Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Goodbye to 2008

Earlier this year, when I was agonizing over what on earth to write in Christmas cards, Kristabel, a fellow blogger, wrote this suggestion:
Dear Friends and Family,
This year blew and we're glad it's over.
Seriously, it sucked ass. Pass the tequila.
I laughed my head off, because it's so true! Let me give you my year in review. These are only the highlights. Keep in mind that throughout, I have miraculously kept my sanity, my sense of humor, and even an absurd kind of hope. I even expect 2009 to be an improvement, that's how much of an optimist I am.

January: My son's problems at school heat up.
Corrupt assistant principal at Eureka High honed in on my son as the focus of all his disciplinary efforts in a sea of 1,700 students. My son couldn't do anything without getting in trouble. My son, a freshman, spent practically every day in detention.

When I went to the school, the principal only gave me a very creepy smile and didn't address my concerns (bullying and harassment that had started my son's new tough approach to life). Now we can add complete mistrust of all adults-of-authority to my son's heart.

When I asked for anger management through the school's Healthy Start program, they put him on a waiting list. The assistant principal blocked that service, per my son's teacher. My son never once saw a counselor.

Meanwhile, as the assistant principal's whipping boy, my son caught blame for things he wasn't even involved in.

Keep in mind that I was the Healthy Start coordinator at the Redding School District from 2001-2003, so I can honestly recognize all of this as corrupted failure to serve an actual at-risk student. I do not throw the word corrupt around lightly. The Healthy Start grant is a contract between the school and the state to serve at-risk kids. How is EHS spending that money?

February: I start homeschooling my son.
Assistant principal yells at my son while my son was wearing headphones at lunchtime, grabs his arm and accuses my son of ignoring him. My son loses his temper and punches a door, breaking the plexiglass (?) and cutting his own hand.

Assistant principal files for an expulsion review against my son (a complex process that requires review by more players than a lowly asst. principal). I spoke with the superintendent of schools and was given a form to fill out.

I realized my son needed an education more than he needed the lesson of how bureaucrats hold their jobs without actually doing them. So I removed my son from Eureka City Schools, formed a private school through all official channels, and set about homeschooling my son-- an experience that was richly successful for him and gratifying for me. A couple of golden weeks ensued during which I wondered why I hadn't been doing this all along.

March: A terrible accident happens.
Spring break rolled around, my son went to visit his father in Southern Humboldt. I went on an actual vacation to see old friends in Santa Cruz.

While my son was at his father's and playing basketball outside, one of my other son's friends walked by with a paintball gun. Thinking his gun was low on CO2, the boy shot toward my son's leg. But just at that moment, my son swooped down to get the basketball. So the paintball, which came out at full force, hit my son in the left eye!

Emergency room, a hasty return from vacation, and I met them all at the ophthalmologist's in Eureka the next day. My son's retina was torn and traumatized, and a surgery was immediately scheduled with a retinal specialist in Santa Rosa.

April: My boy has his first eye surgery.
When all this happened, I was student-teacher in a Freshman writing class at HSU. I had to take a leave of absence from that and from my other classes at grad school to deal with all this.

We went to Santa Rosa for the surgery, a vitrectomy, and stayed in a motel room while my son recovered. Recovery was painful and involved careful positioning of his head for more than a week.

My son was in pain, bored out of his mind, missing his girlfriend and depressed by the fact that he spent his 15th birthday in a motel room with his mom, blind and in pain.

We couldn't go home because the surgery involved removing all the vitreous (goo) from his eye and replacing it with a gas bubble which acted like an interior cast to hold the healing retina in place. But the gas bubble had to be kept at sea level or it would expand, blinding my son. Between here and Santa Rosa are two summits we couldn't cross until 8 days after the surgery when the gas bubble had started to absorb.

This was a hellish experience all around, though I tried to make the best of it.

I managed to continue homeschool him as best I could with videos and books on tape.

May: Eureka police beat my son up.
After weeks of restricted activity, my son finally got the go-ahead to go outside and ride his skateboard as long as he didn't do tricks. Without depth perception, he skated very tentatively, afraid to jar the gas bubble in his eye.

We lived a half a block from Eureka High School, and I had told him, "Stay away from the school, because that principal is out to get you." But my son didn't believe me. After school had let out , my son skated over there to meet his friend. He thought it would be ok since it wasn't school hours.

He saw the principal standing outside, but the man said nothing, just gave my son the creepy smile. But when my son turned away, the asst. principal radioed the Eureka cop assigned to patrol the school. God knows what he said to the cop to spur him to act the way he did.

My son was greeting some friends on the sidewalk on J Street when the furious police officer appeared and ordered my son to leave. The two boys headed back toward our house, but then the friend stopped to talk to someone, so my son lingered at the corner of J and Del Norte.

The officer came up and threw my son to the ground cracking his head on the pavement, shoving his knee into my son's back, cuffing him roughly, nearly dislocating my son's arm by roughly shoving him into the police car when my son's cuffed hands were caught on the door.

I had to pick up my son from juvenile hall where he was charged with trespassing and resisting arrest.

I filed a complaint against the police officer, but his boss, Eureka's false hope Chief Garr Nielsen, sent me a letter exonerating the officer. I spoke again to the superintendent of the school, and once again was given a form.

We had to make three more journeys to Santa Rosa for check-ups in May and June. During one, my car broke down.

Miraculously, I finished the semester with A's in all my classes. And I was hired to teach a section of Freshman Composition at HSU.

June: I start hunting for a house anywhere outside Eureka.
I packed up the house even before I found a place, determined to remove my family from this horrible town. I searched all the rental listings I could get my hands on, drove all over the place looking, found a few suitable places, met with landlords, filled out applications and paid fees so they could check our references.

I imagined I would have no trouble finding a place, considering we aren't pot growers and my husband was gainfully employed. Our choices were limited by price and by the fact that we have a cat. But the only four suitable houses I found over the summer all fell through for one reason or another.

Meanwhile, I tried to prepare for the class I was going to teach -- my very first class.

July: My husband gets laid off from his job.
All this time, my husband had been working in Oregon while my son and I lived here while I was going to school. I had already been laying the groundwork for working at Rogue Community College in Grants Pass after I graduated. Then suddenly, the company my husband was working for folded and laid off all its workers.

At the same time, my son was very angry at me for deciding to move. We had a huge fight, and he ran away to his girlfriend's house.

We received a court date to appear in juvenile court so my son could face charges of trespassing and resisting arrest.

I continued to house hunt. But I was so overwhelmed with everything, that I resigned my teaching job, with a heavy sense of sacrificing my dream.

August: We move to McKinleyville.
We found a house and moved. Need I say what a huge job this was, with only myself and my husband to do all the work? A couple of friends offered to help, but no one ever showed up. My son eventually came home and helped with several loads, but he was angry about the move and was falling apart emotionally. My husband was depressed about being out of work.

My son had a hard time adjusting to the new town and not knowing anyone. Over the next several months, I kept my promise to him to drive him to see his friends in Eureka as much as possible and to pick up friends to spend the weekend. It is 35 miles round trip.

I finally found a juvenile lawyer, but it was going to cost thousands of dollars. The public defender never returned a single phone call.

Family tensions rose.

I went to the newspaper office to see if I could write a few stories for a few bucks and was amazed to be offered a job as assistant editor. My hours on the job were a lifesaver, building my confidence back up. I also began this blog, which also proved to be an emotional lifesaver.

September: My son has a second surgery.
A cataract formed in my son's eye as a result of the gas bubble used in the first surgery. He had to have a cataract surgery and have a prosthetic lens put in.

At the same time, we discovered the company my husband had worked for hadn't paid the group health insurance premiums since May, so all the medical procedures since then weren't covered. We began receiving really scary medical bills.

My son went to juvenile court and received a sentence of 25 hours of community service, the order to write a 2-page paper about the situation, and an order to seek counseling. I saw the mandate to seek counseling as a blessing in disguise.

My son started an independent study program through a charter school. He did well but reading for an hour gives him a headache for days.

Family tensions rose some more.

October: The two job prospects my husband had fell through.
My husband drove to Montana to broker some mining equipment and to look over a possible job there. It didn't work out. Nor did the job in Mariposa. My husband, who has worked hard all his life, fell into a depression.

My son's depression deepened. Medication offered by his doctor made it worse. I made an appointment with a psychiatrist, but they couldn't see him until December. My son lost 12 pounds. I had him checked out for physical causes, nothing.

I managed to get to most of my classes, but I felt a little sad that all the others in my program were teaching except me. I was given an 8-week special topic course to teach called Book of the Year. I continued to work at the newspaper office.

November: My husband leaves me.
After three years of only being home on the weekends, my husband who is my son's step-father, was suddenly home full time and not in a happy frame of mind.

In disagreement over how to handle my son, my husband left in a huff, saying he wouldn't be back until "there were rules in the house." I tried to explain that the household was under extraordinary circumstances and would return to normal as soon as possible. It was an issue of morality, he said.

My son spent Thanksgiving with his girlfriend and her family. Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday, and the dinner is my specialty as a cook, but I spent it alone.

The next day I put up my Christmas tree, knowing that as soon as school started back up that final projects would absorb all my time. I began crocheting an afghan for my husband's gift, just in case things changed.

Earlier in the month we had gotten our health insurance straightened out, with everything covered finally.

My son's eye continued to hurt and bother him. We went to see the ophthalmologist and found out a membrane had formed over the prosthetic lens. He had to have laser surgery that same day.

December: My husband and I decide to divorce.
I struggled to finish school, attending classes, building a class web page, and writing a 25-page seminar paper. I didn't even know whether to register for classes for next semester, but finally decided I must since I only have one semester left.

My son began to settle in and made a friend in the neighborhood. He saw a psychiatrist who began to treat him successfully. We found out that much of the damage to his eye is permanent, including distorted vision and a blind spot. We ordered reading glasses we hope will help with the headaches. We are still extremely grateful to the surgeons who saved his eye.

The linguistics professor at HSU asked me to teach Introduction to Language Analysis with her next semester. I received my grades and again miraculously received all A's.

My older son came home for Christmas with happy news that he is going to college in the fall. My two boys and I had a happy Christmas together.

My husband wrote me a letter that he wants us to be Christian fundamentalists or he won't come home. This would involve my complete submission. I am still processing the absurdity of this.

So that is the year in review. Amazingly, my son and I are still standing. If anyone bothered to read all that, thank you. But like everything concerning this blog, I am realizing that the therapeutic part comes from writing it down at all. Writing helps to make sense of life, even if we don't always know what to do about it when we do.

2009 is going to be better, I just know it. It just has to be. So here's to a Happy New Year for us all!

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

House of Injustice

Humboldt County Courthouse, Eureka, California

Humboldt County Courthouse in Eureka has got to be the most depressing, just plain awful place I've ever been. Today I had to file some papers with the Court Clerk, which is a basement office right off I Street.

But for some reason I thought I needed the County Clerk's Office, which is deep inside the maze on the fifth floor. I walked in the front entrance on Fifth Street, behind a long line of people, mostly women, whose clothing and behavior marked them as visitors to jail prisoners upstairs.

It was like entering an airport. All your stuff goes into bins onto a conveyor belt through an X-ray machine. You walk through a metal detector and have an encounter with a friendly police officer. People had to take off their belts, show their socks, etc.

I thought "Oh Hell!" when I saw all this, wondering what sort of weapons were in my purse today. There are always several knives, tear gas, etc. They confiscated my tear gas, and I couldn't get it back. It was a misdemeanor just to bring it in, the friendly officer told me.

One elevator was out of commission because someone had vomited in it. So I got onto a crowded elevator with a bunch of smoke-scented, fidgety people and rode to the fourth floor, stopping at every floor to let people off: the jail visitors, the people going to court appearances, the seedy looking lawyer in the bad suit.

Fourth floor, D.A.'s office, and only I got off. I had to change elevators to get to the fifth floor. My claustrophobia was rising in my chest. I would literally die if I had to work in that building. Fifth floor, three left turns, a literal maze of hallways.

But the county clerk's office is like another universe. There was carpet on the floor, a little feng shui to the layout, people who actually smiled, and walls of windows with glorious ocean views. Unfortunately it was the wrong office.

So I had to turn right around and do it all in reverse. Goodbye to my nice canister of tear gas, back to the court clerk's office, stand in a long line beside all the people paying traffic tickets, get abused by the low-level bureaucrats behind the window and pay $300 of my meager net worth just to get my papers stamped and entered into their machine.

There is a whole culture at the Humboldt County courthouse; I'd like to call it a sub-culture, but I fear it is dominant. Even the criminals willingly play their parts as cogs in the giant, ugly machine.

Wasn't there a time when courthouses were beautiful buildings like monuments to Justice that proudly housed our courts?

Look what other cities have:
Courthouse in St. Louis, Missouri

Pima County Courthouse, Tucson, Arizona

Garfield County Courthouse, Pomeroy, Washington

McClennan County Courthouse, Waco, Texas

Shasta County Courthouse, Redding, California

But in Eureka we have this:

The most butt-ugly, hideous monstrosity right in the center of town. Monument to corruption and injustice. Home of paranoia and despair. Even ghosts won't haunt it.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Nothing New Under the Sun

I have a film recommendation for you. It is Under Solen (Under the Sun), a Swedish film with English subtitles. This movie was an accidental discovery for me -- and a total treasure. I rented it from the local Figgy's, but I am now going to have to buy it so I can watch it over and over.
Let me preface by saying Under Solen appealed to two biases of my own that you may not share.
    One, I am actively learning to speak Swedish, am currently very fascinated by Swedish culture, and have a soft spot for anything at all that reminds me of my dear Swedish Pappaw.

    Two, I love history and am thoroughly visual, so I am easily dazzled by lush period pieces
    Watching subtitled films is an excellent way to boost your efforts to learn a language. So I was delighted to discover a whole shelf of Swedish films at the McKinleyville Figuereido's (giant treasure house extraordinaire; you should really check that place out).
    Under Solen begins with the biblical quote,
    "What has been will be again,
    what has been done will be done again,
    there is nothing new under the sun"

    (Ecclesiastes 1:9-14).
    In other words, there is nothing new or extraordinary about this story. It's just a love story.

    Anyone who's been paying attention to my blog will realize I am very cynical about romance at the moment, so it means something when I say this was a wonderful love story. A sensitive, delicious, tugs-at-your-heartstrings love story.
    The plot: It's 1956 in the lovely Swedish countryside. An illiterate farmer, Olof, lives a lonely life on his farm until one day, he advertises in the newspaper for a housekeeper -- but specifies that she should be young and send a photo. To his surprise, a city woman, Ellen, gorgeous as a pin-up girl, shows up, takes over and does a fantastic job managing everything. But the farmer's best friend is suspicious of her and determined to uncover her deep, dark secrets.
    I want the land, the house, Ellen's clothes, hair and style. Just make me a two-dimensional figure and insert me in the movie so I can live there with Ellen and Olof.
    What it looks like on the shelf in Sweden.
    What it looks like on the shelf in America

    Made in 2004. Directed by Colin Nutley. Starring his wife Helena Bergstrom and Rolf Lassgard.

    Saturday, December 27, 2008

    Sleep Deprivation

    It's quiet. Too quiet out here in the living room. One son went home and the other went with him to visit Dad until Monday. I just don't know what to do with myself, after the frenzy of getting ready for Christmas.

    So now I am home alone in the silent living room, it's 11 p.m. and I'm getting sleepy. My wonderful warm bed is calling me. Flannel sheets, feather pillow, down comforter- -traditionally my favorite place in the universe. But lately it is the site of my restlessness, my anxious worrying, my troubled thoughts.

    And every night, just when I am about to tame my troubled mind long enough to drift off to sleep, "RRRUFFF!" as if it comes from inside my own room. Adrenaline shoots through my chest, anger, rage and fury, frustration and desperation for one, just one good night's sleep.

    My neighbor has a barking dog kenneled five feet from my bedroom window. Luckily, I haven't heard the barking since I went over there to say something at 8 a.m. Christmas morning. But last night, all night, the dog was noisily worrying something, trying to claw her way to freedom no doubt. And the wind was blowing tree branches down onto the kennel's tin roof. The bumping and banging went on non-stop from 11 p.m. until I finally had to resort to earplugs to get to sleep at 4 a.m.

    Earplugs are a bad idea when you live in the country. A healthy sense of self- and family-preservation depends upon senses that are not dulled.

    I am at my wits' end.

    I can't imagine why he thought that would be a good place for the kennel--is it because it's far from his own bedroom window?

    Last night when I was feeling desperate for sleep, I was thinking we are just going to have to move. Keep in mind we just moved in here Sept.1. There are still boxes I haven't unpacked. I searched all summer for this house and the idea of moving again makes me want to cry.

    Friday, December 26, 2008


    To continue revisiting the ghosts of Christmas and toys past, I found some family photos that are way better than all those illustrations I scavenged off the internet. These are all circa 1965-1973.

    This one is from 1968, and I was five. There is the infamous Shenanigans on the couch. I remember it all, that corduroy outfit, that Christmas ornament, those (totally cool, I now realize...) curtains.

    Here is the turtle in question, a.k.a. Punny. I really can't say what made this toy my favorite. To this day, my sister calls me Turtle, but the truth is I have no particular affinity for the creatures. I do remember every detail of this turtle, thought, including tactile sensations. Here, I was two. Apparently, I was also really into this box.
    Here is my dear big sister and me in our bedroom. She was 15, I was 5. This was 1968.
    Here is my groovy bicycle. This was 1974. I was 11.
    I remember this pleather jumper but not this particular doll.
    I had the chicken pox here. That is not my bunny; I was just borrowing it from my sister for comfort.
    Were we cool people or what? For a brief period we had motorcycles and we rode on the wild side, without helmets. I want those sunglasses my mom has on here!

    Thursday, December 25, 2008

    Toys from Memory Lane

    From my childhood, I can only remember a few toys that I just had to have for Christmas.
    I traditionally asked for a doll and a set of toy dishes because, apparently, domestic harmony was my highest dream. I wanted a Susy Homemaker Easy-bake Oven really bad but we couldn't afford it. It's OK though, because I used my friend's, and it was crap. I much preferred to make little pies or little tortillas with my mom. She would say, "That is just your size!"
    We were a family of very modest means. I never had more toys than could fit into a cardboard box in the closet.
    Baby Tender Love was soft like a real baby. She is still in my parents' garage, although her fingers have been nibbled off by someone (not me).
    Shenanigans was a great board game; it was like a little county fair. I wore that game out. It was when I first learned what a tiddly-wink was.
    Quick Curl Francie came with a little curling iron, and her hair was made of tiny wires so it held in place for the amazing, gravity-defying beehive/Star Trek alien-woman hairdos of the day.
    I seriously wanted to be Malibu P.J.; she was so pretty. She was a hand-me-down someone gave me, and she only had one leg. But this was no problem since I dressed her exclusively in evening gowns, and the gallant Malibu Ken carried her on all their dates.

    These were their wheels. My Aunt Ruthie and Uncle Rip gave me this convertible and pop-up tent one year, 1971?
    There was an entire set of handmade Barbie clothes my aunt NN sewed for me. All I remember is the yellow calico drop-waist dress.

    Don't laugh: Flatsy was really cool. And bendy.
    Dawn , at only half the size of Barbie, was almost too tiny to dress up.
    Kiddles came in a little locket. Man, they were cute!
    These glass balls on a string, called Clackers, were later recalled as very dangerous. But I liked them, and mine never exploded.
    I had an unbelievably cool green bike with a sparkly banana seat.
    Tinker Toys
    My dad's brief stint as an encyclopedia salesman produced a set of World Book Childcraft Encyclopedias. My favorite volumes were Stories and Poems, Make and Do, and People to Know (biographies of inventors). I once got spanked for drawing extra illustrations in Stories and Poems.

    There was also a great book my sister gave me called Pop-up Hide and Seek. I remember it had the word huge in it and I was pronouncing it [hug]. I knew that wasn't quite right but I didn't know what else to do.

    I loved the fuzzy teddy bear that she gave me until it literally fell apart. I named the bear Georgie ("Hey there Georgie Girl!").
    I inherited a pink wicker baby carriage from my sister but ruined it by leaving it out in the rain. I never understood how rain could be so destructive. There were lots more of Sissy's hand-me-downs, such as a sock monkey and her old Lincoln Logs.
    And there was an Etch-a-Sketch and a loom for making pot holders; both were toys that my parents brought me when I was in the hospital with pneumonia.

    Other than that, all remember is a green plastic turtle when I was really little and which continued to be a bathtub toy for many years.

    While we're on the subject of memories, does anyone else remember candy cigarettes?

    Wednesday, December 24, 2008

    The Blessings Win

    Both my sons are home, pumpkin pies are in the oven, and life is good.
    My family of origin celebrates Christmas on Christmas Eve, so my boys and I do too. Our Christmas looks like this:
    • a brightly lit Christmas tree
    • a smorgasbord
    • exchanging presents
    • full bellies
    • a phone call to family in Texas to say thank you and find out what they thought of our gifts to them
    • playing with all our new toys
    • watching Christmas movies together
    • going to bed in our new pajamas
    • then waking up in the morning to fat, full stockings.
    This year, on the menu is shrimp chowder, a family favorite, plus lots of finger foods to nibble on while opening presents. And of course nowadays, we'll be watching movies like Rescue Dawn and Doomsday. And I have to make way more food.