Thursday, October 4, 2018

What happens to painful memories

I'm missing nearly five months of my life.
From April to September, 1963, there is a black hole where memories should abound.

I don''t remember my college graduation, despite having a photograph of my whole class, including me.
In spite of a yearbook containing my photograph, which I don't recall having been taken.
I don't have any memory of graduate school at the University of Illinois in Urbana. How did I get there? What did my room look like? Where did I register for classes and report to the job I'd been given to help pay my tuition? When did I go to work? With whom did I hang around?

None of it.

A few years ago, I connected with the gal who had been my roommate when we took an off-campus apartment our second year there.
She reminisced about a road trip we took in her Volkswagen Beetle.We traveled to Niagara Falls, then visited my relatives in northwestern Pennsylvania, then spent some time with my folks in New Jersey before driving back to the university, or so she said.

Never happened. At least not in my memory.

I don't know the reason for this traumatic blackout of a significant portion of my life.
It was related, I'm sure, to a bad breakup with someone I cared deeply about.
But that couldn't have been all of it.

The brain is a marvelous thing.
We learned in psychology classes that our psyches protect us from catastrophic pain by blocking out the experiences, in varying degrees, until we are inured to the possibility of damage from the events.
Carl Rogers would have called it denial, but I think it is more profound than that.
Denial implies conscious effort to refuse to accept something real.

The kind of memory loss I have is not a conscious thing.
I've spent years in a futile quest to reconstruct that time frame, reaching into every nook of my memory for one trigger that might open up the entire period and make it crystal clear.
I get to a certain point and there's nothing after it. Nowhere to go to dredge up an occurrence, a conversation, even a person who might have been involved in whatever happened that was so painful it's been locked out for 56 years.

I've been thinking a lot about this in the past week or so, ever since I listened to the testimony of Dr. Christine Blasey-Ford. It bothered me that her questioners and now her detractors, including Donald Trump, are harping on her lack of detailed memory of the assault she claims she underwent at the hands of Brett Kavanaugh.

She has vague recollections of the time and the place, but she is fuzzier on how she got to the party and how she got home. She doesn't recall the time of year or even the exact date of the party.

But she does have one lifelong memory that has been burned into her mind: going up a narrow staircase to the restroom, being pushed into a bedroom and being assaulted by Kavanaugh while his friend Mark Judge watched. And what about that time is the most vivid? The laughter of the two young men and the fear, as Kavanaugh put his hand over her mouth to keep her from screaming, that she might accidentally be killed.

Everything else is a blur. Details fade over time while the horrific experience remains like a movie, playing again and again in her head.

I believe Christine Blasey-Ford.

I know what it's like to have gaps in one's memory and it isn't because of some careful plot to destroy a man's career. It's because the event itself was so devastating that the brain simply shut down to all but the most egregious pieces of the experience.

Don't judge Dr. Ford on her failure to remember every detail. What she does recall is enough.

Judge Kavanaugh, according to many who knew him well when he was in high school and at Yale, attest that he was a heavy drinker, often to the point of not recalling a night's occurrences when he awoke the next day. His memories are faulty as well, if that is the case.

The difference is that he is lying about simple, easy-to-fact check things like the meanings of words in his yearbook, or the gang of young men who were alums of a certain girl in their class.

If you lie about little things, count on the big things also being lies.

I'm sorry for his family and for Dr. Ford's. But Brett Kavanaugh is at the doorstep of becoming a justice of the United States Supreme Court. He, of all people, needs to come clean about who he really is... and who he really was.

Sunday, July 8, 2018

I'm becoming an old fart.
Or is it fartess?
We had planned a mini-getaway in Atlantic City.
Four and a half days, two of which were predicted to be beach perfect and on one night, a concert by Little Anthony and the Imperials, whose voices, dance moves and humorous interaction proved to be great fun.
Our host set us up with a beautiful suite in one of the quieter towers in the hotel.
We were set for a happy time.
We woke on Friday to a slam-bam thunderstorm.
Grey, foggy skies, oppressively humid.
So we had a late breakfast, late lunch and late dinner, filling in the spaces between with video poker, our pastime du jour while at our favorite casino.
We met friends we've known for years at the casino and wandered about from section to section in a place at which we've been at home since the mid-80s. It was a good night.
Then came the waking nightmare.
Although we always have a suite that doesn't adjoin another, there apparently is nothing that can be done about having a wall that adjoins the room around the corner.
We discovered, at about 10:30 p.m., that those walls do not filter out the sound of screaming children.
Not unhappy, like screaming baby children.
No, these were probably 6 to 10 years of age, jumping off the bed, slamming into the wall and shrieking at the tops of their little lungs.
I was really tired and tried hard to ignore the noise and get some shuteye.
Impossible.
There would be a lull in the racket and then a child would shout something, the wall-banging would resume and sleep was denied again.
At 11, I padded down the hallway... an old, grey-haired lady in her nightgown... to locate the source of the noise and suddenly confronted a little girl, maybe 11, who was obviously the sole supervisor of the noise-makers.
I reminded her that some people were trying to sleep and asked that she quiet down those in the room who weren't aware of the hour.
She said she was so sorry and ducked back into the room.
The screaming didn't abate.
Finally, at 11 I called security.
Enough was enough.
I heard the guard's radio as he passed our room on his way to call on the offenders.
For about five minutes it grew quiet and I settled down into my pillows to finally catch those zees.
I'll bet he wasn't on the elevator back down before the screeching began in earnest.
This time, louder and with more gusto.
At about 1:15 a.m., it sounded as though an adult had gone in. The door slammed and suddenly all was quiet.
Naturally, I lay awake, waiting for the expected yelling to resume, but finally, after seeing 2 a.m. on the clock, fell asleep.
Needless to say, I wasn't a happy person when I staggered down to breakfast at 10 a.m.
The hotel clerk to whom we appealed knew exactly what we were up against, she said, since she'd noted the unchecked, unruly behavior of the kids when they and their mom checked in.
Sympathetically, she assigned us a new room.
Saturday was sunny but very windy. It wasn't a good beach day.
I was tired and ready not to be there anymore.
So, without even testing the relative quietness of our new room, we took our bags (still packed), called for our car and went home.
Ah, the glorious quiet of our own four walls, not one of which abutted another.
Even the prospect of laundry, meal planning and a workday Monday didn't dim our relief at being home.
Like I said, I am becoming an old fartess.
There's really no place like home.


Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Sounds

I'm distracted, sitting at my desk, trying to work on a complex edit.

It's the birds... just outside the office window in the tree that was just a sapling when we moved here almost 11 years ago.

I don't know what kind of birds they are (I leave such things to my birding half-sisters) but each fall we find the remnants of a nest no longer needed on the ground beneath the branches. While they are in that tree, we are treated to early morning vocal concerts filled with trills and whistles.

We had birds near the Mt. Laurel condo in which we lived for 19 years before coming here. But living on the second floor, we didn't benefit from their songs as often or as audibly. Still, they were there, along with the noise of traffic on the roads in front and next to us and the incessant roar of landscaping equipment.

In Berlin, where the girls and I "grew up" together from 1978 to 1989, we had birds, the shouts of children at play, nonstop barking dogs and the meows and yips from our own pets. We also had music... all kinds of music playing at all hours, from classical Mozart and Beethoven on the phonograph to 80s rock 'n roll on MTV, the new craze everyone in our household followed.

As a child, I took piano and voice lessons, practicing at home the requisite half hour per day, walking into town once a week to either Mrs. Bozarth's cozy cottage with the huge baby grand in the living room or to Mrs. Ewald's home, the manse of the local Lutheran church where her husband was pastor and she ran through the scales in her lilting soprano.

My parents were music lovers and I was never criticized for playing my Elvis records over and over again. When they took dance lessons at Arthur Murray, my stepfather taught me to jitterbug, usually to one of Elvis' or Bill Haley's classic songs.

To this day, if I close my eyes and concentrate, I can hear the sounds of each place in which I lived. Voices of those I loved, long gone but never forgotten, are harder to conjure up. Sometimes only a single word or a snippet of laughter echoes in my mind before it slips away. The old home movies don't help much. They preserved the faces and the occasions, but left the voices to memory.

The birds are singing as I write. Someone's horn just blew as a car passed the house. Otherwise, it's quiet. Silence is good, but things like the gentle lap of the ocean, the roar of the waves in the wind, the gurgle of a happy baby, the deep laughter after a joke, the halting voice of an aging relative or the sweet murmur of a loved one's voice are the pieces of life we remember.

Sounds.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

My mother

She was a beautiful lady, both inside and out. As a child, I often wished to be as pretty as she, but I settled for "smart" because it at least seemed something positive I could hang my hat on.

Mom went through life with an attitude that was part-positive, part-negative and part-resignation. She went about the business of keeping our home (when we finally had one of our own) as inviting and warm as possible. She wasn't big on cooking, and thus I didn't learn to be a creative cook, settling instead for feeding my family a steady diet of same-old, same-old. She kept the house neat, often reminding me that, if a house isn't cluttered, people will automatically assume it is clean. I follow that philosophy to this day.

With all the turmoil of my growing up (fears, insecurities, boyfriend troubles, etc.), Mom was the steady comfort I could always count on. When I dated a foreign exchange student from an Asian country, she masked her discomfort and welcomed him into our home. When later I chose a man 17 years older than I (and married), she spoke her mind but then allowed me to work myself through that traumatic period of my life.

Mom loved me unconditionally.

My stepfather used to say she would defend me if I committed murder. He was far too early for the Trump brag of the same nature, but he meant it in the same way. To my mother, I could do no wrong, even when I was very wrong.

She had her first mastectomy when she was 48. We waited out the five-year mark and rejoiced when it passed with no new cancer. But then, in the sixth year, another mastectomy, the spread from breast to bones to brain and after that year she died. Thankfully, the cancer destroyed the pain receptors in her brain so her last few hours were serene.

I'm told I look like her. That is a large compliment. I know I don't have her patience and her faith. What I do have is the legacy she left: it is possible to love without condition, without concern for self. Mom gave that to me in huge measure.

I think of her every day and wish she hadn't gone.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

An evening with old friends

The venue was the Spectrum, Philly's old sports arena on Broad Street.

It was the home of the Broad Street Bullies, also known as The Philadelphia Flyers hockey team.

My first date with Howard, a season ticket holder at the time, was a Flyers game on May 5, 1985.

Of course, I knew nothing about hockey... just that a bunch of men with long sticks chased a little piece of hard rubber around, trying to put it into a net at either end of the ice rink.

Still, I wanted to have an evening with this new guy, so I agreed, thinking it would be a boring night.

First period of the game, he explained the rules.
Second period, I watched the action and figured out how it was played.
Third period, I was on my feet, screaming my lungs out for our guys, the orange and black.

I was hooked.

One of the players intrigued me more than any of the others.
He was a defenseman, #8, Brad Marsh, and one of the reasons I became a fan. Brad was the only guy who played helmetless, his curly dark hair making him stand out.

In a later year, two Boston Bruins sandwiched him in a check that nearly took him out and we watched in silent horror as he was carried from the ice on a stretcher.

He recovered from the concussion, and wore a helmet from then on.

But he never changed his style.

An obvious leader, Brad went through the warmups, chatting with his teammates as they circled the ice and took shots at the goalie, Ron Hextall through most of my game years. Then, Brad would skate up to the net, rest against his stick and watch as practice wore down, then give Hextall an encouraging pat and skate off to await the game start.

No one else did that.

At the end of the game, it was again Brad who stood by the net, supporting his goalie, being a leader to the team.

I was sad when he was traded to the Toronto Maple Leafs, but Howard bought me a Leafs jersey with Brad's name and number on it and when the Leafs played in Philly again, I met Brad and he signed the alien blue and white sweater.

Marsh now serves as the president of the Board of the Flyers Alumni, an ideal post for such a leader.

And last night I got to watch him on the ice again as the Flyers and arch-rival Pittsburgh Penguins played a full 60-minute game to mark their 50th anniversary celebration.

I went way back in my closet, took the orange and black jersey off its hanger and prayed it would still fit. It was a tad snug after all these years, but I wore it proudly. It bore Brad's signature and I looked in vain around the huge crowd at the Wells Fargo Center for another like it.

When the team members were introduced, one by one they came out of the tunnel and were greeted by raucous cheers.

When warmup started, Brad did what he always had... he gravitated to the goal and gave his teammate an encouraging tap.

He still didn't wear a helmet and the dark curly hair is largely gone, but the skater on the ice hadn't changed much at all.

He played at least one shift in each of the three periods, usually more than one. If I didn't know by the number and the face, I would know it was he by the smooth rhythm of his skating and that little lean to the right he added when he glided on the ice.

The Flyers ended up tying the Pens in a classic game that featured so many of the players for whom I'd cheered and yelled back in the 80s.The guys seemed to be having a wonderful time together, and I hope they knew how much fun they were giving their fans.

It was 1985 all over; we were young and energetic and the world was a happier place. For a few hours last night, we were back there again.

Thanks, Flyers, and thank you, Brad Marsh! 

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Beginnings

Finally, after nearly 13 years of book-writing silence, I have just published a book!

Okay, so it's not that kind of book.

But it may be one of the best books I've produced and I hope its target readership agrees.

Last summer, as our family lazed on the Wildwood Crest beach, I told a story about my grandmother. Nothing special, just a snippet from the myriad memories that tumble around in my mind.

My older daughter commented that she'd never heard that story and then proceeded to admonish me (gently, of course) for not sharing tidbits like that with the family. After all, she didn't say, but I heard, Mom isn't going to be around forever and then who will know these things? Who will go through the boxes of photos, some faded and torn, and know who was in them?

That's when the idea came and on Friday, the result was in my mail.

I gathered photos from those bottomless boxes, selected from an old autobiography that lies fallow and incomplete on my hard drive, did some research and found blurb.com, selected a template and created "Where Did We Come From?" to gift my grandchildren and my daughters with a brief look into their ancestry.

While the book is 22 pages long, it could easily have been doubled if the cost had not been prohibitive. There are still many, many photos for them to look at some far-off day. I will have to deal with the pictures perhaps one cold, blustery winter night as I take on the next project... scanning, naming and cataloguing them all. Sadly, by the time I got custody of the photos, there was no one left to tell me who many of the folks who peopled them might have been. Many contain men and women who were directly related to my grandfather. They will wind up forever unidentified.

But the 22 pages of the book I created contains enough information to serve as a start on my effort to leave the kids a picture of their ancestors... the men and women I knew as integral parts of my life.

So even if the photos are a bit blurry or worn with decades of being shuffled from one album to another, from one box to another, I was able to tell them about my wonderful grandparents, my mom and dad and some of my own history. It's what I wish I had been given by my parents.

How silly we are, those of us who have a rich mine of photos or written histories, not to sit our grandparents and parents down, grab an iPad or iPhone or any of the amazing recording devices we have at our disposal and ask them to talk about their childhoods, their memories. Not only would we have a lasting record of their pasts but we would have the joy of hearing their voices and seeing their smiles long after they are gone.

It's too late for me to do any of that, so I did what I could. I hope that, even though there may be little interest in the book now, my grandchildren will some day dig it out from their put-away treasures and share it with their children.

That's what it was created for. That's what I wish for it.

Saturday, July 30, 2016

For once in my life, I am struggling to state an opinion.

I want to write about the 2016 presidential election. I want to find the right words to talk about how I feel about the candidates and their messages.

I've never been a Hillary Clinton fan, although I think her husband's presidency was good for the country if not for the reputation of the man.

I despise Donald Trump and everything he stands for (or not, considering he doesn't seem to actually have any principles upon which he stands).

Above both feelings, I am sad that Bernie Sanders didn't make it to the nomination. He started too late and then faced the obstacles set up by the establishment Democrats that made it impossible for him to succeed.

But he came sooooo close.

I remember back in the mid-60s when the resounding message of Bobby Kennedy began to echo around the country and he mounted his campaign for president. Like so many liberal-minded people, I was enraptured. He embraced every ideal I hold dear. He offered the kind of world that fulfilled the promise of peace and universal compassion and caring.

When Bobby was murdered, it seemed a pall settled over the land. Not only people like me, but legions of others who were drawn to his message, mourned and, I believe, entered a phase of depression, cynicism and doubt from which we have never emerged.

Bernie revived that hope, that yearning for what could be if only the system we have watched becoming more and more fashioned against us were changed. Millions of young people, for whom the name Bobby Kennedy probably only evokes a page in their history books, were caught up in Bernie's message just like I was at their age (okay, I was a tad older). Without the filter of cognizance of the progression from Kennedy to Obama, the millenials knew only that Bernie spoke to them of the way it could be and they loved it.

Now I wonder if, regardless of Bernie's efforts to help defeat Donald Trump, those young people will feel the incredible letdown we did post-Bobby. Will they believe the system is indeed unbeatable, unchangeable?

The next four years, no matter who wins in November, will be crucial, I believe, to the survival of our nation. Hillary, if she surrounds herself with wise statespeople and if she includes Bernie in the planning, might be able to fashion a new optimism and the changes needed. Donald Trump, if he wins, will, in his own unpredictable and frightening manner, lead the country into the kind of darkness and ugliness in which he thrives.

So, without a lot of enthusiasm, but with the terrifying thought of the end of America as we know it, I will vote for Hillary. It really isn't that I see it as a choice between the lesser of two evils. It is a statement that I can't allow the evil that is Donald Trump to triumph.