Posts Tagged ‘family’

“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?

“If all is illusion, let’s choose the most beautiful… “- Jodorowsky

unfinished graphite sketch of one of my paintings, 2015, 15x25 cm (6 x10)

unfinished graphite sketch of one of my paintings, 2015, 15×25 cm (6 x10)     …….

The story continues……

.. My sisters unrelenting plan to win my aunt over to her side continued at a steady pace. There was nothing I could say or do to deter the situation. This accomplishment was made easier by the fact that my aunt was starting to go a little dotty and was developing a mild paranoia brought on by recent stress factors, such as her cat dying, a few friends dying, a bad tenant that had to be evicted and the apartment totally repaired from damage, among other small things. I was blamed for most of the occurrences (since I was suppose to be taking care of things) and just accepted it because I understood what was happening.

. I continued to do what Nan had asked me to do. As her condition worsened we moved her out of her boyfriends apartment into her house, in which we were currently living and renovating. I hired help during the day to watch over her and eventually by the second year had to hire an overnight home health care nurse as her Alzheimer’s worsened.

. The boyfriend’s duplex was repaired, and sold for a large profit. This made the wolves at the door salivate.

. My aunt had a serious car accident, she was not injured, but she lost her license. This event became a major set back for her emotionally. The upstairs apartment was re-rented to a nice young girl who decided I was the enemy and became very protective of my aunt. My sister was still living upstairs in the other apartment but it had been over a year since I saw her and she would not answer my phone calls.

. By year 3 Nan had deteriorated so much she could barely walk, getting good night help became a problem since Nan would now refuse to listen to anyone but me. I was operating on 3 hours a night sleep and it was beginning to stress me out. I sat down with Nan in one of her more coherent moments and we discussed her moving into a nursing home. She agreed and selected the one she wanted. That move caused a furor in the family claiming that was my intention all along and my aunt became even more paranoid that I was going to do the same thing to her and take all the money.

. We finished the renovation of Nans old house and put it up for sale. A bidding war ensured and the property was sold for several hundred thousand over the asking price. The vultures were very restless with this amount of money being deposited into Nans account. (It is very hard to sneeze twice in New Orleans without everyone knowing about it.) With the help of the accountant the money was invested and protected. With the sale of the house, we moved to the third property in Lacombe, about 25 minutes outside of New Orleans.

. My departure from the city allowed my sister to encourage the family to take full control of my aunt, which they did. All of a sudden my services were needed less and less as my aunt would state, “my family will take care of that, and if I need your help, someone will let you know.”

. Then my aunt decided, with assistance of course, that she no longer wanted to share lawyers with Nan and wanted her own lawyer. I tried to convince her that this would not be in her best interest since Nan’s lawyer was the best in town, but my aunt was unwavering. So I agreed.

. Once she had her new lawyer, her next step was to remove my power of attorney and give it to my cousin, whom I knew without a doubt, along with my sister, was the force behind everything.

. I did what I could to help my aunt by obeying her wishes as much as possible. I came into town daily to visit Nan and check on her progress, and I would also go by my aunt’s house to check on her. However, now my aunt insisted that someone else always be present when I came over, as she was not sure she could trust me. So the upstairs tenant would be called down or we would stand outside the house so the neighbors could see.

Alzheimer’s is without a doubt devastating, but at the same time it is quite amazing, for even though Nans deterioration was escalating at a daily rate, she would have moments of complete clarity where she would tell me how the nurses were treating her, asking about the properties, her accounts, and we would have normal conversations about everyday things, and then she would just fade back into that empty space. There was only one glitch with these awakenings, when she talked about the nurses it was what was happening currently, but when she talked about life and people, she would pick up where she left off, the exact time before the onset of the disease.   Here again, I was the only one visiting her and even though I would offer my observances to my aunt, she no longer pretended to be interested, she only wanted updates on the money. At the same time I began to see the signs of deterioration in my aunt: she would repeat the same statement two or three times in a row, loose track of the date or year and she was frequently disoriented, and she would become hostile if I asked too many questions or if I made too many suggestions. A perfect example: I would suggest we visit the doctor so he could check on her medication (a year previous her doctor had prescribed a memory medication.) She told me that “her family” (I was not included in that group it seems) convinced her that this medication was harming her and she had stopped taking it, and she thought I was just trying to make her sick so I could put her into a nursing home.  There was no convincing her otherwise.

. My sister was now doing all the little things I use to do: cooking, small repairs, making arrangements, going with her to social functions…etc. This additional rejection emotionally stressed me even further and I sought council with the mother superior at the nursing home, who advised me to stop trying to be a martyr and let God do what needed to be done. So I took one step back, and then another.

. The work on Lacombe was continuing. It was a beautiful piece of property, 4 acres on a running stream filled with ancient oaks with 15-foot trunk circumferences. The house itself was a miniature plantation style house, built in the 1930’s and badly in need of repair. Living in New Mexico I truly missed the sound of water and the green and this place seem to wrap its arms around me. We had finished the renovation of our old adobe in New Mexico before coming to Louisiana and we talked about maybe it was time to move on. I felt my continuing obligation to Nan and in spite of how my aunt was treating me, I thought if I was living closer in a more permanent situation I could at least keep an eye on her and protect her as best as I could.

Sitting down with Nan’s attorney he did not see any problem and would go ahead and draw up the papers for us to buy the property at a fair market value. We then put our house in New Mexico up for sale and within 3 days of it going to market there was a bidding war; we took the highest bid and the deed was done.

Oh, but fate and karma can be most wicked, for as soon as I announced that we had sold our home in New Mexico, would be buying the Lacombe property and staying in Louisiana, Capitán came into town.

I had stopped being a martyr, but I still foolishly held onto my beautiful illusions, my love and empathy for my aunt and Nan unrelenting and my need to fulfill my promise made me dig in my heels and stand my ground. The family had brought in the big gun and my life was to become a small nightmare.

“You may choose to look the other way but you can never say again that you did not know.”

― William Wilberforce

Night Lines graphite on paper 8x10

Night Lines
graphite on paper
8×10….

…Back-tracking ….an aside that is part of the story…….

Beatrice was my grandmother’s housekeeper/maid. Beatrice cleaned house, washed clothes, helped cook and care for my grandmothers 9 children. Beatrice only had the one daughter, LiliMae, born about the same time as my aunt (circa 1924). Beatrice would bring her to work with her six days a week until she was old enough to attend school. Hence, LiliMae and my aunt grew up together.

I do not think LiliMae went very far in school for as Beatrice became too old to continue with the heavy daily work, LiliMae took over and when my grandmother died, she stayed on and worked for my aunt and other members of the family including my own.

The family took good care of Beatrice and continued her salary until the day she died and then paid not only for her funeral and burial but that of her husbands as well. LiliMae stayed in the run down rented shotgun home of her mothers, married a good and kind man and continued working six days a week. My aunt and Uncle took care of all her extra needs whatever they might be. This was all quite normal in New Orleans where slavery was still alive and well just hidden under the veneer of social correctness.

LiliMae, being 1 or 2 years older/younger than my aunt (I never knew for sure) was in her late 70’s when I arrived on the scene in New Orleans. Still working for my aunt but only every so often as she was quite frail and arthritic from all the years of hard work. LiliMae’s husband had long since departed and my aunt was “taking care” of her in the sense that she would take her to the grocery or just go buy groceries for her or to the doctor if LiliMae could not go by herself, and of course as tradition demanded, she continued her weekly salary.

With my arrival and the fact that my aunt was now getting a regular month stipend and had more opportunities to go out and spend her money in the social circles, she turned the care and feeding of LiliMae over to me, proclaiming in the classic southern princess tradition, that she “just couldn’t take it any more”.

Yes, LiliMae was a bit of a pain, a 4-foot 3-inch scrawny whirlwind of a woman, an incessant talker and complainer, she reminded me of my maternal grandmother, but I always had a tender spot in my heart for her and her plight in life and her ability to continue despite any and all obstacles thrown at her.

So once a week I went to see LiliMae. Now this was a very big thing for her and when I arrived she would come out of the house, before she would let me come in, and loudly make sure the entire neighborhood knew who I was and what I doing there and the fact that I (“a white girl”) was taking care of her “black ass” as she use to say. This would continue on for several months until LiliMae’s knees gave out and the doctor suggested a knee replacement. Medicare took care of most of the cost and my aunt (or rather Nan) paid the rest. The recovery was slow and so home health care was needed. But something else was going on and it was two months later when the second of the home health care agencies quit because LiliMae was beginning to prove to be “too difficult to handle”, that I realized there was a serious problem. I took her to another doctor and after some test she was diagnosed with bi-polar dementia. I managed to find another agency to help out and make sure that LiliMae was taking all the correct medications, to do her exercises so she could get out of the wheelchair, but it was becoming a downhill battle.

Of course I kept my aunt informed of everything that was going on except the fact that before her surgery, she had me take her to the bank one day and added my name to her account in case of an emergency. She said I was the only person she could trust not to steal her money. LiliMae knew my aunt larcenous heart very well and I could not, in good faith, tell her of this occurrence. Over the years LiliMae had managed to set aside over $20,000 from her salary and gifts and whatever, and she was afraid my aunt would take it all back.

A year passed and by this time my sister had her hooks deep into my aunt and along with my first cousin Nora they decided that LiliMae was a “family” concern and that “thank you very much” but she would take over now, and boom!, that was that. My relationship with my aunt was strained at best at this point and with my hands being tied and no voice in the matter, I stepped back.

One month later they, the family, put LiliMae into a State-run nursing home. My aunt being the closest thing to a living relative signed the papers and walked away. Within a week my aunt had made arrangements for all of LiliMaes possessions to be sold at auction. I do not know what she did with the funds.

No one asked me about anything, so I waited out of curiosity to see what was going to happen. Two weeks passed and my aunt called me saying, “The nursing home wanted to “talk to you”. When I asked about what she responded, “I have no idea”. I knew she was lying through her teeth as she always did when she did not want to face anything difficult. So my aunt and I went to the nursing home and we discussed the financials, I explained the situation and said of course I would turn over the account to the state for her care. My aunt never said another word except “well that’s taken care of”.

I would visit LiliMae once a week until she no longer recognized me; the home had put her in bindings to keep her from hurting herself, she was heavily medicated, and she would nonsensically rant to anyone who was close. My aunt never mentioned her name again; it was like she never existed.

LiliMae died of a heart attack about a month after I stopped coming to see her, I received a note from the Home saying they wanted me to know since I was the only one who ever visited her and that she would be buried next to her husband.

I laid a flowers on her grave and there was, like most things those days, a sad finality to it all, and perhaps I was the only person who shed a tear.

 

“Stab the body and it heals, but injure the heart and the wound lasts a lifetime.”― Mineko Iwasaki

Quick Sketch, part of a Sketchbook Project, Brooklyn Library of Art.

Quick Sketch, part of a Sketchbook Project, Brooklyn Library of Art……

The story continues……

Well, sort of…… I have tried and tried to write this and the major result was panic attacks, and nightmares……that means the gory details need to be put back into the box for a while longer. But I did manage to get the first part done, the important part, the part that was the linchpin that consumed everyone and everything…..

The letter came without warning, there were no premonitions, no feelings of ripples in the force; but when it arrived my heart went cold with trepidation.

My youngest sister the omega to my alpha had been in a Jersey prison for over a year for new, continued and unabated crimes of money laundering, among other things, for the South American Cartel. She had led a life of crime, a sociopath, amoral to the nth degree, no concept of right or wrong, doing only what she wanted. I had always been there to rescue her one way or another when no one else would. I loved her fiercely and had always hoped beyond hope she would learn a lesson, any lesson but that was not her fate. My opinion did not change when I read the letter saying she had parole coming up and could she please spend it near family and would I write a letter saying I would accept responsibility for her.

We had just finished the renovation and rental of Nan’s boyfriends duplex. Her condition was deteriorating so we moved her out of the duplex where she had been living alone since her boyfriend’s death, into her old house with us. We were living there at the time, starting renovations. It was a beautiful but dilapidated Victorian in Mid City that had been splint into upper and lower apartments. We cleaned up most of the downstairs and had re-built the main staircase ourselves. Only one bedroom upstairs and the bath had been finished so we turned the front parlor into a bedroom/sitting room in which she would be comfortable. Things were moving along smoothly, my aunt was happy with her income, I continued to write speeches and invocations for her to use with the numerous women’s clubs to which she belonged. I had hired a daytime helper to aid in taking care of Nan since she was becoming very wobbly on her feet and this also allowed me more time to work on the renovations, help my aunt with her garden, do her cooking and other mundane everyday items.

I showed the ominous letter to my husband who immediately said “you can’t turn your back on your sister when she needs you most!” “Oh yes I can, this time is different.” I responded proclaiming my premonitions that I saw lying between the lines of the handwritten request. He persisted and I conceded by saying I would give it thought for a couple of days. However, he went behind my back and mentioned it to my aunt who deluged me with feelings of guilt. But I stood my ground and said, “If both of you want to recuse her once again so bad, then you write the letter”… and to my astonishment, they did. My husband writing he and I would take responsibility. Nothing I said would change their minds, both my husband and aunt stating, “it’s not as bad as you think!”

She arrived at a halfway house located near Mid City. Contrite, shamed and grateful, looking worn, pale, undernourished, but I knew most of it was all false pretense, I could feel the deception that shrouded her like a dark aura. I gave my best smile and said we would help as much as we could, knowing I would keep a very close eye on her.

It was just one week later when my aunt called me and asked me to come over to her house to meet with my sister’s probation officer. I knew something was terribly wrong for I felt my skin was crawling with imaginary spiders, and my heart was beating fast. I sat down at my aunt’s dining room table with my sister, my aunt and the probation officer as an appeal was made by my sister to move in with me so she could finish her parole closer to family and not isolated in the half-way house. Oh it was a sorrowful plea, and I said I was sorry but that was not possible, explaining the situation as logically and sympathetically as I could. Then my aunt stood up and looked at me with such distress, I cringed as she said, “How can you say something so mean and cruel! Of course she can live with family! I will take full responsibility!” I protested loudly stating again all the rational reason why this should not happen. But the parole officer had been blinded by my sister’s performance as a contrite and repentant person just looking for another change to do good that she immediately agreed to my aunt’s proposal, and accused me of being the kind of person my poor sister could do without.

The devils handmaiden has now taken control. Within a week the upstairs apartment was made ready and my sister moved into my aunt’s house with a smile.

I did my best to again explain my reasoning to my aunt and my husband, but both were oblivious to my pleas, both were overwhelmed by my sisters performance, her humility, her wretchedness. For the first time in my life I knew fear.

The crack in the mirror of my soul was so resounding, I thought perhaps an earthquake alert might be issued. No one had to tell me that I must now prepare for battle; no one had to tell me that I would stand alone with sword in hand. Once again, no one would believe a word I said, I could not stop what I knew was going to happen. So I did the only thing I could do, I went to the attorney who was handling Nan’s and my aunts affairs, the one person who would take me seriously, advised him of the situation, the potential danger and together we closed any and all loopholes, any cracks that might let the dark fog of evil destroy the sanctuary that had been created to protect my two aunts and the money……..

…….The rest of the story I will continue later in bullet points.

Red Sky, oil on canvas, 91x152 cm (36x60

Red Sky, oil on canvas, 91×152 cm (36×60)

“Again I see you, but me I don’t see! The magical mirror in which I saw myself has been broken, And only a piece of me I see in each fatal fragment – …”

Fernando Pessoa, Poems of Fernando Pessoa

..The Story continues…..

It is nearly impossible to write about that 3-year period; even after 20 years the pain and agony of the betrayal of everything I knew to be true still brings tears to my eyes, my heart rips open and my breath quickens.

Pieces. I will give you the pieces and the main facts. I will try to be the observer and be brief.

The holidays were almost always spent in New Orleans. We would go there or my aunt and uncle would come to us. Thanksgiving or Christmas, we switched around. Then one day my uncle while watching the news grabbed his chest and died.

The pain of his passing was no less or greater than the death of any one individual on earth, but my aunt really never recovered.

Traveling to New Orleans, we buried him and I settled what little was left of his estate. My aunt had never written a check in her life, she had no concept of a budget or even where money came from. My uncle had given her everything she wanted, shielded her from everything else, and in doing so died penniless and in great debt. Through a great attorney, the IRS would not act on the 200,000 tax lien against house and property.  The arrangement was that at the death of my aunt the property would be sold and the IRS would take its due. Because of this lien, I was able to notify the debtors they would have to stand behind the IRS, and all consequently wrote off the 80,000 in additional debts. My aunt’s only income would be my uncle’s meager social security. However, his sister Nan was quite frugal and wise in her ways and came to the rescue, willing to share what she had and my aunt took whatever she could.

Two years later, Nan’s boyfriend of 26 years, clutched his chest and died leaving her his entire estate along with the unfinished estates of his 3 sibling and nearly one half a million in cash. Not only did my aunt’s eyes gleam, but also so did Capitan’s halfway around the world.

So it was a fateful Thanksgiving that my aunt came to visit us, and laid out a desperate situation and begged me to come to New Orleans and help. She feared that the “family” now stealthily control by Capitan though my first cousin, was trying to rob poor Nan blind.

Both of these women were in their 80’s, and I felt the obligation to aide where I could. January of 1994, I flew back to New Orleans to have a look for myself at the situation. What I saw was an unacceptable situation that needed to be righted.

I went back home, telling my husband I would only be gone for a month or two to try to put things in order. Within the first few days of my arrival the family went into hysteria. Driven by the unknown quantity of me, and the fact I was not under their control, they declared war. The lawyers of the family issued verbal threats on my continued health, written threats were received anonymously in the mail.

The situation was plain to see: here were two old ladies, one already going a bit dotty and the other, my aunt, filled with a bit of greed and jealously over Nan’s inheritance; and there were a bunch of vultures on the side calling themselves family, willing to help them both into an early grave so they could get their hands on all the property and the money.

The first thing I did was to go directly to a old friend of Capitan’s, a prominent attorney, whose name I remembered hearing when I was a child, and I retained one of their best estate lawyers. Both aunts then gave me absolute power of attorney and the family took one step back. Licked their wounds and planned the next attack.

Though the attorney and a good accountant we were able to settle all of the open estates and have a proper succession of Nan’s boyfriends family so everything was in Nan’s name with my aunt as the primary beneficiary upon her death. In the meantime they would both enjoy a comfortable living on the invested proceeds of the estate.

Everything seemed to be running smoothly. Nan was living in her boyfriends duplex, visiting her own house once in a while with a handyman/gardener to manage the grounds and repairs as needed. The property and house in Lacombe, La would just sit until the aunt’s were ready to sell. Bank accounts had been established and each aunt would receive a stipend of nearly $5,000 a month; I thought I could now leave, letting Nan and Patty get on with their lives and just visit occasionally.

Little did I know that while all this was going on, my beloved aunt was telling the family she had no idea what I was doing or why I had come down and just taken over.

Unaware of her conversations with the family, I filled her in on all the details and she told me everything would be fine and she would call if needed. Then I went to speak to Nan. We had coffee at one of her favorite spots and I explained to her how since everything was in order and running smoothly I would head back home and if she needed me I was only a plane ride away.

She broke into tears. She began to tell me things Patty had said to the family in her presence, thinking she did not hear or understand. “Since Clarence (her boyfriend) died”, she said, “I have been praying and praying for someone to come and help me. And when you came I knew God had sent an angel. I do not know if I can manage without you but if you must, go I will understand.”

We spoke for a long time, my empathetic heart breaking with each spoken word, knowing that staying was something I now had to do because deep in my heart, I knew what would happen without my physical presence to stand as guardian.

I looked into my souls mirror and saw the first cracks, but I looked away, my altruism taking hold, my “polyananess” ignoring the small red flags, I just knew this was something I had to do, had to fix, had to help, had to protect.

I did not even consider that there would be no one to protect me.

“We are all exactly where we are supposed to be, doing what we need to do at any point in time.” Unknown–

Paper Play 7 mixed media on paper A4 (8x10)

Paper Play 7
mixed media on paper
A4 (8×10)—

 

 

The story continues……….

If bridges were burning behind me, I did not notice, but the smoke did cloud my eyes for a while as I moved forward in life. Once the air cleared, everything was bright and new again, another door opening, leading me forward and my heart beat with anticipation as the plane landed on that cloudy and humid day.

New Orleans has such a unique pervasive smell. It envelopes one like a favorite old blanket in need of a good wash. Centuries of stale beer, urine, fried oysters, and mold have saturated every brick with an empyrean scent, one known only to those who were shaped from the muddy waters of this city’s embrace. Of course there was also the dampness that always hits you in the face, forcing you to breathe though a wet sponge soggily saying: Welcome Home. That is, if I was going to call some place home, this was as good a place as anywhere, better, because here there were open arms waiting to embrace.

Embrace is a mild word as my aunt and uncle consumed me with love and affection, and plans. I would live with them until I found a place, I needed a job, I needed to meet so and so, I needed clothes, “my god” my aunt said, “what are you wearing, you don’t own a stitch of decent rags!”

I found a wonderful one bedroom in an old Victorian and then I hit the pavement looking for work. My first cousin crawled out of the woodwork offering to help me find a job as she had an employment agency. I agreed even though I knew I would never meet her standards or that of her clients. She reminded me of her position, the favor she was extending and how difficult it might be for someone of my character. I smiled and continued looking on my own.

Fortune lead me to the doorstep of WSMB AM Radio and a position as a receptionist. This pleased my aunt immensely and was considered an acceptable position, since one of her sisters and a brother had worked in radio. The work was simple and I had the pleasure of meeting every big star that came into town.  It was a small station and overall only number three in the market but they had a stellar morning show that was entrenched in the number one slot for morning drive time. My cousin would call once a week with a job offer for me and I would say I have a job and she would say but this better; and I would say but it pays less, and she would but it’s what you should have. I would then politely thank her and hang up, shaking my head.

My life was going along quite nicely. In my spare time I was writing for my aunt again, and her talks, installations and speeches were gaining popularity within the social circles she traveled. My relationship with my aunt and uncle took on a deeper closeness that is difficult to explain. To say I was wrapped in the comfort of love, feeling protected, strong and secure would be an understatement.

Within 2 months, I was promoted to continuity at the station and a month after that I made a proposal that would change the course of my life.

The station had a problem slot: afternoon drive-time: 2:00 pm to 7:00 pm. They were last in the ratings and everything they tried failed.  I listened to all the noise, the talk, the discussions going around and one day I walked into the manager’s office and said, ” John, why don’t you put a woman on the air.”

He laughed and said. “That’s never been done, and who would you suggest?”

“Me”, I answered.

There was silence and then he said, “bring me a proposal and we shall see.”

I bravely said, OK! And as I walked out of the office I was shaking but smiling. Three days later I presented the who, what, why and the benefits of putting a woman on the air, mainly me, in a 10-page proposal. The station manager smiled and said. “We’ll let you know.”

Three weeks later I was called into the office and told that the only way they could put me on air was if I had a 3rd degree engineers license so I could work the “board”.  OK, I said and went out, got information, learned it, took the test and came back with an endorsed license in hand.

Within a week I was on the air and within a month the ratings rose to put us in 3rd place.  The station thought it would be better if there was a duo so there could be more repartee, and we went though 6 men who refused to play with me, only wanting to get rid of me and take over. Then Richard came along, 20 years my senior and a veteran in radio with that unique deep voice.  We were magic and a star show was born. Within weeks we were number one in the afternoon drive time and I became the first woman on-air in the city of New Orleans. My aunt was especially ecstatic since a lot of my conversations were about her eccentricity without ever mentioning her name, but all of her friends knew and her popularity soared along with mine.

However, I was not recognized for that accomplishment because our greatest competitor and the number 1 station in the city, decided to fight back by putting a woman on in the morning drive time slot and she became known as the first woman on-air and received all the publicity. Simply because the morning time was the highest earning sales time slot. That was fine with me, Richard and I held onto our number 1 position for the afternoon, I became a star and advertising for our show increased exponentially to make our show extremely profitable for the station. I was asked to MC numerous charity events and special events like the Summer Pops. No matter where I went, there was free food and drink, people knowing I would mention them on the air. I got to interview every big name star that came into town, and aside from Richard’s and my repartee, up to date music became our signature. No other station could touch us.

I rode this lovely train for over a year and then I received a phone call, out of the blue, that would set me on an unexpected path that I would follow for the rest of my life.

 

“ …and a new day will dawn, for those who stand long, and the trees will echo with laughter.” Led Zeppelin

Girl with Bird (2008) conte crayon on paper 22x24

Girl with Bird (2008)
conte crayon on paper 22×24—

 

The story continues……….

Funny how when I look back on my days in the Galapagos, I never realized at the time that I was the only woman running any kind of boating operation.  There were lots of women there doing wonderful things from scientist to photographers, shop owners to hotel managers (there really were 2 hotels!), it just all seemed natural.

So, there I was managing 2 boats and an all male crew of fifteen.  Actually I gained the respect of the captain and cook of both the boats and they in turn kept the unruly crew in line, I only had to intervene a few times.

Six months after my arrival construction began on “the road”.  Steps would be built down one side of Baltra Island and up the side of Santa Cruz Island; a small makeshift ferry would unite the two landings.  At the top of the stairs on Santa Cruz Island homemade “buses” would carry the tourist across the island down to the bay.  The road was poorly built to begin with, using red scoria as a base, which under the heavy rains would melt into pools of rusty-red giving the impression of a bleeding wound in the land.

Better material over time would be brought in, better busses enabling more traffic; and with more traffic came the first murder, the first rape, and the first outbreak of measles. A jail had to be built for the drunk and disorderly that the potential of tourist dollars attracted and at the same time little bars and restaurant sprouted up hoping for its share of new source of income.

Our business was booming, the company growing in fame and fortune, which made Capitán happy and kept him completely off my back, which made me happy. I went out with the one of the boats whenever I could but mostly my work became managerial with the exception of meeting each group of tourist as they arrived and getting them settled either on the boat at Baltra Island or bringing them across land to pick up the boat in Santa Cruz depending on their scheduled tour.  I fell into a routine that would vary only slightly from my morning meet with the milk truck from the highlands to afternoon coffee with the Port Captain who was the highest authority in the land.  Those afternoon coffees were most pleasant conversations on just about any topic. The Captain turned out to be a former math teacher of mine, I did not remember him, but he said he always remembered me as “La Dorada” (the golden one).  The nickname took and it was by that name I came to be known and respected.

Evenings were either spent at my house with a good book or with friends on one side of the island or another, good conversation, wine, food and laughter melted the nights.

Two wonderful years full marvelous adventures, some heart breaks, much joy, unique and fascinating people both natives and tourist from all walks of life filled my experience file and gave me great joy.! I felt I had finally found a home, a place where I could stay forever, a place where I was just one more different person among many strange and different people.

That was unfortunately an illusion.  Unbeknownst to me, the money Capitán was making off the two boats was being re-invested (with the help of a few associates) into the refurbishing of an old cargo ship into a cruise vessel that would enable him to carry 125 passengers at a time for one and two-week cruises. During the last trip into Guayaquil for a re-fit, I was invited to dinner with him and his new partners.  The people he would be working with on the new ship and the people to whom he had just sold the business along with the two smaller boats.  I was informed I could stay on with the new owners or join him and work on the larger cruise boat.  It would mean leaving the islands and living in Guayaquil. I told him I would give it some thought and let him know.

The new owner of the island business was an Englishman married to an islander. He was a fanatical re-born Jehovah Witness zealot who had harassed me every chance he could get on the islands for my manner of dress, mainly shorts.  Although his wife and I were friends, I could not tolerate this sanctimonious man and his died in the wool religions convictions.

The writing was on the proverbial wall and I certainly did not want to work on a large cruise ship.  Never liked the big boats, and I did not want to live in Guayaquil. So I searched around the island for alternatives and was offered a position at the Darwin Station, which I thought I might accept, until the nightmares began.

The first dream came and I saw myself lying in a coffin, peaceful, but there was terrible sense of foreboding and I was afraid.  In the second dream I saw myself standing next to the coffin looking down at myself and I was crying. Again, the same sense of foreboding and fear.  In the third dream, I was standing next to the second me with my arm around her shoulder, as we looked at the first me in the coffin. In the dream I told the second me, in a very sad but comforting voice: “It’s time to go now.”

I turned in my resignation the following week, contacted my aunt in New Orleans who screamed “yes!, yes! Come!” Within the month I was on a plane bound for Louisiana.

 

 

 

“A single slim trunk – Branches that bow in a storm – Green, leathery leaves with a soft centre – Glittering against blue sky – White bark scarred, bleeding – Heart wide-open – Bandaged, but upright she stands… ” ― Fadia Faqir, The Cry of the Dove

Traveling on the Spine of the Dragon (2005)- acrylic on canvas - 182x137 cm (72x54) -

Traveling on the Spine of the Dragon (2005)- acrylic on canvas – 182×137 cm (72×54) –

The story continues……….

There was a bit of  trouble writing this part, unsure as to the feelings my memory evoked, words eluded me for a while, I was interrupted by the holidays but clarity returned and I condensed it all…..

My friend who had sold my car met the plane and after one look rushed me to the hospital where I was loaded up with antibiotics.  Confident I was on the road to healing I asked him to drive me down to Galveston where I would stay with my grandmother until I was better and could make some clear-headed decisions.

When we arrived, he said he would wait to make sure she was there and everything was all right, so I headed up the walk, onto the porch and rang the bell.  My mother answered the door with “ You! And what are you doing here?”   Surprised and a just a little miffed, I explained I had just gotten back from my sailing adventure, managed to get a massive infection and was planning on spending a few days with “mawmaw”  to heal and rest until I could make plans.

“Well you will have to make other plans,” my sweet mother said. “Your grandmother died two months ago, I now own the house, your sister is living here and there really is no room for anyone else.”   “Well, then,” I commented, “let me get my things from the attic and I will be on my way.”   “I sold everything.”  My mother said.  “Why?” I asked.  “We had no idea when you would be back and those two boxes were taking up room I needed.”  “I see”, said I, “well I will just leave you to it and move on, nothing here for me obviously.”  As I headed down the walk back to the car she called out “Let me know if you need anything.”   All I could do was laugh.

Quietly I closed the door of the car and asked my friend to just drive.  Once we were headed back to Houston I told him what had happened.  He said his wife would be glad to have me at the house and offered to put me up for a few days until I could find a job and a place to live.

The next day I bought a few clothes and started the search for a job. The Sunday classifieds offered a position with the University of Texas School of Public Health (now the Health Science Center) for an administrative assistant in the International Health Module.  I set up an interview on Monday and was hired that afternoon. I would be working with two professors: an epidemiologist and a demographer.  By Wednesday I found a furnished garage apartment walking distance from the school and moved in the next day.

I loved everything about my job, my bosses, the students, the Dean, the environment, I felt most fortunate.  I even was given the opportunity at night to teach a non-credit language course in Spanish and in French for use in rural communities.

The more involved with the school I became, the more I wanted to continue my own education.  My other sister had been in touch with me letting me know that when my grandmother died she had left a sizeable amount of money in a trust fund for her grandchildren’s education.  My mother’s brother had been made executor of the trust and I would need to contact him to apply to the board.  He was a captain on one of Lykes Lines cargo ships and it was not difficult to find out his schedule and arrange a possible meeting the next time he was in port.

Two months later I received a call from my uncle inviting me on-board for dinner, the ship would be in Houston in 3 days and we could discuss the trust’s provisions.  At the appropriate time I took a cab out to the port and went aboard.  The captain’s cabin was quite large with a small office/dinning area.  The meal was wonderful, the conversation informative and I was looking forward to having my expectations fulfilled when my uncle asked me to come over to the desk so he could give me forms to complete and send in to the board of directors.

As I approached the desk he turned to face me, grabbed my hands with one of his and slapped me hard with the other knocking me down to the floor. He then proceeded to hit me again, pulled up my skirt, ripped off my underwear and while I lay there stunned, he raped me.  Climbing off of me he said, “ You are not the good little whore your father said you were, so get out of here! …and don’t expect this family to do anything for you.”

Humiliated, shamed, in pain, and partial shock, I straightened my clothes, gathered my purse, held my head high, left the ship, found a taxi and went back to my apartment where I laid in a tub of hot water shaking, unable to feel clean, unable to get warm. I called in sick the next day and the day after.  The swelling around my mouth had gone down but my mind was in turmoil, shadows flooded the dark memories, but I could not hold onto the whirlwind in my heart and soul, so I let it all sink back into the darkness.  As I lay there, in that dark dank cave, I looked up, found a shred of light, pulled up my socks and just moved forward. It was the only thing I knew how to do best.

The months passed, work consumed me, I made new friends, I joined groups, I spent my evenings in the bowels of Rice Universities’ library where I read every book I could find on cultural anthropology, my favorite subject.

December arrived and with it a phone call from Capitán offering me a job as Operations Manager for a Yacht Charter he had just established in the Galapagos Islands with two diesel-powered 60’ converted fishing boats.  He was having difficulty finding someone to handle the job as well as the crew and I was, he said, his last resort.

I have no explanation for what I did next.  I accepted the offer.   The only thing I can think of is that at the time, my torn, battered and broken mind was damaged beyond any reasonable repair.  The invisible bandage I wore covered my delusional state, and in that twisted madness, I saw his offer as an opportunity for my personal redemption.

I hung up the phone and cried, making small cooing sounds like the doves that sat on my windowsill each morning.

Within the week I was back in Ecuador showing no sign of what the past year had wrought.

 

 

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.