Wednesday, June 23, 2010

THE DAMAGE DONE by Barry Miller

It was a cold, snowy, winters, Friday night in February. I was fifteen years old and belonged to a high school fraternity. It was basically a group of friends who formed this frat. They named it Phi Lamda Omicron, which we called PLO. The irony was we were mostly Jewish and the infamous PLO was not even born yet.

Stuart Gross called me and told me there was a party at the frat house with a girls sorority of really nice looking girls. My parents didn’t like me going there so I told them I was meeting Stuart to play cards at his grandmother’s house. We met up at the subway train and went to Boro Park to party at the frat house.

I remember I was wearing my black and gold horizontal striped boat neck sweater. It was a favorite of mine and thought it would help make a good impression meeting a girl. Well I did. I met this very attractive, smart and funny fourteen year old. We were sitting on a couch just to the left of the front door which was about six steps down from ground level to this basement apartment.

We were talking, laughing and making out. I was giving her pointers on how to French kiss. The red lights filled the room with a soft sensual glow when all of a sudden the door flew open and a gang of guys spilled into the room with bricks, car aerials, and blackjacks. They were jumping on and pummeling anyone in sight. There was a slight warning because the first person in yelled “I’ll give you three seconds to get out of here!” That only lasted two seconds before the fighting started.

I took the hand of the girl I was with and since I was near the door I pushed her out, up the steps to protect her. I followed right behind until I felt a hard object like a brick hit me in the head. I fell on the steps holding my head and crawled up to street level where I saw what looked like a scene from West Side Story.

There I was laying in a fetal position in the snow holding my head watching this “gang war” when my friends came and picked me up and began to remove me from this awful scene. I heard them say “Let’s get him out of here before he gets killed!” As they carried me over there shoulders in a standing position down the block I felt something wet on my neck. I looked at my hand and it was covered with blood. Hey took me to the frat house of the football team which happened to be in the basement of one of the cheerleaders. She went upstairs to get her parents. I obviously had a very badly smashed skull and was bleeding profusely.

The parents took me to the emergency room. When I got to the hospital the only other person who got hurt was Stuart Gross who was there holding his head. Boy, the irony! Stuart was already sixteen so they brought him in to stitch him up. Being that I was only fifteen my parents would have to be present. So I sat there in excruciating pain, holding my head, bleeding, waiting for my parents.

I look up and see my dad in one of his very angry attitudes lunging towards me yelling “Wait till I get my hands on you!” My mother literally holding him back screaming “Leave him alone, look what’s happened to him!”

As soon as the release papers were signed I was brought into a room where I received nine stitches with no Novocain sewing my skull back together. It really hurt. The doctor said I was really lucky because it was right next to my soft spot and I could have easily been killed. I guess if I went to play cards all this damage would not have happened.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

STEAL MY LIFE by DeAnn Louise Daigle

Steeling away my life began to steal my life away, I recognized when I was sixteen going on seventeen. It was late spring of my junior year in high school and certain ones of about one hundred and eight of us in our graduating high school class were chosen to be coupled boy-girl and photographed for our Senior-Year Year Book.

My best friend Linda was a math whiz and so was chosen with another equally math-whiz person to be Mr. and Miss Slide Rule, and so went the categories; Mr. and Miss Personality; Mr. and Miss Athlete and I was chosen as Miss Shy along with my equally shy partner. It was all too too embarrassing, too too humiliating but there was no way out. We were coupled and posed with one another – and photographed for the year book. What made it even more cruel for me was that I towered above my partner, so we were made to be looking out from behind the auditorium door as if hiding.

How true this was; I had wanted to be invisible up to my senior year in high school. And I probably would have continued that way except that this event so infuriated me that I then and there – after the photo session, resolved never to be called shy again. I had so steeled myself from interaction and life in high school that I all but disappeared. In the lunch line one day in my junior year at Presque Isle High, a couple of girls I was talking with briefly said to me, “You’re the new girl, right?” I had started later after the potato harvest season was over my freshman year, but that meant instead of starting school in late August, I had joined the freshman class in late September and had been there all along. Mom, Dad and I had moved from Soldier Pond to Presque Isle during the harvest break in 1962 when I was thirteen. It had been traumatic, but I was relieved on some level. I wanted to make a new start. No one knew my Dad here; no one knew he drank; I could hold my head up here.

But, Dad had taken part-time jobs first in the shoe store on Main Street, then at the local pool hall, also on Main Street. And some of the kids began to know who he was, and he did drink – even though he wasn’t going to. We really didn’t know he had a disease back then. We thought by will, he could stop his behavior. I became embarrassed again and very shy and withdrawn. Writing was my salvation. I took refuge there, but criticism devastated me and I couldn’t even do that right, it seemed. How I managed to pull off being a B student at the end of four years is a sheer miracle.

I was enrolled in the college prep program. How ever did that happen? I guess, my father’s brother, Uncle Leo, was behind that. He would have wanted me to aim for college and Mom and Dad too, even though we could hardly have afforded it.

More importantly, however, was my realization that I had let those years be stolen from me because I so protected myself from being hurt. Linda was the only one I shared my poems and writings with and she played the piano for me after school. Her Mom always had treats for us after school – a brownie or some kind of sweet and a glass of milk. I preferred water. We would laugh and just enjoy one another, and that saved me. Linda helped me with algebra I and II and then geometry; although I had less difficulty with geometry.

I would remain shy during and after my senior year in high school, but never in the same way. The steel door had been taken down. Life became an adventure and I refused to go back to being paralyzed.

That day, after being photographed, I went to the girls room, whipped out my hair brush just like everybody else and began brushing my hair and fixing my makeup. I had never done this before. I waited until no one was there and then I’d bush my hair and put on my lipstick. I couldn’t pee either when anyone else was in the bathroom. I’d sit in the stall and wait until everyone had left and then I’d pee. I’d been like that for years. That day, I was so furious for having been posed with poor shy Brian, who hardly said two words to me for three full years when we had English class together. And I towered over him and we were both labeled shy – something a shy person never wants. The whole jig is to be invisible; not be brought to light. But the jig was up!

This anger I felt was probably my saving grace. I peed and it felt so good!

FLIGHT, NOT FIGHT by Mel Rosenthal

It was the end of the school day at Orange High, and I was as usual down in the basement putting things away in my locker and/or getting clothes and books out of it, preparatory to heading home. While there, however, I said or did something that seriously offended a fellow student. This was a beefy, black-haired kid whose name I can't now remember, but still vivid in my mind are his hostile glare at me and the rumbling growl in which he voiced his anger. For my part, I was honestly puzzled -- I had no idea at all how I'd managed to trigger that anger, and had certainly had no such intention. But if I even thought of trying to explain this, to mollify him, I didn't get the chance. His fury quickly rose to critical mass and he rushed at me headlong.

My obvious obligation in this situation was to honor the Masculine Code, put up my dukes, and defend myself, in accordance with the standard stern injunctions most boys received from their fathers to stick up for themselves and fight like a man. My dad, however, an Eastern European much older than the average father of teenagers, had decidedly not instilled any such notions in me -- if anything, the reverse. And so, either true to my upbringing or simply obeying my natural inclination, or both, I chose flight over fight and, my adversary in hot pursuit, ran from the locker room up the stairs and out the school doors -- ran for my life.

WHY THIS INTEREST IN ME? by Daniel Marshall

I dreamed how pleasant it would be to hold and kiss Carol del Casino. I wanted her -- to be close to her wonderful soft curves and mysterious, sultry quiet, to have her love.

“You girls look at the boys with cow eyes!” Sister Austina’s voice, dripping with sarcasm, excoriated the girls right in our presence. Pin-drop silent, listening, absorbing each word, we waited for what would come next. Austina was not given to bizarre outbreaks or extraordinary punishments, like some sisters; people said that she favored boys.

Joyce Accurso, Ginny Holst, and Carol got highest marks for the girls. Joanne Lanzarone was almost as smart and also pretty; I didn’t know that she cared for younger brothers while her mother worked. Sometimes she teased and laughed. Ginny Holst encouraged me in a quiet, modest way. I thought that they liked me, but longed for Carol. Carol had dimly-lit dance parties at her house. When it became clear that she favored Dennis Card, I was disappointed. Dennis was second in marks but had summers in Port Jefferson—I only got as far as imagining Port Jefferson’s dark and shady woods from pictures that he brought home; I couldn’t imagine the port. Dennis’s mother was Irish and welcoming to his friends; his father, Joe, hard-working and friendly, owned a tiny gas station where my father stopped for gas.

As I grew shyer, more depressed in high school, far each day from familiar persons, values, and things, far from summer vacations, I saw little of Carol. When I saw her occasionally at late Sunday mass, she wore wide-brimmed hats and pastel floral prints that were out of the ordinary in our parish. She was heartbreakingly attractive, if ambitious; I missed Carol that I knew. I don’t know why it was beyond me to call or ring her doorbell; maybe because I assumed that she dated older men on Saturday nights. I heard that after high school she went to nursing school. None of the bright Italian women whom I knew went to college. Eventually Carol married and was divorced. She raised two sons alone.

‘Twas on the Isle of Capri that I found her // ‘neath the shade of an old walnut tree // with the flowers in her hair blooming round her. // It was there on the isle of Capri. Carol. On the isle of Capri. The song said what I felt about her. My Sweetheart of Sigma Chi. When the moon hits your eye // like a big-a pizza pie, // that’s amore! When the stars make you drool // just-a like-a pastavazul, that’s amore! The songs of Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, and Tony Bennet were about Carol for me. Everything about songs, flowers, and romance was Carol.

“I don’t know why you were never interested in Walda Salomon,” my mother said. “I talked with her mother the other day.” I didn’t know why either. I thought that Walda was smart, cute, and attractive. But she was not Carol. My mother didn’t see or talk with Carol’s mother, who lived near our old neighborhood on the other side of the parish. She encouraged me, instead, to date Kathy Dillon, the daughter of a Brooklyn College teacher whom she knew.

* * * * *

Pauline walked to the edge deliberately and looked down. The canyon was wide and deep. Trees in the bottom, scattered up the sides, seemed small. If she were to lose her balance, slip, or misstep, I could not reach her. I felt myself diving, grasping for part of her, my momentum and her weight pulling us toward and over the brink, my fingers hooking the edge, slipping slowly over gravel and sand, steadily, relentlessly, stones cascading over us, my eyes seeking below anything to grab hurtling past or upon which to break our fall. I thought of walking to the edge, bending over it, looking far down through clear morning air to the valley floor and, from sudden reflex, vertigo, distraction, or mischief, stepping or slipping into the air, tottering, hovering, plunging. Recollecting myself, releasing such thoughts, I became mindful that I was two or three leaps from the brink.

I hardly dared speak, fearing that I would startle or distract her. The woods around were quiet. She turned toward me in her brown corduroys, her back to the precipice. I spoke gently, my body alert, almost shivering, restrained, poised to do I knew not what nor how. Pauline seemed another kind of being, rash and unafraid. I wondered whether she courted risk habitually and whether she wanted to die.

The day was beautiful. She spoke cheerfully and succinctly. Birds chirped, and an occasional hawk soared. Earth suffused damp; air felt fresh and clean. Shadows in the valley shrank as the sun climbed. I ached, not moving. Speaking gently, I noticed that I felt terrified not even so much of losing her as of feeling helpless seeing her fall, climbing down to where she lay, broken on rocks below or dying in pain.

In those days, Pauline began to talk of the preferential option for the poor and of going to Nicaragua. She had all the recordings of the Weston Priory monks and introduced me to them.

* * * * *

At the reception, lights were subdued and shaded. A few people hovered by a table of conventional refreshments. There was a sense of impromptu. I knew few in scattered groups that extended into adjacent rooms, creating a hubbub of chatter and movement. Few if any introduced themselves to me; I thought that they must have connections among themselves that took priority. Anticipation was collective. A darkened energy, too. It arose and ended elsewhere. I did not usually circulate among militantly conservative Catholics; these were outspokenly so, but that was not the focus.

When Joan came, she urged me to dance and held me modestly, almost awkwardly, against her slender, angular form. She wore a satiny dress; it did not seem hers. I tried to discern and catch her eye, to look into it; she put her head on my shoulder. Quick, inquisitive, she bore no obvious signs of sexual humiliation or solitary confinement. I strained to think of something to say more than small talk. It was my first time seeing her since the meeting at our House on abortion. She was quiet. I assumed that others might be on her mind and heart. Others who might have visited and written to her at Broward. I’d missed that getting to know her while confined non-cooperating, identifying with and praying for babies threatened with abortion and doing penance for their mothers and doctors. She might be at Broward still, in solitary three more years, had it not been for Jerry Falwell’s Christian radio and television network pressuring the Florida governor to commute her sentence.

Joan was the heroine of this group, linked to them by pro-life newsletters and support lists. It was clear that they were inspired by her, ready for her to return to the peripatetic activism that she’d been waging when sentenced two years before. Their energy was a spring coiled; it was a strangely agitated environment. This was the first open gathering in the New York area that she’d attended since her release. After a while, she drifted from me, talking with others. It was enough, and not enough. I’d felt a connection, but already she was being pulled into a movement—far from God’s women and men and cats and cockroaches at Arthur Sheehan House.