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.
This wasn’t my first – or last – fantasy about taking drastic measures to escape my life. I didn’t follow through on this brilliant plan or any of the others which didn’t stop me from devising new schemes to start over someplace else whenever I’m overwhelmed where I am.
Before my wedding, I thought about hopping a plane and disappearing in Sweden (because I took Swedish at UCLA, as if that would do me any good.) Thank God I lost my nerve – or regained my senses – and showed up at the church on time. Sticking around and seeing things through was always the right choice.
The fantasy of running away – starting a new life with a new name – is probably impossible in our high-tech surveillance-happy world. Even if I could, there’s no reason to believe my new life would improve on the one I’m living. As the saying goes, wherever you run to, you take yourself with you.
And of course, “myself” is the problem. The only way to change my circumstances is change myself. It’s an inside adjustment, not an outside one. I didn’t know that in ’69, as I sank into a bottomless clinical depression. I find solace in the fact that no matter how much I wanted to leave this life, I stayed – and you know what? It got better.
In late February 1969, my clinical depression escalated. (See November 30, 1968) My part-time job at California Book couldn’t save me but it staunched the bleeding. It forced me to adhere to a schedule. I only worked 16 hours a week, but it was my first job and I took it seriously. It didn’t infringe on my social life since I no longer had one. I didn’t miss it.
The major symptom of my despair was a total lack of interest in anything. Anhedonia is the technical term. It means “an inability to experience pleasure from activities usually found enjoyable … including the motivation or desire to engage in activities.” It took enormous effort to shower. If I also washed my hair, I was too spent to go to school. Not so long ago I could do both – wash my hair and attend school – but not anymore.
I knew I wasn’t living up to the curse of my so-called potential. My parents were disappointed, although they never said so. It was nothing compared to how much I loathed myself.
The last thing I needed was more time in bed to think. That kind of self-centered contemplation was like swimming through quicksand – there was no way out, only down. The answer was activity, to get out of bed and out of the house. I knew what to do, but I lacked the energy – and the desire – to do it.
Writing about my year of depression is about as much fun as living it. I do it because so many people get stuck in something similar. In the thick of it, I felt alone and empty. It might’ve helped to know I wasn’t. If you’re depressed and read this, remember – you’re not alone or empty either. Things get better. Hang on.
I wasn’t as lucky as my Iowa cousins or my children – they grew up in close proximity to at least one set of grandparents. Since my sisters and I lived within five miles of our parents, all of our children spent a lot of time with Grandma and Grandpa. I saw my grandparents once a year at most when we went to Iowa or they came to California.
Consequently, while I have vivid impressions of my grandparents, I can’t say I really knew them – certainly not as well as my cousins did. My grandmother was particularly elusive – quiet, sensitive, soft-spoken and introverted although in fairness most people would appear quiet in the shadow of my extroverted grandfather R.S. He was so gregarious and entertaining it was only natural that she let him do most of the talking.
I see elements of both my father’s parents in my father. Like RS, he was comfortable talking to others and easy for them to talk to – because, like my grandmother, he listened more than he talked. His gentle nature and sensitivity resembled his mother more than his father but he was very much his own man – as he had to be, to leave his family roots in Iowa to move to California.
What I like about this diary entry is the way Grandma spoke up for herself in a clear but non-confrontational way. She didn’t disagree or contradict RS often, but on the rare occasions she did, what she said was worth hearing. I wish I’d written more of it down.
I was far too quick to judge; I grossly underestimated the power of Nice’n’Easy. Under sunlight – any normal light, really – my hair blazed. You’d need to be blind not to notice and both of my parents were sighted. “You took out all the pretty darkness,” my mother lamented. My Wilcox cohorts assured me it was a vast improvement (not so hard, after 15 bad hair years).
This was my first foray into the new world of multi-hued hair – a world I’d return to often. Addicts claim their first hit of cocaine is the one they chase for the rest of their lives. Likewise, my first rinse of permanent hair dye was the sweetest. Drugs or alcohol would’ve been redundant. Pounding down neighborhood streets on our secret mission was intoxicating enough.
Due to the aerobic work-out we got from running all over town, our endorphins probably maxed out. Stir in the promise implicit in every Clairol commercial – by changing your hair color, you can change your life!- and we became unstoppable, the world was ours for the taking. If that’s not 20th century alchemy, what is?
As far as my parents were concerned, it wasn’t my finest hour. It wasn’t the worst, either. Still, even now – fifty years later to the day – bursts of our laughter and the pounding of our hearts echoes in my memory. We had so much fun it hurt – in an oddly pleasant way.
I remember it so clearly but I can’t recapture the feelings – the roller coaster highs and lows, intense moods and flooding emotions that were part and parcel of being fifteen. I couldn’t live at that fevered pitch forever – but I wouldn’t say no to another taste. After all these years, I’m chasing that fifteen-years-old high.
I was sandwiched in the center of a vinyl booth, two boys on either side. While they seemed semi-civilized at school, a round of Pepsis and fries at Denny’s unleashed their inner beast. As much as I hated to encounter obnoxious loud teenagers in real life, it was a thousand times worse to be dead center in a pack of them.
My adult self wanted to read them the riot act but my high school persona hunched speechless, red-faced.
They poured out the condiments Denny’s provided in little baskets on every table and scrawled their names in catsup, subbing salt for glitter. They blew straw wrappers at each other. They insulted diners who viewed us with disgust. If my four-year-old acted like this, I’d whisk him outside where he’d remain until he could behave himself but I didn’t have that option here. I wanted to beg our waitress’s forgiveness and leave a huge tip – I doubted the boys would leave a dime – but I couldn’t without calling attention to myself.
After they dropped me off, I called J in LA. “What’s up with your high school boyfriend?” he asked. I told him I wanted to dive under the table at Denny’s. It was hard for him to relate, since he lived a grown-up life with other adults.
The worst was yet to come. My 3rd period teacher sent me to the library because they were taking a pop quiz on material I missed. Another class, taught by Mrs. Murray, one of my former teachers in real life, already occupied the library.
When the lunch bell blared, students mobbed the door. A popular-looking perky blonde shook her bangled wrist and regaled her court with details about where she bought it, who designed it, and how much she paid. Most “girl talk” I overheard concerned fashion. They were as passionate about cute clothes as my sixties friends were about rock concerts and Viet Nam. My musings skidded to a halt when Mrs. Murray peered over their heads and said,
My adrenalin lurched into flight or fight mode. It was all I could do not to react, to pretend I didn’t realize Mrs. Murray addressed me. She repeated herself, not taking her eyes off me.
I feigned confusion. “No,” I said.
“You look exactly like a girl I had ten years ago,” Mrs. Murray said.
“Sorry, not me,” I said. As a preacher’s kid prone to Biblical references, I felt like Peter in the Garden of Gethsemane, denying my own identity three times. How could that exchange not arouse a glimmer of curiosity from one of the student witnesses? It didn’t. They were all more interested in being first in line at the snack bar than anything Mrs. Murray or I said.
January 22, 1971, is practically a template for every return trip to Santa Clara after my parents moved to San Diego. Invariably, these visits were poorly planned and rushed, always too much to do in too little time. My neurosis compelled me to forage in vain for a piece of my past (in the case above, the Grapes of Wrath gig). My futile search for Luke was eerily similar to my recurring “missed connections” dream.
A classic recurring dream involves taking an exam you’re unprepared for. There are infinite variations. In my typical version, I forgot/neglected to drop a UCLA class and the deadline passed. I must take the final but I never attended the class and know nothing. In my father’s version, he stands before a congregation without his hymnal or Bible – lost. I suspect every occupation dreams its own variant on this theme. No matter how often I dream it, it shoots my stress level sky-high.
My “missed connections” recurring dream induces frustration rather than anxiety. These dreams always take place in Santa Clara. I’m home (I can’t believe I still call Santa Clara home when I haven’t lived there for almost 50 years but some places leave a deep imprint) and I want to get in touch with somebody but I left their phone number and/or address in LA. Sometimes, I can’t figure out how to dial the phone or intercom – or the person I’m searching for moved and left no forwarding address. I’m always thisclose but I can never get there. To this day, I dream alterations of this theme over and over.
No doubt it’s obvious to amateur shrinks what these dreams mean. All I know for certain is they’re not going away. Santa Clara, here I come…. over and over again. As Bono famously sings, “I still haven’t found what I’m looking for.”
Third period physiology was taught in the same classroom where another hapless instructor tried to teach me chemistry. I recognized the Periodic Table of the Elements I failed to memorize as a genuine junior. This time around, my lab partner was Jennifer, a girl who projected calm intelligence – just the type I’d be best friends with if we existed in the same time frame. At the end of the period, as she scrubbed our beakers, I said, “Want to have lunch?”
“Sorry. I eat with my friends.”
Rejection! It doesn’t get much more unequivocal. It felt as crummy as it did the first time I did high school. What disqualified me as a friend of Jennifer? The wrong shoes, my aging face, my lack of aptitude for physiology?
These questions will never be answered. Girls either like or dislike you “because.” That’s as specific as it gets. For what it’s worth, here’s my personal theory about how and why any hope of being BFF with Jennifer died in September, long before I returned to Wilcox.
Female cliques form hard and fast and – once established – they aren’t known for flexibility, diversity or the warm welcome extended to strangers – quite the contrary. The more exclusive and difficult a group is to access, the higher their status. I was four months too late to Jennifer’s party and nothing I did could change that.
In comparison, boys were a breeze. Looking lost and stupid – something I excelled at – was basis enough for a relationship. A boy named Brian showed me the ropes, introduced me to his friends, fixed my car and got me a part-time job at the same place he worked.
The latter was problematical since I couldn’t offer my real social security number (and get paid) without the risk of revealing my true age.
I was 29 years old – married and the mother of a 4-year-old – when I returned to Wilcox, the high school I graduated from, as a transfer student. Technically, I was there to research a script I’d been hired to write based on S.E. Hinton’s novel the Outsiders. The director and producers wanted to know if high school kids in 81 were much different from those in the early sixties.
On a deeper level, I was obsessed with high school and curious about how it would feel to do it again. Would the benefit of my vast college, professional and personal experiences make me more confident? Would I feel like I had all the answers? In a word – NO.
If anything, it was more hair-raising than the first time around. In part, this was due to my realistic fear that someone would notice I looked closer to 30 then 17, assume I was a narc (because why else would a woman my age be posing as a student?) and knife me in the girl’s bathroom. Making the situation even dicier, I was staying with one of my real Wilcox contemporaries – Debbie Callan – who, at that time, worked as a dispatcher/translator for the Santa Clara police department. How could I not be a narc?
There was never a moment I could relax. I didn’t have a fake driver’s license and I needed to carry the real one – which meant taking pains to make sure nobody saw it (especially the birthdate). I didn’t carry credit cards or checks because a 17-year-old wouldn’t. When making reference to music or books that weren’t contemporary, I had to calculate how old my fake self would’ve been as opposed to my real self.
Before I started, I devised an elaborate backstory to explain my mid-semester transfer – an alcoholic mother in rehab, I was staying with an aunt etc. – but it turned out to be totally unnecessary. Nobody I met showed the slightest interest in my backstory.
To be continued in upcoming blogs – because January ’81 was one of the more interesting Januarys in my life.
Given the privacy concerns expressed in this entry, it’s ironic I post these entries on the web for anybody to read. I worried about others reading my diaries back then because I used them to vent my rage when I felt abused or insulted. To demonstrate my wrath in these early days, I appended Witch to my tormenter’s name – as in Jani-Witch, Joyce-Witch, etc. It was the worst I could think of to say.
Sometimes I wondered what would happen to my diaries if I died. I didn’t want anyone to read them but I didn’t want them destroyed either. Why bother to write all these careful entries if they’re all going to end up in the fireplace? On the other hand, some of my thoughts and feelings would be hurtful if read by the wrong person – and just about everybody I know became the wrong person at least once.
Occasionally, I willed my diaries to somebody I felt particularly close to. At the time, I regarded willing my diaries as a privilege to be bestowed upon some lucky person. In reality, nobody was begging me to bequeath multiple volumes to them.
After approximately 20 years, I switched from diaries to blank books. The photo below shows most but not all of them. Not only are they nearly impossible to read due to poor penmanship and weird abbreviations, they consume formidable storage space.
So, what do I do with them on my deathbed? I still don’t know. It bothers me to picture them burning but I don’t know anyone gung ho enough to archive them – and I’m not sure it’s wise to take that risk anyway, since there’s something there to hurt almost everybody I care about. That’s not how I want to be remembered – but at the same time, I do want to be remembered – otherwise, why write these books at all?
After all this time, you’d think I’d have some answers but I don’t.