Monthly Archives: November 2015

Do You Value Free?

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Do You Value Free?

Do you value something if it’s free? I was listening to the radio and the DJ was discussing college students protesting for free college tuition and she asked the question “do you value free?” It’s been stuck in my head ever since. Then I thought of what is free – air, water (not really free anymore unless it rains). Then I thought of air and water again and collectively, as the human race, we haven’t valued them much. I realize I am painting with a broad brush but look how we have f*cked up the air and water. Do we value free? I’m not so sure.

Then I reflected on my education….graduate cum laude from the school of hard knocks. I did actually graduate from college with a B.A. but I didn’t take the usual path. I grew up in a pretty messed up family and I missed a year of high school when I was a sophomore. I went back to a different school and finished my sophomore year. I got about half way through my junior year when I decided to pull the plug on high school. It just didn’t work for me and I felt like I was wasting my time….so I quit.

I took the GED as soon as I could and then registered for community college. I had to take a math class over the summer but that was it. I started full time in the fall and my grades were good, honor roll good. I left high school a year and a half early and had no problem jumping into full time community college. What does that say for a mid 80’s high school education in central New Jersey? I’d like to say that I am of superior intelligence but…eh, well, nope, not so much.

The big difference was that I had to pay for college so I was serious about it. Unlike high school where it didn’t really matter because this girl was not vying for the ivies or even a state college. You see we were broke and I wasn’t a star athlete or an academic genius so I knew I had to pay my way. I did get a few Pell Grants to get me started but that didn’t cover everything. So I worked to cover the rest including living expenses. I had been paying my share of rent, food and clothes since I was 15 so it wasn’t a new concept.

It probably took me 4 years to get my Associates Degree. Work came before school because it needed to in order to survive. After I graduated I took a couple years to just focus on work. I had always been a good worker wherever I was and I was getting consistent promotions at work. Eventually though I saw a dead end without a baccalaureate so I started to chip away at one. The companies I worked for offered some tuition reimbursement which helped. The rest I paid for one class at a time.

Was it easy, no I busted my ass. Was it worth it, definitely. I eventually finished my B.A. and got an even better job. Here’s the best part, no student loans. When I was done my education didn’t haunt me like some heinous ex reminding me of the good times in college. No I was free to go on with my life, debt free.

Do I think college is over priced and out of reach for too many students? Yes, I do. Do I think college should be free? No I don’t, because it won’t be valued.

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Keep on Truckin’…….Part 8

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Keep on Truckin’…….Part 8

We lived in an apartment over a hardware store in a blue collar town in central New Jersey.  We lasted there the better part of 5 years. That was a milestone, hadn’t made it past 18 months anywhere else up to that point. For the three of us – my mother, twin brother and I that was a bit of stability. Everything else was a bit of a shit storm but at least we had friendships that lasted beyond a single school year.

The apartment was small but it was home. You approached it from the outside via steep wooden stairs on the back north corner of the hardware store. At the top of the stairs was an enclosed landing….porch sounds too fancy. Once you opened the door you stepped into a hallway. To the right was a closet and straight ahead was an opening to the living room. If you made a left in the hallway you were steps from the kitchen which was large enough to have the necessities and a small table. The kitchen also doubled as the laundry room with a washer and dryer in the corner. Just past the laundry area was my brother’s bedroom. He had his own bedroom, I’m sure I was jealous of that. Off of his bedroom was a storage room which lacked proper insulation and for some reason there was a window shared between the storage room and the bathroom. There was a second short hallway off the kitchen which provided another entry point into the living room and a closet, my closet. It was also the means to get to the only bathroom and the second bedroom which I shared with my mother. There was a door at the end of this hall which led to another apartment. This was weird because it locked on our side but we could open the door and be in our neighbor’s apartment. We lived there from the summer of 1978 to October of 1983. In school terms we were there from 5th grade to the beginning of 10th grade.

The layout of the apartment became intimately familiar to me. Every day when I got home from school I would walk through the apartment. I would go into every room and open every closet, every damn day. I did this looking for my mother’s body. She talked about wanting to die so frequently that I would go through the apartment on auto pilot searching for her. I don’t even think I connected what I was doing until much later in life but there it is.

My mom drank alcoholically and she was pretty expressive with her feelings. Basically she had no filter and no control. Drunk or sober she told my brother and I countless times “I wish you were never born”. Literally so many times I can’t even give you a ball park estimate, 100 times, a thousand…..does it fucking matter? I guess part of her was kind enough to say that instead of “I wish you were dead”, she reserved that wish for herself. She would vacillate between being completely over protective and affectionate to wishing we were never born. Between apologies, isolation, madness, drunken debauchery and uncertain life circumstances we never knew what to expect from her.

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My mom worked her ass off to support us. My father was shitty and inconsistent with child support payments and as a result we were broke. We had enough to eat, thank you school lunch subsidy and we got food stamps but there were no luxuries. Most of my clothes were hand me downs from my cousins. Mom had to splurge on clothes for my brother because there were no hand me downs to be had for him. Our grandparents would take us shopping before each new school year and we would get some needed items – jeans, shoes, jackets. They were good to us and our lives would have been so much worse without their help.

Besides the clothes and money they slipped my mom our grandparents also took us for occasional weekends so mom could get a break. This was after spending a year living with them. Our means to get there was less than delightful. My brother and I would take a bus from Sayreville to Waretown. It felt like 3 days but it was probably a good 2 1/2 hours with several stops including bus stations in Lakewood and Toms River. I would always get off the bus in Lakewood to cause my brother anxiety and stretch my legs. It was a bit of a ghetto there and my brother was always afraid that I wouldn’t get back on the bus in time….I never missed. We started this trek when we were 10 years old….pretty sure parents would get locked up now for putting their kids on a public bus for such a long period but in the late 70’s it was no big deal. Aside from the horrible fumes, second hand smoke, freaks and intense motion sickness it wasn’t so bad. Kind of like the scene from Trains, Planes and Automobiles just switch out the open space for a more urban setting.

To be continued…..https://wasthatmyoutloudvoice.com/2016/01/16/keep-on-truckin-part-9/

Keep on Truckin’…….Part 7

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Keep on Truckin’…….Part 7

Sometime in the summer of 1978 my brother and I finally moved back into a place with our mother. She had spent the last year getting settled into a job and a new apartment. While she was getting settled my brother and I stayed with our maternal grandparents. That living situation was prompted by a disastrous year in Florida with my mother, her boyfriend, Frank and my twin brother and me.

When we came back to New Jersey my brother and I were excited about seeing our father again. He lived in a shore town in New Jersey and we were both looking forward to reconnecting. Before we left for Florida we saw our father and his bride on a regular basis. They even tried to gain custody of the two of us. I remember having someone from the court ask me who I would rather live with….which was a ridiculous question for me…that question was a 1,000 pounds on my 7 year old shoulders. I answered with trepidation….something to the effect of I love them both but I guess I’d rather live with my mom.

The truth is I was torn. I kind of fantasized what it would be like to live with my father and his new wife. I really loved them, they were good to us….her whole family was good to us. On the other hand I had my mother and I recognized that she was wounded and I felt like she needed me. I also knew with every fiber of my being that if I went to live with my father she would be lost to me forever.

She frequently said bad things about my father and step mother which made me question my loyalty on a regular basis. I felt good when I was with my father and his new family and then when my brother and I would get home our mother would interrogate us. She would look for the smallest sliver of anything she could use against him. How many drinks did so and so have, who was there, what was on tv? It was intense. And I’m not sure exactly when it started but sometime early on my mother started referring to my father as “shithead”. She did this constantly used shithead in place of his name or a pronoun. Textbook definition of how not to behave after a divorce.

So naturally when we went to see our father for the first time since returning to New Jersey, my brother and I were nervous. We were also excited. He called us weekly while we were in Florida and we were under the impression that they missed us. So when he answered the door and didn’t invite us in my world caved in a bit. He said something about not being able to just come over unannounced and blah blah…..I don’t remember the exact words. I just remember shutting down and closing him off. Of course my mother reinforced how awful that was when we told her what happened.

Even though my mom was crazy it was hard for me to be apart from her. So when the three of us starting living together again I was happy. We started 5th grade that year in an elementary school which was maybe six blocks away. I had been to plenty of new schools by this point so I was pretty good at making new friends and observing situations.

Not sure how far into the school year it happened but one day I got into a verbal altercation with someone.  Before I could blink I had half the class threatening to beat me up after school. At which point I became more bravado than brains and started to assign people numbers something like “oh yeah I’ll fight you first, you second, you third….” pointing out the kids I would fight and in what order. Somewhere before I got to double digits an angel stepped in. She was the class jock and everyone adored her and even then she was cool enough to not give a shit about what people thought of her. She announced that if anyone fought me they would have to fight her as well. They all backed out of the fight and I got a new best friend.

I’ll never forget the day that Shelly stood up for me. After school I was determined to go to her house. I went up to the door and from that day until high school I spent many hours there. Her family was crazy but in a good way. They were loud, all the kids cursed but they loved each other. There was always food, snacks, dinner and all the Nestle Quik you could drink. Those were luxuries for me then…..hell we couldn’t afford Devil Dogs. Her mom didn’t work so she was often driving her kids and their friends around. I was always welcome there.

This was such a stark contrast to my family life. My brother and I were latch key kids. We came home after school to an empty apartment and I always had a long list of chores including getting dinner ready most nights. My brother and I fought all the time. That caused problems because we lived over a business so my mother had to hear about our behavior a lot. That did not make her happy and if mom isn’t happy no one is happy.

We never knew what kind of mood our mother would be in when she came home. When we heard her coming up the steps we would scatter like roaches when the lights come on. Scurrying off in different directions, tucked away until we could determine if it was safe to come out.

To be continued…..https://wasthatmyoutloudvoice.com/2015/11/12/keep-on-truckin-part-8/

Keep on Truckin’……Part 6

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Keep on Truckin’……Part 6

When I was in 4th grade my twin brother and I lived with our maternal grandparents. We spent the prior year moving from one place to another in the northern part of Florida with our mother and her then boyfriend, Frank. Parts of that year were fun. The weather was mild, little lizards were everywhere, we got to Disney World and we had a boat. The bad parts probably outweighed the good; snakes, domestic violence, multiple moves, mom in a Psych Ward, a foster home and a rapid departure after mom was arrested. So all in all an exciting year.

My brother and I were staying with our grandparents so our mother could get back on her feet. She needed to time to get a job and find an apartment for the three of us. Our parents had divorced several years prior and at this point my father was remarried and recently had his first child with his second wife. Before we left for Florida our father requested custody and ultimately lost. When we finally got to the shore town where he lived my brother and I could hardly wait to see him.

We were visiting a family friend who lived around the corner from my father. My brother and I bounded over there excited to see him. We could barely contain ourselves while we waited for him to answer the door. A somber version of our father emerged and coaxed us away from the entry and sat on the steps. I don’t remember his exact words but the gist of it was you can’t just come here unannounced and I’m sure it had something to do with his baby daughter. Looking back I can see where the man had been put through hell. Trying to get custody, loose that battle and then his crazy (certified) ex wife takes his kids to Florida….it must have been an emotional roller coaster for him. I lacked that perspective then. What I heard was I don’t want to see you now and then it all faded to black.

I think my little psyche had been through too much at this point so I just shut down. If he didn’t want us there then fine I wouldn’t want to be there. I flipped a switch, threw up a wall, deployed the shield. If I am honest some of it is still there, maybe half a wall (3/4s) at this point almost 40 years later….My brother god bless him he handled it different. He just tried harder to get the man’s attention and sometimes they still do that dance. It’s heartbreaking, infuriating and pathetic to watch. Like watching an animal stuck in a trap trying to get out, wailing in pain. I avoid the trap, still do.

That year with my grandparents I started to slide. I mouthed off to people said shit that was stupid and incoherent. I told one kid to “suck momma moose cock” which isn’t even a real thing. Had to have my grandmother sign a note with those ridiculous words on it. I got in physical fights one was with a classmate who happened to be a boy. I was ready to fight anyone. My brother and I fought a lot and it got nasty – punches, scratching full on physical altercations. I also stole change from some charity box we had at home that was supposed to go to church. I wanted ice cream at lunch …..I didn’t think past the box.

Our mother would visit us sometimes on weekends but not always. I was so insecure I’m sure part of me thought she would just leave us there with our grandparents. She did leave me in Florida with family friends the prior summer for several weeks so it wasn’t that far of a reach. So here I am an angry, scared, insecure 9 year old girl who has already moved at least 12 times and attended no less than 5 schools by 4th grade. The poster child for dysfunction.

To be continued……https://wasthatmyoutloudvoice.com/2015/11/09/keep-on-truckin-part-7/

Keep on Truckin’………Part 5

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Keep on Truckin’………Part 5

My mother was arrested in front of me in August of 1977. I was 9 years old. We had just destroyed the mobile home we lived in with her boyfriend, Frank. Apparently someone called the cops. I was put in the back of one police car while mom got taken away in another. It took them a while to figure out where to take me. We didn’t have any relatives in Florida, we were only there about a year.

My twin brother had been sent back to our home state of New Jersey in June. He was staying with relatives. I stayed with family friends for about 3 weeks while my mom and brother made the trip back home. My brother stayed in New Jersey and mom came back but not for long. She attempted suicide shortly after she got back to Florida.  Because of that, I was sent to a foster home for about 5 days in early July. When she got out of the Psych Ward we went back to living in a mobile home with Frank. Mind you at the time I didn’t know she tried to kill herself, I was told that she needed to rest.

Things were rocky to say the least. Frank and my mother fought constantly and I saw my mother get physically abused by him. He dragged her throughout the home and she was crying. I was chasing after him and screaming for him to stop. My mother tried to say it was fun, that they were just goofing around.  The rug burns on her arms and legs told another story and I can still picture them in my mind.

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The night my mother got arrested I stayed with a childless couple that were friends with our once foursome. They seemed like nice people. I remember sitting on their couch and talking but I don’t remember what we talked about it. I think they took me snorkeling but the memories are fuzzy. At any rate I probably wasn’t with them more than two days. Frank had to buy me a first class ticket to New Jersey. I guess that was the rule then for a minor traveling alone. It was my first plane ride. I don’t think I was afraid of flying but I did challenge myself to get a candy bar out of the guy before I boarded. That was a personal victory, it was a mounds bar in case you are wondering. I remember being encouraged to chew gum during take off so I was totally fine with flying.

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My maternal grandparents and my twin brother met me at the airport in Newark, New Jersey. I remember that my grandmother fell on the escalator…..as if my homecoming needed more drama. My grandparents were probably close to 70 at the time so a fall could have been a real game changer. Thankfully she recovered. I’m not sure how long it took my mother to get back to New Jersey but my brother and I lived with our grandparents for a year while my mother got back on her feet.

That’s pretty much how it was explained to us. My mother was busy getting her life in order; getting a job, finding a place for us to live, etc.,. So while she did that we lived with our grandparents in Waretown, New Jersey. Sometimes we wouldn’t see her for weeks and that was really hard. When you are a kid you tend to believe what the adults around you tell you but I was getting cynical.

We were in 4th grade that year and my brother and I both had issues with kids. He was tormented by some jerk on the bus and I was the second least attractive girl in class. In the 70’s no one gave a shit if you were bullied you just dealt with it. I remember feeling conflicted about the other least popular girl in class. I simultaneously felt sorry for her and was grateful there was someone under me in the 4th grade food chain.  I recognized that made me a bit of a jerk.

Her family lived in a trailer and had less than we did. She didn’t seem to have a good handle on hygiene but I suspect that was because she only had sporadic access to hot water. In the spring we were picking buddies for a field trip and no one picked her so I offered to be her buddy. Looking back I don’t think I had a lot of offers.

One time a kid found milk bone dog biscuits in my desk, that was unfortunate. I had an explanation…….there was a dog I passed on the way home from school and I regularly brought treats for it. That wasn’t the take away that the class latched on to….no from that day forward I was referred to as a dog. That was a thing when I was growing up, ugly girls were referred to as dogs.

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To be continued…….https://wasthatmyoutloudvoice.com/2015/11/07/keep-on-truckin-part-6/