There are so many kinds of shame - it's not always about sex or appearance. Sometimes, we can have shame around money. I find it especially difficult hearing about the evictions that are happening day after day across our country. It is different for me. I know what those families are going through. I recognize those lost, frightened eyes. I lived through two evictions when I was about thirteen years old. We lived in what might have seemed like affluence - what would today be a multimillion dollar home in Great Neck, Long Island.
But there was very little food in the house. The phone rang daily with creditors looking for money. I remember my mother selling off her beloved Baby Grand Piano to buy groceries. I remember her giving all of her jewelry to her brother in return for cash. I remember the Sheriff’s car and the moving trunks. I remember all of our belongings being pulled onto the front lawn while movers packed things up into boxes and loaded them up into the vans. I remember my confusion, my embarrassment, the burning shame.
There was this feeling of not being sure of how to behave. No one tells a thirteen year old how to behave during an eviction. I remember doing cart wheels on our front lawn and trying to stay out of the way. I knew that what was happening was very bad - and that in some way - we had all failed. That my mother and father were in a place where they were out of control - that they couldn’t really protect me. I think that was the first time that I felt really vulnerable in my life. While I was a resilient kid - I think that it was then that I knew that I would have to really learn how to take care of myself. That parents couldn’t always protect you.
I remember moving into the apartment that we lived in for about four months until we were going to be evicted from that. We actually left that one before the Sheriff came with the trucks. But I clearly remember coming home from school and seeing the eviction notice nailed to the door. They really do that. I cannot describe that feeling of knowing that soon you will have no place to live...again.
I remember my Aunt Evelyn and Uncle Irwin bringing food. I remember this really skinny chicken and lots of rice and butter. The memory of putting whole sticks of butter in the hot steaming rice - and being glad that no one cared what I ate anymore. My weight a constant source of struggle between my mother and myself, was not the over riding concern. I think that they were just happy that I was content in the moment. Why I remember those big bowls of rice - I do not know. But they are vivid in my memory of that time - perhaps it was that I was allowed to eat unfettered. That no one cared and there was a secret joy in that. That I could comfort myself with the food. I remember that the apartment was near "Town" and that I could walk to Leeds Drug Store and buy candy. I would buy it and hide it. I would eat it alone in my room. It was the beginning of my struggle with food that would follow me the rest of my life.
We moved from there to Flushing, Queens. We lived in a two family house above Greek landlords who cooked whole lambs on spits in their back yard. It was "My Big Fat Greek Wedding"...only we were never invited. I could just watch them and smell the parties. It created longing in me for friends and community. I was in isolation.
My brother and sister were away. They were so much older than I was - the gap much more pronounced then. My brother Mark was in law school and my sister was at the University of Michigan. I was alone a great deal with my mother who spent her time pacing, grieving for what was lost, trying to make sense of what had happened and trying to get work. She never wanted to be left alone. I was her baby sitter. I remember not fitting in at the inner city school - and being put on "home bound" education with the excuse that I needed my tonsils out. I am not sure how all of it was arranged - but I stayed home and was tutored. I remember wandering the streets - I was so displaced - taken out of my environment - away from my friends. I found an animal shelter - and I began spending my days there - taking care of the animals. It was the first time that I created my own community out of nothing. Only months before, I had a pony - and I could no longer see him either. His name was Jay-Jay. I loved that pony and it was really hard losing all of those friends and my beloved horse.
I asked my mother if I could have $21.00 and I put an ad in Arabian Horse World Magazine looking for a job to work at a horse farm that summer. I was now fourteen. I remember lying and saying that I was fifteen. After all fifteen sounded so much older than fourteen. I landed a job in upstate Pennsylvania for five dollars a week plus room and board. I needed to get away from Flushing, my frantic mother, my absent father who was somewhere in Asia trying to fix our lives.
I remember not being frightened at all. Being able to create what I needed - and living on farm eggs and Kraft macaroni and cheese. That is what the woman that I worked for fed me every day. I was happy mucking out stalls, feeding the chickens, taking care of her cows - and I got to ride horses every day.
When I got home after the long summer on the farm - we had moved back into a house in Great Neck. Apparently affluence had returned. I finished high school back in Great Neck, met my future husband at mixer at The United States Merchant Marine Academy where he was a midshipman, and went off to Sarah Lawrence College until my father passed away suddenly in an airport in Germany on a business trip from a massive heart attack when I was nineteen.
Living through that time of eviction forever changed me. I no longer believed in anyone else's ability to take care of me. I knew that what life seemed - may not be what it is. That life was full of floors that may not be sturdy. I had learned that parents cannot always protect you. I learned that shame was something that only existed if you allowed it to. And I learned in the power of Pamela. That I could survive - and make my own happiness. I learned that I could take care of myself.
I look at the faces of the families that are facing evictions. I wonder what lessons those kids are learning. I wonder how they will react to the realities that I faced as a budding young woman. And how these lessons, and their reactions will contribute to who they will become.
So what does this have to do with you? What does this have to do with my book - or my mission to support people to live a shameless life? Well, this blog is about whatever life throws at you - my belief in your ability to survive it.
When I was a young girl I learned that life can throw incredible curve balls at you. I learned that people may tell you that there are no options - no money - no resources - and no hope. But I also learned an incredibly valuable lesson in the darkest of times in a young girls life - and it is a lesson that frankly Obama used as his slogan to be elected it is "Yes we can". If we want something badly enough - we find a way.
Right now, I am remembering a young thirteen year old girl who created her own happiness and had her first experience in letting go of shame.