Pretty Little Girl

A day in the life….

Archive for the category “american dream”

Further into the Looking Glass

It is still so surreal to recall this entire “adventure”.  Nothing about this Sunday in March of 1983 makes any sense. I woke up to a normal Sunday morning. I ended the day sitting in my Uncle Mike’s house in Long Beach. The black haired cowboy Bobby Riggs brought us to my uncle’s house but the house was pitch black. We waited in the truck in front of the house until my Uncle Mike drove up.  When he got out of the car, he came to the truck and carried me inside. Bobby and my mother followed. Ray was nowhere to be found. My uncle had taken him somewhere else. The bizarre events continued throughout the night. Bobby Riggs was our “bodyguard” as I am told. He is there to make sure no one hurts me or my mother.  Who is after us?  Why? It was just not making sense.  Once we entered the house, we were told not to turn on any lights other than the bathroom light which was on the innermost hallway in the house. Why? It’s not safe.

Being absolutely traumatized by all the craziness, I realized there was a missing element in this house.  Where were my cousins, my uncle’s 3 kids?  Where was my Aunt Dee? We are sitting in the dark with my mother, uncle and Bobby Riggs making small talk in a house in Long Beach. I didn’t change into my pajamas or brush my teeth; I was just taken to my cousin, David’s bedroom.  He was 2 years older than me and again, he wasn’t there. His room looked as if he had been there shortly before. The toys were out and things looked as if he was just in another room, but he wasn’t. No one was. My uncle had a housekeeper, a Mexican lady.  She wasn’t there. I was sitting on my cousin’s waterbed, thinking how awesome it was to be there because I’d never been on a waterbed. It was an experience, probably the only one that day that didn’t scare the hell out of me.

After I finished making waves in the bed and finally fell asleep, I woke up the next morning to a sort of panic. A realization of the insanity of the prior day. If all of that had happened in just one day, what was to expect of the next 24 hours?

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Inside the Looking Glass

When people recollect about their past, it gives rise to all kinds of emotions.  Many of those emotions are thought to have dwindled on the vine, but in reality, they are just dormant, resting  and waiting for the sprinkle of acknowledgement that revives them instantaneously.  My California experience is no different. It could have been a dream with all the strange happenings and truly surrealist environment.

Our fantastic excursion continues as we arrive in LAX late at night.  My mother tells Ray that my uncle will be picking us up in a “MACK” truck.  Ray stopped and just looked at my mother. He was just as surprised as I was.  I didn’t know what a MACK truck was. We walked outside to the pickup and drop-off outside the airport. When, out of nowhere, my Uncle Mike came running from the passenger side of an 18 wheeler. He ran towards us and grabbed me as he ran. My mother and Ray followed behind. We circled back around to the truck, where he tossed me into the cab as he grabbed my mother and helped her in. He closed the door and we drove off leaving him and Ray on the curb.  I scraped my ankle as I got into the truck. It wasn’t bleeding but  sure did hurt.

The driver of the truck looked over and introduced himself as Bobby Riggs. He had a black cowboy hat, scraggly long jet black beard and he was wearing dark tinted glasses. His shirt was a black country-western shirt with white pearl buttons.  He made small talk with Mother about the plane and the ride. The only thing I remember him saying was “now you are safe, little one.” I suddenly became concerned about my Uncle and Ray. Where they safe? I asked my mother about them. She said something I would always remember. She said ” Don’t you worry about your Uncle Mike. He can handle anything.”

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“My Baby”

When I tell  people about my family, I have to remember who my family is. People can’t wrap their heads around the reality of my family.  Every single relative has a chemical dependency problem. How do you make that normal or coherent for somebody? On our spontaneous jaunt to California, I realized for the first time how unconventional and off the chart my family was as a whole. A stranger skulking our house early on a Sunday morning. I heard my grandmother feverishly making phone calls to what seems like random people. My Uncle Mike in California was screaming through the phone. My mother was recovering from a drunken bender the night before at a friend’s house. This wasn’t the most odd Sunday but it wouldn’t be a typical day in the life of any of my friends.

It was a crisp Sunday morning. What the hell was going on? By the end of the day with virtually no clothes or possessions we were on a plane L.A.X. Before we boarded the plane, an older man with kind face walked up to my mother and hugged her. He said it had been a long time. He was trying to calm my manic mother. They discussed what my uncle wanted us all to do. She finally introduced me to him.  “This is Ray. He’s Ernest’s brother.”

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Ernest was my Paw Paw. Even the mention of his name, made me smile. He died when I was 3 years old, but I remember him being the source of continuous laughter and him being a clown all the time. It wasn’t until I was older that I was told he was just “a damn old drunk”.  He couldn’t hold a job; he sponged off my grandmother who worked midnights at Waffle House-esque diner known as the “Steak and Eggs”. But to me, he was my crazy Paw Paw telling jokes, pulling the chair out from under my mother or taking me to the little general store to buy me whatever kind of candy I wanted.

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Ernest wasn’t biologically related to me. He had been my grandmother’s last husband many years after the death of my grandfather, Curt. He was younger than my grandmother by about 8-9 years. He died abruptly in 1977. I remember the night clearly. I was a sleep on the couch in our living room on Cypress drive. It was odd because my mother wasn’t there; it was just me and my Daddy.  My mother didn’t drive and I don’t know where she went. My normal routine was to sit down with my Daddy and watch TV after my bath. Daddy would carry me to bed, but this wasn’t what happened this night. Daddy said we had to go see Paw Paw. We drove up to their apartment. There were flashing lights everywhere. People were walking all around. It was the middle of the night or at least it seemed like it to me. I’d never seen people at their apartment before–not even the neighbors. My daddy and I sat down on the stairs amid all the chaos. He had a look on his face. It almost looked like anger. He was a mild man. He didn’t throw fits or anything. He would look at you with this look of disappointment and restrained words.  It wasn’t a scary look; it was a look that always made guilt well up in my chest. I remember asking where Paw Paw and Grandma were. He said Paw Paw was sick and Grandma and Mother had gone to see how Paw Paw was doing.

None of those words meant anything to me really. I never realized I’d never see my Paw Paw again. I was “his baby” as he’d always say. He came to our house all the time. I knew my Daddy didn’t like him or my Grandma for that matter. Daddy had never taken me to see them before. It was unusual but I couldn’t comprehend the truth of it all. My Paw Paw had died. Grandma had found him when she came home. Mother was at the hospital with her.

Now 5 years later we sit in an airport terminal with a brother of his, on the spur of the moment. I had school Monday morning. What had happened now?

The Making of a Man

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Michael Maddox was a brute. He was massive and a force to be reckoned with. His size was a tool; his voice thundered. When he entered a room, every person knew it. Even at the age of 15, I am told by my aunt, Sonia who went to high school with my mother and worked with her and Mike after at Lamar’s Drive-In, remembers Mike as a ladies man. “He smelled so good and he was so handsome. I always had him come sit next to me, even though he was younger than us. He didn’t act  like it”, Sonia told me. One of his quotes from that time was that he loved Southside Baptist Church. He went there as often as he could. Why?  It was the best place to get laid. Enough said.

Along with being a cad, he was a huffer; he would inhale the pressurized chemicals in aerosol cans. Looking for a way to escape his meager life. Mustard and lettuce sandwiches were a commonality for my mother and Mike. Jo was too wrapped up in her personal demons to be an adequate mother. The kids were on there own. My mother Liz tried to step in to look after Mike but she had no role model to know what she should do. Jo’s lifestyle kept them from connecting with people for any length of time. Constant moving, beatings and generalized hell raising kept most away. Surviving the best way they could with an emotional not present mother and her present drunk, was life for them.

Mike was different. He wanted out. He had delusions of grandeur from early on. My mother and many others favored Mike. He had something as a little kid. He was unique but no one really knew why.  I can only assume it was the aura of being in the present of something great. I have heard this about many great men.  They had something intangible innate that radiates from them. No word to describe it but just a magnetism that was beyond words.  Recently in college studying psychology, a found out what that “thing” was.  It is, what is erroneously called anti-social behavior. It is not like it sounds. The dynamic, charismatic charmer is truly a well primed facade for the absolute inability to be human.   He was in a word– a sociopath. Calculated, cunning, charming, and evil with the inability empathize with anyone beyond his mother and sister.

As a teenager, he was a thief. He evolved into stealing cars. His biggest adventure took him to Florida in a stolen car. He was eventually arrested. This was the early to mid 1960’s. Vietnam was a reality for the youth of the nation. Mike was given the opportunity to go to Vietnam or jail for his interstate mischief. He chose Vietnam. This was truly the end of anything human in Mike’s personality.

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Man vs Myth

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When I say Michael Maddox was a evil, visualize the mythology of the Minotaur. Half man, half beast. When he raged, this is what I saw. His voice boomed. His face contorted. Furniture shook. It was something I had never encountered, but this particular display of animalistic fury, was because my cousin, Curtis, his son, named after his beloved father didn’t finish the food on his plate at dinner. I was 5 years old. Curty was only 4. I was so scared for him. No fictitious villain could ever compete with the ire of my Uncle Mike. Fire was in his eyes. Carnage in his voice over brussel sprouts. My God! I had envied the lifestyle of my cousins but this night, I was scared for them. During my youth, he would sweep into town sometimes unannounced and hold our lives in limbo. By ours, I mean me and my mother. I am sure my brother and grandmother too but all I knew was his presence on us. He would lavishly buy things, dinners, without a care in the world. He was a self-proclaimed millionaire. Just as quickly as he swept in, he was off again.

This was so bizarre to me as a child. My parents scraped by, month to month. Grandma was not wealthy but more comfortable but we struggled. How was he a millionaire? None of this makes sense but I recognized even then that his vitality was the difference in the rest of the family and him. Modesty vs extravagance. He moved to Los Angeles and made himself a fortune. The American Dream, right?
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That is what you were supposed to strive to do and he did it fluidly. He was a phoenix rising from the fire of squalor. Again Elvis and the Devil personified. When I would ask my father about Mike’s line of work, he would simply say was a “con man”. He explained that to me. But he’s rich and he’s not in jail, surely he wasn’t just a con man.

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