Monthly Archives: March 2014

Game Changer

One night when we were kids, my younger brother, James, and I were eating banana splits in our parents’ bedroom. We were watching a show on their little television set while sitting on the bed, laughing and eating. At some point James grew quiet, and when I looked over at him I saw that he had fallen back on the bed, his mouth was open, and he had a wild look in his eyes. I think he was also shaking.

I screamed for our parents in the living room, and it seemed like they were there within seconds. My mom told me to run to the kitchen for a glass of water, so I jumped off the bed, and as I was running down the hall I heard her say, “Don’t let him swallow his tongue.”

When I got to the kitchen I was so panicked that I couldn’t find a glass. I don’t know how much time passed, but I finally found one, and with trembling hands filled it with water from the faucet. I started to run back down the hall, trying not to spill the water, but on the way I stopped when I saw that the front door was wide open. My parents were gone and so was James. I don’t know where my older brother, Tim, was during all of this. That’s all I remember about that night.

Life changed for our family after that. James recovered, sort of. My mom said that he had turned blue in the car on the way to the emergency room, but once they got him there he was saved. Thankfully, we lived less than a block from the hospital; just two doors down, through the alley and across San Jose Street.

There was little verbal communication in our family, so I didn’t know at the time if James had choked on a piece of banana or if he had suffered a seizure. In any case, my baby brother was never the same after that night. Over time, he seemed to withdraw into himself, and would often get agitated and angry.

I don’t remember if our parents told Tim and me to be extra nice to James because of what happened to him, or if I noticed that he was now allowed to get away with behavior that in the past would have caused him punishment. But in my little girl mind I must have been jealous and resentful. I probably didn’t care that he was more fragile. He was my bratty little brother, and when he directed his anger at me, I didn’t hesitate to fight back.

Our physical attacks were sometimes vicious, leaving us heaving with exhaustion. If our parents were in the room, we would continue torturing each other behind their backs by using our knuckles, where we would bend our middle finger into a weapon, hold it together in a fist, and then either twist or punch it into a tender arm or thigh. This aggressive behavior continued throughout our childhood, and didn’t stop until we were much older.

I don’t recall ever fighting with Tim. He was more of a protector. I was comforted in knowing that whenever I stumbled, Tim would let me hold onto the back of his shirt to regain my footing. Or more likely, he would sense that his little sister was in trouble and put out a steadying arm. James, as the youngest, always followed behind, forever kicking at the ground or at the back of my ankles. He seemed to live inside a private world that only he knew. I don’t know if he ever tried to hold onto the back of my shirt, but if he had I would have only slapped his hand away, sure that he was just trying to pull my hair.


La Tour Eiffel

La Tour Eiffel

Letting Go

I found out recently that Bruce, a man I once knew, had died. Bruce passed through my life at a time when I was ready to grieve for my husband. Up until then, I had been numb and was trying to be strong for my daughter, Emilee. She was only five when her dad died, and I was twenty-nine. About six months later I met Bruce, a respected teacher and popular dance instructor. On a whim a girlfriend and I signed up for his class, and that first night Bruce and I danced together. Well, I think he danced with all the single women in the class. He was tall, had a twinkle in his eyes, and wore a Hawaiian shirt and a cowboy hat. By the end of that first class I had a crush on him. I couldn’t wait to see him again.

It felt good to be going out and having fun, something I hadn’t done in a long time. For a while after Jerry died I was completely overwhelmed. I wasn’t prepared for the reality of being a single parent and having to do everything myself. I also felt vulnerable, like I’d been thrown to the wolves. A man I hardly knew suddenly showed an interest in me, and even if his intentions were only to help a young widow, he scared me, so I pushed him away. What I wanted most at that time was to have my husband back so that he could help me understand how to go on without him.

And then I met Bruce.

The dance classes gave me a tentative step into my future. Bruce and I hit it off, and after a while he started coming over to my house after each class. We shared cups of tea and warm hugs. He met Emilee, and would sometimes tuck her into bed. He and I went out dancing once. I remember how nervous I was while getting ready that night. I hadn’t been on a date since I was a teenager, and I didn’t know what to expect, or what was expected of me. At one point during the evening Bruce must have sensed how I was feeling, because he reached down and playfully moved the sides of my mouth up into a smile. I relaxed then, and smiled for real as I looked up into his twinkling eyes.

Once the dance classes were over, it was time for us to part. I wasn’t ready for more, although I didn’t realize it at the time. I think Bruce did, though. I needed to grieve, and he helped me by gently opening my wounded heart. He offered me comfort when I really needed it, without asking for anything in return. He gave me a copy of his favorite book with a sweet inscription, and I wrote him a good-bye letter. His last words to me were, “I think we touched each other deeply” and I have to agree. I was sad to read that he had died. I know that his loss was felt by many. It occurred to me that if Bruce and I had stayed together, I might have lost another husband, and Emilee another dad.

From a gite in Sonchamp, France

Sonchamp, France

A Paris Neighborhood

A Paris Neighborhood

Building a Childhood

I was the middle child and the only girl. I was sometimes a tomboy, which I had to be if I wanted to play with my brothers. I remember the three of us building little towns out of dirt under the big shade tree in our backyard. Working together, we would spend hours planning and constructing roads with long winding driveways, leading to our estates. Then we would casually move our Matchbox cars around, happily going about our business. I loved the angles on the front of my little car, and how good it looked as it made careful turns around our tidy little town. I was an excellent driver.

I could never convince my brothers to play dolls with me, so I often played by myself. I sewed some clothes by hand and had a little wardrobe with lots of accessories for Barbie and her best friend, Midge. I remember building them a two-storied, colonial-style house out of five cardboard boxes. The fifth box was for the attached garage, which held Barbie’s pink convertible. I cut the garage door out of the end of the box so that her car would fit inside. Their whitewashed mansion had double doors in the front, and symmetrical windows draped with hand-made curtains. I always kept the curtains closed. I used to sit in front of that little house and stare at those windows, pretending that it was cold and raining outside. I saw soft lamps glowing in each room, making the space warm and cozy. I imagined a happy, loving family living there.

Sunset on I-5

I-5, California