Saturday, January 24, 2015

Early Years, from Memoir KIDNAPPED TWICE



GROWING UP

In the summers at the Lake, my job every evening was to pick up all the papers that the swimmers had left behind. Grandpa made me a stick with nails on the bottom for me to use, and I had a bucket to put the trash in. I loved doing this every day. After that, my cousin Linda Mae and I would crawl under the snack bar porch, which had spaces between boards…when people dropped their change, it would sometimes fall under the porch, where we would collect it.

At just the right time in early evening, I would sit on the swing and watch the sunlight sparkle on the Lake. I loved that beautiful time back then, and I still love seeing that sparkle even now. I think the memory of that time is why I love sparkling objects so much. Those were such wonderful years in my life. I often think that the Lord gave me those early years so that I would be able to get through the ones that were to come.

My cousin Linda Mae will be shocked when she reads what happened after my father married Ann. I never told Linda Mae, but I missed her so much, as I didn’t get to see her a lot after our move to the new house. Her mother and Ann would talk every once in a while, so I never told Linda Mae anything, for fear that she would share it with her mother who might in turn tell Ann.

MEMORIAL DAY AND THE LAKE

Memorial Day weekend was always a happy time when I was with my grandmother and grandfather. Almost all the people who rented cottages would come up for that weekend. I would get to see all of my friends. When we moved to our cottage for the summer, I got to sleep in a screened-in porch. I loved sleeping in the porch, as there was a big maple tree right in front. There was always a breeze, and the leaves would be rustling, which became one of the favorite things in my life. In fact, almost all of my favorite things were acquired from that time of my life. Only certain of the wildlife came after that.

I often wonder how my grandparents’ children grew up in that wonderful place without loving it. I know my Aunt Jennie loved it, but not the others. Maybe they all needed some tough love. Maybe a kidnapping or a lot of beatings and hurtful words thrown their way in their childhoods would have made a difference. Maybe they needed to know what it is like to live in fear every day. They lost the entire Lake property, which angers me and my cousin. We both miss it.

It is interesting that two of my Aunt Jennie’s daughters built houses by the Lake. They are on the other side of the Lake from us. My father bought a house by the Lake, one road up. Both my cousin and I wish we had.

THE STEPMOTHER, ANN

Then came Ann!

I must have been five or six years old when my father started dating this woman, Ann, who had a son, Norman, who was approximately a year younger than I was. Ann was about 6 feet tall, with a solid build, and fairly attractive. As time went on– considering the unpleasant trio of her son, her mother, and herself– knew I was in big trouble. When my father asked me if I was OK with his marrying her, I said, “Please, no!”

They got married despite my wishes, and they built a house in a small town in New York.

The first thing my stepmother, Ann, did after we moved into our Cornwall house was to get rid of my Boxer dog, Buster, my bodyguard. After my father brought me back to New York State, Buster and I had been together 24 hours a day, seven days a week. I’m sure that Ann knew that she could never do to me the things she had in mind if I had Buster at my side.

The second thing Ann arranged to do was to cut my long blonde hair off. Before this, my grandmother would make spiral curls with my long hair. I cried a long time over Ann’s having cut my hair.

I often wondered where my father had met Ann. I can’t think that it was anywhere but a bar! Looking back, knowing my father’s third wife, Anita, I cannot think of one thing that Ann and Anita had in common. Anita is a very kind, loving person.

One of the most humiliating things Ann made me do was to take baths with her son. Norman was only one year younger than I was. It was very embarrassing, and I also walked around every day worried about whether I could become pregnant just from taking baths with this boy. Finally, I asked the school nurse if that could happen. The nurse told me it could not.

The incident (described below) on the school grounds, where Ann punched me several times, had already happened, so the nurse promised me she would never tell anyone about our conversation about my possibly becoming pregnant from taking baths with Ann’s son. The nurse kept her word.

These ugly incidents happened in one form or another day after day, so it would be redundant to tell about all of them.

Daily, Ann would call me terrible names. The problem with being called such names and with being abused in one form or another every day is that it led me to be living my life not thinking well of myself. For example, I had the gift of a fine singing voice, but I was afraid to sing in front of people because I thought I was not good enough, and therefore I did not continue. I never thought I was pretty. Because of this daily abuse, even if I had been Miss America, I still would not have believed that I was pretty.

This is where I want to express my opinion on abuse. When I hear the experts say that an abused child will in most cases then become an abuser, I reject that. Having been abused, I found it quite easy not to abuse my son. Why would I want my child to feel what I had felt? Why would parents want to hurt their own children or any child?

Having had a drinker for a father, I also do not want to become an alcoholic or drink at all! Why would I want to become a drinker and make that my legacy for my son and grandchildren?

We keep the circle of abuse going from each generation to the next. We must stop, rather than continue making excuses. And that’s what they are: excuses, not reasons.

Let’s not leave out the animals. People who abuse animals are toxic and evil people also!

                                        ###

We are serializing KIDNAPPED TWICE by Mary E. Seaman and me. This memoir shows how the abuse of Mary as a child warped the rest of her life. She has only recently made significant progress in overcoming it. The book is available through Amazon and other on-line retailers and from its publisher, Outskirts Press.

My writing-coaching-editing site is http://writeyourbookwithme.com.

"New Beginnings," Ch. 15, Memoir BUT...AT WHAT COST


RANDY

Randy graduated from a General Studies program which was heavy in history and business. It prepared him for nothing, career-wise, so upon graduation he lived at home and drove delivery trucks and worked in construction to earn money.

At some point while working in construction, he started complaining about severe pain in his wrists and knees and a litany of other seemingly unrelated symptoms. I knew the pain must be really bad because this kid had played basketball on a sprained ankle the size of a stove-pipe. Thinking his maladies were work-related, he went to an orthopedist first and had water drained from his knee. At this point, I must applaud all the doctors he saw; upon learning he had no health insurance, the doctors did everything they could to keep the expenses down – even to the point of not charging him for visits.

Within two weeks of the initial symptoms he couldn’t drive. In fact, his fingers were so swollen he couldn’t even hold a toothbrush. He was so debilitated and in so much pain, he couldn’t work at all. He couldn’t do anything but lie in bed.

After hearing the extent of Rand’s complaints, the orthopedist recommended he see a rheumatologist. I started calling around but could not get an appointment for weeks. Finally, I freaked out and told the next office I called, “You don’t understand, he’s twenty-four, an athlete, walks like a ninety-year-old, and can’t hold a fork!” We got an appointment for the next day. He was diagnosed with Reiter’s Syndrome, an autoimmune disease that is usually self-limiting, but can cause permanent damage to joints, eyes, and heart. Randy was very brave, but I was distraught when not in his presence. When word started to get around, we were asked every day how he was doing. Ashley’s answer was usually, “Well, Randy is doing okay, but his mother might not make it.” Ash was right. Randy never complained or gave in to the pain. All he asked for was a puppy to keep him company and for us to split the wood into smaller pieces so he could lift them and feed the stoves while we weren’t home. He insisted I keep working and not worry about his having to fend for himself. I obliged on all counts except the worrying part.

He named the dog “LT” after his favorite N.Y. Giant football player, Lawrence Taylor. LT was very possibly the most destructive dog we ever had – just like his namesake the all-star linebacker. The dog was a menace. I had to replace nearly my entire shoe wardrobe, and my diaphragm which he somehow managed to remove from a suitcase, remove from its case, and eat. He served a good purpose, though. He kept Randy going.

Heavy-duty anti-inflammatories were the only treatment, and they did help reduce the pain and swelling, but he was not himself for almost six months. Reasonably, he sought a less physically demanding job, and got one selling insurance and investment plans. Rand always had been a fast and convincing talker; he would have done well as a lawyer, or perhaps, a used-car salesman. After a few months of doing that, however, he proclaimed it was not for him, “I don’t feel right talking people into buying something they don’t need.” Hooray for him!

Soon he decided – mostly due to his diagnosis – to go back to school to become a teacher. He figured he could probably teach even if he had rheumatic flares.

It was a great decision. What better thing for a natural-born salesman to sell than information? He got his Master’s Degree in Education and was hired to teach social studies and government at his high school alma mater where he still teaches today. I hesitate to deem many jobs a “calling,” but in his case, I think it was.

In 1986, before Randy had settled on teaching, he had started dating Sue, the woman he would marry. They’d known each other from high school, but not well, because she was two years behind him. They seemed an ideal match to me. Sue had her feet firmly on the ground – a good complement to Rand’s wilder side. She had a year left to receive her Bachelor’s Degree in Nursing. Smart, pretty, funny, and practical – what more could I want in a wife for my son and a mother for my grandchildren? Besides, I’m sure Sue was instrumental in getting Rand back on track and into his “calling” after his illness.

They married in 1990. He was a teacher, she a nurse. They were on their way – Mr. and Mrs. Middle America.

BETH

Upon graduation from college in 1988, Beth headed straight for New York City and a job at a medical publications company. A biology major and always a terrific writer, she had formulated her plan fairly early on, and followed it. She left country-life behind and became a full-fledged city girl.

I remember her saying about her house-mates in college, “Mom, these girls don’t know how to do anything.” She was the “go to” person to fix everything that went wrong in the house because, of course, coming whence she came, she was more than capable. I was proud.

The way I saw it: Beth had the world by the tail; she was prepared to face any challenge and excel. I loved watching her become a very stylish metropolitan type… who was still willing to use a screwdriver.

Within three months of graduating, she had a good job in her chosen career, was taking Master‘s-level courses in medical journalism and was sharing an apartment with other young professionals in NYC. No grass grew under this girl’s feet.

In 1989, Beth met Mr. Right. Andrew was from Belize, lived in Brooklyn with his family, and worked for IBM in the Wall Street district. I’m tempted to say it was love at first sight. The first sighting came from across a crowded bar-room, but apparently, that sighting was enough. They clicked immediately. Only weeks later, I was invited to meet him and his father for drinks at the South Street Seaport.

I was excited because Beth was clearly smitten. From everything I’d heard, I thought Andrew was probably the one! Though Beth was relatively inexperienced with men, I trusted her instincts, and I was right to trust them. Andrew is a gem.

Race, of course, had to come up in our first conversation. None of us was na├»ve enough to think “race doesn’t matter.” It didn’t matter to any of us, but we didn’t think we were typical of the masses either. Beth had told Andrew about “my drummer,” Rod – who, coincidentally, has the same last name they have. That was a good ice-breaker. Their knowing about him removed any elephant that might have been in the room, because they knew I had ventured into the world of interracial dating before.

When Andrew’s father left, I climbed the first molehill. At the time, the argument in politically-correct circles was about what to call people of color (another contrived term I hate to use, by the way), so I asked Andrew which he preferred being called, “black” or “African-American?” He said, “I prefer being called Andrew.” I was in love too! He went on to say he was from Belize and grew up here, so Africa didn’t really have anything to do with who he was.

We made it through the problem of Nana (94 at the time) perhaps using the “N-word” with no intended malice. “Well, that’s when she grew up,” he said. Could this man be any better? Not from my perspective. We didn’t talk politics, but his attitudes seemed to be very similar to mine when it came to matters of race.

Both my chicks had flown the coop. They were coupled and on their own with their life-partners. I had never had a mother-in-law to deal with, but the age-old tales of trouble convinced me it was best to butt-out under any and all circumstances, so I did. If I wasn’t asked, and sometimes even when I was, I kept my mouth shut, or at least, tried to.


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We are serializing Judy Axtell's memoir, BUT...AT WHAT COST, available from on-line retailers like Amazon and from its publisher Outskirts Press. It is the story of her transition from young liberal to mature conservative. I am proud to have edited it.
 
My writing-coaching-editing site is http://writeyourbookwithme.com.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

"Like a Plaintive Melody" from LOVE ALTERS--AN ANTHOLOGY

 
by Douglas Winslow Cooper

Most mornings I sing to my beloved wife, as she lies immobile in the hospital bed we have at our home:


You were meant for me. I was meant for you.

Nature patterned you and when she was done,

You were all the sweet things rolled up in one.

You’re like a plaintive melody

That never lets me free,

For I’m content the angels must have sent you

And they meant you just for me.*

This song captures the bitter-sweet nature of our current situation, happy to be together, sometimes sad that Tina’s ill-health has limited her so greatly. She has been quadriplegic and ventilator-dependent, fed and medicated through a gastric tube, for the past ten years, and she will be so for as long as she lives.

 


Meant for Each Other

Our love story began in January 1963. Cornell University formed the beautiful backdrop for our romance. When Tina Su walked into the second semester of the language course I was taking, Chinese 102, I saw the incarnation of my feminine ideal: lovely, slender, soft-spoken, elegant without pretension, graceful. After a few “coffee dates,” I learned that this Chinese - American woman was also intelligent, learned, cheerful, talented, considerate, kind, and more than somewhat attracted to me, too. By Valentine’s Day, 1963, we were officially in love, “going steady.” That included going hand-in-hand together whenever and wherever we could. When it was cold, we would each shed one glove and share my coat pocket. We loved to walk and to talk, to hug and to kiss. Bliss.

Tina and I like to think we were “fated to be mated.” It seems amazing that this girl from Kunming, China, and this boy from Manhattan could have found each other. How lucky is that? There were about a billion folk in China. We had then in the U.S. less than a few million Chinese. That’s roughly 1000 to 1 odds of being in the U.S., not China. I was accepted by M.I.T., but my scholarship application was a few days late, leaving Cornell as my best option. Less than one student in a thousand at Cornell was in Chinese 102, so the probability of a randomly picked pair of students being in that eight-person class was less than one in a hundred thousand. The random nature of genetic combination means that she could have been born a very different person than she was, the same being true for me. I would not have married her sister, nor she any of my brothers.

 


Nature Patterned You

Actually, nature patterned each of us. Scientists generally agree now that much of our abilities and personalities are strongly influenced by genetics. A decade or two ago, Tina and I took the Briggs-Myers personality inventory test and found ourselves remarkably alike: more introvert than extrovert, equally intuitive vs. sensing, much more rational than emotional, more judgmental than passively perceiving.

In making us well matched for each other, nurture played a significant role, too. Both grew up in homes that valued education and thrift. The Chinese Taoist tradition favors compassion, modesty, and humility– virtues that my religion also supported.

 


All the Sweet Things

Tina was very popular and justly so. She had been senior class president in her high school. All the Cornell sororities she visited asked her to join. She made life-long friends at Cornell, always giving more than she got and tending to see the best in others. Warm, friendly, sympathetic, helpful, trustworthy…exceptionally nice, Tina was special.

 


Like a Plaintive Melody

She was a freshman and I was a junior. We had three glorious semesters left to be together, and we fell even more deeply in love. Usually, a couple our ages would have become engaged to marry, perhaps soon after Tina had graduated. It quickly had become clear, however, that an interracial marriage would estrange Tina from her parents (as did happen to her younger brother several years later). My own parents argued that such a marriage would bring added complications for ourselves and for any children we might have. Then, too, we were young, with little real experience in the adult world. Neither of us would want to have a wrong decision harm the other. We accepted parental persuasion and pressure and parted very sorrowfully when I graduated, June 1964. We each cried a lot about our separation that summer…and occasionally thereafter.

Tina’s parents arranged for her to take her junior year abroad in England, where her father, a professor of engineering, took his sabbatical year at the same time, and her mother accompanied him. That put the Atlantic Ocean between us, an enormous moat.

While Tina was in England, I was drafted. She returned to finish at Cornell, went to Harvard, dated men of Chinese ancestry only, and married a promising scientist from Taiwan, who took a faculty position in Chicago. She spent the next fifteen years under his thumb. He had expected a traditional Chinese woman, but she was an American girl with a Chinese flavor. Their marriage was rocky, but two fine sons were born. Her first multiple sclerosis exacerbation, and with it a temporary partial paralysis, came right after that second son’s birth. Her husband, more committed to career than to family, had little time for his wife and children.

After serving in the U.S. Army, I went on to graduate school at Penn State and Harvard. I married a Caucasian woman who strongly reminded me of Tina, and I steadily progressed professionally, becoming an associate professor of environmental physics at the Harvard School of Public Health. Unfortunately, eight years into my marriage, I found out my wife was having an affair. She was from a rich family and thought she could get away with it. Wrong! We divorced.

Later on, I dated, even got engaged, then disengaged. None had been Tina’s equal.

 


That Never Lets Me Free

I had never forgotten my precious Tina, but we seemed doomed to be apart.

Nineteen years after we parted, while I was on an academic business trip through Chicago, I called Tina there. Before calling, I had reason to suspect her marriage was in trouble. As we chatted, I was so comfortable talking with her, it seemed we had been apart for weeks, not years. I told her in my call I still loved her and I had to know whether we could ever be married..

“Nothing has changed for me in twenty years,” she stated circumspectly, because she might be overheard. She meant she loved me as much as she ever had.

Soon after this, we talked several times via long-distance phone calls and we corresponded. She did a courageous thing, an honorable thing: she told me she had multiple sclerosis. I read a lot about it, spent a very sad night (that’s plaintive!) imagining her some day to be quadriplegic, on a ventilator, fed through tubes. Could I handle that, if I had to? Yes. Could I bear to walk away and learn some day she had gone through that without me? No.

“Will you marry me?” I asked her over the telephone that next day.

“Yes, yes, yes!”

I had yet to see her. When we did finally meet, weeks later, I was thrilled. She was all I hoped she would be.

On June 2, 1984, about a year later, we were married. Her father toasted us after the wedding, “Love conquered all.” As one of the conquered, he would know. Her parents had “surrendered” gracefully, after all. Our wedding rings were inscribed, “a dream come true.”

For ten years, multiple sclerosis was minimal. Then she had an exacerbation, a severe attack. For the next ten years, Tina could no longer walk, but retained the use of her hands and arms. Then, in 2004, we nearly lost her altogether.

 


The Angels Must Have Sent You

“Please, God, don’t let her die,” I prayed and pleaded as I walked our dog around a little lake in early March of 2004, almost twenty years after we wed.

Tina Su Cooper, my beloved wife, had already been in a medically induced coma for a week in the Critical Care Unit of the Orange Regional Medical Center. She had a severe case of aspiration pneumonia, part of an M.S. exacerbation. The resulting infection had spread throughout her body. She was not expected to live.

I had called the 911 emergency number near midnight the week before. Tina’s temperature was rising alarmingly fast. The EMTs got her to the Emergency Room twenty minutes before I arrived. She had told them that she did not want any invasive procedures, no tubes down her throat, etc. I countermanded that, having her power of attorney and knowing that this was no time for fuzzy thinking. Her M.S., especially when she was feverish, had diminished her cognitive abilities, which previously had earned her honors at Cornell and Harvard and then an editorial position at the Encyclopedia Britannica.

“Do whatever you must to save her life,” I instructed the medical personnel. Thus began a one-hundred-day battle to keep Tina alive.

Later, when she was out of the coma but still near death, now quadriplegic, unable to speak due to an air tube that ran between her lips and down her throat, being fed intravenously, I asked her whether I had made the right choice, to take all steps needed to save her life. Yes, she nodded, emphatically, yes.

Near June 2, 2004, our twentieth wedding anniversary, the decision had to be made: go home to fight vigorously to live or go to a hospice to go gently to the grave? She was catching infections from the other patients in the hospital. This place of rescue had become dangerous to her.

Would we fight to preserve her life at home, in a replica of the hospital’s Critical Care Unit, or did she want to give up?

We would persevere.

“Be a brave soldier,” her father had often told her in her youth. We fight on, my brave soldier and I.

The doctors estimated she would live only a few months. We’ve had ten years, precious, sometimes difficult, wonderful years.

I thank God daily for the miracle of another day that we are together.

 


And They Meant You Just for Me

“Together forever,” we hope. That’s inscribed on a charm I gave Tina for our 25th anniversary 2009, five years after her near-death experience. We say it to each other daily.

A retired physicist, I put much stock in evidence and reason, less on faith. When I pray, I pray that Tina be healed or at least be comforted. Perhaps asking for healing is reaching too far, but Robert Browning wrote that one’s “reach should exceed his grasp, else what’s a Heaven for?” In Heaven, Tina would be healed. On Earth, if healing is not in the works, then consolation, or better, joy, may be possible. Love certainly is.

The cosmic Big Bang, fourteen billion years ago, certainly seems like the act of creation. Creation implies Creator, though it leaves open His origin and purposes.

We know there are billions of galaxies, each with millions or billions of stars. So far, however, we find that the chemistry and physics of these stars is the same as we have here. That leads to another observation: there are a dozen or so fundamental properties of the forces and of the matter that make up our world that need to be within a percent or less of their value on Earth for life to exist, even for the universe to resemble what it does. The probability of getting these properties all to be within the proper limits just by chance is infinitesimal. Cannot happen. Had to be designed by a Designer.

Unfortunately, there is no consensus on what the Creator/ Designer/God intends with all this. Various religions have various beliefs. If there are humanlike entities on other worlds, they are likely to have multitudinous religions, too. We are left to come to our best understanding in the limited time we have alive.

I believe Christ was divine. He told us we are to love one another. He said that his Father, God, had a place for us after we die, depending on our faith. It is inconceivable to me that other good people of different faiths will be excluded, though I know it is Christian dogma. We’ll see.

Tina and I will be buried side by side, though not likely simultaneously. If we are resurrected, wonderful. If not, so be it. Either way, “Together forever.” This will be engraved at the bottom of our shared headstone.

The pessimist is said to see the glass as half-empty and the optimist to see it as half-full. We are optimists and are enjoying what is left in our glass of life.

We have had to “play the hand we’re dealt,” with good cards and bad. Life is something like a card game, where playing more skillfully improves your odds without guaranteeing you will win. Tina and I feel we have been lucky and prudent and have won.

As we sat on our porch on a recent autumn afternoon, we agreed: if that were our last day on Earth, it had all been worth it.

                                ###

Douglas Winslow Cooper, Ph.D., retired physicist, is a freelance writer who has written Ting and I: A Memoir of Love, Courage, and Devotion, published in 2011 by Outskirts Press, available through amazon.com and tingandi.com. He has co-authored Ava Gardner’s Daughter? and The Shield of Gold, and edited High Shoes and Bloomers, three other memoirs also published by Outskirts Press and available from amazon.com and other Internet vendors. This article is an adaptation and extension of a shorter piece, “Ting and I,“ published in the Winter 2011 Momentum - The National Multiple Sclerosis Society Magazine.

*“You Were Meant for Me (Broadway Melody of 1940)” by Nacio Herb Brown and Arthur Freed; lyrics © EMI Music Publishing Co.


Sunday, January 18, 2015

From Introduction to Sharon Lane's Memoir, THE TEARS FROM MY SOUL

….In telling my story, I pray I leave you with hope, faith, and belief. I want you to learn from my experiences. It would have been easy for me to blame my parents and my teachers for how I turned out. I followed the wrong friends and got into trouble, but as you will see in my story, I was able to turn my life around with the right help for many people. Otherwise I would have been dead by now.

After being betrayed by those who I trusted as a child, it took many years for me to understand people. I struggled with serious anxiety, depression, fear, anger, resentment, distrust, low self-esteem – not to mention mental, physical, and sexual abuse; the inability to hold down a job, lack of comprehension, and lack of confidence. I began seeking out doctors and other professionals to help me deal with my issues, which involved taking medications. However, finding the Lord provided me the opportunity to be a winner. After I began loving the Lord and crying out to him, I finally made up my mind to no longer allow my past to have a strong hold over me. I realized there is only one doctor, and He lives in all of us. As of today, I do not take any medications.

Despite it all, I overcame my challenges and circumstances and declared not to allow my circumstances to define me. God turned my life around from being a stripper for so many years to becoming a responsible member in my church and community….

So, when you're going through some of what I went through, know that there is help for you. Begin by seeking the goodness of God. If you knock, the door shall be opened. If you ask, and I mean truly ask in His name, your prayer shall be rewarded….

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Sharon Lane's inspiring memoir is available in paperback and ebook formats from, among others, Amazon.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Part 1, Childhood, from Memoir KIDNAPPED TWICE

 
INTRODUCTION

I had been thinking about trying to make a record of my life for my son, as he has no idea what his mother’s life was like. Then, I thought, “No. It is done. Maybe it is best left untold.” But here I am, decades later, writing down as much as I can remember.

My first memory of life was of standing in my crib, waiting for my paternal grandmother to get me. Her name was Mary Jane, but to me she was “Grandma.” My grandfather, Fred; my father, Maynard; Grandma; and I lived in what was called “the big house.” It was a wonderful place.

There was a dairy barn with milking cows, and a lake with approximately 50 cottages that were rented out every summer, mostly to families from New York City.

There was a beach for swimming, with boats for fishing, a snack stand, and a restaurant.

Everyone worked hard. I was a little girl, with people who gave me the love we all seek in our lives.

My Aunt Jennie went to live at the Lake every summer to help Grandma. I thank God that I had a few idyllic years before hell broke loose.

KIDNAPPED ONCE

I remember this blonde woman coming to the big house and sitting with Grandma and me, then asking Grandma if she could take me shopping to buy me a dress.

The woman put me in the back seat of a car, and a man was driving. We just kept driving for what seemed like a very long time. I finally asked them when we would get there and where my daddy was.

The blonde woman pointed to the man who was driving and said, “He is your daddy now.” I was approximately 3½ to 4 years old at this time. I don’t remember anything more about this trip, which ended in Virginia. For the next year, I can only remember eating Rice Krispies and playing with the blonde woman’s makeup.

I’m sure that my grandmother suffered for many years after this for letting me go with the woman that I would later understand was my mother.

KIDNAPPED AGAIN

Back in New York, my family was hiring a well-known lawyer to set up a bond for my father to enable him to kidnap me back, the bond needed in case he got caught.

By this time, I had become comfortable with my mother and her new husband.

My father came to visit in Virginia about a year after the initial kidnapping. He grabbed me and ran out to a waiting taxicab and threw me onto the back seat. My mother was screaming, and her husband had gotten to the taxi just as my father was yelling to the taxi driver to drive away. I was trying to get out of the cab, and my father was holding me back by the seat of my pants. My mother’s husband tried to open the door, and my father punched him, making him fall back into a muddy puddle. The taxi driver took off, and we were on the run.

The trip back to New York was very scary, as my father was afraid he would get caught. I did not understand what was happening, but I remember being confused and very scared.

Gradually life became good again. I got up with Grandpa to milk the cows, then went to the rowboats to scrape and paint them in the spring, and then we moved down to the lake-side bungalow for the summer. I was a happy little girl.

My father gave me a handsome Boxer soon after my return. Buster became my companion and protector, as he had been trained to be. He was a wonderful dog.

UNDER WATCH

Another thing that I keep remembering was that every Saturday morning my grandmother would roll her wringer washing machine into the dining room by the front door of our big house. I would be sleeping upstairs. From where Grandmother would wash the clothes, she could see the front door, the back door, and the stairs. When I think about how inconvenient that was for her, I realize that she must have been making sure that no one ever took me away again! My poor grandmother must have gone through much, much fear for me after my mother, Elaine, had taken me.

Every time I was asked to sing for an event, my father would tell me that I was going to turn out to be just like my mother. He told me that my mother had left me to become a singer. When I think about that, I wonder why he didn’t say she left us, not just me.

I find that some days while writing this down, I can do so in a matter-of-fact fashion, but on other days I have to stop, to keep from crying.

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We are serializing our memoir Kidnapped Twice: Then Betrayed and Abused, by Mary E. Seaman and Douglas Winslow Cooper. It is available through on-line booksellers like Amazon, as well as from its publisher, Outskirts Press.
 
My writing-editing-coaching site is http://writeyourbookwithme.com.

"Trials of an Empty Nest," Ch. 14, BUT...AT WHAT COST

Beth graduated from high school in 1984, so the autumn of that year was the beginning of my life as an empty-nester. Randy was a senior in one of New York State’s best-known party schools (Oneonta) and Beth was a freshman at SUNY Albany. Thank goodness Small World Decorating was still doing well.

We were busy, but not so busy I didn’t miss Beth every day. After a lifetime of hanging out on the fields and in the gyms of Orange County, I was pretty desperate to watch some games. I even missed being a chauffeur. One might think less laundry would be a welcome change, but it just reminded me she wasn’t home. I had somewhat adjusted to Rand’s not being home, but Beth’s being gone intensified that feeling of loss.

The kids and I had always been the primary wood-movers and fire-tenders. After Randy left, Beth and I had to do it. Ash did the heavy work: the sawing, hauling and splitting. Beth and I stacked the wood in the shed, brought the wood inside and kept the home fires burning. I doubt she has any fond memories of those times, but I do. She was my right arm for the wood chores and most projects I attempted. There’s a lot to be said for sharing misery… and we shared a lot of it! We also did fun things, though. At least I thought they were fun; maybe they weren’t for her. Moms, after all, aren’t as much fun as peers are.

Beth was overweight as a teen, so wasn’t Miss Popularity. She had some “brainiac” friends and friends from sports, but she was shy and often sad. She didn’t flit from event to event, nor date much, nor talk on the phone all the time like most teenagers, but I think she wished she did.

I didn’t know how to help. She’s since said she wished I’d have made her lose weight, but at the time, I was more focused on making her feel good about who she was and what she could do, than how she should look. I had bought into the emphasis on building and preserving a child’s self-esteem. My bad, I guess.

Anyway, Beth didn’t enjoy high school or her home-life. I was very worried. I knew she would succeed academically in college, but I also knew the social adjustment would be hard for her. It was – but only for the first year.

Beth found her first good friend near the end of her first year away, and things started to look up. Linnea took Beth under her wing and built her confidence – something I was never able to do. Beth always could be assertive, but was never socially confident. She was sort of the opposite from me; I was usually confident, but not assertive. Ashley was both – in spades. Randy was both, but not in spades. Interesting.

Linnea and Beth went on a diet together, and that did it. A confident Beth emerged from the chrysalis… and her assertiveness grew to rival her father’s. They locked horns at nearly every meeting – and still do.

Time made my empty-nest syndrome more manageable. I really, really missed having them around, but Intellectually, I knew they were ready to fly. I would not have to worry about these kids. They were successful, highly competent, productive and generally happy adults. BUT, I found it to be very tough not to be needed anymore, and I still do.

Randy still valued my opinion, but Linnea had replaced me as a confidant and advisor to Beth. My little girl, under Linnea’s tutelage, became her own person and (I think) sought to release her inner child from its past. Linnea was a counselor and was present the first time Beth confronted me with hostility. In fact, Linnea initiated the conversation. It is only now, in hindsight, that I have connected Linnea’s counsel with Beth’s behavior changes. I could be completely wrong, but that was the time frame when I started to feel Beth’s hostility. Before that, I hadn’t felt it at all. She was still my “roll with the punches” little girl.

It wasn’t all the time or even most of the time, but there was a definite change in Beth’s demeanor with just about everyone in the family starting somewhere in her junior year of college (I think). As I’ve said many times in many chapters, there are a myriad of influences that can determine any choice one makes, but I think whom one wants to please at any given moment usually influences the choice the most. In Beth’s case, at that moment in time, she wanted to please Linnea.

It is natural and expected for kids to grow up and change their priorities. Moms must be left behind, but damn it’s difficult when you are!


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We are serializing Judy Axtell's memoir, But...At What Cost. It is available through on-line booksellers such as Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and its publisher, Outskirts Press. 

I am proud to have coached Judy and edited her book. You are invited to see my writing-coaching-editing site, http://writeyourbookwithme.com.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

"Duke and Duchess," A Short Story

Douglas Winslow Cooper and Brian Maher

“Tess, is this notebook yours or Eddie’s?”

“Mine, Mom.”

“But his name is written across the front. Unless you’ve changed yours to Eduardo.”

“Oh, Mom. I just like the way his name looks.”

“And you like the way he looks, too.”

“Well...yes.”

“I’ve often seen him walking his German Shepherd past our house lately. I don’t remember his doing that a lot before.”

“He likes to take her to the park. In fact, I see him coming up the hill with Duchess right now.”

“’Duchess’?”

“That’s his dog’s name. It’s funny. Our German Shepherd was called ‘Duke.’ If he were still alive, they would be Duke and Duchess.”

“I miss Duke, dear.”

“So do I, Mom. Will we get another soon?”

“I’m not quite ready, but I do want another dog, either a German Shepherd or a Golden Retriever.”

Mrs. Williams went back to doing some dusting, thinking about her little girl, who was not so little any more, and who clearly had a crush on Eddie Gomez; he seemed like a good kid.

Outside, Tess yelled, “Hi, Eddie. What’s up?”

“Walking Duchess to the park. Want to come?”

“Yes, I do. I wish our Duke hadn’t died last year. Maybe the two dogs would have been friends.”

“Duke and Duchess.”

“Right.”

“I felt very safe with Duke around,” said Tess, “and so did the rest of the family. He never bit anybody, but he looked like he might if they gave us trouble.”

“Duchess hasn’t bit any people, either, but she has beaten up a few other dogs. She wants to be the boss dog. Some guy let his Pit Bull Terrier loose, and it came after Duchess. They went for each other’s necks, and then Duchess had a better idea: she reached down and grabbed the other dog’s front leg in her mouth, picked it up and wouldn’t let go. The Pit Bull was stuck, couldn’t do anything to her.”

“What happened then?”

“The other owner came and very carefully got his dog back on the leash. His dog‘s leg was bleeding. I haven‘t seen them since.”

“Served them right,” Tess affirmed.

As they walked, Eddie continued to praise his dog. “She’s smart, too. She sleeps in my room most nights, and last week I was just getting to sleep when she banged her water dish with her paw to tell me she wanted more water. I didn’t want to get up, so I just lay there. She used her mouth to pick up her dish– it’s some kind of light metal– and she placed it on my pillow, then licked it to show me it was empty.”

“Wow! That was smart. What did you do?”

“I got up and filled her dish with water. She had earned it.”

Not to be too outdone, Tess said, “Our Duke was smart, too. He would stand close to the front door and bark if he wanted to go on the porch. He would stand about a yard back from the front door and bark if he wanted to go for a walk. If you tried to put him on the porch when he wanted a walk, he wouldn’t go, knowing that once he was on the porch, he couldn’t easily tell us he wanted a walk.”

“Smart dogs!” Eddie agreed. “Good protection, too. Nobody who comes to the door will get past Duchess if she doesn’t know them. Even though my dad’s a cop, my mother doesn’t want guns in the house when he’s not home, so a tough dog, a tough-looking dog anyway, is really good.”

“We feel safer with a dog, too, so we will get another. Duke was a sweetheart, and we miss him. We are almost ready to get a puppy.”

Three months later, the Williams family bought another German Shepherd, a puppy. They named him “King,” outranking a Duke or a Duchess. Eddie laughed when he heard the name applied to that small ball of fur, but he was careful not to laugh about it in front of Tess.

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Another of our series of 50 upbeat short stories for young readers.

You are invited to see my writing-editing-coaching site,  http://writeyourbookwithme.com.