It Happens In Other People’s Lives

May 31, 1989 is indelibly seared into my being. It was 20 years ago today that Angela shot herself. And, what kind of notions of exceptionalism, of immortality or naivete allowed me to believe this would never happen to me?
Just when you think you have things exactly where you want them to be. It’s gone. Maybe Memories can bring the odd warm smile, but the reality is very different. Loss isn’t something you get over. It lives with you for the rest of your life. Loss is always hungry. It’s always looking to eat away at you.
Unexpected death is another kind of brutal. Every person experiences the pain of living life, and most of us just know that we will come out the other side of some sad, bad or discouraging feeling or occurance. I will never, ever know what my daughter was thinking within those split seconds her brain told her finger to pull the trigger.

There are things I have learned since her death that cause me to suffer the woulda’, coulda’, shoulda’s endemic of suicide survivors. One realization is that a young person can be overwhelmed with too many choices, so more structure can be a comfort. Another thing I learned (sadly from a friend of hers and my friend – I’d thought I could trust) Angela feared her boyfriend and that he’d forced her to play Russian roulette with a gun. I was enraged at learning this story months after her death. And I was sickened that our very close relationship, our many talks never enlightened me. I knew this Rastafarian guy was a shit. Hey, kids often date the antithesis of a parent’s best picks – just because. Once she even kidded that her mother was a feminist so she had to date someone from the opposite extreme - it's what you do. She had assured me she knew he was an ass and she was getting out of the relationship, but didn’t want to antagonize him. I knew he owned a 9mm beretta. I never pictured the gun in my daughter’s hand or used against her.

For 20 long years the one thing I have consistently hated is the reality of that gun. I hate guns. (Even as a child when I learned my grandfather died from a gunshot wound in an accidental hunting accident when my mom was only 3 years old). That method of suicide doesn’t allow for the fleeting hesitation of other means of self destruction. It is too powerfully final. I am grateful the detective did not let me into the room. I pleaded and he convinced me that the one thing he knew after all of his years (he was retiring in a week) was this; I did not want to see and remember my daughter like that. He had a daughter Angela’s age, he said. He was right.

The weeks and months that followed are a blur. Angela’s dad and little brother flew to New York. I wanted Angela cremated and her father wanted her buried in Omaha. We let M decide and she was flown back to Omaha. I stayed at my mom's apartment for a couple of weeks after the funeral to be with him. We walked all over the place and talked and cried. One day we thought we would go to movie and seeing there was a Robin Williams film we agreed it would be good to laugh. Foolish lack of clarity that – as the film was Dead Poet’s Society. When the main character, a troubled boy, shot himself we were inconsolable and stayed in our seats until everyone had filed out of the theater and the credits had rolled. I felt like a hollow shell. Years later at a theater party I attended as a guest I met the actor who played that adolescent boy and I told him that story. I told him I considered him practically family from the emotional bonding with that character. He was warm and gracious with his condolences.

Within the next four months M started high school in Omaha and found himself unable to cope with grieving. His father was unavailable and the therapist his stepmother found had pushed him hard the first month to write a letter to his sister to tell her good bye. He protested he wasn’t ready and it was a bad situation. He stuffed a lot of emotion down inside and started having stomach problems and his own hints at suicide came out in a letter to me. This culminated in his sneaking out of his father’s home in the middle of the September night, calling me from a pay phone and pleading with me to let him come live with me. I told him to go to my mother’s and between us all we made the plan for her to accompany him to the airport to board a flight to New York. It seems so surreal now, but time has blurred the kind of rigidity and control my wasbund and his wife had over my son’s life. M has been with me or close by for the last 20 years and I am grateful.

In 1992, around the anniversary of her death, I organized a gathering of my friends in New York. I was living with M in Philadelphia at the time and we were planning on moving to Arizona in a week’s time, following M’s graduation. After losing Angela, I also lost two jobs. There was a recession and besides I felt I should have family and friends closer to me. But first, I wanted to make leaving the east coast a significant event, because I'd loved my life in New York with Angela and with Matthew. I designed an event, the gathering of friends and the ritual memorial to Angela. Two friends flew in from Colorado, my younger sister and her best friend came from Phoenix, my friend from NY, my friend from Philadelphia and my friend from Ithaca all stayed with me at Jack’s apartment. Jack and Roger friends formerly of Syracuse and Ithaca were my support system night and day following Angel’s death. Roger never left my side and Jack brought provisions constantly. Jack owned a restaurant, Universal Grill, in the West Village where I held a large memorial meal for Angela with all of these friends and some former colleagues from Lee Manners and Associates where we all worked with Angela.

Days before the ceremony I had gathered dirt from 5 parks in Manhattan (Central, Riverside, Washington Square, Tompkins Square and Battery) and mixed this into a large cauldron.All of us in this group had candles and gathered round speaking of our individual memories of Angela. Then we planted nasturtiums in the cauldron. After we were all gone Jack tended the nasturtiums until one day he was able to serve them in special ‘Friendship’ salads in memory of Angela at his restaurant, as I had requested. (Image credit)

Last year M visited Omaha as he does most years. In fact, he made a real breakthrough with his father when we made that cross country trip following his 1992 graduation. He stood up to his father’s criticisms and in fact rebuked him for neglect as a parent. He did this without malice and the two of them have grown closer over the years.

This last visit M and his father decided to visit Angela’s grave and place flowers. I remember the funeral, the grave – yet I never really connected my vibrant daughter with that grave or headstone. I have only been back to Omaha three times in 20 years myself. The first was the post graduation road trip move across the country, on another road trip that same year with a Colorado friend to see my mother and her mother, who had a play opening in Omaha and on a brief stopover 3 years later following my grandmother’s funeral in Iowa. I told my mom then I never wanted to return. The whole city feels toxic to me with the memories of another life another trajectory. There are people there I felt damaged me and my children and I don’t have any regrets for moving on or staying away.

Clarification: M read this and reminded me that he visited Angel's grave with his father and that his father broke down. M held him and comforted him. I am sad that I had blocked the memory of that story, because it is a loving experience. I'm grateful he reminded me. And, I just realized this next day that I think of Angela in NY - not in a grave. That is why I had the memorial with the soil of the parks.

New York State of Mind

Story telling about my daughter's life of 19 short years, I started a recollection thread, a series of posts looking at my life with Angel that ended twenty years ago - May 31, 1989.

The New Year 1985 brought Angela back to New York following the holidays in Omaha. We spent a few more months in the friend's apartment before securing a smaller apartment on the first floor of the same building. It was a rent stabilized building so it was really cheap for the Upper West Side.

It was a different world. Angela was ready to act out and be strong. I got a kick out of her bravado with her friends. She and I lived so close. Our apartment was so tiny we could touch the walls when we stood in the middle of the room. Her ability to live on an incredibly tight budget was a marvel compared to any kids I'd ever known. She shared all the tasks of living in the tiny space - including shopping and cooking. We did most everything together that first year as money was so tight. But, she and her friends had a ball with her new 35 mm camera. I will let the pictures tell the story.

School was a disaster in Manhattan. Angela was used as a tutor in her middle school and then she tested high enough to be able to enter the science and math high school, Stuyvesant. But, school didn't interest her. At one point she took a job at CBGB's without my knowing - a bar back - while underage. Later I got her a position at my Interior Firm after school as messenger and odd job person. Even though this required filing working papers, it was primarily so I could be sure she was safe.

For a period in 1986 this was spotty because she tried out other jobs too. Eventually she dropped out of high school and worked full time at my firm, assisting in the office management. This led to her taking over office management at age 17. She was paid $19K. I was really proud of her and I loved that we could work together.
We had moved to a great apartment on the Lower East Side, so our commute to the office across from the World Trade Center took minutes. We often shared a cab as it worked out to the same cost as the subway.

I was happy her beautiful hair finally started growing back when she was 18 - after the dreadlocks experiment failed. Angela had shaved her head at age 15 and gotten a nose ring - the punk style. For awhile she and her friends joined the Communist Party and went to camp. When she was at CBGB's she'd met the band the Bad Brains and for a time was nanny to the lead guitarist's kids. She also worked for the National Organization of Women for a time doing canvassing along with her best friend. She knew so many street people in Alphabet City on the Lower East Side that I knew she was protected, watched by those who were fixtures at Tompkins Square Park and the East Village. She taught herself early a kind of vigilance and ability to suss out situations in ways I found enviable. She often would nudge me towards 'heads up' attention.

She once told me, "Mom, I am living every teenager's dream." I had loved hearing this and I had enjoyed her trying on different styles and manners and ways of identifying herself. I knew how vitally important it was to becoming a complete woman, rather than living to everyone else's ideas. I knew she struggled with choosing the wrong guy, and I was pleased when she told me she was reading a good book about that very thing. I was thrilled when she left the design firm because she was going to take some college classes and try computer consulting. I never saw the flip side of her high hopes and plans until it was all over.

Bachelor of Sciences

Story telling about my daughter's life of 19 short years, I started a recollection thread, a series of posts looking at my life with Angel that ended twenty years ago - May 31, 1989.
I didn’t see Angela or Matthew for 6 months, but I got pictures and letters from them and we talked on the phone. Angela was very proud of her ballet classes and she had my mom photograph her with her new toe shoes.

My Syracuse friend proposed a road trip across the country for me to collect some of my things in Colorado and to stop and see my children, my family. I had good news to share as I’d spent several months making a plan. With the help of my new friend, Roger - the brother I never had – I toured the Cornell campus in Ithaca. It was only a short trip from Syracuse and Roger had a friend who was attending school there. I’d spent many hours going over the Cornell catalog, so I was prepared to ask a lot of questions of the admissions staff. I filled out all of my paperwork, wrote an essay and was gifted with the admission fee by a Bo Jangles regular (the bar where I worked) a retired Latina professor with a PhD who had come from Puerto Rico many years before and we often talked of Virginia Woolf and Doris Lessing. I was beyond excited when I got the acceptance letter.

The trip across the country was fun because I felt such incredible hope and possibility in my new major, design. I believe that my first love of writing had been too anxiety-producing for my living situation. I rationalized that when I was in my 60’s I could return to writing. *cough* And, I was planning on moving to Martha’s Vineyard in the summer for the experience and to make money (huge money-maker went the rumor) for Cornell. It was a good trip all in all. I loved seeing the kids, Angela having grown a foot it seemed. At 12 she was catching up to my height. Leaving them behind was harder than when I was a foggy mess the year before. I just had my plans and goals to steer me away from falling into a deep hole.

Fast forward through the summer that wasn’t the money maker predicted, especially since I was recovering from surgery the first month, then I sprained my ankle and the rent was in a word – worker exploitation. I did have fun walking amongst the yuppies in pastel clothing in my black clothes, boots complete with a Rocky Horror Picture Show t-shirt. When the school year was finally to begin I schlepped my baggage to the ferry, to a day long bus ride through Boston to Ithaca. I walked the giant hill to the campus and found a room that night.

I worked very hard from day one. I lived and breathed academia. When it got time to plan for holidays I presumed I would fly the kids to Ithaca. Remember how that was the agreement back in 1981 – when my wasbund used income from the duplex rental for the kids’ flight? Well, he was married that summer and his wife thought it outrageous I would presume ask. No amount of discussion worked and the kids’ desires were not part of the equation. I had to use my school loan money. I had only enough for one child to fly. Angela was the first. M would have to wait until spring break. I was enraged and I am sure M was a very sad little boy. But, we coped. The only advantage was my chance to give each child undivided attention. That first trip was all about Angela. Besides our time in Ithaca, she and I got to hang out at my friend’s Upper West Side apartment in Manhattan. It was thrilling for her and I loved being with her without any distractions. Even though we had no money, our days were full and we had so much fun. The following spring I was able to do this with M too. It was a completely different kind of trip, and I knew more people and places. We went to New York and his little eyes just popped. That summer of 1983 my mom flew me to Omaha because she wanted me to go to a family reunion. I wasn’t very gracious and I felt really manipulated. All of my work to become my own person was not of much value in this setting. I had a lot of fun with the kids, my younger sister and her kids. I look back and see myself as selfish because my grandmother and mother just wanted all the family close. It felt suffocating to me.

My last year at Cornell was academically a huge challenge. I struggled with a self- paced physics class and twice had to drop it with my heavy schedule. I had to do work-study and had so many group projects. My housemate and I got a lot healthier with exercise and eating better. I fixed split pea soup, lentil soup every single week. But still we lived mostly on air, coffee, peanut butter, cigarettes and beer. But, I did well and was named a Cornell Tradition Fellow and had the great surprise of my mother flying in for my graduation - with Angela. She was being punished for sleeping with a black boyfriend. Yes, being banished from the relationship, being sent to her mother – punishment. We got a good laugh out of that. M came several weeks later to spend the summer with me. I had decided that I couldn’t have both children in Manhattan, where I’d planned to live.

The summer was about me passing physics and the kids and I holed up in a tiny apartment or on some walks. I wasn’t very good at figuring out what to do with our time. We played a million board games and card games. The highlight that summer for Angela and M was first going to Ghostbusters and the Purple Rain. We also watched Hair at the campus and a Midsummer Night's Dream in an outdoor venue on campus. Once I passed physics we moved to Summitville, NY for a month – with the Iowa friend. She had long since ditched the German and was living in a rural community. It was wonderful to be outside with the kids. Our one big trip to town was to see Yentl. The theatre was packed with Hasidic Jews as this was a community for New York City families to get out of the city for the summer. It was disconcerting to me because the little town reminded me so much of small town Iowa, but without the same population.

Angela’s father had not told M that she was going to stay in New York and that he was just visiting for the summer. No, I had to be the one and I still tear when I remember his face. That poor little boy. (Fast forward a year . . . Once I was established I would ask him if he wanted to live with us in New York. He wanted to stay with his friends and school.) It was just always hard to say goodbye. Always . . .

For Angela and I the adventure was set in motion. It was the Fool card of the Tarot, just stepping off the cliff. I shopped for as many groceries as I could in Summitville because our household had food stamps and prices were so much lower than in the city. I baked a turkey and a ham too for the first week of meals and soup makings. I would be staying in my friend’s apartment while she was on the road with a traveling Broadway show as one of the wardrobe people.

I had typed hundreds of cover letters and sent resumes from upstate New York. Now I was following up on these and responding to interview requests. It was fall of 1984 and my outlook was bright. I chose optimism with both fists. I enrolled Angela in a nearby junior high school with a computer focus. It was so close she could come home for lunch. I think about it now and find I am amazed at how she tore around our neighborhood and gradually branched out. She did know that I was scared. I didn’t pretend I wasn’t because it wasn’t my style and besides, I don’t think I could. Our talks were pretty candid about what we could or could not do. She chafed under my ultra serious life because she had enjoyed being the visiting kid and the excitement of the first blush sharing of my student days. I admit I was pretty free of rules and boundaries. But, I told her it was my bad judgment and it was a new day. When the holidays came I had no money to fly M to me. The wasbund got to make whatever plans he chose and he chose for Angela to join him. But, I was okay because I had a job and my first project was designing the offices for the Manhattan Borough President. Not too shabby. There was a glimmer of a much better day for the New Year 1985.

Absentee Mother

Story telling about my daughter's life of 19 short years, I started a recollection thread, a series of posts looking at my life with Angel that ended twenty years ago - May 31, 1989.

My crash was almost instantaneous upon Angela leaving Colorado in October 1981. A kind of shrieking, needy madness overwhelmed my perfectly imagined life in the forest. The visiting German artist turned out to be a monstrous asshole and my loved ones were a blur of concerned voices around me. I felt driven and I made irrational plans to fly across the country to find my Iowa friend in NYC whom I’d hurt and my Syracuse, NY friend who’d had also divorced and made a royal muck of her life. We friends were all in crisis it seems, birds of a feather. The friend I’d left behind in Colorado had been through her own divorce the previous year and my sisters either had been or were going to end marriages and suffer financial hardship. To me it was an epidemic and I was felt I was burning up - dying inside.

I only stayed a night in Brooklyn, leaving my Iowa friend to sort out her rage and pain with her husband. The asshole was even hitting on me while directing me to the subway. Ugh! My train ride to Syracuse was surreal and I only had one suitcase and a few dollars to start my new life. After a couple weeks my friend insisted I move out because she wanted to be alone. Edited for length, suffice it to say I spent hours and hours in contemplative mode. I wrote long loving letters to my children and made a couple of reassuring calls to my best friend and to my mother, sister.

I ended up at a boarding house with an ex-pro wrestling champ in the next room and huge paintings all over the empty first floor. My comfort level with the disenfranchised, the fringe helped me be at home there pretty quickly. I found a job as a cocktail waitress and besides the few meals I scrounged at work, I lived on peanut butter, coffee and cigarettes in my room. The kitchen was vile and besides, I wasn’t able to pull off much in the way of normalcy.

I learned the bus system, I applied for jobs and got several and left several before I landed in college town. I’d found the goodwill for clothing. I drug a green carpet scrap, some rope and some border wire fence up to my room. I borrowed bedding from my friend and purchased a pink flamingo, clothes pins and a 'keep off the grass' sign with my first tips. The picture is from a Polaroid, but it was pretty funny to me to have my own 'lawn' complete with clothesline (no closet in room). You get the idea. I sent a photo like this to the kids.

The one really positive thing I discovered in snowy, grey Syracuse was the Hutchings Psychiatric Center. I figured out how to get there and met with intake people after filling out all the paperwork. From the very first meeting I was told I wasn't bi-polar. With a father who had been manic-depressive it was the biggest fear I had with any depression. When the shrink read my several year history form she assured me I had good reason to be overwhelmed. I visited every week for some months (for free) and then was done. Mostly it felt like an anchoring, a validation to visit at Hutchings. I was never prescribed anything and only felt encouraged and supported. This was very healing. The toughest thing was my feeling daily of my children. I had what I described as kids outside my door, an ongoing anxious feeling I carried with me that my kids were outside my door and I wasn’t letting them inside. It made me miserable if I let myself hold the thought for long.
What was most freeing was that I was a complete stranger in the city. Nobody looked to me for support and reassurance. Nobody looked to me to live up to any expectations. Nobody knew about my lifelong training to please everyone. Besides my friend and eventually the woman who painted the 'Dancing Fool' painting I am sitting beside and one other friend, nobody knew I was an absentee mother. I systematically began to present myself as someone I wanted to be. I was raised to be outgoing and gregarious - a people pleaser, yet I found that year that I was really a loner and a hermit of sorts. I had some miserable times, yet I don’t remember ever feeling bored. There were many contradictions, and I found a new and different sense of humor too. I wrote voluminously and I also sketched in a manner of my own. At age 34 I felt I was being reborn as my own unique person.

At the New Year 1982 I got some pictures of the kids and this helped. I'd bought Angela a Polaroid and M a little pocket camera and mailed both along with books, stickers and inexpensive art supplies for Christmas. Angela was so thrilled to show off her new toe shoes. They were happy with their classes and saw my mother regularly as their dad was dating a lot.

Forest Deep

Story telling about my daughter's life of 19 short years, I started a recollection thread, a series of posts looking at my life with Angel that ended twenty years ago - May 31, 1989.

The cabin in the Black Forest was our new home for most of 1981. I was on top of the world to be living with my best friend - no more long distance!

The energy in that cabin of the woods was so positive. We had laughter and love and it was real pleasure to not have to edit our passion for sharing ideas. We could be exuberant - Angela and her brother too - with full support.

Just this week I spoke with M about he and Angela hanging out with my friend and I so much of the time. I remember as a parent being so baffled about the kids having a forest to run around in, yet wanting to hang so close to home. M said that it was no wonder with what they had been through. It is true, I think I underestimated how much of the marriage break-up and the move had affected them.

Angela was in heaven to be taking dancing lessons every day at my friend's dance studio. Although she had taken lessons since she was little, she virtually had private tutorials by living with her dance teacher. She grew so much at this time that she was tall for her age and most of that was legs. She also fell in love with modern dance and tap too. She wasn't particularly gifted, but she improved rapidly by taking so many classes.

Also, for her it was a dream to have all the leotards, tights, leg warmers (big fashion fad in '80's if you may recall) at her disposal. My friend and she were about the same height and built. She was so upset that her brother had an almost perfect arch and was given a solo piece in the recital. Fact of life it seemed to me, that boys almost automatically get parts because they are rare in dance classes. On the other hand, the solo parts for the girls were highly competitive and Angela wasn't ready for that yet.

I was going through health things all year (subject for another post at another time) and anxiety was wearing me down. Financial scenarios - especially ones that would allow me to get a degree - were looking really bleak. And almost immediately it was clear that Reagan was set to tear down safety nets. It was a wretched time for liberals in America.

Halfway through the year I started a breakdown that my friend saw coming and I didn't. She had spotted me gripping my thumbs within my fists. I do know I found it harder and harder to cope with any daily interactions with the kids. I would sit out under the trees in the forest for hours - even wrapped in a blanket if it was cold.

Poverty and helplessness dogged my spirit. What I'd been able to do in Omaha without a car or income was crippling in the forest. I look back and marvel at my blind optimism. At the time I thought I was staying on top of it with my frugal ways of shopping and cooking and melding our schedules with my friend's schedule and life.

In July my kids were visiting their dad, with airline tickets paid for out of income from our still jointly owned duplex. Remember that point as it comes up shortly in this memory thread. While they were gone I was gifted with an airline ticket to New York City. This was from another friend I had known since my Iowa high school and consciousness raising group. She had married a German conceptual artist and had visited my home in Omaha and felt I should come visit them in Brooklyn.

I loved New York so very much. But that trip ultimately figured in as a primary catalyst in my breakdown that fall. I was suffering from a cognitive dissonance about who I was and where I fit in my life. I'd made choices based on my heart and my emotions. I was naive about how hostile this country is to single mothers and to women in general. But, most of all I blamed myself for ill health, poverty, lack of transportation to employment opportunities and non-support. I'd made choices that failed to measure the true costs. Once I knew I was headed for a fall I had to turn to my wasbund to get first M and then Angela settled back into the Omaha lifestyle so I could seek help. My younger sister came to the rescue by driving with a friend from Omaha to pick M up and take him back. Angela was going on a long awaited school camping trip, so her trip to return to her dad's home came a week or two later. It was heartbreaking for my children and I was a mess of guilt and confusion. I was only lighly tethered to reality and in a world of hurt and shame. I crashed.

Breaking Up Is Hard To Do

Story telling about my daughter's life of 19 short years, I started a recollection thread, a series of posts looking at my life with Angel that ended twenty years ago - May 31, 1989.
Continuing from our Winter of Discontent 1979, the following year demanded a maturity and independence from Angela and her brother. My wasbund lived in a duplex we owned right next to the elementary school and our home was just a few blocks further. My mother and the babysitter's family was just a few more blocks in another direction. In this way there was a lot of support, it was just spread around, scattered. They had to pay attention to what day it was and where they needed to go and when. Mobile phones, answering machines, voice mail, email or even pagers weren't a part of our lives. Getting synchronized with children was critical.

The worst part of 1980 for me was finding out that Angela was expected to completely care for her brother when they were at her father's. Because she was so very competent, she handled things without complaint and I didn't even know. I didn't know, that is, until she called one weekend night in the middle of the night. I ran over to her father's to find her alone with her brother and she had a high temperature and a sore throat. Her father went to a concert and left her in charge. I seethe to this day thinking about how self-involved and immature he was. Very tough . . .

This entry is more background for another year following the previous one that brought dramatic change to all of our lives. I completely forgot that I'd quit my job as a chef the previous August and started taking a full course load at University of Nebraska at Omaha.

I gave up my car because I couldn't afford it. I walked or rode a bus. The separation and divorce plunged me into poverty as I'd begun university classes the year before. I loved school with the fire of a hundred suns. I was amazed at how easy it was compared to life. At the beginning of the semester I was told (via the syllabus) exactly what was expected and when. It was easy to get a 4.0 when I compared it to life, to parenting, to working. I met so many different people at university, like the young lesbian couple. One of the women was in my Women's Literature class and at coffee she told me one week how she and her lover had been raped and were terrified - wanting to move. I let them move into my 4 bedroom home and live in the downstairs dining room, we made the living room a common study room com dining area. It augmented my income and I had more caring people around to look out for the kids with me. Besides, the kids loved having these young women around to play with and to tell their stories to. And they loved their music. (Note all of our vinyl records in the bookcase behind me.)

Little did I know that 1980 would be the beginning of alternative ways of living that would last for the rest of my life. Never again would I live in a Midwest single family home with a husband or a dog and 2 cars. That was a relief because the lifestyle didn't suite me, despite my giving it my all. I had thrown myself completely into my socially mandated (and much anticipated) role as housewife, mother, PTA board member, Bluebird leader, practicing Christian, conscientious daughter-in-law, etc. It wasn't that any of this was bad or heinous - it just felt like someone else's life.

I can't stress how powerfully the opportunity for change was being felt in the country. Similarly, like now, there were more haters, more threatened people making noise like now. And having the lesbian couple move in - especially when I found out my friend from school had a crush on me - let me know I wasn't gay. But I did emphatically learn that politically I was a lesbian and that I didn't want to live in a patriarchal relationship. The 1980 presidential election had me deeply depressed and I was finally able to be more militant as a feminist. In May of 1980, I took Angela with me to Chicago to march for the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA). We found someone to let us ride from Omaha to Chicago, plus a place to stay with others. It was a very thrilling time. It was Mother's Day weekend and my mom let me know she was very proud of us both.

Ultimately I realized I didn't even want to live in the Midwest, in Omaha. I made the decision to move to Colorado Springs. I had 3 semesters under my belt and another 2 from an Iowa college I'd attended briefly after high school. And, though my original plan was to finish my degree in creative writing - I had no more patience. I wanted to start my life over and leave the shadow of the wasbund's big family. I wanted to be close to my supportive friend who seemed to understand me and feel more like a sister than my sisters.
I hated disappointing my mom by telling her I was moving. And, I was moving from my sisters and their families too. That was the hardest. Mom came over and helped me pack, we spent a lot of time with her at her place too. But, the minute I'd taken my German final that cold grey December day1980 - my my school friends helped me load the truck. Strange as this may seem, I had never heard Bruce Springsteen's music before that day, but this is the album that a friend played as we loaded that truck. I drove the truck full of belongings myself (though I had a friend as a passenger for most of the trip) and left the kids with their dad for the holidays (until they would fly out at the first of the year) while I moved in at my best friend's home in the Black Forest.


Story telling about my daughter's life of 19 short years, I started a recollection thread, a series of posts looking at my life with Angel that ended twenty years ago - May 31, 1989.
I don’t believe in war or the traditions built around wars to justify them. Listening to one of my heroes, Howard Zinn, this last week of the 3 holy wars made me even reject the notions that there are any good wars after hearing his analysis of the American Revolutionary War, the American Civil War and World War II. I listened to it again this morning. No, I do not think of soldiers living or dead on Memorial Day. Not for 20 years.

Memorial Day means remembering my daughter Angela, who killed herself just after the Memorial Day weekend in 1989. Were all my memories of Angela bathed in sunlight and summer? It would appear so from the photographs I have chosen and the summer stories over this last week of posts. On the contrary, winter was a major player, a character in our lives because we lived in the Midwest. Now that I have lived in the Southwest for the last 17 years, I tend to forget how harsh the freezing winter conditions are for raising a family, for making a living and just keeping one’s sense of humor. One winter in particular was very hard on us -1978/1979 was the coldest winter year on record in the last 39 years.

My work ended with Camp Fire, Inc. the previous year when I wasn’t able to move into the open Director position of the pilot programming - because I didn't have a college degree. I became a bus person at a high end French restaurant, then a waiter and then followed a chef (former co-worker from catering days) to the Creighton University Jesuit community. My position was second chef to his role as executive chef. (These dates are all run together as I look back here). I had high hopes of taking college courses and did testing for intelligence, aptitude and preferences. My schedule didn’t allow me to take advantage of the free coursework, but I found I wasn’t as stupid as I felt within my marriage.

This was also the year my father-in-law died and the year our marriage ended. The paperwork wasn’t complete until the spring of 1980, but we separated amicably and I worked to discover what my life was to be. The pattern I was raised within dictated that I was a helpmate (that term sucks) to support my husband. I had dozens more ideas for our lives than he did, so I was constantly in a state of suppressing and waiting. This isn’t healthy. And his many claims that family was the most important thing to him was negated by his inability to say no to any church function, softball game, job estimates and – oh yes – affairs. It took me way too long to figure out what wasn’t working as I kept everything together.
But, the children were pretty removed from any marital strife. Angela was on a new kick of telling jokes and stories - almost continuously. She loved her ballet lessons at the Omaha Ballet Company studio and longed to be a dancer some day. Her brother had started school and proved to be incredibly sociable in his classroom and with the dozens of little boys in the neighborhood. (There were 7 boys in one family across the street, and four more homes with 2-4 brothers each in this Catholic neighborhood.)

It is funny how the kids remembered the year though. My son’s 5th birthday was so wonderful for him (with Lord of the Ring eggs – baked eggs in bacon ringed cup), it ultimately became the impetus for culinary school. Angela grew as a person through so many ways and she shared these stories with me. I took them and wrote a little book where she was the main character. She read that little book bound in cow hide from start to finish without looking up – except after the first paragraph when she looked to me with eyes wide open in surprise. It was Christmas and all around her unopened, unexamined presents, but she kept reading. I will cherish that memory as one of the best of my life. Even if Angela were with us now, I would consider that Christmas morning the best ever.

Late 70's

Story telling about my daughter's life of 19 short years, I started a recollection thread, a series of posts looking at my life with Angel that ended twenty years ago - May 31, 1989.
1977 and 1978 were exceptionally good years in our lives. Note that Angela still loved the Osh Kosh B’Gosh overalls as much as she did in kindergarten.

We were all healthy, plus the wasbund and I were employed and making enough money to warrant a vacation for the first time ever. The kids were happy with their friends, sitters and family.

Angela excelled in school and was well liked by her teachers and classmates. I'd ventured into that world a bit by becoming a PTA board member. I moved from working with the mentally retarded children to working with boys and girls in the Camp Fire Girls newly branded ‘Camp Fire Kids’ experiment. Listen, I’d gone to Camp Fire Girls Camp for 12 years straight and loved the program. (I still believe it is a superior program to the militarist slant of Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts.) I really loved writing pilot programs for all kinds of new approaches ranging from an after school ecology group to a program pairing elderly women with young girls called Herstory - for the older women to share their Camp Fire Girl experiences of 50 plus years ago. These were just 2 of the many programs we wrote and tested.
I was also a Bluebird leader for Angela’s group. I felt closer than I had ever been in Angela’s life.

We did indeed travel to Anaheim, CA, to visit wasbund’s family and Disneyland. This was followed by a road trip up the coast highway - the same one I now live beside - to end up in San Francisco. Angela was in heaven. She loved the ocean, she loved Disneyland and she was a good traveler. Her little brother did well too as a little pre-school kid, throwing himself with all of his being at each outing, each adventure.

When I walk on the beaches in these last five years, I often picture Angela from that trip's photos or from memory and how much she loved the ocean's shore. I once wrote a story where she was a mermaid in a portion of the fantasy. She loved that part.

Bicentenniel Baby

Story telling about my daughter's life of 19 short years, I started a recollection thread, a series of posts looking at my life with Angel that ended twenty years ago - May 31, 1989.
In this story of Angela's life, my sisters' children are integral to childhood stories. By 1976 my older sister and her children had moved to Omaha and my mother too. My younger sister would be following soon thereafter from her Iowa home, but Independence Day 1976 for her was about her new baby boy about to be born. Her daughter, perched on the oldest cousin's lap, stayed with us while her brother was being born. She was born on exactly the same day as Angela's brother Matthew - but she was a full-term healthy baby. It took Matthew awhile to catch up with her.

I remembered some little dresses my sister and I had when we were little with our names embroidered on the front. I felt inspired to make little summer clothes for the cousins to celebrate the 200th birthday of the United States. These photographs aren't clear enough to see the red embroidered names or the little flags for each outfit. I was always political and was so happy Jimmy Carter was running a populist campaign for president. The corruption of Nixon was still galling and Ford was a dope. I had high hopes for our country and some of the steps forward in women's rights and civil rights. It felt like real change was happening. My mother and a couple of friends were able to get employment through Comprehensive Employment and Training Act (CETA) and I had knowledge of women using the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) to finally bring attention to workplace abuse.

It felt like a time of great promise. I loved my children, my life and my place in the world. My work with the mentally challenged kids was gratifying and I was pretty firmly on a spiritual path - studying all kinds of esoteric wonders and world religions in a non-traditional way.

When I think of Angel in these years, I think about how much pride I had in her. She was not a child who seemed to struggle to understand things, to enjoy herself, to get along, to be a part of things. She was a happy, loving and helpful kid. Her eyes would light up and she would giggle with ease. There were only two things I recall being very concerned about with Angela. The first was a tendency to get bloody noses while sleeping and the second was the difficulty she had with crying and talking about what upset her. She couldn't be persuaded that she didn't have to be sick or injured to cry or ask for mommy or daddy's help. Just remembering this now is painfully bittersweet to juxtapose this little girl with my recollections of those days following her death.

Big Sister, Big House and Big School at Age 5

Story telling about my daughter's life of 19 short years, I started a recollection thread, a series of posts looking at my life with Angel that ended twenty years ago - May 31, 1989.

I lead with this cartoon because culturally this played out in our home. As a feminist I was painfully aware of the patriarchal influences on children. Gender roles are not an accident. At minimum I wanted to try and deflect the cultural imperative that Barbie represented. But, my wasbund's family and the neighbors disregarded my pleas, my demands and flooded my Angel with passed down Barbies and piles of handmade Barbie clothes. I was simply dismissed as a shrew.

By the time Angela started kindergarten we had moved into our own home in Omaha. Despite the recession in '73, both of our incomes and some property gifted from my wasband's family in Iowa allowed us a refinancing scheme to purchase an old 2-story home in central Omaha. The neighborhood was filled with these big brick homes built at the beginning of the 20th century. There was a mansion nearby, which the board of education used for offices. The neighborhood was filled with kids, most of whom went to the catholic school one block over.

Angela took dance lessons from my best friend and she adored dance and the dance wear, the leotards. She was active, learning to ride a bike without training wheels, learning to skate and generally being active. When she started school I had a closet full of clothes, adorable dresses from all the cousins. Angela rebelled and insisted on wearing her Oshkosh B'Gosh overalls every single day. The only time she wore a dress was for church on Sunday or for holidays.

Update: I left out a favorite photo or mention of Angela as a big sister. She continued to be first and foremost a big sister. She was M's best and closest being.

Big Sister at 4

Story telling about my daughter's life of 19 short years, I started a recollection thread, a series of posts looking at my life with Angel that ended twenty years ago - May 31, 1989.
Just weeks into 1974 Angela became a big sister, but little brother Matthew didn't get to come home from the hospital for two months. He was born 2-1/2 months early and at just 3 lbs he had to be on oxygen, have a chest tube and be fed with a tube. When he finally was allowed to come home Angela's doll's infant seat was what I used for him. He slept in a laundry basket I'd painted blue. When he finally did sleep in the crib, it looked vast with his tiny little body.

Angel loved her little brother and was always wanting to play with him and hold him. I don't recall her being jealous of him and this might have partly been because she was doted on and entertained by the neighbor's family. That first summer of 1974 she and the many cousins and the neighbor kids played costume dress up all summer long. They would put on make-up and costumes and giggle. Yes, I had boxes and boxes of costumes. Even the neighbor's preteen daughter and her own friend joined in and dressed up too. They all loved having baby Matthew near by. It was a recession and we had so little, but this time was so precious. Matt's survival (and mine - needing 5 pints of blood after hemorrhaging) were just a couple of the many miraculous things during 1974.

I took a job at the end of that summer as staff for a residential facility for six severely, profoundly retarded children. Yes, I felt some payback was in order and I was at ease with childcare for my kids. We were very hard up and this job was a necessity. For me it was a move away from food service and it opened up a new world for me too. After just a few months the couple who were the houseparents moved away suddenly and I was promoted to their position. I had to sleep at the facility on a rotating basis with the rest of my staff. I was able to bring my children to the facility. Some of the clients really loved this, others seemed unaware and Angela was like a sponge taking in everything the children and staff said and did. That was exposure I have never regretted for either child or myself - or for the young staff. It was good for us to interact with the children together - whether developmentally delayed or not.