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.