When my girls were little, the Mercer Mayer books were some of our favorites; Just Me and My Dad, Just Me and My Mom, and Just Shopping with Mom; they were all warm and fuzzy and carried a thread of family togetherness. I adored my girls and we loved reading; sometimes we would sit together with stacks of books, a bowl of popcorn, unsweetened iced tea, and read for hours.
Back then, I was naïve enough to believe I was creating memories with them that they would remember for their entire lives; memories I didn’t have a chance to cultivate with my mother. I wanted them to remember the silly preschool songs I taught them about monkeys jumping on the bed and hot dogs frying in a pan, or that I taught them to write, their colors, numbers, and the alphabet, all before kindergarten, instead of the memories I had of my childhood.
I longed to live out the fantasy life of the Little Critter mom in the books as my girls and I giggled our way through the stories, trying to forget my past.
My mom and I never had a very good relationship; I always had the feeling I didn’t belong, and that she simply didn’t like or didn’t want me. I wasn’t special or unique in the family; I wasn’t the oldest like my sister, not the youngest like my other sister, and I was not the only boy like my brother.
I was just me; I talked too much, asked too many questions, and I was a picky eater; when I came in from school I would ask in one word “What’sfordinnerIhateitandIamnotgoingtoeatit.” When we sat down to eat, I would move my fork through my food trying to make it look like I was eating; often gagging, and sometimes throwing up at the table. It was a battle scene every night; meals were tense, to say the least.
The rest of my life was just as stressful; I didn’t get new clothes, as my sister was only three years older, I had to wear her hand-me-downs, but I was the only one. My brother was the only boy so there was nobody to hand anything down to him, and my younger sister was 10 years my junior. Needless to say, I felt singled out by the process; it could be that was just the way the cookie crumbled, but it felt bad.
Out of four children, I was the only one who excelled at school; I enjoyed being part of the academic world, and loved being away from home any chance I could. I loved my teachers and they loved me; I never skipped school and didn’t cause any problems, except talking excessively.
When I started playing the flute, I was excited that I seemed to catch on quickly and had somewhat of a talent for the instrument. I loved the way it felt to hold the beautiful instrument in my hands and play; it made me feel cerebral and elegant as I stretched my arms and fingers to reach the keys and hit the notes properly.
I finally convinced my parents to allow me to take private music lessons after school from my music teacher every Tuesday after school. I would go directly there after classes and my mother would pick me up when I was finished. I was in junior high school, but the music room was at the high school so I would walk across the field to his class, take my lesson, and then sit on the curb and wait for my mother.
Usually, I would get out five minutes early so I would be waiting for her and not have her waiting for me, as she had a tendency to be highly impatient with me.
One afternoon, I was sitting on the curb at 3:25; 3:30 being the appointed time she was to pick me up that day. I waited for her and time wore on; it started to get darker and colder. I looked at my watch, petrified to move and look for a payphone, afraid I would miss her; it was 4:30. As it got later, I was afraid she had been killed in a car accident and that my brother and sister had perished as well.
5:00, no mother; 5:15, 5:30, 6:00; I was terrified that my father had come home in a drunken rage and had killed them all and that I would be left a 12 year-old orphan. I was sobbing when she finally pulled up in the station wagon; she was furious with me. “Get in the car,” she demanded, “Where the hell have you been?”
I was stunned; I had been sitting on the curb the entire time. “Mom,” I cried, “I have been here, on the sidewalk.”
“No you haven’t,” she threw the car in drive and peeled out, “You little liar. Wait until I tell your dad what happened.”
“Mom,” I begged, “I was here. Mom, Mom…”
“I have been driving up and down this street, around the block,” she lied, “I went to your school. You are in big trouble.”
I clung to the door, looking out the window and cried all the way home.
From as early as I could remember, my dad used to say to me, “You are so beautiful and talented; you are going to be our little model or movie star.” My mom would just roll her eyes or glare at him. I don’t know why he said it, I never professed a desire to do either, but he was insistent; a few times my grandmother commented as well because I was “so tall”. I was the tallest in the family, but certainly short by most standards; as a full-grown adult I am now 5’4”.
When I was 12, my dad decided I should go to modeling school; he found one in Salt Lake City and enrolled me despite my protests. It wasn’t something I particularly wanted to do; at 12 I still played with Barbies, rode my bike and played with my stuffed animals. The last thing I wanted to do was go to modeling school.
However, my dad was determined that I was going to be the next Brooke Shields; I started attending the school 45 miles away every Thursday night. My mom had to drive me every Thursday after school; I would attend sessions for four hours, from 5 until 9 at night. She would pick me up and we would make our way back home where I would have to do homework and go to bed; often times waking up exhausted on Friday mornings for school.
Some weekends I went out of town for photo shoots, or did local shoots around town; I was told to drop weight from my slender frame of 90 pounds, and I was overloaded with heavy makeup no 12 year-old should be wearing.
One Thursday evening when class got out I sat on the stoop of the building and watched the women from my group leave, one by one; then I watched the instructors leave; and finally, I watched the janitorial crew leave. I sat and I waited in the darkest industrial area of Salt Lake City I had ever seen; nobody seemed to care that I was 13 (by this point I had turned 13) and sitting alone outside in a bad area.
It was almost midnight by the time my mother pulled up; she was drunk and angry. I silently slid into the seat. She sped home; I watched as the speedometer reached speeds in excess of 100 miles per hour, too scared to say anything; half wishing we would just die in a fiery car crash and get it over with, and half wishing we would just make it home alive.
The summer I turned 15, things with my mother and I had reached a boiling point; she was through with me in every way imaginable.
I cannot even recall what we were arguing over, but the fight escalated to the point where she attacked me; she began hitting me with everything and anything she could grasp. At first it was just her hands, her fists, then it was a wooden spoon, a long stick kept in a planter to keep the plant growing straight, a handle of a broom, and finally a yardstick. I had crawled underneath the kitchen table and she was hitting me with it and screaming for me to come out.
Later that evening, she called her friend; she was the wife of a co-worker of my father’s. She asked the woman to come and get me and take me away for a while because she could not have me there anymore, she just couldn’t deal with me. I was standing in the stairwell of our split-level home; I had a cut just below my eye and my back was welted from the broom and yardstick.
The next day her friend came to pick me up; she told me to pack my bag for a few months because we were leaving for Canada. I begged not to go; I didn’t understand what I had done wrong, I didn’t want to leave, but I wasn’t given a choice. I wasn’t wanted there.
Just Me and My Mom