June 1968, somewhere in Long Island’s North Shore
Several days after I graduated high school I was lying on my parents bed in the love chamber decorated with red and red velvet flocked wallpaper usually then found in ladies rooms in better Chinese restaurants. The headboard was a gold leafed abstract wooden heart, the bedspread had gold strands woven into it
The bedroom screamed “yes we do it,” and had been a total embarrassment to me until that year. I had done it with my 28 year old, almost junkie hippie, Mack truck driving boyfriend who lived on St Marks Place; it hadn’t been what I expected but it was okay.
My mother walked into the room, holding a plastic bag:
“What is this?”
I probably could have said oregano, and she would have believed it, but in our family lying was the worst possible crime.
“It’s pot, ma.”
“Don’t call me that. There are roofers just outside your bedroom. What if there’s a fire, and they have to break into your bedroom, and go into the back of your closet?”
“Highly unlikely, ma.” I yawned and wanted to go back to sleep. My mother hated to be called “ma,” so I always did. The night before my best high school friend and I had met somebody in his car, drove around the development and came back to my house. I told Carol we should have gone to the elementary school park where we usually would meet to smoke, and hung out for awhile. But we were late for a party and Carol wanted to hide our summer stash; our very first buy.
My mother walked into their bathroom and threw it down the toilet.
“I have to tell your father. But you can’t be here.”
My parents were a bit hysterical on the subject of drugs. My mother walked to the highboy, and took forty dollars from the money drawer. My father always kept money in one drawer. I knew that I could take money whenever I wanted to but he gave me more money than I could spend each week, and I was always good at spending money.
“Here. Take this money, go into the city, and take a bus to Hartford. Elayne will pick you up there.” And so I was banished to my hippie aunt and uncle’s house where they really did have key parties, though I never actually saw one. They smoked pot; it wasn’t a bad place to be banished to.
My real punishment began the next week when my parents forced me to go to my father’s mother’s bungalow colony in upstate New York. Parts of our family had lived there since the beginning of the 20th century; we seemed to be directly related to or related to by marriage every family in town.
I had always enjoyed going there before. The whole town would close for one of our family Bar Mitzvahs or weddings. Though my immediate family only went up once or twice a year everybody still knew us. I was the older daughter with the wild brown/blond/red hair, and the only naturally straight nose around.
This time was different. Don’t think a person in the world liked my grandmother except for her children and the rest of her grandchildren. She didn’t like me, not because I was adopted, but because I was my father’s favorite person. I was polite, but we couldn’t be in a room together without fighting.
I met some people who were working for Eugene McCarthy and began volunteering. We became close and hung out all the time. My grandmother insisted that I be back at the bungalow by ten.
On my eighteenth birthday a group of us went into Jimmy’s Bar. He was a cousin of a cousin which made him family. I was about to order my first legal drink, the drinking age was lower then.
I ordered my usual, the only drink I knew, a slow gin fizz. I much preferred pot. Jimmy looked scared:
“I..I..can’t, Pia, I just can’t.”
“Why? It’s my birthday. Here’s my passport.”
“Your grandmother. She would, she would kill me.”
My grandmother was one of five sisters; each more beautiful and mean than the next. I have spent most of my life feeling guilty about something, but I have never felt guilty over not liking my grandmother. I was a good granddaughter; people always told me that. I obeyed her rules and respected her. But nobody could ever make me love or like her.
By the time my parents came home from Europe, they had forgiven me. I had a ride to the Chicago Convention and they almost physically barred me from leaving.Just a few weeks later I went to college, and they never overtly controlled me again.
Every time PBS would have a special about the convention, my mother would call me crying:
“You could have been killed,” long pause with deep sigh, “or worse.” She didn’t have to spell out worse; in our family it was brain damage. My mother moved forward constantly; she wasn’t big on past. But I heard about that convention…and what might have happened to me.
I think they had feared that I would leave and go anyway. I was of age; I had a bit of money. When I didn’t go, they knew two things: I was basically a coward, and I would somehow ultimately make the right decisions based on that.
I said “ultimately,” not then.