CHAPTER 8: THE ARMY

 

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The ground at night felt cold as I lay on it in prone position. The target stood somewhere downrange. I fumbled with the weapon, locked up from previous shooters. What had we been told about a jammed weapon? The lieutenant stood behind the line along with the drill sergeant, observing night-fire practice. I so wanted to hit the target to impress the lieutenant, but the gun wouldn’t work. Men were told a gun is what they had between their legs; the M-16 was to be called a weapon.

I opened the chamber, pretending to know what to do, wiggled its innards, aimed, and fired again. It worked! I didn’t know why or how, but felt tremendous relief. I focused on the red chaser intently because that’s all there was to aim at in the dark. The target only lit up when the bullet’s bright red chaser went over the top. I’d missed it.

Lowering the M-16 slightly, I fired again, it hit. I fired repeatedly, hitting the target every time. As hoped, affirmation came. “Good job!” the lieutenant offered before moving on.

It had been a blur; the flight and subsequent events leading up to lying in the dirt firing a gun. With Dad gone and one son dead, Mom had fallen apart. Don had plucked me from the wreckage at home, offering refuge. My bright cheery room at his house, with old-fashioned floor-length windows, brought sunlight and hope. After he and Pam took me under their wings to live with them, we worked out a plan. My father-like brother talked about goals, his gentleness soothing. We developed a purpose for my being there, something to look forward to and work towards. Along with the weight loss and job, I’d heard about what the Army had to offer and wanted to join. Maybe Don thought he’d lose me too; but he saved me.

There were a few glitches though. Finally meeting the weight requirement for entrance into the Army, I proceeded with the physical exam and accompanying paperwork. After the exam, the nurse led me to an empty conference room to complete the questionnaire. Check the box—yes if you have it, no if you don’t. They were all no’s except one: depression. Later, at home, I received a call to return to the recruitment center and discuss issues with depression.

I talked it over with Don, worried about the honest answer which was about to ruin my chance at a life.

“You should have checked No,” he advised in a quiet yet stern tone, adding, “They are only concerned about those with severe emotional problems.”

I felt relieved he didn’t think that applied to me, yet wondered at the clamoring inside, saying something quite different. Sitting again at the long conference table, a bit sweaty, the questioning began by a higher-up. He looked imposing in formal Army attire, a green suit with brass buttons and tie neatly clipped into place. I rehearsed the lie, softening it up after Don’s admonishment. Don seemed pure and clean. If he said I should have checked No, then I should have. He represented all I lacked. He appeared centered, grounded, rational, connected, and wise. He was the only father (and God) I had; whatever he said might as well have been bound with gold edging and labeled “Bible.” I held onto his sanity in my upset life, desperate for an anchor because my life depended on it.

“Do you just feel a little blue? How long does it last?” the interviewer asked, “More than a few days, or a couple of weeks?”

“I get down sometimes.” It fell easily from my mouth because I had practiced the story over and over, “But just for a few days. It doesn’t last.”

In truth, it was the other way around. I felt down most of the time, hardly knowing what anything else felt like.

But it worked. Signing on the dotted line, I enlisted for a three-year stint. The stiff packet of entrance paperwork felt official resting on my lap during the flight to South Carolina and Fort Jackson. After arriving on base and being directed towards the dingy brick barracks and my room, I sat on the cot-like bed. With my suitcase still at my feet, I listened to murmured echoes in the hallway as other girls found their rooms. Placid yellow paint peeling near the ceiling edges didn’t brighten the small area or my spirits. What had I gotten myself into? Maybe sitting on a turned-over bucket in Samuel’s garage, watching him work on car motors wasn’t so boring after all.

On the wall past the trunks at the foot of both beds were closets with built-in lockable cabinets—no frills, nothing more except two windows with venetian blinds on the opposite wall—bland, drab and dreary. My new roommate, Cathy, arrived dragging her suitcase, smiling. She was a large girl, big-boned; I liked her immediately. She exuded honesty with her clumsiness. We chatted briefly, and I learned her Dad was a bigwig somewhere on another base. She seemed to be following his footsteps.

With little time to get acquainted, we were bustled outside with a screech from the drill sergeant. The drill sergeant yelled, “Line up alphabetically in four rows!”

It was a fiasco from the start. He peered over at the platoon next to us, already doing a better job of it, and screamed louder, “Not like that, you fools, can’t you hear?”

Finally four rows formed. With a voice already hoarse, he shrieked out more orders, “Remember who’s on your right, who’s on your left. Line up this way every time.”

We practiced all the necessary steps and commands to get from one point to another. Certain unlucky soldiers-to-be, including Cathy, were singled out and harshly reprimanded, embarrassed and made fun of—all in a day’s work for the drill sergeant. He was to be called, “Drill Sergeant, not Sir; I work for a living.”

Marching with some semblance of order, all five platoons met at the lecture hall. After a long speech in a huge auditorium given by the Colonel heading the entire base, we shuffled off to various training rooms for more lectures. Then came the endless line for shots, with too much time to think of the needles to come. Next, clothing: green fatigues, dress uniform, hat, cap, helmet, socks, belt, duffle bag, black pumps, and lace-up field boots.

The following day, the Swine Flu injection took its toll. Fever, muscle aches, and general malaise matched my bewilderment. Like Dorothy lost in Oz, my body robotically moved with the flow of the group while my mind wandered back home to all that used to be familiar.

The cafeteria server in white apron and hair net plopped graying lumps of overcooked peas, green beans, or corn, along with unadorned meat onto my tray. At the coffee station I grabbed two cups, then ate fast, watching the others down sauce-topped meats, mashed potatoes, and various desserts along with butter, bread and sodas. While the thinner girls put on twenty pounds, I lost them.

Sometimes, instead of rushing out right after gulping down the self-imposed meager meal, I stared at them, gorging on cookies, fruit crisps, brownies, puddings, or thickly frosted cakes with ice cream cups that came with small pre-cut wooden spoons. I watched in earnest while they slurped and chomped, their licking accompanied by orgasmic grunts of pleasure as eager tongues cleaned off the little wooden spoons till they looked spotless. I became them, swallowing as they swallowed, feeling the sugary cream slide happily down my own throat, smooth, sweet, and cold.

At breakfast, my plate scarce with grits and coffee, tablemates downed stacks of syrup soaked pancakes, sausages, bacon, and gravy-topped everything. Even “shit on a shingle” looked tempting (creamed chipped beef on toast). I understood. The food helped, swapped hungrily as condolence for the harsh treatment dumped on us everywhere else. Here was one place to stuff the ragged holes left by all-day physical activity and constant reminders of our ineptitude, rasped loudly and repeatedly by a gaggle of brash Drill Sergeants. Even our dreams reverberated with voices that shrieked throughout the quiet of sleep. Marching didn’t stop because of rain, and backtalk got you fifty push-ups in the mud.

It was a revelation that platoon-mates used food for reasons besides nutrition. Before this, I thought I had to be the only human in the universe to do so. But I stuck to veggies, meat, grits, and coffee, veering off only two times: once when I lost my way to KP in the dark of morning, ending up with the wrong platoon, and the only job left was scrubbing pots and pans. Feeling sorry for myself, I succumbed to a thick, frosted, black brownie at lunch. The only other time a bread item landed on my plate was Thanksgiving. I yielded to the feast, yearning for home, food a sorry replacement.

Mostly though, the South Carolina woods held excitement and adventure. Standing out in the cold most of the day, I dreamed of lying on the beach with the warm sun beating down on my face amidst the tall pines, breathing in their pure sweet fragrance. The other girls moaned and complained. Previous experiences with tent life made the outdoors fun, and Pennsylvania winters brought snow, winds and much harsher temperatures than South Carolina. They had no reason to whine.

Weeks into training, I pulled on jeans fresh from the dryer for the first time since arriving. They hung loose off my hips. “Whose are these?” I wondered until it registered. They were mine!

At Christmas we were allowed a one-week leave. Samuel awaited my arrival at the airport, but looked at me curiously after our embrace, as if puzzled. In public, or while traveling until arriving home, we were required to wear our dress uniform, which meant hair off our shoulders. He scanned the drab attire, standing back a moment, gazing at me, with the stuffed duffle bag at my feet, knee- length straight skirt, tailored brass-buttoned matching jacket over a crisp white blouse, clunky black heels, long trench coat and, most unbecoming and strange to him, my long blonde hair pulled back tightly in a barrette under a dull, green, stiff-brimmed hat.

Once seated across from him in the car, he leaned over hesitatingly, and unclipped my hair pin, an unusual gesture on his part. As my hair spilled out around my shoulders and down my back, he smiled, then returned his hands and attention to the steering wheel as if satisfied and finally recognizing the woman he’d left at the airport only a few months before. We drove off to a week of families, fudge, Christmas trees, and partying with friends.

Then I returned to base, marching past the grandstand during graduation from basic training. During the last night before flying off to various parts of the country for our next assignments, we exchanged addresses with our fellow platoon mates, and drank beer or whatever alcohol we could get our hands on, smuggled in from the Post Exchange on base.

The next morning we said our goodbyes, sadly leaving newfound friends behind. I headed towards my next post, Washington, DC, for training as a veterinary specialist at Walter Reed Hospital. I’d learn to handle Army dogs, give injections, and even insert a feeding tube into a rhesus monkey, not something I dreamed of doing when signing on the dotted line. I became immersed in the intensive two-month course, returning home by springtime.

Samuel and I erected the tent once again.

 

 

Chapter 7: THE TENT

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With the gentle reassurance, guidance, and constant support of Don and his wife Pam, I made significant progress while living with them—a complete turnaround from where I had been headed. I lost weight, found full-time work and joined the Army Reserves, eventually moving to my own apartment not far from Don’s.

Then I met Samuel. He sat a few stools down the long wooden bar at the town pub where others our age gathered. He came back to my apartment that same night, and we remained a couple from then on. He helped do various things at my apartment, like adding fixtures around the bay windows so I could hang ropy macramé holders for large leafy plants. A guy who cared enough to help seemed like a good thing and I hung on to him.

By spring we talked of moving in together. Some friends he introduced me to pitched a tent for the summer in a meadow near a campground. It made us wonder, could we do it? The thought of free rent and the abandon of outdoor living became irresistible. Mom still owned a hundred acres of country land in the nearby town we had moved away from. She didn’t mind us using her land as long as we had permission from Lester, the farmer who rented the land. And Lester didn’t object as long as we stayed off the fields he cultivated, voicing the same parameters as he had when I rode my horse there in earlier years. We were on our way.

An old grassy dirt road, more like a tractor path, led to the barn where I had sheltered my first pony, and then back up a hill to the fields. We went off the path up the larger treed hillside, excitedly checking out terrain for the perfect spot to appear. And it did, halfway up, an empty area circled by a tall stand of pines, just right for a nine-by-twelve foot tent. We looked at each other and knew we had found the ideal location.

Of course the site would take some leveling, but Samuel knew about hard work; it came naturally to him. The dirt removed from the higher elevation helped raise up the lower two sides. Next he dug deep rain ditches which diverted any water downhill. I helped in other ways but not with the digging, though I mastered the skill just from observing. I put his method to use months later in boot camp when rain trenches had to be dug around the pup tent on a weekend field trip. My only army commitment that summer involved one weekend a month at the Reserve Unit and a two week stint off- base. Active duty would begin that fall.

We had already been to Tent Town, investing in top-of-the- line camping equipment made by Coleman, most importantly our tent. It would be our home for the summer, so quality counted. Other Coleman products included a gas lantern, cook stove, and metal plastic lined fridge, all three of which would last us for decades. My garage sale treasures completed the interior: a large thick area rug, double mattress, even a stuffed rocking chair. Another rare find included a compact wooden closet for Samuel’s white shirts, necessary for his job as a frozen foods manager at the local grocery store.

Tent life provided an idyllic setting. We existed in another land, one without roads, electricity, or modern conveniences other than a radio. We woke to the morning chorus of birds, as close to the elements as one could get. There is nothing like coffee perking in the woods, or bacon sizzling with eggs soon to follow in the greasy pan. Even washing dishes seemed like fun, the sudsy smell of dish-washing liquid out of place in the fresh air, thrown with a splash on the ground when finished, the long counter wiped clean with bits and pieces of food flying for the squirrels to feast on…no brooms needed!

After relaxing with dinner around the campfire, we’d gaze long into the evening at the hypnotic flickering before retiring to bed, lost in the light of ever-changing yellow, orange, and red cinders.

 Samuel hooked a car radio up to a battery for our entertainment pleasure. Our favorite show came on at ten p.m. The slow creaking door opened the broadcast of The CBS Radio Mystery Theater, then E.G. Marshall’s hauntingly deep voice began the story. Killer Crab struck most memorable with “suckers like silver dollars,” the bizarre tale coming to life as the fire crackled, casting shadows on the trees and high grass nearby.

Mesmerized by the golden glow of flames, our minds wandered into the ocean depths where monsters lay in waiting or elsewhere, into killers‟ psyches and other sinister, dangerous places throughout the world.

One tall pine close by made the ideal toiletry area. Samuel pounded a bathroom cabinet into it with a table underneath and I added an enameled water basin on top. The little mirrored door opened and we stored the normal hygiene accessories: Samuel’s razor and shaving cream because if he sported a beard it had to be wrapped in a hair net, toothbrushes, toothpaste, hair brushes, and other assorted items. Tree branches became towel racks. Olives came to the deli at the store where he worked in tall plastic containers with lids that screwed on tightly. They made excellent water containers that could be lugged down the hill to our vehicles for refilling elsewhere and dragged back without spilling.

One water jug sat under the table with Grandma’s long- handled dipper, no longer used to fill pitchers of holiday punch kept cold in her breezeway. Though Grandma had become too frail to host our big Christmas gatherings, she still lived at the base of the hill by the barn in the big farmhouse. And Don had to convince her to stop worrying about her granddaughter’s seemingly crazy scheme of living in a tent for months at a time right there on the big hill behind her house.

The other water container was tucked a few steps away, next to the longer table holding the cook stove and all other kitchen necessities. For bodily relief, one had only a short walk downhill into thicker pines where an upside down crate hosted a toilet seat over a big hole, another one of Samuel’s digging projects. The pine branches made a nice shroud of cover for privacy. He showered at a friend’s house; I did my bathing at Mom’s.

As summer began cooling into fall, my Army commitment— which included active duty—loomed closer. The new venture, all on my own, began in October at Fort Jackson, South Carolina. Don sent me off with a proper farewell dinner at the local favorite restaurant. With Mom chipping in, they paid for a hotel near the airport that night after the celebration dinner. Samuel only had to drive me across the highway the next morning to catch the early flight.

Samuel continued living at the tent into November, until it became too frigid, then took everything down and moved to an apartment for the winter with the couple who had also tented that summer. I flew away from Samuel to something I did not know. My stomach swirled with excitement as I nervously fingered the large packet of Army entrance paperwork on my lap, riding atop the clouds.  

 

ZONE QUEEN

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‘Zone out’ may be another word for ‘dissociation.’ I space out, but not nearly as much as I used to. I escape that way when I’m stressed, even if the stress is over my tendency towards negative thinking. The other person, whoever it is, thinks poorly of me, I said something wrong, I didn’t say something I should have and on and on…there are endless ways I can bring myself down and keep me there. 

I have learned over time that I can be here now, inhabiting my own body, feeling a cool breeze or the warm sun. When I feel overwhelmed, I find myself staring off into the distance, and like a pendulum finding home, I come back. I don’t seem to stay in the ‘now’, but I try. It can be draining. Life spins too fast. I sit still, breath, and there it is, a feeling of fullness, all of me in me. It’s a fleeting feeling, one I search for every day. 

Meditation does it, sitting by the creek, or on the patio in the sun as little birds swoop and hop nearby, unaware of my presence. Loving my cat, nestling my face in her fur while she hums, awakens my ability to love, closely guarded most of the time. Cooking, working in my studio, breathing in the scent of pine, watching my photos upload to the computer surprising me with delights I didn’t know were there, all simple things that bring me back to the present.

What brings YOU back into your body?

What do YOU love?

HOW TO REACT TO DISCLOSURE

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How can anyone learn how to react to a child who discloses abuse when, as a society, we still put our hands over our ears when the subject arises?

One third of all women and 14% of men have been sexually attacked as children. These statistics haven’t changed in many many decades.

Why not?

Yes, it’s a subject causing disgust, even nausea. So we don’t talk about it, not in public places, social circles, card games or parties. That needs to change. Like coming out of the closet. I want to come out of the closet and say, “My brother fucked me.” 

So what if you don’t want to hear it. Try living it. And too many do keep it inside them because it’s unpleasant for others. But what about the children? If we don’t start talking about it, and talking about it a lot, we cannot stop the cycle; the pain, destruction and harm to our children.

What if your child, grand-child, niece or nephew came to you and said, “Uncle Joe fucked me,” or “Grandpa sucked my pee pee spot,” or “Daddy stuck his thing in me?”

Would you be able to contain your look of shock, horror, and revulsion?

Probably not without previous fore-thought or training. And how do you receive that when the subject is still taboo?

The child absorbs the revulsion and horror into herself instantly. “I am horrible, dirty, disgusting, BAD.” The look that naturally comes from hearing such words out of child’s mouth are immediately internalized within her, and becomes her- her identity and what she thinks of herself. All too often these messages cement into a life sentence, something she may need to work to undo the rest of her life. And, again all too often, she is further victimized by her mother and family who choose not to believe her and don’t protect her from further attacks. If they were to believe her it means facing their own reputations being destroyed. So the child is additionally dumped on with a load that can kill. 

I’d like to hear steps on HOW TO REACT TO A CHILD’S DISCLOSURE OF SEXUAL ABUSE on the evening news, Dr. Phil, The Doctors, ANYTHING!

I won’t be satisfied until I do-

(notation -she is used only to make the reading easier. He could also be used as the child who discloses. In addition I would like to explain my use of the ‘F’ word. Besides being just the perfect word at times, to change it to rape would be inauthentic. That was the word I used when I told another brother who I thought would save me. I am sure I did not really know the meaning but it must have been used during the rape for me to repeat it at eight years old. See Chapter 2-EIGHT http://wp.me/p4Qpte-2l These are the words that can come out of a little child’s mouth taught to them by their attackers.)

BYE BYE EFFEXOR

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Samuel said, “You’ll be alright.” As I cried, upset with myself for taking a drug I vowed never to take again. After three weeks on Effexor, a drug my new male doctor talked me into taking, I felt funny, not myself, anxious and a bit nauseous, weird. I emphasize male because after trying many women I decided to give up and use a doctor close by who happens to be male. His NP is female and my friends like her.

Now I’m wondering if putting on the History form ‘past depressions’ and occasional use of Xanax that I’m stuck with him not the NP. How could I let someone who just met me five minutes judge me, and tell me things about myself I know not to be true? What works for others doesn’t for me. I have a handful of friends, family or acquaintances who use anti-depressants on a permanent basis and I’m all for it. But I’m very sensitive to medication and I already know this. He seemed so caring. And since he talked to me for an hour, I gave in. I tried to tell him I know what depression is, I’ve had a few, and I know to get help.

“I’m not depressed,” I said.

He said, “Once depressed, always depressed.”

Horseshit. Why did I believe him? I know better. I know me better than he does. He doesn’t know me at all. So the self-flogging continues.

I wish I could take a magic pill to make like easier. But life is hard. That doesn’t mean I’m not happy. I’m happier and more at peace than I’ve ever been. I didn’t just say “NO!” I wish I did.

“I don’t feel right,” I told Samuel, crying as I held the wood in place as he screwed in a board to repair the old camper we are giving to our son. “Something is taking control and I don’t feel like me. I feel forced to be different than I am, than how I am used to feeling. I don’t like it and have to get off it.”

“Well, you’ll get it off, and you’ll be alright,” he repeated.

Knowing he wasn’t worried helped. But out in the canoe I couldn’t help but keep talking about it despite the beauty and peace of the surroundings. I steered myself back to the present, feeling the warm sun on my shoulder push away the other weirdness invading my brain.

“I don’t like chemicals fucking with my head!” I exclaimed as my paddle dipped in the cool water reflecting the colors from the trees hanging over it. And I thought, “It’s ok, get it out and be done with it.” And I did feel better, enjoying the rest of the ride, noticing the tree trunk where Mr. Beaver chewed off the bark and the fresh chips laying on the grass below.

It’s a medication that must be tapered slowly, I read on the web, and other horrors about withdrawal. Knowing I should wait to ask the doctor Monday, instead I choose a method that sounds reasonable. I open the capsule and count the pesky little granules reducing the amount by 1/3. Went off Prozac once on my own without tapering slow enough and got scary shocks in my head. Which is why I’m still wondering why I took this stuff again. But I did. And now I’ll be more careful ridding my system of it. When I get in real trouble with depression, my best cure is talk therapy. I’ll stick with that when I need it.

 

 

LIEBSTER AWARD

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Thank you CeCe Leskova for nominating me! http://wp.me/p4KiTn-db

1. What is your favorite song and why?

You’ve Got A Friend, because now I’m learning to be one (to myself).

2. If you could spend the day invisible, what would you do?

Well, my first thought was that if I were invisible I’d be able to float like a ghost and pop in places without driving. If that’s the case, I’d float around where my friend works just to see how she manages so well because being out in the workplace has always been difficult for me trying to deal with so many personalities. I’d also like to see where my husband works and all the people he comes home with stories about. He gets along better with differing personalities than I do too.

3. Do you meditate?

Yes, I try to everyday for ½ hr. I lay flat on my back in bed with Kitty purring on my tummy. I set the timer. When I skip a day I feel it. My anxiety creeps in quickly.

4.Are you a cat person or a dog person?

Both, but cats are easier and don’t have to be walked. So Molly is our ‘baby’. She follows us around as if she is a puppy and runs to door to greet my husband when he comes home.

5.Do you like reading? If so, which is your favorite genre?

Love autobiographies, or used to. Now that I’ve written my own, not so much. But it is what sustained me for many years, reading how others overcame great adversity and came out the other side victorious.

6.What’s one thing that makes you happy?

Sitting by the creek in the Adirondack chair listening to the rustle of leaves and birds chirping.

7.Are you a big morning eater or do you prefer to have something light when you wake up?

I’m a big eater PERIOD. I’m still learning to listen to my body and REAL hunger cues instead of eating for every emotion I don’t want to feel.

8.Favorite sport? (either to play or watch)

My favorite sport to do was horseback riding. Sold my horse 10 years ago. Love watching ballet and more so, women’s figure skating.

9.What is your favorite fashion era? (20’s, 60’s, etc)

When did blue jeans arrive? I’ve graduated to sweat pants.

10.If you were an animal, which one would you be?

A cat. They can laze in the sun and not feel guilty about it and still stay in shape.

11.Are you the type to eat the cherry on top first or last?

Yuck, maraschino cherries. They are only good in a Rum and Coke.

Rules:

Create a Liebster post, and include:

-A thank-you and a link to the blogger who nominated you

-Answers to the 11 questions asked by your nominator

-Choose other bloggers to nominate and list them in the post (they must have under 1000 followers)

-Make a list of 11 new questions for your nominees to answer

-List the rules on your Liebster post

-Go to your nominees’ blogs and let them know! Comment on a post of theirs, and make sure to put a link back to your Liebster post.

Here are my 11 questions, and at this time, two nominees whose content shows courage, strength and depth along with a superb writing ability that captivates and excels.

1-What motivated you to start a blog?

2-Did you previously write? Where & when?

3-What are your favorite past-times?

4-Do you have a partner, children or a pet?

5-Are you a tea, coffee or milk drinker when you first wake up in the morning?

6-What is your favorite time of day?

7-Do you feel that blogging is worth your time and as satisfying as you’d like it to be?

8-What is your favorite form of exercise?

9-What or where is your favorite vacation?

10-Do you enjoy cooking?

11-If you could name one favorite book what would it be? Ok, if that’s a bit difficult, how about a list of 3 top favorites?

alicewithptsd

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Not everybody has the time to do this, so no worries!

CHAPTER 6: DAN

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It was 1975. I left Roger Williams in Bristol, Rhode Island, one course short of an associate’s degree. Not just one course, one paper of one course, that’s the bitch. I just couldn’t finish that last philosophy assignment, like I couldn’t finish many things. We were asked to compare one culture to another with the question, “Can two cultures ever come to understand each other?”

I was flummoxed. One needs to have at least some understanding of self before even attempting to answer a question like that. I bravely made an effort to get the help I needed from the professor, but a classmate tagged along, an albatross. I didn’t want her to come but had no clue how to get rid of her. The instructor was unimpressed.

Sitting down, sweaty and scared, I managed to squeak, “I need help. I can’t get started.”

We must have seemed like two lazy nitwits but he said, “I have complete faith in you both. You can do it.”

He was cheery and lighthearted, but I felt like my life lay on the line. I knew if I blew this one, it would be another in too a long list of failures. How many could one take and keep going? I felt I had failed at being a daughter, sister, friend, a person; I existed as a fat thing that didn’t deserve life. The song that struck me most at the time was “You are a Child of the Universe,” but I related more to its spin-off, “You are a Fluke of the Universe. You have no right to be here.”

I genuinely needed help. I felt frantic for assistance, though outwardly appeared quiet and calm. The other girl, all smiles and silliness, made the pair of us look foolish. She probably went back to the dorm, finished the paper, even if only barely passing, and completed the course. I couldn’t and didn’t.

I gave up, dropped out, and moved to an apartment in Newport, finding a job at Cumberland Farms, Rhode Island’s version of a 7-Eleven. Three college friends, all males, including Coke, my boyfriend, eventually followed and moved in. They were welcome to come; it made the rent doable, especially with the minimal amount I made at the convenience store.

The upstairs apartment’s claim to fame was the in-ground pool past the fence in the neighbor’s back yard. On hot evenings we’d scale the fence for a swim in the dark, the risk of possibly getting caught only adding more excitement to our nightly escapades. The homeowners either were heavy sleepers or away on vacation. We never did get caught and the cool water on hot, inebriated skin felt luxurious. It took more than a few beers to get up the courage, along with the stupidity of youth, to hoist ourselves up over the tall slated wooden fence to the adventures beyond.

Another pleasure, falling asleep listening to bells on the buoys in the harbor softly dinging in the distance through the petite old Victorian bay windows next to the bed, the curtains wafting slightly from the gentle breeze. Coke lay next to me, lightly snoring while I listened to the rhythm simulating a vista of waves I couldn’t see but imagined, eventually lulling me into deep slumber.

Though we were upstairs and the ocean close-by, it wasn’t in view from the apartment. A favorite hike was along Newport Drive in front of mansions mostly owned now by the historical society. Tours were memorable. The Vanderbilt children’s playhouse looms larger than most single-family homes. Gold dripped over everything and red-carpeted heart staircases cascaded down both sides of the foyer in the main house. You could walk along the cliffs in front of the mansions with waves crashing against rocks while high up away from danger, safely on the path.

My roommate Michael and I had long talks sitting upon the stone wall along the cliffs on sultry evenings. The rush of sea water hitting the rocky shoreline cooled us, the mysterious shadows of the tide exciting in the dark smoky colors of night.

Summer meant splashing in the ocean on the sandy beaches. Coke came along to the shore, but didn’t go into the water, or even near it, choosing instead to lie on the sand in the sun. I had loved the water since childhood and summer camp days when I learned to swim very well, especially in deep water. The opening of “Jaws” accentuated the thrill of swimming out into the endless blue surf.

We were hanging out one day in our small living room, furnished sparsely with a ratty couch, nicked coffee table, high-quality stereo and an old chair, the music playing at a fairly high decibel. Still morning, we were surprised to hear a knock at the door.

Coke opened it. A police officer stood uniformed in full gear, stiffly starched hat under his arm over baton and weapon.

“I’m looking for Patricia Wilkinson,” he stated calmly, “I’ve been asked by the family to locate her.”

“That’s me,” I answered warily.

“You need to call home,” he responded more firmly.

“Okay, thank you,” I mumbled. I hadn’t kept in contact with anyone from home, so it couldn’t be good news.

We had no phone, so I grabbed my purse and headed out to the pay phone at the end of the block, but without enough change, had to call collect. As it rang, I felt restless and worried. Mom said “hello” to the operator, confirming she would take the call.

My voice timid with apprehension, I peeped, “Hi, Mom?”

“Patty,” she was crying, almost hysterical. “Danny died. Come home.”

The call ended in a haze. Buying tickets, getting to the airport, flying home, all blurred, my body and mind numb, on hold. Snapshots of Dan’s tattered life fell through my thoughts like a hateful letter ripped up into shreds: his failed previous attempts at killing himself, how he had totally rejected counseling or therapy. I didn’t understand because I had readily sought help. Sitting by his hospital bedside after an earlier botched attempt, I had pressed the idea of therapy.

Protesting adamantly, shaking his head with conviction, he exclaimed, “Shrinks don’t know anything. They need help more than me.”

Bewildered, I gave up trying, but asked Don, “Why would he resist help when he needs it so much?”

Don, sad from repeatedly trying to help, shook his head as if spent. “The ones who need it most won’t take it.”

Don had left Dan behind in the VA, a memory he will probably carry a lifetime.

Don said to me at the time, “Patty, he held onto the bars of the door with his face up close, begging me, ““Don’t leave me here, don’t leave!””

Don carried the burden of trying to help Dan for Mom and for all of us. He did the most to help his twin, yet Don’s very existence may have been what haunted Dan to suicide. One so seemingly pure, the other pure evil, or so Dan must have thought. Why else would he murder himself?

Dan left home at sixteen, not long after he raped me. He ran from himself, unable to escape. If only someone could have intervened for us both. I know the feelings; at least how I assume he felt: a fucked up failure not wanting to be.

We had other things in common. He joined the Army; I later did too, though his discharge may not have stated “Honorable” on it like mine. I don’t have all the facts, as us younger siblings weren’t told much. I know he married during the same summer Don did. Did he do so to keep up with his twin? Sadly, his marriage dissolved and he wandered, though a daughter came from it. He should have stuck around; Don eventually divorced too. Only the three youngest of us eight siblings stayed married to original spouses, which luckily included me.

I remembered how before the repeated hospitalizations at the VA psych center and subsequent death, he had joined the Children of God, a religious group that seemed more like a cult.

He looked like an emaciated ghost when his wanderings brought him home. Mom had looked to me depleted, and implored me, “Maybe you can help him.”

I went down to the basement. He stood in the corner by the washer under the dim yellow glow of the dusty bare light bulb above him. Just standing in his underwear with no shirt, he seemed bewildered as to why. He had a little plastic baggie in his hand.

“What do you have?” I asked, approaching slowly, gently taking the bag he offered willingly, a slight crooked smile on his lips, eyes dark, his mind gone.

White powder residue lined the bottom of the baggie. I stood beside my brother, more lost than ever before. I took the bag upstairs and handed it to Mom.

“I don’t know, Mom. Speed? Coke?”

Whatever it was, it was not good and we both knew it.

On another visit home before his death, Dan and I were alone in the living room at Mom’s. I needed to know what I already knew. Events long ago pointed to one thing, that he raped me, but I could not remember the actual event. I needed to hear it from him.

“What did you do to me as a child?” I asked, our knees almost touching between the two chairs pulled close.

As if struck by a bullet, he paused, then answered slowly, almost in a whisper, his head and eyes lowered, “It’s better you don’t know.”

The conversation ended as he rose, moving away, suddenly aged way beyond his twenty-eight years. He’d made suicide attempts before but it was the next one that succeeded. I sometimes wondered if my question killed him.

I felt shocked by his death, but not surprised; he had succeeded at one thing anyway. How could he ever compete with Don, whose father seemed to have loved more than him, who us younger siblings turned to as a replacement father after Dad died, who hadn’t raped his younger sister…and the many other countless comparatives he surely failed at when inevitably measuring his worth against his good twin brother?

They found him curled up on the park bench across from where Dad had once owned a law office with two other partners, dead from an overdose.

Sadness would have been the norm, yet other feelings, unbidden, swam under the surface like sharks or piranhas, prickling insistently but not wanting to be felt or voiced.

I made it home in time to attend the service in the little country church where Dad was buried. It was a pretty church tucked under wide, aged trees, surrounded by rolling hills, the oldest Methodist church in the area, the one I attended from childhood through adolescence.

Happy memories flooded back as my hand glided over the silken honey-gold wood atop the pews: Grandma feeding Ginger Snaps to Stevie and me to keep us quiet through long sermons, later joining the choir with strong sopranos blasting over my timid voice, and happy evenings in the back room with other adolescents during weekly youth group meetings. I sat with a rustle on the long soft maroon cushions, too frozen to cry.

Danny’s wife Cara eventually remarried and neither Cara nor their beautiful daughter, Shasta, were much of a presence in our lives anymore. The sad thought runs through my mind every time I see this young woman, Danny’s daughter, now in her thirties, “You needed to live, Danny, even if only to see this miracle you created grow into an amazingly smart, talented woman.”

And I cannot tell her the truth; none of us can. He was labeled by some doctor along the way as schizophrenic, but what’s in a word? If you don’t feel loved and cherished by parents as a child, how do you grow to love and cherish yourself? His brilliance, talents, creativity…wasted and never realized. His IQ testing far exceeded the rest of us. But demons chased him, the demons of feeling unloved, unworthy, and not good enough. I know these demons well.

Maybe he felt compelled to destroy the only thing our parents seemed to love and cherish besides Dad’s law practice and Mom’s flowers: me, the only girl-child. I can only guess at why my brothers attacked rather than loved me. Mom popped out babies like a rabbit, one after the other, cute when little, not so cute later. And maybe the fawning that likely occurred when a girl came along after six boys, children who already didn’t receive the attention they needed, maybe that made them hate the little girl baby; not all, but some.

Don once opened up, relaying a story. During a poker game with Dad and sons—except Stevie, too young to play —Danny vied for attention, as all of us did out of necessity. In a family of eight, there weren’t enough of the non-material necessities to go around, like attention, nurturing, and protection—as essential to survival as air.

But Dad laughed callously at Dan’s antics, belittling him sarcastically. “You fat buffoon.” Don repeated the words from his memory as if wrenching them from a bad dream, all too real.

Don looked into my eyes, the deep brown irises almost black, like mine, and tormented. His voice was anguished.  “I had to look it up, buffoon means fool. Dad called him a fat fool.”

At Mom’s after the funeral, the table became laden with food that seems to appear out of nowhere when someone dies. An appetite that had nothing to do with hunger for food increased under duress. I ran from feelings, all impossible, scary, and overwhelming, and moved toward the table. “Might as well not waste all this food,” I thought, sitting down to eat alone.

No one else seemed to have much of an appetite. The array of an enormous ham with a variety of many side dishes erased pain. Filling up quickly, I hardly tasted anything. The holes, caverns of feelings I dared not explore, burst instead with food and self-hate.

A minister visited, brave enough to enter this house of skeptics, futilely trying to say things that made my lip curl in a sneer. Mom’s bitterness over losing Dad twelve years prior had washed over me, tainting my view of religion and religious people.

Driving by a church on Sunday mornings, Mom often said, “There go all the good people.”

Hearing it enough times, I believed her, they were the “good” people, loved and protected by God. We were not “good” and I was not protected. The minister’s presence, boldness, and empty words repelled me. When he tried to offer comfort with some religious bullshit, I smiled politely, moving away, secretly scorning and condemning him, “You jerk. God? Where is God in all of this? God is not in this family, does not help this family, is not here. Go away. Save somebody else. Save it for those God loves and that’s no one you’ll find here.”

Don sat outside, his head in his hands, and I just couldn’t go to him. Floating near others without reaching any destination, I wandered among many alone, no connection with anyone deep inside. A sarcastic remark was murmured now and then, followed by a dry laugh. The important part where everything matters, where feelings reside, remained untouched, a third dimension as far away as Pluto, maybe farther. It’s like that with a family that does not bind; something’s lacking, like a recipe without eggs. It just won’t stick. We are courteous but not close.

I didn’t return to Rhode Island.

I told Coke it was time to move on over the phone. “Please pack my stuff in the trunk and ship it,” I said, ending the relationship boxed neatly.

He didn’t put up much of a fuss; he had his constant quart of Miller’s to keep him company. Mom hadn’t yet quit drinking, but I had quit buying it for her. Without realizing the effects, my refusal to drive into town to the only liquor store to once again purchase a quart of her favorite whiskey, Barton’s Reserve, was one of the pivotal moments that shocked her into beginning the long journey of sobriety. But that was yet to come, over the next few years. Her drinking continued in fervor with the sudden death of her son. It was a precarious position for me.

I had quit college, and moving home without a job, unable to support myself, meant living with Mom who was lost in grief and drink. Don invited me to move in with him, his wife Pam, and young daughter, Krista. I accepted readily. If he had not made such a terrific gesture, raising a family of his own with a new baby on the way, I’m not sure where I’d be today…or if I’d be.