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Sunday, November 21, 2010

Conversations With The Dead: 3/21/1979, Houston, Texas


Dear Teresa,

Got your letter today and thought I'd better get busy and answer it. We had to go buy groceries and get me a new pair of shoes. It rains so much here, the shoes I wear for every day get ruined in no time.

I'm real glad about you getting to work in the hospital as a candy striper. I loved working at the nursing home. But I sure got myself involved with them. Even when I was off work, I talked about them all the time. I think Jimmie even got jealous after a while! I just hope you can go on to be a nurse. It doesn't pay a whole lot of money (more if you go on to be a RN) but it's rewarding in a lot of other ways.

I'm studying to get my GED since I didn't get to finish high school, and when I get it I think I'll go to the VA (Veterans Administration) and see about going to school. You can take just about anything you want to and they pay you $260/month to go. I'm eligible for it because of being Jimmie's widow. As long as I don't remarry, I can go to the base and buy groceries, etc., and I have insurance that pays 75% of all my doctor, hospital and drug bills. Plus the $314 I get a month. So you can see why I don't want to get married. Anyway, I'll get my GED first, then after I see what courses I can take, I'll probably start school. May end up a real "brain child" at 39 years old! Ha, ha.

This summer we're planning on getting a bigger apartment. I sure hope Charlene will let you spend some time with me. Maybe we could take off and go down to Galveston. There are a lot of places to go around here and we could have a lot of fun.

Charlie seems (our dog) to be a lot better, so I don't know if that vet was lying just for the money or not. But I'm still going to take him to another vet and have him checked. Phil's working but I'm still trying to pay off a bunch of bills in Fort Worth with my money (thanks to Buddy!) so it's still kind of tight. As soon as I get those paid off, I'm going to get me a car. Phil's real funny about my money. Won't touch it but by this summer, we ought to be in pretty good shape.

When you write, give me Charlotte's phone number and address. I had it but lost it. And tell the fart to write me. It wouldn't kill her. She was supposed to talk to my lawyer for me and find out some stuff and let me know, but I never heard from her. Tell her it doesn't matter about that now. I talked to Buddy's mother and I can go one of these weekends and get my stuff. I'll let you know when. I think he's already gone out to get his. I hope I have something left. He started "getting his" for being blind this month and she said he bought him a car. Now what does a blind man need with a car? I smell something very fishy. I talked to those doctors myself so I know he was blind. But you can't tell about him. You just can't trust him about anything. But as soon as I can, I'll go get my stuff. Maybe he'll move from his mother's (that's one reason I'm in no hurry) and I won't have to see him. Oh, and tell Charlotte I closed out my bank account. And tell her she'd better write.

I wish I knew where David was. He'll be 21 on his birthday this month. I just hope he's okay.

I'm sorry your daddy's having so much trouble with Patty. But like I said, I'm really glad that you're with Charlene. I halfway raised her because she spent so much time with us when your dad and I got married. I think she was just seven when we married and she didn't get to go places very much so we'd go get her and let her stay with us. I think a lot of her although we haven't been around each other much since she got married and after your daddy and I divorced.

I'm glad you like the poem book. I've written a couple since I gave it to you that I'll send you to put in it.

Well honey, I guess this is all for now. Be sweet and let me hear and be sure and send me Charlotte's phone number and address. Call her and tell her I said Hi. As soon as I can afford it, I'm going to get a phone. But I may wait until I move. It costs so much to move a phone.

P.S. What does W/B/S mean?

Mother & Phil

This letter is postmarked 3/21/79. David's birthday. He'll resurface in a year but for now he's living between Arizona and California. He likes the weather in both states since he never knows when he'll have to make a bed out of a park bench. His schizophrenia is still untreated.

The book of poems you referred to is a notebook you gave me for my twelfth birthday. You filled it with songs and poems you wrote and a few you didn't but that meant something to you. You wrote a personal note to me in the first few pages:

This isn't a very expensive gift but I hope that by giving you a copy of all the poems and songs I've written over the years that maybe I'm giving you a part of myself. They show a lot of my thoughts, joys and fears that I have found hard to express any other way. I hope that you'll read them and know that even though I've failed in may ways, hurt many people, it was only because I'm human, in spite of the fact that I do love the Lord and those close to me.

Teresa, never give up on yourself or give up on God. And I know in my heart that He'll never let you because He's never let me and I've had many a dark place that I don't believe you'll ever have to be in. As I've told you, before any of you were born I dedicated each of you to God and asked Him to keep His hand on you and help you. I believe with all my heart that he will, in spite of me or anyone else. Three different times over the years when I was worried about you kids, I prayed, and just opened my Bible, expecting to see a verse that would be my answer. Three times it opened to this verse in Isaiah 13, "All thy children shall be taught of the Lord and great shall be the peace of thy children." That was no accident.

The last part of this book are some favorite poems of mine that I didn't write but that mean a lot to me. The first one I dedicate especially to you. Maybe this book won't mean much to you now, but I believe it will some day.

I love you very much.


I love you,
Not only for what you are,
But for what I am
When I am with you.

I love you,
Not only for what
You have made of yourself,
But for what
You are making of me.
I love you
For the part of me
That you bring out;
I love you
For putting your hand
into my heaped-up heart
And passing over
All the foolish, weak things
That you can't help
Dimly seeing there,
And for drawing out
Into the light
All the beautiful belongings
That no one else had looked
Quite far enough to find.
I love you because you
Are helping me to make
Of the lumber of my life
Not a tavern
But a temple;
Out of the works
Of my every day
Not a reproach
But a song.

I love you
Because you have done
More than any creed
Could have done
To make me good
And more than any fate
Could have done
To make me happy.
You have done it
Without a touch,
Without a word,
Without a sign.
You have done it
By being yourself.
Perhaps that is what
Being a friend means,
After all.

Roy Croft

Oh, and W/B/S means "Write Back Soon" and just so you know, I haven't given up on myself. I fired God instead. He never returned my calls.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Conversations With the Dead: February 26, 1979, Houston, Texas

Dear Teresa,

I guess you think I'm terrible for not writing, and I guess I am. So much has happened tho and I've had so much on my mind. Life seems to be full of surprises.

The reason we didn't come down as we'd planned that weekend is that Phil got hurt and he's been off work for several weeks. He's always trying to help someone, and always ends up getting hurt somehow. We have a friend that lives in these apartments named Doc and he's a pretty old man and in very bad health. Well, he had a son named Mike that was living with him and he was a real ding-a-ling (Reminded me a lot of Buddy. Poor old Doc was scared to death of him). Anyway, he'd just gotten out of jail and was driving poor doc up a wall, staying drunk and throwing fits. So Doc asked us if we'd invite him up to the apartment one night for a while, just so he could have some peace and quiet, just for a while. So we did, and after he was here for about an hour, he started acting real crazy, insulting me and everything. Just real nutty. So finally, Phil asked him to leave and he refused. Well, Phil went down and told Doc, and Doc said to please keep him up here long enough so he could get some clothes and go over to his sister's. He was really scared of him and now I understand why. Anyway, we did, and then Phil asked him to leave again and he still refused, so Phil literally threw him out. Then he started worrying about if Doc had been able to get away in time and went down to check. Well, Mike was down there busting windows and car windshields with a chair and then he jumped on Phil when he saw him. (You know me. I had followed Phil because I was worried). God it was awful! He was a crazy man! He finally got Phil down and then he started kicking him in the face and looked like he was trying to kill him. Of course I was screaming for him to stop and finally I yelled I was calling the police. So I ran in his (or Doc's) apartment and called them. I was so mad. And of course when I get that mad, I don't have sense enough to be afraid. He came in while I was calling and laid down on the couch, just like nothing had happened. I won't use all the words I said, but I said I was calling the police and using his phone to do it. I guess in a way I was daring him to touch me, which was really dumb but I was too mad to care, and I'd already decided to break a lamp over his head if he even moved. Anyway, he just said to go ahead and laid there. So when I got through, I came back to the apartment to see about Phil and wait for the police. We had him though, because he had started all this here, in Phil's apartment, and then to top it all off, he'd gotten smart with the cops (and Houston police are known for being mean anyway) and they drug him out of his apartment and took him to jail.

But God, you should have seen Phil. His eyes were black and his nose and jaw were broken from all that getting kicked in the face. He's gone through hell the last few weeks and couldn't even eat anything but liquids until here lately, so of course he hasn't been able to work. He's going back this week but of course the money situation money-wise isn't too good, so we're just going to have to wait until we get our bills caught up a little before we can come up to see you. And to top it all off, they messed up on my check and I've had the devil trying to get it.

So all in all, I hope you'll forgive me for waiting so long to write. I've been so durn [sic] worried and had so much on my mind that I couldn't even think straight enough to sit down and write a letter. But do you know what happened to Mike? Of course I feel sorry for Doc, but I can't honestly say I'm sorry it worked out like it did. I guess he just reminded me too much of Buddy and I'm really not over that yet. Anyway, Doc wanted Phil to press charges against Mike but being as soft-hearted as he is, he wouldn't do it. But he died in jail before he got out. They "said" he had a heart attack, but I don't believe it. Knowing how Houston police are, and his big mouth, my guess is that he opened his mouth once too often to either the police or some of the other prisoners. It happens all the time. Anyway, it's all over now but I sure was worried for a while.

Now on top of everything else, Charlie is (the dog) real sick. They say it's heart worms and he's going to have to go stay at the vet for several days and that's going to mean more money. And the treatment is real dangerous and there's still a chance he may not make it. That's all I need -- to loose [sic] Charlie. A mess, isn't it? But it could have been worse. A lot worse. But enough of that. Phil's okay now, and will get it all straightened out in time. Then we can come see you.

I felt so bad because we couldn't stay that weekend we were there. I kept remembering how pretty you were and how you had your suitcase packed and I know you were disappointed. I was too, believe me. But I'd explained to Charlotte that we couldn't spend the night and I thought she'd told Charlene. But next time we'll be able to stay. I want to be with you so much. It's been so long. It hurts so bad that I can't be with you like I want to, and share in your growing up. And I know this is a hard time for you. But I'm glad you're with Charlene and them. Charlene has more common sense than Patty does.

When I was there, you asked me what it was like when I was 14, and I've been thinking about that. That age seems to be pretty confusing for everyone. I went through it and I saw Charlotte and David go through it, and a lot of other kids. I remember when I was that age I felt like I was on a roller coaster most of the time. My emotions were all messed up because your body is changing and that physical upset just naturally messes up your emotions. But it's only natural, except I didn't know that at the time. I thought I was some kind of nut or something. The thing is, you're not really a child, and yet you're not really grown, either. One minute I'd feel so independent, and like I could lick the world, and felt grown, and the next minute I felt real insecure and self-conscious and wished I was a little kid again. The least little thing that anyone said or did could hurt my feelings and make me feel like a clumsy idiot! And not knowing what was causing it I figured I'd feel that way the rest of my life.

But I got it in my head that if I could just get away from Mother and Daddy and get married, it would all change. So at 15, that's what I did, but of course that really only made it worse because your daddy and I were so young, and we just didn't have enough experience at living and solving problems. And of course when Charlotte and David came along, it only complicated it more. Being an only child and not being around babies, I really had no idea what to do or how to do it. And that just made me feel more like an idiot. You see honey, there are no shortcuts in life because there is no way to learn anything except by experience. And that takes time. Had I finished school and dated more (so I could understand people better) I would have learned to cope with people and problems better. As it was, it was all so much for me to handle; I ran from it by taking pills and drinking. And starting so young to run from reality and hurt, it became a habit because I never learned how to cope with life.

Like I said, it takes time and experience to learn that and I didn't do that. So I had no tools to work with. And as time went on I really missed all the things I didn't get to do, like dating and going to dances, etc., but by that time I had two babies and was tied down all the time. That's why I'm so glad and proud of you for wanting to finish school and make something of yourself. I know that in the process you'll have time to build up your self-confidence and learn a little about life and people so you can handle it. Believe me, you have plenty of time.

Well, guess that's all I can think of right now. I hope I answered your question. When Phil and I come up there we'll have a chance to talk. I just want you to know honey that I am very proud of you. Just hang in there. Take care of yourself and write me, and I promise I won't wait so long to answer you. And don't forget to send me a picture of you when you get one. Tell Charlene and Pat "Hi" and tell Charlotte to write me. (Phil says "Hi").

Love, Mother

P.S. I'm real tickled about you wanting to be a nurse. That's what I always wanted too. Good luck!


There are no intervening letters between Buddy and Phil so I must have heard of the switch by phone. It doesn't matter. You moved from a bully to a wussy. We all do that I guess, try to heal from an extreme by moving toward its opposite. A friend of mine called it "the matchbook theory", that when you're bent one way for too long, you have to bend in the extreme opposite direction to self-correct. But I think the binding on your "matchbook" weakened from overuse, became thinned and frayed until your constitution was no more.

You and Phil will last nine months. He'll start drinking again and so will you. Shopping for men at AA doesn't seem to work out well but this lesson you'll never learn. Knowing what will happen, I'll watch your next ten letters for signs that you're drinking again. I don't know why. You're dead. What difference does it make? I guess I need to feel in control because I felt duped every time you fell down and disappointed me. I'd trust you and you'd fall. You would stop writing and I would fear you were dead. I guess now that I'm in control of the situation, your words in my hands, I can manipulate the information. I know, it's dumb, but it's a way of interacting with you without feeling vulnerable again. Funny thing is, I feel vulnerable anyway.

Today was the perfect day to read the words, "Just hang in there." I'm afraid and in pain because one of my children is hurting and his future is uncertain. Feelings of helplessness make me small again. No matter how old I am, I will always yearn for that mother figure when I'm most afraid, for the bliss of unconditional love despite how unpredictable it could be, how short-lived it was. Some would even call your love counterfeit.

I have learned about life and people just as you said I would, but what I've learned is that they are one inseparable variable. We can count on only what we can control which is what? I think knowing yourself is more important, building up your own reserves. Even you, my mother, my safe port, weren't safe enough. But your words are safe now in my hands and they cannot die. I can milk them for all the comfort I need today. I can even believe that you're here in this room, reading over my shoulder, telling me everything will be okay, that I can "handle it". What other option is there? I believe that because you taught me well by example what weakness is, I am strong.

The last sentence in your opening paragraph makes me smile: "Life seems to be full of surprises." Yes Mother, it does.