Knicking for Yard Duty

Wherein it is discovered there is more to life than collecting Hot Wheels.

I spent the first ten years of my life collecting Hot Wheels with my best friend Alda Lupino, a.k.a, Wheels, on account of her wheelchair.

We had come up with a new hobby over the summer: knicking. It wasn’t really stealing, it was just little things, like a pencil stub, or a rubberband. Wheels could roll up on someone and get them started talking while I knicked their empty soda can or something. The trick was to not be caught, to not be seen, then to watch and wait for the person to notice the thing was missing. Sometimes we put it back, just to watch them get confused all over again.

The only one who ever caught us was her cousin Joey. He was in Mr. Moller’s 5thgrade class too. At least, he was there most of the time. Joey was late, or absent, a lot. He wasn’t sick, but I think maybe his mother was.

Anyway, Joey was used to the chair so it didn’t work on him. When he caught on what we were doing, he started doing it too. Only, Joey thought it was funnier to straighten things up, when somebody’s desk was a mess. Mr. Moller’s desk was always a mess.

One time, Alda asked for Mr. Moller’s help with something, he got up to help her, I dropped some papers to distract the class, and Joey fixed the bookends, and put his pencil back in the pencil cup. I had to admit it was almost as much fun as actually knicking something from the desk.

Before Halloween, we had knicked something from everyone in class, including Mr. Moller. As the year went by, school got harder, but more interesting. I was doing pretty well, and looking like the ‘air apparent’. That’s what they called the top student in 5thgrade at Wendell Perkins Elementary. Whoever was top of the class at the end of 5thgrade was automatically made School President in 6thgrade. I wasn’t sure exactly what it meant, but I knew that Josie Watkins, the 6thgrade girl who was current School President got to use the microphone at school assemblies. I figured that was worth something.

When the new semester started in January, we got a new Yard Duty. That’s what we called the parent who stood around on the playground to keep kids from doing stupid stuff. Her name was Spenser. If you talked to her, you had to call her Ms. Spenser, but no one ever talked to the Yard Duty, unless she yelled at you first. Most Yard Duties where always mad, and you just knew they didn’t want to be there. Ms. Spenser was different. For one thing, she was skinny. And she was pretty, in a way I had never seen anyone be pretty except on TV. When I first saw her she was wearing this big, fluffy coat, black pants that fit real tight, and cowboy boots. Her hair had that streaky look, like part blonde and part not blonde. And these big bug-eye sunglasses. The 6thgrade boys watched her a LOT. And so did Joey. She watched me, making it hard to knick stuff on the playground. So Wheels and I had to get more and more creative. We took turns distracting her, or blocking her view.

Then one day in May, the Yard Duty yells at me during morning break. “Katie! You! Come over here!” I thought, ‘What?!? I haven’t even been near anybody’s stuff today.’ Anyway, I went over to where she was standing at the edge of the blacktop.

“Yeah?”

We just stood there for a moment, watching a game of kickball on the field. “Katie,” she said, and paused. I looked up at her but couldn’t make out her expression because of the sunglasses. She says, “Katie, you got a problem.” About now I realize she has some kind of accent. She reminded me of Natasha from Rocky & Bullwinkle. Not exactly, but like that.

I figure she knows about my hobby so I say, “Yeah, I know, but it’s not a big deal.”

“Oh it’s big deal now, little sister.”

Little sister?

“What? What kind of problem?”

“Mr. Linton has pictures of you stealing Jason’s shoelaces at PE yesterday.”

Oh that. I sorta froze. I felt sick to my stomach. Shoelaces aren’t that big a deal. And I stuffed them in his lunch bag the next day. But Mr. Linton, the principal, might not see it that way. In fact, I was sure he wouldn’t.

“What shoe laces?” I tried.

“Don’t be stupid, Katie. He knows. He knows all about you. And now he’s got proof. You know that camera he carries around all the time? Taking pictures for the yearbook?” I nodded. Everyone knew about Mr. Linton and his slick little camera he kept in his shirt pocket. “You know? I saw him zoom right in on you. He’s got you.”

Ok, now I was beginning to choke. School President. I had been telling myself it was no big deal, that I really didn’t care about it. But now…oh yeah…I knew I’d been lying to myself. A rock had somehow gotten into my stomach. A big one. I felt my face heat up.

“Don’t panic. There’s a way out.” She leaned over, lowered the sunglasses, and looked me straight in the eye. “You must get that camera.”

I stared at her. I had no idea eyes could be so yellow. I didn’t know then that they made contact lenses in colors, I though she had naturally lemon yellow eyes. She must have realized I was looking at them, because she slipped the glasses up again and went back to watching kickball.

“Wait…what?”

“The camera, Katie. Get it from Mr. Linton’s office. Today. He’s leaving early, something about his car. Sneak in there and get that camera. It’s your only hope.”

The bell rang. I turned and headed back to class.

“Today, Katie!”

She was right. I told Wheels during science. “How?” she asked. “We can’t just walk in to Mr. Linton’s office…” Joey came over to borrow a compass, and I told him too. “Oh man, Josie Watkins is in there today helping Mrs. Cartwright…” That was another thing about being School President. That’s who Mrs. Cartwright used to help her decorate her office and stuff.

“Wait a minute,” Joey put the compass down. “Mr. Linton wasn’t here yesterday. He was at a meeting at the school district. I was in the office when he left, I heard him tell Mrs. Cartwright he’d be back at bus time. And he drove up while we were lining up for the bus after school. He couldn’t have taken any pictures. So…what’s the Yard Duty on about?”

Wheels figured Mr. Linton had taken HER picture doing something wrong. Joey had another idea. He reckoned that he caught her at her other job. “She’s a dancer. Steve Barker says she dances nekkid over at that Showgirls place. I’ll bet he got pictures of her dancing and she wants ‘em back. And she’s using YOU to get them!”

I had to think about that for a while. I knew the Showgirls place he was talking about. And I heard that women danced nekkid in there. She sure was pretty enough…

At lunch, I walked right up to her in the lunchroom and said, “We gotta talk.” Outside, we walked to the edge of the blacktop again. “You have a plan?” she said.

I said, “Yeah, I got a plan. I plan on not taking that camera. Mr. Linton wasn’t even here yesterday. He can’t have taken pictures of me.” I watched her.

This time it was her face turning red. “No, you MUST get that camera!” Her voice got really tight, and her cheek was getting wet where the sunglasses rested there. I looked away. “No can do, ma’am. I’m gonna be School President next year. Why would I risk that stealing a camera?”

“You don’t understand. That camera…” Yeah, I think maybe I do understand. And I felt sorry for her. She knew about the shoelaces, and I had a feeling she knew a lot more. But she had never ratted us out. I was starting to feel sick again.

“So…what’s on the camera, really? Did he take pictures of you dancing nekkid?”

She turned on me so fast I thought she was going to hit me. “WHAT!?”

“Everyone knows you dance nekkid at that Showgirls place. I reckon he went in there and took pictures. Is that it? And you want ME to steal it for you…”

“FIRST of all,’ she hissed at me. She was spitting mad, but didn’t want to yell and draw attention. “I do NOT dance “nekkid” at that place! WHO told you that?!?!”

I took a couple steps back. Boy did I goof!

“Umm…”

“I am a dance TEACHER! And what’s on that camera is none of your business, you just get it, TODAY! Or you and your little ratpack will be getting pink slips and find yourselves in detention for the rest of the year!”

All things considered, I didn’t see that we had a choice. “Ok…but I’m going to need some help from you.”

Well, that was that. I found Joey and Wheels waiting near the water fountain. They could tell things had gone sideways. “Look, guys, we got a problem.” I told them everything she said. Joey was confused. All the 6thgrade boys knew she was a dancer at that place. “Look, she says she teaches dance. It doesn’t matter. I don’t know what’s on that camera, but if we don’t get it for her, she’s gonna rat us out and we’re done for. And there goes School President.”

Joey was all for direct assault. “The three of us just go in there, talking all at once, and push past the counter and stand in front of her desk. Then I’ll just go in there…”

“No Joey, you know that’s not going to work.”

“Wheels is right, Joey. Even if Josie wasn’t there, Mrs. Cartwright keeps a pretty sharp eye. Besides, I’ve got a plan.”

The bell rang and we all headed back to class. We had just gotten our Social Studies books out when the Yard Duty came into the classroom and went right up to Mr. Moller. They talked for a few minutes. I edged closer to hear.

“I see,” said Mr. Moller. “You’re sure she said all three of them? And their books? Even the Lupino girl?”

“That’s what she said. And she gave me their names.” Mr. Moller seemed skeptical. The Yard Duty just shrugged and said “ADA.” I had no idea what that was, but Mr. Moller sure did. Minutes later we were all heading towards the office, carrying our books.

“What did you tell Mr. Moller?”

“Does it matter? Just get the camera.”

“Wait.” Joey stopped dead. He just stood there. “You don’t need the whole camera.”

Wheels got it first. “You just need the film.”

That was good, and that was bad. I didn’t like the idea of taking something as valuable as a camera. But it was bad because it messed with my timeline. I could cruise in and knick the camera in a moment. How long would it take me to figure out how to get the film out?

“Don’t worry about that. Just get me the camera, I’ll take care of figuring out the film.”

Mr. Linton’s office had two doors. One opened to the rest of the office, one opened to the outside, facing the parking lot. That wall had high windows to let in light and air. They were open. The Yard Duty walked around and stood by that door and lit up a cigarette.

Wheels led the rest of us into the office, and she asked to speak to Mr. Linton right away, assuming he was gone already. Alda had a way of talking to adults. Maybe it was the chair, but they always took her seriously.

Mr. Linton’s office door was open, and he was there. He could see us and said, “Alda, come in. What’s on your mind?” Cool as a popsicle she rolls right in, and we followed. Wheels started in talking about some difficulties she had with her chair in the classroom. I didn’t really listen, I was positioning myself near that back door. Right on queue Joey’s books slipped out of his hands, papers flew all over the floor.

“Oh no! Joey!” Alda whirled her chair in place so slick and was almost falling out of it trying to help Joey.

Mr. Linton jumped out of his seat, afraid she was going to fall. “Joey, why do you have all your books with you?” He was reaching everywhere for loose papers. Joey looked at me and I nodded. He started coughing really hard to cover the sound as I grabbed the doorknob and opened the back door just enough so the Yard Duty could slip some tape onto the latch.

“I’m sorry about the smoke. Sometimes the teachers stand out there for their breaks.” The door closed and Joey recovered. But Mr. Linton stood up and stepped to the back door and opening it, spotted the Yard Duty. “Ms. Spenser, I must ask you to put that out. Or go to the end of the blacktop with it.” Then he checked his watch and said, “I’m sorry, Alda, we’ll have to finish this tomorrow, I have to be going,” he stepped out to the office, “Mrs. Cartwright, please set aside some time tomorrow for Alda.”

Meanwhile, I had spotted the camera on his desk. It was in my pocket before he turned around.

“Ok, Mr. Linton, we’ll see you tomorrow…”

And just like that, we had the camera. I handed it over to the Yard Duty. She pushed a couple of buttons trying to open it. Then something popped out of the side. She pulled it out. “Got it.” She almost dropped the camera handing it back to me. “Put it back now, before it is missed.”

I looked around the corner of the building. Mr. Linton’s car was just leaving the lot. “Ok, Joey, go.”

Joey headed back to the office, while I walked down to Mr. Linton’s back door. The tape had done the trick. I opened the door just as I heard Joey telling Mrs. Cartwright he felt kind of sick. Josie didn’t move, but she was watching Joey. I got in, dropped the camera back on the desk and got out. The Yard Duty got the tape. Done. Joey had a miraculous recovery, and a moment later we were all heading back down the hall. The Yard Duty was laughing and crying at the same time.

That was a lot more fun than collecting Hot Wheels.

A Puzzlement

A week has not gone by that I haven’t taken this problem out and fiddled with it, like some mental, emotional, spiritual, sociological, physiological, psychological, theological Rubic’s Cube with too many facets and variables. How long has it been?

We met in junior high, and were pals all through high school. You dated my brother. We roomed together in college. We were the best of friends. You were Ethel to my Lucy, though you were always way smarter than me. I thought we’d know each other forever. I found a certain fearlessness in myself, knowing you’d always be around to help me figure things out. I had visions of our children falling in love and marrying, and our two families would be related.

But then you eloped. You moved away, out of state. One day we were roommates, then you were gone. You married a GI and lived far away, but still came back to be my matron of honor when I married the church organist. Our families were never close, you moved a lot.

Your marriage didn’t last, mine did. The church I attended sort of imploded, and I drifted back to the Catholic church, but I missed you. I missed being able to talk to you about things. You always helped me sort things out.

We stayed in touch, a little. But every time we met I could see you were unhappy. Always striving, always saying you were ‘doing better’, but I never knew what you were coming back from. Allergies always took a toll, I knew. But there was something else, some sadness, some something I could never put my finger on.

How long have I wrestled with this? When was it you came to me to ask my permission to marry another woman? When did you first confess you had been deeply in love with me, and ran off to marry Victor because it became apparent I would never return your love?

I think I can finally put that Rubic’s Cube away now, because it doesn’t matter. Even if I could make it be alright in my head, I can’t make it be what it never was. I thought we were best friends. You thought we were sweethearts.

Ch. 5 – Church on a Hill

Laura had, and presumably still has, rheumatoid arthritis. I did not know what that meant, back then. I just knew she moved rather oddly and expected to be in a wheelchair by the time she was twenty-five. But that seemed ages away, and I figured that whatever ailed her, there’d be a cure by then. She had long, lithe fingers and could play the guitar and read music, or at least a chord chart, which was more than I could do. She told me the patron saint of musicians was St. Cecelia, and she wore a St. Cecelia medal.

Laura, Jessica and I were in Camp Fire Girls. Actually, they were in Camp Fire. I was invited to Jessica’s on a Tuesday evening. She asked me for two dollars, which I handed over. She handed back a card and said, “Congratulations, you’re in Camp Fire. Raise your right and repeat after me….”
Those two, along with most of the other girls in the group had been together since grade school. We were all in high school by this time, and it was called Horizon Club instead of Camp Fire, but it was still Camp Fire. I earned exactly one bead, a big purple one. Laura and Jessica both had lots of beads, of course, because they’d been in so long. Being in Camp Fire was probably one of the coolest things I ever got to do. We had a couple of field trips and stuff. I got to be a counselor at Day Camp. I never got to go to or be a counselor at the regular summer camp, but I went to the fall reunions for counselors, which was pretty cool. All in all, it’s a good memory.
But, three is a crowd. I’m not sure now what the relationship between Laura and Jessica had been prior to my being around. I just know that Jessica thought I could walk on water. Laura was too sensible for that, but we were good friends. They were both way smarter than me. They both had read a lot more than I had. I was a good reader, but my reading had not been directed since I left Catholic school. And when we came to California, we stopped going to the library. So the only books I read were school books and a Fifty Famous Fairy Tales book I purchased for myself at the grocery store. Then one day one of them loaned me a copy of The Hobbit. It was wonderful. Then Jessica tried to tell me about The Lord of the Rings. At first it sounded boring, not at all whimsical like The Hobbit. Eventually she wore me down and I decided to give it a try. I was right. It was nothing like The Hobbit. I got bogged down at The Old Forest (Chapter 6) and stopped reading for a long time. Then Jessica said to just skip to The Sign of the Prancing Pony (Chapter 9). (It’s funny now, because it was like I needed permission to jump ahead. Of course, without her input, I would not have known where to jump ahead to.) Anyway, once I met Strider, I was on my way. It’s weird. I fell in love with Strider. I guess other girls fall in love with Mr. Darcy or Willoughby or some character from a romance novel. But there was just something…something…about him. It would be decades before I understood what that something was.
****
One day Laura took me to visit an empty church building. She wanted to adopt it. She wanted to see Latin masses celebrated there, and maybe run a day-care center from the basement to help pay for it. It was a white stucco, chapel-looking building sitting on a hill surrounded by suburbia, very picturesque. I think she wanted to call it St. Cecelia’s.
***
As the years went by, we all graduated from high school. Jessica went to college, I didn’t. Well, I took a few classes, but I was very intimidated by the whole business. I don’t remember if Laura went or not.
For a while, Jessica and I got an apartment together, not far from the University. It was a strange time. We were such good friends, we talked long into the night about all sorts of things. Jessica had a cleft lip and palate. She had about two dozen surgeries from the time she was born til I met her. I guess it was more than annual. Today, they do things differently, but her mom was determined to have Jessica look as normal as possible. But every time she had surgery she had to stay home from school for months at a time because her mother was concerned about infections. Again, today we know this is unnecessary. Anyway, she did lots of home schooling before it was fashionable. And in her spare time she read through the family’s encyclopedias. Yeah. So anyway, she didn’t do a lot of dating while we were roommates. But then neither did I. We just hung out a lot. There was this one guy, I forget his name, but I think he wanted her to marry him and move away, or maybe just move in with him in another state. She told him no, saying she didn’t want to leave her good friend. I figured it was just an excuse not to get involved with him, you know. But it was kinda flattering.
***
I don’t quite know how to introduce the topic of my virginity. I figured it was gone anyway, so there wasn’t anything to preserve. So, first chance I had with a decent guy, there it went. Greg. That lasted 3 or 4 months. It was interesting, I’ll say that. He worked at the same hamburger joint that I did. He was sort of homeless though. He roomed here and there on the wrong side of town. He called himself a derelict Mormon. I guess he’d been on a Mission and…I dunno…something musta happened. He had decided he could not be a good Mormon until he had done all the things he was trying to get others to be saved from. Or something like that. So…that’s when I first toked up. I think I did hash too, but I don’t really remember. I watched him do coke and heroine. Actually, I helped pay for the heroine and watched the transaction take place in the bathroom of this crummy little house. [One of our co-workers was a heroine addict. She called it horse.] And I dropped him off at a place where he was going to do some LSD. Very sixties, incense, black walls, no furniture to speak of, lots of cushions on the floor, strings of beads instead of doors. I believe he also tried sex with a guy. But once he had completely polluted himself, he went home to his parents. I never heard of him again.
After that, I went to confession and started going to Mass again, at St. Francis in mid-town. They had a 5:15pm Mass every day and I went whenever I could. There was no music, which suited me, because guitars at Mass still seemed strange to me, much as I liked to sing. Then there was Paul. I stopped going to Mass. Paul ended a few months later and I started back to church. This went on back and forth for a couple of years. There was David, the Jewish ex-Navy guy who could bench press 425, Steve, the marathon runner with a degree in Russian history, Gordon the car salesman. I forget the rest, but there was about a dozen altogether, I think.
One day, during a church-going phase, I happened to be in a little Bible book store. It had a coffee house in the back. It was actually early evening and there were quite a few people coming in. Turns out, this is where a choir was rehearsing for a church nearby. [Why they were not rehearsing in the church I never knew.] It had been a couple of years since I sang in the high school choir, so I wanted to hear their sopranos first before I offered my services. The conductor was a short, round guy, but very well dressed. One of the sopranos was being very possessive so I kinda guessed maybe that was his wife or girlfriend. He sorta looked married somehow. I ducked back into the bookstore and asked about the choir and so on. Then I casually asked if the choir director was married. The girl behind the counter positively shrieked with laughter. Billy!!?! MarrIed!!?! HAhaHA-AHH!! Billy couldn’t even spell sin, much less commit one!” Now, I thought it rather odd that this girl equated marriage with sin, but no mind. With that roadblock cleared, I went back to check out the competition. That tall soprano could carry a tune. She was hitting the pitches, which obviously pleased Billy, but she was a tad shrill, and a little breathy. Good. And she was chunky and way taller than him. Good. (He was about my height.) And she wore glasses. Good. She had long pretty hair, but so did I. Between songs I introduced myself and asked to audition. Billy said sure, during the break. I forget what I sang, but I was a shoe-in.
Well, turns out what he really needed was an alto. No problem, at that point in my life I had a three octave range. So I alternated between 1st and 2nd soprano, and alto, depending on the need. As long as there was another alto for me to follow, I was fine. I had no idea where the church was or what kind, but I figured singing in the choir wasn’t the same as joining the church. And it didn’t mean giving up being Catholic, as near as I could tell, according to the new rules. I just wouldn’t take communion unless the preacher guy said the right thing about the bread and wine actually becoming the body and blood of Jesus Christ. It just seemed to me it all boiled down to transubstantiation. I had completely forgotten about apostolic succession. So…next Sunday, guess where I was? In that little stucco church on the hill which Laura had wanted to adopt.

Hi Mom! I’m Fine!

Begonia Rising

I have three sons (and two daughters) and I’m always glad to hear from them. But when the conversation starts out with, “Hi Mom! I’m fine!” my blood pressure goes up. It’s nice to know they’re fine, it’s the stories that follow that make me cringe. My daughters’ greetings seldom evince the same level of anxiety. (With them, things always start out so reasonable. The anxiety builds throughout the conversation. I will cover their respective antics in another blog.)

___________

“Hi Mom! I’m fine,” it’s my youngest, age 14. “Scott took me to the emergency room, cuz I didn’t want to bother you and we’re already on our way home!”

How convenient.

He continues, “There’s no cast, just an ace bandage, you can’t even see anything, but my shoe won’t go on cuz it’s all swollen and I have to use crutches for a couple of days.”

“What’s swollen?”

“My…

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Ch. 4 – High School

As many perpetrators do, my Dad had threatened my sister with: you keep your mouth shut and let me do as I please or I will go after Ann. The bitter truth is, of course, he already was molesting me, only she didn’t know about it. Once my sister married and was out of the house, I recognized a certain connection between how much my father drank, and how much he didn’t bother me. In my mind I called them sessions. So I cheerfully suggested beer anytime he mentioned the warm weather, and in northern California, it’s warm about 9 months out of the year. Or if he’d had a long day at work. This comment could be coaxed with a simple question: How was work today Dad? blah blah blah Do you want a beer? It was like training a chicken to peck the bar to get food. I learned that when he got drunk in the evening, or in the afternoon on weekends, we would have no sessions. I learned to hang out with my mother whenever I could and not be left alone with him. I dreaded weekends when my mother worked. At those times it was all about manipulating Dad to where he was too drunk or occupied to be after me. I learned to do all sorts of things so that we could remain occupied and avoid sessions. I learned to watch TV quietly, and to ‘enjoy’ watching football. I learned how to play bridge so I could take my sister’s place when my parents and my brother played. The longer he played the more he drank. I didn’t drink beer, I didn’t like it, and my parents never had anything stronger in the house. But I looked forward to the day when I could go to a bar or liquor store and buy my own bourbon for highballs. After we moved to California, we moved several times over the next several years, roughly every year, since my parents usually had to sign a lease. I don’t know why we didn’t buy a house, but my dad told me one time something about how that California was a community property state, and that the women where my mother worked were all divorced and had jacked their husbands out of their houses and were getting alimony and were telling my mother that she should do the same thing. I thought this was hooey, but I couldn’t tell him that. I just bided my time ’til I could leave home. I had a hard time taking school seriously. Nothing was the same after Catholic school. I heard other kids dissing their experience at Catholic schools. I loved wearing a uniform, it just made life simpler. (And maybe because I look good in navy and white.) Academically, I just couldn’t bring myself to care. I went to some of the dances at school, but I don’t think I ever actually had a date. Well, there was one, a co-worker at the little hamburger joint where I worked my senior year. He went to a different school. But we only went out once. I never could figure out what I was doing wrong. I tried my best to look as good as the other girls, and to be friendly with the guys. But nothing I did ever seemed to impress them. Sometimes I wondered if my skin was really green only I was the only one who couldn’t see that. It wasn’t until my 10 year high-school reunion that I found out several guys had crushes on me but didn’t dare even speak to me because my brother had put the word out: he would dismember anyone who had anything to do with me. I’m sure he meant well. And when I tell people this they usually laugh. But going through high school with zero dates and no explanation isn’t funny.

Ch. 3 – The Stained Glass

I was still working on obeying, and offering sacrifices, but without Mass and further teaching, which ended when we moved to California when I was ten, I was at a loss how to balance things out. I gleaned different things about the changes coming out of Vatican II and subsequent Papal decrees. Among them Nostra Aetate. My juvenile understanding of the bits and pieces of this declaration I actually heard or read was that, pretty much every thing I had learned at St. Suzanne’s about the importance of being Catholic as opposed to pagan or Protestant had been thrown out the window. Okay, this was the Pope saying this, so it must be true, right? Something kept niggling away at the back of my mind, telling me I didn’t have it quite right. But then I also knew there was nothing I could do about it. I was a kid with zero access to more information. This was long before the Internet. I just had to act on what I understood at the time. I was pretty sure that this was all God expected of me. I still considered myself a soldier of Christ.

In junior high I met Samantha. She became my best friend. Samantha had a cleft lip and palate, and so spoke with a bit of a lisp. But she had the loveliest eyes you’ve ever seen. She was smart, and clever, played the piano, very well-read, and best of all, loved everything I said or did. I had never had a best-friend before. I hadn’t ever really had any friends, come to think of it. So I didn’t find her devotion odd at all. She had been raised Congregationalist. I had a very hard time understanding the difference between one Protestant group and another. But she assured me Congregationalists were not to be confused with Baptists, Methodists or Lutherans.

Then, in my freshman year of high-school, Karen, the girl next to me in choir announced that she was going to become a nun. I was thrilled and asked her what kind? She had no idea there was more than one kind. She wasn’t even Catholic. But she was seeking. Ah, so here was a chance for me to do some soldiering! She called the local parish and together we attended some catechism classes together, and this is where I learned a little about the new church, and the novus ordo, or new order of the Mass. She became my god-child. And Samantha became hers.

I think Karen was much more aware of the changes taking place within the Catholic Church than I was. She too longed for the old Latin rite, though she didn’t grow up with it. She gave me a Catholic Bible for my birthday. Both Karen and Samantha believed I knew nothing about the Bible, which in a way was true. I had not the first clue how it was structured, or the general format, other than the terms Old and New Testament, Gospels, and Epistles. In reality, all the readings at daily Mass had exposed me, over the years, to every part of the Bible. The significance of the gift was lost on me, though I still have the book. It would be many years before I actually started reading the Word of God, and then it would be a much newer translation.

Together the three of us investigated a number of nunnery options. Karen took particular delight in staring at the walls of cloistered nuns in the area. She got her driver’s license very early. We drove down to Carmel-by-the-Sea, where there was a convent of Poor Clares practically across the street from the Carmelite convent. There was a particular book available only at the big library downtown, something like 556 Orders of Catholic Nuns in North America. Each page had a picture of a nun in whatever habit they normally wore, along with perhaps a brief history of the particular order, and a tiny summation of their purpose. It listed whether they were active or cloistered, whether they took simple or solemn vows, what Rule they followed and so on. We spent many hours noting particularly smart looking habits, and a few odd ones. While I liked the really smart looking, black and white Dominican habit, the lifestyle of the Carmelite really appealed to me. And, my middle name is Theresa.

Samantha and I actually applied to the local Carmelite monastery. She was hesitant because the Carmelite habit is wool, and she was allergic. If Sam were to be accepted into Carmel, she would have to get special treatment to be allowed to wear a habit of cotton or silk. The sister who spoke with us through the grille saw it differently. She saw it as rather sad that Sam couldn’t wear a wool Carmelite habit. She suggested, however, that it might be a source of humility, a burden to bear that she had to stand out from the others by wearing a different habit. My application was gently but completely denied. Not only because I was young, slightly (but not a great deal), in debt, and especially because I had a serious health problem. Sam wasn’t going to enter Carmel alone, so she stopped seeking when I was denied.

Rather than being bitter, I decided it was clearly a sign of God’s will. After all, I had not caused my own health problem. So, in a tip of the hat to my patron saint [Therese], I told God, “Fine. I choose all. I get it: am not meant to live in a cloister, but instead to have a husband and children. But I still want both. I still choose a life of prayer, (I know, and You know, God, that I won’t be as good at it as I would be in a convent with no distractions, but it’s Your call), as well as a husband and children.” The nunnery or the nursery were the only two options I could see. A lifetime of B movies, MGM musicals, and sitcoms had given me a very narrow view of the world.

Not long after this we ran into some charismatic Catholics who introduced us to speaking in tongues. From there it was an easy leap to hanging out with Protestants who spoke in tongues. So when I met my future husband in a fundamentalist charismatic church, and ten months later he proposed, I had no problem accepting him

Ch. 2 – The Sienna

My earliest memory, probably age 2 or 3, was of being taken down to the basement of our home in Detroit, being lifted on to my father’s workbench, being made to lie down on my back, knees up, while he drew down my panties. I felt pain, I believe it was a screwdriver. I cried. I was frightened.
I remember after that I was chided often for being a cry-baby. Whether my tears were in connection to these events I cannot say.

I remember my first taste of alcohol was a gin fizz. Very tasty. I used to serve beer to my dad and mom, and make high-balls when we visited my uncle’s home. He had a bar in the basement. I’d listen to records while the folks talked. My brother and sister usually played a card game for two and I played records. And poured drinks. And drank. I was probably 8.

I remember the one time I was invited to a friend’s house for dinner. I was too small for the chairs and needed some kind of booster seat. I asked where the beer case was. It was like those E.F. Hutton commercials, everything stopped and the mother said, “What?” I repeated myself and explained that I could sit on the beer case, that would be about right. She explained that they had no such thing, that they never had beer in the house. They were very careful how much time their daughter spent with me after that.

One time, my dad got me up to go with him to early Mass on Sunday morning. He liked early Mass because there wasn’t any music, and it was over quickly. (I preferred High Mass, because there was a choir, and parts of the Mass were chanted.) Afterwards we went out to White Castle, a place I’d never been before. We didn’t eat out at all back then, not like we do today. I felt very special. Later, when the rest of the family was at Mass, he went in to his bedroom, and told me to stay in the living room and watch TV, and, curiously, to remove my panties. After a while he called me in to his room. I don’t really remember much beyond that point. I offered that up to the Lord and the memory is pretty much gone. I have no reason or desire to get it back.

I was really glad when my sister and I got our own beds. We had been sharing a full sized bed. That part didn’t bother me. It was when my dad was bothering my sister. That started even before we had our own bedroom. I remember him standing over us in the dark, when we shared the couch in the living room, before the upstairs was finished.

Shortly after we moved to California, I remember another scene similar to my first memory. Only this time it was in the bedroom, and he used a rat-tailed comb. I cried less, and was more bewildered than frightened. Near that same time, there is a scene in my mind involving my brother. I was on my back, on my bed, near the foot of it, my brother is over me, possibly raping me, but I cannot feel anything, and my father is behind him. I did not understand at the time, but now I think maybe he was raping my brother. My brother does not remember this, but I do. At least, he didn’t remember it when we sort of talked about it a few years ago. He may remember more now. I don’t know. He used to idolize my father. I do not idolize him, but I try to find the balance point where I can honor him. My sister, to the best of my knowledge, has never had anything but unalloyed hatred of our father.

Once, when I was in junior high I think, he tried to rape me. In retrospect, I suspect it was about the time he was laid off from work. Actually, there was more than one rape or attempted rape.

I know there were many other incidents of a similar nature, throughout my life, until I left home at 17, right after high-school. All physical interaction ended after my mother found out. I think that was around my sophomore year. But I still felt mentally and morally conflicted in my interaction with my father when he would tell me very explicit jokes and stories that I’m sure would have been very amusing in a bar, but were completely inappropriate to share with a pre-teen or teenage daughter. After a while, I just stopped laughing.