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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.


  1. One of the things that impressed me most was what your mother told you about being fourteen - such a lucid description which I don't think many mothers - including me - could have come up with.
    There is much else to say but no time now - Ill come and read again.

  2. This is a hard one to get through and know what to make of it, at least as far as your mom's letter is concerned. I think her analysis of her marriage at 15 was pretty good, and so was her advice to you. I don't know... What do you say about addicts? She tried? Yeah, I think she did. Was she a good mom? No she wasn't. I really like your replies take shape, especially your analyses of things that took place after the letters were sent. You're wrestling with a lot of stuff here, and so far I think you're doing fine.

  3. Yeah, Robert says it pretty well. Your mother wasn't a bad writer - the passages about her addiction and running from reality are heartbreaking. I hope you and your child pull through this crisis. We control so little in the end.