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EST, The First Weekend of Personal Growth

In the years since the 1970s, when  it was widely popuWarnerlar, Erhard Seminar Training (EST) has often been cited as a hallmark example of the “human potential” movement fostered by the “me” generation that inspired Tom Wolfe’s article, mentioned earlier.

During a ten-year span, over one million people participated in EST training, including such celebrities as Diana Ross, Valerie Harper, and John Denver. I am aware that EST has been defined as nothing more than a self-indulgent, cult-like movement. I totally understand that perspective, because there were indeed many annoying aspects of the program: the four-day seminars (two weekends) did use a lot of extreme measures such as keeping participants in back-to-back sessions for hours without allowing the use of the bathroom. Such measures were used to break down a person’s ego-defenses, though, and to open us to self examination. I know that our marriage would not have lasted had it not been for how I was affected by those weekends. My exposure to the intense self-searching eventually led to what I refer to as my first conscious moment. A defining moment, indeed!

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After Enlightenment, Self Responsibility

dawn by car 2IT  WAS IN August 1976 that Tom Wolfe, writing for  New York Magazine, first used the expression “the ‘me’ decade” to describe the new prevailing attitude of Americans towards self-awareness and the need of fairness in the conduct of human relationships.  At that time I was struggling with what I saw as a woman’s dependence on men for her sense of empowerment or worth. Feelings ranging from bitter helplessness to seething anger were elicited as I became obsessed with the need to be self-supporting. Determined to never again be dependent on a man for my financial well-being became my number one goal.

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He Calls Me High-Pockets

DSCF2426DSCF2424As the holidays neared, I fretted over where to spend them. This was the first Christmas that my children had lived with their father, and I was torn between wanting  to be with them and with Mike. Carol, knowing that I had no family, invited me and my children to her home for Christmas. This was the beginning of Carol’s kindhearted generosity. Her goodwill would be extended to me and my children over many years to come.

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My Best Life Choice Ever

My nervousness disappeared immediately as a beautiful woman opened the door with a hug for Mike and a most welcoming smile and an extended  hand. I knew immediately that this was Carol.  She was blond, slender, and abundantly gracious. Her fair skin and piercing blue eyes were stunning.  As Mike headed toward the bedroom to visit with Poppa, Carol said, “Come, let me fix you a drink and introduce you to my husband, Bobby. Mike very seldom brings a friend for us to meet, so you must already be special to him.”

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My Best Life Choice

PERHAPS IT WAS because of the embarrassment brought on by my long-ago decayed teeth Mike & Dawn bahamas (5)that I was obsessive about the care of my children’s teeth.  When the twins were two and my daughter four, I brought them for their first dental checkup. Dr. Mike was recommended by my next door neighbor, and was considered one of the best dentists in the area.

Mike was forty-three when we met, divorced once, and had a ten- year-old daughter.  I was twenty-eight, and divorced twice. Several fillings later, Mike walked me to the door and said, “Would you like to go to dinner, or are you involved?” I explained that I was involved, but thanked him for his offer. He said, “You have an open invitation.”

One year later, after my breakup with Bo, I called him to see if the invitation was still open. We agreed upon a time for our first date, but it was our third date that changed my life forever.

Promptly at 6:00 p.m., Mike rang the doorbell for our date. I knew by now that he would open the door of his older but sensible car for me, which I appreciated.  I was not used to such gentlemanly behavior, and it really made me feel like a lady. The radio was playing soft music as we drove toward the interstate.  I thought back to our second date, when we’d had a flat tire during a horrific thunderstorm. Fear knotted my stomach as I waited for the customary onslaught of anger and cursing, as was the case in all three of my past significant relationships.  Instead, Mike calmly navigated the car to the side of the road, looked at me, and said, “We are so lucky to not have been on the interstate  when this happened.” He got out during a break in the rain and changed the tire. To my delight, his calm attitude under fire has remained consistent. He has always been easy on my mind.

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Meeting My Father For the First Time

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I had met my grandparents one time, briefly, when I was nineteen. Bill and I had driven up to New England to see his parents, and I persuaded him to make a side trip to “the grandparents’.” While my grandmother was cold and aloof, my grandfather was warm and kind. The first words out of his mouth to me were, “You have eyes just like your father’s.” I would hang onto to those words for years to come because that matched exactly what my mother had said years prior.  I would close my eyes and think about what the rest of my real father’s face looked like. Did it look like mine? Did he have my hair color? Was his nose like mine?

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Meeting My Father

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“DON’T EVER  CALL  me  again!” my paternal grandmother warned harshly as she hung up the phone.  This abrupt conversation, actually just an answer to my greeting of “Hello,” left me bewildered. She and I had been having long-distance phone conversations for at least fifteen years. Sure, the conversations were brief, stiff, and unwelcome on her part, but many years ago, we had made a deal: if she would talk with me occasionally by phone, then I would not pursue the search for my father. I had kept my end of the bargain, so what in the world was the matter with her? I immediately called her back.

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An Abusive, Abandoning Mother, Fast Becoming a Lush.

Kimmy & MeMy daughter, Alex, and Ty’s twin brother, Jess, had age-appropriate sicknesses and little childhood traumas that needed tending, but Ty’s hearing, eyesight, lack of speech, and overall delayed developmental issues were so huge that they became all-consuming. Every day, I struggled with bills, scheduling demands, sick children, and now a controlling boyfriend who wanted attention and sex. Just like when I was married, these stressors caused severe physical reactions. At least once a week, I had either an ulcer attack or spasmodic gastritis so painful that I spent all night on the bathroom floor.

Fast losing ground in a number of ways, the final straw came the day my health insurance premiums doubled. The premiums shot up to $350.00 monthly, which was more than my monthly child support checks. I was scared to death. My son’s problems demanded that I maintain health insurance. My stress became apparent to everyone around me. I was losing weight, not sleeping, and stuttering more frequently, and my drinking and smoking increased.

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Seven Times Seven

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I met Bo in a sleazy bar four weeks after separating from Bill. Bo was charming and funny and had beautiful blue eyes and boyish good looks. He would become both my inspiration and my abuser.

Bo entered my life filled with hopeful possibilities for me. He suggested that I obtain a real estate license, which would place me in a job situation with flexible hours. I pointed out that I couldn’t do that since I didn’t even know my times tables. He offered to teach me. True to his word, we practiced reciting the times tables every night while I attended real estate school by day. Unfortunately, this knowledge did little to help me with the closing statement part of the real estate exam, but I was good at the law portion, so I concentrated my efforts there.

Though hired by a prestigious real estate office, I had no time to feel proud of myself: it was 1972, and the bottom had dropped out of real estate in southern Florida. So while I was learning the field, running down leads and pounding signs in overgrown front lawns, I simultaneously studied for my life and health insurance license.

I was driven by every form of imaginable fear. What if I ran out of money and I was unable to support myself or my children?  What if I had no credit? What if I lost my children due to lack of money or some emotional or physical illness? The day would come when all of those fears would come to pass.

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Friendship and The Blue Suit

 

Peter Graves Greg Morris Lynda Day George Mission Impossible 1972.JPGIN 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.