Sunday, December 16, 2012
Of Tragedies, Pain, Tears and Friends~~~~
This I fear is going to be a very long post.
As I’ve said it appears that I have lived a romantic life, but I have to admit that I have to work at it. Even with all the dirt and filth, the obscenities, the horrors and insanity that surround me, the crassness and commercialism that well up like unthinking bedbugs, I have to work at having things beautiful, graceful, elegant and romantic even if I am an elder/elderly Goth.
It’s not being in denial, it’s looking past all that and trying to bring beauty even dark beauty into one’s life, one doesn’t have to buy new things to do that either, finds at yard and estate sales, 2nd hand shops, thrift stores, flea markets, with thought and ingenuity it is amazing what one can bring into one’s life and it’s not just things but an outlook and an attitude.
In my childhood I never thought of us as being poor, Dad had a “white collar job” and it paid a decent salary, but we were lower middle income, it was hard to save for a vacation, we rarely took one, any money saved would be for repairs or a sudden medical expense or a special purchase, we made do with things, learning to sew our clothes, buying day old bread, plant cuttings and seeds for flowers or to grow vegetables, making do and finding fun, free fun, purchasing cheap cuts of meat for stews, there were lots of mac and cheese, sometimes with ground round, sometimes with tuna, but we never thought of ourselves as really poor.
Christmas meant we would take the bus and see the stores all in their Christmas finery and seeing Santa, I remember how some of the stores would have these marvelous full human size displays that had sound and motion, each showing a scene that had humor, and us looking to find all the little details in the displays, we each got one toy from Santa and something nice from Mom and Dad and See’s candy from Grandma, for Halloween we made our own costumes and the pumpkins carved for Halloween became pumpkin pies for Thanksgiving.
For our birthdays Mom always baked a cake, Dad would buy ice cream, crepe paper streamers and my sister and I made hand written invitations to give to our school mates, but Mom would always write a little note to the parents inside saying “no presents please, just come and have cake and ice cream” because a lot of our school mates were from working families like ours trying to make ends meet.
Mom always managed to save some money and buy for my sister and I a special party dress, it had to last until we out-grew it and we had to keep it neat and clean. When we’d out grow our party dresses Mother would donate them all nice and neat on hangers to a local charity.
I remember one time I saw a little girl whose folks were really hard up but managed to make do, wearing my old party dress and she looked very happy, I went up to her and said “What a pretty dress, it looks pretty on you” and the little girl smiled and said “My Daddy bought it for me for my birthday” Mother and Dad taught us to always be polite and nice, but because of things that happened in my life I could see how hard it was for some people and simple things like a 2nd hand party dress could make a little girl happy.
One year Mother bought one for me that I didn’t like, it was very pretty and I loved the look of it but it was made of nylon and always scratched me around the sleeves, but I didn’t tell Mom I didn’t care for it, because my best friend Betty had one just like it but in a different color, hers was a pale blue with dark blue flowers and mine was pale pink with dark pink flowers and we were happy that we had similar dresses, so that was enough for me to tolerate the scratchiness.
Betty was a pretty and very happy girl, with blue eyes and blond hair, she was a little shorter than me and her hair was always in curls, my hair was dark, straight and in pig tails and I was taller than her, but I always felt gawky next to her because she moved with such grace. Betty had taken ballet lessons and said that if I took ballet lessons I could become graceful like her.
I remember pleading with Mother and Dad about the lessons but they weren’t sure we could afford them at the time. My sister who was a few years younger wanted to take lessons too but again money was an issue, I told Betty that there wasn’t any money for the lessons but Betty came up with an idea, once a week I would go over to Betty’s house and she’d show me what she learned in her class and taught it to me, even speaking like her ballet teacher. Plies, stretches, the foot positions, pirouettes, how to hold my arms and hands and we’d practice and dance, we must have worn out those old records, even today I think how patient Betty’s Mom must have been with our personal ballet lessons.
We were both 8 years old when she started teaching me, and we became best friends, sharing secrets, talking about books and boys and teachers and things, walking to school together, playing together, doing homework together, and after a while I noticed that I moved more gracefully, even my Grandma remarked on it.
Betty was just a month older than me, her birthday came in the early part of February and mine in the latter part of March.
I remember when my Grandfather died, I was sad that he was gone, however I always felt that in some way he was always around.
In Betty’s case that was my first dark tragedy and it marked me for the rest of my life. It was her 10th birthday, it was a very unseasonably cold day, Betty’s Dad set up some electric space heaters that had thick coils in them, to help warm up the house, their floor heater they had was working over time but the house never seemed warm enough, I remember a few days before the party Betty’s Dad talking to my Dad saying that they are going to have to insulate their house to make it warm but they’d have to take out a loan. Dad said that we were going to have to do the same thing.
I remember the bars over the coils of those space heaters were wide apart, they made me feel uneasy and I made sure I stayed away from them. Betty’s Dad had borrowed them from someone for the party, to help warm the house.
I remember saying to Betty “You’re 10 now but I’ll catch up to you next month at my Birthday party” Betty said to me “We’ll be 10 together” and hugged me. I remember Betty got a birthday present from her parents, it was a gold heart on a chain with her first name engraved on it, ‘Elizabeth’ on the front and on the back the date of her birth. Betty said to me that I was going to have a surprise on my birthday but she couldn’t tell me. I remember begging her to tell me but she said she promised my Mother she wouldn’t. “Some secrets have to be very special” she said. To this day I remember her saying that to me.
Betty’s Mother had a couple of ladies over to help out with the party, they were setting up the chairs so we could have the cake and ice cream, even if it was very cold outside we always wanted ice cream, one of the other ladies had us do party games, like “pin the tale on the donkey”, or “telegraph”, for some reason we were doing “blind man’s bluff”, the whole idea was to have the blindfolded person in the center and then each of us would quickly run up to that person touch them on the shoulder or arm and then dart away, but if the blindfolded person caught you then you were next.
I remember there were about 10 children there; because it was so cold some of the others couldn’t come to the party but for indoors it was enough people, we’d be moving around quickly darting in and out while playing this game. The boy who was blind folded got really close to Betty, she backed up as far as she could, so he caught another boy and just as they were about to put the blind fold on the other child Betty screamed.
She had backed into one of the electric heaters and she was wearing that pretty nylon dress in pale blue since she was the birthday girl, her dress caught on fire, the next thing we knew she was a pillar of flame, screaming and running, the children started to scream and run too, but I remember standing there frozen, my best friend was on fire and I was frozen I couldn’t move even to help her, everything seemed to be in slow motion.
Just then Betty’s Dad came running from the other room, threw Betty on the floor and tried to smother the flames with his coat, it was hard, the nylon kept burning and burning, it melted onto her skin making her skin bubble up and turn black.
One of the ladies gathered the children and put us into a bedroom away from what was happening, Betty’s mother was screaming, I remember another lady grabbing me by the arm saying “No! Don’t look!” but I did. Betty looked like a burnt match, I can’t describe how horrible it was.
I found myself in the bedroom with the other children, a lady was putting our coats on, we were all crying I kept running to the bedroom door crying for Betty and the lady roughly grabbed me time and again, later Mom discovered the bruises on my arm, I told her days later how the lady would grab me to keep me in the bedroom but Mom said the lady did the right thing.
Someone had called our parents, I knew my Mother couldn’t come and get me because my sister was sick with a cold and I had been brought by another parent.
After what seemed like a long time I heard my Uncle Mannie’s voice, he was in his work clothes, I ran to him and he picked me up in one swoop, I remember he smelled of wood because he was a carpenter, he came in his work truck, and left it running so it would be warm and took me home, I saw fire trucks and an ambulance, I could hear children and women crying.
We got to my parent’s house and Uncle Mannie carried me inside, I cried all the way home, my Grandmother was there and it appeared that someone had called my Mother and told her what had happened. I was screaming and crying, just hysterical from the fear and horror that I saw, my Mother undressed me and put me to bed but I wouldn’t let go of her and kept telling her what had happened I remember screaming that it would happen to me.
Dad came home just as the doctor arrived, and between my Mother, Grandmother and Dad they held me down as the Doctor gave me an injection to put me to sleep, the last thing I remember was screaming “I’ll never have another Best Friend again!!!”
I woke up two days later and felt numb, my sister was sitting in the little blue rocking chair next to my bed and had been reading a child’s picture book, she looked up at me with a serious face and said “Betty’s dead.”
All I could do was gather the thick warm comforter around me, I couldn’t talk. My sister, who was feeling better from her cold, told me how my parents, Granny and Uncle Mannie took care of me, and how the Doctor would come by in the evening to check on me.
Uncle Mannie was a widower and sometimes stayed with Grandma when his work brought him close to our town. He never married again and would send extra money to Grandma if she needed it. My sister and I loved him because he’d always would fix our dolls or repaired our doll house when our younger brother would break them (that was another reason we always plotted his demise). He even made furniture for our doll house and for us to use as well. I still have my little red chair that he made for me.
But Betty was gone, nothing could bring her back, for a week I didn’t go to school, my older brother (I’ll talk about him later, that was another tragedy) would bring my home work assignments to me. I wasn’t the only one out of school the other children who were at the party, stayed home as well, one of them, a little girl never did go back.
I hardly got out to bed, I was so afraid of leaving my room, Mom and Dad didn’t force me. My sister would come into my room to play card games or we’d do puzzles she’d talk but I barely spoke. One day she told me that Mom took my pink nylon party dress, cut it up and threw it away, my sister told me that Mom and Dad had heard more about what had happened, the space heaters were not safe because of how they were made and Betty’s nylon dress was highly flammable, of course my sister had a hard time saying the world ‘flammable’, she pronounced it ‘flame able’. Finally several days later Mom talked to me privately in my room.
She talked to me for a long time about Death and how horrible it can be and what I saw is something I’d never forget, and that I’ll always be sad whenever I’d think of Betty, but she told me that Betty wouldn’t want me to be sad, while I was sick in bed, they had Betty’s funeral and Mom and Dad went to it. Betty’s parents came up to them and said that they wanted to pay for my ballet lessons for a year, it was something Betty had pleaded with them and since Betty’s Dad made more money he agreed to it.
That was the Birthday surprise that Mom was going to tell me, and one other thing, Mom had bought a heart pendant on a chair exactly like Betty’s only my name was engraved on the front with my birthday on the back, that day Mom gave it to me, instead of my birthday. Then Mom asked me “What do you think Betty would want you to do?” and I knew, I was to get out of bed, go back to school, take my ballet lessons and do my best in everything.
Mom said to me that some day I’ll have another Best Friend, but I told her “No I won’t, it hurts to have a best friend.” And for years I never did, I’d have friends but I always kept a certain emotional distance.
Betty’s parents some months later moved away, but they did pay for a full year of ballet lessons from Miss Rose Ellison’s Ballet School, I never did dance in any of the recitals we couldn’t afford the cost of the costumes, but it went much longer than a year, I took lessons until I went to college.
When I was little I saved bottles and getting a nickel for each bottle and each week after that first year I’d pay Miss Ellison, what I didn’t know is that the lessons cost far more than my bottle money, but Miss Ellison let me stay, as I got older I’d baby sit and would pay for the lessons with my baby-sitting money. Some years later after Miss Ellison had retired she told me that when I was practicing and dancing in the classes I’d seem happy and she was right I was happy because sometimes I thought I was dancing with Betty.
But I never did have a 10th birthday party, not with my school mates, as a matter of fact I never had a children’s party ever again, Mom and Dad would do a small party with some family members but never a children’s party, my sister also told our parents she didn’t want one either, Betty’s death had affected her too. But for our brother’s birthdays Dad would take them and a couple of their friends to either a baseball or football game. In the long run, emotionally it was much easier.
But did I ever have another best friend ever again? Not for years, I was afraid to until some years later, Garvin was sweet and kind and gay, we worked for the same company, he adored my Mother, would tease my sister when she was in town, helped plan my brother’s wedding, and we became friends, we’d explore the night life together, go to Jazz Clubs and fledgling Goth Clubs although I wasn’t really into heavy metal music. We’d gossip, talk about the Ann Rice books, go shopping, share secrets, car pooled, we found my vintage car that I'd restore, he’d design clothing for me and we’d love to either shop for or sew up vintage clothing. One year we made for him a “Zoot Suit”, long before the movie “The Mask” came out.
He volunteered at the local community Theatre and we’d would design lighting for plays, we became night owls which worked with our work schedules. Eventually we worked part time for a Community theatre company that specialized in murder mysteries, horror plays, Ghostly Drama’s, some Grand Gulnoild Dracula was always big, and occasionally a comedy like “Bell, Book and Candle” or “Topper” or “Blithe Spirit”, he knew a magician who’d design some special effects for them, we'd receive a stipend for it, that money helped to restore my vintage car. The little theatre developed a cult following for nearly 8 years, but then the building that was used was sold, the rent went up and it went out of business, but I could see that Garvin was in trouble before that.
We were doing “Dracula, the Musical?” (don’t ask but it’s true), working lights and special effects the new owners of the building said that we had to be out of it by November so it was our last production and it ran for 8 weeks, Thursday through Saturday evenings only, but Garvin looked like hell.
One evening just before closing night as we were re-setting the “gels” he told me he was dying, he had AIDS and nothing was working. I had wondered why he was being so careful around me at times. I knew of AIDS I had read all about it, he just sat there staring at the empty stage with the lights set, I could see that light was going out of his eyes, he’d given up. I walked over to him bent down, kissed his cheek and said “I Love you” very softly in his ear, the look he gave me is one I cannot describe except that it was a sort of joy and it energized him to finish the run, to direct the packing of all the lighting equipment so it could be either used someplace else or sold.
Then he sold or gave away all his things, put the money into a fund, checked himself into a hospice that cared for those dying of AIDS, he pleaded with me to not come and see him, or call him but I wrote to him every day and he would write a short note to me because now he was getting weak and tired. In the end he dictated a long letter to me; he was too weak to write, but it was a very special letter. He called me his Special Very Best and Very True Friend and I had through my letters given him the courage to make the transition and he had no fear of the end.
I had lost one friend and cut myself off of being close to anyone except for family and eventually Doyle, and then I had taken the courage to have a friend again risking the fact that I would lose him. I felt I had come full circle and had been healed, but in going around in that circle I discovered the darkness, and worked to find the beauty within it.
There were other tragedies in my life and with those I worked even harder to see beauty, I'll 'talk' about those another time.