Deconstructing Tracy

This was supposed to be a full book. As I am currently home with Hospice care for stage 4 cancer I’m uncertain as to whether or not I’ll be able to finish, and publish. So… without further ado, I’ll publish what I have done right here, right now and will add chapters to it as I have the energy/focus to do it. I hope you enjoy my “Riches to Rags” story. I definitely enjoyed living it!

Deconstructing Tracy

by

Tracy Petry

A Note from the Author

Come to think of it, this whole book is a Note from the Author, so never mind.

The day started out fine.  I got up a little early to spend a few minutes with my husband over coffee. Our dog, Coda split a toenail last week and it came off a day or two after I noticed it, so he’d been limping his ninety pound self around and it took a little longer to get him to go up and down the stairs from the deck to the ground.  But it was all good, the toe was healing.  The weather was good, a little overcast but it was November.  I hate this daylight savings thing.  Hate, loathe and despise it.  I had to wait until it was full light out in order to get my first job related thing done, because where I was heading, there was probably no electricity.  I was also pretty sure there would be roaches, so I made sure I dressed appropriately, with my pant legs tucked into my socks.  Tenants had been evicted, and where there’s an eviction there’s always some kind of infestation. Or worse.  There’s worse?  Oh, yeah, there’s worse.

Should I back up a little?  I should probably back up a little. I might sound like a lunatic shortly otherwise.  My name is Tracy.  I’m fifty something years old.  I live in North Carolina, but I was born and raised in Connecticut, where I lived until just a few years ago.  I grew up in an affluent little town on the New York state line where I attended the top public schools in the nation and didn’t see my first poor person until I was almost twenty years old.

There were people like Robert Vaughn, David Cassidy, Giancarlo Esposito, the entire cast of As the World Turns wandering around Main Street when I was growing up.  The town was founded by people like Colonel Knox who hung out with Mark Twain, Pierre Cartier and all sorts of “eccentric” folks with piles of wealth and breeding who had elegant estates – because people didn’t have “houses”, they had estates, and manors and things they called cottages that were bigger than most high schools. There was even a Revolutionary War battle fought in town and Benedict Arnold marched down Main Street.  Or something like that.  I do remember being tortured I don’t know how many times with field trips in school to see an old tavern that had a cannonball lodged in the outer wall.

Flash forward to the present because I don’t live there anymore.  I live in a trailer park now – well, a “mobile home community” as I generally refer to it. And don’t get me wrong, I’m happier here than I’ve ever been in my life but some days I wake up and ask myself how in the heck I got here.

I started working when I was sixteen years old. Aside from that first high school job in a grocery store, I worked in corporate America for thirty years. I hired, I fired, I ran IT departments, I dispatched medical drivers coast to coast, I designed Fine Jewelry departments, I wore nice clothes and had huge mahogany desks with three computer monitors on them.  I owned a house, I bought new cars, I took vacations.

Flash forward to the present again because I don’t do any of that anymore.  Not only do I live in a trailer park – well, a “mobile home community”, but I work here, too.  There are actually sixteen parks owned by the property management company and I work in all of them.  And in the office.  More specifically, most of the time the work I do is cleaning the vacant homes.  And do evictions. 

Welcome to my glamorous life.

I’m married, by the way.  My husband grew up in the same small Connecticut town.  He was three years ahead of me in high school and I thought he was cute.  So, twenty-five years later I ran across him on Facebook.  A year later we got married.  He’s got a college education, has a degree in marketing, and now he lives in a trailer park – well, “mobile home community” and he does the maintenance and remodeling work on the same trailers I’ve been  cleaning.  He’s not sure how he wound up here, either.

In 2014 we were looking for a place to live, close to Charlotte where he was sure there would be some work for him. Personally, I just wanted to retire and write books.  So, we looked on Craig’s List, found a couple of places to check out and off we went. One of them was advertised as a Rent to Own mobile home. I thought it was a pretty cool idea, owning a little place of our own without a huge mortgage.  We could pay the place off in just a couple of years and then live there for just the lot rent fee.  Money was tight and the idea was pretty appealing. Until we got there. And saw the place. The park was nice enough, there were only a couple of trailers there and woods all around but it was small. And dark.  And dirty.  And needed painting at the very least.

I decided that I was just not ready to be A Trailer Person.  I’d watched too many episodes of My Name is Earl and I couldn’t do it.  So, we moved into a rental house on the other side of town instead. It was a little dumpy and the neighborhood wasn’t great, but it was a house.  With a foundation and everything.  We found out when the dust settled, and the snow melted that we were in the ghetto. I had the distinct feeling that God wanted to humble me a little bit.  I really had no idea how humble he wanted me to be.

A year later one of our neighbors, in the ghetto, wanted to move out and started looking on Craig’s List for something else. She found an ad for Rent to Own mobile homes. And she wanted to look at one.  But she didn’t have a car.  So, I offered to take her.  We wound up on the other side of town, looking at a little trailer a park owned by the same company that owned the place we’d looked at the year before.  I remember thinking about what a great sense of humor God must truly have.  Our neighbor wanted to fill out an application on the place, so we drove one town over to their office and she took care of the application. In the meantime, I spied the cutest little trailer across from the office and by then… I was ready to humble myself just a little more and be… A Trailer Person.  I went back into the office and took an application for myself and my husband.

Okay, now I’ve probably confused readers even more, so let me back up just a little further.  Heck, let me back all the way up….

            Here I am, pictured with my brother and my cousins.  Am I smiling?  Get used to it.  If you’re looking for a Rags to Riches story about some kid who grew up eating dirt who went on to be some brilliant brain surgeon, this isn’t that book.  I grew up in New England affluence and now live in a southern trailer park.  So, it’s more like a Riches to Rags kind of tale.

I was born on April 3rd, 1967.  I mention the specific date in case anyone wants to get me a gift or drop me a card.  I was born in Norwalk Hospital and grew up in Ridgefield, Connecticut. 

            Back in the 1950’s when my parents got married the hot place to live was Bridgeport, Connecticut.  It was a thriving small city with lots of opportunities and a high income base.  My father was raised there.  They couldn’t afford to buy a house there at that time, so they bought a couple of acres of land in the town of Ridgefield, instead, which was a fairly inexpensive place to buy land and build a house.  In the years that followed the situation totally flipped.  Bridgeport is now kind of a dangerous place to live, and Ridgefield is one of the most affluent towns in the country.  So, anyway, they bought the land and they built a house that they lived in right up until they couldn’t live independently anymore.  It wasn’t a huge house, but it rambled because my father kept adding onto the house.  I ramble sometimes, too.

            My parents had one child who died as an infant – which I didn’t really know anything about until just recently – and then my brother came along in 1959.  I arrived in 1967 and I think I was a surprise.  Or an afterthought, I’m not sure which.

            I remember stuff from my childhood, like material stuff.  I remember toys I had and books I read, stuff like that but I don’t remember ever having any actual conversations with members of the family.  They just weren’t big on talking about things.  At least they weren’t back then.  I remember the jungle gym in the yard, it was huge.  I remember the swingset the playhouse.  The playhouse was more of a shed, really but I used it as a playhouse when I was little and then later stored my bikes and things in it.  When I was a teenager it was repurposed as more of a gardening shed.

            My grandparents on my mother’s side came to live with us when I was about five.  My grandfather was retired, and my grandmother never had a job and never learned to drive.  I can’t even imagine.  So, the house grew again, and an in-law apartment was added for them.  My grandmother had rheumatoid arthritis and was in a wheelchair most of the time they lived there.  She was really controlling, and my grandfather was kind of a meek guy, very nice but very compliant.  He used to play badminton in the yard with me until my mother yelled at me one day to leave him alone because he was old. 

            We got chickens.  I think it was so my grandfather would have something to do.  I don’t imagine retirement was something he really enjoyed.  He liked to be busy.  We didn’t eat the chickens, just the eggs, but I refused to eat chicken at all until I was in my twenties.  I had a couple of favorite chickens – Pollyanna and Doodle-do.  I taught them to do tricks. 

            I’ll just say I wasn’t close with anyone in the immediate family.  I love my cousins in Milford, but we saw them maybe twice a year.  It wasn’t very far from our house to theirs, maybe an hour but to my parents that was a huge deal, so we didn’t go except around Christmas and at the Fourth of July for my other grandmother’s birthday party. 

            I remember having a dresser drawer with lingerie in it when I was about eight or ten years old.  I specifically remember a piece that looked like a French maid’s outfit.  Why would I have those things as a kid?  Not sure. 

            I remember going to my great uncle’s farm up in Nottingham, New Hampshire once.  Maybe twice.  He was a cool guy.  He sold antiques out of his barn.  We so seldom went anywhere at all that when we did go it was a huge deal.  My mother was agoraphobic, apparently and on a downward slide.  By the time I was ten we weren’t going anywhere anymore.  Once in my life I remember them going to dinner at a restaurant.  Sometimes they would go to my mother’s brother’s house and they had four kids all around my age, but even those trips got less and less frequent. 

            We had dogs when I was growing up.  There were a couple of collies that I barely remember because I was so young.  Then there was Lad.  He was a collie/shepherd mix.  And there was Angus who was supposed to be a purebred Scottie, but he was pretty obviously mixed with something else.  These dogs lived in a pen in the yard.  It was about a quarter of an acre that was fenced in for them and there were dog houses out there, but New England weather is brutal and we had ice storms all through the winter in the 1970’s and the dogs were outside.  Lad was a fantastic dog; smart and so sweet and he wasn’t allowed in the house.  I have more hostility about those dogs than the lingerie in the drawer.  Lad died of heartworm disease. 

            There was one more dog I wanted to mention.  It was a little yappy thing, Chihuahua mixed with something and that dog was not only allowed in the house, but it slept in a baby crib in the master bedroom.  It had more clothes than I did.   

            My mother played with dolls.  The woman had issues.  But nobody talked about anything so who knows what those issues were.  She always had Valium in the house.  I know this because she gave it to me on occasion.  I’m not going to spend a whole lot of time talking about those early years because honestly, I don’t remember a lot about them. 

I just remember enough to know that everything I built later was built on a cracked foundation.                       

My teen years were a train wreck.  I was                                                                                     

Welcome to the train wreck of my teen years! 

Seriously, the 70’s and 80’s were a great time to be a kid.  We had the best music ever.  And the clothes?  The big hair?  Come on, that was a fun time. 

            It was a little less fun as a really awkward kid.

I was socially awkward.

I was physically awkward. 

I was a little too tall and a little too developed at a young age.  In junior high there was this kid who was a year younger than me who just tortured me relentlessly.  He called me “Jugs”.  Just a couple of years ago he actually sent me a Friend Request on Facebook.  I was like, no, dude.  Just… no.  I deleted the request and he sent it again.  He sent me a message after the second time I deleted the request, accusing me of not accepting his request because he’s gay.  Yeah, he’s gay now.  I wrote him back that I deleted the request not because he was gay, but because he was a dick

            Speaking of gay – gay didn’t exist in Ridgefield in the 80’s.  There was no such thing.  I mean, we said stuff like, “That’s so gay,” and “you’re so gay” but we didn’t know what it meant.  At all.  I didn’t know gay was actually a thing until I was in my mid-twenties.  And that was gay men that I found out about.  I was in my thirties by the time someone told me that women were also gay.  I was shocked and confused.  I couldn’t figure out exactly what the point of that was.  Vaginas were creepy.  Whatever.

            Years later I ran into an old friend, a girl I used to hang out with in high school.  She told me she was gay.  I asked her when that happened, because I didn’t know.  She told me she’d always been gay.  I didn’t know what to say, so I asked her, “Hey, all those times we were hanging out in school, we weren’t dating, right?”  She laughed and called me an idiot. 

            When Facebook first became a thing, I looked up a bunch of people from high school.  I found one of the guys who’d graduated a few years ahead of me and friended him.  His profile said he was married, so I started clicking on pictures because I couldn’t wait to see what kind of woman married him.  Yeah, it was a dude.  Another one I totally missed. 

            So, sheltered much?  Want to know how sheltered?  I didn’t see a real live black person until I was in junior high and we took a field trip to NYC.  Sure, I’d seen them on television, but I guess I thought that was makeup or something. 

            I understand how politically incorrect that all sounds, but I’m being honest about the bubble I grew up in.  Now, in high school there was one black kid per graduating class.  It was like a rule or something, I don’t know, but every class had one.  Their parents usually worked for IBM and this was where they were transplanted for work.  None of them stayed long.  There was even an incident where one family had a cross burned on their lawn in the early 1980’s.  I didn’t find out about the cross burning thing until just a year or two ago.  Another one of those things that didn’t happen in a nice town, so no one talked about it.

            It wasn’t just that we didn’t have black families in town, we had like one Jewish family, maybe two Asian families, I don’t think there were any Hispanic or Latino families at all.  We didn’t have anyone around whose first language wasn’t English.  Of course, we knew that people in other countries spoke other languages, most of us just didn’t realize that there were people in our country who didn’t speak English.  We were taught about world history, we just didn’t actually see any kind of cultural diversity in our daily lives. 

            Around this time some of my friends became unavailable to hang out after school because of something they called Religion and it was some kind of a class.  I was afraid at first that it was some school thing that I was supposed to be doing and was going to flunk out for not being at this class, but they told me it was at their church.  I didn’t have a church.  I’d been to a church once for my cousin’s wedding but I didn’t know what classes had to do with it.  They said it had to do with Jesus. 

            Now, I knew who Jesus was.  He was the baby in The Little Drummer Boy cartoon I saw at Christmas every year.  They kept talking about him getting nailed to a cross and I was freaked out about these places that they went on Sundays where they thought nailing babies to crosses was a good thing.  I asked my parents to take me to church so I could find out about God.  They took me to a Methodist church in town and I sat through the music, which was nice, and then some guy got up and talked, and then some other guy got up and talked some more, and then there was more music, and then everyone got up to leave.  I wondered why God hadn’t shown up.  I was more confused than ever, and I never asked to go back.  I remember there being a big cross in the church, but it was empty, so I guessed it was there as some kind of warning to babies.     

            So, here I was growing up in lily white Ridgefield in the 80’s in my pink sparkly bubble, with my big hair and my overly developed chest.  I was a clueless dork.  In my early childhood years I developed a love for acting and being on stage, but if someone in a class looked at me I’d want to cry.  I loved the theater, though.  So, in my freshman year of high school I tried out for the fall play.  When I was on stage it wasn’t me people were looking at.  It was a character, and that was safe.

            The play was called The Rhimers of Eldritch and it was kind of an abstract drama with dark tones to it.  I got a part in the show although I was told that freshmen weren’t generally considered for roles since there would be lots of after school rehearsals, etc.  The cast was made up mostly of juniors and seniors.  I know that they’re called Theater Geeks but I thought they were the coolest people in the whole world.  One of them in particular.  His name was Marty and his was adorable.  He had this grin that let you know that he had trouble in his future.  He was dating pretty much every girl in the school, except for me. 

            One day we were at rehearsal after school and I heard him backstage laughing and cutting up with the other kids and my heart melted but it was like I heard the voice of God in my head telling me, That’s the one.  But NOT NOW.

            So, OMG I was afraid to even look directly at him after that.  He and I were in the spring musical together, too.  Hello, Dolly!  I didn’t look directly at him then, either.  He graduated at the end of my freshman year.  I went to the graduation ceremony.  I was pathetic.  I kept the copy of the school newspaper that listed where all the seniors were going to college, because he was in there.  Pa-the-tic.

I remember a few of my classes; I was already typing 90 words a minute by the time I hit high school, so they put me in “computer class”.  I think there were punchcards involved. Was the brand of that computer Lanier?  I think it was. That’s the kind of crazy factoid that sticks in my head.  I remember Theater Arts class, which I loved.  I remember Psych class, and our teacher, Paul Bruno.  He was wonderful.  It was only fitting that the psych teacher was a little crazy, himself.  He used to ask, “Who owns this problem?”  It’s a simple phrase that I hung onto and still use today.  Whenever there’s a conflict I ask, “Who owns this problem?” and if it’s not me, then I can let it go.

I remember the smoking lounge.  It was more of a courtyard than a lounge.  On one side of the building they’d set aside a sort of patio area for kids to hang out.  There were a couple of benches and a grassy hill.  It was a place to escape for three minutes in between classes for a quick smoke and to touch base with friends.  I carried my jacket from class to class in the colder months just so I wouldn’t freeze in between.  During the really frigid New England months we’d just huddle in the alcove outside the door for warmth.  The smoking lounge was the Great Equalizer.  Kids from every walk of social life hung out there; you had some jocks, from freaks, some geeks.  There were cheerleaders and brainiacs, and of course all the kids who just didn’t seem to fit in anywhere.  Like me.

I’d carry my jacket with me from class to class the whole day and slip outside for a quick smoke in between classes.  Of course, now that’s all gone.  I think they built an addition to the school right over it.  It seems like maybe teenagers were a little more stable when we didn’t have so many rules for our own good.

The student parking lot was bigger than the teacher’s parking lot and the students had nicer cars, too. 

The summer after my freshman year of high school I tried out for a local community theater production of Blithe Spirit and got the title role in the show.  The role of the ghost.  The cast included a couple of people I knew, my best friend Linda tried out too and got the part of the maid.  She had two lines in the show.  The part of Madam Arcati, the whacky medium was played by a girl named Philine.  She was in college already, and her brother Erland was in a couple of movies (The Wanderers and Stir Crazy).  She was one of those larger-than-life personalities I loved being around and we hit it off immediately despite the age difference.  She’d brought some guy with her to audition, and he landed the role of my character’s husband, Charles.  His name was Mark.  He was a sophomore at Syracuse University, and I thought he was just the cat’s ass.  He was tall and handsome and kind of geeky but very manly.  Especially to a fifteen-year-old girl.  I was nuts about him immediately.  He and Philine seemed to be close but they didn’t give off that couple vibe so I figured the field was open.

            Yeah.  Like I even knew what to do with an open field.  Did I mention I was pathetic?  Oh, I was embarrassing.  But I flirted with him and to my surprise he flirted back!  I was too young to drive yet so Mark and Philine drove me everywhere that summer.  We went to the movies, we went to Friendly’s for dinner.  We hung out at Philine’s house almost every night and watched movies and goofed around.  Eventually he copped a feel, and I think we went parking one time before the summer was over.  I decided I was in love. 

            Did I mention I was pathetic?  Oh, I was embarrassing.

            Mark went back to college at the end of the summer, and he gave me his address up there so we could keep in touch.  I’m pretty sure that him wanting to me to keep in touch didn’t mean to write him a letter every single day

But I did. 

I did that. 

Every day. 

I could have bought my first car with the money I spent on envelopes and stamps.  Remember, we’re still talking about the summer of 1982 and there was no internet, no email, no texting.  In fact, when I called him, it cost me money because we were still paying for long distance back then.  The long- distance phone bill was probably the only reason that I didn’t follow up each daily letter with a daily phone call.

            Embarrassing.

            He wrote back a few times.  Like a normal person.  I saw him when he came home for winter break.  By the time he came home the next summer I had my license, and my first car; a 1974 Pinto.

            The summer after my sophomore year I had my license and my car, and I auditioned for another summer play.  This time it was A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum.  Philine had a summer intern position in the city and Mark just wasn’t all that into the theater, he’d only auditioned the year before because Philine had dragged him there.  I got the female lead again; the role of Philia, the virgin. 

The cast was mostly people I knew, and I had a wonderful time.  I couldn’t really sing but it was a musical comedy so being able to hit the right notes wasn’t important as long as you were in character and making the audience laugh.  And I made them laugh.  I loved the energy of live theater.  There were a bunch of guys from the RHS class of ’82 theater gang who came to see the show, and on some level I was really hoping that Marty would come with them but I never did see him out there in the audience.

No, Marty wasn’t in the audience, but Mark was.  And I was desperately in love with him.

And Jeff.

Oh, and Doug.

I didn’t mention Doug yet.  Back up again.  In my sophomore year of high school our school hosted a group of exchange students from England.  Doug was being hosted by the family of this kid named Allard – I think I had a crush on Allard, too, and Allard used to hang out with Marty, so it was a weird circle.  Anyway, Doug was on the bus with me for a few months before I got my license and my car, and I fell in love with Doug.  He was adorable, and the accent just made me all warm and goofy.  When he went back to England after a few months I wrote to him.  Not every day.  It was more like every three days.  Because the price of air mail stamps was higher. 

Pathetic. 

Embarrassing.

And Jeff.  Jeff worked in the grocery store I’d gotten a job in.  He was in college but home for the summer and he had the most amazing smile.  And his hair was to die for.  He worked at the grocery store and then at night as a watchman at a local tech company.  I once cooked a lasagna and brought him a big plate of food at his night job.

I am a terrible cook.  I hate cooking.  I cooked him dinner.  And he kissed me.  I’m pretty sure that’s as far as that went.  But Mark was back in town and we saw each other all summer.  Except when I was apparently cooking terrible meals for other guys.  At the end of the summer Mark told me that he thought he loved me.

O.M.G.

His declaration of love was almost enough for me to stop obsessing over other guys.

Almost.

            I was working as a cashier and making some pretty serious money.  At $1.67 an hour I was stashing away a pile of cash.  Of course, a hefty amount of my income was going towards long distance phone bills and postage, including those pricey overseas stamps, but I had a little savings account, and I was putting money away.  I had a goal in mind. 

The goal of going overseas on the student exchange program to England. 

To chase that cute British kid all the way home.  And then marry him right then and there and not ever come back to the States again.  That was the plan.  In my head.

            Were it possible to die of embarrassment I’d be six feet under by now.

            Mark graduated from Syracuse that year.  I went to his graduation.  I rode up with his mom and his sister.  They stayed in a hotel nearby and I stayed in the dorm.  He begged me not to tell his friends how young I was. 

After the graduation ceremony Mark and I went back to the dorm and then he said he was going to go say his goodbyes to a few people.  He left me alone in the dorm room until about two in the morning.  I was asleep by the time he came in.  Bless his little heart, he tried to put some major moves on me that night after he crawled into bed, but I panicked at the last critical moment.  Yeah.  That moment. 

As it turns out that was a pretty crucial turning point.

            My friend Linda was obsessed with the thought of going on the exchange program to England, too.  Of course, for her it was more a matter of wanting to see England.  I just wanted to see that guy.  And when I put my mind to something, I’m pretty unstoppable.  Even at the age of sixteen.  I saved up that money and Linda and I went on that exchange trip at the end of our junior year.  I left my Pinto at her parent’s house, and they took us to the airport to see us off on our great adventure. 

            I wrote religiously to my friends at home.  I think I called my parents once to let them know that I’d gotten there.  The trip was amazing.  Linda, our friend Erica and I had host families who lived pretty close to one another and we hung out all the time.  We weren’t really required to go to classes because let’s face it the American high schools are so far behind the Brits it’s ridiculous.  At least that’s how it was in the 80’s.  Oh, and we were the only girls in the whole school.  That made it a little more interesting.  But these guys had been in all male schools since they started their education, and they weren’t sure how to talk to girls.  For once I wasn’t The Most Pathetic person in the whole school.  Pretty close, but not the award winner.

            I called my parents once when I arrived to let them know we’d all gotten there safely, the plane hadn’t been hijacked to Cuba or anything.  I called them once more on the day we were departing to remind them that I was coming back, and they’d agreed since Linda’s folks got us to the airport that they’d get us back home again.  They instructed me to look for the Connecticut Limo Service when I got to the airport in New York, and they’d make a reservation for us.  Thanks.  Sixteen year old kids need to be wandering airports alone.

            I did see Doug about a half a dozen times while I was there.  The thing I hadn’t counted on was that he graduated shortly before I arrived, so I didn’t get to see him in school every day.  I made a total ass of myself the last night of the exchange, throwing myself at him in the living room of my host’s house late that night.  It was the most awkward date I’ve ever had, and believe me, I’ve had some pretty awkward dates.

            Doug was an awesome sport, though.  He was as clueless as I was when it came to that sort of thing.  He continued to write very sweet letters to me for the next couple of years. 

            I checked the mailbox every day.

            I wasn’t out of the country very long, but it seemed like so much had changed while I was away.  I went back to my job at the supermarket, and the friends I’d gone on the trip with and I stayed very close but there was a different vibe now with some other people. 

Specifically, Mark. 

The summer was coming to an end, I knew he’d be heading back to Syracuse soon for his senior year and I only saw him a handful of times.  Things seemed to have cooled.

            I know!  I’ll write him even more letters this year!

            In the fall of my senior year I decided that

maybe if I had a cooler car, I’d be cooler, too.  So, I gave up the Pinto and bought a 1974 (yeah, still a ten-year-old car) Datsun 260Z.  It was sunshine yellow with a black interior.  They only made the 260z model that one year and I got what was probably one of the only automatic transmission models they produced.  I used to drive to school every day and sometimes I’d pick up two or three other people.  The car was only a two-seater so one or two people would have to lay down in the hatch-back, but it was better than taking the bus, which was totally uncool.  I was back to working after school and socking money away.  Most of the time I was living at Philine’s parents’ house since they were traveling back to Holland for a year.  They were Dutch.  Philine’s mom was in a POW camp in WWII in the Dutch East Indies. 

My parents didn’t seem to care that I was unaccounted for most of the time.  In fact, I’m not even really sure that they noticed.  My friend, Cathy called the phone that was hooked up in my bedroom for about a week before she gave up and called the main number in the house.  My father yelled down the hall for me for a few minutes before telling her he’d have me call her back.  I’d been gone for about two weeks already at that point.

So, I had this really cool car, which was making me feel more cool.  It must have been working because suddenly all of Philine’s older male friends wanted to get with me.  And she was throwing me at these 30 year old men.  I wasn’t even sure what to do with them.  She had this boyfriend at the time who used to stay up later than her so that after she went to bed, he could try to fool around with me.  I didn’t really know how to say get the *#*& off of me, yet but this was my friend’s boyfriend and it was pretty uncomfortable.  I’m not sure why he was with her if he was going to act like that.  I guess he didn’t actually dig her all that much because he actually faked going to prison to get away from her a few months later.  I wasn’t sorry to see him go.

Although Mark was now out of college and back living at his mother’s house just one town away from me, I saw less of him than ever.  He said he was busy, he told me that his new job kept him running and he was exhausted and trying to adjust to life after college, etc.  He just didn’t seem to have time for me anymore but wouldn’t break it off with me, either. 

So, I just kept taking up with any cute guy I saw.  I wasn’t sleeping around, but I was definitely fooling around a lot more than most.  There were times when I’d go out on a date with some guy I’d met at the grocery store and I wouldn’t even know what his name was.  And by the time we actually got out on the date I was too embarrassed to ask. 

When spring rolled around a lot of my friends were doing something they referred to as S.A.T.s.  I wasn’t really sure what that was, but I knew it was something to do with college.  I wasn’t sure how you got to college but woke up early one Saturday morning when I knew they were doing this test thing and I just showed up.  I paid a fee and took the test. 

            I got a pretty near perfect score, despite the fact that I’d never studied for that (or any other) test in my life.  So, I figured I’d go to college, and I started asking a lot of questions.  Turns out everyone else in my class had been sending out college applications for months so I was way behind in the process.  I sent some out to schools that had cool names and got accepted to American International College.  It was in Springfield, MA which was only about two hours from Ridgefield.  I got some loans, I got a grant, I got a little scholarship and I was pretty excited.  I didn’t know what I was going to do there, but I was going.

My senior year ground to a close and I didn’t even really want to go to graduation.  It was just another event where there would be a lot of people and I’d be awkward.  I was afraid of tripping in the gown, I didn’t have any big party plans after the ceremony.  I was a dork.  I didn’t go to junior or senior prom.  Some of my friends came to graduation, like Philine and Mark.  I should probably mention now that Mark brought a date with him.  Yeah, he’d met Nancy at Syracuse and had been seeing her the whole time.  He finally did dump me but wanted to be friends.  And he wanted me to be friends with Nancy too.  I could have thrown up.  I think I did throw up.  I know for a fact that I cried night after night and wrote all kinds of sappy teenage poems about my broken heart that would never, ever mend.  How dare he cheat on me!  Didn’t matter that I’d been running around with every shiny guy in sight.  That was different.  He cheated on me!

I ran into Mark in a mall about five years later.  He’d married Nancy and was already divorced.  He said, “I guess I made the wrong choice.”  I was like, “Yeah.  Ya did.”  Looking back now I’m glad it didn’t work out for us.  I loved the attention, and I loved the idea of him, but I’m pretty sure I didn’t have a clue what love was.  I’d never really seen it before, and I sure hadn’t felt it from anyone.  It occurred to me around that time that aside from a few recent friends in my teens no one had ever hugged me.  Ever.  The first time one of my friends hugged me I didn’t know what to do.  What was she doing?  What did she want?  It was weird!

My family wasn’t big on affection.  Or talking.  Or showing emotion – unless it was anger.  Anger was okay.  But don’t cry.  Not even at funerals. 

So, I get to college.  I don’t know what I’m doing there but I’m signed up for classes and I’m thinking maybe someday I’ll be a lawyer or something.  I liked the Business Law class we had in high school.  The first day I was on campus I got my stuff all unpacked in my room up on the eighth floor of the dorm.  I had a roommate, I found out that her name was Claudia, but she wouldn’t be there for at least another few days.  I sat up in the room that first day, with the window open so I didn’t get the room smelling like smoke and watched everyone down below wandering around in pairs or small groups already.  Everyone was feeling just as lost as I was in the new environment, but I felt like I was the only one sitting by herself inside. 

After spending my entire school career feeling like a dork and an outsider, I realized that I just didn’t want to do that anymore.  I figured it was now or never.  I got up and walked out of the room.  I went downstairs and out the front door, found the first group of kid and started talking to someone.  They’d just met that day, too and everyone was feeling a little awkward.  There was this one cute guy in the little gang, his name was Jay and he was pretty local.  He was living on campus but his home was about twenty minutes from the school. 

I wandered around with them for the rest of the day, had dinner with them in the dining commons and then hung out with them through the evening.  I didn’t really know how to relate to guys other than to flirt with them.  So I flirted hard with this Jay guy and wound up taking him back up to my room at the end of the evening. 

Now, I was still a virgin and terrified of actually having sex because no one ever talked to me about sex.  But I had him up in my room and we fooled around, but that was it.  We fell asleep for a while and then he got up and left pretty early.  A little while later I discovered that he’d left his sunglasses on my desk, so I figured that was a good excuse to go talk to him again.  I wasn’t really interested in him after talking to him for a few hours the night before, but he was someone to hang out with.  I got dressed and went down to the second floor to find him.  I remembered what room number he said he was in.  I knocked at the door of room 223.

The door opened but it was his roommate who answered the door.  A big cloud of pot smoke wafted out.  Jay wasn’t there but the roommate offered to give him his glasses back and then invited me in to smoke with him.  I went in. 

Because I still have contact with this person and have such respect for him, I’m going to change his name here.  We’ll just call him Jack.  Jack was about the coolest guy I’d ever met.  It was the mid 1980’s and he had a mullet.  His hair was thick and dark, and he looked bad ass.  He had an earring and wore dark sunglasses.  He was from the Bronx, which was about as exotic and cool as anything I’d ever encountered.  I thought I knew what cool looked like before, but I was wrong.  This was the new face of cool. 

I hung out with him and we smoked pot and he pulled out a couple of beers just around lunchtime.  We walked over to the dining commons and had something to eat, then went back to the room to smoke and drink a little more.  He ‘d already managed to make some friends with the guys on his floor and they came by to drink and smoke with us.  We hung out the whole day and into the night.  Jay didn’t come back at all.  When it got very late I didn’t feel like going back upstairs so I lay down on Jay’s bed.  To my surprise Jack threw a blanket and pillow down on the floor beside Jay’s bed and slept there.  He reached up and held my hand. 

I was in love.

Again.

Jack and I were like peanut butter and jelly.  We did everything together.  I only went up to my own room once in a while to get another few changes of clothes.  I drank a lot in high school, so I was used to booze.  I’d smoked some weed, too so that wasn’t anything new.  But there were so many substances I hadn’t tried yet and they were everywhere at college.  Coke, mescaline, blotter acid, mushrooms, you name it, we had it. 

Jack took me to Boston University one weekend, early in the school year.  His friends from the Bronx were going to school there, they had an apartment off campus and there was all kinds of stuff going on that weekend.  Stuff that included tickets to something in New York that they had tickets to.  Mind you, they had tickets for themselves and for Jack but that was it.  The tickets had been purchased months before I came along, so I’m not sure why I went to Boston with him, but I did.  We hooked up with them and the three of them took off for New York, leaving me at the apartment with their roommate.  He invited me to tag alosng to a party on campus with him, and I went.  I think that was the first time I tried coke, and I loved it.  I did manage to lose track of the roommate and it occurred to me at some point in the middle of the night that I was somewhere in Boston and had no clue where the apartment was, or even what the roommate’s name was by that point.  To this day I’m still not sure how I got back to that apartment, but I remember waking up there, with Jack and his friends just returning from New York around dawn. 

Drugs and sex became my way of life in my one and only year of college.  I had this gray bathrobe I wore all the time.  I mean all the time.  Getting dressed in actual clothing was a rare occasion.  Basically I stayed in my bathrobe and sweatsocks.  Jack and I started dealing drugs out of the dorm room on the second floor, which is where I took up residence early on in the school year.  The roommate I’d originally hooked up with disappeared, I’m assuming he just left the school entirely though I can’t remember now what the exact circumstances were.  Jack and I sowed the two single mattresses together with twine and made ourselves a nice big bed.  We had a fridge and a toaster oven in the room so we ate most of our meals there.  There were plenty of delivery services available in town and we ordered out a lot, too. 

We always had great big garbage bags full of weed to sell in dime bags and then started branching out into some of the harder stuff.  Jack had a car on campus – mine was still in Connecticut – and we’d drive down to Spanish Harlem in the middle of the night to buy bricks of coke.  We’d park on the street and I’d stay in the car with the engine running, car in gear and my foot on the brake in case I needed to take off and go around the block a few times just to keep moving.  Jack would pay someone on the street in front of one of the buildings to walk him up to the dealer’s place.  The guys on the street only had small amounts on them.  But they’d provide protection for a quantity buyer to get up to the apartments and back down to the street again.  We’d do lines of uncut coke in the car all the way from New York to Massachusetts. 

We also started picking up quantities of mescaline, mushrooms and blotter acid.  We loved the hallucinogens.  I remember my face hurting from smiling for nine hours at a time. 

We had epic parties on campus.  Barrels of grain alcohol punch, kegs of beer and every bit of debauchery imaginable.  We bought a six foot long blow-gun and tried to shoot the darts into tires of cars parked on the street below our second floor dorm window.  Because of the neighborhood there were bars on the windows on the lower floor rooms.  It probably wasn’t a good idea to squirt lighter fluid on the inside of the dorm room door and set it on fire.  The flames would go out pretty quickly and we thought it was hysterical.  At the time. 

I drank way too much and spent lots of time on the floor in the bathroom.  We had a cat in the room, which was against the rules.  The cat was white and we named it Rehab.  We made custom bongs from gallon sized apple juice jugs with a Pringles can on of it, and a glass lantern on top of that.  We called them SuperBong. 

Once I was sitting in the room, bored and alone and noticed that the walls were cinderblock.  I took a black indelible marker and started outlining the bricks in the wall.  I loved Pink Floyd.  Can you guess where this is going?  I was soon working on a mural in the room.  I sent other people from the floor to the school store to buy poster paint for me and I spent the next two weeks working tirelessly; there was a long row of walking hammers, there was a schoolmaster, there was Momma whose arms became the Wall.  Every character from the album cover was on the wall.  I snorted coke, I smoked pot, I drank, and I painted.  Friends brought me food from time to time and checked on my well-being and my progress.

It probably shouldn’t have been such a huge surprise that I was invited not to return to that school for a second year.  I hadn’t actually been to any of my classes in months.  Jack decided to transfer to a college in Manhattan.  We moved out at the end of the year, knowing that things would never be the same.  I went back to Connecticut and got a job.  He moved back in with his parents in the Bronx and commuted to college in the city.

He bought a motorcycle, and I was instantly in love with that.  His first bike was a Honda CB750 and it was awesome.  We spent lots of time on that bike, cruising around, going to see friends, having adventures.  He even taught me how to drive it – kind of like the Rainman; slow, in the driveway on Sundays only.  I got a bad-ass black leather motorcycle jacket and boots for Christmas that year.  Or maybe it was Channukah.  They were Jewish.  I wasn’t. 

They were Jewish.  I wasn’t.  This was gonna be a problem eventually and I was the last one to know it.  I still didn’t even understand what Christianity was, never mind what being Jewish was about except that they had awesome holidays.  And they were concerned that I wasn’t Jewish.  It was like another club I wasn’t eligible to join.

My first job when I got back to Connecticut was working for a statuary company called Kenneth Lynch and Sons.  It was an odd name because Kenneth Lynch’s sons hated his guts and wouldn’t even speak to the old man.  And he was old.  I think he was in his eighties.  He made all the benches for the World’s Fair back in 1939.  He made the eagles on the corners of the Chrysler Building, and the Pegasus on the Reader’s Digest Building, and the clock on Fifth Avenue in NYC. 

He was old.  And he was mean.  The old bastard made me cry every day for ten months.  I think he had dementia because he’d tell me to do something and when I followed his explicit instruction, he’d yell at me for doing it.  I went out for lunch one day and couldn’t force myself to go back, so I drove to the local grocery store, bought myself a sandwich and a newspaper and found another job before the end of the day. 

I was still seeing Jack when I started at my next job.  I landed the position of Service Advisor at a local car dealership.  It was a Lincoln/Mercury, AMC/Jeep/Renault dealer.  I’m kind of surprised that spellcheck recognized Renault.

Did I know anything about cars?  My brother was a mechanic.  He’s eight years older than I am and we never really bonded, but he was a mechanic.  Me?  Not so much.  I didn’t know how to pump gas – okay, give me a break, it was the 80’s and most stations were full service at that time, so… don’t judge me.  So, how’d I score a job as a Service Advisor in a car dealership?  Blonde hair and big boobs.  I wasn’t afraid to use them, either.  It was a little tough at first to get the mechanics to take me seriously, but I didn’t care.  They were a decent bunch of guys, there was a weekly paycheck, and my boss wasn’t making me cry every day, so it was an improvement over the last job. 

Winters were hard in Connecticut.  Tons of snow and ice and the roads were narrow, and the hills were steep.  My little Datsun Z was rear wheel drive and all the weight was in the front.  I used to load cinderblocks in the hatchback and go up steep hills in reverse all winter.  I got tired of doing that and traded in my sports car on a 1984 Jeep CJ7.  It was only two or three years old and I had the guys in the shop look it over for me before I made the trade.  I worked there so they gave me a decent deal on it. 

I was so excited to get that Jeep.  I handed over the keys to the Z – and I’m still kicking myself for that over thirty years later – and got the keys for the Jeep.  I was the last one out the door that night.  I locked up the shop and got in my new Jeep.  I put the key in the ignition and suddenly noticed that there were three pedals.  It hadn’t even crossed my mind that it was a standard transmission.  Did I mention I didn’t know how to drive stick at that point?  Yeah.  No.  It was a long, rough ride home that night.

I also didn’t know that back then you had to lock in the hubs on the Jeep to get it to engage in our wheel drive.  It wasn’t just a switch on the dashboard or a lever to throw.  My first snowstorm in the Jeep was an epic fail.  An epic embarrassment the next morning when I got to work and told the mechanics in the shop that the four-wheel drive was broken.  There was nothing wrong with the Jeep.  There was something wrong with the driver. 

This was where I was working when Jack and I split up.  It was an amicable break, but my heart was shattered.  It was his idea to end things and honestly, he was right.  We were growing in different directions.  He was still in college and living that kind of life, I was working and living this kind of life.  Our schedules and priorities were completely different.  We talked it out, cried it out and decided that we would still be friends.  We still hung out.  Actually, we still slept together but we were no longer a couple.

I wasn’t sure what to do with that.  I still loved him.  My friend, Sue set me up on a blind date with this guy she knew, and we went out for dinner and drinks.  It’d been so long since I’d had a first date, I didn’t know what the standard protocol was anymore.  So, I drank too much and went back to his place.  What could go wrong with that? 

Mind you, I’d only actually been with one other guy, despite all the fooling around I’d done.  So, when this new guy dropped his pants, I wasn’t sure what was going on with what I was seeing.  Had Jack just been super well-endowed, and this guy was normal?  Or had Jack been average and this guy was really tiny?  Seriously, it was tiny.  I didn’t know what to do, so I faked my way through it, got up, got dressed and went home. 

It was all down hill from there.  I didn’t go out with that particular guy again, but I became a serial dater.  I’m not even sure that dating is the right word for what I was doing.  I wasn’t actually interested in a relationship with any of them, I just wanted to see if I could get them.  Once I had them, I lost interest.  One of the mechanics I worked with was married, but he was cheating on his wife with one of the girls in the office I was friends with.  I guess I figured if he was good enough for her, he was good enough for me.  Did I feel guilty about it?  Not at all.  I didn’t want to take him away from anyone, I just wanted to try him out.  One night they both came to my apartment, then he took her home, and came back. 

About that time, I decided I’d had enough of the garage job.  I went for an office job in Norwalk doing data entry for a company that manufactured high end leather goods.  It was the late 1980’s and this was my first time working on a computer.  It was an IBM mid-range mainframe, System 38.  We didn’t actually have computers on our desks, we just had terminals and my job was to sit there all day taking the piles of handwritten order forms from the customer service people and typing them into the system.  Tedious work, to be sure but it was a good gang of people in that office and they made the day pass. 

I’d gotten myself a little apartment in Westport, in the basement of a huge house on Main Street.  The Jeep had been replaced by a Mercury Topaz.  I was still hanging out with the guys from the garage at night, one of them in particular from time to time.  Things were going pretty well for the most part.  Until I started puking every afternoon. 

I didn’t need the test to come back positive for me to know what was wrong.  I remember there only being one real option offered, and I took it. 

There was no discussion of resources should I choose to have the baby.  There was no discussion of adoption agencies or anything.  They just scheduled me for the procedure, which was covered by my insurance company.

I got a friend to drive me.  I had a brief discussion with the mechanic, and he was relieved that I was just getting things taken care of.  He was off the hook.  My friend brought me home after getting a prescription filled for me and I sat in the shower until the water ran cold, then went to bed for two days.  

The following weekend my friend, Linda was moving up to Cape Cod to live with her parents.  She was leaving the Connecticut college she was attending and would be starting in Boston in the fall.  It was July Fourth weekend and I offered to drive her up there.  I’d never been to the Cape before and had no idea that my decision for us to leave right after work on a Friday evening was in fact a very bad idea. It took us like seven hours to make a four hour trip.  The traffic took my mind off the events of the week, anyway. 

I stayed for the long weekend and came home.  That next week at work I met a guy.  This is a recurring theme – I met a guy.  He worked in the building next to ours and came out to grab something from the food truck that came through the parking lot at 10:00 every morning.  He was tall, broad shouldered and handsome.  He had long, shaggy blonde hair and rode a motorcycle.  He was everything I wanted – at least for a little while.  He also had a psycho ex-girlfriend who used to call me in the middle of the night.  That didn’t last long. 

He was a nice enough guy but one night he looked like he was thinking about getting a little handsy with me in an unfriendly manner, so I told him to take his best shot because he was only getting one shot.  One of us was gonna be leaving that apartment in a bag. 

The little basement apartment suited me just fine but like the boyfriend it didn’t last long.  About six months after I moved in the homeowners decided they needed to let their deadbeat son move home, so I was going to have to look for another place to live.  I searched the papers for a couple of weeks and looked at some places, but I couldn’t find another place I could afford where they were willing to take a chance on a twenty-one year old.  My last choice was to look at the Roommate Wanted section.  I didn’t want to live with anyone, but I didn’t want to live in my car, either. 

I found an ad that said, “Humorless need not apply.”  That was enough to get me to pick up the phone and call the number, which I recognized as a Georgetown number, which meant that I’d probably be living a couple of miles away from the house I grew up in.  The guy answered the phone and he seemed cool enough.  After we chatted for a few minutes and I found out that the rent was about the same as I was paying for the apartment, he invited me to come see the house.  I got right in the car and drove over.  It was going to be a little further from work but I didn’t think it was a big deal.

The house was cute.  It was right across Route 7 from the Branchville train station.  Two bedrooms upstairs, a kitchen, living room and bathroom downstairs.  A nice wrap-around porch and a cute back yard.  Something in the cute back yard caught my attention immediately.  The motorcycle.  Bad-ass.  The guy was named Ben and he was turning forty that year.  He worked during the day as a house painter.  He and his brother had a house painting business.  By night he was an auxiliary cop in Wilton, so he had a gun.  A gun and a motorcycle.  Double bad-ass. 

We talked and seemed to be getting along great.  He didn’t need a roommate because he couldn’t afford the place on his own, he just wanted the company and to have someone in the house when he was in Rhode Island visiting his girlfriend.  An offer was extended to me to move right in.  I accepted.  We decided to go out for a drink to celebrate.  I asked to get a ride on his bike.  He said he would take me on the bike, but he didn’t have an extra helmet.  I grabbed mine out of my trunk.  It was fate.  It was destiny. 

It was a year and a half of drinking and partying with his friends, who were all between twelve and fifteen years older than I was, but they accepted me into their circle without question.  If I was living with Ben, then I was under their protection. 

It was during this period that I lost my first car.  To the repo guy.  Yeah, while I was working at the car dealership, I purchased a brand new Mercury Topaz, which was one of the first on-demand all wheel drive sedans.  I guess I just didn’t realize how much of a financial burden it was going to be paying rent and making a car payment.  I also didn’t realize that if you fell behind on payments, they would actually come get the car.

 Imagine that!  I was at work one day and a tow truck showed up and away went the new car.  I was bummed.  And confused!  I grabbed a ride home with a co-worker who didn’t mind going a little out of their way, and the next day I started taking the train.  Good thing God put me in a house that was right across the street from the train station!

Ben became like the big brother I never had.  Oh, wait, I did have a big brother.  I keep forgetting that, even now.  We just weren’t close.  Ben was like the big brother I always wanted.  He watched out for me, hung out with me, poked fun at me and made me Rice Krispy Treats whenever my little heart got broken.  I had a lot of first dates when I lived with Ben.  Not a lot of second dates.

Maybe because he would come sit between me and my date on the couch and ask things like, “Will we be seeing you at breakfast?”

            Sometimes he’d leave his handcuffs hanging from my bedroom door.  Sometimes he would wait until he heard noises coming from the bedroom before barging in with an exuberant, “Hi, honey, I’m home!”

A 21-year-old female moving in with a 40-year-old male stranger.  What could go wrong?  No, seriously, nothing went wrong.  He and I became great friends.  He even indulged my idiocy when I figured I needed my own bike.  He got out the Bargain News – yes, another newspaper, on actual paper… and found a few used bikes for sale he thought we should go check out.

We spent a whole weekend driving around looking at these bikes.  I’d fall in love with it at first sight and he’d kick the tires, walk around it a few times and then he’d gently lay the bike down on the ground.  He told me that if I could pick it up off the ground on my own, I could have it.  I couldn’t pick up the 750cc I so desperately wanted, but when I saw the little red 400cc Yamaha I knew it was mine.  He laid it down, I picked it up, I forked over $400, and he drove it home for me.

I barely had money for groceries back then and I’m not sure how I justified the expense of that bike, plus the insurance on it and the registration but there I was with a motorcycle.  Now I was the bad-ass.  At least in my own mind.

My roommate and I spent the next couple of weekends in deserted parking lots while I tried to get the hang of the bike.  I was fine when the bike was moving. I could zig zag around the cones, turn corners, accelerate and shift.  If the bike remained always in motion, I was great.  The problem I had was the whole stopping thing. I had the same problem when I was a kid trying to ice skate – I couldn’t get the hang of stopping on the ice by using the skate, I could only stop by falling over or crashing into a rink wall. I dropped that bike so many times. I dragged my feet trying to stop, wore out the soles of my boots… I had some good rides, but eventually we decided that maybe I was better off sticking to passenger status, and I sold the bike to someone else.

Thus ended my brief bad-assery.  Well, almost.  The other thing I bought while I lived with Ben was a Smith and Wesson .38 Special revolver.  Because that was a good idea.  Ben used to be gone for a week or even two weeks at a time and I was still a nervous nelly in the house alone.  I probably couldn’t have hit the broad side of a barn but it made me feel better to have it in the house when he was away.  Looking back as a current owner of multiple guns I’m not really positive that I even had bullets back then. 

            I think Jack came over once or twice.  I think he was in between girlfriends at the time.  I think somewhere in the back of my mind I figured we’d get back together eventually. 

            I was working then at a manufacturing place.  We made high-end leather goods; handbags, belts, braces, etc.  I started out in their order entry department.  People took orders from stores over the phone, wrote them down on a form and handed them off to us to enter into the computer system.  I could type really fast and I did well in that position to start out.  We worked on an IBM midrange mainframe and I was pretty fascinated by it.  I was more fascinated by one of the programmers who worked in the computer room, but more about him later. 

            I got paid vacation and I took two weeks.  I decided to go visit my friend, Sue in New Jersey.  Sue and I got to be friends in kindergarten, so we went back a few years.  She was engaged to this total doofus I really had no use for, but her heart was set on him, so I put up with him when needed.  He was a music major in school and was in a band.  I didn’t have a car at that point and I’m trying to remember how I even got to New Jersey that time, but I was good at snagging rides.  We went out to a bar one night to a gig the fiancé was playing in and started drinking.  Next thing I know it’s morning and I’m waking up in a sleeping bag in a tent… in the Catskills.  With some dude.  He was in the band, too, from what I gathered later.  He was in a couple of bands and one of the bands he was in was playing in a music festival up in the mountains and somehow, I wound up there, too.  We stayed up there for a couple of days and then he dropped me back in Connecticut on his way back to Jersey. 

            I still had another week off, so I got myself to a bus station and went up to Boston to see another old friend; Linda.  We went out to a bar – do you see a pattern forming here? – and she hooked up with some guy, so I found someone, too.  Queen of the One Night Stands.  I’m not sure I even got his name.  It was the 80’s.  That’s the way we rolled.

            About a year and a half after I moved in I started looking for a roommate to replace Ben.  Ben finally decided to get engaged to the woman from Rhode Island he’d been dating for like twenty years and he was moving there to be with her.  I put ads in the paper – remember doing that?  Remember newspapers and classified ads and landlines?  I ran ads, I interviewed people. 

            One candidate was a guy who worked as a painter with Ben and his brother, Peter.  So, I knew the guy had a job, and had two people vouching for him.  Best of all I was not attracted to him in the least so that problem was off the table.  Unfortunately, it all turned out to be a ploy to get a date with me, which got me riled to no end.  After about six weeks of shopping around for a roommate I was coming up empty handed.

            This was about the time I heard that Ben’s brother, Peter was also looking for a roommate.  His last had just moved out.  We got together for dinner and drinks to commiserate over not being able to find roommates and decided to just move in together.  The house he lived in belonged to their father and had been built by their grandfather.  It was a cute little cottage in the village of Rowayton, about three miles from where I was working.  So, I ditched the Georgetown house, packed my stuff and moved once again.

The Rowayton house.  I didn’t realize when I moved in that it was going to be such a long-term thing.  I wasn’t really what I’d call much of a planner.  The cottage was cute, and the yard was huge.  Peter and I hit it off in a platonic kind of way, which was a good thing.  We hung out, went to movies, went grocery shopping together.  We fell asleep on the couch together watching TV a lot of nights.  He dated a little.  I dated a little.  We didn’t get in each other’s way.

He had a dog, an older black lab.  I thought I wanted a dog, too.  Did I have the time for one?  Not really.  But I wanted one.  Like I said, not much of a planner.  I went to a local rescue group and came home with the biggest dog they had.  It was a Great Dane/German Shepherd mix who was about three years old and had baggage I can’t even begin to describe.  The first time I left him alone in the house he trashed the whole place.  Ate the sofa.  Tore open a fifty-pound bag of dog food.  Crapped all over the house. 

Peter took him back to the rescue group the next day.  They then told him it was the third time he’d been returned.  Had they told me he had issues I would have either chosen a different dog or been a little better prepared for him – you know, with at least a crate or something.  But Peter knew I wanted a dog, and wanted me to be able to have one, so he helped me purchase a Shetland Sheepdog puppy at a local store.  I didn’t know what puppy mills were at the time. 

I still didn’t know what they were two years later when I bought the second Sheltie at the same store.  I had no business having two dogs.  I could barely pay for my own food, never mind their food and their vet bills.  I also worked a lot of hours and didn’t know much about dog psychology at all, so they were horribly unsocialized, completely untrained and wanted to kill anyone who walked into the house.  

I guess this was the point where I realized that I hadn’t been back to my parents’ house in a few years.  That I hadn’t talked to them on the phone or anything.  That they hadn’t attempted to contact me, either.  Not my parents, not my brother, no one.  It was kind of a freeing sensation, and at the same time it was kind of… insulting?  I’m not sure what word I’m looking for and that’s unusual.  I’m generally pretty good at finding words. 

Remember phone books?  I was in the phone book.  If anyone was looking for me, they could find me.  Old friends found me all the time.  If someone wasn’t finding me, it was because someone wasn’t looking for me.  And I didn’t really know any better.  Where you grow up is where you learn what normal is.  My sense of normal wasn’t… normal.

It was almost strange to spend time with my roommate’s family.  We went to one of the brother’s home for almost every holiday.  We had his brothers and parents over for cookouts in the summer.  When I was growing up we saw one set of cousins on a fairly regular basis – like three times a year and another set maybe once or twice a year.  They didn’t live very far away but again, what’s normal?  If it was an hour’s drive it was halfway across the planet or something. 

When I was in college, I was a pretty big fan of cocaine.  I loved the stuff.  I loved the high, I love playing with it on the mirror, cutting up the lines.  To this day if I hear something that sounds like a razor blade tapping on glass I get jittery.  But I left that behind once I started working full time and had to get up every morning.

My new roommate, however, was thirteen years older than me and still didn’t have that sense.  He was only really doing it on weekends when I first moved in, but that gradually changed to almost every night.  He’d disappear up into his room saying he was going to lay down and take a nap and I wouldn’t see him again for a week.  Thinking about it now – there was only one bathroom in the house and it was downstairs next to my bedroom.  His bedroom was upstairs.  If he was using the bathroom, he must have been sneaking down after I went to bed.  Or peeing in a bottle upstairs.

He’d get really paranoid while he was high.  Some nights he’d come down into my room and wake me up, whispering that there were people out in the yard, and then he’d just stare out the window, peeking through the blinds for hours.  I finally told him if he did it one more time I’d shoot him – yeah, with no bullets in the gun – and I’d never do time for it when they did the autopsy and see how much coke was in his system.  Self-defense, your Honor!

I loved coke when I was in college, but I knew it wasn’t exactly conducive to getting up and going to work so I managed to stay away from it while the roommate was completely engaged in it.  In fact, seeing what it did to him made me not want to join in, although I’m quite sure he would have gladly included me in the festivities at any time.  Peter ran a painting business and before long that was in jeopardy.

I was an enabler.  I freely admit that.  I was still a stupid kid, myself and it made all the sense in the world to just cover for my friend.  For years.  For years I made excuses to his friends, family, the guys who worked for him.  I made excuses about why he didn’t show up for Easter dinner or why at Christmas he fell asleep on the couch for the whole day.  After about ten years that came to an end.

I tried to get him to stop.  I did.  But if you know anything about addicts you know that they won’t stop unless they really want to.  I begged.  I pleaded.  I tried bribes.  I reasoned with him.  I threatened him.  I organized an intervention.  He came to the intervention high as a kite.  The last remaining people who gave a damn about him kept their word and walked away from him when he refused the help that was offered.  I was all he had left as far as friends went and that would bite me on the ass years later.

I went to Al-anon meetings because at some point I realized that I’d made his problem into my problem.  I think it was the night I waited for him in the driveway with a baseball bat, ready to beat him vigorously about the head when he finally came home.

During this fluster-cluck of bad decisions on his part I guess I was doing my best to make some grand decisions of my own.  I had a friend at work named Nicki and she was making less money on the job than I was, yet she always seemed to have nice new clothes, jewelry, she had a nice apartment and then came the new car.  I asked her one day how she was able to afford all that when I knew very well what they paid her. 

She told me she had a night job, too.  It was no big deal, she just went to this house in West Haven every night and worked for an escort agency.  She asked me if I wanted to make some extra money too. 

So, being the wise individual I was, I said, SURE, count me in.  After all, it was just sex.  I didn’t see what the big deal was.  I was the Queen of the One Night Stand anyway, why shouldn’t I get paid for it?  I went and bought lingerie and drove up to West Haven one night after work to meet the people who ran the agency.

No, really, it was like a legit agency.  The couple who ran it ran it out of their house and they had an 800 number hooked up, ads were run in the Personals in the newspaper.  They used bouncers from local bars as drivers and we had beepers.  Yeah, beepers.  We were all cool and hi-tech.  Jim and Amy were their names.  Jim was a rage-aholic.  Simply put, he was an ass.  He yelled and screamed at Amy every minute he was in the house and told us to, “Sell your crusty holes.”  A real charmer.  I think I was the only one he didn’t yell at and I’m not sure what that was about.  We were all just grateful when he’d go out drinking and leave us alone in the house for the night.  Jim and Amy and that whole short-term nightmare got written into one of the murder mysteries I wrote many years later about a serial killer knocking off prostitutes. 

The first time was weird.  The call came in, the client was looking for someone and I fit the bill, so my driver brought me to his house.  It was a nice house.  The guy obviously had some money.  He was tall and good-looking.  He wasn’t twisted, he wasn’t ugly, he wasn’t anything that I’d imagined a guy would be to hire someone to come over and have sex with him.  We had a glass of wine, we chatted, we did the deed and I left.  It was my indoctrination.  The clients weren’t paying us to come over, they were paying us to leave.  Some of them just didn’t want the entanglements of a girlfriend. 

Oh, don’t get me wrong, there were some twisted ones, too.  Harmless, at least in my experience but twisted.  See, there were three levels of service.  The first was massage, and that was manual gratification.  The second was escort, which was plain old intercourse.  The third was domination which involved humiliation, light beating, toe-sucking, that sort of thing.  That one paid the best and there was no intercourse involved but you had to be creative.  And you had to not laugh.  And that was hard sometimes.

We had a variety of regular clients who called pretty much every week.  One we called Minute Man and I’ll leave that to you to decipher.  I guess I stayed with the agency for about six months.  I got myself a little nest egg in the bank and quit.  It was just too hard going to work all day and then staying out half the night. 

There was a running joke at work, something about as long as things broke, Tracy would always have a date.  I guess I went out with every repairman who ever set foot inside that huge complex.  The HVAC guy was a favorite of mine.  Yeah, he was married but that didn’t really so much matter to me at the time.  Apparently, he had other girlfriends as well, one of whom was pregnant at the time and he was dodging her like crazy.  I didn’t care.  He was cute.  He had piercing blue eyes like I’d never seen before. 

I saw those eyes again about ten years later – in the face of a little girl with MS whose mother worked with me at a different job in a different town.  Her mom told me the girl’s father was a dirtbag she’d slept with for a few months who turned out to be married.  I asked her if he’d been an HVAC tech.  She asked how I knew.  Yeah, that was a comfortable conversation.

Anyway, I went out with the HVAC guy, the computer repair tech, the electrician, the plumber… I wasn’t really looking for a relationship, I was just looking for occasional company.  And I found it. 

One weekend I remember just being tired.  It was more like weary than tired.  I declined all the usual Saturday night invitations to go out and do stuff and went to bed early.  I remember falling into that king sized waterbed when it was barely even dark out that summer night and falling asleep immediately, which was weird for me because I never fell asleep without some kind of struggle, but that night I did. 

I slept like a log, right through the night and woke up earlier than I’d probably ever woken up on a Sunday morning.  My roommate was still sleeping off his latest binge and the house was quiet and I had no idea what to do with myself at that hour of the morning.  Most of my friends were probably just getting to sleep.  I sat on the couch and just felt…restless. 

And then the weirdest thing happened.  It was like a voice in my head saying, “Get dressed and walk to church.”

I was scared to death for a minute!  Now I was hearing voices?  Go to church?  What a crazy idea!  But I was too unnerved not to do it.  I found a dress in my closet that wasn’t obscenely short or lowcut and put on some pantyhose – because back then you just didn’t go anywhere without your L’Eggs!  I didn’t have a car at that point and was taking the bus to work so I just started walking.

It was summer and even though it was early in the morning it was clear it was going to be a scorcher of a day, and humid.  The whole summer so far had been like Africa.  But I walked the mile or so down the road in my dress and heels.  I passed by the first little church I saw because I just didn’t think that was the right one.  Another quarter mile down the road was this beautiful modern looking church and that’s where I wound up.  I walked in and got a bulletin, picked a seat on a pew towards the back and wondered when the bolt of lightening was gonna strike me dead where I sat. 

There was no lightning.  Just this really weird feeling that I wasn’t used to at all – peace.  It was amazing.  People started coming in and a lot of them said hello.  The choir came in and started singing and it was incredible.  I’d sang in the high school choir and we did a lot of religious music and I loved it.  We used to do pieces from Handel’s Messiah every Christmas and our chorus teacher would say, “When you sing, you pray.”  It didn’t make sense to me at the time but now, now it did.  I finally was starting to get it.

The pastor came out.  He was young and hip and upbeat.  Totally relatable.  And down to earth.  Pastor John is what everyone called him.  His wife sang in the choir and could hit notes only dogs could hear.  Their young kids were present in the church and well behaved.  I didn’t get a lot of the biblical references in his sermon because I never read the book but he made it all relevant to every day life and I knew I wanted to hear more.

When the service was over I didn’t even want to leave.  I shook the pastor’s hand on the way out and he invited me to come back.  I knew I would.

But first I had to make it home.  It was sweltering by the time I left the church and the walk home seemed so long in a dress and pantyhose and heels.  By the time I reached my street I had take my shoes off my blistered feet and I only made it halfway across the lawn before walking straight into the Koi pond to sit down in the cool water.  With the fish.  They didn’t seem to mind.

It was my introduction to religion, and I was hooked.  The idea of forgiveness was amazing.  I knew I’d already pretty much blown life and didn’t see how God could ever love me, but I wanted to try to straighten out.  I had never really felt loved before.  I threw myself into the whole church thing with everything I had.  I joined the church.  I joined the choir.  I joined every single committee I that had an opening.  I spent more time at the church than I did at home. 

I even read a little of the Bible.  Not much, and only the New Testament because the Old Testament just confused me, but I tried.  They made me a Deacon and I served communion.  And then they let me give a few sermons while Pastor John was on vacation.  I had no idea what I was doing but I did it.  Pretty much the story of my life.  Clueless but overly involved!

Unfortunately, after a few years of complete dedication to the church the materialistic natures of the congregation shattered my idea.  I had finally gotten a car and it was kind of a beat up older BMW.  It was what I could afford.  I’d left the manufacturing job for a job in construction project management in Greenwich and was making a little better money but I still wasn’t able to finance another vehicle.  I parked the car in the church lot one Sunday and heard one of the other deacons remarking to someone that they didn’t know why that piece of junk was in their lot.  Wow.  It was eye opening.  I backed off soon after and started looking for another experience.

And then the Mormons knocked on my door.  Yep, the Latter Day Saints.  Adorable young missionaries I fed every Friday night for months as we worked our way through studies. 

I attended church, which was alllllllll dayyyyy Sundays and had studies during the week.  I really like so much about the church; the Family Home Evening thing, the welfare program they had, the level of sincerity in the congregation was much higher than what I’d experienced already.  The whole Book of Mormon thing was disturbing, though, since it contradicted a lot of what I’d read in the King James Bible. 

We went on trips together.  The guy who started Jet Blue was a member of the congregation and he flew the whole church out to the Temple in Navoo, Illinois for the day before it was dedicated so even us non-members could take the tour and see a Temple.  It was definitely cool.  It was a piece of American history, if nothing else, being a rebuild of the original temple which was one of the first in the nation.  And, of course I had my eye on every eligible Mormon in the congregation.  I wasn’t sure how to attract a good one and I’m pretty sure I made a complete ass of myself.  Fortunately, that petered out pretty quickly. 

So, tats, anyone? I’m a fan. I’m in my 50’s now and haven’t gotten any lately but I don’t regret any of the half dozen I got in years gone by.  Every one of them has a story of some sort, don’t they?

When I was in my early twenties, I had a friend named Amy.  Amy was planning to relocate from Connecticut to the coast of Oregon. She bought a 20+ year old VW camper – you know, the kind with the pop-up top and the hammock and the rear seat that’s a bed?  Anyway, she bought this rusted up ol’ thing and got herself a couple gallons of Bond-o and pretty soon she was packing up to go.  

I didn’t think it was a great idea for her to make that trip by herself because the thing had a top of speed of 45 and it was going to take like two weeks for her to get out there.  So, of course I offered to use my two weeks of vacation time from work and go with her.  That’s a great plan.  We only got as far as Pennsylvania the first day and we camped out on the edge of an Amish farm the first night.  We listened to the crickets as it got dark and we got ready to go to sleep.  I was on the bed, and she was in the hammock.  For about ten minutes she was in the hammock, and then the 20+ year old canvas gave way and down she came.  We slept in rest areas and truck stops where we also showered.

Every night we’d get off the road when it started getting dark and looked for whatever local watering hole we could find where we’d sit and drink with the townies for a few hours, then we’d find a place to park the van and sleep. One night a guy in a bar offered to let us sleep on the pull-out couch in his office. We went. We left an hour later when he came back to check on us after we went to sleep. We figured we were safer in the van. We did spend one night under someone’s roof when we got to Omaha, Nebraska. Omaha is exactly halfway across the country. We saw a Jehovah’s Witness Kingdom Hall, and we’d both been to those a couple of times, so we went in and talked to some people and a really nice family took us in for the night.  Since we were at the halfway mark we decided to get tattoos to commemorate the occasion.  I picked out a small black dragon against a red sun.  Amy was still looking through the books when they started on me. I was getting it on my left shoulder blade.  She saw the blood and chickened out.  But I had mine.

A couple of years later I was a member of a Yahoo writers’ group and got to be good friends with a bunch of the other writers.  One lived in Des Moines.  One of her other hobbies was bellydancing and she was in a troupe that was going to perform at the Iowa State Fair.  I thought that sounded really cool and decided that I would drive out there and see her perform.  

Now, this was in the 1990’s and while I’m sure GPS existed, I didn’t have one.  I had Mapquest on the computer, though, and saw that if I could find Route 80 I could just head west until I ran into Iowa.  

How hard could that be?

I was pretty sure if I headed southwest from CT I could find Route 80 in like New Jersey or something. So I packed up and left at like 3:00 in the morning to be far away from NY when rush hour hit. It seemed like I was in PA for about nine hundred days.

I wasn’t exactly sure how far Iowa was from Connecticut but after about ten or eleven hours on the road I figured I had to be almost there. I was wrong. I stopped at a rest area and checked one of those “You are here,” maps and saw I was only about HALFway there and just about cried.  

It was far too late to scream, “Abort! Abort!” and turn around.  So onward I went.  

The one thing my friend had advised was, “They’re doing construction in Gary, Indiana so don’t be there during rush hour.”  I only half listened to her at that point because what were the chances or me being in Gary during rush hour?  So, 5:00 rolls around and I am at a dead stop on the highway, worst traffic I’d ever seen.  I look up at the exit sign I was crawling by and what do I see?

 Yeah. Gary friggin’ Indiana. At rush hour.

It took almost 22 hours to get to Des Moines but I finally made it, having driven right through, stopping only to pee and get gas.  We went to the State Fair two days later and there was this trailer at the fair and these bikers from Ottumwa, Iowa there doing tattoos.  Well, Radar O’Reilly from MASH was from Ottumwa, so these guys must be okay! Right? Sure!

I’m amazed sometimes that I lived to be this old.

So, we decide that we’re going to get tats.  I find my design right away; this really cool dragon and it’s gonna go on my chest, on the right side.  My friend was still looking at the Celtic knot designs when they started on me.  And she saw the blood.  Yeah, it bleeds when they’re sticking a needle into your skin.  Apparently, some people think that tats are licked on by kittens or something.  So, once more there I am with a nifty new tat and my friend without.

About a year later some friends and I were going to meet up in Toronto, Canada for a few days.  This time I took a plane instead of a car. We all met up in the late afternoon, checked into the hotel and got together for dinner.  There was about a dozen of us total and we were booked two and three into a room.  

The first full day we were there we all stuck together and saw some popular sites. That night I looked in the phone book and found a tattoo parlor not far away from where we were staying and decided I was going to go there the next day. By myself.  My friends all thought it was a great idea and wanted to come get some done, too but I knew better by that time and told them to just do their own thing and I’d meet up with them later.

So, I go and get this big tiger head on my right hip and it’s awesome.  But it’s big.  And colorful.  And it hurts.  

I could only comfortably wear this pair of black satin boxer shorts – they had Winnie the Pooh characters on them, but I was cool with that.  I went back to the hotel, we had some dinner and started drinking.  We got tired and went upstairs to our rooms and my roommates were both snoring so loud I couldn’t sleep.  So, I put my boxers back on and went back down to the hotel bar.

David Carradine (Kung Fu, the Grasshopper, yes) was there playing the piano. He was shooting a series in Toronto and we were there for a convention.  I hung around the piano for a while, having more cocktails, and in between songs I chatted with him.  I showed him my shorts and told him, “I have Pooh on my ass!”

Ask me later and I’ll tell you about all the other cast members of that show I threw myself at.  And about the one who almost got away.

Oh, all the really good decisions I made in my twenties!

When I was living in East Haven, CT, right after Marty moved in with me, we talked about maybe getting tattoos. I was quite certain that he was the one person who wouldn’t chicken out on me. But we weren’t sure where to go. My friend, Mary called me and said that she knew a great tattoo artist but he’d just become homeless and was sleeping in his car in a cemetery. So, we invited him over, spent the evening with him and offered him our guest room for a few months – in return for some tats. I got the Baptism of Jesus on one arm and a beautiful crown of thorns and heart on the other arm, all in the comfort of my own living room. I think that was the best of all.

If I’m going to get any more I’d probably better get them soon before the wrinkles and sags set in!!

Well, I just went and got way ahead of myself.  Sorry, that happens sometimes.  I go off on a tear and it’s not like I even drink anymore so I really have no excuse.

Squirrel.

After about thirteen years of living in Rowayton my roommate’s father, who owned the place decided to sell it.  He was recently widowed and had a new girlfriend and wanted to travel with her.  Selling the house would bring in about nine hundred thousand dollars and that would certainly make travel easy. 

Yes, $900,000.  For a tiny little plot of land with an old cottage on it.  That’s coastal Connecticut for you.

Peter and I decided to finally go our separate ways.  He was discouraged and wanted a clean start somewhere like Virginia Beach and I just wanted to get a nice quiet little place of my own.  If you’ve read my Cast Down series of horror novels you’ll recognize my next abode from the book, Remnants.

I found a cottage in Redding, which was next to Ridgefield and still had one of those bougie zip codes.  It was another upscale town and by now I was working in Greenwich so I could go months without seeing a poor person or a minority. 

I did not live in the real world.

The cottage was like an old single stall barn.  It was small, but it had a barn door style front door and one of those hay bale things at the big window on the second floor.  It was basically two big rooms and a tiny bathroom.  The downstairs was totally open, kitchen and living room.  The upstairs was just a bedroom with a bath.  It was easy to keep clean.  It had character.  It was at the high end of my budget but it was doable.

The cottage was way out in the woods in Redding, father away from work but it was still manageable.  The cottage’s owner lived in the main house, about a hundred feet down the same driveway.  She was a middle aged widow with one small adopted child.

She was nuts.

No other way to put it.  The woman was batshit.  She drank way too much and still cried every day over the man who probably faked his own death just to get away from her.  I didn’t realize how unstable she was, or how needy she was until after I’d gotten settled in.  Of course.

I’m a fairly private person.  I was looking forward to a little solitude after having a roommate for so many years.  The last thing I wanted was someone living a hundred feet away who wanted to hang out all the time.  Drunk.  Boundaries were hard to establish with that one.  Fortunately, she had a thing against religion so any time she dropped by I immediately turned the conversation to the Bible and that seemed to work like Raid on roaches.

Peter, the former roommate went to Virginia Beach for a few months.  And then turned around and came home to Connecticut.  He holed up in his father’s house, in the little in-law apartment downstairs we referred to as The Cave.  We had dinner every Friday night at my place.  He’d bring pizza or we’d cook up something simple together and Stargate together.  It was a comforting routine.  He had a Jeep so the winter storms that first year, which were tremendous didn’t stop our Friday night ritual.  Sometimes he’d just crash on the sofa and that was fine with me. 

He also dog-sat for me if I was going to be away overnight.  This only happened a couple of times because I’d become kind of a homebody by that point.  He stayed for a few days for me once when I went to a seminar in Ohio for work – it was a franchise thing and the franchise headquarters were in Dayton.

He also stayed with the dogs while I was in California, deciding not to get married.

Wait.  What?  Yeah. 

Let’s go back to the ghosthunting nonsense for a few minutes.  Like I said before, when I was a kid growing up in Connecticut Ed and Lorraine Warren were very active doing lectures and slideshows around the state.  Every year, around Halloween they’d come to Ridgefield and do a presentation in the evening at the high school auditorium.

Most people now know them because of The Conjuring movies; The Conjuring 1, 2, 3, Annabelle, Annabelle Creation, Annabelle Comes Home, etc. and I remember all the stories the movies were based on because I heard them tell those stories. In person. In a dark auditorium.

When I was about ten years old.

Yeah, my parents took a ten-year-old to see the Warrens. They need some kind of special parenting award for that.

So, I was about ten and sitting in the auditorium listening to audio tapes of people under demonic possession, and seeing pictures of this huge honkin’ Raggedy Ann doll (the real Annabelle was a Raggedy Ann) that would move around the house and leave notes for her owners in crayon when they were at work… I don’t think I slept at all for like three weeks, and even when I did sleep after that I slept with the lights or the TV on in the bedroom. FOR YEARS.  

It was also the year that the book The Amityville Horror came out. I had the paperback and read it – yeah, at TEN, and yeah, my parents bought it for me – the Warrens had George Lutz with them that year, and he signed my book. So, I had kind of a twisted childhood and a fixation on the paranormal from a young age. I followed the Warrens’ lectures and even went to some of their “classes” at the Carousel Gardens (a supposedly haunted restaurant which turned out to be as much of a hoax as Amityville in the end) as an adult. I had all their books and believed in ghosts and all that.

Let’s talk about Amityville for a second. Ronald DeFeo murdered his whole family one night, with a shotgun. Killed his parents and all his younger brothers and sisters. He later told the police and testified that he heard voices telling him to do it.  Then the house was purchased by the Lutz family who had a failing business and three kids. Twenty-eight days later they moved out and left all their stuff behind.  That was in the 1970’s.  

Not too long ago they admitted that it was a great money-making hoax. Nothing happened in that house. Ronald DeFeo has since confessed that his lawyer told him to say that stuff about hearing voices. He’s in prison for the rest of his life anyway, he has nothing to gain or lose at this point by telling the truth. But the Warrens said it was “as close to hell as they ever hope to get.”

So, when I was almost 40 years old, I moved to a different county in CT than I’d been living in most of my life.  I was single, working full time, etc., and wanted to make some new friends more locally so I went on meetup.com and found some groups I was interested in. One of them was a ghost hunting group. I thought that sounded like the most fun ever.  So, I joined.  That was where I met my friend, Mary, who was the “medium” of the group.  She could see and hear spirits and the things she’d relate back to the friends and relatives of those spirits was always perfectly accurate.  We ran around cemeteries at night taking pictures and getting EVPs. We had websites and got calls from people who thought they had something in their homes.  

We spent long nights in homes throwing bottles of holy water around and lighting up sage and smoking ourselves out of the house.  We did some of the most ridiculous things.

I remember one night we were in someone’s house and they’d been getting bitten and scratched and pushed down the stairs by unseen forces for weeks. We were there a bunch of times, saging and placing crystals and St Michael medallions, etc.

One of the last nights we were there we were sitting at the kitchen table reading some Psalms and praying and whatever was in the house started banging on the walls – pounding – and the more we prayed the more it pounded. Eventually it stopped and we thought we were pretty cool. I started taking pictures around the house and didn’t seem to be getting the shadows or the orbs or whatever that I had been getting before. We went home. It was about four in the morning when I got home and started downloading the photos onto my computer. One picture in particular kind of stopped me short. It was in the living room, and I caught one of the windows in the picture. In the window there is a clear image of something – something pale with sunken eyes starting in the window at me from the porch outside. I guess that was my wake-up call.

So, back to the case where I got the picture of the face in the window…. We were a group (ship of fools, car of idiots) and we were led (and misled) by this older man named Richard. Richard was a Liabetic. Richard had Liabetes and it was not a treatable case. During the same night I took the featured image here Richard was taking pictures upstairs.

Now, mind you there were a half a dozen people in the house that night, at least. So, the next day Richard tells us that he’s done the impossible, he has gotten a photo of a full-body apparition the likes of which has never been seen before and he’s gonna blow the top off the paranormal community at some presentation come up in a few weeks. He shows us the picture. I look at it and realize what’s happened – he’d captured the image of another one of our group members in a mirror in the bedroom.

It’s not an apparition, it’s Pete.  Dude.  Really.  I pointed this out to Richard – privately so he might be spared some embarrassment.

Richard really wanted that photo to be an apparition. Richard had already told a bunch of people about it and Richard wasn’t recanting. He told me he saw his error, agreed it was Pete and then effectively threw me out of the group. He forbid a couple of people in the group to speak to me and everything.

            The photo he took was PETE.

Now, I’m kind of thinking that this may have been a blessing in disguise, not just because I don’t want to be associated with someone who would knowingly and purposely perpetuate a blatant fraud, but because of what happened next.

Have you ever seen the TV show, “A Haunting”? The very next case Richard took the group to was later featured on A Haunting. The title of that episode was “A Nightmare in Bridgeport”. https://www.imdb.com/title/tt2410504/ 

The friend I mentioned earlier, the one who recently passed away (Mary) appears in the TV episode, and I believe that this was the case that pushed things over the edge with her, resulting in her possession. The episode also features Bishop Robert McKenna of Connecticut who was a cohort of the Warrens and was included on many of their cases which also included exorcism. He was in his 80’s by this time and actually got pushed down a staircase by the spirits inhabiting the house. Right before he was pushed, Mary heard a voice saying, “Priest better watching his ______ing step.”

So maybe it was a blessing to me that I wasn’t there for that case, because I’m not sure in the end that I would have fared any better than Mary did.

So, where was I?  Okay, right, “Nightmare in Bridgeport” on that show; A Haunting.  That whole thing all started with a phone call from the leader of one para-abnormal team to another. This guy who actually had his own little ghost busting group realizes that his own childhood home, where his widowed mother still lives is haunted. He says he had some scary experiences there as a child but things were quiet until his father was at the end stages of Parkinson’s and started talking about seeing people in the house.

Then the father died and the mother started being terrorized by something. He went in to do his own investigation and I guess things didn’t go so well, because he called the Liabetic to come in with his team. His team included Mary who was by this time pretty well known as a bona fide medium. Things got ugly fast. They called in the Bishop who got pushed down the stairs. Nothing worked. Apparently the Liabetic tried reading the Roman Catholic exorcism rites by himself while he sat on the couch chain smoking cigarettes.

Meanwhile the demons in the house were watching them, going, “Wait, hold my beer….” After a bunch of attempts they were unable to convince anything to leave except the dude’s mom who moved out and left all her stuff there. To the best of my knowledge they still own the home but no one lives there.

Just after that, things started getting really bad for Mary, financially and physically.  She had to move herself and her two teenage kids in with her elderly aunt who had dementia.  She couldn’t live by herself by that point, anyway, so it was either someone come to live with her or she’d have to go into a nursing home.  She was Italian and the older she got the less English she used. And there was some weird stuff going on in that old farmhouse.  

I spent a lot of time there but hung out mostly in the old barn behind the house, but that’s a story for another night.  My (now) husband had to live there for a month of two, in the barn, and I stayed most nights there with him.  My trips inside the actual house were few and far between.

I started thinking about it after a while; the fact that everywhere Mary lived there was something wrong with the house.  I mean that in a spiritual sense, not necessarily a physical sense.  

She grew up in a house that creeped me out every time I drove by it and that was even before I met her.  The house that she lived in with her husband had some kind of weird stuff going on (the former owner murdered his wife in what became the playroom. With an axe), then there was a little rental house in Devon and more spooky stuff there, and then finally the aunt’s house.  I was never in that house before Mary and the kids moved in so I don’t know what it was like before.  I can only say that it had its moments of being genuinely terrifying after.

It occurred to me much later that it might not be that Mary kept choosing houses with bad spirits in them, but that those spirits might just have been attached to her. I really came to believe that after she passed just about two weeks ago. I went up to Boone to be with her (now grown) kids the day she passed. I stayed for the night since I live two hours away. I slept in her room. And there they were.  I closed the door, changed into my jammies and lay down.  No sooner was I in that bed than I felt them in the room with me. I paid them no attention other than telling them, “Not tonight”.  I said a prayer and went to sleep.

Two days later her daughter told me she’d seen shadows in the home. They’d plagued Mary her whole life and now they’re kinda homeless, looking for someone else to glom onto.

I related this to a couple of friends the other night while we were out at dinner.  One friend commented that she’d probably have nightmares from the conversation.  

I sometimes forget that there are people out there who don’t have these kinds of daily experiences. As Bill Murray in Ghostbusters II said, “You’re scaring the straights!”

I still can’t believe how dumb we were. How amusing we must have been to those demons, who are actually fallen angels.  Satan took a whole third of the heavenly host with him when he was cast out.  They must have had a few good laughs at us out in those cemeteries, or in people’s homes waving sage at them.

The beginnings all seemed so harmless; using Angel Cards to get answers to questions on health and love and money.  Using Divining Rods to see if there were any spirits in a house and where exactly they were.  The Bible says a lot about not doing these kinds of things.  There’s no gray area about it.  But we invented a grey area for ourselves to justify what we were doing.

The woman who led the first ghost hunting group we were in together is also deceased now. She called herself an exorcist, and she used a Ouija board.  I believe it was a rather drawn-out cancer at a pretty young age just a couple of years ago.  As for the Tarot and Angel cards…. who do you think is on the other end of that communication if God said not to consult witches, sorcerers or diviners?  It’s not God’s holy angels that are passing along information to the people reading those cards.

The angels that stayed in heaven with God are not going to rebel against his Word like that. So then….. who?

I remember the first time I tried an EVP recording. It was in a cemetery, late at night. I did the usual question thing for a while, then just left the recorder on top of a headstone for maybe an hour while I wandered off to take pictures and such.  I took the recorder with me to the gym the next evening and put my little earbuds in as I got on the stationary bike.  I practically peed myself I was so scared.  I suddenly wasn’t sure if I wanted to hear anything on that recording or not!

I didn’t, by the way.

Hear anything, I mean.

But I was plenty scared.  Which didn’t stop me from going out the next night to do the same stupid thing.  

There was a case in Middletown that we went back to again and again.  One night a bunch of us went out to get Dunkin’ and when we got back the family plus the one investigator we’d left behind were sitting at the kitchen table, just paralyzed with fear – and we could still hear what they’d been hearing, which was the sound of furniture being dragged across the floor in one of the bedrooms just overhead.  There was no one up there.  And there sure were some scuff marks on the floor where it looks like the heavy dresser had been dragged around.

Moving furniture is a pretty common occurrence. I remember when I was in my late teens, maybe I was twenty by then but no older than that. I had an apartment in Westport and my friend, Linda was home from college on a break. Her parents were living in a rental house in Ridgefield because they’d sold their home and their retirement home on the Cape wasn’t ready yet.

Anyway, it was a creepy house.  Her folks were on the Cape for the weekend, so I’d brought a bag over and was going to spend the night.  We were in the kitchen and Linda was cooking dinner and I kept feeling like there was someone staring at me. After dinner we were hanging out in the living room and the storm door to the porch kept opening by itself from a latched position. Then the basement doorknob (just the knob, not the door) started rattling a little. She told me, “Oh, wait until later when it sounds like someone is upstairs rearranging furniture!” I got my bag and headed for the door SO FAST. I told her if she wanted to hang we’d have to do it at my apartment, and I’d wait outside in my car for five minutes for her or I was outta there.

Of course, I didn’t know then what I know now, all I knew is that I was terrified and I wasn’t sticking around for any furniture moving nonsense.

One of the first things I remember hearing from the Warrens when I was a kid was that Ouija boards are very dangerous because they are “blind communication” and open doors to the demonic. Well, if that didn’t scare me nothing did.

I remember going through the toy department in stores and going to the other side of the aisle to even walk by them.  Yeah, they sell them in toy stores.  Parker Brothers, I think was the manufacturer of the most popular one. They make them in pink now, too, because demons are fluffy and cute.

When I was in high school we had a British Lit class or something and we were reading the play, “Blithe Spirit”, by Noel Coward.  I was psyched about this because the summer before I’d done the play with a local town theatre group, so I knew all the lines, and I was certain to get a good grade on it. The play, for anyone who hasn’t seen it, is about a widower who is remarried and he and his wife host a seance at their home and the ghost of his first wife comes back and hilarity ensues, etc.

So, there was no Ouija board in the play, however my high school teacher thought it would be fun to bring one in for us at the end of the quarter for us to play with.  I saw her take that board out and I freaked.  I wasn’t participating, in fact I wasn’t even gonna sit in the same room with it.  I got up and walked out.  To the best of my knowledge nothing happened, but that doesn’t mean that invitations weren’t issued – just because something didn’t immediately take anyone up on them doesn’t mean they wouldn’t respond ten years later.

So, being so afraid of Ouija boards, you’d think I’d be smart enough to stay away from dowsing rods, right?  Right?

No.  Apparently not.  Dowsing rods are thin metals rods, with handles and they used to be used to find water or wells on property and that was called Water Witching or something like that.  The theory is that the metal rods will react to certain energies, including spirit energy.  So you can sit there with the rods pointed straight out and if there’s a spirit in the near vicinity the rods will move in your hands to point at it.  You can also ask the spirit to cross the rods to answer a question with Yes, or push them apart to answer with No. Kind of like… a Ouija board, only with fewer options.  I guess I didn’t see it that way when I bought my first set of rods.

There are so many little gateways to the demonic that we don’t even really think about because they’re dressed up pretty or cloaked in New Age Enlightenment.  Tarot cards.  Angel cards.  Ascended Master cards.  Dowsing rods.

In the Garden of Eden the devil came to Eve and asked her, “Did God REALLY say…?” He didn’t make a direct accusation at first, he just planted a seed of doubt in her mind, and then showed her something shiny. Isn’t he still doing that today?

“Did God really say that you shouldn’t try to contact the dead?”

Yeah.  He really did say.

By Tracy Petry –

The 101st Series

The Orchids Killer

Fallen Angel

The Foreshadowing

Turn a Blind Eye

By Raphael Bound (coming in 2022)

The Cast Down Series

A New England Haunting

Remnants

Masked

Seven More Wicked (coming in 2022)

Non-Fiction

Convoking Hell (with co-author Martin Petry)

Conjuring Love (with co-author Martin Petry)

Deconstructing Tracy

Books are available in paperback and for Kindle – free to read with Kindle Unlimited

www.tracypetry.blog

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