Tag Archive | anxiety

1964-1967 PLEASANT STREET

 

We move to Pleasant Street parallel to the Blackstone River. My Aunt, Uncle, and cousins live 2 houses down from us, on the first floor of a white triple decker with black shutters and a large yard with a swing set. I spend a lot of time hanging out there. I idolize my aunt and bask in her motherly skills helping her bath my baby cousin in a galvanized steel tub on the kitchen table. My uncle is a hard worker and when home is always sleeping in his chair even when my aunt’s high pitched voice is yelling at the girls. My mother has that same tone of voice frequently, its normal background sounds that I am use to and comfortable with, I find myself using my own high screechy voice when I baby sit or fight with my sisters.

 

My uncle belongs to the Portuguese Social Club and he rents it for my sweet 16th birthday party, it’s a big hall for the small group that show up. Being introverted and new to the neighborhood, I have a few close friends and do not run with the popular crowd. My poor self esteem and anxiety does a number on my head with lots of negative thoughts; during the process of getting ready, during the activity and long after the celebration is over. I get extremely anxious at social gathering with my peers; I do not remember ever being comfortable in a crowd of kids; making all kinds of judgments about myself, being concerned about what others think about me, and always wanting to please them.

 

We live in a very small three bedroom, two story white Cape Cod styled cottage, 600 x 450, set way back from the street, a chain linked fence surrounds the property, a concrete pad for parking, with a humongous front yard and right down the middle is a concrete walkway. The grass requires mowing every week, using the hand mower I run while pushing it the large distance it must go, back and forth at least 6 times on each side. I love the smell of freshly mowed grass. The back yard has just enough room to walk and space for the metal garbage cans. The snow always pile up there, as it falls from the roof, so ma make taffy, throwing it on the snow and we pull it with all our might till it is done.

 

Since I am 16 years old my mother sends me to driving school, saying “I wouldn’t be able to teach you”. It seems like forever, I have been waiting for the day I would get my drivers’ license. The first time I take the new 1964 yellow Impala out I drive Downtown. I find my-self freaking out, the driver in front of me stops suddenly, I react by swerving up onto the sidewalk to avoid hitting the car, heading straight for a shop window with the owner holding her hands up to stop me, I put my foot on the gas rather than the break, and get stopped by the large light pole, protecting all from injury, which the city bills my family for. The right fender is completely demolished but drivable. I am extremely scared to go home, fearful of the consequences, which are nonexistent. I do not understand the rational that adults live by, I find it confusing.

 

Opening the front screen door, then the wooden door, which has just enough room to swing half way, and stand at the base of the stairs directly in front of me. Going to the left is a small room, which is the entry way for all the traffic to pass through, which has a chair and end tables, two windows let in the setting sun and the cool breezes. I can see straight into the alcove that is the living room where the TV and a sofa sit with windows facing west and north.  I turn left into the kitchen /dining area which the largest room leading to all the areas in the back part of the house: pantry, bathroom, a bedroom used as the kids’ room and the stairs to the cellar.

 

The dining room contains a large kitchen table with six chairs in the middle; the refrigerator is up against the left wall, the four burner gas stove is up against the right wall. Off the north side is a small pantry with a double sink and long counter space, there are cabinets above and below for dishes and storage with a small window, there is only room for one adult to move around in. There is a steel cabinet for food storage in the main room that divides the pantry from the tiny bathroom. The back door has a window on each side, to let in the rising sun at breakfast time, which usually is cereal that I put together my-self, we are all expected to do our own meal and ask for help if needed. Messes are not tolerated and I am a clean freak as a result.

 

Ma is a great baker: latticed covered cherry pie, lemon meringue that comes to an amazing peak, cakes to die for with luscious frosting, holiday fruit and nut breads, and her special cherries jubilee in a chafing dish with the blue flames she would ignite for all to see. She has many Damascus table clothes so there is always one on the table. She is sensitive about her cooking, once my sister complained about the meal and my mom picked the beautiful cloth up by the corners, dishes, food and all, carrying it out back and dumping it in the garbage; that was the last time anyone said anything negative about the food.

 

She has me making the dinners during the week which consisted of meat, potatoes and a vegetable that is bland and basic. We eat dinner in silence, now that the shadow is living with us, and it’s very common to be wacked with a utensil if you reached across the table or speak. Supper is now a very anxiety producing experience for me and I have started to develop severe stomach aches after meals. I would be in the pantry leaning over in pain while she says “You just don’t want to do the dishes”. My sister and I alternate between washing and drying, when we were together in the pantry we would get into arguments. When I was drying and find some crude I would put the item back in the water to be washed again. This has resulted in mother separating us, so now the washer is alone and when finished leaves, and then the dryer go in and does that chore, cutting down on our fighting.

 

The bathroom is the only place I can have complete privacy with a hook and latch on the door. I love my weekly soaking on Saturdays in the porcelain tub with the strong fancy feet; there is a matching toilet and sink, with a northern window to let in light and air. There is a mirror I look into when brushing my teeth and doing my hair. The first time I shave my legs I cut myself all the way up my shin and it sure does sting when I do it.

 

There is another room on the south side, which is the kids’ room for all the toys, and ends up as the junk or storage area, its purpose always changing; it has an east and south facing windows. This is where our dog Lady has her puppies, she becomes very mean and protective, and so she is given away. I often wonder who was abusing her.

 

The house is spotless; my mother is the task master and has given us all assigned chores to do, saying “Why do you think I had all girls… to do housework!” Once a week He goes around with white gloves trying to find dirt. We hold our breath because if dirt is found we can’t go out. Once he found dust high up on the door jams so we are punished by having to clean all over again and not let out. I develop a frenzied approach to cleaning, constantly going over again and again areas that are already clean, trying to think like Him and not miss anything, but it never seems to be right, there is always something wrong.

 

Going down the open staircase to the dark dank basement is creepy and being the size of all the rooms on the first floor without dividers it’s the largest room in the house. In the southeast corner are the washer, dryer, and an ironing board always set up and ready to use, with clotheslines all over the place. The older girls each have a day to do our own laundry in addition to washing and drying other items we are responsible for. There are 2 old couches in the southwest corner where we can hang out, when friends come over, lots of necking has gone on in that area, which has the most lighting. In the northwest corner is a cement structure that is the only remnants left of the Still that once produced 200% white lighting. This is also where the metal shut carries the coal down into the basement leaving black dust in the air.

 

Back to the front entrance and to the right of the stairwell is my mother’s room, which is the only area she cleans, since she works hard and is always exhausted and lying in bed. Standing in the doorway, for her room is off limits, the bulky solid maple bedroom set crowds the space. There is a short long dresser straight ahead, with a large mirror reflecting my image back to me. There is light coming in from the west window and looking out the south facing window is our neighbor’s yard. There is a tall dresser on the left wall with just enough space to get to the heavy double bed with its rounded carved polls for the head board, against the east wall. When she is not around we go through her drawers looking for nylons without wholes or runs in them. Once I found annulment papers showing that she had been married before my father, causing me to wonder if he was my real father, since I was born a little over 9 months after they were married, maybe I was conceived on their honeymoon.

 

 

At the top of the skinny stairs leading to the 2nd floor is a room on each side; again the top floor has a pitched roof. The left room on the north side has the twin beds in addition to a trundle bed that is stored under one of the twins, where the youngest ones sleep. The room on the right is where us older ones sleep together in a full size bed, I am always crowded out and near the edge because my sister likes to sleep across the bed. My sister and I fight a lot and the only things we have in common are working at the shoe lace factory and music. I run the noisy machines that cut the braid and tip the shoe laces, while she packages them. She tells me “That guy who brings the spools is a homo”, naive me asks “what’s that?” learning about homosexuality. We pool our money and join a music club, buying albums: Doors, Dave Clark 5, and the Monkeys.

 

 

The shadow’s behavior continued and progresses to trying to touch, which startles me awake from a sound sleep. I learned to condition my-self; to awake with the sound of heavy breathing and the pungent smell of booze. I use to sleep on my back, now I sleep in the fetal position, using protective and defensive behaviors. so those big groping hands do not make contact with my body. He leaves the room, my mother has heard him either going up the stairs or creeping around the room, she calls to him, and he leaves. I have not slept well for a long time; it started when my father was in a wheel chair when my mother ingrained in me that if there was a fire we’d have to get him out, and it has continued as a way to protect myself, not feeling safe enough to go into a deep sleep. Fear is my major mode of being in this house.

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1963/1964 GRADUATE FROM THE 9th GRADE

 

I graduate from the 9th grade at St. Edwards’ Junior High School at the age of 15 in 1964. St. Edward was established in 1904 and is located at 58 Hancock St., Pawtucket, R.I. This is where I was stable for 4 years: attend the same school, living in the same neighborhood, maintaining the same friendships and exploring the same city which has created a sense of continuity in my life. Now things around me seem to be falling apart and going downhill: the church, my country and the world; it is starting to no longer be a safe place for me and I experience it through my body, mind and spirit.

 

I am on the Junior Variety basketball team, we finish 2nd in the state losing to the giant black girls from Providence, one girl just bear hugged me to stop me from moving even though she knew she would foul out. One time we took a short cut across the railroad tracks, all of a sudden I felt a vibration on the metal quickly followed by the roar of the train, I could not see it, I froze as the whistle blew, luckily one of my team members pulled me off, we are plastered up against the brick wall, just as I feel the force of the wind from the locomotive press me like mortar into the brick, holding my breath, heart pounding, vision blurring, it finally passes.

 

My friend Anna and I were reading very risque paperbacks, I just got to read the first page of Lolita before it disappeared from my desk, we found many missing after lunch always thinking the boys were stealing them from us. On the last day of school the nun took us aside into the cloakroom and said “I had confiscated all those unfit books you two have been reading”. Anna responded with “It was you that was stealing our books! Can we have them back, please?” Sister resounded with a firm “NO”. We spend many hours locked in Anna‘s bedroom, which has 2 doors that had flimsy hook and eye latches held on by screws, her brother would pound on the door demanding “Let me in! I am going to tell dad! What are you doing in there?” Her family is very strict and controlling Italians causing her to rebel. We wear white lipstick, black eyeliner, using an eyelash curler, teasing our hair, lots of black clothes, we are called mondos. My friends in school asked me why I hang around such a wild girl; no one can understand because they have healthier, supportive families while we have abuse issues in common that connected us like nothing else can.

 

I am the last of my female friends to get my menses; I am envious at first except when the day finally arrives. I run home and go into the bathroom; mother is on the other side of the door asking, “Are you OK?” I answer “yes”. I was in there for some time and when I come out she hands me a pamphlet about “What every Girl Should Know”. She asks me, “Do you know what a cherry is?” “Yes” surprised by that question. “Do you have any questions?”, “No” is my response because I have spent a great deal of time at the library reading medical books about girls and boys bodies maturing. I was anxious and scared seeing the blood but my friends have shared their experiences which were somewhat comforting and preparatory. On Sunday, on my way to church I faint on the street, I feel my body swoon to the ground, I can’t speak, and darkness descended down on me. I come around to my sister calling my name. She begs me to go to church anyway because it is her way of getting out, not going to church and doing what she wants, I complied with her wishes. At church I pray hard for help.

 

I spend a lot of time in the beautiful Old Pawtucket Library going up and down the aisles reading whatever calls out to me. On the first floor in a back room is an ornate book stand holding the largest dictionary I have ever set eyes on, I spend lots of time in this spot as I lovingly turn its pages with great care and respect looking up whatever word is on my mind. I love to climb up the circular winding staircase holding tightly to the iron banister to the top floor, I pause half way up and look out the fancy dome windows to the wondrous sky outside, before proceeding to the second floor. This area is like an open loft overlooking the lower floor, the iron banister goes the whole length and the one time I stood against it the librarian yelled “Please do not hang out along the banister or run in the library”. There are rows upon rows of highly polished, floor to ceiling, wood bookcases protecting the millions of books on the shelves, I usually grab a book and sit on the floor reading, this is my sanctuary.

 

My sister and I continue our Saturdays at the movies, the ticket guy has put a stop to me getting in for 25 cents saying “You can’t still be 12 years old for all these years, and putting your hair in braids does not work anymore.” It is at the Leroy Theater that I start meeting boys and get my first kiss. We continued to walk all around Pawtucket, having fun shopping in the Downtown area, going to the factories to buy trinkets, fabric, thread and sewing supplies. In the summers we spent our days at the swimming pool where everyone hung out trying to stay cool and watching the smoke stacks billowing out all the garbage being burned, you can even smell it’s stench .

 

I go to the Hamlet bowling alley with my girlfriends to meet boys, we always make sure we are in a lane close to some cute boys, so that we can flirt and be noticed. I am really bad at bowling and my balls always seem to gravitate into the gutter, I am lucky if I get a score of 90, usually in the 70s. This is where I and 3 of my friends try cigarettes in the girls’ bathroom. We smoke the whole pack in a short period of time; I feel dizzy, queasy, coughing and chocking, which is a blessing for I never want to smoke again.

 

For many years I am very involved with the Catholic Church. It had its positive influence; for it gives me strength through difficult times and spiritual tools for coping. I am involved with the Catholic Junior Council at St. Mary’s Church where I go to learn square dancing and join others my age in group activities. I accidentally came upon the brothers involved in sexual activity in the basement of the church. The brothers push an unwilling girl into a small closet with another brother, while they are laughing at the situation. I was lucky it never happens to me, it affects me in many ways, I am fearful because they have threatened me if I tell. I am experiencing great confusion around sexual issues due to this and the sexual abuse. No place is safe not even the church.

 

It seems that in the United States many are still divided on issues of equality. In Alabama Governor Wallace’s “Segregation Forever” speech is given at his inauguration. President Kennedy proposes the Civil Rights Bill. The March for Jobs and Freedom, or more commonly known as the March on Washington, attracts over 200,000 people to Washington, D.C. With the people concentrated around the Lincoln Memorial, where Martin Luther King Jr. gives his I Have a Dream speech. I am fascinated by this cultural issue which I watch on TV, listen on the radio and even find a written copy to read, it’s so inspiring. I am saddened when Four Black girls are murdered attending Sunday school in the bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama. A target because it was where there was regular civil rights meetings. As a result Riots erupt in Birmingham, and two more black youths are killed in the violence. I identify with those who are being suppressed, somehow it’s comforting knowing I am not the only, and feeling guilty because my situation is not as bad as theirs.

 

In the world around me it seems the major powers are jockeying for top positions. The U.S. and U.S.S.R. sign a treaty banning any atmospheric nuclear tests and the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty takes effect. The worst thing that happens is that President Kennedy is assassinated in Dallas, Texas by Lee Harvey Oswald and we are sent home from school early. I am in a state of shock and disbelief that such a great man is no longer with us that his family has to endure such brutality, I am glued to the television, and my grief is overwhelming. All hope is lost for peace. Lyndon B. Johnson is sworn in as President on Air Force One then he escalates American’s military involvement in the Vietnam War. Hatred seems to be the going theme.

 

I find refuge in music and the words found in the songs, I memories. In Rhode Island the Newport Folk Festival is going strong with popular folk singers Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Phil Ochs and Pete Seeger singing about what is going on, sharing thoughts and feelings about the way the world can be. The Beatles release “I Want to Hold Your Hand,” which becomes a huge hit and a success in America. In a widely anticipated and publicized event, The Beatles arrive in America in February 1964, spearheading the British Invasion. Timothy Leary, Richard Alpert, and other Harvard alumni LSD researchers move to the Hitchcock’s estate in Millbrook, New York to continue their research into psychedelics. I search for understanding and a way out of the conflict.

 

I feel unsafe; in my home, surroundings, environment, church, my country and my world. My fears and anxieties are compounded and everywhere I go I am on the defense looking for the danger always lurking in the shadows putting me in a hyper-vigilant state; anxious and fearful, heart racing, poor concentration, fuzzy vision, weakness and shakiness. There is no place or no one to turn to, I am on my own. What am I to do? What do you do? What do you suggest?

1961/1962 BECOMING A TEENAGER

1962 St. Edward’s Junior High School

I go from 6th grade to the 7th at St. Edward’s Junior High School and turn 13. In the 7th grade, we no longer stay in one room for all our classes; we change rooms for every period. I have many friendships now and spend most of my free time with Anna listening to the Everly Brothers, Roy Orbison and Ricky Nelson. We have abuse issues in our home  life  while our outside world feels dangerous and unsafe, having this in common bringing us closer than anything else could. I feel safe with her and can tell her anything, she is a great example of how to stand up for yourself.

My youngest sister is born with poker straight blonde hair and when I rub her head it stands up from the static electricity. It seems like I am always babysitting, if it’s not my sisters it is my cousins. When I go to My Aunt Louise’s her boys are hard to handle, I leave them in the bedroom because I get so mad, I am irate, luckily I have control because one of the boys was not so luck with another babysitter who abused him. When I go to my Aunt Lucille’s the girls do not listen to me, they hide in the closet, telling me I am no fun.

My mother sends me to Singer’s for sewing lessons saying “you will always be little and need to know how to sew, you will be glad you learned”. My first project is a 3 piece light green linen suit; jacket, vest and skirt, it came out great and I will wear it for Easter. My meme died recently from Cancer, she was an excellent seamstress and made us great dresses and coats when we were young. My mother is also a great sewer making dresses and coats for us especially for Easter and we always have hats, shoes and purses to match. We are poor but mother always manages to provide for us. It is wonderful coming from a long line of seamstress it has contributed to having a sense of style an ability to make whatever I put my mind to and a great sense of accomplishment.

In my own country the political environment is changing. President Kennedy initiated a 17 billion dollar nuclear missile program, advising Americans to build fallout shelters, increasing aid to Indonesia, invading Cuba at the Bay of Pigs which was a failed mission, so we start underground nuclear testing all of which creates a lot of fear and anxiety in many Americans. When Kennedy announces the creation of the Peace Corps I feel hope for humanity which gets me dreaming about living in far off places helping people in other cultures with feelings of peace and cooperation rather than war and hatred. What are your experiences and feelings around love and hatred?

In the south things are heating up. The Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) has begun sending student volunteers on bus trips to test the implementation of new laws prohibiting segregation in interstate travel facilities. One of the first two groups of “freedom riders,” encountered its first problem two weeks later, when a mob in Alabama sets the riders’ bus on fire. The programs continued and by the end of the summer 1,000 volunteers, black and white, have participated. The Freedom Riders force integration of Interstate and Travel facilities in the South. I identify with those who are suppressed and controlled and revel in their successes. Freedom what does that mean to me, and you my reader?

In the world around me Yuri Gagarin of the USSR is the first man in space which seems to irk my American patriots. In East Germany border guards begin construction of the Berlin Wall. The Berlin Wall physically separated Communist East Germany and Democratic West Germany. It seems that fear, anxiety, and separation are going on all over mother earth creating an uneasy feeling from within contributing to my feelings of insecurity and not safe or secure. Have you ever experienced that?

As 1962 rolls around I finish the 7th and go into 8th grade still at St. Edward’s and turn 14. The country continues to experience much conflict. The Supreme Court, in the case of Engel v. Viatle, rules against prayer in public schools focusing on the separation of church and state. I am thankful to go to Catholic School where I can pray openly and that my classmates have the same religion. John Glenn becomes the first American to orbit the earth, it is like there is a competition for ownership of space; it seems there is a wild race to be the first. The Cuban Missile Crisis happens: The Soviets establish missile bases in Cuba; Kennedy orders a naval blockade to divert any missiles from arriving in Cuba, pointing to an escalating conflict in my world; the powers that be always seem to want to be in control and have the upper hand, being the top dog. Then there is Timothy Leary who found the International Foundation for Internal Freedom (IFIF) to promote LSD research as well as publish The Psychedelic Review. Internal Freedom is an interesting concept, reinforcing the importance of keeping things to myself that upset others while having a right to think the way I do. Do you have internal freedom or is there some internal voice telling you to think a certain way?

I turn to Music to open my mind, giving me alternative ways of seeing things, putting me into a different space. I really get into the British pop group the Beatles who attain their first number one on the British charts with Love Me Do. I learn all their songs by heart for they are simple, and positive. I find Folk singer Bob Dylan’s words on his first album expressing my inner turmoil, helping me reflect on what I want to believe in. I love dancing to the songs of The Four Seasons who have release three straight number one hits in a row.

Many things are changing and breaking down in my culture, reflecting what is going on internally for me; seeking freedom, peace and harmony through whatever means are available, as time marches on.