Yesterday, I ran into someone I have known for years–or did know. “Jacob” was the director at a residential program my then-therapist recommended me to after my parents wanted rid of me–again. It was a residential treatment center for people with mental illness looking for a way to live independently. I saw him in the lobby yesterday after going down the stairs at the mental health center. He has hardly changed. He was still tall and slim and had long hair and a beard. True, his hair was white and he wore glasses, but you would know him anywhere. His clothes were a bit more “business” than when I knew him 30 years ago, but they were still trendy–“young”. I was shocked he still worked at the mental health center. After he left the directorship of the “house” in the 1990’s, he worked as a clinician (talk therapist) at the mental health center’s East office where I went to attend therapy after an ER visit due to an especially perpy day. I was there 7 years, left for 10 and am back now for over 2. Now he’s an Executive of the Mental Health Center. The Center has grown very large. They were pretty much a startup when I first went there in 1990. Since I have been a part of “mental health” services since the early 1980s I remember there were a few more private hospitals in town but I don’t know if there was a Center like the one I go to. I’m thinking Health and Hospitals took on outpatients as well as private therapists who took Medicare/Medicaid. The place where I have stayed twice was open in 1976 and there had to have been mental health services before then. The City still has a separate mental health program but its conducted in an old smelly building that used to be the main mental hospital. You can still see the bathtubs in the restrooms upstairs. You can feel the “ghosts” of patients past in there. “Jacob” is now a big shot, but still an “old hippie”. He sort of stood out in the preppy 1980s. After a short interview I was invited for “dinner at the house”. It was July 18, 1985. It was a warm, dry day. I had gotten there early. Dinner was at 6:30 back then. I thought it was sort of late because we ate at 6 every night at home. I remember sitting in the shade of a huge, old elm tree and listening to the cicadas sing and asking myself why my therapist of 3 years and my mother wanted me there. I was not dangerous or out of the hospital or did drugs. I was currently dropped out of college because of low grades and lack of interest. I had a job working the overnight shift at a gas station/convenience store. I was the one who sat in the little hut and collected the money. It was a busy street full of nightclubs and I’d get some rude and drunk customers. I drove myself to the huge red brick building that used to be a convent in my old Plymouth Fury III with the AM radio and no A/C. The transmission sucked, too. I was 19. I went inside just before dinner started and got the customary greeting: “why don’t you go into the kitchen and see if the cook needs help?” The cook didn’t. Dinner was announced with a huge chuck-wagon triangle. We sat down for dinner. The dinner was my community interview. People would ask you questions about yourself, your “illness”, what you intended to do when you were there, and your long term goals. You either had to work or go to school and had to see a therapist. I remember feeling scared of Jacob because he was so big. I felt judged and thought for sure I would not get in. End of story. II. I was called the next day. I had gotten in. I was to move into the house in 2 days. I would pay 63 bucks a week for rent and 6 dinners a week. (I told you I was old). You could also nab leftovers and government “commodities” for lunch if you were home at midday. Breakfast food was bought by residents and stored in cupboards. You would get a section of a cupboard for your cereal, etc… I was making 130 bucks a week after taxes so it would work. A “buffet” apartment where I lived in the 1990s now goes for 1050.00! I paid 265.00 when I lived there with utilities covered. The rent at the community is still pretty low considering the rents in the city since they have to cater to people on benefits, mostly. Toilet paper and linens were provided but not anything else like toothpaste, soap, cosmetics, etc….. I lived in a “shared” bedroom because it was cheaper. I think the singles were 80 a week or so or even a little more. I lived in room 3 I think. The rooms were nun’s cells before, so the singles were tiny, but the doubles were larger but without a sink. I remember there being some kind of destroyed nasty shag type carpetting and no screen on the window which was common in this area back then before climate change provided more summer bugs. My roommate didn’t seem to like me. She was up in her 30’s and had a good job. She was a substance abuser, so up on the house’s social scale. She was haughty and cold and got really angry at me when I looked through her record collection. I should not have but didn’t have many social skills after my isolated childhood and wild adolescence. She was always laughing and flirty with everyone but me. I saw social disaster for me. Her eyes were always red but she swore she was sober. We lived next door to the tub bathroom and down the hall from the smoking room. When I was first there, there was a tornado warning and I remember sitting on my bed and looking out the window at the pouring rain and hearing the sirens. It was hot up there but summer was already almost over once I was settled so I didn’t suffer that much. There were no fans. I kept going to my gas station job from 10pm-6am across town then tried to sleep at the “house” during the day. It was very stressful. The “house” was noisy during the day and I only got a few hours of sleep. In September, I transferred to another location nearer the house and got to switch to day shift. I even got an engraved name tag instead of one put on with Avery sticky tape. At first I didn’t fit in, and and I did not think I would last very long. First of all, I was the youngest there, and my problems did not seem as severe as the other residents at the time. Turns out they probably would have seemed more normal if they weren’t on huge doses of “old generation” neuroleptics. Jacob, who seemed to take a liking to me, said I was “high functioning”. A high functioning WHAT? My dx has changed a million times, getting “worse” each time! I do not believe my dx. I think I am and always was Asperger’s, which is mild autism. I also grew up in a cold home and did not know how to give or receive love. Thank God for my Grandma who did show love! The people at the house that were at the top of the pecking order were the substance abusers and people with eating disorders. People with mental illness were underneath. The substance abusers tended to be younger and less drugged than than the mentally ill people as well. Later, two 18 years olds moved in after I turned 20, so my time as the “baby” was short. After a month or so, people started talking to me, and my “roomie” had left the house over some rule infraction. I almost always had the room to myself after that. I’d get roomies off and on but they’d spend the night away from the house, etc…it was sort of weird. I got sort of an extra large single room. Soon, I made a friend of a new arrival. She was the divorced wife of a local DJ and had depression. She was so depressed she was made to get ECT which fried her short term memory. She had also lost custody of her sons. She accepted me immediately. She was in her early 30s and was sort of a big sister to me. She went out and bought a little coffeepot and we’d have coffee in her room Number 2 every morning. We would go out with others to a local bar where I did a little underage drinking and later some legal drinking. I also made friends with a young man from England who was tall and dark with blue eyes and loved “new wave” music. (what’s that Grandma?) We went on trips to the ice cream parlor with staff. I made friends with the two staff members, also. The lady staffer, C, had ridden into this city on a HORSE when she came here to live! The male staffer was kind to me sort of like an older brother. I remember going to the movies with him and he may have been the one who let me ride with him on his motorcycle! Staffers were usually Divinity students getting internships working with us. There was one young man who was always “coming onto” me, and there was another guy who hated me but he seemed to be the only one. For the first time in my life I felt “accepted”. Between the social activities at the house, my then-“boyfriend”, my job, pen pals, and my family I really felt I had a life. I was always on the go. It was too bad Ms. Coffee turned into a perp later. I got 40 hours a week at work and regular days off at the new location. They even gave me hours for “watching the store” during remodeling. Strange, my boss gave me a copy of Animal Farm to read while I watched the store. Did he “know”? One of my little rituals was to eat the breakfast buffet at Big Boy on Saturday morning, one of my days off. I also remember putting 10 bucks of gas in the car on Friday night after I got off work. I think work even cashed our checks. I was so proud of myself–3 years before I was locked up in a psych ward and now I was living away from my parents, working, had my car with me, had some friends, and felt good for the first time in my life. I tried Clove cigarettes (terrible for your lungs) at the little coffeehouse, got high in the park with another resident and went back to the house and lay on my bed in fear that Jacob would come in and know I was high!!! There were mostly special and some not-so-special memories from the house. There was a woman I met who had anorexia and we found a sick bird. She knew a woman who did bird rehab and we sent the bird to her across town. The bird woman had a huge Checker car called the Bird Ambulance. I got to go to a fancy dress dinner in Spring ’86 in a borrowed dress. I bought fancy stockings, shoes, and earrings. The female staffer made me up. The featured celebrity there complimented my looks! Another time, I went in Ms. Coffee’s car into the hills to a remote bar. We were coming home and Ms. Coffee was drunk? and the man who always wanted to get it on with me had to drive. It was 2 or 3 am when we got back to town. He was a smartass and would try and go thru the synchronized lights just as they turned green. At one intersection, another car was running a red and smashed into us. A window blew out and the car was totalled but no one was really hurt, just bruises. I remember the day Challenger blew up–I was trying to get food stamps. It was in February ’86. In December ’85 a bunch of us went into the hills and cut down a Christmas tree. I remember being so happy helping to decorate it! I went crazy with my new independence! I dyed my hair blue!! It lasted a week. The customers at work were angry with it. Now, it’s common. I did it when it was risque. Ms. Coffee and a group of us went to Easter Sunrise Services outside–I had always wanted to do it and I did! I also went camping with a few other residents and went on a rafting trip (my only one) in 1987. Cooking dinner, especially on Sunday, was an adventure. You had to be “cook” once every two weeks. You had to plan your meal, keep it within the draconian budget, cook it, set the table, serve it, then CLEAN UP. It was here I discovered I liked to cook. Cooking on Sunday could go for hours, especially if you had to finish cleaning up after Sunday Meeting. Jacob seemed to take an interest in me. There was a diner a block away and we’d go for a One Dollar Breakfast (2 eggs, toast, home fries), fifty cent coffee (take that, Starbucks!) and sometimes a Dollar slice of Baklava. He acted like he wanted me to succeed in life. I felt like I was sort of in his “inner circle” of residents and ex-residents that he liked. Another resident that Jacob liked was a serious young man who had had to drop out of Oral Roberts University. This guy asked me out but he was too sick at the time and when I met him later he was better and he wasn’t interested in me anymore. I was attracted to the cute dark English guy with the blue eyes and freckles anyway. He would share his Walkman and we would go on walks. I think they had Walkman players with plugs for 2 sets of earplugs then. He would tease and tickle me. He even tried to kiss me. I would’ve gone with him but he was bi and AIDS was a big threat then. He had a tragic end about a year after I left the house. I used to visit his memorial when I lived closer to it and talk to him. There was the fun day when the volunteers arrived and we all helped to paint the house! I kept my old U2 t-shirt with peach colored paint on it for years since it became a memory of better times in my increasingly dark life. I spent a lot of time in Jacob’s office. We “just talked” and he did not mind. He almost felt like an uncle to me or a much older brother. On Sunday night we had a “spiritual” group that was very faintly Christian and Jacob would wear jeans and my feelings (and other girls) were far from filial then. He was married though and I met his pretty wife at the Christmas Party. My best memory was when the staff and residents surprised me with cake and ice cream on my 20th birthday! I had not had a Birthday Party since age 10 and that is when all the other girls turned on me at my own party–how sweet! so this little party was great. People seemed genuinely happy I would celebrate my milestone birthday there. Finally out of my teens! I have not had a birthday party since. Soon I will be 50 and since I am targeted I’m sure there will be NO PARTY. I did not know that in 1985-1986 I was living in paradise and the hell of targeting would soon steal all my joy bit by agonizing bit. II Like all good things, my house stay came to an end. I had quit my gas station job in March ’86 then I got an on-call job at a shoe store stocking shoes that didn’t pay enough to stay at the house. I had to leave without my dream of moving into one of the transitional “satellite” apartments nearby. They rented for about 300. I moved “home” in June, 1986. I went to Florida to become a professional groupie but came back in only 5 weeks since I was only getting paid what I was getting back home but my room was 88.00 a week without food. I went back to school in early 1987, graduated in late 1988 and did not find permanent work. By 1989 it was bad at home. I still hadn’t found work beyond “temping” and my mother and I were at each others throats. My sister was still in college and I was on the outs with my Grandma by late 1989 since she started taking my parents side on everything instead of being my advocate. My father had had bypass in the Spring, my Aunt had been incapacitated by an ill-advised surgery, and I had become a TARGET and did not know it. I lost both my Grandma and Aunt the next year. My mother booted me out of the house just before Christmas in 1989, giving me some money my Grandma had gifted me with at birth. It wasn’t much, but at least she didn’t just boot me onto the street. Since I had never looked for an apartment before, I ended up back at the HOUSE again. This second time it was not as pleasant, however. Jacob was still there then, and I was welcomed back, but it was DIFFERENT now. First of all, I was not the “youngest” anymore. I was not a cute little teen all bubbly with youth and energy. Also, Jacob seemed different. He said to me, “boy, have you grown up,” like it was disappointing. Was I to remain a child forever like Peter Pan? Life had gotten rough and so had I. I had a single room this time and it was 465.00 a month. I paid monthly this time since I had money starting out, plus my “graduation gift” was a 1st month’s rent at my 1st apartment, so this was “it”. The first room, Number 15, was tiny and right off the library smoking room. Later, I moved to room “1” across a men’s double that was very noisy since they played fantasy baseball and their printer was always running. It was also over the steep kitchen stairs that a lot of old homes have: sort of like servant stairs, so I’d get foot traffic going up the stairs. “2” was the room where Ms. Coffee had stayed. The second friend I made at the “house” I met the day I came to dinner. She was in a crisis over dinner being done on time and here I was to save the day. And so it went. We were friends for years. The “house” was different, somehow. The atmosphere was more hostile. There were a group of residents and a few hangers on that “ruled” the house” and they held court in the “library”. They were like the adult version of the Mean Girls or something. They harassed a man out of the house when I was there and probably were relishing the thought of his destruction but he just moved on and was fine. I tried to ingratiate myself with these bullies but they hated my new friend so I ended up loathing them. By that time in history, society was becoming more cruel and perpy. A man that came to dinner said he had a breakdown after seeing the movie “Heathers” which I thought was so weak of him since I only thought the movie was about bullying…I looked it up last night and the movie has murder and violence in it…and kind of “predicts” as The Powers That Be often do the school shootings that would start 10 years later. There was a victim of SRA that had become a Christian but still had MPD. She could switch to one of her child personalities on a dime. That was almost a deal breaker for me. The worst people from before were schizophrenics. Two of the men were Vietnam Vets, one of them physically disabled. The other was married to one of my old counselors from the hospital where I stayed at 16. They had a suicide plot and one bailed and the other survived but their friendship was OVER. Another man would DIE during his stay there because he had a heart attack and could not get treatment without insurance. I’m surprised he wasn’t taken to the city hospital where they treated indigents. Instead, the hospital down the street sent him home and he died. He was 55. He started a “baking club” at the house where residents would get together and bake one night a week or so. There was always junk to eat in the house after that. I met a woman with horrible SI scars and horrific art that she drew depicting a rape. A man jumped out of a second story window and broke his ankles. The house was a dark place now. I only had a PT temp job this time. Because I had that extra money I went out and splurged on highlights for my hair for a then absurd 80 bucks. I went to Wal Mart and got some sheets for my bed instead of using the old sheets the house provided. I noticed people were acting oddly to me sometimes…inside and outside the house. The targeting had started in late 87 but it seemed to get worse overnight when I moved out. Weird old women laughed at me when I walked down the street. There was this woman I hated there who only stayed a short while but kept on popping back up in my life. A person called me at the house but when I got to the phone no one was there. I had to go to the mental health center because I no longer saw my private therapist. They put me on drugs that had side effects. I lost my temp job and tried to stay on at the house doing janitorial but could not keep up with the rent after my Grandma’s money ran out. Sunday meetings were a hoot when it was decided that there would be a “chore committee” that would “grade” people’s chores. The people on the committee were of course the house bullies. They would give themselves 10 on their chores and give others 4, 5, or 6. It was like the bullshit orchestra tryouts in high school when the conductor let the kids determine section seating. I was at the house all day in the basement since a heat wave hit. Nasty talk shows played all day that showed audience members ganging up on guests they didn’t like. Proto-stalkers??? Sally Jesse Raphael, Gerado Rivera, Cathy Jones???, etc….that and all the “judge” shows. The heat was horrible upstairs. We were getting a 100 degree spell which used to be very rare. I had a west facing window. The June sun set late and the city heat island kept things hot all night. The temp in my room was about 95-100 at night and down to about 86 in the morning. They provided no fans. A woman resident with a fan was able to reduce her room temp. I can reduce the inside temp to about 76 in the morning with a huge fan during a heat wave but it will go up during the day–but not to 100!!! I felt ill with the drug side effects and the heat. Another woman resident got smart and set up a hammock in the back yard. I decided to go downstairs to sleep in the cooler “chapel” but someone was already there and he made me leave. The room was huge. He yelled at me and said I reminded him of his MOTHER. OOOOOH. What a perpy insulting thing to say. I had to go back upstairs and burn. I started feeling ill. I finally just gave up and moved home, owing the “house” money for rent. I wonder really what the “house” had to do with my life. Were they setting me up for stigmatization as a “nut” later? My 2 stays propelled me towards independence since we had to learn to cook fast, do chores, pay rent, shop, etc…, yet, somehow, I was being funneled into the trash can of society. Were they setting me up for stigmatization as a “chronic nut” for life? Was I to live in the wasteland of the Severely Mentally Ill with the loss of dreams and the acceptance of “lower expectations”? I found out later at a “clubhouse” for mental “consumers” that the staff at the clubhouse was not using it as a place for people on benefits to get away from home and isolation, but, as a job factory to funnel people on benefits into low paying jobs which got people off benefits and steered them to dead end jobs that are self defeating since you lose medical benefits and end up losing the job and going on the street and applying for benes all over again…but now, you are worn out and ill and willing to be more COMPLIANT to overdrugging or whatever they have on the agenda for you. There were a few favorites that got good jobs at the clubhouse that seemed to function normally but that was tokenism. I think the clubhouse was destructive. I had a degree and at least wanted a job that had some responsibility: I did not want to be a file clerk or work for Burger King. This job scam is a subject for another post! I think people who are on benefits should be able to work but should be able to keep benefits unless they are truly better and can continue on their own. A LOT OF PEOPLE TOOK JOBS AND ABANDONED THE BENEFITS BECAUSE THEY WERE ASSIGNED PAYEES THAT DID NOT LET THEM HAVE ANY MONEY–EVEN FOR GROCERIES. They gave these poor souls “gift cards” for the store. One such person left benes and went to work and then lost her job and came back a year later, looking 10 years older and dragging an oxygen tank. I could go on about forced drugging but I covered it on my old blog that cannot be resurrected. Sometimes it’s needed, but not at the extent they do it. Forced drugging with neuroleptics (antipsychotics) is legally sanctioned torture due to the akesthesia symptoms that are a side effect. I have tried 6 different ones and they all had the same depression/anxiety effect on me. My Dr. wants to try me on a seventh. Essentially, I was able to live w/o “meds” for over a decade, but, targeting, witchcraft aimed at me, and God knows what else drove me back to the Docs. Targeting took away my dreams of overcoming my bad childhood and adolescence. I stayed poor year after year after year until I just wore out and went on benes–then I had no life at all! I thought God had a plan for my life but satan and his helpers stole it, for the devil comes to kill, steal and destroy. Again, I wonder if my first stay at the “house” in 1985 was a setup.. I was sort of “lovebombed” there as a youth and it was a way for them to make me think I was on of the Seriously Mentally Ill. I sort of started to think of myself in those terms–someone who is “chronic”, E.G., SOMEONE WHO WILL NOT BE “BETTER” WITHOUT DRUGS. A career nut. I even “tried” for benes as early as 1986 but got turned down because the doc who saw me thought I “just had to get away from my parents.” He was partially right. I would have made it if not for targeting. I was jealous of another young woman who did not have to earn her bread since she had benes, yet, she was not on psych drugs, or seeing a therapist, or going to a clubhouse or anything. She was free as a bird. She got around her town on a bike. She lived in squalor, though. I was suffering at the time working a nasty temp job and only having about 30 bucks over my rent for food a week and maybe 10 for anything else. That was a 40 hour job with a long bus ride and the bus was a dollar each way and took that 10 a week. I struggled to work until mid 1999. I was 33. I did a variety of temp jobs, food service jobs, day labor, and one “real” office job that lasted only 2 years. My last job was Mickey D’s, which is in another post. I finally threw in the towel and took the “checks”. I’m not a bad worker. I’m not fast, but I work consistently and like to be accurate in the office and produce good food in the kitchen. I also was accurate at the “till” usually being within a dollar. I rarely called in sick, and only when I was really ill. I was getting “fired” so much that I had NOTHING to show on a resume. What I got “paid” for these often physically exhausting jobs, was no more than benefits. NO health insurance. One job kept me on a yearly average just ONE HOUR UNDER what I would need to qualify for the HMO. Shysters. At the end of my working life, I felt often ill, colds dragging on for months, always scared about being fired every day I came in, and even scared about my next meal at times when my tiny check ran out a week before the next payday. I lost my apartment in 1999 and I found myself living in “community” again–at a shelter. Oh well, at least I had experience. PS Just saw some fundraising videos about my old community. They did a major remodel a few years back. The place was really dirty and run-down and trashy when I was there. It’s now Posh Palace. The resident testimonials were sooo great. It cannot be that great, but, that is what keeps money coming. The community DID have its success stories–people who returned to full work in “society”, but for the most part people moved into apts, but on benefits. There were a lot more people who used the place as a revolving door back in my time, but now there are time requirements. It seems more structured with more groups now. Back then, we were pretty much on our own. We were expected to attend a few dinners a week, Sunday Meetings, and “cook planning” meetings. You could also go to a meeting on basic money management and have a “one-on-one” with an under-staffer, or Resident Coordinator. Overall, the “house” was good and bad. I had some of the best times of my life there, but I came to see myself as “ill”. I still see Ms. Coffee on the bus every once in awhile. She just perps me. I’ve seen a few others from the “house” off an on over the years but not many. I saw a “success story” that had an apt and a job that I knew from the second time give me a dirty look on the bus years ago. Ahhhh, targeting…. I guess the “house” was the best it was ever gonna be.
Yesterday’s post got me to thinking about the sad state of the elderly poor. They sometimes remain naive of the ways of the world especially if they are widowed and are largelay taken adventage of.
My “Mrs Pauley” post was partially based on a real person whose life fell apart. She was married to her third husband and living in low income housing. They were pretty happy but poor. He loved her. She loved him.
When he was dying he asked his family to help take care of her since her family was quite estranged from her. The only child she talked to was in prison and the only other person she talked to was his ex wife–crabby and bipolar but with a love for cleaning.
She had some friends amongst her neighbors but they could do little for her as they were poor themselves. She was friendly with a crabby lady downstairs and did many things for her but then they fell out.
This person’s life was mainly focused on her job as an in home dispatcher for her family’s plumbing business. She would earn extra over her Social Security and be kept busy without leaving her apartment as she was somewhat disabled with COPD and arthritis. She still smoked.
When work was over she watched television. She cooked a little here and there. Her few outings took her to restaurants or to her ex daughter-in-law’s apartment. She loved to go out and would dress up a bit and had a smile on her face. She loved to talk and also to brag about how good her son in prison had become. She had a tendancy to gossip.
Then, her life started to fall apart bit by bit. First, it was her doctor. He started giving her fewer pain pills because the HMO she was with set a limit. She was left with pain during the day. At first she used menthol rubs and Advil and such to mask the extra pain but it never completely worked. Still she lived with it.
Next, her son came out of prison. He was not the reformed creature she said he was. He was on the make, always looking for drugs. He stayed at his mother’s house on and off sponging off her as much as possible. He struck up a friendship with an alcoholic neighbor across the hall and they schemed to steal whatever was valuable from the old lady’s apartment. I don’t know how he got the safe’s combintation but he did. Things started missing from her apartment. I started calling the alcoholic woman the “thief” and she did a few dirty perpy tricks on me. I was not upset when the management made her leave later on.
When I visited her alone or with my friend she would joke that she had “old-timer’s disease” which filled me with terror as I saw my grandfather die badly of it. I assured her she did not, but, her work performance started to go down. Her in laws fired her. She was left virtually destitute. The pain was worse.
We took her to the ER for something and one of the nurses said she was an alcoholic but I had never seen her with a drink so I was angry and thought they lied to rile up a vulneralble woman.
Soon I saw the alcohol. She bought Whiskey at a half gallon a pop. I didn’t even know they made it that big. Whiskey, cigarettes and Coke were her mainstays to keep the pain away that the lower does of pills did not handle.
She was getting my friend or even ME to go to the liquor store to buy her half gallon of whiskey at 30 bucks.
Finally she could not take care of herself at all and the state got involved and put her into some kind of assisted care building. I inferred they had diagnosed her with Alzeimer’s as well. She was only in her mid 60s.
She had had a hard life in the woods of the South. She had no plumbing as a child. After two disastrous marriages and a few kids she moved here with her last husband. He was a quiet gentle man.
He treated her as she always wanted to be treated. She drank during her earlier marriages but remained dry for at least 20 years with the third marriage and afterward until her life fell apart.
We visited her only once. She had moved maybe two miles away to an apartment building refitted for assisted care. Instead of an apartment she now only had a tiny room that led into a common area with a fridge and microwave. Another woman lived in a room off the common area as well. That was her life. She also went to adult day care where they put her with the “droolers” even though she still had lots of lucidity. The indignity.
I’m sure she has passed away by now. It frightened me how people will take advantage of an elderly person alone, especially one who hadn’t had much education or experience except the hard knocks. Even with them, she seemd to be a little lamb amongst wolves. The only book in her house was the Bible.
She was a friend to me when I needed her and I wonder if she was being perped. I hope she remembers me when she gets to Heaven as a have few friends on the Earth.
The neighbourhood has seen better days, but Mrs. Pauley has lived there since before anyone can remember. She raised a family of six boys, who’ve all grown up and moved away. Since Mr. Pauley died three months ago, she’d had no income. She’s fallen behind in the rent. The landlord, accompanied by the police, have come to evict Mrs. Pauley from the house she’s lived in for forty years.
Today’s prompt: write this story in first person, told by the twelve-year-old sitting on the stoop across the street.
Today’s twist: For those of you who want an extra challenge, think about more than simply writing in first-person point of view — build this twelve-year-old as a character. Reveal at least one personality quirk, for example, either through spoken dialogue or inner monologue.
The House Across the Street
Saturday is always a drag. After working all week for wages my dog should earn, I wake up on Saturday morning to face the house and all its chores. Unlike my boss’ family, I won’t be going out on the lake to escape the heat on this blaring summer day. First, it’s cleaning, then laundry, and then I save shopping for Sunday. Being single really stinks. If I had a wife, we and our kids could knock this out faster and have fun and then, on Sunday actually do something fun like going hiking or fishing or just to the park. But I, Mark Smith, am a slave on the weekend.
All this manual work gives me time to think. I have thought about work, my ex-girlfriend, philosophy, my aging parents, the state of my thinning hair, the bills, the state of the economy…I even think about the past. Today, while I was slouched over the toilet, brush in hand with the oven self cleaning, I remembered Mrs. Pauley from across the street! More or less, about when I was twelve she was evicted! That and its aftermath were a formative time in my young life.
Now I’m fifty years old and a total failure, but the memories of Mrs. Pauley haunt me.
I was 12 and it was Summer. Beautiful early Summer long before the worrying about “going back to school” starts. Saturdays were best. My best friend and I went fishing with my Dad almost every Saturday except Winter when he took us sledding or snowshoeing. My friend’s dad was a real bore and worked even on weekends and loved Saturday with my Dad even more than me.
This morning was different. I woke up and heard a sound. At first I thought it was a bird defending its nest, then I thought it was the neighbor girl and her friend playing outside. I got out of bed and shuffled down the hall to the front door in my jammies and looked out.
Old Mrs. Pauley was screaming. My parents were already up and on the porch and Dad was wanting to go over there and comfort her. There were 2 cop cars over there, and a hard eyed man dressed in his golf clothes taking her things out and putting them on the street! Mrs. Pauley just stood and wept and screamed that they could not do this: they had no right. Mrs. Pauley begged them to call her son who lived in another city now.
My father finally walked over and hugged Mrs. Pauley and invited her in for breakfast as her whole world was being put on the lawn. She was a mess and she stank. She was wearing an old housecoat, tattered slippers, and carried a sorry looking purse. Her fake red hair was everywhere.
Mom invited her into the kitchen where she just sat and sobbed. I looked up at Dad standing at the end of the kitchen and knew we would have no outing today. I would have to call my friend. But, now, we would eat breakfast and see if we could contact Mrs. Pauley’s son to help her out.
After 20 minutes of sobbing and Mom rushing around the kitchen, Mom went into her purse and brought out a little bottle and took a pill out of it. It was a pink pill shaped like a “v”. She gave it to Mrs. Pauley with water as she sat over her untouched coffee with globs of snot running out of her nose and onto the table. Mrs. Pauley took the pill and shuffled over the couch to go to sleep. We ate a silent breakfast alone the only sound being Sparky, my dog, begging for some bacon and eggs.
After that, I went to call Bill and Dad agreed we would just play in the backyard until we knew what to do with Mrs. Pauley. Instead of the backyard, Bill and I went to the front porch to watch the proceedings across the street. The cops were gone and the hired men that had shown up later had put almost everything on her lawn except her cat. Finally the cat came out and I rushed over to get it so it would not go to the pound. My big sister was away at college doing a summer internship but if we could keep the cat until she got home she would be happy. She always wanted a cat.
The pound was more than happy to release the cat to me as there were already way too many mouths to feed there. I carried Mrs. Pauley’s big fat orange and white cat to our house. Mom was not thrilled but took the cat and put her besides Mrs. Pauley’s sleeping form. The cat climbed onto Mrs. Pauley and slept too.
Us guys in the neighborhood always thought Mrs Pauley was a bit creepy, but, things had gotten worse after her husband died. After she died there were rumors passed by the adults that Mr. Pauley had left nothing for his wife, had no will, and none of her kids (there were 6!) seemed willing to help her at all. At first, concerned neighbors especially Mom and Dad and Bill’s folks were over there helping her out with things, but, after awhile, people drifted away and Mrs. Pauley was left to herself. Sometime in April, she had stopped getting dressed for the most part. She’d wander the yard mumbling and attempt yardwork but never finish.
In May, some neighbors said they saw her at the store and she had booze on her breath. She would talk to no one after that. My Dad was talking to some of his church buddies and said that Mrs. Pauley had “social security” whatever that is, but it was not enough to live on and the little she had she used on liquor and cigarettes. They spoke of putting together a fund to help her but somehow it fell through. They were going to move her into some retirement apartments or something. I guess that’s why Dad looked sort of guilty standing in the kitchen. He still walked around the house uneasily.
When I was very little, like 5 or even 7, Mrs. Pauley was different. She always got dressed and was involved at the church. She even had a job. She worked part time at the hospital gift shop. We kids, 3 of us, even got rides from her once in awhile when Mom was not feeling good. She took us to movies and even for ice cream. Then, something changed.
At first, we noticed that her children and grandchildren were not coming over anymore. Mr. and Mrs. Pauley went on as usual, but, they looked way older and very tired. She stopped taking us places too. By that time, I was wanting to hang out with my friends or just my father anyway and I was the youngest. My older brother and sister had long outgrew the old woman.
Then Mr. Pauley got sick. He walked very slowly out to the car whenever he went anywhere. Later, he was in a wheelchair and wore oxygen. The adults whispered “cancer”. I was worried I had cancer for a few months. My Mom called me a “hypochondriac”. Soon he was never seen at all but nurses kept on coming and going and then one day this Spring, he died.
Us children did not go to the funeral but the adults did. My mother looked big and scary in her black suit and black shoes but her face was so sad I wanted to hug her over and over. Later, after the funeral, us kids got to go to the reception which is probably the best part anyway. That’s where all the food is. There were casseroles and casseroles and tons of cakes and cookies and chili and other things people brought for her to freeze and use later. She sat in the corner and said almost nothing. Us kids got to play with her grandkids. One of them, Gary, was close to my age. Me, and Bill, and Chuck, and Steve from school and Gary got up into our treehouse to get away from the adults.
Gary told the story why his parents and his aunts and uncles never came to visit anymore. They had always had a big Christmas and all the six children, their spouses and all the grandchildren crammed into the small 3 bedroom house. Some slept in the kids’ old bedrooms on the main floor and the one created bedroom in the basement always reserved for the oldest child living at home. I guess they had four bedrooms. Others slept on couches and even air matresses. It was a very fun time. I went once and got to help decorate the tree. There was so much laughing and joking I thought maybe our family was lacking. Plus my Dad’s prayers at meals are lame.
Well, I guess 3 Christmases ago, when I was 9, Mrs. Pauley and one of her daughters got into an argument over something real stupid like a recipe or something. Instead of the fight ending and everyone saying sorry, it got worse and Mrs. Pauley, “grandma” to Gary, lost control and started throwing things and screaming. They had to call the ambulance. I remember seeing it that day and when I asked Mom what it was and Mom said that Mrs. Pauley had fallen and sprained her ankle. That was not true.
Gary said that Mrs. Pauley and Mr. Pauley went to the hospital along with one of the sons and the rest of the family stayed behind and cleaned up and made the best of things. I watched as the cars left one by one and by December 28 they were all gone. Mrs. Pauley had not come home because they had put her in a looney bin. Some doctor said she was crazy and needed to rest awhile. Mr. Pauley was around and cheerful then and would tell us kids that Mrs. Pauley needed to rest but would be back soon.
She came home about exactly 3 years before she died and 2 1/2 years before Mr. Pauley died. The reason the family never came again is that they wanted to put Mrs. Pauley into a nursing home and forget about her as she was now crazy and also was an alcoholic, which is when adults drink booze all the time. Only her husband, Gary’s grandpa, stuck up for her and wanted her home.
Gary said he could not understand it. He said his grandma was the best ever and sweet and kind and never forgot birthday gifts. He did not understand why his folks and his aunts and uncles were so mean to poor grandma. He even tried to argue with his father over it and was told it was none of his business. Gary decided to try Dropping Eaves, or listening to others when they ain’t aware you are there.
He tried every night for a week, and kept his hiding spot well. Finally at about 11pm, 2 hours after his bedtime, the folks started to talk. Turns out grandma was not always so nice and drank a lot when Gary’s father and his sisters and brothers were kids. She yelled and yelled and even threw things, and had to go away more than once to “dry out”. She refused to do housework when on a drunk and would not even feed the kids. Mr. Pauley had to raise the kids, keep his job, and babysit his wife. He almost had a nervous breakdown himself.
One day, when Gary’s dad was in High School, Mrs. Pauley decided to go to “AA”. After than things were better for all of them until she started drinking again as an old woman. Gary then tried to find out why his grandma started up again. Turns out she had lost her job at the hospital to a younger prettier woman the boss liked and that people were treating her bad at church even though she had been there for years. He had to sit crouched in his hiding place for hours for all this. I told him he should be in the FBI and catch the bad guys. He gave me a dirty look.
His folks said she had started to talk to herself and act weird. Mr. Pauley had taken her to a shrink but he didn’t do anything. She could still fake it for awhile but then it got too much and she needed to drink to get through the day. She covered it up pretty good to her family that year even though they “smelled it” on her and were going to confront her later after Christmas had ended. The big fight ended all that.
I used a word my father likes to use and said why didn’t they “forgive” her? Gary didn’t know. I heard his mom calling him. I never saw him again.
The cat, called Baby, walked out onto the porch and rubbed against us. We pet her awhile and took her in.
Mrs. Pauley was up and showered and wearing an old outfit of Mom’s which just hung on her since Mrs. Pauley was now very skinny. She and Mom were talking about little stuff like the weather and Mom’s garden while Dad was in the other room arguing with someone on the phone. It wasn’t going well.
Bill and I went to the door to listen and the cat almost gave us away. Sparky was in the basement barking and barking. It was like a “madhouse” my Aunt Polly would say. A one sided conversation with angry sounding peeps on the other end was going on:
“We could move her into Wild Oaks with some help from you,”
“I know she has problems, but they have social workers on staff,”
“Of course she’d need to be hospitalized awhile. She has insurance.”
“What do you mean not one penny?”
“Can’t you be the big son and just forgive? She’s in a weak condition now”
“What about all her things?”
“Just throw them away?”
“Mr. Pauley, what do you intend to do?”
“The state home?!”
“She will never last in there!”
“Mr. Pauley had no will and spent down to his last 500 dollars with his cancer.”
“Your father worked hard all his life. I’ve lived in this town 50 years.”
“He was NOT a loser.”
“Just try and be Christian about this,”
“I guess we will have to try and help her.”
“He hung up!!!!”
Bill and I ran away before Dad could see us.
The next few weeks at our house was crazy. Dad and Mom and Bill and I and Bill’s Dad went through Mrs. Pauley’s stuff to see if anything was salvageable. Most of the stuff smelled and was dirty and needed to be thrown away. Dad found a few dollars she had hidden behind a wood panel and put it into an account for Mrs. Pauley. The landlord’s cleaning men came to clean up the house and were rude to us but we persisted in getting anything good out of the mess on the lawn for Mrs. Pauley. One day a truck came and took the rest of the junk away.
Mrs. Pauley was very nice at first, even helping around the house and even going shopping with Mom. Dad got Mrs. Pauley’s, whose real name was Trina, old car to work and we parked it in front of our house. She got better and better. Soon she started to wear makeup and jewelry and even looked like the Mrs. Pauley I knew growing up. Then she got strange a couple of months later. Dad had poured out all the booze at her house and hid ours so no one knew where she had gotten it. She had been “dry” for 2 months but no longer. She got way drunk and pitched a rage and started trashing our house.
Mom gave her one more chance and even took and drove her back from AA meetings. Another month later “Aunt Trina” which we were calling her was found dead drunk in the backyard talking to herself. She ended up in the home after all. She didn’t yell or fight. She knew it was all over for her then.
The State Home was 200 miles away. She was silent when we drove her there despite Mom’s promises of outings and visits. Dad looked as if he could cry as if he could have prevented it from happening.
I watched as the nurses led her away. She never looked back. We drove in silence for 4 hours not even stopping to eat or use the bathroom. I had to get my own dinner that night as Mom and Dad were talking quietly and did not want to be interrupted.
In the morning, Dad sent me to the mailbox with a letter for Lance Pauley. After I put it in I went to play with Bill and Steve and when I got home things were normal again.
A month later we decided to go visit “Aunt Trina” at the home. Mom packed all kinds of clothing and sweets for her and even a TV. She threw in a homemade quilt she had made when I was young as well. The staff had agreed for us to come and visit but not for an outing.
When we got there we walked on back this time. The whole place smelled of pee and something else I did not know but did not like at all. I wanted to run. Aunt Trina’s room was at the very end of the hall. Her roommate was up in an easy chair knitting and Aunt Trina sat in a wheelchair looking blankly out into space, drooling. Then I noticed the restraints. They had tied her to the wheelchair. We all started talking to her taking turns but no response. Then we just sat there for an hour. She never looked at us. When we got up to leave after promising her to come back, she finally moved and used her arms to turn her chair around and put her back to us.
We had another silent drive home with occasional sobs from Mom. Mom went to bed that evening early but seemed OK the next day. After that, my parents started talking to my grandparents about arrangements when they grew older so a disaster never happened to any of them. My grandparents are still pretty healthy and don’t need doctors and all that yet and there are no drunks in our family.
I went to bed early one night about a month after our visit. I got up all weird and dizzy in the dark to hear the phone ringing. I knew what it was even though I didn’t get the phone.
This time the funeral reception was at our house. None of the Pauley’s came but lots of Mom and Dad’s friends from church did. My dad bought her a stone. We decided to go on vacation because school would start soon and we all needed a break. My big brother and sister were home by now and helping to take the load off my folks and me.
Now it’s Fall. School has been in 3 weeks. The leaves are just turning all sorts of colors. One of the red leaves reminds me of Aunt Trina’s hair. I am riding my bike around. Bill is busy with band practice and my other friends are all busy too. I have probably rode far out beyond where my Mom lets me ride. I just turned 13 and my folks took me to an adult restaurant to celebrate instead of McDonald’s. I have grown 3 inches and my voice does funny things when I yell. I think a new girl in our school is cute.
I see the graveyard. For some reason, I decide to go in. It didn’t take much looking. I found the stone. It was large and had flowers carved into it. It said “Loving Wife, Mother, and Grandmother, Christina Pauley, March 25, 1907-August 22, 1977. I stayed for awhile and then left, speeding all the way home because Mom was making Spaghetti.
Baby sat meowing for me at the door. Now I’m her mommy.
Write a post based on the contrast between two things — whether people, objects, emotions, places, or something else.
Poor Polly! Had she only known what awaited her on this visit to her cousin she would have stayed home! She still had 99 scarves to knit for the poor Newspaper Boys and 200 shirts to make for the orphans at her sister’s Orphanage. Plus she was on 76 committees and had 3 children and twins on the way. Her husband said it would be good for her to take a break but Doe, now Lady Doe due to her marriage and title, had changed. Oh, the wonderful times they had together as children! But now all ruined…..
Today’s twist: write your post in the form of a dialogue. You can create a strong opposition between the two speakers — a lovers’ quarrel or a fierce political debate, for example. Or you could aim to highlight the difference in tone and style between the two different speakers — your call!
Here is a shameless takeoff of Margaret Sidney’s books on the “Peppers” when Polly is a bit older——Sidney followed the “Pepper” family from youth all the way to adulthood in her many book series. I hope it’s ok to do a takeoff of her characters. The book is no longer copyrighted.
“Take a look at him,” said Doe as they sat in the park by the tennis courts at the country club.
Polly looked quickly at the handsome muscular young heir with the racquet and looked down. Doe was way too old for the boy. Wasn’t her new husband the love of her life?
“I don’t see much of anything,” replied Polly, he is still wet behind the ears.
“Oh, if only I could lure him to my boudoir for an afternoon,” she said giggling.
Polly was speechless. Alas this was only the beginning of her troubles visiting Lord and Lady Cake on the Upper Hudson.
Polly dressed with care for dinner. She came down into the Cake’s drawing room to be led into dinner by Horatio Swinefellow, a leading industrialist from Pittsburgh.
“You must try some more of this pudding,” said Swinefellow, shoveling up bites of it as fast as his little mouth could swallow them.
“Oh, I am alright,” returned Polly who carefully selected and ate her dinner slowly through the 20 course meal not wanting to overfill herself in her tight-laced gown. How would Jasper feel seeing her bursting out of the expensive wardrobe he had bought for her tall but delicate frame?
” I insist” continued Swinefellow who took the platter from the servant and dumped it all in Polly’s plate.
She gasped. Chocolate mousse with whipped cream and cherries were all over her dress!!!
“Excuse me,” gulped Polly, as she ran out of the dining room to her room to hide under the bed.
As she exited the dining room, Swinefellow was eating all the mousse off Polly’s plate.
In times past Polly and Doe had such good times together shopping and today they were going into New York. Polly had a few things she needed to get but mostly she liked to look as Jasper got her everything she wanted. As she followed Doe through the city Doe bought shoes, got fitted for new gowns, and bought some diamond earrings–all charged to Lord Cake’s account. Everything to be delivered, express to Cake Hall that day. All Polly had so far was some cloth for a winter cape she would have made at home and some stockings. Finally after 4 hours they stopped for lunch. Polly was panting with dehydration.
At lunch, while Polly nibbled on a salad, Lady Doe got a huge filet of salmon with French Fries and a huge piece of cake with 3 glasses of ale.
“Just LOOK at that ring,” choked Doe on some fish.
Lady Sparks had walked by with her new ring glittering on her finger along with her large group of friends all chatting and snorting in Lady Doe’s direction.
“Lord Cake didn’t give me half of that for our engagement,” fumed Lady Doe, “and he can well afford it. Look at that little slut! She was his nanny you know,”
“I feel sorry for his wife,” murmured Polly who was acquainted with her.
“Oh the BITCH deserved to be left,” railed on Doe, “she was meaner than a ball of snakes,” she hissed, her eyes glittering.
Polly slowly turned purple and asked to be excused to use the ladies room with the new flush toilets just installed last year.
Sunday morning Polly was up early in her beautiful amethyst silk church dress waiting for the carriage to take them to the little church that only served the exclusive people in the neighborhood. Lord Cake was up in his Sunday suit yawning and picking a piece of sausage out of his teeth while he waited with her.
“Where is Lady Doe?” asked Polly.
“Oh she doesn’t get up Sundays,” replied Lord Cake whose name was Theodore.
“She does not go to church?”
“No, Sunday is her day to relax”, replied Lord Cake, “she spends the whole day with the paper and solves all the puzzles takes a huge nap then gets up and has a pot of coffee and a pound of chocolate and paces the grounds all night talking to herself.”
“I think it would behoove her to come to church,” said Polly.
“Not really,” drawled Lord Cake, “she has the hots for the minister. I’d rather she didn’t go.”
Polly just hung her head to hide the tears that were coming. Oh WHERE was Mamsie??? Polly was now 35 years old but still liked to wail in Mamsie’s lap.
Only 1 more day to go, then the big ball Lady Doe was invited to, then HOME to Jasper and the kids….
Polly and Doe prepared for the ball together in Doe’s huge suite she kept separate from her husband.
“Hold on Polly,” said Doe, “Aimee will now tighten your laces.”
Doe’s beautiful little French maid pulled Polly’s laces so tight she gasped. “Eighteen inches!” Aimee proudly announced, and for a woman your age! Mademoiselle can only lace to 20! Doe shot Aimee a look that said “you are fired” and Aimee ran from the room.
Doe threw the curling iron at the door as she left and uttered a line of words better left out.
“That was my seventh maid this month!” she fumed. “They all HATE me!”
Lady Doe was resplendent in her green ballgown that sat off her shoulders and swept the floor. Her nails were painted green as well and she wore makeup. She had even put red hairpieces in her hair for a huge elaborate style. Polly was simply beautiful in her pink ballgown with flowers in her hair and ringlets by her face. She put on her pink slippers and watched Doe put on gold shoes with high heels with emeralds sewn in. When did Doe become like this? Her letters were always kind and chatty. Polly was beginning to see that wealth had ruined her old friend Doe.
As Lord and Lady Cake and Polly with her escort, Doe’s cousin Stanley stepped into the carriage the moonlit night was warm and flower scented. This would have been a perfect night to have a little walk with Jasper and the kids and maybe invite Phronsie.
In Mrs. Brown’s new Ballroom with electric lights the couples danced and danced. Polly had more dances than her card could hold and not one dance for her husband! She wondered what Dearly Departed Mr. King would have thought about the company she kept this week. Grandpapa would have been furious!
Finally, breathless from 20 dances in her 18 inch corset, Polly got Stanley to bring her an ice. He was good for THAT at least.
Doe had three ices in front of her while she espied a corner of the room with slitty eyes.
“There is Lavinia! OOOOOh, it’s just not FAIR how good she looks. She’s our age, you know. She must have made a deal with the devil. I could just spit,” growled Doe.
Polly looked at Doe like she might at a rabid dog on the street.
“I’m sure the Good Lord just blessed her with extended youth, said Polly.
“NO ONE looks that good at our age!”
“Oh, we are not so bad,” said Polly.
“Well at least YOU have your children, I have NOTHING NOTHING,” she whispered, angry tears welling up.
So this was the problem after all, thought Polly, Doe never discussed children in her letters and phone calls and Polly thought the couple was just happy on their own. What a miserable visit! Maybe they should adopt? Maybe not!
After another 20 dances for Polly the party finally walked into supper. It was a grand affair with even more courses than dinner at Doe’s house. Polly wondered what that new invention the scale, would say when she got home to Jappie and the kids. Stanley talked on and on about how he was building a mechanical maid to wait on him and how he was going to use helium to take his cat to space. Polly listened with one ear and observed Doe.
Doe was angry again and biting her lip. She shook with rage.
“You’d think we were upstarts,” hissed Doe.
“This was just the seating arrangement,” soothed Lord Cake.
“Why were we moved down here?” she said.
“This was our assigned place,” he continued as if he talked to a child.
“I think we deserve to sit higher at the table,” she spat.
“Mr and Mrs. Doohickie are the Browns’ best friends from Montana,” whispered Cake
“Well, we deserve the best, we are better quality than the Dookickies,” she sniffed.
Lord Cake sighed and cast his eye across the room to Mr. White’s daughter just 17. Doe was ALMOST as pretty once….
What had gone wrong?
Nights like these, Polly resented her family’s wealth and rise into society. She would trade 1000 balls like this for one night sitting around Mamsie in the Little Brown House with the bad stove and everything listening to her stories without snoopy maids or clanging bells or electric lights. Just a little piece of a candle on a summer night and Us Five and Mamsie….