Let’s start from the beginning, and see if we pick up any clues:
The day I was born, my brother Kevin celebrated his first birthday. He had five older brothers, and upon my arrival in this world, I had six. My older brothers always told me that they did not know what to give Kevin for his birthday, so they went to the ‘dumps’ and found me, and brought me home as a present for him.
When I was five, we used to play with a Ouija board, as it was a toy in many homes at the time, and the Ouija board said I would grow up to be an old green witch with warts. One of my older brothers says now that it may have been him unconsciously moving the indicator to spell out that horrid message, but he certainly was not aware of it.
The kids called me Meg Marshmallow in kindergarten, which stung harder than a punch. I think so many children suffered with name distortion, and many of you can commiserate. So, I was already considered persona non grata among the other children.
Then, one day while we were standing in a circle playing a game, I got a sudden urge to use the bathroom, and you know five-year olds; I had to use it right away. Our teacher did not want any interruptions, and told me to stop waving my hand, which I was doing frantically, and to put it down. She was not answering any questions, and granting no requests. Yes, the inevitable did happen, and a stain gathered on the carpet at my feet as my face turned magenta.
The teacher was very mad at me for not being more persistent in getting my message across to her, and she called my mother to come pick me up. I knew the grownups felt I had misbehaved, but I didn’t understand why. It was certainly not as if I wanted to pee on the floor through my underpants in front of all my classmates. There was a Plant Sale in the gymnasium, and my mother made me go there with her before bringing me home. I may have only been five, but the only place I wanted to be at that moment was under a rock. Unfortunately, this fiasco stayed with me, through the form of teasing from my peers for many years, long after I had stopped being a marshmallow.
In first grade, I had a boyfriend, or at least I believed I did. I loved my boyfriend, because he was the only boy who didn’t say I had cooties and run away from me around the schoolyard. If you ask my former classmates now, they may not remember it as I do, but I recall it was mutual affection in my dim nostalgic reminiscence. It really doesn’t matter whether it was or not, not now. Then, I believed that Richard was my boyfriend.
Tommy, my best friend from kindergarten, had begun following me home with sticks in his hand and saying mean things to me, so I was in the market for a new beau. Richard was a kind and sweet boy. I remember that, and I remember being devastated and confused when Richard died from Leukemia. My mother would not let me go to his funeral. She said I was too young. I didn’t understand; I was six years old now, and my boyfriend had died. How could someone my age die? I needed to know why, and how. I needed to see for myself. Of course, this was 1966 and I was not told why or how, nor did I get to say good-bye.
When I was in second grade, the popular haircut was the pixie cut. Twiggy had a pixie cut. Mia Farrow had a pixie cut. All the cool models and stars had pixie cuts. I really wanted more than anything to be cool (remember that for the synopsis later; I think we may have just discovered a clue), and I really wanted a pixie cut! My mother agreed that I could get a pixie cut, so she gave me some money and told me to go the local barber shop in our village. Yes, I was seven years old, and I was going to walk blocks to go get my haircut by myself!
I felt so proud and very cool as I made my way to the barber shop. I wasn’t quite cool enough to know that a barber shop was for boys and men, and there were things called beauty parlors where women went to get their hair cut, though. I had never been to a beauty parlor; had never had a haircut from anywhere but home before. I walked in, sat in the seat, explained to the barber what a pixie cut was, and the barber proceeded to hack almost all of my hair off, and there was no style about it. The haircut I left the barbershop with was a short hair cut for a seven-year old boy. I didn’t know that, though. I thought that I didn’t look exactly like Twiggy, but I still had a pixie cut. I was still on the edge of cool. I thought that walking all the way home, and down my driveway to my parent’s barbecue already in progress. I thought that until all heads looked at me and I swear there was a collective gasp. Then, I wasn’t quite so sure. I felt confused. I may have started to cry.
Of course, my family’s reaction was nothing compared to the torture I endured at school for six to eight weeks while I waited for the follicles to grow back. I was called so many names, but mostly they stuck with the very simple yet eloquent, “boy”. It was an effective insult. This is a story I relive often, since they took my second grade class picture only days after my locks were shorn. When I look at the picture, thankfully my first thought is how very much I loved the little suit that I was wearing. It was like a grown-up mod skirt suit. It was very chic, in my opinion at the time. The smile on my face in the photograph only slightly betrayed my discomfort at knowing that I was an uncool laughingstock who looked like a boy in a very chic mod skirt suit.
My school years went on like this for some time. Third grade I was out for much of the year ill, and spent two weeks in the hospital while they tried to figure out what was wrong with me. They came up with the diagnosis, “Abdominal Migraines” which I have never heard again. As I have experienced many times since, the medical community does not like to say, “We don’t know.”
One day about twenty years ago, my older sister said, “You were clearly anorexic.” That was a shocker to me, but looking at pictures from that time, I can see she was right (and I believe gluten issues were at play, also). I recall being skinny as a rail, and thinking I was fat and only eating tea and toast. Why didn’t the doctors catch that? It was 1968, and I was eight years old. They barely knew about anorexia back then, and it would never cross their minds that an eight year old child could be suffering from it.
Before being admitted to the hospital, I truly imagined that I was faking my illness. I hated school, hated being made fun of daily, and thought this was my way of avoiding the mean children. When the doctor said I had to be admitted, I felt I was in terrible trouble. I worried incessantly about my lie being discovered. I had no idea that I was really sick.
Somehow I passed third grade; possibly because my teacher was afraid of having me in her class again. My fourth grade teacher struck fear in the hearts of all, and I was no exception, but I don’t recall specific stress, save for the embarrassing chant from the children in my class that I smoked french fries, since I had told them that I smoked cigarettes, which of course seemed an absurd lie to them. No wonder they made fun of me! How could they understand me?
Fifth grade is a blur, except for Mrs. Adams. She was such a great teacher, and she helped all of us learn to operate as a community. We even went to her home for dinner. She made my life so much more bearable. In sixth grade, we had David as our teacher. David, a twenty-two year old who played guitar, taught us to write poetry, and the words to “American Pie”. Life was great when David was around.
So, I was not a wonderful little child. I had many idiosyncrasies and bad habits and a boatload of insecurities. That was not a great combination, and I am sure my teachers and parents were hoping that I would straighten out in junior high. They may have held this dream tightly throughout my elementary school years, but when I entered junior high, I began my true rebellion. Of course, I had already started smoking cigarettes when I was seven, and smoked marijuana for the first time when I was eleven. Although, I didn’t smoke it again until I was fourteen, I would pretend to others that I was high. After I swam or cried, I would say I was smoking pot. It just seemed much hipper than crying or even swimming.
In seventh grade I cut classes, and sometimes whole days with my friend Ilene. I was sullen and dark and mean. I was teenager magnified. That was nothing, however. It was in eighth grade when I began hanging out with the older teenagers and experimenting with all sorts of drugs, such as peyote, chocolate mescaline, and acid. Why did I make that leap?
I think we have discovered, you and I, some reasons why I became a drug addict:
- I wanted to be cool.
- The drug culture escalated in the seventies.
- The ‘cool’ older teenagers were doing drugs.
- I started doing drugs with the cool older kids.
Did everyone who did drugs with cool older teenagers in the seventies become drug addicts? No. Did everyone who had been teased in elementary school and started doing drugs with cool older teenagers become drug addicts? No. I did, though, and I think these incidents, and so many more that I will share with you in the future, may have contributed to my poor decisions.
However, having done this search has led me to the fact that it is not the reason or reasons that I became a drug addict which matter at all. It is the reasons that I became and remain a sober and happy woman which really matter. The reasons, such as my children and family and friends and you, and this beautiful earth we live on, and those who are suffering and need help. These are the important reasons. These are the reasons I stay sober. These are the reasons I need to remember.