Saturday, July 10, 2004

PART 4 - The Waiting Game

How appropriate - listening to ABBA's "Knowing Me, Knowing You" this morning as I continue raking the muck for recollections:

No more carefree laughter
Silence ever after
Walking through an empty house, tears in my eyes
Here is where the story ends, this is goodbye

Memories, good days, bad days
They'll be with me always
In these old familiar rooms children would play
Now there's only emptiness, nothing to say

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

It occurs to me that telling this story is alot like being the chorus of a Greek tragedy. If it seems like I did little more than bear witness to all of this craziness, you aren't far from the truth. My childhood was inconsequential in the scheme of things: an afterthought that occurred quietly underneath and around the fray of the workings of this collection of dysfunction. I often refer to my childhood as The Waiting Game, cause that is exactly what it was. I was just waiting for it to be over, over and over.

I really have no memories of my earliest childhood, and that is a shame. Things were pretty sane when I was 1 and 2. I have pictures that show a smiling, chubby baby happily playing with her adoring brothers and sister. Those were the "golden years"; the family lived in a modest apartment, my dad was working, my mom was home, and things were calm, or as calm as they ever got.

The only thing you can count on is change, and within the year, things did just that. My dad started building. I will be the first to say that his designs were magnificent: large, sprawling, modern structures with expanses of glass and soaring ceilings. He was meticulous with his designs and his construction: the custom houses that he built are things of beauty, even today, 35 years later. Make no mistake, he was crazy, but he was a brilliant man at the same time. And that is a lethal combination.

His houses were to be the path to fortune: they would command prices that would provide huge profits. His crystalline visions were the driving force of his life, and ours, no matter how flawed they REALLY were. He was driven, and we were dragged along behind.

The first home was completed in 1969. I was three, and I remember walking the construction site, walking precariously along boards laid over the mud and stepping into the massive structure. It was a thing of beauty, and there were many people that had stopped to inquire about purchasing it. My father was and is a possessive man, and I think that his anger with potential buyers had less to do with his perception of their "paltry" offers, and more to do with his inability to let the house go after he had poured his blood, sweat and tears into its construction.

I barely remember this, but the memory is clear to my sister and GB. We were gathered in the house, admiring it, and my dad asked for a show of hands from those that thought we should keep the house for ourselves. All four of us excitedly raised our hands. We were living in a small apartment, and this home was a mansion! Of course we wanted it! My mother was skeptical, but deferred to him. With little more thought than that, the construction loan was rolled to a mortgage, and we moved into this magnificent neighborhood. Big mistake.

It doesn't take a mathematician to figure out that the profits that would have come from the sale vanished with that decision, and droppped a big debt load into the void. Within a blink of an eye, my parents were swimming in debt, and things started getting crazy.

My mother took a job, and I was put in daycare. This was no 2004 daycare with approved curriculum and teachers degreed in child development. This was a holding pen for children of poor working mothers. Period.

With her commute, her day was long. So was mine. I was dropped off at 7:00 am and picked back up at 6:00 pm. I was the first kid and the last kid there every day. And for every minute of every day, I waited for her to come back, and I wondered and worried every day whether she would. At that early age, I worried about her.

My memories of daycare are sketchy, but I do recall tall chainlink fence that surrounded a playyard mostly devoid of grass. Most of the kids were delighted to play in the dirt or swing from the metal monkeybars. I spent most of my time sitting by that fence, curling my little fingers through the metal holes, and watching cars go by, on full alert for my mom's car. Waiting.

We had cots at that daycare. Wooden cots with stretches of canvas. We were required to nap at this daycare, and I remember dreading that. Every day. It probably wasn't long, maybe 30 minutes or an hour, but it was interminable to me. I never slept. I laid there quietly, smelling the urine-stained canvas and hearing the rhythmic breathing of the kids around me as they slipped into blissful sleep. Waiting.

As the afternoon spanned into the evening, I remember watching child after child depart as the sky grew darker. I remember watching the door, unblinking, as mother after mother arrived to collect her child. My mother was always last, and I still remember the sense of relief I had every day that brought tears into my eyes. While other kids watched television, or played, I kept an eye on that door. Waiting.

Arriving home to a hungry family, she swung into action. At that time, my sister was too young to cook - that would be later. For now, it was my mother that came home and cooked supper for us. There was really no time to sit with me. I didn't argue the point, but I did insist on sitting on the counter while she prepared the food. I watched quietly, handing her ladles and spices. And I waited.

I always took great comfort in television (early readers probably remember my homage to Mr. Rogers). Evenings were spent watching television while my parents sat on the couch, reading the paper. Those evenings ended all too quickly, and I was sent to bed. My mother was too tired to tuck me in, or read a story, and I climbed into bed and smoothed my covers, seldom able to easily get to sleep. I would lay there quietly, staring at the ceiling. Waiting.

Weekends were a blessed relief from the daycare grind, but Saturday mornings heralded my mother's exasperated, feeble attempts at housekeeping. While she struggled to clean the massive house, I stayed in my room, looking at my books, listening to the sounds of the vacuum and her grumbling. Waiting.

Saturday afternoons were spent driving LP to his piano lesson. My sister and GB were old enough to stay home, but I wasn't. It was a long drive into the older part of downtown, and it was usually in complete silence. LP and my mother rode in the front seat, and I rode in the back, looking out the window, listening to the radio. Waiting.

The hourlong lesson was conducted in the home of an elderly, scholarly couple. He was a doctor of music theory, and the house reflected his scholarly pursuits. My mother and I sat in the parlor just outside of the piano room. Silence was expected, he was a strict disciplinarian, and I remember being terrified of his white bushy eyebrows, and I was under the mistaken notion that since he was a Dr., he might give me a shot if I was disruptive. So I sat on his sofa, watching dust particles dance in the sunbeams that poured into his parlor windows. Waiting.

Sunday was dedicated to church. Our family was Catholic, and Sunday morning was reserved for mass. For those of you that are not Catholic, you cannot imagine what a somber experience a Catholic mass is. Lots of kneeling, bowing of heads, standing, sitting, more kneeling, and several readings from the book of Peter or Paul. There was holy water at the entrance and communion wafers about 3/4 of the way through. The church service was supposed to make you feel close to God, I think. I was pretty sure that if God existed, that I wanted no part of him. If he was an omnipotent being, he must be giving the a-ok to everything that was happening to me. The thought of God just seemed like one more level of crazy men that I didn't need. It all seemed pointless to me, at 6, and it pretty much still does. Fidgeting was not tolerated, period. Sunday after Sunday, I sat very still in my Sunday best and waited for the pointless pomp and circumstance to run its course, watching those in front of me so that I knew when to kneel.

By the time I started first grade, I was pretty independent. I had my own alarm clock, and I was a light sleeper, anyway, so I was able to get up and dress myself and go out to the busstop before anyone else was even awake. My parents made the decision that I could be trusted to come home on the bus and be alone for the hour and a half it took for my brothers and sister came home. It saved money, which we so desperately needed, and I was proud that my parents trusted me. More than that, I didn't have to go back to the daycare center anymore, and I would have sold my soul for that deal. And I did.

I was given strict orders to come into the house using the key that hung from a string around my neck - the stereotypical latchkey kid - and quickly lock the door behind me. I was given strong warnings about the dangers of answering the door, or telling anyone that called that I was alone. The fear was instilled in me, and I was obedient. I never went outside, I sat very still, watching television. And waiting.

It was always a relief when my brothers and sister got home. I was relieved that I was no longer alone. My sister retired to her bedroom to complete homework, GB disappeared to play his guitar, and I always quietly followed LP when he led me by the hand into the small utility closet off the garage and molested me. I quietly obeyed him, closed my eyes and pretended I was somewhere else, just waiting for it to be over. Waiting.

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