Spilt Milk And Broken Dolls

Alice LaCoy

© Copyright 2004 by Alice LaCoy


Photo of Jimi Hendrix at the Woodstock Festival in 1969.

Sitting cross-legged on the kitchen floor caused my tears to splash on my ankles as I looked at my handful of pills. I stared at them, wondering if they were enough to do the job. I didn’t want to be rushed to the ER and have my stomach pumped. I wanted the job to be final. I wanted to die.

I cried, maybe all night, and kept my appointment with the counselor the next morning.

“What happened to you?” he asked, as he searched my swollen eyes.

I told him about the kitchen floor. Immediately, he asked me where I wanted to go.

“Right now, where in the entire world would you like to be?”

It didn’t take much thinking.

“My brother’s,” I said.

As he dialed my husband’s work number, I numbly stared at nothing. I was void of feeling, suspended above the room, watching these events as an outsider.

“Art, I think you better come to my office right away. Alice is here, and you need to take her to her brother’s. Today.”

“I don’t want to explain over the phone. Just get here as soon as you can. OK?”

“Thank you, goodbye.”

The silent two hour drive to my brother Armand’s seemed to last forever, but I was welcomed with open arms when we finally got there. Great family: such unconditional love. They gave me the family room and downstairs bathroom to be my new home for as long as I needed.

Armand’s a great guy and more like a father to me than a brother, because of our thirteen year age difference. He’s always happy and positive about everything, so I guess that’s why I wanted to be at his house.

Our mother had just moved to an apartment of her own. She had been living with Armand and his family for about a year since Pop died. I think she and my sister-in-law drove each other to drink! Poor Armand was in the middle; now they would all have to put up with his little sister.

I was only eight when Armand got married to his childhood sweetheart, Tina. It was his twenty first birthday, and he just graduated from New York University. Tina lived one block over, in the same kind of house we did, but she came from a Sicilian family. Our grandparents were from France. In New York City everyone is from someplace else.

“But why can’t I be a flower girl?” I whined.

“Because,” my mother would answer. She always answered “because” to everything.

“They aren’t having a big church wedding, so they can’t have a flower girl,” she said.

I still didn’t understand “why not” but let it drop. I didn’t want to hear “because” again.

After the wedding they moved into our house with us. My Pop converted the basement into an apartment for them. When they brought their first child home from the hospital on my eleventh birthday I was so thrilled.

“I’m an Aunt,” I told my fifth grade class, and proudly showed off the picture of my nephew, Artie.

“I like little girls,” I told my friend Anna, who lived next door. “I hope they have a little girl, too, someday.”

I was thirteen when Susan was born, but by the time she was two, they moved to Denver, then to San Francisco. I didn’t get to see them very much while they were growing up.

As the days passed and my feet began to touch the floor, I realized I could not go back to my life with Art in Pennsylvania. I was going to be in New Jersey for awhile. A lot of healing needed to take place.

From high school, I went into a medical laboratory technology program at NYC Community College, but never graduated because I thought getting married was more important than going to school.

“Oh, I’ll never need that anyway. I’m going to stay home and have babies, bake cookies, and join the PTA,” I told my Pop.

I did have a husband who was old fashioned enough to want me to do just that. He was content to be the bread-winner. That kind of compatibility isn’t always enough to keep a marriage happy, though, is it?

It seems as if I’ve known Art all my life. His family was like a pillar in the church I went to. It’s a small protestant church, sitting in the middle of a Sicilian catholic neighborhood. We were outcasts of a different kind. We stuck together.

Art delivered our daily newspaper when I first started noticing boys. I was eleven. I was also much more attracted to the curly black-haired little catholic boys, especially Vito Mangialardi. At thirteen, Patrick (Patty)Caggiano was my love. My parents forbade me to see him, because he was Sicilian, and his parents forbade him to see me because I was an “un-catholic, surely destined for hell.” We met under the bridge anyway.

In my fifteenth year I started looking at Art more closely, because he would be acceptable as no one else was, and it was time to be thinking about a future. My choices were extremely slim and since we didn’t travel, I had no idea there was a big, beautiful world out there, inhabited by zillions of un-catholics.

I pursued him. He succumbed. But it took him six months before he kissed me. Or did I kiss him? We dated for four years. It was nothing like “under the bridge.”

I loved Art, he was a good friend, and a hard worker. He didn’t drink to excess, or look at other women. He was a good man, but something was missing. I naively thought things would get better once we were married. After all, there were some things reserved for the sanctity of marriage. But nothing changed. We had no chemistry.

A marriage without adult love and caring, without hugs and pats on the butt as you go by, may be enough for some people. For me, it was a death sentence. My heart remained true, but my lonely body wandered. Like a flower withers without water, after ten years of marriage I withered into depression, right onto the kitchen floor.

Once settled at Armand’s in Dunellen, New Jersey, I started searching for a job. I found one right away at Ortho Diagnostics in Raritan, in the production department. It was the perfect job, one that provided a great salary and benefits, but wouldn’t add stress to my already over-burdened mind. It was boring, repetitive work, but just what I needed at this time in my life. My co-workers were warm and friendly, enveloping me in compassion.

I had been a full time Mom the last four years, ever since my second son’s birth and I was out of the circle of trendy music. When JoAnn, my new co-worker, played her radio in the lab and melted at the sound of the Beatles, I asked “Who’s the Beatles?” They all laughed at me. It was 1969. The Beatles had been around, while I was lost in a closet somewhere.

The late 60’s –it was a weird mixture of flower children, war resisters, and free love. My problems made me very vulnerable to the strange new ways of life and thinking. On our lunch breaks I would go with some of the girls I worked with to the downtown shops in Raritan. The blood banks were still buying blood back them, and it became an easy way to make a few extra bucks. Since I was being rebellious I shopped in Head Shops, bought crazy tie-died shirts and low hip-hugging bell bottom jeans.

“Oh, that looks good on you,” Cathie said. “I just love the colors in that shirt.”

“Here, try these on with it,” JoAnn said, as she handed me some wild blue pants.

“Maybe this head band would go with it, and these beads,” as she took a strand off the display. “You sure can wear those clothes, with that tiny body of yours,” Cathie said as she held some dangly earrings up to her face. “What do you think about these?”

On the weekends we all went to someone’s house for parties and I learned to dance to the “Doors,” “3 Dog Night,” and “Creedance Clearwater Revival.” Mama Cass choked to death in a bath tub, Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin died of drug overdoses.

I left my sons with their father in Pennsylvania because Ray was in first grade and I didn’t want to take him out of school. We didn’t want to separate the boys and upset their little lives anymore than necessary, so they both stayed with Art. The agreement was for me to get them as soon as school was over.

Paul was only four, with his big blue eyes, blond hair and chubbiness. People often thought the boys were twins, because they looked the same size. Ray was always so petite for his age, and now at six he had to deal with an upheaval in his short life that would become bigger than I ever imagined. Ray had already dealt with a move when he was only two and a half.

“We’re moving to State College, Pennsylvania,” I told him as I filled up packing boxes.

“Why?” he asked, cupping his little chin in his hands as he leaned over the couch watching me.

“It’s far, far away, and Daddy is going to a new school there.” I answered.

“Why?” he asked.

“Because,” I said, sounding just like my mother.

“Will we take Paul, too?” he asked.

“Of course, we will. I wouldn’t leave Paul here.” I think he was still trying to get used to having a baby brother around.

He jumped off the couch, ran over to me and threw his arms around my knees.

“Can we get a dog there?” he asked.

“Maybe,” I answered. “But better than a dog, is snow,” I told him.

“Snow?” he shouted. We lived in Gainesville, Florida and he had only seen snow once when we visited our parents in New York last Christmas. He jumped around the room like a little bouncing frog, shouting “snow, snow, snow,” until it woke Paul from his nap.

Tina told me there was a new apartment building being built only three blocks away from them, so I picked an apartment, put down a deposit, and planned to move in as soon as it was finished.

“You and the boys can stay with us until it’s ready,” Armand said.

“And then we’ll all help you move in!” my eighteen year old nephew added.

“Yeah, then we can have the family room back,” said Susie, the typical teenager. We all laughed at that one.

When school was over, I took the boys to Armand’s, and every other weekend Art would pick them up and take them to his parents’ home in Queens, NY. I was feeling better every day and becoming more confident in managing my own life, for the first time.

Then Art reared his ugly head. One Sunday afternoon he didn’t bring the boys back to me. He went right through NJ, straight home to Pa, telling me on the phone that he was going to get custody of them.

I screamed, I cried, “You can’t do this. You can’t take them away from me,” and found myself floating up to the ceiling again.

Months of pain at not being able to see my sons, money tied up in slow-as-molasses lawyers, and chain-link fences popping up because of different state laws, made me want to retreat.

“I can’t fight this. He’s just too strong. He has too much on his side,” I would tell my friends. They bolstered me up with encouragement, and I kept fighting. They filled my empty hours with things to do and people to meet. A blind date at one of the parties I went to turned out to be more than I bargained for.

“C’mon over to my place Saturday. I’m having a party and there’s someone I want you to meet,” said Bob Carter, a guy I worked with in the processing lab. “His wife just left him and he’s pretty lonely, too.”

“Ok, Bob, I’ll try to be there, but I’m not making any promises.” I really liked Bob but he didn’t see it. “I’ll go to his party and maybe he’ll take notice of me,” I thought to myself.

I met his friend, Peter Bryan, who was very tall, handsome in a young boyish way and found out he had just turned twenty two the previous month. I was twenty nine. Where could this silly relationship go? Why even bother? He told me about his wife leaving him, taking their little girl who was eighteen months old. We looked at each other’s family pictures, sharing similar feelings of remorse and sadness at having broken lives. By the time the party was over, we were so connected by our loneliness, he invited me to his apartment. I went. His wife had taken everything from the apartment. It was stark in its emptiness. The only thing she left him was a sheet-less mattress, on the floor.

Peter was strong-willed, very self-confident, and ready for a fight. He wanted to help me fight my battle. Despite the difference in our ages, we became inseparable, and passion ruled our relationship.

He was very into music. I think some music gene ran in his blood. About two weeks after we met he said,

“I heard about a thing going on in New York this weekend. Want to go? It’s a big concert. All the great bands will be there, like Creedence, The Who, Sly and The Family Stone, Santana, and even Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, and Joe Cocker.” (I didn’t know many of them, but knew he was nuts about them.)

“Where is it? I asked.

“In Woodstock. Upstate, New York. Farm country,” he said. “Some farmer is just opening up his land.”

“Where would we stay?” I asked.

“We’ll camp – sleep in the car – whatever! Come on, let’s go,” he said.

I didn’t feel too comfortable with the uncertainty of everything, despite the fact that I didn’t have the boys that weekend. The biggest part of my decision not to go lay in the fact that I hardly knew this “man,” and despite my rebellion, there still was a smidgeon of value holding me back. Besides, with the court case coming up soon, I didn’t want anymore strikes against me.

We didn’t go to Woodstock that summer, but he helped me get through the court battle, with encouragement and determination, and I walked away with my sons. It was a miracle. I was working a full-time job, and the boys would have outside child care when not in school. My one bedroom apartment was on the second floor with no place outside to play, and this didn’t hold a candle to what their father could offer. He was an architect, with a good job, a lovely home, in a quiet little town, with all the boys’ friends and security symbols around. He had all that stacked in his favor, and even resorted to having some of my “best friends” testify against me, but I was awarded custody. It was 1970 and things were not favorable for fathers back then. I was happy.

Paul wasn’t happy. When I went to Art’s house to pick them up, Paul didn’t want to leave. He cried and fought me when I tried to get him into my car.

“No, no, no. I’m not going with you. NO! NO!” he screamed, as I pried his little fingers from the car’s door frame.

Ray sat quietly in the back sit, his hands folded, and his face expressionless. I deeply wondered if I was doing the right thing.

Paul stopped crying before we covered three blocks; he was laughing and playing in the back seat with Ray, long before we got home to our little apartment.

The next two years were full of extremes: elation, depression, excitement, and despair. I lived the life of a fun-starved “girl,” ecstatic with the freedom I never had before. Going right from my parents, to an even more domineering husband at the age of nineteen, never gave me the opportunity to experience independence. I went crazy. I was totally out of character: parties and drinking, rock concerts and drinking, bars and drinking. Of course I didn’t know I had an alcoholic boyfriend who may have been the cause of all my drinking.

We were in a bar one night and ran into a close, old friend of Peter’s.

“Where did he get so drunk?” the friend shouted in my ear, above the blasting music.

“He’s not drunk!” I replied in surprise.

He wasn’t any different than I had ever seen him and we had been constantly together for the last three months. That should have been my first clue…

Before I knew it, we rented a little house nestled on a hillside, away from streets and crowds, with woods for the boys to play in. When my sons were around, Peter encouraged them to play in their room or outside. He wasn’t mean to them, but he didn’t like them to be around either. We were too wrapped up in each other, and I was ignorantly blind to see what was going on in my life.

The boys whined about wanting to go to Dad’s all the time.

“Dad plays outside with us, and takes us places. You never do,” they would say to me.

He showed them attention like they weren’t getting at my house. Every other weekend they went to stay at Dad’s and we partied with our friends.

Divorce was a difficult thing to obtain, at that period of time. I couldn’t file for one unless I used “mental cruelty” and that was impossible to prove. Art could have used “adultery” but he refused to file for a divorce unless I gave him custody of the boys. As time passed, Peter became more controlling of me and my emotions, the boys began whining more about going to live with their Dad, and I reluctantly started believing that was the best thing to do.

In the summer of 1972, as soon as the school doors were closed, the boys went to live with Art. Ray was only eight and Paul was six. As the sun set on our hillside, I drowned myself in booze, and was soon screaming my pain to the treetops. The pain of letting my sons go was unbearable.

“How could I do that?” I thought, years later.

I ran around in our yard like a wild woman. My throat hurt with the screams. My eyes burned with the tears. My chest throbbed in deep pain with the sobs. I sank to the ground and beat on the grass. The cops came up our hill to see who was killing this woman, and Peter calmly explained,

“Her sons went to live with their Dad. She’s a little upset.”

A move to Florida would heal all wounds. On August 9, 1972, exactly three years from the date we met, we quietly got married in our little house, with just a minister and two of our best friends present. Two weeks later, off we went to Fort “Liquordale,” moving ourselves and our lives to a new place; always finding new jobs, new friends, new bars and nightclubs. For a few years, moving to new houses and changing professions would always make Peter’s “problems” go away. The boys came to visit every summer, but every summer came to an end, and I went through the endless pain of putting them on an airplane. The pain of always letting my children go, always having to say good bye, was torture. I missed them so much. I wanted a child I didn’t have to say good bye to. I wanted us to have a child we could keep.

When my third child came along I was three weeks shy of my fortieth birthday. Ray and Paul were seventeen and fifteen years old. They were excited to know they would have a little sister. Peter had reservations about sharing my attention, but in time grew devoted to a little girl calling him “Daddy.” I missed my sons desperately but I had a girl-bundle to fill the constant void.

After so many years, my days became filled with the wonder of new life, and I rallied in the existence of her. My job took a backseat for a few years while I played Patti-cake, changed diapers, and gave up sleeping for her. My interests changed from boating and parties to playing with dolls and make-believe dress-up. I sang her to sleep, and I don’t sing. I took her to dance classes, and I don’t dance. I watched her play soccer, and I don’t like sports.

My forty year old friends were all kissing their kids good-bye, sending them off to college, or jobs in other areas, after graduation from high school. Their lives were changing with the new experience of an empty nest. My nest had just been filled. It would be another eighteen or twenty years before I could even worry about an empty nest.

How this child changed my life. She kept me young, long beyond my natural aging. I stayed fit and active chasing a young child, bending to tie shoelaces, and stretching to swat a bottom now and then. I went to parent/teacher conferences and helped with homework, instead of going to bars with Peter. I baked cookies and cupcakes, sometimes with whole wheat flour when I got on a wholesome eating kick. That little girl, with her big blue eyes and long blonde hair could melt me on the spot when I was having a bad day. She could scream and kick the ground in horrible tantrums when I wouldn’t give in to her every wish. We bargained, we bartered, we hugged, and we cried, over differences, similarities, spilt milk and broken dolls.

Writing has always been a passion of mine, but only in the last two years have I taken it seriously enough to pursue a Bachelor’s degree in English. Going to college at my age is much more satisfying and enlightening than it was over forty years ago.

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