Saturday, August 30, 2014

Ring My Bell!

Occasionally, I may threaten
To put my children's heads through a wall
At the Trader Joe's.

Of course, I would never.
But I do rather like the way it sounds,
Especially in the heat of the moment.

Usually, it's both heads I'm after.
Together, at the same time.
Any wall will do, really.
Today, I chose the long wall behind the pita chips.

Sending only one head flying
Hardly seems worth the effort.

"Clean-up on Aisle Two!"
The guy in charge announces
Over the loud speaker.
"Wait a minute… Never mind," he says.
"It seems I rang the bell for nothing."

They menace one another,
With incessant teasing and bickering.
They fight over samples of Reduced Guilt Ziti
And who pushes the cart better.
These things make me crazy!

Neither boy even flinches
When I suggest they mind themselves.
It's as if my rage and I are invisible.
We have no power here.
The store is too crowded.

So I send them out to the car.
"Watch after your brother," I warn.
"I will," the Big One assures me.
"Love you, Mom," the Little One says.
"I love you, too."

And through the sliding doors, they go.
One boy's arm draped over the other's shoulder.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Lovely Day!

"We're going down the stores," I yelled toward the back bedroom.  No answer.

Charlie and two other dudes had been in there for over an hour.  I knew they were smoking dust, but I didn't dare open the door and interrupt their high.  You could get your neck broken doing that.

I waited for a minute, just to see if anybody else had a better idea.  Given the circumstances, it seemed unlikely.
"Let's just go," I turned to Terry.  She had fallen asleep watching cartoons with an infant on her lap.

Theresa is Charlie's sister.  They call her Terry.  When I met her, she already had four daughters and was pregnant with the fifth.  There would be two more babies after that.  All girls.

"Are you gonna be able to walk the whole way?" I asked as she got herself to her feet.
"Yeah," she said.  "I'm outta Newports."
She deposited the baby onto the sofa and wedged a cushion behind its back.  Terry was a few months shy of dispatching yet another child into a world where the ones she had already squabbled over every crumb.

Rob emerged from the bathroom with a towel wrapped around his waist.  He was the cleanest of all three boys.  He showered several times a day with the intensity of a murderer whose victims frequently resisted.  Rob didn't have a regular job, but he stayed busy and seemed to work hard.  I wasn't certain what he did, but I always felt as though I was better off not knowing.

"Can I get five dollars?" Terry whined at her brother.
"What for?" Rob looked down into her ruddy face.
She stared blankly at him.

"Why you broke again, bitch?"
"I got kids!" she moaned.  "They always needin' shit."

"You forget what I told you?"  He looked angry.  "I ain't giving you no more money."
She frowned at him.

Rob launched into what sounded like a combination speech and scolding.
"Terry, I'll buy diapers.  And milk for my nieces.  But that's it, yo," he said.  "If you're too fucking stupid to keep your legs together, that's your business."
Theresa ignored his nasty remark.  She didn't even flinch.

"There's nothing to drink in Mom's fridge," she complained, insolently.  "So, I guess your nieces need milk."
"You don't wanna fuck with me, Sis," Rob warned.  "I don't give a damn if you are knocked up.  I'll lay you flat on your ass."  He balled up a fist and circled it menacingly in front of her face.
"Oh yeah?" she replied.  "You don't wanna fuck with me neither, Rob.  I might kill you when you're sleeping.  And then, you'll be dead."

I stood there with my eyes half shut, just waiting for them to start punching each other.
Instead, Rob put his arm around his sister and kissed the top of her head.
"Let me get my wallet," he said.  "It's in the truck."

When the front door shut behind him, Terry whispered, "Don't say nothing.  I'm gonna buy us some wine coolers."
I wasn't gonna say shit.  I had my own reasons for wanting to get going.


Like most of the individuals in Charlie's family, Theresa frightened me half to death.  She was a vulgar, contentious girl with a hair-trigger temper.  She was quick to take a swing at someone over a harmless misunderstanding.  Although we did not know each other well, I suppose I was relieved that she held me in such high regard.  She referred to me as her sister and friend, but I can't say that the feeling was mutual.

I hated when Terry drank.  She couldn't hold her liquor and got sloppy real fast.  It always bummed me out once I realized she was getting loaded.  Her condition distracted me from my own high, and I became resentful.  I didn't want to clean up anybody else's mess.  Besides, she had all those kids to take care of.  I felt sorry for the girls and powerless to help.  It just seemed like there was too many of them. They needed so much and had almost nothing.

Only a few years older than I, my sister-in-law looked like she could be my mother.  Her hair was graying at the roots, and she was missing a few important teeth.  When she coughed, every bone in her body rattled.  Physically, Terry was a wreck.  She wasn't even forty.

Knowing this made me feel both sad and fortunate at the same time.  My life was falling apart but in comparison, I was in pretty good shape.  The absolute nerve of me to judge.


Mabel's house was a cuckoo clock of illicit activity, with junkies popping in and sliding out all day and night long.  Pendulum regulated want, relief and more want. Addiction in a crowd is stressful.  It is difficult to manipulate the outcome with so many players and lots of moving gears.  Bottom line, everybody's just trying to get high.  I mean, get by.  And nobody knows what time it is.

I was never comfortable down Harding Park.  It was a scary place.  But love, drugs and love of drugs led me down roads I wouldn't have chosen had I more common sense and better self-esteem.


I didn't like to admit how much I enjoyed rock cocaine.  When I was high, crack made me think I was busy and important.  But when it was over, I felt devastated.  I knew my involvement was something I shouldn't brag about.  The regular smokers looked like death warmed over, and their desperation scared me.  Still, I wasn't like them.  Yes, I was embarrassed by where the pipe kept taking me, but I had everything under control.  Sure, I did.

Unlike my steady diet of speed and alcohol, I couldn't smoke crack every day.  It was a thoroughly ungovernable drug and insisted on being the only thing worth pursuing.  It was jealous of friends and hated all of my jobs.

Therefore, I considered my relationship with crack as a special occasion that occurred more and more frequently and lasted longer each time.  But like I said, I had everything under control.


"You know what a Vespa is?" Terry asked as we trudged along toward Soundview Avenue.
"It's like a little motorcycle, I think."
"Veronica says they make one for Barbie," she explained.  "Her birthday's coming up."
"That sounds nice," I said.
"Yeah.  I wish I could get it for her."

Terry sounded as though this idea was already an impossibility.  I didn't respond. I'd already bought Veronica's Barbie a horse at Christmas, and the girls broke one of its legs fighting over it.  I wasn't about to hand over a European scooter to an angry foot mob.

"Maybe she won't remember she asked me." Her thought drifted off under the wheels of a big truck that screeched to a stop at the corner.

"I like your big titties!" the driver hollered out the window in Terry's direction.
She smiled broadly and cupped her breasts.
I wished she wouldn't act like that.
Terry bought two Zimas and a gallon of milk at the bodega.  She liked to play the slot machines in the back of the shop.  With change of two dollars, she dragged a stool across the floor, positioning herself on the seat.  Her swollen belly rested on top of her thighs.  She inserted three quarters into one of the unmanned boxes, pressed a button and pulled the handle.  A bunch of coins plinked and plonked onto the tray at the bottom of the game.

"I never win nothing!" she shrieked with delight, bouncing off her perch.  "You must be good luck, Mare.  Come and try it!"

Terry pressed some change into my hand and urged me toward the machine.  I wasn't really certain how the game was played.  I pulled the lever hesitantly, and all the lights on the appliance went nuts.  A fifty dollar win!

The clerk at the register validated my receipt, and I split the cash with Terry - twenty five bucks each.

"Try and save some," I suggested as I shared her cut.  I was thinking about that Vespa.
"I guess," she muttered, mesmerized by the spinning fruits on the screen.

I watched for a few minutes as my sister-in-law continued to feed her prize money into the one-armed bandit.
"I'll be right back," I told her hunched shoulders.


At the liquor store, I chose a jug of wine and a pint of vodka.  I would have liked to get the bigger bottle of each, but I didn't want to be lugging them around all afternoon.  Besides, once people at the house knew I had booze, it'd be gone in no time flat.  I had to hide my liquor behind the couch, and I didn't like reaching under there.  I asked the store owner for an extra brown bag so I could put the bottles in my backpack.  Hopefully, they wouldn't break.

I noticed the display of mini roses on the counter, the kind in little glass tubes for smoking crack.  I slid one over to include with my purchase.  Instant special occasion.


As I stepped back onto the sidewalk, Terry was bumming a smoke from some guy pulling a microwave behind him in a shopping wagon.  I

"Just tell Rob, okay?" the dude begged.  He sounded somewhat frantic.  "I got this and a nice air-conditioner, if he wants.  They both work good."
"I need a light," Terry informed us as the cigarette dangled from her lips.
"Yeah, yeah.  Sure.  Got it.  Sure."  He lit a match and held it to her face.  His hands were trembling.
"Promise you won't forget to tell him.  You're gonna tell him, right?"
Terry took a long tug and handed him back his half-smoked butt.  "I gotta go."

"So, how'd you do?" I asked.
Terry wasn't carrying the milk or her drinks anymore.
"Where's your stuff?"
"Fuckin' machine's bullshit," she grumbled.

"I'm gonna need to make a stop," I said, as we ventured back down the block.
"Stop where?"
"Just for a minute," I told her.
"I hope you ain't getting too wrapped up in that garbage," Terry cautioned.
"I'm not," I replied.

Crack was just a treat.  Besides, she should talk.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

I Complete Me

Gene Dall was almost four hours late for supper.  Each time I heard the Pelham Express go past, I zeroed in on the end of the block, praying for him to appear. Staring at the empty street, my little kid mind wrestled with all sorts of nebulous, grown-up worry.
"Please, God.  Send him home.  And don't let him be dead.  I promise I'll be good."

Prompted every few minutes by the screeching and hiss of the train's air brakes, I repeated my intention and continued the vigil.  Sometimes, I would concentrate so hard, willing him to step out of the next subway car.  On particularly quiet evenings, I could hear the bells chime as the doors opened and shut.  I imagined him falling down the stairs of the elevated platform and started listening for the ambulance that would arrive to whisk him to the hospital.

Finally, there he was.  As he turned the corner, Dad stumbled toward the house.  I could tell right away that he wasn't just a little loaded.  He was blind drunk.  A few strong steps and then, a sharp curve to the right, as if an invisible person had appeared from nowhere and pushed him.  He reached his hand out to either brace himself or wave something away.  Steady.  Steady.  He reeled forward again, this time, listing to the left.  My stomach lurched.  The sight of him filled me with both relief and shame.

I yelled through the screen door, "Mommy, I see him."
Big Mare shut the water off at the sink, drying her hands on the pockets of her smock top.  She reached the porch and looked up the street, just as Dad sailed into a cluster of large shrubs on the easement near the curb.  From the window, I heard a woman's voice holler, "Hey, buddy.  Are you all right?"
"Jesus Christ, go get that dumb bastard," my mother snapped.  Her voice was angry, but she looked shaken.  Mortified, she retreated into the kitchen.  "Hurry, girls.  Just bring him inside!"

Judy and I ran toward the spot where my father had toppled over.  I retrieved his glasses from the sidewalk.  One of the arms had snapped off, and it took me a few minutes to find it.  My sister helped him to his feet.  Dad's face was full of scrapes from the branches that had broken his fall, the front of his  jacket flicked with dirt. Together, we guided him past neighbors who looked away and pretended not to notice the shape he was in.  What else could they do, really?

It was always amazing how Gene Dall could find his way back to the house, given his near lethal levels of intoxication.  Despite a lack of social conscience, he possessed a somewhat highly developed homing ability.  It might take him a few hours longer every now and then, depending on just how badly he got himself turned around.  But ultimately, he'd return to us.  Well, most of the time.

My father could be anywhere when the drinking began.  He never seemed to require any plan or preparation, with no forethought of consequence.  Just him and a switch that got flipped whenever  he and alcohol bumped into each other.  We never knew what to expect, and this is how we lived.

I couldn't imagine what had gone on during the course of my father's day to render him so utterly incapacitated.  From what I understood, cops fought crime.  And apparently, they also drank themselves half crazy.  Granted, my grasp of employment as a concept was limited when I was a child, but this much I knew… He was supposed to be working.  So, how'd he get like this?  And why can't he just stop?  Doesn't he love us enough?

These were some of the unanswered questions that plagued my thoughts and filled me with a strange longing.  This dull ache grew deep inside of me and became a persistent, unfulfilled need.  Looking back, I can almost see the gray hole where all of my emotions disappeared.  I heard them hit the water in the darkness, swallowed up by the problems that existed in our family- problems that none of us ever talked about.

Once inside the house, Gene Dall allowed himself the luxury of physical collapse. He groped his way along the hall and flopped into a chair in the TV room. Generally, he remained pretty docile; no doubt, exhausted from his drunken commute.  He presented with the resilience of an unarmed opponent.  If capable of eating, he sat quietly at the kitchen table, shoveling macaroni into his mouth and occasionally gagging on his food.

Big Mare couldn't help but square off against his inebriated condition.  Hours of agonizing panic takes its toll, and she tore into his carcass like a frenzied animal.
"I hope you choke to death," she told him.

Of course, she didn't mean it.  She loved her husband very much.  She'd just spent half the night on the telephone, desperate to find him.  She called everyone within a fifty mile radius who might have seen Dad within the past 18 hours.  She said novenas to all the holy representatives who dealt with sons of bitches like my father.  St. Monica, the patron saint of alcoholics and housewives, covered a lot of ground on Big Mare's behalf.

"I can't even look at you," my mother said.  "You disgust me."
Mom's frustration was heartbreaking.  Her marriage was a bitter pill to swallow. She thought she had found a decent partner.  She'd started out with the best intentions.  I bet my father did, as well.  But somewhere along the line, Gene Dall developed a taste for the booze, and it systematically fucked them both up.

Mom decided she wanted my father to be a different man, and her demand was non-negotiable.  She knew goddamn well this was never gonna happen, and I think that's what made her so furious.  She routinely positioned herself for disappointment, knowing two things full well:
     1.  He would never change.
     2.  She would never leave him.
My parents' relationship was classic codependency, and I was destined to join the ranks.  It's almost as if I read the Codependent Owner's Manual and followed each set of instructions with the zeal of a scholarship student.


Periodically, I have to remind myself that I'm no expert at any of this psychological stuff.  Yes, I do a little reading here and there.  Legitimate research helps inform my own writing, so I try to incorporate  facts into my stories without sounding like a windbag.  Occasionally, I come across information that enlightens my emotional path.  I discuss these revelations with my therapist.

"Oh, my God," I say to Kara.  "I totally did all of these underhanded, manipulative things!"
"It's okay," she replies very gently.
And it is okay.  I take full responsibility for what I've done.  We can discuss these details honestly and refer to them as opportunites for growth.  And here's another thing - I know my folks weren't perfect, but my mistakes were not their fault. Admitting this helps me be kind to myself, gentle with my dad and loving toward my mother's memory.

Addiction will always fascinate me.  I'm hopeful that I'll be in recovery forever.  I continue to learn how to keep my compulsions in check so I can make smart choices and have a decent life.  I want to stay healthy and do well.

I always thought circumstances provoked me to reach for the wine and the drugs.  I had tons of reasons and excuses for heading to the liquor store and all my dope spots.  When I tried to correct these conditions, my drinking went bananas and I became an alcoholic.   I blinked twice, and I was an addict.  It never occurred to me that I should change my own behavior to improve situations.  That's some intriguing shit.


Whenever I get anxious, I head over to Legacy Heights and spend some time with Gene Dall in Memory Care.  We always have a lovely visit.  I do most of the talking, and he's cool with that.  It doesn't matter what else is taking up space in my head or on the calendar.  As soon as I see him, I automatically feel better.  I think it's because I really like knowing where he's at.