Without ever being or feeling lost, how do we find our way? How do we know the right way, without going the wrong way first?
Being lost has many varying degrees. You can be lost in your thoughts, lost without a loved one or pet, or you may get lost driving to a new destination. Some may think that being lost has no positive upshot, but come along with me on a journey. I am sure you’ll find in my story something similar to your own. Remember: We are all universally connected.
Writing about the past has not only allowed me to feel my way through past experiences once again, but also to observe anything that gets me stirred up, jarring loose any remnants that need examining.
Now, as I peer through a different lens, I see how these experiences helped me gain inner strength. And even though I felt lost, I was learning to trust myself, my ability to make decisions and to get myself out of difficult situations so that I could survive. Did I always make the right decisions? Heck, no, but I was building the foundation.
When I was in my very early twenties, I worked at a country club located in Alpine, Utah. The holidays were in full swing, and several large parties were taking place night after night. On one particular evening, it was quiet because the weather had turned dreadful. It was snowing hard, and the fog was so thick you could barely see your hands in front of your face. It was pitch black outside. Several other waitstaff, bartenders and I were sitting around trying to figure out how we were going to get home, or if we would end up having to spend the night.
One of the cocktail waitresses abruptly got up, saying she wasn’t going to wait any longer and that she was going to head for home. We were all shocked at her bravery (or stupidity), but I needed to get home, too. I was terrified that I wouldn’t make it alone and was suddenly inclined to go with her. My place was at the bottom of the road closer to town and on her way home, so she agreed to drop me off. I would have to figure out later how to get back to the country club to get my car, but that wasn’t my immediate concern.
At the front door and down the steps of the country club entrance, ice was hiding under the snow, just barely visible due to the denseness of the fog and complete darkness. I was so nervous we would never make it, even to her car, but she was determined, and so I followed her lead. Driving out of the parking lot was like driving blind. Our orientation was completely turned around, and we had to keep opening our car doors to get a sense of the road and any lines that could be seen through the snow and ice.
She drove slowly down what we thought was the main road, stopping frequently to check that we were on the right side of the road. Luckily, no traffic was coming at us from the other side of the road. The going was slow as we inched our way down the hill and toward town. As we got closer to town, the fog dissipated, and it became crystal clear. She dropped me at my house, and I got out of her car, breathing a deep sigh of relief as I closed the door. I was safe and I was home.
Now how did that happen?
For years I felt I had no connection to God, to the Divine, to Angels (didn’t believe they really existed). But in writing about these experiences, I can see just how connected and guided I really was. I can see how the Divine has influenced every minute, hour, day, month, and year of my life to this point. I can see how information has been flowing to me in the form of inspiration, inclinations, occasional warnings, a sense I needed to do something or go somewhere. At that time in my life, I just didn’t have the awareness, and there was a reason.
I’m picking up the story in this book I’m writing at the point when I am back living with my mother. I am in the middle of ninth grade, it is late in a cold January, and all I can see outside is grey, which matches what I feel inside. The old junior high school I had previously attended had been closed and a new school built to accommodate the growing number of students in Pleasant Grove. I am lost in this school; I don’t know my way around, and I see so many unfamiliar faces. All of this distresses me. This is now school number ten for me.
My one and only friend from grade school has been angry with me all this time for leaving her and is barely speaking to me. It had never dawned on me how she might feel about my leaving, and now I am paying the price. It is no surprise I am unable to slip back into my old routine. I am only 14 and feel I have no choice in the way my life is going. Everything around me and within me feels wrong and off key, and I don’t know how to change it.
Things at home have not changed much. My mother is working a graveyard shift at a local steel mill…a man’s job, but one that pays well. She is barely home, and when she is, she is sleeping. The Dragon Lady is still here and up to her usual tricks. My sister, just below me in age, is very happy I am home. My older sister has become even more feisty and has a boyfriend now and quite a reputation. She isn’t home much and seems to be drinking, maybe even smoking? She is only home when she absolutely must be.
As I write about this now, I can see the shift in structure and support I had had, even in the chaos of my father’s new home. I sense that because we are all getting older and more able to take care of ourselves and help the two youngest, there is less supervision than before. As time has gone by, my mother seems more exhausted and even more easily manipulated by the Dragon Lady.
The Dragon Lady has a stepson from her previous marriage who is several years older than me. He has a crush on me, and this gives me the creeps, but I use this to my advantage. He has a car and is happy to drive me anywhere I want to go. When I was a child, my father had allowed us kids to sit in the driver’s seat in front of him and steer the car while he was driving. I learned about driving early and had such an urge to drive, to get away. If I am not at school, there is nothing to do and nowhere to go and I am bored…a lot!
One day, I ask this guy if he would let me take his car for a spin. I promise him I will be careful and that I won’t go far, just a few blocks, and I’ll come right back. I am surprised when he agrees and hands me the keys, waiting behind my house until I return. I don’t want to go alone, so I pick up my friend down the street from her house, so her parents don’t see her get into the car. She makes me promise her that I know what I am doing and that we won’t get into any trouble. I promise her, and we drive away, out the main road out of Pleasant Grove, heading toward Orem, two towns away.
Cruising along, I feel a sense of power and freedom these wheels and engine have provided, and it is exhilarating. Delightfully basking in my false sense of ability, I glance in the rear-view mirror to see flashing lights. “Shit!” My heart leaps into my belly, my delight turning into panic as we are being pulled over by the police. How did they know? I wasn’t speeding, I wasn’t weaving, I was just cruising along. My friend is so mad and scared at the same time, and she starts to cry, saying, “If my parents find out about this, they will never allow me to hang out with you again.” She is almost hysterical and thinks her parents will ground her for the rest of her young life…and all because of me!
I have no choice but to pull over to the side of the road. I am watching out of the mirror as the policeman steps out of his car and comes to my window. He doesn’t ask for my license; he just asks me and my friend to step out of the car. He gets in and drives the car back to my house to its awaiting owner, who will receive a ticket. The other policeman ushers us toward the police car and instructs us to get into the back seat. He then drives us both to our separate homes and drops us off.
Looking back, I don’t remember if my friend’s parents found out what happened, but if they did, it didn’t bar us from staying friends! She eventually forgave me, but I was never sure how much she trusted me.
***Sick and tired***
The sun is shining brightly through my bedroom window despite the curtains being drawn. It’s springtime, the trees are green and full of leaves, and I am so very tired. The brightness of the sun hurts my eyes, so I stay in the darkness of my room, now upstairs instead of in the basement where I used to sleep. I ache all over and feel hot and restless. I can’t seem to get up without being tired, and so I stay in my room, curtains drawn, for more than a week. I have missed a lot of school, and my mother is worried because I am not getting any better, I am getting worse, and she can’t be there for me.
She finally takes me to the local hospital, where they perform a blood test to determine what is going on. When the test comes back, it is positive for mononucleosis. “What? That’s a kissing disease, and I haven’t even been kissed by a frog!”
I am so weak and have had such a high temperature for so long, they admit me. I am supposed to be in isolation, but they put me into a room with an older woman with phlebitis. Good thing, because I can’t speak, my tonsils being so large, they are kissing even if I am not! I can’t swallow, and I can hardly drink. I can’t watch TV; I can’t sleep because I am so hot and achy, and I can’t see anyone.
I am so alone and so afraid, all I can do is cry. The nurses are not very understanding because they keep bringing me small cups of liquid to drink, and I can’t drink them. All the tiny cups are lined up on my little table, untouched. The orderlies bring me food I can’t eat, and no one is helping me feel better. I don’t realize that my siblings can’t come to see me because I am contagious, so I just lie in bed, feeling completely alone.
One night, I am trying to call a nurse through the intercom, but I can’t get the words out, my roommate having to speak for me. She grasps from what I am trying to croak out that I need help going to the bathroom, so she relays that to the nurse. I am so weak, I can barely stand, and to top it off, I start my period from the stress of it all. I am so embarrassed because they have taken a urine specimen. When the doctor comes to speak with me about my results, he asks me if I am on my period because there is blood in my urine. I am not just embarrassed, I am mortified!
After a few days have gone by, my mother and the Dragon Lady come to visit me. I am not at all upset that she brings her along because I have been so lonely that I am grateful for the company…any company!
I am finally able to go home after five very long days – back to my dark room. I am there for another couple of weeks before I can return to school. I have lost about twenty pounds, and am so weak, I can hardly walk up the stairs at school without feeling winded. The only bonus to this whole incident is that I get out of PE because of the potential for my spleen to rupture.
Somehow, I manage to make it to the end of the school year. Next year, I will be heading to high school as a freshman, and this does not intrigue or excite me in the least. I do not look forward to the day when school begins again…at school number eleven!
My mother’s parents live in a small town called Hemet located in Riverside County in California about 85 miles east of Los Angeles and 45 miles west of Palm Springs. Its population is mainly seniors, and the town does not offer much to do, but the sun shines more than it does in Utah, so I am always game to go. For some crazy reason, I get excited when I see palm trees lining the streets and hillsides, reminding me of a life I only get an occasional glimpse into when we travel as a family to visit for Thanksgiving or Christmas. My “Utah box” is confining and unexciting, and California represents allure, a sort-of Pandora’s box I am afraid of, and at the same time, attracted to. I hope to live there some day.
All of us kids were out of school for the summer, and my mother had vacation time coming, so we all packed up, the Dragon Lady included, pulling a small trailer behind us. The trailer was for the Dragon Lady to sleep in. I don’t think my grandparents were too keen on her, especially her sleeping in their house.
The drive always takes us through St. George on the way to Las Vegas, a place my mom likes to stop for the night. Curiously, she enjoys playing the slot machines, and because none of us kids can get into the casinos, she leaves us at the hotel and sneaks out to play.
I am sure my grandparents don’t know exactly what to expect with regard to the Dragon Lady and my mother coming to visit together, and I can only imagine how difficult it is for them to accept. My grandfather is not a happy-go-lucky kind of guy, and we kids certainly never sit on his knee. He pretty much keeps to himself, watches sports on TV, and eats his meals alone, away from the family. But if he doesn’t like or approve of someone, you know it! And I don’t think he cares much for the Dragon Lady.
My oldest sister is bored and has a nose for trouble. At a local grocery store, she happens to run into a young man who tells her about a party going on a few blocks from my grandparents’ house. He invites her. She tells me about it but swears me to secrecy. She has worked out a plan for us to sneak out without being noticed and instructs me on the plan. As 9:00 p.m. rolls around, we carry out the plan. She sneaks out first, and I follow, pretending to go out to look at the stars. My grandparents have gone to bed, and my mom is in her room reading. The Dragon Lady has retired to her trailer chambers.
We walk for several blocks, and I pray my sister knows where we’re going because I have no idea and would not be able to find my way back to my grandparents’ house. We do not have cell phones, and it is dark. I do not know my grandparents’ phone number to call if things get out of hand. I start to feel uneasy as we arrive at the Party House. Music is blasting, and I can see quite a group through the window, all holding cups of what I suspect to be beer. If you’d have asked my sister back then, she would have told you I was a prude, and I probably was. This place is making me feel really uncomfortable.
I follow her in, and introductions are made. She starts chatting with the guy from the store, and they wander away from me. I stand frozen and become aware of a pair of eyes trained on me from the other side of the room. A young man with scruffy hair introduces himself to me as Rocky Bible. Before the night is over, Rocky plants his lips on mine and kisses me. I am in shock, partly because I am shy, and, yes, a bit prudish, but mostly because I am only 14. To use today’s expression for it, I am gob-smacked, and I really like it, and I want more, but I am too afraid to try for a second kiss.
We have to get back to the house, so we leave. I am, once again, following my sister and praying she knows how to get us home. When we walk up the sidewalk to the house, my grandfather is standing on the porch, and in a very sharp tone he tells us both to get into the house, NOW!
I don’t remember getting into trouble, (we probably did), but we knew from his tone not to step out of line again. My VERY sheltered life and lack of worldly wisdom, especially with boys like Rocky, put me in some very vulnerable situations. This one was just the first of many. I was growing up and out, but I didn’t have the capacity to discern a come-on from a compliment. And this got me into big trouble…
***And why do they call it “high school”?***
I don’t understand why “high school” is called that because I don’t feel high when I am there. I am not thinking in terms of the expression “getting high” but in the understanding of “high” as in “on top of the world”. I have terrible anxiety, I don’t make friends well, and I hate sitting in the cafeteria alone. I can’t speak up for myself, I have little to no support at home, and I just can’t find a way to fit in here. So many other things are wrong with school that I can’t even put into words. All I know is that I really hate it. I feel invisible.
My friend and I connect but we have different schedules, so we barely see one another. I struggle, as usual, with my classes and not because I am stupid but because I can’t raise my hand and ask a question when I don’t understand something or need clarification. If I have to do any kind of oral report, or stand in class, it’s torture. I immediately start to sweat, my voice cracks, I lose my breath and then my way. Does anyone even care?
Somehow, I continue showing up, and somehow, I stay in school…for now. I don’t know how long I can last. Our food supply at home is gone within a couple of days of my mother shopping, and we girls must scrounge to create meals that satisfy. The pile of laundry at the bottom of the stairs is always a huge mound, and I have to scrounge through dirty clothes just to find things to wear. My fifteenth birthday comes and goes, and I am now just a year away from getting my driver’s license. Drivers’ Ed is offered at school, and I will be starting soon. I can’t wait!
Somehow, I need a job, so I have the means to purchase my own clothing, make-up and necessities. My mother works with a guy whose son is a cook at a restaurant chain nearby, and he tells her there is a waitress position open. My mom takes me to the restaurant to fill out the application and tells the manager I am sixteen so that they will hire me. I don’t know how, but I get the job and begin my training right away. It is hard work, and I get confused with the orders, and all there is to remember, but I continue. Soon, I am working several evenings and almost every weekend. The place is always packed, and I am exhausted, but the money is helping a lot.
The restaurant is the commonality between me and my first boyfriend, Shawn. He is the one who gets me the job. My mother works with his father, and together, they set us up. One evening, I get a call from Shawn, and he tells me he got a message that I had wanted to speak with him. This, of course, came from my mother to his father and then to him.
I am mortified and tongue-tied. I can feel my face turn a hot pink as I attempt to spit out garbled noises into the phone. Good thing he can’t see me right now, or I might just hang up and never speak to him again. He and I are both quite shy but soon hit it off. He is older than I am and drives. He takes me places., like the movies, and he buys me dinners – even an outfit. He is very kind and gentle.
One evening, we are hanging out, sitting on the couch at my house. My older sister is there with us. In a half-joking, half-serious tone, he asks me if I want to go to watch the submarine races at Utah Lake sometime. Well this goes right over my head, and I look at him, puzzled. He and my sister are both snickering, and I can tell they are goofing with me and that they know something I don’t. I have never heard of submarine races at this lake and am quite confused – especially about the submarine part.
The two of them continue laughing but neither spills the beans. Later, after Shawn has gone, my sister finally tells me what he is talking about. She is quite experienced with these submarine races because she has seen them on many occasions. I am quite embarrassed by what she shares, feeling a sense of trepidation at the invitation laid out before me. My upbringing in the Mormon church is a nagging reminder that I can go to hell if I cross this line. However, in this house fairly loose parental parameters are applied, so maybe?
My parents never talk to me about sex. However, from birth to this point in my life, it has been ingrained in me that this type of behavior is to be saved for marriage. I have a very warped sense of my sexuality, and I am conflicted. I don’t know how to express myself, nor do I have the sense to determine what exactly I want out of the experience of sex or who I want to share it with.
Shawn and I do end up going to the lake on several occasions. It certainly doesn’t take me long to like being kissed and fondled. After all, my first “kiss” with Rocky Bible was just a taste of what I am experiencing with Shawn. He doesn’t just kiss me; he asks if he can. This is the most attention I have had in quite a long time. Always, in the back of my mind, though, I can see a finger pointing at me, reminding me that this is wrong and that I can end up in hell if I go too far.
Shawn and I date for a few months. During this time, he makes me feel special for one of the first times in my life. On one particular evening, as we sit in his truck watching the submarine races, he asks me to come to his house and spend the night. He tells me that he will sneak me into his bedroom window, which just so happens to be next to his top bunk, his younger brother sleeping in the one below. Before anyone wakes, he will drive me home. I am very nervous, not only about the prospect of being de-virginized, but about being caught. I am riddled with anxiety about the hell thing and embarrassed about sex in general. I am tempted, but, in the end, I tell him no.
Very soon after this, he stops calling me. I am very sad and confused…not fully understanding why. We had been getting along really well, didn’t fight, and seemed to have fun. I don’t ever hear from Shawn again, and soon after, he transfers to another restaurant.
Shortly after my break-up with Shawn, I am waiting on a table of a group of friends. A gorgeous young man seems to be intently flirting with me. I am blushing and continue to attend to their needs. I am drawn to his beautiful blue eyes and blond hair. He is pouring on the charm – which I don’t see through. This young man comes in with this same group of friends a few times. They tell me they all work at a nearby movie theatre. One evening, he (Pat is his name) invites me to join him and his friends for a little party at his apartment not far away. My friend Laura is with me, and we end up going together. I feel a kind of strength that comes with numbers…but she is not so sure.
We ride to his apartment – six of us in total. He and I, his friend who seems to hit it off with my friend, and another couple. We are all sitting in his apartment, and suddenly the lights go off, and his hands are all over me. After a short while, the other couple gets up to announce they are leaving. My friend speaks up and says she is ready to go home, too. The young’s man friend offers to take Laura home. Before I can speak up, everyone is gone, leaving me alone with this gorgeous young man, who at this point is all over me. I am scared out of my mind yet unable to speak. “Why didn’t I go with my friend,” I am thinking. “What have I gotten myself into? What’s next?” I am terrified and know I am in big trouble!
We make out a bit more on the couch, and, then, he firmly coerces me into his bedroom. Inside, I am paralyzed with fear. I can’t stop him even though I want to, and my fear intensifies. I lie on his bed the entire night, not daring to move. I am not asleep and want to leave but have no idea where I am or how I will get home. I don’t know where his phone is to call a cab or call for help. I am frozen.
We have sex the next morning. I feel nothing but the pain of my innocence fading and the fear of being helpless to stop it. I have no protection; neither does he.
I get dressed as he showers and then he takes me home. I am forever changed by this experience but keep this secret locked away. My mother is frantic when I arrive home. She notices I am missing when I don’t come home from work. When it ends up that I don’t come home at all (so unlike me), she spends the remainder of the night searching for me. Thoughts of me being held against my will in some flea-bag hotel, or lying in an ER, or worse, in a dark alley, crowd her frantic mind as she looks for me. After returning home, she has been waiting and watching for me. I tell her that I had fallen asleep at a party, which I know she doesn’t believe. I don’t go to parties. She knows me; she knows I am not like my older sister.
I wrote in my journal about this experience, and years later, my mother told me that she had found it and read what I had written. She already knew I had been in trouble; I just didn’t think she knew what to do about it, and there wasn’t enough of her to go around.
My friend Laura was very angry and lost all trust in me. Our friendship suffered because of this. Very shortly after this incident, I dropped out of school.
***A high school drop-out***
It’s late September 1978, and I am struggling to keep myself afloat, fed up with the way things are at home and school. My self-worth is non-existent and my need for self-preservation at an extreme high. My perception is that the world is against me. I am constantly asking myself the same question over and over, “Will I ever be happy?”
The bus ride to the school takes about 20 minutes along a two-mile route from my house. The driver drops me off near the front door. Reluctantly, I walk in and head to my locker. I am thinking that nothing in my life seems to be going right, and now my best and only friend is barely speaking to me. I feel so lost, angry, and sad all at the same time, and I can’t think of anyone I can confide in.
This is the day that finally pushes me over the edge. The hallway is quiet as I walk to my locker and collect all my books and papers. I toss them into the garbage can that sits near my locker and walk out the front door – never to return. I am doing what I feel I need to to survive.
That decision that day to leave school has haunted me my entire life. If only I had had the support of two loving parents and a strong sense of self, I could have gone on and finished school and been somebody and gone places,…
…and I realize now that the events of that day were exactly as they were meant to be. I see now that I had always known that something was wrong with how schools were being run, how teachers were instructing without ensuring that all their students were engaged. I didn’t know that I was more of a free thinker, right brained and free flowing and not analytical. I not only got lost in the system without anyone noticing, I was shy and introverted, and my homelife was insufferable. I am sure many of us felt this way. It was such an awkward age, and understanding, patience, passion and a diverse style of teaching were what was needed. I couldn’t verbalize how I felt then, but I can see it clearly now.
I felt such shame and embarrassment for dropping out. I felt inept, and this feeling kept me down for a long time. To sum it all up, I see now that I really had no choice – if I were going to survive. I had to take the matters of my life and my survival into my own hands because help was not coming from anyone else.
***The end of the Dragon Lady, I hoped?***
I think the Dragon Lady has pushed my mother to the edge of insanity. Dragon Lady has been diagnosed with colon cancer and is scheduled for surgery and a lengthy treatment. However, she has burned so many bridges, no one wants to step in to help her. My mother realizes she is in no way prepared to play caregiver and moves the Dragon Lady out of the house and into the small trailer in the driveway, away from all us kids while she goes through recovery. This lasts about six weeks until the Dragon Lady finds herself an apartment nearby and moves herself in.
Struggling financially, my mother decides to sell the house to pay off some debt. She finds a townhome to rent much closer to her work and mine. I am not driving yet (legally, anyway) but am now within walking distance to my work. Getting me back into school is my mother’s main objective for the move, and Orem High is where she is hoping I will find my way. We meet with the principal, and she gets me registered into school number twelve.
It takes only one day to decide it is not for me!
All I can remember is sitting in the classroom and thinking to myself, “Why am I here with all of these children? I do not belong, and I cannot stay.” I never went back although I did end up getting my GED through Brigham Young University about two years later.
As my work continues at the restaurant, I meet another young man. He is charismatic but in a different way than the blue-eyed seducer-lech. He is two years older than me, Lebanese, and has grown up in Utah – what a surprise! His mother, too, has lived here all her life. His father had migrated as a young boy with his parents and his brother. I can tell the young man is genuine, a bit shy like me, not drop-dead-gorgeous like the other guy, but sincere. He comes in almost every day to sit and drink coffee with his older brother, and, occasionally, other friends of theirs. Within a short time, he and I are dating.
His family is Catholic – a minority in this area – and very close-knit with lots of aunts, uncles, and cousins. The hugging, loud boisterous talking, continual stream of parties and gatherings with lots of food and smoking are overwhelming to me but also something that draws me in. The family members are all smokers, adding to the intrigue for me. Growing up Mormon, I was taught that drinking coffee and smoking were wrong…and don’t even get me started about hanging around Catholics! No surprise here: This is when I start smoking.
In the beginning, I am choking, my lungs are burning, and I am nauseous. I lose my appetite. But I think to myself, “Oh, good! Smoking will help me lose weight!” Not that my weight is an issue, but never wanting to get fat, I see smoking as the perfect way to stay trim.
At the time, it seemed like a good idea, but…
Dropping out of high school leaves me without a way to get through a Drivers’ Ed course. I am so anxious to drive, I find a driving school in Provo where I can receive the training. It’s just going to cost me some time and money. Getting to and from the classes for the next six weeks is my next hurdle. Luckily, my new boyfriend offers to drive me, and I am absolutely elated. He begins to show up for me in many ways no one else ever has, and it draws me closer to him and makes me more dependent on him.
I complete my driving course, pass the written exam, and now prep for the road test. I borrow my sister’s Red Buick Wildcat (which feels to me like the equivalent of a twenty- foot boat). I am sitting in the driver’s seat of my sister’s car, waiting for the instructor to finish his paperwork and take me through my driving test. My hands are shaking as I squeeze the steering wheel hard, pushing through with intent and determination. I am triumphant as I pass all parts of the test, especially parallel parking the “giant boat”. My parking job isn’t perfect, but it’s good enough for me to pass and receive my learner’s permit. Next step is to get to my sixteenth birthday, so I can get my official license.
It is October 22, 1978. And at last I turn Sweet Sixteen. In my mind, though, there is nothing very sweet about it except the freedom and independence this right-of-passage represents. My innocence has been taken from me prematurely, my life has been turned upside down, and now I am doing what I know to right it. The townhouse apartment where we have been living in Orem has been good, especially since the Dragon Lady is not around much. She still shows up from time to time, but mostly she has moved on. I am grateful! We are all grateful!
Just when I am getting comfortable and into a routine, my mother decides to move us all back to Pleasant Grove and into another apartment, this time closer to the high school. She needs a place with more space to accommodate my second oldest brother, who has been out of the house but is now coming home. This not only makes my commute longer; once again, it makes it nearly impossible for me to get to and from work. My mother never discusses the move with me, so I have no choice but to go along with it.
I am growing very tired of being dragged from place to place – never staying in one area long enough to gain a foothold. Making and/or keeping friends doesn’t seem to be in the stars for me. Frantically, I cling to the only thread of support I have – my boyfriend. More and more, though, I have an overwhelming sense of living close to the edge.
***Another move and The Dragon Lady reappears***
Immediately after turning sixteen, I get my driver’s license and finally can come and go as I please – except, now, I desperately need to buy a car.
I have been saving money for a car for a while and expect my mother will contribute some toward the purchase because she had paid for my older sister’s car the year before. Wrong! She doesn’t have money to give me because she has had to pay off a loan my brother has defaulted on. Actually, he has forged her signature as the co-signer, and she has no choice but to make good on the loan. This is the main reason she ends up having to sell the house.
My new boyfriend is a mechanic but is not available to accompany me and my mom as we go car shopping. I can’t wait, so she takes me to a local used car lot near our home. As soon as we step out of her car, a salesman approaches and shows us to the limited selection of cars that are in my very modest price range.
After a few test drives, I settle on an olive-green Ford Pinto hatchback. I am on top of the world, and, together, we enter the office to complete the purchase. As we work our way through the thick pile of paperwork and come to the money portion of the transaction, I am stung by disappointment that my mother, after all, will not be contributing to the purchase of this car. I am being passed over and, once again, I don’t understand. Still, I quietly stuff the anger and resentment I feel toward my sister and my mother and continue to make the arrangements for installment payments.
I cannot wait to drive away for the first time in MY VERY OWN CAR! I now have my escape and independence.
After looking over my car that evening, my boyfriend immediately finds a few significant problems. He tells me that this vehicle is dangerous to drive and costly to fix and strongly suggests I return the car the very next day. I am frustrated by this delay and deeply disappointed. I am fearful of not finding another car, and I argue with him that the car will be fine. I am pushing to have my way, not thinking through the consequences of my juvenile decision.
In the end, I return the Pinto, and an Oxidized Red Volkswagen Bug takes its place. The car is the perfect size, and because I am a novice driver, easy to park. It is also economical (which I am not too concerned about) and super cute. Once again, I am on cloud nine – ready to take it out on the road for a drive.
Later, I find out that, in the heat of summer, the car vapor-lock malfunctions and prevents the car from starting. In the winter, the oil thickens from the cold, requiring that I jump-start the bug. The car proves to be quite a challenge to drive for two seasons out of the year; nonetheless, I end up keeping the car…at least for a while.
Frustrated that I have farther to go to get to and from work, I decide to transfer to a store a short distance from where we live, but in the opposite direction from where I have been working. I have become friendly with a couple who has been managing the restaurant I am currently working at, and now they are being transferred to this other store. This makes the decision to transfer much easier. It feels so good to have the freedom to make this choice and that I have my own car to get me to and from places.
When I show up for my first shift, Shawn, me ex-boyfriend is there. This is the store he had transferred to. Wow! What a surprise! “Awkward” doesn’t begin to describe how it is between us. We don’t ever talk about what happened; we only communicate when it’s necessary. But this soon changes when my shift changes to graveyard, and we don’t see one another anymore.
Now I am commuting to and from my work, going in at 10:00 p.m. and working until 6:00 a.m. I am sleeping during the day, but not well. This is difficult on me. The crowds that come at night are rowdy, and a lot of the time, drunk. I am so tired by the time morning rolls around, I am not so sure now that I have made the right move but don’t see I have a choice. I’m so afraid of being without the security of the job and that’s what keeps me in it.
After a long night and commute, I want nothing more than to strip out of my uniform that smells of food and grease, shower, and crawl into my bed to sleep. As I drive up the last street, I see the Dragon Lady’s car parked in the driveway, taking up my spot, as if she has the right to park anywhere she pleases. My blood begins to boil, and my adrenaline starts pumping!
All is quiet when I go in, so I slip out of my smelly uniform, quickly shower, and head to my bed. As I pull back the covers to climb in, I notice that my pillow is missing and know immediately where it has disappeared to. Once again, adrenaline starts to pump through my veins, and my hands shake as I take a deep breath in and out. I want to scream but hold back the sound, so I don’t wake everyone else up. My whole body is tensed with anger, and I am preparing myself for battle. Fear does not stop me this time. I have had it!
I barge into my mother’s bedroom (she is not at home at the time) to retrieve my property from beneath the Dragon Lady’s large head. I grab my pillow quickly and storm out of the bedroom to my room across the hall as she, dumbfounded, yells out, “Give that back to me!” in a groggy voice. I am shaking with trepidation and triumph. I sigh with relief and climb into the comfort of my bed, winding down from my long night, my long drive, and my unexpected confrontation.
This is not the end of the Dragon Lady’s presence in my life.
***Driven out into the world***
In early September, my mother shares news with me that she and the Dragon Lady are planning on renting a house about 30 miles north of Pleasant Grove. They are planning to move within a two-week period and that I am welcome to come along if I want.
Many years later, I found out that my mother and the Dragon Lady had been attending a church that was supportive of gays and lesbians and that this was the reason for the move. They had both wanted to be closer to this ancillary community and had found a house close by. My mother also desperately needed someone to help watch the younger children because of her continuously changing schedule that required her to work the graveyard shift. Once again, the Dragon Lady was the only one who fit the bill.
I am completely shocked by what my mother is telling me, and I don’t understand why she would even consider letting this unbalanced psycho woman back into our home and lives. I am stunned she has already made this decision…she hasn’t even talked to me about it. I already know that I have no choice but to go my own way…but how am I going to do that; I am only sixteen years old.
I know with every fiber of my being that I cannot live with the Dragon Lady, ever. I feel as though I am being cast out – alone – lost – and into this crazy, upside-down world. I am angry, but beneath this fiery anger is an intense fear that I won’t survive on my own. Will I be able to find a home, will I be able to afford a home, will I be safe? All these questions are running through my mind.
My older sister ends up moving in with her boyfriend. My second oldest brother and I remain in the house after my mother and other siblings have left. Together, we scramble to find a place to live that we can share, but this does not pan out. I am terrified to be in the house at night alone. I lie in bed and imagine someone breaking in and holding me hostage, or worse. I am frozen in fear. Although my boyfriend is pretty young, too, he offers what support he can. I doubt he tells his parents what is going on with me. My time in the apartment runs out, and I have no choice but to move in with my mother and the Dragon Lady after all.
My boyfriend helps me move my bed and other belongings to the house. My younger sister is so happy to see me, making room for my large queen mattress, which barely fits along with her stuff. I do not want to be here, but I have no other choice, and this makes me very angry.
The Dragon Lady is not at all happy to see me either. I meet her at the top of the stairs as I head up to let my mother know I have moved in. She guards the door to their bedroom and does not allow me to speak with my mother, who is asleep after working the graveyard shift. We exchange heated words, and I know immediately that I cannot stay. I am at a loss, yet I know without a doubt what I must do, and that prospect frightens me to my core.
I leave the next day, dragging all my belongings back out of the basement I have just moved into. I have no idea where I will stay, but I can’t stay here.
My boyfriend and a friend of his help me find a cheap motel to stay in for the next two nights; I have packed all my menial belongings in my Volkswagen bug and stuffed my queen mattress in the back of my boyfriend’s borrowed truck. After the second day, I locate a vacant apartment. It is the same apartment the Dragon Lady had been renting and recently vacated. I have no choice but to take it and I move in.
While I am disturbed that this is the Dragon Lady’s old apartment, I am also relieved to have a place to call home. I immediately get to work, putting all my humble belongings away. I have no couch and no table, and my queen mattress lies on the floor, but I am finally at rest. I crawl into bed my very first night and sleep as though there is no tomorrow.
It takes me some time to figure out how to manage my own living quarters but through the grace of God, I am finding my way. Setting up a phone and having the gas and electricity, water, and garbage service turned on, not to mention paying rent, are huge feats for me. I am, after all, still only sixteen. Both of my parents now live an hour away.
***Takeaways from this part of my story***
Each time I have plowed the fields of my past, I have come away with more seeds of wisdom and a deeper understanding of our collective human capacities. I know the level of healing that has taken place within me by feeling joy in my heart. And I know what I still need to address.
Learning to fully engage in the power of our being and our ability to survive some of the most difficult challenges thrown at us by life helps us to gain trust in ourselves. This, in turn, helps us to move through the next challenge with more grace and turn over to God the things we don’t know how to face on our own. What I have learned is that we are never really alone…and my experiences were sometimes more severe than others have experienced at that same ages, but, perhaps, less so when compared to others.
As I wrote this part of my story, I saw a continual pattern that has played out over and over throughout my life. I have struggled with feeling unwanted, with a sense of having no place on this earth to call my own nor any right to be here really. Throughout my life I have felt I was being cast out into the unknown, “lost”, and with no purpose for my being here.
Was this simply my own perception of myself? Had I adopted the projections (really, judgments) of others over the years? Yes, I believe so!
None of us needs the approval of anyone to be here and to have a place. It is God who creates, and it is God who decides what is. And if we are here, we are meant to be here. Our judgment of ourselves, or of anyone, for that matter, goes against what God has placed before us and within us.
My lessons have been extreme yet necessary to help me develop my skills to navigate my life. The casting out, the feeling lost and unwanted has led me to connect within my being with my very soul, for healing, support, protection, and a direction to follow and answers to my burning questions. Within myself is where I am able to shed these projections and discover “me”. This is where I finally understand, “I don’t need the outside world to take away my pain or show me who I am or what I am supposed to do.” And I want you to know you are no different!
If God created you and you are here, you are meant to be, and you will always have a place!
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