Tuesday, July 1, 2008


What the hell was I thinking?? Obviously I WASN’T THINKING ANYTHING OR THINKING STRAIGHT! If I had been in my right mind, I promise you, I never would’ve bought a ticket for THAT ride! In case you think I’m being melodramatic read on--you might still not believe me; nonetheless, this is the way it actually happened--no embellishments--no literary license--I promise you that, too!:

[By the way, in defense of myself I want to preface this remembered incident by reminding you, my readers, that I AM, of course, Bipolar. When complying with my medication schedule, I am as normal as you are! (well, er, um, maybe that’s not a good example?) Nevertheless, whenever I have slipped from my med regime for more than ten days, my judgment leaves a lot to be desired. As a result, I am at risk for getting myself into the difficult, hazardous and dangerous circumstances, which in turn have provided ample fodder for stories such as the one which I am herein about to relate to you. This memory is real, every word, as unimaginable and incredible as it sounds!

Please remember as you evaluate my actions that my judgment was more than extremely impaired, not by the common culprits you may expect: drugs or alcohol; but the result of one entire year with absolutely NO medication! The following series of REALLY bad judgments perfectly exemplifies this statement. Just in case I flip a switch in your "normal" brain and trigger a "Why?" reaction, please understand that often after a period of meds working well, we "Bipolars" feel "cured" and quit taking the numerous, costly, and debilitating, side-effect-producing medications. Bad decision. Big mistake.]____________________________________________________________________________________ At first sight of this man I, obviously tossed that old adage, "You can’t judge a book by its cover!", completely out the nearest window! I should’ve "noticed" and taken a clue from the fact that he sauntered in with an open "40" (40 oz.), of Bud swinging rhythmically, like the paint can "Tony", (John Travolta), swings in-sync with the Bee Gees’: "Stayin’ Alive", (..in case you’ve been on the moon for awhile, I’m referring to the opening scene of the movie, "Saturday Night Fever")!

But I really didn’t notice, at first, at least not what was in his hand, no kidding, really! Although our work-day was over, we were having our fiscal year-end meeting to determine the future direction of the company--boring stuff at best. But I mentally left the meeting the moment I found myself visually following the angles and curves of his physique. So handsome, young and obviously muscular, I’d say 5’ 11" or 6’ tall. Wooohooohoo! He was staring back at me! It was like the Fourth of July when our eyes met.

Over the few minutes to follow, I was trapped, mesmerized by the attitude emanating from his rhythmical stroll. I felt as if I were watching a movie in very slow-motion. On second and third glances, I decided it was more like he’d stepped out of one of those shampoo commercials! His long, straight, black hair swung down his back, side-to-side, brushing over, and barely teasing his waist. Gawd he was sooooo good-looking and the contrary message in his ebony eyes made him appear almost shy and unassuming. What woman could resist? I may have been 46 but I wasn’t dead yet! Holy crap! I was supposed to be contributing my two cents but I’d totally lost my train of thought! Precisely what did she just ask me?..I had no idea! The meeting had become blurred for me at that point anyway!

Oh well............... Wait a minute, my thoughts halted! I had just noticed the ‘whale’ lumbering awkwardly behind him. What the heck was he doing with that slob? She was almost on top of him, now and then skipping a step to stay in-sync with his confident stride. It was almost comical: the sight of "Gwen’s" dumpy, frumpy, really, really fat ass, juxtaposing his gorgeous, sexy physique! No matter, the question was quickly resolved when she mouthed a query to our secretary, Jennifer. Nodding in reply, Jennifer reluctantly gave Gwen the OK to have a doughnut from the humongous pile of, still-warm, Krispy Kremes, just delivered to our coffee bar. I pondered the statistical possibilities of this particular man being the one who responded to Jennifer’s call to Labor Force. We merely required someone to repair the fluorescent overhead fixture in my office. Hmmmm, I decided since I had a vested interest in this man’s purpose...I should keep an eye on him from my most excellent vantage point in the meeting room.

Yes, he was definitely a sight for sore eyes, (but certainly not dressed for the job?)! The red suspenders delivered the knock-out punch as they rested firmly over an almost-see-through, black pin-pleated dress-shirt. His long sleeves were casually rolled up to the elbows, and the shirt-tails had been neatly tucked in at the pleated waist of his tailored khaki slacks. Ahhhh! and such a nice fit in the bum too! Nothing like a "sharp-dressed man", I assured myself! (Oh man! How could I possibly imagine that in that instant, my entire life was hanging half-way off the "Cliff of Change For the Worse"?) Keeping an eye on him as he worked was quite a chore, of course; but I WAS a trooper about it! I watched attentively and noticed how he was quite at ease climbing the tall step-ladder he’d retrieved from our storage room. I remember mentally listing all of the possible repairs around my home that required just such "handling" ...ESPECIALLY those requiring me to steady the bottom of my rickety old step-ladder! Oh yes, it was a LONG list! (TeeHeeHee......)

He’d only just opened the ceiling fixture when the old bulb seemed to pop in his hand, sending a hail of slivered shards in every direction. Ooooh, he was bleeding-- apparently he’d "accidentally" sliced his palm. Witnessing this, I hurried over to tend to his wound, because, of course, I did have a pocket first-aid kit in my desk. (I knew that motto: "always be prepared" would come in handy one day or another!--and THAT was the day..) Anyway, after I nursed his wound he finished the repair in spite of the frequent interruptions by Gwen (the aforementioned "whale") who kept vainly trying to entice him to pay her singular attention.

Nevertheless, not a moment was wasted during the short time we spent getting to know each other, (away from the others...and Gwen). But I was already running late and needed to get home to my kids, so I agreed when he offered to take my bulky packages, (from that day's run on the Sears store's sales), to the car. Of course secretly I recall thinking, "Alright, he was a gentleman to boot!". We must have chatted at my car for another half hour during which time he literally begged for my phone number. (I was feeling quite proud of myself, 14 years his elder and he seemed quite enamored of me.) As the meeting wrapped-up there was a stampede to the coffee bar; but, sadly, after Gwen had considerably dented the pile, there weren’t enough doughnuts left for the rest of our staff.

Out at my car he just kept talking and wouldn’t allow me to leave. When I reminded him he’d arrived with Gwen, (whom he’d left back in the reception room), he acted more than a little embarrassed and sort of stammered in his explanation that "Grape-Ape" meant nothing to him whatsoever! (He’d tagged Gwen with the nick-name "Grape", because of her apparent penchant for wine---and the "Ape" was self-explanatory when you saw her). But I was more focussed on her Ape-ness’ muttered threats to me as I brushed past her moments earlier. She’d growled something about: "...fixin’ to kill [me]..."--so I left.

There were already nine messages from him by the time I drove the 20 minutes to my home. When I finally spoke to him he seemed very interested in every little detail of my life; but gave me only a sketchy mention that he lived "with his mother and sister" in mid-town Memphis. When I confessed I had a menagerie of dogs and cats, he responded that he had a pit bull, a cockatoo, a turtle, a snake and a tarantula!! (It was most unfortunate---and would have revealed more of the bigger picture, if only he’d thought to mention the fifteen thousand cockroaches that shored-up the walls in that house). Somewhat relieved to hear he was an "animal-lover", I assumed it indicated that he must have had a kind heart. (I supposed I thought it was also a flimsy excuse for his not ‘murderizing’ those roaches!)

The first time we talked on the phone, dawn had actually broken before we got off the phone. There seemed very little under the sun or the moon that was not discussed that night. But of all the subjects we DID talk about, how could I have known what he was NOT talking about!!! From our first meeting I had been totally mesmerized by his charm. It would eventually turn out t hat he was the best controller I'd ever experienced, and believe me, up ‘till then I’d had the ultimate. (Yes, I said "controller".)

Several dozen hours of phone conversations later, I pulled up out front of his mother’s house to pick him up for our first "date". When I saw him sitting on the front porch I stepped out and started towards him. He jumped right up and, hurriedly urged:
"Lat’s go, c’mawn, lat’s gat outta hay-er, raght naw!" (that’s what he actually sounded like!)
"Do you want me to come in and meet your family?"
Brushing it off as though it wasn't a real priority at the moment,
"Naw...lat’s jist gat outta hay-er!"

I walked around the front of my late model brown Camry and started to get in on the passenger side--motioning for him to drive, (sort of "old fashioned"--but I didn’t intend to de-masculinize him by insisting "It’s my car so I drive!").
"Naw, naw, uh yew drayeve us, May-reeee!" His lazy southern drawl was intoxicating!
"No, it’s OK..I don’t mind, you can drive."
But he cleverly insited--which struck me as quite odd; however, I just let it slide--and drove. Off we went to all native Memphians’ favorite pizza joint, an intimate little hole-in-the-wall hang-out over by the fairgrounds. Ah ha! I recall thinking how great it was that we had the same tastes--i.e. Italian food! I thought it peculiar that he excused himself the moment the waitress brought the check, but I just let it slide--and paid it.

"Wha’ d’ya wanna dew naw?"...he slid the honeyed words past my ears... Somehow we ended up riding the monorail over "Old Man River", to Mud Island...and I noticed that the parking, transportation and entrance fees also, curiously enough, came out of my wallet. I am all for liberty and equality, but I just couldn't understand that if he was working construction, with all that overtime, (and apparently had no expenses), why the hell was I putting gas in the car and paying for everything wherever we went?? I suppose these "little" annoyances just didn’t bother me enough at that point to answer my own queries--so I let them slide and didn’t question him.

The first time I brought him home to meet my kids I’d given them no prior warning about what to expect of him. When we got out of the car I recall my 10-year-old daughter and her girlfriend standing in the front door visibly shocked and giggling, no doubt about his really long hair! He quickly endeared himself to my children...oh how he appeared to "adore" my wonderful kids, (and naturally they reciprocated)! My daughter, Drew, told me she thought he was wonderful, and even at her tender age, her judgment of people, (especially men), had always been much better than mine. (I've always loved that about her.) The "ultimate friend" and "surrogate dad", Dennis even played Nintendo for hours on end with my son, Brandon, (then twelve),and his friends.

One thing about which he was absolutely adamant was that he had never raised his hand to a woman and he’d "kill anyone who did"...ahhh...the magic words that reassured me I would never be abused, battered or hurt again. (The operative word there was "again") He told me he never hardly drank alcohol, only the occasional beer maybe once a week. Perfect! I thought, he’s perfect! And he’ll never, ever hurt me, or my babies, etc. etc.--you know the story...go ahead, but you only think you can predict the ending! Then little by little he "let slip" some of the difficulties he was having with his living arrangement. So it only seemed a logical leap when he asked me to marry him. (I never imagined he was just looking for another place to hang his ball cap, free-load---or worse!)

Apart from the "sweet nothings", we were mature enough to discuss the logistics of a marriage. Of course, between us we made plenty of money, (he apparently had a great construction job--at least that’s where I’d dropped him off and picked him up a couple times after work), and his suggestion that I could semi-retire and go back to part-time teaching...made it an even more tempting offer, (almost "too good to be true"!...and I know YOU KNOW what that meant...). I can't even believe what I did next, (and I hope you are able to withhold your judgments of me); but I remember offering him a place to stay in my home. I had been terrified of re-marrying and didn’t want to just jump right in again.
[Aside: You couldn’t know this but I was still reeling from loving Mike, (my childrens’ daddy), throughout our 12 year marriage; and I had just sprung free of Max’s trap. (Max was the Con Artiste Par Excellence!!!--and getting out of that seven week marriage, well that’s definitely a whole ‘nuther story)].

Anyway, I was "rebounding", as they say. If I was looking at all, I was searching for the cosmic opposite of Max---not old, but young, not frail, but strong, not dependent, but 'self-sufficient', not a loafer and user, but a hard worker and a great guy who’d not only be a super role-model; but also a "replacement" dad for my vulnerable children. At least that was what I thought, hoped and believed would happen. Like any accomplished "controller" Dennis knew exactly what I wanted to hear. One important fact he'd concealed from me up to that point was that he had conned other women, many women before me, and had honed his craft to perfection. I wondered if I were really falling in love again or was I just thinking of making my home more stable for my children. I opted for "...love again". Although I had fought this concept, it was too little, too late, and being a Cancer, I was a sucker for love and easily hooked again. (Actually to be more fair to myself, since I had been un-medicated for over a year, I had become a very spur-of-the-moment, flighty and fanciful kinda gal.

OK, OK, so I was really so totally crazy and I was in one of my "We can do anything we try, all we need is each other and love!!" mentally ill, MANIC PANICS. I suppose you can see how easily I was duped--and the only place where this fiasco could possibly go?) Well, without any "ado" we drove up state Tennessee to Tipton County, where after a hurried stop in Germantown, Tennessee to pick up a quickie license, we were unceremoniously married in the judge’s chambers.

We sped through "Mempho" to Horn Lake, in north Mississippi, to my comfortablly inviting three-bedroom solid brick house. It was such a great house and I had bought it by myself with no help from anyone. I saved the down payment from the outright sale of my little home in Independence, Mississippi--and I outright owned everything in it. We, (that is the children and I), really weren't doing badly at all. The electricity, gas and water were never cut off, and I always had enough fuel in the car and food in the fridge. We even enjoyed movies, mini-golf or fast food whenever we felt like it. If I only knew then what I know now.....

It was virtually immediately after we got home on our "wedding" day, that Dennis began dreaming up new excuses for not going to work every day. I had been dropping him off and picking him up at a new housing development sight where he claimed his job involved putting up dry-wall, doing roofing, painting and building trusses. Suddenly he came up with this insane story right out of left field! He said that his boss had been murdered and people were pointing the finger at him! (This was so far beyond my comprehension but Dennis’ personality was so strong and determined that when he said he didn’t want to talk about it, "mum" was the word!) Elaborating only a little, he said he was under suspicion because of an argument with his boss during which co-workers witnessed him "sort-of threaten" the older gentleman.

What I didn't know was that he might truly have been a suspect since he had started an actual brawl with his boss and since, (something I wouldn’t know until three more years had passed), his long "career-criminal" background marked him as a violent recidivistic felon!! Of course not aware of Dennis’ previous Brushy Mountain Tennessee State Prison "address", I could not have guessed what this self-professed pacifist had really done that would make him suspect. He did remind me about his "connections" with the Memphis Chapter of the Hell’s Angels Motorcyclists who were sworn to "take care of" threats from anyone outside of the club (did that include his "boss"?). Now, this "fact" had slipped my mind because right when we first met he mentioned he had a "Harley" but it was "out-of-town being re-chromed". Of course it was! (Oh, he was good!) In fact, I believed him about everything, why wouldn’t I? I didn’t lie and I ASSUMED the same about everyone else in my world--including him!! I had "bought" the lie!

Soon he began leaving the house around the same time every day to "make phone calls to a Hell’s Angels’ member named 'Crazy'"...(and for a good reason, apparently!). He didn’t want Crazy to be able to trace calls to our home because there was some kind of issue between the two of them. He had already told me that although he had been riding with the gang, he was ready to sever those ties now that he was "married with children". So he was "laying low" so as not to be "found" by Crazy, and he was "not showing up" at any construction sites for awhile because, he said, the finger of guilt was pointing to him! Oh yeah, a project for me! He WAS a real bad-boy and now, (presumably because of my wonderful, loving influence) he wanted to go straight. Riiiiightttttttttt! ______________________________________________________________________________________________________________ [Now I will give you the benefit of hindsight. I couldn't possibly have fathomed the secrets Dennis concealed from me. To follow are some of the things I DIDN'T know that were actually going on that afternoon, and/or in his past--and much of this information I would not find out for years to come:

1.Though he repeatedly affirmed that Gwen was only an acquaintance, she was in fact some sort of jail-groupie and had, for one year, been writing to, and phoning Dennis at the Shelby County Penal Farm (where he had be imprisoned for repeated, habitual DUIs).
2. Since Grape-Ape was also was a Cocaine addict weighing 350 lbs, give or take, her volatile personality made her perfectly capable of carrying through with any threats to me.
3. Dennis was on the hunt for a place to live and a lady with a good job, (i.e. C’est Moi!!), off of whom he could sponge; and someone to chauffeur him around since had his drivers’ license revoked--permanently!
4. He was a closet "controller" setting me up to exert his control over my naïveté, trust and inabiliity to structure my life with firm psychological "boundaries". His control manifested slowly and insidiously, taking me years to recognize his behaviour as such.
5. Once married, he would completely shun the concept of work--forcing me to pay all of our family’s expenses, (including his)!
6. He had been living in a two-bedroom shot-gun house with his alcoholic family: "Mama", his "retarded-when-convenient" sister, another older sister, her felonious husband and his "on-and-off-homeless" older crack-head flake of a brother.
7. Dennis covered up the thirteen year-break in his past lying that he’d studied carpentry at the local Community College and had been "in the service", (but "didn’t want to discuss any of it").
8. Dennis never divorced his second wife!! I discovered this tid-bit after our escape from Dennis, six years after "marrying him"..if only I’d known in the beginning that this meant we were never "legally married" I could’ve ditched his battering ass at any time!!!!!
9. During those years he couldn’t account for he was incarcerated at Brushy Mountain, (where he served part of his twenty-year sentence for an "Especially Aggravated Assault" and "Robbery"--He stalked a restaurant owner making the weekend deposit, and shot the man in both knee-caps, before robbing him!)
[As you can see Dennis concealed some very serious secrets from me, for the first three years of our marriage. Once I was informed of his past, without his knowledge, I was too terrified of what he might do to me or my children that I never disclosed any of this to them. I avoided fights at all costs
and I believed his threats to kill us all if I ever tried to leave him!.............................................................

Of course, not having the slightest clue that he’d been lying to me all along, I believed everything he told me, unconditionally. It had only been a few weeks into our marriage. I was still going off to work every day and I expected him at least to be job-hunting while I was gone. He’d come up with one excuse after another why he couldn’t apply for this or that job, and then came the moment for him to play-out his ultimate drama! He made the decision to "allow himself" to remember something so horrific that he had supposedly pushed far down in his psyche for many years. He claimed to really have forgotten the worst incident of his life. So he had a problem and wanted to "share"...oh, how I was sure I could help him through anything. (Hey, even if I wasn’t thinking straight...I did have a degree in Psychology, after all!)

This is what he told me: [Warning: graphic details, stop reading now if you are easily grossed-out!---I’m serious, trust me!]
Dennis said he... "was at work on that fateful day several years prior, when [he] got the call to go home right away", (yeah right "at work" at what bar?). He described arriving "at his apartment building in downtown Memphis, and the small parking lot was buzzing with jam-packed emergency vehicles of all sorts--lights flashing wildly". He said that "when the police discovered it was [his] apartment they were attending, they tried unsuccessfully to keep [him] away from the scene. Once inside [he said] the fire-fighters had extinguished the flaming kitchen curtains which had caught a breeze from the open window and landed in the living room"... and that "paramedics were attending his wife whose arms and chest were burned by floating pieces of the fiery curtains". Then he noticed that "there was a lot of panic and activity in the kitchen" so, rushing in there next he witnessed "the scene [he] could never erase from [his] memory"--(nor could I once I heard this "story").

As he continued to relate the story, he said that his wife, in her usual valium stupor, had passed out on the couch. Their only child, Michael Eric, 4 years old, was playing in the living room. It seems he’d gone through the swinging door to the kitchen. (It is difficult to piece together exactly what happened because of Dennis' emotional breakdowns, (obviously staged for my benefit). He continued: "poor little Michael climbed up on a chair he'd pushed over to the stove, and must have played with the stove knobs, accidentally turning the gas on. Somehow there was a huge explosion which set the kitchen curtains on fire."

[If you think this is gruesome and beyond belief, read on.] According to Dennis: "The force of the explosion severed Michael's frail little body in half sending the top half, (from his waist up), across the kitchen and splattering it in an unrecognizable mess, all over the wall." But the "bottom half of [the little boy] was still 'standing' on the chair, sort of leaning against the stove." (For only a millisecond a little voice in my head asked how that was even possible?) Regardless, he continued explaining that throughout the explosion, fire and ensuing tragedy his wife remained in a valium "coma" and not only was she oblivious to the entire incident; but also, "she never awoke when pieces of the flaming curtains were burning her flesh".

This appeared to be such a shocking memory, he vowed to never again speak of the incident--and insisted I not tell my children. Anyway, Dennis described "the pain and anger [he] was trying to cope with" and gave the memory of that trauma as the "reason for his not being able to work"....and I "bought it!!!". (Oh yeah, you'll never find a more understanding, caring and empathetic gal than me. In fact the large tatoo on my forehead that read "DUMP HERE" was actually dwarfed by the one on my ass that screamed "KICK HERE--PLEASE"!)

Fast-forward......Very curious that over the six years we were "married", he never showed me a photo of Michael, you know like one you'd normally carry in your wallet. He claimed it was too painful to keep remembering...so he never carried any photos. (If you are sitting there smugly saying, "Well, that should’ve been a RED FLAG right there...ha! You are seeing the whole story from a safe distance....But I, on the other hand, had been locked into and barely existing in a terror-filled, nightmarish cycle of physical and psychological battery and abuse at the hand of this husband, {which in itself is another "whole ‘nuther story"!}. And I didn’t have the benefit of 20/20 hindsight!)

I always noticed and, of course wondered about, the conspicuous absence of little Michael’s photo on any of the walls of "Mama’s" house. My reasoning?..Because in that house there was barely a square inch of wall space, (including the bathroom), that wasn’t papered with family photos...only a few of which were actually in frames---(the rest being actual photos stuck up on the wall with duct tape!). There were photos of family members and even their dogs, cats and cars. And, it had been pointed out to me on many occasions that there were several of "David", Dennis’ sixteen-year-old nephew who had been shot and killed the previous year by another teenager, over a drug-deal gone awry! No sentiment disallowing the sad reminders of David’s existence..so what of Michael’s?

Not even the slightest hint of Michael anywhere; of course I had never inquired of the family, (in fear of sparking Dennis’ rage at {supposedly} having to remember the trauma again...) But it just so happened that two days before the night the children and I ended up escaping from Dennis, he and I were working in mid-town Memphis. (I had developed a Mobile Mechanic Service that we operated for five years---which also required that we work in Memphis virtually every day). That day Dennis had one too many tacos at lunch and, refusing to use public washrooms, demanded a quick side-trip to Mama’s house, where he would be more comfortable using her bathroom.

The scene was the usual, predictable one. There at the "dining-room" round table sat Mama (about 70, drinking whiskey with a 40 oz. of beer chasing it), Susie, 50, (Dennis older sister, "retarded" when it was convenient to receive a disability check--sipping a beer), Brenda, 53, (Dennis’ older sister lining up three empty 40’s, a fresh one in her other hand--and already three sheets to the wind), Brenda’s husband Bob, (a convicted felon, just released from a 17-year stint for rape and murder--in Mississippi’s notorious Parchman State Prison, also drunker than Kooter Brown), and Dale, 57, (OMG--what a piece of work, Dennis’ oldest brother who bragged about his choice to be a "homeless beggar", staying high on Crystal Meth and Crack Cocaine on the streets of Memphis--and diving the dumpsters for items to sell to his dealer!)! Three of the four were smoking pot and Mama was busily rolling fresh cigarettes from the several ash trays full of nasty butts...arguably one of her favorite past-times, of that I was convinced.

"(How the hell do I get myself into these situations??"...That awful question kept creeping over me EVERY TIME I gave in and went along with him to Mama’s house! I didn’t belong there and could barely stand it for more than a few minutes at a time. I saw to it that my children NEVER stepped inside that house! I did not drink at all, nor had I ever used an illegal drug in my life; and I had asthma so the cigarette and pot smoke got to me very quickly. I’d even have to run outside to catch my breath.. (Now, if you’re tempted to judge me again, you must understand ‘control’, ‘battery’ and ‘abuse’ and how this type of dysfunctional relationship creates so much fear--a person becomes trapped, then meek, and soon lacking the emotional strength to attempt to change the circumstances or get away.....google: Stockholm  Syndrome)

I surveyed that pathetic excuse for a family and standing in their presence I debated the main thought clouding my mind. Though my conversations with "the family" had always been limited to the weather, I recognized I was being afforded only a brief opportunity to speak with them seriously. I decided it would be "now or never" if I were ever to learn the truth. I was trying to be polite by pretending not to notice Dennis’ grunts and groans coming from the bathroom down the hall; while trying to appear relaxed and disinterested in my real purpose.

Because I had been months secretly preparing for the inevitable, eventual escape from Dennis, I knew the time for our freedom was close at hand. Although I couldn’t know exactly when, I was acutely aware that all we awaited was for opportunity to knock and open the window to safety! I kept this fact in mind, while also counting-down the minutes before the toilet would flush. I would soon have to shut my mouth or else Dennis would fly into a totally ballistic rage at me if he thought I’d discussed "Michael" with his family...

Soooo...At a moment’s break in their conversations--I jumped in..and quite delicately posed that question I’d been dying to ask for years:
"Ummm..where are y’all’s photos of little Michael?"
"Who?" chimed the unified reply.
"Do y’all have any photos of Michael?"
"Who?" Again, several people responded in-sync.
"Michael, you know little Michael"
"Michael whoooo?" came the query again.
"Michael Eric, Dennis' little boy."
"There's NO Michael--May-reeee.", Brenda retorted. (Geeeze, my mind and my stomach started doing flips...)
"Uh, I know he's not in this world and all about him dying in that awful explosion at Dennis’ apartment! But I just kinda wondered what he looked like, that’s all."

Mama started laughing under her breath making herself cough, choke and gurgle whiskey-tainted beer bubbles. With her head down on her chest and her manly, raspy, slurred voice she sucked-back the saliva, sputtered and blurted out to me in that low, gravelly, monotone, too-much-whiskey-cigarette-and-hollering voice:

"May-ree, you know Dennis, (cough, cough), never had any kids."
My soul was frozen with that statement! But, so as not to pass out from the dizzying thoughts roller-blading around inside my head, my focus was immobilized on the hairy wart over Mama's wrinkled purple lip.
"Whaaaat-ever made you thank Dennis had a kid?" Brenda snapped.
"He told me all the horrible, graphic details of Michael's accidental death."
Susie, the 'slow' one, was laughing at that moment, and started getting loud and sing-songy, repeating over and over,
"There ain't nooooo Michaelllll..." ,"There ain't nooooo Miiichaelllllllllll...."
Dale, the older crack-head brother, spent his 2 cents to affirm the family's position. In his usual stilted monotone delivery he insisted:
"There ain’t no such person as Michael, naver was, neaer will be. Dennis made 'im up. Sure sucked you in too, didn’t he, May-reeee?"
Taking a pull on the joint Bob handed him, he summed up with:
"Good one, Denbo---Gawd you’re a stupid sucker for balieving thaaaat stary, May-reeeee!"

No Michael? Oh My God! No Michael? How could he have lied so? No Michael!! I was really mad then at all the wasted energy and empathy with which I’d pampered poor Daddy Dennis....! Damn, I was really, really angry...but...but...God my head was spinning so wildly I think I would've passed out for sure, but for the sudden flushing of their noisy old toilet, I became paralyzed with terror! What if they mentioned to Dennis that I’d asked about the phantom child?! I decided it was a good time to make my speedy exit using the excuse that I needed my inhaler I'd left out in our company van----

Oh God, I was petified he’d discover what I’d done..I really DID need that damn inhaler by the time I got to the van!!! Shaking uncontrollably, partly from the rescue inhaler, but mostly from ABSOLUTE SHEER TERROR..I waited for Dennis and the third degree..He walked with sharp, determined steps, never taking his eyes off mine:
"What’re yew shakin’ fer thaasss tahm?!", he demanded while climbing into the van.. Oh hell, was my papable fear outwardly visible?
"Uh", I was stammering..."Uh, it was the smoke in the house....I had another asthma attack..you know that awful inhaler makes me shake so badly...."
He acted satisfied, I prayed he’d bought it, anyway he didn’t backhand me upside my head, so I guessed he’d believed my explanation... I knew with certainty then what I had only surmised up to that point. Oh Lord, it was an epiphany--I totally realized that every breath out of Dennis' mouth for the past 6 years had been a totally fabricated LIE!!!! (just to make me feel sorry for him and 'take care of him', poor, pathetic 'father' that he claimed to have been). I still wretch at this memory.

The cartoon light-bulb over my head had turned --and stayed after that new revelation! Dennis was not only a psychotic sociopath, but the epitome of a compulsive, pathological liar! Every instance in which I came to his rescue, including the fluorescent bulb in my office ‘breaking’ in his hand, was contrived, planned, controlled and/or lied about, as he felt the situation required of him--in order to manipulate me. My resolve and determination were cemented, and this made my plan for leaving him, most certainly, the right thing to do---and " the sooner--the better".

Two days later, through a sheer miracle, a most unusual opportuntiy presented itself to us. Under cover of darkness my children and I were able to get safely away and out of his life, and Memphis, forever! When we were finally a safe 3000 miles away we never looked back...that was eight years ago.

Dennis has been back in prison in Memphis since 2001, immediately after our escape, and he will continue to serve a minium of another ten years!...and that, of course is, as they say, a whole ‘nuther story...)
.......see what I mean, you can never judge a book by its cover!...and most certainly you can NEVER judge a man's character with your heart on your sleeve and your hopes in his hands!!

Thursday, March 6, 2008


Seeing her tremendous girth, I understand her worth.
She strains to move, to breathe, to live. I share her truth.
Her deeply sorrowful eyes unveil her thousand-mile stare,
screaming those torturous thoughts-I've know far too well!
I care, but do not dare to share my pain, my heart, my truth:
It's definitely not food, but PAIN that she has swallowed.

Yet in vain, she dreams of whom she was inside that
fortress she alone created merely to exclude those
too familiar, agonizing and tormenting lies of love!
Why should it be that love for her being sown with lies
could harvest only pain? Her lonely thoughts implore:
"......why me? Help Me! SAVE Me! LOVE ME!"

Her silent, unrequited prayers are deafening---
at least to me--because I know her one true pain.
Believing surely that of truth and love, she's most
certainly unworthy! Her pleas, unfettered, battle those
darkened clouds enshrouding her despairing heart
. .....A silent answer sifts-her burdened spirit lifts!

Through unconditional, intrepid love of self, immediately
recognized, embraced and understood, at once she is
empowered by new envisioning and true enlightening!
Past incredulities suspended, she now embraces her
life's astounding rebirth-by terminating swallowed pain.

Sunday, March 2, 2008


How is it possible to want something so desperately that every other woman on this planet seems to either be taking for granted, resenting, giving away or simply "disposing of"? What of this earthly plane could be of such importance, so compelling to me, yet missing from my life?

Sitting at my friend’s crafts table at a local flea market recently, I found myself revisiting emotions I’d felt while "working" a Memphis fair over twenty-three years ago. My husband, "M" and I were performing our annual rite of spring: the Mid-South Boat Show. Always a good draw--people came out in droves--any excuse to shun the winter, or dream of and plan for the summer! And there was no shortage of deep pockets either! We offered our unusual leather goods, (belts, buckles, purses, wallets, etc.) which were not only hand-tooled, but also personalized with purchasers’ names or initials.

We were never so busy that it required the two of us to work; nevertheless, I forced myself to accompany my husband upon his encouragement for me to "just get out of the house". We were both hopeful that my being amidst the crowds of strangers might help to lift my depression--yes, I said "depression". Mine was not regular depression, or even the Manic-Depression, (the devastating Bipolar mental illness with which I would be diagnosed two-and-a-half years later). This was the deepest, most lamentable and "world-shattering"of all depressions--"post-partum"! But even my "post partum" was not run-of-the-mill, "text-book" pregnancy hormone-driven depression. This horrible emotion completely overshadowed every thought in my head, replacing normal sentiment with some extremely dark, twisted and very bad" persuasions, (including designs for my personal demise).

Perhaps an easier loss, had it been my only one. But this was my fourth pregnancy yielding NO living children. Beyond that fact, my grief was doubled since I didn’t lose one, but two babies. That’s right--twins! My body still ached from the agonizing physical loss! My brain was ablaze fed by the roller-coaster of hormones firing confusing mixed messages in every direction. It happened only two days before! All I wanted to do was cry and scream and run and die and kill someone or something--whatever unseen force that silently, secretly reached into my womb and ripped their lives from mine! Nevertheless I tried to keep my composure and maintain some dignity though I felt empty, hollow, dishonoured, ravaged, raped of the tiny spirits in a body which had once again betrayed me.

I wasn’t much help to "M"....my soul was not even in my body--it was snaking stealthily through the sardined browsers. Looking, searching for what? For a baby seemingly unwanted...he--she could and would be mine! It was inconceivable how many women I spied that were either pregnant, pushing a stroller or toting two or three "rug-rats"! There were mothers who were bitching about, screaming at, swatting, dragging by the ears or flat-out spanking the innocents....
But not for me--this was not in the cards for me! Why? God only knew. I wondered about all those teenage mothers who didn’t even want their "accidents", yet regretfully bore them without complications--only to get rid of them one way or another?! I was so terribly jealous--so hurt and frustrated. Repeatedly I asked my Lord: "Why me ? Why me Lord? What did I ever do to desrerve this fate?" I was sickened by the passing mothers-to-be--smoking and eating absolute crap--complaining out loud about their miseries! Oh what I would have given for even the minutest amount of such inconvenience! It just wasnt’ going to happen for me--not then, not ever! I was certain of that fact. Yet I couldn’t control my "bad" thoughts--my sinister plots how to steal one of those young children being yanked here and there--arms dislocating, ovbiously unwanted? Who would even notice them gone? I’d be performing a service for sure! Of course I could never follow through on such plans, never!

"Ring this order up, will ya, Maaayyrreeee?!"
What?! I wasn’t there--I was lost in a memory and unable to erase the picture from my mind’s eye. Following the passage of my first little fetus with a ripping, searing pain and a mass of blood, the nurses turned their faces away from the ultrasound screen...again, I was SO alone. They wouldn’t talk to me or acknowledge the obvious. Clearly there were two amniotic sacs. The one on the left was already empty, and on the right, lying in deathly stillness at the base of her own little universe, was my other little baby--doomed never to see the light of the world.

So little, so helpless, so pitiful a sight--though I may pass through ten thousand reincarnations it will NEVER be erased from my psyche! The male doctors, in whispers, conferred with each other. Then one turned to me and coldly delivered the statement: "It’s all over Mary, we couldn’t save them. Neither one survived". I heard nothing past, "...to be surgically removed". However, one nurse really tried to console and reassure me in my unfettered, overwhelming grief. Wiping my tears, with a soft smile and encouragement enough for both of us she offered: "You mark my words. You will be right back in this very hospital one year from now--delivering your big, healthy, beautiful baby!"

Who could focus--or believe her! A baby was the last thing I could think about. I’d had so many losses. What did she know...certainly nothing of my personal anguish. No, I most certainly dismissed her comments and did not believe her for a second! But that was March 11, 1983 at Baptist East Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee. On March 13, 1984 at precisely 11:59 am my miracle first-born came into this world--my son Brandon--and at 8lbs, 15 ozs. and 20 1/2 " long, he was very much alive and healthy!

Yes I finally had my live birth. Brandon was my fifth pregnancy, but my sixth baby. This child was ultimate the pride and joy of my very existence--my reason to keep on living! However, it hadn’t been easy getting Brandon into the world. After my water broke, I labored for forty-six hours!!!! Anticipating a possible, and ultimately inevitable, emergency C-section I wasn’t permitted to eat, drink, sit or stand. Because I was such a high-risk pregnancy my OB/GYN, old Harry Wilson, MD wanted to minimize my fear level. Although I begged not to be cut, the time came when it was no longer a choice. Brandon had fought too long and hard to be delivered, and needed help!

My God! He was so awesome! so beautiful, and a most perfect and precious gift! But quickly it was apparent that he had a problem with a high Bilirubin count (I believe his liver was not able to absorb dead red blood cells, causing such severe jaundice that I rightly nicknamed him my "Little Tangerine-Head"!) In fact it was serious enough to make him a candidate for a complete blood transfusion. After ten days under the "Bili-Lights" the pediatric specialist, instead of taking him for the transfusion, brought wonderful news that, "Brandon’s Bili-count just dropped..y’all are goin’ home, rahhht now!" and so we did.

Incidentally I credit old Doc Wilson for ensuring I carry Brandon to term! What a character! He always kept an unlit stogey clenched in his teeth, (because he’d quit smoking), dressed in blue-jeans and "nose-picker" cowboy-boots, (because...well, just because he could!), and rode a Harley Davidson motorcycle, (to cleverly dart in and out of heavy Memphis traffic when needed at the hospitals). He was the only doctor, (and I had seen many in several fertility clinics), who encouraged me in his molasses-slow southern drawl: "Maaay-reeee, if y’all do ‘xactly as AH say, wi’ll git this baby har, AH PRAMISE!!...Naw, Maaayreee if we’re gonna git this youngun’ born---y’all will stay lyin’ down--in the bed, on the sofa, wherever, but git thar and stay thar far the next FAR MONTHS!" It certainly had seemed like a very tall order--but certainly in the instant Brandon arrived--it was more than all very much worth it!

Twice more after my gift of Brandon I needed Doc Wilson’s services--not for deliveries, but for two more miscarriages and two more dead little babies. But twenty-two months after Brandon brought the light back into my world--my second live birth!! My little girl, my darling, beautiful, adorable, perfect princess, my daughter, Drew came home with me from the same hospital. Drew was a "planned" C-section and good thing too because she weighed in at a hefty 9lbs, 11oz, and the same length as her big brother! She made her entrance into the world at 10:02 am on January 6, 1986.

After Drew’s birth, I agonized through three more miscarriages, ending my run of pregnancies. I’d had enough. I had two amazing children, and that was quite enough! If you have wondered as you read my story, what ever could have caused so many miscarriages....the only answer my doctor gave me was: STRESS. The physical, mental, emotional and verbal abuse I suffered at the hand of my husband created such a stressful and noxious environment it became prohibitative for the growth of any little fetus. The survival of my two children was nothing short of a blessing--a miracle! Two live births--TWO AMAZING MIRACLES!!!!!!

Friday, February 1, 2008


(WARNING: This memoir contains descriptions of abuse and violence, with some coarse language..adult readers recommended)

Rulers and yard-sticks--rulers and yard-sticks! Whenever I think of her I only see her coming at me with an evil blackness in her eyes with those rulers or yard-sticks flailing madly whacking me over and over.

A demeanor of delightful loathing came over her whenever she started in on me. Nowhere on my body was safe from the blows she inflicted upon me. But my head and ears seemed to be her favorite target, (once my hair was long enough to camouflage any marks). Her pleasure was palpable when the ruler was one of those old wooden ones with a metal edge, the kind they handed out to us in grade school. She called the abuse: "giving me a lickin'"! What an innocuous term for such an abhorrent act! She spanked me every day and many days more than once--always, of course, when daddy wasn't home!--and always while screeching at me: "Maryleeeeee! You are such a bad little girl, very very bad!", or "You are such a burden to me--I am only giving you what you deserve!"

She was always mad at me, actually she was just always angry, period! She never needed an excuse. She invented reasons in her head, the place where all of her imagined problems with me started. If no rulers or yard-sticks were within her grasp she'd use hair brushes, wooden spoons--or anything else she could reach. The hatred I felt for her was beyond description, pooling just behind my clear blue eyes and under the surface layer of my pale skin. I dared not let myself express my true feelings about her because I feared she would beat me even more.

I couldn't, strike that, I wouldn't ever dare talk back to her, either. I do remember the one and only time retorting to her demand for me to bring her the yard-stick, (when I knew she wasn't planning to measure anything!). With all the boldness I could muster I yelled: "NO!". Suffice to say not only did I retrieve, (and receive!), the implement; but also, never again did I answer her with that little word!

Of course I never told anyone about the abuse I suffered from her. In fact in the ‘50's and ‘60's it was considered as "not sparing the rod". I believe parental physical abuse just wasn't seen as a problem and therefore didn't, as yet, deserve a name. It seemed OK! Oh My God, could any form of child beating ever have been OK??

In any event, who would've believed me if I told them about my mother? She was such a good actor and definitely pulled the wool over everyone's eyes, especially daddy's! She was such a two-faced phony! To the whole world she was such a "loving mother"--demonstrably kissing the top of my head and telling everyone what a "good little girl Marylee is"..(or was she possibly just trying to convince herself?).

She wanted the whole world to believe she was not just the perfect mother and wife, but the best Christian church lady. What a crock! She'd go to church--her "High Anglican" which held services in Latin and had the same rituals and procedures as the Catholic Church, (at the same time she forbade me to have any Catholic friends!). She'd sing the loudest--terribly off-key, and kneel before anyone else did, and fold her hands and pray out louder than anyone else! Then she'd look around to see what kind of an audience had noticed her practiced pious rituals, and smile and nod delightedly when she caught someone's glance. It was all an act...every bit of her behavior in public or at her friends' houses--everything was an act! After all she was accomplished at "playing to the house"!

She was a a master controller and the ultimate bitch.!! Although her controlling behavior extended to her relatives and friends, what I loathed the most was watching her manipulate my sweet daddy. She constantly hurled her demeaning darts at my daddy, and certainly never appreciated how good he was to her, or how much her loved her, truly and deeply...despite her flaws. Probably because of his dreaded angina attacks, daddy had become the ultimate pacifist. He would do anything but fight. When mother started something and it was getting out of hand, daddy would go out for a walk around the block. A big fight meant a two-block-walk! That was how he handled the person he married. I wondered many times if he hadn't just married her because he felt pity for her--he really did have the kindest heart.

Of course she controlled me the most.; but I could not ever tell my daddy, my best friend. He certainly never witnessed that side of her around me. Daddy always saw the good in everyone, and I am positive he never imagined what went on behind our closed doors when no one else was around. A couple of times when I was cut by the ruler whacks I tried to tell him how mean she was to me. Unfortunately he wouldn't "hear of any negative talk about [my] mother". Daddy insisted I do the same thing he did to deal with her tantrums: "If your mother says the moon is made of green cheese--the moon IS made of green cheese!!" That metaphor baffled me and I would always retort that I knew for a fact the moon was made of rocks and definitely not dairy products of any hue. I have often wondered how he never knew or what insight he did have? I never understood that in him.

I certainly learned well those lessons of giving my abusers anything they wanted from me in order to keep the peace. Of course this was just another lesson for me in "telling them what they want to hear", or "not rocking the boat" or "kissing ass". However, it was unimaginable that I was essentially being "trained" and "prepared" for my own future chain of victimizations from abusive men, (and that, as they say, is a whole "nuther" story).

It was no secret mother hated and resented my being in her home and more so for being in their lives. She reminded me many times that she and daddy "wouId be much better off if [they] had never taken [me] in, and never had to spend [daddy's] hard-earned money on [me]". It's a long story but suffice to say it was my daddy that wanted to adopt me; and my daddy who went alone to pick me up from Mrs. Gray's private children's' home when I was only six weeks old; and only my daddy who truly loved me! Mother actually said to me on numerous occasions, "I don't want you--I never wanted you! Your daddy was the one that wanted you! I would never accept anyone else's ‘cast-offs' (i.e. ME!)! No wonder you are the way you are..(don't ask me...I still don't understand that statement)...you come from ‘that woman', from ‘the gutter'!". "The gutter"..."the gutter"... what "gutter", what on earth was she always alluding to? And her ultimately expressed desire: "Maryleeeeeee, I wish you were dead!"

She was never meant to be a mother, at least not my mother. I'm certain daddy could never have guessed that before he brought me home. She told me that she refused to, and never, ever did, change my dirty (poopy) diapers. My daddy, a civil servant, was an Estate Assessor at the provincial parliament buildings in Toronto. He actually had to take the bus home from downtown every lunch break just to change me! As well, she wanted me to "be seen and not heard", to "speak only when [I was] spoken to" and to "stay out of the way". I actually have crystal memories of being very, very cold and staring up at falling snow flakes as they landed on my face. I was out on the porch in my baby carriage where mother would leave me for what seemed like a very long time---in the dead of winter--in order for me "to get air"! I couldn't have even been a year old--what on earth did I do to deserve that treatment? Needless to say, I stayed sick with a lot of upper respiratory problems...which I recall her passing off by saying I was "just a weak child". I bet I didn't start out that way!

Oh yes, and she used to force me to drink this dreadfully awful medicine called Fletcher's Castoria, (a vile tasting Castor oil mixture, I believe). Or she forced me to drink Cod Liver Oil that she'd mix in my baby bottle, or milk glass later on. Of course she always insisted she had not put any of that stuff in my drinks...but the mixtures just floated around like the oil in a lava lamp. I remember her saying: "Now Maryleeeeeeee drink your milk, there is nothing in it, I promissssssse!" All her many promises were empty lies--all of them.

Even worse, she enjoyed forcing me to eat until I vomited. There was that lima bean incident. Once, after I said I hated lima beans, she forced me to eat a whole can, cold, insisting: "Well I like them, so you'll eat them!!!!!". I got in more trouble when I was sent back home from school later that day for throwing up the lima beans all over the classroom floor. Then there was the robin guts: I believe I was in second grade at Rolph Road Public School. Back in the ‘50's all the kids walked unsupervised to and from school, even at that age. On my way home that day there was a little dead robin right in front of me with its belly split open and I had to step over its intestines that trailed across the sidewalk. When I got home for lunch mother decided canned spaghetti would be a good choice, after I told her I felt like I was going to be sick from the sight of the little bird's guts. She was just mean and cruel that way, even about the smallest things.

She was always forcing stuff in me if not that end then the other end! I remember a terribly awful enema bottle that was a reddish-brown rubber with a long black plastic nozzle that she felt the need to ram up my butt all the time! She would argue, "If I say you are constipated, you're constipated...you just stay there until you go!" I tried to fight back insisting that I was not constipated; but, nevertheless she would make me stay on the toilet until my butt had red stripes imprinted from the toilet seat! Why? I just don't understand why she reveled in this obvious control of my body and my mind. But, of course there was more, a lot more, and a lot worse; although I can't discuss that yet, not yet.....I'm not sure when I can face those demons.....maybe never.......

Mother had no sympathy or empathy for me. One time I misjudged an icy hill, and my toboggan slid out of control. I went head first into one of the short tree-stumps holding up the baseball bleachers at the little park near my home. I passed out from the impact which compressed my neck and knocked the air out of my lungs. While being pulled home on my toboggan, (no "911" in those days), I regained consciousness and immediately realized I had badly injured my neck. However, as my friends explained the accident to my mother, I was much more fearful she would get mad and give me another "lickin'" for causing her "trouble"! It's probably in my best interest that I have never been able to retrieve memories of the repercussions of that incident.

Another time when daddy's pipe-smoke motionlessly clouded our living and dining rooms, I recall experiencing what I later understood to be an asthma attack. I couldn't breathe at all and I was truly terrified. I remember running into the front hall and actually licking the frost from the inside of the window---just desperately trying to get something cold into my lungs. I didn't understand it was daddy's smoking that was making me so sick. I tried to hide my problem so as not to give my mother an excuse to get mad and hurt me! Her reaction? I remember her seething anger: "Marylee, you know you are such a thorn in my side! Stop doing that right now! You get away from that window and come right back in here to the living room!". I can't believe I didn't die from that asthma attack! I certainly wanted to.

One day when I was eight, I played a little long at Anne's house across the street. We were shooting marbles and I was holding all the big cat's eyes. I guess I just lost track of time and forgot that I was getting my portrait taken at the photography studio that day. I ran right home after Anne's mum nervously relayed the phone message. Mother was holding the front door open, absolutely crimson and trembling as her visible anger pulsed through to her finger tips. I hoped she was in such a hurry to get me ready I would escape a whipping. Wrong again. She started ripping the brush through my hair which was more than half-way down my back and curly with ringlets. With fast, hard strokes she tried forcing it through the tangles, smacking my head between strokes. She actually brushed and yanked my hair so hard the pain caused me to wince. She responded by walloping me on my ear! Then coming back at me for another couple hits she whacked me so hard she split that beautiful mother-of-pearl-handled brush, from her dresser-set trio, clear in two. "Ohhhh! You broke my lovely brush! This is all your fault! Don't you tell your daddy! Don't you dare say anything to him! And stop that crying right this minute, or I will give you something to really cry about!". I tried to make myself invisible---it didn't work! I held my breath. I was totally silent with shock and fear, and, with her looking on, I couldn't even respond to the photographer efforts to make me laugh. "Laughing", how foreign was that concept to me! If you look closely past the practiced smile on my lips in that portrait, you will still see the deep, far-off sadness in my eyes. That dissociated countenance was something I term a "thousand-mile-stare".

My mother was an extremely dark and depressed person, spending every waking moment feeling quite sorry for herself, and expecting some kind of empathy or pity from others. She complained ceaselessly about being "in pain", (something to which I can certainly relate, but you never saw me beating my kids--or my grandchildren---despite my own chronic physical pain!). She stayed angry, frustrated, embarrassed and went ballistic should anyone refer to her as crippled or lame. Because her right leg was shorter than her left, she was forced her to wear a special shoe built up with an extra three inches on the sole. She always claimed she was "hit down by a bicycle, in 1916 when [she] was twelve". She believed that she broke her hip and during her "one year" hospitalization at SickKids in Toronto, the diphtheria and scarlet fever that she contracted somehow caused her leg to be shorter. I have a different theory: my guess is that her hip was never set properly and just healed in a bad position. She related everything in her life according to her disability. For example, she'd watch "The Lawrence Welk Show" TV show, (a variety singing and dancing venue with beautiful people wearing lovely clothes); then she'd sabotage her own enjoyment of the show by complaining all the way through it that: "I could never wear beautiful gowns like them /wear shoes
like them/dance or sing like them...".

As I got a little older I gained a little wisdom. Ahah! In an attempt to control the beatings, I began hiding every ruler or yard-stick that came into the house. Daddy couldn't understand why he was always having to bring more measuring sticks home (Tee, hee, hee... I, alone, knew it was because they were all under the edges of our beautiful blue-and-pink-flowered Indian rug encompassing the entire living room floor!) But unfortunately even when the rulers were "gone" she'd wield anything else handy..hair brushes, wooden spoons, whatever. She had to always hit me with a "weapon", a harder blow that way, I suppose. Even when she couldn't beat me physically she still hurt me terribly by her emotionally abusive, controlling actions.

You can guess why I loved going to school so much. It wasn't because the lessons were all that stimulating, instead it meant being a few hours away from her controlling, demanding, abusive ass! I even dragged myself to school when I was sick; I'd do anything to get away from her. I think I always sucked-up to my female teachers hoping they would treate me with the motherly kindness I so craved! That's also the reason behind my dreading summer holidays. Whenever I could find a friend still in town I'd hang out at their house until I knew daddy would be home. I think my friends' parents pitied me because I ended up, on more than a few occasions, being taken on vacation with their families. I tagged along to their cottages, beaches and once even to Six Flags. It was great while I was away, but I surely missed my daddy. The downer was having to come back home where she was waiting to inflict my "discipline" (Why?...for having fun?)!

The end to the mystery of the disappearing rulers and yard-sticks came too late for my daddy to appreciate. In November 1969, right after he had passed on, she sold the house in Leaside to rent an apartment in Kitchener, Ontario, (nearer to the me at the University of Guelph). I was helping her pack the day the movers came. I had long forgotten the rulers and yard-sticks until I saw the faces of the moving men when they rolled up the living room rug. There, in full view of the world, was a perfect outline of the rug formed by the years of collected and concealed rulers and yard-sticks, which I had meticulously hidden over and over in hopes of avoiding her beatings! The movers were obviously puzzled, but thankfully, or tactfully, said nothing. It was obvious they couldn't comprehend the significance of that odd arrangement of measuring sticks; but to me it was a blaring statement to the world, silently attesting to my years of battery and abuse at her hand.

Staring at the framed floor, mother raised her eyes up and just glowered at me. She seemed to grunt, but said not one word. There was nothing she could say because I was nineteen then and no longer afraid of her. While tossing the rulers into the trash, again I searched her countenance for any sign of remorse--but none was forthcoming.

Though mother lived another twenty-eight years, not once did she ever apologize to me, not even once. When she died at the age of ninety-three, I was so happy the abuser and the abuse was finally gone. It felt comforting to me to watch them close her up in that casket. The horrible abusive memories were finally sealed six-feet under the earth...gone forever...or so I thought.

Monday, January 28, 2008


Just another scorcher, that day in 1957! I really hated summer holidays. I was seven, adopted, an only child and of course I was bored stiff and depressed at the prospect of spending one more lonely summer without anyone to play with. Having escaped the annual Toronto heat-wave, all my friends were happily off on vacation at their families' summer cottages.

Home air-conditioning was virtually unheard of and on a day like that it was considerably hotter inside the house, than out! Ours was one of those big, solid, red-brick, two-story, semi-detached houses in Leaside which was a comfortable, middle/middle to upper/middle class suburban Toronto "bedroom" community.

I grabbed my favourite red, white and blue rubber ball and out-doors I headed to cool off. Mother was busy with her favourite past-time: watching "her stories" (and gossiping on the phone about the latest tribulations of the stars on General Hospital--or whichever). I thought I had safely escaped but I could hear her scratchy voice trailing off behind me, "Marylee!!" It was kind of muffled behind the loud BAM-BAM-BANG of the side door snapping shut from the tight new springs which daddy had affixed to it....I was pretty sure her next words were: ", Don't slam the..." Ooops! Too late, I had let it slam by accident, or at least I would profess "by accident"! Really!

Ingenuously feigning innocence, I started tossing my ball against the only non-windowed side of our house. Shoot! I knew I was busted when she stuck her head around the door and screeched: "Marylee! I TOLD you not to slam the damn door--and you did it anyway, on purpose! Didn't you!?" I said nothing. "Answer me!" I was mum with fear. "Well, don't you dare leave that yard!" I froze. "Did you hear me?" Certainly. "And you'd better stay outta my rose garden, or you'll get a lickin' you won't soon forget!!!!!"

(I always had a problem with that expression: "lickin'". It sounds so cute and nice, something you would enjoy, like a kiss from a puppy or kitten. But when she threatened a "lickin" I knew it meant a "whipping", "spanking", "beating", etc...)

Well I had no problems with that command, of course I'd stay away from that damn garden...far away! I knew she was already on the war-path after my "inadvertent" door slam, so I most certainly wasn't about to do anything else that could possibly trigger more of her wrath! As a matter of fact it usually took less than nothing to set her off hunting for the rulers and yardsticks!

I always seemed to be doing something wrong in her estimation. Nothing ever pleased her. And she actually delighted in never missing an opportunity to remind me that I "came from the gutter", (another stupid expression I hated..What gutter?? Where? Why? and How? [a little foreshadowing of my future career as a reporter?])! She never even tried to hide her hatred for me and her jealousy of the special bond between my daddy and me.

After assessing the proximity of that old "prickly patch" I was certain I had plenty of distance, at least a good eight feet between me and those damn stupid roses! While singing the ball-tossing ditties I threw underhand, under the leg, behind the back, soft-pitch, high up the wall, then a hard over-hand which, on the rebound went well above my head, ricocheted off the neighbour's wall and as if in slow-motion slipped through my grasp and bounced, bounced, bounced, bounced--you guessed it...straight into the prickly rose bushes. Yikes, it appeared firmly embedded between two branches and was held in place by the prickles! Oh brother...I knew I was in big trouble if my mother spied it there or worse, if she caught me trying to retrieve the ball!

I had to think! Could I pretend to be still tossing until daddy got home?...He always buffered her anger? But before any solution was forthcoming I noticed a tiny sparrow, unable to fly, lodged amongst the roses. To heck with my ball, this poor little bird needed my help! Hoping that neither the rose prickles nor my mother would catch me, I risked life and limb to pluck her out of the flower bed, (of course retrieving my ball in the process).

Whether the bird was sick or injured, I was on a m ission to nurse her back to health. I found my daddy's old, green, galvanized watering can which seemed about the right size container for her convalescence. To make her comfortable, I lined it with grass, leaves, twigs, clovers and rose petals. I tucked her in with a 'sheet' made from Kleenex. A foIded leaf became a trough for dribbling water droplets into the little creature's beak.

But how I could provide her nourishment? As usual, mother had neither encouraging words nor sage advice, only the same old overshadowing and disheartening criticisms. Undaunted, this junior Florence Nightingale decided to wait for daddy to come home and help me. Suddenly the worst thing happened. Instead of resting and getting better, my little patient expired. Just like that--my "Wee Birdie" was gone from me.

I felt so devastated and helpless, as if it were the end of my world. So inconsolable I just couldn't stop crying. I paced up and down the street holding Wee Birdie's limp little body in a match-box coffin lined with Kleenex. As I paced, I was convinced that it was I, alone, who was responsible for her death. While I waited for the Daddy Bus, I prayed for a miracle to make Wee Birdie come back to life. Of course, that particular miracle was not forthcoming.

Finally when all the daddies got off the evening bus, I ran to meet mine at the street corner. I was crying and breathlessly tripping over my words as I presented him with the scaled-down coffin. Between sobs I confessed that I had somehow murdered Wee Birdie. Confident that my daddy was actually a god, I begged if he would: "Please, please, make her alive again!"

In his omniscient, calming manner, he once again blanketed me with assuredness making everything alright. Though he didn't breathe life into her limp little body, he insisted that what had happened was in no way my fault, and I believed him. It seems what I couldn't possibly have known, was that the old green watering can was, in fact, the container in which daddy mixed the DDT weed poison. Apparently some residue of DDT, combined with the heat of the day to release noxious fumes which quickly asphyxiated my small patient. That watering can had actually become a "gas chamber" which, instead of providing a safe healing place, only served to ensure the speedy demise of little Birdie.

According to mother, everything that ever went wrong in our family was, of course, my fault. Mother always complained that "what else could be expected" of me since I "came from 'HER'!" Whenever I exhibited "undesirable" traits she'd reiterate this standard remark. Of course she was always referring to, and blaming my 'unknown' birth mother whom she seemed convinced was living somewhere in a Toronto "gutter". Proving no exception, this included my personal responsibility in causing the hasty demise of Wee Birdie.

This time, however, was different. I clearly understood from daddy's explanation, that it really wasn't my fault. So in order to have some closure, daddy and I held a little funeral ceremony and buried Wee Birdie in the corner of our yard. Then daddy and I shared a blue, raspberry flavoured Popsicle--the kind you hit on the edge of a counter to split perfectly evenly down the centre. When we finished our treat we used some string to fasten the Popsicle sticks together in the shape of a cross and carefully marked her little interment place. In my mind I can still smell the fresh-picked white Lilies of the Valley and fresh peppermint leaves which we taped onto the tiny grave marker. With a thin brush and white paint, daddy printed 'Wee" across and "Birdie" down the stick 'cross', lest we forget. Because of my wonderful daddy, my guilt and grief from this incident eventually dissipated, even if my memory of it remains vivid.

Of course mother always had to have the "last word" insisting daddy and I were being foolish to carry on like we were. Complaining, she harped: "Why are you concerned so much with that dirty, nasty thing? You should spend more time with me for a change! Do some things for me!". Because of my mother's attitude, this and many other of my myriad of life little experiences would eventually result in the insecurity, pain and depression which would mar and consume my sensitive spirit for the many decades of my life to follow.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008


It’s New Year's Day, time for me to say
what I could or should do differently to change,
improve my life; to lift my soul to a higher place,
to make a worthwhile contribution in this dark world.

So focussed on the tv screen I witness a perfect
procession of images marching. So far they've come,
streamed via those flickering satellites littering Heaven.
Miraculous in my favourite chair, I stare and share.

By breathtaking visual splendours my heart is lifted!
So awestruck by the flowers, beauty and imagination
symmetrically woven into the orderly, colourful displays
being paraded proudly before me--I am metamorphosed.

Marching bands of precision and promise showcase their
talents as they move along, stopping only now and then to
give a special, command performance to those confident,
cozy and comfortably aligned dignitaries flanking the parade.

Delighting once more as I welcome the coming hours of living
floats remarkably created only with leaves, seeds and flowers!
for Pasadena California’s annual Tournament of Roses Parade,
which is instantly beamed, or so it seemed, just to me, only to me!
Unsure why, but at the break I switch to channel CNN.
to an annual Special Presentation: "The Year In Review".
Once there, no turning back, no looking away, no walking out.
Who could ever have foreseen the terrific events closing 2004?

Such unimaginable, unbelievable, unforgettable images of
incomprehensible horror, escorting the year to death, rebirth.
Not a movie of World Wars I or II, or a shocking, horror-filled
Holocaust re-visitation! Neither sets, nor props, nor actors...

Nothing of man could manifest such awesome/awful greatness.
Tsunami! Tsunami! Tsunami! words unfamiliar and unknown.
Unnoticed changes and unrecognized signs sent fearless people,
amazed and curious, to answer beckonings of disappearing seas!

Waters rapidly vacuum toward the deepest crevices splitting through
the ocean floor! But quicker than the receding--was the returning!
The awesome wall, no tower, no mountain of ocean rising skyward,
was oblivious of life and death in its grasp, insensible of its power.

This first wave summoned all carnage from land and sea, leaving
no safe havens for those in it's sights. Repeatedly returning to claim
even more, in fractured seconds, lengthened moments, morph those
things once of life or man, annihilating towns, cities, islands--hope!

All are newly born unwitting orphans, no families, no food, no homes,
holding hands with fear. Confused, screaming and tearing clothes,
while levelled buildings provide the pieces of lives and deathly debris
racing past them in the rushing rapids borne of Tsunami mountains.

More crying, more dying, more fear, more pain and everywhere those
haunting faces glance into the hopelessness, nothingness, blackness
of fear, agony and loss--all hollow statues, numbed with depression.
None have feelings, souls or prayers, gazing in thousand-mile stares.

Panicked reporters and fearful photographers scurry frantically with
open electronic portals through which the other world could behold
the natural gift delivered by the awesome ocean! To Asia no warning!
"Satellite of Roses" now eclipsed by images of thousand-mile stares.

People left with nothing to rebuild, no food, fresh water, nor clothes or
medicine. Most homes, even shelters to hide and sleep in, are gone.
Babel of cultures, languages ruled by confusion, destitution, trepidation.
Tens of thousands "left-behinds" accumulate thousand-mile stares.

Everywhere in faces "blankness". A tiny girl, dirty, ragged, hopeless,
in vain cries for the mother never coming. Faces frozen in emptiness.
A boy, nameless, homeless, wears a paper sign, vainly announces for
all to read to whom it is he should belong...more thousand-mile stares.

Every questioning face silently, desperately screams hopelessly:
"What’s happening; where are my loved ones; what can I do?
Have I been left behind, alone; who can help me? Please feed me."
Jointly all render one empty countenance of thousand-mile stares.

Surreal numbers of flameless, extinguished corpses delivered by sea.
Unfair the "left behinds" pursue loved ones torn from arms and lives
forever by unforgiving, unholy ocean waves. Still grieving they’ve been
summoned to unceremoniously burn or bury….thousand-mile-stares.

Vacant eyes, hopeless, empty, not tearful, not present, no one there!
No glimmer of light remains to emanate from helpless, silent hearts.
Blackness, blankness, hollowness from blind and dead Tsunami eyes.
Souls removed to safer dimensions leaving only thousand-mile stares.

Who can stay the Tsunami seas or render needed sparks of life?
Who will rescue, revive with water, food and medicine? Who will force
those "powers that be" to improve disaster warning signals? Prayers
are all I have to give to change those agonizing thousand-mile stares.

What’s left to do for those of us so very far away to help
erase those haunting thousand mile stares?

The great collective strength of our world’s citizens will
manifest if together we would only pray...just pray....



I don’t believe in "coincidence". I do, however firmly subscribe to the philosophy that there is
a sublime reason for each and every thing that happens in our lives, regardless whether it is
a huge event, or a seemingly miniscule or fleeting moment. This was never more evident to
me than recently when I recently tripped across an old memory, my memory of “Little Bare
Knees Berneice".

It was a barely significant incident in my childhood. From kindergarten in 1955, to the sixth
grade I attended Rolph Road Public School in Leaside, (a town originally amalgamated into
the Borough of East York, then later into the City of Toronto). After about the second grade,
and during all of those years to follow, when I walked unaccompanied* to and from my
school, I was safely escorted across the main intersection at the corner of my street by the
elderly, gray-haired crossing-guard, Mr. Shamus MacNeely.

My best estimate would put old Mr. MacNeely around 102 years of age--at that time! His
was a diminutive stature which was even further shortened by the distinctly forward bend
in his spine. His gait manifested a rhythmical limp definitely favouring his right leg. I think
this was probably the result of, at some time or another, either being honourably wounded
in the service of his country, or perhaps less than honourably maimed in just another pub
brawl gone somewhat awry!

MacNeely’s fearsome scowl was only exacerbated by the ruddiness of his complexion and
his pockmarked blue, actually more like purple, vein riddled, bulbous protuberance was only
barely recognizable as his nose! I suppose it could be said he looked a little bit like Santa
Claus, only unlike Santa’s trade-mark white, fluffy and cottony beard, the old man’s facial hair
was thick, smoky, grimy and grey-tinged with yellow. There was a definite connection
between his facial hair and his brushy side-burns which grew all the way down, incorpor-
ating the unruly over-growth of his down-turned eye-brows into a marriage with his side-
burns. All in all, the grey and yellow fuzz did a fairly complete job of entirely faming his face!
Unfortunately, those wild and wooly eye-brows gave old Shamus a particularly angry visage
--probably one reason I was not alone in being terrified of him, at least at first!

This caricature from an ‘old-sailor’s head shaving mug’ sported fingers which were like
thick, shapeless, hairy white sausages, dreadfully scarred and stuck awkwardly onto the
end of his huge, fat hands; and those were almost indistinguishable at the end of his
unusually short, plump arms!

The old man seemed to undertake his responsibilities with a level of seriousness one
would not normally associate with that particular career choice. He’d use his "STOP" sign
in the same manner a person might communicate in sign language with someone who is
deaf. He’d wave us little kids to “come on”, or to “stop” abruptly, or even pat us on our
collective bums and hurry us a little faster across the street! And he’d wield it in the air
maniacally chasing any offending drivers who dared to disobey and tried to scoot
through his intersection after he had firmly waved his authoritative sign demanding them
to halt!

The old man spoke in a very loud, gruff, rumbling voice, heavy and husky from years of
slowly inhaling the signature pipe which always hung lazily thus forging a path through the
yellow-gray bristles around his virtually indistinguishable little mouth. When he spoke, the
bristles moved up and down, but his lips stayed virtually shut, so you rarely saw his old,
sparse, yellowed, broken teeth. Perhaps his voice was affected by the years of imbibing
the "medicine" he kept in a little, faded, brown leather-covered flask, (something, I
noticed, he’d predictably stash with a quickness whenever another adult came by).
Actually as I think back, I remember now, though not understanding then, that he smelled
of the cheap whiskey he would both, consume internally, and dribble externally following
hurried swigs.

The whiskey was also most likely the reason he was so adept at creating those little
names and rhymes and songs which he jovially delivered off-key or occasionally whistled!
He was obviously, entertaining himself first and if anyone else enjoyed his little perform-
ances, so much the better!

Sometimes I had a hard time understanding old MacNeely’s thick accent with its  "R-R-R-
rolling" Scottish brogue, which he most obviously delighted in not only keeping intact, but
also actually cultivating despite the decades of his residing in Canada! Of course he was
harmless enough, and after awhile I looked forward to daily his antics. Also, it was very
reassuring when he made it his personal mission to first learn the given names, and then
invent his own individualized nick-names, for all the children on his watch, including, of
course, yours truly!

Living in the snow belt of Ontario, I remember year after year suffering through very long,
excruciatingly cold, snowy, icy winters. So cold, in fact, the atmosphere stole your breath
when you first ventured out of doors! Despite these foreseeable, annual conditions, I
never understood why the girl’s school grade school uniform, forced upon us, remained
unchallenged as only a navy-blue cotton, wide-pleated tunic and a crisply pressed white
blouse (the only concession for winter being a change to wearing long-sleeved shirts).
Of course, instead of wearing sensibly warm tights or leggings we had to wear obligatory
matching navy-blue, or white, knee-socks! Yes, that was socks--just to our knees!

exposure, our Principal made all of the girls in the school regularly line up class by class
and kneel side-by-side across the very front edge of the gymnasium stage while he
actually walked along below in the orchestra pit using a ruler to ensure the four inch
distance from the tunic hems to each girl's knees! If the tunic measured too short, or
too long, the offender was sent home straightaway with a note to the parents to re-
hem the tunic and to were expected to amend the situation by the next school day!

The first year I met Mr. MacNeely, as soon as the weather turned cold, he would
repeatedly express his concern that my little knees were bare, and he’d ask me
every day: "Aren't your little bare knees cold?". After awhile when he saw me coming
he’d sing: "Here comes the little girl with the cold bare knees!" After awhile I wasn’t
afraid anymore, in fact, I was amused. When he laughed at himself, I was treated to
the visage of his wide, yellowed, long-and-gapped-toothed grin and a funny song
mixing up pieces of little sayings with children’s rhymes. But mostly the old codger
made me laugh when he started to call me "Little Bare Knees".

Eventually his accent mixed with the cold air, and maybe just a little of the "spirits",
made his words seem to slur from "bare knees" to "barenees", to "berenees", to
"berneece", and then "Berneice!" Finally he seemed to settle on that as my new
nickname, and one that stuck with me for all my school years at Rolph Road. As far
as old Mr. MacNeely was concerned, my actual given name was in fact, "Berneice"!

An unusual name, Berneice, and it wasn’t really very common at all in the fifty’s or
sixty’s, unlike Mary or Susie or even Cathy. It was a name that held absolutely no
significance for me until April 26, 2001--more than four decades later! That was the
day I was finally discovered and contacted by the brother I never even knew existed,
Ed George. Ed had promised our mother, whom I never did meet, on her death-bed,
that he would never stop searching for me and here it was some 28 years into his
search when his promise was fulfilled!

It was on that day I first found out that I was literally ripped from my mother’s arms
in 1950 when I was only six weeks of age. I knew then, for the first time, that my
birth mother had not only loved me dearly, but also had wanted me very much and
would have never given me up willingly. This was exactly the opposite of what my
abusive, adoptive had mother drilled into my brain throughout my entire life! After I
was pried from her grasp, my birth mother anguished and suffered her entire life,
daily searching for mine, in the myriad sea of strange faces in the passing parade
of downtown Toronto’s throngs.

And the connection between us?

My birth mother’s name was Berneice!!

How unbelievably prophetic was old Mr. MacNeely’s nickname for me! Sometimes
I have to wonder, what my real mother, Berneice, would have thought about her lost
little "Bare Knees Berneice"!

See what I mean? No coincidences!

*(this occurred back in the day when children were safe and didn’t have to be driven or
hand-held to go anywhere in such a safe, small-town atmosphere in Leaside, a Toronto


I look at her tremendous girth
I know the truth.

She strains to move, to breathe, to live.
I know the truth.

Her deep, sad eyes are screaming!
I catch her thousand mile stare
and know what she is thinking.

I care, but do not dare to share
what were, but are no longer there:
My pain, my truth.

It is not food--but PAIN
that she has swallowed,
yet in vain.

She dreams of whom she was
inside this fortress she alone has built
to keep love out.

The love she knew bore lies and pain.
How could it be if truth is love
that any love is pain?

"Why me?" "Help me!" "Save me!"
Her silent prayers are deafening.
"Of truth and love, I know I am unworthy."

Her pleas, unfettered reach the heavens.
Through cloud and rain a silent answer sifts.
Her burdened spirit lifts.

LOVE, unconditional, fearless, free
at once embraced and understood.
Her vision, an enlightenment for TRUTH.

Empowered now by her own TRUTH.
Confronting the old lies of love,
Her life begins by ending swallowed pain.

Monday, January 21, 2008


She wonders why I look so sad.
She cannot know the fear in me.

She would not see just what I see.
I ponder why there's so much pain.

The fear and hate that fill this world
are all I see. I only guess why it's to be
fate's left me for eternity to struggle
with the simplest needs.

She never fears.Her needs are met.
Her shelter, water, food, air
are always there.

She is at peace and worries not how she will,
through eternity stay warm and safe, her babies too.
He's always there.

He knows her fears, her flights, her pain and never
lets her go so far that His great love won't cover her.
He's always there.

The Great Provider has for all a plan for life
"both great and small", though fear and anguish
fill our hearts He's always where we are.

He knows when every sparrow falls and could not let
this tiny soul escape His loving, caring hold.
He's always there.

He knows when this small creature fails.
His angels care. Great love He shares.
He's always there.


The leaves outside my morning window
in pairs, they swiftly swing,
dancing to the melodies of time.

I watch them twirl and sway,
chosen partners with the breeze,
their dance is a waltz of freedom.

Swirling and lifting, flying to Heaven.
I watch in stillness lest I disturb
the silent harmonies of the wind.

Only an invisible spectator looking
from my lofty theatre seat, listening,
I strain to hear the rhythms that they follow.

These private melodies of the wind
will play their timeless tunes
for these dancers caught in tight embrace.

The circle of their lush green lives
completes itself, now draped
in vibrant rainbows of death.

This is their one and only waltz,
the last dance they will share,
for only in death can they dance.

Only in death do they fly.
Only in death are they free.
Only in death will they live.


I think one of my sweetest memories of my daddy was when he took me out for snowy nighttimesleigh rides---just the two of us!

He bundled me up like a little papoose, tucked a hot-water bottle by my feet and covered me with a cozy, soft blanket! As we sailed along he told me stories of the 'olden' days when he was a littleboy. His daddy would pull him in a sleigh through the night snow, all the while keeping him, as heexpressed it, "snug as a bug in a rug", but instead of a hot-water bottle, it was a towel
wrapped brick that had been lovingly heated in the fireplace!

Although daddy sang to me all the time, those special sleigh-ride serenades became forever beautifully etched in my heart. Even now when I am very still and quiet, and close my eyes tightly, I can feel his wonderful winter serenades cocooning my soul. I remember "Oh My Papa",
"My Darling Clementine" and "A Bicycle Built for Two". Even more glorious than the hymns he
sang were his Christmastime renditions of all my favourite carols! But the most fun we shared
was when he invented new songs, (about us and fun and love and happiness, and forever....),
as we carved our memories along the snow-packed trails.

In between songs, our world was so silent and still: no cars, no people, just the "crunch, crunch, crunch, crunch" of daddy's big, black rubber boots, unlatched and flapping as they rhythmically pressed their patterns in the new snow . So bundled up I couldn't move, I’d just lean way back inmy sleigh and try to dangle my arms over the sides. With daddy as My Protector, I was fearless,even when the passing snow monsters, flanking each drive-way, reached out to grab my
wooly,double-mittened hands.

The tree limbs bowed so painfully under their crisp white armour, that every now and then a loud crack announced their inevitable capitulation. While picture windows poured their golden yellow warmth into the night air, monstrous icicle daggers, filled with glinting starlight, warned of dangerfor any who ventured too near. Under our black-navy-blue velvet sky, spackled with the dancing glint of faraway worlds, I watched in amazement as moon-rays joined partners in a silent waltz,in step with my daddy's boots. While illuminating our path, in tandem step, they mirrored our every turn.

Soft snowflakes settled on my nose and cheeks, lengthened my eyelashes and danced an icy fandango on my tongue."Where do the all these snowflakes come from daddy?"After a deeply pensive moment came my daddy’s own, very special reply:"These are our special snowflakes, Bunny, and they come from the moon..they float all theway down from the moon."Why of course! Certainly he was right! I should have known that these weren't ordinary snow-flakes! Daddy said, and daddy never lied:"Bunny dear, these are our own very special, mystical, Magical Moonflakes!"

Although I always hoped those enchanted wintry sails through the Moonflakes would go on forever into the infinite night, our journeys always ended at our front door where "her" terrifyingly secretive, depraved and venemous anger halted the serenades. With a hate-filled glare, she instantly melted, correction, "vapourized", our delightfully fleeting moments, vanishing them just like the breath from the depth of our souls.....into the endlessly dark and crisp night air.

With the greatest anticipation, and a secret little prayer of hope, I always begged:"Daddy...will there be Magical Moonflakes for our Serenade tomorrow night?"...and he always assured me with just the tiniest promise:"We’ll see, Bunny, we’ll see............"

Friday, November 9, 2007


It was Christmas of 1958 and I was 'eight-and-a-half' years old. A few nights before the big
event, my Daddy and I headed out together to hunt for the perfect tree, a sure-fire guaran-
tee of a perfect Christmas!

I vividly remember it being so cold out that every time we exhaled it seemed as if our breath
froze in mid-air! Fluffs of huge, soft snowflakes bumped our noses and hugged our eye-
lashes as we trekked our way along the hard-packed, porcelain layer on the sidewalks that
night. Daddy and I had trudged, actually it was Daddy who did all the trudging, I just rode
along behind on my toboggan, all over town, ('town' being Leaside, a 'bedroom' community,
or suburb, of Toronto). Our hunt took us from one Christmas-tree lot to another searching
for the perfect Pine.

At the moment my toboggan stopped moving forward, I followed Daddy's glance all the
way up to the top of a lonely arboreal titan! It stood so tall against the five foot chain-link
fence, it was visible from more than a block away. With a bulging wallet and only one spec-
imen remaining, the lot attendant was already closing down for the season. However, it
took very little persuading for him to agree to one last sale.

After no small amount of haggling, a skill at which my Daddy was politely proficient, a
mere two dollars was all we ended up having to pay. Chuckling to himself, he whispered
to me, "Bunny-that would have been a steal at twice the price!" Though I didn't quite un-
derstand exactly what he meant then, I do now, and he was right! A beautiful Pine that
size could've easily cost six dollars, which would have been a considerable amount of
money in 1958.

Daddy and I always delighted in stumbling upon such wonderful bargains. These were
all part of our many fun times together, and one of our very best secrets! Looking back,
I would say our gigantic Pine would rank as equal if measured against the infamous tree
which graced the living room of the "Clark W. Griswold" family home, (in the classic
movie: "Christmas Vacation").

Our tree seemed to have an energy and personality all its own. It enveloped us with an
unmistakably, and unforgettably wonderful fragrance, (the likes of which these days
must be purchased in an ozone-depleting spray can!). When Daddy stood it upright, the
tree's wildly flailing branches expressed its sheer delight to be going home with us!
After sizing-up our situation, it was quite apparent that the drag home would be just a tad
slower going. This was due to the generosity of the lot attendant who had unwittingly
increased the value of our two dollar bargain by hammering a wooden-cross stand made
of two-by-four beams, onto the bottom of the tree's trunk. Although a great idea for keeping
the tree upright in our home, in actuality this handmade tree stand further complicated the
logistics of our maneuvering it the eight or nine blocks to our house. The upside?...at least
the route back was downhill all the way.

As always, though, my Daddy was thinking ahead. While we were tree-hunting all around
town, he had pulled me along on my toboggan which, minus me, became a convenient
mechanism by which we could tow our tree. The sidewalks, disguised by December snows,
had carved silent, narrow valleys, flanked by virgin, snow-drift mountains. Certainly, pass-
age through, by such an enormous tree, would have been out of the question. So, on our
way back home it was fortunate that no vehicles were moving, since we were forced to go
down the middle of the road dragging our over-sized prize along the snow-packed asphalt.

Finally we arrived back home. But before we could take the tree into the house, we had to
shake it and slap all the residual snow off the branches, (losing surprisingly few needles in
the process). Daddy wrestled it into place in the corner of the living room by scooting it side
-to-side, sort of "walking it" across the carpet. Daddy had to make quite certain our lovely
tree was within clear view of anyone passing by our picture window. Standing on guard,
this lofty sentinel for Santa bowed upon meeting the living room ceiling, and with one
sweep of its massive branches, commanded removal of half the furniture in the room--
despite mother's frantic protestations!

Meeting the challenge of finding enough decorations for every branch required a degree
of creativity, and the collection of a whole slew of 'found objects' from around the house.
Since Daddy was a pipe smoker, we were never out of white pipe cleaners, (those pliable,
little, six inch, wires covered in soft, cottony material, used for reaming-out the distasteful
residue from the stems of tobacco pipes). These made superb little three dimensional
snowmen shapes for the tree. But even better were the green and red pipe-cleaners that
Daddy’s personal tobacconist, Mr. Samuelson, would sell during the Christmas season!
With these colourful ones I eagerly created cute little candy canes, bells, trees, bows--
well, you name it!

My Daddy always made me feel very special--even artistic! He handled each of my little
creations just as if they were expensive store-bought ornaments. Of course with every
passing Christmas our collection of tree ornaments multiplied, making that year's cache
provide enough selection to fill-in the spaces between every branch with a myriad of shiny,
multi-coloured, various sized, mirrored-glass balls.

The previous Christmas, Daddy brought home some fascinating, opaque, fragile plastic
'icicles' with molded hooks at the top for hanging. These ornaments always mesmerized
me with their unique ability to harness light and, as if made of some magical substance
like Kryptonite, glow a mystical fluorescent green when the room was darkened! (I even
snuck one of these icicles up to bed with me one night, and grasped it tightly under the
covers so the Night-time Monster wouldn't get me. But eventually its light went out too,
and the terrifying Night-time Monster got me anyway.)

Of course it was tradition for us to make popcorn garland using a darning needle, em-
broidery thread and lots of popcorn--but we had to remember to "hold" the butter! The
difficulty was in fighting the urge to eat it all before it became tree ornamentation! Also,
my mother was skilled at knitting and crocheting so it wasn't too hard to find some red
and green wool to create darling little bows to tie onto the ends of the outer branches.
That was also the year the "big" girls, who lived two doors down, taught me how to
make my own "pom-pom" ornaments using two flat, cardboard, doughnut-shaped
templates, and a contiguous string of red, white and green wool repeatedly looped
around the 'doughnut', then snipped along the outer edge.

Because I was so short, I enlisted Daddy's help to drape our tree with my red and
green paper "garland" that had ended up being at least ten feet long. This decoration
was actually a chain of construction paper strips fastened into interlocking loops--the
kind that all young children, since the invention of "construction paper", have been
coerced into making as a little school project at Christmastime. The biggest problem
with this "art project" was transporting the bulky, ten-foot-long, snake-like 'garland',
home in a brown paper grocery bag. I remember the teacher actually threatened us
with a bad grade, (to me, a fate much worse than death), if she found out our paper
"garlands" were damaged before reaching their destination--on our Christmas trees
at home!

The fact remained, however, that my arms were not long enough to go around the big
bag; so for the majority of the walk home I simply dragged it through the snow. Regrett-
ably, the consequences arising from that juvenile decision had domino effect resulting
in huge personal repercussions. Ultimately the construction paper loops at the bottom
of the bag became wet from the snow and "bled" red and green dye, not only comple-
tely through the bag, but also on the pink mittens mother had knitted for me and all
the front of my nice new pink winter jacket with the real white rabbit trim.

Mother instantly reacted to the "mess" I'd made by screaming in hysterics, and then,
her favourite punishment, whacking me over and over with one of her wooden rulers,
the kind with the metal strip edge that always cut my skin. (Whenever Daddy noticed
the cuts and bruises on my arms and egs or ears, she would always convince him
that I was "such a clumsy girl", or that I just "bruise easily"--and of course I could
NEVER, EVER, EVER tell him the real truth--that The Real Monster did it.)

Once that "garland incident" punishment was behind me, I was greatly relieved to
discover that through some amazing karmic twist, I managed to keep my teacher,
(whose radar normally reached all the way to my house, and whom I feared even
more than The Monster), completely in the dark about my messed-up project! Of
course, I have since figured out that contrary to The Monster’s threats, my teacher’s
were unsubstantiated, and that this mindless "busy-work" idea was simply a "light-
bulb" moment from some questionably forward-thinking grade school teacher whose
uncompleted holiday agenda was filled with shopping lists to write, and Christmas
cards to be addressed!!)

Although ours always seemed to be a really pretty Christmas tree with dancing lights
and colourful decorations, that year Daddy and I patted each other's backs for being
co-creators of such a spectacular masterpiece! Apart from the usual strings of flash-
ing lights, this special tree had little, hand-carved wooden figurines of two different
Santas, Mrs. Claus, the Baby Jesus and a few tiny elves in red knitted suits trimmed
with white rabbit fur and long, pointy, white cotton beards and miniscule green satin
bow ties.

I hung up some little "manger" animals from my Old MacDonald's Farm, and a tiny,
hand-painted wooden Mickey Mouse with moveable joints, and a gold ring in the top
of his head, for the ornament hook. Then all over the tree we draped a new kind of
store-bought 'icicles' which were made of long, shiny, skinny strips of silver foil. My
Daddy decorated the top half and I the bottom, because of course it wouldn’t have
worked out the other way around!

The effect resulting from these silvery strips reminded me of the spectacular Aurora
Borealis! Of course if you have never witnessed those Northern Lights you’ll just
have to imagine such a colourful, shimmery vision actually emanating from a holiday
tree! It actually resembled a million minute mirrors reflecting the flashing tree lights
bouncing back and forth, each one off the other. (Although these looked quite dra-
matic at the time, 20/20 hindsight revealed they were definitely not worth the night-
mare we would later encounter upon cleanup!)

Deciding that these efforts were not sufficient, I even tied red and green balloons all
over the tree, but the "piece de resistance", or finishing touch was the gold and silver,
lighted, sequined star which Daddy fastened way up high. It was scary when he had
to climb up to the ceiling on the weathered and rickety, old wooden ladder. It was quite
a long way up for Daddy to mount the star in its appropriate spot at the tippie-top of the
massive tree. Amidst the warnings from mother, "Oh Mac, (her nick-name for Daddy),
you'll fall, you'll fall!", and prayers from me, "Please God, don't let my Daddy fall!"...
My Daddy never fell.

Once decorating was complete we all sat around drinking frothy hot cocoa. It was the
real deal too--the kind that before you drink it, you first have to scoop off the milk scum,
or it rather painfully wraps over, sticks to, and burns your upper lip! Then we tied into
Daddy's unsurpassable, home-made Heavenly Maple Fudge--enough said!! After our
snack, I was delegated to the yummy task of sticking the multi-coloured, sugar-coated
gum drops onto the plastic Gum Drop Tree. For "efficiency" reasons only, I worked out
a pattern for such a 'drudging chore'. It was: 'One-On-The-Tree' and 'Two-For-Me'…

I studied that gum-drop tree and knew immediately when one was missing. Personally,
the green, red and sometimes black ones were my favourites. Of course, anyone can
have too much of a good thing, right!? This would best describe me a couple of nights
later, on the eve of Christmas Eve, when, in a moment of weakness and sheer ecstasy,
I polished off every last, treed gum drop, then, in a flash, before mother found out, I im-
paled the remainder of the gum drops onto the already-sticky branches. I did, however,
pay for this stealthy, over-indulgence with a major tummy ache, worsened only by equal
doses of Milk of Magnesia and guilt! Ooooh! that memory still makes me shudder!

"Warm and cozy-but strangely noisy" would best describe the atmosphere in our
living room on the night that we finished the tree. Inadvertently we each squeaked-out
our slightest move on the thick, clear-plastic-slip-covered sofa mother called a Ches-
terfield. Nevertheless, a wonderful and memorable ambiance was created by our
imitation fireplace with it's opaque, rough-textured black and red plastic "coals", and
white "Birch logs". The flickering red 'flame' patterns twirling around and around on the
walls and ceiling were entrancing. I observed that the more the light bulb, or "fire",
heated up, the faster the fan blades inside would spin their fiery shadows around the
room. (These primitive observations would much later be validated in Physics 101 ie.
"hot air rises"!)

Sitting right next to our tree, I peered into the mirrored-glass balls and watched our
diminutive, distorted reflections being rhythmically washed by the waves of fireplace
flames. All in all, at the end of the evening, we were thoroughly enjoying our most
perfect tree, and what was definitely shaping up to be our most perfect Christmas

After what seemed like forever, the big night finally arrived and Santa's visit was
only hours away. In an attempt to keep our priorities in perspective, our family tried
to never leave 'Christ' out of Christmas. We accomplished this by participating in
the annual Christmas Eve Caroling services at the nearby Leaside United Church,
which I attended with friends from our neighbourhood. Although Daddy was Pres-
byterian and mother attended a "High" Anglican Church, both downtown in Toronto,
it was too late for busses, and only a short walk to the United Church. The final
'worship-place' decision favoured pedestrian proximity rather than Protestant pref-

The snowfall had stopped and the clouds dissipated as we walked home after the
service. At that magical time of the year we were treated to a visual banquet dis-
played in the front windows of neighbouring homes, not the least of which our own!
Each boasted of it's own lively Christmas tree through uncurtained picture windows,
framed by colourful flashing lights. Since this was a time when crime in the suburbs
was non-existent, people neither locked their doors nor covered their windows at
night. (This habit also allowed silent bragging rights for the "well-to-do" neighbours
who owned one of those new fangled "futuristic-electric-boxes-of-flickering-black-

With the music still fresh in our hearts and on our lips we couldn’t help but sing our
carols all the way home. I recall looking skyward, expectantly following the path of the
dual search-lights, to see if Santa's sleigh and reindeer had made their way to my
neighbourhood yet. Not yet--but the indigo India Ink sky dripping down over my world,
was frenetic with flashing, neon-sign constellations broadcasting location updates as
a much-anticipated Santa, sleigh and reindeer sailed silently over the continents, one
by one.

Attached to us by a gossamer, silver thread, the moon seemed to be leading us home.
Hurrying ahead, it leapt out to surprise us at every street corner, insistently fanning its
blue light beam along the road in front of our feet. Just as we finished, "Away in a
Manger" and started into "Silent Night", we could see that the iridescent blue moon-
beams had already won the race to our front yard.

But suddenly Daddy's melodic voice halted on "…all is calm…" and, following his
gaze, I knew all was not calm. I shivered from the eerie silence as my young mind
tried to make sense of the situation, when Daddy commented that the 'picture' in our
lighted picture window was missing. He knew immediately it meant our tree lights
and decorations were no longer mirroring their shimmery patterns out of our front bay
window and across the snowy lawn.

It was then that we all scrambled in the front door to a sight so shocking it was virt-
ually indescribable. Our ever-so-carefully-chosen, grand bluish-green monolith was
flat on the living room floor, and brightly coloured light bulbs were shattered, scattered
and strewn everywhere. Though a few bulbs remained intact, those old strings of lights
were wired in such a way, that if even one bulb were loose, bumped or missing, the
whole strand wouldn't work. As each balloon had succumbed to its demise I can only
imagine how the popping sounds must have driven the "perpetrator" into a frenzied

I believe this idea is supported by the fact that not one shiny mirrored-glass ball sur-
vived the incident. The beautiful lighted star, still attached to the wall outlet, was under
the 'remains' and fairly well flattened by the immense weight. Silver tinfoil icicle evi-
dence straggled across mother's new, flowery, blue and pink Indian rug, (which, inci-
dentally, I am convinced mother loved more than both of us combined). The trailing
debris continued from the living room to the hall, and all the way up the avocado green,
carpeted stairs to the landing.

More sparkly glass shards from the colourful decorative balls were "slivers-in-waiting",
painfully embedded in the carpet so efficiently even Kirby the Killer couldn't suck them
out! (You know, one thing I really knew for certain was that roaring, thunderous, killing
machine was effortlessly capable of instantaneously sucking-in my whole body, when-
ever mother pushed it too close to my feet--as she was inclined to do more often than

Though this was only our second Christmas for the fragile, off white, fluorescent icicles,
they would never make it to a third. Even the little wooden figurines were in pieces. The
plastic farm animals and the knitted elves survived; however, one elf now sported a Rip
Van Winkle beard stretching to his feet, and entwined with the vestiges of the miniature,
green satin bow-tie, shredded and mysteriously damp!

Surviving the brutality, my pom-poms, motionless and silent, clung stoically to the bran-
ches, most of which, at that point, were sticking straight up in the air, desperately trying
to flag down some assistance. Strangely enough, Mickey's lost ears were not ever re-
covered, and as you might imagine, he never quite looked the same again.
And the fate of our tiny Baby Jesus? Tragically, my best guess would be He was merci-
lessly tossed down into one of the floor grates. These were the so-called 'heating vents'
but I knew they had a surreptitious purpose: they actually opened straight down into one
of the huge, hollow appendages rising out of the massive, flaming, coal furnace in the
basement. Although these "arms" pretended ingenuously to uphold the entire house from
deep in the foundation, It was beyond petrifying for me to go down the backless, worn-
down, wooden stairs leading deep into the dank, dark, Dust Bane-smelling cellar, since
I knew it was the lair of the viscious, ravenous Furnace Monster lying in wait to consume
bad little girls!

(The are just some things in life about which a eight-and-a-half year old girl might have
certain knowledge; and, in this case I had knowledge, without any doubt, that horrid,
wicked little girls burn even better than coal. Despite the fact that I was repeatedly re-
minded that the sole purpose of those great, growling, Furnace Monster arms was not to
pull me in and stuff me into the hellacious furnace, but somewhat less dramatic, suppos-
edly to send warm furnace air up through each 'arm' to heat the house throughout.
Hmmmm...there's that Physics 101 again!)

In any case, all the while Daddy and I were trying to figure out exactly what had happen-
ed and assess the damage, of course, mother was screaming hysterically, throwing
he blame back on me. (This was her usual response whenever even the smallest
"negatively" charged incident occurred in our lives. In her estimation, the fact that I had
been put up for adoption meant that I most certainly was: "bad, unwanted, inconvenient,
trouble, no-good, nasty, dirty, stupid, and the recipient of too much of her husband's, {my
Daddy’s}, attention!" And she never missed an opportunity to reiterate these sentiments
to me.)

Of course I, personally, had little to do with this latest disaster, with the possible excep-
tion of my having snuck little Tinkerbell into our home, and our lives, just a few months
prior. And…"speaking-of-the-devil", there she was, a statuesque, gray, tiger-striped,
kitty, smugly squatting on the landing at the top of the staircase, proud of her accom-
plishment and rather nicely gift-wrapped, head-to-toe, in silver foil icicles. "Tinks" had
likely launched an all-out, feline incursion on the huge, flashing ogre which she obviously
perceived as a threat to the sanctity of her living quarters.

Decidedly at a disadvantage, when even the two-by-fours released their grasp to the
floor, all the great tree could do was sway its massive branches back and forth, and no
doubt moan a little as it capitulated in defeat; however, not before sweeping several
pictures from the walls during its slow-motion death dive!

It took a little while, but Daddy and I managed to coerce our not-so-perfect tree back
onto its "feet" again. We cleaned up the mess, trying to salvage whatever we could
including some scraggly, matted tinfoil icicles, "gap-toothed" popcorn garland and the
irrepressible, though slightly misshapen, pipe cleaner ornaments. Apart from being
somewhat tattered here and there, (nothing a little Scotch Tape couldn't fix), the "six-
foot-long", red and green construction-paper-looped-chain garland remained mostly

There stood our "less-than-perfect tree", despondent, defeated and devoid of it's
medals, yet bravely, still on guard to ward off any more vicious, maniacal kitten strikes.
Notwithstanding the foregone events, Tinks had herself quite a blast that Christmas
Eve--perhaps it might even be said that because of Tinkerbell's encounter with that
Christmas tree, for her it had undoubtedly turned out to be a ‘purrrrfectly’ delightful

Well, Santa arrived on time that year, just like any other, and the sorry state of our not-
so-perfect tree apparently affected neither his generosity, nor his appetite. Daddy, who
was knowledgeable in these matters, had always told me that Santa's favourite snack
was oatmeal-raisin cookies and milk, (coincidentally my Daddy’s favourite too). Of
course, I lovingly prepared these using one of mother's flowery, bone china plates with
the rim that looked like cut-out lace and trimmed real gold trim, and a leaded crystal
glass. These serving dishes were normally reserved for our royal guests, or, in the
absence of such, at least for the most prestigious of our ordinary guests.

On Christmas morning as I opened all of my gifts, I was delightfully surprised that my
name, by some miracle or magic trick, must have shown up on Santa's "NICE LIST"!
I was completely baffled because this concept was contrary to the year-long accusa-
tions and warnings my mother had drilled into my mind! She always maintained that I
was: "a horrid little girl who needed to be severely and regularly punished, and who
should expect no more from Santa Claus than a lump of coal", (an item of which I had
no need, since we already had a bin full in the cellar).

Although I am willing to concede that Santa might have been influenced by the cookies
and milk, every crumb of which I noticed he had gobbled up, when I think back over the
years I marvel that Santa has never, one time, left me that proverbial lump of coal.
Maybe he knew me better than mother did and refused to believe I was such a horrid
little girl; or maybe Daddy had written Santa a letter….yes, yes, that would have been
a highly likely possibility. Either way, once again mother would simply have to get over
her shock and disgust with me; because my two favourite guys in the world, Daddy
and Santa, knew I was a very nice little girl, and, hey--that was always good enough
for me!

When I recall that Christmas morning, I am especially tickled by Santa's 'dark' sense
of humour. I remember Tinkerbell tearing into the gift he left her, only to reveal a toy
stuffed mouse covered with gray rabbit fur. Not just any mouse though, that one hap-
pened to be stuffed-to-bursting with catnip!! I would actually pay to once again see
that look on Tink's face; I could swear she smiled from ear-to-ear at the thought of the
fun she was about to have! And, right at the instant of her Cheshire-cat grin, the scent
of that feline herbal delicacy must have wafted to, and imprinted on her brain.

Tink’s reaction to her gift?--Well it was the funniest thing I think I have ever seen. She
became completely ballistic, as if shot out of a cannon. At super kitty speed, around
and around the living room she scooted--mostly via the plasticized furniture--which
seemingly provided moderately good leverage! Then, ironically, she leapt like a flying
squirrel from across the room straight back into the forbearing and outstretched 'arms'
of-the tree! Only this time the tree stood its ground, due in total to the Christmas Eve
first implementation of the Kitty-Proof-Tree-Tie-Back-System which Daddy had invent-
ed, out of sheer necessity.

At the end of that particular Christmas season, Daddy and I had a great deal fewer
decorations to pack away for the following year's Christmas tree, leaving us with
much more time to spend with each other trying out all the new toys, games, books a
nd other gadgets that Santa left under the tree for us that year.

To this day, when I consider that special tree and the ensuing events of the Chris-
tmas of 1958, I realize that whatever perfection we were hoping for that year, as with
anything in life, it could neither be carved in granite, nor admired in the transient glory
of even the most splendiferous Christmas tree. Rather, it can only be found in life's
fleeting moments and ethereal wisps of joyful experiences.

After many decades of retrospection, my most vivid and lingering recollections are
surprisingly, not of that year's fiasco following the fall of our perfect tree. Rather, I
think of Christmas 1958 as the year of unexpected, unparalleled and unforgettable
surprises provided by Tinkerbell, herself, and resulting, indubitably, with the most
perfect memories of a truly "purrrfect" Christmas"!