The Road to Contrition

My cousin Abby, 5 years older than me, saved me from drowning at La Jolla Cove when I was about 3 years old. I don’t know if she realized that she saved my life, but I am sure she did. Suddenly the water was over my head. Not yet being a swimmer, I was panicked. Abby pulled me from the water.

She saved me again when I had barely turned 19. I was involved with an older man who had four or five kids. I was enjoying being their stepmother. Abby convinced me to go back to my parents, and convinced my parents to take me back so I could finish my education. It was difficult leaving my new family, nevertheless, I did it. I still wonder about Athena, Gabriel, Daria and Dindia (and I think there was one more). Their ages ranged from around 9 months to 8 years old.

I have a niece and a granddaughter who are both step mothers, and I am very proud of them. But I believe what Abby did was to my benefit. How could I have had the four wonderful children I now have if I had stayed with a man who already had five children and was working hard to care for them?

I saw Tani again once, a month or two after I left. He drove up to see me with the four girls and one boy. Years later, I had a girl. Over a decade later I had two more girls and a boy. The father of the last three has only those three children, and the father of the first one had one other daughter that was estranged from him, along with her mother. He and I became estranged as well because of his violent temper.

During my first semester at Palomar Community College I was having emotional problems. Abby arranged for her psychologist, Dr. Dale Dunlap, to see me. He and his wife, Margaret, advised me to shed my virginity. I probably needed more advice about how best to do that, but I respected this professional couple, and took their advice.

There conversation the psychologist couple about birth control. I thought that f this is what I am supposed to do I won’t need pharmaceuticals. They must have reiterated their point and I must of suggested getting myself sterilized because I remember the lecture against doing that. Thank God I didn’t!

My parents thought I had dove into the decadence of the sixties with no moral rudder. These were the people who had lied to me about Santa Claus. How could they be trusted to provide useful and factual information? If I am supposed to shop around for a sexual partner, then let me shop.

After Abby’s second rescue, I finished one more semester at Palomar Community College (my third semester of college), then moved in with her in Pasadena. For years she had taken me backpacking in the Sierras, and other California wilderness areas, with her Community College hiking Club, the Pasadena City College Highlanders, while I was still in high school.

My shopping spree was in full force at Abby’s cute little house in Altadena, with the result that one of the guys I had invited there came back with an accomplice, who took me outside to distract me, while the first guy stole Abby’s heirloom stereo, with speakers handmade by her dad, that we used to enjoy listening to the Moody Blues on.

When I was young I had terrible sun burns especially after an exciting day at the beach. Sometime during my teens, I decided that I would not pass this propensity to sunburn on to the next generation, and dated primarily dark-skinned men. I am careful to seek out shade, or cover up, after a short. period of sun exposure, but my four children can hold up longer, particularly the oldest.

So these black guys stole my cousin’s stereo, leaving me looking like an accomplice. Dr. Dale suggested I pay Abby $5 each pay day until the stereo was paid off. When I tried to make the first payment, Abby refused it, apparently preferring that I put my money into lodging elsewhere, which I did.

My sister, Toni, a decade younger than me, in an effort to gather evidence of the flaws in my character, in order to justify booting me out of the family home, asked me two years ago, if the guy who stole Abby’s stereo was Louise’s father. Well if I could have found the thief (and I searched after the heist), I certainly would not have made a baby with him four years later, I would have pressed charges for theft! This is how my family is, Toni is not the only one. My Aunt Catherine (Abby’s mother) was convinced, and apparently convinced others, that I stole the stereo for drug money.

There was no shortage of black guys willing to provide a bit of melanin for the progeny of a pale white girl. As bad as his temper was, I don’t believe Perry would have stolen something from my family that would have hurt and humiliated me to the extent the stereo heist did.

Drugs were not my drug. I was only a casual user, and only if I didn’t have to buy it myself. My drug was sex, strange sex, exciting sex. And yet, whenever I was in a relationship, I was content with my partner. Sometimes he didn’t believe that (like Perry), and that’s when there were problems.

It was, and is, also against my moral code to have sex with the husband or boyfriend of a friend or family member. I think I am suspected of dirty deeds involving the marriage break-up of a close relative over two decades ago. I didn’t do it. I was married and had a child and a baby at the time. These are additional reasons why I wouldn’t have done it.

I was suddenly thrust out on my own at the age of 18. Up to that point everything in my life has been decided for me by others. I wasn’t even allowed to have an opinion. Any bit of autonomy or control over my life had to be stolen by stealth prior to then. I was totally unprepared for the everyday choices one must make in the adult world. I tried not to do that to my children. I tried to give them the freedom to make increasingly significant choices, and live with the consequences, as they were growing up.

My father was incapable of showing affection, except toward my mother in a sexual way. Toward us kids, he was hard, stern and unyielding. Other than during the occasional visits with two of my uncle’s, the only male affection I had known was what I had witnessed being expressed toward my mother. I figured out what I would have to do to earn some for myself. I was totally alienated from my father, wanted nothing to do with him, especially after he kicked me out of the house for spending the night with a male friend.

My father thought I would go to my boyfriend’s house in Solana Beach. But I didn’t love him, and went to Hollywood on the one-way ticket Daddy was willing to buy. (He wouldn’t spring for Haight-Ashbury.)

The Digger’s outreach on Fairmont Ave. (to which I navigated via city bus from the Los Angeles terminal) gave me leads for rooms and jobs. I found a room with a woman who was willing to wait for my first paycheck for her rent, and I found a job working in the kitchen of a Hungarian Restaurant. I am glad I gave three of my four children the opportunity to work their first jobs while still living with me, and the fourth worked his first job while living with his sister, 15 years older.

But with me it was: me on my own, no one to call on the phone (because I was alienated from everyone at home). All my acquaintances were new, no one to tell me what to do. I’ve got to see this life through, so I’ll just have to find a clue.

I had a deep sense of shame for honestly following what I thought was solid, professional advice only to find myself completely disenfranchised. I felt my life was a challenging puzzle that I had to solve myself. I didn’t even want to call Abby, who was also in the greater Los Angeles area, but wouldn’t learn of my plight until I had formed a relationship with a man and his children several months later.

If I had known what I know now about alcohol and drugs, I might have made better choices, but it would be over two decades before I would understand that to deliberately impair one’s intellectual ability with substances known to have that effect is utter foolishness. We need all the intellectual fortitude we can get. How tragic to undermine it! I was a moderate user of marijuana and occasionally beer or dry wine, but even that was too much.

I tried to attend school that fall while working. I enrolled in 15 units at Los Angeles City College. Then because of the stress of the overwork: the work commitment, the school commitment, bicycling the streets of LA to commute between them and my little room in the House of Awareness on Hollywood Blvd., was too much for me, I became ill and dropped out of school. This broke the momentum, and, although I was able to move back home and attend Palomar in the Spring, I had missed a semester. I gave up my career plans of becoming a psychologist and worked at low level office jobs for decades. I was a semester behind on the credits needed to transfer to a 4-year University. I didn’t know how I could do it, it seemed impossible, so I gave up that dream. It was extremely difficult living with my parents, and I didn’t think I could stand it any longer. They did not have a high opinion of me, did nothing to build me up, and lots to tear me down. I clearly needed to get away for my own emotional health. Anyway, what was the point in working toward a career with the cold war threatening to destroy the world in a nuclear holocaust?

My brother Ted and I both started guitar at the same time. He was 15 and I was 14. We took a five-day course at a place called Valley Fort. The teacher was impressed by how well we were changing chords after only one day of study, until he realized I was holding on to one of the chords and Ted the other, strumming at appropriate times, like a bell choir.

Ted was the rocker of the family. He played lead solos that he learned from records of what have now become rock classics, although, as the classical guitarist of the family, I scoff at the term.

I spent my guitar practice time with Pete Seeger’s Sing Out magazine reprints, Aaron Shearer’s, Classic Guitar Technique, Volumes 1 & 2, Renaissance music tablatures, hits of Joan Baez, hits of Bob Dylan. I also had a few of my own original songs. My chord repertoire had advanced to jazz altered chords while playing guitar with the high school swing band in my senior year.

My first actual boyfriend was Ed. I met him on camp outs with my cousin, Abby. He had the reputation of being a strong hiker. I had proved myself also as being a strong hiker. By the time we met, we had both heard about each other. He bicycled 200 miles round trip to visit me at my family home in Fallbrook. He lived in the Pasadena area. He bicycled all the way, past the orange groves and lemon groves that used to line the two or four-lane highway in those days, twice, to stay for a weekend. We bicycled and hiked together, fooled around a little, but not much, and I fell in love. I was 17, he was 22.

“The cruel war is raging, Johnny has to fight, but I want to be with him from morning ’til night…” sang Peter, Paul and Mary and I. Ed was facing being drafted to Vietnam and decided to enlist in order, he thought, to be released sooner. He promised to call me when he got out of boot camp. I sat by the phone, and sat by the phone… I found out later he had dated someone else, who was also friends with my cousin, without bothering to inform me of his change in heart. I was heartbroken and Abby arranged for my first meeting with Dale and Margaret, who advised me that this was only the first in a series of relationships that I would need to experience prior to finding lasting love. I felt better.

That summer Mama took me to Unitarian summer camp. The preceding summer I had gone to Four-Square Camp with my childhood friend Leslie, who had moved away when we were in the sixth grade, then moved to a neighboring town, Oceanside, when we were halfway through High School. What a difference in the sentiments I heard expressed! Someone at Foursquare Camp said, “Dancing is wrong because when a boy and girl dance, look what parts are together!” And at Unitarian Camp, also ecxpressed by my cousins college friends, “A couple should live together for a while before marriage to make sure they are compatible.” My mother was not quite that liberal, but she did not want to see me in something as conservative as Four-Square.

I don’t know why I didn’t tell her that I was going to see Abby’s psychologist and his wife, or the reason why. I let her and Daddy assume I was just going up to visit my cousin when I took a weekend trip to Pasadena by myself on the Greyhound bus during my first semester at Palomar College. It was fall of 1966. I don’t know why I didn’t tell her what the psychologist and his wife had told me. I was mortified and confused by a blushing problem I had. Whenever my German teacher said, “My wife…,” in a sentence, I would turn crimson. About 15 years ago, I read Dianetics by L. Ron Hubbard, which explained how emgrams are created by traumatic situations in which certain words are heard. Later, when those same words are heard, the individual experiences an intense emotional reaction which is often completely inexplicable. Daddy may have yelled something about, “My wife…,” during one or more of the times he physically abused me while I was young, or even later, and created the emgram. Now that I know, or at least have a plausible theory, I am no longer troubled with the problem. T’he psychologist’s advice to lose my virginity didn’t help much.

Mama would have tried to talk me out of everything I knew if I had told her anything, there would have been the usual communication breakdown. I had learned from long and bitter experience that the less she knew about me the better.

I started studying yoga that semester. The campus did not offer a yoga class in those days, but the library had books on it that I enjoyed.

I subscribed to literature from the Self-Realization Fellowship after reading Yogananda’s Autobiography of a Yogi. I started my meditation practice around that time. I remember Yogananda’s often repeated exhortations to salute all great masters when you begin to meditate.

My friend, Robin, whom I had met at the Unitarian summer camp my mother and I had gone to the the summer after I graduated high school, took me to a Halloween slumber party in 1966. Prior to the Halloween party, Robin had taken me to meet his parents in Ojai. I enjoyed a vegetarian dinner with them. A few months later I became a vegetarian myself after participating in the butchering of a pig on our family farm, not the first time I butchered, just the first time I was completely appalled by the suffering of a dying animal. While in Ojai with Robin I had attended an outdoor lecture by Krishnamurti, who was in his eighties. He spoke of finding your core values and being who you are.

I tried to find out if Robin was interested in filling the Dunlap’s prescription for emotional health. He didn’t seem to be. Of course I was still 17 until November 4th.

Around Spring of 1967, Robin invited me to a love-in at Elysian Park in LA. He also put up a notice at UCSD for riders, and George responded.

At the love-in I hugged a lot of people. I lay down and petted with one guy and then we both stood up and went our separate ways. I hugged and flirted with lots of people, then came back to Robin and George. They were just conversing with people. Robin didn’t seem to want to flirt. I realize now he was looking for more than just a casual flirtation. I’ve learned a lot over the years.

I flirted with George touching his foot and smiling with my head tilted slightly. He grabbed my shoulders and said, “you are very warm and sexy.”

Don’t know why I threw Robin over for George. It was stupid, but it doesn’t really matter, they were both too old for me. I just needed a more cuddly father figure than my father was for a while.

George wanted to help me get my driver’s license. I got my birth certificate out of the file my mother kept in order to take it to the DMV. (I never did get my license until I was 24, but later made sure all my children got their licenses at 16.)

My mother accused me of taking the birth certificate in order to prove to George that I was 18 so he wouldn’t have legal consequences for sleeping with me. I explained to her the real reason I had taken the certificate, yet she clung to her explanation, bringing it up again and again.

I broke up with George before he had a chance to help me get my license when I moved to Hollywood.

Even though they were kicking me out and I had no choice but to go somewhere else, my mother accused me of choosing Hollywood for “more penises,” not once but several times. My father said he was, “not going to subsidize another man’s sex.” My mother liked repeating that phrase as well.

My two brothers were not subjected to such draconian reactions if they stayed out all night after reaching the age of 18.

Of course I had stayed out more than one night. I had gone on a road trip with George after meeting up with him at the 1967 Monterey Pop Festival. Ted tried to hitch hike there but didn’t make it all the way. I wonder why he didn’t go with our mother and me. Mom drove me to Monterey and spent the night with me in a hotel, then she left and George met me at that hotel. He joked about “a cheap hotel,” then we went to a newer one, a motel actually. George was 31, I was 18. He had never been married. We both knew it wouldn’t last. When we got back to Solana Beach, I burned his floor with a hot pan from the stove, trying to get outside with it to cool it off. The door being locked, I had to set it down momentarily to open the door. He joked about it with his friends who came over later. Such a difference from my dad who would have struck blows probably, or at least lectured with his caustic voice, finding ways to insult and demean without using profanity.

That’s what I needed from him: another example of masculine behavior. He drove me home to face my parents outrage and I never went back. I asked him for financial help a year later when the eventual (five years later) father of my oldest child had been arrested for drugs (and I also as an accessory). George said he felt responsible because he had handed me my first joint. He mailed me a check for $300.

My favorite memory of the Monterey Festival was a drawing of my legs and back my mother had done while I slept in the first hotel. Janis Joplin didn’t come to my attention until later. In June of 1967, she was just another screaming rocker. I hadn’t really been into rock music.

Rock was not my thing yet there I was in Monterey. It was a nice date. George took me by Joan Baez’ Institute for Nonviolence in Carmel, California, while we were making our way back down to San Diego County. I remember waving to her and she waved to me across a large room. I was giddy with joy!

When I returned to Palomar College for my third semester in the spring of 1968, I meant Ray at a Campus Crusade retreat. I was also active in the Peace and Freedom Club. I had already had two semesters of German, fall 1968 and spring of 1967, but after living on my own in LA, I had come to understand that learning Spanish would allow me to participate in more conversations in California then learning German would. So for the spring of 1968 semester I enrolled in first semester Spanish. My former German teacher was the advisor of the Palomar Campus Crusade.

Ray picked me up on a motorcycle. He lived in San Diego with a pastor, we told my parents. We didn’t mention that the pastor wasn’t home that weekend. We stopped at La Jolla Cove for an informal talk in the park by a youthful pastor addressing a group of young people all sitting cross-legged in the grass. He spoke on the importance of prayer and finding the will of God.

Ray and I eagerly headed for his room where we each had the rare opportunity to enjoy a sexual conquest. I loved him, and like corner boyfriend Ed, the draft was after him, so he enlisted.

Today my husband and I are doing our shopping and dining without patronizing places that sell alcohol. What a challenge! Alcohol is almost everywhere. Back then I was looking for a partner who would not allow his body to be used as a weapon of war, like Buffy Sainte-Marie and I sing.

I hugged Ray one final time when he came to see me in Pasadena in the apartment I had rented after leaving Abby’s. He was making a quick stop to see me before shipping out to Vietnam, where, after the short training he had already undergone, he would fly bombing missions over North Vietnam. Another Air Force man was with him. I never heard from him again.

My cousin, Judy, is one year younger than me. She and Abby are also cousins. When Judy and I were about ten and eleven, she came out from Denver with our grandparents, and stayed at our home overnight. The kids, including her. me and my two brothers, were playing a game. The game was not over, it was not a good time to stop, but Grandfather suddenly interrupted and told her it was time to go to bed. She argued a little then acquiesced muttering, ” I hate Grandad.” Why was it so important to Grandfather to follow her up to the girl’s room and tuck her in before I got there? Years later she told me, Grandfather had molested her repeatedly throughout her childhood.

She and I shared an apartment in Pasadena in the summer of 1968. I was in grief from losing two loves to the military and was doing my best to numb the grief with my drug of choice. She may have been drawn into my hedonistic life style a little against her will, like when she would date the friend of my date, though at the time she seemed willing enough. She seems to have carried resentment against me throughout the intervening years. When I met Perry, I fell in love and committed myself. Soon he was living with me and Judy moved out in a huff.

My childhood best friend, Leslie, and I corresponded via postal mail. She was in New Hampshire. She wrote me that she had become a Baha’i and sent me a Baha’i prayer book. I looked up Baha’i at the Pasadena Library and read about the Founder of the Baha’i faith, Baha’u’llah. I didn’t realize that there had been Bahai’s there in Pasadena until decades later.

The first time Perry hit me was after we had gone to Fallbrook and gotten some money from my parents for a car. I wanted to be taken out in the car. He refused. I hit him first, then I got hit harder. That should have been my wake-up call, but it wasn’t. I was used to being hit from early childhood on. Seeing that I tolerated being hit and then obediently stayed home by myself while he went out in the car I provided, that is the way I continued to be treated. I tolerated four years of it. He taught me to dance, we played guitars together and sang. We moved to Ohio. We had lived in Cleveland for a couple of years, then Wooster, a small town north of Akron. Most of his family lived in Wooster.

In the summer of 1971, I returned to Perry after a five-month separation. During that time, spent in Fallbrook, I had met the Jesus People. Normally wary about the hypocrisy of conservative Christianity, I had judged Jesus People to be sincere. When I returned to Wooster, I prayed to be put in touch with a similar group, and a man invited me to a little church called Alpha-Omega Center where young people hung out.

Perry and I had a daughter together near the end of our relationship. When I had someone else to think about, my tolerance for violence diminished enough to see my way out. The last straw was having a finger broken by a pool cue that had also bruised my backside. I packed and left with 6-months-old Louise. At my parents’ home I could relax and enjoy being the mother of my tiny girl. I followed up on the lead given by my mother that a friend of mine had left the Methodist Church and joined a little off-shoot group. I attended a meeting and felt right at home. We were in a New Testament Church called the Walk for nine years.

I never intended to abandon Hinduism, Buddhism or yoga. I believe that truth is in all religions and, to a greater or lesser extent, so is unverifiable dogma. It just so happened that I found fellowship with Christians at that particular time in my life.

I learned about prayer and repentance. In the decades since my tumultuous arrival as a young adult, I have had plenty of time to introspect and repent. To me there are several stages to taking responsibility for one’s actions, counting the first stage as denial of responsibility, but the beginning of an awareness that something is very wrong. The awareness comes that others are resenting and blaming me for something that happened. Even though I was close to the event, I felt powerless to prevent or change it, yet I am being blamed. My first response is to deny responsibility. My second response is to blame others. I build an elaborate defense explaining how it is all the fault and responsibility of others. The third phase is the beginning of an understanding that I also had a part in it and a growing realization of what my part in it was. Here, I have a tendency to go overboard into guilt and shame until I feel completely worthless, maybe even suicidal. Clinical depression might take hold here. This is obviously very destructive to me. This phase may not even be necessary. So I vacillate between blaming others and blaming myself. I have to function in the world, so I bottle up the shame and just distance myself and blame others, taking on the shame in small doses, a little at a time. If I meditate, journalize, blog and stay with it until understanding begins to come, at that point I am in the fourth phase, understanding. I realize that when the incident happened I was in a difficult spot. Now, I would handle it better, but then I didn’t have the resources I have now. I have had nearly five decades of spiritual growth since then. Obviously I would expect more of myself now. So I forgive the me of that time and the poor understanding I had, then, of how the world works. Did I honestly try to make amends? Yes, I honestly tried. The person seemed to want more of an extravagant wallowing in guilt and shame on my part than was proper. Getting my heart right before God and before myself is first priority. Some people are just stuck in anger and blame, and there is nothing I can do for them. If I am able to reach a place of true contrition, which is phase number five, they will sense it if they are not completely locked into anger and blame. Contrition means I have come to the place of willingness to be guided by my higher power in this matter. I inhale the respect stolen from me and I exhale respect for others.

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