by David Norris
I lost my job, my home and my woman in 13 hours. At the time, I was living at 24th and Diamond in San Francisco, right below Twin Peaks, the twin mounds that sparkle in the night. I was at the top of my game. Living in a nice, big apartment on the second floor, with a view of the Bay, a new Toyota pickup truck for free, provided by my companion’s employer, and a woman growing more beautiful in my eyes day by day. But you know, that is when we fall, when we are at the top of our game. After all, it’s hard to commit suicide jumping out of basement windows.
And I did what any sensible person would do. I went crazy. Six months passed before I started to regain my sanity, by which time, I was living in a tent in the Cascade Mountains of Oregon, drinking cheap scotch--The Black Prince--and reading books on art history. I never liked Jackson Pollock, but one of his paintings had sold for $15,000,000; so I decided to read up on him and see why he was so important. Jackson painted in the air. He removed the canvas from painting. He would work himself into a trance and then dance around a huge canvas spread out on the floor of a barn. He painted in the air, weaving his arms as in a dream, the canvas below providing the backdrop.
I was comfortable in that tent. I had driven coast-to-coast five times, though never in a straight line, an idea I had gotten from Mary Balazs (pronounced as in The Wizard of Oz). Mary painted in the air too. Mary changed my life. She was my first college writing teacher, and she was the first one to ever take my writing seriously. She had just finished her graduate program, a Ph.D. at age 27, suddenly finding herself in a little community college way up in the mountains of Virginia, only 30 miles from the West Virginia border, high up in the Alleghenies. She was a long way from Pennsylvania. We were her first students, and she was our first college-level English teacher. But she taught us more than writing. She opened my eyes to see the world the same way we see the facets on a gem stone. She and Gabe were both teachers; every summer they would travel in their Rambler Station Wagon, with a little pop-up tent pulled along behind them. They would only travel 200 miles a day and then stop to put up camp and take a look around. This was their slow way to see America. The first time I drove to California from Virginia, I went by way of Quebec.
When we traveled to San Francisco, we had a little two-man tent, a Coleman stove and lantern, a cooler and some nice air mattresses, and sleeping bags. This is how we arrived in San Francisco on that fifth drive across the country. We settled in there and after a few months on unemployment and food stamps, I found a job as a telephone jockey, my phone hooked to a computer that recorded every call that I made and how long I was on the phone. My partner found a job before I did, as a bookkeeper in a rag factory. Her boss made money selling rags, a lot of it. And he appreciated her aesthetic feminine qualities.
Life was pretty good, but it wasn’t going anywhere.
As time passed, my love grew, but I did not tell her. I decided in my heart and my mind that it was time to settle down. That summer, I went home to tell my friends and family that I was finally going to marry “my one true love.” I rented a nice big, black Thunderbird and drove all over Virginia visiting with everyone.
But you see, the foolish part was, I hadn’t told my fiancé about my plans. I was going to save that “surprise” for my return.
It was July 4th weekend, and we had promised to visit with a friend for dinner. We had dressed and were sitting in the living room. I looked at her and said, “Honey, let’s get married.”
She started to cry; they were not happy tears.
I sat puzzled. I asked what was wrong.
She looked at me with her sad green eyes and said, “I’m leaving you.”
He called me a day after I had received my hard news. He suggested that I come up to Oregon and share the rental house with him, that way we could be one another’s support group. I looked around at my life and decided that if I were going to give up the one part I most valued, then I might as well toss away everything that didn’t make me happy. I didn’t like my job, and I didn’t like the city I was living in. It’s fun to visit the circus, but it is no fun to live there.
It took me until the end of November to put my affairs in order. I turned in my letter of resignation and left work at 5 p.m. on Friday, the last day of November. I slept that night for the last time in our bed, she lying still beside me. In the morning, I picked up my packed boxes and Pop’s old Samsonite suitcases. I left for Oregon at 6 that morning, the first day of December. Winter, the season of separation. It rained that Christmas.
I had been here before, on the other side of the coin. I made a promise to myself while heading north that I would not grow close to anyone for at least six months. I didn’t want to rebound; the biggest danger lies in turning to others and using them as emotional bandages, and then later, when we have healed, facing the consequences. However, by the time I arrived in Eugene, my friend had started dating a woman who had just left her husband.
Within a month, he was no longer sleeping at the house we shared. And by the spring, they were living together. He no longer wanted to keep the house, so as soon as warm weather hit, he closed his lease on it, and I moved out to the hot springs just north of Eugene. There was a little campground there, where I set up my tent. I spent the days down by the hot springs, soaking in them and lying nude in the bright Oregon sun; in the evenings I drank cheap scotch and read by lantern light.
I needed help but had no job, no insurance and no income. Then I heard that the University of Oregon had a counseling program that allowed graduate students to provide therapy while being filmed by their professors. These sessions only cost $3. I hated the idea of going; it seemed weak, but I needed help. I finally decided to do it.
Therapy is good stuff. When we hold a problem inside, it’s huge, but when we let it out, it dissipates in the open air.
I had one deep, dark secret that I had never told anyone. I was afraid to tell it, because I knew it meant that I was weird. When I finally told my therapist, she said, “That is not unusual. There is a whole chapter on it in this book.” She pointed over to the bookshelves.
I had this little thing where I would only take 3 drinks of water at the cooler, or always walk up steps right foot first. She told me that children who grow up in alcoholic homes have no predictability in their lives. Behavior does not influence reward. When such a child steps off the school bus, what waits behind the front door is unknown. Such a child can bring home a report card with straight A’s and receive a beating, and on another day, the same child can bring home a note from the teacher regarding bad behavior and receive praise.
She told me, “You grew up in hell. Children who grow up in this kind of environment create a primitive system of witchcraft to protect themselves. It is very common.”
I was glad to hear I wasn’t a weirdo, but at the same time, somewhat deflated that my “problem” was no longer unique.
Shortly afterwards, I hit the road for Asia.
There is a wonderful little book of about 150 pages titled Adult Children of Alcoholics, written by Dr. Janet Geringer Woititz. I highly recommend it. Many of us either grew up in such a home, or have a friend or work acquaintance, or perhaps even a spouse, who had to contend with this. It helps to understand.
Want to read more of David’s writing at USADEEPSOUTH? Click these links:
Sometimes We Just Have To Let Them Go
55 Minutes Past the Hour
Harlan Martin’s 7 Turkeys
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