Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Attack of the Latter Day Saints

A couple of Springtimes ago, The German was downstairs with the laundry and some Mormons gave him a little card advertising the offer of a free Book of Mormon if you called and ordered it from their 1-800 number. Well, he passed it on to me because he knows that I have a penchant for reading religious texts. I guess it stems from my childhood. My mother always explored other cultures and taught me not to be afraid to do so either. Reading about religion is a good way to get to understand people because spiritual views seem to be at least very close to the core of human consciousness. So anyway, I called and requested a book. I figured by ordering one this way it would just come in the mail and I'd have the opportunity to get to know a bit about their views without giving any of them the impression that I was interested in joining their church. That turned out to be a big mistake.

Less than a half hour later two female missionaries from The Church of Latter Day Saints were knocking on my door. Although it was unexpected, I wasn't upset really. They said they'd be glad to bring me a copy of the book and answer any questions I had. I told them that would be fine. The two returned a few days later while The German was at work. They asked if they could come in and tell me a little bit about the book and their faith. Since I was getting the book for free--they wouldn't even accept a donation for it even though I did offer--I figured that letting them at least give their intended message was at least some compensation.

They were really sweet. They told me that they are often in the neighborhood and asked if I minded if they stopped by again soon to see what I thought of the book. I told them that I planned to read it simply out of curiousity and not because I was looking to join them but they were still welcome to stop by. Well, they did come back and I asked them a few things about their core beliefs. This led to them stopping by almost every week. They were nice enough girls, so I really didn't mind at first. After awhile, it did become a bit imposing but I didn't have the heart to tell them that what gave them so much faith simply didn't that for me. When I became a bit ill we lost touch. I suppose they gave up after knocking on my door a few times and not finding me available. I thought that was the end of it but it wasn't.

About a year later, a new set of missionaries knocked on my door. This time they were male. These guys seemed as sincere as the first two and they were definitely friendly as well. However, I think they first stopped by me when they were very close to finishing their rotation in this area, so they only stopped by and chatted with me a few times. After that I got no visits for months and I figured they'd finally given up on converting me. Once again, I was wrong.

The next two fellows who dropped by were real jerks. They started out by telling me that they had come to set my baptism date. I let them know that while I had asked a lot of questions about their church, they shouldn't have assumed that meant I wanted to be baptized as one of them. They asked me to tell them whatever questions I needed answered before I would be willing to believe that theirs was God's only true church. I told them that they'd have to show that God would really discriminate between his children based on skin color as was their never-apologized-for practice up until about twenty years ago.

Monday, December 19, 2005

The One That Couldn't Be Mine

My pulse is absolutely racing tonight. A very exciting event occurred. I was sitting here at my computer pissing away my time as usual while The German drowsed in front of his new 42 inch monstrosity in the living room and VanGoghGirl played with the mountains of toys spread out across her room. She had just finished talking to her cousin in New Orleans when the phone rang and she brought it to me to answer (after checking the caller ID to make sure it wasn't any of her squeaky-voiced tweenie friends, of course). I didn't recognize the name or the number but I answered anyway since this hurricane has spread all my friends out to all parts of the country.

The voice on the other end of the phone took me back over a decade. When I was a student at HellOnEarth High School, I ran with a rather raucous crowd. Skipping school, drinking, partying while each other's parents were away--we did it all. Throughout those crazy years, I had a couple of boyfriends. The most significant of these was a guy I met in eleventh grade.

At the time I was dating a guy we called Duck. A lot of his close friends were acquainted with the girls in my little clique. I first met Spoogie while on my way to a party where he knocked me down on the grass in what was supposed to be funny but was not at all that in my view. Despite such an introduction, we soon became pretty good friends. After we had been friends for a while he managed to prove to me that my boyfriend also had another girlfriend. As you can imagine that left me feeling a bit piqued since I was absolutely crazy about Duck.

Spoogie did his best to cheer me up. He would come around after school to pick me up so that I could hang out with my friends (who went to the neighboring high school) a little bit before I had to be home. He and I soon became a couple. It was a very complex relationship. I'm quite sure that I was never the only girl that he was involved with. Most of the time that we were together he lived with another girl and her family. I know, it seems kind of slimy but what can I say? I was young at the time. Besides, the other girl knew about me too. I don't think Spoogie knows this but I used to talk to her on the phone sometimes. Perhaps one mitigating factor in her mind was the fact that Spoogie and I never had sex. She was closer to his age--I was a few years younger--so, I'm sure I must not have seemed like much of a threat in her eyes.

When I started at HellOnEarth a lot of my girlfriends were virgins. By the time we got to eleventh and twelfth grade, most of them were not. In my clique the girls were all sleeping with the boys. I never looked down on them for that. It was their decision to make and they were comfortable with themselves so that was that. However, I just didn't feel the same way. I dated some boys and did my share of kissing but none of those corny lines or adorable faces impressed me enough to want to go to bed with them. I suppose that my religious background probably had a lot to do with it too. Going to our congregation three times a week was more than enough to instill a heaping dose of "catholic guilt" on anyone regarding the sins of fornication and "loose conduct".

The only person that made me want to change my "flowered" status was Spoogie. To understand why I have to explain what my life was like back then. My mother had just gotten married to a man who moved into our house with five of his eight children. My own father distanced himself from me and my brothers and I suspect that it was because my mother's marriage left him feeling replaced. So, even though I was struggling to handle puberty and peer pressure, I had no one I felt comfortable with enough for me to turn to them for guidance. Spoogie filled that role. He encouraged me to stop skipping school and drinking and getting into trouble. At the same time, he also helped me let loose and have fun when we were together because I knew I had someone looking out for me and my best interests. I guess that's part of the reason he wouldn't sleep with me. He knew that I wasn't ready for that and wouldn't have felt good about myself if I had gone through with it even though I loved him. So, he simply refused. I did try all sorts of ways to change his mind and there's nothing in the world that could induce me to ever discuss that sort of thing here but the fact remains that none of my attempts worked. At the time, I didn't understand why he wouldn't be "my first" but now that I look back on it, I think the reason why I am still so crazy about him is because our relationship never did take that route.

After I graduated from high school we sort of drifted apart. I met VanGoghGirl's biodad and I got pregnant for him. Spoogie seemed to resent the fact that the guy who came after him was not nearly as noble-minded and he detached himself from me completely. It really hurt to lose him like that because he was one of the few guys in my life that I felt I could trust. A few years later, a mutual friend told me that Spoogie had gone to jail. She gave him my phone number and he called me. We wrote to each other a bit but lost contact about six months before his was due to be released. I moved to a new place and lost his address and though I asked my mother to let me know if he called again, that never amounted to anything either.

About a year ago, VanGoghGirl's biodad told me that he saw Spoogie at the home of one of his girlfriend's buddies. Of course, that hater wouldn't help me try to find a way to get in touch with him. A few other people I know told me that they had spotted him a few times in various spots but no one had any news on where he was staying. Then Hurricane Katrina struck.

He was one of the first people that I thought about. I had always felt that as long as he was in New Orleans, I'd see him eventually. Suddenly that hope fizzled away. I posted on message boards asking for information about him. The German was sympathetic. He understood how important this was to me. We posted requests for information about him on every evacuee and survivor message board we could find. I even filled out the Red Cross form for the missing. Unfortunately, I got no response regarding him even as we did eventually find some of my step-dad's family using the same methods.

Then two months later, I opened my e-mail box to find a message with Spoogie's name as the title. It was a really short message from someone who said she was his sister, asking me how did I know him. I immediately fired off a really long e-mail explaining why I really wanted to get in touch with him. You see, when he was incarcerated, he sent me some photos of his children and asked me to hold them for him. One of his sons is now deceased and I wanted to give them back to him because I worried that he might have lost everything in this storm, like a lot of other people did. I know my mother was more worried about the pictures that she left behind than she was about her actual house. I wanted to let him know that what he had trusted me with was still here for whenever he wanted them back.

I checked my e-mail all day long but got no response. Everyday I looked through my inbox hoping that I'd see another e-mail from his little sister but again I had no such luck. So that brings me to this evening with him asking to speak to me. I recognized his voice immediately. It's crazy that after all this time he sounds exactly like he did when we used to go out on the Lakefront and talk about our problems for hours. He was pretty amused by the message I posted on the missing list requesting information on his whereabouts. We talked for almost an hour.

It turns out that he did try to ride out the hurricane. Fortunately, he survived it. He's taking care of his mother right now because his father is in the hospital. We tried to catch up as much as possible. I had to tell him about the cancer when he asked me about why I dropped off the map shortly before he got paroled. I asked him about his kids. I knew that he had two sons (plus his son that died) but I also found out that he has a daughter. She's 13 years old and so is one of his sons. That really blew my mind. That's only a few years younger than I was when I met him. Of course, VanGoghGirl is 10 now. So, I guess he and I are both getting older a lot quicker than it seems.

Because of the hurricanes, he has to start all over like almost everyone else from New Orleans. I really wish there was something that I could do to help him. He did so much to support me when I was young that I don't think I will ever be able to find the words to express how big of an impact he had on my life. I've always wanted to imagine that I meant as much to him as he did to me. I don't know if I could convince myself of that no matter how much I want to believe it. He was so charismatic and handsome that there was always a string of girls in his life at any given time. I don't know where I rank in his hierarchy of past relationships. He says that I should know that he always put me first. I don't know. I can't help but think about how things might have been if he had actually ever given me the chance to be all that he needed. That's all in the past now because The German is the man I intend to marry but I really hope that I can grow old with Spoogie still in my life. Just having him to talk to would give me more comfort than I've had in a long time.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

The Kid At Her School

VanGoghGirl has been having problems at school again. She has some sort of rivalry going on between her and a little boy that is in the same gifted class and art classes and also rides the bus with her everyday. I think we'll just call him Hanuman for the sake of convenience. Anyways, Hanuman was the darling of the art program at the school before VanGoghGirl came along. He had won a national contest which resulted in a certain company donating hundreds of dollars in art supplies to the school. Once she joined it, they were both considered the top two students. However, VanGoghGirl kind of eclipsed him rather quickly. The Louisiana State Archives has yearly exhibitions of art from the entire parish, one for each of the three grade groups (elementary, middle, high school). For the past three years VanGoghGirl has had the most pieces selected for the elementary students' exhibition. It's a pretty big deal locally and it resulted in the school superintendent asking if he could put a copy of one piece in his office after he saw it.
Hanuman is really good. His art is very different from VanGoghGirl's. The art teacher says that while Hanuman is very good at realism, she doesn't consider it to be as advanced as VanGoghGirl's. She said VanGoghGirl's understanding of art and her abstract art put her on the same level as the college students she teaches. She said that VanGoghGirl is the most talented student she's ever known because she can sing, act, and create art with equal talent. Okay, now that I've finished bragging about my kid I'll get down to what's going on with Hanuman.

This squirt seems quite determined to try to knock VanGoghGirl down a few notches every single day. He constantly brags to the other children about what his parents do for a living and how they have so much money. He tries to keep his little sister from being friends with any of the other children on the bus and he even makes racist jokes from time to time. He's the shortest kid in the class and it's quite clear that he's already in stage four of Napoleonic Syndrome. In other words, the kid's obnoxious. I've tried to help VanGoghGirl figure out how to deal with him. At first I suggested that she try reasoning with him. That didn't work. I spoke to their teacher and that didn't help either. Yesterday, I called and spoke to the assistant principal who brought the two children into her office and talked to them about it. Ms. SternButFair says that Hanuman denied ever saying anything insulting to anyone but she wasn't buying it. She told the kids to stay away from and not say anything to each other. Of course, the little jerk still harassed VanGoghGirl on the bus afterwards.

I'm one step from telling her to just punch the little jerk if he gets close to her. No. Seriously, if this lasts a few more days, I'm going to call for a conference with his parents and the Parent/Teacher Liaison. I refuse to allow this little thug to verbally abuse my child for another two semesters.

Friday, December 09, 2005

What Katrina Did

So much has happened since my last entry. The hurricane turned out to be so much more devastating than I had any idea I would or even could be. My mother's house didn't flood at all but it will still have to be torn down and rebuilt because the wind tore off part of the roof so that when you stand in my brother's room, you can see clear through to the sky. Then the rain poured down into the walls which means that they'll all have to be torn down. I think I was in denial about how bad it was even after I visited for the first time after the storm. I could tell that my brother's room would need to be repaired and, because of seepage from that room, also my mother's room below it. However, the other rooms looked pretty good. Everything was almost as it was when they left. There were water spots on some of the ceilings and I guess that should have clued me in but I suppose I was seeing what I wanted to see and nothing more. My mother and step-dad are living in Dallas now while they wait for the insurance company to take care of their part.

My great-aunt also lost her home. It was right on the corner of Tennessee St. which is where one of the levee breaks occurred. They don't even have anything to go back to. The house is gone, completely blown to bits by the water. Fortunately, she had evacuated or else she'd surely be dead. She's been suffering from depression ever since she found out about her house though. She's living in a FEMA trailer on one of her niece's homes in Baton Rouge right now.

One of my maternal aunts had a house in New Orleans east. The kitchen in her house is elevated a bit higher than the rest of the rooms on the main floor and the water still got as high as the top of her kitchen counters. So, the only room that didn't flood was her attic. They're living in Arkansas right now while they decide what to do next.

Another aunt evacuated to Baton Rouge where one of her daughter's had just moved. Her second-floor apartment made it through the hurricane intact but she still can't live there because the first floor apartments totally flooded so the whole building has to be renovated. Her other two children also evacuated to Baton Rouge. The German found an apartment for her son to rent; His apartment in New Orleans was destroyed by flood waters. Her younger daughter had been living in St. Bernard parish when the storm hit. When she went back to see her apartment, everything in it was pushed around like a tornado had been inside of it. She's found a house to rent and moved to New Orleans earlier this week.

My oldest brother lost everything too. The German and I sneaked into the apartment complex and saw some really mind-blowing sights. There were garbage bins, the kind that it takes those special garbage trucks with the lifts to pick up, that had floated ontop of cars and rested there as the water receded. There were cars that had been picked up from the parking lot and carried into the lake in the middle of the complex. My brother's apartment had no walls left. From outside you could see past his living room and into what had once been his bathroom. So, he has nothing to come back to either. He and his girlfriend and their kids are living in Atlanta now.

I'm realizing now that I would have to write for a very long time in order to talk about how much has happened since the hurricane. I think I'll have to do this in installments. At least I'm starting to try to write about this again. It's just been so painful that I didn't think I could bear to do it. I still don't know how much I can say about it at one time. I really wanted this to be a release but I'm afraid that it may just open up wounds that haven't even fully closed yet. However, they may never close so this may be as good a time as any to talk about it. It's just one day at a time, I guess.