IN DECEMBER OF 1972, my daughter had just turned five, and her twin brothers were four. The long and embittered divorce proceedings were finally ending for Bill and me. My now ex-husband contested my half-interest in all our assets, stating that I had not worked outside the home and therefore deserved nothing. The role of mother or housewife didn’t represent anything of value in his mind. He was enraged by the eventual fifty/fifty financial split. A few days after the divorce was granted, he came to my apartment brandishing a gun. He pointed the gun right at my head and said, “I’ll be keeping my eye on you, and you best understand that I have absolutely no qualms about using this.” I was too fearful to tell the police or anyone else—not the first time I buckled to the pressure of a threat or harm.
The day after his threat he promptly departed for sunny California for an eight-month period to live with his friends Christopher and Lynda Day George.
Lynda and I met when we were nineteen. Our husbands went to college together, and had worked together on several “want-to-be” films. Whether it was our innate shyness, our lack of self-esteem, or our then-narcissistic partners, we bonded immediately. Perhaps it was our yet-undisclosed backgrounds of poverty and abuse that created a kind of familiarity that fostered our attachment. We had both had multiple fathers, alcoholism, abuse, knock-down drag-out family fights, little money or food, and pressure from our mothers for financial support while we were still in high school. Some would call our growing-up lifestyle hard times; others would call it trailer-trash.
Both of our mothers wanted us to support them financially. I escaped this mantle by marrying at age seventeen, thereby trading the temporary hell of financial extortion for the more permanent hell of matrimony. Lynda, on the other hand, succumbed to her family’s desperation and became a teenage New York model. At five feet nine, gentle as a kitten, beautiful, and with perfect posture, she was helpless against the modeling agencies that sought her and the guilt heaped upon her to sustain a family living in poverty.
Lynda went on to become famous in her field, and yet to me, nothing of her sweet nature has changed since our first meeting. Lynda Day George became “known” when she appeared in the popular TV series Mission Impossible (1970-1973) as Lisa Casey, a role for which she received a Golden Globe nomination.
One day while I was staying with Lynda, she took me to the set of Mission Impossible. It was fun meeting the cast and watching her work; but what will forever stand out in my mind and heart was what happened when we returned home. Lynda was wearing a light blue, pleated silk suit that looked beautiful on her. I told her how pretty she looked. That night, when I went to my room, there across the bed lay the suit with a note attached. The note said simply, “Enjoy, honey.” I protested, but she insisted that I keep the suit. At only five feet four, I had to roll up the skirt at the waist, but I felt like a million bucks in that suit, and I wore it with pride for the next twelve years.
The best part of her gift was that I knew that she did not give it to me out of pity, even though Lynda knew that I was married to an extremely controlling man who prohibited me from buying clothes (or anything else, for that matter). I knew in my heart that Lynda gave me the suit out of generosity. That is just how Lynda was then and is now. We have remained close friends. But in the early seventies, living on different coasts and both struggling with difficult issues, we were unable to lend much support to each other.
After Bill and I divorced I worked for minimum wage as a receptionist in a security office located in a dangerous, run-down part of Miami. It was completely without possibility of advancement—first because it was a very small company without opportunities, and second, because I didn’t deserve to advance. The company tolerated the myriad of mistakes I made on proposals, mainly because they were kind people. Fortunately, they liked me and felt sorry for my situation.
Having to take so much time off from work to attend to my son Ty’s medical appointments forced me to quit this job. I was terrified without one, and my options were running out.
Ty also became the motivation for my budding assertiveness. I fought boldly for what I thought were his best interests. The doctors wanted to medicate my son to lessen his “acting out” behaviors, and to splint his arms so that he could not take the adhesive tape off of his good eye (to keep it from crossing); or they wanted him to continue in speech therapy, while I argued that he needed hearing aids. This initial solo crusade was a nightmare, since the medical professionals would not consider my observations regarding my son’s hearing defects. When, some six years later, he was fitted with hearing aids, deafness proved to be one of his major problems. He also struggled with many problems stemming from his three-month premature birth. At age three, they wanted to put him on Ritalin. I declined. The doctors were exasperated at my supposed lack of cooperation.
While finding it difficult to stand up for myself prior to dealing with these doctors, I was bold and fierce when it came to defending the needs of my little boy. In doing so, without realizing it, I began constructing the basic building blocks of a substantial me.
Instead of the usual person’s lunch bag tote, I carried a barf bag to accommodate my worsening ulcer. Compounding my physical sickness was acute anxiety and excessive exhaustion. My overall prevailing mental state was grim. But, by God, my son never missed one day of his special needs class, and I never missed one day of the real estate classes I was taking to become a licensed real estate salesperson. No matter how much my stomach hurt or how many times I had to excuse myself to use the bathroom, I was always present.
Circumstances were becoming desperate as Ty’s need for medical treatment increased. When I arranged a carpooling situation with other mothers with special needs children, my son was suddenly prohibited from using the carpool due to his animalistic biting behavior. He would repeatedly tear off all of his clothes and physically attack the other children, primarily with his teeth. Now Ty, expelled from all day care centers, and eventually rejected by every available babysitter, presented a constant string of crises for me. Solutions seemed insurmountable without the assistance of an extended family or some exorbitant amount of money. His father refused to help out in any way, hoping that I would give up and return home where he thought I belonged. That, and he wanted revenge.
This is a file from the Wikimedia Commons. Photo of Peter Graves, Greg Morris and Lynda Day George as part of the cast of Mission:Impossible in 1972.