I DON’T MEAN TO GIVE BRAWLEY A BAD NAME BUT EVERYTHING BAD THAT EVER HAPPENED TO US HAPPENED THERE. SO THERE IS THAT.

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The move to Brawley, California was a big deal for our family for a variety of reasons. I remember clearly Mother sitting me down to say it was a chance for me to start over in terms of my conduct issues in school. Even though Brawley and Calexico are a mere 23 miles from each other they were a world apart in the ways that matter most. Calexico was something like 98 percent Mexican and somewhat poor and itinerant. Whereas Brawley was a relatively more affluent town made up primarily of Anglo farming families with a much smaller Mexican contingent largely segregated to the southeast quadrant of town.

We lived at 560 South Imperial Avenue. A railroad track separated the poor Mexicans from the Anglo and more affluent part of town . We were just a few blocks away from the east side but far enough away that I was qualified to attend Myron D. Whitter Elementary versus Miguel Hidalgo Elementary. What I learned because Mother and life experience taught me is that small towns with railroad tracks in them can be mean and hardscrabble places. And that ‘white people’ aren’t all they’re cracked up to be.

But Mother told me that the school officials in Brawley would not be told of my behavior problems and that I would be enrolled at the Myron D. Whitter Elementary School into a normal (not emotionally handicapped) Fifth Grade class. This turned out to be true and I remember my Fifth Grade year as pleasant and uneventful.

I enjoyed Thursdays the most because that’s when we had art class. It is also where I developed a fondness for A-List pretty girls. Mostly because every art project we did mine were always kind of crappy with glue showing etc. But the pretty girls always seemed to make prettier things. And so we discovered that I admired them and that the feeling was reciprocated. None of the A-List boys liked me because I myself was still quite short and very pretty. Puberty was still some way off for me.

If God were going to give the world an enema, Brawley, California, is where he would stick the tube.

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For reasons best kept only to myself, once my little brother was born we relocated to Brawley, California. Mother accepted a job as the bookkeeper at the Brawley Inn. My now and forever Mexican stepfather at some point took a job as some sort of a diesel mechanic there in town.

This is where the wheels began to fall off.

If God were going to give the world an enema, Brawley, California, is where he would stick the tube.

All love, pk

On Having Our Own Personal Mount Rushmore

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Mother had a strong religious bent we sadly did not share.

Mother had a very difficult childhood. She herself told me that when she was 18-years-old she tried for the first time to kill herself. She took 100 aspirin – which for those of you who are feeling suicidal is a most excellent way of doing it provided you don’t mind dying from internal stomach bleeding – and that when she was revived she asked god: “Why did you do this to me?”

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Mother told me that god him/her self answered thusly: “Because I want to make you stronger so you can do good in the world. You were born to a purpose.”

As loyal sons do, I for a period followed along with Mother’s religious convictions. We were both born feet-washing baptists but along the way experienced many religious sects including: american baptist, southern baptist, seventh day adventist, jehovah’s witnesses, mormon (just me, i had a pretty girlfriend), methodist, etc., etc., etc.

In the 7th grade at barbara worth junior high in brawley, california, I personally held and conducted bible study groups in the hallways, primarily to annoy my literature teacher, mrs. kenny. but also to amuse my best friend matt sowers.

I also attended christian bible camp in arizona where i was anointed camper of the year for my ability to mark up my bible to be able to bring along other kids to the ways of the lord.

I was a good son and christian because and for my mother.

Once Mother, Marion, had the most electroshock therapy treatments the state of california would allow to be administered to a human being, she did indeed stop trying to kill herself but she was never, ever, the same again.

In her later years, Mother developed a deep, personal and daily relationship with god, abraham lincoln and the statue of liberty. To be very clear: they wrote to and spoke with each other daily.

I tried to tag along as much as i could. But ultimately I had to bail. As Mother told me once in clearlake, california: “of course you’re gay. You’re a victim of five years of secular university education in this country.”

I regret that my little brother and my little sister never got to know our mutual Mother in the gorgeous way she existed before. Her short-term memory and the gist of her most amazing personality never showed up again.

I miss her terribly.

xo

TRUE LOVE: ENRAPTURED BY A SIBLING

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Mother’s youngest brother, Donny, or as she always referred to him, “my little brother” was as blond and blue eyed and as strikingly good looking as Mother was beautiful.

Donny also had a chronic heroin addiction that he supported primarily from breaking and entering into people’s homes to steal things that he’d in turn exchange for money to fund his heroin habit. Mother told me her little brother, my Uncle Donny, would sometimes make himself a sandwich in his victim’s homes and while they were asleep upstairs he’d sit and eat while watching their television set before making off with their belongings that he’d broken and entered to steal and to fence to feed his habit.

Uncle Donny spent about as much time in prison as not but whenever he’d get out he’d come visit us and I was always in awe of him because of his stunning physical presence and the fact that he was nearly always in possession of a firearm, typically a pistol. Mostly though I adored Uncle Donny for the very fragile and tender place he held in Mother’s heart.

BlaJITO

Nothing the same forever: November 8, 1971

Smack dab in the middle of our time in Calexico while we were living in the Andrade Apartments my very own little brother came to be.

My little brother was born breech and with his umbilical cord wrapped tightly around his neck. And if that weren’t enough the Anglo Doctor who was in a hurry to leave for some sort of golf vacation left parts of his placenta in my mother.

When my little brother came home from Pioneers Memorial Hospital and while we were all lying on the floor on the carpet at the Andrade Apartments with the baby, Mother suddenly started bleeding. There was blood, blood, and blood – so much blood.

This completely changed us. I had someone, two someones, who needed me more than I needed to be cared for. From this day forward I learned to look after Mother and to look after my own little brother. Looking after their every need as best I could would be my blessing, my mission, my life’s work throughout my childhood and beyond. I was transformed.

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TRUE LOVE: ENRAPTURED BY A SIBLING

MommyAndDonnyFinal

Mother’s youngest brother, Donny, or as she always referred to him, “my little brother” was as blond and blue eyed and as strikingly good looking as Mother was beautiful.

Donny also had a chronic heroin addiction that he supported primarily from breaking and entering into people’s homes to steal things that he’d in turn exchange for money to fund his heroin habit. Mother told me her little brother, my Uncle Donny, would sometimes make himself a sandwich in his victim’s homes and while they were asleep upstairs he’d sit and eat while watching their television set before making off with their belongings that he’d broken and entered to steal and to fence to feed his habit.

Uncle Donny spent about as much time in prison as not but whenever he’d get out he’d come visit us and I was always in awe of him because of his stunning physical presence and the fact that he was nearly always in possession of a firearm, typically a pistol. Mostly though I adored Uncle Donny for the very fragile and tender place he held in Mother’s heart.

BlaJITO

Nothing the Same Forever: November 8, 1971

Smack dab in the middle of our time in Calexico in 1971 and while we were living in the Andrade Apartments my very own little brother came to be.

My brother was born breech and with his umbilical cord wrapped tightly around his neck. And if that weren’t enough the Anglo Doctor who was in a hurry to leave for some sort of golf vacation left parts of his placenta in my mother.

When my little brother came home from Pioneers Memorial Hospital and while we were all lying on the floor on the carpet at the Andrade Apartments with the baby, Mother suddenly started bleeding. There was blood, blood, and blood – so much blood.

This completely changed us. I had someone, two someones, who needed me more than I needed to be cared for. From this day forward I learned to look after Mother and to look after my own little brother. Looking after their every need as best I could would be my blessing, my mission, my life’s work throughout my childhood. I was transformed.

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BEING EMOTIONALLY HANDICAPPED WAS PLEASANT ENOUGH

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Perhaps the event that finally brought a premature end to my tenure at Dool Elementary in Calexico was the day Mother was invited, yet again and certainly not for the last time, to come in and meet with school officials on my behalf to discuss the “C” word: Conduct.

This Principal’s name is lost to me these years later (Mr. Mc or Mac something?) but I remember his physical presence well. Mr. Mac Principal was a tall, just-on-the-verge-of-pear-shaped yet still imposing man. He wore dark framed glasses and what I only now recognize to be cheap and ill-fitting beige polyester trousers.

This very same Mr. Mac Principal had not too long before come running up behind me on the playground during recess and had delivered a hard swat across my butt because whatever it was I was doing or saying was inappropriate. I remember this now not because it particularly hurt at all and back then people (parents, relatives, school officials, et al) thought nothing of administering spontaneous corporal punishment. I remember it now only because I remember now that at the time it offended my dignity because it did.

The thing with Mother being called into meet with school officials – something she would unhappily be tasked with many, many times until I took leave of high school altogether years later – was that I never knew how it was going to go.

Mother was among my most ardent defenders generally and particularly to school officials. Woe to anyone who had stepped even slightly out-of-line or had, in her view, failed to live up to his or her responsibilities to me in any regard. Mother was a tough cookie and she wouldn’t give second thought to letting these clowns know exactly – in specific and exacting detail – how precisely they had failed and what her expectations of them were. Mother was formidable and more than once during these deliberations I’d honestly start to feel sorry for the other guys.

But once we’d left (fill-in-the-blank-petty-small-town-school-administrator’s office) and were on our way back home, as frequently as not if Mother decided that I had been out-of-line she would just as exactingly rip me a new one. This never failed give me mental whiplash (I don’t spot pattern well) and I’d be thinking, “But wait? Didn’t you just say? But you just told them?”

I didn’t matter. Mother’s expectations of herself and of us were what they were. Mother was highly inflexible in this regard.

In any event and on this particular occasion this particular Mr. Mac Principal made the rather inflammatory mistake of saying to Mother, in my presence, the following: “Patrick’s biggest problem is that he’s smarter than his teachers.”

Needless to say a certain pissed off third grader with a chip on his shoulder proceeded to march himself right back into that classroom and in the presence of the teacher, of course, reported to all interested parties what Mr. Mac Principal himself had just said.

My time the following year at Jefferson Elementary as an “Emotionally Handicapped” fourth grader was pleasant enough.

I don’t remember many specifics except the first day I walked in to the EH classroom. The teacher, I recall a thin, somewhat elderly woman who had clearly been around the block a few times, telling my she was aware of my hijinks and that she would brook no nonsense. She told me she didn’t approve of my long hair and as she handed me a brush and mirror set told me I would not be allowed in her classroom until I’d combed my hair each day.

The coolest thing that happened in her classroom that year was we created a puppet show set to the tune of “One Tin Soldier” a popular song that was the theme track to “Billy Jack.” Mother let me sacrifice one of her fancy (to us) gold couch pillows to create the robe for the king I’d fashion out of papier-mâché, or as we would have said, paper mache.

I was in heaven.

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BEING EMOTIONALLY HANDICAPPED WAS PLEASANT ENOUGH

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Perhaps the event that finally brought a premature end to my tenure at Dool Elementary in Calexico was the day Mother was invited, yet again and certainly not for the last time, to come in and meet with school officials on my behalf to discuss the “C” word: Conduct.

This Principal’s name is lost to me these years later (Mr. Mc or Mac something?) but I remember his physical presence well. Mr. Mac Principal was a tall, just-on-the-verge-of-pear-shaped yet still imposing man. He wore dark framed glasses and what I only now recognize to be cheap and ill-fitting beige polyester trousers.

This very same Mr. Mac Principal had not too long before come running up behind me on the playground during recess and had delivered a hard swat across my butt because whatever it was I was doing or saying was inappropriate. I remember this now not because it particularly hurt at all and back then people (parents, relatives, school officials, et al) thought nothing of administering spontaneous corporal punishment. I remember it now only because I remember now that at the time it offended my dignity because it did.

The thing with Mother being called into meet with school officials – something she would unhappily be tasked with many, many times until I took leave of high school altogether years later – was that I never knew how it was going to go.

Mother was among my most ardent defenders generally and particularly to school officials. Woe to anyone who had stepped even slightly out-of-line or had, in her view, failed to live up to his or her responsibilities to me in any regard. Mother was a tough cookie and she wouldn’t give second thought to letting these clowns know exactly – in specific and exacting detail – how precisely they had failed and what her expectations of them were. Mother was formidable and more than once during these deliberations I’d honestly start to feel sorry for the other guys.

But once we’d left (fill-in-the-blank-petty-small-town-school-administrator’s office) and were on our way back home, as frequently as not if Mother decided that I had been out-of-line she would just as exactingly rip me a new one. This never failed give me mental whiplash (I don’t spot pattern well) and I’d be thinking, “But wait? Didn’t you just say? But you just told them?”

I didn’t matter. Mother’s expectations of herself and of us were what they were. Mother was highly inflexible in this regard.

In any event and on this particular occasion this particular Mr. Mac Principal made the rather inflammatory mistake of saying to Mother, in my presence, the following: “Patrick’s biggest problem is that he’s smarter than his teachers.”

Needless to say a certain pissed off third grader with a chip on his shoulder proceeded to march himself right back into that classroom and in the presence of the teacher, of course, reported to all interested parties what Mr. Mac Principal himself had just said.

My time the following year at Jefferson Elementary as an “Emotionally Handicapped” fourth grader was pleasant enough.

I don’t remember many specifics except the first day I walked in to the EH classroom. The teacher, I recall a thin, somewhat elderly woman who had clearly been around the block a few times, telling my she was aware of my hijinks and that she would brook no nonsense. She told me she didn’t approve of my long hair and as she handed me a brush and mirror set told me I would not be allowed in her classroom until I’d combed my hair each day.

The coolest thing that happened in her classroom that year was we created a puppet show set to the tune of “One Tin Soldier” a popular song that was the theme track to “Billy Jack.” Mother let me sacrifice one of her fancy (to us) gold couch pillows to create the robe for the king I’d fashion out of Papier-mâché, or as we would have said, paper mache.

I was in heaven.

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THE PRETTIEST GIRL IN SCHOOL

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Once Mother decided we would without doubt be living in Calexico with my now and forever Mexican stepfather, I of course fell in line and ever more deeply in love with her as loyal sons do. Despite the grief over our forced rupture from Stanley, the one thing that mattered to me more than anything else – my prized possession and consolation prize all rolled into one – was the luxury of basking in Mother’s reflected glory. Honest to God she really was the most dazzling and remarkable creature imaginable.

Our time in Calexico certainly had its other benefits one of which is that we finally had a television again. We’d had only intermittent access to TV during our time in Mexico and that was typically United States programming dubbed into Spanish. So I was absolutely astonished to discover Batman and Robin spoke English. Who knew? It totally blew my mind and felt completely foreign in an oddly reverse sort of way.

Meanwhile, Calexico’s newest permanent resident had arrived as a pissed off third grader with a bad attitude and an apparent chip on his shoulder. I remember thinking at the time and to a degree still believe today that I woke up alive with an honest heart and an open mind and that any behavioral issues were simply my reaction to what presented itself along the way. Despite subsequent decades of costly and fancy pants long format talk therapy, I’ve still never quite figured out what seemed to be the problem. But nearly to a person everyone agreed that the problem was with me. So there was that.

My strong recollection of dealing with grownups and other kids my age was that little they were saying or doing or asking me to do seemed to make any sense and much of it seemed arbitrary and unfair. So, third grader or not, why on earth would I listen to them and not speak my mind? As a Libra child I definitely had a fairness thing going on, one that has thankfully been beaten out of me by life experience.

It likely didn’t help matters that I was short, skinny as a rail, very pretty and, like Mother, had long yellow blond hair. I was also typically decked out in moccasins and a fringed suede vest, as was the fashion at the time. I suppose in a way I resembled something of my Mother’s “Mini-Me.”

The first time I was mistaken for a girl was when Mother sent me off by myself to a nearby Calexico barbershop for a haircut. As I was walking I remember thinking that this was kind of interesting, grown-up business, this walking alone to get one’s haircut. I was on my own and so it felt kind of cool. As I strolled into the barbershop and announced my business the barber stopped, looked at me and barked: “We don’t cut girls’ hair.” The barber likely didn’t give it a second thought and went back to whatever he was doing. I was devastated, I mean it really stung, and I ran bawling back home to Mother.

To this day I have trouble sitting still long enough to get a haircut and so put it off as long as possible. I’ve managed to convince myself that I’ve mastered pulling off some sort of absent-minded, disinterested, disheveled look and that’s good enough for me.

The behavior I was presenting led to consistent C’s in Conduct (an entirely absurd concept to me then and now) while otherwise I was a steady and reliable A’s and B’s kind of kid. Whatever their root causes, my lackluster Conduct grades were a source of tremendous disappointment and embarrassment I think for Marion and they were certainly a cause of sharp conflict between us really throughout my elementary and high school academic careers.

My conduct apparently became so increasingly outrageous that I was finally tossed out of Dool Elementary School altogether and enrolled across town at Jefferson Elementary where they had a special class waiting just for me: “EH: Emotionally Handicapped” and it was in that class I began the fourth grade.

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AFTERMATH: THE CONSEQUENCES OF RANDOM ENCOUNTERS

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I’ve always known the circumstances of how my mother met her Mexican boyfriend, my soon-to-be Mexican stepfather, and about the events leading up to their decision to run away (split) together because my mother and I spoke about them frequently throughout my childhood. Ruminating now and writing down these memories has helped me process my grief at my mother’s passing but it has also had the side-effect of giving me access to details and nuances I was either too young to recognize, had blocked, or had otherwise forgotten.

George Bagdasarian had been our neighbor in the Contiki condo in Los Angeles where we all first lived when my mother and Stanley began living together. The same Contiki condos where much to everyone’s relief I’d finally started to speak in complete sentences. Once we moved to the house on Casa Grande, George and his girlfriend, Rose, came to visit Stanley and my mother in our new house in Montebello.

Rose is without doubt my mother’s equal in the looks department – a stunning beauty. I don’t know if she would agree or appreciate my comparison here but I’ve always thought of her as someone every bit as beautiful as Elizabeth Taylor but with the added blessing of having the heart and the Mexican soul of Linda Ronstadt. Rose would later become my “Tia Pocha” as she was called because she uniquely among my Mexican family was born, raised and educated in the United States (al otro lado).

When Rose and my mother met I believe they instantly recognized in the other commonalities that transcended their physical appearances: fierce intelligence, a complete lack of pretense and disarming honesty. They became the very best of friends and their friendship would endure for decades.

Once we’d moved down to 4008 Channel Place, Rose had many occasions to come and visit us there. On one of these occasions Rose was driven down to Newport Beach by her first cousin, my future Mexican stepfather.

I never until recently considered how it was Mother was able to make the clerical leap from refusing to continue living with Stanley without benefit of marriage because it displeased Jehovah to then rather suddenly deciding God would be ok with her running off to Mexico with her new boyfriend leaving her children behind in Newport. Despite hours and years of our talking about these events, I regret that I never thought to ask Mother about the theological basis for her sudden apparent reverse religious conversion.

But by then Marion had given Stanley every opportunity to “make an honest woman of her.” He’d at first refused: “Mother Dear, I’m very happy with the way things are.” and then he’d failed in his delivery with the 11th hour pre-nup offending my mother’s dignity by calling into question her integrity and her character. For Marion this was an unforgivable trespass. If my mother and I share a single personality trait – and we share many – one is that we do not tolerate any question of our integrity and character.

By the time Stanley came to his senses or to his knees or whatever, it was simply too late. Mother had fallen deeply in love with her Mexican boyfriend and nothing would ever be the same again. My mother and Rose burned the only copy of the pre-nup on Rose’s stove one night and that was that.

I personally don’t believe in jealousy, I think of it as a waste of energy. But if I am jealous of one thing it is my mother’s abiding friendship with my Tia Rose. To me it has always seemed a delicious, luxurious, extravagant and precious gift they discovered in each other. If the rest of our family, or even my mother herself, failed to deliver on the promise of that friendship, then shame on us.

Mother’s new boyfriend spoke no English and was what those of us on the political left today would refer to as an undocumented immigrant. Back then people in his circumstance were most politely called “illegals” or more frequently the culturally offensive slur “wetbacks” (mojados) or worse.

Stanley was a wealthy and powerful man and thus accustomed to getting his way and woe to anyone who might deny him what he wanted. Once Stanley came to understand the seriousness of Mother’s interest in her new boyfriend he made it his business to cause trouble for them with a maniacal aim to drive them apart. My Tia Rose recently wrote to me telling me she always referred to these as “Stanley Tactics.” That made me laugh. My Tia Rose and I laugh and cry a lot these days together. Laughing and crying at the same time is something of a Mexican trait we share and it is a blessing to us both.

Mother’s new boyfriend was living on Fetterly just off Whittier in East LA in an apartment building with one of his sisters, her husband and some cousins. All of them I’m assuming were without documentation (sin papeles). Mother’s boyfriend was working as a stockman alongside his cousins in a wholesale menswear operation called Sports Clothes in LA’s Fashion District. His job was to unpack shipments of menswear and hang them on racks to be pressed. When Stanley uncovered this detail he called the US Immigration Service (la Migra) and had the store raided. The authorities took everyone except my mother’s boyfriend. My mother’s boyfriend had heard them coming and as they were taking the others away, my mother’s boyfriend hid in a box of suits and so was able to evade detection.

Finally, and my mother told me this herself and I remember her words like yesterday, Stanley told her, “Mother Dear, it’s time for you to put your Mexican plaything back on the shelf and come home.” For what I have to believe were valid reasons Mother interpreted this as a threat to her boyfriend’s safety or perhaps even to his life. So Mother drove over to the apartment building where her boyfriend was living with the intent of leaving his keys in his mailbox along with a note explaining that they must never see each other again.

When it turned out my mother’s boyfriend was (I think unexpectedly) at home, my mother and her boyfriend instead appropriated a car from his sister’s husband and left (split) for Mexico the following day. I suppose back then the car would have been referred to as second hand. These days it would be called a vintage T-Bird but it was in that T-Bird that they left without notice and without a trace.

Once they’d left, and completely unbeknownst to me at the time, Stanley upped his game and went into overdrive. I’m not in the position now or then to comment upon Stanley’s judgment or to evaluate either his strategy or his tactics but what he did was the equivalent of declaring all out war against anyone who might have aided or abetted Mother’s escape and crucially who might have knowledge of where Mother was, using her children, me, as his point of leverage.

Here are two things Stanley did:

This I don’t remember personally but know to be true: Stanley told Rose that the police had found Mother’s car in a ditch by the side of the road somewhere with the front seat covered in blood with no trace of a body and that under the circumstances he had little choice to but call the child welfare authorities to turn us over to them. Rose knew Stanley was lying and just causing trouble but was deeply upset at the prospect of our being handed over to the authorities and begged Stanley to leave us in her care instead. Stanley declined because it didn’t suit his purpose.

This is do remember personally because my mother told me so herself: Stanley took out a newspaper ad that ran for a single day so he could copy it and get word of it to my mother: “Motherless boys in need of a good home…” I can’t imagine such an ad running today without the authorities becoming involved. I suppose because this was the go-go 70s, etc. that somehow it didn’t raise the alarms it would hopefully raise today.

Perhaps I wasn’t truthful earlier when I wrote just now that I’m not in the position to comment upon Stanley’s judgment or to evaluate either his strategy or his tactics.

What Stanley did was to take advantage of his knowledge of two of the many traumatic experiences in my Mother’s young life.

One I’ve known about since perhaps Elementary School: My mother was taken from her parents and raised in foster homes and orphanages. So for her, Stanley’s threat was potent.

The other I’ve only just recently become (re)aware of though I’m not prepared to discuss it just yet. I cry about it nearly daily, but only for short stretches, moments really.

I’ve come to realize that there are people, here and now, who are relying on me: My Wardell, my Tia, my friends, my clients, my colleagues, my business partners and indeed myself.

I will not fail any of us. And even in her death I will not fail my mother.

You, and she, have my word. xo

DREAMING A HIGHWAY BACK

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As we were being booted out of Mexicali at the invitation of the Mexican government it was explained that I would be re-starting elementary school ‘al otro lado’ just across the border in the Calexico Unified School District. Not only was our Mexican adventure not coming to an end as Stanley and I had so carefully plotted (or as I’m nearly certain I’d been promised) but rather the adventure had only just begun.

As with many third-graders, I imagine now that by this point I’d long since realized how grownups are unreliable at best and blatant liars at worst. But this was different. It was the first time I felt betrayed by Mother herself. After all she and I shared a special bond. A promise. A blood oath. She herself had told me so. But now she had broken it for reasons I couldn’t begin to fathom. If there is a word to describe furious beyond furious, that is what I was.

My only consolation and hope for the future would lie several hundred miles North back in Newport Beach which is how when my ‘behavioral problems’ became so profound that they allowed for no other recourse, Patrick Swiatek found himself deliriously and happily on that Greyhound Bus headed back to Stanley.

When I was perhaps maybe in Kindergarten – after not having spoken a single word until I was 2-and-a-half-ish at best – I developed a profound, disabling stutter that was progressing alarmingly despite the best medical advice Stanley’s money could acquire in Southern California in the early 1970s. Finally in desperation and as was his way, Stanley took matters into his own hands and made it his business to come home early at the end of each day. The instant he got home he would swoop me up into his arms and carry me around the house asking me about each person there (my mother, the housekeeper, et al) whether they had hurt my feelings that day, what they had done to hurt my feelings and then he’d demand they apologize right there and on the spot for having hurt my feelings. I’m certain this didn’t win me any domestic popularity contests but my stutter subsided completely thereafter and I’ve been stutter-free for my entire adult life. I believe this is called an act of love.

I remember reuniting with Stanley, and yes, ok, his then new groovy companion, Nina (this was the 60s-70s and Stanley was loaded, after all) at last at 4008 Channel Place as though it were yesterday. While our reunion would not prove long lasting we were ecstatic to be together again and I recall those days as among the very best and happiest of my life. I had no way of knowing what was on Stanley’s agenda at the time, or what he was communicating to my mother, and so I also had no idea that it would mark the last time Stanley and I would see each other for decades. But at least for my part, that last time we spent together was the last time and place where I would feel calm and safe and I daresay happy with a capital “H” for many, many years.

Shorty after my arrival back at Newport Mother showed up again to reclaim me from Stanley. This time she was as mad and as dangerous as anything imaginable and so Stanley and I simply didn’t stand a chance. All of our best-laid plans just crumbled in the face of Mother’s protective fury. As we were pulling away in the car Mother would use to drive us back to Mexico, I remember sitting in the back seat crying and screaming at her, ‘You’re going to regret this! You’re going to regret this!’ My mother, Marion, in her trademark tone that only those of us who knew her well might recognize, replied, ‘Someone’s going to regret it if he doesn’t shut his mouth.’ I can confidently attest that even had she not been my mother, I’d regard Marion as among the strongest, most fearsome people I have ever met.

To this day I don’t doubt for an instant that Stanley loved me dearly. First, I know he loved me because I certainly loved him and I don’t believe that such a thing as unrequited love exists. I also have to believe Stanley loved me or I’m not sure how I’d figure out what I’m supposed to represent here or what, if anything, anything means.

At some point perhaps I’ll be able to type or talk about what it was Stanley communicated to my mother that forever brought down the house on Channel Place. Just now it’s too much and it really needs context. I can say with certainty and with grace that I was never mistreated or abused physically, sexually, emotionally or otherwise by Stanley. It does seem definite however that he used our love for each other as a tool to try to force my mother not to leave him for my soon-to-be Mexican stepfather.

In his desperation to keep his hold on my mother, Stanley elected or allowed himself to follow the darker aspects of his personality – perhaps the very aspects and tactics that had made him fabulously wealthy and so successful in business – but which in the end cost him my mother and as sort of what’s now called collateral damage, lost him to me forever.

Stanley M. Swiatek. October 18, 1914 – November 14, 2011. May he rest in peace.

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