by Cindy, February 1989
I live in a neighborhood of San Francisco called Sunset. It's called that because it overlooks the west side of the city and the Pacific coast. And when it's not foggy you can watch the sun fade into the sea. Sometimes I'll climb up this high, steep hill near my apartment where you can see all over the city, from downtown to Golden Gate Park to the Pacific ocean. I'll sit up there, peering into the fog or looking over the great expanse of San Francisco, and think about things. Lately I've been thinking about my family a lot. When I was growing up my family was so splintered that sometimes I wonder if I really had a family at all.
My parents got divorced when I was seven and my sister Jean was nine. My father moved to Redwood City right away and then to Chicago where he remarried. I have two half brothers there. At first I was angry with my father for abandoning me and Jean like that, but as time went by we slowly grew to understand each other somehow. Now he's sort of a long distance friend, who watches over me, who cares about me. He's the only person who calls me "Cin." It's like his pet name for me. Everyone else calls me Cindy. I can talk to him about things that are important to me, about my boyfriend Billy even. Sometimes he'll fly me out to Chicago. My half brothers are great little guys. We get along pretty well. My dad's wife seems real nice. Maybe I'm a little afraid of getting close to her, but I think we're a bit alike. We both know how to keep a distance when it's needed.
Jean and I lived with our mom after the divorce. It was really hard. I blamed mom for chasing dad away, for messing things up. She didn't remarry until I was seventeen and then right after I graduated from high school her new husband was transferred to Connecticut. There was no way I was going there with them, so along with Jean I stayed in San Francisco. Our grandmother--dad's side--owns a small house that she had converted into two apartments. Jean moved into the large one bedroom apartment upstairs and I got the smaller studio on the first floor. At first my grandmother didn't charge me rent, but once I got settled and found a job, I started paying. But I know she only charges me half what she could get from someone else.
When I was nineteen Jean got a great job offer in Los Angeles and moved there. I was pretty upset, losing my sister. We had developed a strong bond after the divorce. It was like us against them. We stuck together without really thinking about it or knowing why. We just needed each other so bad. When our mom left we were forced into self-reliance. It was the right challenge for me. I discovered a part of myself, an independent nature, that I didn't really know was there before. When Jean left I was a little scared, but I learned to adapt by fighting harder for myself. And Los Angeles isn't that far away. We visit each other a lot.
Before she moved away Jean gave me an old black and white photograph of our mother that was taken when she was fourteen. Sometimes I'll take the picture out and stare at it. Mom has blonde hair like mine, but I don't think I resemble her any more than that. Dad and Jean say I look just like her. I saw dad last fall right after I turned twenty and he said, "Cin, you look just like your mother when I met her." In the picture mom is wearing a knee length skirt and a white sweater. She has a bow in her hair. She looks real pretty. She doesn't look awkward or anything like I know I felt at that age. Sometimes it scares me when I stare at the picture and see my features on my mother's face. Maybe I don't want to admit that I really do look like her cause I'm so confused about her.
Jean told me once she doesn't really miss mom. I do a little. Jean had it rougher I think because she's the oldest. She was always there for me, but who was there for her? When mom got remarried and moved away, I think that was the best thing for her, the best thing for all of us. Things relaxed. Tensions ceased. I can talk to her a little bit--not like dad, but at least there's something. She seems pretty content with her new husband, her new life. I know there's a bond between mom and me, between mom and Jean even. Some sort of fragile, tiny bond. I stare at the picture. I see blonde hair like mine. I fight so hard not to be like my mom.
When I was in high school I didn't have much patience with my female classmates so I didn't have many girlfriends. I had lots of boyfriends though. I'm told I was the class flirt. Most of the girls didn't like me much, but there was this one girl, Autumn, who became my best friend. Autumn was sort of strange in high school. I liked her right off. She had a couple of boyfriends, but she didn't go on dates with them or anything like that. In ninth grade she'd play football with the boys after school. She was always the quarterback. And she's tiny! I remember once she took a football out of her locker and showed it to me. What a strange foreign object. It was all scuffed and dirty. I don't know how Autumn could even throw the thing with her small hands.
As time went by the boys started getting serious about things like sports and Autumn was excluded from their after school activities. She became a little withdrawn for awhile, but our friendship continued. Autumn and I couldn't have been more different. I was the blonde, boy-crazy coquette and she was the awkward, dark haired tomboy. But we stuck together because we were the outcasts. We dressed different than the other girls, we listened to different music. Autumn and I decided early on that we weren't the odd ones like the other kids thought. We knew we were ok. It was everyone else who was weird.
It wasn't until after high school that Autumn developed a romantic interest in boys. She was such a late bloomer that at first she didn't seem to understand why boys started looking at her differently or wanted to kiss her. Stuff like that. She didn't get it. "It's cause you've become real sexy, Tomboy," I said to her once. "You have that feminine guile that makes boys drool, whether you know it or not." She was still puzzled, but when she started going out with boys she found out they're interested in a whole lot more than football. Now Autumn is learning how to deal with boys in a different way than when she was in high school. She's pretty tough. I think she unconsciously uses her tomboyish past to her advantage. She understands some things about boys--their rough and dirty ways--that I don't get at all. She can actually talk to a boy about boy stuff and understand what he's saying.
I guess I stopped being such a flirt when I first started going out with Billy. I was nineteen when we met. He was twenty-two. He worked at a record store in North Beach and every time I went in there he was playing an album I liked. He didn't say much at first, but I could tell that he liked me. It took him forever to ask me out. I'm pretty hooked on him now, even though he's a threat to my independence. But in the last few months I've slowly come to understand that I need him as much as I need myself.
Autumn was so lucky to have both parents when she grew up. And she's so close to her mom. They're like sisters. Like me and Jean in a way. We talk about it sometimes. Autumn feels bad for me, but she knows not to worry. I made it ok. After all I've got her and Billy and Jean looking out for me. It's like I've finally found my own family.
February 1989, unpublished
Friday, March 14, 2008
by Cindy, February 1989