Paul and I both had to admit that Wyoming was gorgeous, but we were burning out fast. We were tired of being trapped in a cramped and fully packed car with our traveling companions, tired of juggling entertainment for a 2 ½ year old and just plain tired of being on the road. We had no desire to sightsee. We were ready to get to our final destination. Ha, ha! Did I just say final? No destination ever seemed final. However, when we made it to Wyoming, we decided to stop at a scenic spot called Wind River Canyon. It was time to let Jessie run around a bit, and this seemed like a great place.
It really was an amazing spot. Like its name, it was very windy with the big rushing Wind River running through the canyon. When we all piled out of the car, Debbie and Steve went one way while we went another. It was a much-needed break for everyone. Paul and I watched Jessie running through the tall grass. Wow! She seemed to be running faster than usual. It looked as though her feet weren’t even touching the ground. Then suddenly, we realized that she was airborne. The wind was so strong, it had picked her up and was whisking her away … toward the river. We both took off running. I’ve never seen Paul run so fast as he did then. Luckily, he grabbed her foot, as she went flying ahead of him, and pulled her into his arms. As I held her close to me and turned to go back to the car, expecting her to be traumatized, she laughed and said, “Did you see, Mommy? I was flying in the air, just like Piglet!” I had been reading Winnie the Pooh stories by A.A. Milne to her, and she was referring to Winnie the Pooh and the Blustery Day. She loved that adventure more than her dad and I did and remembered it for a long time to come. I, on the other hand, didn’t know whether to laugh or cry.
Later that day, it was no surprise when we hit a snowstorm and had to spend the night in a motel. This was an expense that we hadn’t expected or prepared for, but it turned out to be a good thing since Jessie had picked up some stomach bug and vomited all night long. I didn’t sleep again that night, but it was nice to take a shower and lie down on a real bed in our own room, away from all the tension of the trip. We left the next morning and finally dropped our friends off in Portland, Oregon before heading on to Amber’s home. We were awfully glad to see them go. It was probably the most stressful road trip I’ve ever made. However, we did remain friends for years. Debbie and Steve became especially important people in our lives. By the time we reached our destination, I had a constant headache and was running on fumes from lack of sleep. I needed to rest, but I was there to help Amber with her first child. Her partner was being no help at all, and their relationship was floundering. Now they had two more adults and a toddler to contend with as well as their own drama.
They lived in a small place in Husum, Washington which is located on Mount Adams, one of the snowcapped Cascades. Unfortunately, we were not the best house guests. Jessie was a little wild from being cooped up for so long on the road, and Amber had an infant who needed quiet to sleep. Paul and I were completely exhausted and frazzled. We needed to land and recharge. There were no facilities in the cabin they were living in, so trenches needed to be dug, water had to be hauled, cooking and cleaning needed to be done. Amber and Greg were fighting, and we had just left a situation where a couple was fighting constantly. We soon realized that Paul needed to go out and find work fast. So, he started looking. He finally found a job at Timberline Lodge on Mount Hood, on the other side of the Columbia River, in Oregon.
Timberline Lodge was built during the Great Depression by the WPA. Franklin Roosevelt had decided to create work for the artisans in the country. There are huge hand carved newel posts and other carvings. There are mosaics and murals, beautiful tile work, sculptures, stained glass and more. The entire place is a masterpiece of craftsmanship. I highly recommend visiting there. Mount Hood is a snowcapped mountain and an active volcano expected to erupt again at some time. There is skiing year-round, and it is always busy there. In order to maintain his job, Paul had to live close by, and they offered free room and board to employees, so he moved in. I soon found out that I was pregnant again. It never seemed to take much for me to conceive. I used birth control religiously, but it didn’t seem to matter. My children came when they wanted to come regardless of any precautions. I never had any morning sickness with any of my pregnancies, but I was exhausted. I hated having Paul living so far away and made the drive once a week to visit him there. He also came back to Amber’s every other weekend, but things were getting more tense at the cabin as each day went by. I knew I had to move out soon.
Finally, I couldn’t take it anymore, and neither could Amber. She was my closest friend but was struggling with her partner and trying to manage a brand-new baby. I was newly pregnant and exhausted with a rambunctious 2-year old. Unfortunately, by the time I moved out, Amber and I were no longer speaking to each other. We were two very strong personalities trying live in a tiny cabin under unforgiving circumstances, and our friendship broke under the strain. I had to get out fast, so Paul found us a weekly motel room rental with a living room, bedroom and kitchenette near Timberline Lodge, at the base of Mount Hood, in Zig Zag, Oregon. We loved the name of the town, loved being in the mountains and, even though the space was small, it was finally our own. Debbie and Steve had settled in Portland, and we had reconnected. One day, I made the drive into Portland to visit with them while Paul was at work.
Steve had decided to start growing his own psilocybin mushrooms and insisted that I bring some back for Paul. I wasn’t doing any of that now that I was pregnant and wasn’t tripping around my child anyway, so it was just for Paul to do alone. That would have been fine except that we didn’t really have new friends where we lived, and Paul didn’t want to trip alone. Steve had warned me that they were strong and quirky. The dose seemed to vary from shroom to shroom. Paul started pressuring me to join him. “Just take a little bit. It won’t harm the baby, and we’ll take it after Jessie is asleep,” he said. After an hour of arguing, I finally agreed to take the tiniest little bite. I figured it would appease him, and I wouldn’t have enough in my system to even get a little buzz. But boy was I wrong.
I put Jessie to bed in the main area and went to join Paul in the bedroom. I took the tiniest little nibble while trying to make it look as though I had taken more. The last thing I wanted was to have him start his trip angry with me, but I also didn’t want to eat them. Then I settled down with a book. Before long, Paul started moaning, so I went over to check on him. He had eaten one and a half small mushrooms heeding Steve’s advice and not wanting to go for a blowout trip alone. It took a while before he responded to me. When he finally opened his eyes, he looked scared. He rambled on about a monster inside his head eating a hole right through his brain. Then he started screaming. I wasn’t sure what to do. I tried to quiet him down, reminding him that Jessie was sleeping in the next room. At that point, he curled up in a ball with the pillow and blankets over his face and just moaned the whole night long.
I stayed by his side saying soothing things, but I was getting worried. Surely that little crumb that I’d eaten wouldn’t do much, or would it? When I started feeling otherworldly, I knew I might be in trouble. I’d made a vow not to trip with my kids around. I had seen all of those TV shows about the dangers of drugs, like the Dragnet episode where they found a child drowned in the bathtub because the parents were too high. Maybe it would be okay if she stayed asleep. However, luck was not on my side. Pretty soon I heard a little voice saying, “Mommy, I need to go potty.” Okay, this should be easy. I got up off of the bed and realized that I had no idea where the bathroom was or even how to get out of the room that I was in. The fact that everything kept getting larger then smaller wasn’t helping any.
I knew that I couldn’t find my way to my daughter, so I thought fast and called out, “Okay honey, can we play a little game? Come find Mommy in the dark.” She giggled and said, “That’s easy. I can find you.” Once she came in, I said, “Now can you find the way to the bathroom, too?” At this point the room had shrunk down so small, I thought I would bump my head on the ceiling, so I was crawling. I felt like Alice in Wonderland. Of course, Jessie loved the fact that we were crawling around in the dark, and that she got to be the leader. We made our way – very slowly – to the bathroom and back to her bed. She settled back down while I sat on the floor next to her bed. I sang her to sleep and just kept on singing until I was finally drowsy enough and aware enough to find my way back to bed where Paul’s moans had quieted to a dull hum. He apologized the next day for having pressured me into tasting those mushrooms, and we spent my whole pregnancy worried about any ill effects they might have had on our child, while Jessie remembered that night with glee. She would comment on how much fun it was to play with Mommy in the dark in the middle of the night. All’s well that ends well. My son was not harmed by that night, but I learned a valuable lesson about mushrooms. I never liked them anyway. They’d always had a dark ominous vibe for me, and I never ate them again after that.
We stayed one night in Yellow Springs, Ohio where Debbie and Steve, our traveling companions, would stay for a visit with their friend. Getting to Kansas City from Ohio should have been pretty easy. It was only about 9 hours away, though we knew it would take longer because of having to stop more often with a small child. We left bright and early, anxious to visit our dear friend but just as glad to leave our annoying traveling companions behind. The plan was to stay with Brian for a week then travel on to our final destination. We didn’t realize that there is a Kansas City in two states. The Missouri River separates the two states and Kansas City straddles Missouri and Kansas. We stopped off briefly in St. Louis to see the big archway to the west because we weren’t going to miss any of the sights along the way. We had a car this time and could go wherever we wanted. The Arch is “the nation’s tallest monument, soaring 630 feet above the Mississippi River, 886 tons of stainless steel welded into a seamless curve, assembled with such precision that if either leg had veered off by just one-sixty-fourth of an inch the two couldn’t have been joined in the middle. Completed 50 years ago this month, the Gateway Arch, the Midwest’s best-known monument, was hailed as linking ‘the rich heritage of yesterday with the richer future of tomorrow.” - Smithsonian Magazine October 2015
We had decided to take our time but were thrilled when we finally hit Kansas City, Missouri. Our thrill soon faded when we started asking for directions to Brian’s apartment. He was still working and wouldn’t answer his phone for a while. We figured we would find his place then explore the area on our own. Everyone we asked for directions told us the same thing, “Well … you can’t there from here.” We thought it was a joke played on tourists until a kind hippie told us that it was true. It was not easy to get from one part of the city to the other because they were actually two different cities. I think that’s changed now with both Kansas Cities being part of one big metropolitan area, but at that time, they were very separate.
We headed out of Missouri and into Kansas. We had plenty of time on our hands, so we found a park. It was a busy park, so Paul pulled out his guitar and opened up the case. We may as well try to make some money while we were waiting. Another hippie came rushing up and told us that we’d better close the case because the mayor didn’t allow busking in his city and arrested all homeless people. He was very adamant about it and surmised that we might both end up in jail and have our daughter taken from us. It didn’t take any persuasion for us to pack it up. We certainly didn’t want to take that risk. Apparently, we could have gotten away with it in Missouri, but we weren’t going to make that confusing drive back and forth again, so we stayed put enjoying the park and nice weather and playing with our daughter. When it was finally time to connect with Brian, we couldn’t seem to find his place. We started asking for directions again only to hear the same old story we’d heard in Missouri. “Well, you can’t get there from here.” I think we drove around in circles more in both Kansas Cities than ever in my life. I swore I would never go back there.
We finally made it Brian’s apartment which was tiny. We slept on pads on the living room floor for a week. It was fine except for the roaches. It was the first time I had ever seen cockroaches. I was horrified! Brian assured us that they were harmless and only came out in force in the dark. They were quite common in Kansas City. They weren’t common to me, and I’m not sure I slept through the night for that entire week. I was sure they were going to drop down on us from the ceiling. You could hear them skittering around all night. When the light was turned on, it was like a wave moving. I didn’t want to stay the whole week, but we had planned for Debbie and Steve to meet us there, so we were stuck. It was wonderful hanging out with Brian and his girlfriend, but the roaches were disgusting. Instead of the relaxing break we had planned on to recharge, we left there more exhausted than when we’d arrived. We spent a lot of time outdoors enjoying the spectacular scenery of the Great Plains and napping in the great outdoors. Brian had been one of our closest friends in Santa Cruz, and it was wonderful reconnecting with him and catching up. The week actually flew by, and we felt a mix of regret at leaving our friend and relief to be back on the road. We packed up the car the day before, planning to leave early the next morning. Our friends hadn’t shown up, so we planned our route, looking forward to making the rest of the trip by ourselves. That morning, who came running down the street just as we were saying our goodbyes? That’s right. Debbie and Steve had made it to Kansas at the last minute. Damn! They had left Ohio a couple of days earlier figuring that they’d spend a few days with us at Brian’s but had trouble getting the rides and were getting worried that we would leave without them. We would have, too. In the long run, looking back on it, I’m glad they made it even though the trip itself was a nightmare. They became some of our closest friends while living out west.
Of course, Steve didn’t like our planned route and wanted to know why we had planned without them. We explained that we thought they wouldn’t make it. Paul also reminded him that this was originally our trip, and he was just a passenger. I thought they were finally going to come to blows, but Debbie and I soothed the ruffled feathers and we headed down the road in a thick, heavy silence. It was a tense ride that day when the car suddenly broke down. Ugh! We didn’t have a lot of money, hadn’t been able to make any along the way with our music and were starting to worry. We still had a long way to go. Steve was loaded and offered to pay the lion’s share of the repair if we took his proposed route and went up through Wyoming. He and Debbie had always wanted to see The Grand Tetons. Paul and I had already seen this majestic mountain range and knew that there was still a big chance of snow in that region. We wanted to stay on I-70 and head north later on, avoiding any potential storms but, against our better judgement, we agreed to head for I-80.
After making that decision, a lot of the tension from Steve dissipated. There were no sardines stinking up the car and very little bickering. It seemed as though Debbie and Steve were too tired to fight anymore, Steve only sat in the front seat away from our 2-year old, and we all started to relax and enjoy each other’s company more. We saw some beautiful and interesting places along the way. However, we were stopping more often now because we were all worn out. Paul and I had a sleepless, uncomfortable week at Brian’s and Debbie and Steve had spent days trying make the 9-hour drive from Ohio to Kansas. For Paul and I hitchhiking seemed easier since we didn’t have to do the driving and could mostly sleep whenever we wanted, as long as we got the rides that is. However, we certainly weren’t going to hitchhike with our child. In spite of all of the trials and tribulations, we were starting to feel relieved to have extra drivers helping out with the burdens. We’d headed north out of Kansas City and picked up I-80 west. After a long, boring trip through Nebraska, we finally made it into Wyoming. So far, so good.
For me, one of the hardest things about making these big moves was leaving behind the people I had come to know and love. I’ve had to say goodbye to many friends over the years, and I think it’s hardened my heart a bit. On the other hand, it’s also enabled me to open up to people more quickly. I’ve learned that there’s no time like the present. Why waste time when I’m not sure where I’ll be next year? As a result, I have many sisters and brothers around the country who shared formative times in a variety of places. Some of us remained connected while others drifted apart. The bond is still there, and it’s strong whether or not we ever see each other again. There were also times when those bonds unraveled to different degrees, but we stuck it out to the end. So far, anyway.
Paul and I knew it was time to move on. We had unthinkingly come back to many of the same things we’d left in the first place. It was a very conservative area politically and socially. My family was also very conservative. They were uncomfortable with even the idea that I would breastfeed my child. So, I was asked to “go to the bathroom to do that,” which I refused, of course. Out west, where she was born, everyone fed their young ones that way. I’d been hanging out with hippies. I’d learned about herbal healing and organic gardening. I was growing and learning and thriving in this new world. A lot of those ideas hadn’t really reached my hometown, yet. We were also just barely getting by, even with both of us working and Paul taking on an extra job. Although we were drowning, we’d made some close friends, had reconnected with old friends who’d survived those early initiation days and were able to let our daughter bond with her grandparents. All of that made it harder to say goodbye. But it was time to move on. So once again, we started to plan.
Remember Amber? She had moved up north to the Cascade Mountains as we had hoped to do and was having a baby. She invited us to come help and be companions. Her boyfriend was there, but the relationship was not the best. She could use the support. We had bought my dad’s old 1966 Plymouth Valiant, the car I learned to drive in. It was a reliable car and could take us across the country again. We’d gotten a tax return to pay for the trip and should be all set. One of the new friends I had was another Debbie. Having been born in 1953, I often ran into “Debbies”. This Debbie was and still is a photographer. She’s one of those people who is born to be artistic. You just can’t seem to help it. She and I spent a lot of time together during that year and a half. I still have some of the photos she took of Jessie and another of my first two children, she took a few years later. Now, as we were getting ready to leave, her boyfriend suddenly left her for another woman. She wanted to leave with us and make a new start. Of course, we said yes. She and Jessie got along well. Debbie would help out with her, the driving and the expenses, plus we’d all know another person when we got there. It did mean three adults and a child in a four-door sedan packed with everything we could fit to start up a new household but … we could do it!
Everything was lining up according to plan. In my experience, before every journey, there’s that time when you’re over-thinking everything and going over all the details, driving yourself crazy. What could possibly go wrong? In my life, things often go wrong. And, I have to admit, if you’re moving across the country like a gypsy, there’s plenty that could go wrong. On the other hand, if you’re a true hippie, you must have faith that things will work out if you keep those positive vibes. We were all about the vibes.
Two weeks before we were set to leave, Debbie’s boyfriend returned. He’d gone to some Caribbean Island to be with another woman, and it didn’t work out. He wanted to reconcile. Debbie was all set on leaving with us, but the pressure was getting to her. She loved him. We totally let her off the hook, so she could be free to do whatever she wanted. We could manage the trip on our own. Just keep those positive vibes going. It turned out that what she wanted was for her beau to travel with us. I didn’t think much of the guy, and we hadn’t even met him yet. There was no way I wanted to add another person into our cramped car anyway. Jessie wasn’t a baby anymore. She was two and a half and needed space to play or create while we drove. As it was, we would have to make frequent stops to let her run around. When I added in the space he would need for his belongings, it was an easy, “NO!”
Between Debbie crying and being indecisive then crying more, and Paul’s frugality reminding me that we would spend less money, less time driving with more people sharing the burdens and they didn’t have a car which made a caravan out of the question, I reluctantly relented. We quickly met Steve. He seemed like a nice guy and eventually became a close friend. He was also over six feet tall. I guess we figured that we would just cram everybody and everything in as best we could and hope for the best. So, we scheduled some meetings to strategize our route and set some kind of schedule.
We wanted to visit friends and family along the way, so the first stop was the Pittsburg, PA area. We stayed with Denis and Nigel who had a punk band. Denis was also an artist who did a comic. He was a childhood friend of Paul’s. We eventually lost track of them over the years. Last we’d heard they were in Los Angeles. I don’t think they ever heard of Paul’s death, though I did try to find them. We also had a friend in Kansas City, Debbie and Steve had one in Yellow Springs, Ohio. They were also really set on visiting the Grand Tetons in Wyoming. We knew that there was a good possibility of snow at that time, so we nixed that idea, but they never really dropped it. The plan so far was to stay south of the Rockies to avoid any bad weather.
Two days before we were ready to leave, I decided to go say goodbye to Amber’s mother. It was a beautiful morning as I put Jessie in the car and drove to North Stamford along the winding, hilly roads. We had a wonderful but tearful visit then started home. Along one of those particularly winding stretches of road, my car made a horrible THUNK and just stopped. I sat there stunned for a few minutes then got out to look. I had no idea what the problem was, but I wasn’t going to figure it out standing there, so I scooped up Jessie and stuck out my thumb. I made it home and called my mom who called a towing company to come get the car. Then, she called her multitude of friends and found us another car that day. Mom was always amazing that way. She had friends everywhere and knew how to get things done. The new car was registered that day, so we packed it up and were ready to go. Mom wasn’t pleased that we dropped off the spare tire to make room for the very last bit. Paul assured her that we’d be fine and wouldn’t even need the tire, which we didn’t.
The morning before we were scheduled to leave, we heard the doorbell ring. Paul went downstairs to check and came back up with a stricken look on his face. He said, “The police are downstairs wanting to talk to you.” “What?!” I was already stressed out about the trip ahead, trying to fit everyone and everything in, all the negotiations then having to replace the car at the last minute. I didn’t think I could handle another drama, but I walked down quickly to get it over with. “Yes, I was Deborah Cavanaugh. Yes, I did own a 1966 Plymouth Valiant. What? No, I didn’t drive it over the edge of a ravine and leave it nose down in a creek!” That’s when I started to cry. I admit that I’m a crier when things get to be too much. It enables me to regroup. So, I just cried for a few minutes. When I was done, they called the towing company that was supposed to have taken the car. They hadn’t gotten to it, yet. Apparently, overnight some kids found it along the road and pushed it over the side, where it landed headfirst into the creek. When they pulled it out, they remarked that the headlights still worked. I was very sorry to lose that car.
It was a trick to fit everything into the new car which was, thankfully, a little larger. Paul and I were moving a small family. Although we were small, there were still three of us, and it was originally our move. We were just bringing them along. Everyone had their own personal belongs that we packed into the trunk and the floor of the backseats. This meant that the back was just a large platform. Steve insisted on bringing his comic book collection, which was an investment that he didn’t trust being away from him, but they couldn’t get packed away. They had to be accessible to him. He did end up financing something big with that collection later in his life. They were amazing comics with Donald Duck, Mickey Mouse and many more. We didn’t mind him reading them in the back seat, except that my 2 ½ year old daughter was always in the back and wasn’t even allowed to look over his shoulder. They would argue over those comics incessantly. He and Debbie were trying to work out their stormy relationship during this trip, and it was making everything very tense. Before too long, Steve bought sardines at one of our stops and started eating them as we drove. Paul pulled over, got out of the car and lost it. He threatened to leave him there. Between the fights over the comics, the bickering between him and Debbie and now the sardines, I was good with that. Let’s leave him here! Leaving him meant leaving Debbie, and we couldn’t really do that, so we finally decided not to just leave him there on the side of the road with his comics and sardines, but there were rules. No more sardines, no more arguing between him and Debbie inside the car and he would always have a front seat, with his comics. I wondered later if maybe it was manipulated to get him a front seat. We hadn’t really thought about the height issue in the back, and he really did need a front seat, being so tall.
The next stop was Yellow Springs, Ohio. Debbie’s friend was there. Betsy had a small child that they hadn’t met yet. She looked like a very cool person, but we needed a break from the two of them, so we proposed dropping them off there and moving on to Kansas City to visit our friend there. If they could get to Kansas City in eight days, we would bring them the rest of the way. We gave them Brian’s phone number hoping that they would call and say they decided to do something else, then we drove on our way, our load quite a bit lighter.
So now here we were back in my hometown, close to my family and Paul’s mother, back with our old friends. Luckily, our time out west had narrowed our circle of friends, enabling us to choose who to hang out with more wisely. At least, that’s what we thought. It was true to a certain degree. We had a family now and needed to be much more responsible than we had been in the past. We did do a few packed gigs, but as soon as the novelty wore off, the crowds dwindled. We were still only a duo with no plans to expand into a full band, so we eventually just jammed with friends and each other. We continued to expand our minds since we had stopped expanding our horizons, at least for now, but always made sure that our daughter, Jessie, was cared for by someone else at those times.
We lived in a three-story apartment building with six units. There was a teenaged girl on the first floor who became our regular babysitter, until we discovered her stealing our pot. There was also a wonderful Irish woman next door with a small child. It was a great place for Jessie to grow up. We could walk everywhere. There was a firehouse nearby that would keep her fascinated for hours. There was a playground and a library which were a long walk but doable. Of course, the cost of living was higher at that time, so I went looking for a job. We knew that childcare costs would be ridiculous and, although my parents lived only a few blocks away, my mom was not willing to help out. She wanted to take Jessie on her own terms at her convenience. My dad wanted to see her much more than that, but he wasn’t the one doing the work, so Mom always won out.
I understood why she was reluctant. She’d become a mother when she was twenty-two. I did the same. My brother came almost four years later. Life for my parents was very stressful. We lived in poverty because, although my dad had a very prestigious job and had to look the part, he got a low salary for the work he did. His job involved hobnobbing with politicos, lawyers and judges, so he needed a good suit and a good-looking car. My mom had to have new dresses for events they attended while my brother and I wore hand-me-downs. Mom also worked. In the beginning, she worked nights, leaving Dad to care for us in the evenings. Once we were in school, she worked during the day always getting out in time to meet us at home when school was over. They did manage to eventually buy a house because Dad’s parents helped them. The house they bought was in shambles and needed lots of rehab, which Dad did mostly himself. This meant that I grew up in a construction zone for a large part of my childhood. When Dad finally started making a livable salary, Mom got pregnant again. I was sixteen. When Jessie was born, my sister was only six. Mom was not really in grandmother mode yet, but she did her best, sometimes taking Jessie during the day while my sister was in school. She didn’t like the idea of being a grandmother. She thought she was much too young and insisted that Jessie refer to her as “aunt.” So, Jessie started calling her Aunt Grandma.
Paul and I had always smoked openly in front of Jessie. We didn’t believe in hiding it because we didn’t think it was wrong and shouldn’t be illegal. We were young and naïve and didn’t realize that she might inadvertently make trouble for us. The first incident was as we were leaving our apartment one afternoon and she suddenly blurted out, “Oh wait, I forgot my dope!” She said this just as our Irish neighbor was also leaving. Thinking quickly on my feet I said, “Oh yes, Dopey Dolly! Let’s go back in and get her.” The next uncomfortable moment was with my mom. While living in Santa Cruz, we had found an old bamboo bong with an inscription on it in Chinese characters. We quickly found someone to translate it for us. It was a legend about the power of three, so we decided that, from that point on, we would only do three bong hits at a time. Jessie was enthralled with the bubbling of the bong, so we let her make bubbles when there was no smoke in it. One day she went grocery shopping with my mom at the local small market. When Mom dropped her off, she seemed terribly upset. She confronted me almost immediately saying, “I can’t believe you’re letting your baby smoke pot!” What!? I guess that, while they were standing in the checkout line, Jessie suddenly said, “Hey, Aunt Grandma, do you smoke pot? I do three bongs all the time.” I had a lot of explaining to do but did manage to talk my way out of it. Jessie even insisted on demonstrating.
Compared to the heavy drug scene we had left, the one we came back to was very tame but still fun, nonetheless. There was a new dealer in town who was a hippie with older kids. His girlfriend was not much older than his boys. To us, he seemed like an old man, but he was probably in his mid to late thirties. He had an old beat up sedan that he let his kids paint. There were slogans like “listen to your mother” and others and lots of crazy psychedelic designs. His house was on a dead-end road and was constantly filled with partying people. I didn’t feel comfortable bringing Jessie there, so Paul and I always went without her. We had our babysitter living right in the same building, so we had the freedom to go out any evenings we wanted, and we could afford the cost because we were both working. One time, we even got a ride from the cops to his block.
It was a massive snowstorm, but there was a party scheduled, and we’d already arranged our childcare. The sitter’s mom was fine with her daughter sleeping over. It wasn’t like anyone was going out anyway. There was no way to drive, so we set out on foot. It was an exceptionally long haul, but we were determined. However, by the time we got halfway there, we were frozen and exhausted from battling the wind and driving snow. We heard a car coming and decided to stick out our thumbs. When the car stopped, we realized that they were local police. They asked us why we were out in the storm and where we were going. Paul told them that we were on our way to a “snowed-in” party and certainly didn’t want to risk taking our car out. They shook their heads saying, “Crazy kids!” and gave us a ride. We had them drop us off at a house a couple of blocks away, so we didn’t bring attention to our real destination. They were genuinely nice and cautioned us to be careful making our way back home. We made it home before dawn and tired waking our sitter to send her home. She wouldn’t wake up fully enough to go downstairs, and that’s when we realized that most of our pot was missing. It was the last time she worked for us.
Because I didn’t have childcare during the day, my employment options were limited. I needed a job where I could bring my child. My first job was as a school crossing guard. That didn’t last very long. I was assigned to a busy intersection near the downtown area. It was hellish trying to cross the kids during rush hour with angry drivers honking their horns, screaming at me to get out of the way and even sometimes trying to run me down. It didn’t feel like a safe environment to have my child in. The next job I had was driving a school bus. I loved the training in the big buses, but they ended up giving me a short bus. The drive to work was nerve-wracking. My little white Vega had brake problems. Actually, the brakes were so bad, I didn’t really have brakes at all and no money to fix them. The walk to work at 6 am was too far with a small child, so every morning I drove the car to the top of the hill leading to the buses and waited until the train went past then slowly rolled down the hill over the tracks and coasted to a stop in the parking lot, often stopping by gently hitting a pole. Occasionally the train would run late and, although I was tempted to risk it, I never did. I always waited for the train.
I enjoyed driving the bus and mostly enjoyed the kids until I got assigned to drive the most disturbed kids … with no aide on the bus. One little girl tried to dart off the bus every time I stopped to pick up some else. The few times she got away, I had to flag down a stranger to chase her and bring her back. I couldn’t leave my bus full of kids unattended to go running after one child. Another little boy took off every item of clothing one at a time, throwing them out the window until we arrived at school with him completely naked. For a short time, I had a boy with a broken leg who came with an aide. That made all the difference in the world. When he went back to his regular bus and I was left without any help, I complained – again. They assured me that they would work something out. A week later, I got my new assignment. I was being given a big bus! (hooray!) the woman who had been doing that route, to and from the projects, had been attacked by the high school students on the bus and was hospitalized. They needed a replacement. When I balked, they assured me that they had put a radio in the bus so I could call for help, if I needed it. Needless to say, I quit.
I was naïve in many ways. I had always been brutally shy, probably because of the threat of violence in our home every day. I think I was more terrified than shy. As a result, I never really had friends until Junior High School. Then, I started hanging out with a fast crowd. We all smoked our first cigarettes in the fall of seventh grade and started showing an interest in boys. My Junior High School went through ninth grade but after eighth grade, my parents decided to take me out of public school and enter me in a private Catholic high school. Ugh! I didn’t know anyone and had just been diagnosed with scoliosis and encased in a leather a steel back brace that stretched from just under my chin to just past my hips. What a way to start a new school. I was bullied and ostracized and had no experience with the opposite sex until college. I had no idea how to flirt. I didn’t even recognize when someone was flirting with me because, who would do that anyway? I believed I was unattractive and was eternally thankful to have found anyone who could tolerate me. Paul, on the other hand, was a big flirt. Because he was so into flirting and interested in other women, he assumed that I felt the same. I got in so much trouble with him for hanging out with my male friends while he was at work. It never even occurred to me that he would be jealous because who would want me? We were just friends. We started fighting incessantly, mostly over one man in particular. I guess I should have realized something was askew when this guy asked me to slow dance with him one night at a party.
We had always argued, but this was different. Paul was working two jobs, and I had just quit mine. The only time we had off together was late nights and Sundays, and he slept most of Sunday trying to catch up. He hated his day job as a cook for a school cafeteria. There were too many unreasonable rules and regulations for him. His other job was late afternoons, evenings and Saturdays. We had managed to buy a car but were just barely surviving in spite of all our work. Our relationship was starting to fall apart, and we knew we needed to do something.