My life was now starting to unravel in all directions. I had taken a big leap into my vagabond life with Paul when I was still pretty young, became a mother two days after my twenty-second birthday, and moved from one coast to another and back again twice. We’d settled in upstate New York because in second grade, Jessie refused to move again. I liked living there because I had finally built up a community. I felt settled. Paul, on the other hand, got sustenance from being on the road. He was always searching. He knew there had to be something better out there waiting for him. He was not happy being settled, and the bond between us just died. I understood that he needed to move on, but he wouldn’t abandon his family. We didn’t fight anymore. We still played music together and felt a little spark at those times. Those were the only good times. The rest of the time, Paul was miserable and withering away. It felt like we were both dying, so I resolved to leave.
One day, I told Paul that I was planning, at some point, to move out. A little after Justin was born, I told him that when both of our two children were out of high school, I would want my own place and try to maintain our marriage if he wanted. We could stay at each other’s places but live apart. I knew even back then that I couldn’t be around that much anger constantly. He kind of shrugged it off. I started trying to come up with a plan. I was only making one hundred twenty dollars a week plus extra money each month from music lessons and gigs. The first thing I had to figure out was finances. Then one day in the spring, as my friend LoAnne and I were sitting at Barberville Falls with our dogs, she told me that she was going to Europe for an adventure. She offered to let me stay at her apartment for the cost of the utilities during that time. I started to cry. This was the first open door of this new episode. At home, I started ignoring the guilt trips and yelling deciding instead to let it just wash over me until I could move. She was leaving at the end of the summer, so I told Paul that I would be moving out Labor Day weekend. Once again, he just kind of shrugged it off.
Justin was fourteen and was wild. He’d mostly grown up in New York and was well versed in both the backwoods and the ghetto. He also gravitated to the rough customers. I was going to be staying in a really tough neighborhood. I’d lived in the South End and was streetwise, but this section of town was one of the worst. I decided not to take Justin with me. I hoped that he and his dad would bond once I was gone. Their relationship was always a bit tenuous. Paul had left for more than a month when Justin was only a few months old. He had gone to Pittsburgh to be with his father in his final days. Justin was a very clingy baby and mostly wanted to be with me. He was wary of Paul when he returned, and I think that hurt Paul, causing him to step back. And, I tend to also be a force to be reckoned with. I was often trying to make nice between them. Now, it was time for me to step back. I would take Austin, who would be three.
Being a boy, Justin was trying to connect with and model his life after his dad’s. Paul had a lot of good traits. He was one of the most generous people I’ve ever known. More times than I can count, I saw him give away his last dollar to someone who looked like they needed it more. He always told me that the more you give away, the more comes back to you. He was friendly and outgoing, incredibly funny and loved “bad jokes,” especially his own. He was everyone’s friend. He had an unusual style of rhythm guitar. He could easily go from basic or complex rhythms to a rhythm lead that almost sounded like two guitars playing together. His hands were also large enabling him to reach his fingers across even wide guitar necks like a spider’s legs. I realized later in my life that I learned a lot about playing rhythm guitar from living with him before I ever played one myself. Paul also read constantly. He read newspapers, novels, non-fiction, anything he could get his hands on making him brilliantly smart and well-versed in many affairs. I hoped that Justin could learn great things from his dad.
I would still need to figure out what to do when LoAnne came back. I knew that once I left, I wasn’t going back. But another thing I had learned from Paul was to have faith that things would work out in the end. We both knew that if we looked for the clues, and followed them, the path would unfold. So, I didn’t think about that yet and just started to pack. I didn’t want to take much. I didn’t need household things, because LoAnne was all set up, but I wanted a few treasures, and I knew Austin would need things. I tried to talk to Paul about the upcoming split, but he just ignored it all.
Jes was now living an eleven-hour drive away outside of Ann Arbor, Michigan. She also wanted to just leave and not look back, but she was not happy there. I didn’t know how to talk to her about these things. She had always been a dramatic person. Was she blowing things out of proportion? Should she come back? She was still only seventeen. During every phone call, she was angry with me for trying to interfere. I didn’t know how to navigate this part of parenting. I knew that her birth control prescription was due to run out and wanted to be sure that she’d found a new doctor. I even tried to get her to come home long enough to see her old doctor, who absolutely would have seen her. She was determined to live her life on other own. I had done the same thing, but I was a few years older than she was now. Then one night, I suddenly woke up. I got up and checked in on both boys, then looked all around. I even walked outside. Everything seemed to be okay, but I had this nagging feeling that something was very wrong. I tried to go back to sleep and got up again. Then the phone rang. It was Jes calling to tell me that she was pregnant.
No one knew what to do now, not us, not Jack’s parents. Everyone had their own opinions and feelings. Those poor kids must have felt assaulted. They had jumped into their own adventure but didn’t have a solid plan. They were living in the basement of Jack’s family home. His parents were not happy with the situation. I never understood why they agreed to this move in the first place. They could have just said no, and it would have waited until they were more prepared. Now there was a potential child. We were summoned to a meeting. So, we drove to Michigan to talk. As I said, everyone had their own thoughts, and it was brutal. I wanted them to look at all of their options. I had done this with my first and third children because they were surprises. There was anger and many tears, accusations and general tumult when suddenly Jes jumped up and ran out of the house. Jack swiftly followed. The meeting was over. I remember breathing a sigh of relief. When she returned, I asked her to come home with us for a visit to help her settle herself a bit. Once again, she accused me of trying to make her decisions and run her life. We left shortly after, and I wrote her a long letter on the ride home. I poured my heart out, but I never mailed it. I think I still have it somewhere, a memento of an emotional time. Here I was at forty leaving my twenty-year relationship while being financially insecure on Labor Day weekend with a three-year old, while my seventeen-year-old daughter was expecting a child in another state in September. September was turning out to be a big month.
In addition to the craziness in my personal life, General Eclectic was having personnel issues. Bob and Andy weren’t getting along. They’d never really meshed. Paul and I loved playing with both of them, because we thrived on variety. These guys provided musical variety but that came with varied temperaments. They grated on each other. Then a woman got involved with one of the members. Let’s call her Joan. She was incredibly sweet but didn’t understand her role in the group. She and I started to clash. She wasn’t one of the musicians but came to every practice and wanted to voice her opinions. She was also jealous of the time spent at practice and of the shared music not only among the entire band but between me and Paul. She decided that she and her boyfriend would start a duo on the side. Before long, she wanted to be singing with us, but we said no. She and I were friends, and I felt bad, but we all knew it wasn’t going to work. The music started to feel toxic because of all the tensions in the band. Then Andy left, or maybe he got thrown out. I don’t really remember much about those difficult days with everything else that was going on for me. I just know that I felt a huge sense of loss when that happened. Andy had been with us almost from the beginning of General Eclectic. He was part of the DNA of the band. Not long after, the band started crumbling apart.
But there were still gigs to do and parties to play, so the band played on. I kept reminding Paul that I was moving out. He didn’t seem to have noticed. There were decisions that had to be made but I certainly didn’t want to make waves, so I stopped talking about it. Then one day in August, we went to a music party in Troy. I had been stacking my few boxes in a corner of the living room as I packed and was starting to let myself feel excited. The party was all abuzz about my impending move. Everyone had heard about it and wanted to know where and when I was going. I tried not to talk about it around Paul, knowing that it might be upsetting to him. We partied and jammed until late. As we were walking to the chair, Paul turned around and started screaming at me about how angry he was that he had to find out that I was leaving him from friends at the party. I just stood there in amazement. How could he not know? I’d pestered him for a while about logistics and had been packing and stacking boxes in full sight. Suddenly I realized that his avoidance of the subject had been to support his denial that it was even happening. I told him that I’d been trying to talk with him about it for many months, but he wouldn’t listen. He didn’t speak to me for the next two weeks but drove me, Austin and our things to Albany on Labor Day. Austin turned three the weekend we moved.
Justin was starting school, so I told him that he could visit on weekends. I didn’t sleep much that first night in this temporary apartment. I was sadder than I’d ever been. I thought that Paul and I would stay together forever. I was counting on it. My heart was not just broken, it felt shredded. I always knew that music has amazing healing powers. I wore out my copy of “I Can’t Make You Love Me If You Don’t” by Bonnie Raitt. I would start out singing along to it, trying to heal myself until my sobs prevented it. Little did I know at the time that Paul was doing the same with “Total Eclipse of the Heart” by Bonnie Tyler. We’d arranged for Austin to spend equal time with Paul. They had created a strong bond at Austin’s birth, and Paul was trying to be a better parent with him. Once in a while, I would go out to a club to hear another band. There was always someone around that I knew. Suddenly, I was being paid attention to in a different way. I’d always had male friends. Most of my friends have been male. Now, the vibe was different, and the sudden change made me feel a bit uncomfortable. I’d never done much flirting and didn’t really understand the process. I was thankful for those who remained the friends they’d always been. My head was already reeling, and it felt like I was being thrown to the wolves. Some of my friends were even giving me advice about dating. They knew I hadn’t been in that scene for twenty years. What they didn’t know is that the brief time I had been in that scene was pretty traumatic. Of course, everyone had their own set of standards. Some encouraged me to not have sex until after the first few dates, others suggested that I jump right in. Everyone cautioned me not to get serious about someone else too quickly. I wasn’t interested in any of it. I determined to finally be on my own. Maybe I’d have a little fun, but nothing more than that.
I always said that if any of my partner ever got violent, I would not stay with him. I had become accustomed to physical and emotional abuse at an early age, but although I knew that I couldn’t tolerate physical abuse anymore, the emotional abuse was harder to recognize. Maybe I was also a bit naïve thinking, and hoping, that things could change. But things were getting worse between me and Paul. We mostly didn’t speak much to each other except for working on our music together and avoided even spending any time together. I had given up and just wanted peace, so I withdrew. Then the one day I did engage in an argument, and he pushed me up against the wall with his hands wrapped around my throat, screaming at me. I packed up my kids, got in the car and started driving. I had no idea where I was going, I just knew I had to get out of the house. I drove to a nearby lake, parked the car and turned around to Jes. “Give me a cigarette,” I said. “What? I don’t smoke,” was her reply. I looked her dead in the eye and said, “This is not the time to play games, just give me a cigarette.” She recognized that look and reached into her purse. It was the first cigarette I’d had in many years, and it was perfect. It gave me time to think.
I took the kids to our friends’ home and went back to confront Paul. He was upset and kept apologizing over and over again. He promised it would never happen again. I told him that if he wanted me to come back home, he had to agree to counseling this time, and he did. We found someone in Albany that we could see weekly. After our first session, she remarked that we had brought her an already dead marriage. Her advice was to start from scratch by going on dates with certain ground rules. We weren’t allowed to talk about music business or our family, and no sex afterwards. Paul insisted that it wasn’t possible to date because we had no money for that. She replied that it could be simply a walk together or sitting by the fire in the backyard. It was about getting to know each other again. But he still wasn’t having it. He explained that we had a small child that couldn’t be left alone. Meanwhile, I was sitting there thinking, “We have a baby monitor and older kids.” I explained that to him and suggested that if we were in the yard, it would be fine. If we wanted to go out somewhere, Jes would surely be willing to babysit. When he ran out of excuses, he agreed.
A week went by. At the next appointment, and the counselor asked how our date went. Paul spoke right up, regaling her with an elaborate tale of our date walking down the road to the little stream then sitting by the fire watching the stars. “It was wonderful,” he said. I sat there staring at him wide-eyed and confused. Our counselor noticed my expression and turned to me asking if I had gone on the same date. But we hadn’t actually had a date. Every time I had asked Paul about it, he put it off. When confronted with the truth in that session, he blamed me. He insisted that he felt emasculated by me always trying to run the show. The assignment for the next week was for me to not say anything but wait for his initiative. I agreed. The ride home was horrendous. He screamed at me during the entire time wanting to know why I couldn’t have just backed him up. It made him look like a fool. I tried to explain that I didn’t want to waste our money on a fruitless endeavor. Why go to a counselor if we weren’t going to listen to her advice? I didn’t want to spend money for him to lie to her.
A week went by with no date. On the way into the next appointment, Paul asked me to just go along with whatever he said. Again, he told a fanciful tale of our romantic evening together. This time, I turned and asked him who he went on this date with. The counselor just sighed and asked me to stay behind at the end of the session. She told me that there was no hope of saving the relationship and offered to counsel me alone if I wanted that. I accepted her offer and went out to tell Paul. Once again, he yelled all the way home, and I knew it was the end. I worked with the counselor long enough to realize that psychological and emotional abuse was as damaging to me as the physical abuse and started looking ahead. I was now back to working at The Free School full-time and giving a few piano lessons. I realized this was not going to be enough for me to live on if I left. Paul usually made around minimum wage and wasn’t going to be able to help out much either.
My job at The Free School was to manage the “upstairs” which was the kindergarten and pre-school area. I also ran the breakfast and lunch programs, taught Kindergarten, music and helped supplement the learning for the older kids in other subjects. Every day, as I taught my students, I also learned about being a better teacher. I liked doing experiential learning with them. On every first day of school, for geography class, I asked them, “Where (in the world) are you, right now?” The answers would start out with “at school, in Albany,” or even “in New York.” But I wanted to know all the details. What street and neighborhood was it in? What county, state, country, continent, hemisphere, galaxy? Then we would walk through the neighborhood looking around, learning to use our eyes and our senses to get around. Taking students into the community is a large part of the Free School model. I gradually introduced them to maps, having them draw their own and playing a fun game where they try to navigate using someone else’s map. I also loved doing science experiments, too. There are so many simple things that are educational and exciting at the same time. Just think about it, you can teach the concept of centrifugal force by filling a pail with water and twirl it over and around your head quickly, so it doesn’t fall out. It looks like magic, and what kid doesn’t like magic? Or, how about those crazy rides at the amusement parks that hold you again the outer wall.
All of the teachers had our own strengths and weaknesses when it came to teaching, so we each focused on what we did best. We asked about the students’ interests, then decided on a teaching strategy. When someone wanted to learn about volcanos, I was able to step in. I had lived in Portland, Oregon when Mount St. Helens erupted and was able to describe my experience living near a volcano. I shared my newspaper clippings and showed a slideshow my dad had given me of before and after the eruption. I snuck in some science and art by making volcanos out of paper maché and erupting them with baking soda and vinegar. We even had volcano music. I loved teaching and continued to learn and grow as a teacher every day.
Around that same time, Jes was embarking on her great love affair. I knew she and Jack were sexually active. As soon as I realized this, I took her to a doctor and got her set up with birth control. She’d had also gotten good sex education both at home and at The Free School, but I also knew that accidents happen all the time. And I realized that I got pregnant easily, even while using birth control. One day, during a particularly rough day with Austin, who was still a baby, I knocked on her door, stormed in and dumped Austin in Jes’ arms, saying, “I just want you to be aware of the potential consequence of what you are doing!” Then I walked back out the door and got a much-needed break from parenting for a few hours. Jack came for the Junior Prom that year. I helped Jes pick out her dress and remember thinking that it reminded me of a wedding.
By the summer of 1992, Jes was sick and tired of feeling repressed and alien in public school so when we heard about a new alternative high school starting up, she asked to make that change. I explained that, although I supported the change, we just couldn’t afford to pay the tuition, so she found a part-time job at a shoe store. In the middle of the fall semester, the school had turned out to be a disaster and was on the verge of closing when Jes suddenly told me that she wanted to drop out. She was now seventeen-years old and could get her GED. She was incredibly smart and was above most of her peers academically, so I agreed that it was probably the best move at that time.
It was the end of November, just before Thanksgiving, when she told me that she wanted to move to Michigan to live with Jack. She would get a job and go to night school to study for her GED. Then, she told me that she’d already arranged to be picked up by Jack and his dad the next day, the day before Thanksgiving. I had raised her to be independent, resourceful and a force to be reckoned with. I knew there was no stopping her short of tying her up, but my head was reeling. I knew she would move away, maybe go away to college, but I also thought I had at least the rest of the school year to have her at home. Suddenly, I thought of all of the wisdom I wanted to impart and the things I still wanted to do with her. Michigan felt so far away, and she was still so young. I also understood that she wanted to escape the constant tension in the house. Our children had grown up in an environment filled with apprehension and anger. I felt trapped, but she wasn’t going to be.
I spent that whole day and the next crying. The sudden loss was unbearable. I felt as though my heart was breaking. I hadn’t had any time to prepare and wasn’t ready for this huge change. She wasn’t even going to spend Thanksgiving with us. As the tears kept coming, I helped her pack, broke the news to Paul and tried to say the things that felt like they needed to be said. I cautioned her that it was too late to get her a doctor’s appointment, and her prescription for birth control pills was due to expire soon. Jes didn’t want any input from me. She was determined to make this decision and deal with the details on her own. Just as I had done with my mother when leaving, she pushed me away. I’ve noticed that it often seems easier to leave if you’re angry. Jack and his father came on Wednesday. This was the first time I met Harry. He was an Episcopalian minister. He basically counseled me while the two kids packed up all of her things into their van because I was crying non-stop. I don’t remember much about that Thanksgiving. We must have had one and I must have been there, but I was in a daze.
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