Saturday, September 17, 2011

“Divorce,” and Other Words I Wasn’t Allowed to Say

This essay originally appeared at and as part of an on-going series written by various writers and friends of Elizabeth Gaucher.  This essay is but one of many and is by no means the best entry. I urge you to read the entire collection at the above web addresses.

Jennifer Kayrouz

Divorce,” and Other Words I Wasn’t Allowed to Say

Childhood memories are very polarized. It’s easy to recall that epic Christmas where you got an entire Barbie settlement and to romanticize the moments of your youth, but the bad memories are always there to keep you honest.

The memories I have of our life on 1062 Cloverbrook are certainly some of the best and definitely many of the worst in my life. There were five of us in that house and I can make a fair assumption that all five have a different take on that time in our lives. With every thimble-full of torrential screaming about a dirty bedroom or why our dog fucked up the afternoon, there was a sturdy bucket pouring over its sides with silliness watching a movie as a family and genuine joy at racing down the rapids at New Braunfels. This strange dichotomy was my norm and I began to anticipate the storms because I knew the sun was never warmer than after the rain. There was always a bit of peace that gave some reprieve from whatever caused all the commotion to begin with.

It was within this space between the bad and the after that I seem to remember the most.

My memories are painted all the more surreal because we were living in San Antonio, Texas. If you have never been to Texas, go. Take your kids. Texas is a circus-like playground. Everyone is a character and life really is bigger and brighter in The Lone Star State. Fireworks were legal (everything was legal in 1982) and beer is as acceptable a beverage at 10 AM as juice or coffee. For the record, my dad drank Busch and Shiner beers. The weekends in southeast Texas are even more fun. There was always something to do. Always some county festival to conquer or flea market to troll for colored glass. I learned to swim in Medina Lake and to pick strawberries in Poteet. To my childhood eyes, it seemed like it was always the 4th of July; there were just so many people around.

We were a popular family. We had a big yard and there was some type of hutch out back where my brother raised rabbits or guinea pigs. I took ballet lessons, joined and quit the Girl Scouts before I was ever graduated up from a Brownie, and I was one of the first kids on my street with an Atari gaming system. My older brother was a great athlete and my younger sister was so cute she barely had to speak with all the people falling over themselves to get her to giggle.

My mom had cultivated a beautiful rose garden and we grew vegetables in our back yard. By the time I was eight or nine years old, I could name at least fifteen different types of rose bushes and describe to you their color. I can’t underscore enough the amazing images I have of lush yellow and peach rose petals all over my yard or the way we always had fresh cut flowers on our table. It was as if Georgia O’Keefe had spent time in our yard. What I wouldn’t give now to look at a picture of our rose garden…. It is one of my deepest and happiest visual memories. I can now just barely remember the endless and escalating bickering over how much it cost, who pulled who’s back out digging the flower beds, and who was being ignored for that damned rose garden.

To be blunt, my parents did not agree on much. I am not quite certain about what brought them together in 1973, but I imagine it was because they were both very bright, attractive, and naturally drew others to themselves. In those two ways, they were perfectly matched — my dad, the funny and charming tall drink of water you start chatting with at a party and come to realize that he is brilliant and knows the entire history of everything, and my mom a stunning beauty who gave off mystery and intellect as easily as breathing. Sadly, they differed in the basics of raising kids, growing a marriage and most everything else.

I don’t want to demonize either of them. I am a parent now and I know that ‘the best I can do’ varies by 100 degrees from day to day. I truly believe that they were doing the best they could with the skills they had at the time. This was pre-Oprah, pre-Internet and pre-other people can poke around in your family’s business. Folks didn’t pour their wash water into the streets like we do now and certainly, if you caught a whiff, you smiled and pretended not to notice. Both of my parents grew up in Catholic families, went to Catholic schools, and were taught the fundamentals of life from immigrant parents who possessed a sharp focus on a narrow line of tolerable behaviors. Mom and Dad were each very intelligent, and each was exhausted emotionally from being themselves and our parents.

You aren’t supposed to see your parents as people. You are always supposed to gaze upon them in their exalted station as safe-keeper to all in their manor. They are not supposed to be the ones who scare the children. I watched my mom stab my dad in the back with a Bic pen over what seemed like folly at the time (she laughs at this now as if it were all an inside joke). I was often so afraid of what miserable disgusted venom might spew out of my dad’s mouth over the smallest of childhood indiscretions that I had almost no fear of what would happen when I really screwed up. They played hard and they fought with equal measure. As I spend time with my seven-year-old self now, I see them as I would see my own peers. The year I turned seven years old, Mom was thirty-five and Dad was thirty-three, both younger than I am as I write this. I see their flaws as people, not as my parents. It has made all of this much easier to swallow now that I know how easy it is for any of us to fall off that cliff. I don’t necessarily blame either of them; I just wish they had been better at hiding it.

For so many of my adult years, I didn’t know all this and I wished that I hadn’t been partner to their marital demise. I know it wouldn’t change the outcomes if I could process all that detail. Mostly, I just don’t want to remember the cruel words that my parents said to each other, the acts of a marriage breaking down, and the three kids who got flung into the abyss like General Zod into The Phantom Zone. I watch the three of us kids floating in space trapped in our panes of glass; none of us knowing how to escape or stop from shattering into pieces. We aren’t those kids any more and none of us ever want to be again.

If you were to ask me 15 years ago to paint my story, it would look very different from how it does now. Fifteen years ago I was angry and self-serving and most of all, self-righteous. I blamed everything on those two people and how they shaped my life. Everything from my fear of commitment all the way down to my student loan debt was because of Mom and Dad. Deep down, I harbored a grudge so fierce that my mouth tasted like metal and salt when I thought of any of it. In an ever more twisted angle, I relished this station and used it to draw my power.

Sadly, in my twenties, I was stupid and short-sighted enough to believe it was working. Thankfully as my youthful duties began to wind down, I began to gain perspective on life in general and how I came to be standing at that point. I wouldn’t characterize it as an epiphany (although it was certainly as powerful) as much as a slow and steady ascent towards understanding. Finally, I was able to look in the mirror and see my dad. When I saw this, it made me want him back in my life. So I started the wheels in motion to enter his world and make a big space in mine for him. As I got to know him as the adult I had become I realized that the best parts of me come from him. Amid many other traits, his sense of humor and silliness are painted all over me, not to mention my sense of right versus wrong and honor among men. I see it plain as the nose (also from Dad) on my face and I relish these parts.

While I had always remained close to Mom, when I looked in the mirror I thought I saw my defenses against becoming her molding my face and heart. I was wrong. Every woman eventually turns into her mother; mine is wonderfully complex and gets funnier every year. The logical and intellectual side of me is the exact same shade as hers. We are both smart enough to bend our reality and I am grateful each day for a tiny dose of her sex appeal. I am stubborn and irrational and just wise enough to get away with it. I have her to thank for that. It serves me well still. I am the perfect recipe of the two people that made me and I am delighted for it.

All in all, I think this is a story of redemption. For twenty years I thought it was my parents who needed to surrender, to apologize, and to beg forgiveness. I always expected heart-felt letters and poetic lectures about why all of that stuff happened. For a lot of it, I just needed an explanation. The daughter needed to know how certain events came to be even if I understood that I would never be able to reconcile them in my head. I thought my dad needed to make reparations to my mom for his part and she needed to mend the ties to me and my brother and sister for how she reacted and lived out the rest of her young life. It was a neat package of justice I held and I thought I should be the one to deliver us all into a full emotional recovery.

None of that happened.

As with everything else ironic in my life, the change and redemption happened to me. I s-l-o-w-l-y released my anger, fear, guilt and contempt and it was I who ultimately was set free. My heart is the one that was pushed open and flooded with love — love for my family and forgiveness for myself. All those years I thought I needed to forgive my parents and be given an apology for my sufferings. They never owed me either. I owe a great deal to them.

Even though I wouldn’t want to live through any of it again, I have turned out to be a complex and multi-faceted woman with lots to offer to my partner and my community. On some days, I am downright brilliant and funny. Had I been born under some other moon to some other couple, I fear the under-bloomed yeast of my white bread existence. Because I am who I am, however, I will weather life’s rains better than most. I even found my own happily ever after and started my own little messed up family. My husband is very much like my dad and we have a little girl who eerily resembles the four-year-old me. She was lucky enough to get me as her mother.

God help her be strong – she will need all the faith and patience she can get.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

pOp, The Foundation Years...Part Two of Three

And if a ten-ton truck kills the both of us;

To die by your side...well the pleasure, the privilege is mine.

So, there I was - 15 and bad as hell. Mothers Milk opened doors to other bands that shaped my adolescent world and most intensely, my mood. I dove into that open sea and drank up this music. And, I let it be known. My tee-shirts proclaimed my status as loudly as the music streaming from my 1991 Firebird with T Tops. I recall a trip to our family doctor and I was wearing a RHCP tee shirt and he asked me if I was certain I wasn’t pregnant! I guess I realized there were sperm swimming towards the egg in the center...but the biology of baby making hadn’t really entered into my thoughts. Yet. But, that is another blog all unto itself.

In those years, I went insane as I listened to Boys Don’t Cry and of Pictures of You. I poured over those lyrics and attached them to the boy I loved. EVERY song was about him or us. It was years after college before I would be able to listen to The Cure. That is how deeply I was affected by these songs. As depressing as the words were, I was filled with a knowing that at least I ‘felt’ love. I was not numb to its power and I bled myself dry for this cause (metaphorically speaking - and stolen lyrics from Coldplay). Roaming the halls of JA in my Smiths tee and a striped tube skirt, I was as fucking cool as dog shit! Lisa Grigoraci (5 inches shorter and probably 50 pounds smaller) had the same skirt. I had the legs, I must say, to pull it off. I sailed into the Dead Milkmen and The Violent Femmes; the more curious and campy of those times. “Yeah, You’re for me Punk Rock Girl. That was the Anthem of the summer after 9th Grade.

Yet, I was a more mainstream as much of the bands I hounded had a video or two on MTV. In fact, 120 Minutes was the doorway to the new, the hip, the avante garde. I didn’t want to go deeper than this; The Melvins, Black Flag, Social Distortion, and Pantera were a little harder than my tastes in those days...but I still felt cutting edge. I rocked Gleaming the Cube and Pump up the Volume soundtracks (is it bigger than a baby’s arm?) but I never got a taste for anger. I just wanted to hear what I was felling. Again, these were the first blushes of my obsessions.

How could you turn me into this? After you just taught me how to kiss you.
I told you I'd never say goodbye. Now I'm slipping on the tears you made me cry.

The year was 1991 and along came Lollapalooza. My first real concert. The line-up was a dream and one never to be rivaled again in my opinion (Since Simon and Garfunkel can’t play with the Beatles in Central Park). Jane's Addiction, Siouxsie and the Banshees, Nine Inch Nails, Living Colour, Rollins Band, The Violent Femmes, and Fishbone. WOW. I had just heard Pretty Hate Machine at a party at Elizabeth Martin’s house and had a spiritual experience. Perry Farrell started the series and I am lucky to have attended the first 4 years of the touring show. But, that first year was intense and I felt the last drops of girl dry on my arm in the sun. After that, I ripped off my clothes and went swimming at night. I didn’t care what dangers lay ahead. I was turned on and tuning in (to boys, drugs, and general pissiness).

Grunge hit (and hard) and it would be understated to mention the impact it had on the early 90’s. Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, Stone Temple Pilots, Alice in Chains, Mudhoney, Mother Love Bone, Temple of the Dog and all the others that rocked the Seattle Sound. Kayde Cappellari and I sang Black so loudly in her little Subbie the doors shook. I loved it. There was also a good deal of REM, Pixies, Smashing Pumpkins, Toad the Wet Sprocket, Prince, and too many more to type out peppering the times. I was well-rounded in the school of 90’s rock. And, while my memories are vivid and certain, words will never be put to paper describing all that transpired during those short 3 years. My life - where I thought I would never escape high school. And, how vital these band were to allowing me an outlet for the usual unsettled mind caged in every 15-18 year old.

Monday, January 17, 2011

pOp, The Early Years - An Unfolding in Three Parts

It is only January 17th and already, 2011 has brought me several insights into myself and how I am choosing to live my life. I am the kind of gal who is flooded with, although admittedly not very novel, ideas. What I lack is the follow-through. Ah, again it must be said; I am short on the backstroke. Thinking it up – easy, all I do is think. Doing it – meh, I’d rather nap. That is to say I wrote this entry in my head more than once the last few days and I laughed aloud from my clever musings. But, I allowed the thoughts to cool and now I am pushing to get them down. BE DAMNED the humor and wit and turn-of-phrase that I was assured to capture your admiration with. But, the sentiment is still there – I have had a breakthrough of sorts.

You see, as long as I can remember I have enjoyed music. Since I got my first cassette tape – the Grease 2 Soundtrack - with Michelle Pfeiffer singing ‘Cool Rider’, I allowed music and song to set my mental stage and define my mood. I was 7 years old and we lived in San Antonio, Texas, and I had bunk beds with my sister Amber. I played that tape from my top bunk and cried. Cried because I thought Maxwell Caulfield was the most beautiful human breathing and why didn't he love me? Cried because I knew I could be a famous actor one day and all this suffering would be fuel for my creativity. Cried because even then, I was moody and sought an outlet to shake the burned layers off my heart. Needless to say, I lived that tape. And that was the beginning; the start to a memory cataloging system and twisted love affair/open diary/obsession with music… song and lyric parcelled in my own Dewey Decimal Drawer of Memories.

After Grease 2, I dabbled in other musicals. They were easy for a kid to get a hold of back then. I can still sing all the words to every song in The Sound of Music. I learned this pattern before age 10 and the disc player in my head skips if I hear any of the songs out of order from the film. "How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria" DOES NOT EVER come after "Do Re Me"! I recall trips from Texas to Virginia to see my grandparents and Crystal Gayle’s Brown Eyes haunted me all over some stretch of road in Arkansas. I absorbed Simon and Garfunkel’s America in Alabama and swayed to Kenny Rogers’ Gambler in South Carolina. In fact, adult contemporary music of the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s still calls to me and I find myself seeking out that familiar piece of song from B.J. Thomas or some other faceless singer because I can’t shake it until I can ‘feel’ those Raindrops Fallin’ on my Head. Ahhhhh, to finally tease out enough of the notes to find and hear that song, catalogued in my mind with a specific thought, emotion, or memory. It teeters on obsession some days. I must do it right then, or that piece of my life will fall off the edge, never to be reclaimed.

Sure, I saw Debbie Gibson and Tiffany at the mall in Corpus Christi. And I heard Menudo at Padre Island one summer and thought I was in love with Robby Rosa. But, who wasn’t? Every hot-blooded girl in Texas loved those cute boys from Puerto Rico. I was just another fish in the tide. In a few short years, MTV would take hold of me and I now had new music at my fingertips. Every hour. Every day. And soon, my tastes would be changing. And my thoughts about how I let music define me would be changing right along with them.

For Christmas when I was 13 years old my brother bought me The Red Hot Chili Peppers cassette Mothers Milk. While I had always been happy to bob along on the surface and glean the stuff that everyone was soaking in as well, Mothers Milk was a taste of what was waiting for me just below the surface. Like I was told, I never went passed the second sandbar at the beach. Menudo and Debbie Gibson were close to the shore and safe. My peers and parents could relate. But the Chili Peppers were calling me from just beyond that second sandbar and I dove at them like a shark. This feeling was a deal breaker. I had to see what else was there. Higher Ground, while a Stevie Wonder cover, made me dance and shake my head in ways Stevie never did. Sexy Mexican Maid was dirty and I didn't know why - but I knew I would be that woman one day. From then on, whatever band, whichever song, and no matter what the lyric I was brushing my teeth to or replaying on my Sony Walkman, it became a badge that I wore. It proclaimed my rights and marked my path for all to see. I didn't have to dare tell my secrets, because I was sure to find some brilliant musician who had put my tender rage and explosive whimsy to a succession of notes and words. They did this and I was free.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

D20 as Nostradamus - The 2011 Predictor of Fates

WELCOME 2011. Here's to a new year with exciting opportunities to excel and fail upon my horizon.

Not so Private Confession (and slight giggle): my dear husband is a role player. In more ways than one ;-), he enjoys adopting alternate persona. He has been participating (often as DM) in a Dungeon's and Dragon's Campaign that has endured a wedding (his own), a death (my father), and many, many, many other less traumatic events with our family and friends. And for this particular role playing game (RPG), he requires the use of a D20 die. This special die has 20 numbered sides. When you role to resolve an action or add modifiers to a players aptitude; you have options 1-20. One is the lowest and twenty is the Critical Hit/Failure. Depending on what you are rolling for, either can be crippling and result in death or that chance you needed to get back up and fight a little longer.

As we are in deep consideration of purchasing a home together, we decided a smaller gift-giving extravaganza would be appropriate this Christmas. Along with six thousand pairs of socks, I bought him Atari pint glasses from Think and a red D20 die that lights up when you land on 20 - the Critical Hit.

                                                         Stay with me. There is more.

As he is so fond of games and challenges, this New Years Eve, he proposed that we roll to set personal goals for ourselves during the month of January. He really gets serious about new year resolutions...and this new, illuminating D20 gave him a snazzy toy to entice his audience into setting some serious and thought-provoking benchmarks for ourselves.

He was the first to roll. The Captain rolled for the number of meals he could purchase outside the home. His first roll was a 1. BOO! Remember, this impacts me as well. So, he opted to pay a fine to charity for the opportunity to re-roll. This roll was a 10. MUCH better. That means I get at least 1 mexican fiesta feast with him this month. Next, he rolls for how many push-ups he must do daily; 17 was the toll. Not too shabby. With a max of 20, that is an easy enough goal to mind daily. He must also post a whopping 18 blogs this month. That will be a challenge many are eager to see come to fruition. Dorge Kas (click name for link) puts out an interesting story and I for one will be tuned in. Lastly, he rolled for number of times he will go exercise at our local gym. He rolled 14. Easy enough.

SuperActionBear rolled for push-ups as well. His equallt super wife, SuperSarah, also jumped on the push-up wagon. The just completed a boot camp class - so they are really riding the fitness wave that is sweeping our nation like a wet cloth. Jean Grey rolled for the number of servings each of carbs and diet cola during the month she may consume. Upping the ante here, ladies and gents. Diet cola I can live without - but carbs? Ack! Many others joined in the fun and then it came to me. I am terrible at challenging myself and more than terrible at the challenge is sticking with it. Like a weak golf game, I have no follow through. My lack of will power and weaseling out of a goal that involves food, exercise or any manner of hedonistic denying is notorious. What possibly could my personal goal for January (hopefully to swell the tide to February and so forth) be when everyone in the room swore that whatever it was, I wouldn't stick with it so it really didn't matter. The dismissiveness of the remarks stung; the truth stings a time or two.

My grandiose gesture of sacrifice for January; how many times I will have intercourse with my husband. I assumed I would get a good laugh and move on. I guess my darling husband has been spilling some family secrets, because you could hear the clock tick when I declared my intent to roll. He merely mutteres a 'harumph' under his breathe and passed me over. Like any self-loathing wife I stood up, grabbed the die and rolled for his pleasures. As the little red die was rolling around on the wool carpet I was praying for a Critical Hit. Not so much becasue I wanted 20 sexual encounters, but the dramatic flair it would have produced is the stuff of legends. Alas, a 17. That averages out to every other day. I can do that. I rolled for the push-ups and gym visits too. But, I am certain that starting with a January like this, my husband may have a very good year.

Today is January 5, 2011. I have fulfilled 2 of my 17 engagments. Glorious and dirty. In part, because an entire room full of friends knows that on any given night, their friends are probably rolling to see how many times Mommy can spank Daddy. Or, how many time Daddy must refer to Mommy as Mistress during sex.

Ok, off to do those dammed push-ups.