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.