Sunday, October 19, 2008

Note to my younger self: Don't you forget about YOU

While listening to the the most recent installment of the Stuck in the 80's podcast, the music of 80's movies was being discussed. The number one song on the list was "Don't you (forget about me)," from The Breakfast Club. That film encapsulates so much more than typical teen angst. I was not your typical teen-age girl. I managed to relate to the characters for more than complaining brats who hate their parents. On the outside I looked like Claire (Molly Ringwald), but inside I was a ball of confusion like Allison (Ally Sheedy.) I longed to rebel like Bender (Judd Nelson), but feared disappointing the those around me like Brian (Anthony Michael Hall.) I desperately wanted to be revered and celebrated like Andy (Emilio Estevez.)

When I completed listening to the podcast there was a flood of emotion and recall. I thought about where I was in the early 80's. Those memories inspired me to write the following:

As I said, my life as a teen wasn't typical. My parents' relationship had always seemed tumultuous. I never doubted their love for me or for each other, but situations made life difficult. By the time I was learning to drive, my mother had fallen victim to ovarian cancer. By the time it had been discovered, many of her internal organs were being ravaged by the relentless disease. Chemotherapy was attempted, but in 1981 there was little hope. By June '81 she weakened greatly and passed away. Devastation doesn't begin to describe it.

I desperately needed structure and guidance. My father and brother, who still lived at home, were unable to provide it. Each were dealing with the loss of mother in ways that were unfitting in my eyes. I was alone much of the time. If it hadn't been for my sisters Maureen and Mary and close friends, I don't know what path my life might have taken.

Due to my father's deep grief and inability to fully recognize my own suffering, I moved in with my sister Mary and her family. Although I appreciated my sister's open arms, it was quickly apparent that having a teen ager in the house with her, her husband and toddlers running about was too much.
Around Christmas of that same year I spent time with my sister Maureen. She lived alone in a 2 bedroom apartment. I don't know who came up with the idea originally, but the comfort of being with her gave me what I needed. I moved into her spare bedroom and she took on one of the biggest challenges of her life: raising a teen age sister.

Through living with Maureen, I was finally able to regain some stability. She set boundaries, but gave me plenty of room to run. My friends loved her. She was involved in all of my school activities. That includes chaperoning a show choir trip and heading up the make up committee for my senior year musical. She sewed my prom dress and competition evening gown for the Miss Kankakee Pageant where I was 1st Runner-up. A judge later wrote to me telling me I took first in evening gown and talent. WE won evening gown, thank you very much.

No matter what I did in my life, Maureen was the spearhead helping to make it happen. I never felt like a burden. She gave me so much. She continues to give.

Fast forward a bit to 1984. Maureen and her long time beau finally decide to get hitched. I was still residing with her in her 2 bedroom apartment. You can probably sense where this is going. In October the wedding takes place and, for me, all things are status quo. This man who my sister had been dating for 7 years would be moving in with us. Groovy. I could dig it. Yeah. But he couldn't dig it.

The day after their wedding my father announced that he, too, would be getting married. MARRIED?! Married. For the most part we hadn't heard much of this woman who'd soon be our step-mother. Six days after the announcement they were wed. Shock. Dread. Horror. A certain 'what the hell?' moment in my life. Our lives.

With Dad moving in with his new wife and her prepubescent son, it left our family home empty. A big, old eight room house where tales of ghosts and creepy hauntings supposedly occurred. I hated that my mother found it necessary to tell us such tales. I despised being alone in that house.

Then it happened. Another blow to the head. Another debilitating crack in my once stable foundation. My new brother in law had an epiphany: Marissa should go live in the big house that scares the shit out of her. Yeah. That's the ticket. No. No! Yes. I was over-ruled. I had no choice in the matter. It would appease both my father and brother in law. But it left Maureen and I feeling as if the rug had been pulled out from under us. She'd always been my shield from harm and now her hand was forced: Choose her husband or her sister. Unfair, but I was certainly being made uncomfortable in the place I had called home. I reluctantly moved. I resented my new brother-in-law for his selfishness. A man who had never lived on his own expected a teen-ager to do something he had never done..

I did everything in my power to avoid being alone in that house. I invited friends from work to hang out. I had parties. I begged girlfriends to come live with me. No one could fully afford taking up residence. As long as I lived alone my father anted up the money for utilities. God, how I hated living there. It wasn't home. It was a dwelling where I attempted sleep. I had a meaningful relationship with David Letterman and my sewing machine.

The morning after hosting an Everclear punch party, a very hungover Marissa left the house a mess and drove a friend home. When I returned, I found my father in the house. He'd seen the remains of what his youngest had been up to in her loneliness. He only said "it must have been one heck of a party."
Shortly after that I received calls from my sister Karen. She and her family have always been church going folks. They were loving, structured and compassionate. She lived in Charleston, Illinois. Home of Eastern Illinois University. Clearly, word had spread that I was imbibing and potentially walking down a path of ill repute. So, I packed my bags and moved. Again.
Sis and her husband had a clear set of rules for me. I would return to college (community), get a job and straighten out my act. I hadn't lost a grip on morality. I was confused. Lost. Lonely. A deep sense of abandonment seemed to be the norm in my young life.

My brother Rick and his wife lived in Charleston, too. He was a student at EIU. I was delighted to hang out with him and his friends. I would learn that to his friends, I was the forbidden fruit. They'd flirt, but never touch. Well, so my big brother thought. His good friend and I managed to steal away and make out. Nothing more happened, but he taught me what my lips were good for. In retrospect, I know I appeared to be nothing more than a surly puppy begging for his attention, but I thought I could run with the big dogs. My heart would end up broken, but I kept my head high and moved on. There were plenty of other boys willing to kiss and dance with me.

It was during my EIU adventure that I saw The Breakfast Club. I'd gone with my brother and his wife. I remember a girl squealing with delight that Claire used the same brand of lipstick that she did. Twit! It didn't hold as much meaning then as it does now. It was just for the sake of amusement that I watched it. I bought the soundtrack later and the more I listened to it, the more I was able to connect with each character in the film

Despite the efforts put forth by my sister to keep me on the straight and narrow, I managed to get in deeper waters. I made friends who were of legal drinking age. At 19, I could get into bars with my student I.D. I wasn't supposed to drink, but no one ever took the whiskey sours out of my hands.

I had money to blow thanks to scholarships and grants. I quit the fast food job I attained when I first moved there. I wasn't cut out for it. No one really is, but I knew I had money in the bank without a job. I did minimal studying and maximum partying. Naturally, I thought I was doing so under the radar of my sister and her husband.

I had been engulfed in a life opposite of what I had known. I changed my prissy style of dress to something far more alluring. Sexy. I donned the Madonna "Borderline" video style. It was then I realized the power I had in my breasts and round rump. I wasn't afraid to exude my new found sexuality. I also realized that alcohol made me do things I wouldn't otherwise do sober. I will say I remained a virgin through all of that. However, I shamelessly exploited myself to win a man's attention.

Without going into too much detail because it's a pointless waste of time, I befriended a girl who manipulated me and ended stealing a king's ransom from me. We took her to court and restitution was made. That episode along with serious homesickness had me packing up once again.

Maureen and her husband had purchased a large ranch home. There was room enough for a little sister and her baggage to reside. I moved back to Kankakee when the semester ended. I got a job working for a summer program with the school district. That job would help me get a full-time position as a computer lab tech. That living arrangement was intended to be short lived, but they failed to involve me in that portion of the discussion.

Hint upon hint were dropped that it was time for me to take up a residence of my own. I took the first cheap place I could find. I didn't have a car. So, my bike would provide as transport to and from work.

The place was an efficiency apartment. I had room mates. Gross. Nasty. Cock roaches. I complained to the landlord. I sprayed. I bombed. I slept with the lights on hoping they'd leave me alone in my slumber. God, I hated that place, but one does what they must when feeling pushed.

One rainy morning I heard a knock on my door. It was Maureen coming to give me a ride to work. I had no idea the rain was pouring down. She'd never been to my sad little abode. She later told me it devastated her to see what I had been pushed into.

I wish that I could say I was proud of my apartment. I'd like to proclaim that "it was small, but it was mine." It sucked. I was truly horrible.

Viewing my 'home' left Maureen feeling horrified. It's not that it was Joe's Apartment or filthy. It was dark. Dismal. Depressing. She didn't hesitate in helping me find a more suitable apartment. With great fortune her boss owned a Victorian home that had been converted into several efficiency apartments. Only women lived in the home. It was ideal, quaint and perfectly suited my budget.
Because the adorable one bedroom apartment wasn't available immediately, I took temporary residence with my dad and his wife, her son and newly added infant. Yes. Dad and my step mom had a baby. OOPS!
I was once again packing my things and moving. Sure, I would be doing it again in a couple of weeks, but the idea of staying in the roach motel another night wasn't an option. I'd lived there nearly 3 months and that was enough. I loaded my dad's Toyota van with all of my personal belongings. My clothes filled the vehicle. The only furniture I had was a love seat/hide-a-bed that belonged to my step mom. I can't remember when or how I moved that. I'm sure it was my brother-in-law who assisted since he always had a pick up truck.
A note was left on the dining table of the teeny, dank apartment. In it, I explained to the landlord that he could keep the security deposit as my last month of rent. I declared that the infestation of cock roaches should be reason enough to get my deposit back along with NOT paying the rent, but I was anxious to get out and didn't care to see him or the apartment again. I cut my losses and fled.
I wouldn't find my sense of home and belonging for many years. The stay in the cute apartment lasted for about a year. During that time, my brother helped me find a car. It was old, but reliable. I had my first set of wheels and it gave me a sense of independence. To get it I had taken out a personal loan. I made a minimal salary. If I'm not mistaken I survived on less than $10,000 pre taxes. Making ends meet was quite difficult. Dad recognized the signs of my financial crisis. I started showing up at his house during mealtimes. He'd load me up with left overs.
Thanks to his relationship with my step mom, he and I were able to make amends for the things that happened after my mother died. I moved in with them and I re-enrolled in college. My step mom was employed at the college and I received free tuition as a result.
I quit my full-time job at the elementary school and obtained a part-time job at a Shell gas station/food mart not far from home. I finally felt like I was able to make a home. I was never made to feel that I was infringing on my dad, step mom, or little brothers. I was given plenty of growing room. I wasn't scolded for being out until 5:00 a.m. Well, not directly.
While working at the Shell station I met David, Man-cub's father. He was the first man I dated with any serious notion. I had gone on dates. I had made out with guys. I suffered heartbreaking crushes, but I hadn't dealt with the day to day trials and tribulations of being in a relationship.
In a span of two years I regained full-time employment, enrolled in Governor's State University to complete my education and purchased a newer car. I was encouraged by my dad to be independent. It's not that he disliked David, but he felt I needed to be unencumbered so I could forge into a life free of drama. I didn't heed my father's advice and I continued to date David. It was not a healthy relationship. I was losing myself.
David was four years older, but had little to no real drive. He had lots of dreams, but did little to achieve those dreams. Perhaps they were just too far fetched.
I continued to go to school in the evening and work at the elementary school. I was succeeding and loving the course work. I had changed my major numerous times while attending community college. I had decided on Psychology. Prior to dating David I wrote out a plan of obtaining a doctorate. I truly believed that with all I had endured in my life I would be able to help save other teens who felt lost. I knew I had the ability. I never doubted that, with a math tutor, I could grasp that brass ring. Until David and I became serious, that is ... to be continued


  1. I am humbled by what you have shared here, humbled and filled with deep respect! You are an amazing woman!

  2. Dayum woman! I love you even more now. This post was fantastic how wonderful for you to share with us.

  3. Wow. I lost my father to cancer when I was 13. My world, much like yours, spiraled out of control as I tried to figure out where I fit in. My mom was busy trying not to fall apart and my little brother was a mess, so I had to keep my family together while trying to figure out who I was.

    You are awesome. I only had to move once and re-establish my place. I can't imagine having to do it as many times as you did!

    I have so much respect for you, I can't even begin to measure it!!


  4. Loved the naked, unabashed honesty. No life is perfect, but struggles make people more interesting.
    You are a survivor, a strong, wonderful woman. Cheers to Miss Riss!!


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