Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Memories from a not so lost childhood

After surgery in 1971 mom was after me to attend my 10th High School reunion in May of that year. Most of you are probably wondering why my mother would want her child to go back to a High School that had so many unhealthy memories but Harry agreed with her. I knew I had a lot of resentment and yes anger about the beatings I took but my mother thought I should face them as the real me and let them see the nice girl they tormented and mom added the caveat it doesn't hurt you are kinda hot which was weird coming from my mother which I am sure my brother Ray had something to do with.

Sometimes facing the demons of our past is helpful and maybe it would provide closure. I returned the RSVP and I was at the office in NYC a few days later and get a call from mom.  The facility where the reunion was to be held burned down and it was canceled and I thought that was the best karma I could think of and I must admit I had a chuckle about that.  Early in 1972 mom tells me it is rescheduled for May of 1972 and she had sent my RSVP invitation in.  Mom could be pushy and just to make sure I could not weasel out of it Uncle Al called me to Boston for a meeting which conveniently was on the Friday before the Saturday reunion.

I got played as they say today. Mom knew I loved coming home now because my grandmother had an epiphany and was so guilt ridden over her treatment of me she always wanted me to visit and to be honest I always wanted her love so it worked. So I made plans to head home for a 3 day weekend for the first time in over ten years where I actually stayed in my old home.

It was nearly an even more memorable weekend when this guitar player I was more than friends with flew in from London mid week and hid out in my home as he liked to do because neither the CIA, FBI or the KGB could get by my doorman and security so the photographers of the day were not a problem. We had dated off and on since early 1970 after being introduced by a mutual friend Andy and we were more than friends when neither of us was attached.  I told him I was having sympathy sex with him only because he was so cute and looked so forlorn and like a scorned puppy when he was dumped by a girlfriend. Ironically our friendship has survived over 40 years and he has long since lost cute.

He finds out I am going to my 10th or more accurately 11th reunion of my High School graduation and says he will escort me which I immediately shot down. First I reminded him we wouldn't get to the corner without being noticed and since he knew of the past I reminded him someone might dig when they see us together and I didn't want to be known as his pretty transsexual of the moment like several of his musician friends in London who were or had been running around with some famous ones.

I knew he would simply become intimately involved with writing music if in the mood or more likely Jim Beam Black, Jack Daniels, or my Johnny Walker Red because as I constantly told him his girlfriend was really nice and she wasn't the problem because he was and he knew it.  His problem was based in his insecurity, weird lack of self confidence at time, and his trips into drug abuse and too much alcohol. I knew all about insecurity and lack of self confidence so we were a pretty matched pair there but I didn't drink much or do drugs. He certainly fit my liking for bad boys because that was his deserved image at times.  Under different circumstances we could have fallen in love I believe.

The meeting in Boston lasted all of 30 minutes which I found hilarious and my Uncle gave me the keys to a Company car and I drove south of Boston towards my home town. I had asked him slyly if he was in on this and he smiled and shrugged his shoulders. For some reason I decided to head into the center of town before heading home and I drove by the Theater where that oh so special boy kissed me for the first time and the car seemed to drive itself to my High School and I parked across the street in the church parking lot where the Reverend Banks had thrown me out of Sunday School and church because I was a heathen or something along those lines.

I am sure some of you have done something like this after the journey is over but it seemed surreal. It is 11 years after graduation and I am 26 and quite successful and I am finally the complete girl I should have been born as. There is a news stand on a corner opposite the church that was still operated by a very kind old man who hid me when I tried to hide from boys looking for me.  He saved me from many a beating.

I walked across the street and when I walked in he recognized me immediately and it was hugs, smiles and a tear or two on my part.  He was one of the people that looked past the facade and saw the real me. It is a very busy street so I had to wait for the lights to turn my way to cross the street to the school and it just looked so big now. It was actually a massive granite building since it held over 2000 students but it had always seemed so small to me when I was there.

I was dressed as a young woman in business would dress with a skirt that wasn't too short, a white blouse, and a suit coat designed for the successful young woman of the day.  Nothing special just average girl next door business attire. It was lunch time and kids were sitting on the granite steps eating and talking and laughing on a rare warm spring day this close to the coast. The sea breeze off the Atlantic would kick in early in the afternoon like it always did this time of the year and temperature would drop 20 degrees in minutes.

I had not planned on going in but I was drawn to the past and I have no idea why. I had rose tinted sunglasses on and I could see all the teenage boys checking me out and getting hit on their arms by their girlfriends when I smiled at the boy. Not one time in my 3 years at that school had I ever dared sit where they sat. The kids who sat there were the ones that hurt me physcially and I had actually been shoved down those stairs several times after school. One time I had broken my arm and hurt my shoulder and the three boys told me if I told it would get worse so I tried to claim I fell down myself but they knew at the Emergency Room it was just another incident for me and mom had to rush to the hospital to calm down her hysterical child.

When I got inside I looked down the main corridor which went forever it seemed and was the gauntlet I dreaded if a class required me to use it. There was a Security Guard there and he asked for ID since I obviously wasn't a student and I quickly added I came to see Mrs Watson my homeroom teacher from high school and that I was here for the reunion. I wondered if that guard would have helped me when trouble happened years ago and somehow I knew he would not have.

I found my old home room and Mrs Watson was not there so I headed to the Library which was my Sanctuary in High School. I tutored students there for extra money before and after school and they often had to kick me out to close the school up. It was safer than trying to run the gauntlet to the train, subway or bus station to get home. Nothing bad ever happened to me in the Library.

When I opened the door and entered I felt the same excitement I felt in High School. There was all that knowledge in there and I wanted it all was what I thought when I tutored there and studied there. To the left was the area where one was allowed to work together and where I tutored students and where that special boy sat down to be tutored by me for the first time and the memory of how attracted to him I was and how scared that made me feel rushed into my head.

I remembered him asking me how old I was and his surprise at the fact I would not be 13 until December. He was a junior and as a sophomore had been all-state football and baseball.  He was a legend in the city because he had led them to the State Championship and football was big and a sophomore QB leading his team to the State Title over the invincible Brockton team was historic. Didn't mean a thing to me then because he was late and I told him not to ever be late again which was amazingly brave for me.

What memories I had there. He was the first boy that made me laugh and the first boy that said hello to me in the corridors. They needed me to teach him to study so he could stay eligible. I remember when we got up to leave he pulled my chair out and lord he was so tall.  I was 5'-8" and still am but he towered over me and was at least 6'-4".  I never noticed how kindly he treated me at first which was so weird because I was too scared to notice. I looked a lot like my profile picture so boy was not something I was very successful at.

I had to leave quickly or I would have started crying so I walked back to my old home room and the corridors were filling with students and it seemed surreal how eerie it felt walking those corridors with students and not feeling apprehension for what might come.

Mrs Watson was there as was a classroom full of students so I walked by and left the school and was going to go home but I decided to drive around a little bit. It had been a long time since I had been in this city. I made the drive toward the ocean and the area where we swam before I looked so unusual it wasn't safe to be there without my older brother and I stopped going because I knew it was eerie how I looked and I didn't want to embarrass him.

I parked at the south end of the beach near Black's Creek which was the entrance and exit for the sea into a massive tidal marsh area. I love the smell of the ocean and everything was paved now so I walked on the sidewalk over to the bridge that let traffic traverse the marsh entrance. It was a calm day and Wollaston Bay, as we locals called it, was like a sheet with nary a ripple on the massive protected bay.

I could see the Yacht clubs in the distance and the Squantum Yacht Club where my father taught us to sail and I could swim off the member piers and rafts safely until he died in 1956. I avoided looking down at the man made jetty that funneled the water in and out of the bay.  In those days it was the last memory I had of that special boy and it was a frightening memory.

On Thanksgiving 1959, which is late November in the US, I tried to commit suicide by jumping into the outbound flow from Blacks Creek. It was a miserable day and week for me with horrible confrontations at school, with a doctor, and finally my extended family on our most popular National Holiday and I had given in. Not even an Olympic swimmer could escape the vicious current created on an outbound tide and it was sure death with the water temperature in the 40's and the air temperature dropping rapidly. I was pulled off the rocks by that boy before I could go in and I could have killed both of us.

Even then I wondered what had happened to him but everything was so fuzzy and vague from that moment until August of 1963. I knew we liked each other a lot and I remembered the kiss and it was disturbing not to remember what I wanted to remember because I remembered everything basically.

I returned to the car without ever looking down at the frothing water because by its sound I knew it was outbound tide time and Blacks Creek was lethal then. I leaned on the hood of the car and remembered all the fun and good times I had here with my brothers. I was the one that made money tutoring as they played every school sport so I supplied the cash so we could scarf down the delicious fried strip clams at the beach front Howard Johnson eatery across the road from the water and then wash them down with one of their 28 flavors of ice cream along with a bottle of coca-cola.

How stupid we were cannon balling the jellyfish when we had the annual influx during summer vacation. Fishing in the salt water tidal marsh and how squeamish I was with worms and fish. Ray put the worms on and took the fish off and my rule was if I caught it we set it free. If they caught fish, usually flounder, they sold it to a fish shack near the Howard Johnson eatery. I caught a lot of fish and they all were released but one day I hooked a huge eel and I ran screaming for my life and Ray was laughing so hard he forgot to release it and it died. I felt so guilty.

I remembered looking at the girls on the beach and hating them because they had what I wanted but also envious of the curves they were developing and breasts which I wanted more than a breath. I remembered diving off the roof of our Yacht Club with Ray which got both of us in trouble and a few smiles from members. I remembered riding bikes to the beach and never having to worry about someone stealing them and the Granite Quarries we swam in when the tide was out and jumping off the granite quarry rims into the deep water without regard for life or limb. I had no fear of heights then and we regularly leaped from the 100 foot mark. There was usually 20-30 kids from all the surrounding towns and I was OK because I went off The Perch and few dared. I had an advantage they never knew about. I really did not care if I lived or died.

This entire day seemed like Captain Kirk had time warped me to my childhood memories. Sometimes it isn't easy to admit there were some wonderful moments when the painful ones dominant your existence.  I remembered walking down the beach with my mother as she recovered from paralytic polio and defied the doctors who told her she would never walk again. They had no idea how big her heart was. They told her to walk a mile so she walked 3 miles down the sandy beach and 3 miles back. They said it was a miracle but I knew better.

I remembered the regattas my dad raced in and little me excitedly asking which boat is daddy in and mom telling me he is the one way ahead of everyone. Not too bad for a man from a slag heap town in Wales who had never seen the ocean until Eaton. Almost like it was on a clock, Nature's clock actually, the wind shifted from a southwest zephyr to a gentle easterly off the water and gently picked up and the temperature began to drop. Nature's air conditioner was not welcome in spring but a godsend in the smarmy heat of summer.

I remembered the exclusive Country Club inland from here where dad played his beloved golf. He loved golf and played whenever he was home and able in rain, shine, cold, and heat he walked the hilly course built before 1900. Dad taught me to hit golf balls at the range when I was 8 because I sort of followed Ray around like a puppy dog. Even my 6 year old brother was stronger than me but I hit everything with a significant right to left turn and he said that is what you want and I never knew what he meant until later in life. I was really too young to play and the stogy old fools at the club didn't like children hogging the course so I never played a round on that course.

Golf would be a sanctuary from the pain of my failed first marriage in later life and I know he would have been proud of  how much I enjoyed golf and when I played my first round and beat both of my brothers I am sure he was smiling down as they screamed and yelled after every bad shot and I followed his mantra of hit it, find it, hit it again, and don't get upset because golf should be a game of calm.

Thinking of my dad my mind switched to my earliest memories of his involvement with the first radio Controlled planes in the area and how enthralled I was with those planes flying around under control until they ended in a tree and how quickly I could climb a tree and get a plane down. Long after he died I lamented that I wanted to be my daddy's little girl but in many ways I always was. He knew how I felt and in the worst times he would be there with mom to comfort me. He was so shocked by the first suicide attempt I think he held me for hours and told me constantly everything will be OK and I wish he could have been around to see how right he was. He would have adored my second husband Pete because he was a Navy pilot and I would have had to fight dad for the passenger seat in Pete's Stearman stunt biplane but it would have been dad's because he always wanted to fly and I loved him too much to deny him that pleasure.

Our home had a huge family room and in there was his greatest passion after his family. His 6 foot by 12 foot Brunswick snooker table. My dad was at one time considered the best snooker player in Great Britain as a young man in the 20s and  thirties before the war. Perpendicular to the snooker table was his regulation Brunswick pool table. Both tables had the smallest legal sized pockets allowed which meant going to other tables was easier. He would get a huge smile when he regaled us with stories of how a dirt poor Welsh kid had more spending money than all the rich snots at Eton because he took their money on the school pool tables and how none of them ever believed a "slag" boy could beat them.

My brothers had no use for the game since it wasn't baseball, football or basketball but I loved it. Every evening after homework we would play and I had a real knack for the game because it is angles, ball speed, cue ball english, and ball position and a snooker table essentially has square pockets compared to a normal pool table so using a rail to slide a ball into the pocket did not work. My grandfather loved pool so it was my sanctuary away with two people I loved. They built me a little box so I could play and I had to drag it with me for every shot.

I am not sure how it started but I remember the matches that were played in that room with pool players dad became acquainted with in the area to start with. Top players came to practice on the snooker table with my dad and my grandfather and soon games were played for coin as they said. Shorty Johnson came to practice on the snooker table because he was the World Nine Ball Champion and as he said he could not beat my dad unless he used the cue on him. Dad spotted the best cash Nine Ball player in the world the 8 ball and the break. It is so amazing to remember this. Shorty quickly learned the pockets on a normal table looked like caverns after playing on dads tables. Luther "Wimpy" Lassiter, Irving Crane, Rudy "Fats" Wanderone who claimed to be the fictional "Minnesota Fats", Jack Reed the Brunswick Representative for New England, and others played in our two table pool room every Saturday from late October through to mid-April if they were in the area. Willie Mosconi was a frequent visitor and I once watched him run 14 straight racks practicing on our regular pool table.

It was considered a privilege to be invited to watch some of the matches being played and most of the time unless dad was giving me a lesson the only noise that came from that room was the sound of balls being hit and the slap as they entered a leather pocket and the rattle of the balls when they were re-racked. If a big match was in progress it was like a tomb except when an exceptional shot was made. Sometimes these masters of pool would fool around with the amazing trick shots they did at exhibitions and then the room was filled with laughter as they tried to one up each other. 

They were always so nice to my dad and they were nice to me although more often than not they thought I was his daughter when we initially met but dad would take them aside and I was treated so well I welcomed other people into my life that didn't hurt me. When my dad and grandfather both died in 1956 my grandmother immediately sold the tables and got rid of the "heathens" from our lives. The house was like a morgue after that. My grandfather owned the house and it was a monstrous Victorian and we had our own private section of the house because grandfather asked us to stay there. It had to be 4500 square feet or larger.

I was jerked back to reality by a honking horn as a car pulled in next to me and it was hard to miss the stocky frame of George "Jeep" C. my neighbor's son and a dear friend who along with his family had tried to protect me. We had a warm hug and I told him why I was back and that got a little whistle of disbelief and I told him I had been thinking of a lot of the fun times I had despite the turmoil of being transsexual. He reminded me of the great cigar caper with his brother Richie, my two brothers and me. It wasn't hard to remember.

It was funny now but not when I went through it. George is a "made" man in the mob and Richie stole two stogies because he wanted to be cool like his older brother. I was dragged along as they went into the woods to smoke them but I refused. They had both cigars lit and were puffing away when George came calling and we ran like rats running from a sinking ship but he caught us and then proceeded to make all of us finish the cigars as punishment including me who had never touched them but was collateral damage or guilty by association.

My brother Ray was laughing himself sick and pointing at me because I was three shades of green and it was then he told George she never smoked them. Ray had started using female pronouns for me that summer when I was 10 and George took one look at me and picked me up and ran to his home looking for Mrs C, his mom in this case, to fix me because I was probably greener than new grass by then. I vomited a little and after a while my spinning world stopped spinning and George was happy I was not dying on him.

His mother had told me countless times I made a much better girl than I ever would a boy and their home was a sanctuary at times. She taught me to cook Sicilian Italian from home made sauce to my own home made pasta. I learned how to make a "real" pizza pie and when I asked she helped me learn to sew. When my next door neighbor Chuck tried to rape me in 1957 George's dad who was a mob boss threatened to have him killed if he hurt me again. When he did rape me in 1960 and almost killed me George's dad had that asshole brutalized multiple times until he came begging them to stop after circumstances prevented him from serving a day in jail.  From that day on he was terrified to even look cross-eyed at me.

We had a good laugh remembering the summer I was so enthralled with Shakespeare and then Chaucer that I walked around speaking like a character from a Shakespeare production and then would switch into the middle english Chaucer wrote in and people would wonder what the hell I was saying. George told me he thought I was the craziest 6 year old he had ever met when I did that. I was a little leery of telling him my grandfather and I often talked that way to each other.

I asked him what happened to Kevin and he was delicate reminding me he had died in Vietnam but never broached the subject of my relationship with Kevin. I sensed a deep feeling of loss but it just didn't register then why that was.

He reminded me of the great Roberta Fogo incident when Mr Fogo caught us playing house when I was 8 and I was dressed as her sister and how Mr Fogo had marched me to my house dressed as I was and told my parents this was unacceptable behavior so my dad bought me a chemistry set which was not the best idea my parents ever had because within a week I was making my own black powder and terrorizing everyone in the neighborhood with my home made firecrackers in the woods.

This brought to mind the great log disaster or never put off a firecracker near a nest of pissed off wasps and how my brothers, me, and his brother Richie had to jump into the rain filled creek to avoid the wasps and only after 10 minutes did we realize we set the entire place on fire.

We were both laughing and he reminded me of the fire in the school and said every time he hears the Talking Heads song "Burning Down the House" he thinks of me  almost burning down the new High School. I was in an advanced chemistry class demonstrating the differences in hypergolic fuels and normal rocket fuel and a fellow student had bumped the table spilling everything and the entire lab went up in flames and only because the Fire Station was one block from the school was the damage limited to that room. It was my senior year and that was so awesome.  It got everyone two days vacation from school and everyone enjoyed that.

It was approaching 2:15 in the afternoon and I wanted to see my old English teacher so we hugged again and the only thing I could think of saying was to tell him thanks for being a friend to a very scared kid when she very few.

As I started driving towards my old High School it hit me that my childhood had at times been hurtful but it was not lost. I just needed to look past the pain kids like me experienced and realize kids can always find ways to have fun even kids like me.

Now it was off to meet some teachers and then face my classmates tomorrow and a little bit of the dread was drifting away on that Easterly wind as the temperatures cooled. My anger was subsiding and now I began to wonder if some of them might actually like me better as Elizabeth.

More later.



Caroline said...

Posh English Public school ( ie as private as it gets ) Eton?

Caroline xxx

Elizabeth said...

I always spell it wrong for some reason. maybe cause I dated this guy named Chuck Eaton.

June said...
This comment has been removed by the author.