Goodbye at Last!
One more school year to go and I would be free! By the time September of ’73 rolled around I was ready for it to be over. I was weary of college testing and school in general was a bore. I took every opportunity to leave campus by cutting classes and making excuses. My grades were good. With minimal effort I still maintained a high B average even with many absences.
Dad leased me a brand new Burgundy Camaro. It had all bells and whistles for a 1974 and it was a blast to drive. It wasn't uncommon to find me and a couple girlfriends spending the better half of a school day on the beach in Malibu. Right before lunch, we’d all pile in and head out to PCH (Pacific Coast Hwy) windows rolled down, blasting The Beach Boys... “I wish they all could be California Girlsssss”. Ahh, those were the days...beautiful tanned bodies, long blond hair and few responsibilities.
But not everything was rosy. I still had to deal with a bully of a step-father. Mike was never happy with all the attention I received from my mother and grandmother. In fact, I’m sure he was jealous. He wanted 100% of Mama’s attention. Even though I probably only had about 30% of it, that infuriated him. His emotional abuse was constant yet hidden from family ears. From the time I was five, I remember him giving me frightening stares and threatening to make me regret if I spoke a word. He always said, “No one cares what you think or say. Close your mouth. And if you don’t, you’ll pay for it.” That used to scare me to death. For a while I didn’t know what he would do, but I knew it would be bad. Then one day I found out. I was about 8 years old. Mama, Mike and I were driving to the Supermarket. I was my friendly chatty self and Mike grew very aggravated. When we arrived at the market, Mama asked if I wanted to go with her. Before I could reply, Mike answered for me saying, “It’s OK. I’ll take Mara for a walk while you're shopping.” Mama agreed. I remember the fear like it was yesterday. He turned to the back seat and gave me that tight-lipped mean stare. I was frozen. I knew I couldn’t say a word to Mama or, as he said, "I’d really get it." We dropped Mama off. Mike drove around the corner to a residential street and parked. He told me to get out and walk. He unleashed his wrath with the cruelest words he could think of…telling me over and over that I never listened, I talked too much, that he would "get even" with me, that I was an annoyance and a pain in the ass to everyone. And then he kicked me..so hard that I hit the sidewalk on my knees. I started to tear up and he said, “Get up. You’re not hurt. You’re such a phony. You better keep your mouth shut, or else!”
We went back to the car and drove over to get Mama. Mike checked me to make sure there were no tears and not an inkling that I was upset. And so it went..for years. Honestly, I just can’t understand how Mama never had a clue what was going on. I was a good little actress hiding it, but Mike's anger was not always hidden. Sometimes he was mean to Mama too. At night, while in bed I could hear them fighting across the hall. I used to cover my ears and put my head under the pillow. This went on for years. Yet they stayed married for 53 of them. Go figure.
By the time I was 12, he wasn’t taking me for walks around the block anymore. Although he still threatened, I made sure to run to my Nonna or Mama seeking “help with homework” or something..anything to stay away from him. Oh yes. I nearly forgot. There was a mantra he had me recite regularly: "Daddy Mike is always right." It used to turn my stomach. Even writing it now is unpleasant.
Anyway let me get out of that ugly rabbit hole and back to my senior year--
In-between trips to the beach and a few classes here and there I met George. George was a nice guy and a lot of fun. We enjoyed going to concerts and listening to some great Rock n Roll of the day - Led Zeppelin, Emerson Lake and Palmer, Moody Blues, The Who. You get the idea..And along with those tunes came the evil weed! I jest. Well I never thought it was evil. I had a great time..but then again, I never overindulged. Oh the nights we would stay up and laugh and laugh. Sweet memories of a more innocent time.
The year rolled along. Before I knew it it was time for the Senior Prom and George was my date. It was costume themed and we went as Rhett Butler and Scarlet O’Hara. Such fun dancing the night away…I believe it was close to 2AM when George dropped me off. I fell into bed with a glowing smile as I nodded off to sleep.
The following Monday was a school day. I realized we only had two weeks to go until graduation. Many months earlier, I had received a scholarship in biology to Chaminade University in Hawaii. I was very excited but not as much about the scholarship as I was about living on the Islands. I loved Hawaii and it was very special to Dad. He had friends there and on a few occasions took me along. Hawaii will always hold a deep place in my heart.
Graduation day was upon me. I was so excited. You see, Immaculate Heart HS had traditionally held their commencement events at The Hollywood Bowl for seven decades. All of the girls wore long white gowns and carried a dozen long-stemmed red roses. We walk across the floor, received our diplomas, then delicately walked off. But--when we reached backstage, all hell broke loose! We cheered, threw flowers in the air, changed out clothes and hit the road for many a grad party. Yes! No more school..at least for a few months. Mom and Dad showered me with love and amazing gifts, much to Mike’s annoyance. That night at The Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles was one of my fondest and most memorable nights, even though Mike was there.
A week after graduation, I set out to look for a summer job. George and I were still dating, although some of the thrill was gone. I came home after a long day job hunting to a typically irate “daddy Mike”. He started in on me and before long it got very ugly. I was 18 and there was no way I was going to take his crap anymore. The argument escalated. And this time Mama was there to hear it all. She tried to intervene, but to no avail. Mike leaned in to choke me. I pushed him away and ran to my room. I quickly threw together a bag of personal items and ran down the stairs yelling, “I hope you drop dead!” Not very nice words, I admit. But I had been quiet for many years and this was a long time coming. I was out the door and into my car in a matter of minutes repeating in my head goodbye at last.
Until next time...