The mystery ship.

This is quite possibly, my favorite post I ever wrote, or it’s in my Top Five anyway. Enjoy! Let me know what you think in the comments.

Lucky Otters Haven

ssjameslongstreet4

Credit: Unknown photographer.  This haunting photo is very similar the way the old battleship appeared to me as a child.

I have a vivid memory of myself as a mosquito-bitten, golden-tanned and skinny little girl of seven and eight years old happily playing and exploring on the the tidal flats of  East Brewster, along Cape Cod Bay in Massachusetts, where my parents had rented a vacation beach cottage for two weeks during two consecutive summers in the late 1960s.

The sandbars and  network of warm tidal pools and rivulets left behind by the retreating tide stretched far, far into the distance–so far that the deeper water where the sand was never exposed was only a thin royal blue line against the horizon and sometimes was not visible at all  (I read recently that the Brewster tidal flats actually can extend up to two miles at low tide).

I played out…

View original post 1,285 more words

Advertisements

The summer of the toads.

2girlsplaying

When I was 10 years old, my parents sent me to summer camp in upstate New York for a month.   I was a weird kid who loved books, was by turns standoffish or overly-friendly, and tended to be bullied at school.   At first, I wasn’t too happy about being sent to an unfamiliar environment without the comforts of home, where I’d have to share a cabin with 7 or 8 other girls I’d never met and who probably wouldn’t like me anyway.   To be completely honest,  being sent away for an entire month felt like a rejection, though I didn’t dare tell my parents that.

But the camping experience wasn’t anywhere near as awful as I expected.  It had its good points and its bad.  The good:  the hikes in the woods, the lake, the campfires, arts and crafts, nature walks, an hour of free time at the end of every day before dinner, the letters and gifts from home.  The bad: almost all the mess hall food, getting up early every day, the bugs, the lack of privacy, the uncomfortable cheap plastic covered mattress on my bed, no TV,  and the endless rules.   As for friends, well, I wasn’t exactly Miss Popularity, but I developed close friendships with a couple of other girls who were as quirky and weird as I was.

One of the girls was named Janie.   Janie was a year younger than me, but looked about three years younger.  She was like my adopted little sister.   She was angry a lot and used to yell at the other girls for silly reasons or for no reason at all, but she never yelled at me.  In fact, she seemed to look up to me, which was pretty flattering for someone who wasn’t used to ever being looked up to by anyone.   I think she was just homesick.  I liked her hair — it was short, thick, stick straight and a pretty bright golden brown — and at night before lights out I liked to comb it and play with it.  She wore thick glasses and liked to read as much as I did.  She was sort of a tomboy too, shunning girly things.  She was always dressed in striped polo tops and black or dark blue shorts and sneakers.  Like me, she loved nature and didn’t mind getting dirty.

The previous summer, a sort-of-friend (who only seemed to like me sometimes) who lived in a house behind the grove of thick spruce and maple trees that divided my backyard from hers,  had come over every day during one hot July week when we dug a huge hole in my backyard.   My mother wasn’t happy about the hole or the mess it caused, but she tried to ignore what we were doing and let us be kids, as long as we didn’t dig anywhere near the lawn.   We had chosen the far back of the yard, under some large old trees, where it was shady and no grass grew, for our hole.   We spend hours digging to see just how deep we could dig that hole.  Could we dig it as deep as the deep end of a swimming pool?  Maybe deeper than the earth’s mantle?  Could we dig to the center of the earth? Maybe even all the way to China?

Several times it rained and the hole filled with water, collapsing its walls and ruining much of our work, but once it dried up again, we’d be back out there digging.  After a few days, I’d brought out some plastic play plates, saucepans, and cups from a toy kitchen set, and we set up a sort of “kitchen” inside our hole, which was now large enough to hold both of us without our heads protruding above ground level (as long as we remained in a squatting position).    My friend brought over an old black umbrella that had belonged to her dad,  and we used that as a roof on our underground “house.”   We made makeshift “stairs” out of  large flat stones stuck in the mud walls on the side (the stairs didn’t really work but they looked nice).  At the end of every day, we’d both be filthy, sweaty, and covered head to toe with mud.   My mother, horrified at the sight of me, always sent me immediately to the bathroom to take a bath before I’d be allowed to go anywhere else in the house.

Finally,  when the hole was approximately the size and depth of a grave, my mother had enough and made us fill in the hole.   But by that point, the novelty had worn off and I was covered with mosquito bites from spending so much time wallowing in the stagnant water that was constantly filling the bottom of our hole.  So my friend and I didn’t mind spending a few hours shoveling the dirt back in the hole.  Away went the dollhouse plates and cups, and her dad’s big black umbrella.

digging

So getting dirty was never much of a problem for me, and when I met Janie at summer camp, we immediately hit it off.   At home and school, I tended to be too obedient and docile, not having the courage to speak up about anything, but for some reason summer camp was a different story.   Janie was freespirited and she hated following rules.   Although I was generally in the big-sister role, Janie’s willingness to break rules rubbed off on me and I found myself breaking rules too — and not really caring whether I got in trouble or not.   After all, what could the camp counselors do to us?

The way we broke the rules was to disappear during certain planned camp activities we disliked.  Every day there was a schedule of activities and except for an hour of free time at the end of the day,  our time wasn’t really our own.  Although I liked most of the camp activities, two I hated were Archery and Softball.   Janie didn’t like them either.  So those became the times we’d disappear and go off on our own to explore.

There was a stream that ran through our side of the camp (the boys had their own side) , and along its banks were wonderful areas with slippery clay-like gray mud.   We loved the look and feel and smell of this mud, which smelled sour-earthy and squished satisfyingly between our fingers, making squicky noises as it squeezed through.   We spent hours building little clay animals and people and whole towns out of this magical mud, then squishing them all into oblivion between our fingers again.  Overhead, the tall trees whispered softly in the warm summer breeze and dragonflies flitted about, their wings shimmering in the patchy sunlight that filtered through the green canopy overhead.

There were lots of small toads in the rocky stream and the clay-rich estuary-like area in which we spent so much time.  One day Janie climbed up from the banks of the stream,  cupping a minature toad in the palm of her small hand.  He was the cutest thing I ever saw, and she said she was going to keep him as a pet.    Of course, he escaped within minutes, but we kept finding more tiny toads.  They were everywhere!  I caught a larger toad, and soon toad-hunting became our obsession.   We imagined the toads had their own personalities and we gave them names.   They were our friends.

minitoad

We’d always forget the time, and arrive back at the cabin late, during the middle of Quiet Time.    The first couple of times that happened, our counselor punished us by telling us we had to read during Free Time.   But for us, that wasn’t a punishment at all, since we both loved reading and would have chosen to do it anyway.

So Janie and I continued to play in the stream during Archery or Softball, arriving back at the cabin late.   Finally, our counselor had enough and sent us to the Camp Director.   He threatened to expel us from camp early if we didnt start obeying the rules, so after that day, our frog-hunting adventures finally came to an end.

On the second to last day of camp, there was a special ceremony in which awards were given out to the campers.   I didn’t expect to receive anything, but I did receive an award for “Most Improved Swimmer.”    I was sure I’d be getting nothing else, but when the  ceremony was almost over, Janie and I were called up together to receive an award.   Smiling, the camp director handed us certificates.  I looked down at my certificate, and printed in pretty calligraphy was my name and under it, in smaller calligraphy, it said, “Best Frog Hunter.”   I looked over at Janie’s.  Hers said the same thing.  We gave each other knowing looks, and sheepishly sat down while the entire camp cheered and clapped for us.

That was a good summer.

How I stopped worrying and learned to love my hair.

 

blonde

I rarely — or maybe never? — write posts about beauty and fashion.    There are plenty of bloggers — most of them much more glamorous and fashionable than I — who write about those things much better than I do, so I leave the stuff about hair, clothing, dieting, and makeup to people who are really into that sort of thing.

I’ve always been a geek and an introvert, and I like being comfortable more than being fashionable.  I have never owned a pair of high heels, for example.  Kitten or low heels, yes, but spike heels? Hell, no.  I hate them.  They’re torture.   I can’t wear them because of my wobbly, easily-sprained ankles (the result of a figure skating accident when I was 15 — yes, I used to figure skate, and I wasn’t half bad either.  I’ll write about that sometime soon, I promise, even though I have no photos of me skating).

I dress like I walked off a time machine from 1994 — worn old jeans, cargo pants (yes, I still love them because I like lots of pockets), sandals or slouchy ankle boots, plaid flannel men’s shirts (I have about 4), T-shirts (though as I get older, it’s getting harder finding T-shirts that are flattering).   If I wear a dress (rarely), they are almost always loose and high waisted floral numbers (flattering to my “comfortable” figure), worn over leggings, black tights, jeans, or black pants.   (I don’t do pantyhose — I hate them).   It’s all very ’90s, though “being ’90s” was never my intention.   You can still get away with looking ’90s, but looking ’70s/’80s will get you some weird looks (and ’70s/80s clothes are NOT comfy).

Unlike about 99.9% of other women, I have never owned a little black dress.   And I don’t care.  I will probably die without ever having owned one.  Is that sad?

Truth be told —  and I hope I don’t sound too snobby — but minds fascinate me more than bodies. That said, I’m still a girl and sometimes I like to indulge in…the pretty externals.   So here is a post about my hair.

Whew, this is going to be a lengthy hair story.   I have a complicated relationship with my hair.   It’s mostly been a hate relationship, but I think I might finally have found peace with my hair and am learning to love it, or at least like it.

hairage5

Towheaded at age 5 (1964).

I was born nearly bald, but the hair that grew in during my first year was white platinum blonde — and it stayed that way for a long time, probably until I was at least 8 or 9.  My hair was also terribly fine and tangled easily.   It had no weight to it at all, and as it was never stick straight, it was prone to frizzing from the slightest bit of humidity.  People used to compliment me all the time on my “angel hair,” but I hated it.   I hated being the blondest person in my class, and I hated the fact I couldn’t grow my hair long like my friends — because it was so fine it would break off at the ends and become a stringy, knotted mess.  I remember crying when my mother impatiently tried to comb it out, and then she’d yell at me for allowing it to get so tangled and knotty, but I couldn’t help it!

As a result, my mother kept my hair cut in a pixie or other short style, or if it was allowed to grow out, it was worn in two thin ponytails on each side tied with yarn, but it never got beyond just below my shoulders.

hairage7

Age 7.

I remember envying the girls in my class who had long, thick hair that fell like a curtain down their backs.   I envied their Clairol Long and Silky conditioner (or was it cream rinse?)   At about age 14, I demanded my mother buy me some Long and Silky, even though my hair only just touched my shoulders.  Using it made me feel more normal (and the stuff smelled good), but it did nothing for my thin, pale, easily broken hair.

Growing up in northern New Jersey and later New York, I felt odd with my blonde hair.   It had darkened only a shade or two since I was a baby — the color was no longer the platinum of my early childhood — by my early teens had developed a slight streakiness, with the underlayer being a slightly darker medium blonde.   If you had to give my color a name, you would probably call it champagne blonde or beige blonde with medium blonde lowlights, but I still hated it.   Most people thought my hair was beautiful, and they couldn’t understand why I hated it.    How could I explain at the tender age of 15 that I felt…too white?    Most of my friends in my New Jersey and New York neighborhoods and at my schools were of Italian, Jewish, Hispanic, or some other darker-haired, darker-skinned heritage,  and so I felt self conscious and so conspicuously white — and that was not cool!

1970slongandsilky

Long and Silky ad from the 1970s.  I wanted hair like these girls!

Another problem I had with my blonde hair were the inevitable dumb blonde jokes that were always directed my way.   I was book smart and usually made high grades, but I was also very sensitive and the jokes hurt my weak sense of self-esteem and began to make me feel like maybe I really was dumb after all.   I felt like I had to make a big show of being smart all the time, in order to prove that I could be blonde and also be smart.  It was very stressful always having to prove myself.   I felt like, because of my hair color, people just didn’t take me seriously, and treated me like I was stupid, even though I wasn’t.  I hated feeling like I had to be on all the time, and couldn’t just be myself, because the real me might come off stupid and make those dumb blonde jokes true.

To this day, I don’t understand why blonde jokes aren’t considered racist or at least politically incorrect.  But people still tell them, and seem to like them;  even other blondes like them.  In fact, some blondies seem almost proud of being seen as “dumb blondes” but that was never me.   Maybe you have to have a healthier sense of self to be able to appreciate such jokes if you’re a blonde, but in my teens, I had dismally low self esteem and could not laugh at myself.    I cringed when I heard those jokes, and felt like running away in shame.

A third factor contributed to my hair-hatred.  I felt very rebellious toward my narcissistic parents, who seemed to love my hair color more than my talents, my intelligence, or my personality.   They always bragged about how “Lauren was the only blonde baby in the nursery” or “Lauren is the only blonde in her 5th grade class.”  God, how I hated those “compliments.”  They made me cringe.   I just wanted to be like the other kids, dammit.  Why couldn’t they understand this?

hair_rowan

This isn’t a picture of me, but of my daughter at about age 9.  The color of her hair here is what my color was from mid- childhood up until my mid-teens, when I decided to start dying it.  (My daughter’s hair is dark blonde now, and she actually lightens hers).

When I turned 16, I found the solution to my problem.   I decided to dye my hair.  I had a sort of crush/obsession on a girl, Denise, who I thought was gorgeous — mostly for her long, shiny, silky curtain of light-chestnut brown hair with its gorgeous reddish-gold highlights.  It swung when she moved her head!  Mine never swung like that!   Compared to her hair, my hair looked so washed out and boring — it was mostly all one color: pale beige blonde on top with ashy medium blonde undertones.   I also didn’t like the way there was hardly any contrast with my pale skin.   I thought darker hair would make me look more dramatic and bring out my attractive facial features more.

So I decided Denise’s light chestnut brown hair was the color I wanted, and to my shock and delight, my mother reluctantly allowed me to dye my hair that color, although she insisted I use a temporary dye that would wash out in 6 shampoos.   She moaned pitifully and literally cried during the whole process.  “You’re going to ruin your hair!”  “It will never be the same again!”  “People would kill for hair the color yours is, what is wrong with you?” and “Why on God’s green earth would you want to have mousy brown hair?”

Well, as things turned out, I loved the results.  I liked them so much I decided I was never going back to being a blonde.   To my delight, the chestnut color had come out a little more reddish than it showed on the package, probably because it was several shades darker than my own hair (you’re not supposed to darken your hair more than one or two shades, but I had darkened it by about 3 or 4!)   It looked very natural, it actually fell better (because the dye thickened the hair shaft), I could actually grow it long for the first time in my life (due the the added weight), and my friends actually liked it!  They were puzzled about why I didn’t want to be a blonde (because just about everyone in those days was going lighter, not darker), but they had to admit the light auburn color flattered me and went well with my very light skin.   I only had to wear a bit more makeup than usual.  My self esteem improved, and I no longer felt like I had to prove to everyone that I was smart.  No one would ever again call me a dumb blonde!

hairage18

Proud of my new long chestnut hair at age 18 (1977)

Over the years, I continued to dye my hair.   Eventually the permanent dyes were drying it out and making it frizzy, so I switched to safer temporary dyes.  An added bonus of the extra color in my hair was that it actually thickened the hair shaft, and made my hair heavier and fall in a more flattering way.    One reason I continued to use dye was for exactly this reason.   I needed the extra weight the dye added to my hair shaft, which made it look so much thicker and fuller.    I did not want to return to the flyaway, hard to manage fine hair of my youth. The leave-in conditioners that are supposed to add body to your hair had never worked for me, they just left my hair feeling greasy.

Eventually, I began to experiment with other colors: bright red, strawberry, auburn, dark brown, black!  The black looked horrific — I looked exactly like Morticia.   I hated it so much the next day,  I went to the hairdresser and begged them to fix it.  They had to spend 3 hours bleaching my hair, but it never got lighter than a medium reddish brown.   My hairdresser decided to enhance the color I wound up with — a color called Red Setter.   It was actually a dark auburn and looked quite pretty.  Although it was still too dark for my complexion, the stylist had done a good job making it look natural.  It wasn’t perfect, but I could live with it for awhile.

hair_wedding

My hair in 1996 — way too dark here, but not as bad as the BLACK.  Sorry about the poor quality of the photo.

Once, in my thirties, I even decided to dye my hair platinum blonde just to see what it would look like.  I hated it, and ran back out to the store, my head covered with a bandanna, and selected a dark blonde color to fix it.   After that escapade, my delicate hair was a straw-like frizzy wreck from having been so damaged from all the bleaching and dying.   I went back to the hairdresser and got a short cut to get rid of all the split ends and dry frizz.   The result actually looked cute.

I went back to my tried and true light chestnut brown.   For a time during the early 2000s, I got the idea to dye the underlayer of my hair dark brown and leave the top layer lighter.  I rather enjoyed the two toned effect, but keeping up with it required a lot of maintenance, which requires patience which I don’t have.   A few years ago, I had a haircut and on a whim, told the hairdresser I wanted the strands framing my face to be blonde and a few other blonde highlights.  This decision surprised even me.  The hairdresser fingered through my roots and asked me why I was dying my hair darker since she thought the original color at my roots was much prettier.  “What’s the point of having blonde highlights when you already have a lovely blonde color and are covering it up?” I felt judged.  I decided not to go back to that hairdresser.  I didn’t like her attitude.  She didn’t understand.

I continued to experiment with different colors, even with pink streaks at one point.  But never once did I consider returning to my natural color.  It occurred to me I no longer even knew what my natural color was anymore.  When I reached my late 40s, I realized that I had been dying my hair for so long I really didn’t know what color it was, and not only that, I could have gone gray and didn’t even know it!

selfie1

A selfie I took three years ago during my adventurous/experimental phase.  Dark brown underlayer, lighter on top, a few pink streaks.  I like this photo of me!

By my 50s, I stopped dying my whole head, because I had noticed that after awhile it always became way too dark at the bottom and lighter at the top, and acquired a muddy, uneven look, so I started dying only the roots.   Eventually the bottom and outer parts of my hair faded back to a sort of golden blonde, not all that different from my original color, just more yellowish.

Over the past year, something strange began to happen to my hair.  Although I was using the same temporary light golden brown color I had been for years, my hair began to take on a purplish cast that I’d never had a problem with before.   Was it the product?  Did they change the formula?  Was it because I was older and the composition of my hair had changed, making the dye take less well than it used to?   Had I gone…gray?

topofheadwet    topofhead1

Top of my head today after shampoo and lemon juice rinse (slightly damp, and dry).

I decided to find out, but the only way to do that was to let my hair grow out and see what my actual natural color was.  After more than 40 years of covering my natural color, I no longer knew what my hair color really was!   So as it began to grow out, I used a dark blonde rinse (Roux makes an excellent wash-out rinse in subtle colors) at first just to try to even out the color, cover any gray,  and make the roots less obvious.

But I needn’t have bothered.   I’ve been growing my hair out now for about 2 months, and using a lemon rinse to reduce the purple tinge of the dyed parts of my hair (which is itself fading).  The color that is coming in is a bit darker than it was when I first began dying my hair in my teens — it’s a medium honey blonde now with the underlayer a darker ashier blonde.   It’s a beautiful color, and I have decided to grow it out.   But the best part of all?  At age 59, I don’t have one gray hair!   I never would have known that unless I finally decided to let my natural color come out of hiding.

hairfallingforward

This is my hair combed forward over my face, and it’s very close to my actual natural color.  Where’s the gray? There isn’t any!

I feel like as we get older, we have less leeway in experimenting with various colors and probably shouldn’t do it.   Young women can get away with trying all sorts of crazy colors — lighter, darker, or even colors like pink, blue and green — and still look good or at least intriguing.  But I feel like for an older woman, straying too much darker than your natural color, especially if you’re naturally fair haired, ages you.

No longer will I worry about dumb blonde jokes.  Dumb blonde jokes are pretty much limited to the young anyway, and I have enough self confidence in my intelligence today that those jokes won’t bother me if someone does tell one.

The most disappointing Christmas gift I ever received.

Originally posted on January 21, 2016

penny_the_poodle

Christmas, 1966.   For months I’d been begging my parents to buy me the hottest new toy the commercials were telling me I just had to have: a walking, barking dog called Penny the Poodle.  Even if you’re old enough to remember this horrible toy, you may not, because it was quickly forgotten after the initial pre-Christmas hype.    I’m sure millions of small children spent that Christmas Day in tears of disappointment and frustration when they realized Penny the Poodle did NOT live up to the hype.

Here’s the commercial, which in retrospect, was pretty creepy, even for those days:

I remember unwrapping the large box with joyful anticipation, ripping off the green and red foil paper and bows to reveal the “Penny the Poodle” logo and the see-through window on the side of the box that revealed Penny’s Pepto-Bismol pink head.

Eagerly, I pried her out of the box with my small sweaty hands and tried to get her to work.  No batteries were necessary.  Penny was supposed to stand, walk, wag her tail, bark, and turn her head.   She was supposed to do everything a real dog does except poop and pee.

She did nothing.  Instead, she lay on her side on the floor, twitching as if she was having an epileptic seizure.    I tried to right her and squeezed the little remote control to get her to walk, wag her tail, do SOMETHING, but no dice.  She fell over again. This time she didn’t even twitch and convulse. I righted her again and manually tried to make her legs move. Her right leg fell off and lay there on the rug like a turkey drumstick covered in pink gravy. Penny was DOA.

I was heartbroken.  I opened the rest of my presents apathetically, because Penny the Poodle was the toy I had REALLY wanted for Christmas.   I cried on and off for most of the day.

My parents returned Penny to whatever store they had got her from and brought me home a replacement, this one powder blue instead of Pepto Bismol pink.   But this one wouldn’t work either.  Back to the store it went.  My parents refused to get me a third Penny, but by then, I’d given up and was happily playing with my Barbies and Wishnik troll dolls.

Penny the Poodle has curiosity value to toy collectors.   You can find a few on eBay, but none of them seem to be in working order, and probably never were.

 

The little books.

Originally posted on August 30, 2015

little_booklets

I remembered something today. Little by little my mind is pulling up ancient memories from dark and forgotten corners as I move further along in my recovery. This one almost knocked me over.

For years…decades, even…I couldn’t write. This past year and a half has been the first time in my life I haven’t in under the thrall of a high spectrum (malignant) narcissist, and it wasn’t until I freed myself from them that my words began to come back.

As a child I wrote all the time. I drew pictures too. I remember my father bringing home these little blank stapled booklets in different colors with lined paper in them. There were about 50 of them, tied up in rubber bands. I used to write little stories and illustrate them. I could spend hours doing this.

I always blame my mother for everything. I act as if my father (who was codependent, and probably either covert NPD or borderline) had nothing to do with my disorders. I always saw him as a victim too. But he colluded with my mother; both were abusers. I remember one day when I was 7 or 8, I came home from school, and as I did every day, I went to my desk and opened the drawer to start writing my little stories. I noticed some of my finished booklets were gone. Panicking, I looked everywhere for them, and couldn’t find them. They were very personal to me, like diaries. They were for my eyes only (my Avoidant traits had already set in) . I was very upset but couldn’t tell my parents because then they’d be looking for them and they’d KNOW.

I looked all over the house for them, and finally found them in my father’s filing cabinet in a folder with my name on it. I was horrified. He stole my private creations from me! I felt so violated. My boundaries had been viciously invaded. I remember stealing them back and destroying them. I couldn’t even bring myself to look at them anymore. There was too much shame.
It was as if I wanted to annihilate myself…my true self.

After that I seemed to lose interest in drawing, although I continued to write. But my passion for even that was gone. I didn’t say anything to my dad about him stealing those booklets because to do so would be to invite critique and shame. I knew instinctively he liked them (otherwise he wouldn’t have taken them from me), but I didn’t even want to hear anything good about them. The stuff in them was just too personal. I felt like I’d been raped.

jung_quote

I wrote a novel in 2003. No one wanted to publish it. It sucked. I still have it but it’s embarrassing to read because of how bad it is. I know why though; at that time, still under the thrall of my ex, I was trying too hard to be “a writer,” to make an impression, instead of being authentic.

And now…I’ve done a 180 from when I’d hide my little illustrated books and was so horrified when they were discovered: deliberately posting the most personal stuff imaginable for total strangers all over the Internet to see (under an assumed name, of course). It’s like I’m trying to redeem my shame, somehow. It’s very hard to explain.

After being in my abusive marriage, I thought I’d lost all my ability to do anything at all. I’d sit down and try to write something, and….I couldn’t do it. I even thought I’d lost my intelligence. I was marking time until death. I felt stupid, dead. But I didn’t care either…or thought I didn’t care. I couldn’t feel anything at all. All my emotions were gone.

I was wrong, so wrong about all that.

The mystery ship.

ssjameslongstreet4

Credit: Unknown photographer.  This haunting photo is very similar the way the old battleship appeared to me as a child.

I have a vivid memory of myself as a mosquito-bitten, golden-tanned and skinny little girl of seven and eight years old happily playing and exploring on the the tidal flats of  East Brewster, along Cape Cod Bay in Massachusetts, where my parents had rented a vacation beach cottage for two weeks during two consecutive summers in the late 1960s.

The sandbars and  network of warm tidal pools and rivulets left behind by the retreating tide stretched far, far into the distance–so far that the deeper water where the sand was never exposed was only a thin royal blue line against the horizon and sometimes was not visible at all  (I read recently that the Brewster tidal flats actually can extend up to two miles at low tide).

I played out on the flats for hours, collecting hermit crabs in my orange plastic bucket and then setting them free.  I marveled at how fast the incoming tide moved–so fast my friends and I used to try to race it in. I recalled sunsets seen from our screened in porch, painting the tidal pools pink and orange, and the smell of citronella and the sound of the bug zapper as the armies of mosquitoes dodged into it.

cape_code_sandbars

Brewster tidal flats at sunset.

Way out on the horizon, so far away it appeared more like a mirage than a tangible thing, was the shadowy outline of a battleship.   I remember gazing out and wondering where it came from, why it never moved,  how far away it actually was, and even whether it was real at all.   It didn’t appear quite solid; I could see none of its details, and often it was shrouded in fog that was sometimes so thick I couldn’t see it at all.   Even on clear bright days, the ship seemed to shimmer in the sun like a mirage, or like the ghost of a ship that had foundered and sunk years earlier.

The ship seemed strangely alive though.  I was drawn to it.   I wanted to know its story.    I knew it had a story.  I remember asking my parents about it but they just said they had no idea.   The ship wasn’t important to them, but it was to me.   When we went to Provincetown one day, I looked out over the bay in the direction from which we had come to see if I could see my ship from a different perspective.  I was disappointed that I could not.   It was too far away and out of my line of vision.

My questions remained unanswered.   We had not taken any photos of that ship, so all I had was my memory of it.  After that second summer, we never returned to Cape Cod Bay.     Life went on, my parents divorced, we moved to the city,  school became more demanding, things like dating and making friends consumed my redirected adolescent attention.   Years and then decades passed by, and I never thought about the ship except as a random passing memory before turning my attention to more important things.

ssjameslongstreet2

Another ghostly image of the Target Ship in the far distance. (photographer unknown)

But about a month ago, that changed.  One day the memory again filtered through to my consciousness, as it sometimes does as a matter of course.   But so many decades had passed since those two distant summers that the memory itself has faded and I was no longer even sure it was an actual memory or perhaps just a dream or figment of childish imagination.

The Internet has made it possible to find the answers to obscure questions that in the recent past remained forever hidden in the darkness of the unknown.   So this last time I remembered the ship, I decided to Google it.   I didn’t expect to find anything.

So imagine my shock and delight when I typed in “abandoned battleship in Cape Cod Bay” and clicked on Images and saw THE SHIP almost exactly as I remembered it as a child standing out on those long-ago tidal flats gazing at the horizon.   There it was, right there on the screen of my laptop:  its ghostlike hulk like a mirage against the distant horizon, way out beyond the flats.  My jaw almost dropped to the floor.   Was my 50 year old question finally going to be answered?  Was my memory a real memory, and not just a dream?

My ship had a story, and she had a name:  The SS James Longstreet.  According to Google, she was a World War II battleship, constructed in 1942 by the Todd Houston Shipbuilding Company in Houston, Texas.  She measured 417 feet in length and 57 feet in breadth.  Her namesake, Major General James Longstreet, had been a hero of the Confederate Army and one of General Robert E. Lee’s top officers during the Civil War.   She was moored in the Cape Cod Bay off Eastham at the end of World War II and her remains can be found there today.

As per Wikipedia,

SS James Longstreet (Hull Number 112) was a Liberty ship [a cargo vessel built to carry supplies to Allied troops] built in the United States during World War II at a cost of $1,833,400. She was named after the Confederate general James Longstreet.

She was laid down on 3 December 1941, then launched on 2 April 1942. On 26 October 1943, she ran aground in a gale and was declared a total loss. Instead of being scrapped, she was acquired by the US Navy in June 1944 and used as a target ship for early air to surface guided missiles. Whilst under tow to and from the target areas, she once ran aground and on another occasion broke her anchor chain and drifted for ten days before being recovered.    She was then sunk and used for further experiments using missiles, before then being used for live ammunition target practice by Naval jets from nearby South Weymouth Naval Air Station and the Air Force from nearby Otis Air Force Base  until 1971. The ship is also referred to as the “target ship”.

The remains of James Longstreet lie approximately three and a half miles off  Eastham, Massachusetts in 20 to 25 feet (6.1 to 7.6 m) of water. The site is off limits to divers.

And there it was.   It was much more than I expected.

targetship

Bombers drop missiles on the target ship at night (photographer unknown).  Going by the relatively intact look of the ship, I’m guessing this was taken earlier than the 1980s (most accounts say it was mostly disintegrated by 1982)

But that wasn’t all.  Another article, from The Cape Cod Times, said “The Target Ship” had become so badly rotted and damaged by rust and algae, and the constant bombardment by practice missiles, that in 1997 she finally broke apart and sank for good.  1997 was the last year she would have been visible to a child standing out on the tidal flats the way I had thirty years earlier.

ssjameslongstreet3

The “target ship” riddled with holes from years of attacks.

Of course I felt drawn to her.  Of course she haunted my dreams.   I related to her plight as an abuse survivor, as a child who constantly felt misunderstood and unappreciated by her own family, and unfairly maligned as a loser, a child who had opportunities ripped away, was used for emotional (and sometimes physical) target practice, and was finally emotionally abandoned by those who were supposed to always be there no matter what.   James Longstreet had been built, didn’t perform to standards, and was never given another chance to prove herself.  Instead, she was cruelly chained down where she couldn’t escape and used for target practice for half a century — only to be abandoned and left to rot and die where no one would ever see or remember her again.

Of course, intellectually, I knew the SS James Longstreet was just an object, a hunk of rusted iron manufactured by men for wartime.   She had no heart or brain or soul.  But in a sense, she was me, and for five decades she called out to me through my memory, yearning for her story to be told.

That’s the least SS James Longstreet deserves and so I have done this for her.

ssjameslongstreet5

View of the James Longstreet after she went under for good.

*****

Further reading:

Memories of the Target Ship in Cape Cod Bay 

 

What am I running from?

runningaway

I haven’t posted anything about my therapy on this blog for a long time.   The truth is that lately I’ve been losing interest in my therapy and haven’t even been wanting to go.   Since my sessions are never unpleasant or traumatic, I really don’t know why.  I know I’m not cured, though that thought occurred to me briefly.    Sometimes uncomfortable emotions come up in session, but I actually look forward to those, because it means we can work on them.  They’ve never been cause for me to want to run.

But recently, even while I’m in session, I keep talking about things that have nothing to do with therapy, or even with me.  My therapist correctly pointed out that he sensed I was avoiding something that’s coming up.

In our last session we began talking about an early childhood trauma involving my mother, when I was about 5 -7.  I skirted around the issue and told him I couldn’t give him details, but I was starting to get emotional.   It’s not something I’m able to talk about yet, even with my therapist.  Not even here.  It brings me too much shame even now, but I remember exactly what happened as clear as day.   He wants to explore this with me and I do too, but…I’m afraid to.   It’s too shameful.    But the avoidance started several weeks before this.

So I’ve been losing interest.  This week I felt too tired to go so I didn’t.  That hasn’t happened before.

I just had a dream that may shed some light on what’s going on, because the real reason is occluded even to me.

The dream involved a usual theme that occurs in many of my dreams. Somehow, in spite of my limited income, I had come into ownership of a vast house, so vast that I kept discovering rooms I never knew existed and had never seen before.  Exploring my new home was exciting, but in the back of my mind I knew I really couldn’t afford this house.

There were strangers in the house, as if it was some public place.    I walked through a doorway that opened out to a huge industrial kitchen with huge flat stainless steel cooktops lining an entire wall.  All these random people were cooking — bacon, eggs, steaks, you name it.    I turned to some stranger and told them I owned all this.   I told them that before, I had lived in a one bedroom apartment (my actual place has two bedrooms).  I admitted I wasn’t sure I could afford all this but that I would try.

One of the strangers I met was a very attractive man in his thirties.  (In my dreams I am always younger than my real age).    He seemed interested in me and kept following me around, trying to start a conversation.   I was interested but reticent, so I may have seemed disinterested, even though I wasn’t.   We found a room with tables that had numbers on them, as you might find in a restaurant.

The man invited me to sit down at one of the tables with him, Table #30.   Reluctantly, I did.  He was friendly and asked me many questions.  I was attracted and interested, but also afraid.   As I am in real life, I felt threatened by his interest in me.   But I was willing to get to know him better.  My attraction overrode my wariness.

I admitted to him I was afraid of relationships but that I’d be willing to give one a chance under the right circumstances.   He seemed understanding.

I got up for some reason that I can’t remember and then came back to Table 30.   He was gone.   A woman sitting at a nearby table told me she had seen him leave and drive away.  I was disappointed.  I wondered what I’d done.  I knew I’d never see him again.

I wanted to write this dream down before it fades from my memory, but I haven’t thought about what it could mean yet.    I’m going to mull it over today and if I figure it out, I’ll write another post later.  Right now my brain isn’t working and I just want to go back to bed for a few more hours.

“I have no childhood memories because my N-mom threw out my ‘garbage’.”

trash_can

Recently I read that looking at photos of our childhoods can help us heal.   It can hurt to see how lost we looked or watch the real body language of yourself and other family members in reaction to you, but it can also shed light on the truth and prove to us that we really weren’t crazy.

I don’t have more than 8 photos of myself as a child and almost all of them are of me by myself.   A large pastel portrait of me at about age 6 my father proudly used to hang over the mantel has been lost for years (I suspect it was thrown away).  I remember sitting for it in Old Town, Chicago, wearing a yellow summer dress, and how proud I was to sit in front of that bohemian street artist.  It was one of my few happy childhood memories and was a special moment with my father.   I remember looking slightly sad in the portrait though, and remember my dad saying he rather liked the sad look in my eyes, even though I don’t recall being sad as I sat for that portrait and emotions that weren’t “positive” were always dismissed or scolded anyway.  I would really love to have that portrait now.  In fact, I long for it. I’ve even been trying to figure out how one would go about placing an ad asking if anyone had seen that painting (I don’t think that would be possible or that anyone would have seen it anyway).

No one seems to know where any of the old family albums that had me in them are, and I doubt they would want to hang onto them, so my guess is they were tossed at some point as trash (my mother always hated clutter).  I guess any memory of me is just clutter as well.  My emotions were not acceptable; I was not acceptable.  Why keep any reminders that I existed?

I have no family, no continuity to any kind of past or any roots.  I feel like an orphan and have felt that way for years.  Sure, some could say that I threw them away (moving far away from them, No Contact, etc.) but I was pushed away emotionally and every other way for years before I decided that any further contact with them, especially my mother, was just too triggering and painful.

Evidently I’m not alone.  There’s a whole thread on Reddit about just this.

Scapegoated adult children find themselves in this position a lot, without even any pictures or tangible objects to help them better remember their childhoods.  This is another way narcissistic parents hobble us — by not even allowing us to access photos and mementos that could bring us clarity into the role we served within our families and the reactions of other family members to us.   Tangible things that give us a sense of having come from somewhere, of having belonged to something, even if it wasn’t a very good something.  Tools to help us heal were denied to us, just like everything else.   It’s as bad as having your face ripped out of every picture your family ever had of you.   As if they were trying to erase you.

Surrounded by beauty.

gulf_lowtide2

I went back to the beach this morning (I finally got up early), and the tide was the lowest I’ve seen it, and it was still going out. Sandbars stretched pretty far into what was covered over by water the day before yesterday, leaving bathwater-hot tidal pools filled with small tan fish (probably minnows), skeins of green-brown seaweed, and tiny hermit crabs. I put my things down on the dry part of the beach and waded out, deliberately stepping in the warm pools and feeling the soft silty sand along the way. Dragonflies flitted back and forth, probably looking for mosquitoes for brunch. The only annoying thing was the many biting sand-flies, which tried to eat up my legs (why didn’t the dragonflies go after those?) But as soon as I’d waded far enough where no more sand was exposed, the biting flies disappeared.

gulf_lowtide5

I found a nice spot that wasn’t too mushy (some of the sand here is VERY soft, reminding me of quicksand, so I had to be mindful of that) and fairly free of seaweed. I settled into the slightly cooler water there, which only came up to my waist when I sat down in it.

At first there was no one else but me on the beach. I felt like I was the only person on earth. The sky was a bright blue dome, darkening to almost indigo toward its center, with white puffy cumulus clouds lining the edges against the horizon like lace trim. The water was clear and reflected the blue of the sky. I had waded so far out that I was surrounded on every side by barely moving but ever-changing water. I could tell the tide was still going out by the direction of the tiny ripples, and I kept having to move farther in to stay immersed. I looked back at where I’d laid my things on the beach and could barely see them anymore. I was very far out! I decided not to go any further because I didn’t want to lose sight of my things, even though it looked like the very shallow water went out quite a ways. I also didn’t want to be stuck any farther out if the tide suddenly came in.

gulf_lowtide3

I laid down in the water and dug my toes into the wonderful fine sand. I put my hands behind my head and let my elbows rest in the sand, propping my head up so I could see. It was clouding up just a little, and they looked so close overhead I felt like I could reach out and touch them. I heard gulls overhead and way in the distance, I could hear the rumble of a motorboat. I stretched out my arms and legs and just let myself float, tempted to shout to the sky about how great God is and what an incredible gift this trip has been for me, and how blessed I am to be in this healing place right now.

gulf_lowtide1

Mindful of my things on the beach and not wanting to drift too far away, I got myself back in a seated position and played with the sand again, rubbing it all over me the way I did two days ago. I decided to give myself a facial (that’s how soft this sand is!) so I plastered some of it on my face, let it dry a little, and then washed it off in the slightly salty water (Gulf water is less salty than ocean water). A few other people were visible here and there now, wading in the tidal pools or sitting in the shallow water. A young couple obviously in love embraced not too far away. Maybe they were on their honeymoon. I hoped things worked out for them.

gulf_lowtide4_toes

It was getting hotter and there were more people now, including some kids with plastic buckets and shovels collecting shells and hermit crabs. These kids and their equipment triggered a memory of myself as a mosquito-bitten, golden-tanned and skinny 8 year old, exploring a similar beach much farther north where my parents had rented a vacation cottage for two weeks. That beach was off Cape Cod Bay in Massachusetts, where I remembered the sandbars had stretched out even further into the distance–so far that the deeper water was only a thin dark blue line against the horizon. I remembered playing out there for hours, collecting hermit crabs in my orange plastic bucket and then setting them free, and how fast the incoming tide had moved–so fast my friends and I used to try to race it in. I recalled sunsets seen from our screened in porch, painting the tidal pools pink and orange, and the smell of citronella and the sound of the bug zapper as the armies of mosquitoes dodged into it. Memories of that distant summer fused with the here and now, and time itself seemed to stop. I was still that child, yes–more wounded and damaged, but still essentially intact under my armor born of pain; still curious about everything and still in love with the wonders of the natural world. A child who still possessed the ability to give and receive love.  I always wanted to go back to that place; now I’m here instead.

cape_code_sandbars
Sandbars off Cape Cod Bay, Brewster, Massachusetts

I had no idea how long I remained out there. It seemed like a very long time. I could have stayed in that heavenly spot all day, but being so fair skinned, I knew I should probably head back to the car before I got too sunburned.

My nostalgia obsession: standing in for my lost past.

memory_lane

I’m a nostalgia junkie.  I’m nostalgic about the ’60s, ’70s, ’80s, and ’90s.  I can’t decide what my favorite decade of those four is.  They were all pretty awesome in their own ways.   Hell, I think I’m even beginning to drum up a little nostalgia for the ’00s (what do we call that decade anyway?) even though it pretty much sucked (will it suck as much in 20 years when it seems a lot less recent?)   I’ve even been known to get nostalgic over decades I didn’t even live through–the ’20s, ’40s and ’50s come to mind.

I don’t know if some people are more prone to be drawn to nostalgia than others. Maybe it’s something that happens to you when you get older, but I know plenty of twentysomethings who are REALLY into the ’90s, which if they remember any of it at all, they only remember it from the viewpoint of a very young child.   Most twentysomethings were BORN in the ’90s, for heaven’s sake.   But compared to today?  The ’90s seem innocent, even quaint.   Maybe they’re pining for that last breath of societal innocence before all hell broke loose after 9/11 which coincided with the massive shipping of good jobs overseas while those here became increasingly uncaring about their workers.  Making things worse was the complete loss of any sense of privacy due to new technologies that made it possible for anyone who wished to spy on you or find out things about you you’d rather no one know.

Some cynics who look askance at those of us drawn to nostalgia think it means we’re depressed or unhappy and must always escape to the past to cope with present life.     I don’t think that’s true, and let’s be honest, the past WAS better than the present.   At least for those of us in our second half of life, in the past not only was everything better, WE were better, at least physically.  We were still young and attractive and healthy and the future seemed filled with endless possibilities.   The older you get, the more your options seem to narrow.  The more you find that age discrimination is a very real problem.

nostalgia_obsession

Time seems to speed up the older you get.   The gap between say, 1974 and 1994 seems like an eternity, while the same gap between 1996 and 2016 seems like a blip.   The strange thing is, even Millennials are saying time is speeding up for them too.   Like us oldsters, they also think of hardly any time passing since Y2K when it’s actually been 16 years.

One possibility is that things really haven’t changed that much since 2000–or 1996 for that matter–and that’s what makes it seem like time isn’t moving.   Or at least not the popular culture and the way people dress.  The outer trappings may have changed very little, but if you look deeper, there have been massive changes in technology and the overall way we live.   In 1996, the Internet was brand new, so new most people weren’t online yet.   Being online was nothing like being online today.   It was an entirely different experience, and a lot more exciting for being so new, even if what was available online was limited and not all that interesting.   In 1996, hardly anyone had a cell phone, no one sent texts, there were no GPS devices; Facebook, Twitter and all other social media we take for granted did not yet exist.  People still used Usenet and Telnet (DOS based) chat and gaming rooms.  You had to get off the Internet to use the house phone.

Connecting with my younger self.

old_swing

I think for me, my attraction to nostalgia is a way of attempting to connect to my past, so I can connect with my younger child-self.   Raised in a fractured, dysfunctional family that constantly moved, where nothing was permanent, where people shun and disown each other and don’t speak to each other for years, where family pictures–even entire photo albums and lovingly drawn child-portraits–are thrown away as if they’re nothing more than out of date newspaper circulars; where old toys, magazines, books, and records were callously given to The Salvation Army because it was just “clutter,” where the past had no meaning or sacredness, where reminiscing is haughtily dismissed as “wallowing.”

Unlike in normal families, where an adult child can often count on returning to their childhood room while visiting the home they were raised in, where their old toys and photos are lovingly kept stored away but can easily be retrieved for reminiscing, my past was as temporary as the homes we lived in, something to be forgotten and tossed out with the trash.    I might as well have been a foster child.

I have exactly 15 photos of myself as a child and teenager that I managed to salvage.  Right, just 15.  (I have a few more of me in my 20s).   At one time there were probably hundreds of pictures, since I remember my dad took pictures any opportunity he had, but neither of my parents have any idea what happened to them.   None of my toys, books, schoolwork, awards, or records were saved; what I didn’t take with me got given or thrown away.  A very large pastel portrait drawn of me at age 6 has somehow been “lost.”  Really?  I wonder about that.  How does a family “lose” such a large object that once meant so much that it hung over the mantel in the living room?

So, you see, my connections to my past are extremely sparse.  Besides those 15 photos and a few odds and ends (a newspaper article about me and a few other kids in a “silly hat contest” when I was about 6, a few letters from summer camp ’71 addressed to my parents, a mimeographed day camp newsletter in which I remember being so excited to be a “published author” because they published a single sentence I wrote about an arts and crafts project I had done; a single framed lithograph of my zodiac sign I’ve had since I was 12; and bizarrely, a sterling silver and mother of pearl baby rattle given to my mother by someone when I was born), I have nothing from my distant past, no tangible reminders of my early years.   I’ve noticed since I’ve been in therapy having more desire to have these long-lost things, I think because having these visual reminders would help me remember key events and bring them into the present for me so they can be worked on.  Maybe that’s another way my family sabotaged me–by making my journey to wellness more difficult by eradicating anything I could connect to my past.

I often look at nostalgia sites, reading about music, fashion, news events, old ads, and popular culture from when I was young or younger.   Lately, I’ve been doing it more frequently than I ever have.    I don’t think it’s really because things today are so much worse or because I’m getting old; I think my fascination is my attempt to find an alternative route to connect with myself at an earlier age. In leiu of being able to do this through personal mementos and old family photos, I have to resort to public nostalgia sites and old TV and music videos.   It’s still lots of fun though, even if the presence of useful triggers that could be used in my therapy are missing.