In the ninth week of our series we pick up at chapter 15: “Back to Madness”
If you’re just coming across this series, you can catch up from the beginning HERE.
From the trilogy
Somewhere Between This & That: An Absurd Journey
THE MAKING OF A NATURAL DISASTER
This is a work of fiction. Although it is written in the form of an autobiography, it is not one. Clearly, no reasonable person would ever consider this absurd story to be true. Names, characters, businesses, places, events, and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or are used in a fictitious manner. With the exception of public figures and those with reputations of public renown, any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental. Full of salty language – This is intended for mature audiences.
Back to Madness
“OH MY GOD, you’re fat!”
That’s how my mother greeted me when I got off the plane.
Yes, I’d certainly enjoyed a lot of Nona’s good home-cooking, but I’d also grown to a B cup while experiencing some of the changes associated with puberty. The many weight fluctuations my mom experienced over the years made her greeting as absurd as it was upsetting. I hadn’t seen my mother in over seven months and this wasn’t the reception I was expecting. Mom experienced increasing mood swings and explosive episodes of anger in recent years, but this time she really seemed different. She didn’t smile as much and her interactions with me seemed to always be peppered with sarcasm and ridicule.
Her words weren’t nearly as upsetting as the fact that she and Smoke were together again. Why would she return to a man who’d beaten and strangled her? We’d fled in the middle of the night from this man Nona always said, “looked like the pure Devil.” Why was I brought back from South Carolina to be in the presence of a monster who’d ruined our lives? This didn’t make a lick of sense to me and it was the first time I can recall feeling deeply betrayed by my mother.
They took me home to a two-story Spanish style house in Vista that was surrounded by citrus and avocado trees. The Belgian chef was now living with us, as well as a rather scraggly dude who did his own style of “cooking” in the garage. Sparks and I weren’t allowed in the garage.
There were a couple of unfamiliar faces around and I tried to stay away from all of them, but they were sometimes hard to avoid. I was sitting in the jacuzzi one afternoon when a man and woman got bare ass naked and jumped in with me.
“What’s your name, honey? The naked woman asked.
“Harmonie, and I’m eleven,” I said curtly as I promptly got out and stomped into the house.
“What the hell is wrong with you,” Mom demanded as I brushed by her, soaking wet.
“I’M ELEVEN!” I shouted.
I was beginning to think I was the only one in this house with any damn sense.
I’d been back in California only about a month or so before things blew up again. Mom was out of town and having a fight with Smoke over the phone. After a couple of hang-ups, the fight took an unexpected turn when Mom began threatening to kill herself.
“What do you mean you’re going to kill your fucking self? GODDAMNIT! She hung up again.”
I answered it the next time and began pleading with my mother, but she didn’t want to talk to me.
“YES! I’M GONNA KILL MYSELF. NOW PUT SMOKE ON THE FUCKING PHONE.”
“NO! Mom, don’t hurt yourself!”
“SHUT UP YOU LITTLE FUCKING BITCH AND PUT SMOKE ON THE GODDAMN PHONE!”
Her screaming pierced my ear and I threw the phone down to the floor. I was in disbelief at what I’d just heard. My chest felt heavy, I was dizzy, and felt as if my head were going to split in half.
Smoke picked up the phone for what was another very short conversation and his next call was to the police. I heard him say she was at the Chateau Marmont Hotel in Los Angeles. I immediately recognized it as the name of the hotel John Belushi died in a few months earlier.
Paramedics arrived at the hotel to find my mother in the bathtub. She was still alive, but barely. She had several hypodermic needles in her body that she’d used to shoot herself up with cocaine. They managed to save her life, but I saw her only briefly at the hospital before she was shipped off to rehab in another state. She was in a wheelchair and seemed disappointed to still be alive. I wouldn’t see or speak to her again for nearly 6 months.
One might think that this would be an excellent time for me to be put right back on a plane to South Carolina. For the life of me, I still can’t figure out why that didn’t happen, but I ended up staying in California with Smoke and the other inhabitants of the house.
It didn’t take long for at least one of them to try and take advantage of the situation. I was making myself a cup of coffee when the Belgian chef apparently lost his mind. He hugged me from behind, wearing nothing but his underwear. When I tried to move away, he squeezed me tighter around my waist. He began to rub his morning wood on my backside and then grabbed my hand and placed it on his penis. My nausea quickly gave way to an incredible amount of rage and he found himself on the losing end of what was clearly an unexpected amount of fight from an eleven-year-old girl. Smoke didn’t ask many questions, he just threw the chef out. Eventually, he cleared everybody out of the house, except for me and Sparks.
Things were relatively quiet with everyone gone. Smoke and I would watch movies in the evening and sometimes have long conversations over pizza about his life before he met us. He told me about being a Marine in Viet Nam and his life in Hawaii. He’d gone to the bathroom on one of these evenings and left his joint burning in the ashtray. I decided to sneak a couple of hits while he was gone. Looking suspicious when he returned, he asked if I’d smoked any of it. I told him I hadn’t, but then I belched and a huge plume of smoke came out of my mouth. We both found this hilarious and he offered me another hit. As absurd as it was to be smoking pot with him while Mom was in rehab, I suppose he figured it had been a rough couple of months, and it might be helpful.
I’d sometimes spend my days in Vista honing my snooping skills around the house. I was hoping to find something cool to play with or some spare change I could use for candy if I ever made it to a store. I’d play with Mom’s makeup and peek inside the drawers and closets. My curiosity resulted in me finding a large VCR box full of weed in the closet and letters from my mother in a drawer.
I was excited to find some communication from my mother. I’d heard nothing from her in quite some time. I missed her and had all sorts of questions. I’d started my period while she was away and was most embarrassed to have to tell Smoke when it happened. There was no mention of me in the letters, but it sounded like she was getting better. I was disturbed to read she and Smoke planned to get married when she returned. Although Smoke was kind to me while my mother was in rehab, I hadn’t forgotten the events of the past. No matter how much fun we had jumping from the balcony into the pool or playing video games, I would never forget the sight of him choking my mother. Them getting married meant a permanence to his presence I didn’t desire.
We had to move from the house in Vista just a few months after I arrived. Smoke simply couldn’t afford this large house any longer. In addition to dealing weed, he’d also taken a job driving a food truck to industrial sites to help ends meet, but it just wasn’t enough. We needed to downsize.
Good Times Above Boneyard
BY THE TIME school started, we’d moved a little way south to Encinitas. We lived in a two-bedroom apartment on the edge of the cliff above Boneyard Beach, with Moonlight Beach to the north and Swami’s to the south. The apartment was older and quite modest, but I had an unencumbered view of the Pacific Ocean from my bedroom. I would’ve been perfectly happy living in a tent with that view.
Smoke continued to try and hustle up money to keep us afloat. He bought an old school bus and took it to the US Festival that September to sell t-shirts and other items. He also started taking the food truck to alternate locations on weekends. We’d sometimes set up on the bluffs of Torrey Pines above Black’s Beach, selling refreshments to hang gliders and beachgoers. While driving on his regular route during the week, he sometimes stopped to use the restroom at a highway rest area. He began stopping there every day and throwing the doors open just to see if he could make a few extra bucks selling his wares to motorists. Things were going well until the police informed him he couldn’t just set up and sell on state land. He knew he’d stumbled upon a potential gold mine and just needed to figure out a way to set up there, legally.
I enjoyed living in a small beach community again and having the freedom to roam its streets and shores. When not at the beach, I spent most of my weekends exploring the H Street Castle, hanging at the arcade, and browsing through albums at the now legendary Lou’s Records. I made my first personal album purchase at Lou’s. I’d just become acquainted with some early stuff from Queen and bought the 1974 album SHEER HEART ATTACK because I couldn’t get enough of “Stone Cold Crazy”.
The best thing about school in Encinitas was that I could duck into one of several classrooms showing surf movies during lunch. I could enjoy my meal in peace while I sat in the dark watching exhilarating surf films. The worst part of junior high was easily gym class. The size of my breasts made it painful to run and I made the mistake of showering with the other girls, but only once. Several of my 7th-grade classmates informed me that having breasts my size meant that you were slutty. I didn’t quite understand this logic, but I decided I would pass up disrobing in front of anyone after that. I was far from slutty, of course. I’d only just received my first real kiss that fall after my twelfth birthday. Not the awkward, slobbery, forced, spin the bottle sort of nightmare I’d experienced once back in Westminster, but a real kiss from a handsome boy. It was tender, magical, and nerve-racking. It took my breath away and set my body aflame all at once. He was fourteen and had beautiful eyes, but he was only in town on a break from military school. I never saw him again, but you never forget your first kiss.
Mom was back from rehab before the year ended. I was proud of her for battling her demons, but my first memories of her return were less than heartwarming. I recall having the distinct impression nothing was good enough for her, not even me.
Like most girls my age, I loved the Toni Basil hit “Mickey”, and the video made cheerleading look cool. I recorded the video and would play it repeatedly, trying to get those moves down in our tiny living room. She returned during one of these little sessions and greeted me with laughter.
“You look ridiculous”, she cackled, “you can barely even get your fat ass off the ground when you jump.”
“Welcome home, Mom. It’s good to see you too.”
Mom was really pissed when she found out Smoke gave two signed Dali lithographs to the landlord in exchange for a few months’ rent on our tiny apartment. She’d become accustomed to much nicer surroundings over the past few years and our current living situation wasn’t up to snuff. Having spent nearly 6 months in the seclusion of rehab, she hadn’t yet grasped that we weren’t the only people who’d found it necessary to downsize.
The early 80’s were tough economic times for a lot of people. The country was in the midst of a severe recession with both unemployment and inflation in double digits. It was not only challenging to make a dollar, but you also had to be creative at stretching it as far as possible.
Smoke discovered the only way he’d have a prayer of legally setting up food trucks on public land was under the umbrella of a nonprofit organization. Meanwhile, Mom came out of rehab expressing an interest in helping people in some way. They put their heads together and decided to start a nonprofit, non-denominational church based organization to help the homeless. Self-supporting through its collected contributions, it received no government assistance and paid no taxes. As president and secretary-treasurer of the fledgling organization, they managed to have a steady income but still needed to stretch it considerably to rebuild the lifestyle Mom had become accustomed to.
The absurd journey continues in chapter 17: “Border Crossings.”
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