Authors Note: These are mostly memoir notes, obviously. But it also feels good to write this stuff out. I don’t know if I should put a “child neglect” label or trigger warning on any of this…because frankly, it all seemed quite normal until very recently.
For someone with a childhood like mine, everything was a cost-benefit analysis.
I wasn’t allowed to watch Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles in grade school in Oregon, like all the other kids. Too violent. Glenda’s (estranged mother) policy on “war toys” went back and forth and wasn’t always consistent, but I do know that she took movie ratings very seriously.
At some point in junior high I was discussing “Robin Hood” movies with a friend in the backseat of Glenda’s car. She was driving us both to the mall. She was driving a convertible in Hawaii, so it was during one of her happier times.That thing wouldn’t latch if it rained, so you’d get soaked. But various motorcycles and convertibles were always a passion of Glenda’s. Mopeds, even, when she could get nothing else.This is the same model…but hers was in much worse condition.
My friend kept talking about ones I had never heard of–Men in Tights, to begin with, though there could have been half a dozen others. I admitted that I had only seen the Disney version of Robin Hood, the one with the fox.
Glenda, driving, laughed out loud. “You don’t get out much, do you Kara?”
As was typical of such exchanges (damaged brain and all that) I just sat back for a full thirty seconds wondering if I’d heard that right, then turned back to my junior high friend and changed the subject.
No, I didn’t get out much…because I wasn’t allowed to! All of the Robin Hood movies that my friend was allowed, I was forbidden. And somehow Glenda managed to forget this…just long enough to laugh at me. It boggles the mind.
But I did find some solutions as a kid; some ways to temporarily pull off the illusion of normality.
I didn’t want to invite friends over in grade school; I wanted them to invite me over instead.
My symptoms were bad, sure, but they hadn’t reached full swing yet so I had a few friends. And I did NOT want them to be around Glenda. Not just because she was so prone to temper tantrums, but because she was unpredictable. And what exactly was I supposed to do with my friends? We couldn’t watch much TV, we had no privacy, and I didn’t have any of the toys the other kids had. Not to mention, Glenda was in the habit of coming down on me like a ton of bricks in front of my friends. Because I could never make the right face around them, or use the right tone. Well, that’s called frontal lobe damage.
But, once in a while, I managed to figure something out!
I don’t remember how much my allowance was around age 11; it was a long time ago and I can’t keep up with inflation and such. Suffice to say that it was enough for one comic book a week, some weeks, and I stole a lot of candy.
I just know that at some point when we were still living in Oregon (before we moved when I was 11; around 8 is my best guess) I saved up for a month and a half to get a “Super Soaker.” Marked the calendar and everything. Kept an advertisement for it pinned next to the calendar on the wall so I would remember. Waited and waited, like Calvin waited for his flying beanie to arrive in the mail in the old comic strip. Then, like Calvin, I finally got it!
And it was a huge disappointment. Each shot had a lot of power, but the water tank emptied after about four or five shots. Only the ones with the backpacks, apparently, were any use at all.
So, while Mick was working and I was sitting in the courtyard outside of his office, I sat on a rock and stared at that damned overpriced water gun and tried to figure out what to to.
I realized that even if it WAS a decent gun, I would need maybe four of them to play with my friends–six would be best. And summer would be over by the time I had enough money for six Super Soakers! In fact, by that time summer might actually come around again.
So when we got home and no one was looking, I sneaked downstairs into the living room where my parents kept their huge jar of change. It was like a heavy white urn of sorts in a bowl that they kept by the TV. And I slowly counted out quarters and dimes until I had five dollars. Then, next time I was in charge of walking the dog, I took her with me down to the convenience store and bought all the bags of water balloons I could.
I took them home and stashed them someplace in my room. And oh, I smiled so much just looking at those balloons! I’ve never stolen or lied just for the fun of it, but I did it when I thought for some reason I had to “game the system” as it were. And when I did, I was always so relieved to get away with it!
This time, it worked. It meant I could have friends over and we could have something to do outdoors, something in the summer heat and away from Glenda. Next time I had Andrew and the other family friends over, I was so prepared that I tried not to appear arrogant! I took big buckets of balloons filled with water and handed them out to all my friends, so we could throw them at each other in the condo parking lot and street.
That was one in the “win” column for me, memory wise. That one time, I’d won an hour of normality! Not just from Glenda, or my symptoms…but from the world.
I still miss Andrew and I hope that he’s doing well. Last I heard he was working for the UN in some capacity, which didn’t surprise me. Even before puberty hit, that kid had a gift for diplomacy. He was kind, gentle, laid-back, and had an ability to calm anyone down or distract them when they were upset–including me. And that was no small challenge!
Andrew once gave me a stuffed Garfield toy. I still have it. I even carried it around a little as a child, like a comfort object. But even after that phase had passed, I still decided to keep it by my bed–where it remains.
No matter how many times we moved or how many things I had to sell at yard sales, I still have Garfield. That little stuffed toy even came with me from Oregon, to Hawaii, to Oregon, and now finally Canada! It’s not just little children that need the illusion of stability when actual stability is lacking.
Because, for all of my social isolation…I found it wonderful to know one other kid who liked Garfield, and Andrew did. Garfield was a way for me to channel my OCD at one point.. I read whatever Garfield books I could get from the library or afford, which wasn’t a lot. Glenda berated me for my OCD; I was just “too focused on” whatever it was; or “obsessed.” I took (fill in the blank) too seriously. I had to shut up about Casper, or Garfield, or whatever it was at the time.
She will probably never understand that OCD is not something a person has intentionally, nor something that can be fixed with insults. Nor forced exercise, which was her thing for a while. She understood insomnia well enough because it troubled her all of her life; but my own conditions apparently existed just to make her life difficult.
Still, there are memories of mine in which I was the mouse who figured out this vast, ever-changing, and unintentional maze, and I got the cheese–that tiny chunk of brie called “normality” that I’ve only tasted in crumbs up until recently.
And sometimes, all it takes is one tiny crumb to carry you through.