The King and Queen of Denial

Today started out like any Wednesday, taking care of my 89-year-old father so my 87-year-old mother could get out of the house for the afternoon.

Dad was a little “off” today: he wasn’t happy with his omelette for lunch.  He would rather have had one more piece of toast but preferred to grumble about it rather than ask for it.  I didn’t mind.  After all, he’s 89 and very disabled, in pain all the time, and it amazes me that he manages to get through most of his days in mild-to-moderately good spirits.

Mom came in from shopping, bringing the mail that she picked up at the post office.  There was a package from LL Bean for me.  She wanted to see what was in it; I demurred, because the gift for her upcoming birthday was in it.  She got demanding and insistent.  There was a bit of a tussle until I finally remembered that there was something in that package for me, too, and I cagily extracted it.  That satisfied her.

I looked at my mail; nothing but “begging letters.”  I have specific charities I give to regularly, so I threw them all in the recycle bin.

The conversation turned to politics, and somehow got onto someone whose past as a prostitute had recently been revealed.

Mom reacted acidly.  How could anyone sink so low?  What in the world would cause anyone to do THAT?  She’d rather die.

“I did that,” I said quietly.

“YOU DID NOT!” She shouted, staring at me blinking out of her little birdy eyes as if I was the world’s biggest liar.

“Come OFF IT” shouted my father, several decibels softer than he would have in his prime, but doing the best he could muster.

“You were never a prostitute,” stated my mother matter-of-factly.

“Unfortunately, I was, when I ran away.”

“Then you deserved what you got!  You’re lucky you didn’t pick up some disease!  Maybe you DID pick up some disease,” she said thoughtfully.  “Why in the world did you do that?”

“I did it because I was cold and hungry, I needed food and shelter and safety from the streets.”

“You never told us that.  You never told us anything.  You just left us all of a sudden.  You robbed us of raising you!  You robbed us of our only child!”

I robbed them of their only child.  That was all they could think of.  They didn’t ask me why I ran away to California, or why, when they flew me back East for a family event, I ran back to California as soon as it was over.  Even if they had asked me then, I wouldn’t have told them.

I was scheduled for an abortion. I needed to get back to California.

It’s been forty-four years since I bought that one-way ticket to San Francisco.  Forty-four years since the bullying at school, my mother’s frequent unpredictable rages, and the vicious rape that took my virginity rolled up into critical mass.  I knew I had to either kill myself or get out of there.  I chose the latter.

I hit the streets in California broke, disoriented, and from my perspective now, unbelievably vulnerable.  Nowhere to stay, nothing to eat.  The weather was cold that spring, and I was dressed for California sunshine, not cold fog.

The first night I stayed with a friend I had met at a summer camp.  Her parents had a party that very night, and I went to bed early, exhausted from the trip.  The bedroom door opened and closed, and suddenly a man’s body was on top of mine.  A voice hissed in my ear, “Don’t make any noise and you won’t get hurt.”

It was the same thing my first rapist had hissed.  That first time.

Many more rapes, and finally it dawned on me that I could get food and places to stay and maybe a little money to buy a new toothbrush.  Nothing big-time: I didn’t even know what I was doing.  Just surviving, that’s all.

Why didn’t I give up and go home?

Because the streets and the rapes and the johns were better than the screaming and the “silent treatment” and the rapist there who watched me like a hawk, trying to get me to “be nice” to his friends in exchange for some Panama Red….and the school principal who regularly lectured me on the fact that I was a weirdo and would never amount to anything.  At least this bad scene was MY bad scene.  I chose it over being a one-girl shooting range at “home.”

“Home is where the heart is.”  There was only one heart, and it was beating in my chest.  Now, as then.

“You deprived us of raising you!  You robbed us of our only child!”

And yet…and yet what?  You only thought of yourselves?  You still, forty-four years later, think only of yourselves and not why I ran away, let alone what happened to me out there?

“You deserved whatever you got.  You chose it.  You deprived us of our only child!”

God help us.

The Sword of Damocles

Every time the phone rings I dread it.  The several times a week that I see her sour face, I cringe.  It’s happened!  She’s found my blog!   My mother, that is.

I’ve written my heart out on the topic of the rage that seethes within me at the very thought of her.  Of the abuse that I suffered at her hands as a child, and that I have continued to suffer as an adult.

Because of her I became a teenage runaway, to escape her endless screaming, name-calling, belittling, gas-lighting, accusations of imagined crimes.

Because of her I preferred sleeping outdoors or in abandoned buildings, suffering  hunger, cold, and turning to prostitution in order to survive.

And when I tried over and over and over again to make amends for the crime of  having left “home” she drove me out with curses: “You’re shit!” she would calmly observe. “You’re good for nothing!”  And once again, I fled in tears, into the forest, into the arms of any waiting man who seemed to want me, into cocaine, into the underworld of dirty Chicago….anywhere but “home.”  I don’t have a “home.”  She threw me out of it.

So I started getting degrees, to prove to myself that I was good for something.  And maybe if I was good for something, she would love me.  A bachelor’s. An M.D., with a master’s tacked on for good measure.  Head of my class, 5.0 GPA, wall full of awards.  Exercised and starved myself into ultimate shape.  Made a lot of money, legally.  Sent expensive gifts.  All-expense-paid-for vacations.  Surely that would earn me favor in her eyes?  Surely now she would see what a good daughter I was?

It did, sort of.  She sang my praises far and wide, in the public sphere.  But in private, again: “You moron!  Don’t you know anything?  How could you be so stupid!”

Yes, I know she’s crazy.  She comes from a family of crazies. I know the stories of what she did to me when I was a baby, a toddler, and how the family laughed about it, and how she said I deserved it: always getting into mischief, that one.

So I’m terrified that she will find my blog, and read what I have written about her.  She will not think: “Oh my God, what have I done to cause my only child to fear me so?  How can I fix this, how can I change, how can I make amends?”  No, she won’t think that.  She will think:  “Why, that g_d-damn  stinking little selfish bastard!  She can’t stand me, eh?  Well she’ll get hers!  I’ll give her something to fear!”  And she will.

Thirty years of therapy have not erased the trauma.  I still feel like that helpless little kid being cut to ribbons by her sharp tongue.  Some wounds don’t heal.

49 Shades of Mommie Dearest

My mother is not quite as fearsome as Joan Crawford in Mommie Dearest, but she can give her a good run for her money.

She’s a classic Narcissistic Personality Disorder.  Me, Me, Me, Me.  In fact, my private name for her is MeMe.  She’s always a step ahead.  If I lose one pound, she loses two.  If my disabled father is not moving fast enough to suit her, she’ll take off at her swinging clip and leave him to fall face down on the sidewalk.  Things like that.

My childhood was one big nightmare on toe shoes, tiptoeing around on eggshells, never knowing what I would inadvertently do to set her off into a screaming rage.  I spent a lot of time outside.

I never knew which of my possessions was up for disappearance next.  Or my pets, for instance: which would be given away, which would “just die,” which would “run away.”  The only ones that stayed were the ones she and my father considered their own.

As most of my bloggie friends know, I ran away at age 16.  My mother went to a psychiatrist (the only time in her life) who told her it wasn’t her fault: I was just a rebellious teenager who should be left to learn my own lessons.  I did: homelessness, hunger, rape, prostitution.  Good lessons.

For some reason I was not killed, and eventually pulled my way up and out, and even more eventually became a doctor.  That made Mom happy, because it reflected well on her.  See, I turned out well after all.  It wasn’t her fault.  But I never returned to the parental “home,” which was not my home.

Then things got pretty bad when I had a breakdown and lost my practice and everything I had, and ended up totally disabled and bankrupt.  No help from Mom there; in fact, she persisted in telling her friends that my practice was going great!

I moved to the other side of the country, and that felt better, to be on a different coast and less in the weltering chill of her force field.  And then I moved to the other side of the world, which was even better.

On a mission trip, I fell in love with Israel: in particular, Jerusalem.  As soon as I set my foot on the broiling hot stone paved streets, I knew I had found home.  A year after the trip, I went back to study in a Jewish women’s seminary for a month, which turned into three months.  I shed buckets of tears praying at the Western Wall for God to please bring me home.  It came to pass, in March of 2007, that I moved to Israel to stay.  I was Home.

It wasn’t easy.  I moved eight times in the first fifteen months, for every reason you can think of, and some you would never imagine (bracket fungus growing out of the kitchen walls after a flood soaked the plaster).  I felt like the Wandering Jew, and in my own country at that!  How ironic.  But never, even through those hardships and others, did the feeling of joy at being home ever leave me.  For one who has never had a home, the delirious joy of having found Home is hard to describe.

My parents are old, and I am the only child.  I had planned on making trips to see them every four months or so, to keep a finger on the pulse.  And I did.  After two years, my father started a downhill slide, and I increased the frequency to every three months.  As you can imagine, at an average of $1200 per trip plus car rental (they live in the boonies, and I would never be without a car: an escape route from my mother), it was a serious drain on my savings.

My father had a small stroke, and some other things started to go wrong with him, so the visits increased to every other month.  Finally, he started falling, and after two emergency trips back precipitated by head injuries, I decided that the time had come to move back across the world and be on site for what I thought were going to be my father’s last days.

His last days turned into weeks, months, and years: two and a half of them.  He’s certainly not the man he used to be, and considerably disabled, but he seems to have stabilized, thank G-d.

I am living in what is basically a barn: his former pottery studio, which I have restored from a rotting shell to a tight shelter.  That is a story in and of itself.  It’s close enough so that if I’m needed I can be there in two minutes, yet far enough away that I have privacy to do whatever I want to do.  It’s tolerable.

But I long for Jerusalem.  When I first came here I would find myself uncontrollably sobbing for hours.  I long for Jerusalem herself.  I miss my many friends, dear friends like I have never had before; and I miss my family of choice, my holy brothers and sisters, with whom I have bonds unlike any I have ever experienced in my previous life.

I miss just wandering the streets, watching the swirling admixture of Jews of all varieties with their distinctive ways of dress, and the plethora of priests, nuns, monks, striding out of their monasteries and convents in the Old City, countless varieties with their own dramatic habits: nuns so covered up in black that they would give any Muslim woman a run for her money, unless she was wearing a niqab; Muslims, the women in every degree of covering–the one I get a kick out of is the college girls with tight colorful hijabs that make their heads look like periscopes,  and skin-tight jeans and high heels; or the head-to-toe chador lady walking arm-in-arm with her mulletted husband in a muscle shirt and cut-off jean shorts.  All swirling around in the streets together, gabbing in the countless cafes, shopping, going to school–doing what everyone does.  And me, me! there among them, one of them.  Home, home at last!

Mom’s been on Zoloft for a month now.  She found herself crying all the time, so when both of them got bronchitis and I took them to the doctor she took the opportunity to tell the doctor about that, and got some Zoloft.  She really is feeling better, you can tell, although she insists on only taking half the prescribed amount.  That’s her.  She eats half an English muffin, half a sandwich, half a tab of Zoloft.  Oh well; what matters is that she actually copped to feeling bad and did something about it, and realizes she is feeling better.  Let’s pray she doesn’t quit just because she feels better.

So today, seeing that she is in a good mood, I decided to break some news: I am establishing a schedule for visiting my home, because I am miserable without it.  I will return every fall for the High Holidays and the month that precedes them, which is a month for study and preparation;  and I will return in the spring for Purim, which is thought of in the States as the Jewish Halloween because everybody gets dressed up, but in fact it is a holiday steeped in deep mysticism.

She shrugged.  “You do whatever you need to do.  I’ll get along somehow.”  What did I expect?  But the little child in me wanted approval.

“I miss my home,” I said, by way of what I hoped would be explanation.

This is your home!  Your home is right here!”  Her little eyes snapped.

“No, Mom, this is not my home.  This is your home.  You fell in love with this place, and you chose to live here.  I have never lived here.  I moved out of your house when I was sixteen…”

“I know,” she interrupted coldly.

“And just like you fell in love with this place, I fell in love with Jerusalem, and I am very sad when I am away.  And you know that I have a mental illness, and I have to take care of myself.  And all of my support system is in Jerusalem, all of my friends, my religious life, everything.  You don’t want me to end up in the hospital again, do you?  Because of isolation and no support?”

“What, being away from Jerusalem will put you in the hospital?”  Snort.

“What I would like you to do is to start looking into home care options that will give you respite and help while I’m away, so that you don’t get sick yourself.” Long conversation about that, leading to dead ends but it was a start, anyway.

I gave up.  Changed the subject.  Will not speak of it again.  Will just buy the tickets, get on the plane, and be there.  And eventually I will be able to pack up and go back, G-d willing, back to the crazy peaceful whirl of war zone in the Middle East, the only place in the world where I feel safe.

My Mental Magic Shield

I just had a revelation.  I’ve always told everybody something I learned in my NeuroLinguistic Programming (NLP) practitioner course in 1997-98, which is, All Illness Has A Purpose.  All illness has a message that your body is trying to teach you.  Even when it’s a horrible illness, like God forbid cancer, or Lou Gherig’s disease (did I spell that right?), or you name it.  The reason for the disease is to give you the opportunity to grow the spiritual organs that you are missing.

Hard one to swallow, eh?  Yeah, for me too.  I’m always grateful that I don’t have anything worse than what I have, although in suicidal moments (or days, weeks, months, or years) it seems as if I really could not feel worse no matter what was being done to me.

But tonight, as I was alternately reading stuff on children of narcissistic mothers (I have one: a narcissistic mother who is the daughter of a narcissistic mother–what a joy) and a 1981 textbook on runaways, what causes them and what to do with them (I was a runaway in 1970-71), I got a revelation.  What do my psychiatric diagnoses do for me?  They shield me.  They stand between me and the world.

This is a double edged sword.  Because my Bipolar Disorder and Autistic Spectrum Disorder (which I do not think of as a disorder, but an advantage) put me one level of separation away from the world, I feel isolated a lot.  I used to feel lonely, but now I feel more comfortable when I’m alone, which is 99.5% of the time.  On the positive side, my “disorders” protect me from a lot of the slings and arrows I would otherwise be subject to, if I was out in the world and participating in it.

Twice that I can remember, some other human being was trying to coerce me into doing their will, and I said “Don’t do that, you’re hurting me, you know I’m mentally ill,” and they stopped.  So that was a positive way to use my illness as a defense.  On the other hand, it would have been much healthier to say “stop doing that because it’s a shit thing to do and I won’t put up with it.”  Now THAT would be a healthy way of defending one’s self.  But since I wasn’t up to it because I actually WAS feeling ill, using my illness as a shield was a good strategy, I think.

On the other hand, I don’t wish to cultivate this defense mechanism, because I think it could become a habit: “oh, poor me, I’m mentally ill, don’t stress me out.”  When actually, what I should be saying is “Hey, don’t fuck with me, you’re taking advantage of me, you’re trying to abuse me, you’re seriously pushing my buttons.”  But that has always been a problem for me, because of the way I was raised.

When I was a child, “back-talk” was rewarded with “back-hand” across the mouth, prolonged tirades including belittlement, insults, curses, and other forms of crushing.  The Silent Treatment usually followed.  Banishment to one’s room was routine; but as soon as I got old enough to grok the situation, I stayed in my room voluntarily, or stayed outside, even if it was cold or raining, rather than be in the nasty indoor weather.

So I learned to say as little as possible, if confronted by negativity or abuse.  I always laugh when I read accounts of rape trials where they look for signs of struggle on the girl’s part.  Oh yeah, great if they find his skin under her fingernails; but let’s be realistic: when some dude who is twice your size says, “don’t make any noise and you won’t get hurt,” you’re probably going to keep as quiet as possible and let it get over with so he will go away and leave you to your quiet private hell.  I know that one very well.  Way too well.

I have to say I think I was more of a rape-magnet because of my abusive upbringing.  When your mother tells you you’re nothing, you’re shit, etc., etc., etc., after a while your subconscious incorporates that into its reality, and it becomes part of your personality, that you are somehow substandard protoplasm, and rapists get that on their radar from miles away.  It’s like, shit, if there was some asshole wanting to rape somebody in the general vicinity, all he had to do was turn around and, pow, there I was, telepathy or something.

That was before I figured out that I was crazy and therefore had a good reason for people not to fuck with me.  I have permission now to get really, really angry.  I can unload on people if I get that pushed.  But it freaks me out, because I am a pacifist.  I unloaded on a particularly toxic asshole last year.  It was the first time in my life I have ever done that.  No, it was the second time.  The first time was when my ex-husband “forgot” to come home from work one night.

So I’d much rather use my magic shield: I’m mentally ill, don’t fuck with me.  I don’t know how healthy that is, but it’s better than heaving a vase at their head.

Reblogged from In the Booth with Ruth: Dina Leah

Dina Leah, a survivor of child abuse and rape, ran away from home at age 16 only to find herself homeless on the streets. The only way to get shelter, food, and other necessities was to have sex with strange men. This led to more rapes, and a vicious cycle of drug abuse, survivor sex, and homelessness. She is currently writing a novelized memoir, using a pseudonym out of fear of her abusors. Ruth Jacobs, tireless advocate for change and abolition of prostitution, interviews Dina here about Dina’s life as a writer. In a second interview on Ruth’s website, Dina talks about her life as a runaway and how it has affected her, both as an activist for street kids and in her own personal life.

Daily Prompt: Sweet Sixteen

When this prompt from the generally genially congenial folks at WordPress showed up in my inbox, I got so flustered I didn’t know whether to shit or go blind.  Here I am, writing a whole freakin’ novel (just a tad autobiographical) about this very topic, and they want it in a single post?  OK, my friends.  Here it is, in a nutshell.  Trigger warnings slapped all over the box, just so you know.

Excerpted from my Novel-In-Progress:  A Runaway Life

I met him in the burger joint where I worked.  It was my first job.  I was a 16 year old virgin.  He admired my legs; I was flattered.  He had a motorcycle and bad skin.

That day he picked me up in his battered Ford. He drove on country roads that got progressively narrower till we reached a wooded park.  I thought we were going to take a walk.  But there was his motorcycle, parked near the edge of the woods.   I climbed on behind him and he kicked the motor to life.

I never would have believed someone could drive a motorcycle so fast on a dirt forest path.  I had to keep my eyes closed so I wouldn’t get sick from the trees whizzing by.

Suddenly the bike braked and I opened my eyes.  He had stopped near a big tree.  He got off and grinned at me with his bad teeth.

“Wait here,” he said.  “I have a surprise for you.”

He reached into a hollow in the tree and pulled out a small plastic bag.  “Panama Red,” he announced, as he rolled a thin joint and lit up.

We passed the joint back and forth until it was all used up.  He put the bag back in the tree and we got back on the bike and roared off.

Soon, after a few more terrifying twists and turns of the trail, we came to another big tree and stopped again.  “Acapulco Gold.”  And we smoked that joint up too.

Yet another stop, and I was completely wasted.  Somehow, he navigated back to the car; I was in no condition to ask where we were going.  He drove to his parents’ house. He lived in the basement, he had told me, when we had talked at the burger joint.

He must have carried me in. The basement floor was very hard.  The musty shag rug did nothing to soften the cold concrete underneath.  I still remember that.

He panted and grunted on top of me.  As my brain swam into consciousness his voice hissed in my ear, “Don’t make any noise and you won’t get hurt.”

In the Booth with Ruth – Dina Leah, Survivor of Sexual Exploitation and Anti-Exploitation Author

Dina Leah is in the booth with Ruth, talking about her traumatic life as a teenage runaway, surviving sexual exploitation and rape. This is a very emotional interview, filled with sexual PTSD triggers. I can’t even read it myself without trembling and crying.

Ruth Jacobs

Dina Leah

What inspired you to write about sexual exploitation?

I was inspired to write about sexual exploitation because of my experiences as a teenage runaway who was forced to rely on sexual favors in order to obtain the necessaries of life: food, shelter, safety from the violence of the streets and from other predators, even a place to take a shower, a ride to another town, a job.

Unfortunately, even the men who offered me shelter did not always accept “just” sexual favors in return for creature comforts, but sometimes demanded deviant acts or even violently raped me, even though I would have willingly given them sex.

Sex was so much the currency of my life that I didn’t even think about it. I just assumed that this was the price of my independence from an abusive home. Unfortunately, the price I ultimately paid was not just counted in physical trauma…

View original post 840 more words

Book progress and Pandora

My last posts have been heavy.  Good grief, how can anybody keep reading this heavy shit?  It freaks me out, and I’m the one that’s writing it.  So I’m gonna try to write a lighten-up post.  Let’s see if I can do it.

OK, right off the top, I am very proud to say that after I got the 50,000 word NaNoWriMo goal accomplished, I kept right on writing the novelized memoir I’ve been trying to write for 40 years.  I just decided, hell’s bells, I’m totally disabled, I’m stuck in the middle of East Bumfuck, North Carolina, with shitloads of time on my hands, and what better opportunity to finally go ahead and write the damn thing?  Not to mention the constant triggers. Why not turn that to good use, and novel my ample ass off?  I’m just shy of 69,000 words/227 pages right now, and gaining.  I’m writing two to three hours a night.

But I want to talk about Pandora, the internet radio that you customize yourself.  That link might just lead you to my radio station, “Joni Mitchell Radio.”  It has all the stuff I was listening to in 1970, the year I’m writing about.  So you know, the oldest sense in your “reptilian brain” is the sense of smell, and after that, sound. I’m sure you’ve all experienced the phenomenon of hearing a song, and BAM you’re right back where you were when you first heard it, or that time you heard it during some significant event.  Like for me, The Eagles’ Best of My Love takes me BAM back to the first moment I heard it in 1976 when I was a cutter in a small factory that made very high end leather clothing.  I was cutting a fine piece of suede and I had to run to the bathroom to cry, because if I got a teardrop on the suede it would ruin the piece and I would get a whole lot of shit from the owner, justifiably really, because the paper-thin hides were incredibly expensive.  I had just broken up with my boyfriend and musical partner of four years, and the song precisely described the entire situation.  So even now, many many years later, the minute I hear the intro, I burst into tears.

The point is, this ability to design a radio station that plays exactly the music that formed the soundtrack for my life as a teenage runaway in 1970 helps immensely in my efforts to evoke the pictures in my mind that I hope will come out my fingers on the keyboard, and might even help somebody else feel those crazy mixed up things that happened to a very naive sixteen year old at the mercy of a hard, hard world.  So far I haven’t incorporated too many lyrics into the text, but I think that will happen in the rewrite.  This writing is strictly to get the damn thing down and out of my head.  It’s incredible how much shit is pouring out in the writing, stuff I have repressed all these years: so many sexual assaults of many varieties and levels of violence.  Oops, sorry, I said I was going to keep this light.  Well, this is reality, so I can’t really censor it, can I?  But I can listen to the radio.

NaNoWriMo Victory!

Gentle readers, I have done my WriMo duty for a second straight year.  I must shamelessly say that I am very proud of myself.  Even better, when I hit the 50.000 word winner mark, I couldn’t stop, but have kept write on (sic) all evening and am now standing at 51,327 delicious words.

 

It’s a bitter-sweet victory for me to be writing this book.  I’ve been trying to write it for 40 years, but have run into emotional snags like near-psychotic breaks triggered by the flashbacks that I inevitably get when I write the history of the lost and abused little girl I was.  Even now, I have written many words through streaming tears.

 

But this time is different, for some reason.  The words are flowing (as are my tears) and at the end of every writing session I feel liberated, lightened of the load I have carried these 40 years and more.

 

So hip-hip-hooray for me, and I am going to drink a toast now, to Dina Leah and her new life, freed from the bonds of the past.  Now it’s time to incorporate the discipline of NaNoWriMo into my every day writing life, and apply seat to chair for at least two hours a day, as I have for the past month.  And soon, soon (maybe tomorrow) I will restart Dina Leah’s blog, where her story will be available in serial form.  See you there!

NaNoWriMo Novel Excerpt

Feeling brave today?  Here’s a raw, unedited excerpt from my in-progress NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) novel,  A Runaway Life. Remember, it’s a “Really Shitty First Draft,” so don’t get your red pencils out (mine is twitching like a divining rod, but I’m not allowed to use it till December 1st)!  Comments on the concept welcome!

Background:  Year: 1970.  Dina, a brilliant but depressed 16-year-old, has run away from her East Coast home and ended up in California, where she thought she would find Nirvana.  Instead, she finds herself caught in a downward spiral of homelessness, hunger, and dependance on others for survival.  As of this writing she is living in a detached garage in a down-at-heels working class neighborhood in Santa Maria.  Her new friend Monica lives in the house with her mother; her father has recently left the family.  Here goes!

 

While she was musing over ancient Chinese poetry, she became aware of light footsteps approaching the garage door.

 

“Hi, Dina, are you there?  May I come in?”  It was Monica!  Dina ran to the door and wrenched it open.

 

“Oh, wow, hi!  Come on in,” bubbled Dina.  She had rarely been so glad to see anybody.

 

“Sure, well, do you want to come into the house?  My mom won’t be home for a couple of hours yet.  We can get something to eat and watch TV or something.”

 

Dina walked out into the sunshine, blinking.  She had no idea how long she had kept herself locked up in the garage, but she remembered that it had been cloudy then.  She was glad to see the sun, and had some misgivings about going into the house, but the idea of company and food prevailed.

 

They trooped into the dark kitchen and Monica turned on the light, revealing a white linoleum floor flecked with silver and a 1950’s vintage dinette set that obviously was not purchased as an antique, judging by the corroding chrome and chipped table top, and the split vinyl seat backs revealing their tired grey stuffing.

 

Dina’s heart sank when Monica got the pretzels out, thinking she was going to stop with that; but her spirits soon rose when she saw the Skippy Peanut Butter and Marshmallow Fluff and store-brand white bread come out.  She had always turned her nose up at “Fluffernutters,” as the sticky sweet peanut butter and marshmallow fluff sandwiches were called; but now, so many things were changing; and food was food.  So she thickly buttered a slice of bread with peanut butter, spread the sticky marshmallow “fluff,” which more correctly had the consistency of hide glue, on another, and slapped them together.  Biting into this confection was an experience in slipperiness and stickiness, sweetness and saltiness, held together with the gluey sponginess of the white bread.

 

It was one of two or three times in Dina’s life that she had eaten white bread.  At home, they always made their own, partially for economy’s sake, and partially out of mere snobbishness.

 

Eaten with pretzels, the fluffernutters were quite satisfying.  The pretzels added crunch and more saltiness, which Dina appreciated, since she really wasn’t much on sweets, especially not in sandwiches.  So alternating a salty pretzel every other bite worked out well.

 

“So Dina,” began Monica, after they had munched for a while in silence, “how did you end up out here?  How did you get out of school early?  How did you get your parents to agree?”

 

Those were already more questions than Dina was prepared to answer, or wanted to answer for that matter.  But she made a beginning, and Monica was an eager listener.  She seemed hungry for friendship, and Dina perceived in her a deep sadness that in some ways mirrored her own.  Monica would seem to drift into some far away place, then with an effort she would be back in the conversation.  Somehow, Dina felt, Monica’s cheerfulness seemed forced.

 

Monica changed the subject abruptly.

 

“You ballin’ yet?”

“Huh?” returned Dina, surprised.

“You know, ballin’.  Gettin’ it on.”  She looked at Dina suggestively, raising one eyebrow, leaning into the couch on one elbow.  “Bobby and I been ballin’ already for about a year.”

 

Dina took all of this in and said nothing.  Hmm, “ballin’,” she thought.  I guess that’s what Tracy and I did last night, huh?

 

Before they had time to delve further into the subject, the front door flew open and there was Monica’s mother.   She breezed into the room.

 

“Hello, girls, what are you up to?  Did you have a good day?”  And she swept into the hallway leaving a trail of perfume and cigarette smoke in her wake, without waiting for an answer,

 

“Whew,” whispered Monica, “glad she’s in a good mood.  You never can tell these days—“ CRASH!  The bedroom door slammed shut with such force that a mirror in the hallway fell off the wall and smashed on the floor.

 

“Quick!” squeaked Monica, grabbing Dina by the wrist, “out the back door!  She’s on a rampage!”  And they scrambled out of the house in a panic.

 

“What was that all about?” panted Dina once they were safely outside.

 

“Who knows?  Ever since Dad left, every minute is a crapshoot,” Monica mumbled.  “I never know from one minute to the next what’s going down.  It’s like living in a shooting range, and I’m the moving target.”