I found this photo when going through my photographs the other day…
It’s a photo of my half-sister and I from probably 1979 or 1980. It was at my mom’s house. And it was taken before a time when my life went…a little sideways. I remember my Grandma Hattie mentioning to me that I became…a bit of a different person after the few years that followed. It’s only been in the last couple years that I’ve recaptured the light that was in my eyes and my soul back then.
It may be time for me to go through that period of time in my life to figure out what happened, exactly. This post will attempt to document a few of these things.
The Year Was 1980
By 1980, my parents had been divorced for a few years. However, they both had decent paying jobs. My mom worked at a factory for Intel, my dad was a firefighter. They clearly did well enough that I went to a private Christian school in Scotts Valley that had no issue spanking children. Yes, I got a spanking on a couple of occasions. I don’t remember a lot about what I did to deserve it, but I also don’t have any particularly bad memories of that time.
In any case, something had clearly changed with both my parents. In the fall of 1980, I started second grade at Boulder Creek Elementary School. I was pulled out of school within a week or two as I had gotten impetigo, a communicable disease that requires antibiotics to clear.
The next thing I know, I’m living with my dad in Felton and going to school in Scotts Valley where my step-mom lived (yes, my Dad had divorced her by then). The reason? Felton is in the very same school district that Boulder Creek is, and my mom didn’t want me anywhere near those schools.
The only way I was getting to school in Scotts Valley from Felton was to learn how to ride the city bus. Alone. At the age of seven. Sure, my dad took me there and back on the bus once. Every other time, I did it on my own. And it wasn’t a single bus I had to take either, it required a transfer to a different bus…and a walk to school.
Meanwhile, my dad ran into some tough financial times. According to his own account several years later, he was struggling to keep a job. His vehicles were repossessed. He ran one of them into a telephone pole while driving drunk. Things were bad enough that we did not have electricity at the house and were lucky to have heat. There were plenty of evenings during that time where the neighbors fed me. One night, I remember my dad and I splitting a packet of ramen for dinner. I frequently had to borrow money from the receptionists at school so I could eat lunch. My Halloween “costume” that year…it wasn’t.
On a typical school day, I could easily spend a couple hours getting to and from school each day, thanks to the busses and walking. One day, an older kid told me there was a dog with rabies along the route I needed to walk. I was so scared to encounter that dog…any dog…along that route, it took me two hours just to walk the mile or so from the school to my step mother’s house down the road.
My step mother’s house was another source of problems. My step mother’s then-husband definitely had some anger management issues. He also had boundary issues, since he, too, allowed me to smoke marijuana with him at the age of 7.
The Lynn Years
By the time I was to enter the third grade in 1981, my dad and I moved into a two bedroom apartment with his mother. It wouldn’t be the last time I had to live with a grandparent, but it was definitely the first time I shared a room with my dad. We had a bunk bed. It wasn’t the worst sleeping arrangement, but it wasn’t great, either.
It’s only very recently that I began to analyze the behavior of a woman whom, when I found out she had passed away, I had zero emotional response. I didn’t even react when I saw her casket at the funeral. It felt weird to have no emotional reaction for a person that theoretically loved me.
However, it’s pretty clear from what I remember that she was, in fact, a narcissist. Appearances were big for her. I’m fairly certain she manipulated me on numerous occasions. I also watched her drink heavily, smoke cigarettes, and play cards a lot. Which is funny because she (briefly) attended and played cards at a place where people were trying to get off alcohol. To add to the famil dynamic, my Uncle Ron lived next door with his wife. They were both heavy drinkers, too.
I don’t know if I’ll go down the rabbithole of figuring out the details of all the ways I was damaged by this woman. I, frankly, don’t remember many (if any) specific instances. I just know because I was told by my other Grandma that I was a different person after living with her.
During the two years and change I lived with my dad’s mom, I had a few things happen:
I Broke My Arm
I used to go with my mom used to go to Bonny Doon Beach back in the day, which is a nude beach on the California coast. We were often in the part of the beach that required scaling some sort of cliff to get in and out of, with the particulars depending on the time of year and tides.
I fell off the cliff while attempting to climb over that cliff with a beach ball in my hand. I broke my right wrist in several places. Thankfully, a nurse was at the beach to wrap my arm in order to get out of the beach and take me to the hospital.
I was in a cast that required me to keep my arm bent for about four weeks and spent another two or three in a wrist-only cast. During that time, it was quite difficult to play foursquare and wall ball at recess since I only had my left hand available. However, that forced me to get better.
I have been unable to turn my wrist past a certain point since I broke it. Had my parents taken me to physical therapy, which I doubt they could afford, I might have been able to restore full function to my wrist. As it is today, I use my left hand to compensate in certain situations.
I do not blame anyone for falling off that cliff. My friend who was with us suggested I might not want to have a ball in my hand as I tried to scale the cliff. I ignored him…to my peril.
I’m pretty sure that experience was a huge wake-up call. It, perhaps, made me a little less of a free spirit. This “scar” is not one that’s going to heal.
The Flood of 1982
I don’t think I could talk about this time in my life without also talking about the Flood of 1982. I remember the rains being heavy as I was riding the bus home from Capitola Elementary School that day. Shortly after I got home, we lost power for several days. Many roads and bridges were washed out, including a few major highways, such as Highway 9 through the Santa Cruz Mountains and, more locally, the Soquel Avenue bridge.
It was a bit like camping out, a friend of mine once said comparing the ’82 flood to the Loma Prieta earthquake that happened 7 years later. We didn’t have electricity for a week or so, but we still had heat and the ability to cook as the gas was still working. It did make getting around some of the more remote areas difficult as there were mudslides everywhere.
My First Trip To Hawaii
At some point during the time I lived with my dad’s mother, my mother moved to Hawaii to be with her boyfriend/stepfather. They lived in a condo on the beach in Kailua-Kona on the Big Island. I was flown over for several weeks during the summer–as an unattended minor–and ended up flying back.
I vaguely remember that I might have wanted to move over there back then. Maybe, but living in a one bedroom condo with mom and Richard was not really an option.
Stealing From The Change Jar
I had to walk a ways down Capitola Road in order to catch the school bus. It was very near a Quik Stop, a convenience store. I didn’t exactly have money, but my dad had a change jar that I pilfered coins from in order to purchase candy.
Needless to say, I eventually got caught. My dad had a clever punishment: until I wrote 500 times “I will not steal again,” I was grounded. Took me five days to complete that task and I can assure you, it made an impression. When my own son did something similar, I wanted to implement this exact same punishment. My ex…refused.
That didn’t stop me from using my lunch money to buy candy, though.
Forget The Bus
Between the temptation to go to the Quik Stop and buy candy with my lunch money and the fact I was mercilessly teased on the bus, once I figured out a reasonable path to walk to school, I did it.
Problem is: the most efficient path involved crossing the train trestle over Soquel Creek, which did have active trains running on it during that time. The trains didn’t usually run during the time I walked and it cut a significant amount of time off the walk to school to take this path. Unlike the school bus, the walk home was a lot more peaceful.
Needless to say, my dad was NOT happy with me. And…I found another way to spend my breakfast and/or lunch money on candy, turning my Rocket Pop I purchased with a quarter and turned it into 50 cents at school.
Dad and I Move Out
Meanwhile, my Dad was able to move us into a duplex down the road from her mom’s place. Unfortunately, it was far enough away that I ended up living in a different school district, so I ended up going to my fifth different school in six years of elementary schooling. This was after temporarily going back to school in Scotts Valley at the start of 5th grade at the age of ten.
The other unfortunate thing about this move is that the school I had to go to (Green Acres Elementary) was several miles away from my house. My dad would not let me ride my bike that far, which would have meant navigating the very busy Capitola Road. That meant I had no choice but to endure the torture that was the school bus.
Unfortunately, the other kids could not leave me alone. I remember them torturing me during Christmas singing carols at me, which I asked them to stop multiple times. They persisted. Certainly didn’t improve my opinion of the holiday.
However, my dad did manage to buy me a computer for Christmas that year: a Radio Shack TRS-80 MC-10 that hooked up to the TV. It gave me something to do. I had to “program in” any games I wanted to play in BASIC. Fortunately, the public library had some books that contained these programs, the most famous of which is probably:
BASIC had minor differences between implementations, which meant that I had to try and figure out how to make these programs work. That meant I learned a few things about writing code.
At first, I had to retype my programs every time since the computer did not come with any way to store your programs. Thankfully, my dad eventually bought me the tape deck to store my programs on, the printer to allow me to print, and a 16k memory expansion so I could run larger programs than the 4k of RAM included.
It seems ironic that my dad would ultimately get into computers some years later. In fact, I found a letter he wrote me using Word Perfect in 1990. It would be a few more years before he started fixing computers and printers instead of cars, something else my dad did.
One thing my dad had to do in order to get electricity in our place was to use my name and social security number in order to qualify as his credit was trashed like the car he wrapped around a telephone pole a couple years later.
And, unfortunately, he trashed my credit too. A year or two later, I received a call from someone looking to collect on that debt. That was a traumatic experience that, with some time and distance, that I can’t blame my dad for. He did what he had to do.
Mom Moves Back to the Mainland
For 6th grade, I ended up at yet another school: Branciforte Elementary in Santa Cruz. This meant living bouncing between Grandma Hattie in her trailer near Downtown Santa Cruz and my mom’s house in Boulder Creek.
Unfortunately, before we got to that point, we had to get her house back into livable shape. She rented it while she was in Hawaii and the last set of renters trashed the place and used drugs harder than the marijuana I smoked and the cocaine I saw dad do on a few occasions. A significant amount of remodeling was required to make the house livable.
We managed to stay here for three years before my mom decided she was ready to move to Hawaii…and I ultimately ended up going with her. However, this goes a little farther that I was anticipating this post to cover.
More To Come
I’ve identified this area of my life–that time between 1980 and 1984 or so–as being a very traumatic time of my life. It was certainly one that included a lot of turmoil, and I’m fairly certain I have more stories to come from this time of my life.
My point in writing all this down now is to come to terms with the trauma from this period of my life that is still affecting my decisions today.