade Center, this time making a direct hit into the South Tower. All of us gasped at the same time, with all of us pretty much making the same comment, “OH SHIT!”  It was becoming apparent that this was not an accident.  We were later being informed that the planes that flew into the towers were hijacked and this was just the beginning.  Not knowing what other targets the hijackers had in mind, my concerns grew more and more through the morning, wondering if the kids were safe in school and if we should go and pick them up.  Frank made a phone call to the kids’ school and we were reassured that all was safe and that we didn’t need to be alarmed.

Like robots, we all huddled around the TV, as if we were watching a Bears-Packers football game.  With every update that we heard, we all shook our heads with disbelief.  As much as we wanted to stay home and watch the tragedy that was unfolding directly in front of our eyes, the tragedy of all these peoples’ lives, we were quickly reminded that we had a tragedy of our own; mom and her own life. We left for the hospital, where we met with the physicians, as well as Jeff for the first time in eight years.

Once at the hospital, we met with mom’s physicians. The news didn’t look good for mom.  The doctors performed multiple tests and we were informed that she had no brain activity whatsoever. There was no clinical evidence of brain function upon physical examination. She had no response to pain stimulation and no cranial nerve reflexes, including no eye movement or blinking and she had fixed pupils. Mom was completely brain dead and her condition was irreversible. Mom was at the total mercy of life support.  Machines were breathing for her, pumping air into her lungs, one breath at a time.  Not only did she look dead on the outside, sadly, you can see that there was nothing living on the inside either.

It was apparent that my brothers and I had to make one of the most important decisions of our lives, of our mother’s life.  It was evident that mom was not going to get any better.  It was then that we found out that mom had a DNR request in her chart – Do not Resuscitate. It was apparent that the decision has already been made for us.  My brothers and I, along with our significant others went back to my house and talked for the longest time, for hours, discussing mom’s fate.  I was actually surprised how well Jeff and I were getting along.  It was as if nothing happened between us eight years prior and we just picked up our relationship where it left off.  Perhaps, it was the moment, surely having a great deal to do with mom.  Everyone was being cordial and respectable toward each other and their feelings, regardless of how the person was feeling from the past.  It made me think that this is how we should have gotten along years ago. In the end, after discussing mom’s destiny, we all knew that this was the best decision that we could have made for her. Let mom’s mind, body and soul be at peace, let her be lifted up into God’s arms. It was now her turn to go home.

It was later learned that hijackers flew planes into the Twin Towers that were no longer standing. Flight 77 was flown directly into the Pentagon building in Washington and Flight 93 went down into a field in Pennsylvania. Thousands of lives were taken that morning. I remember leaving to go and pick up Arla from school that afternoon and all the parents were around talking about what happened to our country that morning.  As I sat in the truck, waiting for the kids to get out of school, I noticed that the skies above me were an eerie quiet, where stillness filled the air. No planes whatsoever were being permitted to fly in the airspace.

During the last two days, the 9/11 tragedy was all over the television with news, special reports, and interviews. It was almost as if every American ate, slept and breathed 9/11. We couldn’t get enough of it. But, this day, my focus was now on my mother.  We all made our way back to the hospital, where it was time to take mom off of life support and say our final good-byes.  I never did like hospitals, even though I worked in one.  They have always represented bad news for me; making me feel uncomfortable, as if death is waiting around every single corner, sensing sickness on every floor and in every patient’s face.  It was rare that I walked into a hospital that I didn’t feel grief or sorrow. I felt it all around me.

Frank being in the medical field and working in a hospital for over twenty years, took initiative and helped us prepare for what was about to happen. Frank worked at Columbus Hospital, where he worked in the Emergency Room department and then eventually working with brain tumor patients on the neurosurgical floor.  Frank saw people die from their brain tumors, as well as seeing people survive, walking directly out of the hospital to continue their lives. Frank was wonderful talking with the physicians and even the hospital Chaplain.

Everyone met within the waiting room in ICU at Weiss Memorial. The Chaplain arrived just moments after we did, asking how we were all doing, letting us know that she was there for support and will guide us through this ordeal.  The kids were coloring in their coloring books, which kept them busy.  The TV was on in the waiting room, which was practically screaming 9/11 at you.  There was a lot of apprehension in the air, not only with what our country was going through, but what mom’s three children were going through and what they would have to do in only a few short moments.

The nurses were in mom’s room, preparing her for her final moments of life. The thought of knowing that you had control of someone’s life in the palm of your hand made my mind sick with regret.  Was there any turning back at that point? Not according to the physicians. Mom was entirely brain dead. She had no thoughts, feelings or acknowledgement that we were there, unless she felt us spiritually.  The nurses call us into mom’s room to say our final good-byes.  Steve, Jeff, Frank and I follow the Chaplain into mom’s room, all wrapping our way around her bed. We were quiet, as we listened to the machines in the room pumping, watching them breathe air into mom’s body.  Mom lay there, motionless, with tubes down her throat, completely oblivious that we were all there around her, for her. The nurse in the room was twisting cords and readjusting tubes, working with the machines that were obviously keeping her alive. My heart was racing as I stood at the end of mom’s bed. My palms were sweaty and my bottom lip started to quiver.  Nobody should be placed in the position that I was in, that my brothers were in, but, yet, death finds us all and there was no escaping it for mom.

Feeling it was important, I asked the hospital Chaplain to say a prayer for mom before they ended life support.  My two brothers, Frank and I, along with the Chaplain stood over mom while each of us held hands. With the Chaplain’s hand resting on mom’s shoulder, we recited the Lord’s Prayer.

Our Father, which art in heaven,
Hallowed be thy Name.
Thy Kingdom come.
Thy will be done in earth,
As it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our trespasses,
As we forgive them that trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation,
But deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom,

The power, and the glory,

For ever and ever.

Amen.

Through broken words I managed to say good-bye to mom, asking her to say hello to grandpa for me and that I missed him.  It started to get emotional for me; especially when I knew mom was going to meet grandpa on the other side at any moment. For some reason, I didn’t feel comfortable crying openly in front of everyone, so I held back my tears as much as I could. Saying the Lord’s Prayer over my mother though was comforting to me. It felt like a completion; almost like a cleansing; a purification of her soul for all her torments in her life, for all her secrets that she held in her heart and mind for so many years.  Frank, I and the Chaplain were the only ones reciting the Lord’s Prayer, while Steve and Jeff remained silent.  I got the impression that they were lost in what to say, just as I had been so many years before, as I once stood not knowing how to pray or what it all meant. I held my rosary in the palm of my hand while praying, the same rosary that I was baptized with just the year before. I didn’t realize it, but I must have held onto Jeff’s hand so intensely that the rosary left indentation marks in the palm  of his hand. Perhaps, subconsciously, I was trying to send a message that he should be a better brother, a better listener and that family is worth holding onto.

I cannot say the Lord’s Prayer today without being touched, remembering this faithful memory; bringing me back to this one particular moment every single time, the day that we prayed over mom .  The Chaplain shared a few personal words, along with giving mom her last rites.  Chaplain asked God to prepare my mother’s soul for death, asking for forgiveness of all her sins and anointing her, preparing her for a safe journey, asking God to accept my mother into His loving kingdom.

After prayers and rituals were done, we were asked to leave the room while they prepared for my mother’s death.  They didn’t want us to watch them disconnecting mom from all the various machines; the heart monitor and breathing machine, eventually taking her final breath away.  We walked back to the waiting room. The television was on and was showing the latest news and updates with the 911 attack. They replayed the same scenes over and over like a bad sitcom, as we continuously watched the planes hit the World Trade Centers, exploding into huge fireballs or as we watched so many innocent and terrified people making the decision to jump to their own demise, where death waited for them once they made it to their final destination, the ground below. It was my only hope and prayer that God greeted them at the end of their journey with open arms, embracing each and every one of them with His tremendous love and light. It was only a few moments later that the Chaplain and nurse came to me and my family letting us know that mom, too, had passed, completing her own final journey. I didn’t realize how emotional I would get.  I never considered myself close to my mom, but I actually broke down when the nurse told us “she was gone.” As I had asked for the 9/11 victims, I was now praying for God to extend the same invitation to my mother.

“Watching a peaceful death of a human being reminds us of a falling star; one of a million lights in a vast sky that flares up for a brief moment only to disappear into the endless night forever.”  ~Elisabeth Kübler-Ross

My brothers and I had made the difficult decision taking mom off of life support on September 14, 2001, where she passed at 10:53 a.m., just three days after the 9/11 attacks.  Mom was only 62 years old. I watched the people on the television and even made a comment that it didn’t help that I was not only grieving for all the lives lost on 9/11, but for my mother as well.  I had such mixed emotions about exactly what I was grieving for.  I didn’t know if I was more upset at the fact that my only mother had passed or if I was more upset and grieving for the mother that I never had, for the mother-daughter relationship that I should have had in my life, but never did. I felt in my heart that it was the latter. Sadly, my mother and I didn’t have a close relationship, something that she just wasn’t receptive to having in her life. But, now, death made everything so final.

After mom’s death that morning I, once again, went home to call my grandmother to let her know that her daughter had passed away. The hospital staff made sure that there was a priest there with her when I delivered the news.  “Granny, I’m calling to let you know that mom had passed away today.”  Speaking with granny, I can tell she was in shock, but the priest was making sure that she understood what was going on. Granny’s response was what any mother would say after losing a child, “Oh no, I lost another one.”  The priest sat with granny and they prayed together. I hung up the phone with tears in my eyes and an uncontrollable pain in my heart for my grandmother, as this was now the second child she had lost.  Framing a picture of mom when she was young, I sent it to granny so that she would have something to look at, possibly to talk to. The picture was taken in a sepia tone, which made mom’s face glow with radiance. Looking into her eyes, I could once see a happy, lively, vibrant young woman, who exuberated love and kindness.  This was the mother that I should have known, should have been best friends with, who I should have been able to tell my deepest darkest secrets to. This is the mom that my heart ached for, not the one who I had known during my life.

My mother, Elvera Lee - Circa Late 1950's.

My mother, Elvera Lee – Circa Late 1950’s.

Mom looked so happy in this picture and I couldn’t help but to think that this was a different time in her life, where she loved life, as there was nobody there to take it away from her, to beat her, nobody there to verbally humiliate her. It was a time before self inflicting alcohol abuse.  I don’t know the event in her life that inspired such a beautiful picture, but I knew that this is how granny would remember her.

My brothers and I decided to have mom cremated, which was done on September 16. These were mom’s final wishes.  Shortly after mom was cremated, we went through some of her things.  Jeff went to her apartment and grabbed whatever looked important, stuffed it in paper bags and took everything to his house in Wisconsin.  Steve and his family had since gone back home to Michigan, therefore, Jeff inviting my family to his home, Jeff and I went through everything to see what was important and what wasn’t. I truly felt that Jeff and I were making amends with our relationship. I know there were issues in the past between us, but we were both grown adults, with each of us having children of our own now.  I had looked deep within myself and decided to forgive and forget.  What had happened, I left it exactly where it should be… in the past.  It appeared that Jeff and I were moving forward… or so I thought.  Mom did have some important papers; papers that showed that she had a small life insurance policy, which if it was split evenly, between her three children, wouldn’t make us rich, but it could have help with a bill or two or something else we may have needed.  Jeff took it upon himself to initiate the process of the funds and getting the paperwork started. It was agreed between the three of us, my brothers and I, that we would split the insurance money, equally, between the three of us.  Unfortunately, it did not happen that way.  With Jeff being in total control of the assets, Jeff gave Steve and myself only a very small portion of the insurance money up front and told us that he would send more at a later date.  In the end, Jeff decided to keep the rest of the funds for himself. He went onto explain in an email to me that he lost money as he was not able to work at his construction job one weekend, due to all the running around he had to do because of our mother’s passing, therefore justifying to himself why he was going to keep the rest of the money.  Perhaps, Jeff didn’t take into consideration that I, too, ran errands, made numerous phone calls to funeral homes, meeting with the funeral home, as well as making arrangements to have my mother’s body transferred to a funeral home for cremation.  I also made arrangements for her obituary to be placed in the local newspaper, also paying for the services. Not once, did I bring that to anyone’s attention. But, once again, Jeff was thinking only of himself.  Jeff’s email was the last time I heard from my brother, as he never again contacted me or my brother, Steve.  Steve and I were completely astonished by Jeff’s actions. We both couldn’t believe that Jeff had cheated his own siblings out of thousands of dollars, only to gratify himself.  Jeff did not reflect on our feelings, as he only looked out for his own gain.  Not once did Jeff take into consideration how others may feel.  I found it quite sad actually. Jeff had every opportunity to make amends with his siblings, especially with me, but he had made the decision instead to leave and end our relationship, once again, over money.  He not only lost his sister for the second time in his life, but also his brother.  We were so close at one point in our early lives. Growing up, we all went through hardship together; we all had nothing to eat together, we didn’t have any money, we didn’t have lots of clothes, we were all deprived… together. When we had nothing, we knew we always had each other. Is money that important to someone where you would jeopardize a relationship?  Can greed be that strong? Money should, under no circumstances whatsoever, interfere with the price of a relationship, family, a loved one.  It only led me to believe that if a person could do something like this to their family then there’s a reason why; a reason they needed the money more and I just hoped that whatever Jeff needed it for, it helped him out tremendously. Having the extra money wouldn’t break me or make me rich in either way. Money is not worth destroying family relationships but, sadly, Jeff didn’t value these same opinions. Once again, Jeff was out of my life and I haven’t seen or spoken to him in twelve years, the same amount of time that my mother has been gone.

During the time I was with Jeff looking through my mom’s belongings, I found and kept a small picture of her from when she was approximately three or four years old. Blue eyed and curly blond hair, I saw my own resemblance within her.  I also found a notebook, which I immediately slipped into my bag, thinking that I would look at it closer, later, when I was alone. Completely forgetting about the notebook for a couple of weeks, I remembered and pulled it out of my bag. Flipping through the notebook, I felt my heart sink with every page I turned, completely astonished at what I was looking at. Mom had torn out articles that she found in newspapers and magazines. Some of the pieces were even in mom’s own handwriting.  I found articles on happiness and being respected and loved. I found one article she clipped from the newspaper titled, “Recipe for a Better Life.” I found clippings about togetherness, where it talked about death is nothing at all, as they have only slipped away into another room… I saw articles on hugging and a note titled, “What is a Friend.” Continuing on through the pages, I found Dear Abby articles that mom felt was important enough, clipping and saving them within her notebook. However, the articles that I found so significant were the ones titled, “Loneliness” and “A Parent’s Prayer.”  Reading these two pieces made me come to the realization that mom was hurting so much inside, aching to have any form of this contact with another human being. Every article that she taped neatly into her notebook was how she must have felt in her heart, mind and soul. Unfortunately, mom could not express these words openly to her children, therefore, she did it the only way she knew how and that was by taping her thoughts and feelings into a spiral notebook.

Mom's Messages

Mom’s Messages

Mom 2

Mom 5

Mom 8

Mom 7

Mom 8

As time went on and weeks went by, my mind started thinking about the mother I wished I could have had in my life while growing up, while getting married, while having children of my own, the mother who was taped within those pages of her notebook.  A part of me felt resentful and cheated; knowing that all mom had to do was open her heart, showing me that she cared. But, I knew that she was incapable of doing so.  Her life with Melvin throughout those many years had deteriorated her emotions, her happiness, and her passion for life, as well as for everything else that surrounded her. Melvin stripped her emotions away, just like he stripped away the sweet innocence of her two children.  Surely, she loved her children in her own unique way; she just had a very hard time expressing it to us. My heart ached for the mom that I could have had, should have had. I wished for my children to have the special grandma relationship that I was blessed with, with my own grandmother. What a special and amazing relationship that they were cheated out of; what my mother was cheated out of.  Although, do you miss something that you never had in your life to begin with?

I continue to believe that there’s a purpose, a reason why we are here on this earth.  We are here to receive learning lessons.  The values we learn on a daily basis, within our lives, we will take back home with us to share with others in God’s world, where we will then be the teacher. I have often wondered, questioning what my learning lessons are as I travel through my life. Is it through the sexual abuse by Melvin, learning how to be strong and overcome any obstacles that are set before me? Is it through the relationship with my mother, where I have learned to be open, expressive, to be the best parent I could be, or through my relationship with my grandparents, where I was shown that life is the most beautiful and precious gift that God has given us, therefore, living it with compassion and love? I have been through so much in my life and I have tried to make every effort to find the positive side of each and every situation… my learning lessons. I have learned to love with all my heart, unconditionally, always letting others know that I love them, sharing what I have gained and cherish life to the best of my ability, as I never know when it will all be taken away from me, when life will end, when death will find me…

If there’s ever a time where I questioned my mother’s love for me, I always know that I can return and read through her many messages that lie deep within the pages of her spiral notebook.

 

“Well, right now… I’m not dead.  But when I am, it’s like… I don’t know, I guess it’s like being inside a book that nobody’s reading…. An old one. It’s up on a library shelf, so you’re safe and everything, but the book hasn’t been checked out for a long, long time. All you can do is wait. Just hope somebody’ll pick it up and start reading.” 

~Tim O’Brien, The Things They Carried

Hours after mom’s death, she, herself, sat waiting on a shelf, but she wasn’t a book, she was a doll; a ghost, a spirit.  Mom had one last thing she needed to say to me before leaving, therefore, she sat quietly, patiently, waiting for the right moment, until I picked her up and held her tight…

References:

http://www.adcrf.org/

http://www.after-death.com/

http://www.nderf.org/

http://www.near-death.com/

The Power Of Forgiveness…

God's Beautiful Gift

God’s Beautiful Gift

I look at a certain type of man walking down the street with their little daughter; a man who looks as if he’s guarded, distrustful, as if he’s holding onto the biggest and most darkest secret in the palm of his hand; the hand of a young and innocent child that he’s been sexually molesting. He holds her hand tightly and keeps her close to his side in hopes that she will not escape, so as to not shout out their horrible family secrets to the world. My thoughts start to wander back to the days when I was her age, questioning and wondering if she, too, is receiving the same sexual abuse as I had. If she’s being made to do the same disgusting acts as I had. I shake the thought from my mind and quietly say a silent prayer for the little girl’s safety and pray that I am mistaken; that I am completely wrong.

At the time that I was being sexually molested, I felt it was my own horrible nightmare; my own secret that was only between Melvin and me. I was a little girl, who was supposed to be free-spirited, worry free and innocent; all the makings of a sweet child. But, my childhood was being shattered, as images were forever burned into my mind. I was becoming the product of sexual abuse. I can’t call it incest, because he wasn’t married to my mother legally, he wasn’t my biological father, wasn’t even a relative. But, regardless of what you call it, it was still a horrible act of violence. Sexual molestation is not only full of destruction, it’s also degrading. I eventually learned to create a wall within myself, a wall of protection that mentally blocked Melvin out.

Not only was Melvin a hazard to society with his alcoholism and cruel temperament, but he also carried the label of child molester. His upbringing of my brothers and I was deplorable and despicable. I guess with him not being my real father, in his mind, he probably felt he was justified to touch me inappropriately; that it was okay because he wasn’t technically related to me. He had no guilt or shame doing what he did to me all those years and, as I found out many years later, once I was an adult, what he had done to my brother, as well.

All my years growing up, I always believed that I was the only one Melvin was molesting. In my brother’s mind, he believed that he was the only one being molested by Melvin. It wasn’t until our adult life, years later, when we were having dinner together, that we were both shocked to discover that it wasn’t just one of us, but both of us that Melvin had sexually abused for so many years. During dinner one evening, my conversation with my brother was starting to get very meaningful, while reminiscing about living on the farm with our grandparents. Every summer, my grandparents would drive from Stoughton to Chicago to come and get us so we can spend the summers with them on their farm. My brother and I both agreed that this time in our lives was glorious and held so many special memories for the both of us. Years later, my grandparents eventually had to move to Madison because my grandfather had cancer and wasn’t able to handle the farm any longer. He needed to be closer to the hospital and his physicians. After talking awhile about how special this time of our lives were, I had decided to share with Steve a love letter that our grandfather had written me years before, during his sickness, as he knew he was dying. The letter read in part… “I keep thinking of the time we went to the country. We sure did have a ball stealing sweet corn. Remember your pet chicken? That was some bird! I would give $10,000 to be back there and do it all over again.” He, too, reminisced about the good old summer days when we would all be together.

Later in life, I always wondered if my mother ever knew of my sexual abuse. Thinking back, how could she not know? My mother never worked, never went anywhere and was always around. It’s not like she left the house and this is when Melvin attacked. Sometimes, mom would be in the same area where the abuse was happening. Surely, she had to have seen some odd behavior, not only in Melvin, but in her own child. Did she not find it suspicious that Melvin always wanted to take me with him on errands or task, even if it was just next door, to the empty apartment or to check on something in the building we use to manage? Did she not question why I came back disheveled and silent? Deep in my heart I felt that she did know to some extent about me being sexually molested by the man that she shared her life with. For reasons of her own, my mother kept her silence. If she would have confronted Melvin, either he would have left and that would have meant that any source of money or dependency she received from him would have been gone, too. She was so fearful of him and didn’t want to stir up any trouble. Mom was in psychological trap of her own. Mom would just sit there, frozen, not daring to move or say anything that would piss Melvin off. Otherwise, his hand would swing back, palm side directed toward my mother’s head, hitting her directly in the face; her head snapping back, only to bounce forward, waiting to receive the next blow. I never once saw her fight back. I’ve seen Melvin beat my mother just because she spoke out of line or just refusing to hand him her last dollars so that he could go and buy his vodka. Melvin would drink excessively before going to bed. He had a habit of talking in his sleep and would unconsciously wake up and start an argument with my mother, insisting and accusing her of something she did wrong, threatening, calling her a bitch. We all tip toed around him as he slept, praying we wouldn’t wake him up. My mother was scared to death of Melvin, we all were and, like us, sadly, she was a victim, too.

Occasionally, I’ll see something that will trigger me back to the days of when Melvin was being abusive. It’s a rarity, but it does happen. If the molesting didn’t happen in an empty apartment while cleaning for the next tenant, it happened on the back of a dark Greyhound bus while traveling or in a park underneath a tree far away from others. My earliest memories of Melvin touching me and making me touch him were when I was around three years old until I was about eleven or twelve, just after puberty was starting.

As I got older, Melvin touched me less and less. I was resisting him more and more. I was becoming more vocal, a person of my own mind who had gotten stronger mentally throughout the years. He no longer could manipulate me like he wanted to and he knew it. He had lost control. There was a time when I was nineteen years old that Melvin had moved out of our apartment. Not only was Melvin arguing with my mother, he was also arguing with me. There was a lot of tension with him arguing, insulting me, directly in front of others. He hated the fact that I was now an adult and he had no control of my life. He was jealous and hated the fact that I wanted something better for myself, was going to college getting an education; that I worked and had a great relationship with my boyfriend, Bill. I was finally happy with my life and where it was going. I was moving on and making every attempt to better myself and my future. Melvin couldn’t stand it. He knew he had no more power over me, no more manipulation or threats, no more beatings, no more sexual abuse. My body was no longer in his jurisdiction. So, to make himself feel better, he would pick fights with me, insult and degrade me, working his evilness in every way that he could because he knew he could no longer do it sexually.

The surroundings we lived in were becoming unhealthy. I became a woman with my own voice and I wasn’t going to stand for his abusive unhealthy behavior anymore. I learned to speak my mind, I stood up for myself and Melvin hated it. The abuser could no longer abuse; therefore, he left and moved out.

With Melvin now out of the apartment, there was less tension in the air, no arguing or picking fights, no more watching him drink himself into unconsciousness every night. With Melvin gone, it made life more peaceful. But, I had decided that I had enough of living at home. I was old enough to be on my own and I held a job where I could afford a small rent fee. I knew I didn’t want to be in that environment any longer. I was tired of the lifestyle, the lack of love, the filth, the depression. I needed out! I had an opportunity to move out from my mother’s place and rent a bedroom from a mutual friend that my boyfriend, Bill, and I knew. It was the mother-in-law of one of Bill’s brothers. Her name was Sophie. I was given such a wonderful opportunity from Sophie that I jumped at the chance to get away from the way I was living; to escape hell and live somewhere other than where I was. I rented a bedroom for twenty dollars a week and I had full use of the house and yard. I felt that this was the right place for me. Sophie saved me from a home of destruction and my words can never express my gratitude for what she did for me. Sophie’s sincere act of kindness with letting me live there with her was the turning point for me to step out into the world and become the young independent woman that I wanted to be. I had made final arrangements and I started packing my belongings.

Although Melvin had moved out, he would still come over to visit and spend time with my mother, giving her any money that he may have made from daily pay that day. One afternoon, while I was visiting, Mom told me that Melvin was coming over. My timing was impeccable! She had asked me to stay in my old bedroom and not come out while he was there, as he didn’t have plans to stay long. She didn’t want any further confrontation between us, so I told her that I would. Shortly after, Melvin arrives and sits down by my mother I could easily hear their conversation, as my room was just off the living room and there was no door, only a curtain. I could hear him ask where the boys were, meaning my brothers. Mom told him that they were outside with friends. Pausing for a while, he then proceeded to ask her where her “whore daughter” was. I can hear mom’s hushed words, telling him that I was in my room and to keep his voice down. His comment about me being a whore didn’t go unnoticed; I heard it perfectly clear. Doing what mom asked, I continued to stay in the bedroom. But, not being satisfied with my mother’s response, Melvin stood up and addressed my mother once again. This time, he bellowed in a more commanding voice, making sure that I heard him. His goal was to provoke me out of the bedroom, like a hunter does his prey. “Where’s your “whore daughter?!” It took everything I had to stay in my bedroom, I tried, but I couldn’t do it. I had enough. If there was something I wasn’t, that was that I was NOT a whore! I wasn’t going to allow him to belittle me any longer. Melvin wanted a confrontation and I was going to give him what he wanted. I came storming out of the bedroom, tossing aside a chair that was in my way, which only pushed my adrenalin even higher. Mom was sitting down, watching me as I stood in front of the asshole who was calling me a whore. Mom knew enough not to say anything; not to even get in my way, as I was about to go face to face with the devil himself. I was about to do something that she probably wanted to do her whole life. I stood face to face with Melvin and he had hatred written all over his face. If the words were visible, they would probably read… You whore bitch, how dare you leave and escape the hell and tortured life that I created for you. Damn you!

Standing before him, it was my turn to scream, saying to him, “Call me a whore one more time!” He stood to his feet, looked directly into my eyes, and told me that I was nothing but a filthy whore. It was then that something inside me took over and I reacted, snapping, with every syllable he spoke. With everything I had, I punched Melvin as hard as I could with both of my fists, making a direct contact to his face, chest and shoulders. I hit him so hard that he had landed directly on his ass, between a chair and a table, just inches away from my mother’s feet. I heard him land hard. Mom was in such shock that I had hit him that I actually saw a smirk slowly appear on her face.

Melvin lay there on the floor in shock, staring up at me, but now with the words of holy shit written all over his face instead. He didn’t dare stand up and confront me, nor did the words “you’re a whore” ever come out of his mouth again. If he had, I would have hit him again. As I stood over him, watching him squirm on the floor, I said through gritted teeth, “Don’t you EVER call me a whore again! I am NOT a whore! I am a wonderful, kind-hearted loving person; something that you will never be! So, don’t you ever call me a whore again!” Melvin never spoke or acknowledged me again and these were the last words that I ever spoke to Melvin.

Years later, I learned that Melvin was diagnosed with liver cancer and was in the late stages of the disease. He eventually moved back in with my mom so that she could be his full-time care giver. As his health was deteriorating, mom took care of him more and more. She would feed and bathe him, even changing his pissy and shitty diapers, lifting his legs and changing him like one would do a baby. This is how thin and frail he had become. Mom stood by Melvin’s side until he took his last undeserving breath. I often wondered why she had made such a personal and dedicated commitment to take care of a man who would beat and abuse her, who belittled and treated her like shit on a daily basis. Once, Melvin kicked her out of our apartment, making her sit in the hallway for hours and hours, telling her that she didn’t have a home and that she didn’t live there anymore nor had anything to do with her children. I remember crying by her side and she told me that I better get back into the apartment before Melvin finds out that I was with her. He didn’t want anyone to be around her. Ironically, these were the same set of stairs that I was made to clean a pool of blood from when our neighbor shot his wife. Melvin had abandoned her, as she sat alone in the stairway. Many years later, as he was dying of cancer, why couldn’t she abandon him like he did to her so many years before? Did she feel that he shouldn’t die alone? After all, he was Jeff’s biological father. Could she have loved him that much after everything he had done to her, to her children?

I was at work one morning back in December of 1993, when I received a phone call from my mother. I can tell in her voice that something had happened. She said, “I know you probably don’t care, but just thought I’d let you know that Melvin passed away last night.” It was at that moment that I felt like someone squeezed the breath right out of me. I wasn’t prepared for that moment, although it was something I wanted all my young life… for him to die and go away. I couldn’t tell mom that I was sorry or that I felt bad for her. I couldn’t say any words of sympathy whatsoever. They just weren’t in me. All I said was okay and then hung up the phone. I stood and went directly to the bathroom, locking the door behind me. It was there that I cried my countless tears of liberation and rejoice; my tears of relief. I suddenly felt refreshed and cleansed with every breath of air I took. I was relieved to know that Melvin had finally stepped off the face of this earth forever and, hopefully, into the arms of the master devil himself. I was relieved to know that he will never have another opportunity to hurt another innocent child or woman again. His abuse had ended the moment his life did.

I have heard cases where an innocent child dies from their sexual and physical abuse, while another survived. For the survivors; their heart, mind and soul will have this memory of abuse with them for their entire lifetime. Some may be stronger than others, where thoughts can be placed on a top shelf like a book, collecting dust, where they will never be disturbed or influence their lives again, while others may have everlasting effects that will constantly challenge their lives forever. I find it heartbreaking that one individual can alter your trust, feelings and beliefs just by their words and actions alone.

Many times, my thoughts had questioned why my mother consoled a dying man in his last moments of life, especially knowing that he was the one that added unwanted chapters into her children’s lives, as well as her own. It wasn’t until I was sitting on my deck a couple of summers ago that I had my answers.

As I sat studying the sky, I watched the birds dancing above my head. The sun was a glowing orange that was setting for the evening. I watched as the last remaining sliver of sunset disappeared below the horizon. I sat with a glass of wine, sipping, as I wiped a stream of unhappy tears from my cheeks. I was having marriage troubles; the kind that left me hopeless and questioning myself where did I go wrong. I was sobbing and now directed all my questions go God. Why did my husband take his frustrations out on me? Why was I receiving such verbal abuse from him? What did I ever do to deserve such abuse in my life that started from the moment I was born to now and what seems to continue into my marriage? I pleaded with God to help me understand.

It was at that exact moment that my mother’s vision came into my mind. I was suddenly reminded of all the physical abuse she received, as well as the verbal. I was reminded of all the times that she sat there crying to herself, taking in all the horrible cruelty that Melvin was throwing her way. It was also at that moment that I understood exactly what my mother had gone through. I felt her every pain. I felt every ounce of hurt that she felt. I felt her shame, her empty heart. I felt her lack of love. My heart suddenly felt compassion for my mother, perhaps, the same compassion that she felt for Melvin as he was making his final descent into death. It was then that I completely understood. I told my mother that I was sorry. I was so sorry for everything that she had to endure in her life while being with Melvin. He had taken away so much from her. My tears are no longer about myself, but for my mother. My heart was full of empathy and it was at that moment that I forgave my mother for everything. I forgave her for the way she treated me, for her lack of emotion, for her lack of protection. I forgave her for the way she couldn’t love me.

“The truth is, unless you let go, unless you forgive yourself, unless you forgive the situation, unless you realize that the situation is over, you cannot move forward.” ~ Steve Maraboli

To Dance Once Again…

Grandpa teaching me how to box.

Grandpa teaching me how to box.

My grandfather seemed to be the complete opposite of granny when it came to their individuality; granny was loud and grandpa was reserved. My grandfather was born on October 5, 1917 and was named Raymond Lester Johnson, but everyone called him Ray. I have the pleasure of honoring my grandfather, as I was named after him… Jackie Rae. Grandpa was the kindest, gentlest and most loving grandfather that a grandchild could ever have. He was soft spoken and, at times, a man of few words. Even though Grandpa was quiet on the outside, he always seemed to have so much to say from within. He had a way of expressing himself trough his eyes and smile. Grandpa spoke with his eyes, watching me with so much intent, absorbing everything I had to say, as if to recognize that my day was just as important as his. His smile was soft and approving, listening to every word that I spoke, as if I was telling the most fascinating story. In the end though, it was his heart that he expressed the most. He was never short on hugs, kisses, or the words, I love you. Just like my grandmother’s, I can still remember my grandfather’s kiss, as well. Thin lipped, dry, with just enough pucker, grandpa would kiss you softly goodnight, as you felt his mustache tickled against your nose.

As gentle and kindhearted as grandpa was on the inside, he showed courageous strength, determination and was a very hard working man on the outside. Although grandpa had a soft spot in his heart, he was also stern with rules and behavior and made sure Steve and I followed them both with manners and respect. While grandpa’s eyes expressed mostly praise, his eyes, on occasion, would express dissatisfaction. Perhaps fighting with my brother or getting into something I wasn’t supposed to, grandpa’s smile would slowly leave his face, letting me know that it was time for business. When getting into trouble, Grandma had Steve and I sit on the couch until grandpa got home from work. It was then that grandma shared with grandpa our negative actions. Grandpa would then slowly enter the living room as his eyes would lock onto ours. With a stern look, he stared directly at us, watching us over the top of his horn rim glasses, while at the same time raising his left eyebrow, as if studying us and deciphering our misbehavior. Grandpa never raised his voice or raised his hand to us. His disheartened look was punishment enough, but it was us who was disappointed in the end. It hurt us more knowing that we had let down our favorite grandpa. After apologies were said, and meant, grandpa offered a few words of encouragement, along with a shake of the head that always made us feel better, acknowledging that what was said is now in the past and behind us.

My grandfather was one hundred percent Norwegian. There was even a time when grandpa tried to teach me Norwegian. Sitting in the yard at the picnic table under the giant oak tree, he would speak to me in Norwegian. I loved how the sound flowingly rolled off his tongue, asking me questions that I obviously didn’t understand. Years later, grandpa wrote me a letter in Norwegian, with the English translation following behind. It was during the time when he was deteriorating from colon cancer, where grandma said it was a struggle for him to write and remember the Norwegian words. He asked what I wanted for Christmas, offering me ten dollars so that I could go buy what I wanted. But, what I wanted for Christmas was the impossible. I wanted my grandfather to be healthy, cancer free and to live a very long life.

Grandpa was a roofer by trade and working on the roof tops, it always left him with a perfect deep golden tan. He had superb carpentry skills and it reflected in his work when he built miniature barns, dollhouses, or garden wishing wells. We would take rides through town and I would hear him and granny comment on all the roofs that grandpa had shingled or what carpentry he did on the house. Amazingly, there were quite a few buildings. I would step into the garage while grandpa was cutting wood for a project and loved smelling the saw dust that lay upon the floor. I knew it was the result of him creating something beautiful. Grandpa was tall and muscular, always wearing dago tees, broken in blue jeans and construction boots; the same outfit that he would occasionally go jogging in as he made several laps around the farm. He enjoyed his Pabst Blue Ribbon beer, playing the accordion, and smoking non-filtered Camel cigarettes.

Saturday evenings were an enjoyable time, as grandpa would start to play songs on his accordion. We would all gather in the breezeway, which was a room just off the garage. The room held a couch and a coffee table, with a jukebox in the corner. With minimal furniture, the room was destined for dancing and entertaining. The evening was warm, with the scent of the countryside traveling through the screened in porch and, occasionally, we would catch a breeze. The night was silent except for the musical notes that grandpa was pushing through the air. Taking in a deep breath, one couldn’t help but to feel the euphoria that was settling in the room. Grandpa takes a couple of test notes on his accordion and the excitement begins. One of grandpa’s favorite pieces to play was the Blue Skirt Waltz. As grandpa punched away at the keys, Steve and I would dance around the room, pretending to polka, twirling each other around by our arms. Grandpa would play two or three songs and then we would start up the jukebox. Grandma selecting a polka on the juke box, it was grandpa and my turn to dance around the dance floor. With grandpa being so much bigger than me, I would have to stand on the top of his roofing boots, hang on, and try not to fall off. My feet would try to stay glued to the top of grandpa’s boots, as he picked up speed to keep in time with the music and dance steps … step, hop, hop… step hop, hop, as he twirled me around, hitting every corner of the room. I felt like I was on a carnival ride. As the polka came to an end and we took our final bows, we ended the evening with smiles on our faces and tickles in our bellies.

Flowers of Wishing Well

To wish on a wishing well you need a few,
Pennies of old to make your wishes come true.
But here I stand with flowers of kind,
By the flowers of wishing well, dreams I wish to be mine.

I close my eyes to think a few,
Before I pick my wishes of true.
If I had a wish, a wish I had,
I’d wish to back on the Farm of Eden,
Dancing with my Granddad.

For you to swing me around with sweet loving grace,
To have you hold me in your arms again,
To kiss your sweet gentle face.

Reality has departed, but remembrance I know,
How I miss your presence eternally so.
So I pick a dream, a memory, through a Canterbury Bell,
To hold close to my heart by the flowers of wishing well.

Jackie (Lambert) Morin
1/2/1988

For all the years that I lived with my grandparents, I never once felt unsafe or frightened and, most importantly, I never felt unloved. Our home was never occupied with hatred, shouting or any form of abuse; a complete opposite from the home I came from in Chicago. As the summer always did, it was coming to an end, and it was apparent that school was soon to begin. It would be time to go back to Chicago… back home to our other life, the life that did consist of hatred and abuse. I felt I had a Cinderella life.

While living on the farm with my grandparents, I don’t believe there was a day that went by that grandpa didn’t shower Steve and I with wild fun that, at times, took our limits to the edge; something granny usually went defensively crazy over. I can still hear granny saying, “Raymond, we have to bring these kids back to Chicago and to their mother in one piece!” Sending us a wink, he looked at granny and said, “Oh Esther, just let them be kids!”

And for three months, during our summer vacation, that’s what we were… just kids.

Hello Mom… I love you!

Although, living in a handful of states while growing up, I was partly raised in Madison, Wisconsin, where I was born in 1962, the same month that the Beverly Hillbillies premiered on CBS television. Mom gave birth to me on September 28, 1962. I was born in Madison General Hospital at 11:22 a.m., where I was told that I looked like a little old man, as I only had enough hair that went from ear to ear, wrapping around the back of my head. My nose was smashed against my face, completely flat like a boxer; surely due to the fact that my mother was in labor for over 72 hours! I was an overdue baby, not wanting just yet to enter the world. Grandpa even put mom in his pickup truck, racing her across the bumpy railroad tracks over and over, hoping to provoke labor. I was finally brought into the world and it’s been a bumpy life ever since.

I also lived in Chicago, Illinois, where I was actually living amongst a neighborhood of my own local hillbillies while growing up. During my teenage years, I grew up in the Uptown area of Chicago. I was a blond haired, blue eyed girl, who was more Tom Boy than girl, always playing softball with my brothers and their friends, climbing fences or performing tag team wrestling matches in the front yard. I was somewhat shy and never the outspoken one. My hair was long and stringy, with bangs across my forehead that seemed to always be too short and never cut straight. I had a face full of freckles and a set of two front teeth that, in my opinion, protruded more than necessary. My Uncle Bob called me Bugs.

I have two younger brothers, Steve and Jeff, both of which are technically my half brothers. It appeared that my mother found it challenging to see how many “halfs” she could create when it came time to creating life. In spite of this mathematical equation, my brothers and I never considered ourselves step siblings to each other. We never introduced ourselves in this way. We were simply brothers and sister. For the most part, we three kids got along well together. Although, like siblings do, there was an occasional fist fight or slap fest between us. But, the three of us considered ourselves real family in spite of all three of us having different fathers. I was the oldest, with Steve being the second born and then Jeff being the youngest. Steve was tall, lanky and good looking. With blond hair and blue eyes of his own, he had the perfect square jaw and centered dimple that sat directly in the center of his chin. The girls simply adored him. Steve had the personality that could get along with everyone and seemed to be popular among the neighborhood crowd. He was very athletic and excelled in sports; football and, baseball, in particular. My brother, Jeff, was medium built, had a head full of red hair, piercing green eyes and, like me, a face full of freckles. He, too, was sports oriented, but was also on the creative side, always making homemade movies with our 8mm camera. Both my brothers and I shared mutual friends from school and within the neighborhood. We hung around these friends and stayed out of the trouble that the rest of the neighborhood was offering.

I didn’t have the traditional life growing up, meaning I didn’t have a normal mother and definitely not a normal father, parents who would love you unconditionally, watch you blossom, bathe in your triumphs or encourage you in your endeavors. I lived with two alcoholic parents; one who couldn’t show any love and affection toward her children and the other who was a child molester and did.

My mother’s name was Elvera Lee, but everyone called her by her middle name, Lee. She was short, round and plump and missing her two front teeth. She had dirty dishwater colored hair that barely made it past her shoulders and it was thinning. She always pinned her hair up, twisting it several times and then securing it tightly with a barrette, slightly spreading the ends that would eventually flop across the back of her head, always making her look like a peacock. Rarely, did I see my mother with her hair down. She didn’t like wearing her hair down around her neck, as it made her hot. The heat bothered my mother and it seemed as if she was always hot and sweaty. My hair was always long, as I wasn’t allowed to cut it, not even a trim. I wore it down all the time and it was always in my face. It drove my mother insane and she would always tell me to put my hair into a ponytail because it made her hot just looking at me. The only thing I inherited from my mother, besides her high cholesterol, was her piercing blue eyes. My mother gave me the brightest blues. I went out with a guy on a date once, who told me that I had beautiful big blue eyes and a great set of teeth. I felt like he was complimenting a show horse!

Mom was the type of person who always spoke her mind, telling you exactly what she thought, regardless of what she said or who she said it to. She had the most ridiculous and nonsense sayings, which, at the time she said them, never seemed to make any sense to us kids. They always left us scratching our heads, trying to figure out the message that she was trying to extend. Whenever one of us kids were angry, she would always say, “You have to get glad the same way you got mad.” We never understood what she meant; we just accepted what she had to say. Thinking about it today, perhaps, she meant that we needed to put the same amount of effort into being happy as we did getting mad. One time, she saw a man with the most hideous hat on his head. Not taking into consideration that he was only a few feet away and in ear shot, she commented that she wished she had two hats just like it; one to shit in and the other to cover it up with. I was mortified, hoping he didn’t hear her. One of mom’s favorite sayings was when someone was being really stupid and had brown eyes. She would comment that they had shit up to their eyeballs and from the eyes on up was concrete, indicating that the person was full of shit and had absolutely no brains. One of the sayings that I will always remember is when she use to say, “You can’t get pregnant on spit alone.” Obviously, she was referring to woman who got themselves pregnant and them wondering how it happened. I’ve actually used this one myself. Surely, there was some sort of message in all of my mom’s quirky sayings that totally made sense to her.

Mom was not known for her fashion. She would put on anything that made her feel comfortable, regardless of what it looked like. Because she was a bigger woman in size, she would occasionally make her own skirts or tops. It was hard for her to buy skirts in the stores because of her big belly, which was due to a massive hernia she had. She would wear a loud patterned skirt filled with stripes, along with a polka dot blouse that was even louder, so much that when she wore them together, they would scream for mercy! She would complete the look by wearing dark knee high socks or leggings and a pair of red tennie shoes. The color red was her favorite color. Mom’s favorite perfume was anything that smelled like roses. She would collect perfumes, powders and creams in this flowery scent. Mom wasn’t the most “freshest” smelling woman, as her hygiene was poorly lacking. She would wear rose perfume to mask her body smell… not a great combination. Today, when I smell anything with roses, I think of my mother and her cleanliness. Shortly after my mother’s passing, I was at work. I suddenly smelt my mother’s scent. The smell was strong and I thought it was me! Taking a few whiffs here and there while trying not to make it obvious, it finally dawned on me that it wasn’t me… it was my mother! I’m convinced that she stopped by to say “hello.” Whenever I smell this particular scent, I know it’s her. Sadly, mom didn’t take care of herself like she should have and it showed in her appearance. I have to admit that I was slightly embarrassed of my mother’s fashion statements when we would go to the grocery store and walk down the aisles or when we walked down to the end of the block to the neighborhood drug store. People would stare at her, not only at her fashion statements, but because she was also a larger woman. She looked like a clown who was ready to perform. Later in years, when I was earning money and had extra cash, I would buy her house dresses that they called dusters. She liked wearing them because they were big enough to fit her and they made her feel more comfortable, not to mention that they were all one color or very subtle in pattern. If there was a special occasion that we needed to attend, such as my grandfather’s funeral or my own wedding, I went and bought her a brand new outfit; a dress, shoes, stockings, so that she would look presentable. Mom would even make the effort of curling her hair and wearing it down; again, something I rarely saw. When mom made an effort, she looked very nice and quite lovely.

Mom was on welfare my whole entire life while I was growing up. I saw only food stamps cross her hands, rarely any cash. Mom, who had shit to her name, barely had an 8th grade education, was in a constant state of depression, and was a recovering alcoholic. In my eyes, she was not the role model a young impressionable daughter should have had while growing up. A young girl’s loss I never realized that I had until the day I had my own children. I found that my mother had trouble interacting with her children and more so with her grandchildren. I remember on one occasion when my daughter, Arlaraye, wanted to play dollies with her grandma. Mom just sat back, not knowing what to do with the doll that lay in her hands. Mom told Arlaraye that she didn’t want to play. I can tell that mom was uncomfortable, as she didn’t know how to engage in a three year olds make believe world. Arlaraye felt left out and couldn’t understand why grandma wouldn’t play with her. I finally told Arlaraye that grandma was tired and that she should just play with her dollies herself. It was such a shame. Her granddaughter wanted to share in a moment, but grandma just didn’t have enough care in her to want to try. Mom was the same way with me while growing up. I barely had a relationship with her and surely never a close one. From as young as I could remember, mom never opened up her emotions, unless she was pissed off and throwing something at me or disciplining me. She was a disciplinarian and it seems as we were always grounded for one thing or another. I remember she threw a butter knife at me once because I kept starring at her one day. Perhaps, she thought I was challenging her or she felt threatened. Luckily, she wasn’t a good aim and missed me with the knife, as it landed on the bed behind me.

Mom would have a large flat stick that she would spank us with. She proudly wrote each of our names on the stick… Jackie, Steve, Jeff, and kept it beside her, as to remind us that’s what our asses will get beaten with it if we misbehave. Believe me, she used it, too! Why she wrote our names on the beating stick, I’ll never know. It’s not like our asses could read our name as the stick was swatted across our asses. As habit would take over, we always blocked our rear ends with our hands, in hopes that the beating stick wouldn’t make contact, only for it to crack the tip of our knuckles instead, which hurt even worse. Once, I took mom’s beating stick and scratched my name off and added hers… M-o-m. I’m not sure if she found it humorous, but I did.

On rare occasions, I do remember mom having a sense of humor, which was witty and dry. She loved to hear a good joke, especially a dirty one. When she was in the mood, she would act silly or do silly pranks on us kids. One night, I was getting ready for bed and decided to put my pajamas on for the evening. While in my bedroom, I noticed that I was having a tremendous amount of trouble putting my feet and legs through my pajama bottoms. After some inspection, I realized that mom had sewn shut my pajama bottoms directly across both legs so that my feet could not enter the pant legs. I thought that was funny and it only led me to my own prank adventure. I decided to place her hairbrush and a few other items inside her pillow case so that when she lay her head down for the evening, she would get a knock on the noggin. Surely, she discovered it because days later, she pulled another prank on me. Needing to go to the bathroom I sat down and peed. After finishing my business, I was looking around for the roll of toilet paper, which usually resided on the back of the toilet tank. Looking around and then finally up, I discovered that mom had tied the roll of toilet paper to the pull string that was hanging from the ceiling light. In order to use the toilet paper, which I needed to do, I had to climb up and onto of the toilet seat and untie the roll. I enjoyed that prank very much. My mother would also use my brothers as a messenger to send me silly notes or drawings and, in return, I would do the same. As a child, I found these pranks funny. It was my way of interacting with my mother. It was our time for a connection, a play date. Sadly, though, this was the only time I found my mother to display any type of joyful emotion. Mom didn’t make it a habit of expressing herself. I never remember receiving hugs or kisses. I never heard the words you’re doing a great job, you’re beautiful, I’m proud of you. Even more so, mom never shared the words I love you except for only one time in my life.

Mom was a recovering alcoholic. She was basically drinking herself to death. I would watch her roll one of those folding two-wheel shopping carts home from the liquor store loaded with cases of Schlitz beer; case stacked upon case. It seemed as if she was always drinking, always asking us kids to go get her another one from the fridge. Shortly later, Mom developed a hernia, which caused her enough trouble to where she needed an operation to correct the matter. It was during her surgery that she almost died; not once, not twice, but three times while on the operating table. Perhaps, once for every one of her children and almost lost; children that she was slowly pushing away because of her drinking. The doctors told her that she had three young children at home to take care of and, if she wanted to see them grow up, she had better stop drinking, as it was going to kill her. These words from the doctor must have scared her and woke her up enough to finally stop drinking. Mom wanted to live. For the rest of my mother’s life, she never had another drink of alcohol. My mother was a recovering alcoholic for over thirty years. I couldn’t tell you if this made her a better person, a better mother, or if it just made her more bitter and unhappy. I’m sure with alcohol, she was able to numb her pain, hiding herself in the bottom of the beer can, taking away any anxieties or frustration she may have had with everyday life. Most of the time, I remember mom being quite, reserved, hidden within herself, as well as sleeping a lot. It seemed as if she was always sleeping the day away, as if the day and her family weren’t worth getting up for. She was sleeping when we left for school and she was sleeping when we came home.

Regardless the lack of participation in her kids’ lives, oddly enough, my mother made sure us three kids had manners. We were expected to say please and thank you, along with you’re welcome; this, she demanded and wouldn’t accept it any other way. Mom made sure us kids were respectable. If we weren’t she was fast to remind us. We couldn’t even cut a fart without following with the words, “excuse me.” My mother couldn’t express her own feelings or show emotion, or even say the words, “I love you,” but she did make sure that we three kids were respectable and showed our manners. Perhaps, in her own mind, this is all she had to offer us. This was my learning lesson. Realizing the importance of such politeness, I have instilled this same behavior in my own children. It’s important to be polite and respectable, regardless of the situation. I always said that the first words that my children will learn when starting to talk were the words please and thank you. I am very proud to say that they have never disappointed me. The other words I added were, “I love you.” Growing up, my family did not express these words. These were words that I longed to hear but just weren’t a part of my mother’s vocabulary. Today, my favorite part of the night when heading off to bed is when I hear my kids say good night, kissing each other, along with a hug and saying the words, “I love you, Arla… and I love you Tanner.”

Everything Happens for a Reason…

My name is Jackie Morin (Lambert) or La-a-a-a-a-a-a-m-b-ert as I used to be teased as a young girl.  But, I have always been know as, Jack. A nickname that has always stuck with me, since I was young to now as an adult. I grew up in Chicago, Uptown area, between Wilson and Montrose on Magnolia Street. I lived in the heart of Gaylord Nation… literally! I had a mother, step father (more on that asshole later) and two brothers. Growing up, my childhood was quite a bumpy course to say the least. I was served up a plate of constant fearfulness, negativity and prejudices and, yes, along with a heaping side order of abuse on the side… mentally and physically. I would hate to go through such pain again or wish any of this treatment on others. But, I consider myself a survivor, serving up my own plate that consists of kindness, love, understanding and an extra helping of optimism! What I went through in my life didn’t teach me bitterness or hatred; it taught me how to be hopeful, how to love and kindness. I’m a self-taught optimist and believe that everything that happens in our life is for a reason; my life included. Of course, I didn’t think this way when I was a child. Surely, one may not agree about certain choices being made at the time or moments that are out of our control, but I believe there’s a higher power that dictates our life’s path. I believe these “life lessons or encounters” as I like to call them, are there to interact with us as possible lessons that are to be learned along the way. There’s always a message within a situation, in some form or another that we can take away as a learning experience, whether it’s good or bad. For example, growing up, my family’s refrigerator never stocked a mass amount of food; barely the essentials, eggs, milk, lunch meat, bread and, sometimes, not even that. It was a rare treat that we saw ice cream or cookies in the fridge.

Our apartment building on Magnolia was right next door to a school called, Stockton Preschool. It was a school where little tots went before heading off to kindergarten. After the school was closed for the day, my mother and I would rummage through the big garbage bags behind the school that were tossed in the trash. We knew that the school always threw away lunches that weren’t being eaten. Perfectly good lunches in the trash! But, state law dictates that any unused food has to be thrown away, regardless if it was eaten or not. Lunches were served in tin trays like a TV dinner with a cardboard peel away cover. Going through these bags, we were able to pull out quite a few of unopened lunches that, in our eyes, were perfectly good to eat. That day we were lucky enough to find chicken nuggets with tater tots and peach cobbler for dessert. We took the lunches and brought them into the house for that night’s dinner. Digging through the trash for food this way, was our family’s dinner on more than one occasion. When my belly was hungry, I was thankful for those tater tots, knowing that it was going to fill me up; thankful that I wasn’t going to go hungry that night for dinner; thankful that I wouldn’t have to wait for the next day’s meal at school in order to eat. This particular “life encounter” taught me to be thankful for anything I got. And, for those rare occasions when chocolate chip cookies did grace the lower shelf of the fridge, it taught me appreciation. I was so thankful to have such a treat in the house. Going through my own personal life lessons like this, it made me into the person I am today and, you know something, I truly like and enjoy who I am. When you don’t have something in your life, you learn to respect it when it does come your way.

I have always enjoyed writing about life’s experiences, whether life is going your way or totally in the opposite direction and heading south. I try to find the enlightenment and positivity in every situation, as I have written above. Early in my life, I have lived through everything from being hungry and poor and then having the Black Panthers bring bags of groceries to our door, to growing up on welfare, having the buildings we lived in being set on fire and then continuing to live in them afterward, fighting an attacker from a potential rape, not to mention living with physical and sexual abuse. Later in my life, I had to find the courage to survive a horrific motorcycle accident, where I would learn to walk again, as well as the passing of several cherished loved ones, as they went home to God, leaving my life forever. If it wasn’t for the love and care of two of these special people, my two grandparents, Raymond and Esther, it would be hard to say where my life would be today. I also had the love and friendship of two other people in my life who had led me in the right direction, especially knowing how I grew up and what shit my life consisted of. These two angels were and are my friends, Bill and Donatta.

Sharing my stories, it’s my hope that others will find inspiration, courage and strength, if not a little laughter to show that we all can get through a terrible time that our higher power may have planned for us. I truly believe that everything in life happens for a reason and I believe that everything that I have gone through in my life WAS for a particular reason and I believe there’s always a positive to every negative. So, here it goes; I am testing the writing waters and have decided to share some of my life stories online… via my new blog… Raynedrop Kysses.