Posts Tagged ‘children’

“There are many more layers to innocence than one might ever imagine, and we are ever unaware of them until each barrier is breached.”― Paula ReedHester: The Missing Years of the The Scarlet Letter……..

Night Wind, graphite on paper A4, (8x10)…...

Night Wind, graphite on paper A4, (8×10)……

Part of the story, an aside……..

My brother, Number 5 (with me being number 1) of my siblings, lived in Houma with his Cajun princess bride. All of us had chipped in and made their wedding possible in the house in New Orleans. Only my aunt and myself were happy for him and his beautiful bride. The rest of my siblings, including Capitán, thought they could have picked someone better for him. There was great and inappropriate hatred expressed by sisters number 2, 3 and 6 that made the bride cry. It was both a happy and sad day.

So when my sister (number 6) came to New Orleans to stir the pot of evil with my aunt, her long fingers reached out to my brother. Unbeknown to her case manager she was mingling and meeting with the local drug lords and even some who had ventured from Miami to take advantage of her semi freedom. I saw her with these burly types who reeked of darkness; and when she involved my innocent and emotionally slow brother I felt she had gone too far and stepped forward. I tried to tell her case manager who laughed at me. I even called the local FBI to report her but her case manager had already notified her and she had contacted Capitán who was now in town, who told the FBI that I was jealous and trying to defame my poor sister in order to keep all the family money…. and they believed him and told me not to bother them again. (My family in New New Orleans did have some very powerful and corrupt contacts.)

So the evilness of it all began to take shape as my sister began to ply my brother with drugs and convince him to leave his wife and children and go back to Ecuador into the loving (?) arms of Capitán, the man who had emotionally tortured and abused him as a child.

When Michael called me and asked me what he should do, I immediately called sister #2 in Ecuador to ask what the devil was going on and why. My sister responded, ” You are not considered a member of this family and what we do is none of your business. If we need your help, someone will contact you and tell you what to do.”

Like hell they will, I told her…her need to dominate and control everything had just gone too far. “Remember”, I said, “when we were children and if we did not do what you wanted us to do you would tell us “do not speak to me further, you are dead in my eyes”? Well my dear sister, please consider yourself dead in MY eyes.”

I did what I could but one day Michael was gone and his wife called me in tears. There was nothing I could do. In his innocence he could not defend against all the lies they told him and once back in Ecuador, they took his passport and his life became misery as they tried to make him into something he could not be. It took him nearly 3 years to escape and return to his wife and children, but he was changed, his wife was changed, so much damage had been done that could not be reversed.

Although I stayed in touch with my sister-in-law during his absence and did what I could to help her, I did not see my brother again for many years. By that time I had disowned all my family and although I loved him dearly I could not keep contact with him for fear the family would use him to get to me, he never could understand that I was trying to protect him. We would both hug each other and cry.

It would be many more years later I would get a call; from sister #2 saying “Michael is near death and demands to talk to you.”

I said my tearful goodbyes and told him how much he was loved. I would only later learn from a stray conversation, that he was divorced and had stage 4-lung cancer.

I spoke to my sister-in-law once once a few years later when my mother died, but it was only a casual conversation about Michael’s share of the inheritance and since my mother had basically disinherited me, I could not answer any of her questions; I could only advise her to contact the attorney in charge of the estate.

I often wondered what happens when all the barriers to innocence are breached, do we take the remaining shards and try to hold onto the illusion of what we once held to be true? Or do we rebuild a new illusion that allows us to carry on as we discard the shroud that once tried to devour our souls?

What does happen to the dreamer when there are no more dreams?

We suffer primarily not from our vices or our weaknesses, but from our illusions. We are haunted, not by reality, but by those images we have put in their place.

Daniel J. Boorstin —

Kachina Dream,2013, oil on canvas, 35x50 cm (14x20)

Kachina Dream,2013, oil on canvas, 35×50 cm (14×20) —

 

An aside to the story……

Capitán’s eldest sister and the first-born, was named Eleanor after her mother.  She went by the nickname Noni but behind her back was called “the war department”, for her iron fisted, unrelenting rule over not only her parents but also all her siblings.  A milky skinned redhead, her thinking was completely linear, a progressional,  pre-determined path to personal and societal success, there were no deviations, and no obstacles she could not overcome to achieve her goals. She was beautiful, graceful, intelligent, cruel, selfish, and very determined.

Patricia Roberta was Capitán’s youngest sister, and although he was the last of his siblings, Patty was the last girl, only 11 months his senior. A green-eyed brunette she stood in the shadow of her successful elder sister and watched with admiration and jealously.  Unlike Noni, Patty’s thinking was complete circular and it revolved around herself.  Spoiled and petulant she obtained whatever she wanted by whatever means necessary.  She considered herself to be quite special, and in many ways she was, but her values were shallow, based on what she thought society required of her, her personal needs superficial and her innate view on life was that it owed her more than she got.

Noni was very good at setting and achieving goals; Patty was very good at making other people tend her needs and make her happy. Noni allowed Patty to hang at the edges of her success and Patty never forgave her for the cruelty.

Noni choose carefully and married into an established local Irish dynasty. She gave birth to 4 children. Patty married the man she fell in love with, contracted a debilitating internal virus at a young age and was left barren.  Her greatest desire to be a mother would go unfulfilled and her sister would remind her of this failing for the rest of their days.

While Noni never had a kind word for anyone, Patty had a heart that was too big compensating for the great emotional need for a child; and it was that emotional need that softened her edges giving her an almost irresistible sheen, allowing her to move with ease at the mid to upper levels of New Orleans society.

When I was born Patty bonded with me like no other, and I must have reciprocated, because from that day forth, unbeknownst to me, she became my surrogate mother.  When my own mother had the 4th of her 6 children, Patty asked if she could adopt me, as my mother was capable of having many more children.  My mother was horrified at that thought and never forgave Patty.  Denied the one thing she wanted more than anything, Patty’s love for me grew exponentially over the years. Something I would not discover until much later in life.

Noni had a wealthy, powerful life, a full life, a rewarding life, and while her 3 sons succeeded in law, government and the arts, she would abuse and bully her only daughter into obedient submission, leaving her to grow into a fragile, bitter, narrow-minded, clueless, uneducated woman. My first cousin and one who would become the underlying sponge that soaked up the lies, the half-truths and innuendos, created by Capitán, spreading them as gospel.

I was in New Orleans when Noni was released from the hospital after a major heart attack at age 82.  None of her children, grandchildren, or even great-grandchildren had time to collect her from the hospital and bring her home.  Patty and I did. Physically weak, breathing shallowly, her fragile body seemed to disappear within her big four-poster antique canopy bed.  As I sat in a chair next to her listening to her breath, I could hear Patty down the hall on the phone making more arrangement with the maid, with a nurse and others when Noni reached for my hand and pulled me over.  “How could I have never known you were so kind?” she asked, “I am so very sorry.”   “Its OK, Noni, rest now.” I answered.  She died quietly 3 weeks later in that same bed.

With Noni’s death, Patty stepped with ease into the societal vacancy gaining the respect and admiration she craved.  In exchange for all she did for me over the years, I would help her go even further, by becoming her ghostwriter. She achieved great acclaim and fame if you will, for her talks, her committee installations, her prayers in multiple women’s groups and organizations throughout the city.  This would open the door to other latten talents and others would come to compose the tunes she heard in her head that would later be recorded by the Boston Pops.  Her world would grow, bloom, flower; her ego was now off the charts but her personality became child-like, loveable, generous, kind and those qualities made the superficial side of her seem insignificant.

A lovely side effect for me in this relationship was that Patty rarely bought anything off the rack.  All her clothes were classic in style, color and hand-made by her personal seamstress.  Worn only one season, she would give them away to charity each year making sure the charity knew exactly from whom the clothes came from; I received my yearly donation as well, and for about 25 years except for jeans and flannel shirts I never had to buy another stitch.

There is no lesson to this tale, no moral, no insight, just an observation, just a story to set things in perspective.  A family not unlike others who held grudges all their lives, who made people pay dearly for real or imagined offenses.   A family who lived and died by the drama they created, thereby giving their lives a reason for existence, meaning and purpose.  They lived two lives, their private ones which were “nobody business” and the public ones where “saving face” was paramount.  They were all unforgiving until the end, on their deathbeds, asking for forgiveness for a lifetime of cruelty.

I was not like them, never wanted to be like them, never truly understood them or their reasoning, never admired them, but I did find them amusing and I always loved them all in spite of their multiple failings.  All I ever asked of them was to be accepted and of course never was, except by Patty.

 

 

“There are people who come into your life just to strengthen you so you can move on without them, they are supposed to be part of your memory, not your destiny.” Rashida Rowe 

Alternate Realities #4, 20012, graphite on paper, 46x56 cm(18x21)

Alternate Realities #4, 20012, graphite on paper, 46×56 cm(18×21)

The Story Continues……….

 

The two guardian angels my grandmother saw standing on either side of me, must have put their heads together and created a small miracle.  My first impression of the cold canyons of NYC did not encourage me nor make me to want to stay.

Somewhere here was my mother, but that thought was fleeting and I discarded it as quickly as it came.  So, there I was walking down, or maybe it was up the street, intent on finding a phone booth (quaint isn’t it now a days?) so I could locate the bus station, to see how far my $50.00 would take me when I heard a distant voice calling my name.  Not really sure I was hearing correctly I kept on walking and the voice became louder. I stopped, turned around to see a woman running towards me waving her hands and calling my name.

I just stood there not believing what I was seeing; it was my girlfriend from the high school in Houston.  She grabbed me and pulled me close, thousands of questions and I with few answers.  She was working in NYC and had just taken a 30 day leave of absence to go to Florida to care for her mother and I was coming with her, finito.

It was during the drive down to Florida the reality of my situation came to lay its arms around my mind and heart.  This was a rescue but not the answer, because the one thing I had not told her or even admitted to myself until this point, was that I was pregnant.

The house was on a sandy street near the water, the air warm, salty, moist, like breathing though a damp sponge.  It was your classic 50’s style Florida concrete house with an enclosed lanai, a palm tree in the front yard, lizards dashing everywhere you looked.

Her mother was in her late 60’s, had been ill and was in need of a little more care than her stout Baptist Missionary Church could offer.  She also collected dolls.  Entering the house was just a bit spooky.  The curtains drawn against the sun, light filtered in through cracks leaving bright streaks across the wood floor, dust mots floated in the light.  The entire living room, dinning room and part of the kitchen and lanai were covered with wall-to-wall glass cases filled with dolls from around the world and every century. Beautiful and eerie, it was a dedicated museum.  Larger dolls sat in small rocking chairs, or around little child sized tables dressed with tea sets.  There were dolls on rocking horses and dolls on small teeter-totters. And there was one special doll to whom I was introduced.

Her name was Querette, after the letter “Q” stamped on her porcelain head.  She was child sized and sat in a little rocking chair.  She had blond ringlets with ribbons and was dressed in traditional French fashion of the 20’s complete with little black patent leather shoes whose soles were scuffed.  It was the first thing I noticed and when I inquired why, my girlfriend laughed and said it was because sometimes Querette walked around at night.

I slept on the sofa in the lanai and the days passed quietly with restless nights, the house filled with the soft little voices of the dolls. However, my condition was now 7 months along and my friend and I sat down to discuss a plan of action.  I could not go back to New Orleans and I could not go to South America.  She was heading back to New York and her mother would not allow me to stay because of her religious beliefs; there was only one option remained.  I called Garry in Houston.

It was the last place I wanted to return to, but the only choice I had, so I packed my things and two days later took the bus to Houston.  Garry had sent me money for the bus fare, found me a place to stay to have the baby, arranged for a private adoption, found me an apartment, sold me a car, gave me my life back and a chance to start over.

I did manage to call New Orleans and quietly found out that Dino had indeed gone to California.  He thought I had abandoned him and was already involved with another. I told him everything and wished him well.  I also called my aunt who had suspected the truth and made me promise to call one a week and come back on holidays.

For the next year or so I would be surrounded by my first circle of friends; I would find a good job at an oil company translating seismic drilling reports from French to English; I would meet the man I would one day marry and that Christmas I would accept my sisters invitation to spend the holiday with her in Ecuador.

The wheel of fortune would spin once again.

 

 

Nothing in life is to be feared, it is only to be understood. Now is the time to understand more, so that we may fear less.” Marie Curie —

Receiving Information ©2003- graphite on paper, 25x30 cm (10x12)

Receiving Information ©2003- graphite on paper, 25×30 cm (10×12)

 

The Story Continues……

Been giving a lot of thought to time and memories, how the memories we do hold, can be distorted by time. Sight, sound smell all come together to form the perceived image of what transpired, our eyes seeing illusions of what we want to believe is true.   I just may have too much time on my hands right now not painting and when I have too much time, I think……dangerous, because then I ask questions!

What I know now, I did not know then and when I look back I wonder how is it possible not to have been aware, not to have known, not to have remembered.  The answer is quite simple: it was safer to forget.  My Pollyanna attitude and can do spirit found itself when I left for Europe and buried the reality of my childhood.  This allowed me to frequently return to Ecuador, hating Capitán, but not truly understanding why; so somewhere in me for the next 20 years, I searched for redemption.  If that makes any sense at all!

Truth is always hard to believe, it never paints a pretty picture. My personal painting formed the image of what others saw:  the bravado, the fearlessness, the voice saying I could do anything, I was something, I was somebody.  Beneath the thin veneer, I was part of nothing, belonging to nothing, being nothing.  I had no real self-esteem, I saw my self as ugly and not having much value, conditioning that had constantly been driven into my being with the words of my family. Two different people, the child and the adult, fragile and strong, day and night.  Like waves it flooded me, lifting me up, dragging me down, only to lift me up again.

Coming to New Orleans to live with my aunt was a revelation, a freedom, a blessing, a gift.  They gave me the space to find myself, or at least search for something I could hold onto outside of myself.  They provided the foundation, the base, the balance, from which I could come and go, do or not do, be or not be, as long as I was there, with them, part of them, as long as they could touch me, talk to me, hold me, love me.  I reciprocated with equal intensity.

Via summer school I finished my missing classes with honors and got that American degree to add to the others. But at the time, my need for education had evaporated.  I spent my afternoons with my aunt at luncheons and teas, roaming the dense and dangerous vegetation of New Orleans high society.  At night I found a waitress job at a little joint in the French Quarter called the Kings Room.  Managed by a wonderful, older Italian man named Stanley who instantly adopted me, letting it be known that I was under his wings.  I was now “street people” of the Quarter, and could go anywhere in the city safely without fear.  The Kings Room was just one of Carlos Marcelo’s Mafioso enterprises and Stanley was one of his Capos. The bartender was a handsome tall Irish lad nicknamed Dino. I fell in love for the first time.

My relationship with Dino was passionate, strong and lasted for nearly 2 years. What I did not know was that he was an enforcer for the mob, he was an alcoholic, and when he was drunk he talked.  I was living upstairs in the small apartment on Philip Street, but my nights were spent at his place in the Quarter.

Of course my aunt and uncle were not pleased about this situation, but understood, they had met him, he attended family affairs, he was charming, gracious and ultimately was acceptable.  I was happy. Then a series of events came to pass, fate manipulating my life again.

It was in December, a typical cold, wet day, the dampness eating down to your bones. Stanley was not in the bar that night, I was informed he had a sudden heart attack and died, the funeral would be the next day.  The sense of loss was great, but more so was the knowledge that I was now on my own without protection.  After the funeral, on Dino’s advice, I quit the Kings Room and went to work at the Hotel Monteleon rooftop bar.  Dino went to work at an upscale restaurant down Bourbon Street. Christmas passed quietly and the New Year was looking bright, then shadows began to emerge.

Dino’s alcoholism became worse, something had triggered even heavier drinking, and from his babbling I knew his enforcer responsibilities had taken him a step deeper into the mob and there were  “disappearances”.  I was giving serious thought to perhaps it was time to leave him and this situation when my aunt informed me Capitán was in town.  I stayed away from Philip Street trying to avoid his presence.

The next night after work Dino informed me that Capitán had made an appearance in the restaurant bar and with gun in hand created a scene, threatening him, and advising  him to leave me alone least he be eliminated.  Dino of course laughed at that situation, but at the same time that confrontation was unacceptable to other powers that be and people began to notice and to question.  I no longer felt safe on the street.

What followed was inevitable, a confrontation with Capitán.  I took it upon myself to defend not only myself, but also my aunt and uncle against his attacks and accusations.  A horrid scene evolved, leaving my aunt in tears and my uncle telling him he was no longer welcomed in their house.

Two nights later, right before my 21st birthday, the new manager of the Kings Room came to the Monteleon and pulled me aside. He advised me what I already suspected, that it was no longer safe for me, that Dino had become a liability, that I knew too much. In memory of Stanley he was providing me passage to California with an associate, there would be a job waiting for me, in addition, he promised Dino would follow in a couple of weeks.

I felt I had no choice, I had to trust the gods that be.  I packed a small bag, told my aunt and uncle that I had to leave for a while and would be back when things quieted down. Would write them when I was settled.

The mills of the gods do grind exceedingly fine with actions and consequences coming together, forming a brew that is not always savory. To make a confusing story short, a week later I was abandoned in New York, on the street with $50.00 in my pocket, my passport and more than a little concerned as to what I was going to do next.

 

 

 

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.

 

 

You’ll walk a path of misty truths, Moving you where they will to, The road where you’ll likely be, Living out this Mystery. Michael Brown  —

Philip St

Philip St. circa 1920 —

An Aside to the Story……….

The original structure was headquarters for the Confederate Army during the Civil War. When the war was over, it sat empty and abandoned for many years.  The advent of the reconstruction era allowed renovation to begin, porches were added, palms planted, the property was sold.

My paternal grandmother fell in love with the house while she was still a girl, making a mental promise that when she married that house would be hers.  The house itself developed a long history of being a property of contention, haunted by confederate ghosts, and other entities, bringing anger and mistrust to those who dwelt within its walls. My grandmother could not care less what was said, the ghosts were welcomed guests, she only knew that the on day she married fortune smiled and that house went up for sale.

Unfortunately, there were other forces at work. Her parents did not approve of two things: her marriage to the Scott/Irishman she fell in love with and knowing her desires to have that particular house.  The stout German family did everything in their power to prevent the marriage, but the couple secretly left town one day and eloped, eliminating that problem.  They also did everything in their power to prevent her from buying that particular house. Their reasons remain unknown to this day.

Strong headed and determined my grandmother was not one to be denied her wishes, so she contacted her husband’s cousin in Mississippi, marking arrangements with him to quietly buy the house.  Once the paperwork was settled she could then purchase the property without her family’s knowledge.  The family of course, found out the day she moved in; she would never be forgiven.  “This house”, they would say, was not meant for you.”  A family phrase I would later hear more often that I would wish.

By the time Capitán’s youngest sister married all the older siblings had already married and left home so she and her husband moved upstairs in the big house creating an apartment, which they rented from my grandparents.

My grandmother died only 3 years after my grandfather and in settling the estate, my aunt and uncle wanted to purchase the house from their siblings.  Capitán headed the campaign against this, wanting the property sold and the profits divided.  Following in the steps of her mother, my aunt secretly gained the confidence of her brother-in-law who at the time was a powerful judge.  He arranged for the house to be sold on the open market, reducing the price for a quick sale, and to be purchased by a trusted associate. This pleased all the siblings who received their share of the estate per the Napoleonic Laws of Louisiana.  A month later, the property was quietly sold to my aunt and uncle.  To say this caused a furor among the siblings would be an understatement, their anger about this affair would last an entire lifetime.  That house was not meant for you…they said and the bone of contention was picked clean once again.

My aunt and uncle would live happily in this house for the next 40 years or so with another sister who never married living upstairs.  They would renovate it, keep it perfect, live a life beyond their means and almost lose it to 11 years of unpaid federal taxes.

No one knew about this last item except me and the other aunt who lived upstairs.  My aunt never shared the information with anyone else.  Arrangements had been made with the IRS to ignore the lien and allow my aunt and uncle, because of their age at the time, to remain in the house for the rest of their natural lives on the condition the house never be sold, and if it was, the IRS would then seize all profits.

One sister came to live out the last of her days in the house, as did another brother. Then the aunt that lived upstairs died and the upstairs was divided into two apartments and when my aunt was in her late 70’s my dear uncle died.

Over the years I had formed a deep and abiding relationship with this aunt and uncle. I became closer to my aunt who took on the role of a pseudo mother. This was completely unacceptable to Capitán and other New Orleans family members including my siblings and my mother, and for unknown reasons they all worked consistently and diligently to turn my aunt against me. It would take them a lifetime and Alzheimer’s to succeed.

The death of my uncle left my aunt very alone inspire of numerous family members ready to move her into smaller dwellings and take over the house.  The family began chewing harder at the edges of her sorrow wanting to take control. Adding to the pressure, my uncle’s sister’s boyfriend of 25 years died leaving her with vast amounts of money and property.  My uncle’s sister’s will left everything to my Aunt and my Aunt’s will left everything to her remaining brother: Capitán. Not wanting to wait until the death of the two women, Capitán decided it should all be his now.  My aunt not knowing how to protect herself and her sister-in-law called me, as the only one she could trust, to come and help.  Having made a promise to my uncle many years before that I would always be there in time of need, I had no choice but to go.

My arrival in New Orleans would start a bonfire that would turn into an inferno that would lead to an epiphany that would change my life…….all because of this wonderful old house on Philip Street and those who lived in it.

“It’s when we’re given choice that we sit with the gods and design ourselves.”- Dorothy Gilman —

Observation 3- ©2003- graphite on paper, 25x30 cm (10x12)

Observation 3- ©2003- graphite on paper, 25×30 cm (10×12)

The story continues……..

In spite of what many would have us believe, truth, I have come to realize, is quite singular.  My truth, your truth, it is all true. We hold our memories and beliefs tightly to our breast believing that they fortify us within our self-created history.  The illusion of our created lives is like a crystalline cocoon within which we wrap ourselves, reflecting that singularity. Unknowingly we assume we are safe, but reality comes along every once in a white with a little silver hammer.  Tap, tap, tap…it goes, and cracks begin to form.

When I speak of being socially ignorant, it is the truth.  I have memories of making friends in school but never being allowed to see them after school.  There was little free time in school to chat with the exception of the bus ride to and from school, and my classmates were never on my bus. Unfortunately, I had already become a quite child and listened more than talked. I remember being allowed to go to parties, but only to enter the room, say hello and leave, for Capitán was waiting for me in the car.

I had the freedom of a bicycle, but that was eventually taken away when I never would come home in time, riding until it was dark, not wanting to come home.

I did have one special friend and it took my family a long time to find out. She was a year older than me, German/Ecuadorian, and lived on my bike route. We met by accident one day and found ourselves to be kindred spirits.  On my first visit to her house I immediately fell in love with her family, they were intellectual, musical, loving, kind.  I never told my family about them for fear they would stop me from visiting. It was a secret I was able to maintain for several months. They had a beach house and would go there often on the weekends, one day during vacations; I just went with them, lying about having permission.  It took my family 4 days to find me and of course that was the end of that friendship.

Sometime during the flight from South America to New York to Zürich and then a train journey to Fribourg, Switzerland I became a fearless Pollyanna – ready to conquer anything that came my way. Very few people spoke English or Spanish when I arrived at school. Since classes were taught in French, I learned the language quite quickly; then Italian and German within the year.  Two years at a prep school, because I was so young, and then to the University. I remember very little about school itself, one of my many memory “holes”.  Capitán had already written letters documenting my “mental disorders” manifested by cheating, lying and my overall delinquent nature, so teachers accepted me with trepidation.

I would learn much later about the letters Capitán would write to family members, my employers, my friends for the next 10 years saying the same thing and worse, laying the groundwork for the epiphany to come. But I get ahead of myself.

At the time, I processed it all just like anything else that was distasteful, uncomfortable, or hurtful: I ignored it, shoved it into a file drawer, made it disappear in my memory and moved on with life.  I was experiencing the illusion of joyous freedom and in spite of letters written or hard teachers who reminded me what a failure I was, I made good grades, earned a degree and made friends.

Not just one friend but three! Classmates with whom I would spend breaks and holidays, from skiing in Gstaad, Mont Blanc or Zermatt, to city hoping in southern Italy, to museums in Spain, a weekend in Paris, Easter in Athens or a summer in Germany.  I saved all the meager funds Capitán sent combined with money I earned helping other students with math or chores enabling me to travel and explore.

Everywhere I went I felt I had been there before. I knew the streets, I never got lost, everything was familiar, everywhere felt like I had come home.

In 1967 change arrived in the disguise of a letter I received from old friends of my mother who were currently stationed at the American Embassy in Belgrade, Yugoslavia. They extended an invitation to come and spend a long weekend. Eagerly I took the train from Fribourg to Belgrade looking forward to a new adventure.  Two days after I arrived they sat me down and handed me a plane ticket to Texas.  Telling me my mother had lost custody of my siblings but had managed to gain custody of me (I was still underage) but there were conditions. They explained I had a choice. I could return to school and continue with my studies or I could leave tomorrow, return to the US and live with my mother.  If I chose the first, Capitán would pay for the schooling but regain custody.

I think it was late September when a Marine Guard from the Embassy drove me in his green MGB to Zagreb where without a second thought I boarded a plane to the US and the unknown.

Tap, tap, tap…and the first crack appeared.

 

 

I feel akin to the Platypus. An orphan in a family. A swimmer, a recluse. Part bird, part fish, part lizard.”  Trevor Dunn –

Clothed Race Horses, ©2003- graphite on paper, 25x30 cm (10x12)

Clothed Race Horses, ©2003- graphite on paper, 25×30 cm (10×12)

The Story continues………

I always believed that sisters were suppose to have a special bond, part of that Pollyanna ideal I had established for myself when I left home.  As I grew older I tended to erase or forget some things that never should have never been forgotten. Wanting to believe the illusion, enabling myself to live the façade of being a big sister, and to forgive and forget on a regular basis without question.

I know they were there, that I grew up with them, but I have no recollection of them being part of my life with the exception of two real memories.  One when I was about  8 years old and my Christmas present that year was my newborn sister. Everyone else received presents ……… Capitán thought that was quite amusing.

The second memory when I was about 10 or 11, and is my next oldest sister with tears in her eyes begging me not to down the stairs saying, “If you go down there he will kill you!”   Capitán would routinely call me downstairs late at night when his friends were in the house, whether it be a party or small gathering so I could entertain the guest with my pet McCaw. Of course the McCaw would never do everything I asked, especially after being awoken from bird sleep, consequently there was always public humiliation to show everyone how incapable I was and perhaps I was doing this on purpose just to “humiliate him” in front of his friends.

The worse was being called down after everyone left so I could be humiliated in front of my mother who usually was crying by that time. He had finished with her and still had some anger left over and it needed to be used.

After my parent’s divorce, Capitán re-gained gained custody of my sisters and brother. Now, not only was he Capitán, but was also “Madre Miquel”. He had a new social image and reputation to maintain and because of this situation my sisters enjoyed a fruitful existence under his wings.

After I left home for school, I never really saw much of my siblings until I was in my 30’s. Even though I vowed never to return, I would go back to South America many times over the years as an adult. By then, except for one, they had all left for other parts of the world.

My relationship with any of them was superficial at best. Between the time I was 30 and 60 we would come together twice in an attempt to form sisterly bonds. They would chat about their wonderful childhood and their life.  I hardly knew who they were, wanted to, but anything I said or shared they would disapprove or not believe, misconstrue, twist the truth and use it against me later as needed, so I learned never to say very much.

They all had more than I could ever obtain.   They could not understand or believe that I was actually happy in my life and my chosen profession. There was always an underlying jealously towards me, that certain tone in their voice, a dismissal or something else that to this day I could not decipher.

I never really knew my brother until later in life and by then Capitán had damaged him beyond any possible repair, by denying he was his son, the never-ending emotional and verbal abuse topped off by sending him to a Franciscan monastery for schooling, only to be beaten and abused by the priest.  All I could ever offer him was my love and understanding.  My sisters and Capitán controlled and manipulated him throughout his life and I do not think he ever knew any real peace.  He managed to have a career as a Capitan of crew boat in the Gulf, married and had children.  I carried a deep, abiding love for him that never wavered.   In the end, as he lay dying, he managed to get someone to call me so he could say good-bye; it was the only time I really cried.

I have two stepsisters somewhere in the world today – Capitán’s 3rd or 4th marriage, but they, like their mother, were demented children of the corn and I did not have much to do with them save for one instance. My husband and I were sitting at the breakfast table in their home having coffee. The eldest of my stepsisters (about 8 at the time) came into the kitchen carrying pencil and paper. She sat at the table with us smiling sweetly and drew a happy face. She then left the table, humming as she walked over to the knife block on the counter, withdrew a knife, returned to the table, looked at my husband and with a smile, pointed at the picture she had drawn and said “this is you”.  She then began to stab the drawing over and over again saying, “die, Gene, die!” She then looked at me and said “ … and you are already dead.” Giggling she skipped out of the room. I never saw them again.

In my illusion as big-sister, there was no room for the scenario that one-day, on the orders of Capitán along with cousins and aunts, my sisters would join forces to stand against me. The epiphany of those fatal five years yet to come would re-shape my life; I would lose the battle but win the war, protecting the innocent, doing what was right and setting a path to a new life.

 

I have come to believe that there are infinite passageways out of the shadows, infinite vehicles to transport us into the light.Martha Beck

Forever Farewells-©2003- graphite on paper, 25x30 cm (10x12)

Forever Farewells-©2003- graphite on paper, 25×30 cm (10×12)

The story continues…

My mother said I emerged from the womb hating him.  Perhaps it was the pre-birth Empath at work.  I have no real memory of my childhood, it is a large dark hole with tiny bits of light; little snips of film, shredded and tattered, misplaced without any time reference.  What I do know comes from stories told to me, photos seen, deep pieces of memories eventually fitted together.  It wasn’t until my mid 40’s, (and after 2 months of consulting from a breakdown); that I began to understand how I survived and over the next 20 years was able to piece together the puzzle forming a cloudy photograph.

“If you ever say anything I will beat your mother senseless every night until she’s dead.” Those words were etched into my brain when I was about 4 or 5 and the memories of what transpired for the next 10 years, erased. The only surface realization I carried was the misconceived belief that somehow I was my mother’s protector. I held that concept for most of my adult life.  The recurring nightmares would continue nightly until I was in my 20’s.

Unlike my sisters who grew to become various shades of his reflection, and my one brother who survived broken and deranged only to die young; I disassociated at a very young age, creating an alternate adult personality to take over for the abused child.  As I grew that personality redefined itself, became all the things I wanted, needed, perceived, in a grown-up. The child was now safe and protected. The personality created strong enough to stand up to the man.

That ability to stand up to him only generated even greater anger and frustration. There was never any help, no intermediaries, no rescue, pray as I might. “Deal with it.” was the response I received from everyone whenever I might ever so slightly complain.   So I stopped praying, stopped complaining, I became silent.

Defiance and anger held together the fragile golem I had enabled, creating a viable force between Capitán and I. However, physiologically it was much worse.  I became something/someone he could not control, something he would spend the rest of his life trying to destroy. Only he would call it love.

By the time I was 12 I had grown to my full height, by the time I was 15 the created personality was fairly complete. There were other aspects to be refined: the genetic characteristics, embedded traits that would meld with the created ones, triggers I had not yet come to know; I had created a unique being.

I finished high school early and was being sent off to college in Europe, like all the other young girls of good families.  After all, the perfect family social façade had to be maintained.

Socially isolated for most of my youth, I had very little reference about life, having been taught less than nothing and no social skills to face the world. Unaware of my Empath abilities at the time, I learned by osmosis. I learned to “see” everything, I imitated what others did, I pretended to be just like them, did as they did, I read books, spoke as they spoke. Like a sculptor I formed and re-formed, my identity, defining its shape and form.   Becoming a mirror of everything I thought was strong, good and true. I could not, would not, accept being anything like anyone in my family.

As I boarded that DC7 a few months after my 15th birthday, to leave my family behind, for the first time I thought I was truly free.  I vowed I would never go back.  Unknowingly, I mentally began erasing anything that was too heavy to carry.  I was a bright light leaving the dark.

Little did I know the gods that be had other plans for me, the seeds for the storm of a lifetime were already planted and slowly beginning to grow; but at that point, with great joy, I only saw a clear and open path.

 

 

 

-“I keep turning over new leaves, and spoiling them, as I used to spoil my copy books; and I make so many beginnings there never will be an end. (Jo March)”― Louisa May Alcott, Little Women

Clothed Horse, c 2003, graphite, 22x30 cm (9x12)

Clothed Horse, c 2003, graphite, 22×30 cm (9×12)

-The Story continues…..

She was born the third and last child of a Sicilian mother who spent her life in the servitude of her 10 elder siblings because her parents did not feel she was intelligent enough to attend school. Her father was a Capitan in the Merchant Marines, born in North Carolina, whose British heritage dated back to the first colonist in America.  Her parents met and married while her father was on shore leave in Palermo in the early 20’s.  Upon their return to the US, they established residence in Galveston, Texas where the Sicilian family had already grown roots in the early 1800’s.  This was ideal, since her father would be away at sea, her mother would have the comfort of her family. However, once a servant in your own family, always a servant, and coming to America changed nothing; she was badly treated to say the least.

My mother carried the nickname “Francie” for many years. She was a strawberry-blond beauty that, in her youth, sat for many a famous artist. Very different from her dark-haired, olive-skinned cousins.  She dearly loved her father, but saw him rarely. Her mother followed in the footsteps of her own parents, no kind words were offered, just a cruel verbal abuse leaving my mother with little or no self-esteem, internally fragile. My grandmother favored her sons and ignored the fact that her eldest would repeatedly rape her daughter over several years.  Francie buried her anger and bitterness deep inside of herself, she became the bravest of them all, showing only a surface reflection filled with joyous laughter and a pragmatic but positive attitude. The anger, the bitterness, the pain she carried would emerge much later in life.

One fateful summer on her nineteenth birthday, finishing her sophomore year in college, she joined her father on one of the Lloyd vessels for a sea voyage to Cuba. On board she met a young, dashing first-mate, who promised her the sun, the moon, and swept her off her feet.  They were married two weeks after the return voyage.  I was born 8 months later.

They must have been happy for a while, he was at sea, becoming a Capitan of his own vessel, and she was raising a child.  For a brief period she lived with his parents in New Orleans; but Capitán’s’ siblings were quite domineering and judgmental. The conflicts and jealousies that transpired in those early days with Capitán’s’ family would never be forgiven. When he retired from the sea a full Capitan they moved to an apartment in the French Quarter (I have small swatches of dark memories with loud angry voices, dark stairwells, her crying, she is pregnant with my sister, and she is holding my hand.). Later when the second child was born they bought a small house in the suburbs near the lake.

Upon his retirement he went into a marine insurance business with his brother in-law. It was at this point that the spousal abuse began in force. From then on she was only happiest when pregnant, the physical joy created during that state allowed her to escape his wrath. However, when her child began to talk and show independence, she lost interest and began to think only about the next pregnancy. I was three when my first sister was born. From then on the other sisters and brother were born in close intervals over the next nine years. She had 7 children, one she lost in a miscarriage the other at 6 months due to viral pneumonia.

Smoking and drinking were common in those days but I think she began the heavy drinking when we moved to South America. She did not adjust well to the culture, learning only enough Spanish to get by in social circles. She carried on in a country where revolutions occurred every couple of years, crying and cringing at the sound of gunfire and bombs exploding. After a while the alcohol removed the fear of the country and Capitán enabling her to create an illusion of happiness. But she was falling deeper and deeper into herself and by the time I was in my early teens, she was a full-blown alcoholic.

As a mother she never neglected the basics. We never went without food, simple fare of beans and rice, eggs and potatoes, pasta and sauce. Capitán always had steak, shrimp or lobster ever night. We enjoyed meat only at Sunday dinners which always degraded into both parents drinking too much leading to intense screaming and yelling. One of the children always the main target for something we did, didn’t do or might have done, and my mother getting the sole blame.  We always had clothes on our backs, shoes on our feet, medical care when required. She managed the house and kept it clean, she catered the parties that would also inevitably end in drunken brawls, beatings, broken glass and blood.  Living in a country where as a woman she had absolutely no power, in a home where she had no control, no say, she was quite lost.

Everyone she met loved her; but only a few friends knew the truth and they consoled her as best they could.  It would take many years for her to build up the courage to escape.