Deutschland (Germany)

Guest post written by my cousin Dante Miles.  For several weeks the chapters of his book “Change Gonna Come” will be shared here.  Feel free to share!

Deutschland (Germany)

1975-1978

Ages 26-29

 

I lucked out in getting concurrent travel with Patsy. So often the Army sends the service member ahead and leaves the family to fend for itself and then straggle behind. Since it was just Patsy and I, we had a blast.  We flew commercial (civilian aircraft) from the Bay Area to New York where we spent the night. The following day we continued on to Heathrow outside London, England and on to Frankfurt, Germany. Patsy cleared customs while I completed military in processing. A jeep from my new MP Company picked us up outside the airport and whisked us to the Company area in Frankfurt. I was heartened by the service and efficiency afforded us. It felt great to be back in the MP’s where I knew my job, what was expected of me, and how to perform, or so I told myself. The folks we met couldn’t have been more gracious. We were driven almost immediately the forty of fifty kilometers to Gelnhausen, FRG where there was a small Army Kaserne (base). As with so many other opportunities in my life, these three years could’ve been memorable in so many ways had I just shown up for them?

 

We stayed temporarily in clean, but, otherwise, run down transit quarters. The Captain in charge told me to take as much time as I needed to get settled before reporting for duty. Neither Patsy nor I wished to live in government housing but the prospects off the base initially proved gruesome. The housing folks took us to a few places that weren’t fit for animals and a couple that were situated above the livestock‘s living area. Finally we secured a beautiful apartment in Neidermittlau, FRG, about five miles from the base. As we yet had no transportation I took the train each morning. It was an adventure to be sure. Later in our stay Patsy stalled our car while straddling the railroad tracks, an anxious few moments! My new immediate supervisor and his wife took us to a local Gausthaus where we feasted on schnitzel and beer. Shortly after my arrival he invited me for lunch and produced a bottle of whiskey. Sad to say our relationship and my good feelings both evaporated at that kitchen table. Acrimonious might best describe our tolerance of each other going forward. I don’t know what he thought of me, but I saw his performance of duty lackluster at best and, more than likely, malfeasant. Later he sought disciplinary action against me for insubordination but the Company Commander didn’t back him up. Instead, I was assigned to the Provost Marshall and became a Desk Sergeant; a mind numbing, albeit, fairly autonomous position that played to my strengths. My ability to accurately assess people (personal relationships aside!), places, and events, and a willingness to make decisions has long been my forte. One positive characteristic of Army life being there is a position for everyone, regardless of skill, ability, temperament, or disposition.  Much as water seeks its own level, if a soldier is willing to put forth the effort a spot can be found where he will flourish.

 

 

I, of course, acted as my own worst enemy. I drank heavily, gambled consistently, and associated with likeminded soldiers. This activity was not in keeping with the highest traditions of the MP Corp and I knew it. Patsy was left alone a lot in our apartment until she found a volunteer position teaching swimming in a neighboring town. My work routine consisted of three day shifts, (7 am to 3 pm), then 24 hours off, three swing shifts, (3 pm to 11 pm), and  another 24 hours off, and three graveyard shifts (11 pm to 7 am), followed by a seventy-two hour break. My sleep patterns were atrocious and I never felt rested. On top of that I would often time play poker all night and show up for work without sleeping at all. In between we would have practice alerts where every soldier was commanded to report to his or her duty station on the double for a head count. This usually took place in the early morning hours. I would be called at home between 4 and 6 a.m. and be allowed ten minutes to reach the Company area in full battle gear. Failure to comply could be punished severely. This all took its toll on our marriage and Patsy and I began drifting apart. I only remember one serious argument when she told me to go fuck myself and I probably needed to at least try. Though I loved Patsy dearly, like Lyn before her, I decided her presence interfered with my outside the marriage activities.

 

Two of her college chums paid us an extended visit and the four of us traveled to Austria in a VW Bus. Those two freeloaders stayed with us, used our house as a storage locker, and we fed them for several weeks. Jack and Evie told Patsy they were selling the VW Bus prior to flying back to the U.S. They both knew Patsy coveted it, but at departure time the assholes demanded full market value. Luckily I was able to borrow the money from our landlord and Patsy dubbed it, “Vincent”, for Vincent Van Gough. I was happy for Patsy and proud I could come through for her; though, thereafter we pretty much lived separate lives. One evening we had a “chat” and determined to pretty much do our own thing. In a way I felt sad but, at the time, my drinking and gambling were, unfortunately, a priority. This is not to say there weren’t wonderful times spent with German friends eating schnitzel, French fries, salad, and drinking good German beer, schnapps, and an occasional cognac for Patsy. We also enjoyed dancing at the NCO club when they had a weekend band. K.C. and the Sunshine band were popular at the time and we learned the appropriate dance steps.

 

Patsy pitched slo-pitch softball and darn well if you ask me. To my best knowledge she continues to play these forty years later! She often traveled to different military posts to play their teams and occasionally I would tag along. She is competitive but doesn’t let losing affect her as it does me. I played flag football in the autumn and invariably wouldn’t be able to walk after the first few games so out of condition was I. Really it wasn’t the conditioning so much as lack of stretching. I am fortunate I didn’t pull a muscle or tendon. My only injury in Germany was a badly sprained ankle I suffered when I landed on it wrong during a pickup basketball game. Patsy was forced to drive me to and from work which didn’t please me and was a nightmare for her. I couldn’t stand being a passenger in any vehicle and nitpicked Patsy to death. How the poor girl endured it is beyond me. Now that I think of it, this may have led her suggestion that I perform the anatomically impossible on myself.

 

As was my custom, I enrolled in college extension classes through the University of Maryland. The one that sticks out was a Poetry class. I have long loved writing poetry though my desire far outshines any creative capability. In the middle of the course and as part of the mid-term exam the class was tasked with analyzing a particular poem the title and author of which is unimportant. Certain individuals were then called upon to share their impressions with the class. The poem spoke of an ocean liner making a trans-Atlantic crossing in rough weather. After multiple readings and pondering I was convinced the content served as a metaphor for an aging lady of the evening. When I broached this interpretation my classmates soundly discounted and heckled my theory. I felt, as I have most of my life, that I was totally out of touch with my “peers”. When later in the mail I received an “A” grade for the course it left me shocked but feeling validated.

 

A Sergeant E-5 who just transferred in to the unit was assigned as our fourth Desk Sergeant. There were four of us Desk Sergeants to cover the Military Police Desk 24/7/365, I being the senior in rank. Most often we operated as a tight knit group because we needed to cover each other’s asses. Desk Sergeant is a high profile position where the possibility of stepping on ones “Richard” (sometimes with track shoes on!) loomed as an ever present reality. This was especially true in Gelnhausen as there was a Staff Sergeant Willoughby whose sole function seemed to be hassling the Desk personnel. For the three years I was stationed in Germany I never did figure out what his job entailed. He seemed to appear and disappear at will without accountability.  I liked the new man. He, like me, was a bit overweight but wore his uniform well, was intelligent, and in general maintained a regal military bearing. He brought a much needed breath of fresh air to the stale atmosphere at Gelnhausen and we hit if off immediately.

 

About this time the Operations Sergeant (my direct boss) and the Operations Officer (his superior) met in a closed session with this newest addition to our staff. Apparently they collected enough information on me to know one of my off duty cohorts worked in Drivers Testing.  Staff Sergeant Fitzpatrick and was responsible for issuing International drivers licenses that allowed military personnel to operate motor vehicles on German roads, not just military bases. They proposed the new Desk Sergeant tell me he couldn’t pass the test and ask me to intercede on his behalf. Needless to say, this would have brought a screeching halt to my military career. Most likely I would have faced Courts Martial and loss of rank, pay, and privileges. I salute the conspirators for choosing the only person I might have considered abetting illegally. I truly felt a kinship with this “Brother” and fellow NCO.

 

 

It didn’t take long for my feelings toward and about him to be validated. Instead of setting up SSG Fitzpatrick and me, he sought me out and exposed the whole plot. Following a lengthy and heartfelt discussion we determined the path of least resistance had him informing the connivers that I refused to participate. I was planted firmly between a rock and a very hard place. I desperately wanted revenge, a “get back”. Gratitude for having dodged a career ending bullet didn’t occur to me. I viewed my friend’s willingness to stick his neck out for me as confirmation of my grossly inflated sense of self. I felt entitled to his and everyone else’s loyalty. Anything less than absolute allegiance was perceived as betrayal and, consequently, unacceptable. Confronting the plotters would deliver up my friend without defenses to these lower life forms; a Judas act I could not and would not stoop to. This was one I had to eat, put my big boy pants on and walk through it with my mouth shut. Believe me; I held a grudge with the ever present day dreams of how I would punish the scum for way too long. While composing this page I stopped and tried to find one of them on a social media site, luckily without success.

 

I didn’t yet know that resentments are the poison we concoct for others that we drink ourselves. It has amazed me how my magical magnifying mind is able to maintain all-inclusive focus on negativity while giving short shrift to the goodness in my life. This example screams out the duality. I was blessed with the true friendship of another human being whom I loved and respected and who saved my ass, but I could not appreciate his gift. Instead of getting down on my knees and thanking God for delivering this most sacred of all presents, I chose to act on feelings of hate, revenge, and, of course, self-pity. Indeed, I felt pride in being singled out by the miscreants. They were so gutless they had to concoct an illegal, back stabbing scheme to “get” me. Even with a stacked deck they couldn’t bring their conspiracy to fruition. What losers! Speaking of losers; the same acts they were trying to catch me at were those I was losing my health, marriage, career, and self-respect pursuing!

 

Following a cooling down period to allow some time and distance from this fiasco, I was approached by the Prince Hall Masons (primarily black Masonic Lodge) for membership. I was, am, and will always be deeply humbled by the honor. During the entirety of my life I have felt a kinship with the black experience and gravitated to their culture. I can’t prove that keeping mum and not exposing my friend (a member) was the motivation for their sending a representative to recruit me, but, it would pass the probable cause test. For reasons I have spaced I didn’t follow through and I deeply regret this oversight.

 

One reason the Masonic opportunity may have passed by without follow up is my once again being “transferred”, this time to the Military Police in Hanau, FRG. The unit 1st Sergeant, Davey Hart, who I knew from my days on the Presidio of San Francisco specifically, requested I be sent to his unit. We also served in the 9th Division in Vietnam at similar times but didn’t connect there. For a while I felt like Napoleon returning from Elba. At long last a soldier who I respected unconditionally and with whom I would willingly march through the gates of Hell saw something of value in me. Again, with high hopes, I enthusiastically packed my duffel bag and moved out sharply. In actuality, our apartment in Niedermittlau sat midway between Gelnhausen and Hanau. It may have been five miles further but nothing would dampen my spirits. Again, I was assigned as an assistant platoon sergeant and tasked with performing as a Military Police shift supervisor working the streets in a police cruiser, and later, Desk Sergeant. I went on a crash diet to look more professional in my uniform. Almost from the moment I arrived in Hanau I felt an indefinable tension in the air.

 

Throughout my military career I could not or would not successfully interact with my peers. As a rule I got along well with my supervisors, due mainly to my willingness to handle any assignment and I unfailingly took care of the troops whose welfare I was charged with. As the result I enjoyed, for the most part, the platoon members respect and obedience. They knew I wouldn’t ask them to perform any duty I hadn’t performed and, indeed, would work side by side with them to successfully complete the task at hand. Having a Combat Infantryman’s Badge on my uniform afforded me instant credibility as one who’d been in the “Shit”. This is not stated to award me Sainthood. It is a simple matter of practicality. My career depended in large measure to the performance level of those under me. Also, I learned in Vietnam the value of a “team” effort as opposed to a supposed leader barking orders and expecting robotic execution. No leader can know, see, and hear all they would need to achieve omnipotence. They must depend on subordinates that hopefully they have personally trained to share their intelligence gathering in a common effort to successfully complete the mission and return every mother’s child home safe and sound. This is not always possible but should be the goal of every military leader.

 

To illustrate the point allow me to relate an incident. U.S. Army troops in Germany were constantly training, a week here, two weeks there. The two major training sites were Hoenfells (sic) and Grafenwohr. On one, thankfully, summer exercise, I was ordered to navigate my squad through a series of unmarked and remarkably similar roads, much like a maze. I got us lost and am solely responsible. If, however, we’d been functioning as a team it would have been a simple matter of branching out, recovering our bearings, and returning to the starting point. As it was we remained at our position all night until found by other MP’s the following morning. The squad members simply acted deaf, dumb, and blind and would only go through the motions of following directions; offering nothing in the way of discovering a solution to our predicament. I could have taken issue with the squad’s dereliction of duty but I didn’t. I was humiliated and wished the entire incident never occurred. I doubt I have been more frustrated in my life. On another occasion when placed in charge of troops in the field my direct order to a squad member was disobeyed and he ran to the Lieutenant who countermanded my order. At the time these incidents may as well have been out of body experiences so befuddled was I for a cause or explanation.

 

 

Finally, things came to a head when my platoon sergeant ordered me into his office for a “sit down”. He was not a bad sort and I got on with him fairly well. He stated flatly that I could not expect my squad to back me up on the streets if I wasn’t “nicer” to them. “Nicer to them!” that phrase sticks in my craw to this day. What the Hell could he be talking about? I was a Non-Commissioned Officer in the U.S. Army with a mission to carry out.  It is always mission first, troops second. Even though, as stated above, I did my damnedest to train, nurture and protect those in my charge. It wouldn’t and it didn’t occur to me that I needed to be “nice”. That aside, I was not one to expect backup from anyone and certainly not those who already conspicuously displayed open contempt and disrespect for me. When I asked my “supervisor” to detail my shortcomings, tell me where I went wrong, provide some guidance that I might improve myself, his response left my mouth agape. It’s nothing you have done, personally, he informed me. However, just before you arrived in the unit 1st Sergeant Hart told the entire MP Company at the morning formation (the Company forms up by squad and platoon for a roll call and head count) that he was bringing in a real Non-Commissioned Officer, something that was sorely missing in the unit. Someone this bunch of shirkers would do well to emulate.

 

Until that moment I hadn’t a clue how despised the 1st Sergeant was in this Unit. For him to make such a statement is incomprehensible to me. I won’t even hazard to guess his motives. The enormity of this indiscretion defies belief. I had walked into the eye of the hurricane without warning or defenses. At that moment I knew what a guy feels like who takes a knife to a gun fight. For a moment I sat there stunned, and then slowly I transitioned from disbelief, to denial, to anger, and finally, rage. Suddenly the circumstances of the past few months crystallized in my mind and everything made perfect sense. The animosity, the apathy, disrespect, and direct disobedience weren’t meant for me personally; I was merely a means of bringing discredit on a virtually untouchable 1st Sergeant.

 

Yes, I had plenty of my own issues. This is one of those times my being a lone wolf kept me in the dark. Had I put forth more effort to be part of the Company rather than holding myself aloof someone would surely have put a bug in my ear much sooner? Were it not for me battling multiple personality disorder, PTSD, alcoholism, and the twin demons of rage and self-pity I surely would have recognized something outside my control was amiss here. But, all that is “After Whist!” (A card game that is more about verbal one-upmanship than cards). I played the hand I was dealt as best as I knew how.

 

I left the platoon sergeants office looking for 1st Sergeant Hart with blood in my eye. If not for the reverence in which I held the man, one of us would not have survived the day. As I write this I have a visual of confronting him in the hallway outside the Orderly Room. I didn’t bother to afford him the courtesy of going behind closed doors. In a controlled fury I related the information I’d been given and asked him if it was true. He instinctively knew, as he is also a combat soldier, this was no time for bullshit. After apprising me of my inappropriateness in accosting him in this manner, he confirmed the story. To his credit, I was immediately transferred out of the Company and returned to Desk Sergeant Duties, in Hanau, FRG this time. I saw Davey recently (2012) in a VA Dental Clinic and he didn’t remember me, much less the incident. Go figure.

 

Though a much larger city, Desk Sergeant Duty in Hanau was considerably less taxing than Gelnhausen. I credit this more to German Police activity than any contribution of the U.S Army and MP’s. The Desk was receiving reports of break-ins in the military family housing area. This was highly unusual and even more so because the perpetrator was accused of fondling children in their bedrooms. At first I admit to being highly skeptical, thinking it more likely a product of the children’s imagination. Then one early morning about Five a.m., I received a call at the Desk from an enraged father claiming he had seen the back of a male figure as he exited the window of his daughters room. He had been awakened by his child’s screams and came running. At that hour we probably had two vehicular patrols and I immediately dispatched both of them to the scene code three (red lights/siren).

 

In minutes one of my patrols radioed for permission to stop a German National walking alone in the area. This was touchy business. For an MP to accost a German citizen in any area, even one generally understood to be under U.S. Military jurisdiction, he must have his ass well covered. To muddy the waters, I didn’t like or respect the MP requesting to make the stop. I viewed him as a pompous braggart and after all that went down since arriving in Hanau, I was leery of being set up. I radioed back permission to detain the subject only for purposes of identification and clarification of his business in a U.S. housing neighborhood at that hour. In a very few minutes that seemed an eternity the MP radioed for permission to apprehend the subject as he claimed to possess no identification, professed not to understand English, and refused to cooperate. This may seem like a no-brainer but, believe you me; I was way out on a limb. Military Police did not arrest German citizens. The diplomatic repercussions would surly cause every supervisor in my chain of command to duck and let me take the hit. This was a time when my can-do, gung-ho, reputation could easily be turned against me and viewed as over reacting or grandstanding. I knew all this as I depressed the radios squelch button and relayed my permission to apprehend. Then I eased back into my chair and wondered what in the Hell I’d just set in motion. It didn’t take long to find out.

 

The first thing I did was call the German Police. Thank God for them and the way they do their business. They were in the MP Station practically before my patrol brought in the suspect. I had, thankfully, by this time picked up enough German to communicate with them. Being fellow Law Enforcement Officers they were keenly aware of my predicament. Had I wrongly detained one of their own, they would have brought the rope and tied the knot at my lynching; but they also knew the unadulterated chutzpah it took for my patrolman to arrest a German citizen and for me to authorize it. They took this baby raping piece of human garbage into a back room and fifteen minutes later came out with a full confession. Before any back stabbing, second guessing, naysaying, hypocrites who masqueraded as senior enlisted Military Police and Officers even heard their morning alarm clock, I had filled out and filed the necessary paperwork to transfer custody of the individual to German control. He was unceremoniously dumped into the rear seat of a German Police car and driven away, never to molest another child.

 

Yes, there were the formalities to wade through. I worked for hours on the SIR (Serious Incident Report) that demanded an original and five carbon copies without a typo of any sort to be sent directly to every U.S. Army Command in Europe. Every swinging dick with a stripe or insignia denoting a higher rank than mine grilled me for their After Action Report. The victim identified the suspect in a line-up that afternoon and again later in court. Her father thanked us profusely and the German Police acknowledged me with a knowing nod of the head and one of their official winter jackets. Though too small to fit properly, I cherished it for years to come. That recognition meant more to me than anything. Actually, I was relieved and grateful the incident wrapped up so quickly and neatly, before the Monday morning quarterbacks sunk their teeth into me. I must give that MP a huge ATTA BOY! Whatever I may have thought of him before this episode, he became a Cop’s Cop in my estimation thereafter. Honestly, I doubt anyone else in that MP Company would have pressed me for authorization to affect an arrest on a German National. That took gargantuan brass balls. I duff my cap to you, Copper!

 

This incident went a long way to rehabilitating my image on many fronts. Suddenly I was again the go to MP Staff Sergeant who could and would take on any assignment. Captain Koneke in Gelnhausen abruptly changed his mind about me and wanted me back there. During my pre-returning interview with him I pointedly asked why he wanted someone back who, but a few months previously, he couldn’t wait to get rid of. The question, naturally, just hung in the air without acknowledgement or response. Again, it didn’t take long for the answer to become apparent. The good Captain once again had his tit in a wringer and needed bailing out. He had been ordered to find an NCO who could serve as a Convoy Commander and move the Divisions track and wheeled vehicles, along with their personnel, to and from the seasonal training areas on German roads and autobahns.

 

Being appointed a Convoy Commander is an honor, privilege, and grave responsibility. It may be the most accountable position an MP NCO can assume in a peacetime situation. The stripes on his sleeve cannot begin to match the responsibility of riding herd on a column that could stretch half a mile up and down the autobahn. The Red Army Faction (European Terrorists of the time) was active and heightened the stress on everyone. Once a Brigade Commander (Colonel) ordered me to have my men unload their fire arms while we were still in the convoy staging area. I told him flatly that would not happen. If he wished to disarm the MP’s I would obey but never would I ask myself or my men to display unloaded firearms; suicide is all that is. The Colonel backed down and I was one relieved NCO. On a lighter note, another time I made a wrong turn and took the convoy through a tiny German village. I had a queasy feeling in my stomach watching the road narrow but prayed it would widen after we passed the quaint little shops on the two whole blocks of downtown. It didn’t! We reached a dead end and were forced to turn the vehicles around. The team razzed me something fierce over that one.

 

During my tenure in Hanau, Patsy and I were blessed with our first child. A baby boy we named Scott Daniel Miles. Much to my regret I was unable to bond with him in any significant manner. The reasons have already been catalogued ad nauseam in this narrative and need not be rehashed here. I am ever grateful for being in the delivery room for his birth. I must’ve appeared quite a sight decked out in hospital greens waiting to hold my son when he came down the birth canal. I think I was in a bit of shock seeing his little body spattered with blood and afterbirth. As with Chris before him I immediately knew something was very wrong in how I perceived this child of God. One morning Patsy placed him beside me in our bed and my overriding thought was when she would take him away. Scott, if you ever read this I want you to know I am sorry and I pray you will have a better relationship with your children. God bless you son.

 

The remainder of my tour in Germany passed without much fanfare. I curtailed the drinking and gambling and things seemed to improve at home. In early 1978 I received change of station orders sending me to Ft. Hood, TX to complete my Army commitment which ended in June, 1978. Patsy, bless her heart, left Germany before I could and flew with Chris to her parents’ home in El Cerrito, CA. I don’t remember if I took leave or flew directly to Ft. Hood. Rejoining the 502nd MP Company in some ways was a shock. Instead of the cold, drafty, wooden barracks we slept in in 1968, the new facilities had three man rooms for the soldiers and I luxuriated in a double room with private bath and no roommate. Once the Company Commander and the First Sergeant were convinced I wouldn’t re-enlist they saw no point, nor did I, in giving me any responsibilities. In the meantime my days were spent mostly hanging around the Company area in the morning and swimming and sunning at a local lake in the afternoon. I was able to purchase a VW bug so I had transportation and that meant I could frequent the four or five NCO clubs on the post.  I could also keep the fridge in my room stocked with cases of quart bottles of Coors beer. I most often took a couple of quarts to drink just before I entered the Clubs so I wouldn’t waste money. Needless to say I didn’t deny myself female companionship though I was mindful not to risk an infection I might pass on to my wife.

 

The four or so months I spent there between March and June, 1975 passed slowly. I could not wait to be discharged. The plan was to return to El Cerrito where Patsy already had an apartment, pass the CA State exam for insurance agents and go into business with her father. Once again all would be well in my life when… but in the meantime I felt justified in wondering why the world treated me so poorly. I couldn’t see I was living the Life of Riley. On June 15th, 1978 I packed the VW and struck out for CA. I never realized how expansive the state of Texas is. It took three tanks of gas in the VW to leave the state. Leaving Ft. Hood I spilled a coke down the front of me and was denied rooms at three motels before a light bulb went on and I changed the shirt. The trip was uneventful but I do recall stopping in the pool room in Oakland so I could flash the two grand or so I received in discharge money even before I went home and unpacked the car.

 

 

 

 

 

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COMING HOME

Guest post written by my cousin Dante Miles.  For several weeks the chapters of his book “Change Gonna Come” will be shared here.  Feel free to share!

COMING HOME

November 1969 to August 1971

 

The sense of freedom of leaving the Oakland Army Base with discharge in hand was short lived. My buddy Mel still lived in Vallejo though he was preparing to serve his U.S Navy Reserve active duty obligation. His family kindly took me in temporarily. This was a major sacrifice as the jungle rot brought about by a dearth of clean, dry, socks, and routine foot care caused an offensive odor that permeated the house. Mel’s stepfather treated for dinner and drinks at the Golden Bubble Restaurant in Vallejo. He served in the Korean Conflict, another undeclared war, and we shared forgotten warrior status.

 

He also escorted me to the VFW (Veterans of Foreign Wars) of which he was a member in a useless attempt to gain my admittance to their exalted ranks. Since Vietnam was “only” a police action and not a “real” war I/we (Vietnam Vets) did not deserve to rub elbows with “true” veterans who fought on foreign soil and I was hastened out the door. Once again, as when I was blackballed for the Junior Moose Lodge activities, I subjected myself to the shame and disgrace of my fellow human beings attitudes. It goes without saying I coveted firebombing their building and standing by to relish the screams and panic as fire consumed their edifice. Mel’s stepfather apologized profusely and I bore him no ill will but to this day I have no use for the VFW. The basis of my disdain is due in large part to the fact that many VFW members are non-combatants who never fired a bullet in combat, nor were they exposed to immediate danger yet felt perfectly comfortable shooing a Combat Infantryman’s Badge holder off their premisis. Now, with the old guard quickly dying off, you guessed it, they are recruiting Vietnam Vets.

 

Aside: I no longer feel entirely as described above but certainly did as little as two years ago and will leave it in its original context.

 

What this country needs is an organization for those who merit combat insignias such as a Combat Infantryman’s Badge (CIB) or Combat Medic’s Badge for the “Doc’s” who patched us up in the bush. The Engineers and SeaBees also deserve a badge denoting their bravery in constructing roads, aircraft runways, fire bases, etc. while routinely under attack or threat thereof. Especially let’s not forget the Marine Corp where every mother’s son and daughter are 0311 first and foremost. 0311 is the Marine Corp’s Infantry MOS much the same as 11B in the Army. Their grunts are awarded the CAR (Combat Action Ribbon). As important, were the women who kept the home fires burning, wrote letters, sent cards and cookies, which routinely arrived a box of crumbs but no less tasty or welcome must be recognized and admitted as full members in their own right. Not shuffled off into an “Auxiliary” as second class participants.  Anyone who has trod the same streets alone, peering in the windows of the shops, restaurants, and theaters they previously shared with a loved one richly deserve this honor; particularly the brave women from the Vietnam and Korean war eras; many of whom were subjected to derisive words and deeds from their “fellow citizens” as thanks for their loyalty to their service member and, indeed, the United States of America.

 

The Smith’s Men’s Clothing store in Larwin Plaza where I worked three years before hired me over the Christmas rush but didn’t retain my services. The fact I allowed a customer to leave the store with merchandise on credit before the purchase was approved may have influenced the decision. When I later reached the credit department the purchase was, of course, declined because the customer wasn’t paying his bill.   My girlfriend’s father came by the store one night to remind me his daughter was seventeen and me twenty-one.   He made it perfectly clear his desire to see me in a jail cell for statutory rape. Unfortunately for him there was no cause, probable or otherwise, for such a charge though certainly not for lack of effort on my part. At this time I carried a Mt. Rushmore sized chip on my shoulder and considered what may have been a father‘s legitimate interest in his daughter’s welfare as another example of persecution. In so many words, I may not have been much but I was all I cared or thought about.

 

Following a couple of months at Mel’s I was politely prompted to find somewhere else to hang my hat. Before Mel left for the Navy he sold me his beautiful blue 1964, Dodge Dart GT. It had bucket seats, red upholstery and a push button transmission on the dash. I think I paid Four Hundred Dollars for it, on monthly terms naturally. Someone introduced me to an Insurance agent in Berkeley, CA named Jim who had an office on Shattuck Ave. around the corner from University Ave. Berkeley, CA is renowned as the epicenter of the Student Anti-war movement in the 1960’s, radical leftist politics, and Gestapo meter maids. We of moderate political leanings often referred to Berkeley as either “The Free State of Berkeley” or the more favored “Berzerkley!” The corner of University Ave. and Shattuck Ave. is a highly trafficked intersection largely because University Ave. dead ends two blocks east into the University of California at Berkeley (CAL) campus. In the late 60’s and early 70’s CAL and the city of Berkeley was a hotbed of “student” unrest and anti-war demonstrations. Berkeley’s attraction for me was the aura of uncertainty. I returned from war an adrenaline junkie. Berkeley and Vietnam were similar in you never knew when all hell would break loose, but, if you hung around long enough someone or something would light a fuse. Everyone, it seemed, had a cause du jour they were willing to defend mightily. All these years later I confess I’m only beginning to comprehend the mindset of the sincere anti-war protesters and their movement but consider them kindred spirits, who, like me, put their asses on the line for their beliefs. At this late date it I would conclude they were right all along.

Jim introduced me to Charlie, the owner of Berkeley Hardware at 2145 University Ave and following an extended interview process I became a hardware clerk working primarily in the paint department. I worked six days a week for Two Dollars an hour and no overtime. Jim moved me into his home with his wife and children for a short time. Endless relocation was and continued to be an ongoing pattern until I purchased my current residence at age sixty-one. I changed abodes and female companions more often than some people change underwear. I drank alcohol in some form almost daily now when I could afford it and frequented the bars whenever possible.

 

Rapidly wearing out my welcome at Jim’s I moved into a residential hotel two blocks from the hardware store. One of those with the bathroom and shower down the hall and favored by less affluent, mainly Asian students, working their way through CAL. It was, however, clean and quiet, and an atmosphere where intelligent interactions were the norm. A Korean student managed the day to day operation and that eased my anxiety. My most pressing problem was finding a parking place for the Dodge where I could avoid a citation; not an easy undertaking in a college town whose meters served as a boon to the city coffers. I could have papered my room with the remittance envelopes alone. Nutrition consisted mainly of hot link sausages and fries purchased from Top Dog on Shattuck Ave. I ate the sandwich at night and saved the fries for breakfast. Top Dog still maintains two locations near CAL, though, thankfully, their grease fries no longer adorn the menu. I, for one, count that a blessing to the gastronomic sensitivities of all who might otherwise indulge themselves.

 

While mentally formulating the chronology of this narrative I am struck by the sheer number of folks who reached out to me. I, unfortunately, completely discounted every person and effort in a single minded race down the highway to Hell; so steeped in a quagmire of self-absorption that the minutest outside awareness escaped me. I developed a lifelong pattern of hiding my loneliness and insecurity behind any number of mostly alcohol induced facades. Actually I enjoyed not a single emotion or feeling other than rage and self-pity sans a few drinks. This was the double edged sword that on the one hand kept me sane enough to function, often at a high level day to day, while slowly eroding my physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual capacity. In the early years this release of dormant emotions was expressed in non-threatening convivial actions such as exercise, sports, and dancing but after the war things changed dramatically. As the alcoholism worsened and I became less and less energetic I was unable to continue a physical regimen capable of offsetting my minds macabre and mayhem. This caused the brooding to intensify and booze became more of a suppression tool than a release valve. I swirled, slowly at first, but constantly picking up speed, into the abyss of alcoholic insanity.

 

As with the Infantry I initially performed poorly in my new position and made little effort to get along with the other employees. In many instances I went out of my way to display my utter disdain. As I write I cannot be certain the previous sentence is accurate because my thoughts and actions were rarely in tandem. What is undeniable is that in my judgment the entire world was beneath contempt. Had it not been for “them” sabotaging my greatness I would assuredly ascend to my rightful place as “Tsar of the Universe“?  Conversely, awash in self-loathing I could not elevate myself to “good enough. “ My remedy was placing others on a pedestal or mentally skewering them to inflate myself. I was not disposed to function as a man among men, a worker among workers, etc. I wasn’t yet aware that every waking moment my mind wasn’t intensely focused I drifted back to the war or my childhood. In school, this was most often referred to as poor study habits. Now I was said to lack “attention to detail”; still true today. I did things like not securing the tops of paint cans before placing them in the shaker thus saturating the paint department floor in Tile Red floor enamel. Another time I disassembled a Black & Decker drill to see how it worked and couldn’t figure out how to reassemble it. Charlie had a fit over that one, and all too often I spoke without thinking. Trying to be neighborly with a customer I complimented her on her obvious pregnancy and only comprehended my faux pas while watching her run from the building in tears. One afternoon Charlie found me instructing a customer on rewiring an electrical device. He made it clear his liability insurance didn’t cover my forays into Edison’s area of expertise.

 

In retrospect I could not fully apply myself toward the task at hand. Most often my consciousness waffled between stark terror as I reran the early childhood memory’s or combat tapes in my head and sheer boredom during the infrequent moments I remained present. Bored because life went on while I drifted in and out and I lacked continuity of conversations, events, etc. I am demonstrating this disorder as I type this very paragraph. Every few seconds an intrusive thought concerning a woman I recently started dating pops in my mind and totally distracts me. The uninvited ideation always concerns a past or future event I pose no control or power over but instantly inflate to catastrophic proportions. The “present” runs a distant second to the manufactured intensity (fight or flight) I conjure up using these mental masturbations I call “What If” moments. Their intensity is addicting and immensely entertaining. While recognizing the debilitating consequences, I find myself unable, unwilling or both to affect a present stream of consciousness.

 

Almost every night after work I drove the fifty mile round trip to Vallejo where I luxuriated in the anonymous din churning in Family Billiard’s, the very same pool room  where I spent so many hours before the war; or in the topless bar next door which I was now old enough to frequent. For hours on end, usually until closing, the nonstop “action”, loud music, gambling, threats, fights, danger, etc. captured my concentration. I was on hyper alert, on combat patrol again. I could feel the hair stand up on the back of my neck. I was Fucking Alive again! My mind needn’t scan for a flashback to energize me. I placed myself in the eye of the hurricane. No, I was the fucking storm. If you looked at me wrong, said something I didn’t appreciate, or offended me in any manner I would cut your fucking heart out and piss in the hole. Those brief though devastatingly intense flights of fantasy provided my sole relief from the grisly voices, thoughts, and ideations that plagued every moment, waking or sleeping, of my life. For a flash I was in control, at peace, in a world few would dare enter but where I felt safe and at home.

 

I drank either Colt .45 or Old English 800 to numb the violent urges. These malt liquors were potent, cheap and sanctioned by me in any quantity to interrupt my acting out physically even when provoked. There is no way of knowing or proving how many lives were spared by my alcohol consumption but, believe me, the total is considerable. A few hours following these descents into madness, with little sleep, an aching head, and bloodshot eyes, I reported to the hardware store entertaining those afoot with my best impersonation of normal. How I avoided a drunk driving charge beats me. Often I found it necessary to roll down the car windows and, at times, drive with my face out the driver’s window in the wind to keep me alert enough to “safely” return to Berkeley. I recall making the trip one night in a rain storm so severe I hydroplaned much of the way. In truth, with one six month exception while I toyed with Alcoholic’s Anonymous in 1971, I operated a motor vehicle with ethyl alcohol in my system every single day between November, 1969 and November, 1989.

 

One afternoon an elderly lady sought me out in the store and offered me a room in her home. She lived in Kensington, a tiny upscale burg in the hills above Berkeley and El Cerrito. Charlie had informed her of my situation and she was a widow in need of extra income. The house and room were a dream come true though I hardly appreciated it at the time. The city bus stopped two blocks away and, when I chose to ride it, alleviated my parking problems. My eating habits also improved as I could now shop for and prepare my food at home. She vehemently objected to my drinking but did allow me to keep beer in the refrigerator. Now I stopped going to Vallejo as frequently in favor of the bars on San Pablo Ave, an artery that runs from Rodeo, CA at the Western foot of the Carquinez bridge clear into Downtown Oakland. The space between the Dodge’s bucket seats perfectly secured a quart bottle of beer without spilling a drop and I rarely drove anywhere empty-handed. One night while heading down the hill to the bars I was pulled over by KPD (Kensington Police Department). I knew if he saw the bottle I could be arrested. Instead I hopped out of the car, a big no-no, and met him between the vehicles. He looked at my license while I made a point of playing the veteran card and consequently was allowed to go on my way. This was not the last time my veteran status kept me out of jail. In those days and for most of the years I drank, it was necessary to consume substantial quantities of beer, etc. before going in the bars. I didn’t have sufficient funds to drink all I wanted or believed needed at bar prices hence I drove consistently in some state of inebriation.

 

I had a few dates during this time but mostly settled for one night affairs with women who picked me up in the bar. One of my favorite spots was the Interlude in Albany, CA. Pappy and his wife owned and operated it and became long time bar acquaintances. Pappy would slip me an occasional free drink and keep his eye out for promising prospects. I was also mildly infatuated with Jim’s secretary in his Insurance office. She was a cute little gal with a young son. I was sad we didn’t pursue our initial interest. Laurie was a cashier at the store a few years younger than I. Her father’s hobby was electric trains and Charlie kept an extensive inventory in the stores basement making Laurie a frequent presence. We went together for a while, even spoke of marriage, but, as with so many of these flings, one or the other of us lost interest. Charlie even sat me down in his office for the, “you’d better think twice about serious relationships“, chat.

 

I had reconnected with an old gang buddy in Vallejo and he invited me to a party at his house on a Saturday night. So, after work, with Laurie in the Dodge, and in route on Highway 80 Eastbound we were cut off by another driver attempting to make the San Rafael bridge cutoff. I didn’t brake fast enough and rear ended her pushing my front fender into the passenger side tire. Luckily a CHP happened by and pushed us off the road and used his crow bar to free the wheel. We went on to the party and I, as usual, got smashed. Another time we went to the drive-in movie where I polished off enough 151 proof rum to pass out. Laurie had to awaken me to drive home. What that poor girl saw in me I do not know. I was a mess. I did manage to stay sober enough to escort her to the Senior Prom. We had a great time and I still have the picture on my bookcase.

 

Frank and Jeanne were transferred from Korea to Hawaii in 1967. They enjoyed their stay there and even bought a home. Now Frank had retired and they stopped over in Vallejo to see old friends on their way to Spokane, WA. Spokane was chosen primarily due to its proximity to a large military facility where they could shop and receive medical care. Also, Frank’s mother was elderly and continued to live in Frank’s boyhood home, Spirit Lake, ID. Charlie allowed me to leave work early that day and Frank and Jeanne treated me to an overnight stay in the room next to theirs at the local Travel-Lodge motel. Accompanied by the ever present bottle of booze we caught up on old times. Somehow the idea came to me that I would be welcome to relocate to Spokane with them and go to college on my GI Bill. I so wanted to be included in a family. I simply lacked the mental, emotional, financial, etc., tools for turning my dream into reality. When Jeanne opined she would have to think about that one, it ripped the scabs off old wounds.

 

I have had an uneasy feeling in the pit of my stomach since writing the preceding paragraph. As is my commitment to veracity in this narrative I will not change it but wish to add an insight. I may have wanted to be part of a family but I surely missed being the keeper of the secret; with its accompanying prominent status within the household, along with the unaccountability it afforded me. Desperately, I searched for a place to fit in, to feel special, wanted, needed. Without an education, skill, hobby, friends, etc., my sole frame of reference remained my war experiences.  I recognized how thoroughly unprepared I was to make my way in the world and longed for the safety of the cocoon the secrets previously wrapped around me. Though subconscious; this decision was entirely my own.

 

Through a swift process of elimination I deduced my ticket out of the hardware business was in a police career. Any marketable skill I possessed necessarily included the use of firearms thereby severely limiting the opportunities for law abiding pursuits. I briefly investigated mercenary work but didn’t relish returning to the jungle wherever it might be. Training for and functioning in law enforcement had less to do with a desire to serve than amassing a sense of power and control in the world around me. Had I been able to accept my ingrained fear that all confrontation held dire, if not fatal consequences, perhaps I would have taken another path, but, as usual, the ever present demand to prove I wasn’t a coward trumped good sense. Throughout my life

 

confrontations of any kind held serious consequences and the war demonstrated the nth degree. Jeanne finally relented and in August of 1971 I gave Charlie two week’s notice, packed the Dodge and migrated to Spokane. Not, however, without the accompaniment of a seething resentment for Jeanne’s initial reluctance at supporting my continuing education. Of course there were other underlying factors which were abundantly covered in a previous chapter.

A little respect, please!

Today I buried one of my friends.  It was a pleasant service with good, kind friends.  Our dear Miss Edie has finally gone to rest with our Lord and Savior.  After the funeral we got in line to follow the hearse to the cemetery and I am still appalled by the lack of respect for a funeral procession.

It should not shock me.  We ask people to slow down and move over for emergency vehicles but many people do not. We are told to pull to the right and STOP to allow emergency vehicles to pass you unobstructed, but people don’t.

Kudo’s to Rifle Police Department.  They took care of us at the intersections and forced others to give right of way.  Once we got onto the bypass several of those cars that were stopped by the officers, chose to pass the procession in their hurry to get somewhere else.  I was raised to respect the last ride for ANY hearse.  I was taught to pull over and give them right of way PERIOD.  That hearse is taking someone’s loved one for the last ride on this earth.

While traveling to Silt to bury Miss Edie, along Highway 6 SEVERAL cars cut into our procession line.  There was one Silt Police Officer who held traffic so our procession could turn onto 7th street and arrive at Skyline Cemetery.  At that turn ONE of the cars that had cut into our procession line recognized their error and pulled off to let us pass.

The procession car behind me had a mother and 2 sons.  Upon arriving at the cemetery I visited with their mother whom stated: I can’t believe that car cut you off like that.  I replied, I was shocked too.  She said the boys asked why someone would jump into our funeral procession?  She replied that apparently they didn’t realize it- it wasn’t the right choice for them to do.  So one of the boys answers well I guess now they just have to come to our funeral.

Arriving at the entrance to the cemetery the car in front of me was turning slowly and as I was attempting to follow her, a little red car came racing down 7th Street and had to swerve to not hit the back of my friends car.  He had his cell phone to his head and giving her dirty looks as he squeezes between our cars to race off to whatever was more important than respecting someone who has just passed away.  I understand at this point we were not as recognizable as a procession, but 15 cars turning into a cemetery should give you a clue!

Things have changed so much in this world I decided to google information on what to do when you encounter a funeral procession.  This page gives good clear and precise information if you doubt what upset me today.   https://www.funeralwise.com/learn/procession/

Knowing that a 7 year old and 6 year old recognized that things were done incorrectly it gives me hope that not all is lost!  Oh I long to see people be kind to each other and respect each other in every way.

Miss Edie I pray heaven is everything we ever dreamed of.  I love you.  I miss you dear friend.  I thank you for loving me so well.

 

2277 Sacramento Street

Guest post written by my cousin Dante Miles.  For several weeks the chapters of his book “Change Gonna Come” will be shared here.  Feel free to share!

VALLEJO, CA

2277 Sacramento Street
1962-63

 

I have no memory of events following Vicky’s funeral, until we moved back to Vallejo, California in the Spring of 1961. We secured an apartment in close proximity to where we lived prior to the Taiwan excursion. There were two government housing projects next to each other on Sacramento Street. Roosevelt Terrace housed the families of Navy enlisted personnel, and Federal Terrace provided low cost apartments for lower level white and blue collar government employees at Mare Island Naval Shipyard. They are still there! There are four apartments in each building. Each apartment has three bedrooms and a full bath upstairs, and a kitchen combined with dining area and front room downstairs. In the three or so years during the time we were gone from Vallejo, someone had purchased Federal Terrace, applied a decent paint job to the buildings and units, and renamed it Hillcrest Park. A rose by any other name… I finished the seventh grade and continued through the eighth grade at Franklin Junior High School.
It was here that I remember seeing John for the last time. He was still stationed in Long Beach on the USS Frontier and visited less frequently now. I bopped in the back door of our apartment one afternoon, not expecting him to be there, but found him slouching in one of the front room easy chairs very drunk. His eyes held a murderous rage which I could feel with every fiber of my being. This remains my sole recollection of physically fearing him. Only God knows what ugliness lay behind those blood-shot, half closed pupils, but they held sufficient terror for me to afford him a wide berth. I doubt he was continuing to sexually abuse me, but the threat was ever present. Perhaps I held less attraction for him at twelve or thirteen than at age six or seven. About this time, I began putting on weight. The other kids called me fatso and other names which hurt but I interpreted being fat with being less attractive, therefore safer. Once I realized that John would no longer be in my life, the excess pounds disappeared, though I doggedly held fast to the belief that I appeared fat and ugly. This perception produced significant weight fluctuations into my mid-fifties when I was able to reduce and maintain a healthy weight.

John had been ordered by his Commanding Office to treatment for his alcohol abuse. Ironically, the ward was in Oak Knoll Naval Hospital. The same facility he escorted me to for treatment of the non-existent epilepsy. Unfortunately for him he could not get sober. The U.S. Navy, in its infinite wisdom, did not recognize alcoholism as a disease then. Actually, to the Navy, alcoholism was a moral issue. If the sufferer possessed a whit of personal pride or integrity, they would surely cease the destructive behavior. For the Navy, such blight simply did not exist and most assuredly would not manifest itself in a Chief Petty Officer with eighteen years of service. Also, as I was forced to confront my entire childhood, the U.S. Navy absolutely did not have pedophiles, period! Such a distinguished branch of the military could never err in that fashion. The victims just thought they were being raped.

John did not complete his assigned rehabilitation and was given the option of taking an early retirement at reduced pay and benefits, or a lump sum payment equal to two years active duty pay and allowances. He opted for the $8,200 and disappeared from our lives. Once again, I found myself sitting at a kitchen table with Jeanne, weighing the pros and cons of a life altering decision. This time, it was whether or not she would pursue divorce proceedings against John. Maria also attended this sit-down, so she was between lockups. For Jeanne, it was first and foremost, a financial decision. As I write this, I feel my blood run cold at the dearth of consideration given to what this animal had perpetrated upon her children, especially her son. Yes, this is the way I felt at the time but my instinct for self-preservation was in overdrive. I knew my only protection lay in putting me first. Herein is one more example of the evil I believed was so pervasive in me and of how I was able to use my wickedness to control adults; another block of evidence that I not only could, but was in fact, ruining my mother’s life. This was but one more source of the pervasive shame and guilt, which defined my sense of self seemingly ad infinitum.
Even now, I can see myself sitting at that table, gently but firmly, with extreme malice of forethought, coercing Jeanne into a divorce. Again with the advantage of hindsight, I clearly discern my not being the only party to that conversation with a hidden agenda. Jeanne was using me to at least as great a degree as I was her. Sadly, this speck of insight has only, this moment, become obvious to me. In any event, this dialogue proved to be an entirely moot point. John had taken the money and absconded. He returned to the Sheridan, Wyoming area, drank up the severance pay, and began making the rounds of the available Veteran’s Administration treatment centers until his death in the mid 1980’s at age sixty-four.

 

I do recall speaking to him on the phone while visiting Jeanne and Frank in Sheridan circa 1979, with my second wife and our son, Scott. He had wormed his way into another woman’s life with young children. Initially, he agreed to meet me at a bar, (of course), but then called back and reneged. I was extremely upset by being re-abandoned. So much so, that I went straight to the local liquor store and purchased a pint of Tequila. (This apple didn’t fall far from the tree)! To my credit, I didn’t drink it, at least not that night. My final thought concerning John, deals with the joy I experienced when I learned of his death. At the time, I hadn’t begun recovering the memories of abuse and was, to say the least, perplexed. Actually, I was again, awash in shame and guilt. How was it possible not to feel sorrow at the loss of the only “father” figure I ever knew? Not surprisingly, I added this perceived abnormality to the extensive and ever increasing catalog of incontrovertible evidence of my perpetual wickedness.
During the almost two years we lived on Sacramento Street, I began to act out a pattern of behavior which continues to this day. Abused children, (no matter the chronological age), possess an innate faculty to recognize each other without the slightest verbal communication. I have often referred to this phenomenon when describing my penchant of entering a room full of a hundred women, ninety-nine of whom are reasonably well adjusted, productive members of society, and I instantly gravitate toward and cling to the one emotionally detached, usually chemically dependent, and always socially deviant soul. More than one mental health professional has alluded to this crippling tendency as a “Savior” or “Robin Hood” complex.

 

Looking back, I plainly recognize instance upon instance where I selected women friends, lovers, and wives, whom I perceived to be defective, just so I might “fix” them. Of course, I knew they would be grateful, and I would be a hero. I now view this aberration as a continuation of my inner child’s attempts to save his mother, to please her, to curry favor in her eyes by twisting and contorting his little mind, body and soul into all manner of outrageous, mental and physical distortions. The consequences exacted for this folly were debilitating and became the root cause of my serial relationships. First, with Jeanne and, much to my surprise and consternation, many other targets of my largess weren’t aware they were broken and required fixing! Thus, they could hardly be grateful for my efforts on their behalf and I was again denied recognition for my heroics. Secondly, due in large part to the preceding, I failed miserably in “saving” the ungrateful wretches and this profound lack of success generated even more feelings of frustration, anger, uselessness, and self-pity, which fed my insatiable appetite for self-destruction and left me on an eternal relationship merry-go-round.

To illustrate the damaged child’s knack for detecting like-minded offspring, I will introduce you to my friend, whom I met soon after moving back to Vallejo. Mike was my age, lived a few doors down the street in Hillcrest Park, and was also in the seventh grade. In lieu of a father figure, his alcoholic mother kept him supplied with a succession of short term “boyfriends.” Once, I observed her coming unhinged over not finding her mouthwash so she could gargle before keeping a scheduled court appearance. Mike, and I believe he had a sister, lived in squalor. Jeanne, at least, was a fastidious housekeeper. Mike and I both smoked with no means to supply our habit. Mike showed me how to use the brown paper from shopping bags to roll the tobacco we reclaimed from butts salvaged from ashtrays, garbage cans and gutters into cigarettes. Personally, I found it advantageous to pilfer my habit from the local Market. Mike was wise far beyond his years in the ways of the world; his survival skills light years beyond what I could even imagine.
We had another school chum, Billy, who rode the school bus with us. His one and only outstanding characteristic was being a bully. One time, after school, he bullied me into tears because I wouldn’t fight him. For many years I used my embarrassment that afternoon to support my determination to never be picked on again no matter who I might have to hurt. I was thrilled the day Michael, (a different Mike), knocked Billy unconscious in a fight after getting off the school bus; ironically, in almost the exact spot where I had been humiliated. One day after school, Billy, Mike, and I were upstairs in Mike’s house. The preliminary conversation escapes me, but these two twelve year old boys agreed to trade fellatio for anal sex. I left after they began the act.

 

I am fairly certain this is the first time I have mentioned this since it happened. I didn’t dare tell anyone, as they would surely realize I was to blame. No one would commit such acts were it not for my influence. Now it appeared I could incite this age inappropriate sexual behavior telepathically without even intending to do so. Whereas before, I had been the instigator based on my powers of seduction, (just too pretty! etc.), now my impiety raged without the slightest impetus from me. It didn’t require the least thought or deed on my part to manifest this abhorrent behavior. Merely by breathing, I perpetrated sexual misconduct in those around me. Being fat or thin, intelligent or dumb were meaningless states of being. I felt myself the Typhoid Mary of sexual misconduct. The very best I could hope for was to keep those around me fooled for as long as possible.
Mike became acquainted with a girl named Clydeen. She was an attractive girl about our age who had a sister, Cheryl, a year younger than me. Clydeen matched up with Mike in every worldly way, primarily sexual. Before long, Cheryl and I were also experimenting sexually far beyond what might be considered age appropriate. In fact, only an ultimatum from Jeanne to “get home now,” one afternoon kept us from experiencing intercourse. From my viewpoint, our interlude proved beneficial for several reasons There was no pain for either of us, we chose to be together, and both enjoyed the physical tenderness. I saw Cheryl three years later and we made an awkward stab at rekindling our sojourn into adult sexuality. Alas, the magic of innocence had disintegrated, leaving in its wake the three-headed monster of shame, guilt, and remorse. I pray God she has enjoyed peace and happiness.
Due to school overcrowding, we attended half day sessions at Franklin Junior High. Most afternoons I would play baseball with the neighborhood boys. Rarely did I bring home schoolwork, and if I did, the books remained wherever I set them down until retrieved them the following morning on my way out the door. I was living in a mine field. I durst not permit myself to touch or be touched in any manner, lest I detonate another explosion. By this time, I had added “devout coward” to my already inexhaustible list of perceived disgraceful sins. If I strayed far from home, a group of local toughs, led by the previously mentioned Gary White, would chase and threaten me. Even my catching him alone years later and witnessing his cowardly groveling, delivered scant recompense. While at school I allowed a back classmate named Milliard to harass me daily though he never touched me. The combination of believing I wasn’t worth defending and the inclination to go limp when touched in any manner conspired to render me helpless.

 

All the while I existed in an alternate universe, suspended animation in the one safe zone. As long as I remained incognito, brought no attention on myself, had no opinions, (other than what Jeanne demanded hearing), sought no nurturing, begged no love, and silently tolerated the physical abuse, I was afforded minimal creature comforts. In short, if I performed as Jeanne’s “good boy,” and if it pleased her to do so, she would keep me alive, no more than that, though it could be much less. This is the way things stood in the Spring of 1962, but they were about to change in dramatic fashion.
Vallejo was always a one horse town, and that horse was Mare Island Naval Shipyard. Crocket, CA across the Carquinez bridge, housed the C&H Sugar Refinery, but that was small potatoes in comparison. From the early 50’s, Mare Island’s reason for being was converting diesel submarines to nuclear power and later building the “nuke” boats from scratch. Vallejo was a metropolis full of itself and rightfully so. We built the clandestine instruments that continue to safeguard America’s freedom today; the all but undetectable death merchants, willing and able to strike the heart of our enemies from anywhere in the Seven Seas without warning or remorse. Whatever the reader may think or feel regarding that statement, I will assure you that without these mobile platforms of mass destruction, English might continue as our “native” language, but daily conversation could well be in a different tongue.
Spending my adolescent years in Vallejo was a mixed bag. Vallejo was, (it is now a bankrupt combat zone), a prosperous, clean, well maintained city that held the promise of work for virtually all professions. If a body wanted to be gainfully employed, there existed an opportunity on Mare Island whether you were a summer hire, an after school janitor like myself, a rocket scientist, (like those whose offices I cleaned in Building 521 Headquarters), or a level in between, you would not be idle long. The glut of Federal dollars in the form of taxes and bi-monthly payrolls guaranteed adequate income for families, the city, and Solano County. The one time I recall the city council denying an opportunity to spend the public dollar, was for a youth center.
Vallejo, at least in the late fifties and early sixties, was a bastion of de facto racial inequality. The housing for Mare Island’s Navy dependents, (Roosevelt Terrace), and housing used primarily for civilian blue collar workers, (Federal Terrace, later Hillcrest Park), must have been integrated. Yet, I have no memory of a classmate, an after school friend, or any acquaintance who was not Caucasian, in my six year residence and school attendance there. Until this very moment, I had not realized this fact. Even the housing developments in and around the city were segregated. Rancho Delmar and California Meadows were white, while Country Club Crest was black. Not far from Country Club Crest, were two projects, (ghettos), Floyd Terrace and Chabot Terrace, where the less affluent blacks resided. While Federal and Roosevelt Terrace were reasonably modern and well kept, Floyd and Chabot Terrace were dilapidated tenements, presumably left over from World War II.
As I mentioned, the Vallejo School System was badly in need of additional classrooms, teachers, etc. in the early 1960’s. Mare Island began expanding to facilitate construction of this nation’s Nuclear Submarine Fleet, and Vallejo’s population was exploding accordingly. In seventh grade, I only attended half day sessions. At some juncture Vallejo’s adult leadership decided to erect two brand new junior high schools, (Solano and Springstown), and renovate the most recently constructed junior high school into Hogan High School. This configuration gave Vallejo three high schools and four junior high schools.

 

St. Vincent’s was a parochial elementary and high school. Hogan High was conveniently located in a lily white area around Springs Road. Very few minorities attended classes in either location. This left Vallejo High School, where virtually every black or brown student from Floyd Terrace, Chabot Terrace, Country Club Crest, and as far away as South Vallejo, were bused in for classes. They mixed with the mostly white children that lived within walking distance of the school along with the Navy “brats” and offspring of Mare Island’s Trades people. Caucasian was always the minority in my experience at Vallejo High School. Springstown Jr. High was erected within a stone’s throw of Hogan High School and hence equally as lily white. With the completion of the two new buildings, Franklin Junior High, where I had attended seventh and eighth grade, returned to educating the great unwashed of South Vallejo, predominately minorities. Vallejo Junior High serviced only those within walking distance, which meant mainly, white. To my knowledge, no children were ever bused to Vallejo Jr. High. This left Solano Junior High. This bastion of blatant segregation was built directly between Country Club Crest, Floyd and Chabot Terrace, ensuring the student population would be close to 100% black; pissed off and black. What the city planners had accomplished was lost on no one.
At this juncture, I can see the reader scratching their head wondering why I have inflicted this tidbit of urban malfeasance upon them. Well, the miscreants who formulated and enacted the above strategy were certainly racists, but they were not stupid. They must have realized their handiwork would be publicly scrutinized and they perhaps even called to account. To mitigate this eventuality and spare themselves certain ridicule these illustrious pillars of the community offered up the children who resided in Roosevelt and Federal Terrace as sacrificial lambs. We were bused to Solano Junior High in the Fall of 1962 as living proof that the school was not segregated. The upshot being, that instead of student enrollment being 99% Black it would now be 93% Black. Hopefully the reader remembers that one of my sexual perpetrators was a black sailor stationed with John Miles in Kodiak, AK.
To say I was terrified would be an incredulous understatement. For weeks leading up to the first day of school, my stomach was tied in knots, my weight ballooned, etc. The other neighborhood kids and I did our best to pump each other up with false bravado to little avail. I doubt many others shared my presumably unique experiences, but we were all afraid. From the moment I debarked the bus on the first day of school, I was petrified. Showering after gym class was a personal act of courage, unparalleled in my lifetime. This includes volunteering for and serving in the U.S. Army Infantry in Vietnam. We were physically, though not sexually, assaulted by individuals and groups in the classrooms, hallways, cafeteria, and outdoor areas, by boys and girls alike.

 

I refuse to entertain what it might have been like for our female counterparts in their gym classes. Many of the white students withdrew from P.E. altogether. Our lunch money, (if we had any), was, on occasion, taken by force or coercion. Simply descending the bus steps exposed us, daily, to a very real danger from the simmering rage and newly discovered self-righteousness of our classmates. We attended classes in a uniformed police state of siege and, if you can believe this, were expected to learn in that toxic environment.
In fairness and hindsight, the reader need be aware that the three or four months I attended Solano Junior High School proved to be immensely productive and healing for me. Not all of the black students acted outrageously. Even given my early experience with the sexual predator, I began seeing black people as individuals and, more important, human beings. Ray, my seatmate in Drafting class, came to school with a meat cleaver in his back pocket. Ray was black, but his right arm, (I believe), was withered and the hand was useless. Ray rarely spoke to me, but was never threatening or disrespectful in any way.

 

Gene also stands out as someone worthy of respect. Gene came from a large family who operated the Chevron gas station at the entrance to Country Club Crest. Gene was considerably larger and more developed for his age, but never used his size to intimidate the other kids. One of the white kids kept a pistol in his hall locker, allegedly for protection. As in many areas of life, the eighty percent rule applied to all students the Solano Junior High that semester. Ten percent of the students acted like animals, ten percent like angels, and the remaining eighty percent fell somewhere in between.
Attending Solano Junior High began what has proven to be a lifelong admiration for the Black culture. The music of Smokey Robinson, et al., (Motown Records), and the preceding Do-Wop era, (street corner a cappella), remain my favorite musical expressions. Even now I occasionally use the street slang I learned then to fully express myself. A case in point would be, “Go on with your bad self.” This enduring idiom may be offered in high praise or just as readily wielded as a well-honed sword, meant to cut the recipient to the quick. It may be my sense of persecution that has driven my fascination with the Black experience. In any event as this narrative proceeds, the reader will see for themselves how intertwined our paths have been.

 

 

In the event this story is not completed I wish to acknowledge the ultimate temporal honor blessed on me. While serving with the U.S. Army in Germany circa 1977, I was invited to become a Prince Hall Mason, the Black Masonic Lodge. For reasons lost in time, I failed to follow through. My best guess would be my alcoholism was the root cause. This omission persists as my overriding earthly regret.
Still, the daily rigors inherent in surviving campus life at Solano Junior High exacted their toll. My core beliefs of wickedness and worthlessness were substantiated with disheartening regularity. I was in constant fear of the rage some of the black kids displayed toward the white kids in general, but me in particular. I personalized their wrath. I was terrified, (subconsciously), that my powers would cause the blacks to rape me. I felt powerless to stop the blacks from taking my money, food, school supplies, etc. Partially due to their overwhelming numbers, but moreover because of my conviction that I had no value, was beneath concern, and certainly not meaningful enough to fight for. How sad is that really? To know in the fiber of ones being they are without value.
It was during the time at Solano Junior High that my stupidity began manifesting itself. White kids did not speak up in class unless called upon and even then, would provide an incorrect answer if they knew what was good for them. The nerds might be given a pass but woe be a white student perceived as demonstrating basic competence, let alone, superiority. Other than the sixth grade I never would have been confused with someone who took their studies seriously. Now, however, I ceased any pretense of scholastic aptitude. Being a clown, a cut-up, a buffoon, acting crazy provided the path of least resistance. I was more popular wearing this mask. More importantly, I was SAFE! I excelled at nothing, nada, zip. No one need worry that I would show them up in the classroom or on the athletic field. The change in how I was perceived was as instantaneous as it was miraculous. The other kids, white and black, began leaving me alone. A few of the black kids even went so far as to stick up for me, telling the bullies to leave me alone.

 

Yes, I had acquired the magic potion, the cure-all, the answer to my prayers. All that was required of me was to do nothing, to know nothing, and to be nothing. “Go along to get along,” was my creed, “Step’n Fetch’t,” a way of life. Yassah Boss. Yes sir, Delmar be good white boy now! Just keep smiling, shuffling, grinning, and moving. Never let e’m see you sweat or sit down. Just pass’n thru, Boss. Don’t pay me no never mind. I’ll just clean up this mess you made and won’t be a bother no more, no sireee, not me. In a nutshell I became black, a Mr. Bo Jangles, (Bill Robinson). He was the tap dancer in Shirley Temple films and the subject of a poignant composition by Jerry Jeff Walker. The enormity and clarity of this revelation alone is worth whatever price is currently extracted in emotional upheaval by my telling this story.
I hope the previous sentence proves accurate. At this moment I sit at the computer, stunned with the veracity of the content emanating from the preceding paragraphs. My senses are on red alert. My entire being awash in grief, wishing I could cry, weep, wail, or in some manner, mitigate an otherwise overwhelming sense of loss and futility. Born highly intelligent, and possessing an athlete’s physique, how am I ever to accept developing neither one? It is less wonder to me with each page I compost how I could drive my coaches and teachers to distraction by my stubborn refusal to enhance, or even apply, my God given strengths. How could I have known!

 

 

128 OHIO STREET3

Guest post written by my cousin Dante Miles.  For several weeks the chapters of his book “Change Gonna Come” will be shared here.  Feel free to share!

128 OHIO STREET

VALLEJO, CA

January, 1963 to August, 1965

Ages 14-16

 

During Christmas vacation of 1962 Jeanne and I moved from Sacramento Street to 128 Ohio Street in part to allow me to escape Solano Junior High. The Ohio Street residence was an upstairs two bedroom apartment located two or three blocks from the Mare Island channel.  You could stand in front of the unit and see the Shipyard.  It was an older section of town but safe.  Most of the properties were single family dwellings, ours being an exception.  It was just Jeanne and me now.  Vicky had died, but I don’t ever remember our going to the grave though it was in town.  John took the severance money and absconded. Maria never lived with us here but she and her boyfriend rented a place for a while in the same block. With Jeanne’s return to work, I had more freedom.  Truthfully, I had no accountability other than showing up at school, where, as we have seen, I accomplished little. Jeanne, for the first time, did not come home after work. Instead she frequently stopped at the Gold Star Café, often coming in quite late. The Gold Star Café sat right outside the main gate to Mare Island.  It allegedly served great hamburgers, and positively poured plenty of beer. Many Shipyard sailors and civilians lunched there, especially those in need of a beverage stronger than Coke. I continued to serve as the focal point for Jeanne’s physical, mental, and emotional abuse, but, having only to manipulate her moods was indeed a step up.

 

I enrolled at Vallejo Junior High, completed the ninth grade, and even enjoyed going to school for a short while.  I delighted in not facing the threat of violence daily and enjoyed the freedom of not riding the bus though it meant a twenty minute walk.  Years later I drove the route, and, was amazed it was little more than a mile.  In my memory it was farther.  The kids at school seemed to accept me, and even circulated a rumor that Jeannie, the most popular girl in school, liked me.  Unfortunately for me the gossip contained no basis in fact! This I discovered, to my chagrin, after working up my nerve and calling her. Jeannie was very nice about it, but, of course, I was devastated all the same. I walked Denise, another popular student, home a few times after that. Denise was another very nice girl and I felt privileged to walk with her.

 

I do not remember meeting Bob.  He simply appeared on my radar one day.  Bob was Pilipino/Caucasian with the Elvis style slicked back beautiful black hair.  Bob proudly displayed an enormous chip on his shoulder.  Our friendship was based primarily on our tobacco habit, and knowing the world was out to get us.  Bob had a reputation as a tough kid, but, again, like me, (at least at that time); he was more bully than tough. We formed a street gang of sorts though nothing compared to the gangs of today.  There was Kenny, the only real tough guy, Frank, Danny, and a few others. Once we did meet another “gang” at Washington playground to “rumble”, but, the occasion resulted more in name calling than violence. My association with Bob in ninth and tenth grade served as another smoke screen.  I nurtured a tough guy reputation so people wouldn’t know I was frightened.  Bob and I hung out through the second semester of ninth grade.   When I started tenth grade at Vallejo High School we saw less and less of each other as Bob rarely attended classes.

However, I didn’t cease making poor choices. One day another sophomore asked me if I wanted a ride home. Of course I did but thought it strange when we walked to the teacher’s parking lot to retrieve his car. It was clear he was uncomfortable driving this car, but, in fairness, we were all just learning to drive so it wasn’t that unusual. On the way to my house he confessed to stealing the vehicle, but, I didn’t believe him. At least not until Sgt. Sullivan (can’t believe I remember his name) pulled us over. He was taken into custody, and, I sent home with an admonition to have my mother call the detective when she came home from work. Jeanne wasn’t thrilled but didn’t make a big deal of it.

It seemed I went from one scrape to another that year.  Ralph, Jeannie’s uncle, and, a year ahead of us, sometimes gave me rides from school. Ralph was a good guy, jock, football player, and someone I admired. In machine shop the other kids were instigating, as juvenile males are wont to do, a fight between us. First, I didn’t want to fight someone I liked, and, second, there was no chance I could win. The upshot was Ralph came over to my work station and tagged (hit) me three times in the chest to display his dominance. It hurt like hell, but, I held my mud and went back to work. He really did me a favor because it could have been much worse.

Another time, a classmate, John, also a football player, jock, etc. who I supplied beer told several kids I was talking bad about them or wanted to fight. Walking out of shop class I spotted at least a hundred kids blocking the tiny pathway leading from the shop area to the main school buildings.  I knew instinctively I was the target because in the middle of this throng stood big, fat, Frank. Frank’s father was Solano County Sherriff. He had a “57” Chevrolet he let Frank Jr. drive and I went joy riding with him a couple of times; once to San Francisco, a big no-no. Anyway, John had told Frank some junk and he wanted to fight. Nothing much happened, but, I was in the Dean’s office again. This scenario repeated itself again when John told Bill some junk. Thankfully, Bill and I had been casual school yard buddies for years. He started dating Denise shortly after my walking her home from school. He told me what John was saying and asked if it was true. He accepted my word that it wasn’t, and, that was the end of it.

In another incident I was spat upon by the Gee brothers, a couple of psycho delinquents who hung around school but didn’t attend. I was alone, and, enraged that I couldn’t beat them both to a pulp. To assuage my wounded pride I, in turn, scared another classmate with my bullying thereby perpetuating the cycle of violence. I now understand how the reputation I cultivated set me up as a target for those needing to enhance their own reputations. Also that year my Electric Shop teacher invited me out on his boat, just the two of us. I have no recollection of anything untoward happening. I am bothered a bit because of the lack of recall when I possess such vivid retention regarding other events in the same period. I accompanied him only once which also strikes me a bit odd as well.

I am fourteen or fifteen now.  I have but one remembrance about this episode in my life and it would not pass muster in a court of law.  My mother and I were in a bus station I believe in San Francisco and we took each other’s hand.  It really was that simple, that easy, and that mundane albeit fascinatingly erotic.  We transformed our relationship from that of mother and son to lovers.  We boarded the bus as lovers and rode off as lovers.  Perhaps it had to do with the anonymity of the bus terminal.  The hustle and bustle of non-descript faces scurrying nowhere, paying no attention, and no one we knew to see us.  For me it was a magical moment in at least one aspect.  At long last I was able to “make” my mommy happy, and not just happy, but, happy with me.

This stands out as one of those briefest of moments that define one’s life. It was the beginning of my tumble into relationship purgatory.  I would hereafter define every interaction with women by its physicality or lack thereof.  If you “loved” me you shared your body with me.  You didn’t send me cards, share private thoughts, meet me as an equal, take my arm in public, nuzzle with me, or, spend your precious time with me.  All of these intimacies shrank to insignificance, to nothingness, completely void of meaning.  There could be only one definitive standard if I was to feel the affection, warmth, caring, or, tenderness of a woman, and, that was through her body.  My life has been defined by an unquenchable thirst to satisfy, (make Happy), women in the only way I knew how.

 

Interestingly enough, though hardly surprising, once they were satisfied, as soon as I had proven to myself, and perhaps them, I was a “good boy/man”, repeating the performance was unnecessary. I had climbed that mountain, an encore would be redundant. For the briefest of periods I would find myself flush with a sense of vindication that unfortunately didn’t last. Almost immediately the ever present, unassailable knowledge that I was a Worthless Whelp”, not good enough, unlikable, unworthy of human care or concern, would return with more intensity than before and my demons would demand rebuttal were I to have a moments peace. Thus I would be driven to seek out a fresh challenge/victim to demonstrate I could deliver my one sure talent; the ability to satisfy. As I began each new conquest I was emphatically certain this would be “the one” who would validate me forever more. If I could win the love, respect, admiration, devotion… of this one, I would at last walk free. But, alas, in my distorted perception I had merely fooled the latest unwitting participant in my reckless descent towards the gates of Hell. Rarely, if ever, did it occur to me that any of these ladies might possess a genuine feeling for me as a man, a human being, or, someone they might wish to know.  Indeed, I doubt I considered them period, other than as fuel to stoke my insatiable desire to create a positive self-image.

I had long been my mother’s rock not to mention the keeper of the “secret”.  In the truth of hindsight I served as Jeanne’s Ping-Pong ball between love and hate.  This, I am sure, had everything to do with the duality in her view of me.  On the one hand she was attracted to what she perceived was my inherent invincibility as a man, and, I believe, bound to me by maternal love.  When she wasn’t referring to me as the “Worthless Whelp” she would affectionately address me as the “Old Man”.  This latter pet name being an acknowledgment of being forced to function as an adult so early in life, and, I suspect, from appearing to carry the world’s weight on my shoulders.  In another respect, she was driven to utterly subjugate me lest one day I might rise up to dominate her as her father and my father had done. This had to be a terrifying prospect for her. I suspect her father, and, possess convincing evidence my father, beat her unmercifully.

I have no more visuals of this interlude, this moment in time. What I am left with are the smells, tastes, and, of course, the feelings. Strangely enough, the smells linger longest; aromas rarely dissipate with age or distance. Sweet or bitter they persist undiminished as when first inhaled. As I write this I am remembering the taste…  It is quite unsettling. Any pleasantness that might be attached to a similar thought, if it concerned, say, an old flame, is immediately engulfed in shame, guilt, and self-recrimination. At this moment I am suppressing an impulse to throw this computer out the window, as if so doing would diminish the awkwardness of my recollections. Finally the feelings, the emotions, the physical arousal associated with these ideations have performed admirably in thrusting me into an abyss of insanity, increasing, with every intrusion, my belief and acceptance of inevitable damnation. At this moment I cannot state with any conviction which side of the aforementioned nebulous line I stand, the one which separates reason from chaos.

I am grateful for the lack of visual confirmation; otherwise I might be tempted to relate certain details in what I am sure would be a vain attempt to convince a skeptical audience of the validity in my remembrance.  They might also add to the intensity of the sexual impulses that have dogged me throughout my life and been the direct cause of indescribable, inexpressible, sufferings of shame and guilt, another means by which I could prove to myself that my wickedness was all consuming, everlasting, and irredeemable. I have no idea how long this went on and doubt it matters.  These situations are much like being run over by a train.  The issue is not the number of cars that flatten the corpse, death occurs at the point of impact.

My mother taught me that gentlemen don’t talk and, until now, I honored this edict. As I relive and relate this episode, I struggle against allowing the guilt and shame of ratting out my “mother”. I could easily use this breach of confidentiality as evidence confirming my ever present, and, continuing, despicability. No doubt this accounts for my lack of production the past few weeks.

The coupling ended shrouded in ambiguity. One night she came home with a sailor (Rudy) and I was never in her bed again. Thereafter our tryst was never referenced. Looking back I hope this affair with Rudy served as her method of stopping what she might have seen as inappropriate behavior she could not otherwise curtail.  Assuredly I possessed no capacity to alter our course. Who could I tell, who would listen, and who would believe mePlease stop me if you’ve heard this one. Even in 1964 societal acceptance allotted a live-in relationship (shack job) a peg above an incestuous bond with your son.

Be that as it may I was once again destroyed, mentally, physically, emotionally, and spiritually.  I was adrift without a boat, oar, or compass; my moral candle was barely a flicker.  This tryst became an enormous boulder securing the foundation of shame and guilt and I was immersed in it. This blip on my life’s screen functioned as a proverbial last straw in my attempts to uncover anything worthwhile about me as a human being. I didn’t realize that over the years the number of “last straws” would surpass my wildest imaginations. So much so they became the norm rather than the exception. The limits of my vocabulary prevent my effectively communicating the depth of my sense of grief, loss, befuddlement, bewilderment, and confusion.  I need depend upon the reader’s imagination and sensitivities to grasp the totality of my inner destruction.

Before waving the wand of condemnation, which, understandably, might be a gut reaction, I am prompted to offer the following. This should not be construed as absolution, merely insider knowledge. I find growing empathy for Jeanne as I dredge up memories for this narrative. Hers was a heavy cross to bear, let there be no doubt. My primary purpose in undertaking this gut wrenching account is achieving peace, understanding, and, forgiveness for us both.

Please consider the above in the context of eternity, of her seed, my seed, and our seed.  If I am positive of nothing else on the temporal plane, I feel completely safe in assuring the reader that Jeanne did nothing to me, or, with me, she hadn‘t suffered first. This includes the habitual slapping, belting, belittling, screaming, and, yes, incest.  My maternal lineage is fraught with nefarious characters of all stripes, to say nothing of the paternal side.  My mother was unable to stop the cycle of abuse, but she succeeded in slowing a runaway train. Jeanne somehow raised me, keeping body and soul together against impossible odds, and passed down to her son the only real treasure she possessed, her tenacity.  She claimed it in spades, and, I have hung my hat on it throughout my life.

She ushered me into adulthood and unceremoniously forced me out of her life. Now forty-five years later the sexual cycle is broken. My children are not without their own demons, and, in fact, choose not to interact with their father at all. None, however, to the best of my knowledge, were victims of sexual or physical abuse, thank you God.  What my mother was unable to accomplish she nonetheless placed me in a position to carry forward as I pray will continue with my children.  Having re-read the above several times I find myself unable to summon a convincing argument explaining my need to justify Jeanne’s choices. I am, however, opting to let it stand unedited.

I completed my sophomore year at Vallejo High School in June of 1964. Jeanne had returned to work at Mare Island, this time in the Civilian Contracts section.  Some of the functions of her office included administering Service Contracts for Food and Beverage suppliers, Custodial and other incidental services not directly involved in building submarines. In a blatant act of nepotism, Jeanne finagled a summer position for me as a janitor.  My job was cleaning the toilets in the Headquarters Building, (521) at Mare Island.  When school resumed in September I was able to work with a night crew in the same building that was manned by moonlighting Sailors. We had an understanding by which we were permitted to knock off when the work was satisfactorily completed, and, still be paid for the eight hour shift.  I learned how to work on that gang.  The men were respectful, but, tolerated no guff from a sixteen year old.  I would pull my weight or pick up my check on the way out.  How grateful I remain for their acceptance, tough love, and, my determination to succeed.

That summer Maria had her only child, a son she named Mark. I drove her twenty miles to the County Hospital in Fairfield, CA in Jeanne’s precious Ford Fairlane 500, a blue, six cylinder, four door sedan.  It would have been a hilarious sight for a disinterested observer.  Maria is in the back seat screaming her head off. I am driving on a brand new license that came close to not being issued due to the misdiagnosed Epilepsy, and, scared to death Maria would deliver en route  On top of which had a scratch been put on the car Jeanne worked untold hours of overtime to afford, I’d never heard the end of it.

Rick had been a friend of mine since second or third grade.  His father was Navy, and, they also lived in Roosevelt Terrace in the mid-fifties.  Rick’s Mother was confined to a wheel chair, and, I was struck by how he appeared to please her when I failed with Jeanne.  Perhaps I envied them both their relationship. Rick was trustworthy.  A praiseworthy attribute in anyone, but, distinguishing in one so young. On the varsity football team he delivered the plays from the coach to the quarterback during the game. Rick later dated and married Sheila, the elder sister of my high school sweetheart Nancy. I must have told Rick something derogatory about Sheila, probably after the breakup with Nancy. She ran into me on the Vallejo Junior College campus when I was on leave awaiting deployment to Vietnam. She read me the riot act in front of my CFF (current female friend). Even accepting responsibility for my part, I lost respect for Rick, and, haven’t spoken with him since.

Rick always presented as more mature than the norm. As a result, he, not surprisingly, had access to a car long before most of us. Once that summer he asked me if I wanted to double date the upcoming weekend. Again, one day, one moment in my life, served as a catalyst to plunge me further into the twisted abyss of self-hatred. I phoned every girl I knew, even of slight acquaintance, attempting to secure a companion for that Saturday night. I was broken down, totally brainwashed (self-inflicted), into believing my own worthlessness by the sheer volume of refusals to my movie invitation. To me this adolescent debacle proved positively that my charade was unmasked. Now I realized everyone knew I was damaged goods.

This incident furthered my conviction of being the “worthless whelp” my mother was fond of calling me, that the black Sailor, along with my stepfather, were right in holding me responsible for the rapes.  I had made them do it.  I did have power but only to do evil. At that moment I could just as easily been a Prisoner of War in the grips of psychotic interrogators. So devastating was my mental collapse that it preceded another psychotic break.  Consciously unbeknownst to me at that moment, I made a decision to hurt anyone and everyone to exact revenge for the perceived wrongs done me. Even as, over the years, the evidence piled up to contradict the fallacy of my “power”, “evilness”, and “worthlessness”, I remained unable, unwilling, or perhaps both, to incorporate this new information into my daily life.

In the fall of 1964, shortly before beginning my junior year at Vallejo High School, I met Gatsby.  Gatsby was a good kid and one heck of a baseball catcher.  I regretted never seeing him play, but the kids at school raved about him.  He was about 5’ 9”, well built with that coal black hair the girls went gaga over.  Remember, the British Invasion was just ramping up and Elvis remained “The King“.  I could not fathom what he saw in me, why he would want to hang out.  To be honest I have no clue what my reputation might be then, but, during the ninth (Junior High) and tenth (HS) grade I ran with a rougher crowd. I was always scared witless they would discover I wasn’t so tough.  Anyway, we were juniors now and “older”.  We lived a mile and a half from Vallejo High School and a block and a half apart.  I must have asked him if I could catch a ride, and, we became inseparable for the next year. One thing I can say regarding both of us is we missed very few “full” days of school that year, a miracle given our mutual disinterest in academics.

I first espied her on a warm, lazy, August afternoon in the summer of 1964. Gatsby and I were going swimming at the Vallejo Plunge. We chose a time honored short cut saving a couple of blocks gas money. They might have passed for a female Mutt and Jeff, save Janet being fuller. Nancy was a wisp of a girl, not an extra ounce anywhere. From my initial vantage point the slightly bowed legs were hysterical. We giggled briefly and well out of earshot. They carried towels and swim suits and Gatsby asked if we should offer them a ride. I was jealous of Gatsby’s time and attention, but didn’t dare let on, so I said, sure! When they agreed I leaped out of the shotgun seat, gallantly holding the seat back forward; thereby providing the most welcome additions all possible freedom to negotiate accessing the back seat. At the pool they met another friend, Chantay, and, we all thoroughly enjoyed ourselves.

We learned they would return to St. Vincent’s High School in September as sophomores. This information instantly erased them from my radar screen.  I’d heard girls who went to “Saints” possessed a two glaring character defects.  First, they actually went to class and second, they were goody-two-shoes! In truth, I knew I wasn’t good enough.  Kids at “Saints” had Mothers who stayed home and fathers who paid the bills. They had money; how else could they afford a parochial school? They didn’t have sailors spending the night in their Mother’s bed. Their parents didn’t abuse them, and, didn’t tolerate the abuse of outsiders. There were no fights in their homes, and, certainly, no addiction issues. In my mind theirs was an ideal existence.  One I would have died for.  How utterly naive I see my attitude with an additional half century of life’s experiences.

Gatsby took a fancy to Chantay. Her parents and Nancy’s mother agreed it would be alright to double-date.  This was fortunate for me as I had no access to a vehicle.  Though, following a long battle with the California Department of Motor Vehicles over my non-existent Epilepsy, I was issued a driver’s license. Gatsby benefited because I continued to work at Mare Island, and, consequently, had gas and beer money.

Nancy’s family was long time pillars of the Vallejo Community; Irish Catholic and devout church goers. She had two sisters and a brother; one, two years older, and another considerably younger along with Tom, the eldest sibling, who died unexpectedly in his youth. Her father, whom I never met, worked at Mare Island. Nancy’s Mom was attractive, and, might easily been mistaken for a Kennedy.  Whatever she may have thought of me, she treated me with courtesy. More important, she allowed me to keep company with her daughter, thereby earning my undying gratitude. Nancy’s Grandmother, the matriarch of the clan, also lived in the house on Marin Street until her death. I considered it a duty, honor, and privilege, to be expected at the funeral in support of Nancy. The millstone around the neck of Nancy’s family was her parent’s divorce. Divorce was gaining acceptance in the early sixties, at least in some quarters, but, certainly not in the Irish Catholic community.

Janet cornered me one day at her house on Sacramento Street, shortly after I started seeing Nancy. She said she was sorry, but, for my own good, must tell me Nancy really didn’t like me after all. I was, naturally, hurt by this revelation. My low self-esteem prevented my doubting the veracity of Janet’s claim, but, I somehow summoned the courage to ask Nancy about it. She stated emphatically the allegation was untrue, that she wanted to be my girlfriend, and, started to cry. I was touched to the depths of my, just barely, sixteen year old soul. Never before had another human being displayed the care, affection, and, desire to be with me Nancy demonstrated that day and for a year to come. I fell head over heels in love, and, to a great degree, remain so today. From that moment on I attached myself to her. Today, nearly fifty years of living and eons of experience later, our prom picture sits on the nightstand next to my bed. Poor Janet, in a pique of adolescent jealousy, sought to break us up. A cruel manifestation of self-knowledge is facing the fact that, like so many others over the years I drove Nancy away with the tough guy persona I employed to mask my insecurity.

 

Jeanne also had a new beau. Frank was the first decent man I knew. Yes, he was another U.S. Navy sailor. Jeanne seemed to collect them. His specialty was engines.  When I met him his rank was EM1, (Engineman 1st Class, E-6). This isn’t a high grade for someone with fifteen years of service. As I came to know Frank, I realized life‘s, “Slings and Arrows of Outrageous Fortune”, had pretty near beaten him to a pulp. What meant the most to him was being loved, peace in the home, and the Sci-Fi paperbacks he perused voraciously. His only activity outside the home was bowling one night a week.

Over time I would come to love and respect him, though, in the beginning I perceived him unmanly.  Primarily because, prior to his appearance in my life, there were no positive male, or female, for that matter, role models. The men in my life drank alcohol to excess, abused women and children, bragged, sniveled, and, were always going to be a success, tomorrow! Frank displayed none of these characteristics. He drank, sparingly, never abused a soul, worked two jobs, paid his bills, spent his evenings at home, and, treated me with respect. His one vice was chain-smoking. In short, Frank was a nice guy, and, I didn’t have a frame of reference for “nice” guys.

Frank brought Jeanne home from their outings, said goodnight at the front door, and returned to the ship. Not once spending the night until after the wedding. I guess I must confess to initially viewing this kind, gentle, man as a punk. By punk I mean not aggressive enough, willing to settle for life’s leftovers, not asserting himself. Exactly opposite the behaviors Jeanne claimed were male birth rights, but, systematically attempted to beat out of her son. The bulk of my attitude derived from his being stationed on the same ship as Jeanne’s previous boyfriend. To my deep chagrin I couldn’t understand his accepting Jeanne after she was shacked up with Rudy. Jeanne even voiced her concerns about Frank to me regarding this. To my knowledge Frank never threw this affair in Jeanne’s face. My adolescent conclusion was the man didn’t think much of himself. Sadly, on its face, this was true, but, not for the reasons I purported. Many years later I woefully regretted not following Frank’s example. I could have saved myself, and, not a few others, more heartache than any of us deserved. How grateful I am to give this wonderful man his due, however belatedly.

On a pleasant Fall Friday evening, shortly after we met, Gatsby and I were in his 1956 Chevrolet, Bel-Air, black, drop top, 265hp, with overdrive. We were on one of our first outings together, and, I felt privileged to be riding in the “shotgun “seat (front passenger).  We were heading for a dance at Ranger’s Hall in Vallejo, a place, where if alcohol was served, it would be aptly referred to as a Joint. Ranger’s Hall maintained a well-deserved reputation for underage alcohol consumption, fist fights, and, raucous rock and roll music. No self-respecting teen could pass up that trifecta!

In route we scored some beer.  Probably a couple of quarts or a six-pack we guzzled in the car on the way.  Of course we regaled each other with tales of inebriated exploits, when, in truth, my experience was limited, and, assuredly, surpassed Gatsby’s. That night, however, rocked my world. I found my God!  I didn’t just think I was nine feet tall and bulletproof.  I was, in fact, ten feet tall, and, missile proof.  I could laugh, joke, and, even tease with the other partiers.  I was able to dance with all the girls, and, fully prepared, even anxious, to fight with the guys.  I wasn’t fat, my clothes fit perfectly. The fact I lived in a less prestigious area of town or, my mother being shacked up with a sailor didn’t enter my mind.  Most important, for two or three hours I had “no secrets” to conceal.  There was no one to please, to kowtow to, to threaten me with abandonment, or to “slap me stem-winding”.  I didn’t feel guilty over wanting Maria, (formerly Yo-yo, older sister), out of the house.  I was in Heaven.  I didn’t need a church, synagogue, chapel, cathedral, or mosque, I had “Arrived”.

Without missing a beat I chased the ethyl alcohol dragon into the gates of insanity, lockdown institutions and, very nearly, death.  From that night, with few exceptions, I spent the next 24 or 25 years drinking alcohol, looking for alcohol to drink, dreaming of marvelous adventures that would surely be mine as soon as I could drink alcohol again, or, recovering from the alcohol I consumed the day/night before.

When, years later, November 1989 to be exact, I surrendered to the God of my understanding in Alcoholics Anonymous, I made a startling discovery.  Actually, I had been a member over twenty years when I had this moment of clarity so it was closer to 2010. On pages 83 and 84 of AA’s Big Book are listed the “Promises”.

“If we are painstaking about this phase of our development, we will be amazed before we are half way through. We are going to know a new freedom and a new happiness. We will not regret the past nor wish to shut the door on it. We will comprehend the word serenity and we will know peace. No matter how far down the scale we have gone, we will see how our experience can benefit others.  That feeling of uselessness and self-pity will disappear. We will lose interest in selfish things and gain interest in our fellows.  Self-seeking will slip away.  Our whole attitude and outlook upon life will change. Fear of people and of economic insecurity will leave us. We will intuitively know how to handle situations which used to baffle us. We will suddenly realize that God is doing for us what we could not do for ourselves.”

If I insert, “after two or three drinks”, in front of each promise it precisely delineates the phenomenon I experienced at sixteen. Alcohol, did, in fact, do for me what I was incapable of achieving without it. Alcohol allowed me to feel. Prior to discovering liquor I had no feelings, for the years I imbibed my feelings were alcohol induced, and, my twenty-two years of sobriety have been a mission to develop and access feelings other than rage and self-pity which continues as an elusive goal still beyond my reach without medication. I am stunned by the impact and veracity of this admission. Perhaps the truth will set me free. At this moment it is incomprehensible people experience feelings other than rage and self-pity naturally. I find myself contemplating whether I might teach myself to feel. I must move on, perhaps I will revisit this issue.

Jeanne and Frank were married at the Moose Lodge on Nebraska St. in Vallejo circa early 1965. Three of four years earlier I was proposed for membership in the junior Moose Chapter but was blackballed. Just another brick in the house of self-loathing I erected. I hated having to tell Frank but was afraid I wouldn’t be allowed in for the nuptials.  Of course he wasn’t fazed in the least and assured me I was his guest, thank you Frank. I gave the bride away symbolically and literally, thank you God! Gatsby, Chantay, and my beloved Nancy attended. Afterward the four of us went out, and, I spent the night at Gatsby’s so the newlyweds could be alone.

As spring approached we became less interested in school. Gatsby and I skipped our sixth period classes so often that when we did show the teacher checked the class roll for our names. In our minds this absence was not only justified, but, mandatory. You see there existed a scheduling conflict between St. Vincent’s H.S. and Vallejo H.S. and the choice was attending sixth period or being at Saints to pick up the girls when they left school; obviously a no brainer.

Another lifetime flaw in my character has been infidelity. Though I believed I loved Nancy I could not be faithful to her. On top of that I had extremely bad luck! One afternoon I was invited to Jackie’s (a girl friend at school) birthday party. I didn’t ask Nancy to go because I didn’t have a car and was being dropped off and picked up, very embarrassing. While there I met another girl from school who I hadn’t seen before. We danced and petted the afternoon away. It was the least I could do for a forlorn soul, alone at the party, without a guy of her own! At times my generosity exceeds even my lofty expectations! Meanwhile, unbeknownst to me, Nancy, Gatsby, and Chantay stopped by the apartment to surprise me with a day trip to Stinson Beach. Need I add this was the one and only time this occurred! Dear old Jeanne threw me under the bus and told them where I was. That would’ve been bad enough, but, like I said, were it not for bad luck… I would’ve been luckless. Later that afternoon my new acquaintance phoned a girlfriend with the news of her new “boyfriend”. This teenage motor mouth attended St. Vincent’s with my Nancy, knew of me through her and jumped at the chance to deliver the glad tidings. By now I had returned home, been told I missed the beach excursion, which, naturally, would have been my first choice, and that Jeanne ratted me out so Nancy knew where I was all afternoon.

 

Now I am taxed with concocting a plausible explanation for preferring to attend another girls birthday party rather than being at the sea shore with my true love. Being quick on the draw I figured if I appeared angry over not being informed of the beach plans I might just convince Nancy of her culpability; thereby, at least partially deflecting her justified anger. Bad idea, real bad idea! I postponed calling Nancy as long as I dared. When she answered the phone I had a premonition this conversation would not go well. My first clue was she wasn’t angry and obviously had been in tears. Once I grasp the depth of her knowledge of my activities that day, there was little else to do but fall on my sword. Nancy, God bless her, didn’t give me the boot.  I, of a certainty, swore undying fidelity not just on this planet, but, mortgaged, for good measure, any future lives I might have. The tone in which I penned the preceding masks its gravity. For one without my skewed sense of self this incident might easily be seen as the teenage faux pas it most certainly was and quickly forgotten. For me it served as a double edged sword. First, I pitied myself for my bad luck in being found out and also used its occurrence to further the belief in my own deserved damnation.

Gatsby and I did silly stuff. We liked to hitchhike and present as different people with each new ride. Once we tried to convince the girls who gave us a ride that we played in a famous R & R Band, don’t recall which band.  Another time we were orphans, or was that prisoners on the lam? I seriously doubt we fooled anyone, but laughed ourselves silly in numerous retellings. A favorite was sneaking into the drive-in movie. Gatsby and Chantay would hide in the car trunk while Nancy and I drove through the gate. Luckily the back seat folded down and they crawled into the Chevy none the worse for wear. Another fad of the day was snatching the distributor cap from any unwary soul’s vehicle. It didn’t damage the vehicle, was simple to replace, but the car wasn’t going anywhere without it. That mischief was hilarious until we were the butt!

Gatsby worked at a gas station on the old road between Sacramento and San Francisco before Highway 80 was constructed. This was in the day when they really were “service” stations. Your gas was pumped, oil checked, windows washed, and, if you ask, tire pressure checked, before you paid.  I know, I know, I am very old! Anyway, old (like my age now!) vacationing couples drove in for gas and directions. Gatsby would listen politely to the saga of how they got lost and where they were headed. Then, with an absolutely poker expression he stated, “I am sorry, but, you can’t get there from here”, and wander off. Another side benefit to his working there was a mechanic who had no qualms about buying our beer so long as we treated him to a can or two. One night the Vallejo police were watching this go down and pulled us over at the top of Georgia Street. In those days you were rarely arrested or detained over a few cans of beer.  We were given the option of pouring it out, giving it to the cops, or, receiving a citation. A close call to be sure, but, we chose door number one.

Dating girls at St. Vincent’s was never dull. There were a flock of girls in Nancy and Chantey’s group. Charlene hosted house party‘s frequently on Friday nights when no after school activities, (sporting events or dances) interfered.  Her mother was confined to a wheelchair and also divorced; so their home was a convenient, chaperoned, place to dance, talk, and, eat snacks. I idolized her sister Kathy, a year ahead of us in school, for her generous nature towards all. Kathy’s boyfriend, Ronnie, who maintained sixteen inch biceps, the envy of we lesser beings, was also a favorite. They remained unfailing supportive even after my breakup with Nancy, and, descent into a self-inflicted inferno. I had mixed emotions about Kathy’s younger sister. She was a freshman at Saint’s and drop dead gorgeous. I waffled between wanting to be her big brother and dumping Nancy and to chase after her!

Stream of Consciousness:

“The more I write, the sadder I become over the loss of fulfillment in my life. I have been loved, liked, respected, and, accepted my entire life but not able to perceive and, internalize it. My inability to accept and nurture the “Milk of Human Kindness”, lying dormant within, screams out as the root of my dysfunction. As I compel arcane minutiae onto the printed page, this stark reality engulfs every fiber of my being.

Earlier this year, 2011, I experienced a longing to reconnect with an old flame in Draper, UT circa 2004. As my longtime therapist liked to say, “I had unfinished business! “  Linda Jean and I met on the internet. As evinced in a plethora of my personal attachments, our compatibility confined itself to the dimensions of her king sized bed. Once horizontal, however, common ground rarely presented itself. We battled through two or three years of a love/hate entanglement. Distinct parallels between our relationship and that of North and South Korea are justifiably inferred. We drew a line in the sand for physical separation, but, neglected dictating peace terms. Like the Koreas, we remained in contact, often hostile; periodically met in person for re-unification talks, punctuated with begrudging intercourse, and following each new “peace” talk, we returned to our respective corners of the world and awaited the bell for a new round.

Following our intended final final! final! breakup, which never materialized, Linda dedicated a song to me. A prophetic line in “Desperado” by the Eagles, states, in part, “You’d better let somebody love you, before it’s too late”. Today I “get“ her sentiment, but, remain unable to see what I might have done differently. I continued spinning my wheels in the, “But after all I did for you, why, pray tell, can‘t you display appropriate gratitude, (read: groveling)”, refrain. Linda was burdened with her own issues, but, she read me well. My prison is, “Walking through this world all alone”, sixty-three years now, and no end in sight. While working on this narrative I felt a compelling urge to connect with her again. Upon locating her online, I was greeted with, “Deceased in 2010“. If you love someone, tell them!

Following the unfortunate and untimely death of Karen Carpenter that brought Anorexia and Bulimia more into the public spotlight I watched an interview with a preadolescent sufferer. She stated matter of factly, “I cannot eat; I am too fat.” This child appeared emaciated to the nth degree, and, undoubtedly, would soon starve to death if not force-fed. While I observed her, empathy resonated deep in my soul, a feeling, which, until recently escaped quantification. Now, plain as day, I visualize myself responding, “You cannot love me, I am bad”, with equal conviction in the face of prodigious evidence to the contrary.”

Narrative continues:

Sharon T. had the nerve to invite boys from Hogan H.S., our hated rival, to these events, but, following an initial display or two of testosterone, we maintained a peaceful co-existence. It was rumored one of the girls was not interested in boys, so, of course we made a project of fixing her up with a classmate of ours later on; an effort we came to regret. Sue’s pregnancy came as a shock as she was everyone’s least likely candidate for early motherhood being a vivacious young woman, always smiling and laughing. None of us were even aware she had a steady boyfriend, much less one she might be intimate with. By now Gatsby had matched up Janet, she of the original swimming trio, with his cousin and she was in seventh heaven being a couple. There were quite a few parties at her house on Sacramento Street as well. They eventually married and continue to be as far as I know.

One morning on the way to school we stopped (honest!) at the stop sign on the corner of Kentucky St. and Marin St. in Vallejo. When Gatsby entered the intersection to complete a left turn the oncoming vehicle also started across causing a collision with minor damage to both cars. Gatsby was generally a very good driver, even when drinking, which was not the case this morning. I was lost in my own thoughts and observed nothing. Under the California Vehicle Code the vehicle attempting a turn is responsible for ensuring the maneuver can be executed safely. Gatsby swore to me the guy ran the stop sign and he couldn’t avoid hitting him. This was the version of events I testified to in court, and, Gatsby was absolved of responsibility.

One Spring day while waiting for Nancy and Chantay outside St. Vincent’s, Gatsby lowered the top on the Chevy convertible just as this pack of young ladies made their way between school buildings and onto the sidewalk. Uninvited, though no less welcome, they piled in the car. Chantay, of course, was next to Gatsby, I riding shotgun with Nancy on my lap, and, a half dozen, or more, resplendent maidens in white blouses, blue sweaters, plaid skirts, and oxford shoes stacked themselves in the rear seat and on the trunk lid. Mind you, we are still legally parked at the curb. Momentarily, however, an anonymous voice expressed the group sentiment, “Let’s cruise Georgia Street”.  Gatsby and I, feeling like sultans entertaining their harem, needed no further encouragement. The round trip through downtown Vallejo comprised ten or so, fun filled, hilarious, memory making minutes. How we avoided a traffic citation only goodness knows. It was a great day to be me!

I hope I enjoyed that excursion. It proved the calm before the storm.  In the Spring of 1965 Gatsby enlisted for six years in the Naval Reserves to attend submarine training. I was proud of him, and, had I been a year older, would have joined him. Gatsby wasn’t sure if Chantay really loved him. As he would be off serving his country, he needed to be sure. One afternoon in my apartment our two magical, magnifying, minds concocted a scheme to erase his doubt.  I phoned Chantay, told her Gatsby had been in a car accident, was in a hospital she couldn’t access, in serious but stable condition, to gauge her response. Gatsby’s Navy enlistment enabled me to claim he was transported to my old nemesis, Oak Knoll Naval Hospital, a gated facility requiring a Military I.D. for entrance.

To this day I can see myself on the telephone delivering the storyline without a qualm, while Chantay, who had been my staunch ally, flipped out. My initial, continuing, and, overriding concern consisted of masterminding a method to facilitate the lie, lest I be caught and held accountable. Most assuredly my performance merited, at the very least, a nomination for Best Supporting Actor in a Drama, okay, daytime drama. I continued this fiasco for a week, with regular telephonic updates to a distraught Chantay, and, naturally, Nancy. They, in turn, passed on the information at school.

I am, at this moment, for the first time, recognizing, acknowledging, and, accepting, the breadth of betrayal wrought by my willful and enthusiastic participation in this travesty perpetrated upon Chantay. I freely risked Nancy’s love and respect, and, by extension, that of many others to participate in this cruel charade. The kids in Nancy’s crowd accepted me, treated me with kindness, respect, and, dignity, despite my less than stellar reputation. Their parents allowed me in their homes, to associate with their children, and, in Mrs. Ronan’s case, date her daughter. Their faith I repaid by participating in this sham. What troubles me most is the continuing to lie, in person and over the phone, for a week, side stepping any number of opportunities to tell the truth. Ten years later sitting at a poker table another player stated bluntly that my “problem” was, “You can’t stand success”, and my only response was “Amen to that”.

Gatsby, meanwhile, hid out and even stayed out of school. Finally assured Chantay loved him, I had the green light to tell her he would be released from the hospital, and, would meet her after school the next day. I, of course, witnessed the joyful reunion. Gatsby, a Best Actor nominee, limped around like a wounded duck and gloried in the attention. I was quite resentful of his reveling in the adulation while I did the dirty work but, alas, what goes around, does in fact, come around.

There was a little hitch in this foolproof masquerade. Months later we set up one of our knot-head buddies with a classmate of Chantey’s. How he was privy to our shenanigan escapes me, but, he spilled the beans. (Moral of the story: Three people will keep a secret only if two of them are dead. A tidbit of useful information I picked up from my Sicilian friends years later). Still, it took several months for the story to work its way to Chantay. I vividly remember answering the phone and a cold, quivering voice simply said, “Is it true?” The tears began after I repeated several times that she would have to ask Gatsby, as though I had no part to play.

This sordid scenario produced a lifelong character trait that has haunted me. A realization I did not have to be the victim! Perhaps there was hope for me after all. Unfortunately, I was not aware of a middle ground; not being the victim meant attacking.  I interpreted this ruse as validation of at least some tangible personal power as opposed to the violent ideations made up to overcome my feelings of powerlessness and cowardice. That my actions caused grief and pain to an innocent person while regrettable didn’t appear as important as my newly demonstrated powers. In a perverted sense I took great satisfaction in my newfound success and later relished in hearing how the story made the rounds at school.

This additional fuel heaped upon the already raging inferno of self-contempt drove me deeper into my personal abyss. I not only was confronted with comprehending the childhood traumas but now forced to make sense of an incestuous relationship with my mother where I vacillated between seeing myself as a vile, despicable, predator who took advantage of his own mother and a scornful, vengeful, spurned lover, unfairly and arbitrarily cast aside for other men. For me at least this awful prank mushroomed into another suffocating elephant in the room on which I proved incapable of placing a justifiable spin for my role. Gatsby, Chantay, and, of course Nancy, were the lifelines to any semblance of sanity in my world and two of those lines were now irrevocably severed; at least in my mind; and my relationship with Nancy dangled on life support.

 

My life continued spinning out of control and shortly following the prank I quit school with only a couple of months left in the year. Jeanne used her position at the Contract’s Office at Mare Island to land a spot for me on a construction crew, but, the foreman laid me off after a couple of weeks. Frank tried to help, bless his heart, and even took me bowling on his league night.

Following my construction job termination in May until I began classes at Seoul American High School that September I have few memories of the entire summer of 1965. However, one particularly painful instance involved sitting with Nancy on a retaining wall at St. Vincent’s after her summer school class let out and her telling me she didn’t believe I was going to Korea; that I more than likely made up the story for attention. She delivered the message with kindness and compassion but left no doubt of her earnestness and conviction. What misrepresentations, other than detailed above, that I may have subjected her too are lost in time but I clearly recall that ugly, and by now frequently recurring, sickening feeling in the pit of my stomach while digesting the evidence for her damning conclusion.

The other occurrence of note concerned my phoning Chantay that summer to check in with her while Gatsby attended Navy boot camp for several weeks. There was no ulterior motive that I’m aware of other than I missed my friend and knew she did too. In any case and unbeknownst to me Gatsby took great offense and viewed my phone call as somehow inappropriate. When I pulled up to his house to say hello he immediately began yelling at me and to make matters worse his sister’s psycho boyfriend, who, until returning from the war I was afraid of, appeared right behind him. I don’t remember and it doesn’t matter how the incident resolved itself. I wasn’t capable of processing what I considered a betrayal by my then closest friend other than by silently pouring hate and rage on him, myself, or both. Both incidents were used by me to beat myself down and harden my heart against the world.

Much to my relief and amazement, when I saw Chantay twenty-five years ago she didn’t miss a beat. She walked up, threw her arms around my neck, and welcomed me to her home. Let there be no doubt that without the love and companionship of Nancy, Gatsby and Chantay during that critical year I could easily be writing this narrative from a prison cell were I still alive these many years later; a negligible possibility indeed. I am wondering if a note of apology is appropriate after these many years. God; Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; Courage to change the things I can; And the wisdom to know the difference.

 

 

 

 

Odds and Ends:

Having read the above several times now, it is clear to me that this hurtful prank was not accomplished without some much deserved guilt and shame on my part. The real story is probably my successful effort at denying those feelings and substituting the rationalization and justification so often utilized throughout my life to conceal my true motives from myself and others. I did, however, become more proficient at lying to myself about my feelings, or lack thereof, as I went along. Still I must admit that throughout my life at times I recognized a twinge of conscience coupled with a realization that my thinking was skewed. To my regret; these droplets of sanity were buried beneath a sea of alcohol, etc.

Though I have no conscious memory of this, somehow, someway, I developed the attitude that my only requirement in life was keeping the family secrets, i.e., the childhood sexual abuse and the tryst with Jeanne. I accepted no other responsibilities, work around the house, study in school, be honest, exhibit loyalty, etc. and you can’t make me! A grave injustice had been perpetrated upon me and I dedicated myself to exacting retribution on you, meaning every person, place, or thing on God’s green earth, for the next thirty-three years. The veracity of the aforementioned became clear, though unrecognized for what it was by my shock, after leaving home, of people ceasing to tolerate my slothful and me first attitude. I was expected to carry my fair share of the load at work, play, relationships, et al. When I failed dismally I was rightfully left on the side of life’s road. However this woeful trait appeared to me, it manifested as an egregious sense of entitlement in those who knew me, most of whom were dumbfounded by it. The longer I wallowed in self-pity, (doing nothing, learning less), the further behind life’s curve I fell, the more entrenched the self-pity, and, and, and…

I have gone into great detail with the prank incident primarily to illustrate the profound change in my attitude following the “no date” debacle detailed above. That personality, which I call Delmar, my given name, (pronounced Delmer), would never have risked such an adventure, though hardly out of sympathy for the victim. His primary concern would have been his belief that he would be found out and provide ammunition to those who “knew” of his “power”. As I am writing this, I wonder if he might have been most apprehensive that he would be shown to have no “power” and this was possibly a far greater risk. At this point in time he apparently became willing to begin acting on his more aggressive ideations. He also began using “Del” as his name. While it is not uncommon, especially during adolescence, for young people to use a nickname; in my case I believe it was more than that. It was, in fact, a personality shift to a more daring, less concerned persona, definitely less sensitive to the welfare of others. I seemed to be saying, and acting, as though I no longer cared what other people thought. If I possessed this “power” over others then I may as well use it. In hindsight, none of these thoughts were in the conscious mind. I continued my attempts to fly under the radar while plotting my revenge toward one and all; reprisals that in most cases were unwarranted, unnecessary, unjustified, and beyond my capabilities. The common thread often found in my thoughts and displayed in my actions was my absolute certainty that anything I might choose to do to anyone on earth was entirely justified by what I had suffered. Simply stated, I gave myself carte blanche to carry out a scorched earth policy regarding interpersonal relationships. I suspect and fear this admission will make itself devastatingly clear as I navigate my way through the forthcoming chapters of this narrative.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

School Shootings

I wish there was an easy solution to the school shootings that keep happening.  I’ve spent many sleepless nights thinking about the many ideas I have read or heard.  There seems some good ideas and yet there isn’t a GREAT idea that stands out.

We will never end bullying.  It is part of human nature.  For as long as time is we have bullied others to move ourselves up that ladder we imagine raises us to a better place in life.  I was bullied in school.  I also bullied in school. I battle with mental health issues that stem from an abusive childhood, but I never blamed the school or my classmates. I did have some classmates I fervently disliked but I never wanted to cause any of them bodily harm.

I do understand being put down and misrepresented by everyone in my life.  I also understand what it feels like to not be heard.  When I attempt to say anything that is important for me to say and the receiver doesn’t listen, it always causes me to stumble in my journey to stay healthy while battling mental illness.  Unlike the mass shooters we have heard about I don’t want to harm others- my issues are that I want to be heard but I don’t feel worthy.

Possibly increasing mental health counselors in schools is one of the tools we can utilize.  I do believe we will have to use many tools to overcome these mass shootings.  I think sadly the doors need to be locked once the bells ring.  While locked doors can be shot open it does send off warnings and gives authorities time.

I think our teachers and administrators are overworked and need their work load lessened.  It used to be (in the good old days)  classes were not allowed to be over 10 students.  Currently if you are a daycare provider you are not allowed to have over 6 or 7 children in your daycare.  Why do we think teachers can do more?  I have no idea how to fund these changes but we must cut down class room sizes so that teachers can be more effective not only in teaching, but in identifying problems that can be treated instead of expelled.

We’ve all known soldiers who return from service and struggle finding work.  Maybe it is time to make a security entrance guarded with veterans.  They have combat training and need work.  I do not see that arming teachers is viable.  While I am not against any teacher who feels he/she is capable of handling firearms.  I have enough relatives who are teachers that would never carry a gun, to recognize that this is not a good option.  I don’t like stereotyping people but honestly most people that go into the teaching profession choose this career because they want to nurture, educate and guide children.  I do not think it is fair or right to ask them to be armed and ready to kill any one of these children.

Nearly 4 decades ago we as a society decided that teachers could not discipline our children.  While I did not agree with that decision back then I recognize that we are not going to change it.  So I ask you – as part of society that does NOT allow teachers to discipline your children- why do you think it is appropriate to ask them to arm themselves and make combat decisions to kill one of those children?

I don’t think there is any ONE solution to our problem.  But maybe if we join our brilliant minds we can find some working solutions so our children are not being gunned down while attending classes.

 

8 years is too long

I had a heart wrenching conversation last week.  I try to be a shoulder for those who need to talk.  I’ve always been at a loss for words and learned years ago most people are wanting to talk things out- not have me offer wisdom, which is great because I am always at a loss of what I should say.

I felt the hurt that he felt in what he told me.  I felt the loss that he felt in his words.  There is no way to heal that hurt or fill that loss.  I know this person always believes the best in every one.  Sometimes he believes blindly which usually is a blessing to those he believes in.

This time it was not a blessing to a little girl.  This time he left one person drowning while he was trying to save another.  I am glad that my words failed me again.  I have spent many nights without rest trying to understand his choice.  I am grateful that he made what I consider the right choice at the end of his eight years, but I am sick to my stomach that it took him eight years to throw a life line to a little girl.

I don’t understand how anyone makes the choice to stand by an adult and leave a little girl drowning with no one to lift her out of her hurt, her loss.  Eight years is too long to leave a child without hope.

I know he has spent many sleepless nights and countless hours in prayer looking for wisdom and guidance on all of his decisions.  He is human and will make mistakes.  His judgment is not always accurate.  I am working hard at finding the path to forgiveness of his mistake.

But I was that little girl that no one helped.  I was the little girl victimized by grown men from the time I was 6 years old.  I was never thrown a life line.  I grew up as a victim and lived as a victim for many years.  I battle Mental Health issues daily from what was done to me.  I pray no one ever goes through what I went through- yet here is another little girl left alone with trusted adults who knew and didn’t help!

Left to drown for 8 years before someone finally did something.  Too little too late.  I pray for her daily.  I pray that God holds her close everyday and never allows anyone to harm her ever again.

World please wake up!  There are evil people doing evil things.  When you know someone is being harmed you MUST stand up for the victim!  Quit standing up for the bully!  Why do you think by helping the bully you help the victim?  You DON’T.  When you help the bully you tell the bully he/she is okay and keep doing what it is that is destroying their victim!  If you help the victim, you tell the victim they are worthy, you tell the bully NO!  I don’t understand why this is so hard for you to understand.

I am going to end this blog with a prayer for all of us.

Dear Heavenly Father,

We need you.  We plead that you help each of us recognize and call out bullies.  Teach us to help victims and strengthen our faith to serve you well.  Teach us to stop helping the bullies and to start helping the victims, daily.

I love you, God.  Please help me be the change I want to see in our world.  Thank you for blessing me with live, love and laughter.

In the name of your precious Son, Jesus Christ

AMEN