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My Stolen Diaries – Chapter 8: What a Difference a Mother’s Day Makes

CHAPTER 8

WHAT A DIFFERENCE A MOTHER’S DAY MAKES

May 1961

Ever since my birds croaked on the rat poison, Mem and Mom have been worried sick about me. They sat me down a bunch of times to talk about my acting out.

I told them that the lie they forced me tell at St. Ambrose started the whole thing, making it easy to make up stories about my life instead of telling the truth about the sucky one I was living. So now, I pretty much lie about everything. My lying is a big worry for them, but their biggest worry is that I’ve been peeing on the rat poison in the corner of our porch.

I told them there was a double reason for that. First off, I hate the pitch-black hallway where the bathroom is, and second off, I want those stupid rats to drink my pee.

Mem cried out “heavens to Betsy” and then took her rosary beads from her housecoat pocket to pray for me. Mom grabbed my ear and twisted it around while yelling that I sounded like a retard. I gave Mom the rat face, combined with hissing sounds until she threw her hands up and walked away.

Mem and Mom both have it in their heads that I’m a tough nut to crack, but I’m a scaredy-cat. They don’t know it, but I’m afraid of everything. And the scariest of all is coming home to that empty apartment.

With Mem working the 3-11 shift, she’s gone by the time I get home. Every day after school, I force myself to climb the four flights of stairs in the back of our building and then sit at the kitchen table until Mom shows up for supper.

I check the clock in the kitchen and then run as fast as I can from one end of the apartment to the other to press my face against Mem’s bedroom window, hoping to see Mom walking down the street. Then I run even faster back to the kitchen, convinced that the rats are waiting for me in the hallway.

I rock myself on a kitchen chair, willing my bladder to cooperate, so I don’t need to go to the bathroom by way of the dreaded scary hallway. If I can’t hold in my pee, I pee outside in the bowl of rat poison — way better than on the porch floor.

“The poor dear is lonely,” Mem told Mom in French a few days after the ear twisting while I colored at the kitchen table and pretended not to understand. Lonely wasn’t the half of it.

A couple of weeks later, Mom promised to take us all out to an expensive restaurant for a Mother’s Day lunch in New London.

The Lighthouse Inn was surrounded by water and was the fanciest place I had ever been. There was a path leading up to the front door with the most beautiful flowers, and on the front lawn, kids threw coins into a giant stone fountain.

I stuffed my face with eggs benedict and crispy bacon and washed everything down with my Shirley Temple cocktail. After brunch, I convinced Mom to let me throw a penny into the fountain and make a wish. The fountain area was filled with families who all had the same idea, and as we squeezed in and out of the crowds toward the fountain, Mem threw up everywhere.

Well, the crowd emptied out quick enough, and to their horror — and ours, Mem’s top false teeth flew out of her mouth and plopped right into the fountain.

Mere Germaine and Mom looked at Mem in shock as she bent over, fished her teeth out of the water, shook them off, and popped them back into her mouth. Then she turned to us and said, “la nourriture était trop riche,” which means the food was too rich.

Mom said she wanted to get the hell out of there. I was in no rush because I still never got to throw a penny in the fountain. She dragged me to the car, all the while talking under her breath about how embarrassed she was and how she couldn’t take us anywhere without us causing some kind of a ruckus. Mere Germaine was holding onto poor Mem, who was nauseous as all get out.

We got into the rickety old car Mom borrowed from a friend, and it took a few tries before the engine turned over. Mom was super unhappy, and I figured our Mother’s Day fun was over — ruined by Mem’s teeth flying out of her mouth.

We drove for a while and came to a white house with a large red barn. Mem, burping, and gagging, stayed in the car with Mere Germaine. Mom took my hand, and together we walked up to the house, where she rang the doorbell. An old lady answered the door and walked us to the barn.

When she opened the latch to the barn, there was a pile of tiny black puppies! I was happy to be playing with the baby fluffballs but ran back to the car to get Mem and Mere Germaine so they wouldn’t miss out on the fun.

When we got back to the barn, the dog lady handed me what she called the runt of the litter. “He’s a Pomeranian, and he’s got papers,” Mom told me proudly as he licked my face with his teensy red tongue. I was confused as to why I was there and what a puppy would need with papers.

“He’s yours,” Mem said lovingly. “Someone to keep you company,” Mere Germaine added. The old lady pulled out a folded paper from an envelope as I smooshed the little black snowball against my chest.

She proudly presented Mom with some papers and said, “His mother’s name is Lady Marlene, and his name is Marlene’s Onyx Jet.” “His name is Jet,” Mom told me.

Jet? I didn’t like that name. It didn’t fit my puppy at all.

“What’s his father’s name?” I asked. “Who cares about his father?” Mom responded, annoyed. The old lady pointed out a line on the paper and said, “His father’s name is Captain Jean Ribault.”

Mem yelled out “il est français!” Mere Germaine clapped her hands in delight.

“I’m calling him Rib,” I told everyone, even though they thought it was a stupid name. On the way home, all three of them tried to talk me out of calling him Rib, but my mind was made up.

It was a Mother’s Day I will never forget. Poor Mem asked Mom to pull off the side of the road so she could throw up again, and right before we got to White Street, Rib puked all over my new dress. All Mom cared about was that we didn’t get throw up all over her friend’s car.

Now with Rib in the picture, when the school bell rings, I race back to our apartment, fly up the stairs, and burst into the kitchen where my little man is always patiently waiting for me.

The bathroom? The hallway? No problem. Rib leads the way and stands guard at the bathroom door, growling and barking. He’s a tiny thing, but Mom says he thinks he’s a Great Dane, and I guess whatever is in the hallway thinks so, too, because nothing scary ever shows itself when Rib is around.

And best of all, there’s no more peeing on the poison even though the rats deserve it, and not too much lying, except for making sure I don’t forget to tell everyone at school that my Mem is my mom and my Mom is my sister.

Now instead of sitting in the kitchen, willing myself not to pee, I can dress Rib up in his pink tutu and whip him around the kitchen with his tiny front legs. Don’t worry, I won’t hurt him, because he likes it.

The two of us swirl and spin in circles until I fall, and he jumps all over me. I laugh, and he barks, and then we both try to walk our dizzy selves straight.

Hooray for Mother’s Day because now it’s Rib and me — my best friend, my guardian angel, my hallway guard, and the one and only man in my life.

Click here for Chapter 9: Father Panik Village

My Stolen Diaries – Chapter 7: A New School With a Side of Baptism

CHAPTER 7

A NEW SCHOOL WITH A SIDE OF BAPTISM

January 1961

Mem, Mom, and Mere Germaine huddled around the kitchen table, whispering to each other. I was supposed to be asleep, but I snuck out of bed to try to hear what they were saying. Mom was doing all the talking, and it was mainly in French. I tried my best to figure out what was going on, but I was confused.

Mom was telling Mem and Mere that for me to go to St. Ambrose Elementary School after Easter break, I needed to get baptized.

Wait. Was I going to a new school? Nobody told me that. And I had no idea what a baptized was.

Mom went on to tell Mem that she would have to pretend to be my mother because the Catholic school wouldn’t accept anyone from an excommunicated family. Mere said that she didn’t want Mem to lie, but she had to agree with Mom that the only way I would get into St. Ambrose was if they pretended that I was Mem’s daughter and Mom was my sister!

Then Mem piped in that it was about time they baptized me Catholic anyway and that there was no reason I should be Greek Orthodox and risk going to Limbo. She blamed my dad for that.

Wherever Limbo was, it didn’t sound like a place I wanted to go. And no way did I want to go there with my father.

Then Mom said that if anyone at St. Ambrose asked, she would tell them that she was married to an oil rig worker stationed out of state and that Mem and Mere were widows. Mem and Mere bobbed their heads up and down like Mom was the boss of both of them.

They had always taught me that lying was a sin, so why was it okay for them?

The next day Mom sat me down and told me that because of Barbara Titone, I was going to a new school.

I was thinking about all the ways I could punch Tit out for causing me so much trouble. Mom scolded me for not paying attention.

Then Mom said that I had to tell everyone at St. Ambrose that I was Mem’s daughter. When I reminded Mom that lying was a sin, she told me to “shut it.”

It was Mem who told me that right before Easter, I was getting baptized. I wasn’t crazy about getting a pile of water dumped on my head, but what could I do? Mem promised me that she would take me to Howard Johnson’s for a banana split afterward, so I was excited.

Every time I saw Tit at school, I gave her the rat face, so she stayed far away from me, but so did everyone else because they thought I wasn’t right in my head.

While I waited to get baptized, I focused my attention on the top outside corner of our back porch, where two small birds were busily making a nest using dried leaves and twigs.

Soon, the birds had a baby! Mem called them Oiseaux, which means birds in French. The mommy bird peeked her head out of the nest while the daddy bird watched their wobbly baby hop around on our rotting rail. I knew which one was the mom because she was smaller than the dad. I asked Mem if she thought their tummies growled like mine when they were hungry. She said she didn’t know. My belly was always growling from hunger, and I was afraid that they were hungry too.

But mostly, I was afraid the hungry rats would eat my new friends. I asked Mem if rats ate birds, but she didn’t know that either.

There was a window in our kitchen, close enough to the nest for me to watch them. I put a small pot of water on the rail and laughed with delight when the birds took turns dunking their tiny heads in it. But Mem took the water away, explaining that it would bring other things, and I knew exactly what she meant by that. Every time I pressed my face against the windowpane, I prayed to God to make sure the rats didn’t eat my birds.

On the day of my baptism, Mem dressed me in all white. Mom couldn’t come because she had to work, so she sent one of her friends who came as my godparent, and Mere was a witness. Mem lied to the priest and told him she was my mother. Mere kept quiet and didn’t say one word. The priest was rough, and the water he poured all over my head and face was ice cold. Some of the water went up through my nose, and I started to choke. The priest forced me to keep my head back even though I was having trouble breathing. He told me to be strong for Jesus and that the Holy water would save me.

On the bus to Howard Johnson’s, Mem told me that Catholics were against divorced people. She explained that both she and Mom were divorced because they both married bad men. She made me promise not to tell anyone about their divorces, or I would have to go back to school with Barbara Titone. I told Mem I never wanted to see Tit again, but I also didn’t want to lie. She responded that I shouldn’t give her any trouble and just do what I was told.

On the first day of school at St. Ambrose, the kids were friendly, but the nuns were strict and grumpy. I made it my business to lie, lie, lie, and told everyone I met that my dad was a famous oil rig worker who worked far away and that I lived with my mom and older sister, even though nobody asked.

When I got home that day, daddy bird was lying limp on the porch. I poked him, but he didn’t move. Then I noticed the empty bowl of rat poison in the corner. I dragged a kitchen chair outside and climbed up to the nest, where I found the baby and mommy dead.

I took them out and laid them next to the dad. Then I poured water on their heads to baptize and save them, but it didn’t work. I gently placed my bird family into the bowl of poison, hid them underneath the bottom level of the porch, and prayed to God for Him to make the rats eat them and croak.

Click here for Chapter 8: What a Difference a Mother’s Day Makes

The Teri Tome–My 2020 Hits and Misses

I can’t believe my blog, The Teri Tome, is five years old already. Wow, those years flew by way too fast.

Sitting here writing this blog post, I’m trying to remember back to 2015, and sadly, nothing earth-shattering is coming to mind.

Maybe it’s because my memory is shot, or maybe it’s because, in 2020, life interrupted my recollection of anything pre-covid.

And okay, maybe I sound like Trump when I say:

Covid, covid, covid. Covid, covid, covid.

Stick me in the arm with the vaccine already!

I’m sure you would all agree that 2020 was a lot to deal with. Okay, it was a dystopic sh**storm. And I’m happy to say buh-bye to all 366 days of it. (2020 was a leap year, remember?)

But, to be fair, it hasn’t been all bad. Forty-three long weeks in quarantine has taught me a lot about myself and my definition of essential.

In the early months of 2020, I considered it my lost year.

Until I realized that 2020 was the year I found myself. I’m a changed and hopefully better person than when I naively rang in 2020.

I’ve questioned the fundamentals of “normal,” and going back to my pre-covid life as my pre-covid self isn’t an option.

Just to be clear, I haven’t locked myself down for the past ten months because I’m afraid covid’s gonna get me.

My reason for living like a hermit all these months is simple. Without my family and close friends, I have no reason to venture out.

Let me break down my pre-covid routine for you:

My standing nail salon appointment: I’ve perfected my mani-pedi skills, and my nails have never been healthier.

My monthly haircut and color: I’ve become adept at trimming my hair, and I’m okay with going grey.

Grocery shopping: I always despised shopping for groceries, so having them delivered works for me.

Clothes and shoe shopping: 2020 was the year I wore schlumpf clothes 24/7. Schlumpf is a thing. Look it up in the Urban Dictionary.

Going out to restaurants: Sitting outside in the brutal heat or the freezing cold is not my idea of fine dining. If I can’t go to Peter Lugar’s in style, I’ll wait until I can.

The last time I filled my car with gas was early February 2020, and March 7 was the last time I left my house. (Except for my flu shot and three doctor visits.)

March quickly morphed into July, then September, followed by non-Thanksgiving, non-Chanukah, non-Christmas, and non-New Year’s Eve.

And please don’t judge me, but during my endless months in quarantine, I found solace in all things 1:12 scale. Okay, I’m more like obsessed.

There were too many 2020 days when I wanted to miniature myself small enough to move into my newly renovated dollhouse.

When my head wasn’t stuck in a dollhouse, I baked some killer bread, grew potted veggies and herbs on my patio, spic-and-spanned my house, socially distanced in my frosty garage, and created some awesomely impressive meals.

And my fingers to elbows have never been cleaner! I’ve been singing the ABCs and Happy Birthday in my inside voice at least fifty times per day.

In 2020 I binged on mindless reality shows I would never have otherwise wasted my time on. Awful shows like 90-Day Fiancé (so creepy) and Married at First Sight (so desperate).

2020 was also the year I could barely string together a sentence because I developed a severe case of writer’s block!

And whenever I wrote, it was forced and mostly dark, which is why I’m only going to bore you with my Top Five blog posts instead of my Top Ten.

And okay, I’ll throw in the worst blog post of 2020 as well as the best of all time (2015-2020).

I do owe you full disclosure: Of my 32 total posts in 2020, I wrote seven of them eons ago—pulled from a novel titled My Stolen Diaries that I’ve been writing since 1992.

And shocking to me was that when I calculated the traffic numbers for my 2020 Top Five blog posts, four of them were from that ancient rough draft novel.

It turned out my most popular blog posts were less of a post-mortem on what Teri was writing in 2020 and more about what Teri was writing in the 90s.

The Teri Tome generated over 300,000 page views in 2020, a whopping 47% increase from 2019, primarily due to my novelog My Stolen Diaries, so I’m pleased.

I’ll start with the worst blog post of 2020:

#1 WORST IN 2020 

I Tried to Save a Cat’s Life Yesterday: I was sorry to see that this blog post was a loser. I still haven’t gotten over that poor pregnant cat. And I’m not sure that anything can be done about it, but we have way too many feral cats in my North Woodmere, New York neighborhood.      

And now for my Top Five 2020 posts:

#1 HIT IN 2020

My Stolen Diaries – Chapter Two: To Know Yourself Is to Know Your Family : I was dumbfounded to see that a chapter from my rough draft novel was numero uno. It took me a while to figure out a format for excerpting from my decades-old unfinished book. When I finally settled on calling it a Novelog (novel-in-a-blog), I put up a Disclaimer and six chapters. I was reasonably sure they would all bomb. The thousands of hits that this 28-year-old Chapter Two garnered made my heart happy.

#2 HIT IN 2020

My Stolen Diaries – Chapter Four: The Yellow Kitchen Table: Wow, so this was also a thrill for me! Another chapter of my dusty old novel? To be honest,  I almost didn’t post this chapter for reasons I won’t disclose. But I have no regrets.

#3 HIT IN 2020

2020 Cedarhurst Sidewalk Sale: I Was Fired for Seeking the Truth: Getting fired from my job as Executive Director of the Cedarhurst Business Improvement District for refusing to put people’s lives at risk during a pandemic was devastating. But I’m glad my post reached thousands of visitors, and I hope it continues to attract tons of traffic. I miss my job, but I don’t miss the Village of Cedarhurst’s political posturing, the lies, the misinformation, or the bullying. And I’m still weighing whether or not to sue the Deputy Mayor of Cedarhurst for defamation.

#4 HIT IN 2020

My Stolen Diaries – Chapter Five: My First Diary: The first thing I thought when I added up the numbers and saw that the #4 spot was yet another chapter of my book—was that maybe, just maybe, my languishing novel has legs!

#5 HIT IN 2020

My Stolen Diaries – Chapter Six: Tit: Another chapter of my book! And BTW, Tit is the nickname for a bully character in my novel. And the thousands of people this chapter reached gave me new resolve to pull out that book and take a fresh look at it.

#1 HIT OF ALL TERI TOME TIME (2015-2020)

Bullies Are Cowards and Why I Refuse To Turn the Other Cheek: I have a lot to say about this one. Year after year, this post, written in 2015, continues to outperform all the others, and to date, has garnered almost 550,000 page views. And year after year, I’m thankful for the blog traffic, but the fact that “bullies” is my number one keyword says volumes about our world’s character. And as history has shown us, there are way too many psychopathic bullies out there. And from my personal experience, someone with a psychopathic personality disorder will almost always display some sort of mental illness and or narcissistic derangement. As far as I’m concerned, all three conditions are little more than a convenient label for crackpots and social deviants who over-estimate and exaggerate their abilities, status, intelligence, and looks.

In reviewing my 2020 hits and misses, as well as my top post of all Teri Tome time, I’m excited about highlighting more chapters of my novel on my blog.

And 2021 might even be the year I finish it!

I want to wish my loyal readers a Happy New Year. I hope that 2021 brings you wellness and equality, plus all the hopes and dreams you thought would happen in 2020.

And I can’t wait to see what 2021 holds for the new and improved Teri.

Stay tuned!

My Stolen Diaries – Chapter 6: Tit

CHAPTER 6

TIT

It was August 1960, and I was getting ready for first grade.

I was excited but also nervous. Mem was even more nervous than me because I was going to be walking to school by myself. The walk wasn’t a long one, but I still had to do it alone.

Mom worked from 7 am-3 pm, and Mem worked a factory 3-11 pm shift and was a seamstress during the day. Because we didn’t have a car, they both had to either walk or take buses everywhere, which took a lot of time. Mere Germaine was living too far away to help out, so I was pretty much on my own day and night.

Mom said that moving Mere Germaine back in with us so she could help out was yet another reason why we had to get out of our White Street apartment.

After church, for three Sundays straight, Mem walked with me to the school, warning me about cars, strangers, and stray dogs.

The walk was pretty straightforward. From White Street, we made a right at the corner, then walked up a long hill, and then made another right, and then down a steep hill, where the school was at the bottom, and across the street on the left.

On day one, Mem packed me a paper bag with a jelly sandwich, and a chocolate doughnut from the batch she had made fresh the day before.  She wrote “RR” for right, right, on my right hand in pen so I wouldn’t get lost.

My walk was uneventful until I started down the second hill. There was a group of girls slightly ahead of me. The biggest one turned around and yelled: “Whatchu lookin at?”

I looked behind me to see who she was speaking to, but there wasn’t anyone else there but me. When I turned back around, she was in my face. “I aksed chu a question.”

I looked down at my lunch bag, too afraid to answer. “Watchu got in the bag?” She grabbed my lunch and ran off to catch up with her friends.

Later that day in the playground, I was hungry and didn’t feel much like playing. Plus, every time I looked over at the mean girl, she gave me the finger. When I asked some of the other kids who she was, one girl told me that her name was Tit.

“Who would name a kid, Tit?” I asked, and the girl told me that her real name was Barbara Titone, and she was a bully to everyone, even her friends.

Oh, she was a bully, all right. And husky. And since she was in the third grade, she towered over scrawny me.

After school, I ran all the way home, terrified that Tit was going to come after me.  And those hills were a killer.

When I got to the apartment, it was empty. Mem left for her shift way before I got home, and Mom’s shift was over at 3 pm, but after work, she had a second job as a dance instructor for a local Arthur Murray Dance Studio, so it was me myself and I, until at least 6 or 7 pm.

Between being afraid of the refrigerator, the scary hallway, the shoebox cabinet, and the rodents, I sat at the table in the kitchen until Mom got home, even though I had to pee.

Since the only way to get to the bathroom was through the hallway, there was no chance I was doing that, so the only choice I had was to hold it in or pee on the back porch.

I didn’t mention anything to Mem about Tit, but the next morning I told her I had a stomach ache and didn’t want to go to school. Mem told me she wasn’t having any of my nonsense and to pack up.

For the next few months, Tit made my life miserable. Back then, I didn’t know what a butch was, but if ever there was a butch, Tit was it.

And her name might make you laugh, but there was nothing funny about being taunted day in and day out.

In the morning, she would torture me and take my lunch, and in the afternoon, she would just torture me.

One day on my way to school, Tit was particularly aggressive and shoved me so hard that when I fell, I hit my head on the pavement and wet myself.

As I sat in a puddle of urine, Tit laughed with her friends, singing ♪ Tony needs a diaper, Tony needs a diaper ♪.

I didn’t want to say anything to my teacher about what happened, so I had to stay wet until my clothes air-dried. Tit told everyone at school I pissed myself, and I was humiliated. Plus, my clothes dried all smelly and crusty, and the back of my head was throbbing. That’s when I started to fantasize about how I was going to get back at Tit.

Even though I knew it was hopeless, I needed to take some kind of action because running away from Tit every day was both mentally and physically killing me.

The next day, on what I knew was going to be yet another torturous walk to school, I was feeling brave.

That was until I caught sight of Tit. And like a coward, and before Tit could even grab it, I handed her my lunch. So much for bravery.

But when Tit turned her back to me and began singing, ♪ Tony needs a diaper; Tony needs a diaper ♪, an uncontrollable storm of fury invaded my body.

I let out a roar, and in a fit of rage, I pounced on Tit from behind.  Tit fell on her knees, and when she rolled over, writhing in pain, I jumped on her stomach and straddled her. Then I punched Tit hard in the face, once with my right fist and then with my left. Tit was holding her hands up to her face and crying. I yanked her hands away and slapped her in the face a couple of times while repeatedly calling her shitty titty.

Then I grabbed my lunch bag, winked at Tit, gave her friends an evil grin, and asked if anybody else wanted what Tit got. While they all looked down at the sidewalk, I roughly elbowed my way through the girls and strutted the rest of the way to school.

We both got called into the principal’s office, and when nobody but Tit was looking, I imitated one of those nasty rats from our shoebox, and put my two hands up like claws, and gave her a creepy bucktooth face. And from what I could tell, Tit was scared titless.

When Mem came to get me at school, she wanted an explanation for why I beat up “Barbara.” I told her all about the Tit taunts, and how I was going to shove her tits down her titty mouth. My dirty words mortified Mem, so we stopped at the church on the way home, where she ordered me to recite the Lord’s Prayer five times. I knew Mem was more worried than mad, though, because she didn’t threaten to wash my mouth out with soap.

That night Mem and Mom spoke together in French to figure out what the hell they were going to do. I knew they used the swear word because Mem said in French, “enfer.”

Mem told Mom she was horrified at my violent actions and words. And Mom told Mem she was worried I was going to take after my father’s side of the family, and that was yet another reason why we had to get Mere Germaine back.

That night, as I laid in Mem’s bed, I wasn’t obsessing about the rats, the mice, the poison, or the cockroaches. I was happily and busily conjuring up all sorts of ideas for how I was going to torture Tit.

Click here for Chapter 7: A New School With a Side of Baptism

My Stolen Diaries – Chapter 5: My First Diary

CHAPTER 5

MY FIRST DIARY

3/4/60

My seventh birthday had finally arrived. Mem and Mom went back and forth as to whether we should have a party or not. I didn’t have many friends, so it would be mostly family, which seemed weird to me since I didn’t have many of those either. But in the end, they decided that a small party was better than no party at all.

On the day of, while I blew up the balloons at the kitchen table, Mere Germaine hid the rat poison under the kitchen sink. Mom was whispering to Mem in French about how unhappy she was that Mick’s two sisters were coming.

I didn’t know I had two aunts, and I was curious although I was hoping that they wouldn’t come to the party with guns.

“I want them all out of her life,” Mom told Mem.  “It’s not that easy,” Mem responded. “With Mere Germaine living rent-free from Samir right now.” Mom reminded Mem that Mere didn’t want any of them in my life either. Rats and all, Mere wanted to come back and live with us. I wanted her to live with us too.

I was worried about Mere being around that side of my so-called family. And I had to agree with Mom that it might be best if they were all out of our lives.

The first and last time I saw my father, Mick, was with that woman, and if I never saw either one of them again, that was fine with me. Nobody offered for me to see him again anyway.

I never told Mem and Mom about the cow’s head in Samir’s refrigerator, because I knew if I did, Mom would never let me go back to visit.

Who opens a refrigerator expecting to find a cow’s head? For a long time after that, I added refrigerators to the already long list of things that terrified me.

And if I kept the cow’s head a secret from Mem and Mom, you know I never told them about Uncle Luke and the bloody yellow kitchen table.

Anyway, when my Aunt Mona showed up for the party, Mem and Mom pretended to be happy about it.

And then my Aunt Sara showed up — with who else, but Uncle Luke! My eyes were rounder than saucers, but Luke never let on that we had ever met, and neither did I.

Every time I took a glance at Uncle Luke, he was also looking back at me. At some point during the party, he came over to me and told me that when I was first born, he used to babysit for me and that he used to walk me to nursery school. He asked if I remembered him at all, and I shook my head no.

The only thing I remembered about him was his bloody face and swollen winking eye.

I don’t recall any of the other presents I got that year except for the pink diary from Aunt Mona.

The inscription read:

Dear Tony, Happy Birthday.  I have always loved you. Aunt Mona

While I was reading what she wrote, she was smiling at me and patting me ever so gently on my head.

And I was thinking; you’re such a liar. If you loved me so much, you would never allow me to live like this.

Click here for Chapter 6: Tit

My Stolen Diaries – Chapter 4: The Yellow Kitchen Table

CHAPTER 4

THE YELLOW KITCHEN TABLE

It was a Sunday morning in February of 1960.

“Mere Germaine deserves better than this hell hole,” Mom told Mem after we came home from church, after a particularly harrowing night full of the snap, snap, snapping of rat traps.

Mem agreed, but where would she go? Mom mentioned someone I had never heard of before — Samir. Whoever this Samir was, he owned apartments, and Mom said that if she had to get on her hands and knees and beg him to find a clean and safe place for Mere Germaine to live, she would do it.

Mem spoke back to Mom in French, but I understood everything. Mem was telling Mom that if Samir found a place for Mere, he would want something in return. “Nobody gives anything for nothing.” And Mem warned Mom that seeing me would surely be part of the arrangement.

Me? What did I have to do with any of it? Mom asked Mem if she had any other ideas, and Mem said no. All in French.

I sat quietly, eating my butter and strawberry jam sandwich. “Well, then it’s settled,” Mom said and picked up the phone.

“Samir? It’s Natalie. Yes, I’m fine. Yeah, she’s a big girl already.” I assumed they were talking about me.

“I need your help Samir, but hold on.” She then kicked me out of the kitchen and told me to go to Mem’s room.

Since Mem’s room was at the other end of the apartment, there was no way I could hear the rest of the conversation.

After church the following Sunday, I helped Mom and Mem move Mere to the other side of Bridgeport. It wasn’t the best neighborhood, but it was way better than White Street.

As I ran around Mere’s new apartment, there was a knock at the door. When Mem opened it, a grey-haired man stood smiling at me.

“Look at you,” he said, arms outstretched. I was frightened and looked at Mem, who introduced me to Samir as my grandfather.

He lifted me off my feet and kissed me twice on each cheek. I was confused, but I liked the attention.

Then he put me down, and the two of us walked hand in hand to his house, which was a few blocks away.

While Samir was in the bathroom, I opened his refrigerator. There, on the top shelf, was a huge cow’s head with its tongue hanging out. I let out a scream and slammed the door. Samir flew out of the bathroom, and I pointed to the refrigerator. He laughed and told me I shouldn’t put my nose where it doesn’t belong.

Then Samir turned on the radio and was singing along to a song I had never heard before: ♪ …you can kiss me on a Wednesday, a Thursday, a Friday, and Saturday is best. But never, never on a Sunday, a Sunday, a Sunday, ’cause that’s my day of rest…  ♪ It was a catchy tune, and I hummed along as Samir prepared us something to eat. When he opened the refrigerator door, I squeezed my eyes tightly shut.

As we sat at his kitchen table, a boy in his early teens stopped by.  I was sitting on Samir’s lap, spooning a bowl of coffee filled with ripped-up toasted bread into my mouth like it was soup.

Samir called the boy Luke, and I could see right away that there was going to be trouble. I wanted to jump off Samir’s lap and make a run for it, but I was incapable of moving.

Luke was boiling mad and pulled out a gun. I had never seen a real gun before, and I was shaking.

Samir told Luke that I was Tony, Mick’s kid — and his niece, and warned him to think carefully about his next move.

Samir then told Luke to calm down and slowly took me off his lap. I bolted for the closest room, which was the bathroom. I knelt on the cold tile floor and kept the door slightly ajar so I could see what was happening.

Luke called Samir a thief, and Samir calmly told him to put down the gun so they could talk.

Luke put the gun on the table, and when Samir stood up, it seemed like he was going to hug him. But instead, he punched Luke in the face — first with his right fist and then with his left. Blood from Luke’s nose splattered all over Samir and the yellow kitchen table.

I will never forget the look on Luke’s face. It wasn’t pain or anger — it was more of sadness and misery. I can still see his eyes today, brimming with tears.

Oddly enough, I wasn’t scared — I felt pity for Luke. As he backed away from Samir, he called him a shit father.

Then he turned in my direction — one side of his bloody face was already starting to swell.

As I continued to peek out through the crack in the bathroom door, Luke gave me a wink before he left.

Click here for Chapter 5: My First Diary

My Stolen Diaries – Chapter 3: White Street

CHAPTER 3

WHITE STREET

January 1960

Mem and Mom were always talking about the big news of the day. Elvis was in the army; Senator John F. Kennedy was running for President, and Mem got a Saturday job working at the Woolworths lunch counter on Main Street.

During the week, Mem worked at Remington Arms on the assembly line, boxing bullets, and was a seamstress at night and on Sundays. I was upset that Mem was going to be away even more now that she had taken a job at Woolworths. I should have cared more that Mem was killing herself working seven days a week, but I learned quick enough not to think or care too much about anything.

We lived in Bridgeport, 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 lower 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 its debut anytime it went from light to dark.

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 rodents 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 wasn’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 calmly throw them into a garbage bag and then into the garbage can on our back porch and place the shoebox back in the cupboard next to the sink.

On the first of every month, our landlord would put out a dish of rat poison in the corner, next to our back door. By the end of the month, the bowl was always empty, which made me happy because it meant a lot of dead rats.

I was a curious child, so I asked Mem a lot of rodent questions. I wouldn’t call Mem a mouse or rat expert, but she knew a lot 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 were wall huggers, 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 4: The Yellow Kitchen Table

My Stolen Diaries – Chapter 2: To Know Yourself Is to Know Your Family

CHAPTER 2

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.

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

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

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, Mom was on a date, and Mem was busily crocheting me an Afghan blanket.

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 homemade.

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. 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 my alpha female trio and me.

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.

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

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

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 had brown hair and 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 with his dark — almost black — 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 3: White Street

My Stolen Diaries – Chapter 1: In The Beginning

CHAPTER 1

IN THE BEGINNING

It all started back in 1960 when my Aunt Mona, who I barely knew, gave me a pink diary for my seventh 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 2: To Know Yourself Is to Know Your Family