I got treated very badly in Texas. They don’t treat beatniks too good in Texas. Port Arthur people thought I was a beatnik, though they’d never seen one and neither had I.      Janis Joplin

At Days End- ©2003- graphite on paper, 25x30 cm (10x12)

At Days End ©2003- graphite on paper, 25×30 cm (10×12)

-I remember sitting on a veranda overlooking the city of Zagreb, the beautiful clear blue sky, the mosaic tile flooring, the Marine Guard who had driven me from Belgrade sitting across from me talking away; the plane was delayed a couple of hours and we were having that marvelously sweet, strong Turkish coffee.

The next thing I remember is that I am in Houston, I am in a Catholic High School, I am in a kind of hell.

It is quite apparent that the trip back to the US was traumatic, the arrival was traumatic, the situation was traumatic. It is apparent I erase things easily. Later I eventually gleaned what happened.

Upon my arrival my mother had arranged for me to take the SAT’s at the University of Houston so I could continue my schooling, Capitán was to forward all my transcripts.  It never occurred to anyone that I had not spoken or studied English since I was 9 (well I did speak English to my parents), that I took everything “literary” not understanding the subtleties of the language, that I could read quite well but I had immense difficulty understanding test questions.  In South America and Europe most of my test were oral, very little was a written exam, and then only in essay form.  In America the questions tested your cleverness, not knowledge and I could not decipher the innuendo, still can’t to this day! No one even realized that even though I could write, I could not spell!!!!

I managed to make only decent scores except in English, which I succeeded in failing royally. I could not be accepted as a foreign student because I was an American and no exceptions would be made, thank you very much.  To add to my mother’s dilemma, Capitán never sent the transcripts, said they were lost in the mail, would get copies, never did. My mothers solution was to put me back in High School so I could graduate from an American school, be able to learn English and hence get into an American college.

I was 19 at the time, going on 30.

My memories of that High School as you might expect, are quite fractured. I spoke with a British accent, which my Texan schoolmates thought to be pretentious and snotty, so I was bullied and mocked on a daily basis. I learned to keep my mouth shut and tried to get rid of the accent. I use to practice talking when I alone at my mother’s apartment. To make matter worse, I was clueless to the culture of American “teenagerdom”.  Not harboring any concept of what America was  except what I saw in a movie or two I was lost, and there certainly were no bobby socks here! I did not even know what a football game was, much less a Bar-B-Que.

Severe cultural shock took hold, I was frightened, friendless and having an extremely difficult time learning anything in school to which my teachers attributed to my metal defects as outlined in letters Capitán had written. I asked too many questions and was moved to the back of the class where I could be ignored.  I even had trouble using my empathic skills because I found everything to be not what I wanted! “Dealing” with it all alone was becoming a burden.

To my rescue came an angel named Dee, two years younger, a classmate, fearless and brave to a point, she befriended me outside of school (unfortunately she could not be friends with me in school, social stigma because I was such an alien…..and all that stuff I never understood).  However, she quietly defended me when others put me down, she helped me with my English classes and taught me how to speak Texan.  But the best thing she did was introduced me to Garry her sometimes boyfriend, a junior at the University of Houston, with whom I formed a karmic bond. He became my brother, my counselor, my teacher, and my life long friend.

I rarely saw my mother in those days, she put in long hours working as an executive secretary, we talked even less, although I do remember bits of joy and laughter, so we must have gotten along well. One day when I came home from school Capitán was in the apartment, I think he had come to try to get her back, but I never knew the real reason. What I do know is there was one of those terrible yelling fests and I left, spending the night in the hallway of an adjacent building. When I returned in the morning, he was leaving but not before I received a tirade of what a whore I was (his favorite word to describe all women) accusing me of earing a living on the street. I remember silently standing there thinking how some things, some tones, some words never change and how very much I hated him.

One month after this incident and only 6 months after I had arrived, my mother’s boss was transferred to New York and asked her to come with him to continue her job as his assistant. It was only 1 month before graduation when she dropped me off at the train station, putting a ticket in my hand and telling me my aunt would meet me at the station in New Orleans and I could finish school there. I do not think she kissed me goodbye.  She had done what she could and it was time for her to move on.  I did not see or hear from her again for nearly 10 years.

I had come to the conclusion that life really was a magic act, just smoke and mirrors: now you see it, now you don’t, very little was real.  Of course I blocked out the memory of the train ride to New Orleans. The only thing I do know is that my arrival was welcomed with open arms.  My Aunt and Uncle became a solid lifeline, became the parents I always wished I had, loved me beyond what was humanly possible and gave me something sacred: they believed in me.

They also made me keeper of the family stories, passing on the good tales and of skeletons in the closet that created the family history. It was from that day forward I never forgot anything again.

 

 

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Comments
  1. Nancy Tanner says:

    this one made me cry. Everyone needs someone to believe in them, it’s so simple but sometimes adults forget this.

    Like

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