I Threw Myself Away

The next article you are about to read is difficult. To write. To live. To relive. For you to digest. If you love me and can’t handle the truthfulness of what I’m about to retell, please, don’t read. You won’t hurt my feelings. This will be the most difficult thing I’ve ever had to relay. It’s taken me years to publish. It was the most significant obstacle in trying to publish the second volume of my memoir. Which I never did. And probably won’t. I could never finish this story.


Ice Cream Man

I am lying face down on dirty carpet. By choice. The ice cream van is swaying as we bump our way to some distant location. I can’t see out. I have been asked to hide myself on the floor of the van so the driver won’t be fired for having a passenger. Or that’s the excuse he gives. He may just be embarrassed to be seen with, specifically, me.

The driver is a boy that I just met two days ago. His name is Mike.

Mike is 18. He’s shorter than I am. He’s attractive. But not irresistible. Except for his pursuit of me. That is irresistible.

I am 16. Tall. Awkward. Overweight. Desperate for attention, excitement and love. And sex.

I grew up under the threat of nuclear war, the freedom of promiscuous sex and the towering height of materialism. A strange cocktail of risk and greed. Priming the pump of my stupidity.

I meet Mike at the mall. I’m talking to my best friend while she’s working in an ice cream shop. He’s passing through and spots my friend. They are acquaintances. He knows the boy she’s seeing. They greet one another and soon, Mike’s attention is squarely on me.

Mike chats me up. Even with my very limited experience with boys, I can tell he’s flirting with me. I’d been flirted with, at least. But this boy is hitting hard.

Within hours of meeting Mike, he is kissing my hand, walking me to my car, talking to me, kissing my lips and asking me for my phone number. This shimmering summer mirage of fantasy and thrill is what I have always dreamed. No boy has ever behaved this way. I’d never been kissed. I tell him so. I don’t know that he believes me.

He calls me the next day. He is interested in me. He wants to see me again. He wants to be with me. We talk for a while and he steers the conversation towards sex. With a few deft and experienced moves, Mike makes plans to see me again and makes it clear, we will have sex.

I agree because I am 16 and eager to find out what sex is. I am so lonely and desperate, I allow myself to believe that this is romance. I mistakenly equate sex with love. Something I will do, over and over, until I don’t.

I tell Mike that he was my first kiss. “No, really.” That he will be my first sexual partner. That I’m a virgin.

“Oh!”

He is surprised. He believes me and I think he understands the implication of that statement. That we will be married. Some day. I should have said that out loud.

Only to hear for myself how stupid it sounded.

I have no concept of boys thinking differently or having different expectations. Again, I am 16. I am naïve, ridiculous, impetuous, hormonal, inexperienced and mentally ill. My frontal lobe is underdeveloped, as are all teens. I am an irrational lump of glands and pumping blood.

I really think that this is it. This is how it happens. I meet someone, I am swept off my feet and I am happy. The end.

Oh, my dear young Martha. This is nowhere near the end. This is only the bottom of a very full trash can of thrown-away romances/flings/pieces of your heart. And you put them there.

My inexperience and naïveté lead to stupid choices. Horribly misguided conclusions. Risky behavior. Terrible consequences.

The van comes to a stop. I sit up. From where I sit, I can only see the tops of trees. I assume we are in a remote park, miles from where I left my car. I somehow trust Mike.

He gives me no reason to trust him. I don’t know him, but somehow his charm has nudged the longings of my heart and my body. No one asked my brain.

He’s friends with my friend. Or friends with my friend’s friend. I have his phone number. He called me. He kissed me. He is pursuing me. He is attracted to me. There is no doubt that this will, at the very least, be my first boyfriend.

I thought my heart was more than ready to take this leap. Many of my friends were already engaging in or talking about engaging in sex.

What’s the big deal?

We complete an awkward demonstration of how not to lose your virginity. I will spare you the lousy details. And when we are done, I am sorely disappointed and confused.

Is that it? What IS the big deal?

It is hot out. So I get dressed and leave the van. We are smack dab in the middle of a garbage dump. That is not a joke. I have literally thrown myself away.

I get back in the van, cry my eyes out and ask to be taken back to my car. Mike consoles me. Tells me there’s nothing to be ashamed about. Comforts me. Compliments me. Finally takes me back to my car.

I never talk to or see him again. I try to call him, but I can’t reach him. I only tried once.


I still bare the shame and humiliation.

Life is full of memories that bring happiness and a smile. Pictures that flash. And just at their flashing, warm feelings and chemicals surge through your body.

Negative memories have the same effect, just a different set of chemicals course. This is the most shameful memory I have. The most difficult thing I have to share. I’ve never told anyone except a few close friends and my husband.

I thought I owed it to my collection of writing to set down my shame and let it go for all time. I’m not that person any more. Thank God I didn’t die from that choice or any stupid choices to follow.

I wish I could take it back. Save myself for marriage. Save the most holy consecration of intimacy for the one man who would cherish it. I wish I could have saved that for my husband. But he loves me anyway. Thank God for that.

I got lucky.

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knee-deep

This is not the surface of Mars. But I wish it was. A sci-fi Bradbury story and not my life.


Scared and Scarred
I am 6. Tender. Overly sensitive. Idealistic. In the living room watching TV (listening to my parents scream).
My father is chasing my mother from the bedroom to the living room. She sits on the sofa by the window. He grabs her leg and drags her from the cushion. Her pants rip and she awkwardly falls to the floor, pinned between the sofa and coffee table.
My brother jumps up and tangles himself with my father. My brother is 17 and a full-grown male. He might be one inch taller than my father. He weighs less, but not by much and has anger and youth on his side. They wrestle and fall into a window. The glass breaks and the fighting continues. They push each other away and stand panting and snarling, waiting for each other to make a move.
My brother walks out of the house into the yard and my father follows. They exchange violent words and my father threatens to stab my brother. He holds his hand in his pocket, standing at a distance from my brother, claiming to have a knife.
I will cut your gizzards out.
One of the many delusional things my father utters. It makes little sense. He is embarrassingly profane and foaming at the mouth. He taunts my brother to attack again. I can’t remember how it’s resolved.
Sometime later, I crawl up on the sofa to look at the broken window and wonder why our afternoon was disturbed. I cut my knee with a shard of broken glass hidden in the cushion. I still have the scar today. It looks like a soggy piece of puffed rice
cereal landed on my knee and stuck.

The cut was deep. Huge beads of blood. The emotional hurt was even deeper.


Complex PTSD is real. This memory was written in present tense to show how real memories can seem. You can relive some trauma at the slightest trigger: smell (cigarette smoke), action (washing hands), word (gizzards), threat (humiliation), similar circumstance (injustice). Reliving some nightmare from the past isn’t easy. In fact, it’s soul crushing. Mind melting. Scariest thing a person ever has to do–walk into the past like a darkened, grimy hallway of a forgotten house of pain. With no skills, lights or way to defend yourself. Anyone with C-PTSD does not want to be permanently haunted with ghosts. But the mind can’t erase severe hurt. It tries, but those imprints have power. Evict those ghosts with the Holy Spirit and this link: Self-Help Strategies for PTSD Visit this site as well: AnxietyBC

And get help. Talk to someone. Anyone.
This weekend I realized–I am serving my past, not my professed master Jesus. I am serving horrible memories and failing as a wife. I don’t want this. My past is not something to cling to in the storm. Jesus is.

Owl Haven

I love our new apartment. Condo by the beach. Whatever you want to call it. I call it home.

The exterior is straight-up 70s with a fake, jagged flagstone walkway and mezzanine. (We call it the mezzie, lol) It’s sculpted or stamped cement with painted grout lines. This collection of condos has a horseshoe layout, but horseshoes are lucky, right? Brady Bunch styling, dirty-brown doors, flat roof with shingled, shallow gables. It looks like any roof from a 70s fast food eatery or miniature golf/arcade complex. But it’s surrounded by lush, well-kept palm trees and tropical flowers. Well-trimmed bushes and exotic vegetation. Rock garden with multiple pristine spiral-shaped shells. AND when you walk through that dirty-brown door? The entire interior has been remodeled. New carpet, new appliances, new vanities, new bathtub/shower. New ceiling fan. New granite countertop in the kitchen on top of??? The same old cabinets. Wah-wah. The cabinets are well-worn, but clean-ish. I can work on that. Who has dazzling cabinets? “Put your crap in and shut the door! Worry about it later…or not at all,” is what I tell myself. (Which is something I never tell myself!) Everything else is too beautiful to care. I am not complaining!! Plus, the beach. Sigh. I’m not going to be in my kitchen enough to care what the cabinets look like inside.

I love the old feel and design. New apartments don’t feel like a home. They feel like a big rectangle-ly box with lights. A space that you must carve out on your own. Some people love that. And I get it. But new apartments come with problems, too. Like badly installed plumbing and sinks. Like thermostats that tell YOU what the temperature should be. Like drunk people at the pool. Most Missourians that I’ve met assume Florida is one, big Margaritaville where everyone relaxes on the beach or at the pool with a lady cocktail, tiny umbrella skewering multiple citrus fruits and olives. They pretend to be Floridians by the pool, downing mas cervezas and burning their skin until they’re a dark-golden, fried Twinkie. They don’t do that here. At least on our beach. We go out after 4 pm. We wear sunscreen. We don’t drink on the beach. And we don’t have any tiny umbrellas. It’s usually just our little family of 3 on the beach. It’s nice. All to ourselves.

New apartments come with noisy neighbors. I haven’t heard one person make a peep here. Except a few workmen during the day downstairs. I’m sure it’s different during the busy season. But we have 6-8 months of peace.

At my old apartment, I had a rude upstairs neighbor who used to dance on my head. Dance is too graceful a term for what she did up there. It’s nice not having Twinkle Toes on top of me.

Our apartment building feels like a summer camp dorm on a lake. When all the campers have left. I feel like a kid again on vacation. I feel like I did when we stayed at the Owl Haven Motel in Stockton, MO.

The Owl Haven. Kitchenettes. Wood paneling. Outdoor pool! The Owl Haven still stands.

We stayed at The Owl Haven a few times. Once or twice as a kid, once when I was a bit older, a teen.

I loved it. It was one of the few times that my dad would venture on vacation. He usually had 4-6 weeks off during the year as he was a long-tenured diesel mechanic. He worked at the same company for 25 years. It was a hard job, but came with a few perks. One was a good amount of vacation time.

I think my dad loved fishing. He at least loved being near water. Maybe love is too strong a word for a man like my dad. He enjoyed it. As much as a man with 2 young, noisy kids could enjoy the logistics of making our way to the lake.

It was a 2-3 hour drive. Most Kansas Citians (and KC suburbians), at some point or another, make their way south to enjoy the lakes in Missouri. Truman, Bagnell Dam, Osage Beach, Ozarks, and Stockton. I never heard many kids talk about Stockton as their vacation retreat, but as I said, we went there more than once.

Beautiful. Serene. Not a lot of people. That’s what my dad liked. Not a lot of people. He liked having elbow room. At the dinner table and in life. We moved to 14 acres when I was 5 so Dad could have some elbow room.

He liked being outside, but he also liked A/C. He kept the air conditioner so low that all you had to do, if you were too hot in the summer, is run inside, lay your face down near the floor vent and let the air blow on your hair, teeth and eyeballs for about a minute. Good as new. And he kept the shades drawn most of the time. Our dark-wood paneling and drawn curtains made the inside look like…well, The Owl Haven! lol

The Owl Haven offered an outdoor pool. A coveted asset of the 70s and 80s. In-ground complete with a diving board and slide. For a south-Missouri motel to have such a delightful treat was mind boggling. How? Me want.

My mother allowed us to go to the pool if our older brother went with us. Can we go now?

Can we go now?

Mike?? Can we go now?

We finally went.

Within minutes of being in the pool. I threw up. In the pool. I don’t know why, but I did. It could have been because I just had lunch? It could have been because I usually swallowed a bunch of pool water on accident? It could have been because I was so excited and keyed up for swimming that I bubbled over? I don’t know.

I wasn’t the kind of kid who threw up. Quite the opposite. If it went down, it stayed down. Forever. A lot of food went down, too.

I hated throwing up. Still do. The awful feeling of knowing your insides are about to come outside. I fight it. I fight it for hours. But this urp came out of nowhere.

I just remember everyone being completely disgusted. Mainly because it was chunky. Sorry.

Mike made me sit out for a while. THAT was excruciating! I’m very near a pool and I can’t go in. What a living hell. Cool, clear water. Slide. Diving board. Water, pools and swimming were some of my favorite things. Especially water you could see through.

I didn’t so much like swimming in a pond. We had a pond at home. Turtles. Frogs. Spiders! One summer, our pond had hundreds of dead spiders curled up and floating on the surface. Very strange. But I still went swimming. That should tell you how much I like swimming. I swam with hundreds of dead spiders. Gah!

I eventually got back in the pool. Perhaps when my mom finally arrived. The cold water took her breath away when she dunked herself and her hair back. I thought she had hurt herself. No. Just cold.

“It’s cold??” I thought.

I never felt sick and I never threw up again that day. So strange.

My mom would make balonie sandwiches in the kitchenette. We would take a johnboat out for fishing on the lake. Smell of gas from an outboard motor on the water. Watching Dad steer the boat. Being quiet and watching the trees on the shoreline. It was peaceful. Fun. An adventure. And I feel like that all over again at our little Owl Haven.

Thank you, God, for such an opportunity. I’m so happy.

apartment
There’s that fabled, gabled flat-top roof, but look at that sky! Sigh.

Nikon

Even though I carefully cradled you
*Camera on Board*
I dropped you on your eye.
Sorry ’bout that.
You’ll be okay.
You have a permanent scar, however.
Eye still works.
You’ve taken me places
I only dreamed were true.
You’re so important to me
And I want to capture you.
But you take all the pix.
How can I take a picture that does you justice?
You’re too good for selfies.
Sacrifice.
I’ll steal your soul with this shot.
Camera phone is jealous of just how good you are.
Thanks for the memories.
Friends for life.

Divine

Sweep across the swaying stalks
Windmill turns like a carousel horse
Thousands of black birds stream through the sky
On a cyclical solstice southern course

I’m waiting patiently for the very next second
As fairy-like wisps rise over my path
These balloons leave a smile on my teeth
I can taste sweet-smoky drops and drafts

Harbingers of potent memories
Bringers of light, luck, life and love
You’ll never pass this way again
But I remember your return from above

Courage is Required

An excerpt from Volume 2 of my book, Present Tense. I haven’t published Vol. 2 yet, but here’s a taste. Find Volume 1 here this week for free!


We move into a small, cold, temporary house just in time to celebrate my Christmas #5. Christmas includes new nightgowns, an Easy Bake Oven for my sister and a “courage” (carriage/baby buggy) for me.

I can’t say carriage. I also can’t say commercial or spaghetti. Mah-ker-shull and pa-sketti.

This is the house my mother wallpapered for my grandmother. This is house where I pooped on the floor. This is the house of smoke and blood. This is the house of clawfoot-tub swimming.

There are Tarzan cartoons, Peanuts TV Specials, Hee-haw overalls, jingling reindeer hooves on the roof, cold winter mornings, mattresses on the living room floor. There is laughing/choking at late-night dinners. There are ABC-TV special presentation family movie nights of Deliverance, urine-stained pillows that I fall asleep on, cradling parents who tuck children who fall asleep on wet pillows in bed. And there is falling out of the top bunk at night.


At some point, my grandmother bought this home as a second, third or fourth property to build her empire of real estate. She buys many properties and rents or sells them for profit. She also runs a coin-operated laundry mat and washes people’s clothes for money. She is a woman who works hard and seldom rests. She does not tolerate humor or fuss. She is a force of will.

Grandma’s hair is yellowish white, faded from stress, time and negativity. She keeps it tight in a bun and hairnet. Her face is just as faded. Her beauty quickly spent on marriage, children and hard times. She always wears a dress. Not a fancy frock, but a well-worn print. The only days she didn’t wear a dress, were those spent in a factory during the war.

She has a large, round nose and large, droopy Buddha-like lobes. Those earlobes were made for clip earrings, but she never wears them.

Hard, metallic eyes that saw her father’s mistreatment of her mother. Grandma saw his fortune taken away as well. She saw her comfortable childhood home revoked and replaced by a dirt-floor shed.

She marries, only to quickly lose her husband’s farm to the tax collector. She rears 3 children through the depression, Dust Bowl and WWII. She raises and kills chickens, she milks cows, she sews, she cleans (not well), she cooks.

She hardens; she resolves. She is determined to forbid fate from having its destructive way again.

She works hard because she doesn’t know anything else. She works hard because she learned that you can’t rely on anyone except God and yourself.  She works hard because that is her pathway to happiness.

If I stop moving, I’ll die.

These are her lonely, driven thoughts. She is an ever-swimming, scarred-up shark who’s tired of the frenzy and bloodbath.


Grandma lets us live in the house on 15th Street while we wait to move to the country.  Our home near the lake has sold and the new house is not ready yet.

We lose our cat during the move. We drive for the last time from the lake to town with all our things. Grandma is holding the cat in the station wagon. Shark holding a lion. We arrive at the new place: the car door opens, cat scratches, takes off for parts unknown.

Never seen again. Tiger is gone.

Lucky cat.