Sunday, July 07, 2013

Once Upon A Time, I Wasn’t Popular and Dad was Drunk.



I loved school when I was way little in elementary school.  As I was experiencing continued scholastic success in third grade lessons while dressed in pastel dresses and pinafores, my parents decided it was time to change schools for my older sis and younger brother and me. Soon were enrolled in an elite private Chicago school. I wore a scratchy heavy nay blue skirt with a white button down ivy league blouse.

Gone were the pleasant days reading and doing math problems in a no stress environment. We were preparing for college before I could even spell ‘university’. It didn’t take long to discover I not only struggled with the rigors of schoolwork, but I didn’t have any friends either.  When you are 8 and friendless, and getting F’s on your assignments, it isn’t a very good thing. I felt stupid and lonely punctuated by the fact my siblings were both at the top of all the birthday party lists and class percentages.

Suddenly I no longer loved school.  It was hard, hurtful.  The only way of escape was for me to play sick. I just had to get sick. How? I stood in front of the open window while dripping wet on a cold winter morning, did no good. Not even a sniffle.
I turned to the TV and relatives for help. If there was  a new disease barreling down on America from another country, or planet, I had it too. If a relative got ill, I got ill too. I found that Asthma was by far was the trickiest because I had to wheeze a lot which made me light headed and I had to sit down.

Meanwhile Dad was getting into trouble with Mom. He disappeared a lot, returning days later saying he had a heart attack and didn’t know where he was. Sounded plausible to me but not to her. I knew that look on her face. He had done something and it was bad.

By the time I turned 9, I learned all the classic signs of a heart attack thanks to my Dad, who had learned it from patients he had observed while drying out in hospitals.  So here we were, Dad saying his heart hurt which caused him to stumble around, as I grabbed my chest  told Mom my heart hurt too, but never mentioned it was because no one liked me. Dad and me. A pair of fakers. Only Mom knew I  didn’t have a heart attack. My young age might have been the giveaway. Yet, I still had a heart problem. Not being accepted hurt.

Either way you look at it, my mom had her hands full with both Dad and me.

By the time I reached 13, I was badly failing all my classes. After all, it was hard to concentrate on schoolwork while studying new diseases all of which I would develop sooner or later. 7th grade was definitely was going to be a do over.  But the important thing was my health, right?

Then the first miracle of my life occurred (I’m Christian) due to Dad’s drinking, Mom made him retire. At the end of the school year, we moved to Delavan. I still wasn’t advancing to the 8th grade but the secret was safe with me and my parents and my brother and my sister and my best friend who still lived in Chicago.  Now I was about to revisit 7th grade with a clean slate.  In exchange I would get well.

Delavan became my safe place. My happiness. We summered there since my birth and now to actually live year round in this country of hills and lakes,  was beyond the most wonderful thing I could ever imagine.

I hoped Dad would feel the same way too and give up his bottle like I gave up my diseases to embrace the moment. But we each had our own road to travel separately. My parents bought another new house on the lake and my bedroom looked out at the water…filled with ripples and waves with vacationer noise during the summer, and still as death during the winter. After sneaking out for bar visits, I still had to push my drunken Dad along from behind to make it home in time for dinner. But at least he was home each night now watching Gun Smoke as I did homework.

 School was great. I knew what the teachers were talking about. It was sorta a review for me. And the most astonishing thing of all was,  I suddenly had friends. They sat with me at lunch. They sent notes to me during class.  They called me at night and also on weekends. We talked on my brand new aqua Princess phone--private number to boot.

I hardly knew how to react.  I grinned and hummed. At the same time, boys began to notice me in a positive way which I found totally unnerving.  I didn’t know how to talk to them. In spite of it, I went steady a lot but never saw them outside of school. During passing periods, we sometimes looked at one another and, at times, even smiled. That was daring, to be noted in my diary each evening along with musings on the young Prince Charles of England. Soon the boy of interest would hand his ring to a mutual friend who in turn asked me if I wanted to go steady with so and so. I did.

It was kind of nice to have a boyfriend to think about without any complications such as those of the interaction genre.

One time, the boy  had the boldness to actually call me on the phone. I sat stone faced, stomach in knots, not speaking into the receiver to even say ‘hello’.  Since he was the only one in the conversation, Jon quickly ran out of topics and then shook out the news paper to read to me.  There wasn’t a lot of news in the small town so the paper was only a few pages long,  with a lot of advertising which he decided to skip over.  When the obits were completed, he told me goodbye and we hung up.  Next time he called I had made a list of things to say. I was prepared. (And by the way, this gave me the idea for The Christmas Edition, Journey to Paradise, which I wrote many years later)

Report card time came and I passed all my classes. Hallelujahs from my mom rang out in our house for weeks.

But Dad still drank. In fact, he had all the time in the world to devote to it now that he wasn’t interrupted by work anymore. What changed me for the better only served to be his enemy.

 When the case deliveries of alcohol arrived from his Chicago nightclub, Mom would set about hiding the bottles in unexpected places all over the house. It included a very embarrassing spot that one of my friends discovered. It worried me that this would get out and I would lose it all again.

Was my possible friendless future about to become my fate; I’d be a rum soaked beach bum before my twenty first birthday while everyone else was going to college to become doctors and lawyers, or at least horticulturists.


Phillip Tomasso said...

That seems like quite the sad childhood :( Ahhh, but tragedy and sorrow are often the defining moments for us literary types, isn't it. The good. The bad. The ugly. Hang tough, Robin. One day at a time!

Kelley said...

Robin, I can see more deeply now some of your inner workings and what kept you in your marriage for so long. An alcoholic father is a tough person to love and live with. I'm happy to know that you had a positive experience when you moved to a new place. I had just the opposite experience. I lived all of my life in one place and then had my identity erased during my senior year when my father moved us from New Jersey to Texas (or from Pluto to Mars). :-)
What I thought would be a fresh start ended up feeling more like the witness protection program in some remote little town where I didn't speak the language.
-Kelley B

Robin Shope Jansen said...

You know, we all have gone through hard things in life. Its how we treat our challenges and move on that shapes us. And I am in a good place now. Be sure to keep up with the continuing series.