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Mr. Roper – Part 1

After spending three weeks in a shelter for battered women, I couldn’t get out of there fast enough. Don’t get me wrong, it served its purpose. It was very well run and the women in charge were the kind that would fold you into their soft bosoms where you could weep like a child. But there were rules. So many rules. I understood that the rules were in place for my own safety and the safety of the other women taking refuge from their own horrific situations, but I had just escaped from the control of another person and I didn’t want anyone else telling me what to do.

I can write a chapter on that place, but I’ll save that for the book. This is about the very first place I lived after leaving my husband. Still in my 20s, I was on my own for the first time in my life. I wish I could say I was carefree and happy, but my situation didn’t allow for that. It was as if I were on the run. This was before going through the process of attorneys, custody arrangements, the inevitable restraining order, and everything else I needed to separate myself from the life I’d been living for seven years. And I had a five-year old boy who needed to get through all of that as unscathed as possible.

While at the shelter, I perused the newspaper daily for a suitable place. I found a furnished in-law unit for $350 per month; manageable on my bartender’s salary, and furnished was a bonus since I had no intention of haggling over furniture or anything else with the man I was running from. I was doing my best to have as little contact as possible. I wouldn’t tell him where we lived and the child exchanges were always through the extremely patient, long-suffering babysitter.

I made an appointment and met with the owner of the home. He was an elderly gentleman who lived in the main house with his sort of younger girlfriend. There were a few red flags coming from my (soon to be) landlord, but the place was perfect. It was detached from the main house and sat in the back corner of the property overlooking Monterey Bay. It had a private entrance from a side gate and its own little patio. It was very tiny, a studio basically, but it was clean and rustic and it was furnished with two twin beds. One for me and one for Jarrod.

Spoiler: We lasted six weeks.

Shelter

This is a rough draft excerpt from that book I’m attempting to write:

I sat across a table from a young police officer in uniform. He had a yellow legal pad in front of him and he was taking notes. We were in windowless room devoid of any color at the city of Monterey’s police department. A friend suggested that I inform the police of the exact day and time that I was planning to leave my husband. When I called to do that, it was suggested that I meet with an officer first. D-Day was still a week or so away. My husband was not someone that I could sit down with and say, “I want out.” He was someone I had to leave like a thief in the night.

I was on autopilot. My decision had been made. I had awoken to a thought the week prior that had solidified my escape and there would be no wavering. Part of me was completely numb and the other part of me sat shivering under florescent lights. The officer asked if I was cold. It wouldn’t have mattered how warm the room was. He left for a moment and then returned with a blanket; gray, the kind found in all the trunks of cop cars. He picked up his pen. He wanted to know my history with the man I was married to. He told me the most dangerous time for a victim of domestic violence was when she tries to leave. I said, “I know. That’s why I’m here.”

He had questions. “Where will you go?” he asked.
“To a friend’s house,” I said.
“Will he look for you there?”
“He doesn’t knows where she lives.
“Does he know her?”
“Yes, we work together.”
“Then you can’t go there. What about family?”
“They live too far away and I have to work.”

I had questions. “What about my son? I can’t keep him from his father, can I?” I asked.
“Is your son in danger?” he asked.
“No. Absolutely not.”

“Here is my best advice,” he said. “You need to take at least one week off of work and you need to go to a women’s shelter. You can stay there longer than a week, but you shouldn’t go anywhere for at least a week. You and your son need to be someplace where he can’t find you for awhile and a week will hopefully allow him to cool off. You need to leave him a note telling him that you are not taking his son away from him, but that you need a week to breath and then you will make arrangements for him to see your son. Make a copy of the note.”

“Okay,” I said. He took out his card, wrote a number on the back and handed it me.

“If you can’t safely leave on your own, call me. Call me anyway on that day. The number on the back is to the shelter. You can’t call them until you are on your way. Then they will give you the address.”

How sad that he has that number memorized, I thought.

Carmel by the Sea

Times weren’t all bad with my first husband. Interspersed among things that are difficult to think about are times that make me smile. Mostly they are things recalled about my son as a toddler, who to me, was the cutest, funniest little boy on the planet.

The cottage, found and stolen from Googlemaps.

The cottage, found and stolen from Googlemaps.

When Jarrod was almost four years old, we moved to Carmel. We rented a tiny cottage for $750 per month, the most we had ever paid for any place we had ever lived. Jarrod’s dad, Joe, had been an operating engineer and injured his back, which resulted in surgery and vocational rehabilitation. He went back to school and became a different kind of engineer; a recording engineer and somehow landed a job at a studio in Monterey.

On the day we arrived with our moving van, the elderly woman who lived next door came over to welcome us. Then she insisted we come over for something to eat before we unloaded. She fixed scrambled eggs with fresh peas. It was the first time I discovered that I liked peas.

We lived in the cottage for less than a year and those were the best of days between Joe and I. There was a magical bubble of bliss that surrounded the little place. I have no bad memories in that house. Perhaps it was just because it was Carmel, a place unlike any place we had ever lived before. It felt like an extended vacation. Jarrod and I would walk our dogs to town everyday to pick up the mail because there was no delivery to the homes downtown. Until a post office box became available our address was General Delivery, Carmel, CA 93921.

The cottage was damp and cold, but we had a stone fireplace that we lit almost daily, even in the summer. The kitchen had a huge vintage stove with a built-in griddle where too many pancakes and grilled cheese sandwiches were served from. It took Jarrod a little while to adjust. Having seen my mother almost daily since the day he was born, he missed her terribly. He would randomly burst into tears and tell me he wanted her. When he got mad at me for any little act of discipline he would say, “I wanna go live with my Nonna.” It was adorably sweet and heartbreaking at the same time.

It was here that a boy named Jason showed up. Jason didn’t really exist, but in Jarrod’s mind. It was a textbook case of an imaginary friend. I think it might have been a result of losing the first real playmate that he’d ever had back in the town from where we moved. There was a little boy named Jimmy that lived across the street and in the year leading up to our move they played together often.

I’m not sure where the name Jason came from. He had certainly never seen “Friday, the 13th,” and we didn’t know anyone named Jason. Jarrod talked to him and about him everyday. I worried at first, but after a phone call with his pediatrician who told me it was perfectly normal and that the timing made sense, Joe and I began to go along with it. Jarrod would stop what he was doing several times a day to tell me something about Jason. One day I asked him if Jason was coming with us to get the mail and he said, “Jason already went to pick up his mail.” Another day he told me Jason didn’t like to walk.

There weren’t any other children for Jarrod to play with in the neighborhood, but our elderly neighbor had a grandson who would visit. He was a mixed-race child with the most beautiful skin tone. One day, after playing with him all day, Jarrod asked, “Can I play with that green kid again tomorrow?”

I’m not sure why we moved from there. I recall it was tiny, but that didn’t seem to be a good enough reason. Joe and I were both working in Monterey, which wasn’t much of a commute. But we did move to a bigger house in Monterey, and sadly, that was the last house that the three of us would ever share together. The bubble of bliss was about to burst.

 

 

 

 

 

Taxis in Jamaica

Jamaica
I once went to Jamaica and thought I wouldn’t make it out alive. My husband took me for my 40th birthday. The 1.5 hour taxi ride from the airport to the hotel was my first brush with death. On a two-lane winding road the driver passed other cars on blind corners all the while honking his horn as he did so.

The driver also stopped at several beverage stands along the way so that we could buy drugs that we didn’t want. I guess he had a partnership with these dudes in shacks selling cold drinks. When we declined at the first shack, he stopped at another. So we bought some weed because we figured  he would keep stopping until a purchase was complete.

The resort itself was amazing. It was on perched on a rocky cliff. There was no beach, but it didn’t matter. And it was protected surrounded by a 30-foot wall. This was the kind of place you went to completely shut down from the outside world, not one of those all-inclusive-tons-of-stuff-to-do type places. In the four days I was there, I snorkeled, swam, lay topless by the pool, read three books, sipped fruity cocktails and visited the spa a couple times.

On the third day, I was going a little stir crazy and wanted to go to a restaurant in the city of Negril. It was advised not to take a passing taxi for safety reasons, and to only take one that the hotel called. Unbeknownst to me, because I was lagging behind, I hopped into a passing taxi flagged down by my husband.

I looked around the van I was seated in and realized the entire inside of it was destroyed. The bench seat I was on wasn’t bolted and I was sliding all over the van. There was no fabric on the roof or the sides. There was nothing but exposed metal. I saw a handmade sign on a stick next to the driver that said, “TAXI.” This was not a taxi. This man was going to rob and kill us. Surprisingly, he didn’t. He was just out trying to make extra money because he had five kids and his job as an ambulance driver didn’t pay enough.

We had him return for us in two hours to take us back to the hotel. It was dark then and the thought crossed my mind that he might slit our throats on the way back.

We left the next day and endured another harrowing ride (of horn honking while blind corner passing) back to the airport where this driver made no stops at the beverage stands. I guess they didn’t expect us to buy drugs when we going to be getting on a plane.

Geography Lessons

I sat my six-year old son down and told him we were moving to Atlanta, Georgia. I took out a map of the United States and showed him how far away that was from the living room floor in which we sat in Pebble Beach, California. All he knew was that he wouldn’t be seeing his father every other weekend, but that actually wasn’t a bad thing. It was time to put some distance between us and him. Things were still volatile.

I often wonder if my attorney and his attorney, who were friends, made a backdoor agreement about me moving my son out of state. I was expecting a fight, but there nothing except a court ordered six-week visit with his father before we left California.

In the time leading up to our move, I brought books home from the library about the state of Georgia for us to look through. I wanted to find things that would excite him about going.

My husband left before us. He had been hired by a large hotel company and the job was in Atlanta. I stayed behind for two more months so my son could finish school then I reluctantly left him with his father while I went to set up house in the unfamiliar city.

Two weeks later I drove to the hotel to meet my husband for dinner.  I had just hung the last picture on the wall in our new apartment. When I walked into his office he told me he had good news and bad news. The good news was that he had been promoted, the bad news was that it was in Philadelphia.

I called my son and asked him if he knew where the Liberty Bell was.

Jarrod and my dad on the road trip across the country that delivered him to me.

Jarrod and my dad, on the road trip across the country that delivered him to me.

The Big White Car

I was looking for something to do. I had called several friends from my touchtone Princess phone and either they weren’t home or weren’t able to come over. It was a lazy Sunday afternoon. The weather was warm. My parents were watching football. “I’m going for a bike ride.” I told them. I grew up in the kind of town that mostly shut down on Sunday. Stores were closed and the streets were quiet. I had no plan. I just hopped on my yellow Schwinn 10-speed and started riding. I was  wearing cut-off jeans, a t-shirt, and dirty white Keds with no socks. We didn’t wear helmets back then. We just got on our bikes and rode. I was fourteen.

I was riding on West 18th Street, one of the main roads in town, when a big white car pulled up alongside me and the man inside began yelling at me from the open passenger side window. I couldn’t understand what he was saying, but he was angry. I knew I hadn’t done anything wrong. We were approaching a residential cross street so I decided to turn into it. Did he just try to cut me off? My heart was pounding. He drove on and came to a stop on D Street, and then he turned right. The right turn I took was taking me away from the direction of home so I decided to get back on to West 18th. I approached the stop sign and looked to the right in the direction he went and I saw him making a U-turn. So I turned left.

I grew up in this neighborhood. We had moved from it the year before, but I had walked these streets alone countless times as a little girl. I would get a quarter from my dad to go buy candy at the Shortstop Market. It was to this market that I decided to go to when I made that left turn. It was just on the next block. I would find someone in the store to help me because all of a sudden, the streets of this familiar landscape became a ghost town. There was nobody in their yards and no other moving cars in sight. It was just me on my bike and that big white car heading back in my direction.

I jumped the curb as I realized the parking lot was deserted. The market was closed. In a split second I decided to get onto West 19th Street in the opposite direction of home because this street lead directly into a shopping center that had a Lucky grocery store. It crossed my mind that they might be closed too, but I had to find people. I took off from the parking lot of the market and as I peddled as fast as I could I heard the unmistakable sound of a car accelerating behind me. I was riding on the wrong side of the road because once I entered the shopping center, the entrance to the store was on my left. And there he was. Right next to me on my right. This time I heard him yell, “You fucking little bitch better stop your bike before I run you over!”

I rode my bike right into the store. At first I couldn’t speak, but the horror must have registered on my face. A teenaged boy and a woman working as a checker both ran to me at the same time. I managed to give enough information for the boy to run outside and give chase. He saw the car and ran after it but was unable to get a license plate number. Another woman came and took me upstairs to an office and called the police and my parents. As I sat waiting and crying in that office I thought of my dad saying, “Those shorts are too short,” as I walked out of the house.

My dad rode my bike home. I never wanted to ride it again.

Mom, the photographer

Sixteen year-old me was tall, skinny and flat-chested. The tall part happened quite suddenly. In the span of a year, I grew four inches. I suppose this was due to the fact that I didn’t start my period until I was 15. I was convinced there was something wrong with me. My mother kept reassuring me that I was just a “late bloomer,” though I could see in her eyes she was concerned, too. That was proven when she took me to a gynecologist at that young age. UGH! But he assured both of us there was nothing wrong with me. I relaxed for about a minute, then a week later I got my period. Finally. Jeez. It was the year following that I shot up like a rocket and started to look like I was the same age as my girlfriends. Up to that point, it appeared they were hanging out with a little sister. Those were rough times.

Antonia

We are the same age!

It was right after my growth spurt that my mother kept hearing, “Your daughter should be a model.” She was thinking the same thing herself. This was right around the beginning of the “supermodel” era when models were becoming celebrities and the amount of money they were making was becoming public knowledge. They were being interviewed on daytime talk shows along with their agents and apparently my mom was paying attention.

Kodak Pocket Instamatic

Kodak Pocket Instamatic

There was a well-known agent in Los Angeles named Nina Blanchard who my mother saw on the Mike Douglas show. That night at dinner she said,”I’m going to take some pictures of you and send them to Nina Blanchard.” My dad snickered. I said, “With what?” We were a family of Kodak Pocket Instamatics. She said, “With that old Argus you bought.” Now I was snickering along with my dad. “I am!” She said indignantly.

The Argus

The Argus

The Argus she was referring to sat in the garage in it’s original carrying case. I paid $10.00 for it at a garage sale several months back because I thought it was cool. It was the first 35mm film camera that I had come in contact with and it was what we considered an antique. The person I bought it from told me it still worked, but there were no instructions and I had never tried to use it. My mom and I fiddled with it that night and by the following weekend she had bought film and we loaded it into the camera.

I stepped out into the backyard with my mom for my first “photo shoot” with neither one of us having a clue what we were doing. I awkwardly posed as she made suggestions. At one point my dad came out, but I made him leave. I could see his eyes smiling as he crossed his arms in front of him and held a hand over his mouth, shaking his head slightly.

We dropped the film off later that day and anxiously waited for the photos to be developed. To our surprise, the Argus did still work. About a month later, I walked in the door from school and my mother was beside herself with excitement. “What, mom?” I asked. “Nina called!” she screamed.

I recently came across the old photos that Nina handed back to us as we sat across from her at her agency in Los Angeles.

Argus2

Argus3

Argus

Laundry

He folds my t-shirts into perfect tiny squares and on occasion they disappear. He’ll bring them back to my house after mistaking them for his four-year old son’s. “You know I can’t fit into his shirts, right?” I said the first time. “They’re both tiny,” he said.

At first I was a little embarrassed when I would arrive home and see that he had been there folding laundry. I would see a few of my old tattered panties and think I should get some new ones if he is going to be doing my laundry. Then I would think about his own tattered Batman and Guinness boxers and figure neither one of us really cared much about what each other’s underwear looked like.

When we first started commingling our laundry he struggled to remember how I folded towels. He knew there were thirds somewhere in the process. “Half, half, then thirds,” I said, “but it doesn’t really matter, ” I added. “Yes, it does,” he said.

He put up with me telling him he didn’t have to slam the washer door on the front loader. “I know it doesn’t seem to line up, but if you lift up on the door a little, it will close without a problem.” I was reminded that men are harder on things.

He also put up with me telling him not to ever leave the washer or dryer door open because of my fear that the kitten would go inside without us knowing. He accepts my paranoia about things like that.

In the beginning it was weird for me. I hadn’t folded a man’s clothes in several years. Then there were little boy jeans and baby socks and it all seemed so foreign, yet all so familiar, too. And sweet.

We take turns buying detergent.

The Farm

I’d never known anyone who did time in jail, yet here I was driving out to the Marsh Creek Detention Facility, otherwise known as “The Farm,” to pick up my husband after he’d been sentenced to five days. I’m struggling with the reality of it all. Wasn’t I just in high school a second ago? We’d had no contact in those five days. I’m wondering what it must have been like for him as I drive on the winding country road on this warm Spring day. I wonder if I’m the wife of a felon. The beauty of the landscape is at complete odds with where I’m going. But you can’t just punch a random stranger in the face while he sits in his car even if he did call you an asshole. I think back to sitting in the defense attorney’s office where I didn’t utter one word. My embarrassment and the lawyer’s pity were palpable as we stole glances at each other. This man, with pictures of his wife and kids on the shelves above his head did a poor job of hiding his contempt for the man who sat next to me. I drive up just as a several men are released from the front gate. I see my husband. He’s smiling as he walks toward me alongside another guy. He opens the front and back door of the car at the same time and they both climb in. Who brings a friend home from jail? God, they stink.

Batman and Jarrod

This drawing was from a card Jarrod made for me.

A drawing.

Six-year old Jarrod was obsessed with Batman. I can’t remember if he was much aware of Batman before he saw the first movie with Michael Keaton, but from the moment he did, everything became Batman, including his underwear, bedspread, posters, costumes, drawings, comic books, toys, trading cards…the list goes on. He had a rubber Batman mask that was made for an adult that he rarely took off.

Jarrod with his cousins.

Jarrod with his cousins.

Along with the Batman obsession came a Michael Keaton obsession. To him, Michael Keaton was Batman. He understood the concept of actors playing roles, but Jarrod was the kind of kid who chose to believe things despite knowing the truth. I won’t tell you how old he was when he finally admitted there was no Santa Claus, but it was long after I told him there wasn’t.

Several months following the Batman movie premiere, and in the midst of everything Batman, I discovered that Michael Keaton would be playing in the AT&T National Pro-Am Golf Tournament in Pebble Beach. We were living there at the time and I was working at The Inn at Spanish Bay, which is a sister property to The Lodge where the tournament was held. Being an employee of the company, I requested tickets. I told Jarrod I was going to take him to see Michael Keaton play golf. His excitement was uncontainable.

Label2 1

I had no intention of following him around for 18 holes so we tracked him down at the 15th hole and watched him play the last few. Obviously the crowd was huge and it was a little hard to see him, but Jarrod was ecstatic. We had no idea where he would head afterward, but I thought it was a pretty safe bet that he would go inside the Lodge to one of the bars. The Lodge was closed to the public that day. You had to either be a hotel guest or part of the tournament (or an employee who knows other employees that look the other way).

We walked into the lobby and turned toward the closest bar. It was packed. I stood at the entrance holding Jarrod’s hand and looking around. I had no idea what my plan was. I had a pen and the ticket in my coat pocket and thought an autograph on the back of it would be the icing on the cake. A pretty blond woman walked up to me and said, “Send your son to the restroom.” I looked at her with puzzlement. She repeated herself. Then it clicked. I turned to walk toward the restroom which was down a small hallway and told Jarrod that he should go potty. “I don’t have to potty,” he said. “Yes, you do,” I said. Just as we were approaching the men’s room door, Michael Keaton walk out.

It was just the three of us standing in the hallway. He smiled at me. He knew. I handed him the ticket and pen and he asked Jarrod his name. Jarrod could barely speak. I gave him the spelling. He autographed it and then I asked if he wouldn’t mind a photo. He said, “Sure.” Now all we had to do was wait for the film to be developed and hope that one photo turned out.

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