Book of interest: “Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis” (my thoughts)

Today I began listening to the audiobook Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by J.D. Vance and am currently on chapter 10, putting it on pause until tomorrow. Definitely speaks to my own spirit and life experiences, both directly and indirectly among people I knew.

To begin with, rarely have I heard of anybody else referring to a Memaw and Peppa. That’s what my stepdad’s parents were known as too. Memaw Allen we called her, and Peppa Pete we called him. Weird to write down those names now since I’ve long since switched to referred to them as simply Mr. and Mrs. Allen, having effectively divorced myself from accepting them as kin since back in my teenage years.

J.D. Vance’s description of his Appalachian Kentucky-rooted family shares similarities with what I’m familiar with in my section of the Deep South, though notable differences as well. Enough similarities though that his story really is resonating with me, reminding me very much of various family members, particularly my Papa (my maternal grandpa, not to be confused with Pepa Pete mentioned prior). Though I’d say that my own people tend to be a bit more conservative both in mannerism and political affiliation, as well as religious involvement. Interesting to observe the overlap between our two camps, not that it should be too surprising considering we share historical ethnic heritages (Scottish primarily). His people and my people came originally from the same regions of the United Kingdom at roughly the same time, belonging to the same socioeconomic class as well. Some went to Appalachia whereas others populated deeper parts of the South. The rowdiness he described there among his people is reminiscent of that which was described by Dr. Thomas Sowell in his book Black Rednecks and White Liberals, which also resonated with me. But the differences are worth noting here. He spoke of his people being Christian yet rarely attending church services, whereas many of my people remain lifelong active in their churches. He tells of his people voting Democrat because they were union folks and associated that political party with being for the working men, while my people viewed the Conservative political party as more beneficial for the working class, if only because they viewed government encroachment on their lives as doing more harm than good more often than not. Though I can see the commonality in the underlying political sentiments despite our camps belonging on opposite sides of the political divide, most markedly in their distrust of getting the Law involved in their personal affairs and vying to align themselves with the political party least likely to screw them and theirs over (though it appears we’ve all failed in that regard, both political parties demonstrating over time that they don’t give much of a damn about the working class aside from paying lip service to gain votes).

Parts of the book struck me as very funny, particularly when he described his grandparents hillbilly ways and inability (and/or unwillingness) to adjust to the established middle class norms and expectations in Ohio where they migrated to in search of jobs and an escape from Appalachian poverty. My Papa shared a lot in common with his people, from the gruff talk to the gun-toting, as well as the years of drinking and the damage that did to his family. But also the defiant pride and desire for your children and grandchildren to go to college so as not to have to work in laboring jobs like he and others in his generation had to. So much Vance said on all of that had me tripping down memory lane about my home county in Mississippi and various family members and neighbors. But we’re not hillbillies since we never resided in hill country — we were rednecks. Though I suppose to outside onlookers we all appeared to simply be “white trash” (a pejorative I do not like or accept being applied to my people).

Our stories differed in important ways, such as my mother thankfully not subjecting us to a carousel of husbands and boyfriends (to which I give credit to my stepdad for working with her as much as he did expressly to ensure that did not happen). And my mother never became a drinker nor a drug user (prescription or otherwise). Was just crazy in her own right, though not necessarily in a uniquely Southern/redneck fashion (we speculate it being due to brain damage likely experienced early in life during a car accident). But I knew those kind of people too. And I also wound up being raised largely by my grandparents and proved better off as a result thanks to the stability that offered. I also grew up hearing rough stories of violence and abuse, including episodes between my grandparents back when Papa was drinking. I can also understand the feistiness  among women that he described, though my own female family members tended to be a little more reserved about it than his. Among my people it was less acceptable for women to smoke and drink and curse like the men did, though some did anyway (myself included). And even among the men it wasn’t viewed as positive attributes to do so, the only exception being when they channeled their aggressive tendencies in the service for protecting the family. There is especially where I saw the women behave like junkyard dogs themselves, because all bets are off when it comes to defending one’s own. It’s a matter of pride and protecting, checking disloyalty and disrespect. And yes, it can go too far and wind up creating total chaos in some circumstances, which I myself have had to discover the hard way in my own behavior and reactions.

Perhaps that’s the biggest difference I noted there between our camps of people: self-control. Not that mine are terrific at maintaining self-control, but it’s definitely prized among them in many social situations. Because they deem it necessary for moving up in this world, though they too expressed feeling conflicted about it when it came to accepting poor treatment from others. There’s an underlying resentment toward those who look down upon you, who see you as nothing more than a member of a downtrodden class not worth much and treat you accordingly, leading to the manifestation of a great deal of class-related distrust (which I too continue to struggle with). On one hand they want you to do well in school so as to have greater opportunities, but on the other they don’t want you to get “too big for your britches” and forget where you come from and who helped you along the way. It does create a bit of cognitive dissonance within us to come up with so many contradictory messages. Want your daughter to marry well but then resent the man she does marry because he’s some highfalutin academic who doesn’t really with the rest of the family. Kind of sets up a no-win situation in a way. But that’s the way it goes. Probably has something to do with why I prefer to date working-class men — feels like there’s too much of a social divide between myself and my people and folks of middle-class origins for a romantic partnership to likely prove workable long-term.

In chapter 7 where J.D. Vance spoke of his Pepa dying, it really pulled at my heart strings. Especially when he stated that his Pepa died on a Tuesday and how that Lynyrd Skynyrd song “Tuesday’s Gone” played on the radio afterward. Was out walking in a neighborhood while listening to that part and had to turn off the audiobook so as to compose myself. Breaks my heart to hear of someone losing such an important father-figure while they’re still so young, he only being in his early teens by then. My Papa died 6 years ago when I was 29 and I still can’t barely talk about it without crying. Just can’t. Losing the big man in one’s life is a tragedy we don’t easily recover from apparently. In J.D. Vance’s case, it was so sudden with no warning, which is really sad. My Papa had cancer so we knew he was going down for a year and a half and tried to prepare ourselves for it, so much as one is truly able to do so. And I can understand how one wrestles with the memory of someone so important to them who also happened to have had drama with others in the family, largely due to his own doing through drinking and acting wrongly. You love him so much, and yet you can’t pretend he was perfect. We’re lucky in that our grandpas did change over time, they did both quit drinking (his in 1983, I believe he said; mine in 1990) and they sought to become better people toward their loved ones so as to find some sort of redemption. I think there’s a lot to learn from life stories like that, demonstrating that many people we consider good and valuable had to make a conscience effort to become that over time. They weren’t necessarily born that way, or their life experiences didn’t incline them toward a more noble direction originally. They had to make the choice themselves at some point, and often it comes after years of pain and strife created within their own families unfortunately. Pain likes to pay forward, and that can be a very difficult cycle to break. Speaks a lot to their merit as people, I would say. To come up in such rough circumstances, to fall into bad habits, and to eventually pull out of it. But we each wind up experiencing these events in life differently, especially us grandkids who weren’t yet alive for the worst of the storm.

He mentioned a book that really resonated with him that actually was about black people in urban areas and the problems they face. Many times I’ve noticed similar overlaps between members of the black community and my people as well. People like Thomas Sowell attribute that to a shared Southern culture, which I don’t doubt plays a role to whatever extent. But this is one reason why I find it difficult to view black people as if foreign, as if their community’s problems are entirely unique. There are similarities worth noting there, as I hope more of us explore in going forward since we’re all Americans here and share more in common than some may care to acknowledge.

When he spoke about his mom claiming her addiction was a “disease” I couldn’t help but cringe. He’s absolutely on to something when he stated that regarding addiction as a disease, while that may be somewhat true insofar as brain chemistry is concerned, winds up causing the addict to have less success in kicking the bad habit. It’s almost as if thinking of addiction like a disease winds up being some sort of crutch whereby one can dispense with personal agency, and that’s not a good situation. He spoke of his Pepa giving up alcohol after years of drinking without much fanfare or going to meetings, and my Papa handled it the same way. Yet I see so many out here returning to treatment facilities and turning to AA only to relapse again and again. But we’re not supposed to judge them because they have a “disease.” Yeah, a disease of the spirit, I’d say. An excuse to give up and give in to craven desires that destroy one’s life. It’s no good. Am currently 6 months into sobriety myself and while I’m proud of me, I’m very wary of myself also because I know me and I know the allure of alcohol and how much trouble it’s caused me and others. It’s an ongoing decision to leave that lifestyle and substance alone, one that has to be renewed with each waking day and bout of temptation. It’s not easy, but it is indeed a personal decision. A choice, ultimately. Yet some folks prefer instead to remain infantile and blame all off on external factors, as if the substance itself has the power to penetrate our bodies without our willful involvement. He has my sympathy in dealing with all of that. I’ve known many people who’ve had drug-addicted and/or alcohol-dependent parents and it sounds like a horrible way to come up. My former partner’s parents both drank (and still do) and I hear the resentment in him pretty frequently, reminded of the fighting and negligence. My ex-step-aunt and her husband were like that too, and it wound up producing nothing but carnage. Some people can manage their drinking and drug use better than others, but many can’t.

He spoke of his mom being unable to comprehend the significance of her father dying on her kids who viewed him as a father figure. Gotta admit, no disrespect intended toward the author (considering how sensitive he admits to being when it comes to his family), that level of selfishness burned my soul a bit to hear. My mother was like that in her own way, unable to comprehend how I could view her father differently than she did, she opting to blame everything in her life on him. And when he died, she didn’t attend the funeral and didn’t even so much as contact me or anybody else in the family. Asked her last year for the first time what she thought of his passing and she simply said she would not talk about it, so I dropped the inquiry. To her he’s a monster. To my aunt, he was her daddy but they grew apart emotionally over time, and I think she was bitter about that. To my uncle, he was a frustrating man but his daddy, and I think he has a lot of conflicted emotions too. None of them aired their grievances to him while he was alive, so now they’ll fester on, unresolved. Very unfortunate. But I can recall back when I was little and my grandparents were fighting for custody of me and I got caught in the middle and was made to choose on the spot between my mother and my Papa. I didn’t know what to do, being only 6 at the time, so I laid still until she began crying and walked away. In her heart I doubt she’ll ever let me live that down, and it still bothers me sometimes since I didn’t know what to do. I had to go with him — he was more trustworthy than her, more dedicated. Yet all she’s ever seen is her own view of him and her own sorrows from her upbringing, conveniently forgetting that she had a kid that had to be raised by them and who bonded with them. But in her warped mind, she just sees betrayal. As a result, I now see her as a lost cause. Like a perpetual child unable to grasp anything outside of her own perspective. Forever. No drugs or alcohol even needed to cause this to be the case. It is very frustrating to deal with, especially when you felt loyal to them all and loved them all.

I hate those memories. They always get to me, no matter how many times I’ve been over them in my head and recognize the situation for what it is. Left me feeling like the best way to stop this stupid cycle was to refuse to ever become a mother myself. Never wanted to let anybody down to that extent. Tarnishes one’s view of motherhood, whether we mean for it to or not. Some are able to overcome these types of upbringings and do better by their own children, which is good. But some of us think it’s best to withdraw from taking on such obligations, uncertain of ourselves in such a scenario and very wary of what the past brought. Guess we all must handle such matters in our own individual ways since there indeed is no one-size-fits-all answer to be found. That aggressiveness he spoke of I feel inside myself and express from time to time, always making me think that it wouldn’t be suitable around children. Not in this day and age, most definitely. Especially not outside of a tribe where such expressions are regarded as the norm, though even there it tends to prove dysfunctional. In my mind’s eye I can hear police sirens and crying, and I’ve never wanted any part of it, never wanted to bring children into such a life. Right or wrong, that’s been my resolve since I was young and remains so. Tangles my emotions to read or hear of parents fucking up, of children have to raise themselves and one another, of new men being cycled in and out of kids’ lives, of mothers who don’t understand the harm they’re creating, etc. Ugh…it messes with my head. Definitely stopped me in my tracks long ago, thank god. I just cannot imagine bearing the burden of bringing new people here and then winding up failing them. Yet, it goes on all the time…

Burden. J.D. Vance mentioned that word in reference to his Memaw having to raise him. I can most definitely relate with that. It’s quite embarrassing to feel like a burden on one’s family, so once again he and his sister have my sympathies on that. My Grandma would say things sometimes too, mostly when I was a teenager, like how she couldn’t afford me anymore. Hence why I kept moving around, trying to find ways to take care of myself so I wouldn’t be such a burden on her and Papa. Though I kept having return to her home, at least until I was old enough to attend college. Went into debt for it but never returned home to live again. Gave her and Papa money throughout my 20s in an effort to try to offset some of what they had to spend on raising me, as well as paying back what I owed her directly. Yet that feeling of being a burden hauntingly lingers on. I feel it with friends and loved ones even now sometimes. Live alone and try to be as independent as possible, yet still it lingers, whispering that if not for others I would be nothing and that I ought to find some sort of way to succeed so as to make it all worth it in the end. However success is to be defined here. Never do I forget where I come from or how much I am indebted to my grandparents for taking me in and providing so much love. Their commitment to me was a game-changer, no question. But I don’t wish feeling like a burden even on my worst enemies. Messes with the head and trains you to see yourself as a lesser-than, like a little parasite — needy. Because you can’t help but be needy as a kid. But when your own parents can’t or won’t take care of you properly, others have to, and that entails a sacrifice. I don’t know if it’s possible for such a realization to not color one’s outlook on life. But such is life. Guess it’s most important to take to heart what others have been willing to do for us and to carry that love forward in whatever ways we can. They made a choice because they love us, and I’m infinitely grateful for that. The alternative would’ve been to be perceived as a burden by people who didn’t give a damn about us, which would’ve been so much worse.

I know I’m rambling off on here a lot about my own people and upbringing, but this book tapped into all of that. And it’s a very good book so far. Very worthwhile. The author became a lawyer, so he really did manage to succeed. That makes me very happy for him. I look forward to continuing on in chapter 10 tomorrow.

So you think you’re going to become a skilled laborer?

Just finished a phone conversation with my companion where he decompressed about his work week. Been made to train a new student, this having been their first week together. To say he’s frustrated would be an understatement.

Gonna pause there in this story-telling to say that I like listening to my companion’s rants and decompressions. He’s not a hot-head, not usually, but he has his limits like anybody. Kinda reminds me of my Papa’s bitchings, though Papa was a lot more animated and aggressive typically in his recountings. ha  Guess I grew up on listening to all that. And this got me thinking about how that was actually a good thing, especially since I tended to find Papa’s bitchings generally kinda humorous in their own coarse way. Just the way he told it. He could be such a jerk to people. haha  But they were sometimes fucked up toward him too. (For the record, Papa didn’t use the word “fuck.” He stayed old-school with lots of “goddamns” and “shit” and “sons of a bitches.” heheh) He could say some crazy things though. Couldn’t help but laugh sometimes. But Papa was a bit of a hot-head, and this apple didn’t fall far from that tree. heh

Listening to my companion when he gets really fired up like that just reminded me of Papa a little tonight. I just wanted to say that I think it helped me to come up being encouraged to listen to the man and try to be respectful. I wasn’t always, but his grumblings about his day provided a glimpse into his everyday life when he was out of the home. Even though he was usually irritated in his re-tellings, I felt it was valuable to take in. Taught me about a man, a working-class blue-collar man, and what all he went through to earn a living and navigate out in society. And I think coming up with that grumpy old man and listening to him so much, it definitely primed me for interacting with and listening to other working-class men I’ve met since. I consider that valuable, and listening to my companion vent his frustrations reminded me of why.

He’s super-frustrated to be bound to a student potentially for the next two years who turns out to only have book smarts and no practical, hands-on mechanical sense. Which is a seriously bad thing for someone looking to become a car mechanic. Most especially if they’re approaching age 30, which you’d think they’d know about their limitations by then. We’re talking about guys who either don’t know how to thread bolts properly (that was the last one he bitched about) or can’t assess how much torque to apply, and he says he can’t leave this one with any small job unattended. He’s probably vented across a 3 hour span this week, which is a lot for him to speak about any one subject. Boy howdy, he’s riled.

Said they were supposed to be removing rotors and the student was gently tapping it with the ball-peen hammer. Said he told him: “Put your purse down, Nancy, and hit the thing!”  LOL  Kinda ruffled the kid, but what can you do? Said when it came to grinding the rotors, the kid might’ve been faster using a sheet of sandpaper. ha  Said the kid started whining “ow” and walked off on a bolt he couldn’t get undone. Oy. Can’t do that. The student doesn’t know shit about working on cars. Nothing. Nada.

Yet he was sent to be trained at a commercial dealership by a working mechanic who is paid by the job and said he isn’t being compensated any extra for being harnessed with training these people who wake up one day and get the crazy idea that they’re going to go to school to become a mechanic even though they’ve never seriously worked on a car a day in their lives. That’s the problem, you see? You want to learn auto basics, you go take a vo-tech class in high school or maybe at a community college or you help out friends who do demonstrate mechanical aptitude. You don’t just go and sign up for a dealership-sponsored program and expect to be taught the basics there. TAKE NOTE OF THAT. Please. Do yourselves and everybody else a favor and heed what I’m about to tell any of you who entertain such notions of becoming a skilled laboring technician.

My companion possessed a natural mechanical aptitude right out the gate. I’ve listened to this man’s stories for nearly 4 years now and have enjoyed his insights, so I’m sharing in that spirit. He repeated tonight that he can recall mechanical tinkering by age 8 and was learning how to repair his go-cart at age 9. He was inspecting and fixing car problems his father struggled with by the time he was 10. (For the record, his father specializes in electrical and has a very high aptitude for that, just not general mechanics). Around age 13, he and a friend began working on mopeds and other small engines. He said throughout high school he enrolled in auto classes, partly because he figured they’d be easy for him, but they also fleshed out all the basics). And shortly out of high school, he signed on with a dealership-sponsored program where rather than being paired with a mechanic to train him, he was set up in his own stall and given tickets like anybody else. But he was on a different pay scheme due to being a student,  so he could work it all out as he went. I believe it was 10 weeks at school (local community college courses) and 10 weeks working at the sponsoring dealership, revolving over the course of a 2-year program. That was back around 1990. And he said he really didn’t have to ask for much help because of his background experience.

But he says students come in today with little to no background experience and expect to be trained from the ground up. Well, that’s not how it works. Which the student will figure out, since the training mechanic reports back to his college program director. Meaning many who aim to go that route wind up rejected or quit.

See, and this makes me think of all the guys I’ve heard out there who speak as though heavy laboring positions are something any and all men are capable of. It’s simply not true. Not all are cut out for it. Not all even possess the mental aptitude needed to understand these sorts of jobs. Not being mean, just being real here. I certainly lack that aptitude, regardless of how high I may score on any written exam. Just a fact of life, and not one I have any trouble understanding. Big difference between me and him and what we’re each capable of, both in mind and body. Very different types of people, plus differently sexed. None of that being a small matter. But some men get to thinking just because they happen to be male that that alone somehow makes them sufficiently equipped to perform skilled labor and be able to pick up on it quickly and efficiently enough to warrant being employed in such a job while coming into it possessing little to no background experience or proven competence.

You’d think these programs would do more to screen applicants. Winds up wasting everybody’s time, most assuredly the mechanic’s roped into training them when the students quite obviously show no promise in such a field.

His telling of it was both funny at times and a bit depressing. My companion should be better compensated, truth be told. Especially if he’s expected to stop and train students when these corporate dealerships already have their mechanics in a stranglehold enough as is. But whatever. He doesn’t even like me griping about that since it’s unlikely to change any time soon.

He then veered off into other talk that struck me as pretty profound. His simple and competent nature is admirable. And I’m being 100% straight-up here. Wish I could’ve recorded the conversation. Also wish I could’ve seen him for who he was and appreciated it more back before. But then we’ll get to crying over spilt milk, and there’s no point in that anymore. Just gave me a lot of stuff to ponder more on, in my own time. But he’s the kind of man you can honestly respect, even if you don’t agree with all of his lifestyle choices or whatever. We’ve had our differences, and it all is as it is, but I really can’t say anything terrible against the man. We all have our issues and flaws or whatever else, but that’s just life. He does try and he does care, and he is impressively high-skilled at what he does for a living. Just giving some credit where it’s due.

Anyway, time to head back to listening to the soulful tunes of Mr. Johnny Cash, because it’s that kind of evening.
_______________________________________________________

Update Nov. 5th, 2014: My companion called last night and bitched UP A STORM about the student he’s now on his 3rd week of having to deal with. The kid managed to wreck a car yesterday and do over $3k worth of damage while trying to back it out of the repair shop since he figured it was a good idea to gun it, thinking he could trigger the garage door’s sensor quickly enough that stopping would prove unnecessary. Didn’t pan out as he hoped. True-blue idiot. Then he got caught in a lie when my guy asked him to explain what happened. My companion’s bossman was SUPER pissed when he found out too. Gonna have a meeting tomorrow, which I’m hoping will result in this kid being dropped from the training program since he’s stressing everybody the hell out. My companion was so animated in re-telling events of the day that I got worried for his blood pressure. The kid can’t operate a hoist properly, has broken several parts so far due to mishandling, and can’t be trusted to be left alone for any amount of time since he gets the foolish notion that he knows what he’s doing without first asking for instructions.

Which brought up the interesting topic about safety in the workplace in difficult laboring conditions such as this. Most people assume the biggest danger to be the equipment utilized, but my companion stated tonight an equal, if not greater, concern is working alongside idiots. This is a male-dominated work environment with no females working as mechanics, so the idiots in question in these instances invariably are male. I realize there are a bunch of male gender ideologues online who don’t want to hear that, but the truth is right there, plain as day. My companion has worked very adeptly (by all accounts) as a mechanic for about 24 years and actually is now fearing for his job and personal safety thanks to the recklessness of this particular student he’s been saddled with. At this point he’s primarily concerned with going off on the kid and violating company policy in the process. I feel for him and will be grateful when superiors pull this kid and send him off to study some other line of work. My companion’s patience (which he normally has a great deal of) is being worn dangerously thin.

Reflections during a sleepless Thursday morning

Felt compelled to upload that song from The Beatles’ Rubber Soul album.

“I’d rather see you dead, little girl, than to be with another man…”

Probably not what most would expect coming from The Beatles.

That picture was by faile35 and his collection is available on DeviantArt. Just struck me as fitting.

I get it. Been a jealous woman myself. But I do actively work on that. Or at least try to. Primarily applicable when it comes to my romantic partners. Is it possessiveness? Sure. Which is natural. Can’t even comprehend the minds of people who are completely non-jealous. They must have been with their partners an awfully long time and be old enough to where they’re just not too concerned anymore. Otherwise I’d wonder if the person had a problem forming deep and close attachments and commitments. Because feeling possessive, to an extent, over the one you love is indeed a reflection of desire to maintain the bond and not have it disrupted.

Obviously there are other forms of jealousy, but tonight I’m thinking about couples.

That one was “Master and Servant” by Depeche Mode.

Continue reading

Came to a decision today

With Mother’s Day approaching, I’ve had some things on my mind. Realized a few days ago the holiday is upon us, then drug my feet.

Then today I ran into a woman I spoke to about a month ago a few times, she being a neighbor of someone I work for. We wound up in a few deep conversations, she being what some might describe as a “mystic Christian” of sorts and in her 50s. Met her originally quite a while back but didn’t know what to think of her right off. Still don’t. But that’s irrelevant to the story that’s on my mind tonight.

We got to talking a little about where we come from, places and then people and then family, and she expressed her doneness with her own mother as of about 4 years ago or so. Well, I’ve been very estranged from my mother for over a decade and our relationship has been eroding all my life, most markedly from age 10 onward. Continue reading

A tale of one crazy-maker in the bunch

I dated a man back about a decade ago, shortly after my husband and I split and moved to separate states, who turned out to be a bad dude. Not the worst of the worst, but badly fucked up just the same. He was 10 years my senior, making him 32 when we first met at a (my very first) swinger party. I mentioned him in at least one of my videos but didn’t go into much detail, but tonight I’ll share a little more since I’m consumed by grappling with personal darkness and what leads us into whatever it is we become.

This man lied about nearly everything, making it to where what I care to believe was corroborated by others, including his family (dad, stepmom, and sisters), his kids and first wife, a couple of his friends, and eventually other details were made plain by the police who came to search my home for firearms this man had stolen.

Taking it from the beginning, one important event in his young life was that his mother died in his presence of a brain aneurism when he was about 4 years old. It took several hours before his father came home from work and found them, and that’s a long time for a little boy to be trapped in such a horribly scary situation with no comfort. Events of that magnitude can have a very strong and lasting impact on people’s psyches, and I personally believe that traumatic event altered him from then on. Continue reading

Late-night rambling and venting

Humorously enough, or perhaps not…100 or more pro dates should have been enough to pay off my college debt. Guess it’s too bad I burnt out so soon. Had hoped to hang in long enough to cover that as well, but I paid off a lot else and spread some of the money around where it was more needed. Most youngens aren’t the best with money, especially when they’ve never dealt with much before. Plus my focus was supposed to be on my studies primarily, so I worked only a few nights a month. Continue reading

Thoughts on the risks youths can face

Been watching these “What Would You Do?” programs and some of them really get to me.

This one bugged me enough to drag it back here to my blog cave. Reminds me of a lot of bullshit I dealt with from grown men when I was a teenager. My family began letting me go back and forth across the country alone on Greyhound buses right around the time I turned 15, and I had to learn really quick that skeezy folks commonly found in the buses and/or around the bus stops are all about trying to lure young women and girls away somewhere private. I never went with anyone, but they’d harass me, and I learned over time to quickly look around for others near my age and group up with them for protection. I can recall one time grouping up with an 18 year old girl who spoke of how she’d left home and planned to head elsewhere and get by stripping, and she and I gravitated toward a young man with dreadlocks who also stuck by us during that trip. Another trip I gravitated toward a sweet, chubby teenage boy and we sat together and leaned against one another to sleep (damn-near impossible to sleep on a jerky, uncomfortable Greyhound bus, for the record). Another cross-country trip I clung to a young man headed home on leave from the military (and I still recall vaguely what he looked like — a thin, redheaded man who was very kind). This strategy also helped in reducing the risk of being robbed.

You learn to group up with others and to use your intuition in figuring out who to sit beside and who to avoid like the plague. I can recall old men with bottles of alcohol in their coat pockets, leaning in and trying to breathe all over me, talking nastiness. And I can recall one man in Memphis trying to talk me into leaving the bus station at night to go down the street with him when I was 16, though you know I had more sense than that.

But I remember one time when I was 15 and dating a boy around my age who was into drugs and kind of abusive-acting. There’s a big backstory to what was going on around that time, but the short version is that he’d taken some sort of pills and strongly encouraged me to try one as well. Then we had to leave to drive a couple of his friends to Jackson to catch the Greyhound, and during that drive I fell asleep almost immediately. And when I woke up a good bit later, the friends were gone and my little boyfriend at the time was driving erratically down an interstate we weren’t even supposed to be on. We got to arguing and he got to driving crazier, so then he pulled over on this pitch-black interstate, reached across me to open my car door, and shoved me out, then drove away with door still open. That was about 4am and I had absolutely no clue where I was. This is back before any of us had cell phones and there were no towns nearby. So I just started walking, and I was still pretty woozy from whatever pill I had taken earlier. Within a few short minutes, a semi truck pulled over and the driver asked me what was going on. He told me to climb up in the cab and he’d take me to the nearest truck stop so I could find help. I remember him saying his name was “Lee” and that he had a daughter about my age. And considering how naive I was at the time, I just blurted out that I was under the influence of something I was unsure of and very disoriented by. And I am forever grateful that man is the one who found me that night, because he drove me straight to the truck stop and notified the waitresses that I needed help.

Come to find out I was in Bogue Chitto, Mississippi—a town I’d never even heard of before that was several hours away from my hometown and completely off-course from where my boyfriend and I were supposed to be that evening. I remember how concerned the waitresses seemed and them encouraging me to go call my people, so I did and my Papa had to take off work so as to come retrieve me that morning. And while waiting for him I just zonked out asleep in a backroom. You can just imagine how disappointed and upset my Papa was with me and most especially with my jackass boyfriend whom didn’t return to town until many hours later since he’d gone off and gotten himself lost.

At the time I didn’t fully appreciate the risks in such a situation, but soon enough after reading and hearing on the news about other teens abducted or disappeared, it really began to sink in. But even so, due to my life events and whatnot I still wound up in dangerous situations over the next couple of years during my treks back and forth across the country between relatives, as noted above. And I think it was through just these sort of trials that my intuition got honed a bit. As a young person I had to take rides from various strangers, sometimes while trying to escape someone else who was scaring me whom I had mistaken as trustworthy.

On another occasion when I was 16 I remember a guy I knew from hanging out at a coffee house who seemed sweet and had some sort of brackets on his legs who then turned into a complete asshole when I went back to his apartment. Got menacing and saying I should “put out or get out,” literally, verbatim. Well, I was living here, there, and everywhere at that time and was up in the Midwest, far away from my Grandparents, and my parents had repeatedly proven to be of little assistance. So I turned and walked out of that young man’s place and took off walking in the snow until an old gentleman pulled up and offered me a ride. Said he was a former cop. I had no choice but to trust him since I was freezing, but I didn’t know where to go either, so I lied to him and had him drop me off downtown, then I holed up in the stairwell of a parking garage the rest of that evening. All because some jackass thought he’d hit me with an ultimatum due to my desperate circumstances at the time. (And would you believe I ran into that same jackass years later in another state at a bar? I sure did, and I confronted him and told him how shitty he had been. He apologized, but I seriously doubt he could ever comprehend how hard it can be out here for a teenager on her own, dodging men’s sexual come-ons, trying to stay warm and fed, trying to figure out who to trust and who to flee from, dealing with adults’ trickery and manipulation. He was fairly young but old enough to have known how fucked up his behavior was. His aloof apology years later frankly didn’t mean much to me—he was just wanting to save face in front of his new friends so far as I could tell.)

And these stories are just the tip of my little iceberg.

There are countless bad people out there in the world, but those with heart who help you are godsends, and I never forget them. To be honest though, I don’t recall a grown woman ever trying to help me in such a way — it was always other men aiming to protect me. Watching that video really breaks my heart and makes me wonder what impact it might have had if a grown woman had shown interest and pulled me to her like that. Because the hard-knocks education I received mostly pertained to dealing with men, and adult female strangers just didn’t factor in much one way or another. Those waitresses were very sweet and I appreciated their help very much that night in Bogue Chitto, but I’d say that sort of show of concern coming from women was a rarity. Hence why this video kinda chokes me up for how compassionate that couple was toward someone they thought was a young runaway.