"You changed my life" Part 3

>> Sunday, March 16, 2014

Rather than re-explain, if you want to know what this is about, see my first post of this set.

Five more entries:

March 7 - Joseph Edward Beck (my brother)

When I was about 8-9, my family was going through a rather extreme crisis. My father had been laid off from his job in Washington state in the middle of building his dream house on property up there. There were four small children and my mother and my father, who was also in ill health as a result of mold from his former job that had taken up residence in his lungs.

We moved across country to Maryland to stay with my grandparents and live in their large and spacious daylight basement. My parents had a hard time unloading the house in Washington from a distance and my father couldn't find a job. After a year, he wanted to try again in Washington (this is all kind of hazy for me, the rationale, because I was nine-ish and don't remember the details if, in fact, anyone ever told me) and packed up Mom, my two youngest siblings and headed back to Washington state, leaving my next youngest sister Cheryl Beck Carvajal) and myself behind.

My recollection of this is that I was very calm and dispassionate about this. I might have been a kid, but I had years of experience in handling minor crises with a clear head and also had plenty of experience in sucking up my own miseries. With my mother's emotional fragility, it was my job to be the comforter, rather than the comfortee.

I didn't like seeing them go. I've always loved my siblings deeply and I was very close with my father. Still, I remember waving them off dry-eyed. After all, in theory, they'd be sending for my sister and me soon.

Now, before they'd gone, I'd given my baby brother, Joseph, something stupid I'd made in class, a paper mache head painted some unlikely color with those little plastic eyes that move when you shake them. It was ugly and repulsive but Joseph had liked it and I'd been glad to give him something to remember me by.

So, some few hours after they'd gone, I found the stupid head, left or forgotten or discarded (Joseph was only three or so years old so it's not a reflection on him whichever of these it was). And that's when it hit me. My family had left without me. My brother, so young, would have nothing to remind him of me.

I wept and wept. I don't recall ever crying so hard again until adulthood (if that makes any sense). I was inconsolable.

It was as if I knew that the relationship between us would never be the same, that even if I was called back shortly (I never actually was called back - they returned a year later), my place in that family would be forever changed. That I would never get that time back. It was a precognitive moment of clarity as I realized things had changed forever.

And that was true. Even after my family returned and I was, once again, "part of the family", I never felt part of the family again. I was always an outsider. My sister, Cheryl, who had been sent back after six months, had taken over being in charge of siblings quite naturally. When I came back into the picture, we were almost always at loggerheads, for many many reasons, not the least of which was that we were both trying to maintain positions we understood in the family and because we have completely different personalities and ways of going about things. (It's ironic that we get along so much better now in part because of those different personalities, but I'm saving the post about her for her birthday next week).

But, with my two younger siblings, I never could recapture the relationship I had once had. I was some foreign being they barely remembered, who came back into their lives like an older stepsister and started bossing them around and vying with them for attention. I don't blame them. But it does grieve me. I am not close to most of my younger siblings. These two, at least in part because of this, I think. The three youngest because they were born either shortly before I moved away to college or after. None of them really know me. And I don't really know them.

And that will always make me sad.

March 8 - Head of the Music Department, University of Oklahoma, 1986.

This is another nameless one, I'm ashamed to say.

I love to sing. I have always loved to sing. Believe it or not, this was not encouraged in my household. My parents encouraged me in pursuing amusical instrument (clarinet) which I had zero talent for thanks to my complete lack of motor skills (it should be noted that I'm an aberration in my family as most of my siblings are accomplished, frequently on more than one instrument, and my brother, Joseph, I believe, made wonderful use of that same clarinet later in on). I hated it. In middle school, I took choir, but my mother in particular was not pleased.

In hindsight, because I had never really understood my mother's antipathy to my singing, I think it might be because I was a soprano and she is basically a tenor. She would tell me, "If you can't sing like Karen Carpenter, I don't want to hear you." I tried, really tried, and that's likely why I sang alto in middle school and even in college - I'd pushed my range considerably to try to accommodate her tastes, which is why, with effectively no training, I had more than a three octave range. But I digress.
In high school, choir was out because I was under the impression that I had to take 4 years of science, English, a foreign language, math, history, and, of course, required courses like PE and such. It wasn't until my senior year when my sister, Cheryl Beck Carvajal, was able to take art and drama that I said, "Hey, wait a minute, doesn't she have to take 4 years of all that college preparation stuff?"
"Oh no," my father said. "That was never required." But of course, too late for me.

Anyway, by the time I was in college, I had become very self-conscious about my singing voice. I still loved to sing, but I did it only alone where no one could hear me. I didn't know how to sight read (still don't) and was concerned that my singing was truly terrible. But, as a natural skeptic, I wasn't *sure* it was so bad because it didn't sound that bad to me.

In the second semester of my freshman year, I tested out of a five hour chemistry class (because I didn't want to have to do the 7:30am labs). Normally, my no-hours-taken-during the summer and demanding major allowed no "free" time for classes that I wanted to take, but, suddenly, I had time to spare.

I wanted to take choir. The kicker was I had to try out with the head of the music department. Depending on my abilities, he'd tell me what choirs I was eligible to join, if any. I'm was scared to death.

I told him when we started I couldn't sight read though I could tell trends (music going up or down) and could sing by ear. He nodded and smiled, was very kind.

And I sang. When I was done, he told me two things I've never forgotten. The first was, "Don't let anyone tell you you can't sing." The second was, "Pick any choir you want."

It may seem like a small thing, but it really changed things for me. I'd been so self-conscious about singing for so long, I felt vindicated and not crazy that the singing I thought wasn't that bad, really wasn't bad at all. That I could sing. I learned to have a little more faith in my own judgement.
I did sing in the choir that semester, and in the same choir the next semester (for no hours) and then didn't sing in public again until Stephanie Loyd was four, though that is a story for another day. But, I did sing to Stephanie whenever I could, even though my first husband felt about my singing much like my mother had. But I didn't let that stop me and, of course, you can see she grew up loving singing, too, but with talent (much greater than mine) that I did all I could to encourage.

I could have missed out on so much if it wasn't for that teacher, whose name I can't recall. But, even if I've forgotten his name, I'll never forget what he told me. Thank you.

March 9 - Ivan the Terrible
Ivan the Terrible, of course, was not his real name, though Ivan was. I've just forgotten is last name. Nor, in fact, was he terrible. He was a very large, very smart coworker I once had with a big laugh and a big heart. I was going through one of those rough times. My daughter was small, my husband (of the time) was miserable to be around and overtly antagonistic. And I was about as down on myself as I have ever been, before or since.

My first husband, as I understand the situation (and I do not have insight into his mind, then or now) was gravely disappointed in me. The promising young, beautiful and naive genius he thought he married had no interest in engineering ambition (still wasting her time on writing fiction no one was ever going to read) and was far more principled than practical. When I got into trouble at work for what my own supervisor described as doing the right thing so well it couldn't be countered so I had to be silenced, he was livid with me. How would I get ahead that way?

Plus, far more unforgivingly, I had grown heavy and was no longer someone he could show his friends with pride. And he made sure I heard what a failure I was, how ugly and repulsive and boring and, well, the list was legion, at every opportunity.

He couldn't convince me I was technically stupid - he just wasn't smart enough to pull it off and I've never been swayed by the say it often, say it loud method of "proving your point". However, I had never been secure about my appearance and romantic appeal and those barbs fell on fertile ground (so much so that I started mixing metaphors).

My defense mechanism tends to be humor, and I'm often the butt of my own jokes, sometimes before anyone had a chance to say anything to forestall comments. Or something. Anyway, I irritated any number of people with my self-deprecating humor and not-so-humorous comments at my own expense.

Ivan took me aside and told me I was being an idiot, that I was a beautiful person inside and out and, if I didn't see it, no one else would either. He made me promise not to do so any more and, since he was changing jobs, he convinced everyone else in the office to call him if I relapsed.
That's really enough to get points. But the change in what I said about myself had profound effects on my attitude about myself and really made me think about how I saw myself and what I felt I deserved. In many ways, Ivan's words gave me the impetus to walk away from my miserable marriage and to, ever since. refuse to beat myself up the same way. Not saying I never do - just that I make efforts not to fall into the same mindset again.

And I'm much better off for it. He triggered a change that I have never undone and most of my self-affirming actions and changes since then are a direct result of that first little push.

Thank you, Ivan. You're not terrible at all.

March 10 - Haynes-san

I've had many great teachers over the years. I don't know if I was just lucky to get such winners time after time or if I was just capable of appreciating teachers that might have walked a different path. At least a dozen were fantastic and certainly made my education better.

But there's always one...

In my case, I didn't need a teacher to introduce me into the world of any particular learning. I was a self-starter and the best teachers tended to just step aside so they didn't get run over. Haynes-san, Col Robert E Haynes (ret), was my freshman English teacher and didn't hover or fret over my learning.
But I was a near-friendless nerdy, geeky girl who knew no virtually no classmates due to the combination of moving near the end of the previous school year into the district AND then skipping a grade so that I knew few people and the people I did know (from eighth grade which I'd skipped) resented me heartily. And, then, there was my personality. Haynes-san was my friend.

I could talk with Haynes-san, about life or my weird views or off-nominal thought processes and he was neither shocked nor taken aback nor concerned. I could talk about my writing and he got it, totally got it. He was my friend all the time I was in that high school, by the way, even though I'd only had him in first year English and moved in October of my senior year. From Las Vegas NV to, I kid you not, Ada OK.

But, fabulous as knowing him was, that's not why he was on this list. He's on this list because, in November, after I'd moved away from the school where I felt as close to home as I ever did (largely due to Haynes-san and a few other teachers), Haynes-san had sent me a birthday card.

He'd remembered my birthday (and I don't remember if we'd ever talked birthdays in the three years we actually saw each other at school) and managed to get the card to the right place in time for my birthday though my family was still moving around Ada a good deal.

I wasn't forgotten.

It seems like a small thing, but, jerked from the closest place to home I'd ever lived, surrounded by quite friendly people, but people who had known each other from infancy, with a family that I'd never felt back at home with since they had left and returned, I felt lost, helpless, and desperately alone.
But someone remembered me. And I mattered enough to him for him to send me a card. (He'd been a teacher for my sister as well and also made a point of remembering her birthday the following March - but that didn't make his remembering mine any less special.)

Every year, for more than a decade, after he retired, after I had gone to college and gotten married. he sent me a birthday card every year. I'd call him once every year or so, write him an occasional letter (I'm a horrible correspondent - I don't write letter like I should, never had), but, though his eyesight failed him and his body, he kept sending birthday cards for many years.

When they stopped, I was stunned. It wasn't until a couple of years later (my sister had been smart enough to write his wife) that I found out he had passed away. I hope he knew how much I loved him, how much his regard and consideration had meant to me.

He'd always sign his cards and letters with the same thing, the phonetic spelling of Japanese from when he'd been stationed there in WWII. The bits of Japanese were a private joke between us (as far as I know).

Anata to watashi wa e tomadashi desu. I probably butchered it, but it's supposed to be a way of saying: You and I are good friends.

Thank you, Haynes-san. I will always treasure your memory and the way you made me feel special and memorable.

March 11 - Cheryl Beck Carvajal

I had to pick this day (if I hadn't fallen behind) for my sister Cheryl because, not only is it my youngest daughter's birthday, it's also my sister, Cheryl's.
I know it seems weird to bring up another relative that one has so many things to talk about with and such an interactive relationship with for one of these single-event-that-made-an-impact thing, but my sister, Cheryl, deserves one. Really, two, because there are two events that are important so I'm going to describe them both.

Now, I need to preface my story with a few things. First off, my sister and I have polar opposite personalities. I'm quick but scatterbrained. She's just as smart but learns methodically and retains better. I'm into logic. She's quite rationale but more into literature and art and artistic thinking. She's quiet and reserved (she used to be painfully shy), I'm brash and rather in-your-face as I think we've established. When I'm angry, I get loud. When she gets angry, she is very very quiet. Etc etc. We also look very different as she's very very fair and built on voluptuous lines where I was tall and, once, slender. It's like you gathered up traits and characteristics of my two parents, mixed them up and put them into two separate piles: myself and Cheryl.

When I was separated from my family, Cheryl had to move into the thankless task of being "eldest" which meant emotional support for my mother and full time watching of children. When our family all became "one" again, we were frequently at odds, both resentful of each others positions (which were no longer clear cut) and resentful of the perceived favor/freedoms the other seemed to have. Our differing personalities and ways of addressing our differences magnified the rift between us.
Unnecessarily, it turns out as we were both suffering from misunderstandings and misinformation. There's a whole huge backstory in all this, but, it not just mine to tell so I'll just say that Cheryl and I were apparently knowingly set at odds. She was told I was flawless and terrific and smart and stuff. I was told she was helpful and supportive and amenable and understanding, not difficult like I was. If my parents were singing my praises, it wasn't aimed at me; the same was true of her. I totally had no idea. Neither did she. We each thought the other was responsible.

I'd left home with the door slammed forcefully at my back for first going away to school, not choosing the major my mother had in mind but, most importantly, not marrying to their satisfaction (The marriage was a disaster, but it was my decision to make). Cheryl, hearing far more about my perfidy and failings than I, chose not to attend the wedding and joined in the general Stephanie boycott. I don't blame her (or any of my other siblings who did the same - they knew mostly what they'd been told).

And a couple of years went by. Rather than learn to let go, Cheryl lived under rather rigid control and, when she found the man she's been with (and now happily married to for decades), she was under tremendous pressure to cease and desist. Stuck at home, jobs discouraged, no financial or otherwise independence even while a college student (none of my siblings went away to school as I had - big surprise), Cheryl was smart enough to recognize what my parents had said about me was now being applied to her.

And that's when she did something that changed my life: she wrote me a letter asking me what to do, LISTENED (figuratively since I responded in a letter) to what I told her then exceeded all my expectations on making herself into an independent, thoughtful, rationale, capable person, despite a very sheltered and controlled upbringing.

And I had my sister back, the one I remembered from my childhood, my boon companion that I had adored since birth, despite, or perhaps because, of our diverse personalities that, when no one was trying to turn our relationship into a cockfight, complemented rather than grated.
And we've been close, in all but physical distance, ever since.

The other things she did that changed my life was send me a letter after my first devastating divorce with such genuine love, understanding, compassion and support that I treasure it and still bring it out once in a while to remind myself that someone truly loves me.

So, Cheryl, happy birthday after the fact. I will always treasure the fact that you trusted me when you needed help and supported me when I needed help most.

You're fabulous and I'm proud to know you and call you my sister.


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