Moving back in with my parents at age 23 was not part of my master plan, but there I was – stuck in my old bedroom in San Diego. I’d blown my first shot at the dream – being a professional screenwriter. I didn’t have a plan B.
I needed a new launching pad. Academia had been kind to me. I applied to USC’s grad school. In those days, UCLA ran roughly $250 a quarter. I don’t have figures for USC, but it’s safe to surmise you can add a couple zeros to that even in ’74 dollars. The only way I could swing it was if I moved in with my parents and saved my pennies.
San Diego is a beautiful city. Everyone says so. Unfortunately, my parents relocated there during my first year at UCLA. My life-long friends lived in Santa Clara. What’s an introvert like me to do? Make new friends? I don’t think so.
I clung to an old friend, the one who never (willingly) left my side – Inga, the dog I brought home from the LA pound. Even when I didn’t deserve it, she gave me limitless love and devotion. If you need a friend who won’t let you down, someone steadfast and loyal who quivers with bliss at the gentle touch of your hand………..
Please do check out your local animal shelter, as I did and continue to do. I’ve never been sorry. Let me know your story.
The first time I saw a commercial for a phone that shot photos, it looked absurd. Cameras were for taking pictures, phones were for talking. The combination could only weaken them both.
Obviously, I was wrong – so very wrong. Today, even though I have a good digital camera, I shoot photos with my phone. However, this brave new world was far in the future when I unwrapped my second-hand Vivitar. To me, it was state of the art; I couldn’t imagine asking more of any device.
As it turns out, there’s no end to things I couldn’t imagine then but take for granted today. Remote controls. Microwaves. Cheap calculators. Smart phones. Cars that come with screens and GPS. Watches that keep track of my steps, my heartbeat, my minutes of REM sleep.
And, of course, the unsettling reality that unknown corporations, foreign and domestic, know more about me than the people in my life. The amount of data that potentially could be harvested from this blog is scary. Why keep doing it?
Realistically, I can’t stuff the genie back in the bottle. What hits the net, lives there forever. And I kind of love it that after I’m gone, bits of my life will live in cyberspace.
My brilliant niece Carly wrote an essay in high school about how their family’s animal hierarchy suffered a seismic upheaval every time a new feline entered the household. When a new human being joins an existing family unit, the reverberations can be – and usually are – far more extreme.
In the case of S and CD, not so much, unless both of them have successfully hidden their trauma for years. In my mind, the seven-year gap in their ages was as responsible for the smooth transition as their respective temperaments. CD was more engaged with his peer group, less dependent on his parents, therefore less inclined to resent her intrusion.
However, just because sibling rivalry didn’t rear its ugly head doesn’t mean our home avoided an earthquake. I’d repressed all memory of 3 AM feedings and dirty diapers but total recall returned with a vengeance. We all rose and slept to the rhythm of a baby. Sometimes the sheer exhaustion was overwhelming.
What I wouldn’t give to live through those golden days again…
CD had recently turned three and (to the best of my recollection) he was Grandma and Grandpa K’s first great-grandchild (which makes sense since I was their first grandchild). There’s something special about seeing four generations together under one roof – probably because, inevitably, it won’t last long.
At this point in time, my grandparents were far from senile – they never did fall prey to dementia or lose their wits – but they unmistakably slowed down. After dinner, they spent most evenings watching TV. Grandpa favored what I considered “low-brow” shows like BJ & the Bear and The Misadventures of Sheriff Lobo. I was still enough of a snob to be uncomfortably aware our family forebears seemed a tad un-intellectual (not anti-intellectual, just not very) compared to the parents of most of my friends, including J’s cosmopolitan parents. I wouldn’t pass such harsh judgment today, having learned in the intervening years that reading great books does not necessarily make you a great person.
My grandmother was a gifted pianist – she could play anything by ear and took requests. She knew every hymn in the book but her secular favorite was “Red Wing.” played at Lutheran services for years – and she passed her love and talent for music on to her children and grandchildren in varying degrees. I, for example, missed out on the talent part but inherited the love. By contrast, my cousin Wayne – by virtue of hours of daily practice even as an adult – became the most amazing pianist in the family, as natural and accomplished as my grandmother.
She was a petite Midwestern woman, determined to make herself smaller so she didn’t take up a disproportionate amount of space. If we had chicken for dinner, she insisted her favorite part was the neck. I’m certain I inherited my Fuchs disease from her but she never complained about it (although she constantly rinsed her eyes with boric acid – which, in another time and place, might’ve been a clue). She was a true Norwegian. She didn’t complain about anything. I could learn a lot from her.
It’s typical that my mother and father asked about me before dropping their terrible news. If the situation had been reversed – if I’d been mugged – they wouldn’t have gotten a word out edgewise before I recounted every last detail. This particular episode shocked me on so many levels. Even though I know better, it stuns me when bad things happen around churches. As a child, I believed they were sacrosanct, safe. (That’s why I didn’t lock my first bike when I stopped by to visit my dad at his church office when I was 10. Of course it got stolen. I couldn’t believe it.)
It’s also typical of them that instead of crying about the injustice of it all, my father expressed gratitude it wasn’t worse. I couldn’t find much gratitude in my own heart. Forty years later, I’m grateful that this is one of few – if any – episodes of random violence to impact my family. Writing those words is a little scary – by calling attention to our good fortune, am I jinxing us? (That’s a silly, childish superstition. I hope.)
It’s not terribly surprising I was adamant about Santa Clara being my home considering my family left Santa Clara for San Diego a mere six months before I wrote this entry. In contrast, it astonishes me that 47 years later, I still regard Santa Clara as my home – despite the fact I never lived there again. Realistically, hasn’t LA – where I’ve lived the last 47 years – earned the right to be called home?
Yeah, objectively, no doubt about it. Emotionally, not so fast. I grew up in Santa Clara, it will forever be where I spent my childhood, it’s the backdrop for all my highly formative memories and experiences.
Unfortunately, the Santa Clara I regard as home ceased to exist shortly after I left. I’ve covered this in other blogs (July 18, 1969, August 26, 1969) and I’m loathe to repeat myself. Still, Santa Clara’s metamorphoses into Silicon Valley fascinates me.
Someday I’d love to write a historical novel about Santa Clara. I’d approach it as a multi-generational saga about a family who own an apricot orchard, tracing family members and the city itself as it evolves to Silicon Valley. I’ve been warned family sagas are out of fashion but by the time I finish, they might be all the rage again.
Because I’m a pastor’s kid (PK), my father confirmed me – married me – and baptized my children. Every time I stood in front of the congregation and looked into his eyes, tears welled and I teetered on the edge of complete meltdown. I wasn’t sad, just overloaded with emotion. The same thing happens when I think about him now. The memory of my father officiating at CD’s baptism makes me reflect on unique aspects of life as a PK.
When I was two years old (before the Alien Baby emerged, and ruined my life), my father took me with him to give communion to rural parishioners. Halfway through the ceremony, his communicant’s eyes wandered so he turned to investigate what caught their attention. It was me, toddling behind, imitating his words of blessing and passing out imaginary wine and wafers.
We acted out Bible stories to amuse ourselves. The Good Samaritan was a favorite. My father played the battered victim near death by the side of the road. I took on multiple challenging roles ranging from a snooty priest to a snotty Pharisee and a self-absorbed Levite. Basically, I pretended not to see the dying man by the side of the road. At this point my sister Janet, bobbing with excitement, took center stage in the starring role of Good Samaritan. Between you and me, a monkey could have played her part. All she needed to do was hoof it as far as the kitchen and ask Mommy for a glass of water. When she accomplished this feat, dramatic tension peaked. Invariably she paused – and guzzled most of the water, saving a few drops for our dying dad. And I’m the one who got typecast as being selfish?
Sometimes Janet and I played Israelites in search of manna. Confused about what constituted manna – was it vegetable, legume or dairy product? We agreed it probably resembled chocolate chip cookie dough and hid globs of it in the sofa cushions for the Israelites to discover and devour. Who knew about salmonella in the fabulous fifties?
(Future blogs will explore other aspects of growing up P.K.)
By “one big pregnant blur” I meant seven more months. Little did I know it would be fourteen more months. What the hell happened?
A month prior, I took a pregnancy test at Verdugo Hills Hospital as opposed to a do-it-yourself pee stick. Why? Because I didn’t trust my ability to read the results accurately. I wanted professional eyes.
After the positive test, I packed on pounds like a sumo wrestler.
I quit nursing Sam to ensure adequate nourishment for the new baby.
Let’s back up. Three children weren’t part of John’s or my master plan. We were satisfied (and exhausted) by our current two, a boy and a girl. We convinced ourselves this third child was meant to be.
Our childless friends mocked us mercilessly. “What did you do, mount her on the way out of the delivery room?” they taunted John. Truth be told, back-to-back pregnancies struck me as a tad trailer-trashy and unseemly but I waddled on.
In March, at my monthly appointment, my OB couldn’t find a fetal heartbeat. (This was the first time she tried.) Alarmed, she ordered an ultrasound and – surprise!
Despite looking ready to drop, I wasn’t deep in my fourth month – not even close. I was two weeks pregnant. In other words, months ago – when I fretted about how 1984 would be one big pregnant blur – I wasn’t even a little bit pregnant. Instead of giving birth in July, as everyone I knew now expected, I’d deliver in October.
How could such a mix-up happen? The hospital stood by their initial positive pregnancy test, suggesting I subsequently miscarried (without noticing it) and promptly conceived again. I thought it far more likely they screwed up the test and – under the delusion I was already pregnant – I quit nursing after which I conceived for real.
Ultimately, it didn’t matter. By now, John and I were fully adjusted to the prospect of three children. The fact he or she would be a Libra rather than a Gemini was no reason to reconsider.
I have another more fantastical theory about what happened. It has no scientific basis in fact. In my myth, Alex and Sam knew each other in previous incarnations, different lifetimes. Maybe they were lovers, maybe one parented the other, maybe one saved the other’s life. Regardless of what bound them, their connection ran deep. In this lifetime, Alex wanted to be close to Sam – this time, to watch her grow up. The strength of his love and the sheer force of his will powered him through time and space and created that magical mishap with my pregnancy test all to bring them together again – this time as siblings.
Watching them grow up together might make you a believer too. I never want to spend two years pregnant again, thank you very much. But if I was required to be pregnant for ten years to bring Alex into the world, I’d do it. No regrets. It was meant to be.
This day magnified how much hinges on small things. If J and I had lived on the west side – closer to LAX than to Burbank – he would’ve been on the plane that went down. Since we lived in Glendale – primarily because we couldn’t afford to live on the west side – he flew out of Burbank instead. He was driving out of the San Diego airport – heading for his court appearance – when he saw the plane explode.
If I’d been widowed in such a shocking way in 1978, I can’t imagine what my life would’ve been like. I know it wouldn’t be anything like the lives J and I got to share for the next 38 years. (For one thing, two of our children don’t get born.)
If I stopped to consider how many near misses with death might occur in any given day, let alone month or year, I’d be too paralyzed with fear to leave the house (which, of course, is no guarantee the house won’t fall down on my head when the Big One hits California.) Every time I’m stuck in traffic for hours, I’m lucky not to be one of the fatalities that triggered the sig alert. If the 9/11 terrorists targeted the Empire State Building instead of the Twin Towers, I would’ve been two blocks away instead of two miles. So far, I’ve stayed healthy while friends who took better care of themselves struggle with terminal illnesses.
In 2001, Nassim Taleb published Fooled by Randomness which argues that modern man overestimates casuality in an effort to believe that our world is more rational than it actually is. If we can convince ourselves we’re alive due to luck or destiny, we don’t have to worry quite so much about getting hit by a bus.
I have no answers; only questions. A quote from Taleb’s book:
“Reality is far more vicious than Russian roulette. First, it delivers the fatal bullet rather infrequently, like a revolver that would have hundreds, even thousands of chambers instead of six. After a few dozen tries, one forgets about the existence of a bullet, under a numbing false sense of security. Second, unlike a well-defined precise game like Russian roulette, where the risks are visible to anyone capable of multiplying and dividing by six, one does not observe the barrel of reality. One is capable of unwittingly playing Russian roulette – and calling it by some alternative “low risk” game.”
Lloyd (not his real name) told me he had psychiatric problems when we met. Because of this, he claimed he could never have a romantic or sexual relationship with any girl. I didn’t want one with him so that came as a relief. Even though we didn’t live far apart, we started our friendship as pen pals.
His voluminous letters were the first warning sign. Ten hand-written pages a day were typical. A tiny warning light flicked on when he pointed out that the stamps on the envelopes his letters arrived in were never cancelled. In other words, he drove them to my mailbox himself late at night.
He loved photography and wanted me to model for him. He took the photos featured here on one of our two photo sessions. As a vain, shallow adolescent, I lapped this up – but not for long. His criticisms of me were scathing and increasingly frequent. In retrospect, I think one of the reasons I hung around was to win his admiration back. The desire to recapture something I thought lost kept me in a lot of relationships in those days. For that matter, it’s one of the reasons I kept a diary.
That’s why I can’t deny I saw Lloyd’s red flags long before our trip to Ensenada; I just didn’t heed them. There was that trip to San Francisco, when he threatened to swerve into oncoming traffic and kill us both. The fact that he didn’t follow through on that threat doesn’t negate it as a red flag.
I’d be crazed with fear if my daughter was dating a guy who displayed Lloyd’s character traits but for some reason I failed to fear for myself. Like other young, dumb adolescents, I believed I’d live forever. I didn’t end the relationship with Lloyd because I was afraid but because I was exasperated.