Perhaps I should have been more caring and courteous and packed them lunches, too, as it would have been a nice touch, completely in character. Cute, little brown bag lunches containing cute, little notes lovingly folded into origami swans that when unfolded would read “Do well in the School of Hard Knocks” or “We’ll play ‘Show-N-Tell’ when you get back from your travels”. I must admit it was only the shame of probable embarrassment that kept me from pinning detailed history notes onto each piece—each one filled with vital information, individual preferences and their proper habitats.
Perhaps, if I’d chosen used, rejected boomerangs for furniture legs, I might have understood more clearly the tendency of liberated items to return and whack me in the head and heart.
I was alone again as Karen’s Five had been claimed by distant family in Compton and were removed on January 29, 2009. The mind-numbing experience of having to care for five children, ages 6, 5, 3, 2 and 1, was over. The lease on the house I rented for a year was up and the landlord wanted to short sale the property and insisted the house be vacant. It was time for me to stop delaying the inevitable and get started with the Alexander Marriage post-mortem. I had been without a car since the evening of May 13, 2008, when my Pathfinder (my first liberating act of defiance) was repossessed and I lived in California. Even worse, I was without guaranteed, steady income and still had the marital leftovers from the 3,000+ square foot house on a ½ acre lot with basketball court, pool, organic garden, gazebo and 2 dog runs.
Exhausted and completely exasperated, I took my hopes, dreams and all that crap and crammed them into five U-Haul foster care units. The two golden retrievers and I moved into one room at Motel 6 for a two-month period where the dogs watched me define a new level of comfort while I detached, deactivated and donated away my disappointment at being darn-near destitute from a two-year decline during the dissolution of my marriage (please forgive the dreadful alliteration despite the dead-on descriptive accuracy).
On April 17th, after my money completely ran out, I borrowed my daughter’s car, a Mazda Protégé, and the dogs and I left the safe haven of the Motel 6 behind. For five days the dogs slept in the back seat while I slept badly in the front. The first two nights we parked in the alley next to the Motel 6 where Chuck, the nighttime security guard from the Motel 6 and one of the reasons the 6 was such a safe haven, insisted he would be able to keep a watchful eye on us during his rounds. The next three nights we slept in the car at a truck stop in Ontario near the airport. During this time, I would use my daughter’s shower and since she lives with my ex-husband, I guess she figured out what I was doing and told her father. My ex graciously offered the dogs and me the use of his living room floor which I used for an additional month.
It was my 90 day cool down period, and there were too many leftover possessions for one person, so I decided to donate stuff to my spiritual center’s May fundraising yard sale. I stood there with that forced smile on my face, seemingly unbowed and unbroken, letting things go with my blessings and the hope they would bring a good price. Or in other words, my stuff would do well in School.
Everything going away at that sale had excellent pedigrees as in my previous life I was not a woman afraid of decorating decisions. I had worked overtime and did much research when making purchases in hopes that my stuff would live long and benefit from their higher education. Much of my baggage was heirloom and custom made furniture with good genes that had been pampered during their gentle upbringing with weekly cleaning, polishing and vacuuming by their nannies. I selected their hardwood, dovetailed frames and high grade designer fabrics with as much scrutiny, if not more, as I did when ordering premarital gene-testing on myself and my ex-spouse. My outlook had been there was no sense in carefully planning a future if the underpinnings were weak. I purchased things to last, that would look good while they aged and could be part of a grand future.
I’m someone who would rather wait and not have than settle for something less than my heart’s (and sometimes mind’s) desire. That explains why I could go without until I could get or have what I want—never with tantrums, pouting or tears, but just quiet persistence and determination. My sister Yvonne describes this aspect of my personality as “cutting off my nose to spite my face”. It has always been my desire to create or buy things and settings I (or anyone) would love rather than uncaringly throw something together to fill space. I wouldn’t insult an inanimate object anymore than a person by withholding interaction from them because they were something less than I would like. However, I might neglect it, or them, and that would still constitute abuse.
An excellent example of this trait was portrayed in Alice Walker’s The Color Purple. Mr. idolized and wanted Nettie and asked Pa for her hand. But Pa rejected Mr.’s proposal and countered instead by offering Celie to Mr. and throwing in a cow to boot. Mr. grudgingly accepted Celie and abused her because Celie was less than his ideal or heart’s desire (I don’t know if Mr. abused the cow). I’m not indicating I mistreat the table I got for $5 at a yard sale because it was all I could afford and I needed a table to sit down and have a meal occasionally, but I will admit it sits covered with junk most of the time and does not get the weekly polish, tablecloth treatment, flowers, figurines etc., that I lavished on the old table. Okay, fine maybe the poor thing is a little neglected.
The first waif to hunt down it’s natural mother was a table set with six counter height chairs (well, five counter height chairs plus one three-legged orphan as one leg had been broken and remained lost in storage when it was time to go off to school). The table set has a sister piece I had kept home with me when I put the table and 5 and ¾ chairs up for adoption—a sideboard that had somehow escaped damage and still found favor in my eyes. Letting go of that table was emotionally difficult as this was the table at which my sister and I sat with the hospice team to discuss mom's condition during our daily conferences. It had seating for eight and was roomy enough for a lot of paperwork.
I guess I bonded with that set because about two and a half years after my mother had passed away, after my core family had broken up and I had cobbled together a new, makeshift family of foster children, one of the legs broke off with some repairable damage right in the middle of Thanksgiving dinner. The support bracket under the seat that surrounded the leg broke with such a resounding, gunshot-like SNAP, I felt pain in my own leg as well as my heart.
It was the first ever formal dining occasion for the three boys (ages 6 and 5 years old and a 21 months old in a high chair) and I made it just the way I had done for family Thanksgivings of my past with full china service, napkins, turkey and all the candlelit trimmings. My youngest daughter joined us for dinner so four of the six chairs were filled as the baby was in his high chair. The break happened while I was setting out the additional sides and desserts on the buffet and my back was to the table. It doesn’t matter who was sitting in the chair but the sound spun me around and illustrated with pinpoint accuracy the break I was making from my past by firing me into reality. One of the remaining two empty chairs was quickly pressed into service and a successful sit-down dinner ensued.
I set the leg aside until later for there was always too much to do with the remnants of Karen’s Five. Karen’s Five was the affectionate name given to my five foster children and it seemed crass to pare the nickname down to Karen’s Three. And months later when there was no one left but Karen, the leg was separated from the set when everything went to storage and leftovers from a 3,000+ square foot house required lots of space. Even after all the downsizing, yards sales and flat out giving it away, my personal effects were scaled down and compacted into five of the largest units available. In the scope of all considerable expense involved in moving out, about and into homelessness with two dogs, misplacement of a leg was understandable.
So, after purchase at the yard sale, the three-legged chair limped off with its brothers and new family with instructions a replacement leg could be purchased at Levitz. Unfortunately, shortly after the yard sale, Levitz went the way of my marriage. Several months after the sale and after moving into the apartment, I found the leg as I was emptying a box. I sighed and silently wished I could somehow make it whole by reuniting it with the other three legs. But I decided maybe it would come in handy as an ornate Louisville Slugger since I was living alone in my first apartment since I was 17 and never knew if I might need it to get my point across. I kept it as backup protection in my bedroom in case some evildoer got past the two golden retrievers on guard in the living room and their backup -- the vicious dog hair phantom poodles that rove everywhere in the apartment if I don’t vacuum daily (which I don’t).
It was Saturday, December 19, 2009, and I was driving down a six lane street where a huge, planted divider separated traffic. I had moved into my two bedroom, two bath, two golden retrievers apartment in June but had no chairs to use with the kitchen table (I’ll think I will just refer to the table as Celie from now on) I had picked up in November. As I was driving down that street with $13 in my pocket, I thought maybe I could pick up two chairs to go with the table. Across four lanes of traffic on a busy street, I saw a chair at the curb that looked usable and somewhat suited to my style. I drove around the block and came back to pull up in front of the house where I had seen the likely candidate from afar. As I was backing into the parking spot along the curb, I looked through the rear passenger window and thought “That looks like something I would buy. Wait, that looks like something I did buy!”
After I parked the car, I could barely breathe, much less walk, as I spotted the table with four more chairs upturned on it further up on the lawn closer to the house. I confirmed it was my table by finding the spot where some refinishing was needed. At that time a tall, willowy and rather pretty long-haired blonde came out of the house to talk to me about the table. Her name was Ivory and she said “There’s a sixth chair in the garage but it’s missing a leg”. Ivory told me she would sell the whole set for $250.00 and she had purchased the table from another lady five blocks over several months earlier. Ivory explained how she saw the set and loved it and the lady she bought it from said Ivory could order a new leg from the store with the model and make information under the chair seat (just like I had informed any potential buyers at the yard sale). Ivory informed me she had tried to purchase the replacement leg but the store was no longer in business. I asked Ivory “Would you like the leg for the chair since I still have it?”. I then proceeded to breakdown in a shameful, tearful display of humanity.
Ivory was very nice and offered to sell the table and chairs back to me for $200.00 since it was clear the odds of us finding each other were astronomical at best so it must be fate. She and her husband were moving back East and back in with her family as they could no longer make it in California and were selling everything they owned. I handed her the retrieved leg and told Ivory to use the leg to get a better price for the set and wished her well. I did find out a few weeks later when I spoke to Ivory’s husband the set was sold to a family with six kids and the father who purchased it said it was an easy fix. Then I spent several days bitching at Irony. (Warning: Never bitch at irony because it must have the same power as Karma.)
Well, months later, Friday, August 13th, 2010, ironic, moronic life smacks me across the face with a 15 year old dead mackerel. It was about 10 pm and earlier at around 7 I had opened a bottle of champagne to celebrate life as I knew it thus far. I was free to be me and life was good. I decided I was happy at 55 with being alive, and while living next door to a graveyard in my 2br, 2ba, 2gr apartment (an apartment that may be junky and cluttered and in need of a housekeeper I can’t afford), this existence was much better than residing on the other side of the fence six feet under. While I couldn’t afford the housekeeper, I had purchased a few bottles of champagne (not even close to good stuff) for my cousin’s visit which was postponed from the week earlier. New neighbors were moving in downstairs that afternoon and my floor was vibrating from their loud music and it seemed as good a time as any to celebrate life as I knew it.
About three hours later when it was time to walk the dogs, the three of us trotted down the stairs to play ball. As I turned the corner at the bottom of the stairs, there sat Lauper, my made to order sofa with the trapunto stitching on one side that had been sold, with it’s companion love seat, at the yard sale with the table set.
I was not ready for that. Nope, that chicken was not supposed to come home to roost. Upstairs sat, in the contrasting pattern Cyndi, the two wing back chairs I kept (so I would have something to sit on in the living room). But here sat Lauper, all alone, and the girl who just wanted to have fun wasn’t having any. It was clear poor Lauper had seen better days, too, but there was no mistaking it was my couch. I was tempted to look under the cushions to see if the birth certificate tag declaring it’s birth date and who it was made to order expressly for was still attached.
Through blurred vision (no, I was outright sobbing and crying) I made my way to the greenbelt area where the dogs and I normally play ball. The poor dogs couldn’t understand why their tennis balls were so wet when they hadn’t even had the opportunity to slobber on them yet. During this boo-hoo fest, Josh rolled up on his skateboard at the wrong time. I sobbed all over Josh’s shirt, devastated by the sight of my poor floral couch sitting outside and told Josh I was tempted to reunite Cyndi with Lauper by giving them to whoever was moving in downstairs. Josh was able to stop me from crying by dispensing some 17 year old wisdom when he said “But Karen, what will we sit on when I come over?”
I dried up quick when he said “Don’t cry, tomorrow I’ll come over and you can make me some pancakes”. That sobered me up quick because I knew I wasn’t going back to catering to African-American males with mother issues. The would be adding too much insult to injury. I sent Josh on his way and walked back upstairs to my apartment and leaned over the rail outside, taking deep breaths, looking over the graveyard and reminding myself I was still alive and not making pancakes. As I did this, the new lady of the apartment directly downstairs came out for a moment and I was able to introduce myself and asked her name. She answered curtly “Mary” with an attitude like “What’s it to you, lady” (well the way she said it didn’t sound like she would have said lady – more like BITCH). I clumsily asked her about the couch to which she replied “I HATE that couch” and walked off without goodbye, F U or a nice to meetcha. Suddenly, I couldn’t breathe and fled back indoors to lick my wounds. This was not Ivory Irony but Latin Fury.
Up until then in my life there had only been two occasions when I deliberately and intentionally set out on a mission to get shitfaced and regrettably this was the third. The first occasion being after I was mugged at gunpoint and had my head slammed up against a concrete, stuccoed wall in a dark parking spot of my apartment complex in 1976. The gunman wanted my brand new $40 purse and I was not inclined to give it to him. I was pregnant and pissed off at his audacity to climb out from under someone’s car pointing a gun and demanding my purse. Hence the reason my armed robber felt the need to slam my head into a wall, take my purse forcibly off my shoulder and walk away looking back all the while cussing me out.
The second occasion, just as momentous, being when my oldest daughter (who had just graduated from the private college that I had worked two jobs to pay for) informed me she was going to Nebraska (sight unseen) to hook up with one of the salesman from the software company I repped (said salesman also sight unseen). Well, fortunately, that didn’t happen because my drunken rampage caused her to reflect and rethink her future.
My poor maligned couch seemed like a perfectly good occasion to go for a third on semi cheap champagne. I opened the second bottle and consumed it with vigor and blissfully somehow made it to bed and passed out.
The next morning I awoke grateful and without hangover. I decided the way to deal with the hateful, painful memory was the way many people deal with things they are uncomfortable, like whistling past graveyards. I decided my couch had been a showpiece that may have seen better days so I changed her name from Lauper to Lola and started singing Barry Manilow’s Copacabana every time I walked past. “Her name was Lola. She was a showgirl with yellow feathers in her hair and a dress cut down to there”.
Mary still does not speak to me. Matter of fact, she walks by and says nothing to me or the dogs and sometimes I wonder when I pissed in her cheerios. But the story has a happy ending. One day many weeks later, I walked up the walkway to see the couch with something that changed my outlook. Sitting on the couch was a grandfatherly figure (I’ll call him Grandpa) and the little girl from downstairs. Grandpa was nestled into the couch against the right side with the little girl about four years old with dark hair snuggled up on his left. In Grandpa’s hands was a book and he had his arm around his granddaughter while he read to her and she pointed to the pictures. It was clear someone loved the couch and the time they spent together there and that gave me solace.
Over the weeks, it was clear the couch was Grandpa’s safe haven from the Screeching Mary (and yes, she was constantly screeching, yelling or throwing things) as I saw him flee Mary’s ire on many occasions. But I also saw the little scene between Grandpa and granddaughter repeated many times before the couch disappeared from my life again. Grandpa seemed saddened the couch and their special reading spot/safe haven was gone and shortly he didn’t come around anymore. And a little thereafter Mary moved out.
I learned a valuable lesson, however. Sometimes situations which bring one great pain can turn into something else; a gentle reminder that my sadness brought someone great joy.