Monday, December 30, 2013

Part 1: This Is Who I Used to Be (and other stories under the bed and in the back of the cutlery drawer)

In 1987, I was failing first grade. My older brother once told me this in my twenties. He was failing, too, he told me. We all were. How does anyone fail first grade? It coincided with the fact that nearly every weekend we went to abortion rallies and protests and watched as anti-abortion picketers would chain themselves to clinic doors, pad lock cars to those doors, scream at women entering those clinics, grab those women entering those clinics, walk in circles praying the rosary, while holding posters of bloody dead babies. It was the '80's. People were gearing up for a battle. When rallies were held, the police had to put up barriers on both sides of the streets to try and keep everyone away from each other, things could get that ugly, that fast. Everyone was shouting, shouting, shouting. Screaming chants ("CHOICE-CHOICE-CHOICE!") and ("CHOOSE LIFE-CHOOSE LIFE-CHOOSE LIFE!"). The streets were shut down, no one could get through, not those uninvolved, not even those participating.
I was 7.
You start failing first grade when you're wondering when and if your mother is coming home from jail. Because jail, when you're 7, sounds like a black hole.

She started pulling us out of school here and there. And then she practiced homeschooling on my brother whom, after many years of thought and research, I've realized exhibited tell-tale signs on the Fetal Alcohol Syndrome spectrum and had development disabilities that were never, ever faced or addressed. We started to spend hours with her at a local organization she was President of, whose mission was to "to speak for and act in defense of all innocent human life threatened by abortion, infanticide and euthanasia, and to educate on the dangers of artificial contraception."  This organization is alive and well in Pittsburgh and in recent years, my adoptive mother has returned as its President.
She started a religion study group. It was held on Mondays after school. We already attended Catholic school, but apparently their religious education did not suffice. A group she created of other like-minded parents had us study the catechism and treated those who best memorized it. Every year on Halloween, we dressed up as saints. I was always a nun: St.Therese, St. Bernadette, St. Katherine. Then she started taking us to an old woman in a far away neighborhood who taught us on a different day. We had spent the entire day at school and could not eat until that hour with her was over. I remember it finally clicking that the lesson took less time if I didn't fuss, so my brothers and I would try our hardest to listen in order to be rewarded the cookies my mother always brought in a brown paper sack in the car. If we were good. But only if you are good. Oh, I was good alright. I ended up a good girl, always waiting patiently for the cookies.
As a result of our weekending and after-school activities with her, we were constantly exposed to the vitriol lingo of fanatical christians, anti-abortion protesters, graphic images centered on misguided and out-right false information, even videos proudly made with hoots and hollers when watched of people getting arrested, handcuffed, and thrown into paddy wagons. But, we were told to Always respect the police. We were doing God's Work. Even if we didn't know where mom was half the time and even when she was with us, she was somewhere else.
We helped make signs and flyers and gather copies from the copier at the office, we'd sit and listen to stories from people visiting and those who worked there. We were children. We loved stories. Any that you had to share. Most of these were about Jesus and being saved and guided and forgiven and saving women and babies. But mostly about saving women from themselves. And how pure and perfect Mother Mary was. Out of all four of her children, my adoptive mother can safely say to this day that I swallowed the message hook, line, and sinker. I was on fire. I was entranced. But, deep down, I was mostly happy seeing my mother happy. And she was just so happy when she was at her office. In a strangely hyper-happy sort of way.
I was 8.
As more and more of her 'colleagues' were arrested, we began also attending court-hearings to show our support. We sat quietly for hours at a time, surrounded by increasingly agitated and worried adults. No snacks. No toys. No bathroom breaks. Just be quiet. And listen. Please do listen. (A strange aside: when I joined the military straight after highschool, a lot of people had a hard time standing around doing nothing, standing at-ease for long periods of time, waiting for instructions. I didn't. It was old hat for me. I rarely talked to authority figures and it wasn't until my 3rd year of service did people start to notice I wasn't actually an introvert. This is not something I'm proud of, but certainly something I'm proud I not only grew out of, but blew out of.)
We learned, as all children do, what made our mother proud. And so we made her proud. We never asked anything of her. We laughed and smiled when prompted. We learned the jargon and once, my little brother even told off a pro-choice protester as my mother stood by. The man had asked him, Wouldn't you rather be home watching Saturday morning cartoons? I'd rather be home watching cartoons." To which my quick-witted brother quipped, " Then why don't you go home and watch cartoons?" My mother beamed. 

In 1988, she asked us, Do you think you'd like to be homeschooled?" Yes! Spend time at home with mom? No longer deal with teachers who purposefully call me to the board to make an example of my poorly learned math skills, kids who say I look like a boy, everyone laughing that I only like to write and write and write? Get to play outside in the woods any time I want? I'll take it, I thought.
I'll take it.

1 comment:

  1. You know, I'm starting to understand why we became such fast friends. I'm also begining to understand why you didn't flinch and run away from me when I randomly tore open my 13 year old soul and dumped it on you that spring day so many years ago. Mostly, though, I'm just sad that it took 20 years for you to feel free enouth to tell this story, and so, so glad that you've decided to share it now.