Just like moons and like suns,
With the certainty of tides,
Just like hope springing high, Still I’ll rise.
I have ruminated on the things that I once loved about being me, just me. More than anything, it was a spirit of adventure, of following the journey wherever it led….and it led to some amazing places.
When I left that little town back east, roaring into the night on a 1942 Indian motorcycle in which I had been at least halfway responsible for rebuilding and restoring with my own small sixteen year-old hands, I never looked back. We rode hard for New Hampshire, a child’s romantic teen dream of escape from a world in decline and into a marriage about which I’d no concept. Small town New England held no charm for me. I was a high school drop-out with a mechanic husband and a little second floor flat in an old duplex. It was comfortable enough and I tried to teach myself the rudimentary tasks of being a housewife. I was a far better mechanic. The town itself was picturesque, with little squares, a diner where the locals held court and the fresh mountain air was foreign to my New York and New Jersey nostrils and lungs. I actually missed the smell of bus exhaust, the noise of traffic and the anonymous hustle by which I’d survived. I was not accustomed to being Mrs. (fill in the blank), the friendly and all-too-familiar local charm. It was 6 months before I demanded that we return to the world I preferred…not that dreadful little town that my parents chose but something more familiar. We again embarked on a night’s journey, this time towing the vintage bike behind a newly restored vintage car. My husband…a term so ridiculous in retrospect, considering my age, obliged me in every way possible. Three months later, a friend of his introduced me to pot…in my mind, akin to heroin! It was not. It was good and I began to look at the world around me and realize that it was 1968 and everything was changing. There was an excitement in the air that had never been and I wanted to know , to be part of it. I did the only thing I could..I called my mother and her fiancé and requested refuge. My mother was delighted to accommodate me and sent Charlie, her soon-to-be husband, to get me quickly, lest I change my mind. It didn’t take long to realize that I had no forgiveness in my heart for the past and the situation with my mother grew untenable. My step-father was the only buffer in a simmering war between us. I had no money, no prospects, no aim but I left.
I wandered back into New York where I found everything imaginable happening! Being born in Brooklyn, it was always home to me and my love affair with New York has never waned. I love the noise, the people, the 24/7 life that I’ve never found anywhere else. At that time, movements of all sorts were afoot: civil rights, women’s rights, anti-war and everything in-between. I attended the first Earth Day in Central Park! I still look at old news footage of marches, so many in New York, knowing that I was among the thousands of faces in the crowds. The reality, though, was that I needed money of some kind, so I found a receptionist position in a county office, which led not to the drudgery I feared but to more freedom. I worked for brief periods but most of my time was spent on activism, hanging around college campuses, experimenting with minor drugs and living on and off in a commune. When I grew restless, as was my habit, I would hit the open road with my thumb out and off to parts unknown. During one of my trips to see my family for the holidays, I happened into a store where I met a Puerto Rican conga drum player, all looks and charm, living in Hoboken,, N.J. and there I was again. I had a great apartment on the first floor of a brownstone, the park featured in “On the Waterfront” across the street. I took a job in the garment district and spent six months in a crazy life of playing it straight by day and spending nights in Latin clubs with my heroin addict and barely English-speaking lover. Then I woke up. He disdained my politics, my commune past and my feminist ways and I abhorred his drug-addicted, womanizing failures. Again, I left. Back to the farm in Canada, to heal my wounds, regain my wits and grow restless for more travel…and yearning to be free of the sub-zero temperatures and hip-deep snow. The farm was spectacular in other seasons but winter was brutal and I was not made for that…nor am I a farmer. So, I rolled some cigarettes, a little weed, donned my hiking boots and layers of clothing and headed to the Trans-Canadian Highway with the first person willing to drive me the 15 miles out. On it went…
More trails than I could have imagined, more people who became friends, still fondly remembered, more impulsive but priceless experiences. I met another love: he on his post-college summer and me with my thumb out. We married in Los Angeles and, lo and behold, I once again ended up in suburban New Jersey! What were the odds? I tried my best to be a suburban working wife, converted to Judaism and had cocktail parties for people who I considered vapid and annoying. I lied my way into a management position at a chain bookstore, where I worked for several years…my respite from the Short Hills Mall women by whom I was surrounded. I soon found a guru fresh from India and that, along with my ongoing consumption of pot, kept me there for six years before the dam broke. It was an emotionally wrenching time: I was leaving a man I did not want to hurt but staying was worse; my father was dying a long and slow death from a broken heart which he drowned in alcohol and my company had me under pressure for transfer to the second largest store in the chain…in Los Angeles! My divorce was final in March, my father passed away in May and I took my transfer in July. I left all I knew to begin again. Success was short-lived. I was still grieving, trying to fix a business that I was sent to troubleshoot and one day, I tossed it all. I ended up living in the desert, trying my hand at alcohol. The party didn’t last long and I did get and stay sober for many years. Life settled into a pleasant groove.
I figured it was time for that G.E.D., followed by college and an Engineering degree. I acquired a nice vintage (of course) restored Mercedes, had a townhouse at the beach and , best of all, a great group of people in a 12-Step program. I married again, moved to Oregon where I found love at first sight in Portland. It was the first place since childhood that felt like home to me. My marriage didn’t last but life in Portland did.
I made wonderful friends, took up activism on other fronts, returned to college and then university. I majored in Political Science, minored in Journalism and Creative Writing; transferred on to another school and left to work full-time on a major political campaign, followed by a stint in the Senate Majority Office. When I left, I went to an art school.I was independent, outrageous, self-appointed “Hostess at the Party of Life”. I worked and lived among many dear people who were at the center of the HIV/AIDS crisis and lost many friends to this still ongoing plague. I still thrived until I made one last, really bad choice.
I returned to my family of origin, thinking I had a place at the table. The results of that have been recounted in earlier posts. I am back in my beloved Portland now, blessed with an exceptional man who loves me as I am, a cat and a companion dog round out our little family. As I’ve noted before, it has been a decade if curses and blessings, about evenly split. I am still healing, the emotional and physical toll remains and while my spirit rises, my body has taken on the burden of the trauma. My material possessions are few and I teeter on bankruptcy, living below the poverty levels, but I am alive and blessed. I have regained extended family that I believed lost to me forever and these things buoy my spirits on the days when I think I cannot face another sunrise under these circumstances. Gradually, in spirit anyway, I am re-entering my own. I try not to look too far ahead, but stay close to present. It is what I must do if I am to succeed.
Oh yes, and laugh..more at myself than others, often irreverently, sometimes sardonically, but laugh nonetheless. If I lost that capacity, I would truly be mad. The jury is still out on that.