So here comes part 2, if you didn’t read part 1 yet, close your eyes and scroll all the way down. Otherwise, here we go.
As I am sure you have noticed my mentions of 6th grade as if it was going to be a turning point, it was. I can’t pinpoint any one reason for this. It may have been because I was now in the middle school which in our area was a combination of all 3 elementary schools. Maybe it was because it was then that I started to grasp the concept of boys (not the truth of them just the basic concept). Or it may have been because it was when I was first starting to establish real friendships. It was probably a little bit of all of them.
Here is a brief look at how I was spending my time. At school I was trying not to be noticed. All I wanted to do was to slip into the background and be let alone, not completely alone but just enough. After school I was transitioning from hanging out in the neighborhood on my bike to spending more time on the phone. On the weekend there was The Skatery (guess what we did there). It was the closest thing to The Max (Saved by the Bell reference) that we had in Jackson. I was always there on skate night and was quite good. I was even on the speed skating time for a bit. Of course, like any good hang out, you didn’t really go to skate. No, we were there for one reason, the boys. They acted like they were there to skate but I know now they were just there for one reason, us. Yes, it was through The Skatery that I got my first boyfriend, Eric. But that wouldn’t be for another couple of years.
There was another transition happening in my life at this time. I had been best friends with a girl who lived across the street from us, Amy. She was a couple of years older than me and until this point it really didn’t seem to matter. However, when you are in 8th grade and about to start high school it becomes harder to have a best friend who was still in the middle school. She had discovered boys long before I did and her older friends were tolerant of me but it wasn’t the same. We started to drift apart. It happened very naturally and slowly so it wasn’t too painful but I think of her often and she was a big influence in my life.
Now, this is the time that the best friend I ever had came into my life. Her name was Jill and we were hatched from the same egg (or so my dad would claim). We were inseparable.
She was the first friend I ever had that truly became my safe place. It was through this relationship that I learned the importance of having that one person who understood me and was fine with me being exactly who I was. There was no pretending with her. I was just me and she loved me as I was. Jill was the first person not of relation that I truly loved.
Middle school was an interesting time for me. In some ways I was coming to my own and in other ways I was becoming more and more self conscious as I was seeing how important physical beauty was going to be in life. I was also feeling that I was incredibly lacking in that area. In reality I wasn’t the ugly duckling but I certainly wasn’t a swan either. I fell somewhere in the middle but if you would have asked me at the time I would have sworn that I was akin to Quasimodo. This is also the time that my very distorted view of myself began to hinder the person I wanted to be. I wanted to walk down the halls with my head up. I wanted to look people in the eye. I wanted to raise my hand in class when I knew the question and I certainly wished I had the courage to admit when I didn’t understand something. But it wasn’t until high school that I would be able to do those things.
Now if you ask just about anyone who knows me how I feel about math you will get a resounding, “UGH!” Math was the enemy to me all through school. Well, let me be more clear, from middle school on, math was my arch nemesis. I make the distinction because I was perfectly average in math before that point. What changed? Two things. My 6th grade math teacher was strangely obsessed with that damned over-head projector. Second, my mom thought I was a liar looking for attention. As you wonder what the hell I am talking about let me set the scene a little more.
At some point in school they provided little eye exams for the students. I don’t know for certain if they did that in grade school but I do know they did it in middle school. Sixth grade to be certain. I recall this so clearly because I didn’t do so hot. I had very bad eyesight. This was something I didn’t even realize because I never had good eyesight and since I don’t know what the world looks like through other people’s eyes how was I supposed to know it looked any clearer than through mine? Well, the school eye people knew it and send an urgent letter home to my parents explaining that I had terrible vision. How did my mom respond to this? She got angry, very angry…with me. She claimed that I lied through the whole test and that I didn’t really need glasses. I was just trying to get attention and that there would be no more talk of it. Again, anyone who really knew me at the time would have known that the last thing in the world I wanted was attention. As you can see from the picture above I did eventually glasses. That was only after my dad started to notice that I couldn’t see worth a crap and often would hand him the wrong thing when he asked me to get him something. So in 8th graded I picked out the bitchin’ red rimmed glasses that the girl from Life Goes On wore. However, by then I had already gone through two years of math without being able to see anything the teacher was talking about. No one ever made the connection. I got no additional help or was ever able to make it up. I simply never learned. I was behind in math the rest of my learning career. Even in college, I usurped taking math classes for as long as I could. When I finally did take my logic class the teacher assumed I was a natural at math and was shocked to hear how much I had struggle with it. It would be until just a few years ago why he would have thought that. But I am certain my troubles had less to do with natural ability and more to do with the way that math builds on itself and since I completely missed out on two important years of it I could cacth up. This did have a huge impact on me as a person. I felt inadequate when it came to learning, not just math. I assumed that my lack of ability in math was a sign of a lack of overall mental acuity. I basically thought that I must just not be very smart. This stuck with me for many years in school until my Sophomore year in high school. Even after that really.
I had my life planned out from an early age. I was going to join the Air Force out of high school then go to college when I got out. It was that simple. The only thing I had to do to prepare for that while I was in high school was to survive school and take the ACT. Most of my friends were pretty smart and I was usually pretty intimidated around them. I rarely knew what they were talking about and thought they all assumed I was only marginally intelligent. I just figured they knew better than I did so it must be. I never thought I was stupid but I also knew I wasn’t at the level of Andrew, Rachel, Yod, Jordan and Shannon. So, I mostly just kept quiet when they got all smart on me. Now, that I look back on it I am not sure that they really felt the way about me as I interpreted it at the time. I think now that they were including me in these conversations because they did think I was bright and could contribute to them. But at the time I thought they were just talking to each other while I was in the vicinity. Anyway, back to it. I knew I needed to take the ACT but didn’t really plan to worry about it until later. But my good friend Josh convinced me that it would be a good idea to take it our Sophomore year so we could get familiar with it and then take it again Junior year with a good chance to increase our score. This made sense and Josh was a smart one so I trusted that this was a good plan. I looked at this as basically recon, I was just going to see the test, get a feel for it and then be ready to take it again next year. So, I didn’t study at all. The score wasn’t important this time around so I wasn’t going to stress about it. Josh and I went together to take the test and I wasn’t the least bit nervous. I chuckled to myself when I got to the dreaded math because some of them I couldn’t even tell what they wanted from me or sure but muddled my way through to come up with an answer that they actually had as an option. After the test, I called my boyfriend, Alex and was giving him the rundown on how it went.
“What is sin and cos?” I asked. I pronounced them sin (as in as sin against God) and cos ( as in the first syllable in Bill Cosby’s last name).
He just kept repeating “sin and cos, sin and cos? Where was that in the test?”
“In the math section, s-i-n and c-o-s”
“Oh! You mean sign and co-sign?”
I knew right then this test didn’t go very well. Imagine my surprise when a few weeks later the results arrived. Alex, opened the envelope with one arm around me and told me not to worry about it. His eyes scanned the page over and over not saying a word. He just kept mumbling “This can’t be right, this is impossible.” Finally, he looked up at me and said, “My God, you got a fucking 35.” I was frozen. I was thinking in my head, “What does that mean?” I knew full well already that the high score was either a 35 or 36 but couldn’t recall for certain. I started to doubt my own sanity. Suddenly, I thought that perhaps it actually was out of 100 but I knew that wasn’t true and I certainly wouldn’t have done so bad out of 100. I just couldn’t make sense of what was happening or what he was saying. I got a 35. 35 out of what!? I just could not remember. Deep down I knew that was incredible but I couldn’t let myself believe it. I was sure I was getting it mixed up in my head. He handed me the paper and I stared at the percentiles. I was in something like the top 1% for the state. I still just couldn’t get my head around it. Top 1%, that’s good right? Or wait, that wasn’t average so maybe that was bad. I couldn’t think. But I could tell from Alex’s response that his shock was not because I had done poorly. By this point he kept saying, “She doesn’t even know sign and co-sign.”
This was the very first indication in my life that I might actually be kind of smart. Sadly, I was still a stupid teenager and didn’t realize what this could mean for my future. Instead, I swore Alex to secrecy and lied to my friends about it. I don’t remember what I told them. I know it was something high enough to explain why I wasn’t going to take it again next year but left it at that. Of course, the high school knew about it because the scores were sent to them and they went into a frenzy wanting to sign me up forAP everything. I would have to be in class with my smart friends. Part of my thought it would be nice to know what they were talking about but mostly I was sure I wasn’t as smart as any of them and would sink. I insisted that I couldn’t handle the work load and stayed where I was comfortable. The rest of my high school career and the first few semesters of college I was convinced that my score was a fluke so I never tried to capitalize on it in any way. I had no idea then that having my brain be my best asset was perfectly acceptable.
Back to middle school. I stayed safely in my little shell most of the time. I really only came out when Jill drug me out. She was much more self confident and out going. She was also about the funniest person I had ever known. She liked doing things and being involved. I didn’t mind so long as she was with me and I wasn’t being noticed. Jill and I pretty much went through middle school attached at the hip. So much so that even to this day if you ask people we went to school with particulars about either one of us they will get us confused. Jill played volleyball and the flute. I never did either but people still think that was me. It is a natural assumption, I can see why it happens.
So, I can’t talk about Jill and me and not mention one of our most notorious ideas. Actually, it is only notorious with our families because we didn’t really ever want to admit it to the rest of the world. First, I want to start by blaming this whole thing on my friend Chrissy. This may sound convoluted but trust me it was her fault.
Here is how it went. I was also friends with a girl in my neighborhood, Chrissy. She was just like me in so many ways, she not overly girly, loved animals, was very physical and we got along great. Chrissy decided she wanted to take Tae Kwon Do but wanted me to take it with her. I was totally on board. I knew I wanted to learn to be more assertive and thought this would be perfect. Well, the classes were too expensive and my parents sad it couldn’t happen. Now, I can’t say for sure how this worked out on Jill’s end but at the same time (maybe to cheer me up, maybe for different reasons) Jill or possibly her mom got the great idea that we should take some sort of class together. A cheaper, less physical one. I don’t know which came first; the idea to take a class or this class in particular. Honestly, I think that it may have even started out as a joke. Either way, we signed up for it… charm school. Yes, you read it right. We were going to take classes for charm. Stop laughing. No, I am not making this up not even I am that good of a fictionalist. Jill and I were going to charm school. What did I learn in charm school? Two things; I would never walk in high heels with a book on my head and that Jill could have a filthy mouth when she tried walking in high heals with a book on her head. I also learned that as long as there was someone you loved with you anything could be fun, even charm school.
It was around this time in middle school that I started counting. I don’t know if there is a more clinical term for it. Basically, what happens is my head becomes obsessed with counting. I say my head because when this happens I do feel very disconnected from my brain. Like it is pulling me to something I don’t want. It didn’t become a real tug-of-war until later in my life. At this point, I just allowed it to happen. I did get annoyed with the whole thing but mostly surrendered to it. I became preoccupied with even and round numbers. I am not sure if I can properly explain this to someone whose brain doesn’t do this to them. Stacks of things have to be in even piles. If it is a multiple of 10 than that is even better. I had to open and close doors at least twice. If it happened 3 times I had to do it once more to make it 4. (I want to quickly point out that throughout this discussion you will notice my tense change, sometimes it will be past tense sometimes it will be present tense. I am a good enough writer to know this is a no-no but it is because some of these obsessions are still with me and some I have overcome.) I also noticed that this is when I started to do a lot of number factoring in my head. If I saw two numbers, like a score, I would feel the compulsion to factor the two numbers. I needed to see them in my head as being round numbers. I always had to know how far away a number was from being a factor of 10. So, if I saw a score of 17, 26 I would be physically and mentally ill at ease with the number 17. 26 was ok, I would rather it be 30 but I can handle 26. But 17, I want to add 3. I know this probably sounds completely insane and I have no explanation for it. It isn’t just when I look at a number it is when I see a stack of something or a row of things or even a group of any kind. Something in me needs it to be a comfortable number. This constant adding, subtracting, multiplying and dividing and even factoring has actually made me a better math student then most people would ever think. I often surprise my husband, the human calculator, at how often I am faster than he is when it comes to this simple math. Now you throw in an equation and I am lost but you give me a number and I can work it any which way for you and fast. When this all first started I had no idea what it was or that it meant anything. I had never heard of OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder). I really just thought that my brain worked weird. This was the beginning of one of the greatest challenges of my life. I had no idea then how this disease would eventually take over my life to the point of causing me to attempt suicide multiple times before seeking professional help and realizing that this was in fact a disease. Much more on this later but this was the beginning.
Now middle school went by fairly quickly with Jill and I staying mostly out of trouble and getting by pretty well unnoticed. But I could tell things were going to change. Jill liked to be out there and involved and I just wanted to hang on to her. She had an older brother who made Jill privy to the fact that in high school there was a club for everything and I could tell from the way she talked about them that she planned on joining them all. Well, anything Jill was going to do I was there. I don’t want it to sound like she forced me into all this. By the time we started high school she had me pretty excited about it all too and I was completely on board. Freshman year we signed up for everything we could manage into our schedule. PGP (People for a Greener Planet), TI (Teen Institute an anti drug and alcohol group), Young Life (a Christian group), Polar Bear Backers (school spirit group) and I know there were more. We didn’t stick with all of them but we tried everything out that first year.
Part of the reason for this turn around for me certainly was Jill but that wasn’t all. A couple of other huge life changes happened to me my 8th grade year that made me look at the world and my life very differently.
As I have mentioned my dad suffered from Crohn’s disease. When he was diagnosed not a lot was well understood about the disease or what caused it. I was diagnosed almost 30 year after he had been and honestly it was still pretty sketchy. All I knew at the time was that no one ever knew what I was talking about when I said my dad had Crohn’s and that there were a lot of things my dad couldn’t eat because of it. No nuts, no popcorn, no corn, very rarely could he have salad, things like that. I also knew that it meant that at any time (seemingly out of the blue) he could get sick and end up in the hospital often having surgery. It seemed like it happened must around the holidays. One Christmas and one Easter he had to be rushed to the hospital.
I was young and just didn’t know that much about it. Then, when I was in 8th grade and my brother was a senior in high school my dad got very sick. He lost a bunch of weight and was in the hospital. I gathered from conversations that there was a surgery called an Ileostomy which was supposed to make him better but he didn’t want it. My mom wanted him to have it. I didn’t know anything about it but it seemed clear to me that he should do whatever was going to make him better. Most people have heard of a Colostomy. It is the same basic idea but they remove your ileum instead of your colon. It is just a different part of your digestive system. The result being about the same, you have to wear a bag. Yeah, it is just want you are thinking, you have to wear a bag to collect your waste. I didn’t know this then so I didn’t understand why my dad wasn’t in a hurry to sign up for this. Now, as someone who has faced the possibility of having this same surgery and knowing there is still the possibility I could face it again in my future I have a much better understand of his apprehension. But let me say this, he never regretted having the surgery. Yes, the bag sucked but it improved his life and his Crohn’s so much that it was well worth it for him. It is also the reason that during my first surgery when they said it was possibly necessary and that I could wake up with a bag I told them to do whatever needed to be done. During this whole time with my dad being off work and very sick another disaster struck.
My mom found a lump on her breast. After having it checked out it was determined to be cancer. So, to recap, I am in 8th grade my brother is about to graduate high school, my dad is very sick and in need of a major surgery and my mom is diagnosed with breast cancer. Needless to say this will change a person. I know that I don’t have all of what happened at the time completely straight, it was emotional and terrifying and a jumbled in my head. I can tell you most of it though. My dad decided to have the surgery I think in part to just get better so he could be there for my mom. When Crohn’s flares it cause an infection which has to be gotten under control before surgery. When mom was diagnosed this is the stage dad was in at the time, getting the infection under control. Mom had to have a Mastectomy and chemo, I can’t remember if she had radiation or not. I am not sure of all the timing but I do know for sure that there was a time when they were both in the hospital at the same time. The reason timing is unclear is because the chemo nearly killed my mom and she ended up back in the hospital. I think it was then that my dad was having surgery. Dad was up at the Cleveland Clinic and mom was down here at Aultman or Mercy. So it was just Sean and I. He held us together.
I remember spending a lot of time at my friends’ houses. I spent almost a week with my friend Christen and a was at Jill’s house a lot. I am not sure if my parents arranged all that or not but it seemed to me I was just always with one of them. My brother was completely in charge of taking care of me and for a high school senior I am sure it was not what he wanted to be doing but he did. This was the setting for another formative moment in my life. A simple conversation that I will never forget.
Sean and I were eating a lot of hospital food those days. One of the times we were having our dinner in a hospital cafeteria while both parents were in their respective hospital beds. Sean said to me, “Are you scared?”
“Yes,” I cried, thinking that I could lose both of my parents. All I could think about was all those foster kids. I had pitied them and now I was on the verge of becoming one of them. At that point we weren’t very close with many of my family because most of them didn’t live around us. I didn’t think any of them would want to take me in. I was going to be alone out there in the world.
“Me too,” I was surprised he was so honest about it. “But I have thought about it and if we lose them I will take care of you.”
I don’t know when in the year it was but Sean was 18 in February. He made it clear that no matter what it took I was not going into the system and no one else was taking me away from him. He was going to raise me. I think I mumbled a “thank you” or “good” or “okay” I am not sure what I said. To be honest, at the time, it did make me feel safer but the magnitude of it wasn’t able to sink in. I was too young to really understand what my brother had just declared to me, how much selfless love he had just shown. He had just told me that he was in essence going to but aside his own life and future for me. Thankfully, it didn’t come down to that but I know without a doubt that he would have done it. He definitely would have.
You may wonder why it would be up to my brother to take care of me at such a young age. Well, when it came to my extended family it was…complicated. Let’s start with mom’s side. She was on of 6. Two boys, four girls. Her childhood was never as carefree as mine had been. Her parents drank and there was some level of at least certainly emotional abuse. She rarely talked about her childhood and what I do know of it has been relayed from my aunts. This is only my understanding of it. I don’t know if there was any actual physical abuse but I have no doubt there was emotional abuse from both grandparents. I do know that when she told them she was pregnant they basically threw her out. They didn’t speak for some time but I don’t know for how long. I always remember her parents being in my life so it was before I was born. But her parents lived in town not far from us yet I rarely saw them any time other than holidays. They were not outwardly affectionate. I never heard either of them say they loved me or ever hug me. I was never allowed to spend the night at their house. If you pissed of my mom’s mom she would cut you out of her life in a flash. This applied to her own children and even her grandchildren. I remember being in school and knowing everything as I did at the time I was talking to her about my history or government lesson. I was pleased to announce that I had learned that income tax was technically unconstitutional. This was apparently an unforgivable comment because she didn’t speak to me for 3 years. I was a teenager and my grandmother didn’t speak to me for 3 years. It was always made very obvious when she wasn’t speaking to you. She would walk around you to greet other people. I couldn’t figure out what horrible thing a person could possibly do to make their own grandmother hate them. I didn’t make the connection to that conversation until years late when she told me that was what it was all about. I just thought I was a person to be hated. Something about me was awful, my teenage logic told me it must have been my weight. Like my mom, she was embarrassed by me.
My mom’s dad was different, to me. He was a born salesman and would try to convince you of the most outlandish things. If you have ever seen the movie Big Fish, that was my grandfather. We always had to get confirmation from my grandmother as to which stories were true. He was an alcoholic plain and simple but I didn’t know this for years. I did notice that he took the trash out a lot when we were over but I never made the connection. He was always fun and upbeat when I was around him.
I have all good memories of him. Believe it or not the best is from the day he died. It sounds so awful but it was truly one of the most clear expressions of love I ever got from him. It was late February 2003. I had already lost my dad and grandpa Clark. Grandpa Boylan was in the veteran’s
hospital in Cleveland for what I thought started out as a bad cold or something. Within a few days it seemed he was dying. There was nothing more they could do for him. I am still not clear on the how events lead to this. The decision was made that it was time to turn off his pacemaker. It was February 27, my birthday. He was pretty much comatose and we weren’t sure he could hear any of us but we kept talking to him. Everyone that walked in the room, practically, told him that it was my birthday. At noon they brought in the machine and turned it off. We were told he would be gone in about 45 minutes to an hour tops. We were huddled around his bed crying and holding on to him saying goodbye. Hour after hour went by but he was hanging on. Nurses and doctors kept coming into the room in awe that he was still alive. We waited. I was fully preparing myself that my grandfather was going to die on my birthday. After a very long emotionally draining day of staring at his monitors without them changing one bit my aunt looked up at the clock and said, “Well, Lisa it is 12:15 your birthday is over.” Within about 1 minute after her saying that out loud he began to crash. He was gone before 1 am, February 28. I don’t believe in much but you will never convince me that he didn’t hold on for me.
My dad’s parents were very different from my mom’s parents. Here is a prime example and a cute story. One of the times one of my parents were in the hospital my mom’s dad showed up in a suit and tie. I don’t think I had ever seen him dressed like this for such a casual occasion. Apparently, someone else noticed too and asked what it was all about. He replied, “Well, every time I see Max (my grandpa Clark) he’s dressed like this so I thought I should be too.” I think that speaks volumes about both of my grandfathers. My grandpa Boylan’s humor and my grandpa Clark’s dressing habits at least. When I was young my dad’s parents lived in Columbus so we didn’t see much of them. I don’t know at what age the moved back to Canton but I was probably in grade school so it wasn’t much of my life that they were away. My parents were closer to my dad’s parent than my mom’s. While I do know that they weren’t much more thrilled with the pregnancy and elopement it does seem to me that they handled it much better than the Boylan’s. The thing about the Clark’s is that they weren’t overly affectionate either, again not much hugging or “I love you”‘s. I think the word “repressed” would fit in nicely. My mom’s family were Irish Catholic. If there wasn’t screaming, yelling and crying then something was up. But with my dad’s family it was just the opposite. If someone rubbed you the wrong way, shut up and keep it to yourself. Be polite and smile and for heaven’s sake don’t case a scene or stir the pot. My husband is always amazed when I tell stories of our childhood Christmases. A gift was given out, the receiver read the tag aloud everyone watched as that person opened their gift, we all oooed and aaaaed over it, a proper “thank you” was given and the gift was put aside. Even the children followed this procedure. It may sound incredibly dull to most people but to be honest, I much prefer it that way to how I have seen other family’s. We go to Dan’s parents’ house and it is so insane I get physically uncomfortable. No one knows what is going on, gifts are flying through the room, people don’t even know who gave them what (which really annoys me). It is pandemonium. I hate it. Give me my slow, proper Clark Christmas any day.
We would spend the night with my dad’s parent on occasion and grandpa Clark would always make his “special” pancakes. I am sure it was probably just Bisquick but they were special to me. It was my grandpa Clark that I credit with helping to first develop my love for reading and books. I remember sitting on his lap with my head on his chest listening to the reverberation in his rib cage as he read to me, the table-side lamp hot on the top of my head. I still like to read very close to a lamp even though I don’t necessarily need the light. He died 8 weeks after my dad of the same disease. I was there with him. He just slowly drifted away very peacefully. It was the first time I saw someone I love die. But it wouldn’t be the last. Not even close.
High school is when everything changed for me. After everything my family just survived we were closer than ever. My mom changed so much then too. She completely backed off with the weight but the damage was already done. She seemed to have a new lease on life and was seeing a therapist. I think she realized she couldn’t go to her grave with all the lasting effects of her childhood still holding her down. By the end of the summer after my 8th grade, I was starting high school a whole new person with a much closer and healthier family. But the past was not as far behind me as I thought.