I was recently commenting on the blog of one of my followers. His post and the commentary had started a couple of trains of thought. One was aging, one was about making poor decisions in life, perhaps having addictions, exhibiting troubled behaviors, simply not knowing how to find one's way. I commented that I, too, was a broken person trying to make good and that I was already at least damaged (if not actually broken) by the time we moved to Salt Lake. By the time I was 6, I was in a complete state of confusion about many things. That's a pretty broad statement. By it, I mean that about many, many things, I simply didn't know how to act or react. I didn't know what one was supposed to do in certain situations. I had no siblings to chew on stuff with. I was not spanked, so I didn't learn in that way that I'd behaved unacceptably. I mostly took my cues by studying adult facial or other physical cues. The trouble with that is that some of the adults I studied were a little skewed. I had a tough time balancing my impressions and landing on conclusions that would hold from one event to the next.
I've already written that, yes, I know hearts, heads and psyches practice selective recall. And this incident will have some of that woven through it. I'll ask the reader's indulgence. It was a traumatic event and I'm just telling it the way it feels to me. I see it in short, vivid scenes, an old black-and-white movie that plays and then breaks from the reel, only to take up again a little later.
It is the only time I can recall that my mother played with me. I'm certain she had to have played with me other times, but I can't bring a specific example to mind. Literally. It was late June and dinner was over, dishes cleaned. My dad watched TV indoors. The Christensens, Lorri, my mother and I were in the back yard, the shadows long, the sun dipping into the west. My mother suggested we play a game in which one person lies on the grass (that was she), bringing her knees to her chest, feet up. It is hard for me to imagine her being willing to lie on the grass - she was prissy - but she did. This once. The other person (Limes and Lorri, alternately) sits on the feet of the one lying down who then snaps the legs forward, sending the sitter flying through the air to land as she might. We did this a few times each and, for a small woman, Mother could really put some English on that snap! But, of course, we were small, too - good projectile girls. It happened on my fourth or fifth snap-and-fly. That time, when I rose from the grass, I was crying. One did not have to be an M.D. to know that something was very wrong with my right arm.
Mother Christensen had been varnishing the redwood picnic table and I have a vivid memory of her scurrying to our back door, varnish can and paint brush in hand, calling for my father. Father Christensen scooped me up and dashed for the garage we shared, to place me in the back seat of our car. His good wife told my father, "Go! Get your wife's purse for her and get going. I'll take care of Gary." My mother rode in the back seat with me, her shrieks drowning out my crying. At some point, I pretty much stopped crying and just felt pain. She continued to wail and apologize, oddly, to my father. But, remember, she'd been routinely criticized for her caretaking of me. She was sensitive. Father repeatedly snapped his volleyball head around on his broomstick neck to ask my mother to calm down and "pay attention to Limes". She was having trouble managing that. The windows were all rolled down - it was summer and hot - but I began to shiver, teeth chattering. "I'm cold!" That broke her meltdown, and I got some good facial expression to study. Today I'd express it as "What's the matter with this child? It's hot!" I was probably shock-y and, since it was summer, there wasn't a sweater in the car to put across me, so we rode on and I shivered.
Upon arrival at the hospital, Dad managed to maneuver Mother and me into the emergency room. Mom was in pretty bad shape, so a nurse took her to a room to be examined while Dad went with me. The reader doesn't want a medical report and I couldn't give a perfectly credible one and that's not what this is about. The arm and wrist were badly broken, although not compound fractured, and we spent a long time in that place while the doctors decided whether to send me to surgery or whether to set the limb and allow it to heal. X-rays were taken several times and hours passed. Nurses came in several times to tell my father that my mother was in very poor condition and she was finally medicated. My father never left my side, though I remember he was terribly distressed. Ultimately, a cast was applied and we were sent home, with advice to get some traction on that arm. It was suggested that they put me in Gary's crib, with the mattress dropped to the lowest level, and tie the arm up to the crossbars with a dish towel. OK, we could do that.
My father poured us into the car, the drugged mother, the injured kid. It was late. Maybe near midnight. I remind myself that he was 24 years old, and this had to have been an excruciating experience for him. Kid badly hurt. Wife melted down. As when the uncles had said goodbye a couple of weeks earlier, I could sense my father's concern that his wife could not handle life and her family. Mom's head was lolling in the front seat and Dad talked to me quietly in the dark. An idea struck him. I imagine he simply wanted to do something nice for us all at that moment. "Limes, would you like some A&W Root Beer? There's a stand up ahead that stays open late." Well, sure. Who wouldn't want root beer in the summer? Dad sprung for a full gallon, contained in those huge, heavy glass jugs of the day. Now, my dad's no fool and we'd had a pretty terrible evening already. He knew one didn't stand a gallon jug upright on the floor of the car. It might tip over. He laid the jug carefully on its side on the floor. "Don't let it roll around too much, Limes." I wouldn't. I put one of my feet, in P.F. Flyers, on the round surface of that jug to make sure it didn't go anywhere. The other foot was planted firmly on the floor.
Here the old black and white film goes slow motion and silent. I can only feel confusion, guilt and shame for what happened and for the things I could have done differently, should have done differently. The foot that was planted on the floor got an odd sensation. As we passed under a street light, I bent over to take a look. To my horror, I saw that my beige P.F. Flyer was now brown and wet. A&W Root Beer was slowly and quietly dribbling out of that gallon jug lying on its side and being held so firmly by my other foot. This was not a torrent - no wet swishy noises to be heard. That jug was just silently empyting itself onto carpet, a kid's shoe and sock. Today I think, "OK, the cap wasn't properly tightened and the liquid poured out. No big deal." But I also know that most kids would have let out a whoop over that escaping root beer. "Hey, Dad, stop the car, we've got trouble!" But I cringed in shame - yes, I am using the appropriate word for the feeling that was overwhelming me - and let most of that gallon of sticky stuff silently saturate shoe, sock and carpet. This makes me feel very sad, still today. I don't feel guilt or shame any more. I feel sad that by this time, I was already silent. A secret keeper. One unwilling to deliver any type of bad news, even if I knew it would be discovered anyway, even if it meant no root beer to enjoy, even if further disaster could be averted by my ringing the bell - maybe only a pint of that root beer would have been lost. Arrival at home and the night's activities were not pleasant. Gary was dislodged from his crib and I was put into it, lashed to the bar with a dish towel.
The next morning, I was sick. I know I was sick, because I would not have sat in a child's chair in my bathrobe on the porch you see if I had not been sick. And that is what I did. The parents felt I needed sun and fresh air. I probably did. They felt I needed quiet. Lorri was only allowed to visit long enough to be the first to sign the cast and ask why I was outside in my bathrobe. As I sat on the porch, nauseous, the parental voices droned quietly. The Chevy was parked in the driveway near the porch, both doors open, one parent bending through each door, going after that root beer. My mother worried out loud about Gary having to lie on the floor on a makeshift bed. My father worried out loud about the damage to the car's carpet. I worried silently about all of it.
I'll end this post attempting to be as good and balanced as my friend who said about her trauma,"There were many good things that happened to counter-balance the bad." I remind myself that these young parents had a lot on their plates and had no special attributes that made them better prepared to handle problems than anyone else. I ask myself how I might have handled their troubles differently. I think I know at least some of the answers.
In my ears right now: Sweetheart of the Rodeo. It came out in April, 1968. It was presented to me as a memento of that time shared. I love it. Gram Parsons is on it. Jim/Roger McGuinn [far too into his numerology]. A couple of really poor tunes. And some wonderful ones.
Something that charmed me: It's * * *cold* * * in Las Vegas. I walked in temperatures lower than 30 degrees this morning. Although I had layered up tremendously, my clothes didn't keep me warm enough, so I mixed in a little running. Arriving at home, I turned up the heat, turned on the oven and popped into bed to read awhile. Quite soon, I had two warm cat heaters pressed against varoius parts of my body. They hung around awhile, too!
Photo credit, with gratitude: Kathryn Feigal