Daily Archives: January 12, 2020

My Stolen Diaries – Chapter Three: White Street

[Catch up on earlier Chapters: Disclaimer, Chapter One, Chapter Two]

Chapter Three

WHITE STREET

It was January 1960, and Mem and Mom were always talking about the big news of the time: Elvis was in the army, Senator Kennedy was running for President and Mem got a Saturday job working at the Woolworth’s lunch counter on Main Street.

But I cared little about any of that. I was in my own little world, in my own little life.

We lived in Bridgetown, Connecticut in a tenement on White Street, although there weren’t too many white people.

Our top-floor railroad apartment was laid out in a single long line of rooms: from the kitchen to the living room, to the bedroom that Mom shared with Mere Germaine, to my grandmother’s bedroom at the end. I slept with Mem.

The kitchen was large and had plenty of cupboards. There was one extra-large cupboard to the left of the sink, filled to capacity with empty shoe boxes. I hated that cupboard. I hated the shoe boxes even more.

The tiny bathroom was directly off the kitchen to the left and lined up with a long creepy hallway that ran from the bathroom all along the length of the entire apartment and ended up at a dark, steep, and narrow stairwell that led down twenty steps or so to the front door.

We never used that door, because it was padlocked — sealed shut and unusable. So the only way in and out of the apartment was to climb the several rows of steep stairs in the back of the house and enter through the kitchen. Only one way in and one way out. A real fire trap.

Our apartment was run down, but Mem kept it spotless, which unfortunately didn’t stop the cockroaches and rodents from invading.

I hated the roaches. Big bad cockroaches. They came out fast and furious.  And they were bold. I would stamp my foot next to them to scare them, but they wouldn’t budge. The roach brigade usually made their debut anytime it went from dark to light.

When we would enter the kitchen at night – and turn on the lights, all the cockroaches would frantically scurry around the walls, trying to flee from the brightness. Hundreds of cockroaches would cover the walls of our kitchen. They came in droves. Welcome home.

The roach activity was horrifying.  But it was just the way it was.  Mom would carry on and throw a fit, but not me – and never Mem.

But I was most petrified of the rodents. They were probably rats, but I don’t think I could have survived living there, thinking they were rats.

I insisted on sleeping with the bedroom light on even though Mem preferred the light out. No way I was sleeping in the dark. It didn’t take a genius to figure out that on White Street, everything scary came out in the dead of night.

Despite the rats and the bugs, I never imagined that there was a better way to live. I didn’t realize at the time that we were poor and living in squalor conditions. It was just home to me.

At night I would help Mem set up the rodent traps. I hated it, but the thought of having hungry mice – or worse – roaming around our apartment was even scarier. So, our routine before going to bed was to lay traps all over the apartment. And if Mere Germaine weren’t already asleep, she would cut up the cheese.  Mom refused to help us.

Poor Mom. She would yelp every time she heard a trap snap. Snap, snap, snap. All night long.

Early every morning, Mem would grab a shoebox from the dreaded cupboard, and roam around our apartment, throwing the successful traps into it. The shoebox would be full of rodents with broken necks. Mem would then calmly throw them into a garbage bag and then into the garbage can on our porch, and place the shoebox back in the cupboard next to the sink.

I was a curious child, so I asked Mem a lot of questions about our routine. I wouldn’t call Mem a mouse or rat expert, but she knew a ton of stuff about both.

My math skills weren’t the best, but I knew that where there was one rodent, there were many more. Mem told me that rats have large families—up to forty or fifty. And since rats rarely walk more than a few hundred feet from their birthplace, if I saw one, the other forty or so were probably close by.

The good news from Mem: Rats had a one-year life span, so they didn’t last long.

The bad news from Mem: Rats multiply like rabbits.

And more bad news from Mem: Rats eat mice, so they rarely cohabitate.

Which, for me, meant that the mouse jig was probably up.

As you can imagine (or not), I was obsessed with our uninvited guests. So was Mem, but not in a scared way like me.

Mem would methodically and carefully inspect all of the lower parts of our walls — particularly in the bedrooms, at about one inch from the floor.

According to Mem, rats hugged walls so they would leave behind dark oil marks from their hair. Rat hair oil.

I was frightened. But nothing compared to Mom. She was horrified and disgusted and regularly cried and cried out in fear.

All Mom would ever say was, “We have to get out of here.” But I don’t remember ever thinking that we had to get out.

Click here for Chapter Four: THE YELLOW KITCHEN TABLE

My Stolen Diaries – Chapter Two: To Know Yourself Is to Know Your Family

[Catch up on earlier Entries: Disclaimer, Chapter One]

Chapter Two

TO KNOW YOURSELF IS TO KNOW YOUR FAMILY

        Maternal vs Paternal

For most of my life, I didn’t know much about my family on either side.

My very first memory took place on December 25, 1957, and was of my grandmother.

[Maternal: Relating to, belonging to, or like that of a mother.]

It was late Christmas night, and Mem and I were sitting on the couch, admiring what I thought was a truly magnificent Christmas tree.

Back then, I was known as Tony Michaels and lived with my grandmother, mother, and great grandmother on the wrong side of an already lousy town.

Mem was my grandmother — my surrogate mother. My mom got pregnant, then married, then divorced, at a very young age, so Mem was raising us both.

I knew very little about my father, but what I did know left me afraid. Fear played a significant role in my early years.

Mem had a theory that when I was a baby, I was confused and couldn’t figure out who was the mom. For a while, I called them both Mom. And then after some time, I bestowed upon her the name of Mem.

According to Mem, at ten or so months old, I had brilliantly managed to come up with the French-Canadian name all on my genius own.

Mem was also divorced, and I never met my grandfather. Mere Germaine, my great grandmother, was a widow and lived with us too. And like all the other men in my family, I never knew my great-grandfather either.

Mere Germaine was sleeping that Christmas night and Mom was on a date.

Mem was busily crocheting an afghan. Almost sixty years later, I still curl up with it while watching television and wrap myself up in Mem.

But let’s get back to Christmas night in 1957.

I was four years old, and my head rested on Mem’s shoulder. Mem was preoccupied with her crocheting, and I was trying to be exceptionally quiet because I was hoping that if she forgot that I was there, I could stay up late and wait for Mom.

I closed my eyes and started to drift off when Mem began to poke my arm softly.

When I looked up at Mem, she had a mischievous look on her face as she put her finger up to her mouth to shush me. She then took her finger off her lips and pointed toward the tree.

I took Mem’s cue and gazed at our sparsely decorated tree, adorned with a few strands of blinking lights, some tinsel, and a few ornaments — most of them home-made.

Underneath the tree sat my treasured present from Santa Claus.  She was the most beautiful doll I had ever seen. I named her China because she had a flawless porcelain face and the silkiest long, shiny black hair. China must have been an expensive doll — much more than Mem or Mom could afford.

Anyway, China was sitting under the tree, wearing a red velvet dress that Mem sewed for her, which to my delight, perfectly matched the red Christmas dress she had designed for me.

As I sat looking curiously at the doll under the tree, wondering why Mem was pointing and shushing, I noticed a tiny mouse sniffing around China.

I remember thinking that maybe it was a mouse, or maybe it was something way worse. Our crummy railroad apartment was chock full of all kinds of vermin.

I looked up at Mem, terrified, my heart pounding. But she was smiling ever so softly, still shushing me with her pursed lips.

So I looked back at what I hoped was a mouse from Mem’s perspective.

As a child, I was molded entirely by the three unforgettable women in my life. What they saw I saw. What they felt, I felt. It was me and my alpha female trio.

So if Mem didn’t have a problem with the baby whatever, I was okay with it sniffing around my doll and then snuggling in its lap.

I looked at Mem’s bright and smiling face, as she lightly kissed her index finger and then playfully touched the tip of my nose with it.

Taking my cue from Mem, I laid my head back on her shoulder and fearlessly watched the baby rodent until I drifted away.

My second memory was of meeting my father, back in 1959, when I was six.

[Paternal: Of or relating to, or like that of a father.]

Here’s how the meeting went down:

I was sitting on a stoop, waiting for my father, Mick Michaels, to arrive. I didn’t know him and didn’t know what to expect. As usual, I was full of angst.

A black vehicle rolled up, and a young man jumped out of the car. He was dark-haired with swarthy skin — not light-skinned like Mom or Mem or Mere Germaine.

I stared intently at him as he came around the back of the car to greet me. He had dark, piercing eyes.

It was then that I noticed a young woman sitting in the front passenger seat, her scowling face pressed against the car window.

He roughly tweaked my cheek, which broke me out of my spell. He had an etch-a-sketch in his hand, and as he thrust it into mine, the woman rolled down the window.

My father turned his back to me and spoke to the woman. “Get in the back.”

“Fuck you. Put the kid in the back.”

He shrugged his shoulders and turned to face me. I was shaking and screaming inside.

He opened the back door, and I miserably got into the car behind the woman.

Click here for Chapter Three: WHITE STREET

My Stolen Diaries – Chapter One: In The Beginning

[Catch up on earlier Entries: Disclaimer]

Chapter One

IN THE BEGINNING

It all started with diary number one. When I was seven years old, my Aunt Mona gave me a pink diary for my birthday. I wrote in it every day, and when it filled up, I got another, and another, and another.

Too young to know better, I believed those chintzy locks and keys kept my diaries safe from the outside world. All of my thoughts, fears, dreams, and schemes were packed into those volumes for me and me alone to write, read, and reread. And in so doing, to never forget. Or so I thought.

I stored them under whatever bed I was sleeping in. A collection of heartwarming, terrifying, funny, and not so funny words. I took those twenty-six letters in the alphabet and created a magnum opus out of them.

In my naiveté, it never occurred to me that anyone could be so deceitful as to read them. And I never thought anyone else would have a faint interest in what I felt or thought anyway.  And yet I kept those diaries safe and sound under locks and keys just in case. At last count, I had over forty of them and a President Kennedy key ring full of tiny diary keys.

I have been keeping a written recording of my life since elementary school. I still keep a diary although now I call them journals.

My treasured Kennedy key ring is gone. And with it all the keys, and yes, the older diaries are gone too.

Stolen, read and interpreted. Or I should say misinterpreted.

And that’s what this story is about. In the pages to follow I will try to remember the entries, the momentous and not so momentous times in my life.

But the diaries are gone, so I can’t recreate the voluminous entries spanning a lifetime in a Dear Diary format.

But what I can do, is recreate the diary entries from the volumes seared in my memories.

And to the thief, and you know who you are:

You might have been able to dispose of the diaries, but you can never do away with my memories, my words, or what’s in my mind.

Click here for Chapter Two: To Know Yourself Is to Know Your Family

My Stolen Diaries: A Novelog

I have decided to go for it and start blogging my novel titled My Stolen Diaries.

In doing so, I first needed to create a blog category, so after much thought, I finally settled on:  Teri’s Novelog

The only way as a reader, that you will be able to keep up with my novelog, is to read from top to bottom. If you want to catch up with whatever I have added, you’ll need to remember where you left off.

Sorry about that.

One day I’ll turn it into an actual book, but I’ve been saying that for the past fifteen years, so in the meantime, here it is.

First things first.

My disclaimer:

My Stolen Dairies is a work of fiction. F-I-C-T-I-O-N.

Although its format is based on a personal diary, it’s not real.

It’s made up.

Places and time have been moved around to accommodate the book, and except the mentioning of some public figures, any resemblance to persons living or dead is purely coincidental.

The events expressed in My Stolen Diaries are those of the characters and should not be confused with the views and opinions of the author (me).

The author will not be held responsible or liable for any perceived or actual loss or damage to any person or entity, directly or indirectly caused by or alleged to have been caused by anything in My Stolen Diaries.

If anyone happens to see themselves in any of the characters, that’s on them and a figment of their overly imaginative imagination.

Click here for Chapter One: In The Beginning