Thursday, August 28, 2008

It's official, I'm feeling old

Well, the point in my son's life that I have been anticipating since I enrolled him in Catholic School for his kindergarten year has arrived. Tomorrow my baby starts as a freshman at Catholic High School! I have been scraping, saving, scrimping, pushing, begging, borrowing and stealing for this day for 9 years.

We moved back to "the big city" a few months before he started kindergarten. I looked into his future and saw a few things that I did NOT want to happen. The first thing was that I did not want for him to move around from school to school like I did. The second was that I did not want him to attend the same public high school that I did.

When we moved back to this town, it was because I had bought a house (on my own, but with a lot of help). I thought for sure I would never move out of that house for any reason, but I know my old buddy, Murphy's Law, and knew I needed to plan ahead. Even though the district that my house was in had one of the best grammar schools in the town, I knew that he would eventually end up in one of the only two crappy junior highs, and eventually the high school (where metal detectors and armed security guards are not unheard of).

My son had been with the same daycare provider, Miss Anna, since he was four months old. As she was on the other side of town, the bus system would not transport him to her house after a public school half-day kindergarten program in our district. The only option would have been having him dropped off at a generic "Kinder-Care" type of place. For a half-day they wanted to charge me twice what I paid for a full day at Miss Anna's, plus extras for snow delays, school cancellations and holidays.

There is nothing wrong with day-care centers, but J was used to being in a home with a woman who loved him and he was comfortable there. Miss Anna's own children went to a local Catholic school, and was already on the bus-line. That school also had a full day kindergarten. Snow delays and cancellations were no problem, because no matter what time I dropped him off, he was already there. So I enrolled him. That way, also, no matter where I moved, if I had to, and I did have to, he was always at the same school.

Money has always been tight. I was incredibly lucky that my son's paternal grandfather offered to help with tuition for quite a few years. After that, the school provided some scholarship assistance. Two years ago they agreed to just take $10.00 a week from me as that was all I could afford - for both tuition and the after-care program. Miss Anna couldn't keep him forever, she can make more money having a full time baby, and God bless her for all that she did for us.

Late last fall we started making the plans to get him into the Catholic High School in town. It is not a guarantee that just because your mom has told you since you were in kindergarten that you are going to go to this school, or that you went to one of the local Catholic grammar schools that you will get in to this high school. My son had to write essays, and fill out paper work, and show extracurricular activities and public service hours.

He struggled because some of his friends make the High Honor rolls easily, and he tries and hasn't made one yet. That is the way of the world. Also, he lacks in extracurricular activities. He tried clarinet for one year and hated it. He did Boy Scouts for about 3 minutes and hated it. He did midget football for one year and loved it. So he talked up the sports aspect, and the fact that he loves children and might want to get a teaching degree. He also went to a Red Cross certified babysitter training course, and is certified to give CPR to both children and adults.

I also had to write essays and fill out forms, mostly begging for financial assistance. I would have stopped just short of selling my soul to the devil to get my son in to this school. I should not have worried! He aced the test! We had to wait almost 5 weeks to find out, but he aced the test! First we got his acceptance letter. Then I got a letter letting me know that they were giving him a scholarship for 2/3 of the tuition. I sat down HARD - and cried.

Seeing my son and his friends at their eighth grade graduation was so worth it. Many of these kids had been together since kindergarten. This was what I wanted for him. A sense of belonging, of having life-long friends.

I still have to pay about a third of the tuition, plus uniforms and books and school supplies, and football stuff. But I continue to believe myself lucky. I NEVER would have been able to do the whole tuition. My attitude was, let's see if he gets in, I'll worry about the rest after. My boss, who's daughter is also going to be a freshman at the same school this year, bought my son his $125.00 required calculator for algebra. Then I got a letter saying the town has a new text loan program for Catholic schools and I qualify to get one book free. I went to pick it up and it was the most expensive book on the list - for FREE. I love FREE! Then my boss's wife let me know she had received some very gently used shirts from someone who went to the same school, so I only had to buy J a few pairs of pants to start school. I can put off the most expensive uniform items for a month!

Oh, and did I mention, when my son was in Arizona, my sister's fiance bought J his football cleats? I am truly blessed. And I don't even really believe in the Catholic religion. I just feel there is something helping my son be a better person. That is something I can believe and have faith in - forwarding my son out in to the world. Maybe I don't have a purpose, but he does.

By the way, have I ever mentioned that if I had known he was going to be this cute, I would have named him Christoper Robin?

Monday, August 25, 2008

My mother almost got us kicked out of Monkey Jungle

When I was about 8 years old, my parents took us on a trip to Florida. My father had an old Citroen station wagon that I thought was the coolest car. It had a hydraulic lift system, and jump seats in the back. I really loved that car. It never looked as good as the following picture, it was a dull white (probably spray painted!) with a green hood.

In the end, it looked a little more like the following picture. My father never could get rid of a car until one ex-wife or another sent it to the junkyard. He's a bit of a pack rat.

Anyway, Kouf got to stay home because she was old enough, so my parents loaded the four younger kids and all of their wordly possessions into the Citroen. As my mother couldn't really read maps, Horhay made poor Bouf sit up front and be the map reader. I've done the trip to Florida with my father as his map reader as an adult, and it was brutal. As awful as that job was, however, there was another one that was worse. Because the trunk was piled so high that my father couldn't see out the back window, they smushed Jimmy in between the luggage and the hatchback door so he could see if it was okay to change lanes. For 3 days down and 3 days back, in the middle of winter, where no heat could reach him.

And what a trip it was! On the way down, Virginia and the Carolina's got hit with an ice and snow storm. Apparently in 1979 they shared one plow and one sand truck between all three states. And no one had ever taught anyone in any of those states how to drive in precipitation other than rain. Oh my god, do you mean to tell me that it can freeze? I remember hanging on to my mother for dear life in the back seat while my father stubbornly forged on in his trusty and reliable Citroen, dodging cars that were
at a complete stop in the middle of a lane on an interstate highway!

I truly do understand that they were woefully unprepared for what turned out to be a devastating storm for them. Why would they be prepared for something they never expected to have happen? And really, why would they be prepared for Horhay to be driving through it like a mad-man, not willing to stop until "the next planned stop" on our itinerary, dammit?

He carried around a little notebook, and marked down gas prices and mileage, and how long before we were allowed to go to the bathroom, again. I'm sorry, but a little act of God like a major ice storm just didn't fit in with how many miles we HAD to travel that day.

So we got there, all in one piece, and I think we all actually enjoyed ourselves. My father's parents had a trailer in Jensen Beach at the time, and we visited with them, and did a day at the beach. Then we went on and did Disney, and Parrot Jungle and Monkey Jungle.

I remember Parrot Jungle being fun, I have pictures of myself and my siblings posing for pictures where they line the parrots up and down your arms. I was actually a little terrified, I had no previous experience with birds, and quite frankly - they have sharp little beaks and are not against taking a nip out of you. Birds have too much free intellect, and are just a different species altogether. Give me a simian over an avian, any day.

Monkey Jungle was right up my alley. They had many habitats that were wide open, except for nets overhead . The whole thing was amazing to my 8 year old eyes. The best part, however, was that they had people walking around with monkeys. Nowadays, they try very much to show you how cute and cuddly the animals are, but don't let you touch them. Mostly for the animal's sake, but also because of liability issues. Back then, however, they were much more interactive.

We came across a man with a baby spider monkey - In A Diaper! I thought I had died and gone to HEAVEN. This was better than any Betsy Wetsy doll Santa had ever brought me. This was a real live baby monkey, and I wanted to love it, and hug it, and stroke his hair backward and name him George. This was my first real estrogen rush, and I could have easily sacrificed every estrogen rush in my future if I could just bring this baby home with me. Apparently, I was not the only one. Look how happy my brother, Jimmy, looks in this picture.

(And really, good lord, get a hair cut, Mr. 1979 monkey keeper! Barry Gibbs you are not!)

After this picture was taken, the baby monkey kind of crawled up my arm. I don't know whether he was tired, or hungry, or what, but he started sort of suckling my arm. I didn't know what was going on, I was 8. It didn't hurt or anything, it sort of felt like what I later realized a hickey would feel like. Not a big deal, to me. But to my mother, holy crap!

Apparently she thought the wild crazy monkey was trying to eat her youngest daughter. And She Started Hitting It! Hitting and slapping a baby monkey in a diaper, yelling, "get off, get off". Which is why they probably don't let their patrons touch their animals, any longer.

My mother is probably the only person in the history of Monkey Jungle not to get kicked out for slapping their baby monkey while yelling, "get off, get off". And if any one is here because of a really dirty search - HA-HA on you, you pervert.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Come out of the closet

When I was a junior in high school, I started dating a hippie freak with long blond hair who I thought was just cute as pie. He was totally unlike any one I knew, but we hit it off. Nicky introduced me to a whole new world. He was a year ahead of me, and I knew none of his friends.

This was a big school, and I was pretty new to it. He had to re-take this history class in order to graduate, and he sat behind me. I was almost instantly smitten. We started studying together and eating lunch together, and before I knew it, I was hanging out with him and his really super cool hippie friends.

I had heard of the Greatful
Dead before, I actually really loved one of their songs, Ripple. My older siblings had turned me on to a lot of different music as I was growing up. Until I started dating Nicky, though, I loved top forties and metal. Think Cyndi Lauper, Quiet Riot, Twisted Sister, and early Madonna. My first concert was Motley Crue in 1984, my second was Ratt with Poison. (Ha-ha, Ratt & Poison, what a marketing gimmick!)

My third concert, thanks to Nicky, was the Greatful
Dead. What a difference! I was hooked. I was also hooked to the lifestyle. Nicky and his younger sister and brother were all musically inclined. And so were all of their friends. They held huge parties that either featured a band of their friends, or everyone sat around a group of guys playing guitar and everyone sang.

I felt like I belonged, for once. I loved music, I loved singing. Any songs I didn't know, I learned quickly. I met a bunch of people, and mostly everyone made me feel like I was included. Having moved around a lot as a kid, I was painfully shy. Just when I started to make friends, we up and moved again. Being part of a large group of friends was really new to me, and I loved it.

Nicky and I usually met at his house. It was not only party central, it was amazing. His parents had built an incredibly huge modern house on a property that already had a couple of houses on it. They also had a pond put in behind it. They were very open and welcomed their children to have parties in their finished basement with a full kitchen that opened into the back yard with the pond. I'm not sure, but I don't think they quite knew what their children were up to, all the time. They were very nice to me, and drove me back and forth for Nicky and I to spend time together. Sometimes, they even allowed him to do the driving.

Nicky and I never went "all the way". But we had ample opportunity to do so when I was at his house. In my own house, however, the rules had changed. Previously, I ran wild. There were a lot of things going down during this period of my life that I will write about at another time. The fact that I was raised by wolves is one of them. My mother had instituted a new discipline plan, kind of like closing the barn door after the horse had been let out. This plan was nowhere in evidence when I needed it, but now that I had turned a new leaf, I suddenly had restrictions. And I was not used to restrictions, or rules, or any kind of discipline in general after my father moved out.

One of the restrictions was that I was not allowed to have a boy in my bedroom with the door closed. Another restriction was that I was not allowed to have any friend in the house if my mother was not home. I tried to go along with it, I really did.

My mother worked third shift every night except Saturday and Sunday. That meant that Monday after school she was actually awake during the day. One Monday, I got home from school and was working on my homework. My mother had gone out with a friend, and I was home by myself that afternoon. There was a knock on the door, and when I answered it, Nicky was standing there. He had brought over a tan suede jacket, with fringe. I have no idea where he got it, I only knew at the time that he brought a present unlike anything anyone had ever given me, and it wasn't even my birthday. It almost matched the one that he always wore.

I remember thinking how uncomfortable it was with us standing on the front porch talking, and he didn't seem to be going anywhere. I don't think he had even been inside my house before, although I had been going to his house on a regular basis for months. Never once thinking about the new rules, I asked him to come in. And then invited him upstairs to my room. There were no intentions other than entertaining him the same way he had entertained me in his bedroom when we were studying. I was so excited by the jacket, and him just stopping by, and really didn't think anything of it. My bedroom was the only place that was mine in a family with no personal space and no boundaries.

I'm sure I was trying on my new jacket with fringe, and admiring it in my full length mirror, when all of the sudden my mother came home. I didn't realize she was home until it was way too late to get Nicky out of the front door. All of the sudden all the new rules went crashing through my head, and how much trouble I was going to be in and I had No-Idea-What-To-Do! So I shoved Nicky in the closet and told him to hide and be quiet, and I went downstairs.

I have never been a good liar, I have no poker face. Apparently when I went downstairs, my panic was written all over my face. My mother took one look at me wouldn't take "nothing is wrong" for an answer. She stomped through the house, looking for trouble. My bedroom was the first at the top of the stairs. She went into my room and immediately took in the new coat on the bed. She opened the closet door, and there was Nicky hiding in my closet with his eyes closed. She shrieked, "Get out of my house!" and the poor kid ran for his life. Amazingly, she let him go.

I was in a lot a trouble, but not as much as I thought I would be. Ultimately, my mother believed me that nothing had happened. She didn't really hold a grudge against Nicky, either.

When I was finally able to talk to Nicky again, I asked him why he had his eyes closed when my mother opened the closet. Do you remember being really little and playing hide and go seek? Do you remember being so young that you thought that if you couldn't see someone, they couldn't see you either? Maybe that is why peek-a-boo is so funny for very little kids. They really don't think you can see them. When Nicky heard my mother coming up the stairs, and into my room, he closed his eyes. He actually reverted back to childhood, and closed his eyes hoping that if she opened the closet door, she would not be able to see him.

Might I add he was 17 years old at the time, and over a foot taller than my mother? Like I said, I thought he was endearingly goofy. We broke up shortly thereafter, he kind of turned out to be a jerk. In later years he was upgraded to extreme jerk status. I'll write about that another time.

He just happened to have his eyes closed for this picture, which is what made me remember "the incident" to begin with.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

James Hoyt

CNN ran a story today about an unsung hero, James Hoyt, who died as quietly as he lived. When he was 19, he was one of the four men who discovered, and later helped liberate, Buchenwald Concentration Camp in 1945.

Buchenwald was an equal opportunity concentration camp. "
Jews and political prisoners were not the only groups within the Buchenwald prisoner population, although the “politicals,” given their long-term presence at the site, played an important role in the camp's prisoner infrastructure. Recidivist criminals, Jehovah's Witnesses, Roma and Sinti (Gypsies), and German military deserters were also interned at Buchenwald. Buchenwald was one of the only concentration camps that held so-called “work-shy” individuals, persons whom the regime incarcerated as “asocials” because they could not, or would not, find gainful employment. In its later stages, the camp also held prisoners-of-war of various nations, resistance fighters, prominent former government officials of German-occupied countries, and foreign forced laborers."

I have a fairly cushy American life. I often don't even remotely think about the things that my grandparents or their parents had to go through to get to this country. My mother's grandfather came over from Ukrainia a long time before the Holocaust, about 4 years before the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia. He worked in New York and slowly sent over money to bring his children and his wife over, one or two at a time. The rest of his family may not have been so lucky. After the holocaust, no one ever heard from them, again. For all we know, they are buried in a mass grave at Janowska.

For the most part, I have been raised as a Catholic, by a Jewish mother. There is no end to the guilt that I feel. I have to say, though, that I never forget my Jewish heritage. Which is weird, because my mother never really taught that to us. She only pulled it out of her bag of tricks when she felt it was necessary. (How many Jewish mothers does it take to change a light bulb? "That's okay, I'll sit in the dark.")

Maybe as the youngest, I was less forced into going to church with my father, I was the only one who never made my first communion. I know I floundered about for something to believe in for a long time. I still do flounder, even though I chose to raise my son Catholic. I chose to do that mostly because that was all that I knew, and also because of the educational choices in the town we live in.

When I was 18, I worked with a woman who was first generation, her parents were born in the Ukraine. I naively told her my mother's father was from a village outside of Kiev. I claimed to be a "Russian Jew". She haughtily corrected me. I wasn't Russian, or even Ukrainian. I was Jewish.

I had no idea at the time that no matter where a Jew lives, their religion trumps their nationality. I came to embrace my Jewish background after that. I don't practice the religion, but I feel that it is part of me, the way that I am also Irish, and Scottish, and German, and French Canadian, and Oh My God I Am Such A European Mutt!

When I see an article on someone like James Hoyt, my heart goes out to him. I cannot imagine my son seeing the things that he did, at such a young age. And I cannot imagine the other side, having to go through those things or having my son go through those things just because my mother's father was born a Jew.


Shouf was born special. At first, they just thought she was a difficult baby. She would scream like she was getting paid to do it. If my mother left my father in charge of the two babies (Kouf was already 15 months when Shouf was born), Shouf would pull the pacifier out of her mouth and throw it. I swear that was her way of saying, "okay, the gloves are off", then she would arch her back and scream until her face turned purple and she couldn't catch a breath. I think this is why my father left her alone in later years, he was kinda scared of her. (You go, Shouf! Yay for you! If the rest of us had known your secret, we would have done it, too!)

My parents had "Irish Twins". Shouf was born in January, 1962, Bouf was born in December, 1962. When Bouf started crawling before Shouf did, they knew they might have a problem on their hands.

The doctors started testing Shouf, but it took a couple of years before they gave a vague diagnosis. Mom won't talk about it, and I cannot find any information on the term I remember my father telling me. Whatever they called it, it meant Shouf was special.

What was happening was that something in my sister's brain was not wired correctly. Visualize a punch card that is not getting punched in all the right spots. It definitely punched on things like vocabulary, words and letters (she will kick your ASS at Wheel-of-Fortune!), but did not punch on things like reasoning, time, math and depth perception. Not unsimilar to
Savant Syndrome, but she is not autistic.

The doctors told my parents that the best course of action would be to institutionalize her, she would never be able to function in the real world. Thank God my parents basically told them to go fuck themselves. They brought her home and treated her like all the rest of us. They never told her she was different, so she never thought she was. The only reason I don't agree completely with this decision is because she didn't understand why she couldn't always do the same things as the rest of us. She never fully matured emotionally past the age of 12 or 13.

They enrolled Shouf in the same grade as Bouf and they graduated high school together. The school didn't have a "special ed" program, but they somehow managed to coddle her and teach her at the same time. My parents put them both in driver's ed, but Shouf didn't pass, which was hard on her. Also, Shouf didn't understand why Bouf was so wildly popular, and she wasn't. It didn't matter, my mother made Bouf bring her everywhere she went, unless it was a date.

Had Shouf been institutionalized, even for a short while, I'm certain that she would never have had the life experiences that she did. She went to the prom. She moved out and was independent for years. At one point, she even managed her own money. She had multiple boyfriends. She had sex!

She started going downhill again in her late 30's. She was living in an apartment by herself (her long-time live-in boyfriend had left her). My mother decided to sell her house, close her antique shop and move to Florida. Shouf got a lot of stimulation from going to her part time job at a gift store. After work, she would walk to my mother's shop. Around the same time that my mother was closing up shop, the gift store went under. Then her landlords decided they could get more money for her apartment and raised her rent, which she couldn't afford. It was all a harsh blow to her.

Shouf always had a vivid imagination, and often confused dreams with reality. My mother had always maintained that there was nothing wrong with her, though, so we just attributed it to Shouf's quirkiness. She started telling stories around this time that just weren't right. Her landlords' friends had introduced the idea of the spirit world and astrophysics to Shouf, and she took the ball and ran with it. Really, she thought she was having "out of body" experiences and spirits living in the house were leaving her gifts. Not that I necessarily don't believe in those things, I think children or people who are child-like are more susceptible to seeing spirits. But what happened later discounted that this was really happening.

She and I, and my son, moved in together to save on living expenses. I guess I knew in advance that she was getting a little kooky, but I didn't realize how bad it was. She started smelling gasoline all the time, which kind of freaked me out because she was a smoker and home alone all day. I thought for sure I would come home one day to have the house burned to the ground. Instead, I got a call at work from Bouf's daughter telling me Shouf was at their house and I needed to come over right away.

When I got there, my niece said Shouf had called asking her to pick her up - from the business that was in the spot where my mother's shop used to be. Shouf wasn't making any sense, but what we got out of her was the she felt that one the spirits, Christopher, was talking very mean to her and was trying to set her on fire and she was so scared that she ran barefoot over a mile to the new shop. Thank God some of the people that worked there knew who she was and let her use the phone. I brought her home, and asked my other 2 sisters to come over and have a family meeting. When I got to my house, the doors had been left wide open, and the heat had been turned up to 90 degrees on a sunny September day. Shouf didn't remember turning the heat on.

She was hospitalized for a few days, and was put on medication for schizo affective disorder and manic depression. She was having auditory and olfactory hallucinations and would laugh and cry at the same time. The meds turned her into a zombie, but they worked.

When my mother came home for Christmas, she offered to take Shouf back to Florida with her for a few months. When they came home, she had "weaned" Shouf off of the medication. Apparently she thought this was a temporary thing and couldn't stand to see her daughter so doped up. Thank you, Esther.

My parents went back to Florida, again, and Shouf started having hallucinations, again. In our state, you cannot force an adult to take medicine unless they are committed. You can't commit them unless they are deemed to be a threat to themselves or others. I kept telling her I would drop everything I was doing and take her to the hospital whenever she said she was ready. She really didn't want to go back on the medicine, I tried to explain in terms she could understand that the medicine was what was keeping the spirits away. I told her it blocked them from being able to get to her.

By Labor Day we were back at the ER. They had a full house so Shouf was strapped to a gurney in the hallway, screaming OW, OW, THEY ARE RAPING ME AND SETTING ME ON FIRE, OW, OW, IT HURTS, MAKE IT STOP! I was standing there next to her, holding her hand, with tears streaming down my face, begging them to give her a shot of Anything that would knock her out. How could they not see how much pain she was in? They kept her for nine days that time.

This eventually got better, but Shouf is like a zombie, again, and has reverted back to the mentality of an 8-year-old. I have told her that if she goes off her meds again, she cannot live with me any longer. It is like having another child in the house. A child that is an adult. One that you cannot or do not want to tell what to do, because they are an adult. And so, I find myself a single mother with 2 children, one who is older than me. She left for Florida with my mom a couple of weeks ago. I miss her.

Monday, August 11, 2008

I bottle fed a baby raccoon

When we moved from Buffalo to Connecticut, we lived in a very old house in the middle of nowhere. My mother made friends with a lady up the road who lived on a farm. I don't know if they were friends before or after my sisters started dating the lady's sons, but whatever. I was only about four years old at the time, and I don't really care.

The farm had a hen house, and the hen house was being raided on a nightly basis. I don't know if just the eggs were being taken, or if it was worse than that. I do know that they were a blended family with at least 5-7 children to feed. It was not a loss that they could afford.

One night, the man of the house heard a ruckus in the hen house and went out with his shotgun. A huge raccoon was raiding the hen house and he shot her. As she was dying, she gave birth to a bunch of little helpless baby raccoons.

The man of the house was not a bad man, he was protecting the food that they needed to survive. He asked around to find people who were willing and able to take on the baby raccoons, instead of killing them also. My mother has always been a sap for babies and taking in strays, and we took two of them.

Wasn't I cute?

We bottle fed the baby raccoons. We were never able to domesticate them, they remained wild animals. One of them died, despite our efforts. The other one could not get along with our cats and dog. We gave him away to one of my oldest sister's hippie friends. This was 1976. I'll never know what really happened to that little guy. The story I was told is that the hippie friends had him in a car with the windows rolled down, and he freed himself while they were shopping.

Before we gave him away, though, I brought him to my kindergarten's Pet Day. My father and one of his friends brought him to my school that day, and I won "Most Unusual Pet". I also got my picture in the local paper. Thank god it was a very rural town - read "Very White Town" - or I think my family may have had some trouble afterward.

I honestly did not know any better, I was five years old at the time. When the man that was taking my picture asked me my pet's name, I told him straight out, "his name is Tyrone, Tyrone the Coon."

Thanks, Mom and Dad, for ensuring that the only time I've ever been in the paper in my life is when I am uttering a racial slur.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

West Point

My father, Horhay, who was born in 1936, went to Fork Union Military Academy in Virginia for his high school years. His parents weren't well off - they survived the depression and raised 4 kids frugally on a teacher's salary.

My grandpa was Cary Grant Hot!

Grandma had a garden, and they raised their own chickens and rabbits for eggs and meat. She sewed all their clothes, sometimes out of the left-over flour and rice sacks. They were hardworking, religious people who were extremely strict.

I honestly don't know why exactly my father went to FUMA or how they afforded it. He was the oldest, and neither of the other 2 boys went. He did well there, and he apparently enjoyed it enough that he wanted to continue and have a military career. He wanted to go to The United States Military Academy, West Point, in New York.

Back then, it was even harder to get in than it is now. You have to prequalify to be extended an invitation to take the tests (academic and physical assessment) to get in - and you have to have a nomination from a Congressman or a Senator. They have waiting lists for their waiting lists to just take the admissions tests. From their website:

The majority of the Members of Congress use a competitive nomination process, whereby 10 candidates are named to compete for a single vacancy. A minority of the members of Congress names a single candidate as their primary nomination, and some choose to number, or rank order the alternates. If you have an excellent academic and extracurricular activity record, however, you have a good chance of gaining admission with an alternate nomination. Each year several hundred of the best qualified alternate Congressional and military service nominees are offered admission from the West Point waiting list.

My grandmother managed to secure Horhay a first rank nomination. His record at FUMA spoke well enough of him that he was invited to New York to take the tests. My grandmother then scraped together the money to get him a bus ticket from Virginia to New York.

He - missed - the - fucking - bus. One single opportunity that would have altered his life immensely, gone in the blink of an eye. I honestly don't think he ever got over that.

He ended up doing a semester at UCONN, then joined the Air Force. While he was stationed in upstate New York, he reconnected with my mother and her family. When my father was young, his mother took them up to Buffalo every summer, where her father lived. They would rent out half the duplex that my mother's parents owned. Their mothers became very good friends, and all the kids kind of grew up together. My parents started casually dating.

My father got sent overseas, which he loved. He was an incredibly intelligent man. He had been taught Latin, and he became fluent in both German and French. He was also very musical and creative. He could play many instruments, but his talent was the clarinet. He has said that rock-and-roll killed his dream of playing in a jazz band, professionally. Prior to that, he reveled in being part of the Air Force jazz band, and all around DJ and band leader. (He saw Elvis in 1955 at the Amarillo Air Force Base and HATED him!). He told me a story of the military ship leaving the shore of New York, with him spinning records for his fellow recruits, and how happy that made him. He wanted to be so much more than where his life eventually led him.

My son took clarinet for one year. My father was over one day shortly after my son got his instrument, and I asked my father to blow us a few notes. I had never seen him play before - he gave all that up before I was born. I was shocked that he actually agreed, and he played an amazing song for at least 3 minutes. I was unfamiliar with the tune, and asked him what it was. He was free styling - 38 years since he had last picked up that instrument.

I hate to say that I feel for my father, but sometimes I do. It insults my sensibilities 'cause I am such a bitch. However, I feel that he found himself in a situation that he could not get himself out of. I feel that a couple of wrong decisions cost him a lifetime of happiness. I don't think he understood the mental illness awaiting him on the other side of the "I do's". I also don't think he understood his own alcoholic, abusive nature. Or his depression.

When my father got out of the Air Force, he went to Buffalo to help his grandfather run his bicycle shop. His grandfather was grooming him to take over so he could retire. He again reconnected with my mother, and they got married on October 31, 1959. You would think someone would have realized the significance of this date!

My mother should have worn a black dress with orange eye-shadow and practically screamed at the top of her lungs, "We are doomed - run away! All of our children will be demon-spawn!"

And that is how missing one little bus can fuck up your whole life.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

My bother, Jimmy

My brother, Jimmy, was a lot of things to a lot of people. He was a natural born comedian who hid an abusive past behind a wall of comedy. He almost never let his tragedy side show.

He was the kid who gave my uptight mother wet-willies, and she would laugh. He was the kid who told our mother that he was growing tomato plants in his bedroom in the middle of winter, and she believed him right up until those plants started growing stuff that didn't look at all like tomatoes. He was the kid that took care of both his older and younger sisters, because he felt he had to be the man in the family after my father moved out. He was the kid who took the brunt of my father's brutality before the bastard moved out.

I remember an exceedingly cold night in which my father had told my brother not to let the fire go out in the living room fire place. Jimmy could not have been any older than 11 or 12 at the time. When my father got home from the bar in the middle of the night, Jimmy had fallen asleep on the couch in the living room, and the fire had gone out. He made Jimmy go out in the snow in his pajamas, bare foot , down a set of stairs, over the driveway and up a hill to get more wood for the fire. I can't put a number on how many other similar situations the kid had to endure.

Jimmy started getting into trouble when he was 12. He started using drugs and alcohol around the same time. They sent him to the military academy for ninth grade where my father had gone to high school. Jimmy hated it and made sure he got kicked out. That was pretty much the end of school for him. It turns out that not only do mental health issues run in my family, but also dyslexia. Back then, they just thought he was stupid. He used to ask me to fill out his job applications for him because his "hand writing was so bad." He was pretty much illiterate.

He was the nicest guy you would ever want to meet. He was funny, he was kind, he was generous. He loved kids, he loved wildlife, he loved to go fishing more than anything else in the whole world. He may have eventually looked the part of a dirty, greasy alcoholic who got into bar fights and did some time in jail, but he was never any of those things to us. To us, he was always the only sweet little boy in a house full of girls. "Excuse me, ladies, but I believe someone left their soiled panties to soak in the sink, and I would like to brush my teeth."

I pretty much adored him. Even when he threatened to break the thumbs of a much older guy who I thought would be dreamy to have for my boyfriend, when I was 13. He taught me how to play baseball and how to throw a football. He taught me basic self-defense, and gave me a knife to carry when he found out I was hitch-hiking.

When I was 16 and finally had a much older boyfriend, he offered to give the guy a ride home. I found out much later that Jimmy had waited until they got to my boyfriends house, pulled out an unloaded gun and put it to the boyfriend's head and asked, "are you sleeping with my little sister?". Apparently, the guy nearly shit his pants, making my brother a much better judge of character than I was, in retrospect.

I'm not condoning any of the following behavior. It is the truth, and part of the story.

He had already had a couple of DWI's, as they were called then, when he got pulled over driving an unregistered, uninsured car, containing an unregistered, unloaded fire arm. Possibly the same unregistered, unloaded gun as above. He had picked up a hitch-hiker whom he claimed he didn't know was carrying a large amount of marijuana, which the hitch-hiker stashed under the seat. Possession is 9/10ths of the law and Jimmy got busted for it. He finally lost his license and was lucky enough to be put on probation. He then got caught driving without a license, this time with possession of cocaine. He got sentenced to two one-year jail terms, back to back. In our area there are very different terms you could sit out. Jimmy got sent to what we affectionately called the
Brooklyn Country Club. It's like summer camp with dorms, but more barbed wire, and less swimming.

When Jimmy got out of jail, serving less than six months of a two year sentence, he really seemed to have changed his law-breaking ways. He never again got behind the wheel of a car until he had his license back. However, he and alcohol were never very far apart. We thought that he had kicked his love affair with drugs, but we were wrong.

He got steady work at a lumber yard. He and my father moved together into in an apartment. Jimmy sometimes spent weekends at my mother's house, and sometimes spent them at my oldest sister, Kouf's house. He was helping Kouf's husband turn the attic into rooms that they could rent out. He seemed to be a nomad, who was welcome anywhere he went. He was always the life of any party he found himself at.

After five years, the State of Connecticut agreed to give Jimmy his license back. I took the day off of work and brought him for his driver's test. He passed with no problems. From that point on, all we talked about was getting our motorcycle licenses together. I don't know why it seemed so important to us, but it did.

Maybe it meant to me that I had finally proven myself to him that I was an equal, that I could stand up to him, and his friends that he wouldn't let me date. I so wanted to be a bad-ass bitch in his eyes, I guess. Maybe for him, it was the same in reverse. He had taught his little sister to be a bad-ass who could stand up for herself in a world that he tried to, but could not always, protect her from.

Three weeks after getting his license back, we spent a Saturday afternoon together looking at bikes. Neither of us was ready to make any decisions, but we had fun with it. I dropped him off at Kouf's house. I had plans, and Jimmy was staying with her for the weekend. He hadn't yet gotten himself a car.

Kouf and her husband also had plans that evening. Jimmy apparently walked to a nearby bar looking for cocaine. We did not know until later that he had been shooting cocaine intravenously. From what we pieced together, he couldn't find any cocaine, so he decided to try heroin for the first time as it was all that was available. He bought a bad batch that killed 17 people in the Connecticut and New York area.

The next day, I was rather a bit annoyed with my sister, Bouf, for waking me up on a Sunday morning by banging incessantly on the front door at my mother's house. I was hung over and assumed she just needed to do her laundry and had lost her key or something. I opened the door, and was already half-way back up the stairs when she said, "Wait, Fancy, I'm here for a reason - Jimmy's dead". I literally cried like a fucking baby, sitting on the stairs, telling my poor sister that she was a liar. It could not be true, we had just spent the day together. We had plans, goddammit! Why was she being so mean?

My mother had worked a 12-hour shift the night before, 7pm to 7am. Bouf and I had to wake her up and tell her that her only son was dead at the age of 26 of a heroin overdose. That was definitely one of the worst days of my life.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Writing will set me free, or some such shit like that

I used to write all the time when I was younger. I wrote journals, I wrote page after page of inane poetry, I wrote short stories. I took special classes for creative writing in high school and at the local community college. One of the many careers I fantasized about was being a photo-journalist. (I also at one point wanted to sing and dance on Broadway. At another point, I thought I might want to be a lawyer to "change the system from the inside". I even wanted to work with animals, maybe in Africa.) I dreamed of going places and doing things, and I thought that being a photo-journalist might take me somewhere.

What I ended up doing was not graduating high school, even though I got high honors the year before I dropped out. I had issues, some of them were with my mental health, some were because of partying too much, and then I got sick. Save your sympathy, I partied enough for everyone the first semester of my senior year. Second semester, I got tonsillitis. I was 16, and needed to have my tonsils out, but was too sick all the time for them to actually perform the surgery. At one point, I couldn't stop coughing in class, and I heard something snap. The nurse called my mother to take me straight to the Emergency Room. I had broken 2 ribs, and dislocated the cartilage on four others. By the time my tonsils were taken out, I had lost too many credits to graduate with my class.

I decided if I could not walk the pomp and circumstance with my friends, I would drop out, work full time, and get my GED. Which I did. Let me tell you, if half of my peers had to take that test, they would not have graduated. I only barely squeaked by on the math portion, but I did it! I also finished a nine month program for word processing at night, while working full time, before I got my actual GED in the mail (with my name spelled wrong, you rotten bastards!). Computers were a much safer field than anything I had previously wanted to do, but that was where I found myself.

I eventually stopped writing altogether.

Recently, I set up accounts on a couple of networking sites. I set up on one of them at my sister's insistence, it seems to be where most of the people my age are, and I was happy I hooked up with some old friends. I set up on the other, younger hipper site, to keep an eye on my son's private account - uh, er, I mean because that is also where my niece is and they can see my pictures.

I wrote a post on one of the networking sites about my friend at work and his horrible accident. I liked how it felt, so I wrote another one. And really liked how it felt. I felt like I needed to write about some deep, personal issues, but didn't want to have to censor myself because people I knew might be reading it. Hence this relatively anonymous blog.

I'm not writing a blog to jump on any band wagon. My writing is mediocre, at best. I don't feel like I have anything important to say, in the grand scheme of things. I certainly don't think I'm going to be popular or make money off of this. (I will stop short of saying I don't care what people think about me, because that wouldn't be the truth. Thanks, Joe, whoever you are, for leaving my first comment.) Writing just feels therapeutic right now. By writing about my issues, I am able to rehash them and think about them. Hopefully, I will be able to work through them and let them go.

And this is a lot less expensive than a $15 dollar a week co-pay at my last therapist. He once asked me to rate how I was feeling that week about my life in general on a scale of 1-10. I was having a rough week, but I was okay with it. I gave myself a 7. He was shocked, he said he would have put me at a 2. I decided he was no longer worth $15 dollars a week to me.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

My son went to Arizona, and all I got was this lousy tee-shirt

My son, J, went on a road trip with my sister, Bouf, about two weeks ago. Her objective was to get her car and her dog to Arizona, where she moved last year with her fiancee. They spent about 6 days on the road from CT to AZ. The rest of the time was spent doing fun things!

I missed my son, but I'm sure we both welcomed a break from each other. My son recently turned 14. Need I say more?

My sister scheduled the flight for J to come home into an airport in Rhode Island. The only non-stop flight from Phoenix to our neck of the woods was into T.F. Green airport, outside of Providence, Rhode Island. Let me tell you, I hate Providence. I have almost never gone there or back without getting lost. Also, I cannot see very well to drive at night. At night, and in the rain, forget about it! J's flight was scheduled to come in at 6:25 PM. It was pouring rain here today, my tires are bald, my cell phone died recently, and my check engine light came on this morning. To say I was a little worried about the trip would be putting it mildly.

Freak out much, miss worry-wart? It pretty much stopped raining and I got there fine. Okay, I got lost about 4 times, but I had given myself more than enough time, I never really didn't know where I was, and had almost an hour left to kill. I brought a book to read in the terminal, no biggie.

I finally noticed people are coming out of the gate, and stood up to wait for J to disembark from the plane. I saw him coming out of the gate and I thought he saw me. He gives me a brief little chin up, eyebrow up acknowlegment, but then he walks away. I thought, maybe he didn't really see me, so I call out his name. Without looking at me, he says, "I saw you" and continues to walk away. I stood there with my jaw dropped open while about fifty people were looking at me, with incredulous looks on their faces. Oh yes, my son did diss me in an airport full of strangers. Never one to miss an oportunity to make it all about me, I said out loud, "I'm so glad you're home, son". In retrospect, I can see why he probably wanted nothing to do with me in the first place.

He continued to walk ahead of me by 10 or 15 feet all the way to baggage claim. I actually had to bite my lips to keep from crying. When we got to baggage claim, he finally turned around saw the look on my face. He said, "what?". I said, "you couldn't even say hi to me?". I had to walk away for a couple of minutes. I was really feeling very hurt, and at the same time, I was really feeling that I was turning into my mother. So, I chose the high road. I pretended everything was okay, until I really felt that everthing was okay. He did not feel like he had done anything wrong, he was worried that I was going to try to hug and kiss him in front of everyone, and that would have mortified him. I told him that in the future, he could at least greet me, and tell me that he was not open to public displays of affection. In his own words, "hugging your mother at the airport is lame". In my words, "not acknowledging your mother at the airport is lame."

He was completely fine after that, he was my boy again. He bought me a beautiful turquoise ring in Arizona that he gave me as we were leaving the airport parking lot. We talked a little on the ride home, and a lot more after we got home. The dog went bullshit when she saw him! He showed me the things that he had bought, and the things that were given to him, and the pictures that he had taken. All seems fine, now.

Good lord, is it just me, or does being 14 really suck ass? You could not pay me a million dollars to do it again. And you would have to pay me two million dollars to be the parent of a 14 year old, again.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

John Balcony

When I was little, I had an imaginary friend. His name was John Balcony. I honestly don't remember much about John Balcony, but I remember believing him to be real for a short period of time.

We had just made a big move from Buffalo, New York to Coventry, Connecticut. I was probably three years old at the time. I remember bits and pieces of the house in Buffalo. Apparently, my parent's bedroom had a balcony off of it that we were forbidden from because it was on the second floor. Also, one of the neighbor's kids that my brother played with was named John. I must have filtered that into John Balcony.

Once we were living in Coventry, my imaginary friend started taking shape. I would give long stories at the dinner table about John and his seven sisters. Each story grew more graphic than the one before. Soon, John's seven sisters started trying to kill him. The sisters started with just their finger nails, but went on to bigger and better things. Eventually, John was killed by his sisters with a machine gun. Ha-ha-ha, Fancy is such a funny little girl. Where does she get her imagination from?

Around the same time, I've been told that I was also drawing scary pictures. While other children my age were drawing pictures of their house with a big lemon sun in the corner, their family linked in hands out front like you would think a normal child would do, I was drawing pictures of big buildings on fire with people hanging out the windows screaming. I was too young to have the people hanging out the windows screaming, "help me"; but you would think someone would have gotten the picture.

As a side note: when it is it ever appropriate dinner conversation for a child to talk about their imaginary friend's sisters ripping his face off with their finger nails? And why would this be considered amusing? Also, I never tortured any animals, nor did I become a serial killer.

Friday, August 1, 2008


I dropped my mother and my sister, Shouf, at the airport this morning! Woo-hoo! I'm probably going to hell for celebrating this, but woo-hoo!

My son is not coming home from Arizona until late tomorrow. I have the house to myself for 24 hours. I am going to party like it's 1999 - possibly naked.


My father moved out when I was about 9. I remember my mother telling a social worker at my school about the impending divorce. The social worker was trying to be sympathetic and gave me a book about how I should be okay with feeling sad. SAD? Are you fucking kidding me? We were joyous! Why did it take my mother 23 years of alcoholic rage and abuse to get rid of him?

I don't remember a lot of things about my early childhood, I've been told I am "blocking" memories. That doesn't make a whole lot of sense to me, as I was the youngest. I suffered the least of the abuse, next to Shouf, who was born special. My father, bastard that he was, tended to steer clear of Shouf individually, unless she was being included in the group. Of course, that doesn't mean that either of us didn't see a lot of scary shit!

One of my earliest memories is my father playing hide-and-go seek with us. You would think that would be a happy memory, right? But my father played a "Here's Johnny" version in the middle of the night while my mother was at work. He had woken us all up when he got home from whatever bar he was frequenting after his 2nd shift job. How it worked was we all got the chance to hide, and whomever he found first got beaten with a stick he found in the yard. Who the fuck knows what triggered his anger that night, it could have been anything. I don't remember the outcome, I was probably 6 at the time. All I remember is hiding under a bed with Shouf on one side of me and Bouf on the other. Bouf had one hand over my mouth, and the other hand over Shouf's mouth because we were both hysterical. Kouf, as the oldest, was probably hiding Jimmy. The only boy in the house always deserved to be treated as an extra special punching bag, it didn't matter if he was ten years old. I'm assuming Horhay* must have passed out that night before he found anyone, because I don't remember the outcome. Who knows, maybe I blocked it.

*Horhay is what we now call him. I do realize I'm not spelling it correctly, but Jorge just doesn't have the same look. He is now a sad depressed old man living in Florida all by himself. He is no longer scary, but I still don't want pretty much anything to do with him.