Once you see the cracks in the fantasy façade, it’s impossible to pretend they’re not there. At sixteen, I prided myself on being a cynic and eagerly traded wonder for the worldly superiority of seeing through everything.
The enchantment came back when I took my children to Disneyland. I suspect most parents feel the same way.
According to this entry, I liked the Matterhorn. The way I remember it, the first time I rode it with my father, I howled, “Daddy, make it stop!” My final ride on a roller coaster – Space Mountain, at the urging of my sister Joyce who assured me it was a metaphysical experience, not remotely terrifying – ended in hysterics. I staggered off, simultaneously laughing and crying, dimly aware of nearby teens asking, “What’s the matter with you, lady?”
Apparently, on thrill rides, I easily suspend disbelief.
My family camped a lot – a lot – on our bi-annual drives from California to Iowa and back. My sisters and I were jubilant on the rare occasions we stayed at a motel, especially when they had a swimming pool – at the time, an almost unimaginable luxury.
We had the ritual down. Daddy and Momie pitched the tent and organized the campsite. Janet, Joyce and I ran wild through the campsite, usually role-playing games like Lewis and Clark or Annie Oakley.
Of the myriad national parks we camped in, Craters of the Moon is most vivid in my memory which begs the question – does it take a disaster (okay, maybe not a disaster – but serious pain for my previously unscarred 13-year-old self) to make something memorable?
This was the only occasion on which we broke camp before we slipped into our sleeping bags and raced back in the direction from whence we came. Twenty-two dollars seemed like an enormous sum. I can still remember the dusk light. I still have a scar on my left knee.
For a long time, my Canadian TWIST AND SHOUT LP was my favorite album – I still have it, vinyl of course. Reading this entry again, it’s telling that as quickly as I acquired this treasure, I feared its loss – “I just hope it doesn’t get broken or stolen on the way home.”
Surely, I’m not the only person for whom the joy of acquisition coexists with fear of forfeiture. Looking back, many – if not most – of my relationships traced a similar trajectory. No sooner did I fall for someone than I obsessed about our inevitable break-up. Who would lower the axe? When? Nothing lasts forever.
I maintain my sense of impending doom originated with the birth of my beloved sister Janet, who usurped my place as center of my parents’ universe. It proved that when I least expected it, the people I loved and trusted most, might – for no apparent reason – replace me with a newer model. (For further evidence of this theory, see photo galleries Kathy Vs. the Alien Baby and And then there were three.)
This crazy exploration was my first and only opportunity to do something like this – I wouldn’t consider it in Los Angeles but the risk seemed marginal in Graettinger, Iowa.
This type of adventure holds enormous appeal for me. I’ve read novels based on groups of kids exploring abandoned buildings. That’s why it’s so disappointing I don’t recall a single thing we saw inside the Hawkeye Apartments (and naturally I didn’t make notes about that). Let’s call this Missed Opportunity #1,
Missed Opportunity #2 was not choosing to fly with my Uncle Gilford in his small crop-duster plane.
Missed Opportunity #3 was my total inability to water-ski. I think the problem was that even though I witnessed my sister Janet gliding across the surface of Lake Okoboji, deep down inside I did not believe it was physically possible for water to support my weight. It was my lack of faith, not my total lack of coordination, that doomed me to failure.
In keeping with my soon-to-be-standard practice of quitting any activity that I stunk at, I never attempted to water ski again.
I have no independent recall of being the tour guide for incoming students to Wilcox High. I’m not surprised I was easily thrown by a group of sarcastic kids, even those a full year younger than I was. In high school as in junior high I was painfully thin-skinned when it came to taking a joke, let alone criticism.
Which brings me to the question raised in the second part of this entry – how much honesty is too much? When – if ever – is a white lie not a lie? Vania was a truth-teller, unafraid to say things like “Ugh, I hate your shoes. They’re so ugly!” Objectively, I can accept she acted in good faith in her mind, she saved me the mortification of being seen in such an unsightly pair of shoes. I took Vania’s fashion pronouncements very seriously. By sundown, the offensive shoes would be halfway to the bargain bin at Goodwill, assuming Goodwill accepted hideous but otherwise functional shoes.
Subjectively, every time Vania blasted me, it hurt. She didn’t sugarcoat her message and I didn’t challenge her opinions. I usually agreed with her despite the fact I failed to spot these flaws myself until she pointed them out. I’m not the most observant of people.
I’ve never been so truthful or blunt, depending on your point of view. It would take something far out of the ordinary for me to volunteer a scathing critique of anyone’s clothing or hairstyle. Even when asked for my “honest opinion”, I usually dissemble and say something nice or innocuous. Is this the kindest course in the long run? Would I be a better friend if I braved a friend’s reaction and shared my unvarnished brutal truth?
JS was the only boy I ever dated who actually went to Vietnam. In retrospect, I was an academic snob, attracted almost exclusively to college-bound guys. Because of this – and because JS was shipping out soon – I didn’t take JS that seriously. He wrote me letters after he deployed and I wrote back at first, but not as often as he wrote me. Gradually, I tapered off. To my mind, his letters took on an angry slightly threatening tone – ranting about me and my “hippie friends” – so I stopped writing to him entirely.
In retrospect, I wish I’d continued to write back to him. It wouldn’t have required that much effort and from all I’ve learned about what life was like for enlisted men in Vietnam, it probably would’ve comforted him to have a friend back home even if I wasn’t his girlfriend. In all of his interactions with me, he was nothing but kind and he deserved kindness back.
Both J and I have casual acquaintances who served but in our immediate social circle, there’s exactly one Vietnam vet. In the thirty plus years we’ve known him, he’s only talked about it – to me, anyway – once. Nonetheless, it’s obvious the experience had a profound effect on him and not for the better. Recently, he’s fallen on hard times and faced homelessness so for the past eight months he’s been sleeping on a fold-out sofa in my husband’s home office.
The situation is less than optimum for all concerned and I’m hoping a better option will present itself. I know I’m not responsible for his well-being but I feel a certain amount of responsibility nonetheless. He did something my husband and everyone else we know got out of. Maybe that’s on him, since on some level it was his choice. When he made that choice, however, he didn’t have the advantages that I – and most of the people I know – take for granted. Maybe I’m still feeling guilty about my lack of compassion for JS. Vietnam is far in our national past but I can’t be the only one struggling with the fallout – and I didn’t even have to worry about getting drafted.
There was nothing remotely amusing about this entry on May 13, 1964. I was so beside myself with rage I wrote the word “darn” four times, However, reading it – and similar entries– today makes me smile. Why? Because the fears, feuds, worries and daily mortifications that tortured me when I was twelve and thirteen – traumas I believed I’d never recover from – are so awesomely trivial today.
Maybe I’m wrong, but I don’t think I stayed incensed for very long. I never reference my rage about the injustice of those dance and piano lessons again. Perhaps that’s not surprising, considering who I really am – a klutz with no interest in or aptitude for piano or dance. Obviously, when I wrote this entry, I confused myself with someone else.
My sisters claim that as the oldest I was actually the spoiled, indulged child. As evidence, they cite roughly five thousand more photos of me than the two of them. (Baby pictures only – the photo ops dried up once adolescence arrived). However, facts are facts. My mother’s cold smack-down – “your father and I will decide, not you” – says it all. I rest my case.
Written down in black and white, the details of these days seem like the textbook definition of dorky, but all these years later I remember the experience – and the feelings, the rush of euphoria that came with finding a friend I connected with – as beautiful and perfect, just like the diary says.
If I try to insert the names of other friends – even close friends – instead of Sandy, it simply doesn’t work. I never could have shared these goofy adventures – let alone laughed as hard as we did – with anybody but Sandy. Her wild, quirky imagination met mine. She could be as deep as she could be silly. As complicated as “where the woodbine twineth” or as simple as “Nature Night”. I have no idea what made it so much fun to spy on little kids in her neighborhood – it never would’ve occurred to me with any of my other friends but she could find intrigue anywhere, make an adventure out of anything.
In my diary entries, I worry obsessively about being boring but in retrospect there was some projection going on. While I very well might be boring as hell, the truth is I am – and always have been – easily bored (which, according to some, means deep down I’m as boring as I always feared, but isn’t it all subjective?). Boredom was never an issue with Sandy. She had a knack for making anything interesting.
Mr. Uebel was one of my favorite teachers at Jefferson Jr. High and I desperately wanted to impress him. He inspired me and challenged me in ways I remember to this day. I was lucky enough to have several remarkable teachers – among them, Jerry Farrington (Wilcox High School), Bill Froug (UCLA) and Shelly Lowenkopf (USC). I also had one terrible teacher whose last name rhymed with “cruel” (in third grade). In retrospect, what made her “cruel” was her total lack of regard for me. I was just another kid in her class which was unacceptable.
I worked hard – especially for teachers I admired – to be singled out as special. While it’s entirely possible they saw nothing noteworthy about me at all, they convinced me they thought I had something, which was more than enough to motivate an approval junkie like myself.
Maybe that’s the trick to motivating most people. Who doesn’t want to feel special? Who isn’t willing to go the extra mile for somebody who sees something extraordinary in them? Nobody I know receives as much attention and validation as they need. It’s not polite to ask for it (and if you do, it ruins whatever you get) but I suspect most people thirst for appreciation. The trouble is, outside of academia, it’s easy to get out of the habit of offering it. I’m going to make an effort to stop thinking about myself long enough to make a habit of giving it. It’s the least I can do, considering how much has been given to me.
That was the last I heard from Lewis for thirty plus years. I glimpsed him a couple times – once at Valley Fair and once at Santa Clara University – but I felt ugly and unprepared to run into an ex so I ducked out of sight. He never called and having taken the initiative in asking him to the Sadie, I wasn’t about to call him again.
This was the rule, not the exception, of how my relationships ended. Upon parting, we invariably promised to stay “good friends” after which we never spoke to each other again. Why was it so impossible to stay friends back then? None of my relationships ended in screaming or hatred – quite the opposite. I rarely if ever instigated the break-up although – looking back – in my passive-aggressive way, I drove more than one to dump me. I was sincere in my desire to stay friends but in those days, there was a stigma against girls calling boys – but maybe that’s just an excuse.
The internet – Facebook in particular – was a game-changer. For starters, it’s a lot less threatening to send an email than pick up the telephone. The passage of time helps too – not many wounds remain raw after twenty or thirty years.
In my experience, in any given break-up, one of the people involved wants it more than the other. Even if the dumpee agrees to be friends, there’s a hidden agenda to be more than friends. Twenty or thirty years after the fact, no one expects a relationship to pick up where it left off – hence, it’s possible to form a genuine friendship based on what two people originally had in common. I’ve been lucky that way with several exes, Lewis among them. While I can’t call this phenomenon closure – because these friendships aren’t over, they’re ongoing – they satisfy my need to make sense of what happened all those years ago.