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CHAPTER 18 – IT’S BEEN A HARD DAY’S NIGHT
Thursday July 25, 2013
I sat in the McDonald's drinking my coffee. I had my laptop in front of me and was using their Wi-Fi catch up on my email and other important business that didn't seem that important but was important just the same.
I looked at the cup I held in my hand “Caution contents are hot!” No duh, I thought only some idiot judge would award some idiot woman millions of dollars because she didn't have enough sense to know the coffee was hot. I reflected on how that one act caused all the other warning labels we now see in life. Would have been nice if there would have been a warning label on my mother; “caution contents not quite right”.
I watched the traffic move along California Ave. I found it slightly amusing that I was sitting in about the exact spot as a dairy that used to be on this corner. Just north of here was Boyles Joyland Amusement Park which also owned the Dairy. Next to Boyles at 25th Street and California Avenue was the Community Drive-In Theater.
My mom never liked the Community Drive-In she preferred the Cloverleaf or the Chief Drive-In to watch movies at. If hard pressed she would go to the Community but it would have to be a movie that she really wanted to see. Usually, Jerry Lewis or John Wayne movies would draw her to the Community. Personally, I didn't have a preference I just liked movies.
I remember seeing The Beatles first movie “A Hard Day's Night” at the Orpheum theater in downtown Topeka. The girls in the audience were screaming so loud that it was almost impossible to hear anything. A few weeks later the movie went to the Community, and I begged my mother to take me to the drive-in to see the movie. At eight years old I was already a huge Beatles fan but now I could watch the movie without the screaming overriding the soundtrack. What was funny was that you could hear girls in cars around us screaming as the movie was shown on the large outdoor screen. Looking back on it I kind of feel sorry for the parents of those girls that had to take them to see the movie at the Orpheum and the Community.
I finished drinking the bitter coffee from this McDonald's. Usually, coffee from McDonald's is pretty decent but I was pretty sure they had found one of the old coffee pots from the Joyland had failed to clean up and was using it to brew their coffee. Nothing like 40-year-old coffee residue to start your day off right.
I went outside and straddled Black Betty and fired her up. I had an appointment in Lawrence KS to get a new tattoo from my most successful Tattoo Apprentice Carlos Abraxas Ransom. I had not seen Carlos in years but just the same I was very proud of him and the success and name that he had made for himself. And I would not trust anyone else to do the tattoo that I wanted done on my left bicep.
As I pulled out onto the road and pointed the large motorcycle eastward. I tried to visualize how the four portraits that would soon grace my arm of John, Paul, George and Ringo would look.
Shirley’s behavior was becoming more erratic, and Jimmy was growing very concerned. One Sunday morning Shirley had misplaced her keys. On the keyring was keys to the house, her car and the gates. She had ripped the house to shreds looking for the lost keys. She was screaming that she was trapped and crying for help. Patricia cowered in her bedroom in fear. While Shirley was on the phone with the Suicide Hotline Jimmy located her keys. They had been on the corner of Shirley’s bed under the Sunday Newspaper.
When Jimmy held the keys up in front of his mother, she slammed the receiver down on the phone. Shirley grabbed the keys out of Jimmy’s hand ran out the door, unlocked the gates and swung them wide. She jumped in her car, started it up and pulled out of the yard. Gunning the engine Shirley raced off down the road.
Jimmy walked out to the gate and swung it closed. Shirley had dropped the lock and chain that kept the gate secure on the ground. Jimmy picked them up and secured the gate. Returning to the house Jimmy went to his sister’s room.
“Are you OK Patty?” Jimmy asked his sister.
“Yeah. Mom scared me. What was wrong with her?”
“She lost her keys.”
Jimmy went to the kitchen and took a glass out of the cupboard. He pulled a pitcher full of Lemon-Lime flavored Kool-Aid out of the refrigerator. He had just started pouring himself a glass of the cold green liquid when the honk, honk, honk of his mom’s car horn sound from outside.
As Jimmy got to the gate, he had just locked, Shirley still in the car, threw her keys at him.
“Unlock the gate and open it.” She demanded.
Jimmy did as instructed. Shirley pulled the car into the yard and as Jimmy locked the gate she got out of the car, a brown paper sack in her hand.
“Why did you lock the gate when I left? I was just going down to the store to get a six pack of Coke.”
Shirley walked into the house letting the door slam behind her as her son stood alone in the yard looking at the gate.
Shirley called up the stairs, “James wake up!”
Gypsy rolled over and rubbed the sleep from his eyes. “Yeah Mom what's up?”
Shirley called up the stairs, Make sure your sister gets up and ready for school.”
Gypsy heard his sister say, “I'm not going to school.”
Gypsy got up out of bed and going to his sister's room said, “Patty you heard mom you have to get up and get ready for school.”
Patricia pulled the covers over her head and said, “I'm not going so shut up.”
Gypsy was in no mood to argue with his sister. Going downstairs he found his mom getting ready to go out the front door to leave for work. “Mom Patty says she's not going to school.”
Shirley came back inside went to the foot of the stairs and yelled up, “Patricia get ready for school!”
Shirley headed back towards the front door and as she went out the door she said, “Make sure your sister gets on the bus and off to school. And also make sure she takes her medicine before she goes. If she doesn't get on that bus I am going to hold you personally responsible.”
“I don't know why you think it's my responsibility to get her off to school.”
Shirley said, “Don't back talk me. Make sure she gets on that bus!” Shirley went out the door slamming it behind her.
Gypsy went back to the foot of the stairs and yelled up, “Patty mom says to get up that you have got to get on the bus.” Gypsy then went about getting himself ready for school. By the time he was done his sister was still in bed. Gypsy climbed the stairs and went into her bedroom. He said, “Patty wake up it's time to get ready for school. Mom is going to be pissed off at me if you don't get up. She also wants you to take your medicine before you go.”
Patricia said, “Shut up I'm not taking no stupid medicine and I'm not going to no stupid School I'm going to sleep.”
A couple weeks back Gypsy his mom and sister had gone to “Worlds of Fun” in Kansas City. Worlds of Fun was a brand new very large amusement park owned and built by Lamar Hunt who also owned the Kansas City Chiefs Football Team. They had been having a great day at the park, but the great day soon came to an end when Patricia, while riding the Viking Voyager flume log ride, had decided to ignore the signs that said, “Keep hands inside ride at all times”. As the fiberglass dragon headed log she was riding in came into the dock she decided to put her hand in the water. The log slammed her hand into the dock breaking her wrist. The Worlds of Fun nurse at the Aid Station told Patricia, “Congratulations you are the first major injury that Worlds of Fun has had since they opened. If you had just paid attention to the signs this would have never happened.”
Patricia now had a cast on her left arm due to the broken bone she had suffered. She had been given a prescription by the Doctor and had to take two pills every day. One was for the pain and the other was to reduce swelling. Every time she was handed the pills she would gripe and complain. “They stick in my throat! They taste bad! I don't want them!”
Gypsy said, “I'm not messing with you. Get up and out of that bed and get dressed!” Patricia, grabbing a cup that was on her bedside table threw it at Gypsy. Gypsy batted the cup away but not before he got covered with the water that had been inside of it . “That's it”, he said, “I've had enough!”
Gypsy pulled the covers off his sister grabbed a shirt that was laying on the floor and a pair of pants and proceeded to get his struggling sister dressed. He didn't even bother trying to put socks on her as she was kicking her legs yelling and screaming so he just put her shoes on her feet then carried her down the stairs. Patricia fought him all the way scratching, yelling and trying to hit him with her cast. She screamed, “Let me go!” Gypsy didn't bother with her medicine as he knew he wouldn't be able to get it into her. He carried her out the front door of the house to the edge of the Road and stood there holding onto her arms so that she couldn’t hit him. The school bus pulled up and the driver opened the door. “What's going on?” she asked. Gypsy explained that his sister was fighting going to school and he asked the bus driver to please make sure that she got there. The driver laughed said no problem an ordered Patricia to get on sit down and shut up. As the bus rolled away Patricia flipped Gypsy the bird.
It had been a pretty good camping trip even though it had rained all Easter weekend long. As the family headed home from Lake Shawnee Shirley and Jimmy laughed about the two old men under the awning of the RV that they had heard say, “I guess they just aren't hardy campers.”
Shirley pulled up to the gate behind the house and Jimmy got out and unlocked and opened it so that Shirley could pull into the yard. “You and your sister unload the car”, Shirley said to Jimmy after she had parked, “and I will go feed the dogs.
The family had four dogs Buster the oversized dachshund, Zach Alene an unclipped Standard Poodle, Sir Isaac Nuisance a black Labrador Retriever Jimmy had raised from 3 days old and Mitzi a one year old Black German Shepherd that they had gotten from Shirley’s mother.
Jimmy had just carried a couple sleeping bags inside the house when all of a sudden, he heard his mother let out a blood-curdling scream. Dropping the sleeping bags Jimmy ran towards the kennel. There he found his mother, a look of horror on her face, pointing wide-eyed at the fence on the far side of the dog kennel. Jimmy could see Mitzi's chain over the top of the fence. Mitzi was a fence jumper so before they had left for their weekend at Lake Shawnee Shirley had attached Mitzi to a chain with the thought that it would keep her from jumping the fence. When Shirley went into the kennel to feed the dogs she had discovered that the chain had not kept Mitzi from jumping the fence. What the chain had done was to hang Mitzi she jumped the fence.
Jimmy rush over to the fence and looked to the other side. Mitzi hung from the chain her neck at an odd angle. Jimmy could tell mediately that the German Shepherd had broken her neck when she jumped the fence. But that wasn't the worst of it Mitzi was still alive and barely breathing though Jimmy did not know how as the choke chain around her neck was tight. Jimmy turned and ran back inside the house. Going into his mother's room he went to her dresser. Grabbing the bottom drawer he yanked it out spilling it’s contents onto the floor. He reached the empty cavity finding the 38 caliber revolver pistol that was in the far back right hand corner under where the dresser drawer normally rested.
Running back outside Jimmy climbed over the fence and running down to where Mitzi was hanging he unhooked the chain from the choke chain. Jimmy hated choke chains and never understood why his mom insisted on them for the dogs. He knew that he would never put another one on a dog after today. Jimmy knelt down and looked at Mitzi. Her head was at an odd angle caused by the broken neck. Her eyes were glazed, her tongue protruded from her mouth and her breathing was labored and shallow. Jimmy placed the pistol against her temple. With tears in his eyes he said, “I'm sorry Mitzi; goodbye.” and he pulled the trigger.
Jimmy climbed back over the fence and walking over to his mother placed the pistol in her hand. Without a word he walked back over the car and continued to unload it. Shirley looked down at the pistol in her hand, the pistol she called the Saturday Night Special, and she wondered how Jimmy had known where she had kept it. She did not know why she had purchased the gun in the first place, but she thought that she had it well hidden. In a small way she was thankful that her son had known where the pistol was hidden because she doubted if she would have had the guts to pull the trigger herself. Her son had taken on the responsibility of a man, the responsibility that shouldn't rest within the hands of a 13-year-old boy. Shirley wasn't sure how she felt about that.
Gypsy was in the middle of his first hour class when he got called to the office. He entered the principal's office to find his Uncle Jerry and the superintendent of schools waiting there for him with the principal. He was instructed to sit down which he did. “What is going on?” he asked.
Jerry cleared his throat, “Jim I'm not here as your uncle, this is official Police business. I need to ask you a question I want you to answer truthfully for me.”
Gypsy just looked at his uncle and said nothing.
“Did you beat up your sister this morning?”
Gypsy jumped up out of the chair what the fuck are you talking about?”
Jerry said, “Jim sit back down and calm down. It is a simple question did you or did you not beat up your sister?”
“No I did not beat up Patty; what would make you think I did?”
The principal said, “When your sister got to school she immediately went to her elementary school principal's office. She was crying and in hysterics saying that you had beat her up. She said that she was trying to get ready for school and that you had grabbed her telling her she wasn't going to school. She said you then laughed at her and started beating her up. She said she had to run outside and get on the bus to get away from you.”
Gypsy was dumbfounded. “That's a bunch of fucking shit!”
The principal said, “Watch your mouth.”
“The fuck I will!” Gypsy said. “Patty has pulled some fucked up shit in her life but this one really takes the cake.”
The superintendent said, “Just calm down and tell us what happened.”
For the next several minutes Gypsy relayed the events of that morning concerning his sister and her refusal to go to school. The three men listen to the teenager tell the story and then Jerry said, “I tend to believe you. Your story rings truer than hers. But I think we need to talk to your mother.”
Gypsy said, “Did you talk to the bus driver she can tell you what happened when I put Patty on the bus.”
The superintendent said, “We've been trying to get ahold of her but apparently she is not home right now according to her husband. He said she had a doctor's appointment in Kansas City and that he will have her call us just as soon as she gets back. But until we can talk to her and talk to your mother to get things sorted out we think it would be best if you just went home for the rest of the day.”
Gypsy said, “Am I suspended?”
The principal said, “No we just need to get this whole thing sorted out and we think this would be the best thing to do.”
Jerry said, “Patty's over at my house right now with your Aunt Joanne. Your mother has been notified and is heading home from work. She should be here within the next hour.”
Gypsy headed home. He had been tempted to ride his motorcycle for a while to try to clear his head from what had just happen but he changed his mind. He decided the best course of action would be to confront his mother when she got home.
The family moved into the small farmhouse by the Shunganunga creek on 29th Street. Shirley had to hire a couple of handy men to move her piano as it was too heavy for Jimmy to move by himself. The rest of the move had gone pretty smoothly and Jimmy found that he really liked this new place. It suited him well. Not only was it basically just outside the city limits and in the country but it sat right next to a creek that was full of catfish and perch which meant that Jimmy could go fishing whenever he felt liked.
He also liked the new school that he would be going to; Marjorie French Junior High. Marjorie French was a brand new School and he had been the very first student ever through the doors of the new school on registration day. Jimmy had a couple of weeks before school started and he explored the area. He found that he could follow the creek through the woods on old game trails all the way to school and that suited to nature-loving teenager just fine.
Shirley loved her new job at the motel and even Jimmy could tell but she seemed a lot happier and was having a lot less mental health episodes. Shirley we would come in from work every day with stories about the celebrities that she was tending to. Jimmy enjoyed listening to the stories and found many a good laugh and a lot of insight to the people that he was used to seeing on television and in the movies. He started feeling like he knew them personally.
One day Shirley came home from work and she was not in a good mood. A new celebrity, a kid that was a member of a group of brothers that were popular singers, had come to the motel. The kid thought he was in town for a concert but in reality, he was going to be admitted Menninger Hospital for behavior modification. The boy was the featured singer and youngest member of five brothers who were the hottest musical group of the day.
Shirley had told Jimmy, “He is the biggest Prima Donna I have ever seen. He acts as though the world owes him. He is the one bad apple and he is spoiling the whole bunch. Once they check him into the clinic I hope it is the twelfth of never before I ever see him again and that’s a long, long time.”
The song references by Shirley had made Jimmy laugh. Jimmy said, “Don't worry about it Mom he’ll be out of your hair in no time and then he won't bother you anymore longer.” Shirley said, “I hope so but this kid just gives me a bad feeling.”
Gypsy sat on the front stoop of a little house on Walnut. He had packed a duffel bag and had it strapped to the back of his motorcycle. A jacket was across his knees a pack of Kool cigarettes sat next to him. He sipped on a bottle of Coca-Cola as he waited for his mother to get home from work.
Shirley pulled the car into the drive slamming on the brakes. As she threw the car door open Gypsy flicked cigarette away. Standing up as his mom got out of the car he could see that she was angry and getting ready to yell at him. Gypsy put up a hand and yelled, “Stop right there!”
Shirley did not know if it was the sound of his voice or the look on her son's face but whatever it was she came to an immediate stop.
Through gritted teeth Gypsy said, “I've had just about enough of your daughter. I put up with a lot of shit over the years and taken abuse for the crap that she's pulled but I'm done mom do you hear me? I'm done! Everything that you have heard, everything that she has said today is an absolute lie! I'm going to tell you something right now and you better listen and you better listen good because I'm done and I'm serious I'm done! I can't put it any better than that. If you believe her this time over me you will never see me again. I'm not kidding I'm as serious as I can possibly be. Look at the back of my bike see the bag strap there? That's everything I need to take with me. You go get your daughter you talk to her and then you come back and see me. But I'm telling you right now if you take her side over mine in this I'm gone.”
Shirley stood looking at her son and she knew with certainty but he was not making an idle threat, she knew she was just moments away from losing her with child. She thought, I don't know whether Patricia's lying or not I'll just have to go pick her up to find out.
Without a word Shirley turned around and got into her car. She backed out of the driveway and headed up Walnut Street. Gypsy sat back down on the stoop and lit up another cigarette to wait.
Shirley pulled back into the driveway a few minutes later with Patricia in the car. Shirley got out of the car and walked around to the passenger side and opening the door grabbed Patricia by her hair and yanked her out of the car. Still holding on to Patricias hair and jerking her towards the front of the house she stopped in front of her son. “Apologize!” Shirley ordered Patricia. Patricia just stood there crying. Shirley yanked on her hair again, “I said apologize!” Through her tears Patty said, “I'm sorry I lied on you.” Shirley shoved her towards the house. “Get inside. Go to your room and I'll deal with you in a minute.
Shirley looked down in her son. He stood up and flicked his cigarette away. Shirley said, “Are we good now?”
Gypsy looked at her for a moment then walked over to his bike. As he kick started the BSA Shirley said, “Are we good now?’ Over the sound of the running motorcycle. Gypsy mounted the bike and putting it into gear pulled out of the driveway disappearing up the road. He would be back in a little while but he wasn't going to let his mother know that. He figured she needed to worry for a while. She needed to feel the same anxiety he had suffered for years from her mental, physical an emotional abuse of most of which I've been instigated by his sister.
As Shirley watched her son disappear up the road two thoughts ran through her mind; Will I ever see him again and when did he start smoking?
It had been a good day. Carlos had done my Beatles tattoo and it had turned out better than I had anticipated. I had stayed in Lawrence long enough to have dinner with him, his wife and young son. The ride back to Topeka that evening gave me time to think about a lot of things before returning to my campsite. As the cooling motorcycle ticked in harmony with the chirping crickets I spoke with Debbie on the phone telling her of all I had accomplished that day. As I hung up I said, “I Love You.” She said, “I Love You and Miss You.” I said, “I Love You More” and quickly hung up. This had been a running joke with us from day one. Who would love the other one more always depended on who could cut the other one off from saying it. I believe that all couples share this same universal joke.
I watched the shadows of the trees growing longer as a bright red sun sunk into the west. My mind, as it had been since I first started this journey was on my mother. My mother had lost her power to speak for herself not just within her death but 2 years before her death when her doctors had started the slow poisoning that would eventually take her life.
Tomorrow, is my mothers birthday, I will bury her ashes between the graves of her parents and that thought weighed heavy on my mind. Maybe, I thought to myself, my duty to my mother is not just to grant her few simple last requests; maybe it is something more important than that. Maybe my duty is to be my mother’s voice and speak for her so that her life will have meaning; so that maybe others might be able to learn from the lessons that my mother’s life can teach others. Maybe by telling Shirley’s story I might be able to save others from her pain and ultimate fate.
Sitting at the old picnic table I opened the lid of my laptop and as the screen resolved itself, I clicked on the MS Word icon. As darkness fell upon the Lake Shawnee Campground and the computer's screen illuminated an area large enough to attract every small insect within 100 feet I typed out:
I did not like my Mother! It is true, I did not like her yet I loved her. Like should never be confused with Love and Vice-Versa. They are two different things all together. You can love the color purple but dislike Lilacs. You can dislike New York City but Love the Yankees. Like and Love are as different as night and day and as big a paradox as the Love/Dislike Relationship I had with my Mother…
TO BE CONTINUED