Clearly I am procrastinating writing about my late teens and early 20’s. Those were really horrible times in my life. I was a horrible human being who did disgusting things. I was far from the person I am now. I have forgiven myself of course, but we are our harshest critics. Tonight, I’m not quite ready to rip that scab off and discuss my shady past. So let’s talk about where I’m going.
I am on a north bound train to Sacramento to meet up with some girlfriends to run in the Folsom Blues Breakout Half Marathon on Sunday. It has become a tradition of sorts to participate in either a half marathon or full marathon with these girls once a year, no matter where we are. Last year we ran the Portland Marathon, the year before we ran the Grand Canyon Marathon. We meet up in various stages of our lives. One friend has had major life changing events over the last two years. But she still shows up, with her smile and laugh. This year, she and I are both meeting the other friend in Sacramento where she lives (or at least in that area). Free room and food. Can’t beat that. She has also had major life changes. Life happens. Good and bad. But you either go on or quit.
About 45 minutes ago, we passed the prison my son is in. He called me last night to let me know he was going to the receiving facility at Wasco State Prison. I won’t get to talk to him or visit him for at least 90 days. No matter how bad he fucks up, he is still my baby and all I wanted to do last night was hug him. Prison is big and scary. That’s my kid in there. But what can you do? “Please, no tattoos on your head or face!!” “Don’t become someone’s bitch!” “Don’t join a prison gang.” He will be in there and I will be out here going about my life. Running half marathons. Riding a train and drinking a beer. Two years from now he will be out. Life will continue as it always does. This time will pass with a blink of our eye!
I think the two glasses of wine I had earlier and the beer I’m having now is getting to me 🙂
That’s me on the right. I must have been in junior high, so it was about 1989, 90 or 91. That is my cousin Debbie on the left and my grandmother Ruth. This is the family that became my family. I have no idea why my left cheek was so fat and swollen looking…
Be prepared to be bored. This part of my story is very uninteresting. There’s no horror stories of neglect and abandonment. No abuse. In fact, it was quite the opposite. My foster mother, Terry, was a part of a nice middle-class, maybe even upper-middle class family. To me it seemed they were rich. But coming from my background it wouldn’t take much to impress me. After Terry and I moved in with her mother, we all lived in a HUGE house in a fancy country club estate. It’s not huge in today’s standards, but then it was to me. I was an only child now, so I spent a lot of time exploring the trees in the backyard, climbing as high as I could. I read a lot of books. A lot. The bedtime chore of reading for 30 minutes before bed soon became an obsession. I cannot tell you how many books I read. I even tried to learn a new word a day by choosing a word out of the dictionary. And I wrote a lot. Imagine that.
My mom and I (I will refer to Terry as my mom from her on out and my bio-mom Valerie as bio-mom, it may get confusing), moved in with grandma because she decided to go back to college. She was 47. She started with her Associate’s all the way through to her Master’s in Family Therapy. She was a driven and independent woman. That may be one of the better qualities I got from her. There were many times when I would go to school with her. I spent plenty of time in the libraries at both the community college and university. Several times I would go to class with her. I didn’t realize it then what I was learning from her, independence, self-sufficiency, discipline…I didn’t realize it until my 30’s I suppose.
Because my mom had no real experience raising children, she had to wing it and also use what she was learning in all of her psychology books. Needless to say, she was strict. Overly strict. She even admits it now, that she was too hard on me. I went from no discipline to having too much discipline. And fear. She told me more than once that if I didn’t comply, I would go back to the Jamison Center. I hated that place so much that her fear tactic worked. I resented her for it. I hated her for it. But for what it’s worth, I graduated high school with out getting pregnant, so she must’ve done something right.
That is all for tonight friends. I am tired and my need for spellcheck is increasing, so I will bid you farewell!!!
Look at that sly gleam in his eye. He was a damn good-looking man indeed. And she, whew!!! She was a FOX!! This is for sure where I got my stunning good looks from. I kid, I kid. I was blessed with not being completely ugly. In fact, the whole of my family missed the ugly branch on the tree.
Both of my grandparents were rather smart as well. My grandfather, Grady Doyle Miller, was a lawyer and would later become a Municipal Court Judge here in Bakersfield. To the best of my recollection, my grandmother was a medical librarian. My grandfather went by Doyle. He and his family came from Texas. Again, this is all from memory. I have my ancestry books somewhere, I will dig them out later and give you all a full description, trust me… it is insanely interesting. My grandmother, Janette Gay Van Netta (Miller), came from Wisconsin, where her family settled when they immigrated from Norway. I used to hate my slanty, almond-shaped eyes. Then I learned that I was Norwegian and my eyes were a trait of my ancestry.
Like I have mentioned before, my grandfather died when I was a baby, so my memories of him are limited. My grandmother did not move back to San Francisco until I was about 6 or 7, so I have some memories of her. I remember that she would tickle my back and my belly upon my relentless requesting. She pulled the flathead needle from my knee when I got it lodged there whilst crawling around under the living room table. My knee was stuck, I couldn’t open or close it, until she pulled that sucker out.
I also remember her love of liverwurst sandwiches and split pea soup. I learned to love green olives from her too. She would pull them out of her drink and give them to me. Sometimes she would mix her drink with orange juice. Vodka. Bottles and bottles of vodka. My mom came home once, there was a fight and a giant plastic jug of vodka was thrown against the wall. It may have broken and spilled everywhere, or it may not have. But for drama’s sake, imagine clear liquid cascading down the wall and across the living room.
One night, she and I hopped in her VW bug to pick up my mother from somewhere (I faintly remember that it may have been rehab). We made it down the street and then ACROSS the major street, through a fence and into a building. There were no seatbelt laws then, so I hit the seat in front of me, luckily I was in the back seat and was not hurt. My grandmother’s face was a patchwork of colors the next day, maybe it was a few days later because looking back, some of the bruises were faded green when I remember seeing her after the crash.
Later she would move to San Francisco. I would visit her once. She developed Alzheimer’s, perhaps it was dementia….a result of long-term alcoholism. She died years ago. I don’t remember when. By then I was living a different life and was rather detached from that previous life.
She was not the only one who suffered from alcoholism. My grandfather was a rather famous drunk. Remember he was a judge. A drunk judge. I have heard stories about how he got picked up for drunk driving, the police who picked him up had to be in court, so they took him with them. Guess who the judge was supposed to be? That’s right. My grandfather. Now this is the story I was given. That’s not the story the newspaper gives. So who knows which is the truth?
I always knew that I had a “predisposition” for addiction. That is such a big word for an eight year old to know. But I knew it. I knew that it was in my genes. I knew I should stay away. But that didn’t keep me from my foster mother’s mom’s wet bar. I would sneak drinks of the tequila or Kahlua, filling the rest with water so no one know that I was drinking. Mind you, I didn’t drink enough to get drunk. I was just doing it to do it. Addiction would find its way to me eventually. More on that later.
As I sit here with my beer…I ponder if I am an alcoholic. I took an online quiz that told me I’m at risk. I have vodka in my kitchen. I think of my grandmother when I look at it. It’s in my genes to be an alcoholic. My grandparents and both of my parents were. Is it possible to have a drink or two and not be an alcoholic? How can we dodge what seems to be our fate? How can we stop the cycle? Or can we? Is it hopeless?
I don’t know how long I was in the Jamison Center before my soon-to-be foster mom would decide that she wanted two little blonde girls to take home. It felt like months. I suppose if I looked through the court papers, I could find out but honestly, I have no desire to dig through the court papers. You have no idea how many court papers there are!!! Duplicates even. I don’t know if this is normal or if my crazy mom just wanted duplicates of everything. Who knows?
Terry Thayer came in one day (she’s a she even though her name is spelled like a he), with the hopes of bringing home a little blonde girl. Much like “how much is that puppy in the window?” She came in looking for one “Oh! We have two!!” And left with two. So Cherie and I, who had become friends in the center and often pretended to be sisters, went home to become foster sisters. Terry was a single woman who already had one foster girl living with her. At the time, she was a real estate agent. Later she would go back to school at the age of 47 to pursue her associates and ultimately her MFT (Master’s in Family Therapy). If you know me personally, now you know where I get it from. Though my bio mom, Valerie, was a constant student as well. I went from thinking food stamps were normal to living in a nice house, with nice things, learning how to eat with my mouth closed, don’t bite the fork, cut my food right, say “passed gas” not fart, don’t ask how much money someone makes, how much they weigh and how to say “SUppose” not “I pose so.” I went from never going to school to always going to school. Reading for 30 minutes before bed, doing my homework and going from the bottom 10th percentile of my grade to the top 10th percentile. Can you say “stability?”
At first is was Cherie, Angie and myself as the only foster kids. Then more came and went. Soon it became evident that Angie’s mental issues were going to be too much for Terry to handle, so she was “returned.” Returned may be a bit harsh, but at the time, that is how it seemed to me. She needed more help then Terry could give her. I believe she went to a group home. You see, my story is horrible. There’s plenty I am leaving out of this blog, things I don’t feel comfortable discussing in this forum. However, these other girls and other foster kids have had it MUCH worse than me. Mothers who let their random boyfriends molest their daughters and sons, repeatedly. Kids so traumatized, that they rub their own shit on walls. But me, I was relatively normal. Considering. I was well-behaved. I didn’t talk back. I didn’t run away. I didn’t steal or get in fights at school. So for some reason, Terry decided that I would be the only foster kid she would keep around. Granted, everyone else wanted to go back to their fucked up homes. Some kids do that. Go back to the abuse, the filth, the drugs and the instability because it’s what they know and it’s normal to them.
I had visits with my bio mom once or twice a month. She was taking parenting classes and going to counseling at first. Sometimes she wouldn’t show up for visits. When she did, it was silly and sometimes fun. We had code words like “32 teeth” because we have 32 teeth, duh. So we would say that and it was like we were secretly saying “I love you.” I don’t know how or why but soon, I recognized that I wasn’t going to have a good life if I went back to her. My case came to a point were it was time to make a decision, try to go back to my bio mom or stay with Terry and she would try to get legal guardianship. Court day approached, and me being me, thought it would help my case to write a letter stating how I felt. I wrote it to my case worker who represented me in court because I didn’t want to go that day, I’d rather be in school.
“To Susan Gill: Would you please tell the judge that I should, and I want to be in legal guardianship. I understand that it will change the relationship between my mom and I. I don’t want to go home ever in my life. I also want you to tell the judge that I am tired of going to court every six months. I do not want my visits increased and I don’t want unsupervised visits. I don’t want to go through this year after year. I need a home and my home is with Terry.”
“Sincerely Sadie Thayer P.S. You have my permission to show this to my mom.”
This is my mom. Not really. Really it’s Teri Garr who happens to look like she could be my doppelgänger and since I don’t have any good pics of my mom at the moment so this will have to do. Besides, since Nick Nolte was my imaginary dad, why not Teri Garr be my imaginary mom?
My mom was the middle of three sisters. Born to my grandfather who was a local judge and my grandmother who, as far as I know was a medical librarian. I didn’t get to know either of them well considering my grandfather died after I was born and my grandmother moved to San Francisco around the time I was 7. More on them later. From what I have been told, my mom was brilliant. She excelled in math. She and her sisters were dancers. She graduated from East High. It was the 60’s so you can imagine what was going on. Drugs. Drinking. The usual. My sister was born in 1969. I am not sure if my mom was married to her father or not. I just know that my sister’s relationship with her father was as nonexistent as mine. It seemed my mom had a knack for running men off.
My favorite times with my mom were at Hart Park. Years ago it had a water park, peddle boats, the water was clean and the craw daddy catching was good. The weekends there were filled with Harley’s and Budweiser cans. Mom hung with a “biker gang” which shall remain nameless. It’s not PC to call them a gang, now they are “motorcycle clubs.” Ha. Anywho. This is was the norm for me. Bikes. Beer. Tattoos. Oddly enough, it’s still the norm for me, except the bikes don’t have motors. If you know me, you know how true this is.
My mom was constantly trying to get sober. So in later years, I spent many hours at the local Alano Club or the meeting place at 106 Lincoln St that had egg crates on the ceiling, the room was filled with smoke, members served others by serving them coffee. I knew the Twelve Steps, even if I didn’t understand them. “It works if you work it.” “One day at a time.” The Lord’s Prayer. The Serenity Prayer. The time I kicked some grown man in the balls for whatever reason and he about knocked me on my ass. I could bat my cute little eyelashes and my mom’s friends would buy me cookies. They sold Merit cigarettes in the vending machine.
I don’t know how serious my mom was about her sobriety or if she was just serious about trying to find a boyfriend. They came and went. There was beer in the house for most of what I can remember. And if you recall, the night of the fire, I knew she could always be found at The Matchmaker- which was a bar. I remember walking in on my mom doing coke once. I was 7. How I knew it was coke, I have no clue.
When I was older, I learned that my mom had borderline personality disorder. Which is very similar to bipolar disorder but it can be changed with work. She never worked on it. She always had an ailment- sore neck, knees buckling, back going out, invisible seizures, bronchitis. Her house smelled of cats and cockroaches. She could grow plants out of avocado seeds. To this day I still can’t . I’ve tried and failed. She saved everything. Papers, used plastic containers, pictures, notebooks and they all were covered with cockroach shit.
This is how I remember my mom from my younger years. Don’t get me wrong, she was a looker. I don’t think she had trouble getting men. She just couldn’t keep them. One night, she was getting ready to go out. She must have been 36 or 37, she was wearing white pants and a white sweater, taking the hot rollers out of her hair. She must have been having a hard time with it because she told me “sometimes you just have to let your hair do what it wants.” That’s probably the best advise she ever gave me. Actually, many years later she would unknowingly give me the best advise that probably saved me much more pain and possibly my life.
Now that I’m grown, 39, just a few years older than she was when I got taken away, I have the ability to look back at her through adult eyes, through a mothers eyes. I am much more understanding of how she was. She just wasn’t made to be a mom. Some of us aren’t. Sometimes I’m not. But kids don’t see that. Our children think we should have our shit together because we are adults. But we don’t. We are just winging it. Making it up as we go. Faking it until we make it. Sometimes it finally falls together, sometimes it falls apart. Because of this, I have to extend grace to her, just like I hope my kids do me.
Where was my dad in all of this? Apparently he was in Klamath Falls, Oregon. My mom and he got divorced shortly after my birth. I never saw him, heard from him, got a letter, gift, phone call or even child support. They say that children can’t recall memories before the age of 3, or even the age of 7. That’s complete crap. I clearly have a memory of my father holding me above him as he laid down, much like fathers do. I remember his white shirt and beard. This “memory” can be discarded as something my very clever brain made up. However, I recounted this recollection to my mother, only I elaborated to describe the room, furniture and a distinctly recall feet walking with crutches. That was my grandfather. He died the November after my birth. My mother estimated that this memory took place in August of 1977, which would have made me two months old.
So I never had a dad. Not a step dad. Just a few of my mom’s boyfriends that came and went, never staying. I had no idea what my father looked like. In later years I would imagine that he looked like Nick Nolte. Crazy right? Nick Nolte was a pretty handsome man at one time, so cut me some slack.
It is safe to say that I have daddy issues. Boys need their fathers but girls do as well. Growing up not knowing how to be treated or loved by man, not have reassurance that I was loved, left me floundering my whole life. Look up “signs of daddy issues.” That’s me. Mostly it was fear of abandonment. He left me, so why wouldn’t every other man?
Fast forward to when I was 19. I’m jumping ahead a lot, and leaving out some details, but I will fill those in later. My youngest sister, Lacee who is my father’s youngest daughter, ran away and found my mother and I (again, I’ll give the details later). It was through her actions, that my father and I were finally reconnected. He had spent his life an alcoholic and heroin addict. He had at least three other wives besides my mother. Through him I had one other older sister and the younger sister.
We finally met around the time of my oldest son’s birth. He came to visit me. I went up to Felton, California where he was living to visit him. By this time, he had settled down. His health was deteriorating. He had osteoporosis, kidney issues and major heart trouble. He had moved into a home in the mountains and became a well known ham radio operator.
I never outright asked him why he didn’t come around. I didn’t have to. Maybe it was guilt that made him give me his reason(s), maybe he knew he may not have another chance. He told me that he and my mother could not be in the same room. She was crazy and all they did was fight. Ok. Yeah she was nuts, I get that. So I accepted that reason. Why didn’t he come get me after the fire, when I went into foster care? He knew I was in a better place, he did not want to disrupt my life (this is a bit foretelling about what happens after the Jamison Center). Again. I accepted that. It made sense to me. I understood it. It did not fix the damage that was done or did it stop any further unraveling of my life later on, but it did allow me to forgive him.
In 1999, I got a phone call while I was at work. My father had died. He had just had heart surgery. Several days later, it was evident the surgery did not cure him of his heart trouble. For not having a strong relationship with him, I sure did lose it when I got the call. I would have liked more time with him. But I am grateful for the time I did get, and the chance for a bit of healing.
“On February 3, 1986, Mercedes Glisan was interviewed at the Miriam Jamison Children’s Center. The minor stated she was frequently left unattended by her mother. When asked how many times she had been left alone during the month of January, the minor stated she had been left alone about three times. She added that her mother would leave at about nine or ten o’clock in the evening and come back at two a.m. in the morning. She stated her mother was usually at the Matchmaker Club on these occasions. When asked if she was frightened during her mother’s absence, she said she was. “
“On February 3, 1986, Valerie Glisan was interviewed at the Family and Children’s Services building. She was very emotional and agitated during this interview. She admitted leaving Mercedes alone on January 31, 1986 and on previous occasions as well. She acknowledged that Mercedes had been taken into custody in June 1985 and she had been cautioned at that time to provide proper supervision for her in the future.”
“The minor’s mother stated she was without housing or resources. She had been staying with various friends since the fire and would be unable to provide a residence for the minor. Beyond this, she indicated she would not be emotionally capable of providing for the minor. She was very confused and appeared to be incapable of planning for either herself or the minor. The appearance she presented was that of a person totally overwhelmed by her circumstances.”
“In view of the multiple parenting problems on the part of the minor’s mother and the minor being repeatedly left unattended, a petition was filed under Section 300A of the Welfare and Institutions Code on February 4, 1986.”
I know what you’re thinking. “Back in my day, we were told to go outside and not come back until the street lights came on” or “We were left alone all the time and were just fine.” I’m not sure what changed between the 1950’s and 1986, but the laws changed making it illegal to leave your children alone, unsupervised, for any length of time before a certain age. Perhaps it was because in the past it was a necessity to leave kids alone, hell, kids worked! Needless to say, it was and is illegal, as well it should be.
In the years leading up to 1986, when my mom, sister Daunya and I lived with my grandma, we were often left alone, or may as well have been. When my mom was gone, we were left in the care of my grandmother. But she was an alcoholic busy drinking her screwdrivers or martinis. Alcoholism runs rampant in my family. More on that later.
Anyhow, because I was left in charge of myself so often, I learned to be very independent at a young age. Cooked my own meals (hot dogs and mac n cheese were my specialty), dressed myself, bathed myself (I think), and got myself to school. Ok, that’s a lie. I NEVER went to school. Instead, when my mom got home from wherever she was and it was time for school, I would act like I was going to school. But really, I would wander the apartment complex until it was time to come home. Ingenious right?
Lets talk about the Jamison Center. It’s a wonderful place, helping children who need emergency shelter. If I could bring myself to do it, I would volunteer my time there. However, I can’t. Why? Because I am so fucking traumatized by my stay there that I would not wish staying there on anyone. Don’t get me wrong- they did nothing to me to traumatize me. But take the fire, add that to being ripped away from your home, not knowing what is going to happen, where you will end up, being surrounded by other kids who have faced just as much trauma as you have (leaving them really fucked up)- you will have one traumatized child on your hands.
Because my clothes burned up in the fire, I had nothing to wear. Lucky for me, they had a closet full of random clothing for me to wear. We went to school there as well. Which meant I went to school wearing donated clothing and slippers. I felt like an idiot. I felt like everyone was looking at me. Thus the foundation for my extreme insecurity was laid. I do not know how long I was at the Jamison Center, but it felt like well over month.