A Religious Awakening

Fifty years ago, my faith was in doubt.  Tired of hearing the hell and damnation homilies of the local parish priest, I tuned out every time he spoke.  I knew that I should have been listening, for I feared that I was one of the sinners that he condemned to everlasting fire, and that there was no hope for my salvation.

I did not “do” drugs, proffer myself to men, nor commit crimes against society.  I was, however, not a dutiful daughter who accepted her subservient status in a household that held women with little respect. My parents believed that my sole purpose in life was to work for them, as a household servant, and when those jobs were done to satisfaction, then and only then could I pursue an education.

I did not object to assisting with the care and operation of the house.  What angered me most was that my siblings were exempted from any and all responsibility, including cleaning up after themselves. 

A major part of the problem was that my parents were ultra-conservative and narrow in focus.  To them, the duty of an older daughter was to manage the house and to marry young.  By young, I mean by the age of fourteen.  I didn’t even date at that age, let alone have a serious boyfriend, and I hated housework, so I was a failure in their eyes.

It should be a surprise that I was so affected by what was said for the pulpit, for Sunday worship was not something that my parents faithfully practiced.  They went to church when they felt like it, when the weather was good, when there were no sporting events on television.  And when they did go to church, it was not at the nearest church, but rather one which held the shortest service.

When I left for college in the summer of 1969, I decided to act boldly: I would not go to church at all.  My resolve faded as soon as the first Sunday arrived.  Not wanting to anger God, fearful of blackening my soul any further, I found the Newman center on campus.  The atmosphere was one of welcome.  The music filled me with joy, literally erasing all my negative thoughts and feelings in one fell swoop.

As time passed, my attitude toward the church changed. I believed the good news that I heard over and over during those joy-filled services. I understood that God had not judged me and found me wonting.  Instead, I now knew, He was a loving God who cried when one of His souls lost the way.  He offered peace and salvation to all who believed.  He gave solace, when needed, in times of stress and anxiety.  He loved us, no matter what we might have done.

Several months into that first school year, the Neuman Club organized a retreat up in the nearby mountains.  I had never done anything this before, but it sounded exactly what I needed.

The camp was somewhere east of Los Angeles, a rustic setting nestled in a forest. From the time we arrived at the camp, I felt at peace. All of us hurried inside, anxious to claim a bunk in one of the dorm rooms.  There was no pushing, no domineering, no one person making others feel worthless.

Having never been camping, I was unprepared for the chilly nights and the crisp morning air.  My clothing was not substantial enough to keep me warm, especially when it snowed in the night, leaving about six inches on the forest floor. Nevertheless, thanks to the generosity of those who shared warm mittens and thick sweaters, I stayed warm.

Throughout that weekend, my heart sang.  It was as if a giant anvil had been removed. Like a newly feathered chick, I flopped my wings, and took off.  Faith came at me from every direction.  From the treetops came God’s blessed light.  From the ferns sprang His offerings of love.  From my fellow participants came God’s unconditional love.  From our times of prayer and reflection, came discovery of my love for the God who loved me back.

I smiled until my face literally hurt.  I laughed at the crazy antics of my roommates, and joined in the singing in front of the fireplace at night.  During prayer times, tears poured down my face, yet I did not have the words to explain why.  It was as if someone had reached inside, pulled out all the pain, and filled me with a wholesome goodness.

I do believe that God touched me that weekend.  Not with His hands, for I did not feel the slightest brush against my body. What I did experience was the enveloping of His arms, holding me and making me feel safe. He gave the gift of feeling both loved and lovable.  He made me feel important, and inspired me to continue to follow His way.

When the weekend drew to a close, it was with deep regret that I packed my things.  I hoped to hold on to all that I had experienced.

I would love to report that my life was permanently changed, but it was not.  When at home, I continued to feel inadequate.  Not one day passed without hearing what a huge disappointment I was.  There was nothing that I did that ever pleased my parents, and not once did they give me a single word of encouragement.

When I graduated from college, I moved back to the still stifling environment of my parents’ home.  Pulled down by the never-ending criticism of my unmarried state, my unemployment, and by the wasted years at college, I quickly fell into a state of despondency.  The local Mass situation had not changed, even if the pastors had.  One pastor continued to preach the same old fire and brimstone message about the blackening of our souls.  In another, the Mass was so short you could be in and out in less than forty minutes.

It was not until my husband and I moved into the parish that he had known as a teenager, that the glow returned.  I rediscovered the God who loved me, who sheltered me from the storms of life, and who walked with me every step of every day. 

It was, and continues to be, a community of caring individuals who come together to worship and to pray for each other in times of need.  While priests have come and gone, the overall feeling has not.  We are the parish, the ones who define the atmosphere that envelopes all who step through the doors.

I know that there is a loving God who helps us walk through life’s challenges. He has blessed my life in ways that I am still discovering. 

That is the story of my faith.

A Fresh Idea

            When it comes to getting my hair done, I’m an avowed cheapskate. As far back as I can remember, my hairdos were monitored and maintained by my mom. She cut it, permed it and styled it, all using home care products that were unpredictable at best. I learned my cheapness from her.

            My hair hung well below my hips until I was nine. At that point, after tiring of my cries of pain, my mom decided to cut my hair. We walked to a bus stop, then rode from Beavercreek, a country suburb, into Dayton, Ohio. There, at a shop, I got my first professional cut and perm.

            I loved the feeling when someone else shampooed my hair and ran a comb through it. I was entranced by the parting and snipping that shortened my hair to shoulder–length. I hated the perm. Long rods were wound into my hair, rods which were attached to an electrified pole. The smell of the chemicals cooking sickened me.

I hated my curly hair, but my mom loved it.

            My dad didn’t just hate it, he stated that only whores had hair like min. His words were so hurtful that it was a long, long time before I allowed my mom to get my hair cut again.

            After college it became popular to have an Afro style hairdo. The perm chemicals had improved so they didn’t burn as much, but the smell lingered for days.

I loved the finished product. My hair was only a few inches long. It easy to take care of, requiring only a good combing. The one downfall was that my hair did not take to the perm naturally, and so I had to have second and third dousings in order to get the tightly wound curls that the style incorporated.

            When I met my husband, I had stopped getting perms and let my hair grow out a tad. The problem was that my hair is naturally straight and lifeless. But it was easy to care for.

Shortly after our marriage, I decided to go back to the tight curls, mostly because I didn’t have time to wind my hair into curlers every night and sleeping on them was nearly impossible. As a working woman, I needed to be awake and alert at work.

            We had little money back then, and so when I discovered there was a beauty school in our downtown, it became my go-to for all things hair. I found that one of the greatest the joys of going to the beauty college was that I could get my hair cut for free. Yes, it took a long time. Often hours. Because I chose to go upstairs where all the novices were, every step along the way had to be approved by a supervisor. But it was free! And unfortunately inconsistent.

            After months of this, I decided to stay on the ground floor, where the skills of the students were much better. It still required hours and I had to pay a minimum fee; I think five dollars. Quality varied, and so I had to be flexible in terms of the final product. Sometimes I really liked what they did, most of the time it was tolerable, and sometimes it was downright awful.

            I decided to move over to the south side of the main floor where the operators were nearing graduation. My care was still monitored, but not as closely. I was still getting perms, but only enough to put some life in my normally straight hair. The good thing was that my hair was getting done regularly for a minimal charge.

            After I went back to work and was making a little more money, I found a local shop that only charged eight dollars. It was located in a poorer part of town, in an old house not too far from my school. No appointments were needed, but by that time I had given up on perms, so all I needed was a trim.

            Because of how cheap it was and how close to my place of work, I went there for years. Unfortunately, the quality varied. Sometimes I got a cut that pleased me. But more and more often the operator cut my hair too short, making me look more male than female. Or it was butchered, long in spots, barely showing in others.

            I switched to a shop not too far from home that was run by sisters. The first one I met did an excellent job and she only charged twenty dollars. I returned over and over until I got her sister. She cut my hair the way she wanted it, way too short, almost masculine. It was uneven to the point that when I got home I’d have to do my own trim.

            My stepmom used a salon within walking distance of my home. She only saw one stylist, so I made an appointment with her. I should have known better. My stepmom’s hair was bleached to the point that it looked like straw. In fact, all the time she was with my dad, I wondered if maybe she was wearing a really cheap wig.

            The first few times this stylist cut my hair, she did a pretty good job. But then she decided to do things her way. Once again I ended up with a masculine cut.

            Things changed when my sister-in-law treated me to a cut at a salon out near her home. She had won a Raffle ticket for a free cut and style from an operator that she never sees. Without knowing what they normally charge, I assumed it was in the thirty-dollar range. While she did a great job with the cut, the stylist insisted on fluffing my hair out into a bouncy, plastered helmet. The good news was that I’d never have to go back as it was a good forty-minute drive from home.

Despite my helmet-hair, I discovered two important things: you get what you pay for and there is a difference between a cut and a style. I fell in love with style. Not that my “do” is fancy, because it isn’t. What I liked was having my hair cut evenly, the finished product a blend all the way around.

Despite the long drive, I contemplated returning to that shop. Until I attended a birthday party for a wonderful man that I had known for years. I sat next to his son during lunch, where I learned that his wife was a stylist in a nearby town. The next time I needed a cut, I went to her. I loved the result. I have returned over and over and will continue to go to her as long as she is local.

Now my cuts cost big dollars. It pains me to pay so much, as the cheapskate part of me is still there, but I love the end result. It is well worth it to pay more if, when you walk out of the shop, you feel pleased.

Scars

            Some scars are invisible but powerful nonetheless. Because they can’t be seen, no sympathy is offered, no concerning questions asked.

            But what happens when you are told that your scars will be easily seen? Do you have the procedure or not?

            That’s the choice I faced when I investigated cosmetic surgery after losing eighty pounds.

            The scars on my arms would run down the backside. They might fade with time or they might remain as deep red lines. I didn’t care. I hated the flaps of saggy skin that smacked the water when I swam, so loudly that I could hear the whump, whump as the bags smacked the surface, despite wearing earplugs and a cap.

            I believed that if I could hear it that clearly, then so could everyone else.

            I hated the way my arms looked in short sleeves: huge bags of quivering flesh. I was embarrassed, humiliated and my self-esteem suffered.

            The surgery would remove the bags. I chose self-esteem over scarring.

            After recovering from that operation I investigated additional cosmetic surgery to remove the roll of skin that had pooled around my waist. Even though it was always hidden under my clothes, unless I wore an overly baggy top, the bulge was visible.

            Once again the surgeon said there would be scarring, most likely a deep red line that encircled my waist. My response? I told her that the only one who would see it was my husband. The benefit of the operation would be clearly visible: no roll of excess skin.

            Granted my scars are visible, but the surgery removed the psychological effects caused by extreme embarrassment, by my disgust of my body.

            After recovery, every time I looked in the mirror, I was shocked. Who was this woman looking back at me? She had no flabby arms, no roll of skin.

My new identity was hard to embrace.  Months went by and I still did not recognize myself, did not connect that reflection with who I was now.

Two years later I am still surprised. The scars are there, but they are badges of honor, not of shame.

My Birthday Party

            I had never wanted a party. I was lucky to have been born in August when school was out. It was impossible to hand out invitations, a true blessing. It didn’t bother me when I learned about other kids having parties to which I had not been asked to attend. After all, since I had no friends, who would I talk to?

            One year my younger sister wanted a party. Unlike me, she had friends who would come. And they did, bearing prettily-wrapped gifts. They played pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey, musical chairs and relay races of various kinds. They watched expectantly as my sister blew out all the candles on her cake and then devoured their slices drowning in vanilla ice cream.

            She sat like a queen surrounded by her subjects as she opened her gifts. If she liked it, she’d blush with excitement and hold it aloft for all to admire. If she didn’t, she dropped it to the floor at her feet.

            She was six years old.

            Because my sister had a party, my mother decided I had to have one as well. My birthday is four days after my sister’s, which would place a huge burden on my family in terms of time and money. I didn’t want a party, but it did not deter my mother. She tried to make things equal, or at least pretended to make things equal. They never were and I knew it.

            My mother revered my sister. She placed her on a pedestal that I never had a chance to climb. Celebrating my sister’s birthday was an important event that involved days of planning. Everything stopped on her day. There was no yard work, no housework, no spending time alone. All focus was on my sister.

            So when the PARTY was confirmed, I think my mother felt guilty for not having one for me. Anyway, I was having one despite my loudly voiced opinion.

            To get ready, my mother bought juvenile-designed cards. I recall a clown with balloons. I was thirteen, too old for clowns.

            She made me sign them then ride my bike around the neighborhood delivering them to girls who never talked to me. Few opened the door when I knocked. The two who did looked at me like I was insane. They were right.

            My mother bought princess cut-outs that she made me hang in our windows. I was humiliated. No thirteen-year-old would ever tape up cardboard princesses on a bedroom wall, let alone in a window for all to see.

            I don’t remember anything about the food or the cake, but we played the exact same games that my sister’s friends played. Teenagers don’t pin things on donkeys or run around chairs. They listen to music and talk.

            My mother made me wear my best dress, something way too fluffy for a birthday party. She plastered my hair into an old-fashioned style piled up on my head, the spray so heavy that not a single strand would come loose in a tornado. I knew that I was inappropriately dressed and that if anyone did come, they wouldn’t look like me. There was nothing I could do about it.

            The clock crept toward the given hour. I stared out the window, hoping that no one would come. Then I’d wish that someone would come. I’d sit down on the couch, thinking that if I didn’t look, someone would come. Then I’d look, hoping to jinx the party.

            When I girl from down the street knocked on the door, my heart sank. There really was going to be a party. Two more came.

            My mother went into hyper-mode, telling us where to go and what to do. I spoke only when I had to, moved when I had to, blew out the candles when told and attempted to eat some cake without throwing up.

            The gifts matched the juvenile invitations. I recall a coloring book and crayons, a picture book and some paper dolls, all things that my six-year-old sister loved.

            I would like to share that time flew by, but it didn’t. It’s possible that it only lasted two hours, but it felt like four. There was no joy, not from me and not from the girls who came. It was an exercise only, a pretend party.

            Perhaps this is why I’ve never liked parties for myself. I enjoy celebrating the milestones in others’ lives, but not my own. I love buying gifts for others and watching them open them. I like being with others, watching the joy in their faces and listening to what they have to say, as long as I am not expected to speak up.

            Is that one disastrous party to blame? Probably. But maybe not. Maybe I’m just not a party person.

            What is amazing is that an event that took place sixty-two years ago impacted how I still feel about parties today.

            I wasn’t permitted to have a voice, to express opinions until I went away to college. My father was a bully who saw nothing of value in me except for the possibility of marrying me off to someone with a bit of money. My mother rejected me because I had no interest in being her. My brother was often a friend and playmate, but he could also be cruel. My sister was much younger, and due to some health issues, the apple of my mother’s eye.

            When I learned about middle-child-syndrome, at first I believed that I had fabricated the ways my family treated me. That I had exaggerated it all, that none of the punishments and constraints had ever happened.

            There is a possibility that my memories are distorted, but not to that extrent. I know that I was a victim of both emotional and physical abuse. Those things happened.

            Because of my low position in the family, I felt that I had no voice. That nothing I said or thought mattered. This was reinforced by laughter, taunts and even commands to keep my mouth shut.

            And it wasn’t just at home that I felt powerless. My teachers seldom called on me and so when they did, my mouth seized up and no words came out. My classmates laughed each time and my teachers would give me a look of derision. I learned to sit low in my desk and to keep my thoughts to myself.

            It wasn’t until a kind high school math teacher saw something in me that no one else ever had that I began to speak. Anytime someone was needed to solve a challenging problem, I was the one he chose. At first he let me work in quite, but after a while, he insisted that I explain the steps.

            It was hard, but I spoke.

            Because of his support, eventually I began using my voice in my Spanish class. I tried answering questions in my English class when called on, but somehow I never got it right.

            There was an incident in Spanish 4. My teacher criticized my ac cent. I responded in a stream of fluent Spanish that got me kicked out of class for a week. After that he called on me with great regularity. By speaking up I had earned his respect.

            When I went off to college I was beginning to develop a voice. I could speak up in some classes, but not all. I managed to major In Russian without demonstrating a mastery of the language. I loved to show off in math, but then the department chair told me I was wasting my time majoring in math. He left me both speechless and distraught.

            After college I got a job as a customer service rep for a major furniture store. Day after day I had to answer the phone and be polite as irate customers yelled at me. I had a script to follow. Without those written words, I would have been mute.

            My next job was with the federal government. I had to go out in the field and knock on doors, demanding back taxes. I was terrified the entire time I held that job. I found excuses to hang out in the office, but I couldn’t do that every day. As time passed, as I gained experience talking to total strangers, my confidence grew.

            It was still challenging, but I did what I had to do.

            I had dreamed of being a teacher since I was quite small. When I had my first child I had no idea of what to do with him. Our city’s recreation department had an inexpensive parent-child education class that gave me ideas of activities. As a participant, I also had to teach the little kids at least once a week. I enjoyed it! Sitting on the floor with adoring eyes gave me the power to speak, to sing, to dance, to laugh.

            From there I earned my elementary teaching credential. When I stood in front of my third-grade class for the first time, I felt at home. I loved being the one helping them learn. I felt a deep responsibility to take them further than the curriculum asked and that meant helping them to find their voices.

            Helping them helped me as well. We grew together.

            I discovered that I knew things that many of my peers did not. I led workshops and spoke up at trainings. My principal considered me a mentor and I took that role seriously.

            Being a mentor at work gave me the strength to take active roles in my church, in my kids’ activities and even to initiate a summer educational program. With each success, my voice grew louder and stronger.

            I’d like to report that my voice is freely used, that I have no problems speaking up, but that would be a lie. When in a crowd, I tend to sit back and listen. When with strangers I revert to my childhood silent self. But when I am with friends, I look for opportunities to add something to the conversation.

            While my voice is not loud, it does appear in comfortable situations. I am still reserved, but I am no longer afraid of sharing opinions and thoughts. I love hearing what others have to say, but I also want them to know what I have to say.

            I found my voice. And I love that.

Heat Wave Woes

            When the temperature rises, when the sun beats down on city streets, people get grouchy. Children whine. Parents yell. Teachers lose patience. Workers stuck in sweltering shops make mistakes. Car drivers honk horns as they swerve in and out of traffic lanes.

            The longer it stays hot, the worse things get. Frustrations normally held in check surface. Old hatreds blossom. Minor complaints become major sources of ire.

            Environmental problems make matters worse. Fires erupt that, if the wind is blowing, sweep across the landscape, burning houses, schools and businesses. People die, not just because of wildfires, but also because of heat exhaustion.

            Crops can’t grow or are burned so badly that the fruit is destroyed. The aquifer, which supplies water to roots, dries up. Plants die. Yards turn brown.

            When the lows and highs intersect, tornadoes are born. The high number of fans running taxes the electrical grid. Rolling power cutoffs cause food to spoil. Machines that keep people alive falter.

            So many things happen that make life miserable that it’s sometimes hard to find a single positive about rising temperatures.

            Ask a kid, however, and you might learn a thing or two.

            Sometimes fire hydrants are opened and kids run gleefully through the spray. Backyard swimming pools are blown up. Perhaps it’s only enough water to sit in, but the magic works anyway.

            Footballs are put away: baseballs come out.  Outings to the beach or lake or river are planned. School is over for nearly three months. Television becomes a major source of entertainment. Kid-friendly movies proliferate.

            Cold drinks and frozen treats lift spirits. Water guns and filled balloons cause much running around and shrieking.

            Kids get to stay out well past dark. If they live where there are lightning bugs, they might catch one so as to hold the tiny on and off of light in their hands.

            Badminton and croquet sets come out. Volleyball, too.

            There seems to be so much more to do when it is warm than in the frost of winter.

            Just like any season, summer has its plusses and minuses. How you think about it makes the difference.

            You can bemoan the heat or step outside and watch the kids zip around, smiles on their faces.

            The heat can make us miserable, but it doesn’t have to. It’s just one more thing that nature gives us to deal with as best we can.

Kitchen Disaster

            When we got married, my cooking repertoire consisted of things from boxes, cans or the freezer. I could fry an egg, but not make a hard-boiled one with any consistency. My grilled cheese sandwiches weren’t too bad as long as I stayed focused and kept it from burning.

            My specialty was a fried bologna sandwich. I used only one slice of the lunchmeat, which was cooked in a hot skillet. It had to be turned frequently to keep it from burning. While it was getting hot, in a separate skillet I fried an egg. If I was diligent, the yolk would preferably be a bit soft.

            When done, I’d layer the bologna, the egg and a slice of American cheese on two slices of cheap white bread. I loved it.

            I knew that my new husband wouldn’t want to come home from work to fried bologna, so when I found an offer for a free cookbook on a soup can label, I sent away for it before our wedding date.

            Every recipe looked easy. All relied on some flavor of soup. I had tried a few before our wedding, with mixed results. The meatloaf was excellent but most of the vegetable dishes came out overdone and soggy.

            I wanted to impress my husband with a hot meal. After turning page after page in the cookbook, I decided to make a stuffed zucchini casserole. I liked zucchini, ground beef and whatever flavor of soup required.

            I followed the recipe exactly. It looked pretty good arranged in the baking dish.

            Feeling fairly pleased with myself, when I got home from work the next night, I heated the oven while I changed clothes. When it was ready, I removed the dish from the refrigerator and slid it into the oven. Closed the door. Heard a loud cracking sound.

            Imagine my dismay when I saw the damage. The dish had separated into two pieces, evenly divided down the middle. Shards were imbedded into the squash. It was ruined.

            I broke into tears. My hopes of presenting my husband with an original homecooked meal were as shattered as the dish.

            Not knowing what I could prepare, I searched the cabinets and the freezer. I was still looking when he came home.

            Being the good person that he was and still is, when he saw what had happened, he gave me the biggest hug, then proceeded to cook dinner.

            I never attempted the stuffed squash again even though my husband had explained what I had done wrong. You see, the dish was not meant to go from refrigerator to oven. A more expensive version would have been capable of handling temperature changes. This was a cheap one. I hadn’t known the difference.

            It wasn’t the last cooking disaster, but it had a long-lasting impact.

The Invitation

            I was not a popular kid. I never received a single card on Valentine’s Day even though we were supposed to give one to every classmate. I attended no birthday parties and was never invited over on a play date.

            I don’t blame the other kids. I was a deeply unhappy, troubled girl who couldn’t hide those feelings. My face was in a perpetual frown. My lips were thin white lines. My eyes fought to restrain the tears that poured seemingly on their own accord. I never smiled, laughed or even when on the playground, ran about as joyfully as others.

            At that time, I would have been labelled a sad-sack. I was Grumpy the Dwarf from Cinderella.  I was the cartoon character who went about with storm clouds overhead. I was Eeyore.

            Later when I became a teacher, I understood how my own teachers had failed me. In today’s world a miserable student like myself would have been referred to a school nurse or the psychologist or even Child Protective Services. The stories I could have told would most likely have landed me in a foster home. But that never happened.

            Instead, I moped my way through school, the kid no one invited to anything.

            Until one day in fourth grade a girl handed me a pretty card. She watched with bright eyes as I opened it and read. She wanted me to come to her house for a sleepover!

            I didn’t want to go but my mother insisted. She took me to the store to buy new underwear and pajamas, toothbrush and toothpaste. She made me call the girl and tell her I was coming, get the details as to what time to arrive and what time my mother was to pick me up the next day.

            As time drew near, I became increasingly anxious. I’d never slept anywhere but home. I was terrified about the logistics: where would I sleep, would I have to brush my teeth in front of others and what would happen when I had to go to the bathroom.

            I feigned illness when it was time to leave. My mother made me go.

            To my surprise there were four other girls there. None of them were friends as I had none, but all were in my class. I knew their names, but had never spoken to them.

            We gathered in the girl’s bedroom, clustered on her twin bed. Because I was the last, I got the foot of the bed. I barely fit.

            I don’t remember much about what happened that night, except for the magazine. The girl brought out one of her mother’s magazines. The girls passed around the magazine, taking turns ogling the models and the fashions. All went fairly well until they decided to read the stories.

            The only one I remember was a test to see if you were a lesbian. I didn’t know the term, so had no idea what it meant. As they took turns reading the “signs”, I realized that I fell into that category.

            I had no interest in boys (although, truth be told, I had none in girls either). I was a tomboy with muscles instead of a girly figure. And, worst of all, dark hair on my arms and legs.

            The girls began teasing me, calling me names and scooting as far away from me as possible. Although no one pushed me off the bed, I somehow ended up on the floor.

            The teasing was so bad, so insistent and so cruel that I ran downstairs and told the mother that I was ill and needed to go home. She must have called my mother.

            While I feared my mother and really didn’t like being with her, when her car pulled into that driveway, I was very happy to leave.

            Looking back, I wonder if the girls hadn’t set me up. If they hadn’t planned on taunting me. If that hadn’t been the only reason that they had invited me.

            After the disastrous party, the girls returned to treating me the way they had before. They never spoke to me, played with me, invited me to parties.

            That one invitation could have opened doors for me. Instead, it solidified my place in elementary school society. How sad!

Stepping Out

            When I transferred to the University of Southern California at the end of my freshman year of college, I had no idea what to expect. I had visited no college campuses during my last year of high school, had never seen a residence hall (we called them dorms in the 1970s), and had chosen a major in math just because I found it easy.

            USC was not my first choice. I really wanted to go to Ohio State and live with my grandmother. I didn’t know if her neighborhood was safe, how far she lived from the campus and whether or not public transportation could get me there. My primary purpose was to escape my dysfunctional family. Going to Ohio was about as far away from California as I thought my parents would let me go. Plus, I figured, living with Grandma would give my parents peace of mind.

            They refused.

            Thanks to a full scholarship from the State of California, I could attend any college in the state, tuition-free. I wanted San Francisco State College because they had an excellent teacher-preparation program. I had always dreamed of being a teacher as the classroom was the one safe place where I wouldn’t be hit, spanked, or ridiculed. Teaching, was to me, an honored profession, something to aspire to.

My parents thought differently. They believed that I didn’t have it in me to teach. Intellectually, socially, psychologically. Considering had backwards I was back then, they were right. So, once again, my parents refused. The excuse they gave was that they didn’t want me living on campus and they were terrified of public transportation Their fears made no sense to me.

            My brother also received the state scholarship. He applied to and was accepted to USC as an Engineering major. Because my brother would be there, that was the only college my parents would allow me to attend.

            When September rolled around, my parents drove us down to Los Angeles. My first glimpse of USC was of towering, impressive-looking buildings. Everything was huge. So huge that I saw myself drowning. But I nodded, telling myself that I wouldn’t let that happen.

            After unloading my brother’s stuff at his dorm, I was taken to mine. My room was on the fourth floor, with a great view of what I learned was called the quad.

I wasn’t dismayed by the tiny size of the room as I had been sharing a comparably-sized room with my sister for most of my life.

There were things about it that I liked: the closet was the right width for my limited wardrobe. The bed looked like a couch until it was pulled out from the wall. It was comfortable enough, but then I was only eighteen and so thought anything that wasn’t a floor was okay.

I had a desk and shelves. Wall space to decorate. And more drawers than I’d ever had.

Everything about my new living situation pleased me except for the trek required to get to the communal bathroom. Sharing a bathroom for private affairs was a bit of a shock. But I was okay because it wasn’t home.

My roommate was a haughty, unfriendly rich girl. Her mother arrived every week with a rack of brand-new clothes with tags on and wrapped in plastic bags. A hair dresser appeared like clockwork every few weeks and cut her hair in our room! I couldn’t imagine such wealth until I’d come face-to-face with it.

Shortly after classes began, my brother decided to pledge a fraternity. I seriously doubt that he knew any more about fraternities than I did about sororities. We knew no one who had gone to college and so had no experience with pledging and all that entailed. I wasn’t going to let that stop me. I figured that if he could do it, so could I.

He got accepted into the house that later I learned was for nerds. It wasn’t his first choice. He’d yearned to be at the jock house even though he wasn’t a jock. The only fraternity that accepted my brother was the one for the smart, geeky guys that couldn’t get in anywhere else. Despite the disappointment, my brother grew to love it. For the first time in his life, he was surrounded with nonathletes whose academic goals were lofty.

Next door was a beautiful southern-style building that was home to a sorority affiliated with my brother’s fraternity. They called themselves Little Sisters.

I convinced a rather plain looking girl whom I had befriended in the dorm to go through rush with me. We spent many dinners at that sorority, hoping to be accepted. Looking back now, I bet the sisters laughed at my wide-open eyes each time I sat to eat.

It was my first experience sitting at an exquisite dinner table with rows of utensils on both sides of the plate. Tablecloth and stark white linen napkins. Getting gussied up for a meal. Surrounded by pleasant conversation swirling about. It must have shown, yet they invited me back, time after time.

I was overwhelmed each time. There was no arguing, no belittling, no being punched or kicked or smacked.

I badly wanted to be there, to be one with this wonderful group of young women. My friend was eventually dropped. I understood, even though it made me angry. Her face was covered by acne scars, so many that her skin was permanently dimpled. Her voice was nasally and her wardrobe was as inferior as mine. She was hurt when she was asked not to return. Even so, she encouraged me to continue to try to be accepted.

As time passed, in order to prove my worthiness, I had to participate in a series of activities. The first was a fashion show for a group of women donors. We had to wear our own clothes.

That’s when I noticed how badly I fit in.

The others had designer outfits. Tailored dresses for all occasions. Perfectly cut pants with matching blazers. Scarves and expensive-looking jewelry. Casual clothes that spoke of money.

Only my underwear came from a store: my mother had made every dress, skirt and blouse.

Prior to the show we practiced sashaying down a pretend runway. I was awkward to say the least. I blushed at the thought of swaying my hips. I had difficulty breathing just thinking about parading in front of anyone. (I’d never done that at home as my mother thought such behavior was vulgar.)

Two days before the show we had to submit a 3×5 card with detailed descriptions of each of our three outfits. We were supposed to name the designer, the fabric, the trims, the details so as to wow the audience.

What was I to do? Name my mother? The cheap cotton of my dress? The discount fake-lace and ribbon? I tried to “sick” my way out of the show, but was told that it was a condition of my potential acceptance into the house.

The day arrived. I carried over my arm an A-line dress made of white cotton, trimmed with fake gold around the neck, a plaid plain-looking skirt with a matching cotton blouse and the only pantsuit I had, a bright orange cotton, bell-bottom affair that probably glowed in the dark.

Behind the stage we were given racks to hang our clothes. Except for high school PE, I had never changed in front of other girls. As I watched them get dressed in their first outfits, I realized that they were skinny and I was fat. There was no way I’d fit in with these girls!

I picked up my clothes to make a hasty exit, but the house mother blocked my way. I was told that under no terms was I told I had to go out on that stage.

With tears in my eyes, I put on the dress and stood in line. Slowly it inched forward as impeccably dressed girls went before me. When only two girls were before me, I had a clear view of the stage, the walkway and the room. To my eyes, I believed there were at least one hundred richly dressed women in the room.

My turn came. I took a deep breath, squared my shoulders and walked out on that stage. As instructed, I stopped next to the emcee. As she read the description of my homemade dress, I felt my cheeks blush and my eyes fill with tears.

I knew by then that I didn’t belong there, that I would never belong and that I was foolish to think that I could. However, I couldn’t runaway, so I took a deep breath and stepped out.

I did not sashay. I did not swirl or twirl or even plant my hands on my hips. I did not stop when I got to the end, but spun around and not-quite dashed to the back of the stage.

I changed into my next outfit, knowing that it only served to show how very poor I was. When my turn came, I stepped out once again. And then did the same for my third outfit.

When the fashion show part of the luncheon ended, we found seats at the tables, surrounded by wealthy women. I don’t remember the meal, but I am willing to bet that I ate nothing. I probably only offered cursory responses if anyone bothered to speak to me. I probably sat there with tears streaming down my face.

On the way back to campus, I berated myself for being so foolish to think that I could be a part of a sorority. My poverty, my poor upbringing, my complete lack of exposure to wealth, meant that if I was invited to join, it would only be because they needed a poor girl as a token representation of their efforts to diversify.

Stepping out on that stage was one of the most difficult things I’d done, but I did it.

Being Considered

            Until recently, I’d never given much thought to how many times those words pop up.

            For many of us, it began when we were quite young. “Being considered” to acceptance into a private elementary school. In some religions, you are “considered” for participation in Holy Sacraments.

            You’re “considered” when applying for a scholarship, job or internship. Same when trying to get your first credit card as well as when purchasing a car or home.

            Admittance into the college of your choice requires a waiting period while you are “being considered”.

            Over and over throughout life we sit around, waiting impatiently, as our merits are being weighed. Are we smart enough, talented enough, skilled enough? Even though physical appearance is not supposed to be a defining characteristic, it is if your skin color isn’t right or you weigh too much or aren’t “manly” or “womanly” enough for whatever image the college/job/internship wants to project.

            At my age I thought I was well past “being considered”. I’m a retired wife, mother and grandmother. I’m not trying to join any clubs or organizations. I have my routines that are familiar and comfortable. I’m not looking for adventure. I just want to be accepted as a write.

            This week I received a welcome email from a literary magazine that I’d been longing for. A story I’d submitted was “being considered” for publication, contingent on my making the recommended edits.

            Of course, I made the changes and resubmitted the story, knowing full well that it will still fall into the category of “being considered”.

            Ever since I began sending out stories, I’ve sat, with baiting breath, hoping to “be considered”. It’s what every writer dreams of. Knowing that someone, somewhere, sees value in what you’ve written and wants to include it in some type of publication.

            So, I won’t complain about “being considered”. Instead I will count my blessings as I wait, with fingers crossed, for the next word.