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Author Topic: Grist and Gristle
Member # 11149

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I thought I would share something with you. I don't have much of value, but I think this might be useful to the community. Don't take this the wrong way, it's no attempt at sympathy. I'm very happy and well adjusted. I just feel like I should to give back, and I doubt I can critique well enough to contribute to that until I gain a little better handle on this writing thing.

I usually tell only a part or two to people, and that's often enough to give them an idea of my life. Here, I'm going to cover the majority of the big things, and a few small bits. It's not the entirety. I don't think I can recall all of the events, or have the time to write them all out, but it's a start. More than enough for you to take and run with in a story. Perhaps someday I'll write it properly.

I wrote most of this in my car at night, with no light. I've tried to spell check, and all that, but I'm sure it's still fraught with errors.

You have my full permission to pull from here whatever you fancy, for whatever purpose you like. It's quite a grab bag. I would usually say "Enjoy!" but, well.... Hehe [Big Grin]


I was almost born in the backseat of a neighbor's station wagon. My mother was 16 when she went into labor, and my 18 year old father didn't have a car, although he drove a taxi. The neighbors had a car, but no gas. They all managed to dig change out of couch and seat cushions to gather up enough money to gas up the car, and apparently just made it to the hospital.

My brother stuck a butter knife in a toaster once. I don't recall if he was electrocuted, but I know mom was upset. I remember trying to climb in through the window and cutting my foot open. Some weird white thing was inside me. I don't recall any pain, just curiosity. Pretty sure my mom freaked out.

We once took her car keys, turned everything in the car on, and locked the doors. I don't recall the outcome.

I remember there being a girl our age next door, we would play. I don't remember her name or face, only that she existed.

My father's friends once ate all the food in the house, and we were very sad to have nothing to eat.

I remember Easter baskets with fake green grass and candy eggs, watching M.A.S.H. on my mother's bed, finding her birth control pills and thinking they were candy. They didn't taste like candy.

I guess we were quite the handful, because when I was about 3 or 4, my mother gave me and my younger brother up to foster care. I didn't find out about it for 20 years, always thinking it was the state who took us away from her. I never forgave her for giving us up.

One of the first homes I was in, I think, sexually molested me and my brother. It's hard to say for sure. More on that later.

I learned to read in that foster home. "See Spot. See Spot run. Run Spot run." I recall it was very hard for me, and I didn't think I would ever get it. Obviously, I'm still working on that. [Big Grin]

There are a lot of memories of that time, I recall lilacs and the dogs in the huge back yard I would have to haul water to in gallon jugs that seemed to weigh a ton. The children of the family once chased me down and forced me to eat olives, which I hated the taste of. I still can't stand them, though now I think it's a psychological distaste. I remember the tree line in the back yard, the wood paneled rooms, the one time little Joe took me in the woods and when we returned everyone laughed and laughed when I asked what "Posted" meant. I remember making paper bag masks for Halloween with bulldog faces on them. I remember being teased that the Cocoa Puff cereal was actually bloated dead flies.

There were other foster homes, but not much to recall there. At one point, I used to know the number of homes I was in. I think it was near 20, but I honestly don't remember anymore.

I was eventually placed with my brother in an orphanage. I was maybe 5 or 6. I recall the autumn leaves and chilly city nights. I think it was in Schenectady NY. I read the sesame Street book "There's a Monster at the End of this Book.". What a twist! We also watched The Never Ending Story. The movie jerked many tears from the orphans.

I was adopted with my brother by a couple with an adopted little girl. The story of that foster home molesting me came out many years later, coaxed from us by our adoptive parents. The details were fuzzy, even then, and I suppose it's not something a child would just make up. But still, my mother in that family was a child psychologist, and I've always wondered if there was any truth to the stories we told, or if we were just trying to please her. A state trooper came to take our statements, and he gave me his baseball cap. It smelled very strongly of cigarette tobacco. I really liked that smell. I'm a smoker of 20 years now. I wonder if that had anything to do with it.

There are a ton of memories from that time. While living in the first small house they owned, the one we joined when they adopted us, they would lock me in my bedroom at night, and give me a coffee can to go to the bathroom in. I guess I would sneak out and explore the house at night, and this was their solution. One night I pooped in the can, and they said it was only for pee. After that they removed the lock and replaced it with a bell on my door. The bell remained on my bedroom doors for the remainder of my time with them. Yeah.. more on that later.

One time, the mother made me break my favorite toy with a hammer. I think it was punishment for not knowing why I did something that upset them. During that time, I would often answer "I don't know" when asked why I did something bad. Maybe I should have lied, but I don't think I could have at that age. 6 or 7, maybe? Hard to say. So many years ago, so many faces and events.

They liked to use hot sauce and vinegar to punish lies. I recall once they offered me a glass of water to remove the taste afterwards, but I outright refused it, thinking they were tricking me into drinking more vinegar. I guess trust had gone right out the window by then.

They made me wear diapers at one point. Yeah. Not sure why. Maybe I wet the bed because I was too ashamed to open the door and ring that bell.

I once played with matches in my room and burned a small, perhaps quarter-sized hole in my carpet. I put it out right away and knew I messed up. They wanted to know why I was playing with matches. All I could think of was "I don't know.". That wasn't good enough, so they put a large, long nail through a thin board, and made me hold a pushup position above it, the nail aiming up into my belly, until I could tell them why. I never could. Thinking back, I sort of wish I had fallen on the nail, just to spite them. Show everyone how horrible they were.

It's funny. When I was living with this adoptive family, we used to go eat at The Grist Mill. I think it was our after-church spot, but I can't be sure. I do recall playing the arcade game Spy Hunter and eating flap jacks. Still love that music.

There were good times too. Playing with my brother and adopted sister, going to nana's and papa's house. Reading 'The Key to the Treasure' and making our own treasures and maps and clues. Watching Bengi the Hunted. Christmas. Putting on a play of the Three Billy Goats Gruff on a whim in our house for our parents and the people who rented the smaller house that was attached to the big house. The house I bought them.

Oh, yeah. When we first started living there, in the first small house, they would take us to the YMCA for swimming lessons. I swim like a fish. I loved it. We would hit the fast food joint on the way home and get chicken nuggets with honey. Good stuff. After swimming, we would change right into our PJs, because we always fell asleep before we got home, and they would carry us to bed. One time, though, my father was talking to another dad after the lesson, and I was bored. So, I started opening locker doors that had no locks, to see what was inside. I was always a curious kid. Too curious, because one locker door was stuck. Undeterred, I yanked on it hard, and pulled an entire locker unit, maybe 6 feet tall and 20 feet long and a foot deep, pure steel, down on top of myself. Apparently, they were supposed to bolt them to the floor so curious kids didn't pull them down onto themselves and break their femur clean in two. Well, they didn't, and I did. I didn't feel the pain, just the pop of the bone snapping, and the cold weird feeling my leg had against the tile floor. The EMTs cut off my PJs to check the break, and I was strapped to a stretcher and taken in an ambulance to the hospital for x-rays, traction and half a body cast. I had to be carried everywhere, so a bar was put between my thighs so my parents had something to grab. The groin had a hole, obviously, and all my underwear and pants had to be cut up one side and fitted with velcro, to fit around the bar. In the end, we settled out of court. I got $25,000 when I turned 18. My parents got a huuuuge house. It had 3 floors, a basement, and another smaller house/apartment stuck on the left side that they would sometimes rent. It sat on 60 acres. They installed an in-ground pool. I can only imagine what dollar value their part of the settlement was. Maybe 10 times mine, probably more like 50. We called the house Stone Wall Manor. It had a long stone wall lining the front street, as well as others in the back yard, and all over the property. I've tried to find it on Google, but have never been able to. Maybe someday I'll find it and buy it. hehe

My birthday is 3 days after Christmas, and to offset the lack of birthday presents us December babies get, the adoptive family decide to celebrate my half birthdays instead. The day I turned 11, or was it 10? I think it was 10. That day, they were very weird to me. I didn't know why, but they said I was acting up, and doing it on purpose. I maintained I didn't understand what they meant, and eventually they spat out, "You know you're 10 today, that's why you're acting like this." I was elated to find out I was 10. I had no idea until that moment. I even forgot all about them being weird to me, I was just super happy. Subconsciously, I probably did know, and they may have been right. But I certainly didn't act out on purpose.

One night, maybe 5 or 6 years into living there, my parents got me and my little brother up out of bed. They made us put our slippers on and get into the car. It was winter time, and snow in central NY is a fact of life. They stopped off on some country road, told us to get out, and drove away. Not sure how long we stood there, before I grabbed my brother's hand and said we needed to start walking. They eventually came back, but I think that marked the end of the line.

They eventually gave us both up for adoption. We weren't allowed to take any of our toys. I was very upset at that. They state had us in a home together, but eventually we went into separate foster homes. Mine was great. My brother's was not. The father of his foster home was arrested decades later for child molestation. I was living with my brother at the time, sharing an apartment, when it came on the news. I asked if he knew about the abuse. His simple nod told me more than I wanted to know. It explains a lot about how he behaves. He eventually married a guy named Paul. I knew from childhood, and the magazines I found, that he also liked girls. I wonder if that abuse had anything to do with his marriage. I think it may have.

In foster care, they have this thing called respite. It's when a child is placed in another foster home on a short term temporary basis. When the foster family has to leave and can't take the foster kids, another family will babysit for a week or two. My brother went on respite one time from that abusive family, and refused to return, begging the respite family to adopt him. They did, and he had a fairly normal loving home from then on. He never took their last name, though. We still both have the name of the adoptive family that disowned us.

I eventually was bounced around from home to home until I was placed in a pre-adoptive home. Nice folks. Schulz. Good home. I rode my bike through the Love Canal and would ride out to Niagara Falls (the US side) on the weekends. They had great parents, lived in a nice house, I met my future cousins, and we got along great. Aunt had a heated pool. Erm, should I say, "ool" Notice there's no P in the ool. Let's keep it that way.

Then my worker asked me one day, if I wanted to be adopted by these parents, and I said no. I don't think I meant it, but nobody had ever asked me what I wanted before, and I thought, "Well, so far everything people have wanted for me turned out horrible, and they want this for me, so I better not.". It didn't help they were the spitting image of the first family that adopted me. Not in personality. They weren't a lawyer and child psychologist, either. The father was an electrical engineer and the mother taught at a Lutheran school. They had that same look, though. I guess I got scared.

That's when they put me in a group home. I think I broke that family's heart. That's what they wrote me, anyways. I guess I ruined them ever adopting. I wish I could undo that, or at least let them know why I said no. I'm not sure they would understand, but at least they'd know. I would have told them then, but I didn't understand it myself.

I wasn't a bad kid. Most of the others in the group home were. The system just didn't have a bed for me anywhere else. At least, that's what they told me. The group home had a 6 month mandatory evaluation period, and I ended up staying there for over two years. I guess I had anger problems. I can't imagine why.

I recall they attempted to restrain me a lot. I also recall it wasn't very easy for them. I'm very thin and squirmy. It usually took three to hold me still. Thankfully, drugs weren't a part of the equation back then, just hold and talk. I hear kids' horror stories today, and I feel for them. Held down and doped up, and doped up and doped up and ... yeah. Foster kids coming into the world now are very unhinged or mentally deranged. I was lucky.

I've been a runaway many times. Once I took a bike onto the thruway, was almost picked up by a couple of weird guys before a state trooper pulled up on them and took me home. The officer probably saved my life. One time I took a greyhound. I got the money from the till at the science museum I worked at. I just walked out, went to the station and payed $11 to get to the city. I must have been 14. I think that's the youngest you can get a work permit. I'm surprised they sold me a ticket at all.

I ended up in Syracuse, bummed around town, found my way inside a junk yard and slept in an old van. There was a bicycle there, and I somehow managed to find some MREs. No idea, now, where I got them, but that was dinner. Some undercover officers saw me heading up an alley towards the junk yard early the next morning. They found some tools on me, a screwdriver, knife, flashlight, and a map I had marked the junkyard on so I could find it again. They thought I was planning some sort of heist. I suppose I had, but I just wanted to go sleep. They took me to the station and a worker from the group home came and got me.

I once hid out in one of the unused buildings on the group home property for many days. Underground tunnels connected all the buildings, and I was able to access all of them from there. I took food from the office and slept in the unused building. I guess I wasn't too smart, because I tried to get an old TV to work, and a staff member saw the glow from outside. They were amused, but not amused. I guess I was the first kid to run away and not leave the grounds. They were a little miffed that I had taken that food.

Man, this is getting long. Maybe I should stop here and come back to it when I have a better sense of the order of events. It can be difficult to piece it all together. I'm already glossing over a lot, picking out the clearer memories. This would be 3 or 4 times longer at this point, with very little effort.

So, yeah. I think there's a lot of good story fodder there. That adoptive family could be a book by themselves. I'd probably start with the night they dumped us off in the snow and drove off. Seems intriguing and shocking enough to grab a reader.


[ May 02, 2019, 01:20 PM: Message edited by: drew ]

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Member # 8019

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Bill Roorbach, Writing Life Stories, a creative nonfiction method descriptive text, is a trove for personal essay considerations. CNF relies on story craft, too, as much fiction and CNF craft overlap as between farrier and blacksmith. Except CNF is the dominion of the perpendicular pronoun I, and the challenges of the taming of its feral vanities.

CNF as much as fiction wants a deep subtext substance that expresses what a narrative is truly about. Fortunately, some guidance there from L. Rust Hills, Writing in General and the Short Story in Particular. The energeiac: from Greek word ergon, "work," Aristotle coin, "energetic," English term, narrative form is a narrative discovers a personal moral truth. The philosophic form asserts a moral law -- more or less preaches to a choir. Give me energeiac any day of the week, no sermons, please.

From the above autobiography sketch, three deep, personal, energeiac subtexts stand out: one, despite a brutal childhood, some conscientious way forward may be forged; two, likewise, despite a brutal childhood's abuses and neglects, enough of the folk type do manage to grow into capable and morally conscious human adults; and three, live uncomfortable for a lengthy time span, perennial outsider discomfort becomes an acceptable and perhaps comfortable lifeway here, now, and forward.

Been there; did, done, do that. The domicile instability rumbles faded -- for now.

A personal anecdote: Pepper foods I am ambivalent toward, of three or more minds. Mom and them, when I was of the age, painted hot pepper tonic, first on thumbs, then all fingers, then hands and forearms, in order to discourage thumb sucking. I won that contest of wills. Stopped thumb sucking when they stopped painting pepper tonic on the digits and all.

Now I am particular about pepper foods: like some, don't like many, tolerate some, violent thoughts about some. Folk are like a Whitman's Sampler. Some of the confections are brutal hot pepper centers.

[ May 02, 2019, 05:05 PM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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Member # 11149

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I once jumped a roundabout in Nebraska at 45 MPH, coming down a series of rolling hills, driving a Chevy Blazer that was hauling a Dodge Windstar on a two-wheeled trailer. Neither vehicle was mine. The Blazer was owned by the sleeping passenger. The Windstar by a friend who was recently widowed. We were hauling her stuff to her mother's house a number of states north of us, in the middle of January.

We were low on gas and I was using momentum to my advantage, letting the rigs speed down one side of the hill and only touching the gas to get us just over the top of the next. This was going swimmingly, until halfway down the last hill I couldn't slow down. The passenger awoke.

"Slow down, Drew."
"I can't."
"I am!"

At the bottom was a roundabout. Who puts a roundabout at the bottom of a hill like that?

I was going to turn into it, to try and swing around the tight little thing, but pictured the two vehicles rolling, spilling all of their contents -driver, passenger, and cat-in-a-box included- and locked my arms straight, meaning to plow right into it.

"What are you doing, Drew?"

"I don't know!"

We caught maybe six feet of air before touching down on the other side, in the lane we would have exited had we taken the turn in a less spectacular manner. All we broke was a light on the trailer, and a bowl in the Windstar.

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The proverbial and truest speed trap for the unwary. Darned if you do; darned if you don't; darned every which-a-way -- just go for it? A discoverable personal moral truth or two are entailed therein.
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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
Member # 59

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Now that reads like an interesting opening to a book. (IMHO, that is.)
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