Thursday, September 5, 2013

It is all connected but sometimes it is hard to see the wires

It has been three days and I haven't written a word for the blog. I have been doing busy work, which I do not hate as much as I should because it really does keep me from doing things that are important to me, like writing this blog. Writing the blog makes me vulnerable, so I carefully craft each post and quadruple check my grammar. Heaven forbid I should make a grammar error. However, tonight I am going free style. Let's see where we end up

have been thinking. I have been thinking about a TED talk I stumbled upon by a woman named BrenĂ© Brown. She was talking about vulnerability and how it is the motivating factor for creating, innovating and connecting with other people. She says we cannot do these things unless and until (yep, Dr. Phil) we allow ourselves to be vulnerable. So, this is swimming around my brain and today I hear a woman, a female employee of the store I was in, say to another female employee, "I am really worried about how Obama care is going to affect the hours I am getting. I thought I was going to be able to stop selling my plasma (blood) but now I think that I will just have to put up with the cramping in my arms and legs until I can get a better job." That is a picture of vulnerability. To sell my blood or not to sell my blood, that is the question and there is nothing noble about it. Jump to...

It was a hot, hazy, summer afternoon in Los Angeles, we were just coming over the hill that separates LA county from Orange County and the smog lay like a blanket over the tops of the buildings. I was in the back seat. My mother and dad were in the front. He was driving. No one was talking. After getting lost, really just off by a couple of blocks, we pull into the parking lot of St. Anne's Maternity Hospital on Occidental. The building was stucco painted baby shit yellow and it looked more like the back entrance to the place where you get your oil changed. We walked into a very small reception area and the woman behind the glass window acknowledged us. Still, no one is speaking. If this was a movie it would require some awesome cinematography to make it interesting. I was in the "scene" and if I had not been busy telling myself I wasn't scared and I didn't care, I would have been bored.

The receptionist picked up a heavy, black, desktop phone and said something very short and quiet, hung up and returned to her paperwork. In just 2 or 3 minutes a nun walked into the waiting area from a door opposite the receptionist. She nodded at my parents, again, not speaking. She nodded to indicate that she was ready for the hand off.

The nun spoke. She said, "Would you like a short tour"? My mother said, “No, thank you." She then turned to me and said, "See you in a few months." My dad hugged me, told me he loved me and followed my mother out the door to the car. It was the Nun and me. She looked at me kindly yet stern reached out as if she was going to put her hand on my shoulder but stopped just short of actually touching me. Understanding that resistance was truly futile, I shrugged away and cut in front of her to walk back through the door from which she had just emerged, like I knew where I was going. She walked silently behind me for a few steps and then she began pointing out points of interest: here is the chapel, this is the Cafeteria, here is the group room, through those doors is the clinic, let me show you to your room.

I am not Catholic. The one and only time I attended a Catholic mass, as a child, I looked up at the Crucifix and hurled on my black patent leather shoes. My best Friend's mom who did not want to take me in the first place never forgave me. What I saw was terrifying. We were in a room that was vast and echoed, and there was a dead guy hanging on the wall. I knew the story of Christ and upon reflection I figured out that it was a likeness of him on the wall, but hey, I was six years old, somebody could have warned me. After that I steered clear of Catholics and anything Catholic related, so when that nun walked into the reception area my brain froze and then jumped into over drive designing my escape. Each time she pointed out a room I was casing it for an exit. I had nowhere to go but that was just a detail. Again, somebody could have warned me. I believed to my core that the Nuns would exact retribution for my hurling incident. Those nuns have a serious network; I figured they had to have a record of my poor behavior, somewhere.

I had arrived. St. Anne's Maternity hospital held 90 young women ages ranging from 12 to 40. We were all there because we had signed a contract with the State of California that we would sign our children over for adoption, with the exception of one girl. Laura was angelic. Long silky, straight hair (that I coveted) tall, from the back she did not look pregnant at all but that was true of most of us. I learned that many of the girls in St. Anne's had approached their pregnancies the same way I had-denial. We stopped eating, wore baggy shirts and got mad and walked off in a huff if any suggested we had gained weight. The day I walked into St. Anne's at seven months pregnant I weighed 115 pounds. I was, and am, 5'7".

Laura had fallen in love in high school and when her boyfriend who truly loved her told her how much he wanted to join the Navy after graduating High School, she just didn't tell him she was pregnant. She did not want to stand in the way of his dream. They said their goodbyes and made promises to stay true to each other. Once he was on the ship she told her parents she was pregnant and that she would never give her baby away. So, her parents paid the "tuition" St. Anne's required of girls they would house, feed and educate but whose babies they would not be processing. They vowed to never see or speak to her again. They were Catholic.

In her first letter to her boyfriend, Laura told him she was pregnant and why she had not told him earlier and where she was and why. He wrote back swearing that he would come to get her and marry her as soon as he could. I found that highly unlikely but Laura's faith endured and sure enough before the baby was born a sailor showed up to take Laura away. We know this is true because I had found a window in one of the bathrooms that allowed us a view of the parking lot, as well as, the swimming pool the nuns used to sunbathe and swim in, but I will get back to that. 

We piled into the only stall that allowed access to the window with the view and watched as Laura's love tenderly placed her in a car, walked around the back of the car, head down and drove them all away into a future we were left to imagine. With so many other stories, Laura's only came up in conversation when an FOB was “actin a fool” to one of the girls. This occurred daily and there were no secrets in St. Anne's. Everyone, well, almost everyone, lived very public lives. Everyday one girl or another was beaten up, cheated on, lied to, spit on, or just plain `ole ignored. As part of the ritual of gathering in the group room to listen, sympathize and plan retribution, we would also remember how beautiful Laura's handsome FOB sailor had come for her. We really didn't get a good look out of that small window but we knew that Laura's lover would have to be as beautiful as she. We all acted jaded but were really weren't. We all wanted the fairy tale to be true. FOB was shorthand for Father of Baby; this was in the days before "baby daddy" came into common use.

There were only a couple of girls who did not actually know who the FOB was. One of them was my first roommate. There were no private rooms. Every room had two twin-sized beds with dull beige double knit blankets covering sheets that had started out as 100 thread count but had been boiled and bleached down to a 10; they were just short of burlap. The pillow was encased in the same bright white sheet material. The bedclothes always smelled like bleach. The smell never came out of them. There were two brown plywood chest of drawers situated next to each bed. An ongoing competition was to rearrange the furniture in our rooms in the most unique way possible. Props were allowed, so we were always going on walks and sneaking back in with a piece of fabric yanked out of a trash that had been set at the curb, or a handful of weeds that we called flowers. The Nuns only checked rooms once a week, so we could enjoy gathering in each new environment for about five days before it would be returned to its original arrangement. If not by the girls in the room then by housekeeping.

My roommate, Chriztal was a 30-year-old woman with Down’s syndrome. I had never seen a person with Down’s syndrome. Chriztal was very low functioning. She did not know who her FOB was or she never said it. She did not talk much. She could talk she just didn't. So, we made up a backstory for her. Her mother was a “wanna be” movie star who came to LA on the bus of ambition and ended up pregnant from her first call back. Believing that the casting director would marry her and make their daughter a star, she continued the pregnancy and spent all nine months thinking up the best stage name ever. Even after the producer dumped her, even after her child was born with Down’s syndrome, she would not let go of the dream. Marking the father box as unknown, Chriztal’s mother named her baby Chriztal Waterford Lee. This would allow them to play with the arrangement of the names as Chriztal’s career developed. We had no idea what Chriztal’s story was, she wouldn’t or couldn’t tell us. Even when she came back in one day, beat up and reeking of weed, she would only say, "parking lot." 

They parking lot across the street from St. Anne's was a hangout spot for FOBs and neighborhood guys who liked “gettin a little off a preggie." It was bordered on all sides with tall junipers with an opening for a driveway. There was no building it seemed to belong to, so the girls who said they enjoyed anonymous and fairly public sex would stroll on over whenever they got an itch "needed scratchin." Chriz visited the parking almost daily and out of boredom and curiosity a few of us followed her over now and then to see what she was doing because she sure wouldn't tell us. We thought the guy we saw her with was her FOB and maybe he was but what he was doing was pimping Chriz out to the neighborhood boys who liked to "get it on" with a preggie. Those boys hung in the parking lot with candy, cigarettes, Boones Farm, pot and anything else they thought would get them laid, everyday.

Seven seriously angry pregnant girls of all colors marching across a street must be a terrifying vision. When Chriz said, "parking lot." We took it upon our selves to find and punish whoever needed punishing. I never felt that powerful again, in my life. As we crossed the street the boys who were just hanging, kicking rocks, smoking whatever they had, telling lies, looked up like a herd of gazelle and began to back up and spread out as they broke from the herd to seek safety on the other side of the juniper. A few of us broke off and cornered the guy we had seen with Chriz before while a few others just enjoyed scaring the hell out of the other boys. I was one of those girls. Watching those boys stumble backward trying to disappear through the hedge only fueled my need to unleash all the fear and anger I had been carrying around with me for what felt like my whole life. They faster they backed up the louder I got and the more graphic my threats became. So, I did not hear his confession, but the girls who had cornered the suspected FOB reported that in trying to explain what happened to Chriz he let slip that he was making a small profit renting her out to the neighborhood boys. It wasn't him that hurt her and he would "damn sho never" rent her out to that guy again. We ladies could be assured of that. We banned him and any of the others we could identify from the parking lot and for about a week we took turns patrolling to make sure that anyone doing anything in the lot was doing so of their own choice. About a month later we caught Chriz and the possible FOB together in the lot and just gave up trying to protect her. It was too hard to generate that kind of explosive rage on cue, and, as we continued to grow larger we became much less terrifying.

"Parking lot" were the only words I ever heard Chriztal say until she "went up" to deliver her baby. The Nuns allowed us to call her to see how she was. I said, “Chriz, what did you have"? She answered with a tone of surprise, "A baby."