Friday, December 08, 2006

Pearl Harbor Day, or the day after

While I was in Phoenix, I was asked to speak at a meeting where the average age was probably about 25. Recalling that I used and ripped and ran, much of it in Berkeley during the end of the peace, love and free sex era, from 1971 until I got clean in 1984, my experiences were almost unexplainable to the women who were listening.
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In 1971, I was living about a block off Telegraph Avenue. It was the end of the Free Speech Movement (FSM). The Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) had just disbanded the year before, but there were remnants of protest on and around the Berkeley campus where I lived. People's Park was still a big issue with young people, mostly bands of the homeless, trying to tear down the fence surrounding it so they could camp there.
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The "Blue Meanies," as the protestors called the Alameda County Sheriffs sent in by then Governor Ronald Reagan, who arrived in buses to kick hippie butt, were likely to turn up on any corner at any time, sending protestors running through the streets in fear of their lives. I was no exception, although I wasn't a protestor.
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The Vietnam War had torn apart my family and was the main reason I left home at 15. I couldn't take the constant stress anymore and when I heard the Beatles song "She's Leaving Home" with its lyric "after living alone for so many years," it spoke to me directly. I just didn't bother to leave a note when I left.
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So I went to Berkeley, after a terrible time hitchhiking from Arizona through Hollywood, where all the runaways go. One day I'll blog about what it was like to be 15 and on the streets in Hollywood. It was terrifying and I credit my survival with my basic distrust, at that time, of anyone.
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In Berkeley, I attended Berkeley Adult School which was for kids like me and adults who were trying to finish their high school education. In the late afternoons and early evenings I worked for a leather maker painting designs on purses and other leather items like stash bags and wallets. But it wasn't unusual, when I came out of my apartment to head for school or work, to get caught up in a demonstration. I was shot by a rubber bullet, tear gassed and almost club-punched in the kidney as I ran, because to stand still was insanity and on many days fought my way to the bus stop or home. Life in Berkeley was always exciting.
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Trying to convey this life to young women who had never heard of the SDS or the Free Speech Movement, who had never watched dissident crowds throw bottles or rocks at the police, who never saw the remnants of the Black Panthers walk through a quickly parting crowd at Sproul Hall, well, it wasn't an easy share.
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It's also very difficult for me to talk about those times because of the difficulties that lay right around my corner. The addiction, the homelessness, the failure to go to college, which had been my dream. I was going to become the female equivalent of Williams Burroughs, but in reality I became the female equivalent of William Burroughs without the published books. Oh, yes, and I never traveled to exotic places like Tangiers to smoke Thai stick because I rarely had money for bus fare across the Bay Bridge, let alone airfare to travel anywhere outside the Bay Area.
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So I shared, and when I talked about the fear of being homeless on the tough streets of Oakland at 17, of being preyed upon by men with bad intentions who thought I'd just fallen off a turnip truck, of having my clothes stolen and going through one cold Oakland winter with only a thin sweater, it is incredibly emotional to talk about those times. Although the women at the meeting probably couldn't relate to my location, what they could relate to were the feelings -- the fear, which I couldn't show, the hopelessness, the belief that I would die a junkie in the streets in West Oakland, like I saw some of my girlfriends die.
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Through God's mighty grace, I was given a reprieve from that life, so different from what I believed it would be when I left home. I often ask myself why I was given this gift when so many, my family, my friends, don't find it. For today, despite some of the distractions in my life such as unemployment, I am truly grateful for this gift.
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They just opened a Korean restaurant in the city where I live. It's pretty provincial here, so this is a big deal. We don't even have a Thai restaurant yet. I asked my s/o if we should take his father there to eat, who fought in the Korean War. He looked at me like I was crazy.
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"Oh, yeah," I said, remembering how my father felt about me driving a Japanese vehicle after he'd fought in WWII. But you know there's a funny thing that happened. In the 60's in Arizona, he and my mother, who were insurance agents, began to insure many of the Japanese farmers and grocers around west Phoenix. Over the years, they became friends and were soon invited to Japanese weddings, dinners and other social functions. My father spoke so highly of these Japanese people -- their industry, their honesty, their wonderful kindnesses and politeness. Yet he stood, during the war, on the deck of a destroyer in the Pacific watching kamikazes circling his ship. It's amazing what assimilation can do, isn't it?
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While it's trite and was the object of so much ridicule, I loved what Rodney King said after the riots. "Can't we all just get along?" I was living in LA at the time, and it was scary for sure. I was heading for an insurance class in Pasadena after closing our office which was a bit too close to Compton and Lynwood and Watts for safety, and when I arrived at the class, I smelled smoke. The streets were deserted, so I quickly got onto the freeway and sped home to my knotty-pine panelled guest house in Van Nuys. I stayed in the house for two days watching the city burn. I hope I never have to watch that again, a city destroying itself by racial hatred and division.
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Suspending judgment; it's so hard and yet so necessary, I think, for true spiritual growth. I had a therapist in early recovery who was a Buddhist. She gave me a little tip. She told me when she found her mind judging, good, bad, black, white, she'd say to herself "Judging!" It helped bring her mind back to center. I've used that advice sporadically in my recovery, but I've decided I'm going to redouble my efforts to stop judging using that technique.
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Today, I am grateful for the squirrels feeding on my bird tray in a foot of frozen snow. I'm grateful for my dogs, my big black defenders, for the evening we have planned, for the warmth of my house on this cold, cold day. For a girl with my history (for although my hair is gray and my face is becoming lined, in my mind I am still a girl) who should have died in the streets, I am blessed beyond compare.

2 comments:

SCoUt said...

"For a girl with my history, who should have died in the streets, I am blessed beyond compare."
This is a beautiful line.
I love your gift with words.
Please continue to share it with us.
Peace,
Scout

Meg Moran said...

I cannot tell you how far you reach into the depths of my heart. I have made a permanent place for you there. Will you be my friend forever? I do not ask this of many.