Past as anything but prologue

Warning: Repressed memories ahead. Skip to a happier blog. I don’t even know why I’m capturing this shit.

I met someone recently who grew up in Pittsburgh. She asked what part I was from and, as I am apt to do, mumbled something about the South Hills and capped it off with the fact that I lived on Mount Washington. These are two of the more expensive, affluent places in the city.

I did grow up in the South Hills — just in a really crappy neighborhood right outside of it. And I also lived on Mount Washington, just in a moderately crappy one-bedroom that cost $400 a month and had a view of the city if you walked across the street. Which I did. A lot.

What I fail to report, yet here I am doing it now, was that I was born in the projects. Yep, we’re so proud. We had my great-grandmother, my grandparents, my mom and me in a two-bedroom rowhouse right across from Kennywood Park. When my mom married my evil stepfather when I was 3 years old, I wonder if she hated him as much as I did but yet saw him as a chance for escape.

I remember somehow knowing when they were eloping. I remember her dressing me and me saying, “Don’t do it, Mommy.” I remember all the adults looking at me quizzically, like “Is this kid psychic?” I don’t know — I just knew that she was going away with him and, worse, coming back with him. But it got us out of that house, so I guess it wasn’t completely the worst decision she’d ever made.

Speaking of the evil stepfather, I was out to lunch with Tiff and I had one of those memories that I wish I’d permanently forgotten.

We had gone to his family’s place for Christmas Eve. I was 5, maybe 6. They hated my mom and me — they thought she was a “gold-digger” who was trying to “marry up.” HAH. I should hope she could have done a thousand times better!

And the thing is, they themselves were fucking white-trash trailer-park wannabees. I mean, his mother hit his father over the head with a frying pan and his eyeball popped out. Not on the night I remembered, but still. Crazy!

Anyway, I guess they always opened their gifts on Christmas Eve. And the soon-to-be-eyeball-less step-grandfather dressed up as Satan Santa and brought a sack full of shit to the three biological grandchildren. I mean, there was crap everywhere.

For them, anyway.

I sat there patiently, waiting my turn that never came.

Oh sure, someone had the sense to tell the girl my age to share her toys with me. But I said, so sweetly, “No thank you.” I didn’t say another word. I didn’t have to. I learned early on that silence is enough to drive people crazy. My mother was so pleased.

It’s funny how it didn’t really bother me that there were no gifts for me. I mean, maybe it did at the time, but it sent me the message in a big way that I was never going to be considered a part of that family. Which, honestly? I didn’t have a problem with. So what if my family had less money — that didn’t make us lesser people. They would never have allowed a child into a house on Christmas Eve without a fucking gift for them, not with “Santa” showing up smelling of booze with endless toys for the inbred assholes they passed off as offspring.

I do remember, though, someone getting sent away from the party. One of the uncles, I guess, ran to Kmart or whatever and must’ve grabbed the only available, ugly-ass babydoll ever made on this earth. It was thrown to me as a complete afterthought. My mother was horrified — I could see it on her face. Then again, I think the whole night pretty much drove her insane.

I thanked the pre-Billy Bob Thornton “Bad Santa” for remembering me and pretended to like my doll. And the next morning, after I opened my presents and my asshole stepfather went back to bed, Mom allowed me the ceremony of throwing that stupid babydoll away.

You will find with me that I will never buy a massive amount of gifts. It’s because I don’t do cheap — I don’t do afterthoughts. I do simple, well-thought-out and special. That’s how my family did it. I might not have had a million presents in the morning, but I did get four or five things I cherished. Not like the 8 billion piece-of-crap toys that the trailer-trashers got. Not like I got from them. I’d sooner bake you cookies because it shows I actually meant to do something nice for you.

The divorce came four or five years later, in case you’re wondering. All the grandchildren on that side of the family flunked out of school and the girls had two babies each before they were 16 years old. I had a 103 grade point average and a scholarship to journalism school, and yet they all tortured me for “thinking I was so damn smart.”

What a fucked-up world it is when a child is put down so unnecessarily.

The good news is, I had such a strong family with such strong values that they could counteract anything ever said or done to me. I could only hope to be half as good a parent/grandparent as I’ve been fortunate enough to have.

I guess I write all this to never forget it. That if I ever do have a kid and its father is as deadbeat as my biological one turned out to be, I can’t honestly expect that another man would want to raise it as his own. Or maybe that’s why I’d rather find myself alone than with someone who’s incapable of being a man.

My stepfather thought I was a rotten kid for not being grateful for that miserable Christmas Eve. I won’t tell you all the reasons why he WAS a rotten individual himself — I don’t need to, because I assure you, Karma has kicked his ass up and down Kennywood Boulevard.

And just like Karma got that family by the balls, I’m hoping that maybe someday, I’ll host Christmases in which I get to make a miracle or two for someone else who’s never experienced one, either.

So when you ask me where I’m from, this is the story I’m not telling you. Because it doesn’t matter, but I guess it does explain a lot about how I got to where I am now.

One Lonely Response to Past as anything but prologue

  1. Connie :

    I think we all have stories that we would rather forget, but NEED to remember. I know I could probably write a book. Thanks for sharing this memory Dawn.
    Much love,