The Traveling Roadshow Of The Countess Maritsa is a book about growing up on the road with my International gypsy con-artist mother and three sisters. We had a van, 2 dogs, some cats, a house chicken.
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The gargoyle winked at me. Her twisted faced startled me at first when she came to life; and I wasn’t sure what she was trying to tell me; but then I realized she wanted to be my friend.
She had an old stone face and had seen many to their deaths; but somehow, she knew I was innocent of this crime. I still wasn’t sure why I had been arrested; but I knew it had something to do with my criminal mother.
She ruffled her wings like she had been sitting there for three hundred years waiting for the guilty to come by so she could heckle and hiss at them. She was very excited that they had a new visitor and hadn’t seen many American teenagers.
She was small for a gargoyle, smaller than her family members who lived in the eaves of Notre Dame across the street. Her family across the street were the rock stars of French gargoyles, the big ones; you’d see their pictures splashed across postcards and artwork; but this little one was an authentic gargoyle that not a lot of people saw. You would have to know where to look and where the real door to the staircase to the prison was, and only real prisoners of Le Conciergerie who had stayed in the her belly knew.
The good-looking blonde gendarme who was taking me through the small side door into the ancient prison didn’t see the wink; but I saw her little bat face and she saw me. She was trying to get my attention and flittered her wings a little, and winked at me again. It happened in a slowed down second; like the kind they talk about right before you die or think you’re going to die.
If you weren’t looking, she could have easily blended in with the magnificent stonework of this ancient building, but she was the guardian of the door and I saw her, because I was supposed to. The artist who created her had perched her perfectly so her face was the last thing you saw on your last day of freedom.
You only saw this little one when when you realized you were looking at the sky for the last time before you died in prison from sickness or were about to be publicly guillotined.
She stretched and blinked a few times and looked around; then she became quiet and still and morphed into a little stone garden gnome again. The cops were looking up at her when they followed my eyes and she was just a little piece of stone again.
A piece of architecture.
The cops opened the door and gestured for me to go inside.
I looked up at her once last time.
She winked at me again and nodded to the officers; to let me know it was going to be okay, right before they led me down the circular stairs to book me into the prison of Le Conciergerie.
“Nom.” The little French nun with the sweet face looked at me and handed me a pen slowly; like an elaborate ritual. Like getting your first communion. The sweet faced nun didn’t speak English. None of them did and I only knew a few words in Latin and French.
I laughed softly because it sounded like she said “gnome” and I thought of my little friend above the door outside who would be very upset if she were called a gnome and probably would hiss at a nun if she were provoked.
We were sitting and the book was in front of both of us. It very large book that two of the nuns brought out and were huffing and puffing when the police had brought me in to them when the nuns asked the police to uncuff me.
The police had left and said they’d be back tomorrow.
“Zis is where we put bad girls.” The grumpy one had said, and gestured around the ancient prison.
The cops all laughed but then quieted down when the nuns gave them a look; then they went home to their families.
I watched as two of the nuns carried the massive book into the underground cavernous room we were in and put it on the desk.
It was a huge book that took up most of the desk; the kind you would see at Hogwarts. I had never seen a book that old or big and they wanted me to sign my name.
The book’s pages were old and cream colored and smelled like books from an antique store.The familiar smell wafted up and made me feel like I was safe.
This book was special to them and when they opened it to my page; was filled with signatures of people I would never meet but would know them in an instant if I ever did.
The icy slush water from the High Street Kensington sidewalk seeped into my boots again as I made my way out of the tube station and the cold blast of air that hit me as I came up the stairs was a reminder that night time was coming and almost here.
My hands were raw and cracked and they wouldn’t stop shaking. They would go from red, to pink and then to white when I warmed up, but the most irritating thing were my feet, I couldn’t warm them up, no matter what I did.
They were frozen, wet and numb and a large hole had worn in the right sole of my worn out boots; which were now thin from constantly walking and taking the subways and couch surfing at my friend’s houses. The left boot had a crack higher up on the left side near the seam and sole, so it wasn’t as terrible as the hole on the bottom of the right boot, but both feet and my socks were frozen and wet; all the time. The icy wind rattled right through my chest; and the combination was making me colder. I knew wet and cold and sleeping outside was not a good thing from all the war and history books I had read on the road in the van with Mom and my sisters.
I hurried along the sidewalk, while the last of the precious warm amber light of sunset was fading into dark purple shadows in the old stone buildings; and it was already incredibly cold outside. The city lights were on and little warm orbs of lights coming from the street shops comforted me. It was early evening on the high street and everyone was going home to their families.
I found out years later that this was some kind of freak, icy cold winter of 1990 and 1991 in London and I was just one of many unlucky homeless teenagers to be caught in it.
I was trying to get to my school, Ashbourne Tutors to use their phone, I had to call my mom’s sister, Aunt Nora, and beg her for help. I didn’t have a place to sleep that night and all of my friend’s parents had let me stay at their places already and my situation scared their parents. Their parents wanted to know where the rest of my mom’s family was and why weren’t they here trying to help me? I didn’t know how to answer them.
I ducked into Marks & Spencer to try to get warm inside, and pretended to be a shopper. Sometimes I would hide the department store bathroom first to warm up and clean up.
Nobody bothered me because I was blonde and white. They thought I was just another rich American teenager. I used the makeup in the beauty counters and pretended my mom was coming soon to meet me and we’d buy some stuff as soon as she got there. The pretty ladies behind the counter would give me smiles but then when they saw my scruffy boots, they knew something was up. Rich kids don’t wear old boots like that. My coat and black ensemble leggings were passable, but the beat up boots gave me away.
My mom was in prison, the cops had taken my passport so I couldn’t leave the country in case they needed me to testify against mom, and I wasn’t old or savvy enough or emotionally stable enough to get a job in a foreign country. Every time someone asked me where my family was, I would start crying and mumbling.
I was trying to make it to my school, Ashbourne Tutors, before they closed, so I could use their phone and call my Aunt Nora. She would help me and save me. There was nobody else to call, she was the only one left who could help me.
My father was a raging, abusive alcoholic and the last time I saw him, he had his hands around my mother’s throat and was trying to throw her off a balcony in California.
My mother’s father had died; but he had stopped stepping in to clean up her horrible messes when he got remarried about 10 years earlier.
My mothers’ brother Bernie lived in Connecticut and was wealthy and had a good job, but he and his wife, who was my godmother, didn’t really seem to like me. I think they thought I was like Mom, and apparently I had too much emotional baggage for the people of Darien, Connecticut to handle.
Mom’s family would handle her regular arrests that left her children defenseless & homeless by throwing some money her way when we lived in motels for months, but it never really helped the actual problem, because she would always fail, again. We’d move into a house and live there for three months, and then move again when we got evicted.
Our mother was unemployable and mentally ill, and everyone in her family had looked the other way for most our lives and gave her minimum amounts of money to move us out of motels; but the real problem was that she wasn’t a fit parent and nobody wanted to step in and raise four physically and emotionally violated girls; especially when they resented their sick sister so much. They last thing they wanted to do was to raise her four daughters.
Mom’s family didn’t step in when were she had the Charlie Manson types living in our garage when we were toddlers, or when we were homeless kids living in motels and dangerous situations.
They weren’t going to step in now. They had made it really clear that they had their own family, and I wasn’t part of it.
My mom’s other sister, Aunt Maggie lived in California and was a schoolteacher. I had seen Aunt Maggie when we had gotten back from Australia when mom was on the game show there; and she wouldn’t let us sleep at her house when we got back. We had taken a shuttle from the airport after a 24 hour flight and she turned us away and told us to go to a motel. It looked like she was done with Mom abusing her and said stuff was missing from her house after the last time we stayed, so we weren’t welcome there anymore.
Aunt Nora was the only one I remember with any warmth, she used to take us roller-skating in Balboa Park, all of us four girls and our two cousins, little Maggie and Matt. We’d all pile into her green Volkswagen Bug and putter off to the park to skate. She was magnificent, beautiful and tall, with flowing strawberry blonde hair that gleamed in the sun. We’d listen to the album Hair and watch her dance and spin around with her hair fanning out and spinning like a gleaming hummingbird. We would make up dance routines and I planned my own rock opera and Aunt Nora would be the star of it.
Aunt Nora was there at the hospital when I was born and the first memory I have. She had lived with us until I was six years old. But in 1980, she moved to Houston right after my 8-year-old sister got raped by the Charlie Manson guy that mom let live in our garage and do dirty insurance scams for her, so I hadn’t seen her in a long time. She got busy after she married the computer guy from MIT and they started their own computer company and they started having their own kids.
She was my mother’s youngest hippie sister who married a smart guy from MIT when they were in their 20’s and now a multi-millionaire. She and her husband owned multi-million dollar a year semiconductor brokering business in Houston that they started out of their kitchen and my oldest sister Meagan was close to her. Meagan was moving to Houston soon to go to college and be Aunt Nora’s nanny.
My oldest sister Meagan was a waitress at Pizza Hut and putting herself through community college. My second oldest sister, Katie was 19 and just had a baby and was raising my youngest sister, Erin, who was 15 and living with her in upstate New York. We all had been working since we were 14, because we had to. Sometimes Mom would ask for our tips. My sisters couldn’t help me, and I didn’t want to call them to tell them I got tricked by Mom, again. They already knew.
Aunt Nora would save me, she would come out here and help me get out of this horrific mess and take me home to live with her and her family, she loved me. I could help nanny too. I knew she would save me from Mom, homelessness and this terrible, terrible cold shivering that I could not shake.
My hands stopped shaking when I finally got to the third floor of my old school, Ashbourne Tutors, above Kensington market. They had these old fashioned heaters that hissed in the hallway when you came in and I would sit there and warm up until I felt better.
The Headmaster was a kind Canadian and had let me go there for free after he had found out my Mom was in Holloway Women’s Prison, but I didn’t go. I couldn’t sit in class with all these super rich happy kids who had houses and parents and a bedroom to go home to and things to look forward to.
I would go to the school to get warm and see my old friends. I used their phone when I needed to. I was the homeless kid of a con artist and didn’t belong there.
Lately I was going to the school to use their phone at night, before they closed, so not a lot of people would still be there. I didn’t want to see my old teachers anymore. Late evening was the best time to come into the school, get warm and maybe steal a hot cup of coffee from the lobby without seeing too many people.
The teachers at this school were so kind to me that I would start to sob uncontrollably, and I didn’t know why it hurt more to have someone be kind to me than to tell me what a loser I was.
“A fascinating and unapologetic insider account of a family run wild by a Borderline Mom and a philandering Hollywood Dad, that makes your typical dysfunctional family look like a day at Disneyland.” –Jim Clemente, FBI Profiler (Retired), Writer/Producer.
“Morgain is a driven and passionate actress and person. She has a keen awareness of entertainment industry and is working hard at her craft”-Scott David, CSA Casting Director
“Funny and heart breaking. The Travelling Roadshow Of The Countess Maritsa is a strangely relatable story for those of us who grew up in weird families. I loved it.”– Kirsten Vangsness ( “Garcia” on Criminal Minds) Actress.
“Morgain has traveled the world, lived the craziest life and made it out alive and sane… Not many can say the same. It was truly my pleasure to welcome you into my home in Paris. We were young and we had fun, except for the theft :). I always wondered what happened to you and your Mother. I am so happy to know that you grew into such a great woman and a brilliant writer. Thanks for the memories.” – Liskula Cohen
The Travelling Roadshow Of The Countess Maritsa is a memoir written by Morgain McGovern, who grew up in a gypsy-like family of four rebellious sisters headed by their mother, Maureen, a brilliant con-woman on the run.
The book starts when I was seventeen, hiding out in a Parisian hotel room with my fugitive mother, who was wanted by the French authorities, British authorities, Interpol and the FBI.
As I lay in bed watching old “Kojack” reruns in a pill induced haze in our hotel room, I saw my Father’s episode dubbed over in French. The story then melts into our family’s history in “The Bionic Woman” and against the backdrop of his acting career in 1970’s Los Angeles.
But after one too many affairs on movie sets and theatre tours, Mom left her womanizing husband & took her four little girls (and a furry menagerie of our animals) on the road in a Winnebago.
Mom had a Samsonite case full of pills and borderline personality disorder, but her gift was a sharp knack for crime.
Mom and Paul Zindel 1959?
Her story is in some of his books.
In the “Mad Men” era of the mid-nineteen sixties, New York Herald Tribune journalist Maureen Smith met Don McGovern, a Broadway actor and stage manager (1963-66) of Lincoln Center in the East Village-who also moonlighted as a Mafia henchman.
He taught her everything he learned about crime, and while running a nightclub for a famous mob family in the meat market district, Dad got knifed in an argument with a “made” man- his boss- and the couple knew it was time to hit the road and drive to a new life in California.
At first, it was an ideal family life, having four little girls and living on our ranch in trendy Agoura. Mom’s sisters lived nearby in Los Angeles and provided some stability and guidance. We visited our father’s movie sets and went to studio parties with the glitterati, but the sepia toned memories and happiness were soon fleeting.
My father’s roles (Easy Rider, The Bionic Woman, Killer Bees, the Last Detail, Sleeper, Kojack and others) gave him the acclaim he needed, but alcoholism and the lure of other women soon engulfed him. One of his favorite stories was when he and his best friend Mike Whitney (Twiggy’s ex-husband) got drunk at our house in Laurel Canyon and then decided to cement over Ali McGraw’s footprints at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, because they didn’t think she deserved the honor.
Caravanning across America, we lived in gorgeous houses in affluent areas then when luck ran out, we crashed in run-down motels across the country & abroad. Rarely staying in one town for more than six months, Mom raised us with artistic ideals, to seek truth and beauty, kindness and compassion.
Mom’s regular form of income was fraud, of all kinds, but she really came alive when she got on the phone- wheeling and dealing, putting deals together with rich people. Some of them were spectacular. She was gifted at real estate and quit claims-because she had the knack of knowing what land was about to be valuable, get the rights to buy it somehow and sell it to whoever really wanted it at a much higher price. She did this with no actual money of her own and it was dazzling. When it was working in her favor, her mind was her greatest asset.
Mom loved big, rambling farmhouses out in the country and my sisters and I would pick wildflowers and plant gardens at whatever new house we lived in, putting down roots in the ground, as if it were some sort of magic spell to make us stay in one place. As I planted, I knew we wouldn’t be there the next spring to see hollyhocks come up-but I left my mark on the earth, I had been there.
Wherever we moved, Mom would invite strange people to live with us.
She’d find them at the DMV or pick up people spare-changing for food outside of the local grocery store. We were a family like Robin Hood, doing the right thing and helping these strange drifters that Mom had found. She told us that it was the kind thing to do, people should help each other. But as I got older, I realized they were her henchmen.
They would live in our guesthouse, attic or basement and fixed things around the property. As time went by, Mom’s choice of house guests would get scruffier and lower on the moral ladder. Drug addicts, dealers, low-lifes, crackers, swamp trash, anti-socials, squatters, whores, trailer trash, junkies, whatever she could find-the dumber, the better. The more affluent ones had their van or trailer they’d been living in towed to our newest property.
They would lights cars on fire, burn things down, return stolen items back to a pricey store (for cash or store credit), stage a robbery or whatever else she could think of to collect the insurance money.
Sometimes, they would get high, drunk or just completely misunderstand Mom’s directions and fuck things up so badly that we’d have to move sooner than anticipated. Most of her vagabond victims would only be around for a few months and the smart ones moved on to roam after they collected their share.
She’d order one of them to roll a dying car with a shot transmission off of a cliff or flood the basement of whatever house we were renting. We would gather up all of our clothes we were sick of, broken electronics (and anything else we didn’t want or feel like packing) and throw it into the dark, smelly lake that used to be our playroom. She told us that the basement had flooded overnight and while it was an unfortunate accident, we could get new stuff this way.
When my oldest sister Meagan was about ten, she got electrocuted when she flipped on the basement light before Mom could warn her. She looked down and realized she was standing in deep, electrified water on the top step but her puffy rubber-soled moon boots saved her from death.
Before we’d leave town and move on to our next new life, our basements morphed into something that looked like the end scene of the movie Titanic, with a shaved head Barbie doll floating face down in the black water, dismembered and abandoned to a watery death.
But when Mom was really upset or nervous, she would set things on fire. Torching rental houses was her signature way of letting the world know that she was angry, horrifying hysterical landlords who wanted their three-month’s of back rent.
My sisters and I would wave goodbye from the back of the station wagon with our cats and dogs to the bad town that wasn’t right for us. We knew other people led normal lives but Mom told us the new town was going to be better. This town was bad luck.
In some classrooms we’d be popular and never want to leave, in others, we’d be pariahs and didn’t bother with doing our homework. We knew it was only a matter of time before we were on the road again.
After our eighth or ninth school, my sisters and I began to create cover stories to tell our newfound friends. Growing up in chaos created a defiant kind of camaraderie for us. The secrets of our sisterhood banded us together to kept us sane.We began to realize what our Mom was, but we didn’t have the word for it. I told friends that my mom was freelance writer with a gypsy streak. We knew that soon she’d find a real job as a writer, eventually.
The magic box of pills that also doubled as a seat for me in the front of the van.
With warrants and detectives trailing us, the bills were paid with insurance fraud, clever scams and bad checks.We wanted to believe our mother- that the next move was permanent and we would settle down, but we all knew better.
Our father called occasionally, and told us he never wanted to be a parent, just an artist in a garret.
Mom’s brilliant mind would come through and save us every once in awhile.
When I was in the 3rd grade, she auditioned and became a contestant on a trivia game show called “Sale Of The Century”. She gave the other contestants a beating, and after a long week of tapings, she won $75,000 in cash, plus a bunch of prizes and a trip up to Monterrey, California.
Her winnings on the show changed our nomadic lives. For the first time, we went to a school for two years in a row and even though we still took road trips in our custom van up to Oregon, Washington and Idaho; we had a home to go back to in Los Angeles. We had food in the refrigerator and the cops didn’t come by to arrest Mom every few months. It was peaceful.
Things got bad again once the money ran out. We ended up living in a motel on Sepulveda Boulevard for three months until Mom could think of something. I’ve driven by that motel recently and families are still living there.
Three years later, we were living in a motel in Upstate New York when Mom found out that the game show was hosting a “Return Of The Champions” and wanted her to be a contestant on the show to defend her game show queen title-in Australia.
The show was a huge hit in Australia and the producers were willing to fly her and one other person to Melbourne and put her up in a hotel for at least a week or so. She convinced them to pay for Me and Erin to go, since we were both under fifteen. Mom had warrants out and detectives looking for her in New York-so a trip to Australia to escape certain jail time in New York was an opportunity that Mom couldn’t refuse.
When we got to Melbourne, There were about thirty other “champions” from various “Sale Of The Century” shows around the world, mostly Britons, Americans and Australians. I’ve never seen people who loved to drink so much (and for free) in a hotel bar.
All the contestants were shuttled to the studio every day, and the producers would randomly pick the contestants who would be on the show for the day. Everyone would come back by five or six for cocktails and hors d’oeuvres in the lounge. Mom finally had a 9 to 5 job.
Erin and I would take the trolley all around Melbourne and explore. It was brilliant.
It was in the lounge where Mom picked off her prey. Mom liked pills more than the drink, so she would wait it out while the other contestants got drunk and mingled. In 1989, there was no Internet. It was hard to tell if a credit card was stolen and they were run by hand machines and carbon copies. The stores would only phone in a suspiciously large purchase, so it would be weeks before English banks would know anything was up.
Mom’s day to finally be a contestant on the show came-and she didn’t do well at all. She was very sick on the day of the taping and only made about $1700. It was time to go back home to the states.
We tried to look on the bright side, even though she didn’t bring in the kind of money we needed, at least we had gotten a free trip to Australia. We tried to reassure her, the cops from New York were probably looking for somebody else by now.
For a last hurrah, Mom rented a car and drove us to see the fairy penguins march up the beach at dusk, back to burrow in their sand cave homes, all nestled in and warm with their furry families in the cliffs overlooking the Tasmanian sea.
We started to drive the car north, through the Snowy River Forest and then up to ninety mile beach where massive waves and a blue wall of water could come up slowly or quickly, and if you weren’t paying attention, you’d get soaked sitting 100 feet from the faded water lines. We were on our way to Sydney-we were going to fly back to the States from there.
After we got back to New York, we crashed at Katie and Meagan’s apartment. My sisters and I couldn’t joke about this anymore, we all started to unravel. We needed a Mom and she was wanted by the police all over New York for various thefts and fraud.
Mom checked herself into fancy mental hospital because she said that the cops can’t arrest you if you’re a patient. The four of us were on our own until she could figure something out. She was there for a few weeks when the cops found her and it was a matter of time before they figured out a loophole in the mental patient protection law. Mom checked herself out and announced that we were moving to Hilton Head Island, in South Carolina. Tomorrow.
Rich people from Ohio, New York and Connecticut usually go to the Carolinas for a vacation and expect to find golf, warm weather and Margaritaville. They’d have someone safe watch their kids at the hotel so they could go out and party.
Mom was waiting for them like a grandma spider nanny in a beautiful hotel. After the kids came back from swimming, tennis or golf lessons, Mom would put them to bed and help herself to whatever cash or jewelry she didn’t think the parents would miss. Most of the time, they hadn’t realized they’d been robbed until they got back to their northern homeland and sobered up.
Mom had a way of making sure she only robbed super rich people who on their last day of vacation and were leaving early for the next flight back home.
“I was a boutique thief, I never robbed anyone who’d be left with nothing”, she told me recently. “Morgain, there is no honor among thieves, I’ve never seen it. But I never stole from someone who’d be left with nothing. I stole from the rich.”
Detectives were searching the house on a regular basis and Mom got arrested for grand theft, robbery and insurance fraud. Meanwhile, New York State had several warrants out for her and was trying to extradite her back.
My sisters were done. They decided to move back to upstate New York and break free from Mom, but I couldn’t. For years, we had been raised on a roller coaster ride of torched houses, cross country road trips, international hotel rooms, run down motels, a gunfight, foreign authorities, Australian game shows, addiction and madness.
After Mom posted bail on Hilton Head, my sisters had already left and I was alone with her. Mom presented me with a new plan. We were going to start a new life in England. I knew how sick she was, but to this day, I still don’t know why I couldn’t leave her.In England, I started going to a posh school in Kensington and started hanging out with my friends. I tried to stay away from home as much as possible. While I was at school, Mom had started doing some very bad things and ended up in Holloway Women’s Prison, in London. The detectives confiscated my passport and I was trapped in London, homeless for the rest of the winter.
After Mom escaped from her bail hostel in Oxford, we left England in the night. From there, our journey took us to Spain, France and back to the United States-which escalated into a FBI manhunt and America’s Most Wanted.
For years, we were raised on a roller coaster ride of torched houses, cross country road trips, international hotel rooms, run down motels, a gunfight, foreign authorities, Australian game shows, drug and alcohol abuse, a Parisian dungeon, French nuns, a house chicken and madness.
The Travelling Roadshow of the Countess Maritsaa story about the American dream unraveling.
As the Internet age came upon her, Mom was caught just before her segment on “America’s Most Wanted” aired, and she was sent to Federal prison for several years. One detective in Fort Bend, Texas thought she was affiliated with the notorious “Irish Travelers” band of gypsies, but nothing has ever been proven.
Most people seldom realized my mother was insane when talking to her, but I knew.
When I was young, standing around my mother’s knees, I loved listening to her voice and watching people fall under her spell. At the time, I thought everyone loved her as much as I did. She had a smooth throaty voice that was rich yet feminine and it could turn into velvet when she wanted something. It wrapped around you like the warm blanket of an opiate high.
With all the adventures and carpetbaggery in her life; I’m still amazed at how she could keep all the lies together in that racing, manic mind and spin tales so casually when dealing with her newest victim.
Mom told tales of woe that were simple for others to understand- but her specialty was finding people with money and getting it out of them.
My mother was a master illusionist. Most people who got swindled by her would agree later on; she had a way about her.
She was witty, educated and articulate-with a genuine protectiveness for the uneducated and downtrodden.
Her face would captivate you; she had bright blue eyes of a true Irishwoman and the smooth white alabaster skin of her Mother’s Polish roots that had bewitched many a lover during her days in Greenwich Village on Jane Street. Despite being heavy later on in life, she was always considered beautiful because she carried it well.
On the day she jumped bail after several months at Holloway Women’s Prison, she called me from a pay phone at her bail hostel in Oxford. If she stayed for her court date, she said, she’d be locked up for more than a year. She told me to start packing, because she’d be by to pick me up in an hour.
Looking back now, I realize I would have done serious time had I been caught helping her escape, but, I was seventeen and thought I could save her from herself.
Anyway, I knew it was time to get the fuck out of dodge; it was just a matter of time before I caught for performing the traveler’s check scam she taught me. The con had kept me fed while I was on the streets, but it was still considered theft in the eyes of her majesty’s courts and I didn’t want to end up sharing a cell with my mother.
It was around mid-afternoon when I heard her pull up to Amanda’s apartment in a black shiny London taxi. I was rushing around, packing up the last of my shit, when I looked out of the open window, down to the wet street and saw her getting out of the cab. I dropped my cigarette with a shaking hand and stared at her.
The few short months in prison had changed and hardened her, she’d lost weight and her face was ashen. For the first time, she’d been in prison for months, not just the few days that she was used to. I had told her over and over again that the computer age was upon us, but she kept running her old scams and ended up in all the systems. I began to believe her when she told me England was trying to kill us.
“We have to go,” Mom said as she walked in Amanda’s East end apartment in Stoke Newington. She looked around at the bare living room and her eyes settled on me, she was edgy and restless. “Now.” she looked at her watch. She didn’t bother to chat with Amanda; who was by the window, smoking a silk cut.
I looked at Amanda and she understood. She and I were the same age and became friends in a strange way. Our mothers were cellmates together at Holloway.
Mom had begged Amanda’s mother to let me live with her daughter, because it was winter in London and I was sleeping on the streets or at friend’s houses. Her mom showed great compassion and Amanda and I bonded immediately.
We had a lot in common-we liked to get as drunk as we could on Thunderbird, smoke hash and laugh at the absurdity of life.
Amanda had a thick Cockney accent and was of mixed race. She wore matching Addias hoodie tracksuits and always had her hair up in a ponytail. She was Sporty Spice. She had creamy cafe latte skin, with a spattering of freckles across the bride of her nose and her eyes were hazelnut colored with flecks of copper. She should have been a Bennetton model, but she was stuck in the ghetto and didn’t know how to get out.
Amanda had talents and one of them was being a professional when it came to rolling spliffs. She taught me how to roll quick, small ones you could puff on and toss in the bushes if a cop was nearby. Pipes were too much evidence to carry and get busted with. Joints, as we Americans call them. Spliffs in England.
The Brits also have a different way of smoking out. When you smoke weed in a circle of friends in the U.S, you take a hit and pass it. In England, one holds on the joint for a few puffs and smokes 3 or 4 hits while everyone chats. If you pulled that shit in California, you would get your ass kicked for Bogarting the joint. Puff, puff pass, bitch. Everyone needs to get high. Now.
Oh, and they don’t have weed, grass, chronic or any of the green stuff over there. They smoke hash. And if you smoke too much or try to smoke it like grass, you will puke in a few hours.
Reality was something we didn’t like to deal with while our mothers were in prison together, so we got high. And drunk. But high during the day. We knew that if you drank during the day, you were an alcoholic. So we smoked hash.
Amanda would pull out a brown sticky square of hash and flick her lighter over the end corner of it. She would carefully sprinkle the crumbly brown hash over tobacco, which had been ripped out of a Silk Cut cigarette. She rolled it up in a Zig Zag paper and light it. She squinted as the cloud of smoke wafted in her face.
She took a long drag of a joint and held it in as she spoke, “Morgain, I’m just a half caste girl living in the ghetto. ” She blew it out and her eyes watered. “What kind of job can I get? I ain’t got nuffink, mate. No fucking education, no fucking money, not even me Mum.” She shook her head ruefully. She looked up at me, like maybe I had the answer.
I replied, “At least your mum left you a house to live in when she went down in flames, my Mom left me holding a bag of shit. Pass that spliff.”
We’d dissolve into the giggles and insulate ourselves against the harsh world with laughter. The highs from the hash would take us to an innocent place where we could be like children again. She was the only girlfriend I’ve ever had that also had a mom in prison and we could tell each other the truth.
I’d smoke and smoke, taking deep long hits into my lungs, so it would fill up the aching in my chest. The fuzzy, creeping feeling that spread through my body made me feel safe.
I felt bad that Amanda didn’t have any sisters to share the misery of having a parent in Prison. At least I had my three sisters when Mom got arrested in the States. I thought about them and knew they were worried about me, but there wasn’t anything they could do. They didn’t have money to send me and were trying to stay alive themselves. And, I was too ashamed to tell them that she’d tricked me, again.
Now, Mom was back. I wasn’t sure why I felt so uneasy around her, but I could tell that she was in the dark places of her mind where not even I could reach her. My mother was gone, replaced by a strange, sinister woman with a wild, leaping look in her eyes.
Usually when it was time to run, Mom would laugh and say to us, “Let’s get this show on the road, kid!” or “You go where I go amigo!” but not this time.
I was packing my stuff in the bathroom and I caught my reflection in the mirror as I looked up from the sink. I was very pale and my eyes had a strange glimmer to them as well. They weren’t my eyes, they were like a street cat’s, skittish and not sure who to trust. Mom’s long stay in prison must have changed me too.
I said goodbye to my friend, thanking her for saving my life and from the bitterly cold London streets where I had been wandering, humiliated after I had to leave my posh school and friends in Kensington. I lugged my suitcase down the stairs and we got into the waiting taxi.
As the taxi puttered along to train station, I took a long last look out the window. When we fled from the detectives in the States, Mom told me she was going to turn her life into something good here and get a job as a writer. I had loved this city and all the hope it held for us in the beginning. Then everything had turned dark, like it always did before we had to leave in a hurry.
Waterloo station was coming up and I thought of the long trip before us. Getting out of England was going to be hard. Mom was supposed to be back at the bail hostel by now and it was getting dark. They would start looking for her soon.
Mom and I got out of the cab and headed towards the train station. She was slow and creaky from age and I turned around to wait for her. The wind whipped her grey hair up in tufts, in a comical way, like a picture of fun times from the rollercoaster rides at an amusement park. She smiled at me and I knew I couldn’t leave her. Another round in prison would kill her.
We could start over. Mom would never be able to get a job with all the police and detectives looking for her, but somehow, starting over sounded right.
Going to France would buy us some time to come up with a solution. Maybe the detectives would realize she was mentally ill and needed help, not prison.
She was supposed to be back at the bail hostel in Oxford by dusk, and it was definitely dark now. We still needed another hour on the train south to the ocean. Then we had to get on the ferry in Portsmouth. Somehow, we had to get on the boat without Mom getting caught through their checkpoint and sent back to Holloway Women’s Prison.
When we got to the Waterloo train station, I realized sporting events were finally good for something. The British were invading France for the weekend so see their soccer team. A massive crowd of rose-cheeked men from Liverpool in soccer jerseys were flooding the station, trying to get on the last trains to the ferry. The were jumpy and excited, looking for a fight and a fuck.
These Celtic men were on fire and they were determined to stay as functionally drunk as possible. They carried cases of beer under their arms and most had backpacks filled with more supplies in case they ran out on the nighttime ferry ride over.
For once, the ancient rivalry between these two countries helped women. Well, they helped two Irish American gypsy women evade the law. Thanks, soccer.
As we went into Waterloo Station, I hugged her. Then we went over to the ticket window to buy our tickets to Portsmouth, where the ferry would be waiting.
The Soup Can
Juniper Hills, California
For a guy who wanted to be Kerouac, he was just another shitty father full of rationalizations. Between the two evils; it was better to run.
The view from the ranch porch was a rugged sort of beauty. It was a sweeping desert beauty that only a certain kind of drunk-ass, deadbeat alcoholic father who’d abandoned his children to a madwoman could enjoy.
The Mojave sky was purple, pink with streaks of gold fading into another endless starry night. You could sip scotch and gaze up at for hours before you realized your neck was numb. My father loved to sit out in the dark, alone. And stare at the sky and the changing colors of his magnificent view. The desperate harshness of the desert mirrored him and he understood this land.
Erin and I knew he would be home soon, around dusk; coming up the long dusty drive in his beat up ’79 Honda civic hatchback; mean as poison, already drunk. Most likely he would’ve stopped by one of the many shitkicker bars he frequented on Sierra Highway before getting behind the wheel to come home. Sometimes he was in a good mood, but sometimes he would unleash his bitterness upon us. My father was an excellent pool player. I don’t know how he got so good, but the stories he told us helped me try to piece it together.
Whatever my Dad had tried to do by taking us in after the Feds got Mom hadn’t worked. He was too far gone in his alcoholic disease and was abusive, horrible and sick. By the time he said he would take us in to live with him, Erin and I were 16 and 17, sick of living in motels and on the run with our mother. And very, very angry.
We were angry at his half-assed attempts to redeem himself. Thanks for giving us a place to stay while our Mother was in prison again. Thanks for finally stepping in 15 years too late.
At least they didn’t air the show about her on America’s Most Wanted. They Feds caught her the day before it aired. Where the fuck was he for the last 15 years when we were going to three schools a year? Why didn’t he step in before it got to this point? He knew it was his fault. He said we were like her. We were as crazy as our mother and were going to end up losers like her.
He liked to spout his bullshit while sipping his Johnny Walker red and staring at us through heavy lidded eyes. What about him? What part did he have in all of this? How did he sleep at night knowing his children had been living in and out of hotels and on the run all of their lives?
It was useless arguing with him, he was abusive and not a nice guy.
Erin and I debated for a long time about whether we should stay with him and deal with the abuse and have a place to live, or we could move out. I’d be eighteen in a month and find a way to get my own apartment.
Our Mother taught us not to take shit from drunk, abusive men and for the first time in my life, I realized that one of the best things my mom had ever done was to leave and not raise us to see her get abused by him. Mom might’ve been a crazy con artist, but she wasn’t a woman who was afraid to be on her own.
The problem with freedom and leaving an abuser is money. It is always money, or lack of it, that traps women. My sister and I had a plan and we had money, sort of.
We had a piece of stolen jewelry that we had hidden. A gold necklace and some other pieces we had found in a stash in Mom’s hotel room in Florida before the cops came and searched the room. We were going to pawn it on the way to New York so we could get an apartment when we got to our older sister’s house. We were going to run away.
Erin wanted to go back to the Adirondack’s, to Glens Falls were Katie lived with her husband and baby Matthew. I wanted to stay in California and save money and get our own place, we could move near the beach. I was going to be an actress and didn’t want to go to New York, but Erin and I had made a pact to stay together no matter what.
We called my semi-boyfriend, Steve, and asked him to help us escape from our Dad. He knew the situation and agreed that was should get out of there.
Steve was a Marine and came to rescue us from the isolated ranch prison high above the Mojave. Erin and I had met Steve at a party with some friends we met at Littlerock High School and after attending school in the LAUSD for two weeks and I decided I was over school. After all that I’d been through in London, I just couldn’t face pretending anymore. I wasn’t going to college.
Steve had just returned from the First Gulf War and was all fucked up from seeing death and destruction over there. He had seen his own war too. And, he was a really good looking man. Tall and tan, with light brown hair and blue eyes. He was just the kind of guy I liked. A man’s man. Built, strong, handsome, tall, considerate. He was quiet and definitely grown. He was like a cop or a fireman. These guys had seen action. He liked me and it was fun to have a guy to hang out with and drink beer and we had gone out a few times. And he had a white Mustang.
He came to Dad’s ranch and gave us a ride to the Greyhound Bus station. The bus station in Lancaster with deserted when we arrived and we had packed light. Erin and I had packed hastily, with a small suitcase each and we’d left most of our stuff behind at our Dad’s. We’d just get new stuff later, we needed to get out of California before our dad realized we’d run away.
The November desert wind sent chills on our bare arms. The big silver beast of a bus was idling, ready for the next adventure. Erin got out of the Mustang first so I could say goodbye.
“Thanks again for everything. I’m sorry that we have to say goodbye like this.” I said. I liked the way he looked at me. I looked at the bus station and thought about going back to the ranch.
After going to 28 different schools and saying goodbye to friends, I realized not to get too close to anyone. He was a Marine and military guy, he had seen things too. Guys that have been through war were guys I got along with. We understood each other.
“Everything’s going to be fine once you get to your sister’s house.” He said.
I smiled and gave him a long kiss. He was a good kisser.
That was the last I ever saw of him. I called our mutual friends a year later to find him and call him. I learned he’d driven off a cliff one night and died a few months after I left. Either by accident, PTSD or on purpose, it didn’t matter. He died and I never got to see him again.
I opened the car door, the cold desert wind hit me. I hoped the bus would leave before my Dad came pulling up, forcing us back to that prison of a mindfuck he called home.
Erin and I only had $20 in cash and it was going to be a long ride to New York. We had to make it last. We needed to pawn that gold necklace but Thanksgiving was two days away and we needed to get out of California, fast. Dad would be home soon.
We got on the bus and in two days, we were in the Midwest. We woke up at 6am and looked out of the window, there was snow and frost on the ground but we had forgotten to get out our jackets in our suitcases under the bus. Erin and I huddled together in the back of the Greyhound and looked out the windows at the cars going by and small town life.
We saw big towns and little towns go by, cars full of families and happy people, driving to see their relatives and have huge feasts and relax in their living rooms. Thanksgiving decorations fluttered and Christmas decorations were going up.
We were beginning to get hungry. We checked our cash stash and recounted it. We each had exactly one dollar. We went back to sleep and decided we would pawn the necklace in Chicago and get some food. I was seventeen, but someone would buy it from me if a pawn shop wouldn’t.
By the time we got to Chicago, we realized it was Thanksgiving day and nothing was open. We were scared and the gnawing hunger in our bellies was becoming a dull ache that we were getting used to.
We’d be in New York by tomorrow night and Katie would pick us up in Albany, so we had 24 hours to go, if the bus didn’t break down or we didn’t get stuck in snow, the other passengers told us.
We finally got off the buss for an hour break; and I couldn’t believe how cold it was inside the bus terminal. We were on a mission to find a pawnshop, and Erin and I went outside the bus station to find a pawn shop that might be open on Thanksgiving.
The air hit us first, like an icy blast of warning, as the doors from the terminal opened. When we got outside, it was so cold the wind bit through our souls. It was colder than London in winter.
The wind blew through the tall skyscrapers and made an eerie sound. It was like a deranged animal in a trap howling in your ear. The streets were empty. It was Thanksgiving Day. People were at their warm homes with their families. I thought about my Mom’s sisters and her sisters and my cousins and their families.
I bet they were eating turkey and onion soup and watching the Macy’s parade.
Erin looked at me and the wind was howling. We couldn’t walk a block in this weather, we forgot our fucking jackets and our stuff was under the bus and the driver had taken off for an hour. Erin shouted to me over the rush of air, “It’s fucking freezing! We have to go back inside!”
I looked at her and laughed, “Run!!” and we both hightailed it back inside the Greyhound bus station, where it now was suddenly warm and toasty inside compared to the iciness of downtown Chicago.
We trudged our way thorough the emptiness of the harshly lit bus terminal. There were a lot of homeless people were snoozing on benches and some were reading. The Libraries were closed today. It was too cold outside for anyone. Even crazy people.
We were still shaking from the cold as we walked up to the vending machines and we were trying to decide what we were going to eat. We still had our dollars.
Erin wanted Tomato soup. The old machines were full of crappy looking old junk food with faded wrappers and mostly empty.
The florescent light above us cast a greenish glow over the glass.
We could see our reflections. Two young starving girls in a bus station in Chicago on Thanksgiving. No coats. No food, no money. Family blown apart. I tried not to think about it. How did we end up here?
There was a small Campbell’s soup can with a peel back lid in that old rusty machine, but it looked dented and old. I saw her eyeing the soup. There was a microwave nearby.
“Don’t get it, it looks old” I told her.
Always the older sister.
“I want something hot and this is going to be good”, she said.
I looked at the soup can. It was small and the label was faded; it was also the last one.
“Dude, just get the snickers bar. Chocolate doesn’t go bad.” I said.
She gave me that funny look that means she’s not backing down.
“I’m getting the hot, creamy, tomatoey soup and it’s going to be good. We can share.” She looked at me, smiling.
I plunked my quarters in first.“ Okay, I’ll get the snickers and we’ll have soup and dessert.”
The first bite was good, but I wanted to make it last. We’d been living on mostly fear and cigarettes for the last 2 days. This was a different kind of starving.
She plunked her last quarters into the machine and pressed the buttons. Out popped the soup can.
She grabbed it and pulled up the ring and pulled back the tin lid.
Inside was a moldy mess of green and brownish liquid. She stared in disbelief, but not me. I knew fate was out to get us. She jeered at me in my head. You think you can outrun me?
We snuggled in our seats on the back of the bus and shared that last little candy bar. We tried to make the best of it. We were still together and still sisters and still safe from our Mom and Dad.
One Snickers bar to share for the rest of the ride to New York. It was going to be a long 24 hours. One more day and we’ll be safe with our older sister. One more day and we’ll never have to feel this way again.
Open Letter To
Memoir Writers And Their Families
Sometimes the shitty people of the world are in your family. Sometimes it’s you. Most of the time, it’s just scared people hurting each other.
When you start writing your story or have a blog, people will react in a way that you never expected them to. Your friends start to get suspicious. They don’t want to smoke weed with you anymore. They don’t want you telling the world their secrets. Even if you do hide them as a fictional character, they’ll know it’s them. And that scares people. You thought you’d be the cool friend who had a blog and write artistic stories and they’d be supportive and encouraging. Maybe they’d help with edits and ideas and dates.
After writing for the last four years, I’ve found that when you tell someone you write or have a blog or are writing a book about your mom going to prison and being an international con artist, most people say, (even if I’ve just met them) say, “Don’t write about me! Are you going to write about me??? What are you going to say?? Did your family freak out? Is your mom still alive? What do they think??” I get lots of weird looks.
Nobody will ever fully trust you again if you write publicly and honestly.
My sister said, “Don’t write about me, I’ll sue you. I promise.” The thought of losing my ten year old Toyota Echo made both of us laugh.
So, you’re going to have mixed reactions and reactions you weren’t expecting.
Relatives will tell you you’re remembering it wrong and it wasn’t that bad. They’ll call you too sensitive, too moody, too paranoid and want to know if you’ve been taking your meds. It’s called “Gaslighting” and families do it to each other all the time. Sometimes they do it as a protective measure, to make sure we don’t look back, lest we turn to salt like Lot’s wife.
Family will tell you over and over again that the trauma and damage either never happened or if it did, they’ll tell you to get over it and move on. Don’t.Look. Back. Writing and looking back helps you learn from bad behavior and mistakes. You will fucking grow.
Maybe Mom and Dad and their entire families looked away when you we getting abused or tried to help but weren’t able to or didn’t know it even happened. Whatever the reasons for trauma, neglect and child abuse are; we have every right to tell our story.
You own your story and people will try to take that from you too. You might self-destruct while writing it. Maybe you’ll get a literary agent and they’ll drop you a year later because they’ve read your book proposal and think you’re a liar or crazy because James Frey fucked it up for real Memoirists and sign your other writer friend up and she sells her book and it’s great and everyone loves all your friends who are successful, and maybe you’ll sell out a frenemy. You will make a bunch of mistakes.
If someone wrote a book about every person who ever lived, everyone would be terrified of reading how they behaved in the face of danger. Most people don’t want to be written about or only if they can edit it. Especially the ones who could’ve been the hero, but they turned out to be the goat. Sometimes a character is a hero and a goat at the same time. That’s the beauty of humanity and what makes stories run, our flaws and how our flaws become our strengths. We all are flawed and broken in certain places and strong in places where we thought we’d die.
But, at first, your family will not want you to write your true story. Exposing dysfunction and bad behavior is embarrassing and humbling. You’re holding up a mirror (or a blog) and they’re seeing it on paper for the first time. And it looks horrible.
Most memoir & fiction writers that I love were born onto an uneven playing field, got dealt a shitty hand in life or had some sort of nervous breakdown and had to rebuild their life.
Lots of people have been born into an easy life and have had terrible problems, so my story isn’t about rich vs. poor, it’s about how we can all recognize ourselves in other people.
An immigrant from a war-torn country would think I was a whiner for having a mom in prison and living in chaos. I was born an American woman and that itself has set my rights and available opportunities much higher than most countries.
I used to get irritated at the people who worn born into upper middle class or middle class families that had parents and houses and stability and jobs, but then they turned into adults who could never really get their shit together and their parents were helping them with college, weddings and then houses and jobs all of the things parents do to help their kids succeed and be happy. I would be jealous and outraged that I was denied that dream. Of having an actual parent take care of me. Even one. A lot of adult children from dysfunctional families don’t have children because even into adulthood, they’re still taking care of the mom or dad (emotionally, financially or both) and don’t need any more children. For me, I’m learning how to be selfish and just take care of me.
This is a conversation I had with my mom (as I’m driving her to a motel, she had $20 and was essentially homeless).
I said, “These rich kids who have everything handed to them piss me off. They’re still total fuckup’s and had a home and a mom and dad that took care of them.
Like that movie “Into The Wild” or “A Million Little Pieces”-That whiny, lying fuck head who ruined it for real writers. Or a rich kids goes out into the woods of Alaska and starves to death in an abandoned bus. He had every opportunity in the world and blew it. What the fuck is wrong with you people? Their families helped them and paid for college and bought them houses. Your parents did that for you too. I had to work my ass off and started waitressing when I was fourteen when you were in and out of jail and we lived in motels. Fuck those people.”
And she said to me, “Maybe you learned something they didn’t.”
The best stories in the world are about about human connections and people looking to see if there’s anyone else out there that felt the way they did when the worst things in their life happened to them.
When you do finally write the story thats been churning inside you for twenty years and throw it up on paper- you can look back and learn from it. Watch out though, writing your life story will show patterns of behavior that can’t be ignored anymore and can trigger a nervous breakdown. Going through pieces of your past is cleansing but brings up a rage that is all consuming. It’s like throwing all of your old family roles, insecurities and fear in a heap on top of a burning funeral pyre of your old life.
A weekly trip to a good psych doctor might be around the corner and can help you set boundaries with assholes. Get on meds if you need them. They will only work if you need them. You’ll see repeated patterns of behavior that may be able to be fixed and help you break out of chains of depression, fear and poverty.
Don’t worry about bullies in your family who will try make you crumble. Going to many public schools taught me that you only have to punch a bully once. When you do finally stand up for yourself, you’ll emerge like Kahleesi from the flames, holding her dragons.
Once it’s on paper, writing your story will show you pieces of yourself and your family for who they are; flawed and sometimes broken, beautiful human beings.
The number one thing I learned growing up was to never trust anyone but family.
Family are the people who shape you and help shape the decisions you make for your future. But as the years have progressed, I’ve found that these are the ones who have the most power to cut you to the bone.
“There’s so much abundance in nature. ” My millionaire Uncle Julian said looking around at the orange trees in the orchard garden.
I was standing with them on the property he had just bought with my Aunt Cora. Their third home. All of them worth over a million dollars and custom designed with inlaid tiles, pretty carpet and marble counter tops. They were the most beautiful houses I had ever seen. Like the kind you see in Architectural Digest or some other magazine you could drool over, and filled with books and cool art. Aunt Cora’s home had everything I had ever wanted to buy in a gallery, on Etsy or Anthropologie. Fridges were stocked with yummy organic food and nobody ever went without fresh milk.
Uncle Julian was happy in nature, I could tell. He was breathing in the fresh California air and looking around as if he couldn’t believe how fortunate he was either. I never saw my uncle smiling and easy going like this when I had worked at their company. He was only like this when he was on a farm picking something or digging in the earth. Nature helped him, like he understood something about it.
In 1984, my Aunt Cora and Uncle Julian started a business out of their home, worked hard and made their fortune in the technology industry. People came to him with ideas for business plans and deals. My uncle had gone to college at MIT and made a kick ass life for himself with what he had. He didn’t come from a family with money, but his mom had made sure that all of her kids went to good schools.
When people tell you not to get an education or go to college, what they’re really telling you is that you don’t deserve to be successful or a business owner. They’re telling you that you should be happy with the caste you were born into and suck it up like everyone else.
People who tell you to get a job and not an education are the same people who can’t use their or there in a sentence properly and don’t care. They don’t care about words on paper. They care about numbers on paper.
I was with Aunt Cora when she was out here looking at houses. When I saw this house, I knew was for them. It was a big rambling house that would fit everyone in our huge family and felt warm and comfortable. But, it had been decorated in the late seventies when burgundy and Quaaludes were popular. They were about to renovate and gut the thing and lay down some serious cash with architects, designers, tiles and cool ideas.
As we walked around the grounds of the newest property, I thought about the $20 left to my name and the $40 on gas that I spent driving up here from Los Angeles to see them. I had these questions that nobody in my family would answer; How come some people are rich and others are poor? People from the same family tribe? How come rich people get richer and richer and I am always struggling and just barely getting by? What am I doing wrong? Why can’t I even afford to buy food and they have three houses? Maybe it was envy, but for me it was an inherent sense of failure on my part. I had dropped the ball somewhere. My family told me that I needed to work harder and get up earlier. The harder you work, the more money you make.
My mom had been in and out of jail for most of my life, but when I was seventeen, my mom went to Federal prison while me and my three sisters were left to fend for ourselves. As their parents encouraged them, I watched all of my cousins go on to college at big private Catholic Universities; Loyola, USD & Trinity. Names that you go you a good job when you graduated. My aunts and uncles had made sure their kids were educated and taken care of.
Since Mom was going to be in Federal prison for the next six years , I got a job waitressing at Red Lobster and studied acting at Stella Adler. Performing and writing was the only thing that I knew how to do; not math, it terrified me. My sisters and I had gone to a lot of schools growing up, about three a year, so performing and learning how to adapt was a survival skill, not a hobby. Sometimes we’d move in the middle of the night, one step ahead of the cops or whoever else was after my mom. Performing on stage made me feel real and writing made my ideas real because they were now on paper. They now existed because I created it, which meant I had existed too.
All I remembered about the many different schools was how miserable the people who worked for the State were and how the smell of the hallways in every school across America was the same. So were the cliques. I didn’t want to go to school anymore, it was another prison for me. They kept telling me to conform and asking me where I grew up.
As I walked around the expensive real estate, I thought about the Salvadorian men who worked washing dishes at the restaurants where I had worked since I was fourteen and how their hands would bloat up on Sunday nights, white and grey puffs of mush that weren’t really hands anymore. Hands were not to be spent soaked in water for twelve hours- nozzle spraying off the nasty food that the fat people at Red Lobster would eat.
I thought about how many years it would take washing dishes or waitressing at Red Lobster to buy a house like this.
People like to snuff and snort and say they worked hard, that’s why they’re rich. They harder you work, the richer you get, right? I’ve worked doubles since I was fourteen and have seen eight month pregnant women work doubles. They are not rich. They never got rich. And they worked really hard.
I thought about abundance and the nature of abundance in our society, and why it fell on some and not on others.