Unless we grow up alone, all of our lives have been impacted by something and/or someone. Some of the forces that shaped who I am were my family, religion, world events, teachers, societal beliefs, and friends and enemies.
MY MOTHER I was born January 2, 1942, not quite a month after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. My mother has told me many times of how frightened she was when the U.S. declared war against Japan. She was getting ready to have a baby, she was alone because my daddy was usually off somewhere drunk, and she didn’t know what was going to happen in the world. It was an anxious and terrifying time for her. Having no money to go to a hospital, our local doctor came to the house and delivered me while my mother laid in her bed. I’m sure, in her heart my mother wanted me, but in her mind she must have been trying to figure how she was financially going to take care of a second child. She did not know from day to tday where my daddy was, nor did she know how to change her situation. Because strong positive and negative emotions are palpable, and can be felt by others, it makes sense that her fear and anxiety were passed on to me. I was the one being held to her breast and against her heart. I was always a frightened and nervous little girl and for as long as I can remember I felt that I was a burden, or more accurately, a pain in the ass.
When the movie, Pearl Harbor, came out, my mother and I and my brother and sister-in-law saw it together. I was sitting next to my mother in the theater holding her hand while she sobbed. She was visibly upset, and I believe seeing that movie activated the fear she had carried within. All during the movie, she kept saying to me, “I was pregnant with you when this happened and I didn’t know what I was going to do. I was so scared.” Seeing the movie with her gave me a sense of what she went through right before I was born. It also helped me to make sense, on one level, of why I had always felt so afraid and unwanted.
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MY FATHER My daddy’s mother died when he was a young boy, which probably had a huge impact on his life. From the stories I’ve heard about family history, I’d say life was tough for the Marroys’. I don’t know the extent of the emotional suffering my daddy experienced as a youngster, but what I see in hindsight was how worthless he felt about himself. He used alcohol as a means to stifle his pain and he wound up a life-long alcoholic.
My mother, being a shy and protected young girl, was enamored of my daddy. He was a Merchant Marine, was eight years older than my mother, and in her eyes he was a man of the world. When his ship would dock downtown by the levee, he’d go straight to my Uncle Sharkey’s bar where he’d spend his time drinking and dancing. My daddy used to wear a white suit and with his dark skin and jet black hair, he was quite dashing. My mom and dad’s courtship centered around dancing at my uncle’s bar, and when he asked my mother to marry him, she said yes and they eloped. My mom knew that my grandma and grandpa would never approve of the marriage because they knew my daddy was an alcoholic. They did not want my mother to see him, but to her seventeen year old mind, she was in love and could not live without him.
My mother was naive enough to think that marriage and a family would change my daddy and would make him want to settle down. But it never happened. Due to his alcoholism, he and my mother separated when I was four. Because I was never told otherwise, I believed something was wrong with me. I didn’t understand that he left the family, all I knew was that he left me.
Added to my growing sense of shame, was the disappointment I felt as my daddy many times would set me up for another letdown. He’d call and arrange to pick me up on a Saturday to spend the day with him, and he wouldn’t show. On those days I’d stand by the living room window for a couple of hours looking for him, then I’d move to the front door, then to the front yard, then to the side of the road. My heart would be broken because I knew he wasn’t coming, but I kept hoping. Finally my grandma would make me come inside, and after hearing one more time that my daddy did not care about me, I’d go to my bedroom, bury my face in my pillow and cry. I believe my daddy wanted to see me, but when it came to actually making the visit, his disease trumped his desire. I don’t think his plan was to open my wounds one more time, but because of his choices, that’s what happened. Even after years of therapy, I still struggle with feelings of abandonment and it’s an issue I’ll probably be dealing with for the rest of my life.
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RELIGION When my brother and I were young children, we had an older woman who lived with us and took care of us. Today, they’re called nannies, but to us Miss Shire was a babysitter. I cared about this woman and I’m certain she cared for me. One day, while my brother and I were home sick from school, Miss Shire dropped dead in front of me. I was standing at the back door, waiting for her to finish hanging the clothes on the line, when she fell backwards, turned blue, and died. I was hysterical for two reasons. One because at the age of seven, I’d witnessed death, and the other because I quickly realized she was burning in hell. I grew up catholic and our religion taught that it was the true one and anyone not a catholic would not go to heaven. In those days, I believed in the hell that the church taught. As I heard my family discussing whether they could even pay their respects, because Miss Shire’s body was laid out in a baptist church, my fear grew. All my young mind could picture was my babysitter burning in hell. After this happened I was filled with a morbid fear of death and started experiencing feelings of panic. As I grew older, I began to have full-fledged panic attacks which paralyzed me for years. Thanks to great therapists and a growing spiritual belief, my life has totally changed and panic attacks are a thing of the past.
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FAIRY TALES My life was also impacted by fairy tales. Like most young girls of my time, I believed in “Once upon a time”, living “happily ever after”, and being rescued by a knight in shining armor. I made my daddy into a knight who was one day going to sober up and come rescue me. As I got older, I kept looking for, and sampling, man after man looking for my knight. It wasn’t until my late 50’s that I learned that I was self-sufficient and able to live alone. That’s when I stopped looking for a man to rescue me or take care of me and started lovingly taking care of myself.
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FAMILY Though I was filled with much fear and anxiety due to the circumstances surrounding my birth and my childhood, I also was impacted in many positive, life enhancing ways. We were a large, close-knit clan and our home was usually filled with extended family and friends. Most of the people in my family are good cooks and I learned early on that life revolved around our kitchen table. Almost every weekend, and definitely every holiday and birthday, our house was filled with aunts, uncles, and cousins. The purpose of these get togethers was to eat, laugh, tell stories, and have a lot of fun. I loved the feeling of camaraderie even though I don’t know that I ever felt a part of anything. However, I did understand and enjoy the closeness of our family. There was a joie de vior, and an attitude of laissez les bon temps rouler in our home. People were greeted at the front door, ushered into the kitchen and offered a cocktail, while lots of hugs and “Mai cher, you look some good yeh” was being said to one another. I developed a love for celebration, an appreciation of family being close and sticking together, and cooking and serving good food while making mealtimes something special.
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There were many other events that shaped my life, but they’re too numerous too tell. What’s important, is being able to look back and see the path that brought me to where I am. Life goes on, and it’s good.
My prompts for last week were shape, decide, hard, and bribe.