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Mommy and ALS


I wrote this in 2011, but I guess I never posted it on this blog! I wanted to publish it now, so that you all could get a feel of what it’s like to live with ALS, as a patient, and as a loved one of a patient.

My mother Elaine was born on October 2, 1924 in Rockford, Illinois. She was a fabulous beauty with many suitors, and a few fiancés, but of course, life intervened and she made it through college to move to New York City, where she met my father, married, and had eleven children, one of whom died of SIDS at three months old.  She was an actress, lecturer in her church, politically active, and a Children’s Librarian for many years at local library.

One day in 1980, she started feeling a sore throat.  It bothered her, but she was not one to run to the doctor’s office.  She kept saying that she would go if she didn’t start to feel better soon.  She said that for a month.  Finally, she realized the sore throat was not going away, and she went to the doctor, who sent her for tests, and she found out she had Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis or ALS for short, or as it is commonly known, Lou Gehrig’s disease:

“Henry LouisLouGehrig (June 19, 1903 – June 2, 1941).  Gehrig is chiefly remembered for his prowess as a hitter, his consecutive games-played record and its subsequent longevity, and the pathos of his farewell from baseball at age 36, when he was stricken with a fatal neurological disease.”~Wikipedia

I must admit, when I found out, I moved within months to California.  I was twenty-one years old and subconsciously but selfishly knew that I could not watch the events unfold.  I could not lose my mother.

During the next year, Mommy struggled to live each day, but she continued to work in the South Orange Public Library as a Children’s Librarian.  She lost her voice completely, lost use of her legs and had difficulty using her arms and hands.  She was confined to a wheelchair, and had no real form of communication except her eyes and guttural sounds.  This was causing intense depression for her, as she was a Communications Major, Actress, Writer, Librarian.  Before she could no longer write, she was keeping a journal of her feelings about the onset of this disease.  One day I read in her journal how hard it was to lose one’s voice, of all things, when your life is built around communicating.  It was heartbreaking.

The children of the library to the rescue!  They held a benefit to raise money to buy a newly designed computer for my mother to use at the library.  She could type into the computer, and it would speak for her!  This was quite a miracle in 1981, and it meant she could continue working with the kids, whom she loved so well, and who loved her as much or more.elainek_library_als_1980selainek_solibrary_atthecomputer_1980s

I moved back to South Orange, as my big sister Tina had written me to advise that Karen could not bear the brunt of the caretaking alone.  My father was eleven years older than my mother, and crippled by intense love and a pre-sense of loss.  My brother Kevin helped of course, but Karen really was the primary caregiver for my mother.  The other brothers and sisters were older, with young families of their own, and limited time to offer assistance.  So, I returned.

The disease continued to take its toll rapidly, and my mother continued to fight back. She just would not give up on the quality of life.  She wanted to wear what she thought were her finest dresses (she would be so mad if I tried to choose what she should wear, she was sick, not daft!), all the food she always ate such as steak and pizza, albeit pulverized, and of course, her Five-O’clock Cocktails.  We would make blender drinks, and she would have her cocktails through a straw.  She was happiest when her fragmenting world showed signs of normalcy.

She insisted on going places.  The shopping outlets, plays, out to dinner.  She didn’t want to be a shut-in.  There were many people back then who had a problem with a dying woman in a wheelchair enjoying life.  I don’t know how much that has changed, but I pray our world is wiser, and we realize that we may very well wheel that chair one day!  Also, wheelchair accessibility in the early eighties was so limited.  We would show up somewhere, and find we could not continue with our plans due to narrow aisles or no elevators.  There were days we were so happy to have just a little more time together.  There were days we ended up so disheartened by an unmoving world in our wildly changing lives.

A woman wrote to Mommy and said, “I don’t know how you do it.  I saw you at church, and you are so brave.  I have just found out I have ALS, and I am really scared.”  This woman was embarrassed, as the world wanted the dying to be.  She locked herself away and ate baby food, and was gone in six months.  I have finally learned, from this experience and others like it, that no matter what the world throws at you, you have to fight.  Even if you don’t win the war, the battles won make you a champion!

As the disease progressed, and the caretaking became more difficult, my mother’s and my depression worsened.  I am highly ashamed to admit that I felt the need to confess all my life’s sins to my mother.  Why?  I cannot explain it.  Somehow I felt she needed to know.  I wished the moment after, and forever since that I did not do that.  The hurt on her face was clearly readable.  There was complete communication coming from her eyes.  I had cut her deeply.  I could not take it back, but I wish I could have said, “Only kidding.”

After that, I left for California again.  I was selfishly immature for a twenty-three year old.  I went back to Cambria, California, and worked as a prep-cook in a local restaurant, and cocktail-waitressed, and sometimes bartended in the big Saloon.  I lived in an apartment above the saloon without a phone.  On the morning of June 25, 1983, my boss from the restaurant came knocking on my apartment door, and calling my name, waking me up.  Did I think, “What is she doing here?  She never comes here.”  No, I knew.  I started crying immediately.  I went outside and placed a collect call to my sister Karen, who confirmed it.  Mommy was gone.

I tried to work and act like it was no big deal.  I made it through the first night, but the next day I broke down on the restaurant’s kitchen floor.  I had no money to return for the wake or funeral, and so I remained in my little apartment above the bar, getting drunk and crying over the pictures of and letters from my Mom.  I stayed there for a week.  Part of my heart stayed there forever.  It was the first time I experienced such true life-altering loss, and I had removed myself from the epicenter of support.  You would have thought that would have been a lesson learned.  Of course, it wasn’t.  The lessons I should have learned from this eluded me for many years.

I heard the Funeral was big. There were police escorts.  Everyone loved my mother so.  I still hear from so many people how much she meant to them, to their parents, to their children.   I am so proud to say that Elaine Marie Kall Marlowe was my mother.  I just wish she could see I am finally learning the lessons she tried to teach through her words, and when there were no words, through her actions.

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Daddy


I know I have left so many stories dangling in this Blog: the story of Mom-Mom and the Sparks house, the story of The Army, the story of my addiction and recovery.  It has been a whirlwind of a Spring.  With the Walk To Defeat ALS fundraisers and two showers, two wakes, a funeral and a 50th birthday party, we really have had a Social Season, for better and worse.  I am hoping that after next weekend, I will have restful times, find some inspiration and continue the stories I have promised ends to!

Next weekend is the culmination of the season, with the wedding of two of the best people I know, my nephew Mark and our lovely Molly.  Molly is a member of our sister family.  I say sister family in the sense of a  sister organization.  We have grown up side by side and shared many, many happinesses and sorrows.  Molly’s grandfather passed away one month ago today, and we were all there, sharing in the grief.  Her grandfather, who was father to my best friends in the world, was a fascinating, caring, giving man and the global community felt his presence in his missionary endeavors.  He was remarkable, and is greatly missed.   My heart is with my friends today, as they remember their Dad and Grandfather and how much he means to them.

When I woke up this morning I was thinking about my Daddy, which is not unusual, since it’s Father’s Day.  I opened my eyes, and my first thoughts were that my Dad had such a hard job, clothing and feeding and taking care of ten children at home, as well as helping his married daughter and her young family.  This morning I thought of all the lessons he taught me; lessons I didn’t know I learned until many years after his passing.  These lessons must have been those proverbial seeds that fell through the cracks; somehow they found light and grew.  I know now that he loved us very much, though I didn’t understand as a child.  I thought love had to be tied up in hugs and soft words.  I see now that my father gave everything he had to make sure his kids were taken care of.  He never said no, even when he should have.

On Christmas, my father was a light.  One Christmas morning, my brother had a camcorder, and walked around the family filled house asking people what Christmas meant to them.  He found Daddy in the kitchen making more coffee for the masses.  Daddy’s answer to the question was simple but from his heart, “Giving.”  That was my Dad at Christmas.  He was like a kid at Christmas, but his happiness was in the giving, not the getting.

In August, my father was a joy.  He always took the last two weeks of August for vacation, and joined us at our rented Victorian in Cape May, New Jersey.  He also came the first two weekends, taking public transportation to Atlantic City, where Mommy would pick him up and bring him back on Sunday nights.  He stayed at home the first two weeks of our month-long vacation, but those weekends were really nice with our Dad.  He couldn’t totally relax.  He did a little though, and you could tell he needed it.   The last two weeks, when he came and stayed, those were so wonderful.  He was so much fun then!  He was the Dad I always wanted him to be.  The one I dreamed he would be everyday!  The Vacation Dad!  Approachable, impulsive, smiling.  I miss that Vacation Dad.

Over the years I have come to realize, and everyday, that I miss my father in so many ways.  He was a wise man, but I never listened.  He was a loving man, but I never noticed.  I am listening and noticing now.  I was so lucky to have spent time with him before he passed, to hear some of his stories, and discover the man, not just the Dad.

Daddy’s Passing
By Meg Marlowe~2009

I remember that I was sitting in his hospital room. We were taking turns watching him; taking turns in the ICU waiting room.  I was reading a short story book, by which author I don’t remember now; I don’t even remember the stories.  But, I remember being thankful that I had chosen a short story book at the library the week before he was admitted.

It was my turn.  My turn to sit with Daddy while he lay dying, which he did not want to do.  I was glad and sad to be there at the same time.  We had only come to know each other in the last four months, my having spent thirty-three years filled with animosity and mistrust; making for a difficult upbringing.

I finally had my daddy as my friend, and he was leaving me.  I decided to come home in November 1993, with my one year old in tow, because I missed my father.  I was always homesick for him when I went away, despite our overt displays of contradictory beliefs (arguments over me being young and dumb, and him being old and wise).  Daddy, I have to admit, was all I had left.  But, more than that, especially looking back now, always was the one there for me.  And, I was realizing that his way of dealing with children was the way he was dealt with as a child.  Yet you could see that he wanted more for us, and he tried to treat us better than he and his sisters were which is actually very sad.

I had always heard that his mom was long-suffering and trusting and that his dad was a womanizing, one-armed alcoholic.  I knew there was some basis in that, but, I thought, it must be embellished.  However, I recently came into possession of a copy of a picture of their family.  I look at him, so happy and relaxed, I look at her, so worn and tired, and I know it’s all true.  And, I feel sad for the woman in the picture, my grandmother in the early 1920’s.

I was relieved of my duties by a brother, and sent back to the waiting room.  I had been at the hospital for two days, and my family basically forced me to go home to rest.  I had slept for about two hours, when I heard Daddy yelling at me, “Meggie!  Meggie!”  I jumped up, and sped back to the hospital.  Everyone thought I was nuts (have I told you yet that’s true?).  But, I had to be there for him; and I was, until the end, and held his hand as he passed.

When Mommy died in 1983, I was so scared to watch her die, that I ran away to California.  The day my sister Karen called to tell me she was gone, my boss got the phone call, as I didn’t have a phone, and work was my contact number.  I was working in a local restaurant and also cocktail waitressing in ‘the bar’ on the weekends in my small and lovely town of Cambria, California.  I lived in a little apartment above the bar. It was a Saturday morning.  I was sleeping off a hangover, as usual.  My boss came to my door and knocked, which she had never done before, announced herself, and I knew.  I knew Mommy was gone.

I shot out of bed, and ran to the payphone to call my sister.  She confirmed what I knew.  I cried and wondered what had possessed me to be so far away at this monumental time.  I had no money, and for some reason, this was the one time that Daddy didn’t bail me out of a predicament.  I was stuck on the west coast, slowly going mad from grief, and far away from the obligatory events:  writing the obituary and death notice, picking a coffin, and then the wake, the funeral, the repast.  I thought I was suffering much worse than the rest of the family, as I was all alone.

That was until Daddy passed, which he did after several attempts to resuscitate him, on March 7, 1994.  I then found out what it is like to lose a parent as an adult, with the responsibilities that must accompany the sorrow.  It was a milestone for me, and one that I think Daddy would have been proud of watching me go through.  I stood strong through the next few days of public mourning, and was even there for his sole remaining sister, and my nieces and nephews.

Losing a parent does teach lessons, and we grow in our fortitude, maturity, and perspective.  I learned these things from my daddy growing up, and from his passing, and moving on.

Daddy and his children, January 1994

The Abalone and Sea Elephant Story


Dear Readers;

I know you are waiting for me to continue the story of how I hoodwinked the Army, so the that I could continue on my debaucherous road.  I promise part two, soon.

My friend Dianne Estrada Randazzo Brooke inspired me to publish this story in blog form this morning.  She posted pictures of elephant seals on her Facebook page, and I thought, “My friends!”  Then, I realized I never did share this story with the WordPress world.  So, today Abalone and Sea Elephants, soon, Drill Sergeants and a funny Chaplain.

    The rainstorm in January was harsh, and flooded Highway One.  We stayed home for days, and watched the dirt slide down the mountain, heading to the sea.  There were no hikes, no campfires, no searching for jade and abalone shells on the beach.  We hunkered down as sure as an East Coaster would during a blizzard.

Then, the sun finally broke through, and we stepped outside, like Dorothy into the Land of Oz.  The land looked newly washed, and hung out to dry.  I ventured to the café in the morning, having no work for several days, as no tourists were able to make their way through to our Mecca.  I spent the little money I had left on a Breakfast Burrito and coffee, and watched the Pacific Ocean churning through the picture window in front of the restaurant.  The whales had already passed by on their way to Alaska, but you could see dolphins playing if your eyes were young enough, and you knew what to look for.

Roger came through, scrounging for a cup of coffee, and asked if I wanted to go look for abalone.  The abalone adheres to the boulders, and you use a crowbar to pry them off.  When you take the abalone home, you pound it and soak it in milk and lemon, then lightly bread it and pan fry it.  At least, that’s the simple way I made it, and it’s really wonderful!  I used some white wine, lemon and garlic in the recipe.  It’s every bit as good as or even better than a Calamari Steak.

In light of the fact that I had not worked in some time, and the larders were low; and because of the sumptuousness of Abalone Steak, my stomach ruled that going to the beach for abalone was a sublime idea.  I did not, for one second, take into account that climbing the mountains up and down would be a tenuous journey, with loose dirt and boulders.

I soon discovered that fact, as we placed our first foot on the mountainside, and slid down five hundred feet to the beach.  It was alarming, but okay, no harm done, we were both fine.  The sun was shining, and we had all day.  We were quick to realize that the return trip would be arduous, if not impossible.  Therefore, we concocted a departure scenario which involved walking a mile down the beach to Willow Creek, where we thought the boulders might be a better climb than the dirt.

We spent a few warm and sunny hours on the beach, and I did find a few abalones. I was getting pretty excited about dinner that night, and turned to tell Roger about my finds.  However, Roger was nowhere in sight!  We were both so wrapped up in our hunt, and must have drifted apart!  I started to panic, as the sun was going to go down soon, and I was not thrilled with the prospect of ascending loose boulders by myself in the dark. I called for Roger, but he did not answer.  So, I made up my mind to begin the journey home.

The first half mile was simple enough, even pretty after the storm.  Then, in the distance, I saw a beach ahead, with a lot of seals.  I was scared.  I had just moved to California six months before, and had never seen anything like this, except by the Wharf in Monterey, but there were a lot of people around there, and I was far away from the animals.  On the beach heading towards Willow Creek, I was very alone, and very afraid.  I told myself I couldn’t let that fear show.  That’s what we have always been told, right?  Don’t let your fear show to animals.

So, I headed towards the seal beach, and as I approached, seagulls began circling me, and screaming a warning cry to the seals.  My eyesight was much better back then; the image on the beach began to become defined when I was within a few hundred feet.  I saw these were not the cute seals I had seen in Monterey.  No, these were huge seals, and they had a strange snout which looked like a trunk hanging down their faces; and there were five hundred of them at least, covering an entire beach.

Now, petrified, I started to shake uncontrollably.  I gave myself a pep talk.  “Stop showing fear!  They’ll see you, and who knows what will happen!”  I had no idea what these animals were, although I could see they were some sort of seal, or walrus, or…?  I did not know if they were peaceful, or territorial.  I didn’t know much about aquatic life at that time. I was a twenty-one year old East Coast transplant with no historical knowledge of the Pacific Ocean, or its’ life forms.  I was about to jump out of my skin, I was so scared.  Eleven years later I was in labor, and high from a penthrox whistle.  I told the nurse, “I changed my mind.”  She said, “Honey, you can’t change your mind now.”  This was the precursor to that moment.  There was nowhere else to go but straight through these beasts!

So, I steeled my mind as well as I could.  Of course, my body refused to follow suit, no matter how hard I tried to control it.  I thought my knees would buckle, and they would eat me for lunch.  The seagulls were still screaming their warnings, “Stranger! Stranger!  HUMAN stranger!” and the seals began to take notice.  I had now reached the edge of their beach, and I was already scouring the scene for an escape.  Somehow, I remembered, ‘the shortest distance between two points is a straight line’, so I made a straight beeline; but to where?

The largest seal, the one with the longest snout, the one I presumed to be the leader, started to move towards me.  He was about one thousand pounds, but moved quicker than I thought he would.  His posse followed closely behind, like they were his back up.  When it came to a war between a thousand pound bully seal, and a twenty-one year old Yankee human, he really didn’t require assistance, but they couldn’t be too sure.  I guess they had not encountered many of my kind, either.   He was frothing at the mouth.  My mouth was dry and panting.

At the other end of the beach, there were seals blocking my passage.  There really was nowhere to go.  I was trapped.  The only other way out was a two hundred foot shale wall, which I was sure I would never be able to climb.  I knew I couldn’t, but I knew I had no choice but to try.   I did not start to run.   I figured they could not move as quickly as I could, but I could always be wrong.   I was in the midst of them, and felt it would not be hard for them to reach out and eat someone…me.  How did I know if they liked People Food?

As I reached the wall, I summoned all my courage, and made a jump for the wall, landing and digging my crowbar into the wall.  I moved as quickly as possible; and somehow, through sheer adrenaline and terror, I dug my way to the top.   I made it!  I felt so relieved, so tired, so emotional.  I was at the top!  I held the edge with one hand, and with the other, I threw the crowbar onto the top of the hill.  Or, I thought I threw the crowbar onto the top.  I actually threw it over the top, because this particular wall was only about three feet wide.  I grabbed a hold of the top with both hands, pulled myself up, and hoisted my body over the side, landing on the beach again on the other side.  Looking back, this wall obviously could not have been two hundred feet tall, as I landed in the sand with only minor pain.  It must have been much shorter, but at the moment of ascent, I was just sure it was a way out.  I was so disappointed to discover that I was wrong.

The seals stayed on their beach, though.  They did not try to come around to get me.  They didn’t want to eat me; they just wanted me off of their beach.  So, I was still somewhat relieved, as at least I was past that catastrophe waiting to happen.  Now, to get off the beach, and back home!  I walked another half mile with no further incidents, but the sun had begun to go down, and I was getting worried.

I was glad when I saw the Willow Creek boulders coming closer into view, and excited to climb my way home.  But, as I approached the boulders, I became trepidatious about climbing them.  It only took elementary logic to reason that due to the storm, those rocks would have shifted, and it could be a precarious and dangerous feat to climb my way out.

As I stood at the base of the rocks, and looked up, I also looked down at the churning ocean, bashing against the boulders in the water.  I could skip climbing up this rock hill, and go around it in the ocean, walking another mile to the beach where there’s a driveway up the mountain.  I started picturing the worst outcomes of each plan.  Going up the rocks, I could be crushed to death.  Walking through the ocean, I could be swept out sea.

Suddenly, a whale of a wave, freakishly immense, arose quickly and came crashing down on me, sweeping me out into the open sea.  It was so quick, I had no time to panic until I was already there, being bashed between boulders, head and shoulder and hip to rock.  I grabbed each one for dear life, only to be ripped violently away each time, and thrown against the one next to it.

Of course, I was praying.  “Dear Lord, Oh Lord.  My mother is sick, Lord.  I am so young.  This would kill her.  Please don’t make my mother suffer by my dying, Lord.  A child should never die before their mother, especially when their poor mother is sick.”  That didn’t seem to impress our Maker, as He ignored my pleas, and let me continue to be battered by Nature.

“Dear Lord, Oh Lord.  I know I haven’t been a good person.  I know I have done drugs and drank too much.  I know I never go to church.  I know I curse.  Oh Lord, if you let me get out of here, I promise I will go to church every Sunday, and never curse or carry on again.  Lord, hear my plea, and help me get out of here.”  Again, God just pretended I wasn’t talking, and I started to panic.  God didn’t care!  I was going to die, and no one even knew I was here!  I was crying and fighting the current, and hanging on each time I was smashed against the next boulder.

Then, after about fifteen minutes of torture, I got tired.  I got very, very tired.   I stopped praying, and stopped fighting.  I thought, “Okay Lord, if this is the way you want it to be, then there’s nothing I can do about it.  Obviously, this is it.  Please let my Mom know I love her.”  Then, I began to drift.  Off to sleep, and out to sea.  My mind and body  relaxed.  All the panic and urgency were gone.  I surrendered to death.  I accepted my fate.  I passed out.

I woke up on the beach, and realized I was alive!  I began sucking in breath…beautiful, wonderful air.  I didn’t die!  I was laughing like a crazy person.  I couldn’t  believe I had survived.  All of a sudden, Roger came strolling up to towards where I was lying.  He was looking at me as if I were a conch shell he discovered on the beach, like he was thinking, “interesting, maybe I’ll pick it up.”  He came to a stop right next to me, and said, “Oh, there you are.  I was looking for you.”

I was lying there, sopping wet, seaweed strewn over me, sputtering for my breath, with bumps and bruises covering my head and body, and he said, “Oh.”  I didn’t say anything, I didn’t even ask how he got there.  I got up, and followed him off the beach I had landed on, the beach where he found me.  We easily clawed our way through the sandy dirt to the top, to the road, to Highway One.    We went to his friend’s trailer, where we drank Hobo Coffee, and I regaled them with my story of terror.

When I returned home, I recounted my tale as a religious experience.  Of course, I was laughed at so many times.  This was Big Sur, and the only thing atypical about my adventure is that I lived through it.  Once my story was out, I was told of so many people in similar situations who were swallowed by the Pacific Ocean, never to be seen again.

It has now been thirty-one years since this event occurred.  I still think of it often, and I am still grateful that I received a second chance.  Unfortunately, I broke all the promises I made in the sea.  I continued on the path of addiction and dangerous behavior, and had many life threatening experiences.  I am grateful for having survived not only my ocean adventure, but all the dangerous situations I put myself into.  The reason this one resonates with me so much, though, is that I danced with Nature.  I learned to respect the power and awesome brutality as well as the beauty of Nature.  I have been intimate with her.

The Camaro and The Army


In the summer of 1988, I was living in a trailer with a roommate in Jolon, CA. This trailer park was mainly occupied by soldiers (and their families) stationed at Fort Hunter Liggett, the base there. I was working in the bar directly off-base, and met a few guys that I was hanging around with. We usually went for drive, went to the lake to swim, or stayed at the bar and drank.

Then, one night, someone introduced me to Mick. I was twenty-eight, and he was thirty-nine. He was, well, the only word to use for Mick is virile. He was a virile specimen of a man. Absolutely cliché; but I can’t think of a better cliché to describe him. He was a Drill Sergeant on base, and all the men called him, “Gunny”, after the Clint Eastwood character in Heartbreak Ridge, Gunnery Sgt. Tom ‘Gunny’ Highway.

Tall, bald (though he thought he was balding, so he did the comb-over with his last measly strands), brilliant blue eyes, commanding presence. I fell under his spell within a minute. 

Mick had just returned from Berlin a few months before, and was living in Pacific Grove with a Captain friend of his stationed at Ford Ord in Monterey. Mick was stationed at Hunter Liggett, and stayed in the barracks five days a week, and at his apartment on the weekends.  Once we met, he began spending all of his time in Jolon, and we double dated with my roommate and her boyfriend, Mick’s friend Top (Top Sergeant). Top became a dear friend of mine then, who really looked out for me, even after Mick and I broke up. Damn Army nicknames, I cannot remember Top’s real name! Then again, I can’t remember my roommate’s name either. She wasn’t really remarkable, though. Mostly, I remember her selfishness when it came to her ailing mother.

Her mother stayed with us, and I began caretaking for her. The ironic thing is that I fled to California to avoid all the heartache associated with taking care of my mother, who passed away from ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease) in 1983. Five years later, I was cleaning and dressing and feeding a stranger. Now that I am older, I can look back and see that my roommate was no different from me. She was not mature enough to handle it.

My relationship with Mick became intense quickly. That happens when wildly jealous and possessive men meet immature, insecure women. Within weeks he was accusing me of sleeping with many of his soldiers. I was sure that meant true love. He came to the bar when I was working and stared down all the men, so they wouldn’t talk to me. My tips dwindled radically, but many began to offer advice. Over and over I heard, “Why are you with that old man?” That’s funny, now that I am fifty-one, but when I was twenty-eight, I thought the advice givers were jealous because Mick was a man, and they were boys.

Mick grew so jealous that after one month of dating, he asked me to quit my job, and move into the apartment he shared with the Captain in Pacific Grove. I readily said yes, not only because I thought I loved him, but I also felt it was time to distance myself from my roommate and her burdens. I moved in and met the Captain and his girlfriend, Susan Jones. Mick and the Captain where never there during the week, and Susan was working, so I was left to my own devices all day, every day.

I also had Mick’s 1987 Red Camaro. He bought the car and had it shipped to Germany, and then when he returned, he had it shipped home. It was a real beauty, and the love of his life. The car wore a bra for protection! He kept her immaculate. I don’t know why, but Mick trusted me with that car. Silly Mick. I was a callow twenty-eight year old with lots of time on my hands! I would drop him off at Fort Hunter Liggett on Sunday night, and pick him up on Friday night. In between, it was just like I owned a 1987 Red Camaro with a bra on it.

The Camaro and I had so much fun. We took my nephew for a ride on a two lane highway at one hundred miles per hour. Someone from Hunter Liggett saw that and reported it to Mick. Called up on the carpet, I did the only thing I knew how to do: I lied. That soldier was crazy! It absolutely wasn’t me (a blonde with a young man matching my nephew’s description)! I don’t know if he bought it, or wanted to, but he just forgot it, and we stayed the way we were; my now beloved Camaro and I.

I took to going for joy rides in the daytime, and stopping at bars. I was going to the Wharf in Monterey a lot, and drinking at Domenico’s on the Wharf. They made a Scorpion to kill for. After drinking a few of them, I almost killed myself, and others. I was blasted drunk, driving down Alvarado Street, and smashed Mick’s pretty Camaro into the vehicle in front of me. There was no damage to the truck, but the Camaro had a few dents. I was incredibly lucky that the occupants of that truck were illegal immigrants that did not want the police called. Neither did I, so we went our separate ways. My real worry was concocting a believable story for Mick.

When I called to tell Mick about the accident, I said the guys in front of me stopped short, and when I spoke with them, they didn’t speak English, and that I didn’t realize anything was wrong with the car until I left the scene. He kept saying, “Well, at least you’re okay, and that’s what matters”, but I could tell by his tone that was not true at all. I didn’t know, or maybe didn’t want to know, but I realized later that was the moment when Mick started trying to get rid of me.

As far as I knew, we were still happy, so I kept enjoying my escapades. I drove to Paso Robles, and met a bartender who shared my interests in carousing. We began to go out for drinking and driving dates in Mick’s Camaro. We only drank and ran around and had fun. I had no sexual intentions towards the bartender, but word got back to Mick that I was cheating on him. There were a lot of jealous women in our area who thought a Drill Sergeant was a real catch, and they weren’t too happy that a young chickie caught him!

One day, Mick came roaring into the apartment, carrying a dead rattlesnake that he had either killed or found. I can’t remember now, but it seems he killed it, because I remember being pretty scared by the symbolism of him carrying that thing in and chopping it’s rattler off with a butcher knife in front of me. After he dismembered the snake, he turned to me and told me to get out.

“Why?”, I cried, but he was glaring at me with all the venom the snake had once possessed. He would not answer, but I really thought in my demented mind that I was madly in love with him, and could not understand why he didn’t feel the same way. I begged for an answer, and he finally told me that people had seen me with the bartender, and they informed Mick that I was having an affair with him.

I denied any knowledge of the bartender, said it wasn’t true, the women were just jealous cows. He wouldn’t listen, even though I was crying and pleading for him to believe me. He grabbed some things, and headed for the door. As he left, he said he was returning in two days, “And don’t be here”, and got in the Camaro, and took off. I had lost my man and my darling car.

I immediately became despondent. I thought the women had set me up in a great injustice. I thought I could not live without Mick.I felt like such a fool, but couldn’t admit to myself that it was my fault, that I had acted dreadfully and irresponsibly and selfishly. I had to blame the women and become the victim. I had suicidal thoughts; at least peripherally.

I left the apartment, and went to the beach two blocks away. I sat staring at the waves, and thinking. Mostly, I was thinking, “Oh poor me.” I stayed there a while, letting the crashing waves calm me down. I think at that moment, I realized this was nothing to be so dramatic over, but if I wasn’t dramatic about it, how would anyone know just how wronged I’ve been?

I got up, walked to drug store, and bought over the counter sleeping pills. Then, I went to the liquor store for vodka.  They carded me, which really never happened, and I didn’t have my license on me. I had to walk back home and get it.  I thought, this is my rotten luck.I am trying to kill myself and can’t even do that right. I returned, showed my ID, got my liquor, and walked home.

When I got back to the apartment, it was still early afternoon. Susan was there, and when I saw her, I started crying again. I told her what had happened, but gave her the same story I gave Mick. I don’t know anything about this bartender. I had the vodka in my hand, and the sleeping pills were on the table, and she took the vodka and told me I could either have a drink, or a sleeping pill, but not both. By then, my eyes were so worn out from crying, I chose the sleeping pill and slept until the next morning.

When I woke up, and realized that I could not get him back, I set out on a revenge campaign. I had two days to make my presence known in his life for a very long time. I made a cup of coffee, and sat down with a pen and a pad. I began writing snippets of love songs and love poems that I knew by heart, and then I wrote a lot of my own poems and sayings, too. I cut each song and poem fragment into a little piece of paper, using Susan’s pinking shears to make them decorative.

After creating many of these scraps of paper, I hid them all over Mick’s apartment, in all his personal things. In his boots, coats, videos, Medicine Cabinet, drawers, coffee cups, pillow cases. I hid them everywhere that I could think of. I was trying to make it impossible to forget me, so I hid them in places I thought he may not find them for several months. Then, I took his toothbrush and left. Why did I take his toothbrush? I thought it was clever of me, but it didn’t occur to me that he could just go to the drug store around the block to get a new one. Still, I felt guilty about it.

I had called Debbie, my sister-in-law Marlene’s sister, to ask if I could stay with her. She had a house in Lockwood, which is right next to Jolon. I moved in with her, with Mick’s toothbrush in my possession, and cried for a few days, miserable and sure Mick was the love of my life. I listened to Linda Ronstadt sing, “Love Has No Pride”, and Patsy Cline and Bonnie Raitt and all the sad girls sing, and thought I knew their pain. I was Camille; simply a tragic heroine in the melodrama of life.

I still had Mick’s toothbrush, and it was bothering me. Why didn’t I throw it out? Subconsciously, I think the toothbrush was symbolic of the culpability I refused to take. If I gave the toothbrush back, I could be exonerated. I walked the six miles to Fort Hunter Liggett, and waited for Mick to come out of the barracks. He never came out, so I handed one of his soldiers the toothbrush and a note saying, “Sorry I took your toothbrush.”

I stayed with Debbie for a few weeks in Lockwood, then went to stay with Marlene, my brother Michael and their family, also in Lockwood. Marlene wanted to know what I planned to do with my life. That was a good question. I was twenty-eight, with no job and no prospects, and living off of my relatives who barely could provide for their own.

I started thinking that if I went into the Army, it would spite Mick, and at the same time show him that I am really a tough and cool woman, and maybe someone he should be in love with. One day I was visiting a friend in the mountains, and told him what I was thinking. He said it was cool if it was what I really wanted, but I shouldn’t join the Army in a French Foreign Legion way. I said, “What are you talking about?” He said, “You know, when people are forlorn about lost love, so they run off and join the French Foreign Legion.” I thought that was hilarious, and assured him that was not what I was doing, when I knew that was exactly what I was doing.

A few days later, I went to Salinas, where the Army Recruiting Station is, and spoke with a Sergeant Flowers about joining up. He was a handsome young Southern man, and I was smitten. The plot thickened!

Sergeant Robert Flowers and I began a torrid affair. He began taking a vested interest in my training for the Army, after I naturally joined up, not only to spite Mick now, but to appease Bob. I trained in the daytime, power walking for twelve miles a day in the oppressive high mountain valley heat. At night, I went for rides with Bob, conducting an affair in a pick up truck.

I took my ASVAB test (like a SAT for the Army), and scored very high. Bob called me a few days later, and told me that the Army thought I cheated, so I had to take it again. I got the same score the second time. I wanted to go into Cryptography, but I couldn’t get a good enough security clearance, since I owed money. Yes, a security clearance is dependent on your financial record, among other things. I suppose it shows how reliable you are. I couldn’t argue that up until then, I hadn’t been very reliable. So, I chose communications.

After a few weeks of this, I decided to go home to visit my father and family while I still could. Who knew how long it would be until the next time? I spent a few months with them in South Orange, New Jersey.I kept thinking of Mick, how I thought he did me wrong. I wanted him to feel like he had made a dreadful mistake.I wrote to Susan, and asked her to tell him I was going into the Army. I received a letter from Mick, addressed to me at my father’s house, and in it he said he was proud of me, and sent me three pictures of him. I was so happy, over the moon. Now I had to go through with it.  

While I was in New Jersey, I went to the MEPS (Military Entrance Processing Station) in Newark (now closed) on June 30, 1988, and took the Enlistment Oath, “I, Margaret Marlowe, do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. So help me God.”

I stayed in New Jersey until the time came to be shipped off to Basic Training. At that time, the Army gave you three choices of where you want to go, then sent you somewhere entirely different. I was to spend my Basic Training right in Fort Dix, New Jersey. But first, I had to fly back to California to be processed through the MEPS in Oakland. Sergeant Robert Flowers picked me up from the San Francisco airport in October, 1988. It was a beautiful day, and we drove from the airport to Half Moon Bay, and stayed in a lovely little Motel overnight.

The next day, we continued on our ride south to Lockwood, where I would stay with my brother and his wife for a few days, until it was time to take the bus to Oakland. We  stopped to pick a pumpkin from a sweet little roadside patch on the side of Highway One, then drove straight through. That was the last time I ever saw Bob Flowers.

A few days later, I was on a bus to Oakland, and the enormity of what I was doing was finally sinking in. I started to realize this might be a big mistake, but I wasn’t sure how to stop it now. I didn’t think I could. I had already taken the oath. I was locked in. We arrived in Oakland, and spent a day at the MEPS being processed. Many of us met in the smoking room there. It was a long and boring day. As night approached, they loaded us onto a bus, and put us up in a Motel for the night. The next day we would depart for our various bases to begin Basic Training.

We were given explicit instructions that we were not to leave the Motel property, or consume any alcohol. It would be hard to consume alcohol without leaving the property, and they had chaperones with us in the Motel, so they thought we had to be good, and stay safe in our rooms, worrying about the next day. A few hours into our stay, there was a knock on my motel room door. I was sharing the room with one other girl. She answered the door, and it was some of the guys that we had met in the smoking room at the MEPS. They said they were making a break for it, for the night. They wanted something to drink, and just to get away for a while. I sensed adventure! I loved adventure! “Count me in!”, I said, as I threw my shoes on and ran out the motel room door.

We lurked in the shadows, crouching and hugging the motel wall, then…we made a break for it! We were humming the Mission Impossible theme song, singing “Dun, dun, dun, dun dah dah, dun, dun, dun, dun dah dah” lowly. When we had made a clean get away, we all began running and laughing at the same time. None of us had ever been in the area before, and we had no idea where we were going. We just knew it was exciting.

We walked for a while in the darkness, and didn’t see much, and it wasn’t such an adventure after all. We came to long freight train moving slowly in front of us. The guys all said, “Come on!” and jumped on a flat car then jumped off on the other side. The flat car was moving along, and the next car was a locked container. They were yelling at me to stop being a chicken, so I took a running jump, and I was on the car! I did it! Now, I had to get down. I was more scared of getting off than I was of getting on. They were yelling at me again. What was I going to do? Just ride that car until the train stopped? I would be in trouble with the Government. I was Military property now. I jumped, and landed on my knees. I scrapped them pretty badly and they bled, but I was so exhilarated, I didn’t feel any pain. Adrenaline rushed to my brain, and I barely worried that the next day, someone might see my bruises and ask how I got them sound asleep in my nice, safe room.

We found a liquor store, bought some beer, and drank it all the way back to the motel. When we arrived at the tracks again, there was no train, and I didn’t have to be a daredevil twice. We were all a little tipsy, but still stealthy as we tiptoed back to our rooms and fell happily asleep, having anesthetized our fears.

When we woke the next day, they took us to the airport, where we boarded planes for our destinations. I arrived at Newark Airport, and a busload of us were taken from there to Fort Dix. We arrived in Fort Dix at four in the morning on a late October day. It was just like in the movies. The whole bus had slept, but then we all awoke as we approached the base. Groggy, we all got off the bus, and were greeted by a not nice barrage of orders. In my mind, I said, “Oh my.  It appears I have made quite an error in judgement”, or, maybe it was more like, “Holy shit, what did I do?”  I knew at that moment, I would have to find a way to get out this predicament.

Part II: https://megemarlowe.wordpress.com/2013/07/05/the-army-month-part-ii-to-the-camaro-and-the-army/