Tracy Porter - The Author
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Lyrics to James Blunt's "No Bravery"

CHAPTER 9

The Gypsy In Me

I felt awkward about staying at Mike’s parent’s house, so on one occasion we actually slept in his car rather than impose on them. When Mike did not come home that night I suppose his parents felt it was better to let me stay with them than for them not to know where he was or what he was doing. Unlike my family, Mike’s parents actually cared about his welfare and did not want him wandering about in the middle of the night because he had no place to go.

After I had not gone home for a week or two my grandmother finally rang up and asked me if I was going to come home. I told her that no, I was not going home because I was very upset about what my grandfather had said to me, namely that I was going to turn out to be just like my mother. I was deeply hurt by his comments and did not want to live there any more. Granny did not push my decision and I was therefore allowed to do whatever I liked. Because the financial aspects of the arrangement had never been discussed with me, I thought my grandmother telephoning me was nothing other than concern for my welfare. Having discovered that my mother actually paid my grandmother to keep me, I now suspect that my grandmother asking me to come home had more to do with money than anything else. It saddens me to know that as far as my grandmother was concerned, I was just another source of income.

It was not Granny, however, who should have been concerned about my whereabouts, it was my mother. But my mother, in her infinite capacity to selfishly think about her own well-being above that of anybody else’s was not worried in the least about what I might be doing or where I might be sleeping. Although my mother did not want me, the fact of the matter was that she was legally responsible for me until I was 18. If she had bothered to give a damn, she could have had the police collect me and bring me home at any time. My mother, however, simply didn’t want me around, but I was still very justifiably terrified of going back to her to be subjected to even more of her foul moods and abuse.

One time not long after I had moved into Mike’s home during a disagreement, he angrily told me that if my mother wanted me to go home then I should. At 17, he had obviously gotten bored with me but did not know how to get rid of me.

When I was staying at Mike’s house the oddest thing was that all of my underwear kept coming up missing. I do not know how this happened, but it did. In retrospect, I can only surmise that someone, probably Mike’s mother, had taken my underwear and other clothes, but I will never know why. In retrospect, I believe that Mike’s mother had a deep seated animosity towards me, but she did not want to tell me herself that she did not like me. I have learned the hard way that people often do some strange things, so I can only guess as to why someone would want to take my clothes and other things. It was obviously meant as some for of passive aggressive malice directed towards me.

One time Mike’s grandmother came for a visit and asked me why I did not want to go home. I certainly could not tell this woman all of the things that I had endured at the hands of my family, so I said nothing when she queried me. How could any normal person understand what it was like to live the life that I had lived with my mother.

One evening when Mike was working, I made plans to go to the movies with my sister, Candice. When the movies were finished, Candice and I walked went to the car only to discover that it did not start. Not knowing what to do, Candice telephoned Bill to ask him to pick her up. When Bill arrived, he asked me if I would like him to drop me off somewhere and I declined. After all that I had been through with that family, I just didn’t feel comfortable having any contact with them at all. It should be noted, however, that there was no mention whatsoever as to how I was doing and coping on my own. My family was not that concerned about me and just wanted me out of their way. Although they were quite prepared to give me a lift somewhere to massage their guilty consciences, they were no way prepared to do the decent thing with regard to my welfare.

Not knowing what to do, I telephoned Mike and asked him to come. Mike replied that he was working, but phoned his father who was going to pick me up. I waited outside for Mike’s father, but it was a big parking lot and we had not agreed upon a place. Quite suddenly, I saw Mike’s father’s car drive out of the lot and I ran to meet him. I was so frustrated at what was happening, and telephoned Mike to tell him that I was still stranded in the middle of Little Rock.

Mike finally came to collect me, but he was not pleased at all about having to interrupt his work. He got the car started and I was supposed to follow him, but when I approached a stop light the car died again. After all of the events of such a frustrating evening, I started screaming at the top of my lungs. I don’t know how long I screamed for, but it must have been loud because the staff at the MacDonald’s across the street went to the window to observe. I was very embarrassed about making such an emotional display, but had gone so near a breaking point. Mike came back to get me, and was naturally not pleased in the least about what was happening because he did not like having to take time out of his day to help me out.

One spring day when I was in front of a shopping complex, preparing to get into Mike’s car, a woman shouted my name and rushed up to me. When I looked to see what all of the ruckus was about, I was shocked to notice that it was my maternal grandmother calling me from across the parking lot. Terrified that she would try to attack me in public, I hurried to get into the car where I would be safe.

My grandmother could see that I was afraid of a confrontation and told me that she was not going to hurt me and then proceeded to introduce me to her new husband.

What strikes me as particularly astonishing is the fact that my grandmother told me so matter of factly that she was not going to hurt me. Did she think it was acceptable to harm children, especially with no provocation whatsoever. Apparently, my grandmother had no qualms whatsoever about harming children, and she no doubt instilled those values onto my mother. My mother’s own parents apparently had encouraged her to harm her own children under the guise of “discipline”.

I do believe that my mother is a very disturbed individual to so happily injure her children. This disturbance, no doubt, was inflicted on her by her own parents, who rejected her, neglected her, and routinely abused her physically, mentally and sexually. My mother was not born a monster, but was made that way by her parents.

In the same vein, I do believe that my mother has a moral conscious because she deeply regrets what she did. She is not sorry that she harmed her children, but is merely sorry that her behaviour was frowned upon by other people. She therefore fabricated stories to excuse the injuries inflected on her children. For example, my sister’s burn mark on her torso was explained away by saying that she ran into a furnace. The scar above my left eye was explained away by saying that I was bitten by a dog. And lastly, the weekend of torment that I was subjected to was explained away by calling it “discipline”.

My mother knows very well the truth of what she did to her children, even if she will not admit it to anybody else. I feel sorry for her because she cannot live with what she did, and as a result is now dependant on doctor dependant drugs.

Evidently, my grandmother had been having an affair with him for many years and finally decided to divorce my grandfather to marry him only three weeks after the divorce had been finalised. I was shocked at this news to say the least because I certainly never expected her to do something like that in a million years. My grandparents were churchgoing people who wasted no time in judging others, so I was astonished that my grandmother would do such a thing. Considering the fact that she has always been the first one to wail that the family had been ‘shamed’ when someone did something that she did not approve of, I consider her to have been extremely out of order.

I honestly don’t know what is more shameful - a 16 year old who gets pregnant because she has no adult supervision brought about by the fact that her mother is carrying on with another man, or a grown woman who has a sexual relationship with a man that she is not married to while she is married to another man. While I was not put on this earth to judge others, I have a tendency to feel just a touch resentful about my grandmother’s behaviour. Her actions had a devastating effect on my mother, which in turn had a devastating effect on me. Unfortunately, child abuse is a generational phenomenon. Children are taught to abuse others by their parents, who grow up to abuse their own children.

What I find even more surprising is the fact that I would just want to die if any of my children, or grandchildren for that matter, were afraid of me. My grandmother, however did not seem to be concerned in the least that I was afraid that she would become abusive with me in the middle of a crowded parking lot. In her exuberance at introducing me to this ‘Doc’ character that she drug up from God knows where, my own feelings of apprehension went straight over her head. My grandmother, like most everybody else in my family, was only concerned about herself.

My grandmother has never hid the fact that she dealt with children by using violence, so I am sure that she was secretly very proud of herself that the threat of violence had instilled the fear of god into her children and grandchildren. Sadly, I hail from a long line of religious fanatics who believe that they have been given permission directly from God to abuse their children. Although the vast majority of the western world profess to be Christian, Jewish or Muslim, the Bible, which is the originator of these three major religions is one of the most violent books that has ever been written. It is a book that promotes wife beating and child abuse, and it is for that reason that I cannot in good conscious affiliate myself with that religion. I do feel the Bible is a very good book, but is was after all written by men who are only human, and therefore fallible and subject to error.

While the pious will vehemently disagree with my views, it shouldn’t take an intellectual dynamo to realise that the most heinous crimes that have been committed in the history of man have been committed in the name of God. I am sure that God wants nothing whatsoever to do with the Irish Republican Army, but both the Catholics and Protestants are committing atrocities each day and saying they are given their directions from a higher authority. I am sure that God wants nothing to do with the attack on the Twin Towers in New York City and the Pentagon on 11th September 2001, but certain Muslim fanatics did nevertheless commit the atrocity in the name of God.

No long after Mike turned 18, he and his parents were engaged in an intense discussion that I knew nothing about. It soon became evident that I was the reason for the diatribe that was taking place in the home. I knew nothing about what was said, but Mike took me to a hotel to stay that night. I was forced to stay there for two nights until Mike found us a place to live. Mike’s family did not want me in the house, which is understandable, but I feel that if they did not want me there they should have phoned Social Services. That however, was something they were not prepared to do.

Shortly after I left Mike’s family’s house, he took me to live in an apartment complex in Little Rock. I was quite happy in that apartment and I tried to turn it into a home. So pleased was I that I had a place of my own, I wanted to arrange a dinner and invite Mike’s parents to attend. As I made preparations for the dinner, it never even dawned on me that his parents would not want to come. I had invited them myself and they never expressed any disinterest at all in going. When the day in question arrived, Mike informed me that they had no intention of coming, which totally astonished me. I was heartbroken, and Mike must have telephoned them and said something to them about my feelings.

Mike’s parents knew the table we had was only big enough for four people, and therefore was all that I had room for. They nonetheless brought Mike’s two younger brothers, along with a pizza for them to eat. Even though they had to be coerced into coming for dinner, I felt that the evening went well. I was too naďve to think otherwise. I still had not figured out that Mike’s family did not like me and that was why they did not want me in their home.

Not long after Mike and I moved into our own apartment, I was to learn that his mother had moved out of the house into her own apartment. As it happens, she had been seeing a man for some time and had decided the time was right to leave her husband and sons. Mike’s father may have hoped he could get his mother to stay if I was no longer in the house, hence the reason why for my hasty departure. If someone wants to be with you they will, so it is pointless to try to entice people promises or gifts. I suppose that Mike’s father had to realise this for himself, which is why he agreed to make me leave the house in at attempt to get his wife to stay. I was not the reason for Mike’s mother’s unhappiness, however, so even when I was out of the picture she was still dissatisfied with the home environment.

Not long after Mike and I moved into our own apartment he obtained a job at a company that distributed snacks to offices. When he started his new job he was to meet some interesting people who he would become friends with. It just so happens that one of his co-workers was having an affair with the office manager, who had a 15 year old daughter. What better ruse than to organise foursomes so they all could be together as couples in the guise of work commitments.

I found Mike’s relationship with this 15 year old to be quite hurtful, and when I asked him what his relationship was, he merely replied that he was babysitting her. Of course, I knew that it was not true, but at the same time I did not want to believe what was happening. My relationship was disintegrating before my very eyes.

One day it was agreed that all of us would go to a concert together in another city. I had given Mike my money for the ticket and all of the details were arranged. On the evening of the concert, much to my surprise, the young 15 year old had been invited along as well.

I was horrified to discover that Mike was sitting with her and she had her hand on his leg. If that was not bad enough, when we arrived at the concert he was holding her hand. When I confronted Mike about this, he became very angry with me and told me that if I did not shut up he was going to leave me then and there.

Because I was in a strange town with no way of getting back I decided that I had better make the best of a bad situation and endured the concert while my boyfriend was with another girl. All in all, I suppose that I handled it pretty well, considering the fact that my boyfriend had brought two women to the same concert. I don’t know why Mike even took me to the concert in the first place if it was that young girl he really wanted to be with.

Mike’s behaviour that night would scar me for many years. A reverberation of that night is the fact that I have never had any desire to attend any subsequent concerts of any kind. With all but a few occasions, whenever I have been invited to a concert I have made up an excuse and politely declined. It took well over 20 years for me to have any interest whatsoever in going to a concert, and to be honest, I only went because that is what my boyfriend wanted to do, not because it was something I wanted.

It was not long before Mike was out of the picture altogether. One evening he did not come home, and I did not sleep at all that night, as I waited for him to return. During the time that Mike had decided he wanted to be with this young girl more than he wanted to be with me, I became very ill. I had a kidney infection of some sort and was in so much agony that I was barely able to walk. In my pain and sorrow, I lay on the couch all day long, hoping that the pain would subside. I did not have a telephone, so I managed to walk to the nearest telephone booth to phone Mike’s friend to see if he was there. Well, of course he wasn’t, and even if he was I doubt very seriously that he would have spoken to me anyway.

One Friday evening when I was all on my own, I was walking my dog, which was the only comfort I had in this world. A man in a car pulled up and asked me some questions and I was too naďve to realise that he was trying to pick me up. A conversation ensued, and he convinced me to get in the car with him to go for a drive. It did not take long for me to realise what a mistake I had made, getting into a car with a strange man who I did not even know. Terrified, I asked the man tearfully to please take me home. The man eventually did take me home as I sat, crying in his car. He kept telling me not to worry, that he would take me home, but nothing would console me until I was safely in my own apartment. How lucky I was that he was just a lonely guy, looking for love because something much more sinister could have happened and no one would have noticed, or cared for that matter.

It did not take me long to realise that Mike did not want me anymore and I had better make alternative living arrangements. I scoured the want ads and found a woman who was looking to rent a room. She made an appointment to see me, and upon meeting me decided that I would be suitable to live in her home.

When the day arrived for me to move, Bill came and hauled all of my things in his truck and helped me out. Although my family was more than happy to help me move, they were not that bothered enough about my welfare to ask me if I would like to come back home! They tried to act like they were good, decent people, but really they weren’t.

Because my mother felt sorry for me,but not sorry enough to ask me to come home, she loaned me some money to buy a car. Because it was such an old wreck, it was only a matter of time before I was to start having difficulties with it. I took the car to a repair centre to see what the problem was, and a young man told me that if I would take it over to his house then he would look at it. Although one of the women where I worked with told me that it was not a good idea for me to go over to his house, because I was so naďve I ignored her advice. When I arrived at the man’s house, he looked at the car and told me that he could find nothing wrong with it. Because he found nothing wrong, I stayed a little while, making small talk and politely made my excuses so that I could be on my way. As I approached the door, the man blocked my path and refused to let me leave. Almost in tears, I asked him to please let me go home, which luckily for me he did. Once again, I had been so close to danger but had somehow been saved from it. That man could have raped me and killed me, and literally no one would have known, or cared for that matter.

When I moved in to my new accommodation, I was to learn that she was renting the room out to another man who did not think very highly of her. The woman told me that the man was handicapped and she had told him that I was only 15. It seems that she was making up stories to suit her needs as it pleased her.

Not long after I moved in to that place, I had made arrangements to go on a double date with my friend Sherry. I am ashamed to say that during that double date I had too much to drink, and actually made a pass at her boyfriend. Needless to say, Sherry was not pleased with me over the incident and told me so.

Within a matter of weeks I was to move into a trailer park with Anita, Sherry’s sister. It was a good arrangement in that it was close to where I worked, so I did not have to worry about transportation. Negatively, Anita has never been known for reliability and never had the money to pay her share of the rent.

Because I was on speaking terms with my mother during Christmas, she had made arrangements for my brother to collect me and bring me over to the house. When I arrived at the house I discovered that stockings had been put up for everyone, but of course since I was no longer living there, no one had bothered to put one up for me. As petty as it seems, I was hurt that a stocking had not been put up for me. It was just another reflection of everybody’s attitude that I was not a member of the family and was not worthy of even the simplest niceties.

When I went in to speak to my sister, I was surprised to learn that my mother had given Candice a ruby ring, while I got a cream coloured sweater that I did not even like. Of course, I understood the reason why Mama had given me just a token gift was the fact that she had loaned me some money to purchase a car that broke down not long after I bought it. Even with this knowledge, I was still hurt because I felt that once again because I had been slighted and Candice had been given more than me.

On my 18th birthday, my mother had organised a little party for me. Because I did not drive, a member of the family was going to pick me up and take me to the house. On the evening, everyone was polite to each other, except for Candice who had made arrangements to go on a date and therefore was not there. When Candice did arrive, I tried to make pleasantries with her. Completely unprovoked and out of the blue, Candice came out with an extremely hateful comment, stating that she was not a ‘whore like you’, making no secret of what she thought of me. I was extremely hurt by what she said, but did not want to make a scene to ruin the family gathering. No doubt, the evening ended quite soon after my sister’s viscous comment. Although I personally felt that my whole birthday had been ruined by what she had said, I had learned a long time ago to keep my pain to myself.

Although I found Candice’s callous behaviour to be quite destructive to any relationship that we hoped to build, I have always attributed her hurtful comments to the fact that she had always been closer to our mother than any of the other children. Candice obviously had picked up on Mama’s hateful tongue and no one ever told her the things she said were not very nice. Although I did not know it at the time, Candice was not having an easy time at home with Mama either. Mama had started abusing Candice since I was no longer around to pick on.

Before I left home, if Mama was having a bad day she could take her frustrations out on me by yelling at me, calling me a name, or throwing an object, such as a shoe, at me. Although Mama had finally succeeded in getting me out of her hair once and for all, a void had been left in her life and she had lost her scapegoat. Because Marc had lost his leg and had been so close to death, Mama would have never dreamed of saying or doing anything hateful to him b she had come so close to losing him once already. Mama needed someone to vent her frustrations out on who because not in a position to fight back – and guess who that was? You guessed it. Candice.

When I left, all of the abuse that I normally received was directed at Candice. Candice’s personality is a bit different than mine in that she will not overtly fight back when she feels she has been wrongly treated. Candice will instead engage in covert activities to surreptitiously harm the reputation of the person who has become the object or her ire. Therefore, when Mama woke Candice up in the middle of the night and demanded that she clean the shower out with a toothbrush, Candice what was demanded of her. All the times Mama humiliated Candice undoubtedly took its toll on her self esteem and she therefore felt the justified on hurting anyone who was not able to defend themselves. Candice had a very good teacher. She had learned to be really mean and hateful to people, just like her mother.

In addition to all that was going on, when Mama found Candice’s birth control pills, instead of praising her for her sense of responsibility, she told Candice that she ought to think about getting married if she was going to carry on like a married woman. What a hypocrite! My mother slept with men and women without being married, yet she had the nerve to try to tell other people how to live their lives.

I was particularly incensed for Candice that when she turned 18, Mama informed her that she was going to have to start paying rent if she wanted to continue living in that house. Mama had not even given Candice the opportunity to finish high school before she was being expected to live the life of a lodger with her own mother. To add insult to injury, by this time Mama had tired of Bobbie and had decided to let her new girlfriend, Janet, live in the house rent-free. Well excuse me, but I think there is something terribly wrong with the mind of a woman who will put the desires of her girlfriends over the needs of her children. Call me old fashioned, but I will never change my mind on that issue. I think that the fact that my mother was much more interested in the whims of her girlfriends than the needs of her own children speaks volumes about her non-existent maternal instincts. I am just absolutely amazed that she was ever allowed to care for children in the first place. I honestly do not understand why Social Services never took her children away from her.

Mama was so enamoured with Janet and her ‘single’ lifestyle that she organised at party at the house for all of her girlfriends and told Candice that she had to be out of the way while she was entertaining her friends. Candice had nowhere to go, so ended up going to a movie all on her own, which broke my heart. In addition, Mama would go on weekends away with her friends and leave Candice home all on her own. No doubt, the abysmal way that Mama treated Candice took its toll on her personality. Mama and Janet would do things like put a scorpion on the phone and tell Candice there was a call for her. The would also tell Candice to move a “worm” while working in the garden, knowing fully well that it was in fact a snake. To say that Mama and Janet were sick and twisted is an understatement, and their antics no doubt deeply affected my sister.

Bill, so angered by Mama’s activities, acted with impunity with regard to Candice. Candice knew that if she said anything to Mama about Bill that it would just fall on deaf ears, and therefore kept her mouth shut when he deliberately did things to hurt her feelings. One particularly hateful thing that Bill would do was to take the fuses out of the fuse box if Candice played the music too loud, leaving her with no electricity whatsoever in her room. In retrospect, I find it amazing the Candice turned out as normal as she has, considering what she was subjected to and the fact that she did not get any support at all from any adults in her life. Like me, Candice was pretty much left to fend for herself.

While I lived in trailer park, I befriended a man who lived in a trailer even smaller than the one I lived in. In reality, it was not designed as a mobile home, but rather for recreation that one would attach to a car when holidaying. I was invited into it on one occasion and I could not understand how anyone could actually live in it because it was so tiny. What I did not realise at the time was that we can all survive in the most austere of circumstances if our desire to live is great enough, but once we lose our will to live, no amount of luxury will be able to keep us in this world.

One morning this young man knocked on my door with an interesting proposition. It seems that he wanted to go to California and asked me if I would like to go with him. To go to California seemed like such a daunting thing to do, not that I had anything to keep me in Arkansas. As flattered as I was that he thought of me as a travelling companion, I declined his invitation. I have often wondered, however, what my life would have been life if I had actually decided to just drop everything and go.

It seemed that Sherry and Anita only wanted to be my friend when it suited them. Sherry was forever confronting me about something that I may or may not have said or done. On one occasion Sherry rang up about going somewhere and I was very hurt that she told Anita that she did not want me to come along because ‘I talked too much’. Sherry’s comments hurt me deeply because I saw her as my friend. Nevertheless, because I was so desperate for anybody to take pity on me, I continued to socialise with her after that so obvious social snub.

Sherry and Anita were not without their own problems and consequently behaved in bizarre ways at times. On one occasion, Anita told me that I had better spend the night with some man I met at party because I would be branded as a tease if I didn’t. The fact that this person had put the move on me was totally irrelevant to her way of thinking. In retrospect, I should have done what I wanted to do and not listen to the misguided opinions of others, but because I was so desperate for Anita’s approval, I did what she wanted me to against my better judgement.

Although Sherry and Anita’s mother did not like me because she thought I was a bad influence on Sherry, it was in fact Sherry and Anita who were the bad influences on everyone around them. If it had not been for my association with Sherry and Anita, I would never have joined the United States Air Force, which I feel hampered my emotional evolvement in many ways because of its rather austere ethos.

CHAPTER 10

Air Force Blues

Given that the vast majority of my so-called friends, Sherry’s pass-times were illegal, it was only a matter of time before the law would catch up with her. Sherry wanted the good things in life but she did not necessarily want to pay for them. It is for this reason that she developed a penchant for stealing things to get what she wanted. I suppose that Sherry wanted to steal that which she felt had been denied her in life.

I would like to point out that while I had a problem with kleptomania which had very little to do with money, Sherry’s problem stemmed primarily from the fact that she wanted to have nice things but did not have any money to pay for them. Even when I was as young as 15 years old I would comment off handedly to Sherry that some of my money was missing. Sherry would become defensive and say that she had nothing to do with the missing monies. Not knowing her true character, I never imagined that she would steal from me and was surprised that she thought I suspected her.

Because Sherry has always been quick-witted she could endear herself to people, and as a result befriended people who came from much better backgrounds that she had been born into. Sherry had as a result made friends with one young lady who lived in one of the nicer parts of town. Although Sherry was supposedly a good friend of hers, this affinity did not stop her from walking into the house that had been left unlocked and taking a shoe box that contained money. When the young woman came home that day to find that there had been a theft, she knew immediately that it was Sherry who had committed the crime. I believe this young woman had been raised by a better class of people than both Sherry and myself, and therefore spoke to Sherry directly about her behaviour instead getting others involved. Obviously, the friendship would never be the same after that because how can one stay friends with someone who they know will steal from them when the opportunity arises? The young girl was a good person, fortunately, to have handled the matter herself instead of involving her parents or the police.

Even though Sherry had lost a valuable friendship because of her stealing, she apparently did not learn any lessons from the consequences of her actions. Undeterred, one of the things that Sherry and Anita both liked to do was to go into restaurants, order a meal, and leave without paying. I did not feel comfortable with what they were doing and told them so, but concerns unfortunately fell on deaf ears.

One evening when we had finished our meal at Casa Bonita, a popular Mexican restaurant, Sherry decided that she did not want to pay for all of the food that she had eaten. She therefore obtained a blank receipt and transcribed a new order onto it. Although I expressed my reservations to Sherry, she would hear none of it as she proceeded with fabricating a much less expensive, fictitious order for food.

The cashier evidently was well aware of what Sherry was trying to do and called the manager, who detained her and phoned the police. The group of us stayed and waited for the police to arrive while she sat terror stricken at the prospect of what was to come. When the police arrived it was decided that because Sherry was not yet 18 years old she would be required to spend the night at Juvenile Hall. Tears steaming down her face, the police escorted Sherry out of the restaurant. Since this seemed like such a major event for young people, the entire entourage accompanied Sherri to Juvenile Hall, a place where she would be required to stay the night.

Because Sherry was not yet an adult, she was required to talk to a counsellor before she was allowed to leave Juvenile Hall the following morning. During her counselling session it transpired that she had always wanted to join the United States Air Force. When she was finished with her meeting she was fired with this new goal in life. Considering the fact that getting offenders to join the military is a well known tactic that government officials use, I suspect the idea of joining the military was not initially Sherry’s. I am quite confident that with a bit of coaxing on the counsellor’s part, Sherry was vulnerable and gullible enough to believe that joining the military was her idea.

Nonetheless, Sherry did not want to go into this venture on her own and therefore badgered anyone and everyone who would listen to join with her. I certainly did not want to join the military because I personally thought it was beneath me to do such a thing. I had the images of all of these criminals lined up, being forced to join or go to jail, and I was certainly no criminal and had no intention of entering their ranks.

Sherry did not want to take the Armed Forces Battery Test on her own, so I went along with her to take it as a joke. Of course, I had absolutely no intention of joining the military, but considered it to be an experience to speak with the people at the recruitment office. As we waited to take the test, we laughed and giggled as teenagers do. I am sure the recruiters knew we had no hope in hell of ever passing the test or meeting the criteria, but as they were in the midst of a recruitment drought and desperate for people, they humoured us as.

When I was put on the scale, surprise surprise, I was three pounds overweight and would not have been allowed to enlist even if I had wanted to. Although the United States armed forces has no qualms about accepting people who have been threatened with a prison sentence if they do not enlist, it seems that those individuals who are a few pounds overweight won’t look good in a uniform and are therefore not suitable for the calling. It didn’t bother me in the least that I was three pounds too heavy to enlist because I had no intention of doing so anyway.

When the person filing out the forms asked me if I had ever use any drugs, I looked him directly in the eye and batted my pretty brown eyes as only a southern girl can do, and said, ‘No.’ He seemed quite happy with my response and asked no further questions with regard to that specific issue.

Sherry and I were then required to take a test that lasted all morning. I took the test and didn’t even think about the answers because I had no intention of joining the military anyway. As far as I was concerned, I was only supporting my friend as she went through the process of enlisting. What I was worried about, however, was that I was going to be late for this menial job at a hamburger restaurant I worked at.

As few days elapsed and we were to learn while I had quit school in the 11th grade because I simply couldn’t cope, I had passed that test with flying colours. Sherry, on the other hand, had failed even though she had not yet quit school. She was then informed that she was required to have a high school education before she could enlist in the military and therefore must sit a GED, or General Education Diploma, before they could progress her application any further.

Not long after I had taken the test I was telephoned by the recruiter, who asked me if I was still interested in joining the Air Force. He told me that I had scored so high on the test that I could have any job that I wanted. I was certainly flattered, but joining the Air Force was not part of the game plan. I was not sure what the game plan was, but that certainly that was not it. After the early morning conversation I thought nothing more of it and carried on with whatever life I was trying to build for myself.

It just so happens that during this time I had been introduced to a young man through Sherry. Because I was so naďve at the time, I did not even realise that he was only interested in sleeping with me and had every intention of discarding me as soon as he got what he wanted. Although I liked him, I certainly did not want to go to bed with him, and therefore declined all his attempts to get his wicked way with me. This was, you will remember, Arkansas in the late 1970’s and girls who slept with men they were not married to were called all kinds of uncomplimentary names.

Every time this individual telephoned me, he enticed me to go out with him on the pretence of us actually going on a date, but every time I agreed to go out with him he only took me to the trailer that he shared with another young man and tried to get me to sleep with him. This routine wore on and on, and finally one day he informed me if I did not sleep with him he did not want to see me anymore and that I would have to make my own way home. I found out the hard way that the man was certainly no gentleman.

I certainly was not going to go to bed with a man who treated me in such a shabby fashion, but since I had no transportation, I had no way of getting home and was in a particularly bad situation.

I telephoned Anita, who I was living with, and asked her if she would come to get me. Anita told me that she did not have any gas in her car and flatly refused. I was particularly upset by her attitude because I helped her out financially and in other ways so many times. I next telephoned Sherry, and her mother agreed to come pick me up, which I found to be quite embarrassing to say the least.

What I find to be so amazing is the fact that although both Sherry and Anita where my friends when it suited them, it never even dawned on me that they were not good friends to have in the first place. In all honesty, with friends like that, I certainly didn’t need any enemies. I suppose that because I had been let down by just about everyone else in my life that I just expected people to treat me like dirt. I also suppose I was so desperate for any kind of love and attention whatsoever, that I would take any crumbs that were thrown my way, which should show any sane person just how pathetic my life was.

Based on all the circumstances surrounding how I came to live in a trailer park in a very bad area of Little Rock, I suppose my self esteem was at an all time low. This feeling was not helped by the fact that I was learning not very nice things about people who were supposed to be my friends. It seemed that at only 18, my life was going nowhere fast. That was when I decided to go ahead and join the Air Force simply because I had nothing better to do at the time. When I decided to go ahead and join, Sherry was thrilled because she would not have to do it all on her own.

I was processed through and given a date to join of 27th March 1979. When the date came I went with Sherry to the recruiting office and waited for transport to take us to San Antonio, Texas where we would attend our basic training at Lackland Air Force Base. Sherry’s mother went to the airport to say goodbye to Sherry as we waited to depart. I had told my family that I was leaving, but as usual, they were so wrapped up in themselves that they couldn’t be bothered to go to the airport to say see me off. Deep down inside I was upset by yet another disappointment in my life, but I didn’t let it show because I had learned through experience not to count on anybody in my family for anything.

It was an incredibly long day, and we arrived very late that evening to begin our basic training. Although Sherry and I were in the same flight, as soon as she got settled in to her routine and met more interesting people, she quickly forgot all about me and the friendship that we were supposed to have. Although I have been deeply hurt time and time again by Sherry’s behaviour, now that I have had many years to think about the situation, she did the very best she could have done under the circumstances.

Sherry was the youngest of six children and her natural mother had committed suicide when she was only three days old. Her father was somewhat of a reprobate and died in a prison somewhere in Arkansas, thus endowing Sherry with social security benefits until she was 18 years old. Almost all of Sherry’s relatives had criminal records and had been in prison for one thing or another, so she never really had any positive role models to look up to.

Although Sherry, one brother and one sister lived with her aunt, I suspect that the woman became guardian of the children less for maternal love than the fact that she would be receiving the children’s state benefits. Although the woman was her aunt, she took her time making a decision to give the children a home because Sherry was not removed from the orphanage until she was about three years old.

If the above scenario was not sad enough, on one occasion Sherry confided to me that she had been raped by one of her brothers. When she told me, she said it with absolutely no feeling whatsoever, I presume because she had learned from a very early age to detach herself from what was going on in the home. Sherry, it seems, had learned to survive in an intolerable world where there were no morals or restraints whatsoever.

Sherry never had a chance to bond with anyone and as a result tended to flit from friend to friend. It seemed that she was best friends with the person who was in a position to do the most for her at that point in time, and when that person had served her usefulness she would discard the friend without a second thought. Over the years I tried to keep contact with Sherry but she rarely if ever responded to any of my letters. After a while I was forced to come to terms with the fact that she did not value my friendship and stopped writing to her.

Basic training was a rather brutal environment at best. I suppose the harsh treatment is necessary to weed out the weak ones, but it nonetheless it can be a painful process for those persons who are the victims of bullying. When I arrived at Lackland and was assigned to my flight, I was constantly harassed by my Training Instructor, or TI. While I did not like so much attention focused on myself, I took it all in stride and eventually the harassment subsided.

It is a sad fact that many women chose to join the armed forces as a way to support their families, and one such woman, Margaret, with a husband and two small children chose to do just that. While Margaret was at basic training her family stayed in the Base Airmen’s Quarters, presumably because they had nowhere else to go. One day her daughter disappeared and she was distraught with anguish, as she and her husband tried frantically to find her.

Margaret’s daughter was not found so the police had to be involved in the search. As a result of the heavy burden that weighed upon Margaret’s mind to know that her daughter was safe and sound, she simply was not able to concentrate on the rigorous routine of basic training and subsequently became the object of the TI’s scorn. It seemed that I no longer was worthy of their constant harassment, as a more suitable victim was found. One thing about bullies is that they will never pick on those who will fight back. They always choose the weak ones who need support. Bullies are, deep down inside, cowards.

At that time I thought my TI’s were at a highly elevated position within the military hierarchy and would have never dreamed of questioning their activities. While I can understand why it would be necessary to establish a harsh regime in order establish discipline and filter out those who are not suitable for the military lifestyle, I find the way that Margaret was treated to be totally inhumane. The fact that the TI’s exploited Margaret’s misfortune by making her an object of ridicule to the entire flight was wholly unacceptable. She should not have been expected to carry on with her duties when her daughter was missing, and quite possibly in the hand of dubious individuals, and should have been offered compassionate leave in order to take care of her family affairs.

During the first several weeks of basic training we were not allowed to go off the base at all, and the only social activity was to attend the base chapel on Sunday morning. No one was forced to go to church but those who declined the invitation were given details to perform while their colleagues worshipped. Therefore, almost everybody went to church, even if they were not necessarily religious.

When basic training was finished I found myself being transported to Biloxi, Mississippi to attend technical school at Keesler Air Force Base. I was put into the field of electronics and would be attending technical school for 17 weeks to become a Radio Relay Equipment Repairman.

I didn’t have a clue in the world about what it was I was supposed to be learning and had a great deal of difficulty concentrating because it was very difficult for me to be at school at 6:00am each morning. Somehow, I managed to graduate from the school because it and was given my first assignment, which was to be Andrews Air Force Base, Maryland.

When I was at Keesler Air Force Base I first noticed I was having difficulty coping with all that was going on in my life. In the dormitory where I lived I saw a sign that read ‘Mental Health Clinic’ every single day, but did not dare enquire as to what it was all about. One day I spoke to another person who was in the same squadron that I was assigned to, and he told me that he went to the Mental Health Clinic a lot to talk to them about his problems. He made is sound like no big deal, but since I was not ready to admit that I had a problem I never went in, regardless of how badly I would have liked to.

What I did not know, however, was that whenever a person attends the Mental Health Clinic, it is annotated in his medical records and his career would be affected by what went on in those sessions. If the sessions were confidential it would have been okay, but the hospital notes were made available to a great many people and the patient had absolutely no right to privacy. All future promotions and assignments would be affected by what was discussed in those sessions.

One day when I was nearing the end of technical school, I was speaking to a young woman who had finished her training just a few weeks after I had and was waiting for an assignment. While we were speaking I happened to tell her of my melancholy feelings, and without provocation, she snapped at me, ‘I don’t want to hear it’, and turned away.

I was absolutely stunned by her lack of tact and understanding, but this unpleasant incident was only one of many that I would experience where people made it quite clear to me that they were not interested in hearing about any concerns I might have. What I did not know was the fact that people, for the most part, are simply not interested in the problems of others.

The lesson that has taken me years to learn is that we live in a shallow world. There are puddles that have more depth than some of the people who I have come across in my travels. Although it may only take five minutes to listen and give a positive affirmation to someone who is troubled, many people prefer to cut those people off and leave them even more alienated than before the verbal exchange ever took place.

Throughout the years I have tried my best not to burden other people with my problems, but at times that despair in me was so great that I simply could not hide the pain I was feeling inside. If I had been left alone to wallow in my self-pity then I may have had a chance to pick myself up after a time of reflection. More often than not, however, there was always someone around who was even more pathetic than I, and was all too willing to kick me when I was already down.

I have learned the hard way that there are a lot of sad people out in the big, wide world that we live. Because many of those people have so many problems with themselves, the only way they can feel good is to hurt others. Unfortunately for me, because I have always been so hungry for love, I would tolerate almost any kind of behaviour because I was so eager to please, and as a result have been hurt time and time again.

The one regret I have in this life is the fact that I did not have anyone to teach me about the social etiquette that I would encounter as a young adult. I cannot count the number of gaffes I have made throughout the years, and every time I recall them I would like to just die of embarrassment all over again. Of course, I merely did the best I could do given the circumstances, but onlookers who did not know me very well did not know that. Anyone who did not know me and my appalling home life just assumed that I was strange at best and psychotic at worst.

I was always so hurt when I overheard people speaking ill of me because they did not know me at all. If only people would have taken the time to get to know me then they would not have assumed the worst. Of course it is a rare person who wants to get to know someone who has a reputation for being ‘weird’.

For the longest time I had such a low opinion of myself I really believed that I was not worthy of love or friendship, and it is probably for that reason that I was to become entangled in many of the sorted abusive relationships that I did. Most normal people would have run a mile when they encountered many of the dubious characters who made my acquaintance, but I was so desperate for any kind of affection at all that I would welcome these reprobates into my life with open arms, always being the one to suffer the repercussions. Always coming out of the relationship more wounded than before.

The End