Sure you can tell from this blog that I’m kind of a whack job, but to give you some insight into the early days, I thought I’d post an excerpt from my soon-to-be-released book, Bastard Husband: A Love Story.
So where does the book stand, anyway? Right now I have a few odds and ends to send to the designer, such as endorsement blurbs, my bio, back cover text, author’s note, copyright page and acknowledgements. Then I have to review the galleys. Once the changes are m ade, it gets sent to the printer. I would love to have it in your hands by July 1, but I’m not sure how realistic that is. Everything in its right time. I think you’ll like it, though. Well, most of you.
I grew up in Albany, New York, where I lived for the first forty-three years of my life. I’m the oldest of five kids spaced over a fourteen-year period, which means I was in ninth grade when my little sister was born. My mother and the girl who sat next to me in French class were pregnant at the same time. Yuk.
Maybe because she always had a new baby to be home with, Mom became increasingly comfortable staying in the house, eventually to the point where she couldn’t leave. She developed agoraphobia and was often doped up on “nerve pills,” which kept her sacked out on the couch for most of the day, waking up for only two things: Jeopardy and the weather during the six o’clock news. Considering she never left the house, the obsession with the weather seemed a bit peculiar. Perhaps she wondered, “Will I need the heavy afghan over me tomorrow or just a light cotton blanket?”
My father, like his father, worked as a salesman for the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company, a job he hated but held until after his parents died. Once they were gone, he pursued a position more in line with his natural talent—he became a bus driver. Daddy loved driving the bus. “I don’t work,” he’d brag, “I drive other people to work.” He’d sign up for all the overtime he could, no doubt to get out of the house since my mother never left it. Work was the one place Daddy could get some peace and quiet, and in an effort to reduce the passenger load, he’d sometimes ask the riders, “Have you ever thought of buying a car? Everyone has a car these days.” They’d laugh at his good-natured ribbing, but I’m sure he would have dropped them off at the auto showroom had one been on his route.
So in our house, we had five kids, two parents, and one bathroom, where my father lived when he was home. He’d head upstairs with the paper, his coffee, the racing forms… strip down to his boxer shorts and T-shirt… and settle in. And if we had to pee before his next work shift, it was too goddamn bad. Good thing he wasn’t around much, because by now we’d all be hooked up to dialysis machines. I remember no matter how desperately you had to go, you never wanted to be first in line once he finished up, for the ensuing stench was the most vile combination of shit and Old Spice you could possibly imagine. Daddy died four years ago, sitting on the toilet. Surely it was the law of averages.
As for me, I was a shy and quiet child, a bookworm with big dreams, mostly of escaping from the nuthouse. At age eight, I wrote a letter to whomever I thought was in charge of the TV show Bonanza suggesting they write in a part for a younger sister, to be played by me, of course. I offered some possible storylines and assured them that although I had never actually been on a horse, I was certainly willing to learn. In response, I received a colored glossy photo signed by all the Cartwright men, but alas, no offer of an acting contract.
A year later, I sent Johnny Carson a few of my favorite jokes, fantasizing about how the audience would roar when he opened his monologue with, “How did Captain Hook die? … He wiped himself with the wrong hand!” Fancying myself as quite mature for my age, and to address Johnny’s older, late-night demographic, I also included what I thought was a solid demonstration of my ability to write adult humor: “What’s pink and squishy and lies at the bottom of the ocean? Moby’s Dick!”
Those were my first experiences with rejection, which even back then I regarded not as a reflection of my own shortcomings, but the result of someone else’s regrettable lack of insight.
Once I hit high school I grew more outgoing and my studies became secondary to my social life. I was captain of the cheerleaders, vice president of my senior class, and my popularity continued into college, where I enjoyed the party culture of Plattsburgh State University, a school nestled in the tundra twenty miles from the Canadian border. I joined the campus radio station (I was one of the first female disc jockeys on the air), and earned my drinking money modeling for art classes, one of the many facts of campus life I conveniently withheld from my parents.
Things changed soon after the end of my freshman year. Gary Krisanda, one of my high school boyfriends, drowned Memorial Day weekend of 1976. His death marked the saddest point of my life. I needed answers: Why did this happen? Where is he now? I searched for explanations in books on the afterlife and psychic phenomena, something in which I had an interest going back to fifth grade. I remember waking up one Sunday morning with a feeling of unexplained certainty that one of my idols, Helen Keller, had died. The front page of the morning newspaper confirmed my premonition. The experience stayed with me, and my school term-papers invariably involved ESP, the paranormal and the occult, which concerned my mother to the point that she’d stay awake long enough to review my compositions.
By the time the bicentennial came around, I had met Chris Blackwell, a cool-looking, laid-back musician type. I thought he was a gift from above to help me cope with my immeasurable grief over Gary’s death. Chris and I were married in November 1977, and after a miraculous three-month pregnancy we had our first child, Christopher Jackson, named after singer-songwriter Jackson Browne. I remember calling my parents to say I’d started labor and was heading to the hospital. My father offered a tender bit of advice, words that remain with me to this day: “Good luck,” he said, “and don’t go home empty-handed.” Twelve and a half months later Chris and I had a daughter, Courtney Lynne (named after nobody). I was twenty-one.
Starting a family that young means you begin your adult life in a financial hole. We struggled for years on end, dodging creditors and living paycheck-to-paycheck while I finished my undergraduate education and then grad school. But we set family vacations as a top priority, always finding the money to take the kids camping in the Adirondacks or sometimes we’d splurge for a motel room over in Hampton Beach. We’d pack up the Subaru, praying that whatever lurked behind the flashing “Service Engine Soon” light would hold off until we got back home. Oil changes were not in the budget.
Although we were supposed to be grown-ups, we continued to live like students, right down to hosting the periodic beer parties, complete with blasting music that sometimes prompted the Albany Police to pay us a visit per the request of a justifiably angry neighbor. The kids, about six and seven years old at the time, loved to play bartender, carefully filling our guests’ plastic cups from the keg. Thrilled with the tips their patrons would offer, they eagerly promoted refills in total oblivion to the consequences of DWI legislation.
Our home décor consisted of posters of rock stars and treasures Chris would find on the curb on trash night. Nearly all our furniture came from relatives who had died or gone into nursing homes. We even bought our house (with the help of some very creative financing) from Chris’s great aunt, who went off to live in an assisted living facility.
Maintaining an old colonial with a bathroom that should have been remodeled two generations before further strained our budget. Chris found a way to rig up a shower by running plastic tubing from the sink, a temporary fix that lasted about ten years. The old stove required pliers to turn the gas on and off, which mortified the kids as they got older and had friends over for dinner.
Our poor kids. Most of their classmates lived in houses that seemed, well . . . more adult. Their couches didn’t need to be covered with Indian bedspreads. They had new patio furniture, while the rickety chairs on our front porch looked straight off the set of Sanford and Son. Yet despite the lack of material assets, the kids seemed thrilled with the parents they were born to, just as I was, as crazy as that may sound.
After eighteen years together—half my life—Chris and I split up. Seeking to understand my role in the failure of our marriage, I immersed myself in books by New Age thinkers such as Louise Hay and Deepak Chopra. My readings helped me gain perspective, and throughout the years, Chris and I have remained on friendly terms. Together we welcomed our precious grandson, Connor Burns, the day after Christmas 1998, with Courtney, at age nineteen, evidently continuing the family tradition of reproducing while the eggs are still fresh. And while I felt concern about her ability to handle the challenges of motherhood at such a young age, I trusted the divine order of the universe and knew everything was perfect.
I’m not so sure I trust the divine order of the universe right now.
That last line is indicative of my spirit at the time the story takes place, in 2004. I had just moved to Las Vegas after my divorce from BH and was sad and just freakin’ miserable.
Much. Better. Now.