It all began when I performed my first episiotomy. On my mom. When I was born. With the silver spoon I had in my mouth.
It was the dawning of the age of Aquarius. The birth of the flower child. Phones were attached to walls, not people. Kids played hopscotch and jumped rope on the sidewalks. Boys wooed girls with slicked back hair and transistor radios. Girls wooed back with blue eye shadow, pointed bras and bright red lips. Wonder Bread was a staple in every home and a mustard seed in mine for my burgeoning romance with food.
To the world, we appeared to be the perfect family. Three white and shiny children, a celebrity father with movie star good looks, a gorgeous mother who wore pearls and a smile made up of 88 teeth.
My mother Phyllis was raised like the corn in Southern Illinois. After moving to the Big Apple to follow her career in journalism, she lived at the Barbizon hotel for women, alongside others like Lauren Bacall. Then she found her proper assignment – as wife and homemaker to the family patriarch. She was working for ABC Sports when the man of her dreams and future nightmares walked into her elevator. The rest is part of my history.
My father, stage named Jimmy Blaine, was a beautiful man to listen to. His voice was our golden ticket. We were living large in Larchmont, New York, home to the likes of Joan Rivers. It’s a small waterfront community, still today reminiscent of the age of the Great Gatsby.
The Larchmont Yacht Club was our home away from home. Measuring up to the grandness of the Kennedy compound, it sat on a point of the long-island sound. It was there that sun, salt air and being near the sea became staples of my wellbeing.
My mother basked in the sun with her reflector while my siblings learned to sail, and I learned to hate to swim and to love a good greasy burger off the grill. That paired nicely with a drink made up of everything from the soda fountain together. They called it a suicide, a beverage I would come to know well.
We presented well to the world, but I rarely felt safe in my home. The only nurture I recall came from the dogs, my father or Emma, a woman of color, paid to keep the house clean and the children loved.
One night while working in Manhattan in his late twenties, my father was mugged and left for dead in a stairwell. A fractured skull left him with two steel plates in his head, orders not to drink and a life where grand mal seizures could come without warning. Add to that the violence that comes with a wounded brain, coupled with an upbringing at the iron hand of a German father, and you get a war zone in my family living room.
I loved my father. He was my best friend. We had a standing date on Saturday morning to watch Sylvester and Tweety Bird in his big red leather chair. The one with the cracks in it that sat next to the smelly pipes on the table.
One day, my father was a no-show for our date. In his place, came my mother and the family minister. “Your father has gone away in an airplane and he’s not coming back.” Was their message to me. The truth was that the night before, he went to bed, had a seizure, his heart stopped, and he died.
He was 42 years old. And there I was with a 7-year-old brain. Trying to make sense of words that weren’t true that were spoken by a guy in a God squad suit, and the woman I was supposed to trust with my life and future. The events of those 24 hours colored all of the five decades to follow. Who can I trust? God was a hard one. People in general. Men even more so.
Once my siblings were off to college, my mother made a wrong turn on the way to Ft. Lauderdale, landing us in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
I quickly acclimated, finding my vines on the family tree which were disordered eating, black out drinking and an ass kicking depressive illness. I swung one to another for a while and was able to let go of the alcoholism. Anorexia took a bit longer. At times, and against my will, the depression tangles up around my neck, typically in the winter.
Every bit of it was a blessing. Giving me a compassion for me for the lifetime of hard work I have put in to turn the generational tide of ill being. And a knowing that when someone’s best sucks, it is due to unhealed parts in them.
Once my 24 year marriage was put to rest and my 22 year old kid was out of the nest, I brought myself back to my bliss. Left the confines of landlocked status and returned to the seaside on the emerald coast of the Gulf of Mexico.
The sun and the sea and all of the creatures in and around it are part of my tribe. I hang out with Walter the Pigeon on the beach. I say hi to the seagulls in the morning as they have their bad choir practice to see who can be the loudest.
I have come home to that 7 year old little girl who was always meant to live by the sea.
And our new life together is just getting started.