Dancing in the 80s.

I’ve been in the mood to listen to Journey lately, humming some of my favorite songs and dancing in the kitchen, so I put the Escape album on Apple Music this morning and sang “Stone in Love” in the shower. (Okay, I also sang “Don’t Stop Believin’” but can any of us hear that song now and not think of the final scene of The Sopranos?) Every now and then, particularly when I’m feeling my age, I need to refill myself with some of my favorite music from my youth.

In high school I was really into the heavier rock bands – Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple, Pink Floyd, The Who – as well as punk (the original punk, mind you). Love me some Patti Smith. My ex-husband did not agree with that last one. I did get him into Zeppelin though, because he was on a steady Beatles-only diet. Our first concert together was The Who at the Houston Coliseum. We also saw The Kinks at a smaller venue with his parents’ friends George and Jackie. We were too young to drive, so we had to get rides. It’s hard to believe that when we met, his parents were in their thirties! Our son is now 34, and our daughter would have been 38 this year. Damn.

We both hated New Wave music and pretty much anything that wasn’t hard-edged and rocking. Music evolved, though, and Journey was one of the new bands that I liked. Wish I had seen them live when Steve Perry was still with them, because to me he is Journey. What an iconic voice! What power!

The 80s and 90s were a weird time for me. Life did not go according to plan – not that I had any plan other than being with Paul and having kids. I had set aside all my big dreams of being a writer or being a musician. I had everyone in my life telling me that I could never make a living doing those things and encouraging me to learn to type (and presumably be a secretary). And back then, a working woman was assumed to be biding her time until she found a man (so why did I need to worry about making a living?). I’m rewatching the show thirtysomething (the 80s version of This is Us – both of which are Ken Olin vehicles) and in the middle of Season One, I’m groaning while Ellyn has an affair with her boss and goes away with him for the weekend. More than once, she has moaned to her best friend Hope that everyone thinks she (Ellyn) can’t get a man. And another time, she broaches the subject of possibly not wanting to ever have kids. Controversial stuff back then. Also, everyone is stick thin and has that hoarse voice that makes you wonder if the actresses had bulimia and chain-smoked. Or is that just me who wonders? Maybe they just sang too loudly in the shower?

For myself, work was always satisfying and fulfilling in many ways. Growing up, I did not idolize my mom’s lifestyle (homemaker). I thought she had given up on life, and honestly, she was clinically depressed. I figured out all the reasons why life was so hard for her later. Instead, I looked to my father. He encouraged me in ways big and small. He told me I was smart, like on a regular basis. Being smart became my job. I was devastated when I brought home a B in Algebra in the eighth grade, thinking I was in for some hell at home. My dad was always so proud to see straight A’s on my report card, so I was hesitant to show him. But he said he never understood algebra, so he couldn’t help me. Maybe he was having a good day. Whatever the reason, we moved on, and I decided I was not smart enough for higher math, therefore I was not going to be “college-bound” as most of my friends were. Funny how one grade altered my trajectory! (When I went back to college as an adult, I aced all of those math classes. Silly.)

My first real job was working in Dad’s building supply warehouse (which was part of his diversified construction company – Dad was a very smart man with only a third grade education and trade school). I went on to work in restaurants and then eventually in an office as an accounts payable clerk. This is where things started to move faster.

I found I had a knack for numbers and for technology. My oldest brother encouraged me to get more into computers because they were going to change everything, so I kept my eyes and ears open and learned everything I could. By the time the 80s ended, I was working for a government contractor, doing shift work as a computer operator. It was a job that was a stretch for me, but I learned. After a year-and-a-half of doing that job, I took a job within the company as an implementation specialist (training and setting up newly installed systems) for military medical installations globally.

That meant traveling all the time. I was going to be away from home almost constantly. It wasn’t something I really wanted to do, but we were living in a dump and not making much money. Paul was having trouble finding work. McDonalds wanted him to cut his hair before they would even interview him (ha – imagine that today!). We both loved his hair (which wasn’t even that long) and neither of us thought McDonalds was a good enough job to require him to give that up. After all, he was going to be a rock star. Because we needed a break financially, I took that job and had to say goodbye to my kids on a regular basis.

This morning, I was reliving that and seeing my kids’ faces all over again. Sean was only a toddler. Stephanie needed me. But we needed to be able to support them. For the first time, we had good benefits and a way out of the pit. I cried a lot on those trips. My kids would write to me (well, Sean would scribble), and I would show up at the airport carrying gifts from afar. My weekends with them were never enough and were generally filled with laundry, catching up, and spending money. I started doing things like that to help me get numb. Otherwise, I feel I would have lost my mind.

So the 90s are more complicated for me than the 80s were. I drank too much – way too much. I engaged in risky behavior (partly due to the drinking and the ever-growing need to get numb). I was deeply unhappy, and there are so many things I wish I could go back and change. By 1993, I took a position that kept me in one place for a year (Seattle) and brought the family with me. And some bad things happened there. But it took longer for me to change some of my coping behaviors. It was hard to be a wife and mother again, even though I loved them all.

I failed my kids over and over and over. But don’t we all? We make so many mistakes, with the best of intentions. At the time, I told myself that I had to take the job on the road, but I wonder what would have happened if I had just changed other things instead? Well, I wouldn’t be where I am today. I have ambition that I learned from my father. He was never home either. I remember a time when he came home from the job site with his white t-shirt tied around his bloody arm. He came in the house and asked my mom to make him a cup of coffee. He said he had to go to the emergency room to get his arm stitched up but wanted to fortify himself with coffee first. (At that time, he would refuse any pain medication, because he was sober.) He had lost control of a jackhammer on which he had tied down the throttle to keep from having to grip it. He had disengaged a safety measure that would stop the jackhammer if it got away from you. That sums up my father. Maybe it sums me up, too. The story of Icarus isn’t lost on me.

But now, work is kind of all I have. The coronavirus has seen to that. I can’t just go hang out with friends – especially since the arrival of the Omicron variant. I live alone with two cats and a dog (not to diminish them, but you know – I’d like to see another human every now and then who isn’t in a little box on the computer). If I even venture to the pharmacy, I’m masked up and sanitizing like crazy. Most of my goods get delivered. I go through a lot of Lysol at home. I’m lonely. My son is two states and 7 hours away. And my daughter is dead. And my ex-husband is remarried.

It’s really hard not to turn to something to get me numb, but I won’t. I know that someday, this will all be a memory. If I only had another chance with my daughter…

But that was then. This is now. And I’m okay. I’m going to go listen to something bouncy and happy now to lift my spirits. Have a most excellent weekend. See what I did there?

Peace, Jude

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About Me

A writer and solitary soul in the mountains of Western North Carolina.

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