Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Three Kids, a Cat named Smitty, a Caged Bird, a Road Trip & Tiananmen Square

It was early June, in the year 1989.  Even though I was still married, legally, I was single again, and had been for almost two years now.  No time on my hands, no time to waste.  After seven years of marriage and three children, my husband decided he ‘needed some space’, and by the way, he was in love with another woman.  He’d been seeing her throughout most of my recent pregnancy with Mollie.  What I didn't know then.  Okay, good-bye.  What started out as a happy story came up with a sad ending, an ending that wasn’t that much of a surprise when looked on in hindsight.  Two years before, my mother had died.  A year later, I had my last baby, a beautiful little girl.  Then Matt left.  After a bit of awful depression and lots of help from my friends and family, I pulled myself together, working during the day, nursing my baby at night and scrambling with childcare for the kiddies.  Matt came by sometimes to ‘babysit’.  Good of him.  Many years later, we were able to carve out a more civil, if not real friendly relationship, for the good of the kids more than anything else.  
     But back then, June 1989, I was ready to go back home to California, where I belonged.  I had lived in the East part of the country for 10 years then, and I was done with it, I wanted to go home where I was born and raised.  We said our goodbyes to my best friends Cristy and Kelly and to their boys, the best friends of my own little boys.  We said our goodbyes to my brother and his family, Mike, Lynn, and kiddos, and hit the road one morning, leaving Long Island where we’d been visiting for a few days of swimming, eating, laughing and telling stories.  It was time.
     The 1983 Chrysler LeBaron (inherited from Mom) was loaded down with children, children’s books, carseats, children’s toys, cassette tape players, children’s clothing (and diapers), and one yellow, pissed off Smitty the cat.  Behind us, I towed the biggest U-Haul I could talk myself into renting, attached to the frame of the car.  It held sleeping bags, tents, camp stove, lanterns which we used for camping along the way, as well as kids’ beds, dressers, a big console TV that had been my mom’s, boxes of clothing and blankets, more books and toys and bicycles and not much else.  We could find whatever we needed later.  It wasn’t our first cross-country road trip, though it would prove to be my last.
     We left New York, traveling from Center Moriches on I-495 West and on to Highway 80, headed to visit friends in Chicago along the way.  We left mid morning after breakfast with the family, a side of a few wet and salty tears.  We, I, was excited for this new adventure.  Apprehension came and went for all of us, with me helping to soothe the fears of my little guys. 
I couldn’t tell you exactly where we were, but sometime later that night, we were tired, it was dark, it was late, and after passing a few little towns along the road, I decided it was time to stop and get some sleep, all along looking for that perfect little motel in which I wouldn’t have to back my trailer into a parking spot.  I wasn’t up to that at all.  Not that night, not that late, not with my sugar level dropping.  
We found a place, a one-story, long old decent looking motel, with sidewalk, shrubs and trees planted along the front corridor.  We crawled out of the car, registered and paid for the room and walked excitedly to our room, our first motel room! which was dark and dank and just what we needed.  I remember starting the bath for the kids and saying to them, “Come on guys, it’s almost ten o’clock, let’s get you into the bath and to bed.” 
“We’re hungry, Mom, can we have something to eat?”  out of Howie’s little mouth, the oldest, all of 9 years old then.
“Yes, I’ll fix you some cereal while you guys get a bath, and take Smitty out of her crate, please,” It wasn’t a trip for the feint of heart.  Cereal it was.  Cold.
The cat immediately flew under one of the beds, and wouldn’t be seen again until after the kids were all asleep.  I put down the cat’s food and water in the bathroom, along with his catbox.  Turned back across the room, pulled out the plastic bowls, utensils and cold cereal, alongside the cooler packed with ice and milk and fruit and juice.
The boys got themselves undressed and into the tub, Mollie I helped, and pretty soon they were all laughing and splashing and fussing while I pulled out their pj’s and got their food ready.  It had been a really long day and it wasn't over yet.  I reached over, flipped on the big brown square TV sitting on the dresser and was immediately in a state of shock.  I’d had tapes playing in the car all day long, hadn’t heard any news broadcasts at all, other than a few weather reports that I tuned on a couple of poor-signal stations.  It had rained, and rained hard, most of the trip, I kept hoping for some respite from the storm.
     In front of the TV, two feet away, I sat down on the foot of the bed, breathing deeply, watching Chinese soldiers gunning down students and other protestors in Tiananmen Square.  Everyone was yelling, and running and falling and crying.  Sorrow, helplessness and rage quickly turned my own stomach to stone.  I knew the whole world was watching, and that’s all we were doing.  I'd been watching reports from Beijing City for a while now, streams of demonstrators ready and willing to stand up for their freedom and democracy, and now they were being shot down.  I sat in silence, glued to the TV, to the voices of the reporters, the gunshots, ‘til the kids wanted out - they were getting cold.
I decided to leave the TV on, explained to the kids that a terrible event was happening on the other side of the world, assuring them that yes, they were okay, fine, nothing like that is happening here, it’s just a terrible and sad fight for freedom of the Chinese people.  I’d been a political activist my whole life, politics and activism was nothing new to these kids, they listened and watched and then I turned off the TV screen for the night.   
I spent our next bit of time sitting the kids down to eat on makeshift tray tables on the beds, getting their teeth brushed before tucking them in, kissing them goodnight, holding them closely.  As I fell off to sleep, fitfully, the horror on the other side of the world only reinforced to me that I didn’t have any problem that couldn’t be solved.  We were safe, warm, fed, loved and that was all we needed that night in whatever town we were resting in Pennsylvania.

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