It’s Just A Life.1

Hello faithful readers, assuming, that is,

I haven’t kept up my blog well. It’s one of those nagging guilts that eats at me, and yet I do nothing. However, I have been writing over the years. A few people know that I finished a novel recently. It’s science fiction, and yes, I’ve submitted it, many times, and yes, now I’m a real writer because I’ve been rejected, whatever. If it doesn’t get a “real” publisher I’ll self-publish and my son will inherit a storage unit filled with unsold masterpieces. 

There’s another project I’ve worked on for much longer, however. It’s a memoir of sorts. Miscellaneous short stories written in the hopes that my son can have a bit more family history than I have. Some are (hopefully) amusing, some are embarassingly self-pitying, and most of them are just a day in a life…which is my poor attempt at setting up the intro to the book, which is entitled It’s Just A Life.

I don’t know when, or if it will ever be fully published, but I thought maybe a serialization (ha! now you get the blog title right?? Hopefully, if not just google it) in my blog might be a nice way to get it vetted. Feedback (nice constructive feedback!) is most definitely welcome. So, here we go, every week a chapter from the book. I hope you enjoy, or at least aren’t embarrassed for me!

 

David Martin

 

Chapter one, in which you learn of some interesting family dynamics…

1. Oh Brother!

My parents were experiencing bad times when I was conceived. I owe my existence, I’m sure, to the fact that my father was told he was largely sterile. Ironically, I have a half brother who is one week older than me that proves “them” doubly wrong. Swear to god; born in the same hospital a week apart. Can you imagine what the nurses and doctors must have thought? I don’t know the details. I would hope my father was present for both births, but I doubt very much he was. It was a different time.

I’ve never really known my half brother, we avoid each other at family gatherings, sharing only the most cursory of greetings before moving to opposite sides of the room. If I had to hazard a guess, I’d say he’s not comfortable with the fact that I’m gay, but it could just as easily be the fact that I avoid him, and I’m not even really sure why.

I reached out to him when we were in our early twenties. I had always been intrigued by the idea of a real brother. We got together for one dinner at my and my fiancé’s house, but it never seemed to amount to much. And though it provided the impetus for him to become closer to our father, the brotherly bond I had hoped for never materialized.

My sisters Yvonne and Rhonda were 6 and 5 years older than me respectively. They were legally adopted by my father, they are in reality also my half-sisters. My mother left home, married her first husband, and had a baby girl by the time she was 17. 14 months later my other sister showed up. Sometime between these two events the neighbors helped my mother escape an extremely abusive marriage. My parents married shortly after my younger sister was born.

My parents met when they were step-siblings. My mother’s father, Byron, was married to my father’s mother, Naomi for a few years. They met after mom left her husband and lived with her mother and step-father for a time. Somehow my mother becomes my aunt and my father my uncle in this scenario, and we’re not even from the South.

I suppose my father was probably a fairly good catch, he’s quite charming, was rather good looking when he was “younger”, and he was a race car driver. The parentheses are there because sometimes I think he was born an old man. One of those people who never seemed to have the carefree attitude of youth, he looks the same to me in the pictures of him and I as a baby, and years later in pictures of him and my son. He can be a very nice man as well; he and I never really managed to connect. 

I’d always assumed my parents made the mistake of staying married because of me. But really, life just isn’t that simple,. Can you imagine getting a divorce from your pregnant wife in 1965? But of course what does that make the other woman waiting in the wings? My grandmother Naomi led me to believe they were engaged, my father and the other woman, that is, but my mother assured me that she wasn’t aware of a separation, so that might not be an accurate assessment.

I didn’t know I had a brother until I was thirteen. The same year I stopped living with my father. My grandmother decided it was time for us to meet, and once she set her mind to something, it was going to happen, and screw anyone who thought they knew better. I don’t know if she hoped we’d connect on some level, or maybe it would somehow interfere with my father and step-mother’s relationship. She never liked any of my father’s wives, and I wouldn’t put it past her.

We were born in a Northern California hospital, and shortly after my father moved my mother, me, and my sisters from Sunnyvale, CA, to Washington State. I’m sure it was for a new start. Oh, if only that mythical creature existed. Within a year we had to move back due to my frequent bouts of pneumonia. My mother tells me the doctor told them to move back to California or expect me to die. Can you believe I didn’t come out of the closet until I was 24 years old? Born a drama queen. 

We moved to Sacramento, where we lived in what has since become a thoroughly terrible neighborhood, but was pretty much middle class back then. Very much a 1960s suburb, I imagine it like Bewitched, starring my mother as Samantha Stevens. I’m pretty sure in reality it was nothing worthy of a sitcom, maybe a soap opera. I hope to god it would at least be a classy one.

Mom and Dad divorced for good when I was five. I remember the last time my mother left. What a dramatic scene I remember! I was crying and following my mother as she got in the car and drove away from us. How did I even know what was happening? Does our life create our memories, or do our memories shape our life? Do I remember it accurately, or did I create a memory of what I think it must have been like? No matter what truly happened that day, the memory I have, has affected my life for nearly half a century. It hardly matters what yesterday’s truth is today.

I have very few strong memories of those days, apparently I and my father were very close when I was little, I’m told I idolized him at the time. I remember having fevers and my father sitting up with me through the night. I have one very strong memory of a night I was having trouble sleeping, I’m sure I was sick, and when I woke in the night with a fever, he was sitting in a chair watching over me. I remember him teaching me how to swim, he believed in the sink or swim method, that’s not something you easily forget. I remember being so happy when he would pick me up from daycare, but I don’t remember those times lasting much past my fifth birthday. Wow, did life change after my fifth birthday.

I’m sure the transition from the 60’s to the 70’s was monumental in some peoples lives, but I can’t say I remember being aware of the decade. I was five, I had barely learned to tell time, I don’t think I had a clue how a calendar actually worked. But though I didn’t know the era was changing, I do remember my life changing drastically. The most significant change would be our moving from an apartment in Sacramento, to a house in a suburb of Phoenix, Arizona. Mesa to be precise.

It didn’t seem like a monumental change to me at the time. Oh, I do remember excitedly getting on the plane in California. I wish I still had the little plastic wings the captain gave me when he came out to say hi to the passengers, and I remember getting off of the plane in a blast furnace. The heat would have been similar in Sacramento a little later in the season, but all I remember is the blast furnace that was our new home. Five year olds don’t have a lot of perspective. But even as an adult, I would say the only difference between Sacramento and Phoenix is a major river, and some social niceties. They’re both hot and exhausting in the summer. 

My sisters and I flew to our new home by ourselves after school ended in California. We moved to join my father, who had already found us a house in the spring. My grandmother had come out to help my father prepare the house for us and met us at the airport. If I’m not mistaken, by the time we arrived he had also found a girlfriend, the woman renting the house next door. How cliché; I guess it wasn’t a classy drama after all. 

I wasn’t too unhappy with the kids that came along. They lived next door for a time, so we knew them pretty well by the time they actually moved in. Jack, a little older than me, was fine,  but his sister Janet, whom I grew to like quite a bit, was “special”. She was large, and slow, and to this day I still connect her bad breath to the mayflies I mistakenly thought were the cause of the odor the first time she stayed with us. My sisters hated her. I don’t really understand hating somebody in that condition, but I didn’t have to share a room with her as they did. Anyway, she only spent short periods with us, so my sisters only had to share with her part-time.

Gwen…I can still remember Gwen 42 years later. Not so much what she looked or sounded like, but a very strong recollection of alcohol, cigarettes, and big hair. My sisters hated her more than they did her daughter, and I remember not liking her very much. I don’t think they lived with us a full year, but it was quite a year. Sometime around the end of her and my father’s marriage she kidnapped us. 

Gwen and my father had apparently had a huge fight (the divorce happened not long after that), and Gwen ran to her parents in Florida. It wasn’t the first time she ran off with us. That would have been a trip to California, to my grandmother’s. It was the last, however.  

The trip should take about 1 and a half days to drive. All I remember is sleeping with my head cradled in one of my sisters laps for what seems like a few hours, but what had to have been a miserably long trip. Most of what I remember of Florida is rain and frogs. My step-brother Jack and I spent most of one day outside in the rain, playing in the downspout on the front porch of his grandparents house. I also remember my sisters sending me down into the storm drain to catch baby frogs. My sisters and I spent some time in the woods around Westwood, CA where my grandmother lived catching lizards with our cousins in the summer, so baby frogs were no problem at all. Try not to think about sending a six year old into the storm drains, what’s over is done. I also remember swimming in the gulf (the warmest water I ever remember swimming in), and catching crabs (which I’ve never been able to tolerate, sure I’ll eat escargot, but crabs are disgusting). I also remember Gwen’s horrible mother standing over me forcing me to eat all my grits. A more disgusting concoction I’d never before been subjected to! So there we sat, the grits and I, playing the same stupid game I’d had to play with my father for years. You can’t get down until you finish it all. God parents were stupid back then.

My father showed up to get us eventually, I don’t remember Gwen much after that. I still kind of miss Jack. He was the only brother I’ve had over the years who felt like family.

It didn’t seem to be too much longer after that that I met Clark. You might think meeting my step-mother to be, Brenda, would have had a bigger impact, but in fact not only would you be wrong, but you would be horribly wrong. Nobody had as much of an impact on me as my step-brother Clark. 

The first time we met was an unfortunate sign of times to come. Surely my father and future step-mother had been dating for some time at this point. I would hope so anyhow, but I had never laid eyes on her before this day. Brenda brought Clark with her this evening for dinner at our house. I don’t remember Clark’s younger brother Kirk being present, he was young enough that he probably arrived asleep. I assume the two of them were there to meet my father, sisters, and myself. Clark brought the most fabulous hot wheels garage with him! I loved hot wheels, they were at the time so amazing to a young boy, even a gay one! Bright, colorful, made of heavy duty metal at the time, and I could play with them for hours. I’ve always loved building car tracks, train tracks, hot wheels tracks. I especially loved those electric slot cars! They worked like shit, but I just loved them. 

Boys were an entirely different subject. I was terrified of boys. Always have been. My internalized homophobia created some rather unfortunate side effects. I was terrified that anybody could plainly see that I was gay just by looking at me, so I avoided eye contact. I avoided boys in general because surely they could sense I was different. I knew I was different by the age of four or five, so surely they could tell as well. So I avoided people in general whenever possible, either by hiding in the school library with a book, volunteering to work in the school cafeteria during lunch, or by staying home, generally in front of the television. Sci-fi and fantasy shows were the best. Lost In Space, Land Of The Giants, Star Trek, or even Dark Shadows! I’m sure it led to my life long love of sci-fi and fantasy books. Unfortunately, above general shyness, was pure terror of other boys in a one on one situation. Clark lived up to most of my expectations of doom.

As soon as they arrived Clark and I were situated with the Hot Wheels garage in the dining area just off the family room where Brenda and my father could have privacy and still keep an eye on us. Not a very close eye, though. Within seconds my life changed. As I reached to help set up the cars on this wondrous toy, Clark reached out and pushed me away telling me not to touch HIS garage! Our relationship over the next 8 years would only go downhill from there.

 

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